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Saturday, July 25, 2015

New Horizons Pluto Flyby

In account of New Horizons' recent flyby of Pluto, here are some of the many pictures taken by the spacecraft during its approach and its flyby of Pluto. 

(Above right): A view of Charon taken by New horizons. (Below left): A high-definition shot of Pluto. (Above left): A close up shot of the night side of Pluto taken before New Horizons went around the planet. (Below right): A picture of Pluto and Charon taken by the probe a few months before its flyby.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

E-2 Hawkeye Replica built from Lego Technic

After I dismantled by model of a Harrier, I began looking for other planes to replicate using Lego Technic. I decided on the E-2 Hawkeye, which is a very distinctive plane because of the radar dish on its fuselage. After about 2 weeks of designing, testing and building, I finally finished the model, and the end result is described below.
The model looks a lot like a Hawkeye, although I couldn't quite capture some of the finer contours. I made the dish by stacking certain straight elements one on top of the other, and the result looked satisfyingly circular. I tried to include as many motorized features as possible, and the model incorporates a motorized landing gear and spinning propellers. I tried to motorize the dish as well, but it was too heavy for the motor to spin. Unfortunately, I had only 6 rotor blades, so each propeller has only 3 blades instead of 4, as there are on the real thing.
The most difficult part in the construction process was getting the landing gear under the propellers to line up with the main landing gear under the nose. Also, the spacing was a real pain. However, after about a hundred changes, it all fit together perfectly. The disk is a bit wobbly, but it spins fine. The propellers spin really fast, and, when they are spinning, it almost fells as if it is going to take off!
Overall, while there are many things which could be improved in this model, I am quite proud of it. Various pictures showing the model from all angles are below.
A front view of the model. I added the green light under the nose just for fun. 
A side view of the model showing the lowered undercarriage.
A back view of the plane showing its four tails and rudders.
A top view of the model clearly showing the full expanse of the radar dish.
A view of the plane from the bottom showing the underside of the wings, which are filled with rods as in the Harrier design. 
A closer view at the bottom of the plane showing the axels operating the various mechanisms inside the propeller housing.
A slightly blurred shot showing the gear system operating the landing gear in the front and under each propeller.
A slightly better shot of the same mechanism as described above. 
A close-up shot of the gear system that connects the motor to the undercarriage under each propeller.
A close-up shot of one of the propeller housings with lowered landing gear. Another such unit is present under the other wing. The wing is anchored securely to each unit.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Iconic Planes: Boeing 314 Clipper

Boeing 314 Clipper-cropped.jpg
One of the older Iconic planes, the Clipper was one of the first planes and one of the largest seaplanes ever built which allowed for modern day trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights. During its time, it was one of the largest planes ever built, and only 12 were ever made. However, it is a very recognizable plane and has entered history in a way few have done so. (Right): A Clipper flying over the sea.
The Clipper was the result of a contract signed by Pan Am and Boeing in 1936. Pan Am had organized a competition challenging aircraft companies to build a plane which could traverse the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and which was also the safest in the world. This was won by Boeing, and Pan Am ordered 6 Clippers at first. Following a upgrade in engine power and the capacity to carry 77 passengers (a large number in those days) and regular air mail across continents, Pan Am ordered 6 more. Each Clipper had a rigid fuselage with several sponsons (a sponson is a side area which helps an object become more stable) which allowed greater stability when floating on water and also helped load and unload luggage. To go across the ocean, each Clipper carrier around 16000 litres of fuel. (Above): A cruise ship with side sponsons (the bulging area).
The Clippers were slow compared to modern airliners; they flew at around 250-300 kilometres per hour. Thus, the journey across the Pacific took almost a week. The Clipper stopped at islands across the Pacific and Atlantic overnight during this period. The Clipper also allowed flights to locations in Europe and the Far East from North America. 
The Clipper, contrary to today's airliners, was a plane for the super-rich - one way tickets cost 675$, a huge amount even today and a massive amount over a century ago. Each plane had a lounge and dining room and all the seats could be converted into beds for overnight flights. In fact, the Clipper was more like a cruise liner with reference to luxury than a plane. That level of luxury has not been matched on a commercial plane till today. (Below): A picture and diagram of the interior of a Clipper.
The pilots and crew of the Clipper were extremely well trained, and were expected to be able to cope with whatever situation arose. Only the best of the best were allowed to fly the Clippers, and most of the crew had to have thousands of hours of flight time aboard seaplanes.
During World War II, the Clippers were put into military service, and the last Clipper was retired in 1946. They were later bought by several small time airlines and were all eventually sold for scrap.