Sunday, April 25, 2010

Robert White, X-15 test pilot and space pioneer, dies

I want to pause a moment to reflect on the astonishing career of Major General Robert White, who passed away March 19, 2010. Robert White was not nearly as well known as some other early USAF test pilots, such as Chuck Yeager, but he was equally -- perhaps more -- famous and accomplished.

Nearly 50 years ago, Robert White was the Chief Test Pilot for the X-15 rocket-powered airplane. I remember being in awe of him as I built my model X-15.

He was the first man to break Mach 4. And the first man to break Mach 5. And the first man to break Mach 6 -- > 4,000 mph at an altitude of 59 miles

That was 50 years ago. No one has come close since. And at last he has slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings. Farewell Robert White.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

USAF launched unmanned "shuttle"

Surprisingly, the USAF has actually held the first launch of their robotic shuttle, the X-37B. When the NASA Space Shuttle program retires later this year, this will be the only launch-and-return vehicle in the entire US space inventory...and it's unmanned, and really a mini-shuttle, being only about 16 feet wide.

But, it's an interesting idea and darn well worth pursuing. Without a manned crew, both endurance, safety, and payload are improved. Undoubtedly the X-37B will carry classified USAF surveillance and detection equipment...and perhaps more, maybe real scientific experiments...but the important thing is it can return to Earth.

Will be fascinating to watch this vehicle, which is now aloft, and see how this first flight goes.

Friday, April 23, 2010

F/A-18 Super Hornet III ? Maybe.....

I've been interested lately in some suggestions that Boeing (I still want to say McDonnell Douglas) is quietly offering an upgraded Super Hornet III design, to more-or-less replace the existing F-35 Lightening II. The idea being that the F-35 is just too expensive and offers minimal enhancements over today's aircraft and certainly not over an enhanced Hornet.

Interesting idea that should be considered. I do think the F-35 is too expensive, too troubled, and will offer minimal enhancements in capability, particularly for the USN.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

EADS re-enters USAF Tanker Competition

Overcoming a previous withdrawal by partner Northrup Grumman, EADS -- the European consortium that makes the Airbus -- has decided to re-enter the competition for the next generation USAF tanker. This is great news as 1) the procurement needs competition to ensure a fair deal for the Govt, and 2) the Airbus A330 is probably the better airplane for this job, and I would say certainly better than the nearly 50 yr old 767.

So, I'm
happy to see this development, and hope for a fair and spirited competition.