Learning Late in Life

I love flying craft of all kinds; however, my passion is more of an awe of the aesthetics and history of flying, and my technical knowledge is limited. That’s why I was delighted to come across this book at a thrift store. Despite the strange green stains streaking a page,  it’s a keeper.  It is right on my level and I’m learning some terminology and concepts that are new to me.

Here’s a question: There was an illustration of an early experiment with flight, when a monk leapt from a building in giant wings and broke both legs. Why did he not fashion a dummy about his height and weight and toss it off the building before dreaming of launching off himself?

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This Week’s Book Review – Taking Flight

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears, I post the review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Taking Flight’ explores the beginning of commercial aviation

By MARK LARDAS

May 5, 2019

Taking Flight: The Foundations of American Commercial Aviation, 1918-1938 by M. Houston Johnson V, Texas A&M University Press, 2019, 300 pages, $44.96

Today we go to the airport, hop a jet and fly anywhere in the nation secure we will arrive swiftly and safely. In 1919, commercial air travel fit Hobbes’s definition of a state of nature. It involved continual fear and danger of violent death, and was nasty, brutish and short.

“Taking Flight: The Foundations of American Commercial Aviation, 1918-1938” by M. Houston Johnson V, explores the beginnings of aviation’s transition to a safe, effective mode of transportation.

Its focus is the years between the end of World War I and the start of World War II. This period established the commercial aviation infrastructure still used today. The heart of the book examines establishing federal control of commercial aviation starting in 1921, in the Harding administration.

The most compelling reason for federal control of commercial aviation was it would soon be interstate commerce, a federal responsibility. The question was what form of federal control was appropriate? Did the government establish airways with local communities taking responsibility for airfields? This was the model followed for ships. The government developed the navigation lanes. Cities built ports and docks.

Another issue was how to foster commercial aviation. In Europe, governments subsidized or even owned airlines. This model ran counter to American sensibilities. In the United States there was a desire for privately-owned and operated airlines.

Johnson shows how the federal government answered those questions. The Department of Commerce set aviation policy from 1921 through 1925 until the Air Mail Act of 1924, and the Air Commerce Act of 1926 emerged. He also looks at the Air Mail hearings in 1934, and the use of the WPA in airfield construction.

The book’s unlikely hero turns out to be Herbert Hoover. As commerce secretary between 1921 and 1928, he created the foundation of today’s aviation transportation network. Airmail subsidies allowed the government to encourage privately-owned airlines without imposing government ownership. Hoover also oversaw creation of aircraft and pilot certification systems still used today.

“Taking Flight” is a fascinating look back at American aviation’s infancy. It shows how much went right, and what could have gone wrong.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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Photo Friday: Stunt Flight

What is this plane?

Instead of working on this, that, or the other thing this morning, I checked out this little mention and slideshow in  a Polish site, The First News.

Here is the article entire:

With warm weather finally settling in Poland, pilot Łukasz Czepiela decided to start off the season by the sea in style – by landing a plane on Sopot pier.

That is admirable brevity.  I do also recommend the slide show.

Sopot, on the Baltic Sea between Gdynia and Gdansk, indeed has a very nice pier, which looks to be 1300-1400 feet in length.

So what sort of airplane is this, and also while we are at it, why would anyone ever eat blue cotton-candy?  or any cotton-candy?  Maybe the pilot did not eat it but just pretended, to demonstrate that he is so cool that cotton-candy could never in a million years detract from his coolness, he can so handle it.  I hope so.

Do Ratburgers have other favorite airplane stunts?  May we see?

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What is going on with the Boeing 737 Max?

I just saw on Drudge that another one went down. It sounds like a design flaw. Does anyone know?

