Wednesday, March 28, 2007

U.S. Loses Top Tech Spot

Reading this article wasn't really a surprise, since the tech industry (and the VC industry) has seen this one coming for a while, but it's interesting to see it hit the news as a fait accompli instead of dire predictions of the future. Remains to be seen if this is enough to get the U.S. to address the issue, since we seem to be preoccupied with "staying the course".

Monday, March 26, 2007

Alternative Fuel Day

I was reading an article about new batteries that run off of sugar water. Similar principle to a fuel cell, except using a fuel that neither leaks through its container or explodes. Apparently can run on almost any sugary liquid (not Coke, though -- the carbonation screws it up).

Then, to top that, Sachin sent me a link to a car that runs on air. How much cheaper than that can you get? Of course, with a top speed of 40mph, it's not going to get you anywhere in a hurry.

Friday, March 23, 2007

One More

Apparently I missed mentioning the Milner Aircar, which looks like more of a garage-type development effort. However, their development is further along and they have a couple features which makes them more attractive than the Terrafugia. Chief of those is that the rear wing placement allows greater visibility in car mode, but also the styling of the car is more attractive, and they're targetting a four-seat vehicle, which is more in line with the car form factor.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Jetsons Era Arriving?

It appears that the mythical flying car may soon be a reality. For many years Moller has teased us with his "Skycar" that was always "just a few years away". I've worked on a few projects like that, too...

However, recently a bunch more similar ideas have been popping up, fitting in under the new light-sport aircraft rules in the U.S. and Europe. The most famous is probably Terrafugia, which was started by a team of MIT students after their concept won a cash prize. I have some doubts about this one, but my main one is that they'll be able to get it made street-legal, since cars are so heavily regulated.

Which is why I found the new PAL-V to be much more interesting. For starters, they went with a gyrocopter design instead of a winged aircraft -- folding rotors is much easier than folding wings. More importantly, three wheels makes it technically a motorcycle, which means as long as the motor passes noise emissions you're golden.

And apparently they're not the only people to have come up with this idea -- an American gyrocraft designer has come up with a similar concept, although his vehicle looks much more like something from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

Will I be first to line up for a flying car? Probably not -- I'll let a few other people test them out for reliability first. The Terrafugia looks clumsy, but the PAL-V seems like something I could see myself owning one day.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Passed Written Test

I took -- and passed -- my FAA written test today, so that's one more milestone on the road to getting my license. I spent more time studying for this relatively easy test than I did for most of the tests I took in college, which was somewhat amusing in retrospect. I think it's been so long since I took a real test that it made me a little nervous.

Also, today was chart expiration day. Since all my sectional charts just turned into pumpkins, I stopped off in the airport store and picked up a new SF terminal and sectional charts. I've now realized it doesn't make sense to "stock up" on charts as they go out of date every six months.

I have a short flight schedule for this weekend to brush up on some more skills, and after that I'm ready for my next (and last) stage check. After that I do some long-distance solo flights, and then I'm ready -- supposedly -- to face the examiner.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Excellent Site

Just found a site called FlightAware after reading some aviation newsgroups. It's a really slick site with a tie-in to the U.S. air traffic control system - it will tell you exactly where any flight under IFR conditions is located. You can track flights by tail number (for small aircraft) or by airline flight number.

Unfortunately it doesn't report on VFR flights, even if the flight is being tracked by ATC. So no help for me in the short term.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Bargain at Three Times the Price

I was reading about an Air Force procurement program for a next-generation combat, search and rescue helicopter. The contract is currently awarded to Boeing, and is expected to be worth 10-15 billion dollars for 140 aircraft.

For the math-impaired, that works out to about $71-$107 million dollars per aircraft. A not-inconsiderable sum. Especially when you consider that it's an upgrade of the CH-47 Chinook, an aircraft that's been in service since 1966. The feature list for the aircraft includes fancy sounding items like "terrain-following-radar", "foward-looking infrared" and "net-ready cockpit". Pretty impressive, until you look around and find this: An MH-47D Chinook, special-forces equipped, already comes with FLIR.

No wonder the GAO is going to pay close attention to this one. Paying $10bil to buy a minor variant of aircraft we already have sounds like pork to me.