Say what you mean and mean what you say!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Project Corona

The Corona series of American strategic reconnaissance satellites were produced and operated from 1959 until 1972. It was commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) Directorate of Science and Technology and developed with substantial assistance from the U.S. Air Force. The Corona satellites were used for photographic surveillance of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China as well as other areas and was developed in as much secrecy as possible.

Today's modern satellites owe a great deal of their existence to this program which inspired a rapid advancement in remote Earth sensing technology. Corona would start out as camera platform but would evolve into much more by the programs end. Although it suffered many major teething problems as such endeavors often do, the program existed in a time when repeated failures were both accepted and even expected in the march towards a usable system. It is doubtful such misfires would be tolerated today.

So urgent was the need for information during the cold war that such projects as the U-2 spy plane and Corona satellite were designed, built tested and put into operation with time line that would no doubt seem impossible to a modern day engineering team; and it was all done on drafting boards with pencils and slide rules. This paper will profile Project Corona which was emblematic of a heady era in both technology and geopolitics, the likes of which we shall likely never see again.

In 1957 the United States had a space program but it was moving at a rather lethargic pace. We sat behind a massive bomber fleet armed with nuclear bombs and were enjoying a flush economy with a sunny horizon. All of our potential enemies were across two major oceans and the Defense Early Warning line or DEW line, was an impentatrable shield of radar waves that constantly searched the skies for Russian bombers. Fighter interceptor wings ringed our borders from northern Canada to Alaska. To help keep an eye on our potential enemies project Corona, started under the name "Discoverer" as part of the WS-117L satellite reconnaissance and protection program of the US Air Force, was begun in 1956. But in October of 1957 the Russians orbited Sputnik and priorities quickly shifted.

In May 1958, the Department of Defense (DoD) directed the transfer of the WS-117L program to the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). It was funded with a lavish $108.2 million budget for that year which, when adjusted for inflation, is about $880 million today. Add to that the Air Force and ARPA adding a combined sum of $132 million for their spinoff, the Discoverer program, and the entire project had a 1959 budget of over $1.07 billion in 2015 dollars. This gives some idea as to the importance placed on the project. The Corona project was pushed forward even more rapidly following the shooting down of a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union in May 1960. The American intelligence community as well as the diplomatic corps were in near panic for a way to gather intelligence without another disastrous international incident like the U-2 shoot down. This intelligence was needed in order to help prevent a misunderstanding that could help trigger World War III (Federation of American Scientists, 1995).

The Camera and Film

The Corona satellites used special 70 millimeter film with a 610 mm focal length camera. The camera was manufactured by the Eastman Kodak company and the film, was initially 0.0003 inches thick, with a resolution of 170 lines per millimeter of film. This would soon turn out to be a problematic areas in the cameras development. This was three times the resolution of the film used in WW2 just 16 years earlier but the acetate-based film was breaking in the cold of space. It was later replaced with a polyester-based film stock that was more durable in earth orbit. The amount of film carried by the satellites varied over time. Initially, each satellite carried 8,000 feet of film per camera but the reduction in the thickness of the film stock eventually allowed more film to be carried. by the fifth generation Corona the amount of film carried had been doubled to 16,000 feet by a reduction in film thickness and with additional film capsules. Most film shot was black and white but on a mission in 1964 infra red film was used and color film was used on two subsequent missions. Ironically the color film proved to have lower resolution and was never used again (National Reconnaissance Office, 2010).

New cameras were manufactured by the Itek Corporation and these had lenses that were panoramic. They moved through a 70° arc perpendicular to the direction of the orbit. A panoramic lens was chosen because it was able to obtain a wider image even though the best resolution was only obtained in the center of the image. This however was overcome by making the cameras sweep back and forth across 70° of arc since the lens on the camera was constantly rotating to counteract the blurring effect of the satellite moving over the planet (CIA, 1972).

The first Corona satellites had a single camera, but a two-camera system was quickly implemented. The front camera was tilted 15° forward, and the rear camera tilted 15° aft, so that a stereoscopic image could be obtained. Eventually the satellite had a three camera system. The third camera was employed to take "index" photographs of the objects being stereographically filmed CIA, (1972). In 1967 the cameras were placed in a drum. This drum or "rotator camera" moved back and forth, eliminating the need to move the camera itself on a reciprocating mechanism. This gave a huge improvement in image quality. The drum permitted the use of up to two filters and as many as four different exposure slits, greatly improving the variability of the Corona images The first cameras could resolve images on the ground down to 40 feet in diameter but rapid improvements in the imaging system allowed the KH-3 version of the satellite to see objects 10 feet in diameter. Later missions would be able to resolve objects just 5 feet across. A single mission was completed with a 1 foot resolution but the limited field of view was determined to be detrimental to the mission. It was later determined that a 3 foot resolution was the optimum resolution for quality of image and field of view (National Reconnaissance Office, 2010).

