Boeing won a $9.36 million contract modification from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) to refine its concept for a radically improved vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft to the preliminary design review stage. Three other contractors have proposed concepts for the program.
Boeing's Phantom Swift concept combines two lift fans in the main body of the aircraft for vertical lift with two wingtip thrusters for forward propulsion. "The vehicle that we're designing today is a 12,000-pound, about 44-foot nose-to-tail, 50-foot wingtip-to-wingtip unmanned aircraft," Brian Ritter, the company's program manager, told reporters in June.
The demonstrator would be powered by twin General Electric CT7-8 turboshaft engines, with the aim of moving to electric propulsion in the future. An engineer with Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle proposed the design as part of an internal innovation challenge. The company's helicopter unit in Ridley Park, Pa., refined the concept and demonstrated it with a flying "broomstick model," Ritter said.
In the last year, Darpa awarded Phase 1A conceptual design contracts to Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences, Karem Aircraft and Sikorsky Aircraft, all of which proposed unmanned aircraft. The contract option Darpa exercised with Boeing this month is for a 16-month Phase 1B technology maturation effort to be completed by November 30 next year. In the program's second phase, Darpa plans to select two proposals to advance to detailed design, fabrication and assembly. Flight-testing will take place in the third phase, scheduled for 2017-2018.
Darpa released a broad agency announcement in February last year seeking proposals for a VTOL experimental aircraft "with exceptional performance in vertical and cruise flight...The program will demonstrate an aircraft capable of sustained flight at high speeds, improved hover and cruise efficiencies that are significantly greater than contemporary rotary-wing aircraft, and increased useful load fractions and aircraft functionality."
Specifically, Darpa called for a VTOL X-plane designed to fly at sustained speeds of 300 to 400 knots; demonstrating hover efficiency within 25 percent of the ideal power loading at sea level; with double the lift-to-drag ratio of a typical helicopter; and the ability to carry a useful load of at least 40 percent of the vehicle's max gross weight of 10,000 to 12,000 pounds.
Bell Helicopter has started building the facility in Lafayette, La., where it will assemble the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X light single. The $26.3 million, 82,300-sq-ft hangar, to be completed by June, is being built on a 14.5-acre site leased from Lafayette Regional Airport.
The helicopter manufacturer expects to begin hiring up to 115 people for the new facility by year-end, with the goal of having Bell 505 assembly operations up and running by the end of next year following certification of the rotorcraft.
To date, Bell has received purchase agreements for more than 200 copies of the five-seat, single-turbine helicopter since it began taking orders at Heli-Expo in February this year. The new entry-level helicopter draws on Bell's "proven technology" and nearly half century of experience with the 206 JetRanger, which defined the short light single helicopter market when it entered service in 1967.
Meanwhile, assembly of the 505 prototype is progressing at Bell's facility in Mirabel, Quebec. The company expects to fly it in November.
The FAA sent out Information to Operators (InFO) bulletin 14011 yesterday to apprise aircraft operators and pilots of the new electronic Pirep submission tool at the National Weather Service's (NWS) Aviation Weather Center digital data service website. At this site, registered users can electronically submit turbulence and icing Pireps, which will then be instantly displayed in graphical form and distributed nationwide.
"When reported, these [in-flight] observations assist other pilots, dispatchers and flight planners with flight plan preparation, situational awareness and operational control decisions," the FAA said. In addition, these Pireps are integrated into the NWS weather forecast production process to help improve accuracy.
The FAA said there is often a lack of Pireps submitted that report better-than-forecast weather, such as encountering smooth air in an area where the forecast calls for turbulence. "A Pirep reporting good weather is just as important to the forecast process as a Pirep reporting poor weather conditions," the agency noted.
Operators interested in registering to submit Pireps electronically should email their location, primary point of contact and telephone number to email@example.com. The FAA will issue an account login after verifying this information.
Fuelerlinx has partnered with Denmark-based flight-planning engine Aviation Cloud to enhance the multi-leg fuel-tankering calculator function in its subscription fuel-pricing service. The company previously had a rudimentary system in place that based its calculations solely on Great Circle routing and took no account of winds aloft. Since fuel represents the majority–as much as 70 percent–of a business aircraft's operating costs, carefully planned fuel tankering can help lower these costs.
Fuelerlinx's improved fuel-tankering calculator, which now has a flight-planning component, incorporates data such as airways, real-time weather and vertical profiles for any type of business jet. The software also provides regularly updated fuel pricing, volume price breaks at more than 700 locations around the country and minimum upload to avoid ramp fees.
"It will calculate the maintenance cost per minute and what we call the tankering burn-off percentage, the cost of carrying extra fuel to altitude," Fuelerlinx CEO Kevin Moller told AIN. "It will take into account all those different variables." According to the company, the system quickly aggregates data, based on user input and individually customized contract fuel pricing, to help users avoid having to deal directly with FBOs or take on fuel at each stop, thus simplifying flight planning for a multi-leg trip.