Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Southern California sites all deserve recognition for their contributions to aviation history

The AIAA designated the old TRW Space Park in Redondo Beach, Calif., as an historic aerospace site earlier this month, and it got me thinking about the significance to aviation and aerospace history of many other sites in and around Southern California where I grew up. I was born in Southern California in 1959, and were it not for aviation, my family never would have started there, and I never would have had the opportunity to see a continuing parade of aerospace history pass before my eyes.

My family always was part of the aviation and aerospace scene in the South Bay section of Greater Los Angeles. My dad, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, moved to Southern California from Montana to attend the Northrop Aeronautical Institute -- now Northrop University -- shortly after leaving the Air Force in 1954. He had been a B-29 aircraft crew chief in the 54th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron on Guam, which was in place to gather information on tropical cyclones and Soviet nuclear experiments, and on leaving the service he wanted to stay involved in aviation. In those days, Southern California was the place to do that.

Northrop Aeronautical Institute was begun during World War II by aviation pioneer Jack Northrop, who started Northrop Aviation (now Northrop Grumman). He set up an aircraft manufacturing plant next to my home town of El Segundo, where Northrop manufactured aircraft like the F-5 jet fighter and its twin, the T-38 Talon supersonic trainer, as well as the YB-49 Flying Wing, which was the predecessor to the U.S. B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

Right there in El Segundo was North American Aviation (now Boeing), which manufactured the P-51 Mustang fighter during World War II, and later the F-86 Sabre jet fighter, and even later designed the B-1 strategic bomber. Also in El Segundo was Douglas Aircraft (which later would become McDonnell Douglas, and Boeing after that), which manufactured the DC-3, DC-6, and DC-7 passenger aircraft. Hughes Aircraft was also a neighbor.

Just down the road from us in Redondo Beach was TRW Inc. (now Northrop Grumman), which did classified satellite work and designed guidance systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles. I remember first touring TRW Space Park in 1967 as en eight-year-old Cub Scout.

In this place you couldn't avoid the aerospace business in those days. If your dad or mom wasn't working at one of the aviation plants, then the moms and dads of your friends were. Where I lived, my next-door neighbor worked for North American when that company won the B-1 bomber contract. The man across the street worked for Continental Airlines. My dad worked for Garrett AiResearch, where one day he ran into Cliff Garrett, himself, who helped him work out a particularly frustrating mechanical problem.

So the aerospace business runs in my family; it's in my blood, and was part of the fabric of my upbringing. I couldn't have had that experience anywhere else.

Monday, December 19, 2011

North Korea's new leader

Posted by Skyler Frink

Kim Jong-il passed away this Saturday due to a heart attack, according to the North Korean government. The deceased's youngest son, Kim Jong-eun, is taking his father's place as the head of the country.

North Korea has been making headlines fairly regularly due to its nuclear program and the many media-worthy events that have come forth from the country. With this new change in regime can we expect things to be different?

Not much is known about Kim Jong-eun, and whether or not he will continue North Korea's less than stellar history of cooperation on the international stage is unknown. While North Korea's population has been kept in the dark by the government, can Kim Jong-eun maintain that sort of control over the country? The world is full of ways to gain access to information, and an untested leader who may not have the ties that his father had could be incapable of stepping up to the challenge of running a country, especially one as volatile as North Korea.

Kim Jong-eun has had little exposure to the outside world, and was largely protected by Kim Jong-il. He does not have much diplomatic experience, though he was seen with his father during a September visit with the president of Laos. With his lack of experience and young age, maybe he'll bring about some change for the better in North Korea.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Commercial satellite photo reminds us that China is a future global aircraft carrier power

Posted by John Keller

The big-deck aircraft carrier is one of the world's most dominant and imposing conventional weapon systems, and the U.S. Navy has been the world's undisputed aircraft carrier power for nearly 70 years since the Battle of Midway in June 1942 when American naval forces sank four Japanese aircraft carriers in what was to be the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.

The modern aircraft carrier is a breath-taking vessel -- a veritable floating city with about 5,000 personnel aboard. A U.S. Nimitz-class carrier, fully loaded, displaces more than 100,000 long tons, has two nuclear reactors that drive four propeller shafts, has a top speed of more than 30 knots, can operate for about 20 years between refueling, and has a carrier air wing of about 90 advanced combat aircraft. This vessel is the largest capital ship in the world.

Bear in mind that the Navy has 10 active aircraft carriers -- all of them Nimitz-class vessels -- and is building two of the latest Ford-class carriers and has one additional Ford-class ship planned.

Since the Battle of Midway, challengers have stepped up, most notably the navy of the Soviet Union during the 1970s and '80s, but no other navy has come close to matching the might of U.S. Navy carrier forces.

Now another challenger is stepping up -- the People's Republic of China. DigitalGlobe Inc.m a commercial satellite company in Longmont, Colo., shot a photo the other day of China's first aircraft carrier on its second sea trial in the Yellow Sea. Undoubtedly U.S. military reconnaissance satellites have picked up this ship before, but just seeing the photo reminds us of what's to come.

This particular carrier originally was an unfinished Soviet carrier that China obtained in 1998 and refurbished. Although many experts believe the ship is years away from being able to launch and recover aircraft in wartime conditions, I'll wager this ship will be combat-ready much sooner than that.

In addition, China reportedly has its first indigenously designed aircraft carrier under construction, which could enter service by 2015. This new Chinese aircraft carrier reportedly has twin hulls, which would enable its navy to service submarines covertly between the carrier's hulls. This vessel might be one-third the cost of a U.S. carrier, and take half the time to build that it takes to put a U.S. carrier to sea.

In the U.S. we worry increasingly about defense budgets, and wonder if the Pentagon over the long term will have the money necessary to build and maintain a carrier force to match what the Navy has today.

