Cat goes on unexpected flight Jun 22 2015
This rule never seems to make it into any of the pre-flight checklists: please remove all cats from inside your wings before takeoff.
This rule never seems to make it into any of the pre-flight checklists: please remove all cats from inside your wings before takeoff.
If you are ever down and need an instant pick-me-up, watch this video of an aerobatic pilot doing tricks with his daughter as a passenger for the first time and your mood will improve greatly. The good stuff starts at about 50 seconds in.
Oh my, that laugh! (via @ianpierce)
Growing up, I had a pretty conventional childhood. In the northern Wisconsin of the 70s and 80s, that meant living in the country, dogs and cats, making ramps for our bikes in the driveway, Oscar Meyer bologna sandwiches for lunch, and a nuclear family of four that split into two soon after Ronald Reagan took office. But conventional childhoods are a myth. Every kid has some weird thing that distinguished their experience from everyone else's. My weird thing is that I spent a lot of time in and around airplanes when I was young.
My dad joined the Navy after high school but couldn't fly because of his eyesight. But sometime later, he got his private pilot's license. In the 1970s, after bouncing around between two dozen different jobs and business ideas, he took a small rented airplane and turned it into a thriving freight and commuter airline called Blue Line Air Express.1 At its height, his company had 8 planes, a small fleet of cars and trucks,2 more than a dozen employees, and hangars at several different airports around northern WI. He and his employees delivered packages and people3 all over the tri-state area, from Chicago and Milwaukee to Minneapolis and Duluth.
And every once in awhile, I got to tag along. I remember one time in particular, we got up early on a Saturday, drove to a nearby town, hopped in the plane, and made it to Minneapolis, usually a two-hour drive, in time for breakfast. I'd go with him on deliveries sometimes; we'd drive a small piece-of-shit truck4 up to this huge FedEx hub in Minneapolis, load it full of boxes, and drive an hour to some small factory in a Wisconsin town and unload it. Once he had to deliver something to a cheese factory and my sister and I got a short tour out of it.
For family vacations, we would jump in the plane to visit relatives in the Twin Cities or in St. Louis. We flew down with some family friends to Oshkosh to attend the huge airshow. When I was in college, my dad would sometimes pick me up for school breaks in his plane. It was just a normal thing for our family, like anyone else would take a car trip. The only time it seems weird to me is when people's eyes go wide after I casually mention that we had a runway out behind the house growing up.5
One of the last times I went flying with my dad, before it finally became too expensive for him to keep up his plane,6 we were flying into a small airport where he still kept a hangar. It was a fine day when we set out but as we neared our destination, the weather turned dark.7 You could see the storm coming from miles away and we raced it to the airport. The wind had really picked up as we made our first approach to land; I don't know what the windspeed was, but it was buffeting us around pretty good. About 50 feet off the ground, the wind slammed the plane downwards, dropping a dozen feet in half a second. In a calm voice, my dad said, "we'd better go around and try this again".8
The storm was nearly on top of us as we looped around to try a second time. It was around this time he announced, even more calmly, that we were "running a little low" on fuel. Nothing serious, you understand. Just "a little low". There was a heavy crosswind, blowing perpendicular to the runway. Landing in a crosswind requires the pilot to point the airplane into the wind a little.9 Or more than a little...my memory probably exaggerates after all these years, but I swear we were at least 30 degrees off axis on that second approach. Just before touching down, he oriented the plane with the runway and the squawk of the tires let us know we were down. I don't think it was much more than a minute or two after landing that the rain, thunder, and lightning started.10
But the thing was, I was never scared. I should have been probably...it was an alarming situation. I'd been flying with my dad my whole life and he'd kept me safe that whole time, so why should I start worrying now? That's what fathers are supposed to do, right? Protect their children from harm while revealing the limits of the world?
The internet is amazing. I originally wrote this piece for Quarterly as part of a physical package of stuff that was sent out to subscribers. While doing some research for it, I found an image of an old Blue Line brochure, which I distinctly remember from when I was a kid. From there, I was able to figure out the font and recreate the logo. Two of the items in my Quarterly package featured the logo: a balsa-wood airplane and a leather luggage tag. Blue Line flies again! It was very satisfying to use my professional skills (internet sleuthing and design) to "resurrect" my dad's old business.↩
There was a car or two stashed at every airport Blue Line regularly flew in to. To simplify the logistics, the key to the ignition was usually left under the rear wheel well of the car. Which was occasionally a problem w/r/t disgruntled former employees.↩
Living and dead...transporting cadavers was a particularly lucrative business.↩
My dad's fleet of cars and trucks were optimized for cost and performance...if you could load 1200 pounds of boxes into something without busting the springs and get it there at 80 MPH on the freeway, it didn't matter if the fenders were rusted off.↩
Oh, did I not mention that earlier? We lived on a farm and rented out all the land to nearby farmers...all except the runway that my dad had cut into the field behind the house so that he could commute by plane to whatever airport he needed to be at that day. As you do.↩
Blue Line went out of business soon after my parents divorced, but my dad kept a plane and a hangar. Sometimes he transported freight for money but mostly just flew as a hobby and transportation. Private piloting was cheaper back then, especially when your plane was long since paid for, the price of gas was obscenely low by today's standards, gear/radios were cheaper, and you were also a mechanic (as my dad was).↩
The Midwest is like this in the summer. Radar shows nothing, then, boom, thunderstorm.↩
That droningly relaxed pilot voice you hear while thumbing through the latest issue of the inflight magazine? My dad never talked like that outside of an airplane but every single thing he said inside one sounded unbelievably steady and serene.↩
And this is far from the craziest thing that ever happened to my dad while flying. Once we had to go pick him up in a nearby corn field after an emergency landing.
