New Gulfstreams Deliver More Range and Cabin Comfort

By aviation industry standards, Gulfstream Aerospace’s launch last week of its new G500 and G600 aircraft was a well-kept secret, especially since the programs have already been in the works for five years since 2009. Over the past 12 months, the U.S. airframer has seen rival Dassault Falcon refresh its product range with the launch of the new Falcon 5X and 8X models, but Gulfstream insists that its focus has been on boosting choice and the value proposition of its own family of aircraft rather than seeking to keep up with competitors.

The new aircraft build a bridge between the G450 and G550 models and the G650 flagship. According to Lor Izzard, Gulfstream’s director sales support and technical marketing, the G500 and G600 will deliver unmatched high-speed range when they enter service, respectively in 2018 and 2019.

Pricing for the first 50 serial numbers has been set at $43.5 million for the G500 and $54.5 million for the G600. By comparison, the G650 is now priced at $66.5 million and the rates for the G450 and G550 are, respectively, “in the mid 30s and lower 50s”, according to Gulfstream.

The airframer’s core challenge in product definition has been the classic trade off between delivering a leap ahead in terms of aircraft performance, balanced against the desire to combine this with superior cabin comfort. The result is a pair of aircraft with a wider cabin cross-section than the G450 and G550, but not quite as wide as that of the G650. Nonetheless, the length of the passenger “living areas” equals that of the G650, and the new designs also boast the G650’s large windows, its 6.25-feet high main entrance door, its cabin altitude (4,850 feet at FL510 and 3,000 feet at FL410), as well as 100 percent fresh air.

“The aircraft are bigger in all dimensions to the G450 and 550,” said Izzard. “We didn’t want a cabin so large that it would be to the detriment of performance. This is the right cabin [size] for us to be able to produce the performance our customers want.” He added that the finished internal dimensions of the G500/600 cross-section will be bigger than that of the Falcon 7X.

Flexible Cabin Options

There will be significant flexibility in cabin design options since the galley can be situated either in the forward or rear sections, and customers can choose from a variety of living-space options. It will also include a fully certified crew rest area and 175 cubic feet of baggage space.

The G500 at its normal cruise speed of Mach 0.90 will deliver range of 3,800 nm, rising to 5,000 nm at Mach 0.85. Similarly, the G600 will have range of 4,800 nm at Mach 0.90 and 6,200 at Mach 0.85.

The two new aircraft will feature a new, high-speed wing, based on that of the larger G650 and with the same 36-degree sweep. The G600 wing will be eight feet larger to accommodate 10,000 pounds of additional fuel capacity. They will have a new tail, again based on the G650 in terms of aerodynamic shape and systems, but using new composite materials. Both aircraft will carry less fuel than the G450 model, but will be able to fly farther and faster.

Power by Pratt Whitney Canada

Gulfstream has also made a significant shift in powerplant selection, opting for Pratt Whitney Canada’s new PW800 turbofan series. The 15,144-pound-thrust PW814GA will power the G500, while the 15,680-pound-thurst PW815GA will be used for the G600.

The PW800 was selected for Cessna’s proposed Columbus jet, but this program was subsequently cancelled. The engine is understood to have been considered by Dassault for its new Falcon 5X, but the French airframer instead went for Snecma’s new Silvercrest engine. Gulfstream acknowledged that it considered several other powerplant proposals for the G500/600, and these likely would have included the Silvercrest, as well as GE Aviation’s new Passport and the Rolls-Royce BR725, already deployed on the G650.

Pratt Whitney Canada is responsible for delivering a completely integrated powerplant system. This will feature an aluminum kevlar fan case and a nacelle developed by Nordam, which is aiming to deliver a thrust reverser that will be 50 percent more efficient than existing equipment.

The manufacturer has had nine engines involved in the development program, which has so far accounted for more than 1,720 operating hours, 2,786 cycles and 4,400 hours of core testing. As of last month, some 35 hours of flight-testing had been completed and Gulfstream pilots have participated in some of these tests. The PW800 should complete certification in the fourth quarter of this year.

