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kottke.org posts about flying

How to fold the world’s best paper airplane

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2014

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.

The Man Who Rode the Thunder

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2014

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.

(via @axlotl)

  1. “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.”

Lufthansa’s air care

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2014

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)

What It’s Like to Fly the $18,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2014

Singapore Air Suites

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.

(via df)

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)

The Wright Brothers’ first flight

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2014

In celebration of National Aviation Day, In Focus has a slideshow of photos of the Wright Brothers’ first flights.

Wright First Flight

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).

How to survive air travel

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2014

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.

The Aviator’s Heart

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2014

Baladeuse

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.

Aerial warfare in WWI

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2014

The latest installment of the In Focus series on WWI is Aerial Warfare.

WWI aerial warfare

Great series so far, really enjoying it. Start from the beginning if you haven’t seen it yet.

Seaplane takes off from trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2014

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)

Helicopter Xmas tree harvest

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2013

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.

(via @jchristopher & @cdevroe)

Update: And here’s the helicopter cockpit view from a similar harvest:

(via @iEddyG)

Plane lands/takes off in only 20 feet

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2013

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:

These planes are referred to as STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft; here’s some detail on how they work. (via @alper)

Crazy plane landing on a mountain

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2013

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)

Photos of airships

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2013

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.

Airship USS Akron

(via @alexismadrigal)

How to beat jet lag

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2013

In the 1980s, Charles Ehret developed an antidote to jet lag called The Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag-Diet.

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)

Sign of the times: a lost drone poster

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2013

Looks like someone lost their drone in the West Village:

Lost Drone Poster

Pretty sure that drones falling from the skies in heavily populated metropolitan areas is going to lead to banning.

Human-powered helicopter wins $250,000 Sikorsky prize

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2013

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.”

(via hn)

747 cargo plane crash caught on video

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2013

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)

Shake Shack coming to JFK airport

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2013

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality is opening two Shake Shacks and a Blue Smoke in Delta’s new Terminal 4 at JFK airport.

Can you fly a plane on Mars?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2013

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.

(via stellar)

Human-powered helicopters are hard to build

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2012

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.

The NPR story that the video accompanies is here. (via ★interesting)

Is poor cockpit design to blame in the Air France 447 crash?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2012

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.

What do all the controls in an airplane cockpit do?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2012

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.”

Airport security: the Dick-Measuring Device or molestation?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2010

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.

Drinks on the go

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2010

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.

The interior design style of dictators

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2010

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.

Dictator Jets

Who knew that African dictators were so nostalgic for the set design of Star Trek: The Next Generation?

Hypersonic: more super than supersonic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2010

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.”

You can read more about scramjet engines on Wikipedia. (via @bldgblog)

Why is flying hard?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2010

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.

[1] 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.

First video from a plane, 1909

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2009

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.

(via @ebertchicago)

Flying over glowing cities

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2009

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)

Flight 1549 simulation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2009

The BBC did a flight simulation of US Airways flight 1549 that shows what the water approach looked like from the cockpit. (thx, david)