Thursday, August 19, 2010

Today is National Aviation Day.

Set aside By President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 to honor and celebrate the development of Aviation. Appropriately it is observed on Orville Wright's birthday.

Normally I take-up the plane on special aviation days like this, just to ride around and soak-up the feeling of wonderment of soaring freely. But today my plane is in New Orleans with my partner. So I am earthbound. No matter I see some rather nasty looking thunderstorms building and that is one thing that I will NOT challenge.

Yesterday I posted about my interest in learning from accidents. I truly believe by learning what went wrong, and why, we can become safer. I have read litterlly thousands of accident reports, and they have revealed some surprising facts. Also there have been quiet a few strange events recorded, but last Saturday an accident occured that strange and unlikely as it seems, the thought gives me nightmares.


This past Saturday at a small airshow in Colorado there was a midair collision between two aircraft, causing one to crash out of control while the other, heavily damaged managed to land safely. While horrorifing this seems pretty straight forward upon 1st glance. Fortunately no one was killed.
It seems that at the airshow a group of model enthusists were flying their VERY large r/c ( radio controlled ) airplane. They were over the runway as a manned stunt plane approached the area. At this point the show was under the direction of a man on the ground, the "Air Boss" who was talking on a handheld radio and supposedly clearing the airspace.
Well there seems to have been some type of breakdown in communication because the Stunt plane, a single seat Pitts biplane continued to fly down the runway while making a trail of smoke which is normal for airshows. It continues on making a high speed pass until it collides with the r/c plane.Following impact, the biplane continues flying, apparently under control , while the model tumbled to pieces falling off to the side of the runway. There were no injuries to anyone on the ground but the video does show the public were much too close to an active runway.

Without my trying to fix blame as to who was in the wrong, I need to note that the current FAA regulations dictate manned aircraft always have the right of way.
After regaining control of his aircraft the manned stunt plane returned to the runway making a safe landing. The pilot was shaken, but not injured. His plane however shows significant damage. The bottom wing of the Pitts aircraft has a huge dent in it making the plane unflyable until repaired.

The very large $8000 r/c model faired much worse. Here is the largest remaining hunk of it's wreckage. Things could have been much much worse. The collision could have brought down BOTH machines, debris from either or both aircraft could have injured or killed many in the crowd. the potential for harm was enormous.

The FAA accident team is investigating the event. It will be interesting to see how this investigation plays out. One lesson already seems obvious. Better communication could have helped.

The images from the airshow ( above ) are off a video shot by someone in the crowd.

  • The 1st one is the r/c plane in an extreme nose up attitude seconds before the collision.

  • Next the photo shows the Biplane just before impact

  • In the 3rd shot the actual impact ( in the far right side of frame)

  • And finally a photo showing the models damage from the collision.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I truly love flying. Some people don't. Maybe it's the fact that they are not totally in control. Or maybe it's as simple as fear of something unfamiliar. Once in a while accidents do happen, planes do crash. But statistics prove beyond doubt that flying is about the safest of transportation. Your chances of being in an air crash is so small it's almost unthinkable. Still being honest there is some risk involved with climbing into a metal, wooden and or fabric covered machine and soaring with the birds. Actually there are risks everywhere. Trains, cars, buses, even walking along introduces some level of risk into your life. That thought sometimes makes people want to just lie in bed with the covers pulled up around their necks, cowering at every unexplained sound. There is risk in that as well. Maybe the roof will fall, or maybe you'll drift off into a deep sleep, roll out of the bed and bump you head. There is Risk in everything.

In flying it is a pilots job to minimize the risks. He doesn't do it alone. There are mechanics, weather professionals, routing specialists, and many others to help him. Then there is training which can help reduce the risks and even help avoid most of them. I truly believe this training, works. It is helpful to practice. Learning to avoid or dodge risky actions, and by learning how to minimize others can help make flying or any activity safer. Knowing in advance what to do, how to react to situations, making a plan before the risk arises is a key to safer flying.

