High School Student Wins Awards for Inflatable Airplane

inflatable-plane-potsdamScott Bollt, a 16-year-old sophomore at Potsdam High School in New York, will travel to Los Angeles to give a presentation on an inflatable airplane made from Mylar balloons that he designed and tested in a wind tunnel in his basement.

Bollt won Highest Honors at the Dr. Nelson Ying Tri-Region Science and Engineering Fair in Onondaga County, which drew students from all over New York, in March. He also won the Innovative Engineering Award and the Dr. Nelson Ying Tri-Region Science and Engineering Fair 2014 Ying Scholar Award.

Bollt’s inflatable airplane is designed for conditions with low Reynolds numbers, which describe the properties of a liquid or gas when something moves through it. The wing was optimized in the wind tunnel and then used on the inflatable airplane.

The idea for the wind tunnel was based on a desktop-sized tunnel that Bollt built last year. The wind tunnel used to test the inflatable airplane used an open return section design with two repurposed fans that sucked air through the tunnel. A diffuser section slowed down the air and created a barrier between the test section and the fans.

The contraction section was constructed with cardboard to increase the tunnel’s efficiency and reduce turbulence. The contraction section had streamers made of straws and mesh to streamline the air. The test section had smooth acrylic walls and the highest airspeed. The tunnel was airtight to maximize efficiency.

Bollt’s project is called “Inflatable Airplane Design and Optimization for Low Reynolds Numbers.” He will present his findings at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair from May 11 to 16.


Inflatable Tentacles Draw Visitors to Arts Center

inflatableThe Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley, Pennsylvania is using 30-foot inflatable green tentacles on the roof of the building to draw visitors inside.

The center is displaying a Wild Things collection and hosting a series of events that began on April 4 and will continue through June 21. The inflatable tentacles are part of a public art installation created by British street artist Filthy Luker. They are intended to entice the public to visit the center and learn about its artistic exhibits and variety of events and programs, including art classes, summer camps, and other activities with a Wild Things theme.

The Wild Things art collection is about wild animals, wild colors, wild urges, and movement. It is a juried art exhibit with submissions from artists across the country. The exhibit includes the work of many local artists as young as 13. It is free and open to the public.

The exhibit features work with various interpretations of the word “wild.” Many of the displays include depictions of animals or real animals. One exhibit features handmade paper locusts, and another contains a movable bird fashioned out of San Pellegrino labels. One exhibit includes live horseshoe crabs, while another includes antlers.

The Wild Things campaign also features events such as the Wild Things Family Day on June 7, which will offer “wild and crazy” activities for children and their parents. The day is a collaboration with local non-profit organizations to offer family workshops.

The Sweetwater Center for the Arts also offers art classes, outreach programs, and a variety of public events throughout the year.

NASA to Test Inflatable Technology to Prepare for Mission to Mars

HIADNASA is working on a supersonic flying saucer vehicle with an inflatable landing system to deliver large payloads to other planets, including Mars.

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) is a disk-shaped module with an inflatable apparatus called a Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) to reduce its speed as it approaches the surface. Inflatable vessels around the ship will be filled with pressurized air to slow the aircraft. Then a 30-foot parachute will help it land.

In the past, craft were landed on Mars with a skycrane technique that used a system of reverse thruster rockets and tethers. The new method will allow larger payloads to be landed on Mars and may pave the way for a human mission.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been testing the LDSD with rocket sleds to evaluate the effectiveness of the inflatable system. They will next test the efficiency of the parachute attached to the LDSD. They may need a larger parachute than the ones that have been used in the past in order to land larger payloads. Parachutes and reverse thrusters alone will not be effective on Mars because of differences between its atmosphere and those of Earth and the moon.

Flight tests are expected to begin in the fall. They will be conducted at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. A high-altitude balloon will launch a test vehicle to 120,000 feet, and the rocket will bring it to supersonic speeds and raise it to an altitude of 180,000 feet. The thrusters will disengage, and gravity will cause it to fall back toward Earth. When it reaches Mach 3.5 (2600 miles per hour), the inflatable HAID system will fill with air. It will slow the vehicle, the parachute will be released, and the ship will land.

NASA expects the LDSD project to be ready for a mission to Mars in 2018, but there are currently no missions planned except the tests in Hawaii.

Cars to Have New Roof Airbags

roof airbagTRW Automotive Holdings Corp. has recently begun producing airbags for its Citroen C4 Cactus that are located in the roof of the vehicle, rather than the dashboard. The company believes the new design will save space and provide better aesthetics, ergonomics, and functionality than airbags mounted in instrument panels.

Many automobile companies are seeking designs with more space in the instrument panel for multimedia technology or storage, or want to create more open environments. TRW believes their Inflatable Restraint System will allow automobile designers to achieve these goals. TRW says the roof airbags provide excellent performance.

The airbags consist of a cushion, gas diffusion channel, and gas generator located within a housing that is fixed onto or below the headlining above the windshield. When the airbag deploys, it unfolds along the windshield in front of the driver or passenger, rather than towards the occupant. This enables the airbag to restrain riders of a variety of shapes and sizes.

The new roof airbags are easy to assemble and can be standardized, since some of the components are common to all of TRW’s airbags. The roof airbag also improves development efficiency. Since the airbag is not located inside the instrument panel, manufacturers do not need to test a door that opens when the airbag deploys. This will reduce the development costs of the dashboard.

TRW Automotive Holdings is headquartered in Michigan and provides braking, steering, suspension, and occupant safety systems, as well as electronics, engine components, fastening systems, and replacement parts and services.

Inflatable Wind Turbine to Be Flown in Alaska

inflatable wind turbineAltaeros Energies, a wind energy company formed out of MIT, is planning to conduct the first commercial demonstration of a high altitude wind turbine in conjunction with the Alaska Energy Authority in a $1.3 million, 18-month project.

Altaeros Energies has created a 32-foot-wide inflatable wind turbine called the Buoyant Airborne Turbine that is inflated with helium and has been tested at altitudes over 300 feet. The BAT can rise to higher altitudes than tower-mounted wind turbines. In the demonstration, the BAT is expected to soar to a height of 1,000 feet in the air at a site south of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Winds are stronger and more consistent higher in the air, and can thus provide more energy. The BAT is designed to withstand strong winds. In a 2013 test, a prototype of the inflatable turbine withstood 45 mile per hour winds.

The inflatable turbine has high-strength tethers to hold it in place and cables that carry electricity to the ground. The BAT’s design is based heavily on that of aerostats, blimp-like inflatables that are frequently used to lift heavy communications equipment. Unlike past wind projects, the BAT can be transported and set up without large cranes, towers, or underground foundations.

The goal of the BAT project is to test the viability of the inflatable turbine as a power source for remote communities. It is expected to generate enough energy to power over a dozen homes. The company is seeking to provide an alternative to diesel generators.

The BAT is expected to rise 275 feet higher than the current highest wind turbine, the Vestas V164-8.0-MW.