One thing's for certain: the Chinese navy is serious about building aircraft carriers to challenge U.S. sea dominance, and China has the money, the technical know-how, and the will to make it happen.

I think we're seeing the beginning of a new global struggle for maritime dominance.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How did that get there? How Iran may have obtained their new UAV

With the RQ-170 Sentinel firmly in Iranian hand, we have to wonder what got it there.

A lack of damage to the aircraft suggests it was not fired upon, nor did it have a severe crash. The UAV's landing could have been caused by a glitch in the Army's network, or it could have been the result of electronic warfare.

Of course, Iran is claiming they shot down or hacked the UAV for violating Iranian airspace.

The idea the UAV was brought down by physical force is unlikely due to the lack of damage that was shown in Iranian photographs and video. There are, however, two more likely scenarios in the form of electronic attack or electronic failure.

Now, Iran has been subject to a few severe electronic attacks in their time. Stuxnet, a worm that was unleashed on Iran's nuclear program, proved that Iran would need to evolve their own electronic warfare if they were to compete in today's military environment. Whether this was the cause of the RQ-170's crash is yet to be determined, but the lack of evidence of a physical attack and Iran's claims do make it plausible.

While having the UAV undergo an electronic attack could possibly lead it to an easy descent directly into Iranian hands, other explanations are equally valid. The Department of Defense said they lost control of the UAV earlier in the week, and that it simply ended up descending into Iran with absolutely no control.

The UAV did not suffer a harsh crash, but it has been speculated that the aircraft would have a more leaf-like descent rather than a strict nose-dive like many other aircraft. The large wings may have slowed the vehicle and allowed it to land relatively unscathed.

Until more research has been done, how the UAV got into Iranian hands is unknown. Let's hope this was a rare mistake by the DoD and that no critical information can be gleaned from the UAV's surviving electronics.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let's hope anti-tamper technology is real, as one of the most advanced UAVs falls into Iranian hands

Posted by John Keller

Well, there's little doubt now that a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has fallen into the hands of the Iranian government. The RQ-170 -- essentially an unmanned version of the U.S. Air Force Lockheed Martin B-2 stealth bomber -- recently was captured relatively undamaged in Eastern Iran while flying a reconnaissance mission, most likely from Afghanistan. The downed UAV has been shown on Iranian television.

If the Iranians have this sophisticated unmanned aircraft, then it's a virtual certainty that the Chinese and the Russians will get an extremely close look at the stealth UAV soon -- if they haven't already.

If there was ever a time for an advanced U.S. weapon system to have reliable anti-tamper technology aboard, it's now. Let's all hope that voiced Pentagon support for robust anti-tamper technology in recent years has been in earnest, and not just telling us what we want to hear.

Anti-tamper technology comes in a variety of forms, but its function, essentially, is to prevent unauthorized personnel -- like Chinese and Russian intelligence experts -- from reverse-engineering its electronic components and learning its secrets.

Anti-tamper technology most often is designed to sense unauthorized attempts to inspect electronic components such as solid-state memory chips and disk drives and wipe stored data clean without leaving a trace. Some anti-tamper technology even can physically destroy electronic components to keep its intellectual property from prying eyes.

Essentially anti-tamper technology was conceived to prevent any repeat of events like the so-called Hainan Island Incident a decade ago in which a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft was forced down on the Chinese island of Hainan, and Chinese intelligence experts were able to glean important secrets from the plane's electronic gear.

Now we face something similar with the downed RQ-170 Sentinel UAV in Iran. Let's hope U.S. military officials have learned from their past mistakes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Naval Academy class ring gives mute testimony to disaster at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today

Posted by John Keller

A ring from the U.S. Naval Academy, class of 1906, is an enduring icon of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which happened 70 years ago today, and ushered the United States into World War II. The ring belonged to Navy Rear Adm. Isaac Campbell Kidd, who on that day was commanding officer of the Navy's Battleship Division One. His flagship was the USS Arizona.

Adm. Kidd was born in 1884, and had served as a naval officer all of his adult life. His military experience involved the Navy's Great White Fleet's round-the-world cruise in 1907 to 1909. He had been aide and flag secretary to the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and commander of Destroyer Squadron One, Scouting Force.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Kidd was aboard the battleship USS Arizona, which was anchored at the Hawaiian naval base at Pearl Harbor near the other Pacific Fleet's battleships. The Arizona was a Pennsylvania-class battleship commissioned in 1916.

Even though the ageing warship had been at sea for a quarter century, the huge vessel with its 14-inch guns still was considered to be among the most formidable weapons of its day. The era of the aircraft carrier was yet to come, and battleships were still kings of the ocean on that sunny Sunday morning 70 years ago.

Adm. Kidd was a battleship officer through-and-through. In addition to the Arizona, he had served aboard the battleships USS New Jersey (BB-16), USS North Dakota (BB-29), USS New Mexico (BB-40), and USS Utah (BB-31).

When the first Japanese bombs began falling on Pearl Harbor, Adm. Kidd rushed to the bridge of the Arizona. There wasn't a lot he could do, as the ship was moored on Battleship Row next to Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, penned in next to the repair ship USS Vestal, with the battleships USS Nevada, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia in front and behind.

Although the Vestal screened the Arizona from Japanese aircraft-launched torpedoes, the Arizona was a stationary target, vulnerable to Japanese bombs. One of those bombs ripped through the Arizona's forward deck, igniting a powder magazine and causing a spectacular fiery explosion that ripped the battle wagon apart, and collapsed the ship's superstructure that contained the ship's bridge.

Adm. Kidd's body was never recovered. Navy divers sent to salvage what they could from the Arizona's wreckage did locate Adm. Kidd's naval academy class ring. They found it in what was left of the Arizona's bridge welded to a bulkhead from the concussion and heat of the explosion.

Divers also found Adm. Kidd's trunk on the sunken Arizona, which is at the USS Arizona Memorial museum at Pearl Harbor.

