Tag Archives: aviation

The final commercial 747 flights

Link here.

United announced Monday that its final Boeing 747 flight will take place Nov. 7 with a celebratory recreation of its first United flight from San Francisco to Honolulu.

Twenty-eight minutes later, at 3:47 p.m. Monday, Delta announced that it recently operated its final Boeing 747 Tokyo Narita-Honolulu flight (on Sept. 5), and that it had operated what were thought to be the final domestic 747 flights from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Detroit. Delta subsequently used two 747s on Orlando evacuation flights as Hurricane Irma approached, bringing a widely-applauded end to its domestic 747 flying.

United plans to recreate the 1970 San Francisco-Honolulu flight, its first commercial Boeing 747 flight, on the Nov. 7 flight. “From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, passengers will help send the Queen of the Skies off in true style,” United said in a press release.

Though the plane has been bypassed by newer technology, I suspect that we will see 747s flying for many years to come, but only in specialized situations. It was a grand achievement, and proved that giant planes could be built.

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Near disaster at San Francisco airport

An Air Canada plane preparing to land in San Francisco almost smashed into four planes on the ground when the pilot mistakenly aimed for the parallel taxiway rather than the runway itself.

In what one aviation expert called a near-miss of what could have been the largest aviation disaster ever, an Air Canada pilot on Friday narrowly avoided a tragic mistake: landing on the San Francisco International Airport taxiway instead of the runway.

Sitting on Taxiway C shortly before midnight were four airplanes full of passengers and fuel awaiting permission to take off, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the “rare” incident. An air traffic controller sent the descending Air Canada Airbus 320 on a “go-around” — an unusual event where pilots must pull up and circle around to try again — before the safe landing, according to the federal agency.

FAA investigators are still trying to determine how close the Air Canada aircraft came to landing and potentially crashing into the four aircraft below, but the apparent pilot error already has the aviation industry buzzing.

This would have been the ultimate in pilot error, and might end the career of that pilot.

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Maiden flight of China’s new 158-seat C919 passenger jet

China’s answer to Boeing and Airbus’s domination of the aviation business, a 158-seat passenger jet dubbed C919, is due to make its maiden flight later this week.

According to Xinhua, the first flight of the C919, assembled by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), will be conducted at the Shanghai International Airport on Friday, but could be delayed if weather conditions are not suitable. The timing for the first flight was set after the passenger jet passed a thorough assessment in April.

A successful maiden flight, followed by a series of safety certification processes, could open a floodgate for new orders for the single-aisle passenger jet, likely to generate 1 trillion yuan (HK$1.13 trillion) in business for Comac, according to Galaxy Securities. The C919 has received 570 orders and commitments from 23 customers, mainly Chinese state-owned carriers and leasing companies.

The plane is three years behind schedule. And while much of it is Chinese-made, a considerable percentage of major parts are produced by U.S. and European manufacturers.

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Pan Am Boeing 707 – 1965 Emergency Landing

An evening pause: This television news report about a 1965 near disaster where a Pan American passenger jet’s engine and wing fall off and the captain brings everything down safely is fascinating to watch, partly because of the live action footage taken by one passenger, but also at how television news has evolved since then, for the worse. This 1965 report has no shots a newsperson standing in front of the camera telling us what happened, as is typical today. Instead, the filming focuses on the events and the witnesses themselves, and lets them tell the story in as straight-forward a manner as possible.

Hat tip Mike Nelson.

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Planes flying at high latitudes can travel through clouds of high cosmic radiation

The uncertainty of science: Researchers have found evidence that suggests that planes flying at higher latitudes can sometimes fly through concentrated pockets of high cosmic radiation.

“We have flown radiation sensors onboard 264 research flights at altitudes as high as 17.3 km (56,700 ft) from 2013 to 2017,” says Kent Tobiska, lead author of the paper and PI of the NASA-supported program Automated Radiation Measurements for Aerospace Safety (ARMAS). “On at least six occasions, our sensors have recorded surges in ionizing radiation that we interpret as analogous to localized clouds.”

…Conventional wisdom says that dose rates should vary smoothly with latitude and longitude and the height of the aircraft. Any changes as a plane navigates airspace should be gradual. Tobiska and colleagues have found something quite different, however: Sometimes dose rates skyrocket for no apparent reason. “We were quite surprised to see this,” says Tobiska.