But my favorite story he tells is when he landed on a runway in winter in a twin-engine plane and discovered shortly afterwards that the entire surface was black ice. So the brakes didn't work. And it was too late to throttle up again and take off. And there's a lake at the end of the runway. Thinking quickly, he throttles up one of the engines, spins the plane around 180 ° on the ice, and then throttles up both engines to stop the plane. That sounds like total action movie BS, but my dad insists it really happened. Regardless, I love to hear him tell that story.↩
Mark Vanhoenacker is a Boeing 747-400 pilot for British Airways who also happens to have a wonderful almost lyrical way with words. In this NY Times piece, Vanhoenacker gives an overview of how a London-to-Tokyo flight functions, from take-off & landings to what pilots see in the dark night skies to the determination of altitude.
Three altimeters in the cockpit -- two bright digital readouts, and one old-school device with hands that turn like those of a clock -- show 31,000 feet.
Yet we know that we are probably not as close to 31,000 feet as these altimeters suggest. We are somewhat lower; or perhaps we are higher. One thing is certain -- it would be easy to find a dozen airliners flying over different parts of the world, all of whose altimeters displayed 31,000 feet, none of which are at the same altitude.
How is this possible?
Planes calculate their altitude by measuring air pressure. The air lies most heavily on places that are lowest, the places that have the most air piled above them. A barometric altimeter (baros, meaning weight) equates high air pressure -- lots of air weighing down -- with low altitude. As a plane climbs, there is less air above it. The altimeter senses less air weight and reports a higher altitude.
There's a problem, however. Air pressure is not constant. It varies across the Earth. It also varies in each place as time and weather pass.
And I love this bit about the names of the geographic waypoints used to navigate the area around Boston:
Boston has etched a particularly rich constellation onto the heavens above New England. There is PLGRM, of course; CHWDH, LBSTA and CLAWW; GLOWB and HRALD for the city's newspapers; while SSOXS, FENWY, BAWLL and OUTTT trace the fortunes of the city's baseball team in long arcs across the stars. There's a NIMOY waypoint; Leonard was born in Boston.
The piece is adapted from Vanhoenacker's new book, Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot. My dad was a professional pilot for many years1 and I've always loved flying, so I'm definitely going to give this a read.
A group of astronomy enthusiasts rented a plane and flew through the shadow cast by the recent eclipse of the Sun. One passenger took the following video. Look at that shadow creeping across the cloud cover! So cool.
The Cooper Review unveils Delta Airlines' new seating chart, including several new sections like Economy Discomfort and Where Is Your God Now? Economy. Also clearly marked are crying babies and passengers eating smelly sandwiches.
Are you ready for a new level of discomfort in air travel? A major US airline is considering a seating class called Economy Minus, which would offer smaller seats at a lower price.
Now a major airline may be considering another breakthrough idea: "Economy Minus," a seat that offers less legroom at a discount price.
Before you scoff, consider that a new survey found that 42% of airline travelers said they would be very likely or somewhat likely to book a seat with less legroom if it means getting a cheap fare.
See also Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer. (A: maximizing shareholder value)
In 2012, Joe Ayoob broke the world record for the longest distance paper airplane flight with a plane designed by John Collins. In this video, Collins demonstrates how to fold that plane, the Suzanne.
Directions for the design are also available in Collins' New World Champion Paper Airplane Book.
In 1959, Lt Colonel William Rankin ejected from his F-8 Crusader at 47,000 feet. He was not wearing a pressure suit, which was a bummer because it was -58 °F outside the cockpit. Frostbite and symptoms of decompression1
immediately ensued. But his troubles were just beginning.
As the parachute opened, he felt the familiar tug upwards. Except instead of a slow descent, he experienced a rapid ascent. The powerful updraft filled his parachute like a sail and rocketed him vertically thousands of feet at a velocity of nearly 100 mph. During his ascent, he could see hail stones forming around him. The lightning was described by him as "blue blades several feet thick" and incredibly close. The thunder was so loud, he could feel it resonating in his chest cavity and remembered this more so than how loud it was. At one point, the lightning lit up his parachute leading him to believe he had died. The rain would pelt him from all directions, and at times was so intense, he had to hold his breath for fear of drowning. But this was only half the agony -- the other half being the downdrafts.
Once the updraft exhausted itself, the associated downdraft would ensue. It was during this phase of his journey that he truly thought he would die. His parachute would collapse around him, much like a wet blanket, and plunge him into a rapid free fall towards earth. The odds of his parachute re-inflating correctly were slim, but not only did it do so once, it did numerous times through a multitude of updraft and downdraft cycles.
Under normal conditions, Rankin's trip to the ground would have taken less than 10 minutes, but that thunderstorm kept him hostage for 40 minutes. (via @BadAstronomer)
Update: In 1966, pilot Bill Weaver and his navigator Jim Zwayer were testing an SR-71 Blackbird when something went wrong and the plane disintegrated around its occupants. Weaver was incredibly lucky to make it out alive.
My next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad dream. Maybe I'll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused. Gradually regaining consciousness, I realized this was no dream; it had really happened. That also was disturbing, because I could not have survived what had just happened. Therefore, I must be dead. Since I didn't feel bad -- just a detached sense of euphoria -- I decided being dead wasn't so bad after all. As full awareness took hold, I realized I was not dead, but had somehow separated from the airplane. I had no idea how this could have happened; I hadn't initiated an ejection. The sound of rushing air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind confirmed I was falling, but I couldn't see anything. My pressure suit's face plate had frozen over and I was staring at a layer of ice.
"The sudden decompression caused his stomach to swell, his ears, nose and mouth to bleed, and the only thing keeping him conscious was his O2 canister attached to his helmet."↩
Great piece about how Lufthansa cares for those who need medical attention while flying.
On a Lufthansa flight, making a public call for any medical professionals on the plane is a last resort. The airline prefers to be far more discreet. After all, does the whole plane always need to know that somebody on board is having a problem? To accomplish this, Lufthansa launched the Doctors on Board program for physicians.