In a postscript to the disaster at Pearl Harbor, Adm. Kidd's son, Isaac C. Kidd, Jr., was commissioned a Navy ensign 12 days after his father's death at Pearl Harbor. Later he participated in the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima near the end of World War II in the Pacific. He retired from the Navy in 1978 and died in 1999.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Quadruped robot nearing release

By Skyler Frink

I remember back when BigDog, a quadruped robot, was announced by Boston Dynamics. The robot, which was capable of carrying over 300 pounds while traversing terrain that normal vehicles could not, was to be used as a pack mule that could accompany soldiers across difficult terrain.

Big Dog is to be succeeded by the Legged Squad Support System (L3S), but news of the robot has been slim since the contract was awarded in 2009.

The BigDog robot was more than just a robot that took steps forward and managed not to fall over, it could traverse ice in a hilarious albeit functional way, it could stay up after being pushed and it could traverse almost any type of terrain. The robot seemed immensely useful, but it vanished into obscurity. However, for those who have been following the L3S project we are growing ever closer to the newest quadruped robot, AlphaDog, being released.

Boston Dynamics currently plans on finishing the first version of AlphaDog at some point in 2012. I can't wait to see these quadruped robots in use, lightening loads of soldiers no matter where they need to go.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Drone, UAV, UAS ... what do we call that unmanned flyin' thing, anyway?

Posted by John Keller

I'm hearing a lot of different names lately for unmanned aircraft. The mainstream media seems to like the word "drone" to describe the kind of sophisticated pilotless aircraft able to find and attack elusive targets in rugged terrain. Many in the trade press use "unmanned aerial system," or UAS, to describe pilotless aircraft. At Military & Aerospace Electronics, we tend to use "unmanned aerial vehicle," or UAV.

So what's in a name? To the unbiased, perhaps not much, but I've been covering the developing UAV industry for a long time now, and to me, there are some subtle yet substantial differences.

The biggest problem I have is with the use of the word drone to describe today's advanced-technology UAVs. To me, drone describes a remotely operated aircraft, often used for tracking and target practice, and has no role in describing UAV technology that often as not can operate autonomously. We used to call these kinds of flying targets "remotely piloted vehicles," or RPVs -- a term I haven't seen or heard in several years.

I remember visiting China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in Ridgecrest, Calif., back in the early '80s, and saw old Air Force North American F-86 Sabre jet fighters flying around the area. I couldn't figure that one out; F-86s gained fame in the Korean War in the early 1950s during dogfights in famed Mig Alley. These aircraft were hopelessly obsolete even 30 years ago when I was visiting China Lake.

The people there told me those F-86s I saw in the sky had no pilots in them, but instead were remotely operated -- much like a radio-controlled model plane. Navy fighter pilots in what were new aircraft like the F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter used those remote-control F-86s to practice locking weapons on target during air combat maneuvering exercised. Occasionally, I heard, they used to blow those remote-control F-86s out of the sky, but I never saw them do it.

My point is, the word drone describes something simple and unsophisticated, and has no place describing today's UAVs.

Now for the term UAS. I know the Pentagon loves this term, and its officials are encouraging everyone to use it when describing advanced unmanned aircraft. My reasons for not using it are selfish and simple. The term UAV gets about a million searches on Google every month. UAS gets about half that.

I want Google to sweep as many readers to the Military & Aerospace Electronics Website at as possible, and I'll continue using UAV for as long as it draws the most online search traffic.

I'll keep an eye on it, though. The minute that UAS gets more search traffic than UAV is when you'll see UAS through the online and print pages of Military & Aerospace Electronics. We'll see how well -- and how soon -- the Pentagon's UAS campaign pays off.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Customizable communication

Posted by Skyler Frink

Everyone customizes their phone one way or another now. Whether it's their background or the applications they use, people are getting to communicate and view data on their own terms. Will soldiers be given this luxury with their communication and data?

While on one hand, allowing customizable communication and data could mean that soldiers are getting different pictures of the battlefield, but is that really a bad thing? If one soldier prefers contour lines rather than colors to indicate elevation, is it a big deal that they aren't seeing the same exact thing?

We have the technology to do this, it's right in the devices we use every day. Is it difficult to program, or is there some sort of standardization issue that prevents customization? I'm curious as to whether soldiers will be given the myriad of options civilians are offered when it comes to communication, and I'm curious as to what the major players in the defense industry think about the potential of personalized communication.

Should our soldiers be able to customize how data is displayed, or should there be one standard that everyone in the military has to conform to? Should customization be allowed at all, be limited to minor aesthetic changes or allow warfighters to change everything about how data is displayed?

I'm excited to see the direction the military goes. I know I'd like to see a fully-customizable Command Web system, allowing users to pick and choose how data is displayed on screen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Federal spending cuts: can't anybody here play this game?

Posted by John Keller

Here it is, the day before Thanksgiving; too bad the U.S. aerospace and defense industry doesn't have too much to be thankful for.

The so-called congressional supercommittee, put in place to identify federal spending cuts over the next 10 years, has declared failure -- even before its deadline.

The supercommittee was tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts over the next decade, and members simply couldn't do it. Reminds me of a quote from Casey Stengel, manager of the hapless 1962 New York Mets, a team that lost 120 out of 162 games that year. "can't anybody here play this game?" Stengel reportedly asked. The committee's failure means the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) budget faces annual automatic cuts of $55 billion.

Think of that kind of defense cut, if Congress allows automatic cuts to proceed. $55 billion is enough to pay for about 40 F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft, 1,200 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles, 885 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, or 12 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Remember, that $55 billion cut could happen every year for 10 years in a worse-case scenario.

Now the federal budget faces potentially automatic deep spending cuts starting in federal fiscal year 2013, which begins in 10 months. DOD programs could be among the hardest hit if Congress does not intervene.

