Aerospaced – Food for the Aerospace Mind

May 2015

“The issue with existing batteries is that they suck. They’re stinky, ugly, bad in every way.”  — Elon Musk

What was new this month?

My homage to NASA Langley Research Centre — I spend three months at NASA Langley this year working on new modelling techniques for composite failure within their Advanced Composites Programme. It was a great opportunity to work alongside world-leading scientists and engineers in the aerospace sector, and I was stoked to see some of the new technologies NASA is working on.

Book Recommendation

Skunk Works — This is a great book about one of the most successful aerospace design teams of the 21st century – Lockheed’s secret Skunk Works. The book is a personal memoir of Ben Rich who was the operations boss for two decades and retells the story of iconic aircraft such as the U2, the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Stealth Bomber. The book doesn’t only include great engineering wisdom but also case studies on how to foster innovation in large organisations and effectively manage design teams when they are being scrutinised external powers (e.g. such as politicians and military personnel) in times of crisis, i.e. the Cold War. I was most impressed at how the Skunk Works managed to design ground-breaking technology on time and on budget. A feat that nearly no large aerospace company is capable of today!

What else was interesting?

  • Why is there a hole in airplane windows? — “Equipped with this understanding, the purpose of the breather hole, which is located near the bottom of the middle pane, becomes clear: it serves as a bleed valve, allowing pressure between the air in the passenger cabin and the air between the outer and middle panes to equilibrate. This tiny little hole ensures that cabin pressure during flight is applied only to the outer pane … thus preserving the middle pane for emergency situations.”
  • Electric propulsion technologies —  LEAPTech is a key element of NASA’s plan to help a significant portion of the aircraft industry transition to electrical propulsion within the next decade
  • The shape of things to come?
  • Did NASA just break the laws of physics? —  Could a fuel-less space drive propelled by microwave thrust –something once deemed impossible – actually be possible?
  • Engineer’s Lament — This is not quite aerospace engineering, but hey, let’s give the auto engineers some attention as well. The article is a great piece on how domain specific knowledge forms our perspectives and different points of view. The engineer within me felt frustrated by some of the misunderstandings, but this only made me realise the importance of clear technical communication.

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Thanks for reading,


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