Monday, September 27, 2010
Eurocopter has revealed its hand in the race for high-speed rotary-wing flight, unveiling the extraordinary-looking X³ high-speed prototype on 27 September.
The aircraft was shown to reporters for the first time during a ceremony at Istres airbase in the south of France, where the X³ - short for High-speed, long-range Hybrid Helicopter - has been undergoing testing since the beginning of September.
Clearly recycled from the fuselage of an EC155, the demonstrator is a compound design equipped with two turboshaft engines powering a five-bladed main rotor and two propellers on stub wings. At the rear, the fenestron has been removed and replaced with a standard tail plane and twin-vertical stabilisers fitted with rudders.
Eurocopter says this configuration allows it to offer the speed of a turboprop-powered aircraft as well as the capabilities of a helicopter.
The X³ flew for the first time on 6 September from Istres AB – the flight test base of the French armed forces – 24km southwest of the Eurocopter factory at Marignane.
The aircraft was built at Marignane and then trucked to Istres for flight testing.
Eurocopter CEO, Lutz Bertling, said all the OEMs were looking to increase the range and speed of helicopters but argued that the technology demonstrated by the V-22 Osprey and BA609 tiltrotors and Sikorsky's X2 Technology demonstrator might be costly to implement and operate.
'We are looking at a lower level of complexity and cost,' explained Bertling. 'We believe it makes more sense to increase speed, but generate that speed by not over-compensating on cost.'
Phillippe Roesch, VP of technology and product innovation said the idea to deliver 50 % more speed but do this without pushing up operational costs beyond 20-25 %.
The entire programme is funded by Eurocopter and the aircraft is more than just a hybrid by design but also in terms of parts. The airframe was the development frame for the AS365N4 which became the EC155. The main rotor is also from the EC155 while the gearbox and engines came from the EC175 and NH90 respectively.
Eurocopter test pilots will now take the aircraft through initial flight testing opening the flight envelope to speeds of up to 180kts. The aircraft will then go into a three-month layup before resuming flight in March 2011 with the goal to achieving 220kts.
According to Eurocopter, the company envisions a wide range of uses for the X³ configuration, including long-distance search and rescue (SAR), coast guard duties, border patrol missions, passenger transport and inter-city shuttle services.
‘It also may be well-suited for military missions in special forces operations, troop transport, combat SAR and medical evacuation – benefiting from the hybrid aircraft’s combination of higher cruise speeds with excellent vertical takeoff/landing performance,’ the company said in a statement.
Rotorhub.com reported on the existence of the X³ programme when it was inadvertently revealed during a Rolls-Royce press briefing at Heli-Expo in Anaheim in 2009.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 5:35 PM
WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.
Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.
The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.
James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design.
“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”
But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers.
“We’re talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” said Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”
Investigators have been concerned for years that changing communications technology could damage their ability to conduct surveillance. In recent months, officials from the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the National Security Agency, the White House and other agencies have been meeting to develop a proposed solution.
There is not yet agreement on important elements, like how to word statutory language defining who counts as a communications service provider, according to several officials familiar with the deliberations.
But they want it to apply broadly, including to companies that operate from servers abroad, like Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry devices. In recent months, that company has come into conflict with the governments of Dubai and India over their inability to conduct surveillance of messages sent via its encrypted service.
In the United States, phone and broadband networks are already required to have interception capabilities, under a 1994 law called the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act. It aimed to ensure that government surveillance abilities would remain intact during the evolution from a copper-wire phone system to digital networks and cellphones.
Often, investigators can intercept communications at a switch operated by the network company. But sometimes — like when the target uses a service that encrypts messages between his computer and its servers — they must instead serve the order on a service provider to get unscrambled versions.
Like phone companies, communication service providers are subject to wiretap orders. But the 1994 law does not apply to them. While some maintain interception capacities, others wait until they are served with orders to try to develop them.
The F.B.I.’s operational technologies division spent $9.75 million last year helping communication companies — including some subject to the 1994 law that had difficulties — do so. And its 2010 budget included $9 million for a “Going Dark Program” to bolster its electronic surveillance capabilities.
