Apollo 11 exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle

Destination Moon at the Museum of Flight in Seattle is on through September 2, 2019. The exhibit is a great experience, made better by the retired engineers who serve as docents.

Feel better about your achievements at the entrance…

Ignore the awesome permanent collection:

You will be reminded that the Lunar Roving Vehicle (Moon Buggy) was built by Boeing…

There is a lot of great explanation of the Saturn V engines, some of whose core features were carried over from the German V-2.

Some of the advanced technology that each person in Mission Control had on the desktop custom-made consoles…

(For younger readers: You turn the dial to make a phone call.)

The Museum of Flight is not infected by an Oshkosh-style blind patriotism and reminds visitors that JFK may have launched the Apollo project to distract Americans from the “disastrous failure” at the Bay of Pigs (Eisenhower made the same point).

The museum’s compliance with current political orthodoxy is incomplete. On the one hand, the folks who designed and built Apollo are described as “A Diverse Workforce” because they had “many backgrounds and educational levels”. But on the other hand, Margaret Hamilton is not credited with writing the code for the Apollo Guidance Computer. Consistent with histories written in the pre-woke age, the software was written by programmers who identified as men prior to her joining the project. She “verified and installed programs,” according to the museum, which makes sense from a historical timeline point of view if not from a social justice one.

Want to be famous? Don’t be Russian. Here’s the first woman in space. Compare her fame to that of Sally Ride, an American who followed her into space 20 years later.

Want to be famous? Don’t be part of the sixth mission to land humans (some identifying as “men”?) on the moon:

How many of the above names were familiar to you?

Don’t like physics homework? There is an easier path to becoming a rocket scientist at NASA:

One of the most poignant and confusing parts of the museum is near the front entrance. A statue depicts Michael Anderson, mission specialist and then payload commander on two Shuttle flights. The plaque says “Dreams really do come true.” Yet Col. Anderson died on that second flight, of the shuttle Columbia. Surely that was not his or anyone else’s dream.

My advice: Hop a flight to Seattle, stay at the new Hyatt Regency, chow down at Din Tai Fung (I picked out some food to order there and asked a Chinese-American friend to critique: “That’s like going to Pat’s or Geno’s and ordering a hot dog”), and spend a day (before Sept 2) at the Museum of Flight.

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Aviation Non-profit idea: Great day out for one child at a time

Kids plus Aircraft plus Non-profit typically equals “ride factory.” The most familiar example of this is EAA Young Eagles. Kids line up and are packed into aircraft as efficiently as possible and lofted up with some 100LL. Maybe it will be a wonderful 10-minute memory or perhaps the smarter children will say “JetBlue was so much better!”

Some local aviation enthusiasts take a different approach with Above the Clouds. They pick some children and teens who could use a literal boost. Each child is welcomed by a big crowd, offered a delicious breakfast, and then escorted with a parent or other adult to an aircraft. The pilot meets and talks to the young person and they agree on a route to be flown, driven substantially by the child’s interests. After the flight, there is a gift bag with items picked to match the child’s passions and also a flight jacket.

I did one of these earlier this summer with a Robinson R44 from East Coast Aero Club:

After the flight:

It would be nice to see this kind of approach taken in more places. Maybe it would even warm up the hearts of the aircraft-haters in Santa Monica!


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Border Patrol flies 7-person helicopters with 1-2 people on board

Customs and Border Patrol brought one of their Airbus H125 (formerly known as a “Eurocopter” and/or “AStar”) to Oshkosh this year. The $2,000+/hour machine holds up to 7 people. Plainly the mission could not be done with a $450/hour Robinson R44, right? The Robby seats only 4.

How many people are in the AStar at any one time? Either 1 (the pilot, also acting as observer) or 2 (pilot plus observer in the front left seat). The four back seats are empty nearly all the time.

Does the AStar actually perform better? The pilots said that the A/C in the machine was nowhere near powerful enough to keep up with the sun and greenhouse effect, so it is unclear why an R44 Raven II with A/C wouldn’t be at least as good. Or, if they’re determined to burn Jet A, an R66.


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Supersonic flight for (rich) civilians

One interesting panel at Oshkosh (EAA AirVenture) this year was regarding civilian supersonic aircraft (see the Supersonic Renaissance clip on YouTube).

As with most innovations in aviation, the big enabler is an innovation in engine technology. GE Aviation, currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, has a new engine that is mostly based on the latest subsonic civilian technology and three of these will drive a the Aerion AS2 plane forward at Mach 1.4 while burning roughly 2X the fuel per passenger-mile as a Gulfstream G650. The second enabler is cash and the Bass brothers are supposedly kicking in $4 billion.

