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Atomic Wings : A new mini-reactor revives the dream of a nuclear-powered aircraft

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posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 05:07 AM
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After more than six decades of research, the first atom-powered airplane is cleared for takeoff. Although details of the project remain classified, a description of this remarkable aircraft has begun to emerge from technical conferences and declassified engineering studies. The plane will be both familiar and unique. Familiar in that it will resemble a Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, the bulbous-nosed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that the U.S. Air Force has used to track enemy movements in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unique because its nuclear reactor is unlike any other. Rather than split heavy elements or fuse light atoms--as in fission and fusion reactors--it will use what is known as a triggered isomer reaction. If this new powerplant, called a quantum nucleonic reactor, performs as scientists expect, its effect on the aircraft industry may prove as revolutionary as the introduction of the jet engine.


Ungainly Elegance
To the trained eye, the ungainly Global Hawk is a thing of beauty. A triumph of function over form, its whale-snout nose presents a tiny radar cross section. The thickly shrouded rear-mounted engine, located high in the tail, presents a minimal heat signature. Even the paint, which appears faded, serves a purpose: It helps dissipate heat from the plane's electronic bay. Together, these design features make the Global Hawk virtually invisible as it loiters at 45,000 ft., directing its powerful radar and high-resolution cameras on trouble spots.

One improvement would make the Global Hawk the perfect surveillance platform: eliminating the need to top off its fuel tanks. For UAVs operating deep within hostile airspace, refueling requires dashing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to a friendly landing field. It is chiefly for that reason that the Global Hawk has been selected as a testbed for one of the boldest experiments in aviation history. Project managers for Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory tell people they have begun discussions that could lead to the conversion of a Global Hawk to a nuclear-powered aircraft.

If the plan takes shape, a Global Hawk will be pulled off the production line and undergo extensive airframe and powerplant modifications. Chief among these will be the addition of some 2700 pounds of radiation shielding. Installed between the tail section and the main electronics bay, the shielding will create a "hot cell." In this area, which will be designed to minimize leakage of radiation, engineers will install the world's first airborne quantum nucleonic reactor.




A solar cell or engine-mounted generator sends electricity to run a small X-ray machine. The X-rays strike a block of hafnium-178, triggering a drop in the energy levels within the nucleus of the hafnium atoms. This change in energy levels is accompanied by the release of a burst of gamma radiation. The gamma rays heat the core of a heat exchanger. Superheated air from the exchanger floods into the jet engine, performing the same function as the expanding gases created by burning jet fuel. For safety reasons, conventional jet fuel will power the engine when it is below cruising altitude.


Flying Nukes
A jet engine is the essence of mechanical simplicity. Fuel and air are mixed, compressed and ignited. As the gas burns, it moves rapidly rearward, propelling the aircraft forward. Normally, this is done by burning jet fuel, which is exactly what the new nuclear plane will do when it takes off, climbs and lands. When it reaches cruising altitude--in the vicinity of 45,000 ft. and above trans-Atlantic airline traffic--the engine will switch over to running on hot air created by the reactor. Using this power source, an unmanned version could remain on station for months on end. A manned version, the logical next step, could operate as long as the crew had food.

Building a nuclear aircraft poses daunting engineering challenges. The underlying operating principle, however, is straightforward. In a fission reactor, atoms of a very heavy element, such as uranium, are persuaded to split apart, casting off neutrons that split other atoms and produce heat. In a fusion reactor, atoms of a very light element, such as hydrogen, are cajoled to join. Here, too, the conversion of mass into energy obeys the tenets of Einstein's famous E=mc2 equation. The immense heat release keeps the reaction going.

Fusion reactors are in their infancy. But as early as 1940, scientists were thinking about ways of using the heat from nuclear fission to power airplanes. From the late 1950s through the 1980s, the Air Force and the Navy drew up blueprints and got as far as testing components for nuclear craft. At one point, a converted Convair B-36 Peacemaker flew with an operating reactor. However, none of these components were ever connected in the same airplane and a nuclear-powered aircraft never flew. The snag was the shielding needed to protect air crews from radiation--principally neutrons--streaming from the reactor. Planes with enough shielding to protect humans were too heavy to carry weapons. The quantum nucleonic reactor neither splits nor fuses atoms. Rather, it creates its power by triggering a massive release of gamma radiation. This is dangerous to humans, but requires less shielding to control.

