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Monday, June 6, 2022

How Low (Observable) Can You Go?

Late last month what is arguably the first major East Coast air show of 2022 took place at Dover Air Force Base. And “Thunder Over Dover” certainly qualifies as major, having hosted both the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels across a practice show day and two public show days.

In the relatively near future, I’ll post a link to a photo album of the very best of over 1000 (!) images captured during the three days I spent at Dover Air Force Base.

But if any single aircraft could be considered the star of the Dover show it’s the B-2 Spirit, popularly known as the Stealth Bomber.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber banks over Blue Angel 1 for a final pass at Thunder Over Dover on May 21, 2022.
 Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

The appearance of a B-2 at air shows always generates excitement, and the three passes by this unique aircraft at “Thunder Over Dover” – present on May 21 only – drove a massive attendance turnout despite high temperatures well into the 90s.

The B-2 "Spirit of Nebraska" passes over the awestruck airshow crowd below. 
Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

Built by Northrop Grumman, the B-2 first flew over 30 years ago, but despite being one of the most recognizable modern-day aircraft a noticeable hush fell over the crowd assembled at Dover AFB as the massive black boomerang made several passes along the flight line.

Despite the B-2’s popularity with the general populace, by the time the next airshow at Dover Air Force Base rolls around on the calendar it’s likely that a new generation of stealth will be coming into service.

Artist conception of the B-21 Raider ascending over Edwards Air Force Base. 
Image: U.S. Air Force rendering

The all-new B-21 Raider – also being built by Northrop Grumman – will be the result of a program to create the next-generation stealth bomber. Assembly of the first B-21 is nearing the stage where engine runs and taxi testing will lead to a first flight. The ground testing is now planned for later this year, with flight following in 2023. Initially flight testing was hoped for right about now on the calendar, but ironically on the day before the B-2 soared over Dover the Air Force announced this new testing timetable.

When the first B-21 is seen, the vision will look quite familiar at first glance. Retaining the B-2's overall shape, the Raider will have ample long-range capability even though it will be smaller than the B-2. Most important, though, the B-21 will boast new generations of what the Air Force refers to as “low-observable technology” – in another word, stealth.

Northrop Grumman has created website content for its B-21 Raider project, which you can visit here:

Development logo of the B-21 Raider.

 Image: Northrop Grumman

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Raising Endeavour

One of the biggest thrills a space tourist can experience – not counting those tourists either financially well-off enough or lucky enough to find themselves actually launched into space – unfolds every few minutes at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

After watching a brief documentary, visitors are suddenly – and dramatically – presented with a sweeping view of the space shuttle orbiter Atlantis. As far as generating a goosebump-inducing experience, the revelation of Atlantis has been pretty much unrivaled.

Until now.

Next week groundbreaking will take place on a new home for Atlantis’ sister orbiter, Endeavour.

In 2021 the decommissioned space shuttle orbiters were dispatched across the United States for display. Here the first orbiter to fly, the test vehicle Enterprise, is seen en route to its new home in New York. Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

In September 2012 the decommissioned and safed Endeavour arrived in California for transport to its new home, the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Since going on display shortly thereafter, Endeavour has been visited by thousands who have seen the orbiter horizontal in a temporary pavilion. But bigger plans are at last coming to fruition.

The Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will be constructed adjacent to the California Science Center. The construction, estimated to take approximately three years, will result in a stunning presentation of Endeavour standing vertical as though ready for liftoff, mated to the last surviving space shuttle external tank and two solid rocket boosters (with, of course, propellants removed).

An artist conception of Endeavour's new home, the Samueal Oschin Air and Space Center. Image: Ron McPherson/

Having stood beneath Atlantis on the launch pad just before the STS-135 mission completed the space shuttle program, I can attest to the awe-inspiring nature of witnessing the full stack of the space shuttle system towering overhead. This new museum setting will be an appropriate depiction of one of mankind’s most amazing technical developments and will doubtless leave visitors with unforgettable memories.

