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.
Best-Selling Books by Topic
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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.
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.
I have written in my columns on the end of WW2 in the Pacific about institutional or personally motivated false narratives, hagiography narratives, forgotten via classification narratives and forgotten via extinct organization narratives. Today’s column is revisiting the theme of how generational changes in every day technology make it almost impossible to understand what the World War II (WW2) generation is telling us about it’s times without a lot of research. Recent books on the like John Prados’ “ISLANDS OF DESTINY: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun” and James D. Hornesfischer’s “NEPTUNES INFERNO: The US Navy at Guadalcanal” focus in the importance of intelligence and the “learning by dying” use of Radar in the Solomons Campaign. Both are cracking good reads and can teach you a lot about that period. Yet they are both missing some very important, generationally specific, professional reasons that the US Navy did so poorly at night combat in the Solomons. These reasons have to do with a transition of technology and how that technology was tied into a military service’s training and promotion policies.
WW2 saw a huge paradigm shift in the US Navy from battleships to aircraft carriers and from surface warship officers, AKA the Black Shoe wearing “Gun Club,” to naval aviators or the Brown Shoe wearing “Airdales.” Most people see this as an abrupt Pearl Harbor related shift. To some extent that was true, but there is an additional “Detailed Reality” hiding behind this shift that US Army officers familiar with both the 4th Infantry Division Task Force XXI experiments in 1997 and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq will understand all too well. Naval officers in 1942-1945, just like Army officers in 1997-2003 were facing a complete change in their basic mode of communications that were utterly against their professional training, in the heat of combat. Navy officers in 1942-1945 were going from a visual communications with flag semaphore and blinking coded signal lamps on high ship bridges to a radio voice and radar screen in a “Combat Information Center” (CIC) hidden below decks. US Army officers, on the other hand, in 1997-2003 were switching from a radio-audio and paper map battlefield view to digital electronic screens. Both switches of communications caused cognitive dissonance driven poor decisions by their users. However, the difference in final results was driven by the training incentives built into these respective military services promotion policies.
One more batch…
Freedom, the Village, and the Internet. Will social media re-create the kind of social control once often found in the village community?
An Age of Decline? Is America in one, and is the situation irretrievable?
The Baroque Computers of the Apocalypse. The remarkable air defense system known as SAGE.
Book and Video Reviews:
Fly the Airplane. Two flight instructors write about their romance, their flight around the country in a 1938 Piper Cub, and the life lessons that can be derived from aviation.
Elective Affinities. Goethe’s novel about a love quadrangle.
Wish Me Luck. A very good TV series about Special Operations Executive agents working in occupied France during WWII.
Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane. RWL was both an astute and thoughtful political philosopher and a pretty good novelist.
There aren’t too many of these around.
I don’t think there were ever any two-seat versions of the F-86 built, so a pilot’s first flight in the Sabrejet is going to have to be solo.
A Winter’s Tale. An appropriate post given today’s temperatures.
Saint Alexander of Munich. Alexander Schmorell, a member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group known as the White Rose, has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
Deconstructing a Nazi Death Sentence. The transcript of the verdict passed by the “People’s Court” on members of the White Rose provides a window into the totalitarian mind.
Despicable. US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Istanbul, compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade.
I’m reviewing my posts over the last year, and will be linking some of them here, in some cases with additional commentary. Here’s the first batch…
The bitter wastes of politicized America, on the toxic social effects of ever-increasing government power.
Also relevant to the subject of this post are some of Sebastian Haffner’s observations on inter-war Germany. He notes that during the Stresemann chancellorship, when a certain level of stability and normality was achieved, “there was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness”…BUT a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
I’m afraid that in America today, we also have a fair number of people who expect to have “the content of their lives delivered by the public sphere,” and this is another factor in the growing politicization of absolutely everything.
The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity). How reactions to the problems with the Boeing 787′s battery system exemplify the declining levels of trust in American society.
