Category: Wings

The Middle Seat

In 2019, the US FAA approved the company Molon Labe Seating‘s (MLS) landmark seat design for commercial airplanes.
 
What MLS did, is take the problem of discomfort of middle-seat passengers, and attempted to solve it by:
(i) widening the middle seat (from 18″ to 21″), and
(ii) placing the seat slightly lower, and slightly behind the other two seats.
Like this: https://youtu.be/LbWyXPYAXU0 
Unless I’m wrong about this, the FAA’s blessings might make the middle seat passenger more uncomfortable than she already is, if airlines buy into the new design. Here are my limited views about this. I did enjoy studying this. Hopefully MLS finds these inputs helpful in making flying a bit more comfortable.
 
For clarity, let’s break the challenge MLS was dealing with, into its components:
  1. Seat width
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward)
    • Height
  3. Wing passenger movement
For simplicity, let’s consider an obese person who gets the middle seat.
 
Looking at the above components:
  1. Seat width – going by the video, actual seat width has not increased, but only the seat (stretching under the armrest) and backrest are wider. This would undoubtedly be more comfortable than the present seats. However, the armrests would still press into the stomach region of an obese passenger. Fixing this would need a seat redesign, as it would be tough to widen the gap between armrests without narrowing the passage area
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward) – Purely from a position perspective, the MLS design is an improvement. Ordinarily, middle-seat passengers perhaps have even less privacy than others (ever been in the middle seat looking into your phone, and realized your co-passengers were too? :P). With the centre seat slightly behind, its passenger would at least get some privacy for suffering the seat.
      My bigger concern: The back of any person, is not a flat plane. It curves slightly at the shoulders, more if the person hunches. In the current design, an obese person’s shoulders might extend into the backrests of seats on either side, whether they are all in upright or reclined position. With the new offset layout, it would be very restrictive (and for some, claustrophobic even) as it obstructs at arguably a person’s widest cross-section.
    • Height – If the obese passenger is short (maybe under 5’3″, the lower new seat position works fine. But for an average to tall passenger, it is a transition from uncomfortable, narrow seats; to uncomfortable, narrow and low seats – which means not only might their back hurt afterwards, but also their thighs and calves
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, the wing seat passenger moves straight in and out. With the MLS redesign, they would have to zigzag their way in and out (and for loo visits) – a partial inconvenience

Image [2018]: source

Using the above 2018 seat comparison by SeatGuru of popular US airlines, I took a simple average to arrive at:
Seat width: 17.885″, and Seat Pitch of: 33.35″.
 
Now, here’s an alternate layout that I’m suggesting. It takes MLS’s new (wider) seats, but at normal height.
I rounded down Seat Width to 17″, and Seat Pitch up to 34″ for ease of scale and representation.

In the above image, the section on the left depicts a sample 9 rows of economy seats on the left section of an aircraft with the existing seat layout. The aisle would be on the right of this section. Similarly, the right side of the image is my suggested new seat layout pattern. For a sample 9 rows (total 27 economy seats in the existing layout) on the left section of an aircraft, my suggested design (right) offers hopefully a better layout with the trade-off of 1 seat (total 26 seats). 

Possible advantages of my suggested design:

  1. Seat width – the new MLS wide seat design, which seems marginally more comfortable. However, only a complete redesign allowing for wider gaps between armrests would actually make it better for the passenger
  2. Seat position
    1. Position (backward) – 3 seats slightly offset from the other, forming an “A” layout (if you consider all 6 seats, three on either side of the aisle in a given row, they would form an A pattern, with the aisle seats forward, and the wing seats further behind for the same row). Seemingly more uniform level of privacy irrespective of seat. And each passenger has zero obstruction of adjoining seat backrest or passenger on one side
    2. Height – all seats of same height to prevent added leg/thigh and lower back fatigue for middle-seat passengers
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, passengers need to turn 90° into or out of their row. In the suggested layout, while visits too the loo would involve a bigger angle of turn, but only boarding and disembarking would be at only a slight angle from the aisle.

Thoughts?
@MLS, like you, I’m simply looking at it from trying to improve passenger experience. Hope you find this useful.

On the topic of airline seats, here’s an old thought I had.

The Middle Seat analysis was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

Constraints and the beautiful A-10

Image: source

Contrary to popular belief:

  1. constraints help make better products (or services), and
  2. a good innovative product or service does not need to be expensive

As a young kid, one thing I was good at, was identifying fighter jets just looking at their pictures. Especially American ones. In fact, with American jets, a look at the tail section, canopy or nose and I could tell an F-14 Tomcat from an F-15 Eagle, among many other jets. Each fighter design seemed to speak of a unique personality.

In the past month though, I have been overly fascinated by another American jet from the 1970’s.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Or simply the A-10 or Warthog. Developed as a close air support jet during the Cold War, and there dozens of reasons that make the A-10 an exceptionally designed machine.

