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The Unique Bleeker

14 September 2018

The Curtiss Bleeker SX-5-1 helicopter on 18 June 1930—NASA image

Maitland Bleeker of NACA (today’s NASA) designed this novel helicopter in 1926 with Curtiss-Wright building it for $250,000 (~$3,440,00 today). An absence of a tail rotor stands out in the design, but why is one not required? That is because each rotor blade was turned by its own conventional propeller so the tremendous torque of a conventionally powered rotor was not generated, so there was no need to counter it. Pitch was controlled by the stabovators positioned below each rotor blade which deflected the rotor downwash as needed. A Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine (420hp) allowed the Bleeker to carry two persons. Payload was 800 pounds which could include 30 gallons of fuel so range would not have been great but also unnecessary as this was a research design. Stability and vibration issues were never resolved and never permitted the Bleeker to fly outside of its hangar. The Bleeker’s fate is unreported so it was likely scrapped. A novel approach though and an early helicopter design.


HMS Queen Elizabeth berths in Mayport

13 September 2018

5 Sept 2018: the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) arriving at Naval Station Mayport—U.S. Navy/Mass Comm Spec 3rd class Kristopher S. Haley


The Dawn Probe—mission end

12 September 2018


Rear view of Dawn looking at the solar panels and the ion drive’s thrust exhaust below the communications dish—NASA art image

Dawn’s service will soon end as its hydrazine gas supply, required for its attitude thrusters, will become exhausted. Dawn had the remarkable mission of intercepting and mapping the two largest objects in the asteroid belt, which lies between Jupiter and Mars—unique in that not one but two extraterrestrial objects were objectives. The dwarf planet Ceres and minor planet Vestsa were imaged and mapped, both having sufficient masses to allow orbiting (using gravity as opposed to flying in formation which is done with low mass objects). Dawn’s fate is to be placed in high orbit about Ceres to avoid a crash landing there (and potential Earth contamination of Ceres), where it will remain for a very long time.

The Dawn Mission Patch—NASA art image

Artists’s impression of the Dawn’s ion engine thrust—NASA art image

Dawn approaching the dwarf planet Ceres—NASA art image

Artist’s impression of Dawn’s mission to map the dwarf planet, and largest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres (upper right) and minor planet Vesta which is also the second most massive object within the asteroid belt, as well as the ion drive engine—NASA art image

Ion Drive Tech

11 September 2018

Dawn’s ion drive propulsion—NASA art image

After reading about ion drives in The Martian (yesterday’s post) and in NASA’s Dawn mission (tomorrow’s post) it was time to learn about this technology. Essentially, a gas (currently xenon is the favorite), is ionized and these ions cleverly accelerated to high speeds (~90,000 mph!) and directed rearwards as a beam where Newton’s Third Law comes into play moving the space craft in the opposite direction. The ion speeds are high but the their mass is low so acceleration values are  less than breathtaking, but in space the ship is constantly accelerating as the ion drive is always generating thrust so eventual speed can be great—just a bit of patience is required. Xenon is a high density storage gas which is easily ionized thus making it a natural for space-borne ion drive craft. Presently, ion drives may seem rare but what may be the surprising reality is that over 100 geosynchronous satellites incorporate these engines. Ion drives have become all but ubiquitous and space is getting higher concentrations of xenon. For more information—see this NASA article on ion drive tech.

Lost Thunderbirds Remembrance near Payette ID

10 September 2018

Several Thunderbird support crew, as well as aircraft crew, were traveling on an Air Force C-123 when they met their fate in a late afternoon crash on 9 October 1958 in Payette County, Idaho. As small communities do, they recognized the duty so well served by the crewmen and used precious resources to mark the tragic loss of the 19 souls with a plaque and a monument just one year later—both are located within Fort Wilson Park on Hwy 52 about four miles east of Payette ID.

