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  • Archive for the 'Aviation' Category

    History Friday — Imperial Japan’s Philippine Radar Network 1944-45

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 10th June 2016 (All posts by )

    It is amazing the things you find out while writing a book review. In this case, a review of Phillips Payson O’Brien’s How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II. The book is thoroughly revisionist in that it posits that there were no real decisive land battles in WW2. The human and material attrition in those “decisive battles” was so small relative to major combatants’ production rates that losses from them were easily replaced until Anglo-American air-sea superiority — starting in the latter half of 1944 — strangled Germany and Japan. Coming from the conservative side of the historical ledger, I had a lot of objections to O’Brien’s book starting with some really horrid mistakes on WW2 airpower in the Pacific.

    You can see a pretty good review of the book at this link — How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II, by Phillips Payson O’Brien

    However, my independent research on General MacArthur’s Section 22 radar hunters in the Philippines proved one of the corollaries of O’Brien’s thesis — Namely that the Imperial Japanese were a fell WW2 high tech foe, punching in a weight class above the Soviet Union — was fully validated with a digitized microfilm from the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) at Maxwell AFB, Alabama detailing the size, scope and effectiveness of the radar network Imperial Japan deployed in the Philippines.

    The microfilm reel A7237 photoshop below is a combination of three scanned microfilm images of an early December 1944 radar coverage map of the Philippines. It shows 32 separate Imperial Japanese Military radar sites that usually had a pair of Japanese radars each (at lease 64 radars total), based upon the Japanese deployment patterns found and documented in Section 22 “Current statements” from January thru March 1945 elsewhere in the same reel.

    This is a early December 1944 Japanese radar coverage map made by Section 22, GHQ, South West Pacific Area. It was part of the Section 22 monthly report series.

    This is a early December 1944 Japanese radar coverage map made by Section 22, GHQ, South West Pacific Area. It was part of the Section 22 monthly report series.

    This Section 22 created map — taken from dozens of 5th Air Force and US Navy aerial electronic reconnaissance missions — showed Japanese radar coverage at various altitudes and was used by Admiral Halsey’s carrier fleet (See route E – F on the North Eastern Luzon area of the map) to strike both Clark Field and Manila Harbor, as well as by all American & Australian military services to avoid Japanese radar coverage to strike the final Japanese military reinforcement convoys, “Operation TA”, of the Leyte campaign.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, History, Japan, Military Affairs, Organizational Analysis, Tech, War and Peace | 15 Comments »

    The F-35

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 17th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Marine Corps F-35B

    Marine Corps F-35B

    The F-35B reached initial operational capability (IOC) with US Marine Corps in July of 2015. There are three models of this aircraft, the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A which will reach IOC with the USAF this year, the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, and the folding wing, heavy airframe, carrier version F-35C, which is due to reach IOC with the USN in 2018. Evolved from the JSF competition prototype, this aircraft is due to replace the F-15, F-16, F-18, AV-8B, and for some CAS missions the A-10, although there are rumors the USAF is considering opening a competition to replace the A-10 with a new aircraft.

    Currently the aircraft is nearing the end of the test and evaluation phase and is in low-rate initial production. Lockheed is preparing to ramp up to full rate production in the near future at its massive Fort-Worth aircraft plant. To say this aircraft is controversial is an understatement and it has been the target of enormous criticism, speculation and western leftist and Russian disinformation campaigns. Probably the most egregious lie told is that $1.5 trillion has been spent on aircraft development thus far. In reality, around $1 trillion is the estimated total cost of ownership for the entire US buy of 2500+ aircraft for 50 years. That includes purchasing all the aircraft, bases, schools, pilot training, tech training, maintenance and spare parts. Politics and disinformation warfare being what it is though, the number increases whenever convenient just to increase its scariness and to make it seem as astounding as possible. It turns out, however and unsurprisingly, that if those numbers are run for any fighter aircraft you get similar or greater costs over that timeframe.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Military Affairs, Tradeoffs | 39 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 11th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Many types of preening

    The mind of the Left, from a former insider

    How leftist Western intellectuals are undercutting a Muslim dissident

    There seems to be a lot of this sort of thing going on

    Drinking on a date has very different effects for men and for women

    How a US kid turned into a free-range German child

    Related to the above: how free play creates emotionally stable children in an unstable world

    An American fighter pilot meets the North Vietnamese ace who shot down his friend

    Neptunus Lex described the proper frame of mind for winning in air combat as “personal, like you’re in a knife fight in a phone booth, and someone has to die before anyone gets to leave.”

    Posted in Aviation, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Leftism, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Alternate History

    Posted by David Foster on 24th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Having long been intrigued by lighter-than-air craft (see earlier post on this topic), I picked up a copy of  Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine…Dr Hugo Eckener being the head of the Zeppelin company for many years, and a man who contributed much to the transient success of this transportation mode.  Also, I thought the book would be a pleasant vacation from politics.  However, that was not to be…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Germany, History, Politics | 27 Comments »

    Happy Anniversary to the Spitfire!

    Posted by David Foster on 5th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 80th anniversary of  the first flight of the Spitfire fighter prototype.

    See also my post from last year: the Battle of Britain + 75

    Posted in Aviation, Britain, History, Tech, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    Don’t you belong on a beach?

