The Mil & Aero Blog
Thursday, May 27, 2010
  Decades later, Lakehurst, N.J., is still blimp central for the U.S. Navy

Posted by John Keller

I see the Navy's mad scientists at blimp central -- Lakehurst Naval Air Station, N.J. -- are at it again in their continuing efforts to give satellite designers a run for their money.

Seems the Naval Air Warfare Center Lakehurst folks are starting design of a lighter-than-air stratospheric airship with surveillance and communications payloads for emergency military operations across the globe.

The blimp guys at Lakehurst are onto something. They know that with all the nation's financial woes, something's gotta give in the defense budget over the next several years, and they're looking to airships as a way that's cheaper and quicker to develop than those expensive orbiting satellites.

You could launch an aerostat as a persistent surveillance platform and communications relay from almost anywhere -- even at sea -- and move it within hours or days to hot spots around the world. This is obviously an attractive alternative to waiting for the weather to clear at Cape Canaveral.

Sometimes the old solutions are the best. Decades ago the Navy relied heavily on blimps for surveillance of the world's oceans. One of the biggest aircraft hangars in the world -- it's so big it generates its own weather -- is at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif. It was built to house blimps back in the day. Now it's a curiosity along the Bayshore Freeway.

I note with a touch of humor the location of the Navy's latest blimp development efforts -- Lakehurst, N.J. This is not only where airships are born; some go there to die, as well.

Lakehurst was the scene of the 1937 Hindenburg Disaster, in which the giant German dirigible Hindenburg mysteriously burst into flames -- they used flammable hydrogen then, not helium -- and killed 35 of the 97 people on board.

Oh, the humanity!


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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
  Electronics cooling and thermal management: these are the crucial issues that will make network-centric warfare and the digital battlefield a reality

Posted by John Keller

Thermal management -- or cooling electronics in embedded systems and other aerospace and defense equipment -- is one of the central design issues of our times. In fact, electronics cooling is probably the only issue with the potential to bring Moore's Law to a screeching halt.

If designers can't find creative ways to keep systems cool, then they have little prospect of shrinking military electronics systems small enough to make them suitable for the latest generation of infantry soldiers in network-centric operations on the digital battlefield.

New technological capabilities for infantry soldiers is one of the central thrusts of today's military systems development. The guys (and gals) wearing the combat boots need the ability to stay in the field longer than ever before, and they need to be effective while on military operations.

That means they must carry radio communications, electronic navigation and guidance equipment, situational awareness of themselves and those around them, night-vision sensors, laser target designators, and a host of other equipment -- as well as the batteries necessary to run these devices.

Suffice it to say that today's infantry equipment has to be small, rugged, and consume only tiny amounts of power. Without aggressive thermal management, none of this is possible ... and so is developing long-lasting power supplies.

So what are the most valuable lessons learned from recent experiences in the Middle East? You can hear from some of the industry's best early next month who are leading innovations in thermal design from the chip to the system level. It's all at the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum conference and trade show June 3 and 4 in San Diego.

You can hear from Gerry Janicki of Meggitt Defense Systems; David O’Mara of AP Labs; and other industry experts talk about the issues that keep them and their colleagues up at night when it comes to thermal management issues. Make the trip; it's worth it.

Register to attend the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum online at, by fax at 918-831-9161 with a downloadable .pdf, or by post with the downloadable .pdf to Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum/Avionics USA Conference & Exhibition Registration, P.O. Box 973059, Dallas, TX 75397-3059.


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Tuesday, May 18, 2010
  NextGen in the mid-term
Posted by John McHale

While planning for our avionics conferences this year, the thing our advisory board kept hammering home to me was that avionics engineers don't want to hear about what's happening ten or 15 years down the road, they want to know what will help their businesses today. Hence, the theme for this year's Avionics USA conference -- NextGen in the mid-term.

The big change coming in commercial aviation is the transition toward NextGen, the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) Next Generation Air Transportation System and in Europe Eurocontrol's Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR). Both are still nearly a decade away from full deployment, but avionics designers are already beginning to implement new standards and technology now, in the mid-term to be ready for the transition.

NextGen will bring air traffic management (ATM) from a ground-based radar system to a satellite-based system. One of our advisory board members told me it will "bring the ATM decision making from the ground to the pilot" through the software and electronics he will have in the cockpit. Enabling this is Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) technology, which should cut down on midair collisions and weather-related accidents. ADS-B systems are already being implemented in aircraft today.

