Any replacement for Concorde?
Manoj Roorkiwal

an always wanted to fly fast and high in the sky and his dream of doing so is fulfilled by the advent of the aeroplane. After many years of fulfilment of this dream, the fire to fly higher and faster had not died down. It has become somewhat stronger.

Glow in the dark torch
ew glow-in the-dark plastic technology has enabled researchers to develop a torch that glows in the dark, so you can find it in the dark. Collaboration between DualGlo Ltd, a Hereford technology company and Innovation-Direct, a free consultancy service for SME companies delivered by the Universities of Warwick and Wolverhampton, has developed a unique product that is now entering markets all around the world.

  • Mars has big sand dunes

  • Heat-tolerant microbe

  • Painless drug delivery





Any replacement for Concorde?
Manoj Roorkiwal

Man always wanted to fly fast and high in the sky and his dream of doing so is fulfilled by the advent of the aeroplane. After many years of fulfilment of this dream, the fire to fly higher and faster had not died down. It has become somewhat stronger. Many names in aviation sector like Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin and Macdonald Douglas are engaged in research and development of fast, strong and spacious aeroplane. In 20th century the Airbus made delta winged Concorde for British Airways and Air France that was dubbed as a marvel of the century. The long and sleek Concordes were very fast and became the envoy of the other aviation giants and air carriers.

Though Concorde is now part of the history but it has left many sweet memories. The Concorde was a fuel guzzler just like its precursor, the Soviet TU-144, and was competent to take on any fighter of the Air Force in the speed department as it flew at twice the speed of sound — Mach 2.

It started its first Trans-Atlantic service in 1976 and touched the speed of Mach-2 at 54000 feet between London and Paris. On Friday, October 24, 2003, this marvellous machine made its final faster-than-bullet journey from New York to London. The droop nosed jet — the world’s only supersonic airliner — left no successor after 34 years of glorious career. It had one precursor on which it was based. It was Soviet Tupolev TU-144, the first supersonic commercial plane to fly on December 31, 1968. It was named Concordski in the West and flew at a subsonic speed, which lasted only up to 38 minutes. The TU-144 crashed twice, first on June 3, 1973, at Bourget air show when it was the star attraction, and again in July, 1978, which led to its permanent withdrawal and grounding. The aircraft suffered from high fuel consumption at supersonic speeds and problems of noise, vibration and pressurisation. After TU-144 it was European Concorde all the way but it again suffered the same lacunae as were suffered by the TU-144.

Concorde was really noisy and shook everything as it flew over the residential areas. Rattling photo frames, howling car alarms, scared pets, broken windowpanes and jet blasts made life miserable. Its shrill and harrowing noise made the residents crazy. But this love and hate relationship continued for three and a half decades. Once it made a trip to India and landed at the Delhi airport, leaving many windows of the ATC Tower shattered. The British and French builders invested millions of dollars over the years reducing the jet’s engine noise but the thunder never died down. The plane was a beautiful piece of art and had marvellous engineering. Many people the world over watched it fly over the years and dreamt of flying by it.

On its final trip it lifted into stratosphere from New York carrying a select few at the speed of 250 mph from the runway, pressing back the passengers into their seats and achieving the speed of Mach-2 or 1,350 miles per hour within 10 minutes. Then it sliced through the sound barrier leaving the windows hot with friction and planes itself stretched in size with the nose up and straight. The technology marvel use to beat revages of jet lag and people used to love to fly at the astonishing speed, making Concorde the only civil aircraft to give the defence supersonic fighter planes a run for their money.

The Concorde bowed out in style with a spectacular triple-landing finale, closing an era of supersonic passenger travel and putting an end to a technology marvel, which was expensive, yet loved.

Despite being rich in technological excellence the plane was plagued by safety concerns and a few of the planes crashed over the years putting a question mark on its safety. In July, 2000, many Concordes in the fleets of British Airways and Air France developed cracks in their wings making them totally unsafe for flying. On June 25, 2000, a New York bound Air France Concorde crashed outside Paris after taking off and killing all 113 people on board and four on the ground. It prompted Air France in May this year to announce grounding of its Concorde fleet. In April British Airways also announced the grounding of its fleet by the year-end. The plane was proving to be risky despite investment of a lot of money and time in R&D to make them airworthy. It needed 40,000 hrs of work for D-check (doom check) of Concorde at Orly. It was entirely stripped down to carcass, everything being passed to X-rays, 94 windows, 200 check doors, 13 tanks to trace any crack, which means weakness and doom for the plane.