    Posted by Nathaniel T. Lauterbach on 18th February 2016 (All posts by )

    In comment thread of another post, Grurray asked:

    “I know the Marines are the best fighting force in the world, but haven’t you had enough of building nations in the middle of the desert? You’re called Marines for a reason. Shouldn’t the future should be closer to the shore?” (sic)

    I’ll take the sentiment kindly. Marines usually do fine when compared to other forces. I hesitate to call ourselves the “best” or “finest.” But the Marines are probably as good as any force out there.

    As for meat of the question: Marines are amphibious fighters, right? What are you doing in a landlocked country?
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Aviation, History, International Affairs, Iraq, Law, Law Enforcement, Military Affairs, National Security, Politics, Terrorism, USA, Vietnam, War and Peace | 13 Comments »

    Book Review: The Memoirs of Anna Egorova

    Posted by David Foster on 6th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Over Fields of Fire, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova

    Red Sky, Black Death, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova, edited by Kim Green

    anna-realpic

    il-2-sturmovik

     

     

     

     

     

    During the Second World War, a number of Soviet women served as night bomber pilots, flying the obsolescent Polikarpov biplane.  A favorite tactic was to cut the engine and glide down almost noiselessly to the bomb-release point, and these flyers were known to the Germans as the “Night Witches.”  A smaller number of Russian women flew IL-2 Sturmovik attack planes and also Yak and other fighters.  The memoir reviewed here was written by a woman who first flew the biplanes and later became a Sturmovik pilot. (I read the first of the 2 books linked above and only just became aware of the second one; see remarks at the end of this post.)

    Anna Egorova begins her memoir with a recollection of her feelings on the day (before the war) when she reported for training to begin her hoped-for career as a professional pilot:

    In Unyanovsky, I rushed straight from the train station to the Venets–the highest spot above the Volga. And such an inconceivable space opened up before me from up here, such an expanse that it took my breath away!…And what a wonder, above the Volta covered by young December ice, a rainbow began to shine.  It threw its multicoloured yoke from one bank to the other…Yet maybe I had just imagined it?  But I was already laughing loudly, sure it was a rainbow and that it was a sign of luck.  Again just like back at the Kazan train station in Moscow, waves of joy were coming from my chest and their splashes were curtaining the horizon with a rainbow mist.

    Her ecstasy was short-lived, however.  Soon she was summoned before the school commandant, informed that her brother had been discovered to be “an enemy of the people,” and she was expelled from the school. (“How could my brother be an enemy of the people? My brother was the people”)

    Anna’s hometown was a tiny village, so small that it had only one street.  As a teenager, she had been thrilled by the plans for construction of the Moscow Metro, and volunteered as a worker, doing heavy and sometimes dangerous construction work.  At the time there was great interest in aviation throughout the Soviet Union; Anna joined a glider club and looked forward to becoming a full-fledged pilot. And when walking to the airfield on the morning of her first powered flight:

    Victor Kroutov runs off the footpath, barges into the bushes, and I am presented with the first bouquet of flowers in my life.  I am still angry at him but accept the gift.

    And then:

    Everyone stood to attention.  A light breeze was blowing in our faces, we were breathing easily and freely.  And it was so nice to live in this world, so joyful!  I thought that there would be no end to our youth or to our lives…

    Anna did well in training and was given the sole “ladies’ ticket” from her class to attend an advanced aviation school, but her anticipated career was derailed by the discovery of her brother’s “treason.”  (He had written an article for an economics journal which was reprinted by a British publication.)

    Eventually, she was able to reenter the aviation field, and when Nazi Germany invaded, sought to actively participate in the defense. Marina Raskova, a pilot who was famous for her long-distance flights (also a former aspiring opera singer!) had lobbied effectively for female participation in combat aviation.  Three female regiments were formed in late 1941 and were active by early 1942.  Some women also participated in almost-all-male units.

    Her initial service involved flying the Polikarpov biplane on message-delivery missions–apparently many Red Army units lacked functioning radios even at higher command levels–and also for reconnaissance.  Navigational instruments and facilities were basically nonexistent, and reaching one’s destination often involved landing near a village and asking someone , “Where am I?”  The slow and unarmored biplanes might seem like easy prey for the German Messerschmitts, but it was sometimes possible to evade them by clever maneuvering and by flying very low and slow. (The stall speed of the ME-109 was greater than the top speed of the Polikarpov!)

    After 130 missions, Anna wanted to transfer to a ground-attack unit, but met with some initial resistance: “No woman has fought in a Sturmovik yet! Two cannons, two machine-guns, two batteries of rockets, various bombs…Trust my experience–not every good pilot can handle such a machine!  Not every good pilot can handle such a machine!  Not everyone is capable steering a ‘flying tank,’ of orienting himself in combat conditions while hedge-hopping, bombing, shooting the cannons and machine-guns, launching rockets at rapidly flashing targets, conducting group dog-fights, sending and receiving orders by radio–all at the same time.  Think it over!”  Anna replied that she had already thought it over, and got this response:  “God save us, what a stubborn one!  Then do what makes sense to you!”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, Russia | 14 Comments »

    The crash of the XB 70 in 1966.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th December 2015 (All posts by )

    North American XB-70A Valkyrie just after collision. Note the F-104 is at the forward edge of the fireball and most of both XB-70A vertical stabilizers are gone. (U.S. Air Force photo)

    North American XB-70A Valkyrie just after collision. Note the F-104 is at the forward edge of the fireball and most of both XB-70A vertical stabilizers are gone. (U.S. Air Force photo)

    I’m getting a bit tired of politics and corruption right now. How about some aviation history? This is an interesting article on the crash of the supersonic bomber prototype.

