The Mil & Aero Blog
Sunday, June 28, 2009
  Making up for lost time

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Looking back over my life, I realize that, in the interest of saving time and being as efficient as possible, I have missed out on a lot. I don't mean family and friends, or memories I haven't made. I spent valuable time with them, doing just that. I am talking about entertainment. When I ponder the path or route I have taken in life, I find a "pot hole" or two of sorts.

I have opted to work late, sleep longer, and enhance my education, rather than join the rest of the populace in celebrating the latest and greatest films or books, as examples. Just this week, in fact, I watched Aliens for the first time. It was made in 1979. Why did it take me 30 years to see it?! I followed up that piece of cinematic history with a viewing of Aliens 2.

I was impressed with the visual effects for the time and the prospect of harnessing alien technology for biological weaponry, and yet the movie fell a bit flat with its interpretation of what a combat vehicle would look like in 2157. It was none too impressive; I liken it to a squashed version of a tank. How did they fit all those people and the equipment in there?! Bah.

Thankfully, innovators in the military and defense market (not to mention the automotive industry) have succeeded in delivering far more capable, flexible, and responsive combat vehicles and vetronics in short order. Be certain to keep your eye out for the September issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics for information about the latest and greatest vetronics technologies and applications.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
  Are they watching us?
Posted by John McHale

Before I left for the Paris Air Show earlier this month a friend in the industry said I should expect all my phone calls -- cellular or other -- to be listened to and expect all my emails to be read.

I said are you serious? Who wants to know what an innocent trade pub editor has to say to his office?

Apparently this gentleman instructs all his employees before leaving the country to be on their guard about revealing information on military technology that could be of value to foreign governments. Electronic surveillance is everywhere.

Aside from what a government might pick up, companies must also be sensitive to what their own country's watchdogs are looking for. The U.S. State Department is very strict about what can and can't be said overseas regarding U.S. military technology. These rules fall under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Many exhibitors at the Paris Air Show were touting their import/export compliance rules to their staff at the event. FLIR even made up a brochure to give to all their employees outlining the rules for when they were in Paris.

The State Department "was impressed with how organized we were," said FLIR’s vice president of marketing, David Strong, during the show.

It's a paranoid time and U.S. companies and government agencies must be on their guard about what they say or write about their technology.

Journalists too...
Saturday, June 20, 2009
  Paris exhibitors credit military market for stability
Posted by John McHale

One of the main questions exhibitors were asked at the Paris Air Show this past week was how were they doing in the midst of the economic downturn. Most credited their military systems designs with keeping them afloat.

"Military wins saved our business," Francois Hervieux, director of sales for Air Data in Quebec told me. Commercial wins have dried up due the economic downturn, but military business has been steady.

Nandu Balsaver of Laversab, a designer of avionics test equipment near Houston said it is not because commercial outfits do not have the money, -- they do. It is that they do not wish to part with it. "They are holding it tight to wait out the storm," he said

The military is the only thing that has been consistent, Balsaver added.

Most of the people I talked to who have designs in both markets said the same thing -- commercial business is drying up while the military is steady but not going gangbusters.

That is unless you are a defense prime, a maker of unmanned systems, or FLIR in Beaverton, Ore. David Strong, the vice president of marketing for FLIR said the company is doing better than ever.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently shifted funding in the DOD 2010 budget request from large platforms such as the F-22 to applications for Special Forces it played right into FLIR's core business, Strong said.

"Practically everything we do targets Special Forces from thermal weapon sights" to electro-optical gimbals on helicopters, Strong said.

The company is sitting quite pretty, having grown nearly 50 percent in the last two years, with their Government division making up more than half of their more than $1 billion in revenue.

Their government business -- which consist of not just military but civil and homeland security applications throughout the world -- is also the fastest growing part of their business, Strong noted.

Strong said he also sees the European market having fast growth potential, hence why they were here at the Paris Air Show.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
  Aeronautics not just space

Posted By John McHale

Walking through the U.S. Pavilion today at the Paris Air Show I was handed a NASA sticker by a tall, friendly guy wondering if I knew that NASA did aeronautics and not just space -- because the first A in NASA stands for aeronautics as in National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

I said of course I do, but failed to impress him with any other NASA aeronautical facts, so he decided to share a few with me in NASA's booth at the show.

Apparently NASA aeronautics expertise was behind the development of glass cockpits, icing sensors, and lightening protection for military avionics in fighter jets.

I asked is there anything new on the lightening front? He said no, not in the last few years.

So why is NASA here if not to talk about anything new?

To let people know that it is much more than a space exploration outfit, and does quite a bit of technology development for aeronautics and even for the environment, he replied.