All of the surges they observed occurred at relatively high latitudes, well above 50 degrees in both hemispheres. One example offered in their paper is typical: On Oct 3, 2015, an NSF/NCAR research aircraft took off from southern Chile and flew south to measure the thickness of the Antarctic ice shelf. Onboard, the ARMAS flight module recorded a 2x increase in ionizing radiation for about 30 minutes while the plane flew 11 km (36,000 feet) over the Antarctic Peninsula. No solar storm was in progress. The plane did not abruptly change direction or altitude. Nevertheless, the ambient radiation environment changed sharply. Similar episodes have occurred off the coast of Washington state.

The theories proposed to explain this at the link are not very convincing, and suggest to me that they really do not know what causes this. All we do know is that it likely associated with the interaction of the Earth’s magnetic field and cosmic radiation.

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Airbus to slash more than a 1,000 jobs to cut costs

The competition heats up: In a continuing re-organization to cut costs, Airbus yesterday announced plans to slash 1,164 jobs.

The initiative is part of [Airbus Chief Executive Tom] Enders’s four-year campaign to reshape the business in the wake of the failed attempt in 2012 to merge with BAE Systems PLC, Europe’s largest arms maker. After the deal with BAE faltered on German government opposition, he won shareholder backing for a new structure that reduced French, German and Spanish government involvement in company decision-making. The old structure was a legacy of the founding of the company in 2000 through the combination of European aerospace and defense assets.

Airbus in 2013 moved to merge its defense and space assets and shed some operations not central to its aerospace business.

This approach matches very well with the company’s joint partnership with Safran and their hard-nosed insistence that they own and control Ariane 6. They are pushing to get the government bureaucracy out of their business so that they can work more efficiently and make more money.

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Birds that can fly practically forever

New research using data loggers tagged to thirteen common swifts has revealed that these birds were capable of remaining airborne for months at a time.

The researchers found that some of the birds made a few brief night landings in winter but remained airborne for 99% of the time. Three birds didn’t touch down once in the entire ten months….“Common swifts have evolved to be very efficient flyers, with streamlined body shapes and long and narrow wings, generating lift force at low cost,” says Anders Hedenström, a study co-author and a biologist at Lund University in Sweden. The birds even eat while airborne, snatching flying termites, ballooning spiders and other aerial insects for in-flight meals.

Hedenström says that common swifts have adapted to a low-energy lifestyle, but his team does not yet know whether the birds sleep while aloft. “Most animals suffer dramatically from far less sleep loss,” says Niels Rattenborg, a neurobiologist at Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. “But these birds seem to have found a trick through evolution that allows them to get by on far less sleep.”

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Airbus imposes management cuts to save money

The competition heats up: In restructuring to cut costs and reduce its bureaucracy Airbus has decided to make significant management cuts and merge different divisions.

More here, including this revealing quote:

The move is the latest in [Airbus Chief Executive Tom] Enders’ four-year campaign to overhaul the company in the wake of the 2012 failed merger attempt with Europe’s largest arms maker BAE Systems PLC. “For me this is the logical conclusion of the journey we started in 2012,” Mr. Enders said.

After the deal faltered on German government opposition, he won shareholder backing for a new structure that reduced French, German and Spanish government involvement in company decision making, a legacy of the founding of the company in 2000 through the combination of European aerospace and defense assets.

The first link above also adds this:

[Airbus] changed its name from EADS and overhauled its governance in 2013-14, limiting the influence of French and German minority state shareholdings and granting more independence to management under German-born Chief Executive Tom Enders. But it remained saddled with separate bureaucracies and confusion over the brand, with the planemaking unit keeping the core “Airbus” identity and no fewer than five CEOs spread across the parent company, three units and one geographical division.

In other words, this restructuring is intended to remove any further government influence on the management of the company. Rather than provide pork for politicians, Airbus will now focus on maximizing its profits. The thinking here also corresponds with how the company organized its joint partnership with Safran and took over design and construction of Ariane 6 from the bureaucracy of the European Space Agency. Expect similar management cuts and even the possible elimination entirely of ESA’s Arianespace division in the coming years.

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China unveils world’s largest amphibious plane

China has built the world’s largest amphibious plane, designed initially for rescue and fire-fighting duties.

Made by the state’s aircraft maker, the AG600 is around the size of a Boeing 737 and will be used to douse forest fires and rescue people in danger offshore. Measuring 37 m (121 ft) long with a wingspan of 38.8 m (127 ft), the gargantuan amphibious aircraft is capable of taking off and landing both on terra firma and stretches of water, provided they are more than 1,500 m long, 200 m wide and 2.5 m deep (0.93 mi, 656 ft and 8.2 ft). It has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes (59 tons), a top cruising speed of 500 km/h (310.7 mph) and a range of 4,500 km (2,800 mi), and can fly for 12 hours at a time, according to its builder, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

Much like the Russians, the Chinese aerospace industry is controlled and supervised by the government. Unlike the Russians, however, the Chinese for the moment seem much more capable under this top-down system to develop new designs. They say for example that this new amphibious plane already has 17 domestic orders.