All-new Flight Deck

There is to be even greater innovation in the cockpit of the fly-by-wire G500 and G600, which will be the first Gulfstreams to feature active sidestick controls. According to Mark Kohler, Gulfstream vice president for advanced aircraft programs, the airframer was unwilling to make the shift to a sidestick control until BAE Systems adapted technology originally developed for fighter aircraft for civil use. “The system’s active force feedback provides a classic airplane feel, and it simulates the feel of mechanically linked sticks,” explained Izzard. In addition to BAE Systems, Thales, Parker Aerospace and Moog are contributing to the flight control/fly-by-wire systems for the new models.

The flight deck is based on Honeywell’s Primus Epic suite and is being branded as Gulfstream Symmetry. The avionics manufacturer’s PlaneView system is used on existing Gulfstream aircraft. For the G500 and G600 it is also providing the APU, the environmental control system, cabin pressure system and most of the touchscreen control panels for all cabin systems.

The new Gulfstreams feature no fewer than 10 integrated touchscreen control panels in the cockpit. Since pilots can easily switch the functions for which these are used, the aircraft will be able to be dispatched with just three of the screens functioning. Backup flight displays will be provided by L-3. Esterline group subsidiary Korry is contributing the three overhead displays.

An enhanced vision system (featuring higher resolution and an increased field of view) and synthetic vision for the primary flight display will be standard equipment for the new aircraft. Both will feature the same Rockwell Collins head-up display as the G650.

The cockpits will feature an all-new crew seat, with a full seat pan thanks to the absence of a control wheel and column. This will make it easier for the pilots to move in and out of their seats (as will new handles on the headrests). They will also benefit from Ventimesh materials that make the seat area cooler.

GE Aviation is supplying the electrical power distribution system, as well as the aircraft health and trend monitoring system, and data concentration network. For the latter, engineers have devised a way to break down the usual radio rack into separate elements, in the process reducing the amount of wiring and weight, while also improving the network’s reliability. This change has also gained some space for additional cabin volume.

Gulfstream has selected UTC Aerospace to provide the air data system, landing gear and various electrical power systems for the new models. Parker Aerospace is supplying the hydraulic actuation system for the fly by wire controls. Moog is responsible for the rudder pedals and flap actuation system.

Overall, the G500/600 program will result in a 50 percent reduction on LRUs compared with the G650. For instance, the flight controls will require just eight control units (compared with the G650’s 16).

The maintenance interval between major inspections will be 750 flight hours. Gulfstream has used 3-D virtual reality technology to optimize access to systems for maintenance, which will follow the MSG-3 task-orientated programs. The new aircraft will have a high degree of systems commonality with the G650.

Skunk Works, Savannah-style

Working under extraordinary levels of secrecy out of its expanded research and development facilities in Savannah, Gulfstream and its program partners have made great progress in testing and evaluating systems and airframe structures. All wind-tunnel testing for the G500 and G600 is now complete, and engineers are now embarked on iron bird testing of the airframe and cockpit systems integration.

The first flight-test aircraft are already under construction with a view to achieving a first flight for the G500 in 2015 and for the G600 in 2017. Critical design review for the G500 is already complete and this stage should be reached for the G600 by the end of 2014.

The two models will have a common basis for flight certification and five test aircraft will be used for the G500 development program and four for the G600. One of these will be used entirely for evaluating cabin design and systems.

Two full-size static test articles (including all flight controls) are being used for structural tests that will include ultimate limit-load testing. The new test laboratory can process some 15,500 channels of data.

Much thought is already being given to devising a more efficient manufacturing process for the new models. This will involve the use of precision-build carts, increased automation, a new autoclave able to produce large composite airframe sections, greater use of standard parts and various lean manufacturing techniques.

The G500 and G600 will have increased composite content compared with existing Gulfstream models. Composites will be featured in the winglets, nose radome, horizontal stabilizer, elevator and rudder, engine cowling, floor boards, landing gear doors, wing-to-body fairings, spoilers, pylons, dorsal fin and rear pressure bulkhead.

Potential Buyers Buy Into Design

Gulfstream has closely involved prospective buyers in helping to define key characteristics of the new models through its Advanced Technology Customer Advisory Team. This consultation has resulted in more than 200 design changes, including improved cockpit functionality and comfort, additional storage space, cabin layout revisions, a commitment to common type ratings for G500 and G600 pilots, as well as overall performance goals.

