New Englanders: Father’s Day weekend at the tank museum

New England’s latest museum to open is the American Heritage Museum in Hudson/Stow, Massachusetts. It is run by the long-established Collings Foundation, which owns priceless warbirds and classic cars, but shows off a new collection of armored vehicles.

It is a great museum any time (passionate and knowledgeable volunteer guides bring the machines alive), but especially great this coming weekend when they’re having the “Tanks, Wings, and Wheels” event.

[It is currently not simple to buy a membership at the front desk, so if you want to get an annual membership, sign up via the web site.]

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Lifting body airliner

One of the topics that we cover in the Aerodynamics lecture within our MIT Private Pilot Ground School (link to all of the slides and videos) is the industry inertia that results in all airliners looking more or less the same: tube plus wings.

It turns out that this is not an efficient way to build an airplane. The most fuel-efficient approach is a “lifting body” in which the fuselage is optimized to produce lift. With aluminum-and-rivet construction these probably haven’t made sense commercially, but now that airliners (e.g., Airbus A350 and Boeing 787) are made from composites, the complex shapes of a lifting body airliner might not be dramatically more expensive to fabricate.

Who is crazy enough to try to turn the academic dream into a commercial reality? KLM:

The Dutch national airline announced that it is helping fund the development of the Flying-V, a lifting-body-esque flying wing aircraft designed by Delft University of Technology student Justus Benad.

The designers say the Flying-V will use 20% less fuel than an Airbus A350 while carrying about the same number of passengers, 314. Roelof Vos, project leader at TU Delft, highlights the Flying-V’s efficiency as an important component of an industry eventually headed toward electric propulsion. According to CNN, Vos claims that ”aviation is contributing about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, and the industry is still growing, so we really need to look at more sustainable airplanes. We cannot simply electrify the whole fleet, as electrified airplanes become way too heavy and you can’t fly people across the Atlantic on electric airplanes—not now, not in 30 years. So we have to come up with new technologies that reduce fuel burn in a different way.”

These folks are taking the long view:

A flying prototype is promised by October 2019, but the design isn’t expected to enter service until 2040.

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Regulation of aviation in Europe

One thing that isn’t unionized in the European Union is regulation of aviation. All of the member nations belong to the ICAO and there is an EU agency (EASA) that does most of the same stuff as our FAA. However, there is yet another layer of regulation on a per-country basis. “They can’t be less restrictive than ICAO, but they can add restrictions,” said a local pilot. “Every time a plane takes off, the Irish Aviation Authority considers that it has failed.”

It sounds reasonable for a country to have its own FAA-style agency. But Ireland’s population is 4.7 million. Should Metro Atlanta or South Carolina have its own FAA? Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, also has its own aviation regulatory authority (can there be more than a handful of airplanes based in Estonia?).

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Flight school and airline careers starting in Ireland

On a recent trip to Ireland I visited National Flight Centre, one of the country’s two full-scale flight schools.

Lufthansa decided to abandon cloud-plagued Germany and train all of its ab initio pilots in Arizona. How can it work to learn to fly in Ireland, famous for rain?

One part of the answer is simulator time. The school has several sophisticated non-motion sims, one of which has a full 737-800 cockpit (Ryanair uses this plane). Of the 220 required hours of training for a “frozen ATPL“, 80 may be accomplished in a simulator. (On reaching 1,500 hours of flying experience, presumably gained in the right seat of a B737 or A320, the ATP becomes “unfrozen”.)

Students start as young as 17, though roughly half already have college degrees. They pay 82,000 euros for an 18-month program and, upon graduation, can work for any airline within the EASA umbrella (all of Europe, Turkey, etc.; does not include Qatar, Dubai, or China, all of which would require a license conversion). Starting salary at Ryanair for these 140-hour heroes is roughly 70,000 euros per year (depends on the base). Other European airlines pay in the same ballpark.