Groundbreaking for the new space center is scheduled for June 1, with much additional information on Endeavour’s new home to come in the wake of the ceremony. Visits the California Science Center website to learn the latest:

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Sculpting the Skies with an F-22

With the first airshows of the 2022 season getting underway, I happened to take a look back at some of my work from 2021.

One of my favorite images pulled from the skies last year is this photograph of a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor as seen during a practice flight over New Jersey’s Millville Executive Airport. The image as a whole isn’t particularly noteworthy – F-22s frequently create their own cloud systems while maneuvering, which often translate into stunning photos. But the attraction here is in the details: an unusual exhaust pattern that is particularly striking.


Both photographs: Ⓒ 2022 Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions


From the heat and moisture content being displaced by the aircraft, the sky itself has taken on a three-dimensional appearance. It looks as though it’s a solid section, hovering in mid-air with a texture that could be felt – if you could only get your hands a few thousand feet up and not get burned as well!

Last year I had a half-dozen opportunities to photograph the F-22 in action, and look forward to further encounters in 2022.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

More Rockets for Wallops

Rocket Lab’s two-stage Electron vehicle has not been covered here at Aerospace Perceptions before now, largely because to date the company’s launches have taken place on the opposite side of the globe from a complex in New Zealand. But in the relatively near future, that may change.

Last week Rocket Lab announced the first three scheduled launches from increasingly-busy Wallops Island, Virginia. The company’s Launch Complex 2 was built at Wallops’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and has been awaiting its first Electron launch for three years, a delay largely generated by stringent safety initiatives in NASA software covering flight termination systems. But as soon as later this year an Electron will soar on a dedicated mission for Virginia satellite company HawkEye 360.


A Rocket Lab Electron heads uphill from the company’s first launch complex, located in New Zealand. Image: Rocket Lab USA


The payload for this initial mission launching from Virginia will be six radio-frequency-monitoring satellites, with nine more to be included in subsequent launches. As noted in a press release announcing these three missions, “HawkEye 360 provides commercial and government customers with insights that have helped to detect illegal fishing, poachers in national parks, GPS radio frequency interference along international borders, and emergency beacons in crisis situations.”


An artist conception of Rocket Lab’s Neutron, planned as a significant upgrade in launch capabilities. Image: Rocket Lab USA


Standing half as high as a space shuttle orbiter’s length, the Electron is unique in that it utilizes an electric pump configuration that feeds its Rutherford liquid propellant engines, built by Rocket Lab in Long Beach, California. By 2024 Rocket Lab hopes to implement launches of its under-development Neutron rocket from a second location on Wallops Island. This new vehicle will stand twice as tall as Electron.

Rocket Lab is also working toward enhancing its ability to recover and reuse rocket stages. One thing the company has already perfected is a certain comedic levity in naming its missions. The first three Electron launch attempts in New Zealand were christened “It’s a Test,” “Still Testing,” and “It’s Business Time.” Those were followed by missions including “Pics or It Didn’t Happen,” “Return to Sender,” and the upcoming “There and Back Again.”

For more on Rocket Lab visit:

For more on HawkEye 360 visit:

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Cult of Personality

Elon Musk has been in the news a lot lately, which really isn’t news – or surprising. Whether it’s helping enable internet access to a besieged Ukrainian citizenry through his Starlink constellation system, or less altruistic activities like his hostile takeover attempt of Twitter, the richest man in the world injects his sphere of influence into many realms.

Perhaps Musk’s most high-profile endeavor, of course, is SpaceX. Currently – and successfully – cementing the idea of commercial space business activities in Earth orbit, SpaceX is also looking long-long-range at the colonization of Mars and eventual human exploration far beyond our Solar System neighbor. And from the beginning, SpaceX has proudly reflected its own spaceflight culture. Witness the decidedly different attitude on display during SpaceX launches, with lots of cheering and waving in a party-like atmosphere, compared to the staid liftoff proceedings witnessed within Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Control Center throughout the Apollo and Shuttle eras.

A featured image representing the content of a YouTube video.

Aside from such surface reflections, I’ve always been of a mind that when one space effort succeeds, they all succeed – if for no other reason than the illumination of success shines across the realm of space ventures as a whole. But it’s increasingly difficult to ignore a somewhat manic subset of SpaceX followers who eschew such a “one for all, all for one” philosophy.

