Great Moments in French Aviation

Dassault RafaleAviation Digest reports today that “Rafale Ride Leads To Inadvertent Ejection By Over-Stressed Passenger”.   An April 6, 2020 report by the French military’s air accident investigation branch recounts a March 2019 flight in which  a contractor employee, responsible for test activity for his employer, was offered a surprise treat: a back-seat ride in a Dassault Rafale, the French front-line fighter aircraft.

Because the gesture was meant as a surprise, the passenger was informed only hours before the flight, leaving little time for him to prepare. The passenger did not feel he could decline the gesture, bowing to the social pressure imposed by his colleagues, the report said.... [Read More]


Why Astrophysicists Shouldn’t Build Things

Astrophysicist Daniel Reardon

Australian astrophysicist Daniel Reardon thought he’d turn his inventiveness to help humanity by inventing a device to help people learn not to inadvertently touch their faces.  His idea was to build a necklace with sensors which would respond to magnets worn on the wrists and buzz to alert the wearer when their hands approached the face.... [Read More]


Butterfingers! Airbus A350s Lose Engines after Drinks Spilled

Airbus A350 console with coffee stainTwo Airbus A350 XWB airliners on international flights, one last November and another on January 21st, 2020, had their starboard Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines shut down en route and fail to restart when pilots attempted the recovery procedure.  The most recent incident was on a Delta A350 bound for Seoul, which diverted to and landed safely in Fairbanks, Alaska after the engine failure.  The airline which experienced the failure in November 2019 has not been identified, but is believed to be a Korea-based Asiana A350 flying from Seoul to Singapore, which diverted to Manila on November 9th.

In both cases, the engines shut down some time after a pilot spilled a drink on the centre console where engine controls are located.  The Delta flight lost its engine 15 minutes after a drink was spilled on the console, and the suspected Asiana’s engine shut down an hour after tea was spilled on the console.  In both cases, the flight recorder indicated the electronic engine controller had closed the high-pressure shut-off valve after receiving inconsistent output from the control panel.  In both cases the integrated control panel and electronic engine controller were replaced and the planes returned to service.... [Read More]


Boeing Starliner: Something Is Very Wrong

Boeing CST-100 Starliner

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, their vehicle intended to fly astronauts to the International Space Station from the U.S. launched on its uncrewed test flight at 11:36 UTC today, 2019-12-20.  The launch by an Atlas V/Centaur appeared normally until spacecraft separation.  On a normal mission, the booster places Starliner in a suborbital trajectory which guarantees that if its propulsion system fails astronauts will still return safely to Earth.  After separation, this propulsion system is supposed to place the spacecraft into a parking orbit, from which it proceeds to rendezvous with the space station.... [Read More]


Airbus A320neo: A Matter of Balance

Airbus A320neoIn the never-ending effort to squeeze more passenger revenue from a given capital cost and fuel burn, Airbus is now making their A320neo and A321neo single-aisle airliners available with what they call the “Space-Flex” cabin interior option.  This relocates the galley and toilets, which were previously at the front of the cabin, to the very rear.  This, combined with relocation of some doors, allows six more passenger seats in economy without changing seat spacing, expanding standard seating to 189 and the certification limit to 194, which makes it a close competitor to the Boeing 737-8 / MAX 200, which is marketed for a two class configuration of 178 (12 business, 166 economy) with maximum certification for 200 passengers.

The toilets and galley are heavy, and placing them at the back of the plane shifts the centre of gravity aft near the point where the plane would be unstable.  This is particularly a problem in European two class configurations, where business has the same seats as economy but the centre seat is never occupied, resulting in less mass near the nose of the plane.... [Read More]


Vega Launch Failure, Not-So-Great Moments in Launch Commentary

Vega / Falcon Eye 1 liftoff, 2019-07-11At 01:53 UTC today (2019-07-11) a European Space Agency (ESA) Vega rocket was launched from Arainespace’s site at Kourou, French Guiana, on the east coast of South America.  Its payload was the Falcon Eye 1 reconnaissance satellite built by Airbus Defense and Space for the United Arab Emirates.  The Italian-built Vega is the smallest launcher operated by ESA, and was to place Falcon Eye 1, with a mass of 1197 kg, in a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 611 km.

The Vega is a four stage rocket, with the first three stages solid fuelled and the fourth stage using a hypergolic liquid fuelled engine manufactured in the Ukraine.  This was the fifteenth flight of Vega since its introduction in 2012; all of the first fourteen flights were successful.  Here’s what happened this time.... [Read More]