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Thu Apr 30, 2015 at 07:18 AM PDT

Air-Minded: Planes of Fame Photoblog

by pwoodford

During a recent motorcycle trip, I visited the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, Arizona. The main Planes of Fame Museum is located in Chino, California; the Arizona adjunct is what I would describe as an overflow facility. It's off the beaten track, located halfway up the lonely road between Williams, Arizona and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

This was the first of what I hope will be many cook's tours of air museums in adjacent cities and states. When I told the folks at the desk I was a volunteer docent at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, they gave me the run of the place.

What I loved about this small museum, which houses just 40 or so aircraft, is that it's a working aircraft maintenance facility, not just a museum. Many of the aircraft on display are not just in flying condition but are actually flown. Several aircraft were being worked on in the main hangar while I was there, and outside, another group of mechanics was busy putting a Lockheed Constellation, once General Douglas MacArthur's VIP transport, back into airworthy condition for a one-time flight to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. It was great to be able to amble around a working hangar, not a mere collection of static please-do-not-touch exhibits.

Photos below the orange squiggle ...

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Reposted from History for Kossacks by Lenny Flank

Most Americans assume that Sally Ride, who flew on the Space Shuttle in 1983, was the first woman in space. But in reality, the first women had flown in orbit almost 20 years before--and she was a Soviet.

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I struggled to come up with a decent title for this one.

This is about the planes that were overshadowed by their more glamorous counterparts. Everybody loves Mustangs, Spitfires and Hellcats. I want to shed some love on their more dowdy cousins. The ones that did the work but never got the publicity.

So what criteria did I use? To be included the aircraft had to meet at least one of these criteria:

1. It had to have been mass produced. There are plenty of one-offs and oddballs amongst WWII aircraft but those probably merit their own diary.

2. It did the same mission as a better known aircraft or has been unfairly maligned by history.

3. It was arbitrarily chosen by the author. That's why.

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Wed Apr 15, 2015 at 12:00 PM PDT

Icons of Aviation: Fokker D7

by Lenny Flank

In April 1918, just six months before the end of the First World War, Germany introduced what would be the best fighter plane of the war. Although it came too late to prevent Germany's defeat, the Fokker D7 was test-flown by top ace Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron himself, and at the end of the war became the subject of its own special provision in the peace treaty.

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Mon Apr 06, 2015 at 08:46 AM PDT

Stars who served

by Major Kong

I had a request to do a diary about entertainers who served in the military. Turns out it wasn't as easy as I thought.

This is in no way a comprehensive list. There were just too many to work with. The ones I've decided to go with were either the most notable or the most surprising. The ones that make you scratch your head and go "Him? Really?"

I've left out those who served only as an entertainer. Not that it wasn't important but I'd have to list just about every actor and musician of the day.

Some you probably knew about already but others might come as a surprise.

Where possible I've posted a picture in uniform but there are a few where I just couldn't find one.

In the course of putting this together I noticed some parallels.

Many joined the military right after Pearl Harbor. Others enlisted as soon as they came of age to do so. Many actively sought combat even when offered less hazardous postings. Several were wounded in action. Quite a few suffered from some form of Post Traumatic Stress for years after.

I figure enough of them served as aviators that this counts as an aviation diary.

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Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 12:00 PM PDT

The Lafayette Escadrille

by Lenny Flank

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, the United States declared its neutrality. But from the time the war had started, there were already Americans fighting in France--volunteers who went to Europe to fight German militarism. And one group of American volunteers would form one of the most famous fighting units of the First World War--the Lafayette Escadrille.

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        The BBC has been doing a nice job following Solar Impulse 2 on the different legs of its journey, flying around the world on nothing but solar power. The Solar Impulse project is not just about setting flying records - it's about making a statement about clean energy from the sun.

         Via the BBC, the latest stopping point is in China;

Solar Impulse, the fuel-free aeroplane, has completed the fifth leg of its round-the-world flight.

The vehicle, with Bertrand Piccard at the controls, touched down in Chongqing in China just after 17:30 GMT.

It had left Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) some 20 hours previously.
The intention had been to make the briefest of stops in Chongqing before pushing on to Nanjing in the east of the country, but that strategy has been abandoned because of weather concerns.

The team will now lay over in southwest China until a good window opens up on the east coast.

