Saturday, April 30, 2011

Smarty Pants

Just how the heck, I ask myself on nearly a daily basis, did Barack Obama ever acquire his vaunted reputation as an exceptionally smart person? How did his vacuous gas-baggery, from his ward-heeler days to the present, ever convince anyone that he is an intellectual heavyweight deserving of praise for his clever "rhetoric"? Beats the heck out of me. I have seen bloody little evidence of it. He is virtually a complete economic illiterate, entirely unfamiliar with the nuances of technology, a clueless parroter of fatuous climate change puffery regarding all energy issues, incapable of mathematical rigor regarding any issue, significantly divorced from reality regarding the nature of the country's enemies--and its friends, uncritically not to mention smugly enamored of a farrago of redistributionist malarkies, a depressing ignoramus regarding the issues, technical and economic, confronted by the automotive industry, and so direly lacking in extemporaneous off-the-prompter speaking skills as to render such as Sarah Palin positively Churchillian by comparison.

Now all that drivel scrolling down the angled prompter screen could perhaps be laid at the feet of his speechwriters but all that would do is imply that he is too dumb to be that stupid. His addresses and "speeches" contain nothing ringing, nothing as clever as a Whoopi Goldberg throw-away crack, nothing remotely specific or un-triangulated, and betray an ignorance of the problems of that perennial darling of Progressives, the working man, so profound as to make Bonny Prince Charlie seem like Larry the Cable Guy.

Too harsh? Consider a recent statement in which he averred that if one has a vehicle getting eight miles per gallon then perhaps it is time for a trade-in. The most charitable comment possible on this statement is "easy for him to say". The least charitable comment would require so many euphemistic asterisks as to render it unintelligible. Where o where is the "smart" in all of this? Is it that he has a media neutral accent that in no way sounds southern? What bilge. Is it that his speaking voice has a certain facilely sonorous quality? What what? Are we supposed to be mesmerized by the allegedly comforting sound of his voice and ignore the content and implications of his words? Is it that he graduated from Hahvahd and ipso facto is therefore undeniably smart? Remind me again, from where was it that the reviled dunce George Bush graduated?

I suspect that the simplest explanation is that to much of the (insert obligatory sneer here) main stream media Progressives are much more to their innate political likings therefore that automatically makes them "smart" whereas anyone even a nanometer more conservative than Joe Lieberman must perforce be assumed to be less smart, a lot less. Only two words and an initial are needed to decisively prove this assumption as meritless as a fevered Birther rant--William F. Buckley.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Diesel Connie

In my previous post I averred that even if a piston engined airliner were technically feasible that aircraft manufacturers would in no way be tempted to devote the billions in development costs required. I stand by the statement but for the purposes of discussion let's examine whether or not in actual reality such a beastie could in fact be built, and be a useful commercial venture.

First of let's not delude ourselves that any conceivable putative project could ever come close to duplicating the performance and passenger carrying capacity of a jumbo jet. Not going to happen. The engines on an Airbus 380 for example develop around an order of magnitude more power than the engines on the Lockheed Constellation and the likelihood of any internal combustion engine could be built to develop 30,000 horsepower and be remotely light enough to be used in aircraft is negligible, to put it as mildly as possible.

So let's take the ol' Connie as a baseline. There are regional airliners which can carry a hundred passengers or so in similar fashion to a fully loaded Constellation so the basic airframe engineering is already in hand. These craft by no look anything like a Connie due largely to advances in aerodynamics, which is a shame considering the sensuous beauty that was the Constellation, but it could not be otherwise. Let's propose parameters that would result in these hundred passengers be carried along at about 400mph airspeed at roughly 35,000 feet of altitude. This would give our putative project enough of an advantage over the Connie to pique the interest of airlines especially if significant fuel savings can be offered as well. I estimate that this performance would require four engines that develop at least 3000 horsepower each. This is less power than developed by the Connie's original 18 cylinder Wrights but I presume that a modern design with composite components would weigh several tons less.

The engines would have to weigh less as well which would be easy if gasoline were to be used as fuel. Unfortunately this approach would hardly achieve the fuel cost savings that would make this project attractive in the first place. That essentially leaves us with Diesel engines and not only that but Diesel engines that could run on the same fuel that jet turbines do--JP-4. Current Diesels have a hard time using jet fuel but it stretches not the imagination that units could be built from scratch that could use it to its fullest fuel saving potential. I don't view this approach as optional considering the costs of establishing a different fuel delivery infrastructure for an airliner running on conventional Diesel fuel.

So Diesels are it but they would not by a very long shot have any relationship to the growling smoky beasts of heavy over the road trucks. Automotive Diesel powerplants have made amazing strides in every facet of performance to the point where they are now the preferred engine in prototype LeMans competition cars from the likes of Audi and Peugeot. Powerful quiet and thrifty they have become as the technologies of electronic engine management systems and turbo/supercharging have advanced hugely in the last two decades.

Diesels do have another big advantage, similar to those huge Wright radials, in that they can easily be designed to run in RPM ranges that match up to the required rotational speeds of propellors thus avoiding heavy and power wasting gearing systems that plague the majority of automotive engines converted to aircraft use. The trick in designing such an engine would not be in arriving at either the desired running characteristics or lowered fuel consumption but rather designing a Diesel that would be both light enough and stout enough to function in its intended role. This will require as much in the way of lightweight alloys and materials as can be marshalled but since in no wise will such an engine cost any more than a jet turbine to manufacture this approach would be valid.

The lightest most efficient configuration of this engine will likely be a V12 of 2000-2500 cubic inches of displacement with at least two large exhaust driven turbochargers. This would require a very large and expensive aluminum or magnesium engine block casting but in the low volumes contemplated this cost should not be a show stopper. There are other configurations that might be considered but a V12 has enough enough advantages that it would inevitably shake out of most anyone's risk analysis calculations. A V12 is a very smooth running engine, obviously important in an airliner, and is likely the most efficient way to get the lightest powerplant needed to do the job without risking too many technological Hail Marys. Engines of this size and power go back at least as far as WWII and even though few large aero diesels have been built current tech seems up to the task.

A V12 configuration, water cooled of course, has another advantage over the big old Wrights on the Connie and that's aerodynamic drag. Those huge radials were highly refined for their day but they spent a lot of energy just pushing their bulks through the air. Aero drag from a properly cowled water-cooled V12 would likely be much less than half of what the original Connie's engines could manage. This lowered drag of course translates directly into performance and efficiency gains.

There's little reason that the full armamentarium of the modern engine designer could not be thrown at this project. High pressure direct fuel injection, multi-valve intake configurations, low friction internals, high-strength light weight components, advanced electronic engine management systems etc. etc. could easily combine, I think, to halve fuel consumption per seat mile compared to current turbine engines--even current turbo-prop versions. So all in all it seems that it could be done but it remains vanishingly unlikely that it will be done. The huge research costs involved, and the inevitable public acceptance issues, are virtually certain to stop this sort of enterprise in its tracks. Bit a shame perhaps when one contemplates what a 48 cylinder Diesel powered airliner might sound like on takeoff.