Radical Reactor
The fuel for the quantum nucleonic reactor is a form--or isomer--of hafnium. Paradoxically, hafnium is the same element used to slow chain reactions in some fission reactors. A nuclear chain reaction occurs when neutrons emitted by a splitting atom strike an adjacent atom, causing it to split as well. Hafnium has a considerable capacity to absorb neutrons without splitting, hence its use as a brake or control rod in fission-type reactors.


In the late 1990s, researchers at the University of Texas in Dallas made a remarkable and unexpected discovery about the hafnium isomer known as hafnium-178. When they bombarded the metal with "soft" X-rays like those your dentist uses to examine your teeth, the metal released a burst of gamma rays 60 times more powerful than the X-rays. While this may seem impossible, it is permitted by the laws of physics. On the subatomic level, bombarding hafnium-178 with X-rays has an effect similar to triggering a small avalanche by tossing a snowball onto a snow-covered roof.

One of the most useful aspects of this newly discovered type of nuclear reaction is that the gamma ray output drops precipitously the moment power to the X-ray machine is turned off, explains Capt. Christopher Hamilton. He conducted research on a hafnium reactor at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and was the first to propose using that device to power a Global Hawk.

A hafnium-fueled reactor has two other attractive features, Hamilton says. Since it produces only gamma radiation, less shielding is required. And should an accident occur, there is less of an environmental concern than with fission. Hafnium-178 has a half-life of only 31 years compared to thousands of years for other reactor fuels. In addition, unlike uranium or plutonium, hafnium-178 cannot support a chain reaction, which means it cannot be used to make rogue nuclear weapons.

In his report on the potential for the new reactor, Hamilton calculated that a small X-ray machine could be used to generate gamma radiation and create sufficient heat to run a conventional military jet engine. The Los Alamos and Sandia nuclear weapons laboratories in New Mexico have since taken up research for the project, supported by funding from the Department of Energy. Researchers involved with these projects have been instructed to discourage public discussion of the new type of reactor. Los Alamos scientists have expressed suspicion that the triggered isomer reaction process may not release useful amounts of heat. The Department of Defense, on the other hand, has put the reactor on its Militarily Critical Technologies List, which means it is on the fast track for future funding.

Executives for Northrop Grumman tell the press that while they have not yet signed a contract to convert a Global Hawk to nuclear power, they are aware of discussions taking place within the Air Force. Conventional aircraft can take a decade to move from concept to the runway. The civilian atomic airplane has, in one form or another, been under discussion for more than 60 years. With the emergence of a new type of power-plant, that decades-old dream may at long last take wing.





The quantum nucleonic reactor neither splits nor fuses atoms.









[edit on 13-3-2005 by Stealth Spy]




posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 06:34 AM
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Wow, this sounds really interesting, but what happens if this aircraft is shot down or crashes? Would there be any radiation in the vicinity where it crashed? If not then I would say this is a very good idea.



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 10:55 AM
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first we must confirm if the halfium reactor works or if is an bad calcule of energy conservation, but im really more interested in the reactor than in the aircraft.



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 02:25 PM
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Originally posted by Stealth Spy
Radical Reactor
The fuel for the quantum nucleonic reactor is a form--or isomer--of hafnium. Paradoxically, hafnium is the same element used to slow chain reactions in some fission reactors. A nuclear chain reaction occurs when neutrons emitted by a splitting atom strike an adjacent atom, causing it to split as well. Hafnium has a considerable capacity to absorb neutrons without splitting, hence its use as a brake or control rod in fission-type reactors.


In the late 1990s, researchers at the University of Texas in Dallas made a remarkable and unexpected discovery about the hafnium isomer known as hafnium-178. When they bombarded the metal with "soft" X-rays like those your dentist uses to examine your teeth, the metal released a burst of gamma rays 60 times more powerful than the X-rays. While this may seem impossible, it is permitted by the laws of physics. On the subatomic level, bombarding hafnium-178 with X-rays has an effect similar to triggering a small avalanche by tossing a snowball onto a snow-covered roof.

One of the most useful aspects of this newly discovered type of nuclear reaction is that the gamma ray output drops precipitously the moment power to the X-ray machine is turned off, explains Capt. Christopher Hamilton. He conducted research on a hafnium reactor at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and was the first to propose using that device to power a Global Hawk.