Excusing Failure by Pleading Incompetence. Hillary Clinton’s testimony on the Benghazi debacle clearly demonstrated her inability and/or unwillingness to understand the nature of executive responsibility. It is truly appalling that anyone could seriously consider this woman for the job of United States President.
Respect her Authoritah. Nancy Cartman-Pelosi thinks it would be disrespectful to cut congressional salaries because it would reduce the dignity of lawmakers’ jobs.
Connecting the World. Undersea cables, and their social & psychological impact.
Herman the German by Gerhard Neumann
This is the autobiography of a man who was born to a Jewish family in Germany, apprenticed as an auto mechanic, attended engineering school, moved to China in 1938, was interned by the British as an enemy alien in 1939, transferred to the American forces, joined Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers, repaired the first Japanese Zero fighter to be captured in potentially-flyable condition, became a U.S. citizen by special act of Congress, and went on to run GE’s entire jet engine business, which he played a major role in creating. (The preceding may be the longest single sentence I’ve ever written in a blog post.) The book should be of interest to those interested in aviation, technology, management, social history, the WWII era, and/or China.
Gerhard Neumann was born in Frankfurt/Oder in 1917, where his father was owner of a factory that processed feathers and down. Gerhard’s parents were Jewish but nonpracticing–a Christmas tree was traditional in the Neumann home–and their approach to child-raising was closer to stereotypically Prussian than to stereotypically Jewish: ”You did exactly as you were told by your parents. There was no such thing as saying no to them!…You were not to have a hand in your pocket while talking to grown-ups…Showing any emotion in Prussia was considered sissyish. There was no kissing between parents and children–only a peck on the cheek before going upstairs punctually at nine o’clock; and there was absolutely no crying.”
On the other hand, Neumann could do pretty much what he wanted with his spare time. In 1927, at the age of 10, he rode his bike out to a grass strip where someone was giving airplane rides for 5 marks, which he paid with money from his piggy bank. His parents weren’t angry at him for taking this flight without permission; indeed, they were so entranced with his description of the way the town looked from the air that they soon took an airplane ride themselves! At the age of 13, Neumann bought a folding kayak and, with some camping gear and a 12-year-old friend, took long journeys on the Oder River, all the way to the Baltic Sea. Few parents in America today–or in Germany either, I’d bet–would now allow this level of independence to a 12- or 13-year old.
Neumann had no interest in the family feather business; he wanted to be an engineer. A 2- or 3-year machinist or mechanic apprenticeship was mandatory for admission to any German engineering academy: Neumann’s father asked the 10 cab drivers of Frankfurt/Oder to recommend the garage where they thought the boy would learn the most, and the answers were unanimous: Albert Schroth’s. So began Gerhard Neumann’s apprenticeship, which, other than the technologies involved, could have been something out of the Middle Ages. “In winter my hands were frozen purple. Wear work gloves? ‘What’s the matter, boy, are you a girl?’ When my hands were bleeding, Herr Schroth pointed to the large bottle of iodine in the backroom and mumbled something about faules Fleisch (lazy flesh.) No Band-Aids, no pitying, no time out.”
One of the focal points in writing this History Friday column has been trying to answer the question “How would the American military have fought the Imperial Japanese in November 1945 had the A-bomb failed?” Today’s column is focusing on an almost unknown aircraft, the Curtis SC-1 Seahawk light patrol seaplane as one of many “reality lives in the detail” changes in material, training and doctrine that the US military was making for the invasion of Japan. Then placing the Seahawk in the wider context of the contrasting US versus Imperial Japanese fighting styles, of American “matériel battle” aka “Materialsclacht” versus Japanese “Samurai spirit.”
“While only intended to seat the pilot, a bunk was provided in the aft fuselage for rescue or personnel transfer. Two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns were fitted in the wings, and two underwing hardpoints allowed carriage of 250 lb (113 kg) bombs or, on the right wing, surface-scan radar. The main float, designed to incorporate a bomb bay, suffered substantial leaks when used in that fashion, and was modified to carry an auxiliary fuel tank.