(What about Americans who want to escape the cruel dictatorship of Donald Trump? The American ATP can convert by doing 650 hours of home study through National Flight Centre, taking 14 exams (on site), and getting an Irish Class 1 medical. Budget for two trips to Ireland, a couple of weeks on the ground there total, and less than $10,000 out of pocket.)

Job prospects currently are awesome, with Ryanair alone hiring nearly 1,000 pilots per year.

The school is very well-organized, comparable to the best university-run U.S. schools. Instructors are a mixture of young enthusiasts and retired airline captains. Airplanes are dispatched with a GPS tracker and a flat-screen TV next to the front desk shows all aircraft positions. A web-based system keeps track of every lesson and the instructor’s evaluation. There is a nice restaurant overlooking the runway for relaxing between classes.

(It is vastly more difficult to start an airline career in the U.S. due to the 1,000/1,500-hour minimum. Also, the first job for a white or Asian male U.S. pilot will be in a regional jet, not a Boeing or Airbus (opportunities are better for members of victim groups, but there is no relief from the statutory minimum hours requirement).)



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Does it make sense for Boeing to rebrand Embraer?

“Boeing drops Embraer name from Brazil commercial jet division” (Reuters):

Boeing Co on Thursday said that after taking over Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA’s passenger jet unit, it will call the division Boeing Brasil – Commercial, dropping one of Brazil’s most iconic company names.

The name change comes after Boeing agreed to pay $4.2 billion to buy 80% of Embraer’s operation making passenger jets with fewer than 150 seats. Embraer will retain a 20% stake. That division is still Embraer’s most profitable and considered a gold standard of Brazilian engineering.

Boeing has not made a decision yet about whether to rebrand the small and mid-sized planes, which currently carry the Embraer name followed by a model code.

Given the recent 737 MAX debacle, a far worse failure of engineering design than anything Embraer has ever done, does this rebranding make sense?

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Navy pilots see UFOs that commercial airline pilots don’t

“‘Wow, What Is That?’ Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects” (nyt):

The strange objects, one of them like a spinning top moving against the wind, appeared almost daily from the summer of 2014 to March 2015, high in the skies over the East Coast. Navy pilots reported to their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds.

“These things would be out there all day,” said Lt. Ryan Graves, an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot who has been with the Navy for 10 years, and who reported his sightings to the Pentagon and Congress. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”

Commercial airliners operate in the same general areas and far more hours per year, yet their pilots don’t report similar stuff.

Could it be the curved canopy of the fighter jets?

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Storm King, Donald Trump, and DC-3s

An afternoon in the Northeast, occasioned by a friend needing a ride from KBED to KSWF.

Over Bradley Field in the Cirrus SR20

Parked in the family airplane area…

After a 13-minute ride in the crew car (Thanks, Signature!), the Storm King Art Center. (Note curved wall by Andy Goldsworthy and the all-glass ice cream sundae “folly” by Mark Dion.)

Learned something new about one of my favorite artists. Louise Nevelson sometimes used gold instead of black!

For the kids, another Mark Dion:

On to KOXC where a squadron of DC-3s are preparing to leave for Europe to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Then an easy flight home over Hartford, Connecticut:

Fuel burned: About 25 gallons (on the trip home, with a bit of a tailwind and the mixture set for lean of peak operation, the Cirrus was getting roughly 20 mpg).

On returning home, I found that Mindy the Crippler was #Concerned about the trade war with China:

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Boeing 737 MAX runaway trim scenario in a sim

“Ethiopian MAX Crash Simulator Scenario Stuns Pilots” (Aviation Week) describes an American crew given a comparatively trivial challenge. They were put into a sim and advised in advance that the MCAS system would go haywire. They started from a 10,000′ moderate speed (250 knots) cruise.

This is analogous to the crews that were given the “Skiles and Sully” US Air 1549 scenario and were able to do a 180-degree turn and land back at LaGuardia on a dry runway.