Doctors on Board allows Lufthansa to identify doctors long before an emergency occurs. By doing this, the cabin crews can personally and discreetly summon the doctor if their skills are needed during a flight. In order to find doctors who could potentially participate in this program, the airline scoured the data from its Miles and More frequent flier program. By doing this, Lufthansa was able to identify 15,000 doctors who regularly fly the airline. Of those, 10,000 opted to join the program.
Participation in the Doctors on Board program carries with it several benefits. The doctors are issued a handbook about aviation medicine, as well as receiving news and information via both the internet and postal mailings. They are insured by Lufthansa for any care that they provide during a flight. They are also rewarded with 5,000 Miles and More award miles and a discount code for €50 off of their next flight, plus they receive a special bag tag identifying their participation in the program. Finally, they are given the opportunity to participate in a course on aviation medicine and on-board emergency handling, for which they are paid an additional fee.
This is real customer service: thoughtful, anticipatory, active, thorough. (via @marcprecipice)
Derek Low used a ton of his frequent flyer miles to book passage from Singapore to NYC in Singapore Airlines' better-than-first-class Suites Class and wrote all about it. Suites Class = private cabin, double bed, caviar, foie gras, lounging beforehand in "The Private Room", Dom Pérignon, Givenchy pajamas, etc. etc.
In the Suites, you don't just lie on a seat that has gone flat. Instead, you step aside while the Singapore Airlines flight attendants transform your Suite into a bedroom, with a plush mattress on top of a full-sized bed. When the adjacent suite is empty, the dividing partition can be brought down to create a double bed.
Update: After reports of plagiarism from several sources after Low published his initial version of his piece, he changed the pilfered text and removed photos taken from elsewhere. (thx, all)
In celebration of National Aviation Day, In Focus has a slideshow of photos of the Wright Brothers' first flights.
The caption on that photo reads:
First flight: 120 feet in 12 seconds, on December 17, 1903. This photograph shows man's first powered, controlled, sustained flight. Orville Wright at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright running alongside to balance the machine, has just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine. Orville Wright preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter.
The Wright Brothers were 32 & 36 years old when they made their first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The Wright Flyer was not the product of daring youthful innovation (as with Picasso, Bill Gates, or Mozart) but rather of years of experience and experimentation (like Cezanne, Twain, or Frank Lloyd Wright).
Great piece from Craig Mod about how to survive air travel.
Authorities recommend arriving two hours before international flights. I say four. Get there four hours before your flight. You are a hundred and fifty years old. Your friends laugh at you. Have patience.
Arrive early and move through the airport like the Dalai Lama. You are in no rush. All obstacles are taken in stride, patiently, with a smile. Approach the nearly empty check-in counter. Walk up and say, I'm a bit early but I'm here to check in to ... Marvel at their surprise and then their generosity. Suddenly you are always able to get an exit row or bulkhead seat. Suddenly, sure, they can slip you into Business. Suddenly tickets that are supposedly unchangeable, cannot be modified, are, after a few calls, some frowns, upbeat goodbyes, specially modifiable for you. This is what happens when there is no one behind you in line to check in.
What Mod fails to mention here in regard to supposedly unchangeable tickets and the like is that he's one of the most disarmingly charming motherfuckers in the entire world. And here is the crux of the whole piece:
You are hacking the airport by arriving early, knowing that all the work you could have done at home -- the emails or writing or photo editing -- can be done at the airport.
I don't travel much anymore, but I've begun to arrive at the airport earlier than I need to because I got tired of rushing and I can work from pretty much anywhere with wifi. That mask shit though? That's too much.
In Brazil's National Air and Space Museum, there is a golden globe containing the preserved heart of Alberto Santos-Dumont, a man who thought he beat the Wright Brothers in building and flying the first heavier-than-air flying machine. Santos-Dumont's first success was with dirigibles; at the turn of the century, he would regularly use his personal airship to fly to dinner or to visit friends.
Imagine the frenetic pace of life in belle époque Paris. Automobiles appearing on the streets, attracting huge crowds. The telegraph bringing news from all over the world. Cafés playing phonographs while their patrons drank absinthe and cocaine wine. Now imagine a Parisian walking the streets in the early morning, in a time where an automobile was still a fascinating novelty, and then suddenly, a small airship appears floating just above the street. A crowd would gather to see the aviator driving his Baladeuse (The Wanderer), a personal sized dirigible, over the streets as if it were a carriage or automobile. Santos-Dumont would then land in front of his favorite café, tie the guide rope much like one might tie a horse to a hitching post, and walk in for a meal. It must have been quite a sight. Going to the café was not the only time Santos-Dumont used his Baladeuse -- he was also fond of surprising his friends by landing in front of their porches with his airship.
Paul Hoffman wrote a well-reviewed book about Santos-Dumont called Wings of Madness.
The latest installment of the In Focus series on WWI is Aerial Warfare.
Great series so far, really enjoying it. Start from the beginning if you haven't seen it yet.
What do you do when you have a seaplane without wheels, no water, and you need to take off? You put it on a trailer, drag it down the runway until you get the proper speed, and just pull back on the stick:
Damn, that's cool. I knew it was gonna take off and it still baked my noodle a little bit. I think this is why so many people (myself included) had trouble with the airplane on the treadmill question. All that really matters for takeoff and continued flight is the speed of the plane relative to the air -- how it gets to that point or what the surface is doing isn't really relevant -- but when you're observing it, it seems impossible. (via @deronbauman)
Ok, bear with me here...this is a video of a helicopter harvesting Christmas trees in Oregon. But the pace at which the pilot is moving those trees into the trucks is almost literally unbelievable.