Gulfstream senior sales and marketing vice president Scott Neal insisted that recent product developments at major rivals have not been a significant driver of its latest plans. “We listen to the customer base and determine what to build,” he told AIN. “We have always led the market with our products and our behavior is not changed by what competitors are doing.”

Neal also stressed that Gulfstream remains committed to production of the G450 and G550 models. Part of the company’s thinking on market segmentation is that existing customers of the smaller G280 model will be more inclined to upsize to these existing types.

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Model aircraft will take to the skies Oct. 23-25 in Lakeland

More than 130 large, professionally built radio controlled aircraft will take part in 12 O’Clock High, an event at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

About 90 enthusiasts are expected to attend, flying aircraft from 9 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m. each day. The aircraft will feature military airplanes and other classics, said Frank Tiano, owner of event sponsor FTE Inc.

The aircraft will include a 150-pound replica of a P-47 Thunderbolt that has a 12-foot wing span. Other replicas will include World War II era fighters, World War I biplanes and even a 10-foot long turbine powered jet aircraft that can reach 200 miles per hour.

Spectators have close access to the planes and their owners, Tiano said.

“Every spectator gets a pit pass. You get to walk right up to them (the owners) and talk to them about their planes,” he said.

Tiano sponsors other model airplane shows each year in Lakeland but this one is unique in that it has a focus on military replicas, he said.

12 O’Clock High will be held at Paradise Field, an area of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. The entrance is on West Pipkin Road, Gate 36, approximately 1.5 miles west of Florida Avenue.

The $10 admission fee includes parking and a pit pass. Children 12 and younger are admitted free. Food and hobby vendors will be on site, and coolers are permitted.

For information, go to www.FrankTiano.Com.

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The regular weekend mailbag as things get back to normal

A: I did read it, I thought it was a bit of a stretch and I don’t see any serious problem coming up. First, I think there there will be an evening out of talent and the disparity will be greater than some think and, since you brought up the backcourt, they found a good mix of time for Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan, Ross and Salmons a year ago, substitute Williams for Salmons and why can’t it work? Same in the frontcourt, where I think if James Johnson emerges as a contributor – and right now I am entirely dubious that he will – there’s room for him, Amir, Valanciunas and Patterson.

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Kitchen co-op baking big plans

A long-abandoned convenience store on King Street East is being transformed into a co-operative commercial kitchen aimed at getting food startups off the ground.

It’s the latest addition to an eclectic and growing city food scene.

The Kitchen Collective is in the midst of renovating 811 King St. E. at Fairleigh to turn it into a 1,500-square-foot certified kitchen and a 500-square-foot retail space.

The hope is to have the kitchen operating by the end of the year and the retail space occupied by a member-owned café or shop by next summer, said co-op co-founder Reuben Vanderkwaak.

“This neighbourhood is really underserved by retail or cafés, so it will be great to make something available in the Sherman hub.”

There is a group of five budding food entrepreneurs behind the project. They’ve funded the renovations but have undertaken a $20,000 Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to buy kitchen equipment. It ends Monday evening.

All food made to sell must be prepared in a kitchen certified by public health. That’s a lengthy and expensive endeavour, says Vanderkwaak.

Vanderkwaak, a stay-at-home dad who launched Donut Monster more than a year ago, looked around unsuccessfully for suitable space to rent so he could make doughnuts to deliver to cafés, restaurants and grocery stores.

Hamilton’s other shared food kitchen, Roux Commissary, which has carved a niche with food trucks, didn’t have the equipment he needed.

He and candymaker Amanda Wright teamed up to look for a space they could rent together. But then they found others looking for access to a shared kitchen and decided a co-op was the best model.

Wright says she wants to make candy part time while keeping her full-time job as a medical secretary. Shelling out tens of the thousands on a kitchen just doesn’t make sense for her.

“That’s not feasible to do when you’re on your own,” she said.

She makes caramels, taffy, hard candies, suckers and marshmallows under the name Sweet and Simple. She plans to sell her products at events and through some retailers, but she says there are a lot of unknowns.

“I’m trying it out. I enjoy making candy, but will I enjoy doing it as a business? Can I make money at it?”

The location search took about a year. The corner property they found has plenty of space for the kitchen, a loading area, storage and room to accommodate one of Hamilton’s other co-ops, THAAT bike delivery.

