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    Business Stories

    Posted by David Foster on 8th December 2019 (All posts by )

    We’ve talked before here about the point that most fiction seems to be about people who are lawyers, policemen, criminals, soldiers, spies, students, politicians, and noble but struggling writers. But there are indeed some works of fiction, and some vivid personal memoirs, in which business plays a central role without being portrayed simplistically or as stereotypically evil. Here are some that I like…please add your own favorites in the comments.  (I posted this at Ricochet, in slightly different form, about a week ago)

    The Current War, a recent movie about the late-1800s power struggle to determine which technology…AC or DC…will dominate America’s electrical distribution system. Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla are the key characters, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult respectively. My review is here.

    The Big Short, a 2015 film about the 2007-2008 financial crisis, based on Michael Lewis’s book. A hedge fund manager concludes that the subprime-loan market is not sustainable, and makes a billion-dollar bet against the relevant mortgage-backed securities. Based on real events. I thought it was very well done.

    God is an Englishman, R F Delderfield. Following his return to England from the Crimean War, Adam Swann identifies a business opportunity: although railroads are being built throughout the country, there will always be sources and destinations of freight which are not on the tracks. Hence, the potential for a nationwide gap-filling road haulage business based on the systematic use of horse-drawn wagons. (This is the first book of a three-book series called the Swann Family Saga.)  Reviewed here.

    Oil for the Lamps of China, Alice Tisdale Hobart. This 1933 novel is about a young American working as a sales rep in China, focused on selling oil for his employer (unnamed, but clearly based on Standard Oil) and increasing volumes by promoting the kerosene lamp as a better alternative to traditional lighting methods. The book was the basis for a 1935 movie of the same name…the film has its moments, but overall is not worthy of the book.

    Father, Son, and Company, by Thomas Watson Jr. This is the best business autobiography I’ve read. It’s about Watson Jr (the long-time CEO of IBM), his difficult relationship with his father, the company they built, and the emergence of the computing industry. It is an emotional, reflective, and self-critical book, without the kind of “here’s how brilliant I was” tone that afflicts too many executive autobiographies. I reviewed it here.

    A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe. The central character of this 1988 novel is Charlie Croker, an Atlanta real-estate developer who has gotten himself into way too much debt. Other characters include Charlie’s current and former wives, the Black mayor of Atlanta, the bankers who must deal with the debt problem, and a warehouse worker at one of the Croker enterprises. The book also casts a not-very-complimentary light on the Atlanta society/arts scene.

    Trial by Fire, Stephen Buck. The adventures of a Honeywell field engineer in the early days of process-control computing. The book’s title reflects the point that the industrial processes being controlled frequently involved combustion, sometimes in scary circumstances. Much of the author’s work took place outside the US, in countries ranging from Poland to Brazil.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Aviation, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Economics & Finance, Film, Tech, Transportation, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    Robot Gets Hired, Tries Hard, But Can’t Do the Job

    Posted by David Foster on 16th November 2019 (All posts by )

    At Boeing.

    Those fearing imminent mass unemployment driven by robots and AI should be following stories like this.  They also should be looking at the actual productivity numbers.

    See also the details of work and the realities of automation.

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Economics & Finance, Tech | 21 Comments »

    Anniversary: The End of the Berlin Wall

    Posted by David Foster on 10th November 2019 (All posts by )

    November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Peter Robinson, who drafted President Reagan’s speech including the line Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!, has some thoughts.

    Bill Brandt offers some remembrances and some video clips.

    Bill’s post mentioned Anna Funder’s excellent book Stasiland:  Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, which I reviewed here.

    An interesting website by a former East German MIG-21 pilot.

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Germany, History, Leftism | 7 Comments »

    Journalists

    Posted by David Foster on 20th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Financial Times recently had an article about a projected luxury dirigible.  Being an airship fan, I wish the venture success. I was struck, though, by a paragraph in the article contrasting the planned aircraft, called the Airlander, with the airships of the 1930s with their “flammable hydrogen fuels.”