Intervention. That was supposed to be the role of the supercommittee, but partisan bickering doomed negotiations probably before they really got started. Makes me wonder of Congress as an institution is even capable of reducing federal spending.

I have my doubts that Congress will stand by to see these potentially devastating DOD spending cuts take hold. There are simply too many special interests at stake for Congress to ignore. Time will tell, and presidential and congressional elections less than a year away undoubtedly will play a central in how things turn out.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Video Games as Military Education

Posted by Skyler Frink

In my video blog I discussed video games in the military, but I feel that there's much more to say on the subject. As a person who has actually played the game that got it all started, America's Army, I feel like I should weigh in on my experience and the impression it gave me. Now, I played America's Army 2, not 3, so there may be some slight differences between my own experiences and those of the current game.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with America's Army, it is a realistic first-person video game with a goal of educating the public on the U.S. Army.

First of all, the game requires you to go through training before you play at all. The training isn't particularly short either, and it took me about an hour to complete it before I could jump into the multiplayer. The training features running through an obstacle course, getting familiar with all the weapons and doing some shooting on a firing range.

This training is designed to help educate players on the Army's standards, and reduce the dropout rate of people in basic. While I can't say I got any more fit than I was when I started playing, I can say I have an understanding of the obstacle course (or at least what sort of challenges there are in it) now and understand some basics about weapons in the army. It really does go into great detail explaining things and drives home that the Army is full of well-trained individuals.

The additional training you can take to become a sniper or medic go into even more detail. Becoming a medic is particularly difficult, as you need to listen to several lectures, complete with slides, and then complete an in-game test. At the very least I took away the ability to make an effective tourniquet, and more respect for those who choose to become medics.

Once in the game you are given the option of many different maps to play on, each with their own scenario. None of these scenarios require killing anyone else (you can reach the other side of the map "bridge crossing" without firing a shot, for example), though it's generally impossible to win or lose without any casualties.

Interestingly enough, there is also a "training" map where each time is representing different teams in the U.S. Army on a training course that uses actual training gear (it looks more like laser tag than actual combat). Instead of being killed when shot, characters sits down if they are eliminated and wait until one team wins. Again, this highlights the professionalism of the Army and gives a peek into what training is like.

It's the professional atmosphere of the game that really gives it some useful educational value. Between the extremely useful in-game audio commands (yes, it includes Hooah!) and the realistic objectives, the game breeds respect and education. Even the community is friendly and welcoming, unlike many online gaming communities. After experiencing the training the players are united by at least one common experience, and the title itself tends to attract a more respectful crowd.

The game gives an extremely positive view of the Army, and does so without being preachy or boring. As a teenager I wasn't playing it to be educated, I was playing to be entertained, but some education couldn't help but rub off on me.

More companies should make games that educate in a way America's Army does: by allowing players to experience every aspect of what you're trying to teach them. From the classroom to the firing range to the battlefield, America's Army gives an impression of what it's like to be in the Armed Forces. Unlike other games that drop you right into combat, America's Army gives context and is all the better for it.

Now to see if I'm still of any use on the virtual battlefield...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Great Reason To Get To Munich This Spring: Avionics Europe to Explore New Frontier of Air Traffic Management

By Ernesto Burden, Publisher

Catching up on some writing and email on a Boeing MD-80 from Toronto to Chicago, I note a message from Neil Walker, the marketing manager of our Avionics Europe show, and that confluence of circumstances inevitably turns my thoughts to two pleasant topics - avionics and Munich. There's a lot to love about well-functioning, best-of-breed avionics - particularly when you are at 33,000 feet. And there's a lot to love about Munich and Bavaria, from the food (and beer!), to the culture, history, to the amazing architecture. For those in the avionics industry, you've got the perfect reason to get yourself there this spring - our tenth anniversary Avionics Europe 2012 show.

The 2012 conference and exposition, March 21-22, is the second year the show will be in Munich. The first year was an exciting renaissance for the event, with 35 percent growth in attendance and tremendous buzz on the floor, not only about renewed optimism in the aerospace industry, an optimism I've encountered quite often this year despite current economic uncertainties, but also about the splendid new location.

Neil's note underscored the practical effect of this optimism. He'd just penned a press release announcing Thales Avionics has decided to sponsor and exhibit at the 2012 event. They are joining the significant likes of the Association of European Airlines, SESAR and EUROCAE. in other words, the conference is really cooking and is poised to well top the success of 2011.

Beyond the opportunity to get myself back to Munich, and the great sponsors and exhibitors we're expecting, there are plenty of other reasons I'm excited about 2012.

Back in September, Military & Aerospace Electronics editor in chief John Keller and I went to Munich to meet with the conference's advisory committee (check out the committee here) to flesh out the program. John, who along with our Avionics Intelligence executive editor Courtney Howard, is heading up on the conference content this year, and the program developed in Munich promises to take last year's momentum and build mightily on it.

Writing this missive from 33,000 feet up in ever more crowded skies, I can't help but be heartened by the high level brainpower being brought to bear during our 2012 event on a central theme, which John describes as "how commercial airlines can improve revenue with an increasing flow of aircraft traffic, while maintaining safety and on-time departures and arrivals. The event will highlight and explore the technological, policy, and design issues faced by aircraft operators and designers as global aviation moves into the new frontier of air traffic management exemplified by SESAR and NextGen."

Speaking of on-time arrivals, it looks like we have one, so I'd best be packing away the iPad for landing. I look forward to seeing you in Munich. Save some pork knuckle and potato dumplings and a liter of Weizenbock for me. Bis bald!

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence. He can be reached at and on Twitter @ aero_ernesto.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Airbus prevails over Boeing in Dubai Air Show passenger jetliner sweepstakes, but no Paris-like blowout

Posted by John Keller

In the continuing grudge match over passenger aircraft sales at major global air shows, Airbus in Toulouse, France, has prevailed over Boeing Commercial Airplanes at this week's Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. By rough count, Airbus sold a total of 296 passenger aircraft, while Boeing sold 214.