Vanderkwaak says the bike co-op is the perfect solution for delivery of Kitchen Collective products. The Kitchen Collective will also work with grocery co-op The Mustard Seed to buy ingredients from local growers.

The future kitchen has been stripped down to the bare walls, but plans call for seven workstations near the hotline, a three-station bakery and a packaging area. There will also be dry storage and a walk-in fridge and freezer.

Matt Willard says the new kitchen will get his fledgling ice cream business off the ground. He makes flavours that include peanut butter cookie dough with bacon, London fog (Earl Grey latte) and blackberry port.

“It’s relaxing and fun and you get ice cream at the end.”

But it wasn’t so fun to contemplate how to act on his friends’ advice to launch Willard’s ice cream commercially.

“I want to do this part time. I can’t afford to have my own kitchen. That’s unrealistic,” said Willard, who works for an Oakville company shipping airplane parts.

As of late Friday afternoon, the project had close to 120 backers on Kickstarter, totalling about $14,500 in contributions.

Raising the funds will allow the project to open sooner and with less debt, said Vanderkwaak.

Contributors get rewards, including products from members, catered parties, a cupping demonstration by co-op co-founder Rob House of Hero Coffee and a Willard’s ice cream flavour named in their honour.

Kitchen Collective is offering general membership for $200, which gives access to the kitchen for $16 an hour. Heavy kitchen users can buy an incubating membership for $500, which gives access for $10 an hour and the right to install customized equipment.

Community use is available for $20 an hour for families, community groups and friends who want to cook batches of food, prepare for parties or fundraisers or preserve fruits and vegetables together.

Shana Narciso, another Kitchen Collective co-founder, wants to use the space to prepare fresh, healthy premade meals to sell and to offer communal cooking workshops and food education seminars for kids and adults.

She is in the early stages of launching Real Food Kitchens and says being able to share the upfront costs with other entrepreneurs will enable her and her business partner to research and fine-tune their business.

“Statistically, food business margins are low in terms of profits and the failure rate is high. So we want to get it right.”

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Rare 1918 biplane to land at Pearson Air Museum

Pearson Air Museum has acquired an extremely rare 1918 DeHavilland DH-4B airplane.

Aircraft restorer Mark Smith can define just how rare this Liberty biplane restoration is: “It’s probably going to be the next-to-last one done by anybody,” he said.

If You Go

• What: Pearson Air Museum (also the temporary Fort Vancouver Visitors Center).

• Where: 1115 E. Fifth St., Vancouver.

• When: Summer hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Winter hours (Nov. 3 to

March 9, 2015): 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

• Cost: Admission is free.

Officials at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site announced Wednesday that the National Park Service has purchased the vintage aircraft from Century Aviation of East Wenatchee. The deal includes restoration, which will be a substantial task since the Pearson acquisition is being put together from pieces of several Liberty aircraft.

“It’s a mixture of original parts from 1918 and thereabouts and some parts manufactured in the 1970s by a man who was going to restore a couple of them,” said Smith, who, along with partner Karen Barrow, operates Century Aviation.

A World War I-era DeHavilland had been on his shopping list for a while, said Bob Cromwell, manager of Pearson Air Museum. When the National Park Service took over Pearson Air Museum in February 2013, many of the aviation displays and historic aircraft that had been on loan to the previous manager — Fort Vancouver National Trust — were removed by their owners.

To restock the museum, “we had a list of aircraft we were looking for. I met the folks from Century Aviation at a conference and they let me know” they had a DH-4B Liberty, Cromwell said.

“The National Park Service has been working hard to replace and revamp the exhibits at Pearson Air Museum, and the purchase of this DH-4B Liberty shows our long-term commitment to managing the facility,” Fort Vancouver Superintendent Tracy Fortmann said in a news release. “This is not our first addition to the collection for Pearson Air Museum, and it certainly won’t be our last.”

Pearson already is displaying a few Liberty components from Century Aviation: half of a left wing, two wing spars, an 89-gallon fuel tank, a tail skid and some cockpit equipment. They’re displayed on the shape of a full-size Liberty that Cromwell outlined on the museum floor with black electrical tape.