Update: And here's the helicopter cockpit view from a similar harvest:
I posted a video earlier today of a Super Cub airplane landing on the side of a mountain. Super Cubs are ideal for that undertaking because of their low stall speed and short take-off and landing distances. But I had no idea you could land and take off in one in the space of 20 feet.
Never seen a plane do that before...well aside from tiny model planes. What an incredible power-to-weight ratio that plane must have. You can seriously land these things anywhere, almost like a helicopter. Wanna go fly fishing? Just set it down on the banks of a stream:
Or on a gravel bar in a river:
When you read the title of this video, "Super Cub landing on windy mt. top", you're thinking, ok, there's a runway on the side of this mountain and it's gonna be a little dicey but not a big deal. But then the video starts and there's just a steep snowy mountain and no runway and it's uphill and you're like, WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
I looked up info on the plane and if you're going to land on the side of a mountain, the Super Cub is the plane for you. It can take off in as little as 200 feet, land in 300-400 feet, and has a stall speed of only 43 mph. The guy lands uphill and takes off downhill in this video and looks like he needed less than 100 feet in each case. (via ★mouser)
In Focus has a nice slideshow of photos of blimps, dirigibles, and airships, from the first flights in the early 1900s to the Hindenburg disaster to the blimps flying high over sporting events.
After experimenting on protozoa, rats, and his eight children, Ehret recommended that the international traveler, in the several days before his flight, alternate days of feasting with days of very light eating. Come the flight, the traveler would nibble sparsely until eating a big breakfast at about 7:30 a.m. in his new time zone -- no matter that it was still 1:30 a.m. in the old time zone or that the airline wasn't serving breakfast until 10:00 a.m. His reward would be little or no jet lag.
The diet was adopted by US government agencies and other groups as well as Ronald Reagan, but it difficult to stick to. Recently, researchers in Boston have devised a simpler anti-jet lag remedy:
The international traveler, they counsel, can avoid jet lag by simply not eating for twelve to sixteen hours before breakfast time in the new time zone-at which point, as in Ehret's diet, he should break his fast. Since most of us go twelve to sixteen hours between dinner and breakfast anyway, the abstention is a small hardship.
According to the Harvard team, the fast works because our bodies have, in addition to our circadian clock, a second clock that might be thought of as a food clock or, perhaps better, a master clock. When food is scarce, this master clock suspends the circadian clock and commands the body to sleep much less than normally. Only after the body starts eating again does the master clock switch the circadian clock back on.
Totally trying this the next time I have to travel, although the Advil PM/melatonin combination my doctor suggested worked really well for me on my trip to New Zealand. (via @genmon)
Looks like someone lost their drone in the West Village:
Pretty sure that drones falling from the skies in heavily populated metropolitan areas is going to lead to banning.
Back in October, I wrote a post about the race to win the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition. To win the $250,000 Sikorsky prize, a human-powered helicopter must fly for 60 seconds, reach a momentary altitude of 3 meters, and stay within a 10 meter square. Last month, after 33 years of collective human effort, someone finally won the prize:
Wow, that helicopter is amazing! Popular Mechanics has more on the winning flight.
Reichert knew that the challenge was to keep supplying enough power through his legs to keep the craft from descending too quickly. On two previous flights in which he'd flirted with the three-meter mark, Reichert had descended too abruptly and fallen afoul of a phenomenon called vortex ring state, in which a helicopter essentially gets sucked down by its own downwash. Both times Atlas had been wrecked. This time, Reichert spent the balance of the flight easing the craft down gently to the ground. "You're so focused on having the body do a very precise thing," he told Pop Mech. "If you lay off the power even a little bit, or make any sharp control movement, you can crash."
Yesterday morning, a 747 cargo plane taking off from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan crashed soon after taking off. A dash cam caught the entire thing on video:
It is amazing how quickly a powerful and fast jet airplane turns into a leaden hunk of metal. (via @VictorGodinez)
Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality is opening two Shake Shacks and a Blue Smoke in Delta's new Terminal 4 at JFK airport.
Another fine installment of XKCD's What If? series: What would happen if you tried to fly a normal Earth airplane above different Solar System bodies?
Unfortunately, [the X-Plane simulator] is not capable of simulating the hellish environment near the surface of Venus. But physics calculations give us an idea of what flight there would be like. The upshot is: Your plane would fly pretty well, except it would be on fire the whole time, and then it would stop flying, and then stop being a plane.
A team at the University of Maryland are building a human-powered helicopter in an attempt to win the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition. To win the $250,000 prize, the helicopter must fly for 60 seconds, reach a momentary altitude of 3 meters, and stay within a 10 meter square. This is surprisingly difficult.
In June 2009, an Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro disappeared without a trace. The disappearance turned crash and the questions started: how did a state-of-the-art plane go down so suddenly and who was to blame? The plane's black boxes were finally recovered after two years of searching and there's a case to be made that the design of the cockpit controls may be at least partially responsible for the crash.
The official report by French accident investigators is due in a month and seems likely to echo provisional verdicts suggesting human error. There is no doubt that at least one of AF447's pilots made a fatal and sustained mistake, and the airline must bear responsibility for the actions of its crew. It will be a grievous blow for Air France, perhaps more damaging than the Concorde disaster of July 2000.
But there is another, worrying implication that the Telegraph can disclose for the first time: that the errors committed by the pilot doing the flying were not corrected by his more experienced colleagues because they did not know he was behaving in a manner bound to induce a stall. And the reason for that fatal lack of awareness lies partly in the design of the control stick - the "side stick" - used in all Airbus cockpits.
A seemingly innocuous question: What do all the controls in an airplane cockpit do? When he saw this question posted to Quora, pilot Tim Morgan posted a 9000-word essay on how modern airplanes work, including, yes, what all those little cockpit dials and knobs do.
