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Aviation vision fueled by hydrogen and electricity

Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX says it’s partnering with a Los Angeles startup called Universal Hydrogen to retrofit 40-passenger regional aircraft with carbon-free, hydrogen-fueled electric powertrains.

The partnership opens up a new frontier for MagniX, which is already involved in flight tests for all-electric versions of smaller airplanes such as the de Havilland Beaver (for Vancouver, B.C.-based Harbour Air) and the Cessna Grand Caravan.

This time, MagniX and Universal Hydrogen aim to transform the de Havilland Canada DHC8-Q300, better known as the Dash 8. The Dash 8 is a time-honored twin turboprop traditionally used for commercial regional air service. If the project succeeds, the lessons learned can be applied for the development of retrofit conversion kits for the wider ATR 42 family of aircraft.

Universal Hydrogen’s plan for the Dash 8 calls for MagniX to provide an electric propulsion system in the 2-megawatt class for each wing, powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

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Cosmic Tech

Hermeus wins $1.5M from Air Force for hypersonic flight

A hypersonic Air Force One? It could happen.

Atlanta-based Hermeus Corp. is partnering with the U.S. Air Force and the Pentagon unit in charge of presidential aircraft to develop technologies for hypersonic travel — that is, flight at more than five times the speed of sound.

Hermeus has won a $1.5 million award for the effort under the terms of a contract with AFWERX, the Air Force’s innovation program. The award follows Hermeus’ successful test of a Mach 5 engine prototype in February.

Hermeus and the Air Force will conduct a rapid assessment of the company’s hypersonic concept for the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate’s fleet, which includes the Air Force One airplanes.

The next planes in the Air Force One fleet will be Boeing 747 jets, which are currently being modified for presidential use. Those planes are due for delivery in 2024. Presumably, hypersonic technology will be considered for the next next Air Force One.

“Leaps in capability are vital as we work to complicate the calculus of our adversaries,” Brig. Gen. Ryan Britton, program executive officier for the airlift directorate, explained in a news release.

“By leveraging commercial investment to drive new technologies into the Air Force, we are able to maximize our payback on Department of Defense investments,” Britton said. “The Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate is proud to support Hermeus in making this game-changing capability a reality as we look to recapitalize the fleet in the future.”

Hermeus says it brought its Mach 5 concept from design to test in just nine months. The test campaign served to reduce risk for Hermeus’ turbine-based combined cycle engine architecture, and demonstrated the team’s ability to execute projects efficiently.

Engine firing

“Using our pre-cooler technology, we’ve taken an off-the-shelf gas turbine engine and operated it at flight speed conditions faster than the famed SR-71,” said Glenn Case, Hermeus’ chief technical officer. “In addition, we’ve pushed the ramjet mode to Mach 4-5 conditions, demonstrating full-range hypersonic air-breathing propulsion capability.”

Hermeus is one of many ventures focusing on hypersonic flight for civilian and military applications. The other players range from Boeing and Lockheed Martin to Stratolaunch and Reaction Engines.

There are a couple of connections between Hermeus and Blue Origin, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space venture. Before joining Hermeus, Case worked as a propulsion design and engineer at Blue Origin. And one of Hermeus’ advisers is Rob Meyerson, Blue Origin’s former president.

This report was published on Cosmic Log. Accept no substitutes.

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Boeing CEO will ‘turn up the volume’ to fight racism

David Calhoun
Boeing CEO David Calhoun gives a talk at Virginia Tech, his alma mater, in 2018. (Virginia Tech Photo)

In a letter sent to employees today, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun pledged to “turn up the volume on dialogue” about diversity and inclusion — and said the company would boost its support for marginalized communities.

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737 MAX supplier announces 72 layoffs

Senior Aerospace AMT, an Arlington, Wash.-based supplier for the troubled 737 MAX and other Boeing airplanes, says it will lay off 72 employees starting in April.