You can see a nice You Tube video titled “SC-1 SeaHawk Seaplane Fighters in Combat Operations!” at this link:
The Seahawk served the US Navy from 1944 through 1948 and was replaced by helicopters. It is at best a footnote in the most detailed histories of World War 2. It is also a perfect metaphor for the fighting that would have happened, but didn’t, thanks to the ultimate in WW2 Materialsclacht…the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Over at Sister Toldjah, Phineas cites an email which notes:
Putting things in perspective: March 21st 2010 to October 1 2013 is 3 years, 6 months, 10 days. December 7, 1941 to May 8, 1945 is 3 years, 5 months, 1 day. What this means is that in the time we were attacked at Pearl Harbor to the day Germany surrendered is not enough time for this progressive federal government to build a working webpage. Mobilization of millions, building tens of thousands of tanks, planes, jeeps, subs, cruisers, destroyers, torpedoes, millions upon millions of guns, bombs, ammo, etc. Turning the tide in North Africa, Invading Italy, D-Day, Battle of the Bulge, Race to Berlin – all while we were also fighting the Japanese in the Pacific!! And in that amount of time – this administration can’t build a working webpage.
To be fair, the Obamacare support system is more than just a “webpage”…it also encompasses various back-end information-exchange systems. Still, it is a system that did not require the development of any truly new technologies or any conceptual breakthroughs in the use of existing technologies. Compared to any of a large number of WWII technology, manufacturing, and logistics efforts…proximity-fused ammunition, airborne radar, computer-based codebreaking, mass-production of airplanes and ships, the petroleum pipeline under the English Channel…the Obamacare support system is a very small thing indeed.
History and experience teach us that large, complex, time-critical programs only get done successfully when they are run by individuals who are tough-minded, possessed of practical wisdom, and willing to put their careers on the line to accomplish the goal…and when higher authority is willing to delegate sufficient scope and empowerment to such leaders. A couple of years ago, I wrote about one example of such a leader: General Bernard Schriever, who ran USAF ballistic missile programs.
In order to achieve his goal of delivering Atlas and other missile programs in the required time frames, General Schriever found it necessary to break a lot of china. For example, when Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott, ordered him to relocate certain missile facilities from the west cost to the midwest (supposedly based on industrial dispersion for survivability, but actually probably driven by political factors) Schreiver flatly refused, citing his “prior and overriding orders” to get the program done in the shortest feasible time. By then a general, Schriever stuck by his position on this even when Talbott threatened him that “Before this meeting is over, General, there’s going to be one more colonel in the Air Force!”
I don’t think people with strength of character like that of Bernard Schriever do very well in the Obama administration or that they remain with it for very long. A man who can say, as Obama did, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director” is a very small man. Small men tend to hire and retain only other small men and women.
And small men and women don’t run large and complex projects effectively.
An interesting article on the history and current state of the 747 market:
For decades, the Boeing 747 was the Queen of the Skies. But the glamorous double-decker jumbo jet that revolutionized air travel and shrunk the globe could be nearing the end of the line.
Boeing has cut its production target twice in six months. Just 18 will be produced in each of the next two years. Some brand-new 747s go into storage as soon as they leave the plant. Counting cancellations, it hadn’t sold a single 747 this year until Korean Air bought five on Thursday.
Boeing says it’s committed to the 747, and sees a market for it in regions like Asia. But most airlines simply don’t want big, four-engine planes anymore. They prefer newer two-engine jets that fly the same distance while burning less fuel.
…they do not always achieve mutual understanding. And when misunderstandings do occur, the consequences can range from irritating to expensive to tragic.