While taking the passenger jetliner sweepstakes at Dubai, the high-profile competition between the world's largest aircraft manufacturers was nothing like the blowout last June at the Paris Air Show in LeBourget, France, where Airbus sold 730 aircraft to Boeing's 142.

At Dubai, Airbus continued with healthy sales of its future fuel-efficient A320neo single-aisle passenger aircraft with deals for 160 of the so-called new engine option aircraft. The A320neo was the star of last summer's Paris Air Show, when Airbus inked deals for 667 of the new aircraft, which will enter service in 2015 or 2016.

Dubai, however, was a different story in global competition to supply the next generation of narrowbody passenger jets for commercial airlines around the world. At Paris, Airbus rival Boeing still had not announced a new aircraft to compete directly with the A320neo. At Dubai, however, Boeing had rolled out its future 737 MAX, which will enter service in 2017.

This past week Boeing closed deals for 201 of its 737 MAX aircraft, besting Airbus in this crucial class of standard jetliners designed for fuel efficiency and environmentally friendly operations. Dubai was among the first chapters of what promises to be a lively and hard-fought competition over the next several years for the single-aisle aircraft market.

So, with the numbers in for Dubai, Boeing sold 201 737 MAX aircraft, 58 777-300ER long-range widebody aircraft, 29 long-range 737-900ER narrowbody aircraft, six 787 Dreamliners, and two 777 freighters. In contrast, Airbus sold 160 A320neo aircraft, 44 A320s, five giant A380 jumbo jets, and five A330-200 widebody aircraft.

This high-profile competition will continue to heat-up over the next year, and the next high-profile match will be at the Farnborough International Airshow next summer in Farnborough, England.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The role of the smartphone on the digital battlefield

Posted by John Keller

The Android smartphone and mobile tablet computer soon will play major roles on the digital battlefield, as government agencies join forces with the aerospace and defense industry to find ways to safeguard these technologies from hackers, eavesdroppers, and attempts steal sensitive information by reverse engineering.

U.S. government agencies -- particularly the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) are beginning to embrace commercially developed data-encryption algorithms, as well as software virtualization technologies that enable classified and unclassified information to run together on the same mobile device.

At the same time, industry is developing Wi Fi technologies to enable fighting forces on the front lines to exchange sensitive and classified information securely among handheld devices like tablet computers, smartphones, and wearable computers for situational awareness, targeting information, and intelligence gathering.

It's only a matter of time before a soldier on the front lines observes enemy movement, whips out a rugged smartphone from a vest pocket, takes a picture, and sends that information over a secure and mobile wireless local area network to warn colleagues nearby, as well as to send that time-critical information by satellite up the chain of command.

Military forces are eager to dip into the deep well of commercially developed mobile communications technology such as smartphones and tablets. Still, it almost doesn't matter whether the military wants to use this technology or not; the technology is coming, ready or not.

New recruits to the military forces expect to use the same technologies on the battlefield that they used every day in the civilian world, and the military -- even if it wanted to -- would be virtually powerless to stop this technological tidal wave.

Today, the military's major tasks in this regard are to find commercially developed mobile communications technology that offers good-enough capability, good-enough reliability, and good-enough security for use on the front lines.

The key phrase here is good enough. The days of gold-plated military-specific technologies are drawing to a close, and fast. The biggest and most immediate benefit of this, with little doubt, is involving smartphones, tablets, and other commercial mobile technology.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An update on the Avionics Europe conference and expo March 21 and 22 in Munich

Posted by John Keller

We've got an update on the Avionics Europe 2012 conference and exposition, which PennWell is sponsoring March 21 and 22 in Munich. Avionics giant Thales has signed on as a major sponsor and exhibitor at the show. Thales will be the delegate and visitor bag sponsor.

Avionics Europe has the support of Association of European Airlines, SESAR, and EUROCAE, who will all be hosting two-hour workshops relating to the Single European Sky initiative and its influence on the avionics industry.

The theme of Avionics Europe 2012 is Common Sky: Operating in One Air Space. Commercial and military aircraft, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have vastly different missions, yet share many of the same operating requirements -- especially when operating side-by-side in common air space. The conference and expo will highlight and explore the technological, policy, and design issues faced by designers and operators of civil aircraft, military aircraft, and UAVs as global aviation moves into the new frontier of air traffic management exemplified by SESAR and NextGen.

The revolves around two tracks: cockpit avionics and technologies for civil and military aircraft; and aircraft, spacecraft, and UAV sensor payloads, diagnostics, and certification.

The Avionics Europe conference and exhibition saw a 30 percent growth in attendance at the 2011 event, highlighting a return of activity to the aerospace industry following the preceding challenging economic climate. For more information contact Avionics Europe online at

Monday, November 14, 2011

The best defense is...

Posted by Skyler Frink

The best defense has changed throughout time. While the old phrase "the best defense is a good offense" has been popular, is it always true?

As times change it seems the best defense has changed with it. Trench warfare showed us the best defense is, indeed, a good defense. The cold war turned around and showed us that the best defense was a good offense (that you chose not to use, lest the other side use their own good offense).

Now we are at a time where the best defense is early detection. Everywhere from airports to the front lines are utilizing advanced forms of detection, which is currently as the best way of preventing an attack or halting one that has already begun.

We possess systems that can prevent any manner of attack, from our missile intercept systems, anti-torpedo measures and even a vehicle-arresting barrier, if we know an attack is being carried out we are capable of halting it (or at least severely limiting the damage done).

However, these systems are worthless if they can't detect a threat before it is too late. This is what has caused a paradigm shift, and led to many of the technological advancements of the day. From the full body scanners at airports to the new radar systems used by our military, we have begun pushing for more accurate and earlier detection.

