I read the title of Jon Ostrower's FlightBlogger post, "Airbus Outlines Future A30X Concepts" with anticipation, but was alas a bit disappointed with what I saw in the Airbus PowerPoint slide posted within (sorry Jon, it's not your fault!)
Airbus outlined future A30X concepts, originally uploaded by flightblogger.
The Airbus slide shows two rather exotic looking aircraft with advanced engines, 'smart' wings and tail configurations which look both innovative and retro at the same time. All exciting stuff - a glance at the future perhaps. Sadly, I doubt it.
I'm not dismissing everything on the slide. Advanced materials, innovative cockpits, GTFs, etc are all important developments in aviation, but they come across as grand statements with few details to go on beyond what is already being done for the 787, A350, CSeries, etc. - motherhood and apple pie sort of stuff. It's the general aircraft configurations that are portrayed which I am mostly disappointed by and will focus on. These concepts have been touted by Boeing, Airbus and others in one form or another for years, decades even. The closest any of them came to fruition was the Sonic Cruiser, which of course was dropped in favor of the much more recognizable 7E7 concept. What I was potentially looking forward to was the more mundane, evolutionary rather than revolutionary concepts that are out there - what I think the A30X will turn out to look like in actuality. We have a lot more to gain and learn from Airbus, et al, showing us the advances and concepts that we expect to actually be designed and built some day. For airliners these days, very often the radical are the weak.
We didn't arrive at the modern day concept of engines mounted on a low wing and of horizontal and vertical stabilizers mounted directly to the rear fuselage by accident or because it looks nice (they don't, MD-80s look way cooler than 737s on a take-off climb). The history of jet airliner design has steadily been whittling away at the design alternatives for several decades now, with only occasional deviations occurring for one specific design or operational reason or another. The fact is that the conventional modern airliner configuration, as seen on everything from the A318 to the A380, is the most efficient way to the design the things, offering the most advantages for the fewest penalties. And Airbus know that - they haven't yet deviated from the magic formula. Do Airbus really think these configurations will go somewhere, or are they just throwing in some fancy tails to show some visual pie-in-the-sky innovation, since all the real changes can't be easily seen on the outside?
Granted, larger bypass engines do represent difficulties in fitting them under the wing, but sticking them on the tail throws away all the advantages of underwing mounting for lighter fuselage structure, simpler fuel systems and easier maintenance. And mounting larger and larger engines under wings has been overcome time and again. Look at how large the 777 and 787 engines are relative to the size of the fuselage head-on, and compare with an A320. Also don't forget that the larger and heavier the engine, the harder it becomes to mount it away from the centers of gravity and lift of the aircraft. (Open rotor engines may have to go up high, but I still don't see that technology being ready for the next generation of narrowbodies, if ever.)
With the exception of Concorde, airliner design throughout the jet age has not really been about creating excitement or beauty; form over function. It's been about economics. Getting a plane to market with the best possible combination of low costs and high yields. Indeed, with only 20 built, Concorde was the exception which proves the rule in this case. The public may like fancy and exotic planes, but don't expect them to pay for it! The infamous bean counters will have the last say in all matters, like it or not.
Hello all. Firstly, apologies for my extended absence from the blog, a number of factors all contributed in not getting some real time to sit and write, and all of a sudden seven weeks had passed by! I'll try to keep it more consistent from now on. One thing I have managed to accomplish is reading "Frank Whittle: Invention of the Jet", by Andrew Nahum (Principal Curator for Transport and the London Science Museum) , which had been burning a hole on my bookshelf for a few months. Evidently the book has been out for a few years now, but it somehow fell below my radar until recently (actually, I don't think I've read a book that was newly released in years). I very much enjoyed reading it and I recommend it to anyone who has any interest in aviation history, as the work of Frank Whittle has had an impact in one way or another in just about every field of aviation since the Second World War.
The book, despite being only about 180 pages, covers a surprisingly wide spectrum of topics covering not just Whittle's work, but that of other gas turbine pioneers and innovators before and since Whittle. The author tries to put the work of Whittle in context with the various other gas turbine development efforts going on at the time, some known and some unknown to Whittle and his team. The book also takes a broad look at the short and long-term results of Whittles accomplishments, and how Britain tried with mixed success to established a dominant position in post-war gas turbine design and production. The pace of the book is quick, keeping the reading reasonably light but informative, given the subject matter, with a few anecdotes thrown in.