One early problem that cropped up was the mysterious fogging of the film. The initial Eventually, a team of scientists and engineers from the project and from determined that electrostatic discharges (ironically know as "corona discharges") caused by some of the components of the cameras were exposing the film. Corrective measures were taken but the final solution was to simply load the film canisters with a full load of film and then feed the unexposed film through the camera onto the take-up reel with no exposure. The unexposed film was then processed and inspected for corona discharges. If none was found or the corona observed was within acceptable levels, the canisters were certified for use. (National Reconnaissance Office, 2010).

How the System Worked

The first satellites in the program orbited at altitudes 100 miles above the surface of the Earth but later missions orbited even lower at 75 miles. This is about as low as an orbit can get but the idea was to get pictures and closer was better. The idea was that the cameras would take photographs only when pointed at the Earth. The Itek camera company, however, proposed to stabilize the satellite along all three axes—keeping the cameras permanently pointed at the earth. Beginning with the KH-3 version of the satellite this would be done by using a horizon camera which took images of several key stars. A sensor used the satellite's side thruster rockets to align the rocket with the selected index stars, so that it was correctly aligned with the Earth and the cameras pointed in the proper direction. It worked and by 1967 two horizon cameras were used. This system was known as the Dual Improved Stellar Index Camera or DISIC. One by one the problems were being tackled but it was still not a simple task to make the entire system work.

Once the pictures were taken the film canister was jettisoned to re-enter the atmosphere. The film was retrieved from orbit via a reentry capsule which was nicknamed the film bucket, After reentry was over, the heat shield surrounding the film bucket was jettisoned around 60,000 feet and the parachutes deployed. The capsule was intended to be caught in mid-air by a passing airplane. towing an airborne claw which would then winch it aboard or it could land at sea. In the event of a water landing there was a salt plug in the base. If it was not picked up by the United States Navy within two day this plug would dissolve and the film bucket would sink to prevent being picked up by other countries. (National Reconnaissance Office, 2010).

The CIA had a two film bucket recovery capsule system by 1969 and later even had a three film bucket system. This also allowed the satellite to go into a passive shutdown mode for up to twenty-one days before restarting and taking images again. Beginning in 1963, another improvement was made called the lifeboat. The lifeboat was a battery-powered system that allowed for ejection and recovery of the capsule if the main power system failed.

Corona had obvious short comings which resulted in the SECRET classification being dropped after a reentry vehicle accidentally landed in Venezuela. Local farmers found it in 1964 (Day, 2008). As a result a reward was offered in eight languages for the return of errant Corona film buckets to the United States.

The Politics of Corona

In 1959 there were 15 launches of the air force's Discoverer program. It had been co-developed with Corona and they had problems that became the stuff of Hollywood. Shortly after the launch of Discoverer 1 in January, an East German radio station berated the US for "launching a military satellite without giving prior warning to any nation whose territory it might pass over". It was merely a test payload with no reconnaissance capability and had not even made it into orbit but the opportunity to complain about America was too much for the East Germans to resist. Ironically Moscow did not utter a peep. In fact the Soviets did not make any comments on Discoverer 1 at all but the East Germans were furious or at least they acted that way. The Soviet silence was no surprise as the Russians had a similar program called Zenit (McDonald, 1995).

Things got worse on Discoverer 2. It carried a recovery capsule for the first time and was also the first satellite to be placed into polar orbit and the main bus performed well overall but the capsule recovery system, failed. It apparently came down near Spitsbergen Island off Norway, probably sinking in the ocean. It was never found. Rumors began shortly thereafter that the Russians had recovered the capsule but there is no evidence of this. Even if they had it was just a test vehicle and there would have been little information they could have gleaned from it. But it was too much for Hollywood writers to pass up and the cold war thriller novel and movie "Ice Station Zebra" was inspired by the incident (Day, 2009).

There was an understanding among the superpowers that they would continue to develop spy satellites and the lesser powers would simply make complaints about it. Despite the odd international incident the race for spy satellite technology continued unabated.

Improving the Technology

In fact the Corona and Discoverer missions were having a great many failures. Even though the satellites were working out most of their problems the launchers were still temperamental. The next ten Thor-Agena rockets (which carried both the Corona and Discoverer satellites) failed and were destroyed. But in August of 1959 Discoverer 13 managed a successful capsule recovery for the first time. This was also the first recovery of a manmade object from space. The Russians would duplicate the effort 9 days later, but America was the first (NASA, 2015).

Discoverer 14 carried a camera package for the first time and the cameras operated properly. The capsule was recovered from the Pacific Ocean one and a half days after launch. Then Discoverer 15 managed to successfully de-orbit its capsule but it sank into the Pacific Ocean and was not recovered. Despite this, the system was finally beginning to work.

By 1960 the Corona project was operational and in 1963, the KH-4 system with dual cameras was put into service. Once again the program was made secret, the Discoverer label was dropped and all launches became classified. Because of the increased size and weight of the satellite the basic Thor-Agena vehicle was insufficient and had to be bolstered by three solid-fueled strap-on motors (National Reconnaissance Office, 2010). On February 28, 1963, the first Thrust Augmented Thor lifted from Vandenberg carrying the first KH-4 satellite. Again failure set in as the strap-on motors failed to separate after burnout. Their dead weight dragged the Thor back down and the Range Safety Officer destroyed it. The problem was fixed and even though there were occasional failures during the next few years, the reliability rate of the program finally moved into acceptable numbers. By 1966 the best sequence of Corona missions (from 1966 to 1971) took place when there were 32 consecutive successful missions, including film recoveries.