From Wiki

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610, a Boeing 737 MAX 8, crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after take off from Soekarno–Hatta International Airport, Jakarta, Indonesia. The flight was a scheduled domestic flight to Depati Amir Airport, Pangkal Pinang, Indonesia. All 189 onboard died. This was both the first fatal aviation accident and first hull loss of a 737 MAX. The aircraft was delivered to Lion Air just two months prior.[117][118] Following the Lion Air accident, Boeing issued an operational manual guidance, advising airlines how to address erroneous cockpit readings. The crash is currently under investigation.[119]

On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a Boeing 737 MAX 8, registration ET-AVJ, crashed approximately six minutes after takeoff at 0530 UTC from Addis Ababa. [120] The flight was a scheduled flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya.[121] All 149 passengers and 8 crew members on board died. At the time of the accident, the aircraft was only 4 months old.[122] The cause of the accident is unclear as of 10th March 2019, however The Guardian reported “The flight had unstable vertical speed after takeoff”, based on a tweet from flight tracking service Flightradar24.

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Saturday Night Science: Supersonic Civil Aviation


Concorde: first flight 1969-03-02
Fifty years ago today, on March 2nd, 1969, the first prototype Concorde left the ground for the first time in Toulouse, France.  Pilot André Turcat and his flight test crew of four put the new airliner through a modest set of maneuvers to test its handling and controllability, leaving the landing gear down through the entire flight (this was often the case for early test flights at the time).  After a brief flight of just 28 minutes, cut short due to deteriorating weather conditions, Concorde 001 landed normally.  On April 9th, 1969, the British-assembled Concorde 002 made its first flight from Filton, England to RAF Fairford to begin its tests.  Both aircraft would participate in an intense test and envelope expansion programme, achieving supersonic speed on October 1st, 1969, with subsequent flights testing higher speeds up to the operational cruise speed of Mach 2.02 (around 2,154 kilometres per hour [the speed of sound depends upon altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature; if a speed is defined by Mach number the air speed will vary]).   Here is a short contemporary report on the Concorde’s maiden flight.

The advent of supersonic transports (SSTs) such as the Concorde promised a new era in civil aviation.  Just as the first jet transports such as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 had almost doubled the speed of their piston-engined predecessors, the Concorde was more than twice as fast as existing jet airliners.  Concorde would reduce the flight time between London and New York or Washington from more than six hours to a little more than three hours, and would make long-haul flights far more endurable for passengers.  While supersonic airliners were expected to be expensive and fuel-thirsty, the increased speed would allow airline companies to conduct twice as many flights per day with each aircraft, which would compensate for the higher cost.  The prospects looked bright for Concorde: at the time of the first flight, 74 had been optioned by major airlines around the world, including U.S. carriers Pan Am, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Braniff, American Airlines, and TWA.  Eventually, more than 100 non-binding orders were received.

With no competitor project underway in the West, it appeared that Concorde would have the SST market segment to itself for some time.  The European aircraft industry seemed poised to reclaim the technological lead from U.S. airframers.

Concordski

Tupolev Tu-144Concorde was not the first supersonic transport to fly.  On the last day of 1968, the first Tupolev Tu-144 took flight from Zhukovsky airport near Moscow, and went on to beat Concorde to the milestones of first supersonic flight and first flight at Mach 2.  The result of a crash programme and intense campaign of industrial espionage aimed at the Concorde, the Tu-144 was superficially similar but far more crude in design and execution.  It lacked Concorde’s elegantly curved wing which meant its performance at low speeds was poor and it consequently landed substantially faster—it was the only airliner to routinely use a drag parachute when landing.  Concorde could “supercruise”—although it used its afterburners when taking off and to accelerate through Mach 1, once supersonic it cruised without afterburner.  The Tu-144, however, required the afterburner throughout the supersonic phase of flight, which resulted in terrible fuel economy and reduced its range.  The aircraft were very unreliable; in its short operational history of just 102 flights (only 55 with passengers), they experienced more than 226 failures, eighty in flight.  The cabin was so noisy that passengers could not easily converse and often had to pass written notes.  A total of 16 Tu-144s were produced, two of which crashed, including one highly embarrassing crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show.  The last commercial passenger flight was on June 1st, 1978, and the programme was cancelled by the Soviet government in 1983.  The existing aircraft were subsequently used as flying laboratories including, in the 1990s, by NASA.