Every airplane is different. Unlike learning to drive a car, you can't just hop from one plane to another. A pilot needs familiarization (and in some cases, a whole new type of license) to fly a different kind of plane. Some are piston-powered; some are jet-powered. Some have electrically-driven controls; some are hydraulically-driven. Some have emergency oxygen; some don't. And so on. All the switches, dials, and knobs in the cockpit control the various aircraft systems, and every aircraft has different systems.
Megan Garber wrote a behind-the-scenes piece about Morgan's answer for The Atlantic.
Morgan says, "I took the time to go over it again and verify that everything was correct. I used an operations manual from a 737 simulator to check my facts." And "in the end it was a very personally rewarding experience, because I had had the operations manual lying around and had been meaning to really study it, and now I finally had my excuse."
So answering the Quora question was as much about learning as it was about sharing. And as for Morgan's overall motivation? "I can tell you with certainty that it is related to my pathological interest in aircraft," he says, "and in general a love to write and share knowledge."
Jeffrey Goldberg on the TSA's new security theater measures, including pat-downs that are so humiliating and uncomfortable that people won't mind using the scanning machine that shows them naked.
I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. "Nobody's going to do it," he said, "once they find out that we're going to do."
In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? "That's what we're hoping for. We're trying to get everyone into the machine." He called over a colleague. "Tell him what you call the back-scatter," he said. "The Dick-Measuring Device," I said. "That's the truth," the other officer responded.
The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, "Get new gloves, man, you're going to need them where you're going."
The agent snapped on his blue gloves, and patiently explained exactly where he was going to touch me. I felt like a sophomore at Oberlin.
What do people drink on trains?
On Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, beer is the best seller by far, accounting for more than half of all drink purchases. Budweiser and its calorie-conscious cousin, Bud Light, make up about 45 percent.
Vodka is far more popular than other spirits, making up half of all hard liquor sales. (One bartender, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing her job, confided that her stockbroker customers "all drink vodka," while construction workers "are all about the beer.") Gin and scotch are a distant second and third.
What do people drink on planes?
While much has been made online about ginger ale's unexpected aerial dominance (apparently one in ten drinks ordered in economy on American Airlines is a ginger ale, compared to its puny three percent terrestrial market share), there seems not to be a sustained geographical analysis of the beverage consumption patterns on different routes and airlines -- or even different seat positions. Do window-seat people disproportionately favour vegetable juice, for example, or is that just the case on the routes I've been flying?
And what do people drink with goats? Would you, could you, with a goat? Oop, sorry, things got a little Seussical there.
Nick Gleis shoots the interiors of corporate jets owned by African dictators and other heads of state. I couldn't decide which jet interior was the gaudiest, but this one is definitely a contender because of the classy naked ladies on the wall of the bedroom.
Who knew that African dictators were so nostalgic for the set design of Star Trek: The Next Generation?
The US Air Force, Pratt & Whitney, and Boeing are jointly developing a hypersonic aircraft that can travel faster than existing cruise missiles. It's powered by a crazy-sounding "air-breathing hypersonic engine that has virtually no moving parts" and reached a speed of 3500 mph in a recent test.
"This is truly transformational technology," Brink said. "This engine can be considered the next step in aviation. It's as big of leap as it was when we went from propellers to jet engines."
Nelson Minar on why flying is so difficult (in comparison to driving).
Cars only steer in one dimension; planes steer in two. Even a level turn is hard in a plane, you have to coordinate two controls, except sometimes you deliberately uncoordinate them. Managing engine power is harder in a plane: two or three controls in a piston, not just a single pedal. And then there's auxiliary controls you have to use occasionally: flaps, carburetor heat, fuel tank selector, etc. Even starting a plane requires carefully using four controls in the proper relationship.
My dad was a pilot and used to let me fly when I was little, like 5 or 6. It was easy in clear weather, easier than driving a car in fact...just keep it level. I actually didn't even need to touch the yoke much of the time...the plane just flew itself. When I got older, I realized that what made it so effortless was that my dad was taking care of the hard part, the 95% of flying that doesn't involve moving any of the controls. What made it look so effortless for him, even when things got tough1, was the 10,000+ hours in the cockpit of a plane, flying.
 Like when he made a crosswind landing in a Cessna 172 ahead of an oncoming storm which we later learned had spawned some tornadoes while running a bit lower on gas than was generally acceptable by the plane's captain. He'd already attempted one landing, aborting after the wind dropped us like 10 feet in half a second while about 30 feet from the ground. The sensation of that crosswind landing -- of gliding over the runway twenty feet off the ground at ~60-80 mph while pointed about 30 degrees off axis and then, just before touching down and presumably tumbling down the runway wing over wing, straightening out for a surprisingly gentle landing -- was one of the freakiest things I've ever experienced, partly because I wasn't scared at all...I knew he'd get us down safely. ↩
This short film was made in 1909 and depicts Wilbur Wright flying one of his airplanes around an open field. At 1:38, they attach the camera to the plane and shot what is thought to be the first video footage shot from a powered flying machine.
Then the plane started up again, followed a launching pad and took off: the camera was fixed for the first time on the ground that gave way...and the emotion was there, so great you could almost touch it! The image was as unstable as the cabin of the plane flying at low altitude, flying over the countryside and gradually approaching a town.
Timelapse video of a cross country flight at night, flying above clouds glowing with city lights.
My advice to you is to make the video full screen, put in your headphones and enjoy the soothing ride. (via migurski)
The BBC did a flight simulation of US Airways flight 1549 that shows what the water approach looked like from the cockpit. (thx, david)
I'm still fascinated by the water landing of US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River late last week. Here are a few more things I've seen related to it over the last couple of days.
First the videos. Someone visiting the Bronx Zoo caught the plane on video, flying low in the sky just after the bird strike. A Coast Guard video monitoring station got a shot of the plane just after it splashed down...you can see the spray from the impact flying in from the left of the video just after the 2:00 mark.
