$243.6 million plea deal allows Boeing to avoid a criminal trial

The Justice Department and Boeing have made a plea deal so that the company can avoid a criminal trial for breaking its previous plea deal over 737-Max plane crashes that killed 346 people.

Under the agreement, Boeing will plead guilty to a criminal fraud charge stemming from the fatal crashes in Indonesia in October 2018 and in Ethiopia less than five months later that killed a combined 346 people.

Boeing must also pay the hefty fine [$243.6 million], invest at least $455 million in compliance and safety programs, and have an independent monitor oversee Boeing’s safety and quality procedures for three years

The company had made similar deal in 2021 with Justice when it became clear it had deceived FAA regulators about the software on new 737-Max planes that caused these crashes. This new deal is because the company apparently violated that 2021 deal, and allows it to avoid a criminal trial.

A judge still has to approve this new plea deal. Many families of the deceased oppose it, demanding instead that company managers be put on trial. Even if the judge accepts it, Boeing will still be liable for other more recent incidents.

All in all, Boeing comes off as a morally corrupt and incompetent company that was willing to cut corners, lie about it, thus allow more planes to crash because of its actions.

No wonder everyone wants to blame Boeing for every single incident that has recently occurred on various commercial jets, even though in many cases the blame resides more with the maintenance departments of the airlines that had purchased the planes. And no wonder no one believes the claim that the astronauts that flew up to ISS in June are not “stuck” there. They probably aren’t, but why believe anyone from such a compny.

Southwest Airlines is deservedly in financial trouble

In love with bigotry, blacklisting, and bad maintenance
In love with bigotry, blacklisting, and bad maintenance

Late last week Southwest Airlines revealed that it is going to cease operations in four airports while simultaneously cutting 2,000 jobs as a result of a $231 million loss in the first quarter of 2024.

The company’s CEO, Bob Jordan, attempted to lay the blame for these difficulties on Boeing’s quality control problems, which has not only caused it to delay delivery of 26 planes in Southwest’s most recent order of 46, but has likely driven away customers, since Southwest uses only Boeing planes to simplify the maintenance of its fleet. For example, the article cited this incident and attributed it to Boeing’s troubles:

Earlier this month, an engine cowling on a Southwest operated Boeing 737-800 fell off during take off from Denver airport. Flight 3695 reported the engine cowling “fell off during takeoff and struck the wing flap” an FAA spokesperson previously told Newsweek.

Neither the article or Jordan are being entirely truthful or accurate. That engine cowling incident has nothing to do with Boeing, as the plane had been owned by Southwest for a considerable time, which means its maintenance is Southwest’s responsibility, not Boeing’s.

And why might Southwest have maintenance issues? Maybe these maintenance problems exist because the airline has gone all-in for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, creating racial and sex quotas that make race and sex the most important qualifications for many jobs, not skill, knowledge, talent, or experience. Its 2022 DEI-report [pdf] cited these goals:
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Another flying car gets FAA approval for flight testing

Aska-5 flying car
The Aska-5 flying car

The FAA has approved another flying car for flight testing, this time for a flying car designed to also be able to do vertical take-offs if necessary.

The Aska A5 … has four wheels and four seats. Like the Klein Vision [another flying car proposal], it can take off on a runway if there’s one available. Unlike the Klein Vision, it can also takeoff on a very short runway, or indeed no runway at all, thanks to an electric VTOL [vertical take-off and landing] system that folds out at the touch of a button. And unlike, say, the Xpeng AeroHT [a different flying car proposal], it’s capable of transitioning to efficient, winged cruise mode to expand its range.

The A5 will look fairly ridiculous driving down the road, all propellers and struts, a clog with a dishrack full of cutlery piled on top. But when the main rear wing and canard fold out, it all makes a lot more sense. There are six large propellers, four at the back, two at the front, and in VTOL operations these will lift the Aska off the ground and allow it to hover. For forward flight, the two inner rear propellers can tilt forward, allowing horizontal thrust in cruise mode with the rest of the props switched off and the car’s weight supported by its wings.

The proposed price tag for the Aska-5 is presently just under $800K, though it will be a while before you can buy one. The company says it is doing both driving and flight testing, but provided no images or data of it in the air. Thus, a lot of work remains before you could climb in, drive from your home to an airport and take off.

The company says it has $50 million in preorders. If so, at least 50 people think this might be the real deal.

Boeing gets NASA contract to develop new airplane wing design

In its effort to reduce fossil fuel use and thus save us from being burned to death by global warming in only a decade, NASA has now awarded Boeing a contract to develop new airplane wing design that it predicts will lower fuel use by up to 30%.