The book gives an good, concise history of the British war time development program of the jet engine, with the bulk of it dealing with Power Jets' and Whittle's working relationships with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, Rover, Rolls-Royce and other groups and organizations. The book is certainly not a technical one, and should be easily accessible to readers without any technical background. (Incidentally, if anyone is after a good book and the technical aspects of the gas turbine jet engine, I would certainly recommend Bill Gunston's "Development of the Jet and Turbine Aero Engines".)
The author acknowledges up front the well established ideas in the public mind that Whittle was a great pioneer and inventor, but was held back by a skeptical and unwilling British government, nationalizing his innovative company Power Jets, and eventually giving the technological leads away to America during the war. It is clear that the author does not agree with this conventional view, and the book does much to help dispel many of the myths regarding the early jet engine development programs. That's not to say that the author tries to attack or disparage Frank Whittle - he still titled the book after him after all - but compared with the untouchable status that Whittle has held in other popular accounts, any straightening out of the story inevitably leads to some level of humbling of the man himself.
Far from being held back by the government, Whittle was able to take advantage of many personal opportunities which the RAF made available to him beyond the norm. Whittle's team at Power Jets was well supported, allowing him to bring his first practical jets to fruition. In the end however, Whittle's eccentricities and apparent inability to work well with Rover - the initially chosen company to mass-produce his engine, contributed to the nationalisation of Power Jets, and eventual take-over of the program by Rolls-Royce.
But lets not lose sight of the fact that Frank Whittle was a master engineer and innovator. He may not have started British work on gas turbine engines, but he did make the fundamental leap from a gas turbine driven propeller (essentially what we know today as the turboprop), which was the leading theory of application at the time, to simply using the exhaust gas to form a propulsive jet. This development would inevitably have happened without Whittle (it did, in Germany, independent of Whittle's work), but Whittle's ideas, research and application certainly gave Britain a strong lead and advantage in the field of gas turbine jet engines.
In the final chapters, the author takes us through the promises and realities of the post-war British aviation industry centered on the desire for world class civil aircraft and the technology of the jet engine. The great leap to the DeHavilland Comet was clearly a painful lesson on many levels (and I did learn some interesting new facts, or clarifications perhaps, about the design flaws of the Comet), and this episode largely dashed the dreams of British leadership in civil aviation. However, in the end the author brings us full circle again with the Rolls-Royce RB.211, for although its development effort almost ruined Rolls-Royce, the timing of the new engine architecture was almost perfect, arriving at the beginning of a long period of stable evolution (not revolution) in jet design, allowing Rolls-Royce to make huge gains in the civil airliner market by building on the triple-shaft architecture of the RB.211 and follow-on Trent engines. And of course Rolls-Royce can trace its rich jet engine heritage all the way back to the ideas and developments of Frank Whittle and Power Jets, and he certainly deserves to be known as the father of the jet engine.
Granted, I always knew about the long-running Rekkof ("Fokker" backwards) scheme to have production of the Fokker 70 and 100 restarted, but I never really thought much of its chances and so this story still comes as a surprise to me. Is there really a strong case for a commercial reintroduction of the Fokker airliner (granted as an enhanced variant)? Obviously some people think so, and I wouldn't count them out simply because they are trying to update an older airframe (Boeing 737 anyone?). But I think Rekkof (or is it NG Aircraft?) have a big uphill battle to proove that they have an attractive product.
© NG Aircraft
If this project does come to fruition, what should we expect of this aircraft? The Rekkof website is, not unexpectedly, a bit skimpy on specifics and numbers; but the XF70 and XF100, as they will be known, will benefit in a number of ways over the previous Fokker 70 and 100. New winglets will reduce fuel burn by 2%. Range will increase substantially to 2300nm. The aircraft will have modern, new interiors. New manufacturing methods will lead to a 20% airframe cost reduction. And perhaps most critically, the aircraft will have new, as yet unspecified, engines.
There is no mention that I can see of using composite materials or a new wing (beyond the winglets) for the XF70/100. I suspect that the use of composites will have to be limited in order to maximize the utilization of the existing airframe design and tooling. So I won't expect much in the way of weight savings from the airframe itself. However, I believe the Fokker was a reasonably light airframe to begin with. According to some numbers on wikipedia, (handy but dubious, I know) the empty weight of the in-service F100 is four tons lighter than that of the comparably sized and much newer Embraer E190, though coming from wikipedia I have no idea of I am really comparing apples to apples with the numbers on that. So weight may not be a big issue, yet. What about the engines? The "new" engines on the XF100 will have a thrust rating of almost 15,500 lbs, and 14,000 lbs on the XF70. That certainly falls into the range of the existing GE CF34 which powers the Embraer E-Jets and Bombardier CRJs, but more interestingly, that thrust rating also falls nicely into the lower end of the Pratt & Whitney PW1000 GTF range. That would give the XF70/100 the efficiency improvements it would need to compete in the marketplace.
