Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Boeing Show Way To Airfreight Solutions Of The Future

Once again the Science of War may lead to Peacetime Solutions
Shipping News Feature

US –AFGHANISTAN - It is an unfortunate historical fact that some of the greatest advances in technology and science are often achieved because of the pressures induced by war and conflict. In the rush to stay one step ahead of the enemy, investment restrictions are abandoned and inventors given their heads to pursue all manner of outrageous projects that would not see the light of day in peacetime. Now it seems the freight world may benefit from yet another futuristic development project spawned in the heat of battle.

The Boeing Corporation are fiercely proud of their association with the US military and their Defense, Space and Security Division regularly investigate the more (literally) outlandish fields of cargo delivery, as illustrated in our article last month. Now it seems that another project, instigated because of current military necessity, may one day provide a unique cargo solution for air freight carriers, particularly in difficult conditions.

Since its initial proposal in 1998 when it was planned to be used as an unpiloted surveillance craft with the possibility of resupplying troops in the field, the A160T Hummingbird unmanned rotorcraft has since been flown under test conditions, managing in excess of 18 hours airborne in a world record endurance flight. Now however the initial anticipated payloads have been far exceeded, turning the A160 into a cargo carrier on a different scale.

The A160T now has a 2,500-pound payload capacity. It features a unique optimum-speed-rotor technology that significantly improves overall performance efficiency by adjusting the rotor’s speed at different altitudes, gross weights and cruise speeds. The autonomous unmanned aircraft, measuring 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter, has hovered at 20,000 feet and cruised at more than 140 knots.

In March, under contract from the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL), Boeing demonstrated the A160T's ability to deliver at least 2,500 pounds of cargo from one simulated forward-operating base to another base 75 nautical miles away in less than the required six hours. The simulated mission delivered 1,250-pound sling loads over two 150-nautical-mile round trips, with the A160T operating autonomously on a pre-programmed mission.

Although use as an airfreight carrying craft would be limited the A160 has opened up yet another avenue for niche market cargo operations. Emergency supplies in disaster situations in inaccessible and remote areas spring to mind as, coupled with its ability to static hover and survey the ground for its controllers, possibly situated hundreds of miles away, yet another wartime invention may one day bring hope in areas too dangerous for traditional flying.