Say what you mean and mean what you say!



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 http://www.dailytech.com/Florida+Bans+Warrantless+Drone+Use+Restricts+Use+Scenarios/articl e30378.htm
2 http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/05/30/317074394/drone-wars-who-owns-the-air
3 http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

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

A little airline History: How did it start?

This discussion is about the early airlines and how if left unmolested they may have done far better or worse than they did.  When Tony Jannus ran the first airline in history, the St. Petersburg-Tampa airboat line, he did it on what was essentially a charter by the local city fathers.  It was $5 one way across Tampa bay (a princely sum in 1914).  With one passenger and one pilot in a Benoist flying boat they could skim across the bay (often no higher than 5 feet) in 23 minutes as opposed to hours by train, boat or car.  The service was so popular that it continued on for over a month after the original contract had expired.  To this day we still have the Jannus award for contributions to the airline industry (my employer, JetBlue has won it twice).  But historical accolades aside for being first, the operation was essentially a promotion that was underwritten by the city.  The fact is that a real airline as we thinks of one today would need better routes, equipment, infrastructure and perhaps most of all vision.

The early crossing of the Atlantic by the US Navy NC-4s and the later circumnavigation of the globe by the army's Douglas World Cruisers showed vision but they were simply not practical routine endeavors.  In fact, they showed just how impractical they idea was given the current state of the art.  They did however serve to show what kind of infrastructure and support future airlines would need (prepositioned assets, maintenance facilities etc).  Alcock and Brown had shown that the crossing could be made in a more potentially profitable manner but even their flight was fraught with potential disaster as were airship services.  Airships had the range and payload abilities but the flammable hydrogen was always ready to burn if it ever met an ignition source.  In addition to this there were various and sundry efforts by local operators but these were mostly short range affairs doing charters in small biplanes.

In France however, industrialist Pierre-Georges Latécoère began building a true airmail Société des lignes Latécoère, an operation that, in the hands of a later owner, would eventually reach across the south Atlantic.  Latécoère had the support of the French government which would later prove a double edged sword.  He dealt with the international issues of crossing over and landing in foreign countries to serve France's far flung colonies.  He had to arrange for the logistics, airfields, maintenance, pilot hiring and navigation.  By the end of 1918, only months after the end of WW1, he had service from France to Spain underway (Toulouse-Barcelona).  By 1925 the airline had reached as far as Dakar, Senegal, a distance of 1,600 miles.

Latécoère used mostly surplus Breguet 14 biplanes.  There were old but rugged and simple to maintain.  But the hard work on old and primitive airplanes created many problems which resulted in numerous aircraft losses and a high rotation of pilots.  Latécoère decided to design and build his own mail plane, the Late 17.  The Late 17 could even carry a passenger, a logical next step.  Latécoère had built a working airline which and was even designing new planes when the operation was bought by a Frenchman in Brazil named Marcel Bouilloux-Lafont who renamed it Aeropostale.  Aeropostale began operating across the Atlantic and expanded across south America.  It was the largest French airline by the late 1920s.

 
Late' 17


By 1930 the wheels had come off of the wagon for Aeropostale.  A combination of the depression, bank failures, revolts in Brazil, an air mail scandal and jealousy of other French airlines with political connections, the airline was taken over by the French government and melded into what would become Air France.

Once the Treaty of Versailles restrictions had expired, the Germans began Deutsche Luft Hansa (D.H.L.) but their routes were determined by bilateral agreements with individual countries as opposed to the open ended multilateral agreements.  They also had airship service via DELAG which felt that airships were the way to go which is not surprising given that Germany made the best airships in the world.  German aircraft makers had turned to making metal airplanes which were very popular with airlines across the globe.

The British proceeded with extreme caution in airline building and virtually neglected their domestic markets in lieu of reaching out across the empire.  Imperial airways catered to upscale clients traveling internationally.  Their aircraft were older, more conservative British designs such as the Argosy tri-motor biplane and later the impressive if not slow H.P. 42/H.P. 45 four engine biplanes.
The United State focused mainly on air mail.  Whereas many pilots were barnstorming the countryside in surplus Jennys and Standards, the army had made the maiden airmail flights in similar machine but the post office was in charge.  The post office started using their own planes and pilots and helped to build up the airways by investing airway beacons and instrument rated planes and pilots.  in 1925 the post office began contracting out flying because to private airlines because of the Air Mail act of 1925.  This required the post office to contract out the air mail to the airlines instead of conducting their own flight operations.  The air Commerce act of 1926 put those airlines under the regulation of the Department of Commerce.  This would eventually lead to the development of the Civil Aeronautics Administration  or CAA (which in 1958 would  become the FAA of today).

All was well until the air mail scandal 1934.  A particularly despicable chapter in aviation history, the scandal would cost the lives of 12 army pilots and result in 66 crashes. The air act commerce had resulted in lucrative air mail contracts going to selected air carriers at fixed prices.  many operators were not allowed to bid or their bids were ignored.  The idea of the commerce department had been to help America to develop fewer but stronger airlines.  In what became known as the Spoils Conference, the DoC did just that.  In 1930 the postmaster and the airlines mapped out a plan to determine who got what.  When FDR was elected, he assigned a new Postmaster General who saw this as collusion and had president Roosevelt strip all airlines of their contracts.

To keep the mail flying, the US Army was ordered to carry the mail (a job for which they had neither the training nor the equipment).  The result was a disaster that exposed the poor state of military preparedness due in no small part to congressional parsimony.

