Airborne Awesomosity

The Flame Barrier

One of the most fascinating things about aircraft is how quickly these machines progressed. The Wright Brothers made their first powered heavier-than-air flight in 1903. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. The Germans sent the first man-made object into space during a V-2 test flight in 1944. The breakneck speed at which aircraft and, by extension, spacecraft were advancing began creating problems. Lightweight metals were not strong and were not heat resistant. In the days of subsonic and even up to Mach 2 or so, the heat generated by friction with the air was minimal. However, once we broke the sound barrier and sought to go faster and faster, the materials available became more and more unsuitable.

That’s the problem the Popular Mechanics article above discussed. It’s a problem that has almost continually plagued engineers since the 1950s. The Whittle jet engine had to use a new nickel alloy called Inconel in its turbine blades. The X-15 made extensive use of Inconel in its fuselage due to its heat resistant characteristics. Kelly Johnson and his crew at the Skunk Works had to use more titanium and composite materials than any other plane before, and employ construction methods to help the aircraft tolerate the tremendous amounts of heat to which the A-12, YF-12 and SR-71 would be subjected. It was a problem the early rocket scientists faced as they prepared for manned flights and getting that astronaut or cosmonaut back to earth safely. It was a problem as the space shuttle program, just 70 years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight, faced as they sought to get a 122-foot space plane back into our atmosphere.

Material science, which had changed little since the beginning of modern times and had been driven mostly by advances in earth-bound structures, now found itself at the forefront of advancing man’s desire to leave terra firma and even our atmosphere.

[Image Credit: x-ray delta one]

  • fodder650

    Well that looks familiar

    <img src="http://rence1.tripod.com/phoenix.jpg&quot; width=600 />

  • I don't believe I would have gone with the verb "crash" in that particular headline.

  • IDK what fodder650 was going for, but that illustration reminds me of something Antonio Prohias might have drawn for his Spy vs Spy comics in MAD. That cockpit window!

    • fodder650

      It worked when i linked it and now it doesnt. It was the Phoenix form of the ship from G-Force.

  • texlenin

    Well, using ionized plasma to defer the shockwave and reduce friction
    seems to have some promise. http://www.google.com/patents/US20040011917
    See also: Paul DeViolette's work

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