Light Friday: The Most Expensive Aircraft of All Time

Solar Storm Washes Over Earth
3-D Without the Glasses
The Science of Skipping Rocks

With the nation focused on the potential effects of sequestration, many surprising details about the U.S. government’s defense spending have recently emerged. The Defense Department is now required to cut more than $40 billion from its $549 billion budget this fiscal year, but one program unlikely to get cut is production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which also happens to be the most expensive plane ever built.

“The F-35 has features that make pilots drool. It is shaped to avoid detection by enemy radar. It can accelerate to supersonic speeds. One model can take off and land vertically. Onboard electronic sensors and computers provide a 360-degree view of the battlefield on flat-panel screens, allowing pilots to quickly identify targets and threats,” the Washington Post notes. “Although it is the costliest weapons system in U.S. history and the single most expensive item in the 2013 Pentagon budget, it will face only a glancing blow from the sequester this year.”

So just how pricey is the F-35? ProPublica has rounded up some the eyebrow-raising statistics about the aircraft, including:

  • $397 billion: Estimated current total cost of the F-35 fighter program;
  • $162.5 million: Current estimated total cost per plane;
  • 2,443: Number of F-35s currently on order by the Pentagon;
  • $1.5 trillion: Amount it would cost to build, fly, and maintain all the planes on order over their full lifespan;
  • 2019: Year full-rate production of the F-35 is set to begin, though originally scheduled for 2012;
  • 133,000: Amount of jobs the F-35 program currently supports, which is expected to go up to 260,000 when full production starts, according to Lockheed Martin; and
  • $6.5 billion: Lockheed Martin’s approximate revenue from the F-35 in 2012.

That’s quite a hefty price tag for the tactical fighter, but the Pentagon is committed to completing the testing and development to enable the plane to enter full-rate production in the next few years.

Solar Storm Washes over Earth

Last week, the sun erupted a coronal mass ejection (CME) that sent billions of tons of solar particles into space, many of which hit the Earth. As the CME collided with the giant magnetic bubble – the magnetosphere – surrounding our planet, it produced a massive solar tempest, also known as a geomagnetic storm.

“The storm initially caused a mild storm rated on NOAA’s geomagnetic storm scales as a G2 on a scale from G1 to G5, and subsequently subsided to a G1,” NASA explains. “In the past, storms of this strength have caused auroras near the poles but have not disrupted electrical systems on Earth or interfered with GPS or satellite-based communications systems.”

The solar storm’s effects were beautiful, but harmless, filling the sky in certain areas of the world with an amazing light display. The following video showcases six hours of aurora lights condensed into a minute and a half:

3-D Without the Glasses

If the main obstacle to purchasing a 3-D capable TV, computer, or mobile device is the need to wear special glasses, you may be in luck: engineers have developed a new and highly versatile method of seeing 3-D without relying on any headgear.

Scientists at Hewlett-Packard Labs recently unveiled a low-cost, compact screen that can display 3-D images viewable from multiple angles and even if the device is tilted. Until now, glasses-free 3-D has only worked when a viewer’s eyes are in a specific position, but HP’s prototype allows viewing across a much wider range of perspective.

“The new ‘autostereoscopic multiview display’ uses a backlight whose surface has been etched with tiny refractors. Each of these microscopic deflectors send individual points of light in specific directions. These individual pixels, put together, comprise the different images sent to each eyeball,” Agence France-Presse explains. “The demonstration models can send light in 14 distinct viewing directions, providing the 3-D effect in an angle of 90 degrees at a distance of up to a meter (3.25 feet). Tests have been carried out with images or footage, at 30 frames per second, of flowers, a turtle or a corporate logo.”

Although they haven’t yet found a way to mass-produce devices based on the technology, the developer said these advanced screens could someday find use in low-cost 3-D signage, enterprise applications and data visualization systems.

The Science of Skipping Rocks

There’s nothing more tranquil that sitting by a lake skipping rocks across the water, but have you ever wondered about the physics at work in making the stone bounce along?

Scientist at Brigham Young University’s Splash Lab have analyzed the fluid dynamics of skipping rocks, using water tanks and high-speed cameras to break down just how the process works. In the following video, BYU professor Tadd Truscott goes through the basics of rock-skipping:

Have a great weekend, folks.



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  • harvey t lyon
    March 22, 2013

    you didn’t say that the plane has failed every test it has been subjected to, and ius really no longer needed-except to support an economy based ion perpetual war

  • Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry
    March 30, 2013

    Far simpler for a 3D screen would be my Raster Contour Scan that ‘warps’ its reflector elements by parabolic voltage set (3 voltages to produce a parabolic bend)–the costly element would be its 2D mask (to prevent see-thru heads), and obviously that’s no challenge…. this should have been done by 1979….

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