    The two test pilots were in the cockpit of a T-38 trainer flying off the left wing of the new XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, aircraft number 62-0207. They just saw the civilian registered NASA F-104N Starfighter of pilot Joe Walker slide upside down across the top of the huge white bomber, shear off both it’s twin tails and skid sideways, then break in two, killing Walker instantly. Behind the XB-70 Walker’s F-104N tumbled end over end, a pinwheel of bright orange flame nearly six hundred feet long tracing its convulsive death spiral.

    The flight was a photo shoot for GE which made the jet engines of all the aircraft being photographed.

    The fatal error was including an F 104 star fighter which had unreliable handling characteristics in low speed flight.

    The poor safety record of the Starfighter brought the aircraft into the public eye, especially in German Air Force service. Fighter ace Erich Hartmann famously was retired from the Luftwaffe because of his protests against having to deploy the unsafe F-104s. The F-104 was also at the center of the Lockheed bribery scandals, in which Lockheed had given bribes to a considerable number of political and military figures in various nations in order to influence their judgment and secure several purchase contracts; this caused considerable political controversy in Europe and Japan.

    It was considered a “widowmaker” at low speed especially takeoff and landing.

    The F-104 series all had a very high wing loading (made even higher when carrying external stores). The high angle of attack area of flight was protected by a stick shaker system to warn the pilot of an approaching stall, and if this was ignored, a stick pusher system would pitch the aircraft’s nose down to a safer angle of attack; this was often overridden by the pilot despite flight manual warnings against this practice. At extremely high angles of attack the F-104 was known to “pitch-up” and enter a spin, which in most cases was impossible to recover from. Unlike the twin-engined McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II for example, the F-104 with its single engine lacked the safety margin in the case of an engine failure, and had a poor glide ratio without thrust.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, Science, Tech | 21 Comments »

    Book Review: Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2015 (All posts by )

    (Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, making it an appropriate time to rerun this review, which I originally posted in February of this year)

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Russian aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 7 Comments »

    St-Exupery: Men of the Desert

    Posted by David Foster on 29th September 2015 (All posts by )

    Antoine de St-Exupery, writer and pioneering airmail pilot, was based for a time in the then-French-colonial territory of North Africa.  He recorded his observations about the people and their culture in his essay Men of the Desert,  which is one of the chapters in his book Wind, Sand and Stars.  I previously excerpted part of this essay in my post the French aviators and the slave.  Several recent events in which American soldiers were murdered by Afghan and Iraqi men who they thought were their comrades have again called it to mind.

    Getting acquainted:

    But we were not always in the air, and our idle hours were spent taming the Moors. They would come out of their forbidden regions (those regions we crossed in our flights and where they would shoot at us the whole length of our crossing), would venture to the stockade in the hope of buying loaves of sugar, cotton cloth, tea, and then would sink back again into their mystery. Whenever they turned up we would try to tame a few of them in order to establish little nuclei of friendship in the desert; thus if we were forced clown among them there would be at any rate a few who might be persuaded to sell us into slavery rather than massacre us.Now and then an influential chief came up, and him, with the approval of the Line, we would load into the plane and carry off to see something of the world. The aim was to soften their pride, for, repositories of the truth, defenders of Allah, the only God, it was more in contempt than in hatred that he and his kind murdered their prisoners.

    When they met us in the region of Juby or Cisneros, they never troubled to shout abuse at us. They would merely turn away and spit; and this not by way of personal insult but out of sincere disgust at having crossed the path of a Christian. Their pride was born of the illusion of their power. Allah renders a believer invincible. Many a time a chief has said to me, pointing to his army of three hundred rifles, “Lucky it is for France that she lies more than a hundred days’ march from here.”

    And so we would take them up for a little spin. Three of them even visited France in our planes. I happened to be present when they returned. I met them when they landed, went with them to their tents, and waited in infinite curiosity to hear their first words. They were of the same race as those who, having once been flown by me to the Senegal, had burst into tears at the sight of trees. What a revelation Europe must have been for them! And yet their first replies astonished me by their coolness.

     “Paris? Very big.” Everything was “very big” – Paris, the Trocadero, the automobiles.  What with everyone in Paris asking if the Louvre was not “very big” they had gradually learned that this was the answer that flattered us. And with a sort of, vague contempt, as if pacifying a lot of children, they would grant that the Louvre was “very big.”

     These Moors took very little trouble to dissemble the freezing indifference they felt for the Eiffel Tower, the steamships, and the locomotives. They were ready to agree once and for always that we knew how to build things out of iron. We also knew how to fling a bridge from one continent to another. The plain fact was that they did not know enough to admire our technical progress. The wireless astonished them less than the telephone, since the mystery of the telephone resided in the very fact of the wire.