So far so good if the goal is 4,200 nm over water (Gulfstream G650 range is closer to 7,000 nm).

What about going over land? After a five-year regulatory process, the U.S. effectively banned supersonic flight over land in 1973. The ban relates to speed, not to noise over the ground. An aircraft whose sonic boom was quieter than a Honda Accord driving by on the street would be banned, for example.

In a rare example of a NASA project that might have an effect on someone’s day-to-day life, NASA is currently hoping to test fly an X-59 “quiet supersonic” plane in 2021. This will supplement testing done in 2018 with a a modified F/A 18. The shape of the plane is designed to prevent shockwaves from different parts of the aircraft meeting and reinforcing each other. This may reduce the boom by 30 dBA and produce a sound like distant thunder.

NASA is currently planning do to 2-3 years of testing to gather civilian reaction and then turn numbers over to the FAA for the beginning of a regulatory process whose result will presumably be a decibel-time limit. If the regulatory process takes the same 5 years that it did from 1968-1973, that will be 7-8 years after 2021 before manufacturers such as Aerion can have any idea whether what they’re designing will be legal to operate from NY to LA (and thus ready for climate change activist Leonardo DiCaprio!). In other words, it will take longer than World War II and all of the innovation that happened in aviation during those 6 years!

(Two nights earlier, Burt Rutan had given a crusty old guy’s talk about how pathetic young Americans were with their anemic pace of innovation. The government, including today’s NASA was singled out as particularly sluggish and unambitious, thus leading to “some homebuilders in the Mojave Desert” running Americans’ only space flights with humans on board.)

One interesting thing is that an airplane can potentially fly at Mach 1.2 at 60,000′ without a sonic boom ever reaching the ground. The speed of sound is slower where the air is colder and apparently the wave will dissipate as it goes through warmer air (but what if Hillary Clinton and DiCaprio are at FL510 in a Gulfstream G650 just below? Will their Champagne glasses be rattled?)

Aerion is planning to be in service in 2026 and to meet all Stage 5 takeoff and landing noise restrictions. To keep the rabble from rioting, the company is claiming to be “carbon neutral”. Yes they will spend $4 billion (enough to plant 400 million trees?) and burn 2X the fuel of the biggest Gulfstream per seat-mile. But the fuel burned can be 100 percent biofuel (i.e., corn!).

More: watch the Supersonic Renaissance clip on YouTube.

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Can we please have more non-profits that explicitly refrain from trying to do good?

At Oshkosh I attended a dinner for members of a “type club,” i.e., people who enjoy flying the same type of airplane. I had hoped for a talk about aviation. Maybe just someone in the club who had taken a trip to an unusual destination and had a slide show to share and a few stories. Instead, however, we were “entertained” with a PowerPoint regarding a new scholarship program that the type club had started and how we would all be better off if we donated money to this do-good cause. There were some children in the room and they were plainly not engaged by this righteous effort.

One of my favorite non-profits, on the other hand, is nearly 100 years old. The charter explicitly forbids the organization from trying to do good works. The purpose of the club is social/fellowship. Prices for gatherings are kept low so that few will be excluded due to lack of means. Nobody will feel bad that they can’t afford to donate $X to a worthy cause that is highlighted at a meeting (since a person who pitched that cause would be pitched out!).

Readers: What do you think? Do we need more non-profits that don’t try to justify themselves with attempts at charity or reform?

[Separately, a friend told me about an older rich guy who’d previously advised him “If it Flies, Floats, or F**ks, rent it.” The friend had been stunned to discover that the guy had agreed to a third marriage, after having previously been sued by Wife #1 and Wife #2. After going through all of that litigation, what was the rationale for not taking his own advice and renting? “[Johnny,]” said the old rich guy, a pillar of the non-profit in his home city, “you can’t take a hooker to a charity dinner.”

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Cirrus adapted for a paraplegic

An aviation medical examiner recently contacted me regarding a college student interested in learning to fly, but who lacked the use of his legs. I responded with what I thought was the standard advice for this situation: train in a classic Ercoupe, which didn’t have any rudder pedals.

The August 2019 issue of Flying Magazine (print edition) carries what might be an interesting update. Grant Korgan, subject of the recent Netflix movie The Push (to the South Pole), recently earned a Private certificate in a Cirrus SR20 that he adapted for use with only his hands (i.e., the rudder and brakes had to be operated without feet/legs).

Sidenote: Despite having lost the use of his legs in a snowmobiling accident, Korgan was able to earn a Class 1 medical certificate (required to be captain of an airliner).