This attitude was fully on display during NASA’s recent attempt to stage a full-dress rehearsal of its Space Launch System on Pad 39-B at Kennedy Space Center, complete with full system fueling. As might be expected with an entirely new assembly, numerous issues arose, to the extent that a roll-back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for problem resolution will delay launch plans until much later in the year. Each complication was derided by dozens of Twitter-based proponents of Musk’s Starship program – a program nowhere near as close to flight as NASA’s SLS. No matter – to them it’s Starship or nothing.

This fascination has led to seemingly-full-time social media “reporters” who plant themselves outside the SpaceX Starbase in Texas while trying to monetize hours-long web streams that usually show nothing more exciting than a pickup truck entering or exiting the Musk kingdom.

That’s just one symptom. I’ve seen SpaceX followers openly mocking the development efforts of other aerospace entities, with some even outright rooting for mission failures of rockets not bearing the correct logo. There’s nothing like holding aerospace programs to the standards of juvenile popularity contests.

Elon Musk and his partner in an on-again, off-again relationship, Grimes. A snapshot from the unavoidably glamorous life of the richest man in the world. Photo:

Much of this frenzy is a strangely cult-like obsession with Elon Musk himself – which Musk certainly cultivates, consciously or not. It’s the aerospace edition of celebrity status circa 2022: how well known are you? In the increasingly weird global culture circling endlessly around influencers and personalities, being a celebrity is the very best thing you can do.

As a writer focused on the realm of aerospace, I will always be interested in Elon Musk and how he directs SpaceX. The interest in Elon as a person? Not so much. Like Apple’s own technical revolutionary, Steve Jobs, Musk may be brilliant - but I don’t think I’d want to spend much time around him.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Aviation Transformation Through imaginAviation

NASA operations, as of this writing, are struggling to deal with the inevitable new system problems that have arisen with the Space Launch System “wet test” - basically all aspects of launch pad operations (including fueling) save the launch itself.

A few weeks ago, though, much of the NASA community was embracing a much broader perspective through a program cleverly titled imaginAviation, under the auspices of NARI – the NASA Aeronautics Research Institute.


This three-day virtual event, which included the participation of many universities and other educational organizations, was based on imagination and how resulting visions can lead to the future transformation of aviation. Through more than 30 presentations, imaginAviation delved into topics and concepts ranging from environmental and emissions concerns to more esoteric topics such as Hyper-Spectral Communications for more robust and reliable air-to-ground communications.


NASA is continually involved in developing technical innovations in aircraft systems, a process that includes the utilization of this modified F/A-18. Photo: NASA

The tone for imaginAviation was set from the event’s keynote address, given by Dr. Kathryn Jablokow, a Program Director at National Science Foundation and Professor of Engineering Design and Mechanical Engineering at Penn State University. Dr. Jablokow stressed the idea of embracing multiple leading edges, noting, “Innovation makes people uncomfortable, but that’s not always a bad thing. It just means that people have this sense, this capacity to know when they’re getting close to an edge.

You can learn much more about ideas for the future of aviation and aeronautics as every presentation given across all three days of imaginAviation is available to watch by simply accessing the following link:

imaginAviation 2022 Presentations

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Color Statement

The March 18 launch of Russia’s Soyuz MS-21 – mentioned in an earlier Aerospace Perceptions update – has taken a turn for the surprising. After a fully nominal, brief two-orbit chase of the International Space Station, the Soyuz Korolyov spacecraft docked with the ISS. Hatches opened – and things took a turn toward the unexpected.

The three-man crew of the mission boarded the ISS wearing bright yellow and blue flight suits – the unmistakable colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveyev speak upon their arrival at the ISS, in a video broadcast by the Russian space agency. Video image: Roscosmos

Rampant speculation commenced. Was this the orbital equivalent of holding up a “No War” sign on Russian state television? How could the crew of the Soyuz stow away unofficial gear in the cramped confines of their vehicle? Was this a semi-official Roscosmos statement expressing anger over the financial impact Putin’s folly will have on the Russian space program? If Roscosmos was horrified by a crew protest, why did they allow video of the impertinence to stream out before the eyes of the world?