     It took a little time for me to understand that my questions were on the wrong track. For what they thought admirable was not the locomotive, but the tree. When you think of it, a tree does possess a perfection that a locomotive cannot know. And then I remembered the Moors who had wept at the sight of trees.

     Yes, France was in some sense admirable, but it was not because of those stupid things made of iron. They had seen pastures in France in which all the camels of Er-Reguibat could have grazed! There were forests in France! The French had cows, cows filled with milk! And of course my three Moors were amazed by the incredible customs of the people. “In Paris,” they said, “you walk through a crowd of a thousand people. You stare at them. And nobody carries a rifle!”   But there were better things in France than this inconceivable friendliness between men. There was the circus, for example.

     “Frenchwomen,” they said, “can jump standing from one galloping horse to another.”

     Thereupon they would stop and reflect. “You take one Moor from each tribe,” they went on. “You take him to the circus. And nevermore will the tribes of Er-Reguibat make war on the French.” I remember my chiefs sitting among the crowding tribesmen in the opening of their tents, savoring the pleasure of reciting this new series of Arabian Nights, extolling the music halls in which naked women dance on carpets of flowers.

     Here were men who had never seen a tree, a river, a rose ; who knew only through the Koran of the existence of gardens where streams run, which is their name for Paradise. In their desert, Paradise -and its beautiful captives could be won only by bitter death from an infidel’s rifle-shot, after thirty years of a miserable existence. But God had tricked them, since from the Frenchmen to whom he grants these treasures he exacts payment neither by thirst nor by death. And it was upon this that the chiefs now mused. This was why, gazing out at the Sahara surrounding their tents, at that desert with its barren promise of such thin pleasures, they let themselves go in murmured confidences.

     “You know . . . the God of the French . . . He is more generous to the French than the God of the Moors is to the Moors.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Aviation, Book Notes, France, Human Behavior, Islam, Middle East, Terrorism | 6 Comments »

    The Last Man to Die in World War 2 (+70 Years)

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 17th August 2015 (All posts by )

    On August 18, 1945, in a second day running of violations of the Potsdam cease fire, fighters of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked American B-32 Dominator bombers on photo reconnaissance missions over the Tokyo area. During these attacks the last American serviceman to die in combat during World War 2 fell.

    B-32 Photo mission over Japan

    This is a painting of the final B-32 photographic mission over Japan after acceptance of the Potsdam terms, and before the formal Japanese surrender in early September 1945.

    Stephen Harding’s book LAST TO DIE: a Defeated Empire, a Forgotten mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II describes in a prologue, seven numbered chapters and afterword, with index, bibliography and copious footnotes the ill-fated mission that lead to the death of Anthony James (Tony) Marchione, an Italian-American gunner-photographic assistant, over the skies of Japan.

    The prologue sets up why Stephen Harding wrote the book, the first two chapters are biographies of Tony Marchione, how he came to his unit — the 386th Bombardment Group — for the mission, and a thumb nail history of the trouble plagued B-32 Dominator super-bomber’s development and combat history. The B-32 was a back up “Very Heavy Bomber” (VHB) to the B-29 Superfortress that USAF documents would not even admit was a “VHB” design post-war!

    Chapters Three through Five are the set-up for and a description of the desperate fighting action that saw Tony Marchione killed by a 20mm shell while giving first aide to two other B-32 crewmen wounded in an earlier fighter attack on his B-32 plane, tail number 578.

    Chapter Six focuses on General MacArthur’s wisdom in not launching immediate retaliatory strikes on the Japanese. Thus allowing The Emperor and his loyal retainers to shut down numerous mutinous air units, to include the IJN air bases where the fighters that killed Marchione were based.

    Chapter Seven has the grim details of the notification of Tony Marchione’s next of kin and the mechanics of getting his personal effects, and eventually his body, to his small-town Pennsylvania home for final funeral services in 1948.

    All in all I found the book satisfying both as story telling and as a foot-noted history. It has my strong buy recommendation.

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, USA, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Something Positive and Inspirational, For a Change

    Posted by David Foster on 19th July 2015 (All posts by )

    If you’re flying an airplane at 30,000 feet, in the clouds, communicating with Chicago Air Traffic Control Center, here’s something you really don’t want to hear over your headset:

    Chicago Center is evacuating.  Radar service is terminated….Good luck.

    But that’s what numerous pilots heard on the early morning of September 26, 2014, after a fire was set by a saboteur in the equipment racks at Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center.

    Flying Magazine has a story about how controllers and tech staff faced with this situation worked rapidly, flexibly, and creatively to avoid accidents and minimize the disruption to traffic.  Other organizations should take note.

    Posted in Aviation, Management, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Cool Retrotech

    Posted by David Foster on 16th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Flight simulation technology, 1958-style

    Posted in Aviation, History, Tech, Transportation | 2 Comments »

    Automation and Safety

    Posted by David Foster on 19th May 2015 (All posts by )

    Since the recent Amtrak crash, I’ve seen people in several places…including here…suggesting that engineers should be eliminated and trains operated entirely by automatic control. Here is a cautionary tale about such automation, which I originally posted about a year ago under the title Blood on the Tracks. I’ve added a few thoughts at the end.

