A Father’s Point of View
by Robert Brand
There is no doubt that my son Jason has a talent. He is tenacious. Once he sets his mind to do something, he does not stop until he has it completed. Project ThunderStruck is one of those goals. He has the knowledge and experience in every aspect of the mission and although it seems daunting, he can put it together for a successful outcome. Let’s breakdown the stages of the mission:
- Balloon flight to over 40Km altitude
- Radio telemetry and control
- Supersonic flight
- Autonomous landing
- Celebrations – well we are all good at this, so enough said!
Balloon flight to over 40Km altitude
Jason started launching balloons with me at 9 years old and after the first flight and successful recovery he was hooked. As of the date of this post we have jointly launched and recovered 21 payloads including 2 in Croatia. He has battled large balloons with heavy payloads in 70kph ground winds and used 3kg weather balloons to take heavy payloads to 1/3 the way to space (33.33Km). He is the tracker and navigator that sits in the passenger seat while I drive. He has the tablets/iPads, phones, navigation systems and radio systems. I just get to do the driving. At 12 years old he is now a capable navigator comfortable on remote rural back roads, dirt tracks, farm roads and worse. Not bad for a city boy. I trust him to know his stuff and I now consider him to be a strong partner with me in the UpLift flights. He understands zero pressure balloons, and like me has yet to fly one, but I have no doubt that he will have the skill to make it happen when the time comes. The picture above shows Jason launching our first balloon and payload from Rankins Springs, NSW.
Radio telemetry and control
At age 9, Jason went and passed his Foundation Amateur Radio License test. He went to a course at Waverley Amateur Radio Club and passed his exam. The rest of the group studying were adults and some had to come back to try again and I am happy to say that they eventually passed. Jason now has his own HF radio at home and is learning advanced electronics. He has test equipment such as a spectrum analyser, oscilloscope, laboratory power supplies and a large number of radio systems to play with. He will be getting his advanced license soon enough. Until then he has to operate under the license of an advanced operator by his side. None the less he is capable of the work of building interfaces and items essential to his project.
Well, not many people have that experience and most UAVs are subsonic. There would only be a handful of people in the world that would have controlled a supersonic UAV. Jason will practice on simulations and some powered models to understand the responsiveness of the craft. He will get that experience before the event.
We have a great sponsor – soon to be announced that will assist in educating Jason and me about their system. We may land on a salt lake marked with vegetable dye and Jason may take over the landing at the last minute. There is a lot to understand about the accuracy of autonomous landings, but autonomous flight will be simple. Why have autonomous flight. Simple, the site at which Jason breaks the sound barrier may be a long way from the landing site and he will have to travel there by car. He will place it in autonomous mode and then go to the landing site. The landing site might be a long way away as the Jet Stream can produce strong winds. Our balloons have experienced winds up to 230kph. Why take over the landing? It is simply the error that may exist in the GPS of altitude. If it is not accurate enough, Jason may have to intervene to ensure that it does not flare out will it is 10m above the ground or worse still 10m below the ground – that would make a big crunch after a magnificent flight. We will have to discuss native rights to the salt lakes and ensure that we are not stepping on indigenous toes with all of this. There are many aspects to consider, including ensuring we are not in trunk airline routes. Why a salt lake? Well, it may be easier than finding an airfield away from any population and it is flat all around. If you go off the runway, then it is still flat!
A quick Summary of the Project and Jason:
I had to recently summarise the project and Jason
Jason overheard me, his father, talking about the testing phases of a winged re-entry vehicle that we are building and the three testing phases: Transition to subsonic flight, return from space, de-orbit and land. He effectively “hijacked” the transonic testing phase. He proposed a zero pressure balloon to take the aircraft (code named ThunderStruck) to over 40km altitude and release it. He will pilot it remotely by radio control with a TV camera in the cockpit and instruments overlaid on the screen. He will “see” the view from the cockpit by wearing video googles as if he is there. Thunderstruck will reach speed of around 2,000kph before landing using nothing more than gravity. He has to demonstrate control at all phases of the flight.