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Boeing pulls out of DARPA space plane program

Phanton Express XS-1 space plane
An artist’s conception shows Boeing’s Phantom Express XS-1 space plane in flight. (Boeing Illustration)

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency says Boeing is dropping out of its Experimental Spaceplane Program immediately, grounding the XS-1 Phantom Express even though technical tests had shown the hypersonic space plane concept was feasible.

“The detailed engineering activities conducted under the Experimental Spaceplane Program affirmed that no technical showstoppers stand in the way of achieving DARPA’s objectives, and that a system such as XSP would bolster national security,” DARPA said in a statement issued today.

In a follow-up statement, Boeing confirmed that it’s ending its role in the program after a detailed review.

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Stratolaunch keeps working on hypersonic vehicles

Stratolaunch hypersonic testbed
Stratolaunch’s swept-wing hypersonic testbed would be propelled by a rocket engine. (Stratolaunch Illustration)

It’s been three months since ownership of the Stratolaunch space venture was transferred from the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen’s estate to a private equity firm, but the new owners say they’re still pursuing one of the old owner’s dreams: hypersonic flight.

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Year in Aerospace: Past troubles, future triumphs

737 MAX assembly
The first 737 MAX 8 plane undergoes final assembly at Boeing’s Renton plant in 2015. (Boeing Photo)

2019 was a tough year for the aerospace industry — a year when a control system flaw caused the second catastrophic crash of a 737 MAX jet and sparked a worldwide grounding of Boeing’s fastest-selling plane.

Nine months after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed 157 people, the 737 MAX is still grounded. Boeing’s CEO and the head of its commercial airplanes unit have been replaced, and the prospects for the MAX’s return to flight are uncertain.

It’s not a good-news story. But it’s the biggest aerospace story of 2019 — especially for the Puget Sound region, where the 737 MAX and most of Boeing’s bigger airplanes are made.

I’ve been highlighting the top stories on the aerospace beat in year-end roundups for 22 years, and it’s hard to think of a bigger transitional time than 2019-2020 (though 2011-2012, marking the end of the space shuttle era, comes close).

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Reactions to Boeing CEO’s departure reflect relief

Dennis Muilenburg at hearing
Relatives of those killed in 737 MAX accidents hold up pictures of their loved ones as Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, at lower left, prepares to testify before a Senate hearing on Oct. 29. (C-SPAN Video)

In the wake of Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s ouster, lawmakers and union leaders said they hoped the leadership change would help the aerospace giant deal with the repercussions of two catastrophically fatal accidents involving 737 MAX airplanes and win back the public’s confidence.

Some said the departure was long overdue.

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What brought down Boeing’s CEO, and what’s next?

Boeing CEO in training jet
Boeing test pilot Steve “Bull” Schmidt points out features in the cockpit of a prototype T-X training jet to Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s then-CEO, during a 2017 tryout. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s departure sends a message that the troubled company is going back to basics. But in this case, the basics have less to do with nuts and bolts, and more to do with information.

Information technology rather than flawed hardware has been at the root of Boeing’s most recent troubles — including the problematic automated control system that’s thought to have caused two catastrophic 737 MAX accidents.

Although the roots of that problem predate Muilenburg’s ascension to the CEO role in 2015, Boeing’s board of directors had clearly lost patience with the way he handled efforts to recover from the crisis. That has to do with information technology, as well as plain old information.

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Space Talent rounds up final-frontier jobs

Blue Origin mission control
Blue Origin has more than 600 job openings nationwide. (Blue Origin Photo)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are often at odds, but there’s at least one place where those two space-industry rivals are on the same page: the newly unveiled Space Talent job database.

The search engine for careers in the space industry is a project of Space Angels, a nationwide network designed to link angel investors with space entrepreneurs.

“If you’ve ever considered working in space, this jobs board has 3,000 reasons to make the leap,” Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson said in a tweet.

The database aggregates job postings from Blue Origin and SpaceX as well as smaller space ventures — including Kymeta Corp.Olis RoboticsSpaceflight Industries and Tethers Unlimited in the Seattle area.

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