Sunday, October 28, 2007

Commentary on the "17th Lighter-Than-Air Systems Technology Conference" - part 2

Today we continue the commentary of the 17th Lighter-Than-Air Systems Technology Conference that we started yesterday. If you missed Part 1 just jump back to our previous post and read the Introduction. Today we continue with the first two days of the conference Monday September 17th and half of Tuesday September 18th. The whole commentary was compiled by Charles Luffman from LTA Solutions Ltd who is also part of the organizing committee of the First International Airship Investors Conference. But now enjoy part 2 of his commentary.
Events of Monday 17 September (not scheduled)

While advertised as being from Tuesday 18 September, the event actually got underway on the previous evening with registration (for those who had already arrived) and an impromptu TC group meeting at a pre-conference dinner. Many people with oceans to cross naturally arranged their travel at the weekend, so were there on Monday with time on their hands. This made the TC meeting possible although, because of the late advice, those with pre-booked flights who arrived late Monday or early Tuesday for the official start and could not easily reschedule their travel, to arrive sooner, weren’t able to attend. Consequently, there’s no commentary about the TC meeting.

Events of Tuesday 18 September (1st day of conference)

Michael Conners (of Booz Allen Hamilton Marketing, McLean, VA, USA), the LTA TC Chairman, who appears to be a relatively new person to the LTA community, got the conference underway at 09.30 Tuesday morning, 18 September (the time that I was due to deliver my paper, scheduled as the first speaker). This was the first time for me, at least, to have the opportunity of hearing him speak. He made a good start, but we were there for the conference papers, so it was also good that he kept his opening speech short. Nonetheless, there were things to explain (primarily about himself and Booz Allen, and what the conference was all about) and then the technical chairman for the conference Bernd Sträter, who is an established elder in the LTA community known widely (formerly CEO of Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH) from Germany, had to be introduced.

Bernd then came on to make his opening speech and to say how the conference would be run (primarily the programme of events – attached, see the appendix) with session chairmen for each session. So this led to the introduction of Rajkumar Pant (an Associate Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Powai, Mumbai, India), the first session chairman.

LTA-1. Rajkumar, who I first met in Denver 2003, then took over the podium to get the first session, concerning Airship Design and Propulsion, going. Naturally, he spoke about himself and his work in India, but quickly moved on to say there would be four speakers in the first session – starting with me. From the breakfast briefing earlier, we already had organised things, so we were prepared. Nonetheless, before proceeding, I had to be introduced and a short biography about me was given. The pattern of the conference was thus defined and I was then able to present my paper.

The various chairmen were all brief in their addresses but, inevitably, used up about 20 to 25 minutes of the session time (09.30 to 11.30 – 2 hrs between 4 people). The 30 minutes each, which we thought we were going to have, already was reduced.

1) The first paper, about my experiences in the design and development of undercarriages for LTA aircraft ensued. Lighter-than-air (LTA) Aircraft Undercarriages: The Author’s Experience. Instead of reading the paper, a power point presentation was given (the way most papers were subsequently delivered). This enabled one to speak about the different aspects while the delegates in the audience could focus on the main points and the pictures, which filled my pages. If folks would like a copy of the presentation arrangements can be made, details later.

I believe it made a good paper, covering many different types of undercarriages and the basic theory/logic necessary for their design. It had been my experience that most aircraft engineers I encountered in the LTA sector gave very little thought to the need for an undercarriage, just as most people give very little thought to the care of their feet, so there was a need to highlight the issues. One soon finds out just how important feet are when foot or leg injuries occur and it’s similar for aircraft – immobilised or worse. If attitudes and needs change then, when the LTA industry picks up, the paper may be useful.

2) Jens Ottmann, a student from the Hochschule Bremen (University of Applied Sciences), Germany, quickly followed with his paper about Measurements of Drag/Propulsion Interaction Effects on a Spherical Airship Model. He also was nervous and had been practicing prior to the event to get his English right – his English is sehr gut! I met Jens and his co-authors (Jürgen Bock and Uwe Apel) last at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DGLR – German Organisation for Air and Space Vehicles) workshop in Munich (June 2007). Thoroughly nice people.