Beyond such costs, Ms. Caproni said, F.B.I. efforts to help retrofit services have a major shortcoming: the process can delay their ability to wiretap a suspect for months.
Moreover, some services encrypt messages between users, so that even the provider cannot unscramble them.
There is no public data about how often court-approved surveillance is frustrated because of a service’s technical design.
But as an example, one official said, an investigation into a drug cartel earlier this year was stymied because smugglers used peer-to-peer software, which is difficult to intercept because it is not routed through a central hub. Agents eventually installed surveillance equipment in a suspect’s office, but that tactic was “risky,” the official said, and the delay “prevented the interception of pertinent communications.”
Moreover, according to several other officials, after the failed Times Square bombing in May, investigators discovered that the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, had been communicating with a service that lacked prebuilt interception capacity. If he had aroused suspicion beforehand, there would have been a delay before he could have been wiretapped.
To counter such problems, officials are coalescing around several of the proposal’s likely requirements:
¶ Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.
¶ Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
¶ Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.
Providers that failed to comply would face fines or some other penalty. But the proposal is likely to direct companies to come up with their own way to meet the mandates. Writing any statute in “technologically neutral” terms would also help prevent it from becoming obsolete, officials said.
Even with such a law, some gaps could remain. It is not clear how it could compel compliance by overseas services that do no domestic business, or from a “freeware” application developed by volunteers.
In their battle with Research in Motion, countries like Dubai have sought leverage by threatening to block BlackBerry data from their networks. But Ms. Caproni said the F.B.I. did not support filtering the Internet in the United States.
Still, even a proposal that consists only of a legal mandate is likely to be controversial, said Michael A. Sussmann, a former Justice Department lawyer who advises communications providers.
“It would be an enormous change for newly covered companies,” he said. “Implementation would be a huge technology and security headache, and the investigative burden and costs will shift to providers.”
Several privacy and technology advocates argued that requiring interception capabilities would create holes that would inevitably be exploited by hackers.
Steven M. Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, pointed to an episode in Greece: In 2005, it was discovered that hackers had taken advantage of a legally mandated wiretap function to spy on top officials’ phones, including the prime minister’s.
“I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited.”
Susan Landau, a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study fellow and former Sun Microsystems engineer, argued that the proposal would raise costly impediments to innovation by small startups.
“Every engineer who is developing the wiretap system is an engineer who is not building in greater security, more features, or getting the product out faster,” she said.
Moreover, providers of services featuring user-to-user encryption are likely to object to watering it down. Similarly, in the late 1990s, encryption makers fought off a proposal to require them to include a back door enabling wiretapping, arguing it would cripple their products in the global market.
But law enforcement officials rejected such arguments. They said including an interception capability from the start was less likely to inadvertently create security holes than retrofitting it after receiving a wiretap order.
They also noted that critics predicted that the 1994 law would impede cellphone innovation, but that technology continued to improve. And their envisioned decryption mandate is modest, they contended, because service providers — not the government — would hold the key.
“No one should be promising their customers that they will thumb their nose at a U.S. court order,” Ms. Caproni said. “They can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text.”
Posted by Steve Douglass at 1:54 PM
FBI agents cheated on an internal exam by conferring, using crib sheets, and finding answers on computers, a Department of Justice probe has found.
Staff were required to take a test on their knowledge of new unified guidelines on domestic investigations.
Suspicions were raised when many passed the 90-minute exam in just 20 minutes.
The authors of the report said "a significant number of FBI employees engaged in some form of improper conduct or cheating".
After the controversial guidelines were introduced, staff were required to take 16.5 hours of classroom tuition and then take a 51-question computerised exam that was expected to take most people between 90 minutes and two hours.
They were allowed access to the guidelines while taking the test, which was mostly sat between May 2009 and January 2010.
The Office of the Inspector General was called in to investigate after 200 workers passed the test in under 20 minutes.
After interviewing staff in a number of field offices, investigators found people taking the exam had conferred, and that direct cheating had been employed.
In one field office, staff had exploited a lack of computer security to call up the answers to the test.
