The keynote this morning was by Michael Wynne, Secretary of the Air Force.
His overarching theme was integration of the engine into the systems on and
off the aircraft. For example, since the F-86 fighter, the military has
included the engine in the airframe design for efficiency. In commercial
aerospace, most planes have the engine bolted to a pylon on the wing.
Similarly, providing wireless diagnostics in real-time, kind of like the
systems launched by NASA, would permit better timing of repairs. Two takeaways:
- “Runways and rules were conceived for jets fifty years ago.”
Secretary Wynne was referring to this as aviation’s use in exclusively the
lower third of the atmosphere. For the upper end, think of SCRAM jets and hypersonic air-breathing engines. The X51 will undergo its test flights in 2009.
The 50s mentality is something general aviation pilots are all too aware of.
When I last flew in 2004, NDB (essentially an AM radio station in a known direction) and VOR (FM band, sometimes with DME) were the
primary approved navigational methods. GPS approach plates were
starting to show up in the chart subscriptions. Certifiying my plane for
GPS approaches added 50% to the cost of the GPS … but I still needed
to maintain the old radios “just in case.”
- “Aerospace [is] in a fuel crisis” Fuel expenditures for Air Force were
$2.5 billion in 2005. Last year, they were in excess of $6.0 billion,
even with fuel conservation efforts. The Air Force’s pain is, ironically, not the price, but its volatility: budgets are allocated two (or more) years in advance. Overruns are made up by depleting other programs. For 2006, the difference came from deferred modernization of the fleet. (Its average age is 25 years. My former plane, at the median of the general aviation fleet, turned thirty this year.)
To address the fuel concerns, the Air Force has been testing the use of
a fuel blended with up to 50% of a synthetic derivative of natural gas.
The first tests involved running two (of eight) engines on B52s. The blend has since been certified for use in all engines. The C17 transport will be certified next, which has two implications: First, it seems to fast-track a 2011
certification for the entire Air Force fleet. Second, the C17s engines
are a direct, commercial derivative of the ubiquitous Pratt and Whitney
turbofan. Commercial aviation, which is a larger overall consumer of
fuel, could leverage the results.
Another benefit of the 50/50 blend is the fuel burns cleaner, reducing maintenance costs. It’s also better for the environment. Secretary Wynne noted that no large-scale production of alternative fuels would be feasible unless it was environmentally positive.
Now that I look back on my notes, the certification may be both the use of
50% alternative fuel source and the Fischer-Tropsch process used to derive the synthetic component.
After the presentation, Secretary Wynne was given a VIP tour of the exhibits. The conference staff preceded him to prime the exhibitors.
Me: (Nervously) “What does the Secretary want to see?”
Escort: “Whatever he wants. Ha hah. Seriously, he likes to meet the exhibitors and maintain his ties with commercial industry.”
The conversation I imagined:
Me: Hi, Secretary Wynne, my name is (me). [30 second elevator pitch.] Can I do some touch and goes in an OA-10?
SW: No. But I can score you a day pass to the ‘Vomit Comet‘ … if you can give
me a free license of [your product].
Me: Weekend pass? I’ll throw one of these fancy pens we’re giving away.
SW: Handful of pens?
[hands are shaken, he reaches in the pen grab bag. I’m coming home on Monday.]
The conversation I recall occurring:
Me: Hi, Secretary Wynne, my name is (me). [I breathe-in, about to begin my 30 second elevator pitch]
Escort: [interrupts] Mister Secretary, we’re running behind schedule
SW: Okay, keep up the good work. [shakes hands] Bye!
Alas, the perils of being at the back of the room!
My comment about the crab-stuffed mushrooms was somewhat farcical: I love crab, I love mushrooms, I love crab-stuffed mushrooms … but not the variety served in receptions held at hotels or convention centers.
I have a theory that they’re all made by the same dude located in a land-locked region of the
continent. And he doesn’t use “crab,” but rather “Krab™,” shipped in railroad-sized containers and handled with protective clothing.
Speaking of food, I have been advised that while I am here, I need to try the local delicacy, Skyline Chili. Whereas Texas-style chili prides itself on obliterating internal organs from its excessive Scoville rating, this type is allegedly sweet (!), seasoned with nutmeg (!!), served over spaghetti (!!!) and topped with cheddar cheese. Wednesday evening’s meal is planned.