    Kevin Meyer has a thought-provoking post (referencing, among other things, the Asiana Flight 214 crash) on achieving the right balance between manual and automatic control of systems.  His post reminded me of something that has been lurking in my queue of things-to-blog-about for a long time.

    On January 6, 1996, Washington Metrorail train T-111 departed the Rockville (MD) station northbound.  Operating under automatic control as was standard practice, the train accelerated to a speed of 75 mph, and then began slowing for a station stop at Shady Grove. The speed was still too great for the icy rail conditions, however, and T-111 slid into a stopped train at the station, killing the driver.

    What happened?  I think the answer to this question is relevant not only to the specific topics of mass transit and railroad safety, but also to the more general issues of manual and automatic operation in system design, and perhaps even to the architecture of organizations and political systems.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Human Behavior, Management, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »

    The Battle of Britain + 75

    Posted by David Foster on 25th April 2015 (All posts by )

    An article in an aviation magazine pointed out that this summer will mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  As a matter of perspective, it’s interesting to observe that the length of time separating the US Civil War from the Battle of Britain is the same as the length of time between the Battle and today.

    The archetypal fighter planes of the Battle of Britain were the Spitfire, the Hurricane, and, on the enemy side, the Messerschmitt 109.  Here are some recent pilot reports on what each of these aircraft is like to fly:

    Supermarine Spitfire

    Hawker Hurricane

    Messerschmitt 109

    It is now possible to take a ride in a Spitfire–allowing this apparently required some regulatory changes on the part of the British CAA. Here’s one company offering such flights. For pilots, it’s possible to get Spitfire training at Boultbee Flight Academy. I don’t think anyone is offering rides or training in the Hurricane or the 109…very few 2-seat versions of either were built, apparently–so if you want to fly one of these, you’ll probably have to buy one. Here’s a recently-restored Hurricane for sale.

    As an interesting historical irony, Israel’s first fighter was a version of the Messerschmitt 109.

    See also my post Radar Wars: a case study in science and government, which is about the secret decision-making involved in making Britain’s commitment to a large-scale investment in radar deployment.

    Posted in Aviation, Britain, Europe, Germany, History, Tech, War and Peace | 13 Comments »

    Early American Jet Development

    Posted by David Foster on 11th March 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’s a fun video about early American jet engine development, made in 1952 and recently found in the archives and posted on the GE blog.

    The Jet Race and the Second World War is a useful source on the early days of the turbojet revolution.  The concept of the jet was developed independently in Britain (by Frank Whittle) and in Germany (by Hans von Ohain.)  US Army Air Corps chief of staff Henry “Hap” Arnold championed bringing this technology to the United States, promising the Brits that absolute secrecy would be maintained.  GE was chosen for the US production contract, largely because of its experience with turbosuperchargers, which in turn had benefited from its work with marine and powerplant turbines.  There had been a US research project on possible turbine applications in aviation, but it was focused on turboprops and ducted fans rather than pure jets.  (Interestingly, Arnold chose to exclude the piston engine manufacturers from this work, being concerned about possible conflicts of interest.)

    Bell Aircraft was chosen to design and build the airplane which was to be mated with the first American-built jet engine:  it was called the XP-59 Airacomet, and GE’s engine (a derivative of the Whittle W2B) was called the I-A.  The prototype Airacomet was delivered to the test field via steam train (with the engine being kept in constant rotation at low speed because of concerns about vibration damaging the bearings), and first flew in October 1942.  The Army Air Corps ordered 80 of them, but only 30 were delivered, with the balance of the production contract being cancelled because of somewhat disappointing performance and the incipient availability of better engines and airframes.

    Meanwhile, the British had proceeded with development of their first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, powered by Rolls Royce Welland engines.  The Meteor did not see any air-to-air combat during WWII, but it was used with success against German V-1 buzz bombs (“cruise missiles,” as we would now call them) and also ground attack and airfield defense missions during the last stages of the war in Europe.  It would later serve in the Korean War with the Royal Australian Air Force.

    The Planes of Fame Air Museum has a P-59 Airacomet and is restoring it to flying condition.

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Britain, History, Military Affairs, Tech | 16 Comments »

    Book Review: Rockets and People

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd February 2015 (All posts by )

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Russian aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 5 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd January 2015 (All posts by )

    A prehistoric village, found beneath the sea near Haifa

    A timelapse video of the Albuquerque balloon festival

    Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack assert that actually, the world is not falling apart: “Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times”

    Also, Richard Fernandez argues that the American can-do spirit continues to exist

    The allure of omnipotent explanations

    Is Washington the new Wall Street?

    Ideology and closed systems, at Grim’s Hall

    In France, criticism of Islam can get you prosecuted. Basically, we are seeing the return of laws against blasphemy–and not only in France–but with this difference: I don’t think ever before have governments forbidden criticism of a belief system that is not held by the majority of their citizens, or at least of their ruling classes

    Posted in Aviation, Europe, France, History, Islam, Leftism, Photos, USA, Video | 14 Comments »

    “The FAA, Drones, and Caltrops”

    Posted by Jonathan on 2nd December 2014 (All posts by )

    Some thoughts about drones and govt regulation, from the always interesting John Robb:

    Here’s one of the reasons that the FAA has seized control of all drones (including toys) and is slowing the development of automated aviation to a crawl. It’s a dumb move, since it won’t work, but they are doing it anyway.
     