    Uh…no.  None of the airships of the 1930s used hydrogen as a fuel.  Some of them used hydrogen as a lifting gas, which is a totally different thing from the fuel consumed to power the craft forward. And most American airships didn’t use hydrogen for any purpose…the American airships that came to bad ends mostly did so as a result of weather-related structural failure…which point, one would have thought, might have been relevant to someone writing about the possible future of airships.

    But airships are a pretty esoteric subject, after all, so maybe it’s unreasonable to expect a journalist to spend (or get his assistant to spend) half an hour actually learning something about whatever he is writing about.  So let’s talk about something that isn’t esoteric at all, but rather about as timely and important as it gets.  Energy.

    I’ve noticed that in articles about energy storage…of which there have been a lot…the writer rarely seems to grasp that kilowatts are not the same thing as kilowatt-hours, and you can’t express the storage capacity of a battery or other storage system in kilowatts. It would be like stating the capacity of your car’s gas tank in horsepower.  (The same principle applies to megawatts and megawatt-hours, or gigawatts and gigawatt-hours)  Yet all the time, I see articles…not just in the general media but also in the business media…talking about the wonderfulness of a battery or whatever that can store 4 megawatts.

    For example, here’s a Barrons article referring to a town which has installed batteries “that can hold two megawatts of power.”  Actually, the batteries at this facility can hold 3.9 megawatt-hours of energy…the 2 megawatts of power is about the rate at which energy can be added to or drawn from the system, and has nothing to say about the amount stored.  So if you withdraw power at 2 megawatts, you can do so for a little under 2 hours before the battery storage is exhausted. You need the megawatt-hour number to know that; “2 megawatts” tells you nothing about the storage capacity.

    Turning now to television journalism:  I think Tucker Carlson is far superior to most TV commentators in terms of focusing on issues in some depth, rather than just obsessively circling in on whatever is hottest at the moment.  But when recently introducing a guest who was going to talk about a highly-questionable sale to China that was made during the Clinton administration, he said that sale had been of “machine parts.”  Actually, it was of machine tools, as the guest correctly explained.

    Machine tools are one of the essential cornerstones of industry, and have been for a long time.  Shouldn’t a person who frequently writes and/or speaks about economic issues know what a machine tool is and why it matters?  Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I think Tucker’s “machine parts” phrasing indicates that he has no such awareness.

    Ben Rhodes, an Obama operative, said of the current generation of reporters:  “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

    No doubt true of a large number of those younger reporters who Rhodes manipulated while feeling contempt for. But there are journalists–older and younger–who do have a pretty good grasp of history, geography, and comparative political systems…some of them even have some education or reading in political philosophy.  But even among these, knowledge of technology–and by “technology” I do not mean just “computer stuff”–is pretty close to nonexistent.

    And with the vastly increased influence of government over all aspects of the economy–and the even greater (much greater!) influence being sought by the current Democratic Party–such knowledge is pretty important.

    Posted in Aviation, Education, Energy & Power Generation, Media, Tech, Transportation | 26 Comments »

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun–Book Review: Rockets and People

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Today being the 62nd  anniversary of the Sputnik launch, here’s a rerun of a post about a very interesting book.

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Soviet 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.

    Some vignettes, themes, and excerpts I thought were particularly interesting:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech | Comments Off on Sputnik Anniversary Rerun–Book Review: Rockets and People

    Telemigration

    Posted by David Foster on 26th May 2019 (All posts by )

    It has often been asserted that the US doesn’t need to worry overmuch about our position in Manufacturing, because Services are the future and that is where we will have the most competitive advantage.  And, indeed, the balance of trade in services is more favorable than that in the goods-producing industries: for 2018, exports of services totaled $821 billion, whereas imports of services were only $557 billion.

