Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Part 3 of the "17th Lighter-Than-Air Systems Technology Conference" Commentary

Continuing our coverage of the 17th AIAA Lighter-Than-Air Systems Technology Conference we bring you the third part finishing Tuesday September 18th and going in to Wednesday September 19th. If you missed our previous posts you are invited to read
Part 1 and Part 2 before continuing on. As before this post is part of a longer Commentary written by Charles Luffman from LTA Solutions Ltd. Now enjoy reading Part 3.
Events of Tuesday 18 September (1st day of conference) - continued

LTA-3. The final (third) and longest session (with 5 speakers) from 15.30 – 18.00 was chaired by Michael Burns, also of Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., McLean, VA, USA. He also had been asked at a late stage to chair the session, due to unavailability of E Engleman Conners from the Federal Communications Commission in Washington DC, USA. Michael was another person who I didn’t previously know. It’s good to see new people spreading their wings, helping to generate interest in LTA aircraft, and that Booz Allen Hamilton is taking a leading role. His session concerned, High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Airship Technologies and Operation.

9) Michael’s first speaker, well known to everyone at that stage, was again Rajkumar Pant; clearly an industrious and knowledgeable chap with many hats, who also has further papers to be discussed. In fact, as detailed in the programme, Rajkumar was the representative of a team of people in India developing various airships – so was there as a representative of his associates (saving the expense for so many from India) to deliver the team’s effort. It was good to see the extent of the team’s efforts, showing that India is taking the initiative to become a leader in the technology. Nonetheless, this was more to do with providing transport and communication services in India, where LTA technology is seen to be an effective, environmentally friendly and relatively cheap way to do this. It was great to be able to learn more about this initiative, which I hope others will follow.

The paper presented by Rajkumar was about, Modelling and Simulation for Precision Navigation of Airborne Vehicles using Pseudolites Mounted on Stratospheric Airships. This showed that they have solved the equations of motion for a 6 degree of freedom (DOF) theoretical model and understand the control laws, so can use this now to enable autonomous control of real models in the stratosphere. I look forward to seeing their developments in this direction.

10) Patrick Hendrick from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, was Michael’s next speaker with a paper titled, Comparison of Propulsion Technologies for a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Airship. This was to be one of two related papers from Patrick, with the other at the end of Michael’s session. Just how one may power an unmanned airship reliably for long periods (say 1 month to 1 year) at stratospheric heights is a real challenge. If one uses solar power, it’s not available through the night. If one uses fuel carried on board, then this is used up over time causing lift/weight imbalance – where gas would need to be released – and conventional engines need a good intake of oxygen for combustion, which is rare in the upper atmosphere. Patrick’s paper, like a good systems analysis, looks at the issues and provides recommendations that should enable HALE airships to fulfill their power needs reliably, so is important for those developing such systems.

11) Michael Lee from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Huntsville, AL, USA and working with I Steve Smith Jr, of Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX, I think were Michael Burn’s next speakers. I remember the paper about The HiSentinel Airship, because they actually did it on a low budget – producing the airship, getting it up to the stratosphere, flying around and later recovering it. This was a notable achievement, even though it was a model (with not much payload capacity) and didn’t stay up for long. Hopefully, this will enable them to develop bigger long endurance types able to carry useful payloads.

12) Masaaki Nakadate, the manager for LTA System Technology at JAXA in Tokyo, Japan, followed with his paper on the, Flight Approval of SPF-2 Low Altitude Flight Test Vehicle. With regards to the subject matter, this paper might have been better placed under Giles’ session, as it provided a good example of the issues one faces with the authorities concerning UAVs in civil airspace these days and the requirements that the Japanese Civil Airworthiness Board (JCAB) have determined. Masaaki’s presentation is therefore important to those who wish to develop unmanned airships, which also applies to HALE types where, in the stratosphere, there is confusion about the international airworthiness requirements that need to be developed.

13) Returning to the podium for his second and the last presentation of the day, Patrick’s subject, Developing a European Research Strategy in the High Altitude Aircraft and Airship Sector also reflected the need for new regulations to cover such aircraft. His paper, however, was more to do with providing a report following the several workshops and studies by the Use High Altitude Aircraft and Airships (Use HAAS) group.