    The reason is that drones make disruption easy.
     
    [. . .]
     
    The big question: Will the FAA effort to control drones protect against this type of disruption? No. It won’t.
     
    It actually makes the situation worse. It prevents the development of the safeguards an economically viable drone delivery network would produce.

    Read the whole (brief) post to get Robb’s full argument, which is a plausible one.

    Perhaps the FAA is motivated more by inertia and typical bureaucratic risk-aversion than by any sophisticated consideration of the likely downstream societal effects of drone development.

    The FAA’s proposed regulations would mainly affect commercial drone users who would probably be constrained by liability in any case. The pilot-license requirement makes little sense except to restrict entry into the market and as a means of tracking users. These regulations are not going to be easily enforceable. Maybe the FAA is being driven in part by lobbying from airlines and police agencies. Overregulation will incentivize the development of quiet drones, camouflaged drones, miniature drones, RF-shielded drones, autonomous drones that can fly programmed courses without radio control, etc.

    Big companies that can game the political system will get drones. Governments will get drones. Hackers, criminals and terrorists will get drones. Small and mid-sized businesses will pay up for approved outsourced drone services or will go without. The availability of liability insurance to cover drone-caused damage may be a significant issue.

    Someone wrote that operating a drone should be like owning a dog: minimal formal regulation, ad hoc restrictions based on local conditions, and liability for damages. That seems about right.

    We shall see what happens. At this point I’m more concerned about the FAA than about caltrops.

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Business, Predictions, Tech | 12 Comments »

    Stalling Progress in Aviation — It’s Time for a Breakthrough

    Posted by Lexington Green on 30th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Six Hour Radius for Commercial Airliners, 1940-1990

    This diagram shows the stalling progress in the speed of air travel.

    The inner ring, the range of a DC-3 in 1940, was substantially improved upon by the Lockheed Constellation in 1950, and much more so with the Boeing 707 in 1960. That was twenty years. But from 1960 to 1990, only the small outer circle was gained. And in the quarter century since, it has not expanded at all.

    Technology has advanced in small things — small in size, not in importance — like electronics. But in big, macroscopic things, the world of “stuff”, it seems that there has been stasis for two generations. In a recent post, I linked to a video where Peter Thiel made this point. Theil may have overstated his case, but in the case of aviation he certainly appears to be correct. (Incidentally, my copy of Theil’s new book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future arrived yesterday.)

    One theory is that only defense-related spending is sufficiently large and removed from market considerations to lead to truly massive breakthroughs in technology. This view is espoused by Peter J. Hugill, in his book World Trade Since 1431: Geography, Technology, and Capitalism Paperback, a brilliant book which I heartily commend to you. However, I am not convinced that this is true in every case. In the case of aviation, the basic scientific insights exist, so government-financed development may not be necessary to reach the next breakthrough in aircraft performance.

    My coauthor Jim Bennett notes:

    We may soon see transsonic aircraft operating commercially. These will fly just above the speed of sound, where the sonic boom can be minimized by a number of design tricks. These could operate at airspeeds of around 700 knots, compared to the 500-550 at which most airliners are operated today. They could go faster but they are deliberately slowed down to reduce fuel consumption.

    According to Jim, true supersonic or hypersonic aircraft “will be limited to transoceanic routes by sonic boom restrictions, or depend on new approaches which have yet to be fully tested.”

    While a 20% increase in speed will be nice to have, I am eager to see these massive, disruptive changes in aviation speed — multiples of the present speed, not just incremental increases.

    In America 3.0 we predict a breakdown of the regulatory machinery that is stalling technological progress in many areas, including improved aircraft performance. We speculate about what much faster commercial air travel will allow in terms of, for example, locating retirement housing in Cuba and Mexico, with rapid access by air.

    Seniors are able to stay at home, both with mechanical assistance and with many people specializing in providing elder care, or move into modularized units easily attached to the their adult childrens’ homes. Retirement communities in Cuba, the Central Highlands of Mexico and the Mexican border zoner are becoming popular. Hypersonic air travel, until recently only used by the very wealthy or government officials, is slowly coming down in price, as aerospacelines compete for business, thus making visits back and forth to visit Grandma far easier.

    Just as driverless cars will make exurban development feasible, as we describe in America 3.0, routine, affordable supersonic air travel will make remote locations useable for business and housing that are not feasible now.

    A world that it is half or a third the size it is now, in terms of travel time, opens up opportunities that we cannot even conceive of now.

    (The map above is from Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines by Vaclav Smil.)

    Posted in America 3.0, Aviation, Book Notes | 54 Comments »

    History Friday: Secrets of the Pacific Warfare Board — Block III TV in the Occupation of Japan, First of an Occasional Series

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 20th June 2014 (All posts by )

    When I started writing my “History Friday” columns, one of my objectives was to explore the “military historical narratives” around General Douglas MacArthur, so I could write with a better understanding about the “cancelled by atomic bomb” November 1945 invasion of Japan. Today’s column is focusing on an almost unknown series of Documents called “The Reports of the Pacific Warfare Board,” and in specific reports No. 31 and 50. This professional lack of interest by the academic history community in these reports represents a huge methodological flaw in the current “narratives” about the end of World War 2 in the Pacific. These two reports amplify and expand an earlier column of mine hitting that “flawed narrative” point titled History Friday: Operation Olympic – Something Forgotten & Something Familiar. A column that was about a WW2 “manned UAV” (unmanned air vehicle AKA a drone), an L-5 artillery spotter plane with an early vacuum tube technology broadcast TV camera, pictured below.