Despite all these measures the problems for Concorde persisted and its fate was finally sealed quite early when plane maker Airbus declared that it would stop supplying parts and maintenance to the legendary plane. The production of the Concorde jet itself stopped in September, 1979, when production lines at Toulouse and Filton were closed. The two plants churned out 16 planes and 88 engines, out of these British Airways owned seven and Air France six. The closing of these plants marked the end of the great adventure of building Concorde, the high technology machine and symbol of revival of European aeronautical industry. Apart from being risky it was also proving to be very costly as the ticket sales dwindled leading to ballooning operating cost. It could only carry 92 passengers at a time, charged too much, absurdly high with a minimum of 4½ lakh rupees i.e. $ 10,000 for round trip between Europe and New York. Though it made Europe very accessible to the rest of the world but the price was too high to just save 3½ hours of flying time.

The National Air Space Museum which is under construction at Washington’s Dulles International Airport got its one Concorde gifted by Air France in June this year. While the British Airways has decided to donate its seven Concordes to museums spread all over UK, United States and Barbados and they will be chosen on number of criteria — the ability to exhibit and preserve the craft, the geographical location of the museum and its accessibility to the public. But British Airways is also contemplating to keep one with themselves to fly it on certain special occasions. One of the Concordes will fly to the US on December 17, 2003, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first manned and powered flight on November 21st, 1783.

To fill the gap left by Concorde Airbus and Boeing have come together to make a state-of-the-art aircraft for the 21st century. The aircraft in the pipeline is quite different from the conventional aeroplanes and has a larger delta type wingspan and better technology. In the conventional aeroplanes the wings are attached to the hollow tunnel and the seating is provided in the tunnel itself. But the prototype being developed by the two giants has a bat like body, as is the case with B 2 stealth bomber of America. Its body and wings are joined as one unit and not to a tunnel like structure and the seating of passengers is not conventional as it is spread in most of the plane. The plane has three engines mounted on its wide tail, which gives it good manoeuvrability, speed and lot of passenger comfort as it is very quiet. It has more passenger capacity than a conventional craft. It is much lighter and faster than the conventional craft. The craft has special cabins for the crewmembers in the new space created over the passenger isle.

Apart from this Boeings’ Mai 2001 — an almost supersonic look-alike of Concorde, Boeings ’20XX (Sonic Cruiser), French Dassault supersonic jet (under development) and Lockheed/Gulfstreams supersonic executive jet (prototype expected in 2005) are the serious contenders for the place left by Concorde. But in the time to come we have to see whether these planes come any closer to Concorde in sting or they are only commercial coup like one of supersonic B 2707 while Concorde was in gestation?

The problem of reducing the supersonic boom is the biggest hurdle in front of these contenders as reduction makes the plane able to fly over inhabited areas, as was done by the Concorde people. To make the competition hot enough the American Space Agency NASA is also in the race as it signed an agreement with Tupolev long ago in 1995 to gain technical knowhow about the scrapped TU-144 and make it airworthy and again fly under the flag of United States. But despite all these contenders it is believed that the sting and the nostalgia of Concorde is not going to die down soon.

Glow in the dark torch

New glow-in the-dark plastic technology has enabled researchers to develop a torch that glows in the dark, so you can find it in the dark. Collaboration between DualGlo Ltd, a Hereford technology company and Innovation-Direct, a free consultancy service for SME companies delivered by the Universities of Warwick and Wolverhampton, has developed a unique product that is now entering markets all around the world. After turning to the Innovation Direct advice centre DualGlo Ltd, a small technology business, is now selling its products in China, New Zealand, the USA and throughout Europe.

The partnership has led to the development of new merchandise, new materials and processes that has enabled the company to develop a new generation of coloured luminous technology.

The GloTorch is made from unique ‘DualGlo’ plastic that naturally absorbs light (artificial or sunlight) and then glows brightly in the dark. Just 10 minutes exposure provides eight hours of glow, and a stronger light-source means DualGlow products recharge even quicker. The torch is useful when travelling, camping, or participating in outdoor sports such as night fishing.

Mars has big sand dunes

Mars is kind of like Texas: things are just bigger there. In addition to the biggest canyon and biggest volcano in the solar system, Mars has now been found to have sand ripples twice as tall as they would be on Earth.

Initial measurements of some of the Red Planet's dunes and ripples using stereo-images from the Mars Orbiter Camera onboard the Mars Global Surveyor have revealed ripple features reaching almost 20 feet high and dunes towering at 300 feet.

