Archive for the ‘Aviation’ Category

'This Week In Space' – April 10, 2010

April 11, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is hot off the presses.  Check us out!

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Discovery launch. Source: NASA

Hello and welcome – and happy Yuri’s night – hard to believe it has now been 49 years since the first human being left the planet – and 29 years since the first shuttle flew – we’ll check in with one of the founders of the global Yuri’s night celebration – in a little while – see what is in store this year –

But first – let’s talk about the 131st space shuttle mission – currently “in work” as they say in the space business. I must admit – I am pretty lucky to have witnessed a lot of shuttle launches – and each of them is beautiful in their own special way – like a snowflake I suppose…but this one stands out – for one thing – we got a great view of Discovery’s destination – the international space station – as it flew overhead in the predawn darkness shortly before launch…then came the launch itself,

Those of us at the cape were able to see Discovery with eyes only – for a full seven and a half minutes – no one can remember anything like that – and then after Discovery was out of view and safely in space – were were left with this spectacular scene as the sun rose…remnants of the shuttle plume lit up like a pastel painting…

Discovery commander Alan Poindexter had to dock his craft at the station without the benefit of a radar system that failed. It is the same device that allows the orbiter to send out streaming video (or what we used to call TV)…and so that meant they had to record the heat shield inspection – and then send it down to earth using the station’s system.

The joint crews successfully attached the space equivalent of a PODS moving crate to the station – the Leonardo Multipurpose Logistics Module – in it – about 17 thousand pounds of gear and supplies – including some new crew sleep quarters…a fancy exercise machine that will give researchers a better idea about how physically fit the station-keepers are…and a device that ads cameras, spectrometers and other sensors to better observe the earth as it passes below the station.

They do see some cool things up there – look at this shot from crew member Soichi Noguchi of the Aurora Boraealis – or Northern Lights – he tweeted that one down.

Three spacewalks are planned for the 13 day mission.

Late as this is in the shuttle program – there is still room for some firsts as well as lasts – there are four women on the  combined shuttle station crews – a space record. And no – none of them stopped and asked for directions.

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This Week in Space – March 19, 2010

March 21, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week in Space” is now available!  Check us out!!  And many thanks to our sponsors, Binary Space and Space Careers!

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Discovery at launchpad 39A. Source: NASA

Two million parts – all of them form the low bidder – as Wally Schirra  once famously quipped – if you put those parts together just right – you’ve got yourself a space shuttle – the problem is – just about every single one of them has to be working perfectly before a shuttle ever clears the tower.  But exceptions can be made….and that is what the shuttle launch team is doing for this next launch. With Discovery sitting on the launch pad for its penultimate flight – a helium valve  failed. The helium is used to make sure there is pressure in the fuel lines that feed the Orbital Maneuvering System engines – which handle the big course changes in orbit. Fixing the valve means a roll back to the the hangar – and a big delay. So the shuttle team will try to verify that some regulators downstream of the valve are working just fine. If so, it means they will have confidence they have only lost one layer of redundancy – and thus give Discovery its launching papers.

Source:  WISENASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer – or WISE has captured an image – Charles Foster Kane would have liked to see – rosebud….
this one is no sled though – it is a cosmic blossom in a cluster of stars in the Berkeley 59 – which sounds a little like a group of sixties anti war radicals…anyway…the blue dots are the stars…and they are formed by the orange dust cloud in the middle – and the green – those are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – of course…you can find those on earth in barbecue pits…for some reason I am hungry…WISE is also hunting for asteroids – and it has found more than a dozen that are near to earth – and we didn’t even know we were there. You’d be WISE to listen to this story – Chicken Littles.

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Media layoffs are eroding the quality of journalism on television

February 10, 2010

As it happens, the PBS newsmagazine “Frontline” chose the one-year anniversary of the Buffalo crash to air its investigation . The report rewinds to the dawning of the deregulation era 30 years ago, then walks us back to the present day, methodically showing how the commuter business grew to 52 percent of all airline travel and how two inexperienced pilots were allowed in that Colgan cockpit.

A former Colgan pilot told “Frontline” he got promoted to captain with 500 hours of flight time, less than a third of what the majors require. Pilots are paid only when the cabin door closes, so they work 16-hour days for perhaps $21,000 a year. There’s no pay for canceled flights, so they take chances with stormy weather.

And when a plane goes down? Incredibly, the major airline that “incentivizes” (not my word) this risky behavior is shielded from liability. And the government? As Mary Schiavo, the FAA’s inspector general during the Clinton/Valujet years, puts it: “The FAA protects airlines.”