Eventually the airlines were able to recover the contracts at somewhat lower rates if they divested themselves of other aviation businesses (many airlines owned airplane, radio and engine making operations).  The entire thing was a largely partisan political creation but it did have some positive outcomes.  The separation of industries from the airlines made their equipment available to all operators and manufacturers and the airlines focused on flying.  This bought down product cost through economy of scale and allowed best practices to flourish unencumbered by the competing interest of a parent company.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

VP Joe Biden's absurd comments about LaGuardia Airport


As a working airline pilot who has flown out of LGA (LaGuardia) extensively I feel a need to comment on Biden's remarks calling LaGaurdia airport a third world facility compared to China's shiney new international airport. LGA was built when planes went 150mph and needed a 3,000 foot runway. Being on the edge of Flushing bay it has no place to expand. In fact when the runways were extended to accommodate faster planes (jets) they had to be built over the water (a good part of the runways is actually an over water bridge structure). There is simply no place left to expand to. The field only has 2 runways to accommodate more traffic than JKF (where I still fly out of). Even if you ironed LGA flat and designed a new airport from scratch, there is no place to put bigger facilities or more runways as the airport was never intended to deal with the kind of traffic is sees. 

At nearby JFK they have built 2 brand new terminals with a third under construction and put in a billion dollar air train.  It should also be noted that LGA is a domestic airport that does not handle widebody aircraft so it is unfair to compare it to a major international airport. You might as well compare Hong Kong or Tokyo to Chicago Midway or Jacksonville, Florida.

Another issue is that an airport has to operate while new structures are built. There is an old joke in aviation that an airport is a construction sight with a runway. Temporary terminals have to be constructed while the permanent ones are built. There was actually a televised documentary of the construction of Jetblue's temporary terminal (which was used for a few years while the new T-5 was built). This takes hundreds of millions of dollars and airlines that are willing to commit to the new facilities. Since Jetblue is in the middle of building a new international terminal (T-6) at JFK they can't do it. American, United and Delta are already paying through that nose to be at LGA so they can't do it. So who is going to pay for it. Should be around half a billion.

New York (and many major American cities) have airports that have grown since their original pre-WW2 construction and they have had to make due. A few cities like Denver actually bit the bullet and built brand new facilities but it is expensive and not to be done lightly. Some new airports have been built only to be underutilized (ex: Panama City FL). Some had room for great expansion (ex: Orlando FL MCO) but many are built in cities or by waters edge greatly complicating expansion.

Additionally China (and in fact most countries) have only a few major cities. America has dozens and many have kept up with modernization. Airports like Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Chicago, L.A., Seattle, Denver, Boston and even Detroit have kept up (often against major difficulties). Cities like San Francisco (SFO) and Washington DC (DCA) have great terminals but lousy, even dangerous airport layouts. DCA has dangerous southern approaches and northern departures via the Potomac River (to avoid overflying prohibited area P-56 near the white house and the mall) and SFO's runways are too close together. Yet despite these dangers officialdom has chosen to just leave it alone rather than spend tons of money to fix it. As an aside, the DCA issue could be fixed with the stroke of a Presidential pen allowing flights over the mall. I have only scratched the surface here but Biden's comments are not simply fair. LGA is a hard pressed local airport for narrow bodied jets and commuter planes and comparing it to China's showpiece major international airports is like comparing the family station wagon to a yuppies BMW.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Sun Sets on a Beautiful Dinosaur

After decades of trailblazing service it looks as if the mighty the Boeing 747  could be nearing the end of the production line.  Boeing cut the 747's production target twice in six months and now only 36 will be produced over the next 24 months. Aviation buffs have know for some time time that some brand-new 747s go into storage as soon as they leave the plant. Only 5 have been sold this year and all of them to one customer, Korean Air.  This is not surprising as customers migrate toward more modern and efficient two engine designs (with less seats to fill).

Four engines were the norm when jet engine technology was not so advanced but today's jet engines are amazingly efficient, reliable and capable so you only need two of them.  A 747 can seat from 380 to 560 people, depending on how an airline wants it set up. A full one is a moneymaker but an under sold flight of a 747 can cost an airline all of its profits from the full ones.  The 747 is simply too big for most markets where there are not enough passengers to justify the jumbo jets.

The 747 once stood alone s a true trail blazer.  It had more seats than any other jet and a 6,000 mile range. The plane was longer than the distance the Wright Brothers traveled on their first flight.
The distinctive bulbous upper deck was a lounge was so distinctive that the plane eventually epitomized the modern age of international jet travel.  It was even the centerpiece of countless movies and was, or is, a true icon of pop culture.   It made International travel affordable to the masses and changed the tourist industry forever.  The type is used as Air Force One as the space shuttle carrier.  It is arguably the world's most recognizable aircraft.  Boeing sold a total of 1,418 747s before a major 2011 redesign as the 747-800.  Despite this, passenger airlines have ordered 31 of the latest version, the 747-8.  This order is a minuscule compared to the 979 orders for Boeing's smaller and more fuel efficient 787 Dreamliner.

As technology and customer demands change, the need for a massive 4 engine jet seems to be waning.  Passengers love frequency and the smaller more fuel efficient planes offer that.  They also offer lower maintenance and operational costs per seat mile while providing the same long range, safety  and reliablity.  The 747's place in history and in the hearts of aviaphiles is secure and we will be seeing the for decades to come but it's days of production may be seeing the sun drifting down toward the horizon.