Soon after the plane hits, the camera zooms in and you can see just how quickly people get out and onto the wings. And then this video shows it most clearly:
Look how low and level and steady Sully guided that thing in! Amazing!
The NY Times has a couple of good pieces in their extensive crash coverage. I loved reading what various passengers had to say about the crash, lots of little moments of heroism in there.
The life raft attached to the plane was upside down in the river, just out of reach. Mr. Wentzell turned and found another passenger, Carl Bazarian, an investment banker from Florida who, at 62, was twice his age. Mr. Wentzell grabbed the wrist of Mr. Bazarian, who grabbed a third man who held onto the plane. Mr. Wentzell then leaned out to flip the raft. "Carl was Iron Man that day," Mr. Wentzell said. "We got the raft stabilized and we got on." A man went into the water, and the door salesman and the banker hauled him aboard. He curled in a fetal position, freezing.
The Times also comes through with the 3-D flight graphic I asked for the other day but they upped the ante with a seating chart of the plane where you can click on certain passengers' seats to read their thoughts. Mark Hood in seat 2A described the landing:
When we touched down, it was like a log ride at Six Flags. It was that smooth.
The whole thing is still so amazing. Looking at the underside of the plane as they lifted it from the water last night, you can see the damage to the bottom of the plane and just how close they all were to being flung all over the place or sinking quickly or a number of other different outcomes.
A comment via email from my dad, himself a pilot, about yesterday's Hudson River plane crash:
This pilot ran out of altitude and airspeed but not ideas. He did a great job of flying, and as a CAPTAIN, he has shown why he wears the four bars!!!
This is an example of quiet professionalism, training, skill, and bravery. Our craft usually goes unnoticed many times a day, but today, we saw our best work!!!
I remember once going to collect my dad after he'd landed his plane in a farmer's field in an emergency. Of course, it was a much smaller plane -- they're a lot easier to land without engines and glide well. That and he was accustomed to landing amongst the corn and hay...we had a grass strip cut out of the field behind our house that he used all the time.
A US Airways plane bound for Charlotte just crashed into the Hudson River after aborting its takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. It's still sitting in the river, slowly sinking with people standing on the wings being rescued by ferries. Photos on Flickr.
Update: Here's a screenshot from a flight tracker showing the altitude of the flight....1800, 2800, 3200, 2000, 1600, 1200, 1300, 400, 300... The flight tracker has since taken the data offline.
Update: Reports are that everyone is OK. !!! Here's a nautical chart of the area in question showing the dept to be around 50 feet.
The plane approached the water at a gradual angle and made a big splash, according to a witness watching from an office building. "It wasn't going particularly fast. It was a slow contact with the water that it made," said the witness, Ben Vonklemperer. "It appeared not to have landing gear engaged. This was bigger than a puddle-jumper or sea plane. It was a silver aircraft and it basically just hit the water," Vonklemperer added.
Update: They're saying it's a bird strike...sounds like a bird got sucked into an engine? Here's another photo of people standing on the wings, waiting for rescue.
Update: Looks like they got everyone off and that the plane is sitting quite a bit lower in the water.
Gothamist reports that the plane is being towed to Chelsea Piers.
Update: The NY Times has this helpful map:
Also, an office mate (from Buzzfeed) just got back from checking out the plane and he said by the time he got to the river, the plane had past Christopher St. and when he left, it was pretty close to Canal St. and "moving amazingly fast". (thx, scott)
Update: Maybe this is what the crash looked like?
Wikipedia notes that water landings where everyone survives aren't all that unusual, although this seems like a larger plane than most of the others noted.
In 1963, an Aeroflot Tupolev 124 ditched into the River Neva after running out of fuel. The aircraft floated and was towed to shore by a tugboat which it had nearly hit as it came down on the water. The tug rushed to the floating aircraft and pulled it with its passengers near to the shore where the passengers disembarked onto the tug; all 52 on board escaped without injuries. Survival rate was 100%
Update: Here's a brief video of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 which crashed in the Indian Ocean after being hijacked and running out of fuel.
125 out of 175 passengers died.
Update: On the always-timely MetaFilter, a bird strike researcher has some interesting things to say.
The first recorded birdstrike happened in 1908 to Orville Wright, no more than a few months after the first powered planeflights.
Surely years and not months... (thx, mike)
A live shot on the TV just now (6:00pm) reveals that the plane is now down at the Battery and they look like they're trying to secure it or haul it out of the water (likely the former).
Update: A blogger at i'm not sayin, i'm just sayin mapped the plane's location leading up to the crash using the info from FlightAware. Does anyone want to bang out a quick 3-D version in Google Earth that shows altitude as well?
William Langewiesche wrote a long piece for the January 2009 issue of Vanity Fair about the September 2006 collision of a Legacy 600 private jet and Gol Flight 1907 over the Amazon basin in Brazil. It is a tale of "a paradox associated with progress and modern times".
Navigational precision poses dangers not immediately apparent. In the Legacy, it was based on three systems. The first was an ultra-accurate altimeter, capable of measuring the atmosphere with such finesse that at Flight Level 370 it could distinguish the Legacy's altitude within perhaps five feet. The second was almost as accurate. It was the airplane's satellite-based G.P.S. receiver, a positioning system that kept track of the airplane's geographic location within a distance of half of its wingspan, and that, linked to a navigational database, defined the assigned airway with equal precision. The third was an autopilot that flew better than its human masters, and, however mindlessly, worked with the altimeter and G.P.S. to keep the airplane spot-on. Such capability is relatively new. Until recently, head-on airplanes mistakenly assigned the same altitude and route by Air Traffic Control would almost certainly have passed some distance apart, due to the navigation slop inherent in their systems. But this is no longer true. The problem for the Legacy was that the Boeing coming at them on the same assigned flight path had equipment that was every bit as precise.