A hafnium-fueled reactor has two other attractive features, Hamilton says. Since it produces only gamma radiation, less shielding is required. And should an accident occur, there is less of an environmental concern than with fission. Hafnium-178 has a half-life of only 31 years compared to thousands of years for other reactor fuels. In addition, unlike uranium or plutonium, hafnium-178 cannot support a chain reaction, which means it cannot be used to make rogue nuclear weapons.

In his report on the potential for the new reactor, Hamilton calculated that a small X-ray machine could be used to generate gamma radiation and create sufficient heat to run a conventional military jet engine. The Los Alamos and Sandia nuclear weapons laboratories in New Mexico have since taken up research for the project, supported by funding from the Department of Energy. Researchers involved with these projects have been instructed to discourage public discussion of the new type of reactor. Los Alamos scientists have expressed suspicion that the triggered isomer reaction process may not release useful amounts of heat. The Department of Defense, on the other hand, has put the reactor on its Militarily Critical Technologies List, which means it is on the fast track for future funding.

Executives for Northrop Grumman tell the press that while they have not yet signed a contract to convert a Global Hawk to nuclear power, they are aware of discussions taking place within the Air Force. Conventional aircraft can take a decade to move from concept to the runway. The civilian atomic airplane has, in one form or another, been under discussion for more than 60 years. With the emergence of a new type of power-plant, that decades-old dream may at long last take wing.


OMG this the most interesting new development I have heard in a couple of years. You get my last WATS vote for this month. Very nice find.



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 03:35 PM
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only thing I can see coming in near future is the boing 747 with the laser antibalistic system. currently fueled by chemical reactions ect. but think they wil likely to test it on this platform if they test it on something:d



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 03:40 PM
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Can I bother you for some links???

BTW - this is absolutely astounding.

If it works as hoped, this will eventually revolutionize not only military aviation, but comercial as well.


VERY GOOD POST



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 03:48 PM
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Stealth Spy -

Is there new info on it?
BTW, you didn't add your own thoughts about it
All you actually did was copy & paste the whole damn thing from Popular Mechanics.



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 04:17 PM
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well herres some really detailed information about the reactor

www.utdallas.edu...


Any grouping of electrically charged particles can radiate electromagnetic waves. Generally the characteristic size of the distribution of the charges determines the type of photons most efficiently emitted. Antennas emit radio waves, waveguide structures emit microwaves, electrons oscillating against the positive nuclei in atoms emit light and x rays, and protons and neutrons moving in the nuclei emit gamma rays. Once emitted, gamma rays are no different than x rays which often have the same energies. Since the oscillating charges in the nucleus emit their energy as short wavelength electromagnetic waves, this process is not a nuclear reaction. None of the interior particles of the nucleus escape to cause a nuclear reaction and the atom finishes as the stable (non-radioactive) ground state of the same isotope of the same element.

The nucleus is the smallest part of an atom which in turn is the smallest structural unit of physical matter. Thus, quantum mechanics teaches that the motions of the charged particles found within the nucleus will represent the highest velocities of circulation possible in a sample of any material. This is a fundamental precept that means that the very highest density of (non-nuclear) energy storage will be found in the motions of those charges in nuclei because they are confined in the smallest place known. Just as in the case of atoms, in a nucleus the movement of charges can absorb photons of electromagnetic waves, which in this case are x rays, and make a transition to an excited state of higher energy. Because of the high energy densities and great velocities, the charges usually reradiate such energies in times too short to be measured (



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 04:30 PM
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Indeed, old news, that need updates badly.

Maybe new info is hard to come by because it has become severly classified OR alternatively it doesn't get past the cold-fusion hype stage:

There seems some difference of opinion among Pentagon scientists if Collins, who DOES have a very credible record in laserscience, can get hafnium to work:

www.israelforum.com...

Nobel and Way Above Everything for Collings if he succeeds against the odds and skeptic collegues!


BTW: why didn't John Titor tell us anything about hafnium propulsion ?




[edit on 13-3-2005 by Silenus]



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 05:21 PM
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Good. All aboard the atomic express. Gives more credence to nuke powered B-2s which by the way are also Grumman. Advanced US military tech, the real hush hush stuff, is commonly accepted to be 20-100 years more advanced than anything else anybody has. This is tech weve probably had for a long time and are just now going public acting like its something brand new. One can only imagine what the military has now.



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 09:45 PM
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Originally posted by SonofSpy
Good. All aboard the atomic express. Gives more credence to nuke powered B-2s which by the way are also Grumman. Advanced US military tech, the real hush hush stuff, is commonly accepted to be 20-100 years more advanced than anything else anybody has. This is tech weve probably had for a long time and are just now going public acting like its something brand new. One can only imagine what the military has now.