On July 6 of 2013, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed on final approach to San Francisco International Airport, resulting in over 180 injuries, 3 fatalities, and the loss of the aircraft. While the NTSB report on this accident is not yet out, there are several things that seem to be pretty clear:
–The flight crew believed that airspeed was being controlled by the autothrottle system, a device somewhat analogous to the cruise control of an automobile
–In actuality, the airspeed was not being controlled by the autothrottles
–The airspeed fell below the appropriate value, and the airplane dipped below the proper glidepath and mushed into the seawall
It is not yet totally clear why the autothrottle system was not controlling the airspeed when the captain and first officer believed that it was doing so. It is possible that the autothrottle mechanism failed, even that it failed in such a way that its failure was not annunciated. It is possible that an autothrottle disconnect button (one on each power level) was inadvertently pressed and the disconnection not noticed. But what seems likely in the opinion of several knowledgeable observers is that the captain and FO selected a combination of control settings that they believed would cause the autothrottle to take control–but that this setting was in fact not one that would cause autothrottle activation…in other words, that the model of aircraft systems in the minds of the flight crew was different from the actual design model of the autothrottle and its related systems.
Whatever happened in the case of Asiana Flight 214…and all opinions about what happened with the autothrottles must be regarded as only speculative at this point…there have been numerous cases–in aviation, in medical equipment, and in the maritime industry–in which an automated control system and its human users interacted in a way that either did or could have led to very malign results. In his book Taming HAL, Asaf Degani describes several such cases, and searches for general patterns and for approaches to minimize such occurrences in the future.
Degani discusses human interface problems that he has observed in common consumer devices such as clocks, TV remote controls, and VCRs, and goes into depth on several incidents involving safety-critical interface failures. Some of these were:
The airplane that broke the speed limit. This was another autothrottle-related incident, albeit one in which the consequences were much less severe than Asiana 214. The airplane was climbing to its initial assigned altitude of 11,000 feet, under an autopilot mode (Vertical Navigation) in which speed was calculated by the flight management system for optimum efficiency–in this case, 300 knots. Air traffic control then directed that the flight slow to 240 knots for separation from traffic ahead. The copilot dialed this number into the flight control panel,overriding the FMS-calculated number. At 11000 feet, the autopilot leveled the plane, switched itself into ALTITUDE HOLD mode, and maintained the 240 knot speed setting. Everything was fine.
The controller then directed a further climb to 14000 feet. The copilot re-engaged VERTICAL NAVIGATION MODE and put in the new altitude setting. The engines increased power, the nose pitched up, and the airplane began to climb. But just a little bit later, the captain observed that the airplane wasn’t only climbing–it was also speeding up, and had reached almost 300 knots, thereby violating an ATC speed restriction.
What happened here? Degani refers to events of this sort as “automation surprises.” The copilot was apparently thinking that the speed he had dialed in to override the flight management system would continue to be in force when he re-enabled the vertical navigation climb mode. But that wasn’t the way the system was actually designed. Selecting Vertical Navigation mode re-initialized the source of the airspeed command to be the FMS, which was still calling for a 300-knot Best Efficiency speed.
Degani says that the pilots were well trained and understood how the speed reference value actually worked…but that the unintuitive nature of the interface caused this knowledge to be effectively forgotten at the moment when the additional climb was requested. He draws an analogy with the user of a cordless phone, who picks up the ringing phone and pushes the TALK button..a seemingly-logical action that actually turns off the phone and disconnects whoever is calling.
The blood-pressure monitor that didn’t monitor. A surgery patient was under anesthesia; as is standard practice, his blood pressure was being monitored by an electronic device. The patent’s blood pressure showed a high reading, and the surgeon noted profuse bleeding. The anesthesiologists set the blood-pressure monitor to measure more frequently. Periodically, they glanced back at the monitor’s display, noting that it still showed an elevated blood pressure, actively treating the hypertension–as they believed it was–with drugs that dilated blood vessels.
But actually, the patient’s blood pressure was very low. The alarmingly-high blood pressure values shown in the display were actually constant…the machine was displaying the exact same value every time they looked at it, because after the measurement-interval reset, it had never made another measurement.
What happened here? The blood-pressure monitor has three modes: MANUAL (in which the pressure is measured immediately when the “start” button is pressed), AUTOMATIC (in which pressure is measured repeatedly at the selected interval), and IDLE. When the interval is changed by the anesthesiologist, the mode is set at IDLE, even if the monitor were already running in AUTOMATIC. To actually cause the automatic monitoring to occur, it is necessary to push START. In this case, the pushing of the START button was omitted, and the machine’s display did not provide adequate cues for the anesthesiologists to notice their mistake.