But how will the market take to a revamped Fokker? The 100-seat market was already set to become a crowded party even without the new Fokkers. Existing products such as the CRJ and E-Jets, and numerous models in the pipeline like the Mitsubishi MRJ, Sukkhoi Superjet, the smaller-end of the Bombardier CSeries, and anything new Embraer spits out will all take some of the pie. Will there be any slices left for Fokker? The good news is that it should be a big pie at least, so even a small slice could translate into a few hundred orders. The old Fokker 70/100 line sold 330 planes. Anything like this would have to be considered a success given where this program has come from. Luckily, a lot of the development costs normally associated with new aircraft programs won't be there. That could allow Rekkof to go cheaper on the XF70/100 selling price than some of the competition might be willing to, since less money has to be earned back from sales to cover the engineering and tooling costs. In these austere times, that could be a big plus to many airlines looking for low-cost fleet renewal. Also, the new program has some advantage over the MRJ and Superjet thanks to the maintained customer base on the old Fokker planes (through Stork) - however this would be an even bigger advantage to Embraer and Bombardier. But returning Fokker customers would enjoy the benefits at least of fleet comonality and, in theory, easy fleet upgrades to the next generation of Fokker aircraft.
And long term, what is the Rekkof plan? The XF70/100 will still fundamentally be an old airframe. Can they expect any meaningful sales past 2025 or so? Is this just a stepping stone onto composite airframe design? By this time, CSeries will be in full swing, Embraer will probably have a new composite airframe, and Boeing and Airbus should be introducing their own composite narrowbody airliners. All of a sudden that old Fokker airframe will start to look heavy after all. If this goes anywhere, I hope we have at least the [re]making of a long-term airframer and not a one-off ten year jobs program. But to even get anything more than token sales for the propose XF70/100, Rekkof have to make sure they do a good job of updating the old Fokkers just how the market will want it. We know it can be done, but in the early days of a program, it can be a fine line between the makings of a next-generation sales success, and a warmed-over sales folly.
In a previous post I talked about the need for the UK to maintain strong conventional military forces. The recent news from the South Atlantic appears to offer us a good case study in how a conventional military can be utilized. I'm not talking about large task forces or anything; I don't think anybody is expecting this to blow up into anything like a repeat of 1982. But two elements of the situation down there are, I think, good examples of two points of my earlier argument: ensuring free passage of trade on the high seas, and deterring conflict through overwhelming forces and capabilities.
Firstly, ensuring the free passage of shipping to and from the Falkland Islands. Essentially, this means overcoming or preventing a blockade or quarantine. Argentina has announced of increased controls over shipping through it's claimed territorial waters to the Falklands, and has detained a Falkland-bound ship, MV Thor Leader, which was carrying oil drilling parts. What Argentina claims to be its territorial waters are themselves much disputed since they include the islands themselves. At the heart of it, Argentina is threatening to blockade commercial shipping traffic to and from the islands at its leisure, with an apparent focus on oil-related shipping. Diplomacy will take its course on this issue, but at the end of the day, the UK has to be prepared to defend its shipping and its own territorial waters around the Falklands. By maintaining a strong military presence in the Falklands since 1982, the UK should be able to do this. British aircraft in the air, ships on the surface and even subs below will provide reassurance and ought to prevent Argentina from getting to close to where the UK does not want it. The quest for oil reserves in the Falklands is a strategic national interest for both the UK and of course the islands themselves. Being able to get on with the task of exploring and utilizing those resources without being forced to make concessions to a protesting neighbor is what makes a strong conventional military so valuable. Anything like an effective blockade will simply not materialize because the UK ultimately has the strength to overcome it and Argentina should know that.
This brings us to my second point: deterring conflict through overwhelming forces and capabilities. The reason we are not heading towards a repeat of 1982 is conventional deterrence. The UK garrison in the Falklands is over ten times larger than in 1982, with the benefit of a modern airfield with four Typhoons and support aircraft, and a Type-42 destroyer is at hand. In addition, there may be one or two nuclear submarines in or approaching the area - these were some of the first responders to the 1982 conflict and arguably had one of the biggest impacts in that war. The ability for Argentina to successfully attack (let alone invade) the islands is really a non-starter, and any attempt to do so would probably turn out to be political suicide for leaders in Argentina. Despite much reduced size of the RN and RAF, Britain's ability to strike back at Argentina is probably much improved since Operation Black Buck. Submarine-launched and even air-launched cruise missiles will offer a very real and scary deterrent to anyone in Buenos Aires who thinks aggression is the way for Argentina to settle this issue.