Corona orbited in very low orbits to enhance the resolution of its camera system and at perigee (the lowest point in the orbit) and as a result Corona actually endured drag from the Earth's atmosphere causing its orbit to decay rapidly. In 1963 maneuvering rockets were added to the satellite but these were different from the attitude stabilizing thrusters. The new maneuvering rockets could boost Corona back into a higher orbit. This was no small advancement for the time. Advancements were also being made in the system's ability to be prepped and launched quickly in order to react to world events. For use during unexpected crises, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) kept a Corona ready for launch in seven days. By 1965 that time frame was down to one day.

There were 6 variants of the Corona satellite of which three were variants of the KH4. They were the KH-1, KH-2, KH-3, KH-4, KH-4A and KH-4B (KH stood for "Key Hole" which was an obvious spy reference). Each model had more capabilities than the last. In all there were 218 Corona/Discoverer missions including all 30 failures (NASA, 2015). At least half of the successful missions had serious problems and only about 52 were completely successful but they all gave us vital intelligence. Eventually the Coronas would not only carry 3 film pods and enjoy an acceptably high reliability rate but they would eventually be equipped with Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) payloads also. These were known as ELINT sub satellites. Nine of the KH-4A and KH-4B missions included ELINT sub satellites, which were launched into a higher orbit. This was a harbinger of things to come.

As a backup to Corona there was an alternative program named SAMOS. This program included several types of satellite which used a different photographic methods (National Reconnaissance Office, 2015). They involved capturing images on photographic film and developing the film right there inside the satellite. The image would then be scanned and electronically transmitted via telemetry to ground stations. Essentially it was a combination Fotomat and FAX machine. The Samos satellite programs used this system but they could not take and relay very many pictures each day. Two later versions of the Samos program (the E-5 and the E-6), planned to use the Corona style film-bucket-return system and although neither of these were ever used they did show the way of the future. Eventually Corona did gave way to newer designs that could simply transmit their data. The KH-11 satellite is the modern follow on to this idea (NASA, 2015).

The End of Corona

The Corona program was so classified that is was not actually officially declassified from top secret until 1992. On February 22, 1995, the photos taken by the Corona satellites, and also by two contemporary programs (Argon and KH-6 Lanyard) were declassified by executive order. President Bill Clinton decided that enough time had passed to allow for the declassification of the Corona images. President Clinton's order also led to the declassification in 2002 of the photos from the much later model KH-7 and the KH-9 low-resolution cameras (CIA, 2015).

But from January 21st, 1959 when the first Corona test mission malfunctioned on the pad at Vandenberg AFB until the 25th of May, 1972 when the last US Air Force KH-4B photo surveillance satellite was launched from Vandenberg AFB aboard a Thor Agena D rocket, Corona was the true cutting edge eye in the sky.


Campbell, J. & Wynne, R., (2011). Introduction to Remote Sensing. New York, NY: The Guilford Press
CIA, (2015). Corona: Declassified. Retrieved from weblink:
CIA, (1972), A Point in Time: The Corona Story. Retrieved from weblink:
Day, D., (2008). Spysat Down. Retrieved from weblink:
Day, D., (2009). Has Anybody seen our Satellite?. Retrieved from weblink:
Federation of American Scientists (1995). CIA Holds Landmark Symposium on CORONA. Retrieved from weblink:
McDonald, R., (1995). Corona Between the Sun and the Earth: the first NRO reconnaissance eye in space. Bethesda, MD: The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.
NASA, (2015). NSSDC Master Catalog Search. Retrieved from weblink:
National Reconnaissance Office, (2010). The Corona Story National Reconnaissance Office. retrieved from weblink:
National Reconnaissance Office, (2015). Index, Declassified WS117L, SAMOS, and SENTRY Records. Retrieved from weblink:
U.S. Geological Survey, (1998). Declassified Intelligence Satellite Photographs. Retrieved from weblink:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The FAA's New Obstrucitve Sleep Apnea Policy

FAA Surgeon General Dr. Fred Tilton M.D. has waged war on undiagnosed Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).  The research was actually done by Dr. Nick Lomangino over some years (Tilton, F. 2014).  The new OSA rules were initially invoked as a simple FAA medical reinterpretation of the existing regulations (ergo avoiding the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) process) but once the word got out, virtually every aviation organization started screaming bloody murder.  Organizations that are often at odds with each other were in a united opposition to Dr. Tilton's reinterpretation of the FAA's medical standards as it was seen as administrative overreach.  AOPA, ALPA, ATA, various aviation periodicals and many in the flying community were activated.  They were motivated by 3 things. 

1. The biggest complaint was that the FAA was instituting what was obviously a major rule change as a simple interpretation that required no outside oversight.  The attempt was thwarted by congress and the entire thing went through the NPRM process.