Brussels was the main meeting location for this group who came from all over Europe and Patrick was one of its main organisers, who also included: Tim Tozer (not at the conference), University of York in the UK and Bernd Sträter, our conference chairman, who undertook much of the donkeywork to write the final reports. I also had contributed a little along with a host of people mainly from around Europe. The intention of this group was to arrive at a common strategy, raise awareness of the subject at government level and to try to get funding for research and development purposes in Europe. Patrick’s paper provides the background and conclusions/recommendations from the work of the Group. Let’s hope it leads to properly funded LTA aircraft developments in Europe that we can participate in as leaders in the field

Evening 1. It had been an interesting (although intense) first day, so light entertainment was needed. As part of the event coaches were provided for an evening visit to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, where food, refreshment and Irish hospitality (with music) was to be had. Unaccompanied, as I was at the event, I soon found an unused seat on the coach beside an interesting looking American lady in a similar situation, but attending the ATIO conferences, which led to good companionship at the museum and interesting conversation with others who we met there together.

This was good because many delegates there had their partners with them, so we fitted in well. Especially nice was to talk with Ron Hochstetler and his wife. Ron had been a buddy who worked on the US Navy airship project with me in 1986 and more recently was the former AIAA TC chairman – still providing sterling help. Ron had been a steady going bachelor for many years until his delightful lady embraced him. Having not seen him for some time, it was evident that his long wait for a good woman was worthwhile. Cheers for friendship and happiness in life together.


Events of Wednesday 19 September (2nd day of conference)

LTA-4. But the evening was soon over and the sessions starting promptly next morning at 09.30 again. This second day, however, was to be less demanding – with just two LTA sessions instead of three. The first session, about Unmanned Airship Design and Control, was chaired by Patrick.

14) Patrick’s first speaker was Thomas Kuhn, from the Technische Universität München, Garching, Germany, who presented his university team’s work concerning, Multidisciplinary Design Methods for the Hybrid Universal Ground Observing (HUGO) Airship. This gave a very good account of the university’s design, analysis and prototyping capability, showing a nice model lifting body arrangement they had determined – intended to be produced and flown at the university. Thomas also had been an organiser at the previous DGLR meeting, when he saved me from the wrath of the weather by taking me to my hotel during a hail storm with hail stones like bullets of 1 cm diameter. This is a design case that LTA aircraft designers should give attention to these days, because climate change is having some odd effects.

15) We were then introduced by Patrick to Ely de Paiva, who was from the Centro de Pesquisas Renato Archer, Campinas, Brazil, as the next speaker. He also was presenting on behalf of a team effort concerning, Nonlinear Control Approaches for an Autonomous Unmanned Robotic Airship. His paper was quite mathematical, showing three different approaches for solving the 6 DOF equations of motion and control law inputs. Clearly, they had this in hand and were progressing with an unmanned airship with autonomous control. Their reason for looking at so many solutions was to find a robust method that was not subject to inference, enabling a reliable system to be developed.

16) The third speaker in Patrick’s session, Chin Lin, from Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan (roc), again on behalf of his associates, provided input on a related aspect by showing us their work on, Flight Autonomous System Integration for LTA Remote Operation. However, this was more to do with the electronic components and the selection of micro chips for the computerised controls, i.e. the hardware involved.

17) Due to non-attendance of a speaker from the Italian group, the final paper of Patrick’s session on a, Mobile Ground Station for the Unmanned Elettra-Twin-Flyer Airship, was not presented. The session was therefore closed early, giving time for networking.

Mid-day 2. There was reasonably good attendance of the conference with numerous people there keeping an eye on developments and the possibilities that arise from such conferences. Delegates in the audience ranged from about 30 to 80 people. It was good to be able to talk and it was interesting to note who was there but not as a speaker or session chairman. To name a few, people such as: George Spyrou, CEO of American Management Services (AMS) in the USA, operators and developers of airships; Philip Yiin, CEO of the Airship Group in Malaysia, aspiring developers; Luke Brooke, a representative of Tensys Dynamics Ltd in the UK, a group specialising in the analysis of membrane structures (such as airship envelopes); Jean-François Rives, Director of Strato Tex, with interests in fabric structures; Erin Murrin, an assistant editor of Wiley, the publishers; and people from Queens university Belfast or other institutions in Ireland learning about LTA.

This concludes our third part. We will have at least one more if not two parts to wrap up our coverage. If you have questions or comments please don't hesitate to contact us.

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