Here is a documentary about the Tu-144.

U.S. SST

Boeing 2707 SSTWhen the Concorde project was announced in November 1962, pressure grew in the United States to respond in some way.  Interestingly, this pressure did not come from the aircraft manufacturers, all of which had done their own in-house studies of the technology and potential markets and concluded the opportunity for a successful product was marginal.  U.S. airlines, in particular Pan Am and its vocal CEO Juan Trippe, indicated that they would buy Concorde if no U.S. alternative were available, and the Federal Aviation Administration lobbied for government support of a U.S. SST programme.  On June 5th, 1963, U.S. president John Kennedy announced a National Supersonic Transport programme, where cab drivers and hairdressers in the U.S. would be taxed to support the development of a technology which they could not afford to use.  This is “progressive” government.

Originally, work focussed on an airliner designed for domestic routes, as it was believed it was too late to catch Concorde in the international market, but before long the project was re-scoped to build a “Concorde killer” which would be bigger (around 250 passengers to Concorde’s 120) and faster (around Mach 3—50% faster than Concorde).  This would dramatically complicate the design.  Up to around Mach 2 conventional aluminium construction can be used, but the heating at Mach 3 essentially requires titanium skin and external structure, which is much more expensive and difficult to fabricate.  Engine and inlet design become more difficult, and trying to provide both the required range and high speed and acceptable takeoff and landing speeds to operate from existing airports was an enormous challenge.

A number of U.S. aircraft manufacturers bellied up to the government money trough, but it quickly came down to a competition between Boeing, who eventually named their entry the Boeing 2707, and Lockheed, who proposed the L-2000.  The L-2000 was essentially a super Concorde—bigger, faster, but pretty much the same shape and technology.  It was considered the low-risk choice.  Boeing’s entry was—something else again.  The original 2707 had a “swing wing” like the F-111, which would extend for take-off and landing and fold back to the tail to reconfigure in flight as a delta wing for high speed operation.  It was a wide body configuration with seven-abreast seating in economy.  And it would fly at Mach 2.7, thanks to its titanium main structure.

On the first day of 1967, Boeing’s design was chosen.  Hey, it was the Sixties—go for it!  There was only one slight problem with the design: it was absolutely impossible to build.  That swing-wing, fabricated out of recalcitrant-to-machine titanium, which had to work at temperatures between −60 and 300° C, was hideously complicated and heavy, weighing more than two tonnes for the pivot assembly alone.  In the end, they couldn’t make it work, and in October, 1968 the swing-wing was abandoned in favour of a design reminiscent of Lockheed’s entry in the original competition.  All of this led to a multi-year slip in schedule and cost overruns and, in March, 1971, the U.S. congress, over the opposition of the Nixon administration, pulled the plug on the project which, with the loss of taxpayer subsidies, was immediately terminated.

Here is a documentary about the Boeing 2707 débâcle:

False Dawn

By the time Concorde was ready to enter commercial service in the mid-1970s, the economic and political environment had dramatically changed from the time of the first flight.  The Soaring Sixties had given way to the Souring Seventies, and the dramatic increase in oil prices in the aftermath of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo (crude oil prices quadrupled between October 1973 and March 1974) made airlines acutely aware of fuel costs and loath to add a plane as thirsty as Concorde to their fleet.  Further, the advent of the 747 jumbo jet had created a mass market for air travel with low ticket prices, and the market was increasingly driven by price, not speed.  The non-binding order book for Concorde just evaporated, mostly before the end of 1973, leaving only the British and French flag carriers as customers.  Only twenty Concordes were built, with just 14 entering service: seven each for BOAC/British Airways and Air France.  These carriers would continue to operate Concorde as a super-premium service (when I flew a British Airways Concorde from Washington to London in January 1991 the ticket price was 40% higher than first class on a 747) until 2003 when both airlines retired the type.  Concorde suffered only one crash in its operational history, Air France Flight 4590 in July 2000, but the aging aircraft were becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain, and Airbus, who had taken over maintenance for the fleet, announced the end of maintenance support.  Here is a cockpit view of the takeoff and landing of a Concorde flight from London to New York.