During the Cold War, there was the need to defend a 50-kilometre region called the Fulda Gap, from a potential Soviet advance. To do so, in addition to tank regiments, the US needed a low-flying jet that could protect its tanks and troops, while being capable of causing sizeable damage to enemy tanks. Flying close to the ground, such a jet also (obviously!) needed to be able to protect its pilot and survive missions. And, just like in WWII, in case of a possible escalation in the Cold War, the winning side would be the one that was designed for quantity (ability to quickly manufacture and deploy, or repair and reuse) as opposed to quality. So, another requirement criteria was to have a jet that could be easily fixed, with affordable and easily available spares.

Imagine you were tasked with designing such a jet. Doesn’t it already sound like quite a limiting list of constraints?

To top it, the Americans had also chosen the main gun that would be used on such a jet (before knowing what such a jet itself might look like). The gun was the 30 mm General Electric GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon; a real monster. Fully loaded and with its feed system, it measured nearly 6 metres, and weighed 1.8 tonnes!

However, what emerged despite this tall-list of requirements (or constraints), was the incredible and unique looking A-10. Every design aspect aligned with its purpose – close air support, protect ground troops & artillery, destroy tanks, protect the pilot, survive being shot at. Placement of its twin turbofan engines reduced its heat signature to enemy missiles. Its cockpit was a titanium tub that protected its pilot from ground fire, even when the plane itself was badly damaged. Its low stall speed and high maneuverability allowed for close range attack. More in the fascinating video at the end of the post.

For now, let’s focus on 3 things:
1. Constraints,
2. Affordability of the solution, and
3. Advantages of a clearly defined purpose (and focus). 

The A-10 was the first and probably the last close air support jet developed by the US. However, the latest jet in their fleet, the F-35 Lightning II is supposed to be a far more advanced plane which, at least in theory, has the ability to replace the A-10s. A direct comparison does sound a bit absurd at first, like trying to compare an old pickup with a Tesla Cybertruck. But that’s for the Cybertruck to defend.

The A-10 came into service in 1977, and despite some discussions to discontinue it in the past decade or two, given its continued relevance, affordable flight time and maintenance; performance upgrades now enable them to serve till at least 2028. The F-35 came into service in 2015, and while expected to be in service till 2070, there are already many concerns, from its initial delay and escalated project cost, to its high flying time and maintenance related costs.

The F-35 has the obvious edge on several specifications when compared to the old 1970’s A-10. Consider the following:

A-10 (introduction to service: 1977):

  • Cost: $3 million (equivalent to $21.2 million today), Unit cost: US$1.4 million ($9.3 million today)
  • Max. Cruise Speed: 741 Km/h
  • Travel range: 4148 Km
  • Fuel economy: 0.68 km/litre
  • Take-off / Landing distance: 945m / 610m
  • Max. Take-off weight / Max. Payload: 22950 Kg. / 7257 Kg.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 7257 litres
  • Flight cost per hour: USD 20,000
    source: link

F-35 (introduction to service: 2015)

  • Cost: between $94 million (F-35A) and $122 million
  • Max. Cruise Speed: 1932 Km/h
  • Travel range: 2778 Km
  • Fuel economy: 0.46 km/litre
  • Take-off/ Landing distance: 168m / 213m
  • Max. Take-off weight / Max. Payload: 31751 Kg. / 8160 Kg.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 10448 litres
  • Flight cost per hour: USD 36,000
    source: link

As the A-10 was meant for attacking ground targets with its gun, it was designed to be able to fly at a slow 222 km/h without stalling. In contrast, while the F-35 can even hover in one position; but being a stealth fighter, is not exactly meant to be too close to enemy sites. The price difference between the two is obviously glaring. The A-10 costs $21 mil, the F-35, $122 mil. While the F-35 is a third more fuel efficient than the A-10, it is almost twice as expensive to fly an F-35 per hour, than the A-10. While the F-35 would certainly be relevant in a high-tech war against, say a China or Russia, for its regular action in the middle east, it is a very expensive overkill.

The A-10 was built in a time of a specific need, with numerous other constraints in mind. And that resulted in an innovative product that not just catered well to those needs, but as a result continues to stay relevant even today.

The F-35 in comparison, was built in more peaceful times, without perhaps a sharp focus on its intended purpose. And the result was an expensive Swiss army knife that isn’t too great in most of the individual specific roles it might be called in for.

To wrap it up simply, constraints can do wonders to the development of a truly innovative solution (the A-10). And just because a solution has exceptional features and capability, does not necessarily mean it is the greatest of all time (F-35), as has been proven by all the doubt looming over the F-35 project merely 6 years into service, while the 44-year old A-10’s service is already being considered for extension to 2040 or beyond.

Check out this incredible video about the A-10.

