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737 MAX cleared for flight — after software upgrades

Two years after the catastrophic crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jet in Indonesia touched off an aviation crisis, the Federal Aviation Administration today laid out the path for hundreds of 737s to return to flight.

But that can’t happen immediately: It’ll take months for the FAA to check the implementation of changes in pilot training procedures, and verify all the fixes that will be made. All 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide in the aftermath of a second crash that occurred in Ethiopia in March 2019.

“This is not the end of this safety journey,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told CNBC. “There’s a lot of work that the airlines and the FAA and Boeing will have to do in the coming weeks and months.”

Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a news release that today’s FAA directive was an “important milestone” but agreed that there’s a lot of work to be done. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide,” Deal said.

The key fixes involve software rather than hardware — and that part of the job is more like installing a Windows update than installing an actuator.

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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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FAA and Boeing complete 737 MAX flight tests

The Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing today completed three days’ worth of certification flight tests on the Boeing 737 MAX, but it’ll take weeks longer for the FAA to review the fixes that Boeing made and decide whether to end the yearlong grounding of the planes.

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FAA and Boeing begin flight tests for 737 MAX

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration took a major step toward returning the troubled 737 MAX to full operation today with the first of a series of flights aimed at recertifying the jet in the wake of two catastrophic crashes.

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AirShield aims to reduce COVID-19 risk on airplanes

AirShield ventilation system
Teague’s AirShield design concept would give a different look to the air outlets that are typically placed above the heads of airplane passengers. (Teague Illustration)

A Seattle-based industrial design company has come up with a 3-D-printed ventilation system that it says can create invisible curtains of air around airplane passengers, reducing the risk of coronavirus infections.

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GeekWire

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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Kitty Hawk shifts gears on flying-car plans

California-based Kitty Hawk, the flying-car venture backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, says it’s winding down its Flyer project, which created an ultralight aircraft designed to fly over water.

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All-electric Cessna airplane takes to the air

MagniX airplane and Roei Ganzarski
MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski talks about his company’s all-electric Cessna Grand Caravan airplane, parked in the background at Moses Lake’s airport after its first flight. Ganzarski wears a mask to conform to social distancing requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. (MagniX via Facebook)

An all-electric version of one of the world’s best-known small utility airplanes hummed through its first flight today at Moses Lake in central Washington state.

Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX and Seattle-based AeroTEC were in charge of the test, which focused on the performance of a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan powered by MagniX’s 750-horsepower Magni500 propulsion system.

During today’s 30-minute-long test flight, the hum of the modified eCaravan’s motor was drowned out by the relative roar of the chase plane’s engine. “The small Cessna is making about double the noise,” MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski said during his webcast commentary.

AeroTEC test pilot Steve Crane took the plane up as high as 2,500 feet during what he termed a “flawless” test flight.

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Boeing resumes 737 MAX jet production

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

Boeing says it has resumed 737 MAX production at its factory in Renton, Wash., with more than a dozen initiatives implemented to enhance product quality and workplace safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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