Then I was handed a nice looking brochure on the X-48B test plane as an example. The experimental plane is designed with a flat, tailless fuselage to burn less fuel and produce less Carbon dioxide.

I asked NASA is here just to give a history lesson?

He nodded and said yes that's a big part of it.

Seems like a lot of tax payer money to spend on travel and an exhibit to go give a history lesson on a subject, which he admitted is a small part of the NASA budget.

However, I did walk away knowing something I didn't know before about NASA.

I guess that was the point.
Monday, June 15, 2009
  Raining in Paris

A steady rain welcomed visitors to the Paris Air Show at La Bourget Airport in France this morning. The wet, gloomy weather matched the somber tone of recent events.

The crash of an Air France jet over the Atlantic earlier this month combined with the struggling commercial avionics/aircraft market has subdued the mood of delegates to the 100th Paris Air Show.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Unmanned aerial systems (UASs) continue to create quite a bit of buzz and long-term outlooks for manned military aircraft programs appear to be strong. One of Boeing's first announcements at the show this year was the formation of their Unmanned Airborne Systems division.

But the best thing of all about any air show is that you get watch cool planes take off -- if you're into that sort of thing.

This my first trip to the Paris event and being a journalist gives me the best seat in the house. As I write this I hear jets taking off right outside my window in the press tent.

There is also a balcony above me that once the rain stops provides the most excellent perch to see the live aerodynamics. Everything from new Air France cargo planes to zero gravity planes to Tigre helicopters are on display.

My first air show more than 20 years ago in Reading, Pa., was great fun, but there weren't European Space Agency Rockets parked outside the terminal.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
  Cold fusion, hot topic

Posted by John McHale

Most folks I talk to whether it be for stories in Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine or developing content for our conferences focus on what is the next disruptive technology, the one that will not only change the way we do business but affect people's culture and everyday life.

One that created a lot of buzz at our Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum last week was cold fusion. Dr. Frank Gordon, head of navigation and applied sciences at the U.S. Navy Space and Warfare (SPAWAR) command in San Diego discussed cold fusion and more in his keynote address at the conference.

Gordon described how scientists at SPAWAR San Diego recently ran the first demonstration that produced high-energy neutrons from low-energy nuclear reactions. These experiments "that have been replicated by others provide compelling direct evidence that nuclear reactions are occurring in the cold fusion experiments," Gordon said.

According to Gordon cold fusion could power the entire planet with just water from the oceans. Gordon said the next step will be "conducting more experiments and understanding the underlying physics."

Gordon also discussed how "scientists at several universities are taking advantage of nonlinear dynamics that inherently exists in most systems" to greatly improve capabilities.

"Biological systems are nonlinear and scientists have developed techniques" to take neurons out of leaches, place them on an encapsulated silicon substrate and then inject a solution to keep the neurons alive," he said. "After a period of time, the neurons start communicating with each other and techniques have been developed where the neurons can actually control basic operations without conventional software."

During his talk Gordon showed a demonstration where these leech neurons navigated a virtual maze.

Gordon said his group is "working on implementing nonlinear capabilities that mimic biological processes in computer chips to produce ultra low power electronics and new sensors with significantly improved capabilities."

This was just a taste of the some the fascinating work the Navy lab is working on. Gordon had the packed conference room riveted.

One attendee and a member of our conference advisory board told me that he thinks either Gordon is speaking science fiction or he has to got to go home and reorganize his "entire investment portfolio."

Call your broker, buddy.
Friday, June 5, 2009
  Suppliers training primes
Posted by John McHale

During a recent internal meeting a colleague suggested we should "train our customers" on how to better take advantage and keep up with our online media, even posting their own product updates. Some in the audience chuckled or were a bit cynical at the concept -- including me. Perhaps we snarled to soon.

This week I paid a visit to a military electronics supplier in Chatsworth, Calif. -- Aitech Defense Systems, and when I arrived they were in the midst of training one of their major customers/system integrators on how to use their space single-board computers and systems and maintain them.

"It cuts way down on customer support calls," and also gets end-users more involved in the design process, said one Aitech engineer. "We are looking to get them even earlier by going directly to the military academies and training them there," he added.

I was quite surprised when Aitech's vice president of sales and marketing, Doug Patterson, told me that not many of their competitors go this extra step. The "customers in the class" seemed quite enthusiastic.

I don't know if what works for users of space-qualified computer systems will work for those who buy advertising... but maybe it's worth another look.

Aside from the tour of Aitech's fairly new facility -- it opened last year -- one of the highlights of the trip was taking the train to Chatsworth from San Diego where we had just finished up hosting our Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum and Avionics USA conferences.

It's been a long while since I've taken a train because I didn't realize they had power outlets! That along with my wireless card made the train a relaxing spot to do work and catch up on email.

The ocean views didn't hurt either...
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