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December 2, 2012


Years ago I was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army.  In the mess hall I noticed an ice cream scoop manufactured in Germany.  It was a precision machine with machined gears and multi-lifetime durability.  A Japanese scoop of that period would have a sheet metal lever with round holes engaging a sheet metal “gear” at about 1/10th of the cost of the German machine.  It would last two years perhaps.

Who wants an Ice cream scoop that will be admired by their great grandchildren?  I guess we buy the same thing from China today at a cost even lower than the old Japanese products.  And that probably won’t last a week!  So when is German precision lacking?  If you plan to use it for 150 years it is a good thing…perhaps.

The image of a rocket scientist is often portrayed with a German accent.  Motivated by a vicious social experiment the Germans proved quite creative in weaponry.  I also see their creative use of the flying wing and lifting body shapes in aviation, along with jet propulsion.  The V-1 was a cheap solution compared to the V-2, but then it didn’t go to space, did it? 

Von Braun was hoping for space access, but weapons provided a step towards the goal that he did eventually live to see.  A ballistic weapon was impossible to intercept at that time, so it had that advantage over the V-1 weapons.  It may have been expensive, but it did have a use.  For space access this may have been influenced more by science fiction that any reality of efficiency.  Well, being of German descent, I have heard this:  “You can always tell a German; you can’t tell them much, but you can tell them!” 

When you fly to Europe, do you expect the pilot to raise the aircraft to a vertical position and blast off?  A civilian aircraft doesn’t have the thrust to do this.  Perhaps some military craft could, but it seems a waste of fuel.  As it is, the B-52 has to refuel after takeoff for long missions.  An ancient solution is an available alternative.

If you want to tow your recreational trailer up a mountain, do you drive directly at the mountain, or do you take the highway?  In Wyoming we can go 15-20 miles west, and 8-10 miles north of Wheatland to reach Laramie Peak.  The road is rough, but inclined gently towards Friend Park.  Similarly in Arizona a highway north leads to Four Peaks Road and on to Four Peaks Mountain.  Direct assault on the sheer faces of mountains is even hard on trail bikers!  (Do you know why my toy-hauler trailer has an 8 ft ceiling height?  Dirt bikers feel compelled to jump any ramp they see!)

So airlines and heavy lifters have discovered the inclined plane, among the simplest of machines.  Aerodynamic lift and air breathing engines are an aid for a small portion of the vertical flight to space too.  Of course one could point to the German who recognized the value of that too.  The Amerika bomber was designed to fly in suborbital space and deliver a weapon to North America.  Dr. Sanger was nearly kidnapped by the Russians after WWII because of this design’s potential.  No one else seemed to notice though.  Or did they?

For various reasons the space nation developed on the vertical model, further motivated by Russian successes.  No matter that our X-15 was paving the way to space on wings with a bomber stage assist.  What do the Americans know anyway?  Our astronauts had trouble even getting a window, let alone any kind of attitude control.  On Apollo 13 that manual control proved to be vital.  Pilots were not a part of the German formula for space flight.  Fortunately the Dyna Soar and Dreamchaser projects kept a winged landing concept in view.  The Space Shuttle did use that successfully as well…sort of.

If you must launch vertically, why place the crew next to the violence of the booster?  The Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo systems all offered an escape system and were mounted above the booster.  The shuttle orbiter was abused several times by booster issues.  That lesson seems to be accepted in new vertical launch designs at least.  Most horizontal launch proposals still offer a booster above or below the orbiter vehicle. 

When new warplanes are built they have to test bomb separation in flight.  Bombs have managed to flip back up towards the aircraft in some cases.  Separation of adjacent stages can similarly be an issue.  A Boeing patent for horizontal launch includes “swing arms” to assure separation.  That was never an issue with the in-line staging of vertical launch systems.

But then we also had no issue with landing with a parachute, except for finding a soft place to land.  The Russians avoided a sea landing with a form of vertical landing; a retro rocket at the last instant cushions a parachute to land recovery.  Now landing the whole vehicle in a powered vertical descent may be a bit harder to understand.  Watching a history of rocketry suggests the potential for a propulsion failure remains viable.  Indeed most vertical landers have experienced this with “interesting data points”.  How nice to retain wings or parachutes for those bad days.  Just ask Captain Sullenberger’s happy customers!

OK, if we don’t point the airliner straight up, do we then throw it away when we reach Europe?  We do that with all the space boosters we have now.  Even the horizontal launch Pegasus discards its wings and its booster stage.  If you pay the mass penalty for aerodynamic lift on ascent, why not re-use it for booster recovery?  I am sure the French would sell you an Airbus to return to North America in.  But Boeing might insist that you crash that and buy a Boeing to return on.  Wouldn’t that be a good business model for aircraft manufacturers?  It works great for space launch today!

OK, enough madness.  We intend to build a model airplane that suggests in-line staging for reusable space access.  But then it may have uses closer to home as well.  If your airliner had a booster stage, it could use smaller fuel tanks and engines.  Your ocean crossing could be both cheaper and greener.  Or you may find a builder who can make that smaller airliner supersonic as well.  And if we can remember a smart German, perhaps it could even do a suborbital skip to space and back. 

Come to think of it, propulsion developments are looking at scramjet operations.  They are being staged on aircraft and rockets to reach altitude and speed for ignition.  Shouldn’t they be designed to conform efficiently to their booster aircraft?  How much could a “clean sheet” design achieve towards the efficient matching of such aircraft? 

The United States led in the development of winged flight, and it may continue to lead in this path now.  We must pass through the atmosphere to escape from gravity.  The air breathing winged launcher has a future, no matter how long we delay it or deny it.  Propulsion is looking for a sensible airframe.  Now I am telling everyone where we are going.  Am I a prophet?  Well, I hope not to be a non-profit at least!

I want to approach Kickstarter with some hard line design done for a model airplane that can evolve into a reusable sounding rocket.  It will be sized right, and it will provide a baseline for more design work to follow.  I propose to work with an aerospace university to refine the booster and sounding rocket stage.  It needs analysis, refinement, and testing.  That is what keeps engineers working, and the students will be moving towards that future employment. 

Industry may notice the work of accredited academic research and offer to support the effort.  If we have a qualified Principal Investigator, we can initiate approaches to the SBIR or STTR grants of various Federal agencies.  As a Wyoming incorporated entity there are state grants available for such work as well.  As I move to Arizona for the holidays, I hope to present more progress towards a real market value.




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