         The four motor electric airplane has a longer wingspan than a 747 (72 meters versus 68.5) but quite a disparity in weight (2.3 tonnes versus 300). 17,000 solar cells in the wings power the electric motors and also charge batteries to allow the plane to fly at night. The legs of the flight are highly dependent on favorable wind and weather - and the endurance of the pilot. As it is a single seater, Bertrand Piccard is sharing the flying duties with his business partner, Andre Borschberg. It's a real challenge:
Operating through darkness will be particularly important when the men have to cross the Pacific and the Atlantic.

The slow speed of their prop-driven plane means these legs will take several days and nights of non-stop flying to complete.

Piccard and Borschberg - whoever is at the controls - will have to stay alert for nearly all of the time they are airborne.

They will be permitted only catnaps of up to 20 mins - in the same way a single-handed, round-the-world yachtsman would catch small periods of sleep.

They will also have to endure the physical discomfort of being confined in a cockpit that measures just 3.8 cubic metres in volume - not a lot bigger than a public telephone box.

emphasis added

        The Solar Impulse website has quite a bit more material on the plane, the trip, and the people behind it. It's an ambitious endeavour. It comes at a time when renewable energy is making an increasing contribution to powering the world. As per Fred Pearce at New Scientist...

Almost half of global investment in new electricity generation last year was in renewables, thanks to a hike in investment by developing countries, says a UN report.

Global investment in green energy rose 17 per cent, but developing countries saw a surge of 36 per cent. The big spending was on solar power in Asia, as well as on wind turbines in the North Sea.

Chinese investment – up 37 per cent at $83 billion – again beat the US. But Brazil, India and South Africa were all in the top 10 investors, while Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya and Turkey all invested more than a billion dollars in green electricity in 2014.

Japan was third and, for the second year running, the UK beat Germany into fourth place, says the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report from the UN Environment Programme.

Of particular note:
In the US, the 103 gigawatts of renewable electricity generating capacity that came on stream last year equalled that provided by the country's nuclear power plants.
emphasis added

     A complementary report by Mark Kinver at the BBC serves to further make the point that renewable energy is not some far-off future choice; it's happening now.

Achim Steiner, Unep executive director, observed: "Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide.

"These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more important."

China was by fair the biggest investor, pumping a record US$83.3bn into the sector - up by more than a third on its 2013 financing.

The US was second, investing US$38.3bn. Japan was a close third with US$35.7bn.
Mr Usher told BBC News that innovation in the sector was being recorded around the globe, in developing nations as well as in the industrialised world.

         In light of the flight of Solar Impulse, the increasing use of renewable energy around the world, and the U.S. Climate Pledge, there is no excuse for continuing to use fossil fuels one second longer than absolutely necessary.

Sun Mar 29, 2015 at 06:40 PM PDT

Tornado Season - Aviation History

by xaxnar

            Chances are, if you happen to mention a Tornado in connection with flying machines, people will assume you're talking about the Panavia Tornado, a multi-role ground attack, fighter bomber, interceptor, etc. that first entered service in the 1980s in Europe. (Which shows the idea of a multi-role aircraft predates the F-35). It's now being phased out in favor of the Eurofighter Typhoon, another multi-role aircraft.

            See, if you're talking about airplanes, names and numbers matter if you are trying to keep things straight. Four decades before there was a Panavia Tornado (and while there were Hawker Typhoons) there was the B-45 Tornado - the first U.S. jet powered bomber to enter service. B-17, B-24, B-25, B-29, B-36, B-47, B-52... Sometimes the gaps in those sequence cover more than a few test models or prototypes that didn't quite make the cut. The B-45 was only in service with the Air Force for a few years as a bomber - but it racked up some important firsts.

More below the Orange Omnilepticon.

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Fri Mar 27, 2015 at 01:51 PM PDT

Air-Minded: Letting the Team Down

by pwoodford

I don't have any brilliant thoughts or insights about Germanwings Flight 9525, where the co-pilot is suspected of committing mass murder by flying a plane full of passengers into a mountain in the Swiss Alps. I'm sad and shocked, of course, that any pilot would do such a thing.

I've always considered military and commercial flying a profession; i.e., a paid occupation involving prolonged training and a formal process of qualification and certification. We expect professionals to live up to high standards. Well, maybe not all professionals — insert lawyer joke here — but for sure doctors and airline pilots. We trust them with our lives. We have to.