And so we have yet another real world, post-cold war case study of the value of conventional military forces. Through a strong capabilitiy and presence, the UK is able to defend it's strategic commercial and national interests, and potentially save lives by deterring any outright aggression. It would be a pity to let those long-term capabilities go as the result of near-term budget cuts, and I hope this spat in the South Atlantic reinforces that fact.
So it looks like India may be set to take a significant role in the Sukhoi T-50 (aka PAK-FA) fifth generation fighter program. This would obviously strengthen India's position as a regional power in Asia, with the T-50 allowing it to retain an edge over its neighbors in a region which is increasingly acquiring advanced 4.5 generation fighters. It also offers a counter to any advanced 5th generation Chinese aircraft in the works.
It will be interesting to see how the T-50 would be operated alongside India's future medium multirole combat aircraft, and how early progress and agreements with the T-50 may influence the delayed MMRCA program. Will India go for a lighter MMRCA winner, like the F-16IN or Gripen, potentially allowing higher numbers and ultimately creating a true high-low fighter force mix, or could a heavier type such as the Rafale or Typhoon come through to give a more medium-high fighter force (like the mix which the US is moving towards with the F-35 and F-22)?
It could be a moot point however - the development timeline for the T-50 is a big unknown right now, and if the schedule takes any slides to the right like we have seen with the US F-22 and F-35, then India's MMRCA winner could be approaching the mid-life upgrade time when the T-50 finally starts coming into service in real numbers. So will the MMRCA be a (potentially lengthy) stopgap measure, or a long-term and deliberate supplemental platform to the production T-50?
It will of course depend on how much the T-50 eventually costs and more importantly, how well it performs compared with other 5th generation fighters. Based on what I've been reading so far about the T-50, we are not seeing a Russian F-22, but really an evolutionary 5th generation Flanker. I would expect many of the qualities of the 4.5 generation Flankers - high aerodynamic performance, extreme maneuverability and long legs. In terms of radar cross-section, I foresee something that's stealthy but not super stealthy, more F-35 levels than the all aspect stealth of the F-22. This is Russia's first stealth aircraft after all, so you can't expect them to make up for three decades of US manufacturing and operational experience in stealth aircraft, even if money was no object as with the F-22. But will that be good enough? Against the F-35, I would say more than enough; the performance and range of the T-50 would make any F-35 operator pause for thought, and leveling the stealth advantage of the F-35 is icing on the cake. At least in a reasonably even battle scenario this is. But the US and allies are not out to create a battle of equals, and short of Russia or India themselves going into direct conflict with the US, the smaller T-50 operators that pick up some export models, the more likely adversaries, will simply not have the numbers to take charge in the air.
What might be the Achilles' heel of the T-50? Network-centric technology. The US has far out-paced Russia in this field. It's not a new rule of war that knowledge is power, but the 21st Century will see that power become greater than ever. Air battles will be won and lost before the planes take off. In a real battle, a force of F-35s, Typhoons or Rafales should fare well against any potential T-50 threats, because it's not just the aircraft with the missiles, it's the whole information system of AWACS, C3 and intelligence that supports that aircraft. The T-50 promises to be a great fighter, but it can't win a war by itself.
Just caught this one this evening. Seems NASA's Project Constellation has finally met its end (unless the US Congress somehow resurrects it). It's certainly no real surprise that the program fell under the budget axe - though I am surprised that it looks like NASA is to give up manned spaceflight altogether for the foreseeable future. Per the President's Budget, "...the program was behind schedule, could not achieve its goals without multi-billion dollar budget increases, and was not clearly aimed at meeting today's national priorities." Personally, I'm disappointed to see the end of Constellation. Alas I'm too young to have seen the Apollo landings, and July 20 1969 is a day I wish I was alive for to witness that historic moment. But that last bit in the budget quote about national priorities sadly rings a sad truth in many respects with Project Constellation. Back in the 50's and 60's, the US public, and the world, couldn't hear enough about spaceflight, and astronauts like Alan Sheppard and John Glenn were treated as national heroes. But how many astronauts can you name today? Going to the Moon just isn't a priority for the American public, and to be honest, it hasn't been since 1969. The fact that the US had a massive budget deficit simply added to the inevitable. I remember during his State of the Union address last week, President Obama talked about having to make difficult cuts on programs that the US simply doesn't need right now, and can't afford. Constellation wasn't the first thing that came to my mind when at that point (that was the JSF alternate engine, no surprise there either), but it fits the bill. At very least it should free up some funds for other equally if not more important projects at NASA. And if America can move itself, as the President envisions, from purely government-funded space flight programs to private and commercial ones, then it probably makes good long-term sense and it could drive forward some aspects of space flight without burdening the US federal budget. Look at the likes of Virgin Galactic; I know that they only get as far into space as the first Mercury missions, but with more direct support and incentives to such private enterprises, commercial space flight to earth orbit could be a reality sooner than I would otherwise imagine. (PanAm space planes might be a bit too far off yet to get excited about...)