I must admit to a bit of skepticism however. Was this plane built because there was a demand, or because the powers-that-be decided they wanted it built? I am not sure. The video at the link suggests to me the latter, with its hard core sales pitch similar to a lot of other government projects I have seen, where the project is built because some politician or bureaucrat conceived and pushed it, but it doesn’t really have a viable purpose.

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Swedish engineer test flies human-carrying drone

A Swedish engineer, in his garage, has built a flying vehicle using drones and gasoline engines.

You have to see the thing to understand how insanely simple, crazy, and cool this is. For example, the whole thing is essentially nothing more than a seat surrounded by eight drones, their spinning propellers rotating only about two feet from the passenger.

But it appears to work, though the design is without doubt not quite finalized. I have embedded a video of one of his test flights below the fold. This was fortunately an unmanned flight, because about three minutes in the vehicle goes out of control and crashes.
» Read more

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The B-1 Lancer Bomber

An evening pause: One reason we have a Memorial Day is to honor those who have died to keep us free. We also remember them to remind us that the sacrifice was necessary.

I think it is long past time to repeat the same effort, no matter the cost, and use this plane’s payload a lot more than we are. There are people in the Middle East who are gleefully killing people for the sake of power. We should no longer tolerate them.

Hat tip Rocco.

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Want to buy your own 747?

You can!

Virgin Atlantic’s first-ever Boeing 747 jumbo jet has been listed for sale on eBay with a starting bid of more than a quarter million dollars and a ‘buy it now’ price of $900,000 (£615,000). The retired double-decker plane, called Lady Penelope, was taken out of service last year and is gathering dust at an aircraft boneyard, but it could see new life as a hotel or restaurant, depending on the buyer’s intentions.

Here is the ebay listing.

Sadly, it can no longer fly as its engines have been removed. You will have to take it apart and ship it yourself.

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Largest jet engine ever test fired

The competition heats up: General Electric has completed the first test firing of the largest airplane jet engine ever built.

With a front fan spreading a full 11 ft (3.35 m), the GE9X is a world record holder and generates thrust in the order of 100,000 lb. To accommodate the aeronautical behemoth, the Peebles facility was recently upgraded with a larger air intake, extra fuel tanks to feed the giant engine, and high temperature gear to deal with the hotter, more efficient design.

GE says that the GE9X is currently undergoing its first Full Engine To Test (FETT). This is the next level of the test series, which began in 2011 at the component level, and marks the first test of the complete system, which comes only six months after the engine design was finalized. GE says that this relatively early testing was to ensure that the test data was available as soon as possible for the certification engines, which are scheduled to be installed in GE Aviation’s flying test bed for certification of flight testing in 2018.

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Practicing Landings on a Carrier in bad weather

An evening pause: Last night we had the Flight of the Foo Birds. Tonight, we look at real flight, military pilots practicing landings on an aircraft carrier when the ocean is rough and the ship is rolling. The movies always give us the impression that this is easy, when in fact it is not.

Hat tip Rocco.

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Virgin Galactic signs deal for supersonic plane

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic has signed a deal with Boom, the start-up company trying to build the first commercial supersonic passenger jet since the Concorde.

Boom, which has spent the past three months participating in Y Combinator’s startup accelerator program in Silicon Valley, has inked a deal with Virgin. As part of the deal, Virgin has taken an option in Boom’s first 10 planes, while Virgin Galactic, the private space exploration company, will assist with manufacturing and testing through its manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company.

I hope Boom is more successful than Virgin Galactic in getting its project off the ground. If not, than it will be a long time before we see this plane take off.

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Turning planes into trucks

The competition heats up: Airbus has patented a concept for having the cargo/passenger section of an airplane modular and removable.

Instead of a single hull, aeroplanes would essentially be built with a hole in their fuselage between the nose cone and the tail section, into which modular compartments could be fitted and removed. The compartments, which could take on the purpose of a passenger, luxury passenger or freight unit, would be transferred between the aircraft and airport via a docking module, which according to Airbus would (ideally) be integrated into airport terminal buildings.