“Frontline’s” correspondent is Miles O’Brien, who was one of my favorite CNN anchors until he and the network’s entire science team were fired in 2008. Between the PBS exposure and likely tie-ins with NPR, O’Brien’s reporting will probably be seen and heard by more Americans than saw him on cable. PBS also will put the report online in perpetuity.

Will other networks follow? During a decade when the cost of gathering news plummeted, meaning that networks could do more with less, they have instead done less with less.

Everywhere you look, TV news is saving money. And as Miles O’Brien, Larry Doyle and thousands of other journalists might say in response: At what cost?

via Media layoffs are eroding the quality of journalism on television.

Television Review – 'Frontline – Flying Cheap' – On PBS, Up in the Air With Frayed Safety Nets – NYTimes.com

February 9, 2010

We know from the movies that commercial airplanes are full of venomous snakes and pandemic-inducing viruses, but you may prefer those in-flight hazards to the ones documented in “Flying Cheap,” Tuesday’s “Frontline” on PBS.

The program, reported by Miles O’Brien, makes clear that while airline passengers may like to think that they always have a Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger at the controls, what they often have is a cockpit full of the sleep-deprived, the undertrained and the underpaid.

via Television Review – ‘Frontline – Flying Cheap’ – On PBS, Up in the Air With Frayed Safety Nets – NYTimes.com.

TV Preview: 'Flying Cheap': Buckle Up, Indeed – NewsFlash – NJ.com

February 9, 2010

That cheap ticket you found online is the byproduct of deregulation in the extreme, which allows major carriers to transfer to smaller carriers the high-cost (and all liabilities) of what once might have been a costlier, premium flight. According to “Frontline,” half of all domestic flights are now handled by smaller carriers, no matter what the brand-name logo on the plane’s tail might suggest. And, as it happens, the last six fatal crashes in the United States involved commuter flights.

via TV Preview: ‘Flying Cheap’: Buckle Up, Indeed – NewsFlash – NJ.com.

Pergament: ‘Flying Cheap’ focuses on Flight 3407 crash : Don't Miss : The Buffalo News

February 9, 2010

This time, it is personal for veteran aviation expert Miles O’Brien. He’s the correspondent on tonight’s compelling edition of “Frontline” that focuses on the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence that killed 50 people. Titled “Flying Cheap,” it airs at 9 p. m. on WNED-TV

“It took my breath away that a professional cockpit…would be so unprofessional,” said O’Brien. “It became a cause for me, a mission… I was determined to understand this crash and what the roots were.”

via Pergament: ‘Flying Cheap’ focuses on Flight 3407 crash : Don’t Miss : The Buffalo News.

Safety Risks At Regional Airlines Detailed By PBS : NPR

February 9, 2010

As PBS correspondent Miles O'Brien tells NPR's Renee Montagne, the incident highlights the dangers of a trend that has grown in the past 15 years: the outsourcing of short routes from large carriers to more obscure local airlines. The problem, he says, is that large airlines do little to ensure their business partners' safety standards.

via Safety Risks At Regional Airlines Detailed By PBS : NPR.

Plane Answers: The Frontline episode regional airlines don't want you to see | Gadling.com

February 9, 2010

While not every regional airline pilot earns these kind of wages or flies with this kind of pressure, tonight’s episode just might highlight a few companies that have been driving the pay and working conditions lower for much of the industry. Every pilot I know will be watching. But maybe passengers should take a look at this, as well.

via Plane Answers: The Frontline episode regional airlines don’t want you to see | Gadling.com.

From Sully – to Sullied

February 3, 2010

colgan-air-flight-3407

A lot of pilots like me spend more time than they probably care to admit reading aviation accident reports. I am not sure what draws us to them. There is some technical curiosity to be sure, there is the hope we can learn a thing or two from the mistakes of others, and to be frank, I suppose there is a component of Schadenfreude that lurks beneath the surface. After all, since we are alive, we therefore must be smarter and better pilots…right? Or maybe it’s just porn for propeller heads.

In all the years I have scoured these reports, read the transcripts of the cockpit voice recorders and the accident narratives as if they were page-turning suspense novels – I have never stopped being stunned by how blind and deluded we humans can be as we hurtle blithely to our own demise.

There are many  examples of shockingly bad, stupid, arrogant or complacent decisions leading to disaster in the air. Off the top, I think of of KLM 4805 in TenerifeAvianca 52 in Long Island…or Comair/Delta Connection 5191 in Lexington, Kentucky.

But I cannot recall reading a CVR transcript that painted a grimmer, scarier picture of poor pilot performance than the one that came out of the black box found in the smoldering wreckage Continental/Colgan 3407 in Buffalo one year ago.