    However, while imports of services are today small compared with imports of goods, which for 2018 were almost $2.7 trillion, it would be a mistake to conclude that services businesses and services jobs are immune to offshoring.  Indeed, for many types of services, offshoring/exporting is easier than the offshoring/importing of goods:  there are no transportation issues, and, in the case of imports to the US, there are no tariffs at all.

    Telemigration…the term was introduced by Richard Baldwin in his book The Globotics Upheaval…is the ability to have remote workers doing things that previously would have required their physical presence.  Obviously, the ability to do this has been greatly enhanced by the availability of the Internet and other forms of high-bandwidth low-cost communications.  Today, medical images and legal documents are being reviewed in low-cost-of-labor countries.  Software is being developed for American companies in countries around the world.  Offshoring of clerical operations has been practiced by US firms for a couple of decades, and, of course, the offshoring of customer service is common.

    Baldwin also argues that telemigration will be greatly enhanced by the availability of machine translation technology, especially Google Translate.  I think he may be overstating the case here–from what I’ve seen, the quality of GT translations is highly variable.  Not sure how well this approach would work in facilitating the interaction that is often required among team members to create something or solve a problem, and I am sure I wouldn’t want to trust it exclusively for something like, say, translating the functional specifications for a life-critical avionics system to be programmed by non-English speakers.

    But there are a lot of English-speakers in the world, and a lot of activities in which fluency in a common language is not essential.

    One area in which a lot of telemigration seems to be occurring is in software development and maintenance.  Here for example, is a company which acquires application software companies and offshores much of the ongoing work (which presumably includes incremental product enhancements as well as problem-fixing) to contract programmers: company’s chief recruiter asserts that the current cloud wage for a C++ programmer is $15 an hour. As the Forbes article notes, that’s what Amazon pays its warehouse workers.  (Well, at least in the US–and $15/hour for a programmer in, say, India is surely worth a lot more than $15/hour in this country.)  What makes this story particularly interesting is that the founder/CEO of the company was noted, in his earlier incarnation in a different software business, for paying software people very well indeed and going to great lengths to recruit them.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Deep Thoughts, Immigration, International Affairs, Internet, Tech, Transportation, USA | 36 Comments »

    Technology, War, and Education

    Posted by David Foster on 6th May 2019 (All posts by )

    From NBCLearn, here’s a series of short videos focused on WWII aircraft, technology, and people and intended for K-12 classroom use.  Each video is accompanied by two lesson plans, one focused on relevant STEM topics and the other with “social studies” topics.

    For example, the STEM lesson plan that goes with the Pearl Harbor video is mainly about the attributes of the Zero Fighter .  The “social studies” lesson starts with the teacher asking students “Who wants to tell the class what has been happening in Europe since World War I” and “Who wants to tell the class what has been happening in the eastern hemisphere?”  (it would be interesting to hear some of the answers) and then progresses to other related topics, including a comparison of FDR’s speech after Pearl Harbor with the speech of GWB after 9/11.

    I thought it was an interesting and worthwhile approach.  I would have preferred the videos to be a little longer (they’re about 5 minutes each), and thought there were some missed opportunities, misguided emphases, and a few apparent actual errors in some of the lesson plans.  For example, the “social studies” piece on the Night Witches (female Russian night bomber pilots) could have included something about the situation in the Soviet Union at the time, and the Eastern Front War in general…same point for The Flying Tank, the video about the Sturmovik ground attack plane.  The lesson on the B-17 Ball Turret could have usefully included a link the Randall Jarrell’s brutal poem, Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.  The STEM lesson plan on the ME-262 jet fighter talks about the benefits of the swept wing for “balance on its nosewheel”…”it also made the ME-262 faster”–but didn’t really get across the reasons why a swept wing is important as airspeeds get near the speed of sound.  The discussion of the Po-2 biplane used by the Night Witches implies that the plane had good gliding capabilities:  I seriously doubt this, given the low wing aspect ratio (as noted in the lesson plan) and the high drag generally characteristic of the biplane types. It would glide fine, but not for far…which was appropriate given its mission.