2. Dr. Tilton's insistence that any pilot with a BMI over  40 or neck size of 19 or higher were to be denied issuance of a medical certificate until they had completed a sleep study (at their own expense) and received FAA approved treatment (if it was deemed required).  

3. Some are arguing that it serves only a political purpose, not a practical one and it doesn't cost the government money since the airmen have to foot the bill. (Stanton, 2014).

After some changes made during the NPRM process the rule came into effect.  The main adjustment is that the FAA aviation medical examiners (AMEs) can issue the medical certificate but airmen with BMIs over 40 will or neck size over 19" have 90 days to do the sleep study and, if required, receive treatment. The deadline can be extended another 90 days at the airman's request.
Another change is that the airman can exercise the privileges of his certificate until such time as the (and if) the sleep study requires treatment.  As soon as the treatment begins and the airman is content that the issue has been properly addressed, they may self-release back to flying but the results of all tests must still be submitted to the FAA by the 90 day deadline.  If the treatment is not working then the airman may not exercise the privileges of their medical certificate until a satisfactory treatment is underway.

An example is thus:  The airman has a 19 inch neck and the doctor says take a sleep study.  The sleep study tells them they have severe OSA.  At this point the airman is grounded (much the same as if they had a cold or any other temporary condition that would ground them).  A second sleep test is done with a constant pressure air pump (CPAP) and the results show the OSA is adequately addressed by its use.  The pilot gets their home CPAP unit and uses it for a few nights to make sure all is well.  The pilot may now self release to resume flying but the doctor will want to see the results of longer term use of the CPAP.  The airman takes the computer chip to the doctor who collects the data and from longer term use (usually 30 days or so) and writes up a report that goes to FAA Aeromedical.  Once they look at it and decide the OSA is under control they will issue a waiver.  The pilot may have to have it renewed annually, possibly via a download from the CPAP or just a declaration on the medical form.  

FAA Aeromedical may continue to pursue more OSA requirements on the aviation community possibly even making sleep studies a requirement for all airmen certificates.  This will be likely justified by the data showing that 30% of all people have undiagnosed OSA.  This is on all of the associated documents and correspondence to AMEs (Tilton, F. 2014).  

Tilton, F. (2014). New obstructive sleep apnea policy. retrieved from web link.                          ame/fasmb/media/201304_editorial.pdf

Stanton, B. (2014). Sleep apnea testing in transportation, it's not medical guidance anymore, it's               full blown politics now. retrieved from web link.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Freefall: The crash of Pan American Airlines