The restoration project will take about two years, Cromwell said.

Did you know?

■ Two aircraft currently on display at Pearson Air Museum represent two aviation transitions: an unfinished Pietenpole Air Camper and a 1949 Ryan Navion.

■ Bernard Pietenpole designed the Air Camper in 1928 as a project plane to be built by amateur pilots. “Pietenpole sold the plans and you bought the materials,” Bob Cromwell, museum manager, said. It was designed to be powered by a Model A Ford engine. While it was originally designed as a high-wing monoplane, the Air Camper on loan at Pearson was modified to be a biplane.

■ The Ryan Navion was an attempt to attract former military fliers, Cromwell said. Originally designed by North American Aviation (hence Navion), it echoed iconic features from the company’s P-51 Mustang fighter, including the tail and canopy, “to capture World War II fighter pilots,” Cromwell said.

The $125,000 purchase was financed by Park Service money and donated funds. There will be another contract to install the fabric skin and repaint the aircraft.

The paint job will replicate that of the Liberty flown by Lt. Oakley Kelly; he was the first commanding officer of the Army Air Service’s 321st Observation Squadron, which was based at Pearson Field from 1923 to 1941.

“There hasn’t been a DH-4 Liberty based here since at least 1927, and it is a key aircraft when discussing the early Army aviation period at Pearson Field in the 1920s,” Cromwell said.

The airplane was originally designed by British engineer Geoffrey DeHavilland as a light bomber, and British forces flew them into combat starting in 1916.

When the United States entered WWI, military officials looked for the easiest Allied design to mass produce. More than 4,800 DH-4 Liberties were built in the U.S. from 1917 to 1923 (at $11,250 a plane, according to a museum interpretive panel.)

It was the only American-built aircraft to enter combat during World War I. They were used by the U.S. military until 1932.

Almost a century after their debut, there probably are fewer than 20 intact American-built Liberties, Cromwell said. Only five are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for flight.

Smith, the East Wenatchee restorer, said that Pearson’s plane will be assembled from an inventory of DH-4 parts acquired in an earlier project.

“We did some work for a customer and took the parts in trade. So far, we have restored a total of five 1918 DH-4s,” Smith said. “At present, we have enough components to build two more, including the one for Pearson. The parts we have probably are the last ones out there, unless something is hidden in a barn.”

When it comes to putting the pieces together — or crafting replacement parts — Smith and Barrow won’t be flying by the seat of their pants.

“We have copies of 2,000 factory drawings,” Smith said.

Pearson’s biplane will be for floor display, by the way: It’s flying days are over.

“That allows us to use a lot of original parts that are not allowed in a flying aircraft,” Smith said. “It will actually have more real parts.”

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Meet The Man Who’s Building Robots For Political Resistance

The Robots of Resistance

Why does new technology always seem to serve the rich and powerful? Meet the MIT visionary who kept asking that question, as long as he could get away with it.

August 2005: Willcox Playa, Arizona. The air was hot and full of wind, the ground hard and full of cracks, and an aircraft of sorts was flying directly at Josh Levinger’s chest.

It was, put mildly, irregular in composition. Its fuselage was a blue, five-gallon water cooler bottle. Its two three-liter ballast tanks once contained soda, and its aluminum propeller guard came from a bicycle. The engine originally belonged to a weed-whacker and the fabric wing overhead was designed for kite surfing. The machine’s name was Freedom Flies, and almost every part of it was borrowed or homemade.

Of the four-man team testing the airworthiness of Freedom Flies, Josh Levinger, an MIT undergrad, was one of two principle players. The other, holding a radio controller, was the device’s inventor, Chris Csikszentmihályi (pronounced CHEEK sent me HIGH), then an assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab.

As a concession to the heat, Chris had traded his usual collared shirt—three or four buttons always undone—for a cotton tee. Otherwise, he looked like he always did at the Lab: three-day stubble, close-cropped hair, the high forehead of a man pushing forty. Perhaps the only uncharacteristic thing about him at that moment, as Freedom Flies’s propeller tunneled through the desert air, was that his tenor voice was silent. Had Chris been able to speak, or even form a coherent thought, he might reasonably have wondered whether he’d made a horrible mistake. Academia tends to frown upon injuring students.

Chris and Josh, together with two other friends—a mechanical engineer and a computer scientist—had been living out on Willcox Playa for days, launching the aircraft, crashing, repairing, launching, and crashing again. The scene, Chris later recalled, was “definitely four guys out on the desert.” Their rented RV and a tent outside provided the only shade for miles. As often as they could, the gang grilled nopales—green prickly pear cactus leaves.

It was a basic way to live, and they were answering a basic human impulse: to send something into the sky that doesn’t belong there. In fact, what was immediately remarkable about Freedom Flies’s lumpy, un-aerodynamic bulk was the degree to which it did not resemble anything in nature that soars—bird, bat, or butterfly. Still, the irregularity of the design belied the seriousness of the endeavor: a response to drone activity along the U.S.-Mexico border. Freedom Flies may have looked like the fever dream of a junkyard attendant, but its field crew was on a mission, one with ramifications beyond the edges of Willcox Playa. The goal was to level an uneven playing field, and they had come to one of the flattest places on Earth to do it.

Now, as Freedom Flies reeled towards Josh, it resembled a pilotless version of a powered paraglider, with its rainbow parafoil unfurled overhead and engine body dangling below. The blur of the propeller formed a tan circle the size of a manhole cover. Josh’s pupils constricted.

Takeoff was not supposed to go like this. Rather, the plan was as follows: Chris would pull the weed-whacker ripcord, starting the propeller and blasting backwards a column of air that would simultaneously fill the colorful parafoil tethered ten feet behind and initiate Freedom Flies’s slow crawl forward. This motion would grow faster and faster until, rainbow wing now proudly inflated overhead, Freedom Flies’s wheels would bounce once, twice, on the hard surface of the desert and then lose contact. At that point, Chris would take control—via a model airplane remote— sending radio signals to a tiny computer on the aircraft that would direct the mechanical motion of a pair of motorized winches, originally intended for a high-end sailboat. The winches would trim the lines leading to the kite overhead, promoting steady flight. Only then could the team take a breath, having made it through the risky part. They could switch Freedom Flies over to a GPS-guided autopilot mode and throw some fresh nopales on the grill. And the aircraft would hang in the Southwestern sky like an ugly Christmas ornament, casting fearful shadows or gleaming with hope, depending on the observer.

It didn’t work out that way, however. The wind and the airflow from the prop wash together weren’t enough to fill the fabric wing, so, like any kite on a windless day, Freedom Flies needed someone to pull it forward with a rope. Josh, the youngest, was volunteered. Chris said go. Josh ran. And the thing took off.

But a split-second later, Josh turned and saw it bearing down on him, propeller whirring like a kamikaze Cuisinart. He hit the deck and Freedom Flies passed just overhead. It struck the ground a few yards past his feet, skipped once, and lay still. He took a moment to treasure his continued existence. Then, he wondered what broke. Every crash entailed repairs, which meant trips to the nearest town and jury-rigging new parts out of old junk, which cost time. Six hours was typical.

Willcox Playa in August was not such a bad place to kill time, though, as long as you had friends, shade, and enough nopales. In spare moments during the day, Josh took out Freedom Flies’s kite and let the wind drag him around. At night, he carried onto the black desert their infrared camera, borrowed from MIT, and watched the others glow in the dark. One evening one of Chris’s friends tested the top speed of his Jetta, kicking up a clean line of dust across the playa. The setting belonged in a car commercial: fifty square miles of perfectly flat, dry lakebed, interrupted only by mirages of water and, in the blue distance, the Little Dragoon mountain range.

That surfeit of flat space was one reason why Chris had chosen the Arizona playa for Freedom Flies’s proving ground. The other reason was milling about noisily a few hours south: a border militia meeting, of which Chris wanted a closer view—an aerial view, to be precise.

Six months before, Chris had conceived of Freedom Flies as a reaction to what he considered to be a disturbing technological trend at the U.S.-Mexico border. One private militia group, the American Border Patrol, had built a twenty-pound, wooden drone to watch for undocumented immigrants. They had been flying the Border Hawk, as they named it, consistently since 2004. Now, the government was following their example. The U.S. Border Patrol had been testing unmanned aircraft for use along the Mexico line since 2003, and as of summer 2005, it was preparing to launch its first Predator. The government’s goal was to enforce the law. Chris’s concern was that they would enforce it selectively—focusing on the immigrants trying to reach the U.S. but not on the “border extremists” within the U.S. trying to stop them.

Chris liked to build robots, and he loved to help an underdog. So, in contrast to the Border Patrol, he made Freedom Flies according to a countervailing set of priorities: to help migrants survive the desert and to monitor their encounters with militias.

Such an aircraft would need to stay aloft for a long time, which meant a gas engine. It would also have to carry a significant payload: a heavy infrared camera or drinking water. And it needed to be flashy, because sometimes a machine is more than a machine. Depending on the model and whom you ask, drone aircraft can represent progress or menace; security on the wing or death from above. Chris wanted his drone to appear as an outstretched hand to migrants, and an outstretched middle finger to those who would stand in their way.

Freedom Flies’s flagrant rainbow-wing design fulfilled all of these requirements and more. Chris calculated that Freedom Flies could last six hours in the air and carry fifteen extra pounds of payload. It would only cost a few thousand dollars to build. That was important: Chris wanted anyone to be able to build his or her own Freedom Flies, and he made the plans and code available for free.

In addition, the design of Freedom Flies satisfied a tougher set of constraints. Historically, military research had directed the development of drone aircraft, but Chris wanted a fresh technological start: a drone devoid of military DNA. That meant no parts designed for the Pentagon or its contractors. Hence all the household items.

Freedom Flies’s ugly, fabric-wing, peace-loving, open-source design was, from Chris’s perspective, the full package. It simultaneously identified a problem and provided an example of a solution—a leitmotif already discernible in his work at MIT that would echo louder and louder in the late 2000s.

But there was one thing it wasn’t guaranteed to do. Fly.

After a series of test flights in Massachusetts, the most notable of which ended in power lines above the MIT football stadium, Chris and Josh broke Freedom Flies down into its parts, packed as many power tools as they could, and flew to Los Angeles. After an eight-hour drive in the RV, they were in the desert, launching, crashing, repairing, repeating.

Now, having fixed Freedom Flies once again after its attempt on Josh’s life, the team readied for another trial. The sun was setting; the camera was rolling. Chris ripped the cord, the engine caught, and Josh ran for it. Freedom Flies finally blasted off, leaving the ground far behind. Whoops were audible.

Then the engine swung slightly to starboard. It returned left, then, sickeningly, rose much higher to the right. Chris, furiously toggling the radio controller, tried to check the motion, but not only was the pendulum swinging back left but rounding a corner as well, moving forward and adding another dimension into the equation. Facing skyward, Freedom Flies stalled for a moment, motionless, lost in the setting sun. Then, the inevitable happened: The weight swung backward and the propeller was no longer facing the horizon, but directly down. Someone let out an “Oh my God.” When Freedom Flies hit, parts sprayed in all directions. The crunch was almost cartoonish, like a piano landing on a sidewalk.

Later that night, Chris cracked open a bottle of mezcal and began pouring shots, to be consumed with whole garlic cloves as a chaser. Josh was surprised to find him in such a celebratory mood. Freedom Flies was broken, perhaps for good. They had never even had the chance to use the GPS-guided autopilot system that Josh had programmed. And Freedom Flies would never cast its shadow over the militia at the border, which was half the reason for coming to Arizona. Wasn’t it?

Chris knew better, because he understood the true purpose of Freedom Flies. It had stayed aloft for fourteen seconds, long enough to make a video of its brief flight, and that, if not the best-case scenario, was good enough. Although Freedom Flies looked and felt like an MIT engineering project, it was primarily a work of art, existing less to fly than to be seen flying, which the video would make possible. As Chris poured, Freedom-Flies-the-machine lay in pieces on a dead lakebed. Freedom-Flies-the-idea, meanwhile, was about to take off, and that fit in just fine with Chris’s plan.

Despite holding a professorship at perhaps the world’s premier engineering institute, Chris was no engineer, strictly speaking. His inventions were more about ideas and political dissent than pushing the limits of technical progress, prioritizing airtime in the media over, say, time spent flying through the air. And so there was some question about how long he, too, could stay aloft.

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Berlin Art Complex Rises From a Brewery’s Ruins

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