    I thought that, overall, this was a very worthwhile effort.  The videos were co-produced with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions.  NBCLearn also has a whole lot of other educational videos.

    Posted in Aviation, Education, History, Tech, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    The “After Big Week” Assessment, plus 75 years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 26th February 2019 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the completion of Operation Argument otherwise known as BIG WEEK.  The strategic goals of the operation were to destroy German fighter production and inflict a “wastage” rate of the German fighter force such that it was losing fighter planes faster than it was producing them. In  measurements of this objective.  In the initial assessments of the BIG WEEK bombing, 8th Air Force thought they had done that.   Actually, this was as wildly optimistic as the claims of air to air kills by the heavy bomber crew machine gunners.

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    Despite destroying 70% of the German fighter aircraft assembly buildings targeted. The USAAF high command had grossly underestimated damage done to electric motor powered machine tools within those buildings and the UK’s Ministry of Economic Warfare that the USAAF relied upon for intelligence of German industry had underestimated German fighter production by a factor of 2 & 1/2 times.

    See my Jan 1, 2019 Chicagoboyz post “Industrial Electrification and the Technological Illiteracy of the US Army Air Corps Tactical School 1920-1940” for many of the  reasons why this was so.

    Assessment of American “Big Week” Combat Results (Slide 1) from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

    The 8th Air Force lost 565 heavy bombers shot down or scrapped from combat damage so bad it was not worth the effort to repair them.  8th and 9th Air Force fighters escorting the bombers suffered 28 planes shot down.  The over all loss rate per raid averaged 6%…but the American total force losses were 2,600 air crew killed, wounded or captured.  This was 1/5th of 8th Air Force.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Big Week Day 6, Feb 25, 1944, Plus 75 Years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 25th February 2019 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the sixth and final day of Operation Argument otherwise known as BIG WEEK.  On Friday, February 25, 1944 the 8th Air Force returns to Messerschmitt factories in Regensburg preceded by 15th Air Force there.  Other Messerschmitt fighter plants at Augsberg and Furth are also hit by 8th Air Force.  These raids mark the conclusion of the first major operation in the final battle for air superiority before the Normandy invasion scheduled for June 1944.

    Day Six of “Big Week” Combat Results (Slide 1) from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

    Day Six of “Big Week” Combat Results (Slide 2) from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

    ETO Strategic Operations

    Mission 235: In the final “Big Week” mission, 4 targets in Germany are hit; 31 bombers and 3 fighters are lost.

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    1. 268 B-17s are dispatched to aviation industry targets at Augsburg and the industrial area at Stuttgart; 196 hit Augsburg and targets of opportunity and 50 hit Stuttgart; they claim 8-4-4 Luftwaffe aircraft; 13 B-17s are lost and 172 damaged; casualties are 12 WIA and 130 MIA.
    2. 267 of 290 B-17s hit aviation industry targets at Regensburg and targets of opportunity; they claim 13-1-7 Luftwaffe aircraft; 12 B-17s are lost, 1 damaged beyond repair and 82 damaged; casualties are 4 KIA, 12 WIA and 110 MIA.
    3. 172 of 196 B-24s hit aviation industry targets at Furth and targets of opportunity; they claim 2-2-2 Luftwaffe aircraft; 6 B-24s are lost, 2 damaged beyond repair and 44 damaged; casualties are 2 WIA and 61 MIA.

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    Escort is provided by 73 P-38s, 687 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-47s and 139 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51s; the P-38s claim 1-2-0 Luftwaffe aircraft, 1 P-38 is damaged beyond repair; the P-47s claim 13-2-10 Luftwaffe aircraft, 1 P-47 is lost and 6 damaged, 1 pilot is MIA; the P-51s claim 12-0-3 Luftwaffe aircraft, 2 P-51s are lost and 1 damaged beyond repair, 2 pilots are MIA.