What was certain is that such colors have never been worn by any other Soyuz crew arriving at the ISS. When asked if the colors had special significance, mission commander Oleg Artemyev demurred.

“It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow,” he said.

Actions speak louder than words? Or perhaps an old truism says it best: a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Developments, Both Modest and (very) Large…

Just before noon EDT this morning, mission Soyuz MS-21 launched from the Russian spaceflight facility in Kazakhstan – the first manned spaceflight of 2022. The flight carries three Roscosmos cosmonauts bound for the International Space Station, the Russian spacecraft closing in on the ISS as I write these words. There is no need to revisit the strained US-Russia relations when it comes to space programs resulting from the needless invasion of Ukraine.


Bouncing back from a February mission failure, Astra successfully launched this flight from Kodiak Island in Alaska on March 15. Photo: Astra


Instead, let’s shed some light on another spaceflight venture this week that likely didn’t attract public attention. This launch took place in the relatively exotic setting of the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska. Astra, the new spacecraft venture which suffered a mission failure earlier this year when a fairing failed to open properly after liftoff, this time enjoyed a successful flight to orbit with deployment of its small satellite payload a complete success. This venture opens the door for three planned Astra launches from Kennedy Space Center in months to come. More information on Astra and its planned ventures can be found here:


Some questioned when – if ever – the fully-stacked Artemis vehicle would appear ready for flight at Kennedy Space Center. The Artemis I vehicle began the final stage of its journey to the launch pad on March 17, as its eventual destination appeared in the skies overhead. Photo: Ben Cooper/ULA


Speaking of KSC in Florida, an hours-long process got underway late yesterday afternoon as the massive doors of the historic Vehicle Assembly Building slowly opened to reveal the fully-stacked Artemis I spacecraft system, ready to journey to Launch Complex 39B for final pre-flight testing. If all goes well, the massive vehicle – standing well over 300 feet tall – will climb into the skies later this year on an unmanned lunar test flight. Successful conclusion of this phase will put NASA’s space program within reach of a manned return to the moon – 50 years after the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, completed on December 19, 1972.

Much more information on Artemis can be found here:

A gallery of Artemis travels from the VAB to LC39B on March 17 into the early morning of March 18 is here:

Friday, March 11, 2022

The War of the Words

Although the International Space Station (ISS) is just that – international in focus and components in orbit – by far the two biggest players to cement the success of this outpost in space are the United States and Russia.

In the wake of the final Space Shuttle mission - STS-135 in the summer of 2011 – United States manned missions to the ISS entered into a multi-year gap of dependency on Russian transport. On the surface it was a business arrangement, with the US reimbursing Russia for costs of carrying US astronauts to orbit. But the arrangement always depended on stability between the two superpowers, and minor events on Earth weren’t allowed to interfere with the ISS operations.

The configuration of the International Space Station. The Russians have threatened to take their pieces and go home.

Now, however, there is a major event, and the seismic implications of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine have reverberated into the ISS orbit – just weeks after operation authorization of the ISS was extended to 2030. Now, the station’s future is in immediate doubt, let alone pondering eight years in the future.

Reflecting the belligerent attitude of Russia’s authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos – Dmitry Rogozin – stated, “In this situation, we can no longer supply the U.S. with our rocket engines that are the best in the world. Let them fly on something else, like their brooms, or whatever.” This followed up on Rogozin remarks during the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea when he suggested the US resort to the use of trampolines to reach orbit.

Scott Kelly during his year-long service aboard the ISS. When he returned, medical studies comparing Scotto to his twin brother Mark were conducted, seeking to understand the impact of long-term life in space.

Scott Kelly had heard enough. Kelly and his twin brother Mark made a lasting impact on NASA, the siblings aboard space shuttle flights as both pilots and commanders as well as logging time stationed at the ISS – Scott spending a year straight in orbit beginning seven years ago this month. As one does in 2022, Scott took to Twitter to counter the remarks of Rogozin, and the result was a spiteful feud between the two high-profile players in the realm of aerospace.

