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The Robird: Coming Soon to a Sky Near You

by Tori Williams 1. February 2018 08:00
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During a research project for my Airport Manager Certification class (which is really just studying for the AAAE CM exam), I happened upon a video of one of the most interesting Wildlife Management technologies I've ever seen. The video featured the "Robird," which is an Unmanned Aerial System designed to look and fly exactly as a bird of prey does. Created by the company Clear Flight Solutions in the Netherlands, the bird uses UAS technology to be remotely controlled from the ground by a certified pilot. The bird can be used in several scenarios where birds may be a hazard to the surrounding environment, but especially at airports where birds pose a threat to safe flight operations. The body of the UAS is painted with faux feathers, eyes and a beak to increase the lifelike appearance. This device comes in two models, the Eagle and the Falcon, replicating their respective birds of prey.

To begin their marvelous flight, one person uses their hands to hold the drone up into the air while the pilot uses their controls to makes the bird come to life and start flapping its wings. A slight mechanical buzz is heard, but nothing that would give the bird away to his avian enemies. The assistant then launches the drone forward, sending it into the skies and on towards its mission. The small but mighty UAS is able to reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, a big selling point for those looking to take their wildlife management tactics to the next level.

A flying robot has many unique challenges. It has to be lightweight enough to soar through the air, but the body must contain all of the necessary mechanical parts, resulting in extra weight. The engineers were able to give the birds perfect weights (the Falcon is 1.6 pounds and the Eagle is 4.5 pounds) by creating the bodies out of nylon composite with glass fiber and utilizing a lithium polymer battery. The wings are 3D printed, and the machine is assembled by hand.

The most important technology of the Robird is how Clear Flight Solutions has managed to make the robot look incredibly lifelike, completely indistinguishable from a real bird of prey from even a short distance away. This is achieved not only by the immaculate paint job on the robot, but the way that it flaps its wings and has a flight behavior eerily similar to the real birds. This is achieved by having each foam wing flex into different degrees across its length.

The pilot is always able to control exactly where the bird flies, so it is safe in even the busiest airfields. Because it utilizes drone technology, it will be easy to regulate and classify the device for Airport Certification Manuals. The creators of the device are quoted as saying, “it can be tempting to put too much technology into the bird,” and seem to want their device to be useful because it is simple, rather than too technological to operate daily.

The goal when using this robot is to scare away unwanted wildlife from active airfields, providing efficient wildlife management and drastically reducing the occurrences of bird strikes. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, birds make up 97% of reported wildlife strikes. Seeing as they are the most common wildlife hazard, airport managers must often target them specifically.

Birds have shown a tendency to become accustomed to other traditional means of wildlife management, such as loud noises or statues of owls. Clear Flight Solutions claims that as use of their Robird continues on the airfield, the birds will learn to avoid the supposed “hunting ground” of the creature, and the problematic populations will dwindle. In a series of test flights they were able to reduce the bird population in the affected area by 75 percent over time.

This is a new and exciting technology, and I am interested to see how this bird drone develops further into the future. Check out the video below to see the realistic flight patterns of the Robird. The future is now!

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Flying | Tori Williams

Electric Airplanes

by Tori Williams 1. January 2018 20:52
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Last summer a family member of mine decided to take a leap into the future and purchased a Tesla Model S. When we went home for the holidays my husband and I were able to take a ride in the brilliant unity of technology and transportation that is an electric car. Outfitted with dozens of luxury features, and with an engine so quiet you’ll wonder why we’ve dealt with noisy mechanical engines for this long, riding in a Tesla will change your life. The power behind the electric car is amazing. There is no delay between pushing the pedal (Gas pedal? Go pedal?) and when you are moving along smooth as silk. After riding in the Tesla and seeing several charging stations “in the wild” I truly believe that electric cars are going to be the preferred way to travel in the future.

Bringing everything in my life back to aviation, as I am so inclined to do, I began to wonder about the options that are available for electric airplanes. Surely the innovations that Elon Musk has brought to cars was brought to airplanes long ago. Fuel is one of the largest costs when operating an aircraft, whether small or large, so surely someone has made an electronic solution. The engine noise inside an aircraft is so loud annoying that many people opt to fly gliders for some peace and quiet. To be rid of insane fuel costs and mind-numbing loudness would make aviation a much more comfortable place to be. I began digging around online and found some interesting developments that are striving to bring battery-powered flight to the public every day.

History

Electric powered flying machines have been around almost as long as aviation itself. The first instance was in 1883 when Frenchman Gaston Tissandier flew an electrically-powered airship using a Siemens motor. Improved electric airships were then created, however, most of them had to be tethered to a power source on the ground. Innovations to full-sized aircraft didn’t come until the invention of the Nickel-Cadmium battery, which could provide much more power with less weight. The first manned electric aircraft to fly under its own power was the Militky MB-E1 in 1973. This small two passenger aircraft had a flight time of just 14 minutes, but it was a good start. Ever since this first flight dozens of companies have been working on creating the perfect electric airplane.