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    Mission 236: 5 of 5 B-17s drop 250 bundles of leaflets on Grenoble, Toulouse, Chartres, Caen and Raismes, France at 2129–2335 hours without loss

     

    MTO Strategic Operations

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    Continuing coordinated attacks with the Eighth Air Force on European targets, B-17s with fighter escorts pound Regensburg aircraft factory; enemy fighter opposition is heavy. Other B-17s hit the air depot at Klagenfurt, Austria and the dock area at Pola, Italy. B-24s attack Fiume, Italy marshaling yard and port and hit Zell-am-See, Austria railroad and Graz airfield and the port area at Zara, Yugoslavia; 30+ US aircraft are lost; they claim 90+ fighters shot down.

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    For extensive background, see this Wikipedia article, where the passage above came from:

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Week

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    From Pickle Barrel’s to Radar Pattern Bombing of Cities

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    In evaluating the WW2 Combined Bomber Campaign in Europe there is far more propaganda about “precision bombing” than actual accurate and precise bombing.  When using the Norden bombsite in test conditions, on a clear and still day, with an absolutely distinct against back ground target, with a picked high skill aircrew, from less than 10,000 feet altitude,  you could get within a few hundred feet of the target.

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    Things were far less then perfect in combat over Europe.  Bombing altitudes exceeded 20,000 feet and the number of days where cloud cover measured less than 4/10ths were few and concentrated in the summer.

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    “Big Week” was fought in European winter.  Too fight then, the USAAF had to resort to the use of both British provided “H2S” 10 cm and hand built American “H2X” 3 cm wavelength radars carried on pathfinder bombers leading the USAAF bomber streams.

    B-17 Pathfinder in Big Week with a hand built “H2X” Radar provided by the British Branch of MIT’s Radiation Laboratory Source:  http://www.482nd.org/h2x-mickey

    . Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, National Security, USA | 3 Comments »

    Big Week, Day 5, Feb 24, 1944, Plus 75 Years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 24th February 2019 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the fifth day of Operation Argument otherwise known as BIG WEEK.  On Thursday, February 24, 1944 the 8th Air Force returned to major operations in the battle for air superiority before the Normandy invasion scheduled for June 1944.  The 8th Air Force’s emphasis includes revisiting Schweinfurt.
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    The 15th Air Force attacks Steyer again this day.
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    The RAF Bomber Command flies an area bombing raid on Schweinfurt with indifferent results.
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    Day Five of “Big Week” Combat Results (Slide 1) from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

    Day Five of “Big Week” Combat Results (Slide 2) from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

    Other ETO Strategic Operations
    Missions 237, 238 and 239 are flown against targets in France; 7 B-17s are lost. Heavy clouds cause over half the bombers dispatched to return without bombing.
     .
    Mission 237: 49 of 81 B-24s hit the Ecalles sur Buchy V-weapon sites; 1 B-24 is damaged. Escort is provided by 61 P-47s
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    Mission 238: 258 B-17s are dispatched against V-weapon sites in the Pas de Calais; 109 hit the primary target, 10 hit a road junction E of Yerville, 7 hit a rail siding SW of Abbeville and 6 hit targets of opportunity; 7 B-17s are lost and 75 damaged; casualties are 5 WIA and 63 MIA. Escort is provided by 81 P-38s, 94 P-47s and 22 P-51s; 1 P-38 is damaged beyond repair; the P-51s claim a single German aircraft on the ground.
    .
    Mission 239: 5 of 5 B-17s drop 250 bundles of leaflets[clarification needed] on Amiens, Rennes, Paris, Rouen and Le Mans, France at 2023–2055 hours without loss.
    RAF Bomber Command in Operation Argument
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    Bomber Command directly contributed to the attacks on the aircraft industry in Schweinfurt. Some 734 bombers were dispatched on the night of 24/25 February, and 695 struck the target.[1] Of the bombs dropped, 298 hit within three miles and 22 hit inside the target area. Little damage was done.

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    For extensive background, see this Wikipedia article, where the passage above came from:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Week

    The 56th Fighter Group’s Private War with the USAAF Bomber Generals
    The highest scoring 8th Air Force Fighter Group in World War 2,  in terms of strictly air-to-air kills, was the P-47 armed 56th Fighter Group.  Led by Colonel Hubert “Hub” Zemke (March 14, 1914 – August 30, 1994)  it fought a war with the Bomber Generals running 8th Air Force as well as the the Luftwaffe.
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    See:
    .

    In July, when a bomber group took over Horsham Saint Faith, Zemke’s men relocated to a half-built base at Halesworth Suffolk. Upset with the second-rate treatment his command seemed to be experiencing, Zemke joined a group of Eighth Air Force bomber commanders in a gripe session. The 4th Bomb Wing’s Colonel Curtis LeMay (chief of the postwar Strategic Air Command) complained that the only fighters he had seen so far ‘all had black and white crosses on them,’ but declared his bombers would carry on ‘with or without fighter escort.’

    .

    Later, in the officers’ club, another bomber general stated he ‘wouldn’t pay a dime a dozen for any fighter pilots.’ Zemke hurled his pocket change at the man’s feet:

    .

    ‘Here, General, this is all I have handy at the moment,’ he responded. ‘Any time you have a couple dozen fighter pilots handy send them my way. We can sure use them.’ Then he jumped in his Jug and buzzed the place.

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Big Week, Day 4 Feb 23, 1944, Plus 75 Years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 23rd February 2019 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the fourth day of Operation Argument otherwise known as BIG WEEK.  On Wednesday, February 23, 1944 the 15th Air Force went after the Luftwaffe in the skies over Germany — with the 8th Air Force operations grounded by fog — in the battle for air superiority before the Normandy invasion scheduled for June 1944.

    Like the previous day, the 15th Air Force lacked fighter escorts.

     

    Day Four of “Big Week” Combat Results from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

    ETO Strategic Operations

    Mission 232: 5 of 5 B-17s drop 250 bundles of leaflets on Rennes, Le Mans, Chartres, Lille and Orleans, France at 21:36–22:32 hours without loss.

    MTO Strategic Operations

    B-24s bomb the industrial complex at Steyr, Austria. Other heavy bombers are forced to abort because of bad weather; the bombers and escorting fighters claim 30+ aircraft shot down.

    For extensive background, see this Wikipedia article, where the passage above came from:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Week

     

    From the Pre-War “Conveyor-Protector” to Long Range Escort Fighters

    One of the most troubling parts of the US Army Air Force “P-51 Narrative” that the “Bomber Generals” pushed  after “Big Week” was that the USAAF had learned nothing from the 1940 “Battle of Britain” about the need for fighter escorts.

    It turns out that the US Army Air Corps had not missed that obvious point at all.  They utterly got that point.  In fact, tab #4 for the AAF’s first Air War Plan (AWPD-1) written in August 1941 called for specialized escort fighters.   See this link from Ryan Crierie’s  web site —

    http://alternatewars.com/WW2/VictoryPlan/Air_Force_Requirements.htm

    What they did with that insight was utterly squandered by the factional politics of the “Bomber Mafia” between 1940 and the failure of the second Schweinfurt raid  on 14 October 1943.

    The need to avoid accountability for that failure — like hiding the real range of the P-47D with 150 gallon drop tanks after “Big Week” — was why this institutional lie was told.  The motive being to preserve the reputations of General H. H, “Hap” Arnold and a lot of Bomber Generals who founded the independent US Air Force.