Jürgen, now retired, I believe was first known in the LTA sector for his work on the Aereon deltoid lifting body types in the late 1960’s early 70’s (way before my time) and is co-author of the excellent book “Leichter Als Luft, Transport- und Trägersysteme”, ISBN 3-86180-139-6, first published in 2003 by Frankenschwelle KG. He also was a delegate at the conference and it was rather nice to see and talk with him.

Uwe (not at the conference) is a Professor at the Hochschule Bremen (head of research I think), who took over as chairman of the DGLR LTA Committee (S2.3) from Thorsten Lutz – announced at the DGLR workshop. The DGLR in Germany is a similar organisation to the AIAA in the USA. It was good to see that the Hochschule Bremen is active in LTA research of this kind and I look forward to hearing more.

Jens’ paper was well formulated and of importance to the LTA aircraft industry, since it looks at a system that should be adopted for heavy lift purposes in the future. Just a balloon some might say. Nonetheless, it is simple cheap concepts like this, rather than the complex hybrid types (needing considerable sums to develop) that may soon enable heavy lift operations that one can only dream about at the moment. Jens’ paper showed that large spherical balloons could have reduced drag and stabile flight at higher speeds through careful positioning of the thrust units. This work is mirrored at full scale by the spherical motorised balloon systems of 21st Century Airships developed by the Swede, Hokan Colting in Canada, showing their capability at full size.

3) Alexander Hirner (the next speaker), a young research engineer from the Institute of Aerodynamics and Gas Dynamics (IAG) University of Stuttgart in Germany, promptly followed. His paper on the Improvement of Propulsive Efficiency by a Dedicated Stern Thruster Design, also was an important topic for the LTA industry, since it dispels myths about the benefits, which (whilst small) were shown in his paper to be real, if an airship uses a designed for the purpose thrust unit at the stern. Alexander works with Thorsten Lutz (who didn’t attend the conference) at the IAG, where research in LTA aircraft ensues. Bernd Kröplin, Professor of the Institute of Statics and Dynamics (ISD) at the same university, also is active to advance LTA technology, leading several projects (most notably in the past, Lotte – a solar powered unmanned RC airship with a stern thruster). It was a pleasure to see Alexander’s work being advanced.

4) The last paper of Rajkumar’s session was presented by Silvain Michel of Empa, Duebendorf, Switzerland. This was entitled, Feasability Studies for a Bionic Blimp with a Fish-Like Propulsion System and undertaken in collaboration with Alexander Bormann of Aeroix, Kleinmachnow, Germany; M. Bernasconi, also at Empa; plus M. Zobel and E. Fink, Technical University, Berlin, Germany. I hadn’t met Silvain before but was aware of him and his work. I was pleased to see an articulate advocate with technical know how promoting this. Whilst perhaps not matching the LTA aircraft industry’s capability at the moment, which suffers through extremely poor funding and recognition, this was very interesting research work that shows how things may be developed. This is very important in a world that now recognises the effects of carbon emissions and the need for alternative ways that don’t degrade our environment.

Some of Silvain’s collaborators also were known to me, as I live near Berlin and have had the privilege to meet them in the Technical University (TU) there and to see their work. Alexander presented some of this in later sessions and it is interesting to see how these developments are also progressing. More later!

Mid-day 1. With the first session over at 11.30 punctually there was time to mingle and have lunch before engaging the second session at 13.00. Giles Camplin, my good friend and mentor, the next session chairman (put in at a late stage due to the withdrawal of A Elkins - unknown in the LTA industry to me, but allied to the Joint Warfare Analysis Center, Dahlgren, VA, USA) was down in reception having just arrived with his wife Christine (both active LTA people). This was perfect timing, giving Christine and I time to scoff while Giles was off preparing for the next session. Time, however, marches on, so it was soon back to the 12th floor with the curtains closed and that after lunch soporific feeling after good food and drink.

Giles deserves a word or two here because, although about the age of 3 score years now, he recently finished his PhD thesis and it was accepted, so he is now a Dr of the LTA business. His PhD subject was “Rediscovering the Arcane Science of Ground Handling Large Airships”, which took several years to finally produce with much sifting through archives and critical revue to provide a succinct account. Well done Giles! No doubt his thesis should be the foundation for anyone involved in new large airship developments, to save reinventing what has been done successfully before.

LTA 2. Giles’ session was about Low Altitude Unmanned Airships, a subject that interests many people these days, since they are perceived as a low cost long endurance way to conduct Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operations. The problem here however is that they are restricted under civil regulations because of the danger UAVs pose to manned aircraft in the same airspace and to the public at large if things go wrong. On the other hand, military operators care less about such things and do not operate under such exacting requirements in a war zone. Even so, it’s not easy for the military to operate freely outside these zones, when they must comply with normal civil requirements. This therefore is an emerging business that people are trying to develop needing clear regulations to enable progress. The papers of this session were, no doubt, to look at how things are developing.

5) The session opened with a presentation by Rajkumar Pant titled, Design Fabrication and Operation of Low Cost Remotely Controlled Airships. This paper had been brought forward/swapped with a later paper to avoid double booking, where Rajkumar was scheduled to speak on another subject in the ATIO conference at the later time. It appears that the restrictions in flying such types are not as exacting in India (where this work ensues) as Europe or the USA. However, the work also appears to be more for test and development purposes, where flights were conducted safely away from populated areas and away from other aircraft. The paper shows the developments they are making, proving that these types can be easily produced and operated in a cost efficient way.

6) Giles next presenter, Masahiko Onda from Japan, who was scheduled to present a paper titled, Infrastructure Inspection LTA Robot with Cycloidal Propellers, regrettably didn’t attend. This was a shame, as he is a regular attendee at LTA conferences around the world, speaks well and has contributed significantly to LTA development. Also, Cycloidal Propellers, used by some boats (such as tugs), are an interesting concept for LTA aircraft because they should enable rapid thrust vectoring in any radial direction (360°) from a central axis under full power. Their development is therefore very important for the success of the LTA aircraft industry to improve control. Hopefully we will hear more from him on this work in the near future.

7) Rescheduled to the later time, Kimito Tanaka from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Tokyo, who is a Senior Researcher in the associated Institute of Space Technology and Aeronautics, was the next speaker. His paper was entitled, Studies and Applications for LTA. Kimito gave us a lengthy paper, starting with background history about LTA developments in early times leading to modern day applications. He showed us many aspects of the developments now being undertaken. In particular, he showed us the material tests that have been conducted on several high strength materials: Kevlar, Vectran and Zylon. He also provided examples on the use of airships at high altitude and for carrying out sensitive gravity surveys. In addition, he showed us examples of aerodynamic analysis, modelling and water canal tests undertaken by JAXA. In conclusion, one could say that JAXA have the capability to handle many aspects and to do research necessary for a variety of LTA applications.

8) Whilst Giles had another final speaker scheduled for his session (from the Politecnico di Torino, Italy), regrettably there was nobody at the conference from that group. Their paper, titled, Fuel Cell Electric Power Generation System of an Unmanned Airship, is another important subject about the development of environmentally friendly power systems, which airships may employ most usefully to provide long duration power needs. Hopefully we will hear more about this in the near term. The session was therefore closed, giving us time for a good chin wag before the final session that day.

We hope you enjoyed our second part of our conference coverage. With this commentary we want to make the current research in Lighter Than Air Technology more visible to the public. If you got interested into one of the Papers mentioned above, or if you wrote one of the papers, contact us and we will go into more detail about the projects and research. If you happen to attend a Conference about Airships and Lighter than Air and would like to write a commentary about it, please contact us, since we can not be at every conference we need you as our correspondents. The next conference on the map is the Airships to the Arctic Conference starting this Monday in Winnipeg Canada.

1 comment:

Rama Herbal said...

All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
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