NASA

It’s impossible to write an article about electric aircraft without mentioning all of the work NASA has done with solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They have set quite a few records with their Pathfinder, Centurion, and Helios. These long skinny planes look like something out of a sci-fi movie, and they made groundbreaking discoveries in the future of solar-powered flight. In 2001 the Helios set an altitude record of 96,863 feet! However, these are not manned and I wanted to focus more on the human transportation involved with electric aircraft.

The Sun Flyer

Of all the electric aircraft prototypes I saw in my research, none looked as complete and interesting as the Sun Flyer. The 2 seater aircraft is sleek, costs approximately $16 per flight hour (compared to $89 for a Cessna 172) and can fly 3 hours on a single charge. The founding management team includes Charlie Johnson, the former president of Cessna, so they must know what they are doing. They are not currently in production, but as is evident on their website, they have deposits for 105 aircraft. I can definitely see this company and concept becoming huge in the upcoming years. Although the short flight endurance may seem like a hindrance, this aircraft is perfect as a training aircraft. Training flights are often less than 2 hours, and having a more affordable option benefits both the students and the school.

Pipistrel Alpha Electro

The Sun Flyer is not alone in the race to become the best electric flight training aircraft. Pipistrel is a Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer that holds many awards for their eco-friendly aircraft designs. Their goals are to reduce emissions created by aircraft, make flying more affordable, and decrease the noise around airports. All of these things are achievable through electric aircraft, so their main focus right now has been developing the "Alpha Electro" to be a 2-seater ultralight flight training aircraft.

It will be interesting to see where electronic aircraft development takes us in the future. Teslas are quickly becoming a serious competitor in the car market, and it would be nice to see this same intense competition and innovation with electric aircraft. At the end of the day, everyone can benefit from more affordable and enjoyable flying options!

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Flying | Tori Williams

The Tools of Modern Aviation Engineers

by Tori Williams 1. December 2017 23:33
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Being married to an engineer has opened my mind to a whole new world. People have often speculated where aviation seems to be going and spoken praises for the engineers who have built modern aviation and contributed to the technology boom, but outside of the circle of engineers and tech people, little thought is given to the tools that fuel modern engineering innovation. It’s interesting that above my husband’s desk, hanging on the wall next to his computer monitor is a framed original 1929 engineering drawing of a Waco Biplane. He keeps it there as a reminder of how far we have come in the span of a lifetime while he draws the same biplane in a 3-dimensional computer aided design software called Solidworks.

Up until the late 80s most engineering drawings were made by hand.

SolidWorks is one of the most popular programs today that allows one engineer to design something in a few hours what would have taken a dedicated team of engineers and draftsmen weeks in the past. Drawing in two dimensions is simple and gets the job done, but as designs become more and more complex, two-dimensional drawings become more and more prone to error. 3D CAD, on the other hand, eliminates errors before they begin by recognizing dimensional conflicts such as over and under defining parts and can generate two-dimensional drawings in a matter of seconds. These programs dramatically boost productivity and eliminate errors, allowing engineers to design more things faster and more accurately.

Why then would anyone want to spend so much time deciphering old hand drawings and making them 3D? This is a popular one for restorers of these old airplanes, like my in-laws. There is a story well known in the Waco community of a man who set out to restore his airplane going off the original drawings. When he finished the individual pieces for four whole wings, he attempted to put it together, but the parts did not fit and he had to scrap them. So imagine finding out the airplane doesn’t fit before buying a single material! SolidWorks does that

Beginning of the right-lower wing of the Waco in 3D CAD. Adjustments already had to made to get the metal brace clips to line up properly.

With the models like the one shown above, engineers can ask the software to check for dimensions that don’t work out and other minor complications that were not thought of. Furthermore, one can ask the software how much the assembly weighs, what the properties are under specific loads and adjust for these shortcomings.

Another fascinating tool that today’s engineers are using is 3D scanning technology. There is a company called Aircorps Aviation that we met at Oshkosh 2017 that uses handheld laser scanning technology to scan aircraft parts to reverse engineer and 3D model. This is extremely useful for aircraft restoration project that deal with parts that are no longer available or difficult to find. Being able to recreate the part by seeing what other parts are around it is ingenious and will help restoration projects that may not have been possible otherwise.

The crazy thing is that with all these technological innovations, engineers are not getting dumber. They are still incredibly brilliant people, but 3D CAD helps them push the line between reality and the impossible, making today the world of tomorrow. Whatever aviation innovations may present themselves in the next few years, these tools are helping make them the most that they can possibly be.

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Aviation Technology | Tori Williams | Vintage Aircraft

Aviation Gifts for Every Budget

by Tori Williams 1. November 2017 07:00
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We are officially one month and 23 days away from Christmas! Now is definitely the best time to start looking at what gifts to buy loved ones, as Black Friday and other special discount days are coming soon. Thankfully, aviation enthusiasts can be the easiest people to shop for if you know where to look. I would like to share some of the best aviation gift ideas I have come across thus far, including an option for every budget. After all, most pilots spend all their money on airplane fuel and being budget conscious is important!