    Brodie Device In Land and Sea Based Configurations

    Brodie Device with L-4 and L-5 Spotter Planes In Land and Sea Based Configurations, 1944-1945

    Block III Broadcast TV Surveillance Equipment

    Dr. Vladimir Zworykin of RCA’s Block III Broadcast TV Surveillance Equipment

    These Pacific Warfare Board (PWB) reports have been classified for decades and unlike their more well know, examined by many researchers, and posted on-line European Theater equivalents. Almost nothing from them has made it to the public since their mass declassification in the 1990’s. There are good reasons for that. The National Archive has a 98,000 file, 80 GB finding aide. One that isn’t on-line. Until recently, the only way you can get at archive files like the Pacific Warfare Board Reports is to learn that finding aide and make your own copies using National Archive equipment. This was usually time consuming and cost prohibitive to all but the most determined researchers or hired archivists.

    Thanks to the cratering costs USB flash drives and increasing quality of digital cameras built into even moderately priced cell phones over the last few years, this is no longer true. And as a result, the academic history profession is about to have its key institutional research advantage outsourced to hobbyists and bloggers.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, China, History, Korea, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Participatory Retrotech – the Concorde Flight Simulator

    Posted by David Foster on 26th April 2014 (All posts by )

    There is an airline grade simulator for the Concorde supersonic transport, located in the UK and available to the public, with instruction by former Concorde flight crew members.

    The simulator was originally built in 1975 as a full-motion simulator, with the “motion” part provided by six hydraulic rams. The view out the cockpit windows was created by moving a television camera over a large model landscape in an adjacent room. I’m not sure whether the flight dynamics calculations were done by analog, digital, or a combination of both methods. In 1987, the simulator was upgraded to replace the TV camera and the physical map with computer-generated imagery. Original cost of the simulator was £3 million, and the 1987 upgrade cost an additional £3 million.

    When Concord operations ceased in 2003, the simulator was decommissioned and re-installed at the Brooklands Museum, minus the hydraulic actuators for the motion feature. (“enabling access to a Concorde cockpit for less able visitors to the museum” is the reason stated for this decision, but I would imagine it also had something to do with the maintenance costs for the hydraulics.)  The restoration of the simulator involved the replacement of whatever electronic systems were doing the computations with modern flight simulator software, and a more modern projection system for the visuals. The flight controls and the majority of the flight instruments are connected to the simulation engine, along with some sections of the Flight Engineer’s panel.

    Simulator time is available for 165 pounds for about an hour, with 15 minutes actually at the controls, or the “Gold” package at 425 for a two-hour “flight” with 30 minutes at the controls, plus lunch and champagne.

    Posted in Aviation, Britain, History, Tech | 4 Comments »

    RetroTech: Lighted Airways and the Radio Range

    Posted by David Foster on 18th April 2014 (All posts by )

    When airplanes first started to be used for serious transportation purposes, sometime after World War I, the problems involved with flight at night and in periods of low visibility became critical. Transcontinental airmail, for example, lost much of its theoretical speed advantage if the plane carrying the mail had to stop for the night. Gyroscopic flight instruments addressed the problem of controlling the airplane without outside visual references, but there remained the problem of navigation.

    An experiment in 1921 demonstrated that airmail could be successfully flown coast-to-coast, including the overnight interval, with the aid of bonfires located along the route.  The bonfires were soon displaced by a more permanent installation based on rotating beacons. The first lighted airway extended from Chicago to Cheyenne…the idea was that pilots of coast-to-coast flights could depart from either coast in early morning and reach the lighted segment before dusk.  The airway system rapidly expanded to cover much of the country–by 1933, the Federal Airway System extended to 18,000 miles of lighted airways, encompassing 1,550 rotating beacons. The million-candlepower beacons were positioned every ten miles along the airway, and in clear weather were visible for 40 miles. Red or green course lights at each beacon flashed a Morse identifier so that the pilot could definitely identify his linear position on the airway.

    Lighted airways solved the navigation problem very well on a clear night, but were of limited value in overcast weather or heavy participation. You might be able to see the beacons through thin cloud or light rain, but a thicker cloud layer, or heavy rain/snow, might leave you without navigational guidance.

    The answer was found in radio technology. The four-course radio range transmitted signals at low frequency (below the AM broadcast band) in four quadrants. In two of the quadrants, the Morse letter N (dash dot) was transmitted continuously; in the other two quadrants, there was continuous transmission of  the Morse A (dot dash.) The line where two quadrants met formed a course that a pilot could follow by listening to the signal in his headphones: if he was exactly “on the beam,” the A and the N would interlock to form a continuous tone; if he was to one side or the other, he would begin to hear the A or N code emerging.

    The radio range stations were located every 200 miles, and were overlaid on the lighted airways, the visual beacons of which continued to be maintained. The eventual extent of the radio-range airway system is shown in this map. All that was required in the airplane was a simple AM radio with the proper frequency coverage.