Freefall: The Crash of Pan American Airways

Pan American Airways, or Pan Am for short; was America's premier international airline from the early 1930s until the early 1980s.  The airline went from the gold standard in service and innovation to bankruptcy in only two decades.  This was due to a litany events, some of which were beyond its control and some of which were self-inflicted.  To understand the failure of Pan Am, one must know the history of its development.  The other things one must know are how both its leadership and its relationship with the government changed over time.
In 1920 a German airline named SCADTA began operating in Colombia.  Several American army officers (to include future commander of the Air Force Henry 'Hap' Arnold) grew concerned that this may be a future threat to the Panama Canal.  In 1927 they created a shell company, Pan American Airways, to create a counter operation to SCADTA.  They were able to secure the air mail route form Key west, FL to Havana, Cuba but were not able to raise funds to equip the operation.  This is where Juan Trippe, a former naval aviator with ambitious plans, stepped in. 
The well financed Trippe had already formed the Aviation Corporation of the Americas which had Cuban landing rights.  He merged it with Pan American Airways and assumed their airmail contracts to Cuba.  With a rented float plane, Pan Am completed their first Key West to Havana mail run as required by October 19, 1927 (Millbrooke, A. 2006).  The American government saw this as a counter to SCADTA and gave quick approval to Pan Am's rapid growth in South America (Gandt, 2012).  Pan Am was on its way.
With support from the United States government and adequate financing, Pan Am quickly grew throughout South America.  It began operating out of Dinner Key near Miami, Florida and opened a world class training facility there as well.  Trippe hired the best and most famous pilots he could to pioneer routes.  Charles Lindbergh and Ed Musick were among them.  This worked to both establish new routes and promote the airline. He also acquired larger and more capable aircraft.  By 1935 Pan Am had bases at Midway atoll, Wake island and Guam.  Called Clippers, these planes flew routes that extended to the Philippines by the end of 1935.  Pioneering of the north Atlantic began in 1937 and later that same year Juan Trippe accepted the Collier Trophy from President Roosevelt on behalf of Pan Am.
In 1939 Pan Am accepted six large Boeing 314 flying boats and in 1940 they also began using the first pressurized airliner, the Boeing 307 Stratoliner.  With World War II looming, the planes would soon be taken for military service.  Pan Am volunteered to be completely subservient to the military for the duration of the war.  Its training facility at Dinner Key was used to train large numbers of military aviators in the science of long range flight operations.  During the war, Pan Am would expand its routes across the middle east and Asia as part of its duties to the military but would also gain valuable experience and contacts in the region.
Following World War II, Pan Am would resume operations but things had changed for the airlines.  The war had littered the world with large airports and good runways.  The advancement in transport aircraft was substantial so Pan Am, like most airlines, shifted its fleet from flying boats to the newer, more efficient, long ranged land planes.  The last scheduled flying boat service for Pan Am was completed in 1946.
Pan Am returned to a premiere airline status and continued to innovate.  It acquired new Boeing 377s and Douglas DC-4s.  What Pan Am could not acquire were domestic routes inside the U.S..  Pan Am was seen as an unofficial representative of the United States.  In fact, it was jokingly referred to as part of the U. S. State Department (Gellene, D., Dallos, R. 1991).
Competing carriers successfully argued to the Civil Aeronautic Boards (CAB) that Pan Am, with its worldwide network, would have an a virtual monopoly if it was allowed a domestic route structure as well.  The CAB instead handed international routes to other U.S. airlines that had vast domestic networks.  Pan Am was also having to compete with improving equipment. TWA ordered Lockheed Constellations in 1946 so Pan Am was forced to do the same or lose its competitive edge in the Atlantic but Pan Am had one advantage in Europe.  Post WW2 Berlin was prohibited from having service by a German airline so Pan Am got the job (Gandt, 2012).
1950 was a year of change for Pan Am.  In January they officially rebranded the airline as Pan American World Airways (PAWA) but the public still referred to it as Pan Am.  In September they also acquired American Overseas Airlines for $17.45 million dollars and bought 45 DC-6Bs in the same month.  In 1956 they bought DC-7Cs to keep up with TWA's improving line of Lockheed aircraft.  This helped Pan Am to maintain parity with TWA until 1957.
Juan Trippe had foreseen the end of piston engine airliners and he was not idle.  In 1955 Trippe met with Boeing about acquiring 21 of the new Boeing jets.  He also gained leverage over Boeing by ordering 25 Douglas DC-8s as well.  This gave Trippe the leverage to have Boeing design a second version of the 707, the 707-320, to Pan Am's specifications (Gandt, 2012).
Pan Am began jet service in October of 1958 ushering in the jet age in America with a flight from New York to Paris.  The early 707s needed a fuel stop in Gander but by 1959 the 707-320 was making non-stop flights both ways with profitable payloads.  The DC-8s began non-stop European service in 1960.  The total value of the combined aircraft orders was $269 million dollars.  As impressive as that order was, Juan Trippe had yet grander plans.  In 1965 he again approached Boeing, this time with the idea for a massive airliner that would bring down the cost of overseas travel to be within the reach of the common man.  He teamed with Boeing to layout the idea for a jumbo jet later to be called the 747.  Boeing had to build an entirely new factory to construct the behemoth yet it still managed to be operational by 1970.  The $525 million dollar order would revolutionize air travel; and almost bankrupted Pan Am.
President Johnson was no friend of Pan Am.  He  preferred American and Braniff (both based in his home state of Texas).  Johnson even overruled the CAB on occasion and gave routes to Braniff and American despite CAB rulings that they should go to Pan Am.  Although not crippling to Pan Am, it was a harbinger of things to come. 
Juan Trippe retired in 1968 and was followed by Harold Gray.  Gray, who was terminally ill, only served as CEO until 1969.  Najeeb Halaby Jr. then took over Pan Am until 1971.  Neither man was successful in getting Pan Am any domestic routes.  When President Nixon came to office in 1969 Pan Am expected to have Johnson's decision reversed but Nixon, after noting that Pan Am was not on his donor list, elected to leave Johnson's decision intact.  The government that had been so good to Pan Am in its formative years was now seemingly intent on holding it back or at least ambivalent.
In 1971 former Air Force brigadier General William Seawell would become CEO of Pan Am.  Where Trippe had been famous for his building of relationships with business partners and governments, Seawell was quick tempered and ruthless.  He was seen more as airplane operator than a visionary.  Just as with previous CEOs, Seawell was also unable to obtain domestic routes for Pan Am.  The airline's financial situation was beginning to weaken in the face of increased competition from carriers who had strong domestic networks as well as an increasing international presence.  Despite this, Pan Am's international dominance was still seen as a justification for the CAB to deny them domestic routes.  Pan Am still managed to flourish and 1969 was a record year with the company earning $89 million dollars. 
But by mid 1970 the company had lost over $30 million dollars in what was becoming a recessionary economy.  In 1973 there was an oil embargo to the United States which exacerbated the existing economic recession.  This was just after Pan Am had begun operating many of its new 747 Jumbo jets.  With a decline in travel, the airline now had considerable overcapacity and massive costs, both for the payments on and high direct operating expense of the 747s. 
The airline had accumulated $364 million dollars in losses over the past decade and had almost one billion dollars in debt.  By the mid 1970s it was looking at a possible bankruptcy.    This forced Seawell to reduce Pan Am's size by 25% and engage in harsh, but badly needed, austerity measures.  It took until 1977 for Pan Am to return to profitability. 
But Pan Am's meager profits were muted by President Jimmy Carter denying Pan Am the Atlanta to London route (UPI, 1977) and the Dallas to London route (API, 1977).  However, on  October 4, 1978, President Carter deregulated the airline industry and Pan Am was finally free to pursue a domestic feed and cease operations on unprofitable routes.  They immediately dropped some European routes and began looking at either starting a domestic feed or buying a domestic carrier.  Seawell decided to buy. 
In 1980 Pan Am bought National Airlines for $437 million after a bidding war with Frank Lorenzo of Texas Air and Frank Borman of Eastern airlines.  He had been warned by many at Pan Am that he was paying too much.  At the same time Pan Am was being hit by expanding low cost competition and declining passenger travel. 
Pan Am's debt topped one billion dollars and it was forced to divest itself of one of its most famous non-core assets, the Pan Am building in Manhattan.  It sold for $400 million.  This only helped offset the financial burden temporarily as the operating losses for 1980 were $248 million (Gandt, 2012).  Part of this loss was because National Airlines had a very different fleet and corporate culture than Pan Am.  In addition, the National route structure did little to help feed Pan Am's international route structure.  Also, National employees were brought up to Pan Am pay scales (Gandt, 2012).
In 1981 Chairman Seawell was replaced by former Braniff executive and Air Florida CEO C. Edward Acker.  Acker constantly tinkered with the routes and kept changing corporate strategy back and forth between domestic and international emphasis.  Under his management Pan Am was losing record amounts of money, nearly half a billion dollars by the end of 1982 (Gandt, 2012). 