    And like any other claims of conspiracy in high places, great claims require great big heaping piles of evidence that they are true. In July 2017 my research partner found the official memorandum chain that constitutes that great big heaping piles of evidence. (See appendices one thru four at the end of this post)

    This is how Ryan described this official memorandum chain to me:

     I found a memorandum chain in a folder today at NARA titled unconventional escort fighters“, which was full of stuff like the XP-85 Goblin parasite, and a few gems like early consideration of the Northrop XP-79 as a parasite fighter, but at the end of the folder was some stuff circa September 1941 on Long Range Bomber Escort.

    .
    Basically, blah blah, European war experience shows the need for longer range fighters; and it suggested a bunch of studies be done on various heavy bombardment aircraft to turn them into convoy escorts — the beginning of the XB-40/XB-41 program — and they suggested that the B-29 and B-32 be studied as convoy escorts.
    .
    They also suggested studying aircraft like the XP-67, XP-58, and XA-26 with an interest towards making a fighter with extreme range.

    You all can go read the memo chain below, but a short form is as follows —

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Big Week Day 3, Feb 22, 1944, Plus 75 Years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 22nd February 2019 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the third day of Operation Argument otherwise known as BIG WEEK.  On Tuesday, February 22, 1944 the 15th Air Force went after the Luftwaffe in the skies over Germany — with the 8th Air Force operations being heavily disrupted by fog — in the battle for air superiority before the Normandy invasion scheduled for June 1944.

    The idea for Operation Argument was to force the Luftwaffe fighter force to fight by attacking targets they had to defend — the German aircraft industry — with fighter escorted bombers.

    The 15th Air Force attacked without fighter escorts.

    Oops.

    These were the results of the 3rd day of combat —

     

    Day Three of “Big Week” combat results from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

    ETO Strategic Operations

    Mission 230: “Big Week” continues with 799 aircraft dispatched against German aviation and Luftwaffe airfields; 41 bombers and 11 fighters are lost.

     

    1. 289 B-17s are dispatched against aviation industry targets at Aschersleben (34 bomb), Bernburg (47 bomb) and Halberstadt (18 bomb) in conjunction with a Fifteenth Air Force raid on Regensburg, Germany; 32 hit Bünde, 19 hit Wernigerode, 15 hit Magdeburg, 9 hit Marburg and 7 hit other targets of opportunity; they claim 32-18-17 Luftwaffe aircraft; 38 B-17s are lost, 4 damaged beyond repair and 141 damaged; casualties are 35 KIA, 30 WIA and 367 MIA.
    2. 333 B-17s are dispatched to Schweinfurt but severe weather prevents aircraft from forming properly and they are forced to abandon the mission prior to crossing the enemy coast; 2 B-17s are damaged.
    3. 177 B-24s are dispatched but they are recalled when 100 miles (160 km) inland; since they were over Germany, they sought targets of opportunity but strong winds drove the bombers over The Netherlands and their bombs hit Enschede, Arnhem, Nijmegen and Deventer; they claim 2-0-0 Luftwaffe aircraft; 3 B-24s are lost and 3 damaged; casualties are 30 MIA. About 900 civilians were killed, mainly in the bombing of Nijmegen. In 1984, the book De Fatale Aanval (“The Fatal Attack”), was written about this by eyewitness Alphons Brinkhuis, who was a 10-year-old boy at Enschede when it happened.

     

    These missions are escorted by 67 P-38s, 535 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-47s, and 57 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51s; the P-38s claim 1 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed, 1 P-38 is damaged beyond repair and 6 are damaged; the P-47s claim 39-6-15[clarification needed] Luftwaffe aircraft, 8 P-47s are lost and 12 damaged, 8 pilots are MIA; the P-51s claim 19-1-10 Luftwaffe aircraft, 3 P-51s are lost and 3 damaged, 3 pilots are MIA.

     

    MTO Strategic Operations

     

    B-17s attack Petershausen marshaling yard and Regensburg aircraft factory in Germany and the air depot at Zagreb, Yugoslavia; a large force of B-24s hits Regensburg aircraft plants about the same time as the B-17 attack; other B-24s pound the town of Sibenik and the harbor at Zara, Yugoslavia; they claim 40 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed; 13 bombers are lost.