After all, what's the point of a system that can stop a missile mid-flight if you don't even know the threat is there in the first place?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The politics and interpretation of DOD's Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) guidelines

Posted by John Keller

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is using a long and nebulous set of guidelines that have a lot of people talking within the defense industry. The guidelines are called
Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA)
, and describe in some detail the relative maturity of evolving technologies considered crucial for military systems like ships, airplanes, and tanks to meet their operational requirements.

The interesting thing about TRAs -- and one that generates substantial conversation and controversy in the defense industry -- is how to play them to best advantage in competitions for military procurement programs, and how companies can game the TRAs to ensure their most important technologies have the most beneficial TRA ratings.

The DOD lists nine different levels of TRAs, ranking so-called critical military technologies from least to most mature. Where the gamesmanship comes in is where on the scale to peg a company's most lucrative technology offerings for upcoming military procurements.

Company leaders don't want their core technology offerings to be among the least mature, because newer technologies pose great risk; there's no guarantee these technologies will work every time, and might not work and play well with other system components.

On the other hand, companies don't want their most important products to be among the most mature technologies because many of those are nearing obsolescence. No one wants to design in obsolete technology ... well, at least not on purpose.

The trick is to find that sweet spot in the middle that can describe a company's most important and lucrative technologies as not too new, not too old, but just right -- positioned most advantageously for system procurements with various durations.

DOD officials point out that TRA ratings come from independent review teams of subject matter experts, but we'd be silly if we didn't think each company had a substantial say in how their products will be rated.

A TRA, in essence, is a formal, systematic, metrics-based process and accompanying report that assesses the maturity of military technologies -- hardware or software -- which are necessary for military systems to meet their operational requirements. Here are the nine different TRA levels:

TRA 1, the lowest level of technology readiness, essentially is still laboratory technology just being considered for applications. TRA 2 is a technology just being translated into applications. TRA 3 refers to an experimental technology. TRA 4 refers to breadboard technologies. TRA 5 are technologies in advanced development. TRA 6 is prototype technology for specific applications. TRA 7 refers to demonstration and validation technology. TRA 8 refers to proven technologies. TRA 9 refers to technologies with a reasonably long track record in actual applications, and which might be on the downslope toward obsolescence.

DOD officials keep the TRA guidelines vague on purpose, so sometimes it's a guessing game for companies to determine the best TRA ratings. It's a fair bet that TRAs will remain a hot topic at the bar and around the water cooler.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Space geeks rejoice: NASA news abounds

I had the opportunity to meet with high-level executives at military and aerospace technology firms throughout the Pacific Northwest in the past couple weeks. I had the pleasure of discussing the avionics market, including military, commercial, and general aviation with professionals at industry firms VPT, Crane Aerospace & Electronics, Radisys, Martek Power, EDT, and others.

I learned in numerous face-to-face meetings that, when it comes to the current and future health of the industry, optimism abounds. Demand for avionics is growing across multiple segments and locales; among them are: the Asia-Pacific region, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and space. Space avionics sub-segments--including spacecraft systems, unmanned rovers, and satellites--are active and gaining considerable attention.

NASA officials have made several announcements, just in this first week of November. Among them is a rare opportunity.

For the first time in three decades, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is open to tourists. Guests at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex can take a tour of the 525-foot-tall VAB, where myriad rockets have been built—ranging from the first Saturn V rocket in the late 1960s to the last space shuttle, the STS-135 Atlantis.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), being called the largest and most capable rover to be sent to another planet, is scheduled to launch the morning of Nov. 25. The spacecraft will carry the car-sized Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars in Aug. 2010.

NASA officials, together with engineers from Lockheed Martin Space Systems, also plan an unmanned flight test of the Orion spacecraft in early 2014. The test of Lockheed Martin’s multi-purpose crew vehicle supports NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).

NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna in California captured radar images of the aircraft carrier-sized Asteroid 2005 YU55 passing roughly 860,000 miles away from Earth.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has appointed Mason Peck, a professor at Cornell University, to be the agency’s chief technologist starting in January.

The Juno spacecraft has launched on its five-year voyage to Jupiter, with help from American Pacific Corp.'s in-space propulsion subsidiary (AMPAC-ISP).

NASA engineers are busy and, in turn, keeping aerospace technology companies busy and innovating. Space is a bright spot in the avionics community, and recent activity should allay concerns over a dwindling U.S. space industry. Kudos and keep up the great work--to 2012 and beyond!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Knowledge is Power

Posted by Skyler Frink

If there's one thing GI Joe taught me, it's that knowledge is power.

Intelligence has always been a key factor in military engagements. From the lack of communication between Lee and Stuart in the civil war to the blunder by the British during the Battle of New Orleans, those without knowledge of the battlefield and the capabilities of both sides have been at a severe disadvantage.

Fortunately for the military intelligence has evolved, and getting exact information is increasingly possible with satellites, laser systems, advanced radar, unmanned sensors and unmanned vehicles. The problem facing the modern military is how to share this wealth of information.

The answer is the same as it's always been: Radios.

Modern radios, which behave more like smart phones than the radios of old that only relayed verbal communication, can transmit images, video and data. The utility of these improvements are obvious; verbal reports can be inaccurate and can often be misinterpreted. Rather than having to listen to a verbal report, imagine being able to see the battlefield through video feeds, or have a map that is updated in real-time as data flows in from various sensors.

With all of this information we get the ability to give more detailed commands. Rather than verbal orders, a satellite can locate a target and direct whatever forces are necessary to an area. There are no more questions about where other friendlies are located, because each soldier possesses a GPS that is constantly transmitting data to every other device on the field.

New technologies such as these help dispel the uncertainty created by the fog of war, and go a long way in improving safety for the men and women who are engaged in combat. GI Joe would be proud.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Is orange juice key to preserving last intact German Do-17 light bomber downed in Battle of Britain?