We all know there are unprofessional doctors, but their numbers are minuscule and as a society we don't get overwrought about the occasional medical horror story. The same goes for airline pilots. Pilots have deliberately crashed packed airliners before, but it's very rare and I don't recall much hullabaloo over earlier incidents, at least in the West. I attribute this to the fact that earlier intentional crashes occurred in Namibia, Egypt, and Indonesia, the victims mostly black and brown.

This time the victims are white. This time the airline is a First World carrier. Now we're discussing the phenomenon of pilots committing mass murder almost as if we anticipate a rash of such incidents from here on out. Now we're talking about mandatory mental health testing and monitoring. Now we're talking about rules requiring the presence of two pilots on the flight deck at all times, which could mandate the presence of three pilots on every flight (because even professionals have to go potty sometimes). Pretty soon we might even be talking about increasing flight hour requirements for air transport pilot certification, upping airline pilot hiring standards to the point where only former military pilots with long records can get a foot in the door, maybe even increasing aircrew pay after years of cutting salaries and busting pilot unions.

I'm all for increasing hiring standards, bringing back the third crewmember requirement (it used to be standard, for those of you who've forgotten), and upping compensation. Treating professionals as professionals bolsters and encourages professionalism IMHO. Perhaps we'll modify crew resource management training to include teaching techniques for spotting signs of depression or other mental problems in fellow pilots — this is all squishy stuff and may not work, but perhaps it's worth a try. I'll just note that the captain of the Germanwings flight apparently didn't suspect a thing when he left his co-pilot alone in the cockpit on that fateful day.

I'll also note that depression affects people in all walks of life and professions. Most victims learn to live with it and function as well as anyone else. But there are some professions where, if you suffer from depression, you have to keep it hidden: among these are the military, law enforcement, and commercial flying. Airline pilots who suffer from depression believe — with good reason — the FAA will ground them if it finds out. Pilots who seek medical treatment for depression do it under cover and outside normal channels. Some won't seek medical treatment at all, regarding the risk of exposure as too high. This latest incident will only drive such pilots deeper under cover.

I struggle with the notion of someone bent on suicide deliberately taking innocent lives along with his or her own. Murdering innocent people while taking your own life isn't suicide, it's terrorism. Was the Germanwings co-pilot a terrorist? If he deliberately crashed that plane, yes he was, no matter his motive. Someone on Twitter last night claimed the Germanwings co-pilot was a convert to Islam. When I Google "Germanwings copilot converted to Islam" the links that come up all lead to right-wing hate sites, so for now I'm discounting it as a malicious rumor. If it turns out to be true, well, let's just say I wouldn't want to be a Muslim living in a Western country!

Another Twitterer, a serious journalist who writes about aviation for the Wall Street Journal, pointed out that pilot suicide/mass murder — in other words, a deliberate act of terrorism committed by a crewmember — has always been one of the possibilities in the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, although I've resigned myself to the thought that we'll never find the wreckage and never learn what actually happened.


It seems my earlier diary about the Lockheed F-104 caught the attention of a former USAF F-104 driver. He felt that I (and the USAF) didn't give the plane its due.

My first thought was "You mean somebody actually reads these things?"

In the interest of setting the record straight I'm posting his response. It's great reading and I think you'll find it interesting. I've left his name out but I have no  doubt that he is who he says he is. His list of credentials is to put it mildly, impressive.

I've added a few notes in italics just to explain the USAF jargon and technical terms.

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It's the question that every nine-year old asks (and every adult wants to ask but is too embarrassed)--how do astronauts go to the bathroom in outer space? The answer is surprisingly complex.

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Reposted from BlackSheep1 by Otteray Scribe

    This came to my attention today.

     Once I got over the "Wow, what is that?" reaction I had to the photo, (Thank you, Major Kong, for the aircraft ID!) found in a Twitter stream, I read the accompanying 140-character reference.

     Which brings me to sharing that airplane picture with you above, and then telling you why I think you should care. That's not just a hurricane hunter.

Vast regions west of the Mississippi River are under development for oil and gas extraction, and the associated equipment has become a familiar sight on any cross-country road trip or flight.  But while one focus is on what comes out of the ground, NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) researchers and their colleagues are studying what escapes to the air—and how it is transformed in the atmosphere and affects air quality and climate.  The scientists are using a suite of state-of-the-art chemical instruments aboard a research aircraft this spring in the NOAA-led Shale Oil and Natural Gas Nexus (SONGNEX 2015) field campaign, to study the atmospheric effects of energy production in the western U.S.
  That airplane is, as the kids today say,
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