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Precision flying device promises flock of jumbos

作者:逯氖    发布时间:2019-03-06 06:05:00    

By Catherine Zandonella A new instrument system that ensures close-flying planes do not collide could one day allow passenger jets to fly in flocks to save fuel. Researchers plan to test the system using F-18 fighter planes on Friday. The inspiration comes from bird flight. Birds flying in a V-shaped formation use less energy because they encounter less wind resistance when sheltering in the wake of their neighbours. The same could apply to planes. Reductions in fuel consumption are estimated to save up to $500,000 per year per plane. Each of the F-18s will be equipped with a flight control instrument developed by Jason Speyer and Walton Williamson at the University of California, Los Angeles. The two are testing the system with collaborators from Boeing and NASA. The UCLA instrument allows the plane to determine its location relative to the other planes. If a plane moves slightly out of formation, a computer algorithm calculates how to restore the formation. The tests will take place at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edward’s Air Force Base in the California desert. If the system is proves safe, they will test three or more planes. The UCLA device is about the size of a shoebox and contains a global positioning system (GPS) receiver, a wireless communications unit and instruments for tracking the aircraft’s position, velocity and attitude. The GPS unit periodically checks the placement of the planes relative to each other. Drag, and hence fuel costs, are only reduced if planes are precisely placed. Laboratory simulations suggest the UCLA instrument could control a plane’s position with an error of just 10 centimetres. This should be more than adequate for the upcoming tests, says Williamson: “For planes the size of an F-18 fighter jet, there is a ‘sweet spot’ the size of a basketball.” The UCLA controller tracks six GPS satellites at a time, in case one or more fails. Pilots can also resume control if an emergency strikes. In addition to the fuel savings, formation flying could be applied to teams of surveillance aircraft which require precise separation. Military missions would have to overcome the possibility of the enemy jamming positioning signals, with potentially catastrophic results. However, stunts performed at aeroplane shows are too precise to be replaced by a computer in the near future, said Brent Cobleigh,

 

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