Interesting throughout, it becomes downright gripping about 2/3rds of the way through. The interplay between and the eventual reversal of the pilot and co-pilot of the Legacy is fascinating.
Update: Joe Sharkey, who was on the Legacy jet when it collided with the 737, doesn't like Langewiesche's article very much, calling it a "journalistically disgraceful article".
I'm not a pilot but my dad was and I flew all the time with him when I was a kid. I know what Sharkey is talking about when he says that flying a plane is not like driving a car; once you get in the air and are pointed in the right direction with the autopilot on, there's not a whole lot the pilot is required to do. But in my reading of the article, I don't think Langewiesche was saying that the two Legacy pilots in particular were screwing around or negligent. They were acting pretty much how any other two pilots in the same situation might act. Langewiesche's point seems to be: the experience of flying a plane like the Legacy, with all the technology that's there to help pilots -- good and bad -- do their jobs, might actually be made worse and more dangerous by that technology. Also that, as he stated at the beginning of the article, there were a whole lot of different decisions and non-decisions that converged to make that event happen...a huge pile of bad luck.
As for not talking to any of the people on the Legacy for the article, I don't think that's as significant as Sharkey asserts. Everyone who was aboard the Legacy jet that day is likely feeling pretty defensive about the whole thing given the intense reaction against them by the Brazilian government, the pilots doubly so given that they're involved in a lawsuit. A prudent journalist would rightly be worried about the veracity of a narrative offered up in these circumstances, almost two years after the fact. Instead, Langewiesche chose to rely not on opinions and recollections but on the available data -- the cockpit voice recordings, air traffic control records, etc....how people actually behaved in the situation, not how they say they acted or what they thought about it. Put it this way: if Sharkey and Langewiesche were to write competing books about the collision, the former based on extensive interviews with those involved and the latter based only on the available evidence, neither would be much closer to "the truth" than the other. (thx, scott)
I don't know if this is sadly hilarious or hilariously sad. Jeffrey Goldberg took all sorts of crazy stuff through airport security -- "al-Qaeda T-shirts, Islamic Jihad flags, Hezbollah videotapes, inflatable Yasir Arafat dolls (really), pocketknives, matches from hotels in Beirut and Peshawar, dust masks, lengths of rope, cigarette lighters, nail clippers, eight-ounce tubes of toothpaste (in my front pocket), bottles of Fiji Water (which is foreign), and, of course, box cutters" -- and almost nothing was ever taken away from him or was a source of concern for airport security personnel.
We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schneier took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled "saline solution."
"It's allowed," he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don't fall under the TSA's three-ounce rule.
"What's allowed?" I asked. "Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?"
"Bottles labeled saline solution. They won't check what's in it, trust me."
They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schneier held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, "This is okay, right?" "Yep," the officer said. "Just have to put it in the tray."
"Maybe if you lit it on fire, he'd pay attention," I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schneier would carry two bottles labeled saline solution-24 ounces in total-through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. "Two eyes," he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)
So hard to pick just one excerpt from this one...it's full of ridiculousness. I don't care how many blogs the TSA launches, this is a farce. (thx, anthony)
Evan Roth has been putting metal plates with messages and symbols cut into them into his carry-on luggage when he goes through security at the airport.
Here's Roth's idea, which he calls "TSA Communication" and tells me has already made it through three trial airport runs: Take a metal plate, stencil and cut out a message -- words or an image -- place the plate at the bottom of your carry-on bag, and watch what happens as the TSA employee operating the airport X-ray machine notices ... or doesn't notice.
So far, he's used plates with outlines of the American flag, a "NOTHING TO SEE HERE" message, and something he calls The Exact Opposite Of A Box Cutter, a plate with a box cutter shape cut out of it.
A map of the world showing a simulation of all of the air traffic in a 24-hour period. Here's a higher-quality video. Like Aaron Koblin's Flight Patterns videos, only not just covering North America.
A checklist for landing a 747, presumably in a emergency.
1. Get on the radio, and tell whoever's listening that you are landing a 747.
A large collection of old airline menus. The collection is poorly organized but worth poking through (check out Air France and Pan Am). Tracked this down after reading this short piece in the Times about a private menu collection, complete with a tiny image of some menus that's barely worth the effort of clicking the link.
It was Sept. 17, 1908. Orville Wright was showing off a new "aeroplane" at Fort Myer, Va., for about 2,000 people, including Army brass. He took up a 26-year-old lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps, Thomas E. Selfridge, "an aeroplanist himself," according to the report in this newspaper. Contemporary accounts vary, but the pair apparently made three and a half successful circuits at an altitude of about 75 feet, before a propeller split and hit other parts of the plane, causing it to crash. Orville was badly hurt.
The aeroplane has made three complete circuits of the big parade ground and was dashing around a curve at the far end of the field on the final lap of its fourth when the propellor blade broke. It snapped short off close to the shaft and was hurled sixty feet away.
The aeroplane seemed to tip sharply for a fraction of a second, then it started up for about ten feet; this was followed by a short, sharp dive and a crash in the field. Instantly the dust rose in a yellow, choking cloud that spread a dull pall over the great white man-made bird that had dashed to its death.
Laughing out loud at anything in any movie, whether it is playing on the cabin system or on your own DVD player, is fifty dollars per incident. Asking me to turn off my reading light so that you can see the screen better: also fifty dollars.
If you and your spouse are dressed almost identically, or if you are carrying your passport in a thing around your neck, or if you are wearing any form of footwear or pants that you clearly purchased specifically to wear on airplanes, or if you make it obvious (by repeatedly turning around and talking to passengers in seats not adjacent to yours) that you are travelling with a group, the charge is fifty dollars.