Just yesterday, on March 10, Rogozin threatened to break an agreement to land US astronaut Mark Vande Hei – himself approaching a full year in space aboard the ISS - along with two Russian cosmonauts next month. Effectively, Vande Hei would be left stranded on the ISS until the US could figure out the logistics to bring him home.

The backstory of the verbal conflict - one that points out how fragile the orbit of the ISS actually is when competing powers are supposed to act as partners - is detailed in this recent CBS News report:

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ice, Ice, Baby?

Ever since mankind began lobbing rockets up and out of our atmosphere, ice has been known to occasionally play havoc with images in still photos, film, and video. From time to time, ice flaking or falling away from space-bound vehicles has masqueraded as any number of objects – even leading to occasional speculation that what was being seen might be romantically extraterrestrial as opposed to the commonly frozen.

The latest such conundrum comes from a SpaceX launch yesterday, as Falcon 9 booster B1052 successfully lifted off from Florida on a Starlink satellite deployment mission. Everything was routine until sharp-eyed viewers noticed something nearly seven minutes into the flight, as the booster – now separated from its payload – was orienting itself for landing and recovery.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster B1052 was preparing for post-launch descent yesterday when the circled object made its mysterious appearance.

Via a camera mounted on the booster, for several seconds something is seen moving vertically from the bottom of the screen to the top and slightly right to left. The object – dare I stick my neck out and not refer to it as ice – appears to be tumbling as it progresses, and before moving out of the frame reflects light. Although to be honest, for some object in space to be captured in the video for that amount of time, it would most likely have to originate from the SpaceX booster itself. Or did it?

You can see the video for yourself – and read the spirited debate or come up with your own explanation – by using the hashtag #B1052 on Twitter, or follow this direct link:

And if you figure it all out, let me know!

Friday, March 4, 2022

Mriya: Confirmation

Over the last few days – appearing as a footnote to the endless stories of death and destruction in Ukraine – several outlets questioned whether the massive Antonov An-225 known as Mriya had actually been destroyed in combat at Hostomel Airport outside Kyiv. Sadly, those questions have now been fully answered.

Video footage from “Channel One” retweeted by Turkish defense industry news platform provides evidence of the aircraft’s destruction.

Again, as I stated in my original post about the An-225’s fate: In no way am I equating the destruction of this flying machine with the loss of life and human suffering being imposed upon the world by Vladmir Putin’s dastardly and warped visions for power and control. This post is just a hope that an incredible vehicle will be remembered for the unique airplane it was.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

A Bitter End to the Legend of Mriya

It was the heaviest aircraft ever built, with a wingspan just ten feet shy of a football field’s length. It was almost equally as long. And now multiple reports from Ukraine indicate with growing certainty that the lone Antonov An-225 Mriya in existence was destroyed in its hanger at Hostomel Airport outside Kyiv, as Russian forces conduct the senseless invasion of their neighboring country.


The An-225 in its first days of glory, carrying a Buran prototype across the skies.


Designed by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Unkrainian Socialist Soviet Republic in the later years of the Soviet Union, the plan for the An-225 was for it to play a crucial role in the space program. Its capabilities were such that it could haul massive Energia rocket boosters as well as the orbiters of the Buran program, the ultimately failed attempt by the Soviet Union to mimic the United States’ NASA space shuttle fleet.


Revitalized as a powerful commercial cargo aircraft in more recent years, Mriya rising into the skies was an unforgettable sight.


After its military duties concluded, the aircraft languished for eight years until it began a new life as a commercial aircraft capable of moving payloads no other aircraft could match. Known as Mriya, the An-225 nearly had a sister ship. Largely assembled in the 2000s, the second aircraft was never completed, leaving Mriya to rule the cargo skies.


Runway width and clearance was the first crucial consideration when it came to planning ventures for the An-225.


Like the remains of the Buran program, which now are shamefully rotting away in remote facilities in Russia ( Visiting Buran Relics ), the Antonov An-225 was a relic of a different time – yet still a fully functional contributor to the world of aviation. Aircraft fans kept close tabs on this plane’s adventures, seeking a chance to witness the An-225 in flight. It’s certainly a sight I wish I could have witnessed myself.

In no way am I equating the destruction of this flying machine with the loss of life and human suffering being imposed upon the world by Vladmir Putin’s dastardly and warped visions for power and control. This post is just a hope that an incredible vehicle will be remembered for the unique airplane it was.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Back to Work

Last week’s show is over, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship system prototype now de-stacked in Texas. Yet in the wake of his high-profile briefing at the Starbase facility, Musk was continuing to bring attention his way by apparently sniping dismissively at spaceflight rivals on Twitter, issuing this gem on February 18:

SpaceX’s goal is to make life multiplanetary, whereas their goal is to put a handful of satellites in orbit

SpaceX certainly is the big commercial aerospace player with flashy talk of lunar stations and colonies on Mars, to be made possible by rockets carrying dozens of passengers – the Starship program being a very public work in progress. But right now, the unflashy work of supporting space operations goes on largely unheralded by the media or public.

A Cygnus/Antares stack heads uphill from Wallops Flight Facility on February 19, 2022. Photo: Northrop Grumman 

The day after Musk’s tweet, an Antares rocket launched to the International Space Station, smoothly and on schedule from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in coastal Virginia. The Cygnus vehicle placed into orbit was carrying well over 8000 pounds of equipment, experiments, food, and other important supplies. Safely docked at ISS early on February 21, offloading of the varied cargo soon was underway.

There seems to be a growing tendency to take for granted the meat-and-potatoes missions that make up almost all launch calendars - even those of SpaceX, Musk’s tweets notwithstanding. But no mission is ever routine until it concludes successfully. That’s a truth that will remain a constant, no matter how seemingly mundane or unglamorous the payload.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Stacking and Speaking Starship


A screen image of the Starship stacking operation in Texas live streamed by

Just over one week ago SpaceX successfully stacked their massive Starship system at their operations base in Texas, for the first time using their new “chopsticks” methodology – grabbing a prototype of the Starship crew vehicle and raising it to the top of a huge Super Heavy booster. By contrast, NASA continues to perform hoisting within their gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, as they have recently done with what will be the first Artemis assembly of the Space Launch System/Orion spacecraft. In a few months Artemis will undertake an unmanned mission to the moon before crew operations get underway within a year.


As for Starship? The ultimate goal is a large crew bound for Mars. But last week speculation ran rampant about exactly what visions SpaceX head Elon Musk might reveal at a scheduled media gathering and worldwide streaming event in the immediate wake of the Starship stacking. The thought was that if Elon said anything hard to believe, we may be the ones that need to rethink that belief. After all, the amount of progress SpaceX has made has been stunning. Ten years ago, I toured what was the humble SpaceX facilities at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. To see the visions presented back then come to fruition has been beyond impressive. And there are plenty of near-future developments in store. For example, those Starship chopsticks aren’t just for lifting – the plan is to use them to snatch a returning booster out of the sky. Impossible? We’ll see about that…


The fully-stacked Starship system prototype, beautifully captured by photographer John Kraus ( @johnkrausphotos ) the morning after the stacking operation. The operation had begun the night before as the clock neared midnight, taking place in darkness. 

In the aftermath of Musk’s actual remarks at his showy evening Starship status gathering, some observers have expressed disappointment. There was no bold announcement of imminent breakthroughs, just a report on concrete progress. But the very fact that a Starship prototype loomed in the skies above a place now known as Starbase, Texas… Well, that was a statement in itself.

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Missing Link(s)


While investigating a potential re-platforming of the Aerospace Perceptions content repository, an extraction process inadvertently removed several dozen posts from the middle years of AP’s existence since its inception in 2011. The content and images are not lost (I worked in IT far too long to let that happen) but they are not in the accessible content hierarchy here. At some point I’ll initiate the effort to reposition it all back into the date-sorted format on this site; for now, though, let’s move on with AP posts into the future.

Bottom line: mind the gap!