The X-66A is the X-plane specifically aimed at helping the United States achieve the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To build the X-66A, Boeing will work with NASA to modify an MD-90 aircraft, shortening the fuselage and replacing its wings and engines. The resulting demonstrator aircraft will have long, thin wings with engines mounted underneath and a set of aerodynamic trusses for support. The design, which Boeing submitted for NASA’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project, is known as a Transonic Truss-Braced Wing.

While developing a more efficient wing design is certainly worthwhile, having skepticism about this project is certainly reasonable. First of all, it seems somewhat strange to award Boeing such a contract at this time, considering NASA own experience with the company with Starliner, as well as that company’s problems with other government contracts for the military.

Secondly, the press release makes a big deal about the project getting an X-plane designation, an entirely superficial and PR related title that if anything suggests there is very little steak to this sizzle.

Third, it is unclear the nature of this contract. Is is cost-plus, or fixed price? The press release says NASA will “invest $425 million over seven years, while the company and its partners will contribute the remainder of the funding, estimated at about $725 million.” If cost-plus, this means nothing. Boeing will use any excuse to go over budget in order to get more money from NASA.

Finally, half a billion dollars to develop and test a new airplane wing design, using an already existing airplane, seems incredibly exorbitant. And to require seven years to build it seems ridiculously long.

All in all, I suspect the real goal of this project is to funnel tax dollars to Boeing to help keep it afloat, not to build a new green airplane.

Intelsat develops airplane WiFi antenna that can access both Intelsat and OneWeb satellites

Intelsat has now completed flight tests of a new airplane WiFi antenna designed to access both Intelsat and OneWeb satellites during flight.

By using the Intelsat and OneWeb satellite networks together, Intelsat can offer the benefits of LEO’s low latency along with the redundancy GEO provides to address network hotspots that LEO networks on their own cannot address. Whether aircraft are flying polar regions or over the most populated cities in the world, the ESA antenna will offer seamless coverage from takeoff to touchdown.

At just 90 pounds and with no moving parts, the new antenna stands just 3.5 inches tall on the top of the aircraft. The terminal’s low profile has the lowest drag of any product Intelsat has ever offered.

With this antenna, Intelsat keeps itself in the game. Airlines can provide more complete coverage by using it and signing deals with both OneWeb and Intelsat to provide WiFi to passengers.

Last 747 rolls off assembly line

Boeing earlier this week completed assembly of its very last 747 airplane, the 1,574th such plane built in the past half century.

Still in its iridescent green protective coating, the giant aircraft was towed out of the widebody aircraft factory in a low-key exercise without any fanfare. Once the 747 has been cleared, it will be flown to another Boeing facility where it will be painted in the Atlas Air livery in anticipation of final delivery to the customer next year.

The 747 was born out of a failed bid by Boeing to market a large jet transporter to the US military in the 1960s. That contract for what became the C-5A Galaxy eventually went to Lockheed, but Boeing was convinced that its basic design, with its high-bypass turbofan engine, could be reworked for the civilian market, which was booming at the time.

On January 9, 1969, the first 747 prototype took to the skies over Washington state. It was a staggering 225 feet (68.5 m) long, had a wing area larger than a basketball court, and the tail was as high as a six-story building.

Without question the 747 was one of the safest and well designed airplanes ever built. It was years after that first flight before one was involved in an accident, and that was not due to a failure of the plane itself. It also flew like a dream, its large size making it look like it was lumbering slowly in the air. Its retirement is almost entirely related to fuel cost-savings, since the 747 has four engines and thus more fuel than more modern planes.

Flying car gets approved by FAA

Samson Switchblade

A small airplane that quickly converts to a three-wheel car has now been approved for airworthiness by the FAA, paving the way for the first flight tests.

After 14 years of development, the Samson Switchblade – a fast, street-legal three-wheeler that converts at the touch of a button into a 200-mph (322-km/h) airplane – has been approved for airworthiness by the FAA. The team is now preparing for flight tests.

The Switchblade is named after the knife-like way its wings swing out from beneath its two-seat cabin when it’s time to fly. The tail, too, swings out from where it’s stowed behind the large pusher prop, then unfolds into a generous T shape. Samson says the entire push-button conversion from street-legal trike to aircraft takes less than three minutes, and while it’s yet to demonstrate the entire process on a physical prototype, it looks like it’ll be a pretty spectacular process.

The goal is to create something you can drive from your garage to the nearest small runway, take off to fly to another nearby airport, and then quickly drive to your destination, without ever having to get out of your seat.