And if it doesn't work out, then we may be back here in 2020 discussing the new plan to return to the Moon by 2040.
This isn't a new topic of course, but it never really goes away: adapting Britain's armed forces to fight the wars of today, not the past, while trimming the British defence budget a little more as well.
Lately, the media has been building up a sort of inter-service struggle for survival, with the Army surely seen has favourites since they are the focal point of today's war - Afghanistan.
It's been a popular stance in the blog-o-sphere that the British military is stretched to the point where further cuts won't just reduce capability capacity, but will simply remove capabilities altogether. Big targets in any upcoming defence review will certainly be high-end conventional weapon systems like jet fighters, aircraft carriers, subs and tanks. I know helicopters, UAVs and body armour are good things, great things for Afghanistan, but where do you draw the line?
If we take a step back; what is the purpose of a national military? How about defending a country and it's national interests from aggression? Ensuring the free passage of a country's trade on the high seas (I'm not just talking about pirates here, think Straight of Hormuz, etc)? Allowing a country to exert its will and influence onto another country (the Balkans and Iraq are recent examples)?
What do these have in common? They require conventional forces which are substantial enough to overcome the threat. Afghanistan is now essentially a war of political choice for the UK. I won't get into whether that choice is good or bad, and the consequences one way or the other, but it is fundamentally a choice, and the UK government has chosen to stick with it. Of course it shouldn't ignore the needs of the troops fighting that war; but the problem is that now more than ever, it looks as if the UK government is going to mold it's armed forces around this war, giving large priority to weapons needed for asymmetric warfare. But when you look back at the fundamental purpose of a military, how does a military designed around the fight in Afghanistan actually defend the UK from international aggression, ensure the free passage of trade on the high seas, and allow the UK to exert influence on other countries? It really doesn't.
The whole essence of why a military exists is down to it's conventional capabilities. That's why they are called conventional. By cutting away at capabilities like subs, capital ships, heavy armour and fighter jets, the UK armed forces cannot fulfill their ultimate raison d'etre. The next time a conventional threat comes along (which seems to happen almost every decade or so...), the UK armed forces will be unable to bring the overwhelming superiority to the battlefield that we have come to expect, whether as part of a coalition or going it alone. And that poses another problem, the deterrence value of large conventional forces. If an aggressor thinks it will be overwhelmed by the UK's armed response, it is much more likely to think twice about acting at all, and sadly the opposite can just as easily be true.
Afghanistan is one war. The UK should not loose sight of that. If it wants to fight for it, then it needs to pay for it without sacrificing it's own defence and international influence. The armed forces must be sufficiently equipped to meet all of the threats, for today and tomorrow. In the end, the conventional threats will be the most damaging and costly to the UK if they cannot be countered.
The year 2009 wasn't a great one for the A340. Etithad chose not to replace the -600 that was written off in a 2007 Toulouse ground-test accident, Kingfisher cancelled one of their orders for a -500, and on December 30th, Virgin Atlantic chose to transfer its outstanding order for six -600s to A330s instead. The A340 suffered a net order deficit of seven aircraft last year. When you consider that those seven aircraft had accounted for HALF of the order backlog, that deficit becomes even more depressing. With only 125 aircraft delivered to date, the second generation -500/-600s of the A340 model have had a mediocre commercial presence at best.
When launched, the A340-500 and -600 were pitched as the future of air travel, offering unprecedented route options, passenger comfort and airline economics. It was Airbus's response to the very successful Boeing 777 which had been aggressively eating away at the market share of the legacy A340s.
Despite some early market gains, in reality the four-engined A340-500 and -600 just weren't good enough to compete with the economic advantages of the twin-engined 777 (particularly the -200LR and -300ER). Compared to Airbus's 125 A340-500s and -600s delivered to date, Boeing has delivered 260 777-200LRs and -300ERs, and still has a healthy backlog of 206 unfilled orders.