One way to imagine the taller dimension of ripples on Mars is to visualise sand ripples on Earth, then stretch out the vertical dimension to double height, without changing the horizontal dimension.

"They do seem higher in relation to ripples on Earth," said Kevin Williams of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Williams presented this latest insight into the otherworldly scale of Marscapes on Monday at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Seattle, WA.

Heat-tolerant microbe

Some may like it hot, but nothing likes it hotter than a weird microbe known as Strain 121. The one-celled organism, captured from a magma vent at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, can survive 130 degrees Celsius, a temperature no other known life form can tolerate.

The as-yet-unnamed microbe was able to reproduce and grow vigorously at about 121 degrees Celsius, the typical temperature used in autoclaves to sterilise medical instruments, said Derek R. Lovley, a University of Massachusetts microbiologist. “It has been the dogma in microbiology for 120 years that temperature would kill any living organism,” Lovely said. But not Strain 121. — Science

Painless drug delivery

A paper published this week in the online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes progress in the development of microneedle arrays for delivering drugs and vaccines through the skin - without causing pain.

The paper describes research at the Georgia Institute of Technology on fabricating hollow and solid microneedles in a variety of sizes and shapes from metals, biodegradable polymers, silicon and glass.

It also reports on testing with cadaver skin and animals that demonstrates the ability of the micron-scale needles to deliver proteins, nanoparticles, and both small and large molecules through the skin.

“We’ve opened up the potential use of microneedles for delivering a broad range of therapeutics,” said Mark Prausnitz, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and principal investigator for the project.

“Fabricating both hollow and solid microneedles in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials allows us to deliver large molecules with significant therapeutic interest such as insulin, proteins produced by the biotechnology industry, and nanoparticles that could encapsulate a drug or demonstrate the ability to deliver a virus for vaccinations.”



PROF YASH PALWho controls the space shuttle — the human beings
or the computer systems?

Humans design the control systems even when computers are used for this purpose. For the purpose of such design a large number of parameters are required for propulsion and guidance. These are all fed into the computers along with the requisite programmes. There are many operations that need to be started or stopped with an accuracy of a fraction of a second.

The system receives inputs from a very large number of sensors and integrates them into the operating system at the right time. Some of these inputs may come from gyros of various types. Others might be from star sensors. In addition there are a large number of others related to the health of various subsystems. There are displays available to astronauts to enable them to override some commands when required.

In essence a properly designed programme on a computer system can manage all operations. But the requirement is that it should be “properly designed”. After all, computers largely operate fairly complicated systems like satellites, including the space telescope. But humans are in control.

All this is true even for many operations on the ground. We have a very modern telescope at Hanle in Kashmir at an altitude of 4500 metres. This is the highest telescope in the world.

This telescope can be operated from Bangalore using a satellite link. It can be accurately pointed in the desired direction on to an astronomical object of study and can follow that object with negligible jitter. The instruments record the data that is transmitted back to Bangalore. The images in addition to much other information are recorded for later study.

One can be on line observing an object within minutes of receiving information that something of consequence has occurred. Without computer assistance the telescope would not be as useful. But without the scientists who built it and those who observe and operate it would be so much junk (even though a rather beautiful junk) up in Himalayas.

If a black hole absorbs a nebula, what will happen?

While the nebula is spiraling towards the black hole its shape and integrity would be demolished, because some parts of the nebula would be closer to the black hole than others. Lot of energy would be radiated while this is happening.

Some components of the nebula might form a long-lived binary system with the black hole. Forgetting about the detailed dynamics of the process one can say that ultimately if and after the black hole has absorbed the nebula, it will become just a bigger black hole. The radius of the black hole is believed to be proportional to its mass.

Why do all types of fish smell alike?

I am told that absolutely fresh fish do not have much of a smell. I can vouch for that because during one of my visits to Japan I was persuaded to taste Sushi. But wherever fish is sold, even close to a beach you do get a fishy smell.

The smell is due to the onset of decay. Since fish are caught in large numbers and begin to decay quickly after that at any time there would be some that have decayed a little more than the rest. But your question is why do they all smell the same. We have to remember that all decaying cadavers of animals also smell the same, though different from the smell of decaying fish.

The decay processes for land and marine life must have a difference in the sense of the bacteria involved. I am conscious of the fact that I have given an answer that may not be complete or satisfactory. I invite those who know more about this to let me know and then I would share it with everyone else.