More information can be found at the company’s website, which also says it is “only months away from first flight”, and expects to sell its first kits for customers 18 months later. The company also says it has 1,500 customers who have already placed reservations to buy it.

Mentour Pilot – SAS flight 751-the Gottröra Miracle

An evening pause: Hat tip Björn Larsson a.k.a. LocalFluff. who adds,

This stuff is more complicated than I thought. You could pick your favourite(!) airplane crash. The fantastic Hudson river landing for example. My favourite is this one, with a happy ending, because it crashed near to where I lived as a kid back then. The crash site, a potato field, was then locally called The Gottröra International Airport. Someone even put up a sign with that name at the bus stop nearby.

Drop in aviation during COVID lockdowns caused no change in high cirrus clouds, contrary to predictions of climate models

The uncertainty of climate science: In the twenty-five years since I became a science journalist, I cannot count the number of high profile press releases and scientific papers that I’ve read claiming that the increase in aviation and the resulting contrails from airplanes was going to be a major contributor to human-caused global warming. According to the models, the increase in contrails was increasing the high altitude cirrus cover, and thus in a variety of ways acting to warm the planet.

Well, a paper just published in Geophysical Research Letters took a look at the effect the sudden and almost complete cessation of aviation during the 2020 COVID lockdowns had on high altitude cirrus clouds. If the models were right, the lack of air traffic should have caused a reduction in cirrus clouds, thus demonstrating the models were correct.

The models were wrong, once again. From the abstract:

We find that, despite the very large reduction in air traffic, neither cirrus cover nor temperature ranges changed by enough to be detectable relative to the year-to-year variability of natural cirrus. Comparing the satellite observations to previous model-simulated aviation cirrus, we determine that any aviation-induced change in cirrus would have a much smaller magnitude than would be inferred from climate model simulations. These results suggest that the warming effect of cirrus clouds produced by aircraft may be smaller than previously believed. [emphasis mine]

In other words, air traffic apparently has no impact on the high altitude cloud cover. The models that said this traffic was a contributor to global warming were 100% wrong. It apparently is not.

Of course, there remains some uncertainty even with this result, as it is for only one year. The effect of air traffic on clouds could have been disguised in 2020 by the natural fluctuations normally seen from year to year, though the paper’s authors think not.

Assuming this data is confirmed, the authors also concede that the plans to mitigate contrails by rerouting planes so that they do not all fly along the same routes could be very counter-productive. It will cause those detours to burn more fossil fuels, while changing nothing in the cloud cover in the upper atmosphere.

Ah, the law or unintended consequences once again rears its ugly head. Too bad global warming activists never seem to admit it exists, even though it constantly bites them in the rear, time after time after time after time after time….

John Woodfield RC Gliders

An evening pause: Seems appropriate with Ingenuity flying about on Mars. From the youtube webpage:

This was the maiden flight of my latest design. It was a bit of a mash-up, using existing wings and tail from old models. It weighs 1.5kg and was flying in about 7-10mph of wind. I feel it will be happier in about 5mph. The all-moving tail needs changing slightly as it developed some serious flutter if I picked up too much airspeed.

Hat tip Cotour.

Video of Ingenuity’s flight, taken by Perseverance

JPL yesterday released a short one minute long video created from images taken by the high resolution mast camera on Perseverance.

You can view the animation here.

Stitched together from multiple images, the mosaic is not white balanced; instead, it is displayed in a preliminary calibrated version of a natural-color composite, approximately simulating the colors of the scene as it would appear on Mars.

Ingenuity flies!

Ingenuity takes off!
For full images go here and here.

The first autonomous flight of the helicopter Ingenuity on Mars successfully took place early this morning, according to JPL engineers.

NASA has pulled off the first powered flight on another world. Ingenuity, the robot rotorcraft that is part of the agency’s Perseverance mission, lifted off from the surface of Mars on 19 April, in a 40-second flight that is a landmark in interplanetary aviation. “We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” says MiMi Aung, the project’s lead engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

As shown by the two images taken by Perseverance above, the first flight was very simple. The helicopter simply rose about 10 feet, hovered for about 30 seconds as it swiveled 90 degrees, and then carefully descended back down. I have also embedded the video that JPL scientists have created compiling by high resolution Perseverance images below the fold.

Four more flights will next be attempted in the coming weeks.

Four further flights, each lasting up to 90 seconds, are planned in the coming weeks. In these, Ingenuity is likely to rise up to 5 metres [16 feet] above the surface and travel up to 300 metres [1000 feet] from the take-off point. Each successive flight will push Ingenuity’s capabilities to see how well the drone fares in Mars’s thin atmosphere, which is just 1% as dense as Earth’s.

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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.

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