NextGen avionics will be implemented in electronic flight bags, avionics displays, embedded computers, GPS and other navigation devices, and most importantly software applications such as real-time weather monitoring that enable pilots to take over their own ATM decision-making. It will also improve trajectory performance, reduce fuel emissions, and lower fuel costs through performance-based operations, specifically trajectory-based operations and required navigation performance (RNP) techniques and monitoring technology.

Challenges facing these designers right now include costly software and hardware safety certification of NextGen systems and integrating them into old aircraft. Harmonizing with the military is also very important as many military aircraft – manned and unmanned -- fly in civilian airspace. This is especially challenging in Europe as there are many different countries, each with military branches that do not currently work well together.

All these issues are difficult on their own with an economy that tanked and has many avionics suppliers thinking more about how to survive in the mid-term rather than how to integrate NextGen in the mid-term.

This is why I'm most excited about a panel discussion we're having at the event next month on June 3 titled "How to Add New Avionics to Airplanes in Downturn Economy." The panelists are Rudy Bracho, senior manager of business development at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Capt. Brian Will, director airspace modernization and advanced technologies at American Airlines, Chad Cundiff, vice president of crew interface products at Honeywell Aerospace, and Joel Otto, senior director, commercial systems marketing at Rockwell Collins.

I'm the moderator, so if you have any questions you think I should ask these guys, respond here, send them to me at, or come on down to San Diego and check out the panel. To register click here.

Shoot me some good ones to get the panelists to open up!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
  The next favorite infantry weapon: a flying gun for remote controlled UAVs that takes out snipers
Posted by John Keller

Small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or "micro air vehicles," you know -- the kind that soldiers launch by hand like model airplanes -- are about to get a lot scarier.

A coalition of technology researchers, firearms experts, and micro air vehicle designers are developing an 11-ounce cannon that is mountable to a 3-pound hand-launched UAV to destroy enemy snipers and other hidden targets with a 12-gauge shotgun shell or high-explosive air burst.

That's right; they're putting a 12-gauge shotgun on a remote-control model airplane equipped with a video camera and video link that streams video in real time to laptop computers operated by soldiers on the ground.

Soon infantry soldiers who come under sniper attack can break out a little remote-control UAV from their backpacks, boot up a rugged laptop computer, and toss that UAV on its way. With the video link and laptop, the soldiers can search the area for the offending snipers and take them out with the aerial shotgun.

They can do this with an inexpensive -- and even expendable -- micro UAV, video camera, and laptop computer.

I have a feeling the guys fighting down in the mud are going to like these shotgun-equipped UAVs almost as much as they like the A-10 Warthog close-air-support aircraft ...

... and guess what -- that shotgun-equipped UAV not only costs a lot less than an A-10, but it's around when the infantry needs it.

Welcome to the 21st century.
Friday, May 7, 2010
  Going back in time on the USS Cassin Young

Posted by John McHale

The line was too long to get on "Old Ironsides" -- the USS Constitution -- in the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, so a friend and I checked out the World War II destroyer, the USS Cassin Young instead. What a treat.

We were fortunate enough to bump into an amatuer historian and member of the National Park Service onboard the Cassin Young named Bob Harris. He gave us a personal tour of the ship, the highlight being the Combat Information Center or CIC right across from the captain's quarters.

Today the command center of any naval vessel is all digitized, very different than the time capsule we stepped into that Saturday. Today navigation, radar, etc are all processed on state-of-the art displays with super fast embedded computing -- while on the Cassin Young charts marked by hand adorn the walls and table tops.

Pictured is the plotting board for the battle of Okinawa in World War II. The top right shows radar position 3 near Okinawa where the Cassin Young was first hit by Japanese kamikaze pilots, according to Harris.

Harris said more than 25 sailors onboard the Cassin Young lost their lives to Kamikaze pilots during World War II. Not many know of the heroism of those sailors, which is why he says he enjoys his volunteer job aboard the Cassin Young -- so he can share it with who ever will listen.

The only downside is the rotten few who don't respect the sacrifice those sailors made and steal various objects from different parts of the ship, he says. During our visit he stopped in the captain's quarters to re-hang the captain's jacket, as some tourist most likely stopped to try it on to have a picture taken.

HArris says the high points of his job come when a former crew member of the Cassin Young, long retired and well over 70 years old, comes for a tour. During one moment that Harris shared, a former sailor cried out in joy when he saw his old bunk and shouted to his wife "that’s where I spent two years of my life!"