    The system made reliable scheduled flying a reality, but it did have some limitations. Old-time pilot Ernest Gann described one flight:

    Beyond the cockpit windows, a few inches beyond your own nose and that of your DC-2’s, lies the night. Range signals are crisp, the air smooth enough to drink the stewardess’s lukewarm coffee without fear of spilling it…Matters are so nicely in hand you might even flip through a magazine while the copilot improves his instrument proficiency…

    Suddenly you are aware the copilot is shifting unhappily in his seat. “I’ve lost the range. Nothing.”

    You deposit the Saturday Evening Post in the aluminum bin which already holds the metal logbook and skid your headphones back in place…There are no signals of any kind or the rap of distance voices from anywhere in the night below. There is only a gentle hissing in your headphones as if some wag were playing a recording of ocean waves singing on a beach.

    You reach for a switch above your head and flip on the landing lights. Suspicion confirmed. Out of the night trillions of white lines are landing toward your eyes. Snow. Apparently the finer the flakes the more effective. It has isolated you and all aboard from the nether world. The total effect suggests you might have become a passenger in Captain Nemo’s fancy submarine.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Tech, Transportation, USA | 18 Comments »

    About Those Smart Machines

    Posted by David Foster on 12th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Lots of talk these days about smart machines, brilliant machines, even genius machines.

    For balance, read this post about Stupid Smart Stuff.

    See also my post when humans and robots communicate.

    Posted in Aviation, Tech, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Charles Sorensen and Rosie the Riveter Would Appreciate Your Assistance

    Posted by David Foster on 16th February 2014 (All posts by )

    The project to Save the Willow Run Bomber Plant is 75% of the way to its fundraising goal, but still $2 million short.

    In October 1942, Herman Goering mocked American claims about our weapons production capabilities:

    Some astronomical figures are expected from the American war industry. Now I am the last to underrate this industry. Obviously the Americans do very well in some technical fields. We know that they produce a colossal amount of  fast cars. And the development of radio is one of their special achievements, and so is the razor blade…But you must not forget, there is one word in their language that is written with a capital B and this word is Bluff.

    (Citing the above quote in his memoir, Luftwaffe general Adolph Galland observed acidly, “Propaganda may be horrible, but bombs certainly are.)

    The “astronomical figures” turned out not to be a bluff at all, of course, and the figures were turned into reality in large part because of the production techniques pioneered and perfected at places like Willow Run.

    The Willow Run plant, which covered 63 acres, was designed for the single purpose of producing B-24 bombers…and produce them it did, once it got going, at the rate of one per hour. The genesis of the plant lay in a 1940 visit to Consolidated Aircraft, where the planes were then being built, by Ford Motor Company production VP Charles Sorensen–Ford had originally been asked by the government to quote on building some components for the bomber. After watching Consolidated’s process for a while, Sorensen asserted that the whole thing  could be put together by assembly-line methods. (See the link, which is Sorensen’s own story about “a $200,000,000 proposition backed only by a penciled sketch.”)

    Unused since 2010, the plant had been scheduled for demolition, but there is now a project to turn it into a museum that will be focused on  science education and social history as well as aviation history–the Yankee Air Museum is to be relocated there–and the history of the plant itself.  Astronaut Jack Lousma and auto-industry bad boy Bob Lutz are spearheading the effort; the additional funds need to be raised by May 1.

    I hope the new museum will integrate its focus on science & technology and its focus on the war production story to also cover the past, present, and future of American manufacturing, and of manufacturing generally–manufacturing being something that is too little understood and too little appreciated  (beyond the platitude level) in America today.  For example, in this post, which is mainly about employee evaluation, the author says:

    Today’s businesses drive most of their value through service, intellectual property, innovation, and creativity. Even if you’re a manufacturer, your ability to sell, serve, and support your product (and the design itself) is more important than the ability to manufacture. So each year a higher and higher percentage of your work is dependent on the roles which have “hyper performer” distributions.

    This kind of drive-by assumption about manufacturing is frequently encountered in today’s business writings: the assumption that manufacturing is a field inherently lacking in creativity, and (strongly implied in the above quote) that “hyper performers” are not important in this area in the way that they are in sales, product design, and customer service. If the museum can help Americans to understand a little more about manufacturing and its importance, then that will be a valuable thing in addition to its contributions to aviation, WWII, and social history.

    Some books that provide useful information and perspective on Willow Run:

    Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, by Arthur Herman. An interesting overview of the WWII armaments program.

    I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford, by Richard Snow. A lot about the early history of the auto industry, with several pages on Willow Run.

    My Forty Years with Ford, by Charles Sorensen. The whole book is very worthwhile. Sorensen gives considerable credit to Edsel Ford for the Willow Run project–Edsel committed $200,000,000 of Ford’s money to the project based only on a rough sketch, with no absolute assurance that government funding would be forthcoming–and indeed for the entire WWII armaments program at the company, Henry Ford himself having adopted what one might call a passive-aggressive attitude toward the whole thing.

    It would be a shame to let the historical artifact that is Willow Run be lost–hopefully, the fundraising efforts over the next couple of months will be successful.

     

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Business, History, Management, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »