Feeds

First supersonic swingwing synthi-fuel flight tomorrow

A foretaste of scumjet or mushroom zoom-boom to come?

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The US Air Force has announced that it will carry out the first supersonic flight powered by Gas-To-Liquid (GTL) synthetic fuel tomorrow. A 1980s-vintage B-1 "Lancer" swing-wing bomber will take off from Dyess air force base in Texas, filled up with a 50/50 mix of ordinary petroleum jet juice and synthetic, and go supersonic above the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The B-1B Lancer at high speed

An old dog learning a new trick.

This test will be the latest in the USAF's series, in which the service plans to clear its entire fleet to fly on 50 per cent synthetic fuel. According to a release from the 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs Unit, noted at Aviation Week's Ares blog, the initial testing is on track for completion in 2011. Using synthifuel normally requires no modifications to the aircraft, just ground and flight trials.

This stage of the idea isn't environment-friendly in any way: the Fischer-Tropsch GTL process used to turn natural gas into liquid involves burning large proportions of the initial feedstock, so that a synthi-fuel powered flight is actually more carbon-intensive than a normal one.

Rather than seeking to save the planet, the USAF is at present seeking to free itself from the vagaries of the global crude oil market. Not only are prices extremely high at present, much of the world supply comes from troublesome regions such as the Persian/Arabian Gulf, Nigeria etc.

Relying on uninterrupted Gulf supplies could be unwise, and also - according to some, anyway - much of the the money paid is used to finance jihadi terror campaigns. Furthermore, Gulf supplies from Saudi, Kuwait etc are shipped past possible enemies such as Iran and emerging power-hungry economies like India and China, who more and more would like to have that crude themselves.

So the USAF would be happy to run on more-secure supplies of natural gas, or Fischer-Tropsch synthifuel made from coal. And indeed, the US military is also seeking tech which could get jetfuel from alternative feedstocks - such as algae scum or even mushrooms - which could potentially be carbon-neutral one day. ®

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Beancounters tell NASA it's too poor to fly planned mega-rocket
Space Launch System would need another $400m and a lot of time
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.