After the video of a Chinese farmer's homemade airplane started circulating around the web late last week, commenters on several sites cried hoax, and I received several emails and tweets questioning my mental health for believing such a thing exists.
But the video wasn't obviously fake; home-built airplanes aren't rare, I have no reason to doubt the ingenuity of the Chinese farmer, and I'd rather believe in the wonderfully improbably than be cynical about everything I see. A second video of the plane has been uploaded to YouTube which, in my mind, corroborates the existence of the flying contraption (it's actually an autogyro) beyond a reasonable doubt.
Video of a Chinese farmer flying his homemade airplane. Nice landing! According to a post at IfGoGo, the plane is referred to in Chinese as "shanzhai huaxiangji". The "shanzhai" part literally means "little mountain village" but has developed into a slang word that denotes something homemade or counterfeit.
Date back to 2007, due to an open (maybe leak?) source of MTK platfrom (a wireless communication development platform), there are millions of cell phone factories burst out in south China. These factories made lots of famous-brand cell-phone-copies in a short period of time. They just copied the outline and software design from Nokia, Apple iPhone etc. The manufacturing cost is very low so many people are involved. However, these cell phones are not all completely copied. They are even totally redesigned and added a lot of features. A brand called "NCIKA" even went very popular in China. People're even joking that the farmers in big mountains can develop and design a cell phone too. So many people call it "Shanzhai Ji" (Ji means machine in Chinese, here means cell phone) and then the name is widespread in China.
Since then, many funny/weird stuff from ordinary people are called "shanzhai" something, and that's why this plane is named "Shanzhai Huaxiangji" in Chinese :)
From an article on jet lag, the story of Sarah Krasnoff's fatal jet setting:
One day in 1971, a woman called Sarah Krasnoff made off with her 14-year-old grandson, who was caught up in an unseemly custody dispute, and took him into the sky. In a plane, she knew, they were subject to no laws, and if they never stopped moving, the law could never catch up with them. They flew from New York to Amsterdam. When they arrived, they turned around and flew from Amsterdam to New York. Then they flew from New York to Amsterdam again, and from Amsterdam to New York, again and again and again, month after month.
They took about 160 flights in all, one after the other, according to the stage piece "Jet Lag." They saw 22 movies an average of seven times each. They ate lunch again and again and turned their watches six hours forward, then six hours back. The whole fugitive enterprise ended when Krasnoff, 74, finally collapsed and died, the victim, doctors could only suppose, of terminal jet lag.
(via things magazine)
The "open-skies" agreement goes into effect at the end of this month, which means that airlines based in the US and Europe can fly into and out of any two airports in each area.
The new pact is expected to be game-changing for Europe-bound travel. More routes are expected to open, and prices could fall thanks to the new competition. The agreement is also likely to encourage European carriers to compete more aggressively with one another across the Continent. Lufthansa, the German airline, for example, could set up a hub in Paris; or Air France could set up a hub in Frankfurt.
The article also states that Ireland-based Ryanair wants to offer fares to/from secondary markets in the US and Europe as low as $16. !!!
Richard Mosse's Air Disaster, a series of photographs of air disaster simulations, on-the-ground training exercises for airport fire-fighting crews. BLDGBLOG has a short interview with the photographer.
The firemen have put out the fire in seconds. That's their job, after all. They do this with decisive brevity and great courage, sometimes walking right into flames -- but it doesn't make for an easy photograph. It's all a bit like the sexual act: the flames come up and men run in and spray everything with a high power water hose and then it's all over.
Everyone's pissed at the airlines, even their employees.
Why can we not get better quality snack items for our coach customers? One customer recently compared the generic pretzel nubs we serve to the fish food you buy in a .25 gumball machine at any zoo or park.
I like the openness policy of the US Airways CEO...the "employees are going to talk about it anyway" line is exactly right.
What will air travel in the US look like in ten years? Five industry insiders respond.
A Florida scientist has trained a brain consisting of cultured rat cells to fly a simulated F-22 fighter jet. [Insert "I, for one, welcome our new rat brain pilot overlords" joke here.]
To control the simulated aircraft, the neurons first receive information from the computer about flight conditions: whether the plane is flying straight and level or is tilted to the left or to the right. The neurons then analyze the data and respond by sending signals to the plane's controls. Those signals alter the flight path and new information is sent to the neurons, creating a feedback system.
FYI, this story is a couple of years old...if that matters to you.
A Delhi man is doing a booming business in virtual airplane flights. Indians who have never been on an airplane before come from miles around and, for a small fee, experience the interior of an Airbus 300 and meal service.
As on an ordinary aircraft, customers buckle themselves in and watch a safety demonstration. But when they look out of the windows, the landscape never changes. Even if "Captain" Gupta wanted to get off the ground, the plane would not go far: it only has one wing and a large part of the tail is missing.
For your fun office lunchtime activity: a bunch of tips, folding instructions, and paper patterns for making sweet paper airplanes.
No matter how many times I see the photos, the proximity of the runway to the beach at the St. Maarten airport amazes me. (via gulfstream)
New evidence is bringing us closer to finding out what actually happened to Amelia Earhart. "In more than 50 nonfiction books and even a movie, writers embraced theories ranging from a crash at sea to abduction by aliens, from Earhart executed by the Japanese as a spy to living under another name in New Jersey."
Air France, Continental, Delta, Emirates, KLM, and United are integrating the iPod into their airplanes, so that you can plug in to charge and view movies on the seatback video screens. How about some standard 120V AC power outlets instead?
What an honest pre-flight announcement would sound like. "We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction." Cutting through institutional rhetoric seems to be a reoccuring theme this week, see also honest advice to incoming college freshman and how design works.
The Onion provides a list of new guidelines from the Transportation Security Administration. "Vermont and New York cheddars can be brought on board, but not Wisconsin cheddar -- by far the sharpest cheese in the cheddar family".
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