Posted by John Keller

Thanks to an Alert Reader in North Carolina, I've learned of an historical research project in England that seeks to raise and preserve what is believed to be the last remaining intact German Dornier Do-17, a World War II-era light bomber shot down over the English Channel in summer 1940 during the Battle of Britain.

Interestingly, it may turn out to be orange juice -- or some similar derivate rich in citric acid -- that may be key to preserving the aircraft remains, now submerged under the English Channel, from the ravages of salt-water-induced corrosion.

Experts from Imperial College London and the Royal Air Force Museum are joining hands to rescue the downed Do-17 -- better-known as the "Flying Pencil" -- and display the restored Nazi bomber in a proposed gallery planned to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the Battle of Britain.

The aircraft was found last year in the shallows off the Goodwin Sands in the English Channel between the England and France. Shifting sands uncovered the aircraft, which had been protected for decades by layers of sediment. Its exposure to salt water, however, threatens to destroy the remains. The Battle of Britain, fought in the summer and fall of 1940, refers to attempts by Nazi Germany to establish air superiority over the United Kingdom as a prelude to a German invasion of the British Isles, which never came, thanks to a tenacious defense by the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The recently discovered Do-17 had been manned by a crew of four and loaded with 2,000 pounds of bombs on 26 Aug. 1940 when it was shot down by RAF fighters. Its pilot and another crew member survived, and two were killed when the airplane went down.

For now, researchers are testing an environmentally friendly solution based on citric acid -- found in high concentrations in citrus fruit like oranges and lemons -- to remove surface layers of corrosion and sea deposits on the Do-17 remains, but leave remaining paint and markings on the aircraft intact.

If all goes well, researchers plan to raise the aircraft remains from the English Channel next spring, restore the aircraft, and display it in the planned new Battle of Britain Beacon win at the Royal Air Force Museum's London site.

Editor's note: special thanks goes out to Chris Burke, president of BtB Marketing Communications in Raleigh, N.C., a man of catholic interests, keen insights, and broad expertise. Don't laugh; he knows how to cook a turkey in a garbage can.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Boeing: A giant awakens

By Courtney E. Howard

When I began covering the aerospace market and, soon after, relocated to the Pacific Northwest, I was surprised to find that although The Boeing Company was considered an industry giant, it was also perceived by many, especially those in technological circles, to be rather slow-moving.

In little more than the past two months, however, Boeing has made significant strides.

The company announced global leadership changes, including: Marlin Dailey, vice president of sales for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, named president of Boeing Germany, Northern Europe/EU, and Africa; Ray Conner named to the new position of senior vice president of sales and customer support, leading sales, marketing, and commercial aviation services; Stan Deal named to succeed Conner as vice president and general manager, supply chain management and operations; Tim Peters named to lead surveillance and engagement division; Lianne Stein, vice president of Boeing International and president of Boeing Germany, appointed vice president of global corporate citizenship; and Vice President, Community and Education Relations Anne Roosevelt, Boeing Space Exploration VP Brewster Shaw, and CFO James Bell announcing retirement.

In the past two months, Boeing has: introduced the 737 MAX aircraft family, upgraded CV-22 trainers, delivered 787 Dreamliners, first flew the P-8I and CHAMP missile, modernized the F-15E radar, won various avionics modernization and satellite communications contract awards, approved quarterly dividends, modernized destroyers with Gigabit Ethernet networking, helped conduct the first biofuel flight, and much more.

Be sure to stay tuned to Avionics Intelligence to read the latest news, including a new Boeing Commercial Crew program office and partnership with NASA and Space Florida, which is destined to bring new jobs to the Florida facility.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Guns, guns, guns

Posted by Skyler Frink

The musket revolutionized the battlefield when it was unveiled. The rifled barrel, which allowed muskets to fire with some degree of accuracy, also altered the battles of the future. After the rifled barrel it was repeating weapons, which could be fired more than once before reloading, that shaped the wars of the day. As warfare carried on, so did the technology behind the weapons that soldiers carried onto the battlefield. Why is it, then, that new guns seem to have stopped being released?

Is it that we have reached the pinnacle of technology with our guns? Have we run out of ways to fire more accurately, with more power or at greater distances?

I don't think so.

The lack of new guns represents a change in how war is fought. As surely as tanks made cavalry obsolete, placing men and women on the front lines is becoming less and less necessary thanks to modern advancements in technology.

No longer do we need to place soldiers directly in harm's way to secure a building. Rather than risk attack, an unmanned vehicle can be tossed into the room to acquire intelligence. Instead of sending soldiers on reconnaissance missions, we can take pictures with satellites or send an unmanned aerial vehicle to survey the area. Rifles are only useful when you have people who will be engaging the enemy directly, and technology is making it so direct contact is no longer a necessity.

On the ever-changing battlefields of today it's only a matter of time before infantry are not required to secure an area or win a battle. As the dangerous jobs are slowly pushed into the realm of unmanned vehicles, we will eventually see the dangers of direct combat be relegated to similar devices.

Business aviation: a boon to corporate 'fat cats' or job creator for the local community?

Posted by John Keller

Hearing the Obama Administration's rhetoric on business aviation, and you'd think anyone who rides on a private jet is a criminal. Look up Obama corporate jets, and you get a litany from proposed increased taxes on business aviation, to accusations of fat-cat corporate executives who not only don't pay their fair share of taxes and fees, but who also, when using business aviation, somehow are robbing from the less fortunate.

It sounds like outright warfare waged by the Obama Administration on anyone who uses a business jet -- whether he or she needs it or not. There are some corporate leaders for whom private jets make sense, as using this general aviation asset helps keep their companies running and ahead of the competition, but that's beside my point.

I read a story in The Telegraph of Nashua, N.H., on Sunday, which clearly lays out some of the benefits of business aviation to the community at large, not just the so-called "fat cats" who use corporate jets.

