Thursday, June 26, 2008

An interesting development in aviation

Aircraft have always been vulnerable to damage. Weather, bird strikes, collisions, etc. can render an aircraft unflyable, with disastrous consequences. On the (rare) occasions when an aircraft sustains crippling damage and is nevertheless nursed back to the ground safely, it's an occasion for wonder, congratulations and speculation about the 'next time'. A classic example is the Israeli pilot who was involved in a mid-air collision in 1983, which destroyed the right wing of his F-15 fighter, yet still managed to land it safely. The video report below gives details.

Now there's news of an interesting development. Athena Technologies, recently acquired by Rockwell, has announced the successful test of what it calls an 'adaptive control system'. This is built into an aircraft's avionics, and can compensate for sudden structural damage and bring the aircraft safely to the ground. It'll clearly be invaluable for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's), which are presently restricted from sharing airspace with piloted aircraft in many places. If they can demonstrate the ability to recover safely from such damage, the time can't be far away when their areas of operation will be expanded. The same technology could be applied to 'regular' aircraft to make them that much safer.

To test their system, Athena installed it on a small model of an F/A-18 fighter, and blew off 60% of its right wing in the air. The model was able to land safely and autonomously, not guided from the ground. The video below demonstrates the system in action.



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