In another office, of 11 workers interviewed, three supervisors and four agents said they had used answer sheets for the exam. Some tried to justify the usage on the basis that these were "notes".
They also found that tutors were "training to the test", indicating which part of lessons would be on the exam by stamping their feet loudly during the relevant sections.
The Office of the Inspector General is recommending that those who directly cheated be disciplined and that there be a wider investigation than the small sample they spoke to.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 11:13 AM
USS WINSTON CHURCHILL, Gulf of Aden – USS Winston S. Churchill, assigned to Combined Task Force 151 identified a skiff drifting in the Gulf of Aden, Sept. 26. The skiff was initially discovered at approximately 7:30 a.m. local (Bahrain) by the Republic of Korea vessel, ROKN Wan Geon who passed the skiff’s position to Winston S. Churchill, operating in the vicinity. The skiff was carrying approximately 85 passengers, consisting of 10 Somalis and 75 Ethiopians.
Once on station, CTF 151 commander, Turkish Navy Rear Adm. Sinan Ertugrul, directed Winston S. Churchill to render assistance to the skiff. Using a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, Churchill crew members boarded the skiff and immediately rendered assistance, providing food and water to the skiff’s passengers. Churchill crew members determined the engines were inoperable and attempted to effect repairs, but were unsuccessful.
The RHIB then began towing the vessel to safety out of the Gulf’s maritime traffic corridor and toward the coast of Somalia.
The following morning at 8:30 local (Bahrain), Sept 27, while transferring humanitarian supplies to the skiff, the passengers rushed to one side and the skiff began taking on water, quickly capsizing and sinking rapidly, leaving all 85 passengers in the water. Winston S. Churchill immediately began conducting search and rescue operations using an additional RHIB assisted by an Australian maritime patrol aircraft.
Despite the effort, approximately 13 passengers drowned, while 61 passengers were rescued and brought safely onboard Winston S. Churchill. Eight passengers have been listed as missing.
The event is under investigation. Additional details will be released as they become available.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 11:05 AM
In Hogle’s tiny windowless office the General tried three times to open his safe, but for some reason it would not open. Taking a card from his wallet, he double checked the combination and tried again.
After three tries it finally opened.
The General reached in the safe and pulled out another official looking envelopes bearing a bold, Top Secret -- Special Access Required stamp across the cover.
After signing yet another non-disclosure agreement, the General opened the file and handed Pepper some glossy photos.
“These were taken a few days ago by Excalibur’s imaging system when it was on final approach here at Holloman. Notice anything unusual?”
Pepper took a pair of reading glasses out of an inside pocket and began scrutinizing the photos one at a time. He caught sight of the runway and a Humvee parked just to the left of the approach apron.
“It’s a Humvee.” Pepper asked.
“That’s the remote control unit. It’s supposed to be there.”
Pepper studied the photos more closely. The images weren’t highly detailed and look muddied.
“Not the best quality to work with. These can’t be high-resolution images.” Pepper said.
Pepper looked down at the photos again studying them closer. Suddenly his eyes caught something in an arroyo crossing just to the right on the runway.
“What are these?” He said as his finger pointed to a series of hot spots in the drainage ditch.”
“My guess - unauthorized persons.” The General replied. “Looks like the heat signatures from five people.”
“And you want me to find out who the five are?”
“Yes. We have to ascertain if the program has been compromised.” the General said in all seriousness. “I can’t impress on you how serious this is Adam. There isn’t a government on earth that wouldn’t kill to know about this project. The technology is a veritable quantum jump beyond anything, and unfortunately at this point in development the project is very vulnerable to penetration.”
“Why is that?” Pepper asked.
“Because the Pentagon has pressing plans for Excalibur and rushing it through flight tests. We are so rushed that our communications are unencrypted and even our remote control frequencies are subject to interception. We haven’t had the time to put in place even normal special access program safeguards and security procedures. Any spy worth half his salt could sweep in and steal everything we’ve done here.”
Pepper but the photos back in the envelope.
“I’ll find out who they are, sir. Then what?”
“Depends on who they are.” Hogle replied.
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Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:42 AM