An inspiring story for those of us who fly older Cirruses and complain about the lack of A/C…

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Parachute from a Cirrus stuck on top of a helicopter

From Oshkosh (EAA AirVenture 2019):

For years, especially during night flights, I have been wondering “Why can’t a Robinson R44 have a ballistic parachute like in the Cirrus, stuck on top like the pod for the Apache.”

Now it has been done! Zefhir from an Italian aerospace parts manufacturer, Curti. And it is turbine-powered! (via an APU engine, as per usual for jet-powered aircraft of this weight)

Experimental for now. Certified one day?

(An Apache crew visited Oshkosh…


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Eisenhower was a moon landing denier…

… at least when it came to the value of the Apollo project. Here’s a June 18, 1965 letter in the EAA Aviation Museum, from former President Eisenhower to astronaut Frank Borman:

He describes JFK’s pledge to race to the moon as “a stunt” and points out that the timing of the announcement was calculated to distract the public from the “Bay of Pigs fiasco” (JFK and his team discarded militarily superior plans left over from the Eisenhower Administration).

Eisenhower points out that it would have made sense to spend $2 billion per year on stuff that might have “definite benefits to the peoples of the earth.” But the river of tax dollars dumped into Apollo did not make sense to him.

The other big learning from the museum visit was how Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne was able to work without the exotic materials of the Space Shuttle. The museum explains that the spacecraft/aircraft essentially pancakes or belly flops into the atmosphere, thus slowing down quickly and not building up high speed and high heat like the Shuttle does.

[Update after seeing comments from readers and talking to a friend who is an actual rocket scientist at NASA: the main reason that SpaceShipOne does not need the elaborate heat shielding is that it is suborbital and going much slower than the Space Shuttle. There is no new technology better than the Shuttle’s old tiles, but the old technology of ablative heat shielding is what most current space ship designs are using. One good feature of ablative shielding is that as it flakes off it carries away built up heat. The one promising innovation is establishing a boundary layer of gas on top of the surface exposed to re-entry heat, much as jet engine components are cooled by a layer of flowing fresh air.]

A portion of the museum concentrates on machines of war, which inevitably produce death. What is sufficiently upsetting as to require a trigger warning?

How about a double secret trigger warning and substantial drapery?

This is why God gave us always-with-us camera phones: (the “Fat Man” atomic bomb model directly across from a patron)

Eisenhower’s Air Force One for shorter hops, a twin-engine piston:

(Today a Boeing 757 would be used instead of this six-seater.)

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Ryanair: airline that is not a hotel customer

Oshkosh is winding up today and that means a bunch of young people have been inspired to pursue aviation careers, which generally means airline flying. Americans generally assume that anyone who wants to fly airliners must sacrifice home life to become a hotel-based nomad for 10-22 days per month.

[And, like military personnel stationed overseas, be guaranteed losers in any state that comes a winner-take-all custody and child support system and awarding winner status to the parent who can claim to be the “historical primary caregiver.” See Real World Divorce for how this works.]

This is not how it works for everyone!

While in Ireland, I met a Ryanair captain who’d been with the airline for 8 years. He had spent only 2 nights in hotels during that time period. How is that possible? “All trips return to the home base in the evening,” he said. “You might have two out-and-backs or one long flight and a long return.” This is not to say that one can stay in one’s original city. There are Ryanair bases all over Europe and it is the pilot’s responsibility to move to the new base city, rent an apartment, pay for the apartment, etc. This guy had been moved to Rome at one point.

How does maintenance work if the planes are this dispersed? “They have three Learjets and if there is a tech problem the mechanics rush in to wherever the plane is.”


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Top of wishlist: integrated cameras in new aircraft

AirVenture is almost over and one thing that I haven’t seen is one of my old wishlist items; integrated cameras in new aircraft, e.g., built-in mounts for GoPro cameras (a long-lived mechanical standard, right?) with power supply from the ship. The buyer of a $1 million Cirrus should be able to share the scenic/fun/cool parts of his or her experience with the plane with minimal effort. Maybe this would draw more people into flying light aircraft too, e.g., if there were a “press a button to share an auto-generated video of this flight to Facebook” option.

(It shouldn’t be tough to make a watchable flying video automatically. Speed up taxi by 10X. Cut any portions where the aircraft is on the ground and not moving for more than 5 seconds. Do takeoff at 1X, gradually increasing to 10X as the aircraft climbs to cruising altitude, then slowing back down to 1X for landing. A one-hour start-to-shutdown trip to the beach thus turns into a 7-minute video.)


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