Monday, June 23, 2014

thought for the day/ Frontiers of Flight aeronautical documentary

One could argue that the dream of flight goes back to the invention of the bow and arrow tens of thousands of years ago. I've never heard of Egyptians/Mesopotamians who ever thought of creating a flying machine; but, it's well known that a Greek mathematician tried to create a mechanical bird; the ancients are unanimous that it worked/flew! You're free to believe if you want! Probably the best contribution Archytas did was to create an exotic  by means of the intersection of three curves - a cone, a cylinder, and a tore(or a ring); this he created to solve the dupblication of a cube problem.  The next person we know of who tried imagining a flying machine was Leonardo Da Vinci!

I don't think I know the history of efforts after Leonardo's time; but, many did.  They famously tried to duplicate the movements of birds. They made gliders of various success. There was also the great balloons of the 1800s.  As the video above shows, it was two bicycle engineers who succeeded. The video is good enough, that I don't need to point out much more about their technical accomplishments that allowed them to make the first successful powered flight. But, I would like point out two things that I didn't feel was stressed enough throughout the great video series.

The wright brothers, as the video does mention, came up with the first wind tunnels. The wind tunnel technology was pushed to great lengths. They've developed wind tunnel technology to such a degree that they can experiment all the flight characteristics of an airplane before the airplane ever takes flight. I'm not sure if I'm even expressing this well enough. They've got supersonic wind tunnels, changes of air density tunnels, turbulent flow.

Another topic that wasn't stressed enough through this video series was the early interplay between airplane engines and automobiles.  I don't think even in this first episode it was mentioned that the wright brothers engine was an advance that allowed them to succeed.  The engine was considerably lighter than any engine before, including automobile engines.  But, piston engineering advanced from there. The automobile engines engineers soon made engines powerfull enough that they could put these bigger heavier engines on aircraft and successfully fly. It's pretty amazing how fast the prop planes and speeds advanced after the Wright brothers.

Well, another piece of the prop planes not talked about enough in my opinion is the propellers.  They were aerodynamically designed even by the Wright brothers. Propeller aerodynamics were an area of advancement all through and even up to our times. The propeller acts just like the wings of an aircraft; the shape of the wing has the air going faster or slower either below or above the wing depending on shape and flaps(I've never seen flaps on propeller blades!).

The automobiles generally stuck with piston engines. But, the aeroplane went turbine.  That's what a jet engine is; it's a turbine powered.  One could say that a prop plane is turbine powered, but in a jet engine, the turbine is not powered by the pistons.  The turbines are spun up to be able to suck in enough air to power themselves.  And they generate high and low pressure in the jet engine which powers the plane.

The jet engine is like the difference an arch is to the beam and column for architecture. It allows one to do things for aeroplanes that couldn't be done with prop planes.

An historical curiosity with the Jet engine is that the Jet engine was the third English technology they were not able to take advantage of. The first was industrial machine tools(see James Burke's connections episode 5 I do believe), the second was colored dyes(which the Germans took advantage of; see James Burke's Connections episode 7), and now Whittle's jet engine innovation was developed mostly by the Americans and Germans of world war 2(another topic not discussed in this video series is the swept wing innovation of the Germans during world war 2).  Whittle allowed the Americans to develop the jet engine during world war 2 when the British themselves decided not to fund it! And Drexler and Co have a problem with me pushing scientific humanism . . . ! Anyways . . .

Frontiers of Flight documentary also has the best documentary episode about the beginnings of space rocketry.  They have the most about Robert Goddard and they mix and relate Robert Goddard's relationship and influence on the German rocketeers.

Frontiers of Flight also has great episodes about the developments of airplanes after the Wright brothers(mostly by the French early on).  There's cute stories about early American pilots taking airplanes hardly more advanced than the Wright brothers going cross country! I like the comment by some girl who was invited by Charles Lindeberg that she "didn't think airplanes were going to stick."  She thought they were just the latest fad that won't last!  If you didn't appreciate Charles Linedberg before you see the episode about him here, you will after that one! 

The episodes about the Bell X-1 and the X-15 and the glider plane that led to the space shuttle are pretty good as well. I didn't bother watching the episodes about sports planes(what little I've seen suggests it's a pretty good episode), or the commercial flight episodes.  I've watched a boeing biased ten episodes about it.  I bought the boeing dvd while studying the Boeing C-40(a military version of the Boeing 747 of today) up in Seattle, Washington.  It's not to bad actually. That's kind of where this documentary is probably not so great.  It doesn't show the shear abundance of different aircraft created over the last century - both prop planets and jet aircraft.  No F-4, F-15, F-16, F-18 and so on . . . all the other X-planes, the variety of Russian aircraft, British and French and so on and so forth. 

Today, scramjets are the frontiers of flight; and here, it looks like the British have taken the lead and look to take advantage this time. Here's a link to the Skylon, Sabre engine; a rocket/scramjet hybrid

1 comment:

  1. I can't help relating a personal story here.

    For some reason I can't remember, I was on a flightline out in Arizona. Out there was a B-25 bomber. The B-25 were smaller bombers that could take off from an aircraft carrier in world war 2. I got to go inside and crawl around inside.

    I forget how I got inside at first; but, there was a tunnel from the cockpit in front to the middle bomb bay section. You have to literally crawl on your stomach or back to go from cockpit to the bomb-bay. When I did so, I got a cramp! I laughed, thinking if this had been during war time, I may have messed up the mission or ended up getting us shot down(there's also a gun turret in the back of the airplane as well).