Friday, February 11, 2022

Increments in Stealth

Originally published: August 2017

This weekend, I had the opportunity to witness several passes over Delaware's Dover Air Force Base made by a B-2 Spirit, more commonly known as the Stealth Bomber. The aircraft's presence was certainly a highlight of the Thunder Over Dover airshow.

The Northrop Grumman B-2 "Spirit of California" over Delaware, August 26, 2017.

I have always been fascinated by the realm of secret aircraft development, to the extent of climbing Nevada's Tikaboo Peak so I could see the notorious Area 51 with my own eyes – while creating a promotional video for my band at the time, Third Stone Invasion. I've also read a number of books about the famed Lockheed Skunk Works, where revolutionary planes like the SR-71 Blackbird and F-117 Nighthawk were developed in need-to-know secrecy.

Commemorative artwork depicting the top-secret glories of the Skunk Works' past.

The problem with those books is that they all tend to feature the radical angles of the F-117 on their covers. Understandable, as the F-117 stealth attack aircraft is one of the wildest-looking planes to ever fly. But state of the art? Consider that the F-117 has been retired from service for almost a decade.

As the ominous B-2 flew over my head the other day, I couldn't help but wonder, “What's next?” After all, this specific aircraft was the Spirit of California, the second B-2 to enter into service. That happened almost 25 years ago.

It had been some time since I'd looked into developments in this realm, so spurred on by my B-2 encounter I wanted to find out if there was speculation about military aviation being on the verge of wild, radically intimidating new designs.

Screen grab from a 2014 promotional video created by Lockheed to call attention to Skunk Works activities.

What I found was evidence of highly-advanced but incremental progress. The emergence of the F-117 after growing familiar with the planes of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s was startling. But a similar aesthetic shock does not seem to be in store. Lockheed, now publicly promoting its Skunk Works with its very own website - Click here to visit Skunk Works website - presents a video in which the concept of “collaborative systems” is stressed, combining manned and unmanned aircraft. Several of the concepts seen in the video call to mind the spooky shape of the B-2.

Artist conception of the B-21 Raider, with the "21" reflecting the 21st Century.

As for the B-2 itself, its successor is to be the B-21 Raider, both aircraft built by Northrop Grumman. The B-21 is expected to enter into service in 2025, while B-2s will continue to be flown well beyond that date.

Surely there are amazing technologies lurking beneath the skin of the B-21, but what's most interesting on the surface is how much it looks like the B-2. It seems that in this case, they got it right the first time.

The (so far) Endless Journey

Originally published: August 2017

Voyager 2 begins its first mile of billions to follow, August 20, 1977.

At a time when American society seems to be seriously fractured, it can't hurt to look back at a period of time when there was far greater national unity – and a greater thirst for knowledge.

On August 20 – this Sunday – NASA and the scientific community will be celebrating the launch of Voyager 2, the research vehicle that has now left our solar system and has covered over 11 billion miles. Voyager 1 launched three weeks after Voyager 2, but due to its trajectory it has wracked up an astonishing 13 billion miles.

Five years ago, on August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human-built vehicle to enter a region previously thought to be unreachable: interstellar space. Voyager 2 is also now nearing the boundary of interstellar space. Amazingly, 40 years later the instruments on both of these explorers continue to function.

Voyager 1 looks toward home in this artist depiction showing planetary orbits.

The written word fails when it comes to the achievements of these spacecraft, so take some time to absorb their greatness on Wednesday, August 23 when PBS broadcasts a special program titled, “The Farthest – Voyager in Space,” airing at 9 p.m. EDT.

Of course, expect to learn about the creation of the famous “Golden Records” - albums intended to charm alien ears with music ranging from Mozart to Chuck Berry, should interstellar travelers come upon a Voyager.

So much focus is being showered upon Monday's total eclipse, which truly is a monumental event. But this PBS tribute to Voyager will celebrate our ability to take active steps to find new discoveries, rather than sitting back and simply observing natural phenomenon.

Let's all hope that soon our nation will regain some sanity and return to using science in the realization of achievements driven by curiosity – the urgent sense of purpose we once had.