For passenger planes this idea really doesn’t work. However, for cargo it is brilliant. Like trucks, it allows cargo to be loaded without using the expensive flight infrastructure.

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Boeing’s first stealth plane concept

Boeing has just released the few remaining photos and documents relating to a 1960s stealth plane concept, including pictures of a half-scale prototype.

The concept dates back to the early 1960s, with a one-half scale model of the aircraft being built sometime between 1962 and 1963. The aircraft was an exercise in utilizing specific materials and shapes to drastically reduce the radar cross-section of a tactical aircraft. From this pioneering design, five Boeing “stealth” patents were awarded, and they only appear to have shown up in public records in the early 1990s, decades after they were officially filed.

The model of Quiet Bird was said to have been tested at Boeing’s Wichita facility in 1962-1963, all of which occurred on a radar range. No actual flight testing of Quiet Bird itself was said to have happened, though. But the tests were highly successful: they proved that it was possible to drastically decrease the radar signature of a tactical aircraft.

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Boeing’s 747 is finally heading for retirement

After 45 years of service, Boeing’s 747, the world’s first jumbo jet, is finally facing retirement as airlines consider more modern planes for their fleets.

The plane that so audaciously changed the shape of the world is now on the wrong side of history. Airlines are retiring older 747s – JAL no longer flies them – and Boeing’s attempt at catch-up, the latest 747-8 model, has had technical problems and is selling only very slowly. The air above my garden will not be troubled by 747s for very much longer.

The article gives brief but detailed outline of the 747’s history, and why passengers and pilots still love it. I love it because of this:

The 747 was America at its proud and uncontaminated best. ‘There’s no substitute for cubic inches,’ American race drivers used to say and the 747 expresses that truth in the air. There is still residual rivalry with the upstart European Airbus. Some Americans, referring to untested new technologies, call it Scarebus. There’s an old saying: ‘If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.’

A comparison to the European Concorde is illuminating. The supersonic Anglo-French plane was an elite project created for elite passengers to travel in near space with the curvature of the Earth on one hand and a glass of first growth claret on the other. The 747 was mass-market, proletarianising the jet set. It was Coke, not grand cru and it was designed by a man named Joe. Thus, the 747’s active life was about twice that of Concorde.

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Footage of the Red Baron from 9/17/17

An evening pause: No music this time, only some history. Hat tip Tim Biggar, who notes “Couple of interesting things: The Fokker used a 9 cyl radial (clearly seen when they prime the cyls before takeoff). Unlike most modern designs, the crankshaft was bolted to the frame and did not rotate. The prop was bolted to the engine case and the entire engine case rotated. Lots of gyroscopic force made it hard to maneuver.

“The ‘flight suit’ and the gauntlets are worth noting.

“I think that may be Goering on the left (plain uniform with Iron Cross) at the 3:05 mark.

“At the end we see a Sopwith he shot down and the Brit pilot who lived.”

I note the sense of comradarie between these pilots at the end. In World War I there still was a sense of behaving civilly (as in civilization) even during war.

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Airbus patents design for a supersonic ramjet airplane

The competition heats up: Two Airbus engineers have gotten a patent for a supersonic jet that would use suborbital space engineering, including hydrogen-oxygen engines as well as a ramjet, to fly at 20 to 30 miles elevation.

On a typical flight, it would take off like a conventional plane using ordinary turbojet engines, but once in the air, an open door in the stern of the plane reveals a rocket motor. When this fires, it sends the aircraft into a near vertical trajectory, accelerating it to supersonic speeds.

As the airplane approaches Mach one, the turbojets shut down and retract into the fuselage. On completion of the acceleration phase the plane is now flying at anywhere from Mach 4 to Mach 4.5 at an altitude of 30,000 to 35,000 m (100,000 to 150,000 ft). The rocket motor shuts down and is again concealed as the aft door slides shut to reduce drag. A ramjet now kicks in and the aircraft cruises along its flight path and can cover a range of 9,000 km (5,600 mi) in three hours – the equivalent of Tokyo to Los Angeles or Paris to San Francisco. Meanwhile, the wing fuselage design dissipates the sonic shock wave over 110 to 175 km (68 to 109 mi) and angles it at 11 to 15 degrees so it doesn’t reach the ground. At the end of the journey, split flaps reduce speed and the turbojets take over for approach and landing.

As the article notes, it is unlikely this jet will ever be built, as patented. The patent however illustrates the growing interest by commercial operators of these radical aerospace designs. While this specific design might never fly, many aspects of it are going to start appearing in flying ships in the next few decades.

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