This was from a Popular Mechanics article, not some official USAF de-classified document.



posted on Mar, 13 2005 @ 10:02 PM
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After more than six decades of research, the first atom-powered airplane is cleared for takeoff.


Its not the first Nuclear aircraft. The Russians actually got a working one off the ground in the sixties:




A few years later however Tupolev did try to put an A-plane in the air with the Tu-119. A demonstrator Tu-95 LAL (Tu-119) was fitted with two NK 42 jet engines (chemical) and two NK44 nuclear turbojets. This aircraft did a few test flights until 1962. It seems the anti-radiation protection was insufficient and the crew got irradiated. The project was dropped probably for the same reasons the American program had been.


Link

This was all i could find, although I have seen it on Discovery before. It was a modified Bear, and few of the pilots lived due to lack of shielding. One was on the program, and described how most of the test pilots all died within a few years, himself being a lucky one..

[edit on 13/3/05 by stumason]



posted on Mar, 14 2005 @ 07:41 PM
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well i think it is a good idea to have these combat aircraft they could aloft longer and secretly develope 2 or 3 hundred of these then say like if China or something thinks they will invade us just fly these up around there country, i mean whats china gonna do shoot them down and let radiation spread all over the place , China would have to step down in the mean time these planes flying over head can rake havoc on enemy chinese Bases



posted on Mar, 14 2005 @ 07:57 PM
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You have voted Stealth Spy for the Way Above Top Secret award. You have two more votes this month.


Good find, this is very interesting.



posted on Mar, 14 2005 @ 09:49 PM
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Originally posted by iori_komei



You have voted Stealth Spy for the Way Above Top Secret award. You have two more votes this month.


Good find, this is very interesting.


I have no idea why people are giving him props. he didn't write it, all he did was copy & paste.



posted on Mar, 15 2005 @ 01:12 AM
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Certainly there have been experimental nuclear planes before, but those were HUGE with oldfashioned reactors.

the question is , is there a final verdict in the broad scientific community about Hafnium-178 ?

Is it still under dispute, is it confirmed, or is it explicitly disputed to discourage foreign nations researching the subject and possible proliferation of technology ?

www.ucsusa.org...

Is this "union of concerned scientists" concerned about hafnium weapons NOT working or are they affraid they DO work ???, LOL

Anyways, I would think the Russian and the Chinese, the israeli etc.. would have tried to replicate Collins experiments, just in case...stories about russian red mercury comes to mind...

Personally I think that Collins has recognised the potential of Hafnium-178 but it looks if it remains to be seen if this potential can be realised and or be costeffectivly realised. I think Collins takes his changes and hopes that with enough researchfunds, he will get it to work smoothly, while other heavyweight scientists remain skeptical.

But on the other hand, without a sense of adventure, Columbus wouldn't have sailed the distance...


[edit on 15-3-2005 by Silenus]



posted on Mar, 20 2005 @ 01:57 AM
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Originally posted by Murcielago
he didn't write it, all he did was copy & paste.


yes i have sourced my post from the Popular mechanics.

its no secret that i did'nt write it.

but hey, i did find it.

and some more info : Hafium-178 has so low radiation levels, that its applications in passenger carrying aircrafts is being evaluated.

that would save lots of money spent on aircraft fuel. and it would make passenger travel cheaper too.

yes some soviet concepts existed a long time back. but most were shelved due to lack of funds, and for being " ahead of its time".



posted on Mar, 20 2005 @ 03:00 AM
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hey hey folks, are the days of the final fantasy airship upon us? completely self sufficient air ship capable of sub-orbital & orbital flight, solar riggings, farms, water consumption could be aquired through the ingestion of clouds through some sort of vacuum and of course rain water. dug up this little bit, enjoy!

www.utdallas.edu...



posted on Mar, 20 2005 @ 03:46 AM
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Great another thing to produce cancer,why do you think there is so many cancer in the last decades well it is not cigaretes and other stuff it is nuclear tests,nuclear waste that cant be stoped.



posted on Mar, 20 2005 @ 04:50 AM
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Originally posted by Pretorian03
Great another thing to produce cancer,why do you think there is so many cancer in the last decades well it is not cigaretes and other stuff it is nuclear tests,nuclear waste that cant be stoped.


Yeah, the only good thing that might come out of all the carcinogens is that one-day we might actually become X-men.




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