In 1984 Acker proceeded with a fleet modernization program which included buying the new Airbus A-300/310.  These planes replaced some of the older Boeing 727s and 747s once the ETOPS certification was approved by the FAA.  Despite this they still had a large number of incompatible aircraft as a result of the National Airlines purchase.  This situation was partly rectified in April of 1985 when Acker sold Pan Am's Pacific operations to United airlines for $750 million dollars.  United also took the mismatched fleet types but this sale represented a quarter of Pan Am's route system (Petzinger, 1996).
In 1986 Pan Am acquired the Eastern Shuttle and several regional feeder airlines.  The shuttle was profitable and Pan An held on to it until their last year of operation but it never had an impact on the international feed.  In January of 1988 Acker was replaced by Thomas Plaskett as the CEO of Pan Am and immediately set to improve the airlines appearance and on time performance.  The now much smaller airline had just begun to have profitable quarters again when it became a victim of its own brand. 
Pan Am was still seen as America's international airline and as such became a target for terrorists.  On December 4th of 1988, Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie Scotland by a bomb (Kane, 2012).  This set in motion a series of events that Pan Am could not recover from.  One of the worst effects was the shattering of public confidence in the airline.  There was near constant television coverage broadcasting of the cockpit wreckage which clearly displayed Pan Am's paint scheme and the Clipper name.
Following this, passengers simply would not fly on Pan Am out of fear.  It also slowed international travel which only compounded Pan Am's situation.  From this point on Pan Am was selling assets to stay in the air and the financial decline following Lockerbie was to prove terminal.
In 1989 Pan Am tried to recover its position by merging with Northwest Airlines but the merger never took place as Pan Am was outbid (Petzinger, 1996).  In August of 1990 the first Gulf War began.  This resulted in a plunge in transatlantic travel which hit Pan Am's bottom line even harder.  Also, the Berlin Wall had fallen and the result was that Germany no longer needed a foreign airline to fly its routes to Berlin.  Pan Am sold its internal German route system to Lufthansa for $150 million dollars and reduced its workforce by another 9% (Gandt, 2012).  This was not enough to reverse Pan Am's losses and in January of 1991 Pan Am declared bankruptcy. 
Delta Airlines bought Pan Am's Atlantic routes and became a 45% owner for $416 million dollars plus a $100 million dollar cash infusion.  The remaining 55% of Pan Am was controlled by the Pan Am Creditors Committee (PACC).
In October of 1991 former Douglas Aircraft Company executive Russell Ray Jr. was hired as Pan Am's CEO (Sanchez, 1991).  Pan Am was to move their headquarters to Miami and become a primarily Caribbean carrier.  Downscaled to 60 airplanes and 7,500 employees Pan Am's only remaining transatlantic routes were Miami to London and Paris CEO Ray and the PACC to soon found themselves at odds.  Ray was seen by Pan Am employees and the PACC as "Delta's man".  Ray and Delta saw that even after the restructuring Pan Am was losing over $2 million dollars per day (Petzinger, 1996). 
Delta was to give Pan Am a $25 million dollar cash infusion following Thanksgiving in 1991 but at the last minute withheld that payment (Gandt, 2012).  Delta claimed that it did not see how Pan Am could become viable.  Pan Am employees felt that Delta had picked off the best assets of Pan Am and cut the remainder loose.  Since Pan Am needed $15 million dollars just to operate for another week, the airline was effectively broke.  Ray was left with no option and on the evening of December 3rd he gave a three word command that effectively ended Pan Am's 64 year history; "Shut it down".  On Dec. 4th, 1991, flight 436 from Barbados to Miami was Pan Am's final flight.  Upon its parking at the gate, Pan Am ceased to exist as an airline.
In conclusion, the failure of Pan Am has many reasons but there are four key events that sealed its fate.  First were the changing government policies from just after World War Two up through deregulation.   Secondly was the 1973 oil embargo and its resulting weakening of Pan Am's finances.  Thirdly was the inept merger with National Airlines.  The fourth and fatal blow was the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  After the Lockerbie bombing Pan Am never saw financial daylight again.  The era of the premiere carrier was over and the era of the cost effective airline was in.