This is a view from the passenger cabin of one of the last Concorde flights in 2003.

Here is a BBC documentary about Concorde.

Roaring Twenties

As we’re now only ten months from the start of the Roaring Twenties, we might ask whether civil supersonic flight was a fantasy from a lost age of optimism where we all assumed we’d be going to the Moon on holiday or perhaps just before its time?  It has long been assumed that fuel cost, the inability to fly supersonic over land due to prohibition of sonic booms, airport noise restrictions, and environmental considerations (supersonic airliners fly higher than subsonic jets, where their emissions can contribute to ozone depletion) made a successor to Concorde infeasible.  However, slow progress has been made on all of these fronts and there are interesting things going on which may bear fruit in the coming decade.

X-59A

One of the major problems with supersonic flight is sonic boom.  An object (whether an aircraft, rifle bullet, or super-hero) travelling faster than sound creates shock waves which, if they reach the ground, produce a loud double boom like thunder but sharper and higher pitched which, in extreme cases, can rattle items on shelves or break window glass.  Here in Switzerland, the boys and their F-18 toys sometimes go supersonic and we experience the phenomenon.  You’ll notice it when it happens.  This is rare, but just imagine a hundred supersonic airliners overflying your location every day—no.  A NASA project, being built by Lockheed Martin, called the X-59A QueSST (Quiet Supersonic Transport), will explore “low boom” technology.  By carefully shaping the airframe, the idea is that the usual boom can be shaped into a “thump”, reducing the noise from the bone-shaking 109 dB of Concorde to a mild 75 dB when operating at Mach 1.42 at an altitude of 16.8 km.  If the design works as intended, the plan is to conduct overflight tests of communities in the U.S. to  measure popular perception of the noise level.  First flight is currently planned for late 2021 or early 2022.  Because of the extreme pointed nose on the plane (needed to shape the boom), the pilot has no direct view ahead.  There will be a virtual reality system to provide a synthetic view from cameras mounted on the forward fuselage.

This is a short film about the X-59A.

Independent of low-boom design, there is the phenomenon of “Mach cutoff”.  As I mentioned above, the speed of sound depends upon air pressure and temperature and, in many cases, this creates a situation where there is an altitude above which the sonic boom created by an aircraft is reflected before reaching the ground.  This is very similar to the way submarines exploit thermal gradients in the ocean to hide from sonar detection by adversaries.  We’ve now gotten good enough in monitoring atmospheric conditions, both based upon on-board instrumentation and uplink of data from meteorological instruments, that an aircraft can predict the Mach cutoff ahead of it and, when it’s sufficiently high and strong, fly supersonic over land.  In essence, the trick is that the plane is flying faster than sound at its altitude but slower than the speed of sound in the atmosphere near the surface so the boom never gets there.  It’s estimated that many cross-country flights in the U.S. could operate at Mach 1.2 above the Mach cutoff and reduce travel time by 50% with no sonic boom on the ground.  This would require regulatory approval, but since it would create no additional noise, the only reason to withhold it is inertia and Green Luddite instincts.

Boom Technology

Boom Technology: Overture SSTFounded in 2014, Boom Technology is developing a supersonic airliner called the Overture with a goal of flight at Mach 2.2 for 55 passengers with a range of 8300 km, scheduled for introduction in the middle of the 2020s.   Current work is focussed on the “XB-1 Baby Boom”, a one-third scale flying demonstrator intended to prove the technologies.  It is expected to enter flight test later this year.  The company has raised US$ 151 million in venture capital so far, including US$ 10 million from Japan Airlines.  Unlike some other supersonic ventures, they have not compromised on speed: the joke at the company is that their Wi-Fi password is “mach2.2ordie”.  They do not depend on low-boom or Mach cutoff—they claim the “business case closes” purely for supersonic over-water flight.