The story, headlined "Ceremony will celebrate construction of new runway at Boire Field in Nashua," discusses construction of a new runway at the general-aviation airport in Nashua, N.H., called Boire Field. This $16 million project, to be paid for primarily by grants from the FAA and New Hampshire Department of Transportation, breaks ground this week on a 6,000-foot level runway, which ultimately will replace an ageing 5,500-foot runway that has one end 10 feet lower than the other.

What caught my eye is the economic influence this project is expected to have. To begin with, the project will create more than 40 full-time jobs, and will be "a boon to most of the 30 businesses that revolve around the airport," reads the story, authored by The Telegraph's Joseph G. Cote.

A 6,000-foot runway isn't long enough to accommodate commercial aircraft, so don't expect to take an airline flight into our out of Boire Field anytime soon. Still, that extra 500 feet of runway should make all the difference for the business jets that use the airport.

The existing 5,500-foot runway isn't long enough for large corporate jets like the Gulfstream V to take off from Nashua with full fuel tanks -- especially on hot, humid days when all aircraft display relatively sluggish aerodynamic performance. That extra 500 feet of runway, however, will enable the biggest private jets operating from Boire Field to take off fully fueled, which increases range and efficiency.

The story points out other community benefits of the general aviation airport improvement project. The new runway also could mean more money for the airport from fuel taxes and for pilots who could take on more passengers per flight, the story reads.

So a project that on the surface might look to benefit only corporate "fat cats" actually will create jobs, enhance the local tax base, and improve efficiency for the local corporations that operate jets at Nashua.

Maybe we ought to think about this next time we hear President Obama or others in his administration attacking business aviation as only benefitting the rich.

No power, no content: the October snowstorm from Hell

Posted by John Keller

First things first, I have to apologize for the lack of new content on the Military & Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Intelligence websites on Sunday. It's normally my job to post on Sundays, but my efforts on 30 Oct. were frustrated when one of the biggest October snowstorms on record rolled through New England where I live and work.

October. Snowstorm. Not even here in New Hampshire do those two words go together very often. Okay, maybe a dusting here and there ... maybe. What we actually got was 13 inches of heavy, wet snow. Still, it's New England; that shouldn't be such a big deal.

The problem, however, is we still have trees fully foliated with green leaves, and the weekend snowstorm hit us hard. Fall was funny this year. We never got a hard freeze -- until this morning -- and the autumn season has kind of been sputtering forward with only subtle foliage color. The long and short of it, however, is we still have lots of leaves on the trees, and a foot of heavy snow ... well, you can just imagine.

Trees down, power lines shredded, transformers exploded, roads closed ... mayhem, in other words. Where I live in Milford, N.H., the power went out sometime around 1 a.m. Sunday. It's still out, by the way, and is likely to remain so for as long as week. Still, the office power is on here in Nashua, so at least I can get back to work.

No such luck Sunday. Instead of posting content yesterday, as I normally do, I was shoveling snow ... heavy, wet snow ... or did I say that already?

Moving forward, I'll promise have Sunday content on our Websites for you, barring disaster like we had this past weekend. Temperatures this week are supposed to be in the 50s and 60s -- typical fall weather, in other words -- so maybe that 13 inches of snow will be just a memory in a few days ...

... or not. I'm expecting the last of Sunday's snow to melt sometime next April. In the meantime, I have a bit of cheerful news: winter doesn't start officially for about another seven weeks.

Wish us luck.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Is it time for widely recognized industry standards for anti-tamper?

Posted by John Keller

Aerospace and defense electronics have to do much more than that simply fulfill the capabilities for which they are designed. Nowadays they also have to prove they are safe and reliable, per standards such as the FAA's DO-178B and DO-178C safety-critical software standards.

Growing trends in aerospace and defense electronics, however, mean today's designs have to do more than be safe and reliable. Now they must have provisions to prevent unauthorized tampering or disassembly in an adversary's attempt to learn their secrets.

Anti-tamper technology today is just as important as capability, reliability and safety, so isn't it time for government and industry to put their collective heads together and craft a widely recognized standard for anti-tamper?

Certainly there are government standards for adherence to encryption guidelines, such as FIPS 140-2, and the U.S. Department of Defense has begun requiring anti-tamper technology in most mission- and life-critical military systems at risk for enemy tampering.

Anti-tamper technology first became a hot issue a decade ago during the so-called Hainan Island Incident when a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries four-engine turboprop reconnaissance aircraft was operating about 70 miles away from Hainan Island, China. In response, China scrambled jet fighters to intercept.

One of the Chinese fighters made two close passes beside the slower and less-maneuverable Navy EP-3, and started a third close pass when the fighter collided with the reconnaissance aircraft, causing the fighter to break apart and crash, and the Navy EP-3 to drop into a steep dive before its pilot regained control of the aircraft. The stricken aircraft's pilot had no choice but to land at a Chinese military base on Hainan Island.

The crew of the Navy plane was held in China for 10 days. Their aircraft and equipment were dismantled, stripped, closely examined. The Chinese were able to gain valuable intelligence data from their examination of the aircraft and its equipment. U.S. authorities never want such a thing to happen again, even though advanced U.S. military technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) routinely operate in risky areas where they could be shot down and examined by U.S. adversaries.

So we need anti-tamper technologies, but military procurement authorities approve them one at a time. Perhaps a more unified approach is in order. How about a guideline similar to DO-178B and DO-178C that would spell out anti-tamper standards, as well as procedures to comply with anti-tamper requirements.

Not only might such a standard help keep U.S. military secrets out of the hands of adversaries and make it easier for U.S. defense contractors to provide reliable anti-tamper technology, but such move also might spawn development of a new class of design and development tools designed to help meet anti-tamper standards, and to ensure standards compliance.

It might be worth a discussion.