Juan Trippe and Charles Lindbergh in the early days of Pan Am
The Pan Am Worldport at JFK in New York
                   B-757 Logo changes

Low cost carriers such as Peoples Express became the new normal



AP Wire (1977). Pan Am asks CAB to delay Routes. Retrieved from this web link  

Gandt, R. (2012). Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am. New York, NY: Wm Morrow Co. Inc. Gellene, D., Dallos, R. (1991) Pan Am's Dive. Retrieved from 
Kane, R. (2012) Air Transportation. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt
Krishnaiyer, K. (2013). Politics and the Growth/Fall of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am)    in Florida. Retrieved from this web link. american-world-
Millbrooke, A. (2006) Aviation History. Englewood, CO: Jeppesen
Petzinger, T. (1996) Hard Landing. New York, NY: Random House
Sanchez, J (1991). L.A. Executive Ray Gets Top Posts at Pan Am. Retrieved from this web link.
UPI (1977). Pan Am Chairman makes Pitch for Atlanta to London Route. Retrieved from this
       web link.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The BUZZ about Home Grown Drones!

Most states are getting pretty aggressive about drone regulation especially where, sports, animals and monuments/stadiums are concerned.  Privacy issues are largely already addressed and the drones are only a camera platform.  In Florida the police are expressly prohibited from using drones without a warrant[1].  The state legislature nipped that one in the bud early.  But I want to pose 3 scenarios to help explain why the privacy issue is so front-and-center right now.

Scenario 1:  I am your neighbor.  I start to take video through the window.  You call the police and I am told I must get off your property.  I then go across the street to my house and use a telephoto lens to take video through your window.  You close the curtain and go upstairs.  I then get on my roof so I can do the same while you are upstairs.  You will pretty much have get a restraining order from a judge to stop me.  the same goes for if I have a camera on a pole that can see over your privacy fence etc, etc.  As long as I am in the geographical limits of my property, about all you can do is stay inside and close your windows.

Scenario 2: After being ejected from, your property I get a drone and buzz around your house or outside you windows taking video.  So long as I stay above 83 feet above ground level there was precious little you could do.  Airspace rights do exists (you own the airspace up to 83' above your property)but everything above 500 feet is public domain.  The airspace between 83 feet to 500 feet is still in legal limbo [2].

The only real grounds you have for stopping me are property rights,  not the nebulous issue of privacy rights.   There are two major misunderstandings about privacy rights, first is what is covered by the 4th amendment and second is to whom they apply.  The 4th amendment as copied from the official archives of the United States is pasted below:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.[3]

Firstly, there is no right to privacy.  In fact the word privacy is not even mentioned in the amendment.
Secondly, this provides limited protection against the government, not other citizens.  There is no question that privacy issues complicate the drone issue but the real argument will be fought out over property rights.  If the courts should rule that drones with cameras are a threat to perceived privacy rights, then the same can applied to any camera that views private property whether it is a security camera on your house or just private properties in the background of a selfie.  This is a much larger can of worms than it may seem on the surface.  

Remember, if the issue is about privacy then the drone (which is just a lift platform) is not the real issue, the camera is.  It could just as easily be a camera on the end of a really long stick!

1 e30378.htm

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Impromptu Fly-In

In March, 1979 I was doing a cross country flight as part of my private pilot certificate requirements.  I landed in Perry Florida to get my logbook signed (proof of completion) when I saw a B-17 bomber parked across the ramp. 

Next to it was a white Grumman F9F Panther jet.  I was shocked to see a WW2 bomber and Korean war jet fighter just sitting parked on the ramp.  The B-17 had a prop feathered.  A local told me that one of the engines acted up so the pilot did a precautionary shutdown and made an unscheduled stop.  He said the owner came out in his Panther jet from Texas to assess the situation.

Number 2 engine feathered

I hopped in my little trainer and scampered home to Quincy where, after telling my dad and school chums, arranged to take the family Datsun pickup truck back the next day to take pictures.  My Russell and I drove the 90 miles down highway 27 in hopes that the stricken bomber would still be there.  We were not disappointed.  In fact we were further rewarded.  Apparently the word has circulated around the local aviation community about this rare gathering of eagles.   While we were there, a civilian owned, ex-military trainer, a  T-28 Trojan, landed and taxied up.   In those pre-internet days, aviation was still a small community and word about cool planes travelled quickly.
Suzy Q nose art
Note empty nose, no bombsight or guns

Three ex-military planes, a trainer, a fighter jet and a heavy bomber, all privately owned, sitting on an obscure airport with local aviation buffs driving and flying in to see them.  I still have those photos today.  I love this country.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why Lindbergh Succeeded

