Eng/Sci/TechEngineering Porn & Musings

Airframes and Weapon Structures are Awesome

Not that flying a jet isn’t cool enough, but look beyond the aerobatics and you’ll see some amazing engineering.

Because I’m so far removed from the habit of blogging I’m resorting to a topical, and vaguely informative format of sharing information that’s one step below what you’d consider an article, and one step above a tweet. Aka: Gizmodo-style.

The 35th Fighter Squadron in Alaska recently strapped a bunch of GoPros to their jets and showed off some fantastic footage from various missions and exercises. Although it’s easy to get caught up envying the awesome view from a fighter pilot’s cockpit, especially with the legendary visibility of the F-16, you can’t (well… I can’t) help but notice telltale signs of the amazing engineering that go into making these flights possible.

Start the video (above) at around the 3:30 mark and pay close attention to the AMRAAM missile on the wingtip. As the pilot starts pulling maneuvers, you can see the wing both bending and twisting. Sometimes these deflections are gradual, sometimes they’re violent, especially when transitioning through harsh aerodynamic boundaries like going supersonic, or turbulence.

Not only do the wings have to survive thousands of hours of literally bone-rattling abuse, but the weapons mounted on them need to also survive a set number of take-offs, maneuvers, and landings. And they absolutely have to work perfectly should the pilot ever pull the trigger in anger. Every system, from delicate tracker/seekers, to battery cells, to microcontrollers, to propellant has to work flawlessly. It’s like tossing your iPhone and a stick of dynamite into a dryer and expecting both to work perfectly after an hour of tumbling. On high heat. Followed by a deep freeze. Repeated a few dozen times.

At the same time, engineers need to shave every possible gram from the structures of planes and their weapons. It’s a wonder these machines don’t fall out of the sky more often.

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