Boeing hires former SpaceX software engineer

Capitalism in space: Boeing has hired a former SpaceX software engineer to head software development for the company.

Boeing on Friday announced it hired Jinnah Hosein as vice president of software engineering, a new role at the aerospace giant. The job will lead a centralized organization of engineers developing software across Boeing’s portfolio of products. Hosein will report to Greg Hyslop, Boeing chief engineer and senior vice president of engineering, test and technology.

…Hosein’s resume reads like a defense industry wish list of Silicon Valley stops. He worked as Google’s director of software engineering for cloud networking, helped design Tesla’s autopilot software and most recently worked as software lead for self-driving startup Aurora.

But it’s his experiences at SpaceX — where he was key to software development for the Falcon, Falcon Heavy, Dragon and Crew Dragon vehicles — that Boeing may look to draw from the most. Boeing and SpaceX have fiercely competed over NASA’s manned space programs, and SpaceX is a competitor for military space launches against the United Launch Alliance, which is co-owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Since software was the main issue that grounded Boeing’s 737-Max airplane as well as caused the serious problems on the first unmanned demo flight of the company’s Starliner capsule, this hire appears to be aimed at fixing these software issues. In both cases the management philosophy behind developing and testing software was very flawed, leaving the product saddled with software that either didn’t work properly or was not tested properly in development.

I imagine Boeing’s top management is hoping Hosein can bring to Boeing some of the agile, focused, and very successful management style found at SpaceX.

Study: Almost impossible to contract COVID-19 on an airplane

New research into the air filtration systems on commercial passenger jets has found that it is almost impossible to contract COVID-19 while on an airplane.

A new military-led study unveiled Thursday shows there is a low risk for passengers traveling aboard large commercial aircraft to contract an airborne virus such as COVID-19 — and it doesn’t matter where they sit on the airplane.

Researchers concluded that because of sophisticated air particle filtration and ventilation systems on board the Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 aircraft — the planes tested for the study — airborne particles within the cabin have a very short lifespan, according to defense officials with U.S. Transportation Command, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and Air Mobility Command, which spearheaded the study.

You can read the report [pdf] here. I especially like this quote from their conclusions:

For the 777 and 767, at 100% seating capacity transmission model calculations with a 4,000 viruses/hour shedding rate and 1,000 virus infectious dose show a minimum 54 flight hours required to produce inflight infection from aerosol transmission.

In other words, you can fly around the world more than twice on the same plane, without stopping, without any real risk of getting infected.

Need I add that the use of a mask will likely make no difference either, while probably increasing your chances of catching some disease simply because the long term use of any single mask is unsanitary and almost guarantees it will be carrying pathogens on your face where you breathe?

Boom unveils its first half-scale prototype commercial supersonic jet

Boom Supersonic, an aviation company that wants to build commercial supersonic passenger jets, has unveiled its first half-scale prototype, dubbed the XB-1, or “Baby Boom”.

They had announced the development of this jet several years ago, and have experienced some delays since. They had hoped to begin commercial operations of their commercial model, dubbed Overture, by ’23, but this remains unclear. Regardless, there does seem interest in this airplane among the commercial carriers, assuming they survive the Wuhan flu panic.

Boom says that the airliner has a projected unit cost of around $200 million each, not including a customer’s desired interior configuration and other unspecified optional extras. This would make it cheaper than many subsonic widebody airliners now on the market, but those aircraft can also carry substantial more passengers. For example, in 2018, Airbus said that the average price of one of its popular A330-200s was approximately $238.5 million, but that aircraft has a maximum seating capacity of 406, nearly four times that of Overture as presently planned. Boeing says that the average price of one of its 767-300ER airliners is around $217.9 million, but again, those planes can seat nearly 300 passengers, depending on the internal configuration.

There has already been not insubstantial interest in the Overture, though, with Boom saying it has commitments to buy up to 76 of the jets from five airlines, including Virgin and Japan Airlines (JAL). Virgin Group has been a major investor in Boom for years now, as well. The Spaceship Company, a Virgin Galactic subsidiary, was previously reported to be preparing to assist in building and testing the airliners.

I will admit, however, that I do not find it encouraging that Virgin Galactic is involved in the plane’s development. In fact, it might even help explain why development was delayed.

The view from the cockpit

An evening pause: This short video shows us what it is like for the pilot and co-pilot as they prepare for departure from Frankfurt, Germany, on a cargo flight to Africa and beyond. Note that even though the crew is German and the airport is German, all communications with the control tower are in English. Note also that their altitude is recorded in feet, not meters. The American big lead in the commercial airline industry in the first half of the 20th century allowed it to set the standards, including the use of feet and English in these matters.

Hat tip Tom Biggar.

British Airways retires 747 fleet

Because of the crash in customer demand due to the Wuhan virus panic, British Airways has abruptly retired its entire fleet of 747s.

This retirement had been planned, as the 747 is expensive to operate. The airline had planned however to phase them out over several years. Now they simply don’t need them, as they are flying so few passengers.

I am fortunate that I got to fly on one in 2019, in a vacation trip to Wales with Diane. This might have been the only time I ever flew on a 747, and it was a remarkably smooth flight, both during take-off and landing. It is sad to see this magnificent American achievement finally leave us.

Boeing flies 777X for the first time

On January 25 Boeing successfully flew its new giant 777X commercial airplane for the first time.

Originally unveiled at the 2013 Dubai Airshow, the 777X is an advance on the engineering and interior innovations of the 777 and 787 Dreamliner. The twin-engine jetliner is available in the 777-8 and 777-9 variants with ranges of up to 8,700 nm (10,012 mi/16,110 km) and seating between 350 and 425 passengers.