Piece of cake, right?

What the U.S. crew found was eye-opening. Keeping the aircraft level required significant aft-column pressure by the captain, and aerodynamic forces prevented the first officer from moving the trim wheel a full turn. They resorted to a little-known procedure to regain control. The crew repeatedly executed a three-step process known as the roller coaster. First, let the aircraft’s nose drop, removing elevator nose-down force. Second, crank the trim wheel, inputting nose-up stabilizer, as the aircraft descends. Third, pull back on the yokes to raise the nose and slow the descent. The excessive descent rates during the first two steps meant the crew got as low as 2,000 ft. during the recovery.

(i.e., they would have crashed if they hadn’t started with at least 8,000′ of altitude above the ground)


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Why no power indication on an airliner primary flight display?

Aircraft performance is a function of attitude (pitch and bank) and power. So you’d think that, in an ideal world, these two items would be displayed prominently right in front of each pilot.

This wasn’t possible in the old days because each item was presented on a different instrument. Thus the Boeing B-17 or B-29 cockpit with attitude indicators in front of each pilot and some engine gauges in the middle.

Why not combine this information and summarize it today on the “glass” (LCD) panels that are in front of today’s pilots?

Who does this right? Cirrus! The Perspective system that they co-designed with Garmin for the latest SR20 and SR22 airplanes show percent power at the top left of the primary flight display (regular G1000 does not have this). It isn’t perfect because a lot of space is wasted, e.g., “65% Power” has information only in 2 out of 9 characters, since the “% Power” never varies. I would rather see “65 CRUISE”, “95 CLIMB”, “25 DESCEND”, and “15 APPROACH”.

Who gets this wrong? Boeing, I think. People have wondered why the pilots of the latest B737 MAX to crash didn’t pull the climb power out. One possible reason is that nowhere on the primary flight display (PFD) images that I’ve been able to find is power indicated:

Power is displayed in the Boeing B-17/B-29 location: in the center of the panel (dashboard).

It fascinates me that decades after the obvious user interface became easy to implement (microprocessors have to paint the pixels, so why not put in the information that matters?) we still don’t have the obvious user interface.


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Why is the Bluetooth broadcast mode such a rare beast?

We manage a Pilatus PC-12 airplane in which the manufacturer certified a Sony car stereo as cabin entertainment. Totally state of the art… for 1995.

The speaker output of the car stereo is used to drive airliner-style six headphone outlets in the passenger cabin. They are all hooked up in parallel across the speaker outputs (100X the power required to drive modern noise-canceling headphones?).

Instead of trying to modernize this system, it would make sense to buy a stack of Monoprice Bluetooth noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones ($70 each) and drive them all from one smartphone. Except that the typical smartphone can drive only one Bluetooth audio device at a time.

How could the designers of this standard not have foreseen that people would want a broadcast mode?

This year-old Qualcomm web page says that the hardware for a lot of phones is now capable of broadcast audio via Bluetooth. The company publishes a page showing 7 headphones connected to one phone. Yet as far as I can tell, nobody is implementing this from software. Samsung offers “dual audio” on the S9 and S10 (two headphones). Apple offers nothing.

How did we get to the point that the latest and great technology makes it tougher to share music than it was with the original Sony Walkman (1979)?

[One idea for the airplane is to try to drive all six headphone jacks in parallel from an MP3 player or a Bluetooth headphone amp. The latest noise-canceling wired headphones have high impedance and sensitivity and therefore even six in parallel would be an easy load to drive. Or we could do nothing and wait for an Android implementation that actually enables the Qualcomm hardware capability?]

Entrepreneurs: A lot of aircraft now have USB power outlets. Owners would be happy to pay $1,000 or more for a little box that drives the Qualcomm hardware as intended. FAA certification shouldn’t be required since the device wouldn’t be permanently installed in the aircraft (no different than a passenger bringing a smartphone or tablet on board).

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