Going further, the Payette County Historical Society will host a 60th anniversary ceremony on 29 September 2018 at 10:30am local time. Quite a significant number of people will be there for the occasion: family of those lost, USAF Thunderbird ambassadors, a military honor guard, local chapters of the VFW and American Legion as well as music.

The ceremony is at no cost to attend.

The Martian

10 September 2018

The Martian: a novel, And Weir, 2014, ISBN 978-0-553-41802-6, 387 pp.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This book is fantastic!

The Martian is science fiction based in the near future when manned space travel to explore Mars is the norm for NASA and Andy Weir has the science portion down pat. A literary device of high winds is used but the rest is all by the numbers with the physics and biology marvelously explained. Since manned exploration is the norm in The Martian there are machines which have overcome the challenges of living on Mars and although the engineering cannot be described, of course, the need for them is detailed. For example, the approach for controlling CO2 to less than 1% as opposed to adding oxygen was enlightening. The Martian has many more similar gems to enjoy as well. Wonderfully, the sarcasm of the character is a hoot and will be recognized by professionals in almost all fields. Aside from the education through story telling of Mars is the description of NASA’s Mars shuttle, Hermes. A marvelous ship akin to Verne’s Nautilus with its clever use of centrifugal force to imitate gravity and ion drive for propulsion—a ship built for a handful of round trips from Earth orbit to Mars orbit. Read this book, too, for how professionals do not give up easily as Weir illustrates when the hero, the lone person on Mars after becoming stranded, systematically solves problems as they arise with and without NASA—no cheap device of the hoodied, Dorito munching savant beating the supercomputer using team of techs—The Martian is about intelligence over fantastical writing.

Hartmann, the Anarchist: Or the Doom of the Great City

9 September 2018

Hartmann, the Anarchist: Or the Doom of the Great City, E. Douglas Fawcett, 1893 (originally published), PIBN 1000446884, 214 pp.

Hartmann, the Anarchist: or the Doom of the Great City by E. Douglas Fawcett

I learned of this book when reading another about his brother Percy Fawcett who is the greatest explore you may never had heard of. That book is The Lost City of Z: a Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon which is written by David Grann. Grann mentions in his book that Percy’s brother wrote excellently in the science fiction venue and particularly a story which envisioning airships as weapons of strategic destruction.

How right Grann is! Hartmann, the Anarchist: Or the Doom of the Great City  is that book and more. Fawcett knew how to write a story that was imaginative, captivating and bursting with future vision. Fawcetts’s aviation knowledge is up to date as of 1893 and his language is easy to read though sentence phrases often are very different—and pleasantly so. Back in the day, for example, being told off meant being given your orders. Quite different in today’s English.

Fawcett makes good use of Hiram Maxim’s flying developments of the time and probably Alberto Santos-Dumont’s experimentation, as well. Some of the aerodynamics are a bit off but most are spot on. His descriptions of the feeling of flight as well the sights while flying—novel for the time—are inspirational and wonderfully descriptive. Fawcett’s impressions of the horrible destruction that can be wrought by aerial attack are vivid and, unfortunately, as accurate as can be written today with his inclusions of collateral damage and detailed observation of destructive mechanisms. Like Jules Verne describing a powerful but unknown source of power to the outside world in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fawcett also describes a lightweight metal required for the airship of his book, the Attila. Fawcett saw the future of flight in airships, which he almost got right, but absolutely got the need for aluminum spot on though decades ahead of the designers of wood and fabric aircraft.

And the term, aircraft. It is not used in the book but aeronef and aerostat are. Another delightful gem in this book as we learn aeronef is the French term (where it is spelled aéronef) for airship at the time, though aircraft in the present day.

Hartmann, the Anarchist: Or the Doom of the Great City is a delightful and easy read. Airship fans will particularly enjoy Fawcett’s imaginative description of the Attila’s construction and her handling. Story tellers will also enjoy Fawcett’s ability to pen a story using the reader’s imagination to fill in the spaces between the words—just as a trombone player has the ability to play between the notes.