 Alternate title for this post was: Brrrrrrrrrrrrt

A Lego Stealth Fighter/ Drone

Just built a Lego stealth fighter/ drone.

It does need a little imagination to smoothen the edges, etc., bear with me on that…

But that said, have a look and let me know what you think.

Image above: Side-view. Completely collapsed for hangar/storage

 Image above: Wings fully extended (it folds at two points, one, the grey section mid-wing, and the other, at the edge of the body)

Image above : Top view. The Forward Swept Wing (FSW) & delta canard design, similar to the Sukhoi-47

Notice 4 jet engines (2 running), and stealth cover on the sides, to minimize heat signature in-flight

Image above: The wings also swivel at a point just off the main body. This dramatically improves Angle-of-Attack (AOA).

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Tejas: A Fighter Plane 33 Years In the Making

Tejas: A Fighter Plane 33 Years In the Making

In the early 1980s, there was a plan to build India’s first fighter aircraft, under the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program. After innumerous technological and process roadblocks, and possibly governmental delays, the LCA,  named Tejas (‘radiant’), was inducted into the Indian Air Force a few days ago.

Being in love with fighter planes since I was a toddler, I couldn’t resist the urge to compare our indigenous baby with the best of the world. I am sharing some glaring shortcomings, in the hope that its next versions surpass the best in the world.

Before I get to it, let me take another moment to drool at her in the picture above. Isn’t she just beautiful?!

Ok, back to business, I’ll start with picking three of my favorite fighter planes in the world. They are the USAF F-22 “Raptor“, the USAF F-35 “Lightning” and the SU-37 “Flanker” (or Flanker-F).

F-22, F-35 and SU-37

Image: F-22, F-35 and the SU-37

While it isn’t a fair comparison, pitting the new kid on the block with veterans, that is just what I am going to do. Let’s see how the Tejas compares.

Speed and Service Ceiling:

Comparing specifications of the Tejas with those of the above three, the Raptor’s top speed is Mach 2.25, with a service ceiling of over 65,000 feet. The Lightning’s is a slow Mach 1.61 with a service ceiling of 50,000 feet. The Flanker’s is a whopping Mach 2.35 with a service ceiling a little over 59,000 feet. In comparison, our Tejas has a respectable top speed of Mach 1.8 with a service ceiling of 50,000 feet.

Range:

The Raptor has a flying range of approximately 2,960 kms, the Lightning, 2,220 kms, the Flanker, a cool 3,300 kms. The Tejas has a 3,000 km range. Not bad for the new kid.

Some concerns:

The Raptor and the Lightning are stealth fighters. However, contrary to some misleading news articles in the last few days, which said the Tejas was a stealth fighter, it is not one. Specifications of the Tejas do boast of some stealth features such as its inherent small physical form, leading to a comparatively smaller radar signature, and radar-absorbent coatings and body composites and some design modifications which further reduce its radar impression.

20110217_Light_Combat_Aircraft_(LCA)_Tejas_India_021

Image: source

However, given that its weapons are external, and the fact that its body design isn’t at sharp angles to deflect radar, it would still make it easy to spot the jet, unless with primitive radar equipment.

Recent, fifth-generation fighters, and even some earlier jets include features which allow for better angles of attack. For instance, the Raptor has thrust-vectoring nozzles, as well as horizontal stabilizers at the back, which allow for a 60° angle of attack. The Lightning, despite the seemingly maneuverable appearance, thrust vectoring nozzle and lift fan (see image below), has a 50° angle of attack.

sdd_f35testb_104

Image: The F-35’s thrust vectoring nozzle and lift fan – source

The Flanker, with thrust vectoring engines and beautifully designed frame, has a deadly 180° angle of attack. Your eyes might light up like mine always do at the mention of the ‘Cobra maneuver’. This post, wouldn’t be complete without a video of Pugachev’s Cobra maneuver.

Even with the canard delta wing and possibly a thrust vectoring engine, the French Dassault Rafale too only has a 29° angle of attack. The Tejas however, lacks any of the above features, but still is capable of a 28° angle of attack.

From an improvement point of view, I would say that Hindustan Aeronautics and the Aeronautical Development Agency still have some way to go in terms of getting the next versions of the Tejas at par with the best in the world. So while the toughest hurdle (of actually getting the first one service ready) is now behind us, it’s only a matter of time before the world will be dropping at the specifications of India’s own fighter planes. After all, look what we achieved with our space program, in the shortest time span and in the most economical way.

But that said, the global investment into defense research and readiness is as astronomically high as it is stupid. The collective budget is sufficient to eradicate all the world’s problems, from that of sustainable energy, medical research, poverty and global warming; many times over. But till we become smart enough to spend that money to benefit mankind instead of wasting it on defense expenditure, let’s hope no country ever needs to use its fighter fleet.

20110217_Light_Combat_Aircraft_(LCA)_Tejas_India_009

Image: source

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