The Cassin Young is named after a hero as well. According to documents onboard the destroyer, Navy Capt. Cassin Young received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the battle of Pearl Harbor in World War II.

According to Wikipedia his Medal of Honor citation reads: "For distinguished conduct in action, outstanding heroism, and utter disregard of his own safety, above, and beyond the call of duty, as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Vestal, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by enemy Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Commander Young proceeded to the bridge and later took personal command of the 3-inch antiaircraft gun. When blown overboard by the blast of the forward magazine explosion of the U.S.S. Arizona, to which the U.S.S. Vestal was moored, he swam back to his ship. The entire forward part of the U.S.S. Arizona was a blazing inferno with oil afire on the water between the two ships; as a result of several bomb hits, the U.S.S. Vestal was afire in several places, was settling, and taking on a list. Despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, and his shocking experience of having been blown overboard, Commander Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the U.S.S. Arizona, and subsequently beached the U.S.S. Vestal upon determining that such action was required to save his ship."

If you ever find yourself in the Charlestown Navy Yard, definitely visit the Constitution, but be sure not to miss the Cassin Young. Ask for Bob Harris, you'll learn quite a bit.

For more information on the Cassin Young's specifications, visit
Monday, May 3, 2010
  With big upgrades, the enhanced Military & Aerospace Electronics Website just keeps getting better
Posted by John Keller

If you haven't already seen it, surf on over to the redesigned Military & Aerospace Electronics Website at, which incorporates news and feature content from Avionics Intelligence -- the sister franchise to Military & Aerospace Electronics in the PennWell Aerospace & Defense Media Group.

What you'll see is not only the best of the content, look, and feel of that you've come to depend on from Military & Aerospace Electronics, but also a host of improvements we designed to help you, the reader, navigate the site more easily and more quickly than you can today, get more pertinent content, and find reasons to come back frequently.

One of the biggest changes we made involves topic centers. Today we have a few, and plan to have a lot more in the near future. These topic centers, which today involve embedded computing and Avionics Intelligence content, are designed to give readers a quick snapshot of what's important in their industries.

Click on the gray embedded computing button right underneath the Military & Aerospace Electronics logo, for example, and you'll find the ten-or-so most recent stories we've posted on this topic. In the near future we plan to add stories to enable you to see all stories pertinent to this topic that we have posted in the past year -- and beyond.

Now click on the Avionics Intelligence button just to the left of the embedded computing button. Here you'll find 100 percent avionics content, ranging from military, to commercial, to business aviation, and general aviation, as well as air traffic control, ground-based communications and everything else avionics -- nose to tail, air to ground, and gate to gate.

In the not-too-distant future we plan to add topic centers such as power electronics, software, design and development tools, integrated circuits, communications, test and measurement equipment, sensors, and components. If it's important to you, we'll cover it, and make it as quick and easy for you to find as possible.

There's more than topic centers to the new Mil & Aero Website. The navigation bar underneath the home page logo also easily leads readers to our latest content in Webcasts, white papers, the Mil & Aero Command Post online community, the updated buyers guide, and additional content on our site. Look beside the Military & Aerospace Electronic logo to find buttons that will lead readers to the Avionics USA and Avionics Europe, as well as the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum trade shows.

Something else you'll notice about the new site is we don't just want you to be part of the audience; we want you to participate as well. Besides links to the Mil & Aero Command Post online community, the redesigned Mil & Aero home page gives readers a quick glance at the latest Twitter tweets involving Military & Aerospace Electronics.

Want your tweet to show up on our home page? Just include the hashtag #milaero, and tweet away. You can see your words of wisdom right on our home page just below and to the right of the Industry News Flash section as you scroll down the page.

Something you might not notice is the amount of content you can browse through on the redesigned Military & Aerospace Electronics home page. On the old page you had a limited number of stories contained in the news, Defense Executive, and Industry News Flash sections. Now you can hit the "more" button to your heart's content to browse from the latest to the oldest stories.

We're particularly proud of the top component of the redesigned home page, which gives readers a rotating look at our most recent exclusive content, which consists of in-depth features, guest viewpoints, question-and-answer interviews, and more. Click the forward arrow to take yourself to the array of feature stories, or simply sit back and let the selections parade past you.

There are more improvements to come to the Military & Aerospace Electronics home page. Stay tuned, and come back often to see what we have to offer. You can still see the same great sections you've come to know, such as latest news, Defense Executive for program managers and executives, and Industry News Flash for the latest new products and design-in case studies.


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