Critiquing the machine’s design, Degani notes that “The kind of change they sought is not very different from changing the temperature setting in your toaster over…On almost every oven, you simply grab the temperature knob and rotate it from 300 Farenheit to 450, and that’s it. You are not expected to tell the system that you want it to stay in OVEN mode–you know that it will.”
One of the things that pops up again and again in researching World War 2 (WW2) is how certain “narratives” get established in the historical record. Narratives that often are no where near the ground truth found in primary source documents of the time, but serves the bureaucratic “powers that be” in post-war budget battles. These narrative are repeated over and over again by historians without validating these narrative against either that theater’s original wartime documents or those of other military theaters. That is why I said the following:
“Reality lives in the details. You have to know enough of the details to know what is vital and to be able to use good judgement as to which histories are worthwhile and which are regurgitated pap.
Today’s column will take that “Reality lives in the details” methodology, modify it slightly, as I did in my 12 July 2013 column “History Friday — MacArthur’s Fighter Drop Tanks,” and use it for “Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative” that emerged from the American strategic bombing campaign in World War 2.
The narrative of the P-51 is how it won the air war over Europe through the accidental combination of private venture American airframe technology and the Merlin engine of the British Spitfire, which was championed by a Anglo-American guerrilla clique of fighter pilots, government bureaucrats and politicians over the anti-British, not invented here, USAAF procurement bureaucracy. Figure one below is the official historical narrative for the P-51 Mustang in a range/performance map.
(NOTE: Left clicking on each figure three times will cause the original image of each figure to appear on your monitor.)
This P-51 versus other fighter range/performance graph comes from page 128 of a chapter titled “How to Win Command The Air” in Paul Kennedy’s recent book “Engineers of Victory.” It from the official victory narrative of the US Army Air Force Heavy Bomber Clique, the so-called “Bomber Mafia.” which was the leadership faction of bomber pilots that controlled the USAAF, lead the fight over Europe and the founded the US Air Force as a separate military service.
You see versions of that chart through out post war institutional histories like Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate’s, six volume “The Army Air Force in World War II,” and more recent works like the 1992 Richard G. Davis biography, “Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe” (See figure 2 below the fold).
It also happens that, when you drill down to the wartime source documents, the “P-51 narrative” that map represents is a very good example of selectively telling the truth to create a complete fabrication. A fabrication meant to hide those same bomber pilot generals from political accountability for their leadership failures. Roughly 2/3 of all battle deaths the USAAF suffered in WW2 were in Europe during the strategic bombing campaign. It was a statistically true statement to say a U.S. Army combat infantryman in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, from late 1942-to-winter 1944 had a greater chance of surviving combat than a B-17 crewman of the 8th Air Force.
Most of those deaths were demonstrably unnecessary.
The Battle of Britain in 1940 made clear that killing enemy fighter pilots faster than well trained replacements can arrive is how one achieves air superiority. The key innovation that created air superiority over Europe wasn’t the technical and organization triumph that Kennedy describes with the introduction of the P-51 into combat. It was a _doctrinal change_ that allowed the use of existing fighters with droppable auxiliary fuel tanks. Fighters with drop tanks were used in three shifts to cover the bomber formations during a. Penetration of enemy air space, b. At the target area and c. During withdrawal, too which the long range P-51 was added. The three shift fighter escort doctrine allowed USAAF fighters to drop fuel tanks and dog fight for 30 minutes with full engine power with German fighters, while still protecting the bombers. Enemy fighters that attacked American fighters were not attacking US bombers, and enemy pilots dying in such fights did not come back to kill anything.
Recognition of the need for this doctrinal change was only possible after the Bomber Mafia’s Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) approved self-escorting heavy bomber doctrine failed the test of combat during the 14 Oct 1943 Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission over Southern Germany.
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How did Estonia become a leader in technology?