Airbus tried to improve the A340 to compete with the 777 but they simply couldn't pull it off. The 777 was a fundamentally better aircraft for the airlines to operate. What Airbus really needed was a twin-engine airframe with the capacity and range performance beyond what the A330 can do, but they didn't (or couldn't?) invest in one, with so many resources being focused on the A380 at the time.
Now zoom forward a few years into the middle of this coming decade. Airbus will have the A350-1000 available. Provided it works as advertised, this will be a great plane and the first real threat to the Boeing 777. The existing 777 types will be outdated and outclassed by the end of this decade, and Boeing needs to do something about that in the next couple of years. However, with the financial drain of the 787 and 747-8 programs, Boeing could find itself in the same position as Airbus was in ten years prior - unable to meet a market threat with full force.
There has been plenty of chatter about giving the 777 a new wing and a new engine, but will this really be enough? The A340 couldn't compete with the 777 because it had a fundamental disadvantage - four engines instead of two. In the coming years, the 777 is going to run into it's own fundamental problem with respect to the A350 - a heavy, non-composite airframe. Examples of airlines looking beyond the 777 are already here - United Airlines' (the company that launched the 777!) chose not to replace their older 777s with new ones, option for A350s to cover the high capacity end of their fleet.
An mere enhanced 777 may appear to be an attractive, cheaper option for Boeing, but will they simply end up with a lackluster aircraft that just won't be able to compete with the composite A350? The 777 has been hugely successful for Boeing, and it has given them an overwhelming share in a very lucrative market. But unless the 777's replacement is a new, composite aircraft taking full advantage of all the 787's development, then large chunks of that large widebody market will start disappearing to Airbus.
I came across this article today on armscontrolwonk.com, via two posts (here and here) on informationdissemination.net. The ArmsControlWonk article is a lengthy but an interesting read. I won't really get in the main point of discussion, "should the US Navy retired the nuclear-armed variant of the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM-N)". That issue is well debated in the above links. The only thing I wanted to add to that discussion was if the situation is such that US has had to send nuclear tomahawks up to North Korea, then South Korea probably has a bigger problem to worry about than the occasional TLAM-N crashing (but not detonating I should point out) on its territory...
What I actually want to talk about was the guidance system of the TLAM weapon in general. I admit I don't know a whole lot about the Tomahawk, and much of what I learned was from this article, but what I did find out was quite surprising. Basically, the Tomahawk uses terrain mapping for guidance, using a radar altimeter to match surrounding terrain to a pre-programmed terrain map loaded onto the missile guidance software. From the article:
The problem is that the mid-1980s Tomahawk guidance system directs the missile to its target by comparing digital maps stored in an onboard computer against radar measurements of the terrain below the missile. The Nuclear Tomahawk, for example, needs to complete seven of nine “position-fixes” – matching a map to actual terrain — to arm the nuclear weapon. Each “fix” requires a map of rough and unique terrain approximately 7-8 kilometers in length. Since distinctive terrain is unusual by definition, the need for at least nine distinctive 8 km-long maps routinely results in routes of 100 km or more...
The probably wasn't a big deal against the Soviets, where there was lots of rough terrain to guide the missile along in Europe and Northern Asia. But in 1991's Desert Storm, the flat desert of Iraq did prove to be a problem. To fire the (conventionally armed) TLAMs from the Persian Gulf, the flight profile had to cross along the mountains of Iran to get enough fixes, before swinging west to Baghdad. Apparently this caused a stir at the White House, but was allowed to proceed. TLAM flights over Turkey and Syria (an alternative using Mediterranean-based ships) were prohibited.
Not until a few days before the war was to begin, however, had the White House and National Security Council suddenly realized that war plans called for dozens and perhaps hundreds of missiles to fly over Turkey, Syria, and Iran, the last a nation chronically hostile to the United States. President Bush’s advisers had been flabbergasted. (“Look,” Powell declared during one White House meeting, “I’ve been showing you the flight lines for weeks. We didn’t have them going over white paper!”) After contemplating the alternative-scrubbing the Tomahawks and attacking their well-guarded targets with piloted aircraft — Bush assented to the Iranian overflight. Tehran would not be told of the intrusion. But on Sunday night, January 13, Bush prohibited Tomahawk launches from the eastern Mediterranean; neither the Turks nor the Syrians had agreed to American overflights, and the president considered Turkey in particular too vital an ally to risk offending.
In the years following the 1991 war, conventional TLAMs were upgraded with GPS-assisted guidance systems, but apparently this didn't relieve them of this unique terrain overflight requirement, because the same situation presented itself during 2003's Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During the course of its flight along this “ingress route” a Tomahawk missile can drift off course and fly into the terrain that is supposed to guide it – an event known as “clobbering.” During the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, approximately ten conventionally-armed Tomahawk missiles went astray, crashing in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. In response to the political fallout from these stray missiles, the Navy suspended launches of Tomahawk missiles from ships in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. These Tomahawks were newer and had more modern guidance systems than the nuclear versions kept in storage since 1992.
Between 1.25% and 1.5% of TLAMs were lost due to "clobbering" during OIF according to the article.
What strikes me is that if the White House was "flabbergasted" by the missile routes in 1991, why was the problem not corrected? The US and co were basically in on-and-off conflict with Iraq for the entire time between the wars, so the idea that the newer upgraded TLAMs would be used against Iraq is obvious. And yet, the 2003 war rolls up and they are still sending Tomahawks on Baghdad-bound flights over Iranian territory. Since the '91 war, the TLAM has become a very popular weapon, with both ship and sub-launch capabilities, and some export success. They offer an effective, low-risk (no pilots to loose) solution to striking a well defended target. But this limitation to the guidance systems appears to be a significant weakness. Suppose in a future conflict, your enemy's neighbor, which you need to fly your missiles over, is on the edge of being hostile itself. Any weapons flying over in an indirect manner to its actual target could easily be perceived as an attack in progress against them, with many potential consequences. Never mind the idea of a state of the art missile simply crashing in the territory of an unfriendly country like Iran, giving up potential sensitive information on the TLAM system. (Also, does this mean the TLAM cannot be used for strikes against an island for example?)
It appears the political risks associated with the TLAM system have caused problems for the US in at least two wars now. Will this situation happen again? Hopefully not now. Since the 2003 Iraq War, the upgraded "Tactical Tomahawk" has been introduced into service. This has a much improved guidance system which could help avoid the political constraints of the past operational uses of the TLAM. It was a long time coming, but perhaps the solution is finally in place.
This article caught my eye, EADS builds case for A400M sale to USAF, coming not long after the type achieved it's first flight on Friday.
Apparently, the USAF will be wanting to buy the Airbus A400M to fill and airlift gap in the next five years, due to C-5A retirements, C-17 production shutdown, and C-130J performance limitations.
Maybe, but I'm not convinced.
Ok, let's assume that the USAF does start retiring C-5As early, and congress does allows the C-17 line to close soon. All that's left would be the C-130J (we'll leave the smaller C-27J out of this for now).
In this scenario, Airbus would certainly be in a strong position globally, offering the only strategic western airlifter, and for any other export country ordering perhaps a dozen aircraft, the A400M would be the only real option, and a good one. It breaks through the "20t bottleneck", offering a flexible blend of tactical transport and strategic airlift which would otherwise not be available to most air forces.
But the USAF is different. If we really are talking about a real "airlift gap", then the numbers will probably be quite substantial (at least 50?). The those kinds of quantities would certainly perk up interest from Boeing and Lockheed. Restarting the C-17 production line, perhaps with an updated model (like the proposed C-17B?) would be a plausible option. And Lockheed has been exploring the C-130XL concept which could bring the new Herc well above the 20t payload bracket, overcoming those "limitations" of the C-130J. True, development and/or retooling costs of either of these potential programs would have to be considered, and an order with smaller quantities would rule out some of the more ambitious redesign proposals to keep development costs in proportion. But given some of the political uproar we have seen over the KC-X, it is not at all improbably that Airbus would have to commit to building USAF A400Ms in the US itself. That will cost money too, plus any costs to changed or "Americanized" any of the aircraft's systems and capabilities. And don't forget the added operating costs to the USAF for having another totally unique aircraft in the fleet.
The A400M looks to be an excellent aircraft, and plugs a noticeable payload gap between the C-130J and C-17A. However, if this airlift gap does occur in the next 5 to 10 years (which in itself is a maybe), then Airbus won't be able to just waltz in like there's is the only available solution - it probably won't be. And if the latest KC-X RFP is anything to go by, in the end it will come down to cost, not necessarily capability (beyond the minimum requirements) - and who knows what unit costs will look like for a US A400M, let alone a C-130XL or C-17B.
The only situation where I would perceive the A400M as the only available option for the US military is if they needed a limited number of airframes to fulfill a particular special purpose requirement (and had to be bigger than the existing C-130J). Then yes, the Airbus plane is the only game in town. But for any big order, the A400M is likely going to have to face some competition.
The first real post!
Where to begin? There’s so much I could talk about from this past week, but one thing which got my attention in particular was United Airlines’ orders for both the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350.
This one kind of caught me by surprise, mainly because I heard about the order on the radio driving to work that day, not my usual source of aviation news! At first I thought this was kind of an odd choice, splitting the order between the two manufacturers. No other US airline has done this (AA, CO, NW went for only 787s, US went for only A350s). However, when you look beyond the US, ordering both aircraft isn’t quite as uncommon as I first thought. Eight carriers (including some established names) have ordered both types - see the chart below. (Warning, I got my numbers from Wikipedia, and didn’t have a chance to verify them, so apologies in advance if there are any errors.)
Looking at the chart, I have a few observations, which again had not really struck me before:
--- The orders are always for different sized aircraft (i.e. no airline has ordered both the 787-9 and A350-800), which seems sensible enough obviously.
--- With the exception of Qatar Airways, the balance between the total A350 and total 787 orders has been virtually identical for each airline.
--- There is no real favourite in the most popular combination of 787 and A350 sizes, though the 787-8 and A350-900 combo (like United’s order) is more common. Only two of the airlines ordering any A350s also ordered the 787-9, with the majority ordering the -8, which has no A350 equivalent. (Did that make sense?)
--- Five of the carriers ordered capacity combinations that could not have been met by only the 787 family or the A350 family (i.e. ordered both the smaller 787-8 and the larger A350-900 or -1000). To me, this seems like the obvious reason to go for both types, but I wonder if this is a cause or effect of going for both types. I don't recall the specifics from the time, but I wonder what motivations were behind the other three carriers (Singapore, Etihad and Avianca) decisions to split their orders with no real advanatges from increased capacity options (not yet at least).
But maybe I'm just falling into the trap of using statistics to prove anything; after all, only a 1/3 of A350 customers have also ordered the 787, and only a 1/7 of 787 customers have also order the A350.
So let's just get back to the United order.
United have said that the plan is to reduce the current widebody fleet of three types (747, 767, 777) to these two new types only. So I guess that means United will be abandoning the high capacity market with no prospect of any A380s or 747-8s. That's another blow to the VLA programs, with one less potential customer to sell to, but I'm not really surprised. But in general, this move makes sense to me; United stated that this fleet renewal would reduce their long-haul seat count by 19%; this is a similar scale to their short-haul capacity reduction when they retired the 737s earlier this year. By getting smaller (on average) widebody aircraft, United can safely reduce capacity and cost without affecting flight frequency, which seems like a very smart move. And in the long-haul business, frequency can be particularly important, because one aircraft can affect your daily frequency by 50% or 100% between city pairs, which could easily influence overall passenger demand. Ultimately, United is reducing capacity but maintaining (even growing) it’s international network, which is what the passenger cares about most.
It also says that United is committed to focusing on capacity control and high load factors, and are sensibly taking actions to avoid the over capacity conditions of the US airlines of the late 90’s, which ultimately sent United and others into bankruptcy when the demand for travel collapsed.
Up until now, I thought United were kind of past it, a dinosaur of the old airline world. Even after their order announcement, I thought United's so cash strapped that they've split the order just to get better financing; and don't get me wrong, I'm sure the financial deals from Airbus and Boeing were very attractive. But after reconsidering this order a bit more, I really think that United is on the right track. They have a very clear vision going forward for their long-haul plans. The A350/787 fleet solution is simple and flexible, and their 50 options on each model leaves the door open for future 787-9s and A350-1000s, giving United even more flexibility for little added complexity. I wonder if many more airlines may take this split order approach going forward, as both development programs progress.
Hello and welcome to the trailing edge.
Until now I have been a frequent though passive visitor in the aerospace blog scene. Over the past couple of years I have read (and, as it turns out, been inspired by) the many excellent blogs and bloggers out there.
With views from the trailing edge, I hope to add me own (supplemental) take on what is going on in the world of aerospace and defense. I'm a generally mild-mannered person, and I hope to give a largely balanced opinion on what is going on in the industry, but I'll try to keep my posts interesting and insightful. I'm a US-based aerospace engineer by day, so don’t be surprised to see a few technical references and graphs pop up from time to time. Things will no doubt shift a little over time, but for now at least, expect this blog to focus primarily on the goings on of the airframers and engine makers in both the civil and defense aerospace markets, with maybe the occasional note from aviation history if anything catches my eye.
And I will of course welcome any and all comments, either posted on the blog itself, or by email.
So with introductions over, I’ll get on with my first real post.
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