Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashes

Earlier today, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed in Mojave. Initial reports are that one crewmember was killed and another seriously injured.

A-7 Corsair II finally retires from service

The Hellenic Air Force retired its last A-7 Corsair II on October 17, 2014, ending over four decades of operational service for that aircraft, primarily by the US Navy and US Air Force.

Image credit: National Museum of the US Air Force

Antares rocket explodes shortly after launch

An Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station exploded shortly after launch on October 28, 2014, resulting in the complete loss of vehicle and booster, and damage to the launch facility.

Convincing evidence that Amelia Earhart’s airplane has been found

TIGHAR has discovered a piece of metal on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro that is most likely a piece of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra.


Photo of the week

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, is seen on launch Pad-0A during sunrise, Sunday, October 26, 2014, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The Antares will launch with the Cygnus spacecraft filled with over 5,000 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station, including science experiments, experiment hardware, spare parts, and crew provisions. The Orbital-3 mission is Orbital Sciences’ third contracted cargo delivery flight to the space station for NASA. Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

60 years ago today – flight test confirmation of inertial coupling

Sixty years ago today, the USAF/Douglas X-3 Stiletto research aircraft encountered a violent dynamic instability during a flight test maneuver. NACA test pilot Joseph A. Walker was able to successfully recover the aircraft from this flight upset known as Inertial Roll Coupling.

X-3 Stiletto


A most impressive achievement.



Image Credit & Copyright: Atomic Entertainment & Paragon Space Development Corporation.

October 24, 2014: At dawn, Senior Vice President of Google, Alan Eustace (57) with the help of his Stratospheric Exploration “StratEx” team left an abandoned Roswell NM runway en route to the top of the stratosphere in an attempt to break the skydive record set by Felix Baumgartner and team Red Bull Stratos on October 14, 2012 at an altitude of 128,100 feet.

After breathing pure oxygen for four hours to remove nitrogen from his blood, Eustace was enclosed into a privately constructed “space suit” which was then attached directly to the massive high-altitude helium-filled balloon and off he went. That’s right, no capsule. All necessary life support systems were onboard the spacesuit which, like the mission itself had been in development in secrecy for three years.

Ascending at about 1,000 feet per minute, it took about two and…

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One of the best aviation videos that I have ever seen

Hornet Ball 2014 video.

Book Review – Predator

Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution
Richard Whittle
Henry Holt and Co.

When the American military wants a new weapon system, it follows an elaborate process. Sometimes the process succeeds brilliantly, producing world-class weapons such as the F-15 Eagle fighter and the M1 Abrams tank. Sometime the process fails, the most notorious recent example being the F-22 Raptor fighter which was spectacularly capable but too expensive to purchase in sufficient quantities. But what the system almost never produces is true innovation. It may sound odd to describe something stuffed with leading edge technology like the F-22 Raptor as not innovative. But a P-51 Mustang pilot in 1944, upon seeing an F-22, might be baffled and amazed by the features and performance of the F-22 yet would instantly understand it role and mission. The F-22 is essentially a vastly better P-51.

True innovation in military technology tends to come from outside the mainstream acquisition system, and there is no better example of that than what is variously called the Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV), Remotely Piloted Aircraft (PRA) or simply drone. The American military has a long history with this class of aircraft, starting with “aerial torpedoes” (rudimentary ground-launched cruise missiles tested but not used during World War I) and target drones that were essentially large versions of the radio-controlled airplanes flown by hobbyists. In the 1960s, drones with cameras flew reconnaissance missions over China and Vietnam. But drones were always an oddity, the electronics technology was really not mature enough for the concept, and pilots who ran the US Air Force were never enamored with drones.

Following on the heels of his wonderful book about the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor (The Dream Machine), author Richard Whittle tells the story of the Predator, a slow and fragile-looking drone which has revolutionized air warfare. As recently as 2001, drones were on the margins of the American military, an interesting but marginal program. But the development and maturation of the Predator enabled it to be the right system at the right time after the United States went to war in 2001, and today the US Air Force trains more pilots for drones than fighter and bomber pilots.

Whittle’s book is mostly about people, including a brilliant but cantankerous Israeli inventor, two entrepreneurial brothers, a canny Pentagon staff officer, an Air Force helicopter pilot turned drone flyer, and several clever and resourceful engineers in both industry and the military. The profiles of these individuals are vivid. The narrative in the book is compelling, starting with concepts that led to the Predator and ending with combat over Afghanistan. Along the way, politics, lobbying, bureaucracy, technology and world events shape the Predator. Whittle weaves the tale in a compelling manner.

This book is neither a rigorous technical description of the Predator nor a complete operational history of it. Rather, it is a story about innovation and adaptation, about how the signature weapon system of the War on Terror came to be. It is a superb book, and I recommend it most enthusiastically.

5 stars out of a possible 5.

Full disclosure: The author furnished a review copy of this book to this blogger.

Profile of a NASA operations engineer