Richard Fernandez on the creation of a whole generation of risk-averse elites
Flying aboard the PanAm–Boeing Clipper, circa 1940
Transoceanic aircraft navigation in the Clipper era. (The author uses the term “bearing” incorrectly: the proper term for the direction the airplane is headed in is actually “heading.)
The Willow Run plant, a 63-acre factory, 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. Several million $ must be raised by October 1 to save the plant; astronaut Jack Lousma and auto-industry bad boy Bob Lutz are spearheading the effort.
An additional $3.4 million needs to be raised by October 1 if the plant is to be saved and the museum project is to go forward. You can contribute here.
Several years ago, I was having lunch on the restaurant deck at my local airport. At the table next to me was a couple with a young girl, maybe about 4 years old.
“What makes the airplane fly?” asked the mother.
“Buh..buh,” said the little girl.
“That’s right,” the beaming mother completed the phrase, “Bernoulli’s principle!”
Now, I give this couple credit for taking the kid to the airport and trying to encourage cause-and-effect thinking about why things happen. But I really don’t think that teaching a 4-year-old to parrot “Bernoulli’s Principle” is the right way to do it. Far better, IMO, to say something like “When the airplane goes fast, that makes a wind under the wings, and that holds the airplane up.” This explanation would not pass muster with an aerodynamicist, but is far more useful, in terms of actual understanding, than giving the girl a keyword as explanation. To tell someone that Bernoulli’s Principle makes airplanes fly, when they don’t know what Bernoulli’s Principle IS, is no more useful than telling them that lift is generated by friendly invisible fairies under the wings. (And the fairies are much more charming.)
I was reminded of this little incident by a story in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Scientific American MIND. The headline says that “the trend in early education is to move from a play-based curriculum to a more school-like environment of directed learning.” An excerpt from the story:
On a perfect Southern California morning not long ago, a gaggle of children gathered in the backyard of a million-dollar home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood to celebrate the birthday of twin four-year-old girls…Most of the kids at the party attend the same preschool. The father of one child enrolled there, where tuition is $14,300 a year for half a day, was asked what he likes about it.
“I like that my daughter can tell me what kind of whale it is we see in a movie,” said the man, sporting a seersucker jacket. “They seem to be teaching things that other schools don’t.”
“You ask them what they did in school today,” chimed in another day, “and they’re like, ‘Oh, today we learned about pointillism.’ There’s a whole series on Picasso, a four-month project on Klimt.”
I submit that, for a four-year-old, it would be much, much more valuable to spend time doing their own painting and drawing than on learning to categorize well-known works according to the accepted categorization scheme. Having them also view the works of great artists is also fine, but should be done with an emphasis on seeing, not on name and category recognition.
Forty years ago, in The Age of Discontinuity, Peter Drucker commented on the role of the arts in education:
Today music appreciation is a respected academic discipline (even though it tends to be a deadly bore for the kids who have to memorize a lot of names when they have never heard the music). Playing an instrument or composing are considered, however, amateurish or “trade school.” This is not very bright, even if school is considered vocational preparation for the scribe. When school becomes general education for everyone, it is lunacy.
The art program in the preschool described above sounds a lot like the kind of music appreciation courses that Drucker was criticizing.
I’m afraid that American society is increasingly dominated by a kind of faux intellectualism that values “smartness” very highly (Smart cars! Smart diplomacy! Smart power!) but defines such smartness largely in terms of being able to fit everything in the world into approved categories.
Moliere, in The Imaginary Invalid, mocked a group of physicians whose “explanation” of the effects of opium was that the drug induced sleep because it contained “dormative powers.” There is still plenty of this kind of “thinking” going on today.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th May 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I’ve been reading the new biography of Neville Shute and the account of his trip by single engine airplane to Australia and back to England in 1949. Shute was an engineer and novelist. I think he is the best writer about engineers and one of the best about businessmen.