The key innovation of the 777X is its lightweight wing design based on a composite spar made from over 400 miles (644 km) of carbon tape cured in a specially-built autoclave. This allows the aircraft to have a wingspan of 235 ft (72 m) – a span so long that the wings have folding sections at their tips so the plane can fit in conventional boarding gates.

The test flight lasted just under four hours. The pictures at the link illustrate clearly emphasize the lightweight wings, which look tiny compared to the two engines.

Boeing desperately needs a success, considering the string of problems almost all of its major projects have been having recently.

Boeing fires CEO

Boeing today fired its CEO Dennis Muilenburg, citing the need to “restore confidence in the company.”

The company has had a very bad year, with the grounding of its 737-Max airplane, the cost overruns and delays in its NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the failure of its Starliner manned capsule to dock with ISS this past weekend.

Whether this change will accomplish anything is hard to say. The problems above appear very deeply embedded within the company’s culture, and might require the kind of wholesale changes that big bloated corporations like Boeing are generally loath to impose.

A home-made plane

An evening pause: Another example of someone who decides he wants to do something, and then goes out and does it. This STOL (short take-off and landing) home-built plane, dubbed Draco, was apparently a big hit in the small plane community. Sadly, in September the plane was totaled (no injuries) during a take-off with strong cross winds (video here).

Hat tip Cotour.

Boeing partners with commercial supersonic jet startup

Boeing today announced that it is partnering with startup Aerion Corp to build a 12-passenger commercial supersonic jet, dubbed the AS2.

Boeing said it would provide engineering, manufacturing and flight-test resources to bring the AS2 to market. The amount of the investment wasn’t disclosed.

The first flight for the plane — which, at about 1,000 miles per hour, will cruise 70 percent faster than today’s quickest business jets — is scheduled for 2023. Launch customer Flexjet, a fractional aircraft operator, has ordered 20 of the models. The 12-passenger aircraft has a list price of $120 million.

This isn’t the first or only private effort going on right now to develop supersonic jets for commercial travel. Another company, Boom Supersonic, has raised significant capital and already has its own orders for planes, though as far as I can tell it did not fly its initial test flights in 2018, as they had promised.

A glider sets new altitude record

The Perlan-2 glider yesterday set a new altitude record, reaching an altitude of more than fourteen miles.

Then on September 2, Perlan pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner strapped themselves in and rode the glider to an altitude of 76,000 ft (23,000 m), setting a new flight record. This is higher than Lockheed Martin’s jet-powered U2 spy plane flown by the CIA, which reached 73,700 ft (22,475 m), and places it amongst a handful of manned aircraft to sustain flight at such as altitude.

Implied but unstated in the article at the link is the military value of this technology, once combined with drone technology.

World’s largest jet engine makes first test flight

The world’s largest jet engine, built by GE Aviation for Boeing’s next generation wide body passenger jet, made its first test flight last week.

The GE9X is a monster compared to its predecessors. Due to the extensive use of composites in building the fan blades and the fan case, 3D-printed nozzles, new light- and heat-resistant ceramics, and reducing the number of fan blades from 22 to 16, GE was able to lighten the engine and expand its size so that its fan is now 134-inches (341 cm) across and the entire engine is as wide as a Boeing 737 fuselage. In addition, it can push 100,000 lb of thrust and is 10 percent more efficient than the GE90 engine used on the current generation of 777s.

The engine was attached to a 747 test plane for the flight, and the images at the link truly illustrate how large this engine is. The 747 still had its two outer normal engines attached, and the size difference is gob-smacking. When I first looked at the pictures I was convinced it was fake and that they had photoshopped this giant engine onto the 747. They didn’t.

Private commercial supersonic jet gains funding

A private commercial supersonic jet company, Boom Supersonic, has gained significant investment funding since it first revealed its design concept in March.

Boom, whose suppliers include General Electric Co, Boeing, Honeywell International Inc and Netherlands-based TenCate Advanced Composites, has reportedly received 76 pre-orders from airlines, excluding the option of up to 20 aircraft from Japan Airlines. As of March 2017, the firm had raised about $41 million (£30.5 million) in funding.

Yoshiharu Ueki, president of Japan Airlines, added: ‘Through this partnership, we hope to contribute to the future of supersonic travel with the intent of providing more “time” to our valued passengers while emphasising flight safety.’

The firm has previously revealed that initial test flights for its 1,451mph (2,330kph) aircraft, nicknamed ‘Baby Boom’, will begin by the end of 2018.

Including the JAL preorder that makes 96 airplane sales total. It appears that this company is increasingly for real.

United flies its last 747

United yesterday completed its last scheduled 747 passenger flight, ending a period lasting almost a half century since the first 747 took off.

The flight had a 1970s theme, with the crew in vintage uniforms and the passengers dressing in costumes invoking that time period.

The article does a nice job of recounting the 747’s history, as well as why it is being replaced. It also noted this:

[T]he aircraft would go on to defy all expectations. Boeing anticipated it would become obsolete before the Nineties, believing that supersonic jets would overtake conventional aircraft.

In fact the 747 is still in production with current orders placed by a number of developing countries which will potentially see it serving into 2030. While the aircraft’s life is limited in the US – with Delta the only airline still flying the craft and due to retire it later this year – other major carriers will continue operating it well into the next decade. British Airways, which now operates 36 of the aircraft, more than any other airline, has confirmed it will be phasing it out – but will not part ways with it entirely until 2024.

Even once it has disappeared from passenger routes, it is expected the 747 will go on to serve many more years as a cargo plane.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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