I believe there are lessons to be learned from every accident that ever happened. Learning what went wrong and why can help you avoid a similar situation and thereby reduce the risks. I feel so strongly about this that I spend a portion of every day reading aircraft accident reports. Searching for insights that may help me one day.

I have a LARGE collection of official accident reports. From all over the world. Some are just a few paragraphs others contain massive multi-part volumes. I have one report of an airliner accident that runs almost 3,000 pages.

The earliest report I have is of the first crash in history to be fatal to a passenger ( non crew member ). It was with the U.S. Army signal corp ( forerunner of the U.S. Air Force ) and it happened in the extreme early days of powered aviation when a Wright Brothers airplane piloted by Orville himself was giving a demonstration flight to the Army at Fort Myer, Virginia. An Army officer Lt. Thomas Selfridge was along for the ride as an observer. After a few circuits around the field something caused the propeller to break and the "Flyer" crashed nose first into the ground from about 150 feet. Lt. Selfridge died from a massive head injury several hours after the crash. Pilot Orville Wright suffered severe injuries, including a broken leg, several broken ribs and a hip injury. He was hospitalized for seven weeks.

I wrote this as an introduction / background for a series of blogs I have in the works.

I hope you will check back and read the updates, including my next entry. It's a story of a truly bizarre accident that occurred just last Saturday.

See you here

Friday, August 13, 2010

Do you suffer from Triskaidekaphobia?

Fear of the number 13.

If you do then today must really be tough. It’s estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States have a fear of Friday the thirteenth. So many the symptom even has a name Paraskavedekatriaphobia.

Some people are so paralyzed by fear that they avoid doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed. What is really strange is that most of the people can offer no explanation at all, logical or illogical. They just have a fear for its own sake.

The superstition does have deep roots that may explain why the fear is so widespread today.

The number thirteen and Friday both have been considered unlucky:

In some places the number twelve is considered a good number.
• as in the twelve months of the year, • the twelve tribes of Israel • twelve Apostles of Jesus • twelve hours in a day, twelve hours of night

But the number thirteen is considered a bad number.

• At the Last Supper, thirteen people were seated at the table. The 13th was a traitor. And Friday is considered the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified, which is viewed as both good and bad by Christians

Are you afraid of Friday the 13th? Are you taking any extra precautions? Or is it just another amusing day for you?

In any rate be careful especially with mirrors and whatever you do please and watch out for back cats open umbrellas and ladders.
Disclaimer: No I don’t believe in any luck good or bad other than the luck you make.

A classic repost

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Huge Triangle in the sky.

Starting tonight and continuing for the
next couple of weeks there will be a rare chance to observe three of the brightest planets without a telescope . If you have clear skies, and a view to the west-northwest you will be able to Venus, Mars and Saturn together in a tight cluster. When and Where to Look

Unlike many of the stellar displays you won't need to stay up all night nor awake at 3am to enjoy it. About an hour to hour and a half after sunset is hen the planet trio will be in view. Any later and they will have dropped below the
horizon and out of view.

Astronomers measure the brightness of objects in the sky using a standard yardstick called magnitude. The lower the number, the brighter the object, with the brightest stars in the sky categorized as either a zero or first magnitude.

So while Venus (dazzling at magnitude - 4.3) should be more than bright enough to see with the unaided eye in the fading twilight glow, Saturn (magnitude +1.1) and Mars (magnitude +1.4) will likely be a bit more difficult. Indeed, although Saturn and Mars are of first magnitude, they appear only about 1/150th as bright as Venus!

Personally, I would strongly suggest also using binoculars to scan the sky for the three planets, especially if it is still hazy like it has been the last few days.

The peek for this event will be tonight and tomorrow but they may still be seen for about two more weeks.

Hold your fist at arm's length. This will be about a 10-degree circle all three should appear well within that area. Look about a fist and 1/2 above the horizon at the begining lower as the time passes

Good luck

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I was reading a story about the test flights of a new plane today. Like almost always when I am on-line one story leads to another and pretty soon I am in a totally unrelated place from my start. Today I was led to another article about the storage of retired airliners in the desert. This is just another area where I find acute interest. One of the planes featured in the article was the famous or infamous 'Gimli Glider'
Some of you may remember the tale of the almost new Boeing 767 jet that had to land on a dragstrip when it accidentally ran out of fuel on a flight. But to most of you the jetliner registered as C-GAUN was little more than a run-of-the-mill widebody plane.

The incident on the pride of Air Canada jets happened way back in 1983. I remember the actual day it happened. I poured over the news reports and later the official reports trying to learn how in that modern era, a high-tech long-range plane, like a 767 could run short on fuel on a domestic flight in good weather while crossing southern Canada. I am amazed at how it successfully imitated a 173 ton glider.

Even though it was 25 years ago (July 23, 1983) most old timers at Air Canada and around the aviation community remember the details well. It all started with the discovery of a problem with part of the aircraft's flight management system. Basically that is a problem with the fuel gauges. It was a bad electrical connection, a faulty soldering joint.

That by itself is not enough to ground a plane, because the fuel can be measured manually. But this led to several problems.
  • First none of the ground crew trained to do so, but the pilots would recheck the numbers.
  • This introduced the 2nd problem. The pilots used an incorrect conversion method. The ground crew had used imperial measurements to compute the 767's fuel load as was common in Canada. Air Canada & in fact the whole country was just beginning the process of changing over to the metric system. This Air Canada 767 the first plane set up with the new system. The difference between the amounts calculated was huge.
The flight took off and was progressing normally. But as it crossed high over Red Lake, Ontario, a warning signal in the cockpit sounded, and suddenly the flight crew realized the error.

One engine failed, followed soon by the other. As that happened the generators supplying power for the aircraft's glass-panel avionics stopped too. Quickly the battery went dead which left the 195 seat airliners powerless.

With only a few mechanical backup instruments and unboosted flight controls the plane was descending at 2,000 feet-per-minute.

The Good News

Call it fate or just serendipity but one of the pilots on board that day was Captain Robert Pearson, also an expert glider pilot. He enjoyed this hobby on his days off. Still even with that skill there was no hope of keeping the plane in the air all the way to Winnipeg. Fortunately the other pilot, the co-pilot First Officer Maurice Quintal had been a pilot in the Air Force and knew of an abandoned base near their flight path -- in Gimli, Manitoba -- where he had once served.

Using their limited instruments Captain Pearson and First Officer Quintal successfully glided the plane toward the runway at Gimli. But as they neared on their silent approach the crew saw that spectators and campers were spread out, watching go-cart races on the abandoned runway.

There was nothing they could do. They were committed.

Still on a short final the crew realized they were going too fast and were too high to make the field and stop safely. Captain Pearson, making use of his gliding skills did something some pilots thought impossible. He put the plane into a hard side slip. This maneuver would cause the aircraft to lose altitude quickly without increasing the speed. In fact with the nose slightly up it might even help slow them a little.

It was a firm landing and the plane's nose landing gear collapsed. They were now skidding quickly down the runway sending up a shower of sparks. Captain Pearson could see two boys bicycling on the runway, in front of them. They were pedaling like crazy " "My heart leapt into my throat." He remembers. "One of the boys stared straight back at me in the cockpit."

Fortunately, the plane missed the boys and other onlookers coming to a stop 100 feet from where the spectators had set up their campers. Miraculously there were no injuries on the ground, nor to the extra light load of 61 passengers and eight crew on board the plane.

The plane was repaired a few days later, safely refueled and flown out eventually returning to service.

Both Pilots continued to fly and 1985 received the first-ever Federation Aeronautique Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship.

C-GAUN may have been just another jetliner to most people. But when she was retired almost a quarter of a century later in 2008, she was a legend and a "proud lady of the skies".

This story was also told in a book I have owned and enjoyed several times, "Free Fall" and later it was made into a TV movie staring William Devane. I have a copy of that as well. Think I watch it again tonight.