That got me to the subject of airplanes. A couple of years ago, I read a a book about restoring a Hawker Hurricane that was discovered in pieces in India and brought back to England (after a struggle with Indian bureaucracy) and completely restored. During the restoration, they found bullet holes in the wing tanks that had been sealed by the tank sealant system. It is back in flying condition and is the only flying Hurricane that saw the Battle of Britain.
Former FDCI head Sheila Bair says that low interest rates are hurting, not helping, the economy
Boring, narrow, think-alike apparatchiks.
Rita King is not impressed with Marissa Mayer’s ban on remote work at Yahoo
19 emotions for which English has no words
AT&T predicted the future in these 1993 ads…but how many of these possibilities-turned-actualities was it really able to convert into sources of revenue and profit?
The CEO of Siemens USA thinks young people should seriously consider careers in manufacturing. (When he talks about high-level executives at Siemens who started as apprentices on the shop floor, I have to wonder how many of these success stories are in Siemens USA versus Siemens in Germany)
Dresden: a meditation on strategic bombing
ShrinkWrapped has published his father’s recollections of flying 50 missions as a B-24 tail gunner. There are 6 different posts at the link–start at the bottom for the first one–and one more post here.
These photos were originally shot in color; the ones at the above links have been enhanced for color and contrast by the webmaster at Shorpy…the full Shorpy collection of enhanced OWI Kodachromes is here.
The originals can be found at the Library of Congress on-line photo catalog.
…high-powered weapons being provided to someone who should not pass a basic background check.
The first four F-16 fighters are on their way to Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt. The total package will be 20 planes, all being paid for out of your tax dollars.
As I noted here, each F-16 is equipped with a M61-A1 Vulcan gun—the capabilities of which vastly exceed those of any “assault rifle”—in addition to considerable other weaponry.
And while providing this weaponry to the Morsi regime, the Obama administration actually wanted to send a bill to our traditional ally, France, for the logistical support we have provided them during their Mali operation. The total amount of the payment demand (which was dropped after France went public with its criticism) was about $17-19 million. This amount of money is very close to the cost of one of the 20 F-16s we are providing to Egypt.
The FAA has issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive against the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The AD requires that the battery system be reviewed and modified as necessary to eliminate the danger of fires such as those that have recently occurred on these aircraft. The changes needed could presumably involve manufacturing processes, sourcing of components, electrical-system design, or some combination of these things.
The FAA’s action here seems to me like simple and reasonable prudence. It is not uncommon for new aircraft types to encounter problems during their early operational days, and the 787 is an innovative plane in many ways, especially in the use of electrical means to replace functions traditionally done by hydraulic systems and by engine bleed air. (A nice overview of 787 systems here.) There may well turn out to be simple fixes that can be quickly implemented to resolve the issue; on the other hand it’s possible that the fix will involve signficant redesign and will cost Boeing and the airlines considerable money. Purely as speculation, I’d guess that the worst-case result for the study required by the AD would be the mandated replacement of the plane’s lithium-ion batteries with conventional aircraft batteries, at some sacrifice in the plane’s useful load and some redesign both of the relevant control systems and of some interior spaces.
But the purpose of this post is not to talk about 787 technical issues, as much fun as that might be.
After clicking on the Yahoo report about the AD issuance yesterday, I took a look at some of the comments, and a depressing experience it was. Here are some samples:
Makes you wonder if Boeing did not have the FAA inspectors in their back pocket while certifying this airplane “air worthy”? Maybe a few bucks went along stuffing their respective back pockets as well. Good example of certifying government agencies working too close with the manufacturer.
For the FAA to say it’s safe and then ground the planes, all credibility and trust in competence is out the window.
Were they just going to wait until the costs of wrongful death lawsuits surpassed the cost of fixing the problem?
They do lots of testing but just like windows they release it to the public and then we will fix all bugs in the system
Parts made in China
#$%$ batteries made in China and a world-class American airplane manufacturer fell for their cr@p product. Do you think that perhaps Chinese agents were behind deliberately sabotaging our country’s product?
Dream gone bad. Overseas outscourced components on the cheap, assembled by redneck scabs in South Carolina.