Here is a short video about Boom Technologies.

Aerion

Aerion AS2 supersonic business jetAerion Technologies has been working on the concept of a supersonic business jet for years.  The current concept, the Aerion AS2, is a 12 passenger business jet which will cruise at Mach 1.4 over water and exploit the Mach cutoff or Mach 0.95 cruise over land to cut an hour off a typical coast-to-coast flight in the U.S.  It is designed to meet all airport noise standards for new aircraft.  The current development schedule aims at first customer deliveries in 2026.  With three engines, it will be able to make long over-water flights without the costly and fussy ETOPS certification of airliners which many business jet operators are not willing to obtain.  In early February 2019, Boeing announced it had made a “significant investment” in Aerion and concluded an agreement to “provide engineering, manufacturing and flight test resources, as well as strategic vertical content, to bring Aerion’s AS2 supersonic business jet to market. ”

This is a stylish but not very informative video from Aerion about their plans for the product.  I’m not so sure about some of the claims for end-to-end time reductions given the need to refuel due to limited range.

Spike Aerospace

Spike S-512 business jetSpike Aerospace is developing the Spike S-512, an 18 passenger business jet designed with low boom technology and intended to operate, pending regulatory approval, at Mach 1.6 over land.  It is intended for first flight in 2025.

Their promotion seems to be all hype and style, with few details.  Here you go.

Back to the Future?

Will airline passengers fly faster than sound in the future, as I did in 1991?  Dunno.  We’ve been getting dumber, and hence less able to create and maintain advanced technologies.

Still, I am hopeful.  We’ve gotten a lot better at computer modelling transonic and supersonic fluid flows, which means we can design craft with less costly wind tunnel or flight testing.  We’re richer than we were in the 1960s, and understand that there’s a trade-off between time and money.  Maybe before the end of the Roaring Twenties they’ll be saying, “Mach 2—that’s for grandpa.  Let’s go for Mach 3!”.  Or, perhaps, they’ll be digging for grubs with blunt sticks among the wreckage of wind turbines and solar farms.  I’d put either at about equal probability.

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Ion-powered aircraft flies with no moving parts

Ladies and Gentlemen, we truly live in a wonderful age, an age of inventions not ever imagined by anyone before us, (us being those of this time).

Continue reading “Ion-powered aircraft flies with no moving parts”

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Guilty Pleasure: Kennedy Steve

There was an air traffic controller at JFK who did his job superbly and had fun while doing it. If one has listened to ATC they say the same things over and over again. There voices can be lifeless. An air traffic at JFK named Steve was known for mixing it up a bit which kept it interesting.  I like the following exchange.(At 1:00)

British Airways Pilot: ….. which way do you like us to face? (After a airplane pushes from the gate they are told which direction is best to taxi.)

Steve: Oh face the front, sir. If you’re flying  facing the passengers, they get very concerned.

BAP: Touche

Steve: Err, but the push back, sir, the nose is SE.

BAP: SE, thanks.

Steve: Ah, come on, you got to admit that it was slightly humorous!?

BAP:  It’s hilarious, we’re crying with laughter here.

 

The sad news is Kennedy Steve retired and I doubt there will be another like him.

Life goes a whole lot easier when a person puts some life and creativity in their job. A little fun can go a long way.

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TOTD 2018-8-16: Airline Call Signs

Air traffic controllers usually call airlines by their names but some airlines have interesting call signs. See if you know these airlines from their call signs. Take the test and tell us how many out of 10 you got in the comments.

Ex. Smart Cat is TigerAir Taiwan. (Often the call sign comes from the company logo or more precise the prior company logo at times.)

  1. Speedbird
  2. Springbok
  3. Cactus
  4. Shamrock
  5. Dynasty
  6. Big Bird
  7. Sasquatch
  8. Clipper
  9. Redwood
  10. Citrus

 

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