And that is what comes through loud and clear in the final report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The headline you likely will likely remember is PILOT ERROR CAUSED BUFFALO CRASH.

And that is precisely what the airline industry wants you to think. It is always good to blame dead pilots. They can’t defend themselves and it limits an airline’s liability. They want you to believe some bad pilots slipped through the cracks and the crash was an odd aberration. An act of God – or at least God-awful piloting. No more.

Now there is some truthiness to this – and that is why the airlines get away with it. There is no doubt Marvin Renslow and Rebecca Shaw did just about everything wrong on that flight that from Newark to Buffalo. They both were very tired (the CVR captured plenty of yawns) and Shaw complained of a head cold – and the transcript is littered with “[sound of sniffles]”.  And it seemed as if they used their flight deck as the platform for a lengthy shoptalk/bitch session – right up until the moment the airplane started falling out of the sky.

And when the impossible to ignore stick-shaker violently awakened them to the fact that they were not paying any attention to an airplane that was about to stall – they responded in precisely the opposite way they had been trained. Renslow should have pushed the throttle forward to the fire-wall –  and pushed hard on the wheel – or yoke – to point the nose down so the plane would gain airspeed. This stall recovery procedure is drilled into a pilot’s head since about lesson number three – part of Piloting 101.

As the NTSB put it: “the captain’s response to stick shaker activation should have been automatic, but his improper flight control inputs were inconsistent with his training and were instead consistent with startle and confusion.”

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Shaw’s actions – which were apparently unilateral – were also dead wrong. As the plane shuddered, she retracted the flaps – which reduces drag – but also lift – meaning the plane was now in deeper trouble. Their fate was sealed.

Such a horrifying scenario. An airplane running perfectly – in good weather conditions (the small amount of ice they had picked up is not listed as a factor) drops out of the sky purely because the flight crew was not paying any attention to the critical task at hand. So how could a professional flight crew be so horribly – unprofessional?

N200WQ - the Colgan Q400 that crashed in Buffalo On February 12, 2009

N200WQ - the Colgan Q400 that crashed in Buffalo On February 12, 2009

Was it just something about these two pilots? A horrible confluence of minimal experience (Renslow had only about 100 hours on the de Havilland Canada DHC-8-402 Q400 – Shaw about 700) – fatigue and illness? Was fate the hunter in this case? Or were there deeper contributing causes?

A month before we had all watched and marveled as Sullenberger and Stiles ditched that Airbus so deftly in the Hudson River. Continental/Colgan 3407 was the negative image of that event. From Sully – to sullied.

The two crashes offer cases in point for the consequences of a fundamental change in the way we fly in this country that you probably have not noticed. Since deregulation in the late seventies, the large, legacy carriers have outsourced much of their flying to smaller commuter – or regional – carriers. Now more than half of the airline departures in this country are flown by the regionals.

They operate under the same FAA rules than their bigger benefactors play by, but the  latter generally exceed those the minimums in nearly every category – while their smaller contractors squeak by right where the bar is set.

The livery and logo on that airplane was all Continental – and the passengers probably all thought they were getting Continental levels of service and safety. But they were really flying on a airplane operated by a company called Colgan Air. And Continental? The company makes it a point to stay out of their business – so long as they fly the routes on time. McDonald’s cares more about how their franchisees cook their french fries.

At the regionals, the crews are less experienced, the hours are longer, the pay is much less and the training is not as extensive. And paradoxically, they are flying the most demanding routes in the airline business – lots of time in the weather, in high traffic areas – and lots of segments. It’s the kind of flying you’d like to have a Sully doing for you. But instead, you are getting Renslow.

The FAA and the airline industry insists there is one level of safety among all the airlines – large or small.

But look at the last six fatal airline crashes in this country. All of them were regionals. An unfortunate coincidence?

You decide after you hear from the regional pilots producers Rick Young and Catharine Rentz and I spoke with for the upcoming PBS Frontline documentary “Flying Cheap”. You can see a preview here. And I will tell you more about what we learned tomorrow.

Flight of the Puffin

January 30, 2010

puffin-20100121-600So what do NASA aerospace engineers do in their spare time? Dream up some wild ideas…

Lovers of Jetpacks and the Jetsons will love this – it is called the Puffin – it is an electric powered tilt rotor vertical take off personal aircraft. Powered by a 60 horse power electric motor – it supposedly will go 149 miles (240 kilometers) an hour and climb to as high as 30 thousand feet or 9 thousand meters.

NASA’s Mark Moore unveiled his concept at the American Helicopter Society Meeting. The Pentagon might like Puffin for stealthy special ops missions. But will it be the solution to endless traffic jams? Who knows…but it would be one way to rid yourself of those pesky backseat drivers.

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