Just one more example of the FINE work being produced by wonderful, hardworking and dedicated union workers.
Just more retaliation from Obama for the move to non- union South Carolina.
no one care anymore all the factory workers just go to work to try to make $$$$$ and this it is hard too the pride in making or to build something does not exist anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!
Too bad the GOP helped rich buddies ship all the manufacturing jobs to china? Expertise comes with manufacturing. Burger jobs make poor planes?
Read through several pages of comments like these, and the overwhelming overall impression is one of social toxicity…of people glaring furiously at one another, quick to assume that anything to goes wrong in any aspect of life is due to either malice or incompetence or both. It is a picture of generalized resentment and distrust, coupled with entitled ignorance.
Until recently, the world’s only flyable WWII B-29 bomber was “Fifi,” operated by the Commemorative Air Force. Unfortunately, the airplane has…at least temporarily…lost its flyable status due to the need for expensive engine repairs. You can contribute to Fifi’s engine fund here.
The B-29 Superfortress was the most technically advanced bomber of WWII: it featured pressurization, a centralized fire-control system for its guns, and both higher speed and a greater bomb load than the B-17. Visually, it is also a very beautiful airplane, at least to my eye. Design of the aircraft that was to become the Superfortress began in 1938 with the receipt by Boeing of a request from the Army Air Corps–Boeing funded much of the initial development itself since the Air Corps did not at that point have funding for the project. The initial production order was not placed until May 1941…remarkably, production aircraft were being delivered by the end of 1943…total production would reach almost 4000 aircraft. Thousand of subcontractors were involved. My back-of-the-envelope calculation based on numbers in this factsheet suggests that there must have been somewhere around 100,000 workers involved at one level or another in B-29 production.
Japanese fighter pilot Ryuji Nagatsuka described his first encounter with the B-29, on a combat training mission in late 1944:
At a distance of 1000 feet, I had a clear view of this famous bomber for the first time. It was like some fabulous flying castle. Its elegant, uncamouflaged fuselage made me think of a monstrous flying fish. What imposing fins, what a rudder! The most disquieting thing about it was those six domes: two gun turrets on its back and four defense turrets operated by remote control…The four engines developed 8800 horsepower. The white star that stood out against a black background seemed to me like a challenge. It was the mark of the enemy.
The efficacy of the B-29′s centralized fire control system…which provided not only remote control of the guns but automatic computer calculation of necessary offsets (“leads”) to hit the target…has been questioned–but Nagatsuka gives it a good review:
Their central firing computer, controlling the gun turrets by remote control, had proved extraordinarily efficient. An isolated B-29, on a photographic mission one day over the Nipponese archipelago, had been attacked by more than ninety of our fighters, and, lo and behold, the enemy plane, which was not equipped for a bombing mission, managed to repulse their attack by climbing to a very high altitude and putting on all possible speed. During this battle, which lasted more than half an hour, he shot down seven of our fighters and finally escaped.
However, most of the gunnery equipment was removed from the B-29s when US General Curtis LeMay ordered a change in tactics from high-altitude day bombing to low-altitude night bombing, focusing on the use of incendiary bombs. Wide areas of Toyko and several other cities were destroyed: the total number of Japanese killed in these raids has been estimated variously but was certainly at least 100,000.
In bombers named for girls, we burned
The cities we had learned about in school
They said, ‘Here are the maps’; we burned the cities.
We’ve talked here before about the dangers of the loss of historical knowledge. I believe that keeping FiFi flying is a useful contribution to maintaining the continuity of American historical memory. Again, you can donate here.
ShrinkWrapped has published his father’s recollections of flying 50 missions as a B-24 tail gunner. There are 6 different posts in the collection–start at the bottom for the first one.
Thoughts about strategic bombing at my post Dresden
Excerpts of some of Randall Jarrell’s WWII Air Corps poems, here
The Ryuji Nagatsuka quotes are from his memoir I Was a Kamikaze (obviously, an unsuccessful one)…an interesting book that is worthy of a review one of these days.