Lindbergh's success was no accident.  He was meticulous a planner with an eye for detail.  His time flying the mail in all kinds of foul weather had prepared him for the trials of the North Atlantic but it was his logical decision making process that served him best.
The decision to use a single engine plane was beautiful in its simplicity.  If the Spirit had been a multi engine plane, it would have simply increased the odds of an engine failure with every engine added.  Two engines gives you twice as many points of failure.  It is unlikely that such a heavily fuel laden plane could have stayed aloft with an engine out (at least within the first hours of the flight).  using the kiss philosophy (Keep It Sweet & Simple) held down costs and risks.  This is why he chose the Wright J5-C Whirlwind engine.  It had a sterling reputation for reliability.
No radio.  Lindbergh knew that having a radio would add considerable weight and little value.  Once committed to the flight knowing about the weather ahead was not going to change it and if he went in the ocean, hypothermia would probably get him before help did.  The over water navigation had to be by dead reckoning since there were no over water navigational aids.  Again, a well calculated risk.
Keep it light.  Lindbergh was a hawk when it came to keeping the plane light.  Every pound he saved was a another pound of fuel.  He never sacrificed the structure or soundness of the plane but he omitted anything that he did not absolutely need.  Even his survival kit was minimal. As a result he was able to putter along at 108 miles per hour to a safe landing at Le Bourget filed in Paris, France 33 hours and 29 minutes after takeoff.
Planning, planning, planning.  Lindbergh thought everything through.  His flight was carefully planned despite pressure to go from competitors.  His biggest mistake was going without sufficient rest but and the conditions were far from ideal.  Despite this he had received all available weather reports and did not launch until mother nature said it was OK to do so.  This sound, if not rushed thinking kept him alive.  Again, the careful planning made sure it all worked out in the end.

Before WW2

While the airlines and air racers were setting new records the clouds of war starting to gather over both Asia and the Europe.  When Howard Hughes beautiful H-1 came out in 1935 it looked like a space ship.  At better than 350mph it set new records and showed the world the future of aviation.  Shortly after that, in a resurgent Germany, new records were being set with racing planes that were thinly disguised fighter technology development platforms.  German military pilots were also gaining combat experience in Spain as well as well.  The German bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in Spain was a dark stain on the golden era.    The Versailles treaty had been all but forgotten.
The British were not idle during this time.  They were doing the same thing with the R.J. Mitchell's racing designs and in the process ended up creating  what would later become the Spitfire. 
In 1933 Italy's Italo Balbo had flown an entire squadron of flying boats across the Atlantic to Chicago, IL and back with only two losses.  By 1937 The Japanese were in China and by 1939 their advancements in long range medium bombers and carrier borne aircraft were impressive.
In America, the military was still suffering from tight budgets and a gradual crawl out of the depression.  The Army Air Service had been elevated to a Corps and then to the U.S. Army Air Force but it was still part of the army.  Both Germany and Britain had independent air forces.  The English took the WW1 RFC & RNFC and folded them into the Royal Air Force or RAF.  The Germans had developed the Luftwaffe or Air Weapon.

During the 1930s the U.S. Army Air Force had been making some advancements especially in heavy bombers (one design was even sold to Japan) and fighters but the overall state of the military was weak.  In both Japan and America the respective navies had invested heavily in aircraft carriers and both navies had internal turf battles between the 'carrier admirals' and the 'battleship admirals' aka the Big Gun Club.  The advantage the Americans had was the relatively civil rivalry between the army and navy.  Naval and Army aviators were often competing for records to help their branch obtain the meager peacetime appropriations that were available.

In Japan, the relationship between the services bordered on dysfunction.  There were even assassination attempts on senior officers of the opposing services.  The Japanese military had an artificially difficult pilot training school system designed to weed out all but the very best aviators.  This led to a small cadre of extremely elite pilots that were not easily replaced.  When combined with some of the excellent airplanes that Japan produced and the combat experience gained over China, the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army could boast what were possibly the best air arms in the world if not the most rigidly disciplined.

In comparison both the British and Americans had civilian pilot training programs designed to get as many air minded young men as possible pre-trained as a pool of quickly trainable combat pilots.  Even Germany had done something like this with their glider clubs.  In addition, by 1939 America had developed both domestic and international airlines that spanned the globe.  Pan Am pilots had pioneered both trans Atlantic and trans Pacific flying and even had forward bases across the Pacific.  Lindbergh himself had been the pathfinder for many of these routes.  This gave America a large pool of experienced flying boat pilots like Edwin n Musick who could be used to train large numbers of new men.  The wealth of experience these men brought to the army and navy was immeasurable.

Sadly America was behind the modern world in fighters, torpedo planes and overall numbers.  Despite this the services trained as hard as they could and prepared a cadre of future pilots and leaders.  One extremely important thing the U.S. Navy did in 1933 was to invest in three new, ground up designed aircraft carriers of the Yorktown class.  By 1941 the U.S. Navy had the three best aircraft carriers in the world.

Millbrooke, A. (2006) Aviation History. Englewood, CO: Jeppesen
Jackson, R. (2007) The History of Aviation, New York, NY: Amber Books Ltd