$10 or Less

Finding a great aviation gift for under $10 is usually more a matter of keeping your eyes peeled during the year for items that are branded in such a way that it appeals to aviators. For example, Starbucks had a gift card design that featured a small white airplane and “Let’s Fly Away” in a fancy font for several months last year. Buying one of those and loading up $10 for your gift recipient is the perfect way to show you were thinking of them when you saw it. I have seen makeup and body wash products that were branded with airplanes or aviation themes as well. Don’t be afraid to browse and wait for the item to present itself!

$20-$50

This price range includes the majority of aviation-themed t-shirts, airplane jewelry, and hats. These are great options if you really understand the recipient’s personal style and aircraft preferences. Would they rather have an “Eat, Sleep, Fly” t-shirt or one of these neat Airport Identifier t-shirts? Aligning the gift to their taste is important, and thankfully there are hundreds of styles of aviation apparel to choose from.

Etsy.com is a goldmine of unique and memorable aviation-themed gifts in this price range. They have an option on the left sidebar to search by price brackets as well, to ensure you don’t fall in love with an item only to realize it is hundreds of dollars.

$50-$100

Getting a little more on the expensive side, there are still very nice gift options under $100. For example, this gorgeous laser engraved genuine leather logbook is $65. (I can vouch for the quality of that particular item because I purchased one for my husband a few years back and we both love it.) Sporty’s has a nice selection of home décor items with an aviation theme. This is also typically the range of home study materials for ratings or add-ons. You may consider giving them the gift of knowledge by helping them achieve their next rating sooner!

$100+

When you get up into $100 or more, the pieces of serious aviation memorabilia and antiques that you could buy skyrocket. These wooden airplane propellers from A Simpler Time would look amazing in any home. Watches from Abingdon Co. are gorgeous and functional for all lady pilots. You could get the recipient a customized model of their personal aircraft to put on their desk. On the more practical side, you could get them a handheld radio, headset, kneeboard, or gadget for mounting their iPad inside the cockpit. Another option is to buy them a plane ride in an aircraft they've never been in before. Seaplane? Warbird? Helicopter? Having an experience in a new plane will be unforgettable.

At the end of the day, it does not matter how much you spend on the gift. All that matters is your love for the other person and celebrating your special friendship and passion for aviation. Don’t stress too much over if the gift is the perfect one, because when it comes from you it definitely will be.

Do you have a favorite aviation-themed gift that you’ve received? A gift that you were proud to have found for someone else? Let me know in the comments below!

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What is a Missionary Pilot?

by Tori Williams 1. October 2017 08:30
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Missionary Pilots go through years of training to make a huge impact on the world. Image via Mission Aviation Training Academy.

A few days ago, a friend of mine announced that he was accepted to an internship with the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). He will be spending a summer in Lesotho, Africa working closely with their flight operations to transport medicine, supplies, and pastors into remote villages on the mountains. Of all the internships my friends have announced lately, this one really blew me away. To travel into a completely foreign land to utilize your skills in aviation with the sole purpose of spreading goodwill and the Gospel is truly brave!

When I heard this, I began to wonder just how people ended up becoming missionary pilots. It is certainly not a career field they advertise at flight university. It may get a mention here or there, but it is rare to find someone who has an end goal of becoming one. Why is that? Clearly there is a need to use the modern technologies and capabilities we have to help those who are unable to unable to access important things without them. However, as I have learned, it is not as simple as putting a pilot in a plane with some supplies and taking off.

At the heart of the need for missionary pilots is the fact that some people in the world live in extremely remote and impoverished areas. Most of these people have never seen an airplane, let alone had the thought to build a working airport. Because of this, missionary pilots often have to land on whatever semi-suitable ground they can find. This may very well be a particularly long strip of dirt nestled in a mountain range. These pilots expertly land at these dangerous locations and bring in anything that the villages may need, such as doctors, pastors, or even groceries.

Missionary pilots who fly missions into remote locations have to be ready for anything that could possibly go wrong. They are required to have advanced pilot certifications, as well as advanced mechanic certifications. There is no “typical day” in the life of a missionary pilot, so they must be well prepared for all possibilities. Many missionary pilot hopefuls choose to prepare for their futures by doing apprenticeships with established training institutions. For example, The Missionary Maintenance Services (MMS) Apprenticeship program is an intense, thirty month, full-time aviation maintenance ministry that prepares students for the life of mission work.

Another interesting fact about missionary pilots is that they have to raise their own financial support for missions. They do this through connections with churches and individuals. Sometimes it can take years to raise the money required to do the mission where they are needed. Thankfully most missionary organizations have a network of support that the pilots and mechanics can become a part of.

It may seem crazy to go through all of this training just to have to raise your own funds to even go on a mission. The reality is, that doesn’t matter to those who feel they have been called to serve the Lord in this way. They delight in the process to ultimately share their expertise with those in need. They are able to make a real, tangible change in the world for the better. In the end, I do not think you could find a missionary pilot that did not think it was worth it.

Are you interested in helping a missionary pilot make positive changes in the world? Check out the MAF website for more information on sponsoring them!

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