    For extensive background, see this Wikipedia article, where the passage above came from:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Week

    Exposing the Bomber General Lies in the “P-51 Narrative”

    For all the good that the P-47 Thunderbolt did in Europe’s strategic bombing offensive,  it has been written out of the victory narrative for a lot of political reasons.  Political reasons starting with answering for the 26,000 men who died in the 8th Air Force in WW2 because of the flawed doctrines of the the USAAF Bomber Generals.  A number of combat deaths that is larger than the entire US Marine Corps in World War 2 from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima.

    I’ve written expansively on how these flawed doctrines affected the development of  auxiliary drop tank technology, the escort fighters that used them and the bomber escort doctrine that knit them together over the years on Chicagoboyz,  See these posts:

    History Friday — MacArthur’s Fighter Drop Tanks
    Posted by Trent Telenko on July 12th, 2013
    https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/37362.html

     

    History Friday: Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative
    Posted by Trent Telenko on September 27th, 2013
    https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/38801.html

     

    History Friday — Revisiting the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative
    Posted by Trent Telenko on December 16th, 2016
    https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/54434.html

    Right now I’m going to show you how Generals Arnold, Spaatz, Anderson and the rest of the “Bomber General Mafia” put the bad mouth on the P-47’s role in obtaining air superiority over Europe.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 9 Comments »

    BIG WEEK Day Two, February 21, 1944, Plus 75 Years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 21st February 2019 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the second day of Operation Argument otherwise known as BIG WEEK.  On Monday, February 21, 1944 the 8th Air Force went after the Luftwaffe in the skies over Germany for a second day to take air superiority for the Normandy invasion in June 1944.

    These were the results of the 2nd day of combat —

    Day Two “Big Week” combat results from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

     

    Mission 228: 3 areas in Germany are targeted with the loss of 16 bombers and 5 fighters:

    .

    1. 336 B-17s are dispatched to the Gütersloh, Lippstadt and Werl Airfields; because of thick overcast, 285 hit Achmer, Hopsten, Rheine, Diepholz, Quakenbrück and Bramsche Airfields and the marshaling yards at Coevorden and Lingen; they claim 12-5-8 Luftwaffe aircraft; 8 B-17s are lost, 3 damaged beyond repair and 63 damaged; casualties are 4 KIA, 13 WIA and 75 MIA.
    2. 281 B-17s are dispatched to Diepholz Airfield and Brunswick; 175 hit the primaries and 88 hit Ahlhorn and Vörden Airfields and Hannover; they claim 2-5-2 Luftwaffe aircraft; five B-17s are lost, three damaged beyond repair and 36 damaged; casualties are 20 KIA, 4 WIA and 57 MIA.
    3. 244 B-24s are dispatched to Achmer and Handorf Airfields; 11 hit Achmer Airfield and 203 hit Diepholz, Verden and Hesepe Airfields and Lingen; they claim 5-6-4 Luftwaffe aircraft; 3 B-24s are lost, 1 damaged beyond repair and 6 damaged; casualties are three WIA and 31 MIA.

    ,

    Escort for Mission 228 is provided by 69 P-38s, 542 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-47s and 68 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51s; the P-38s claim 0-1-0 Luftwaffe aircraft, 1 P-38 is damaged beyond repair; the P-47s claim 19-3-14 Luftwaffe aircraft, two P-47s are lost, two are damaged beyond repair, three are damaged and two pilots are MIA; the P-51s claim 14-1-4 Luftwaffe aircraft, three P-51s are lost and the pilots are MIA. German losses were 30 Bf 109s and Fw 190s, 24 pilots killed and seven wounded.[12]

    ,

    Mission 229: 5 of 5 B-17s drop 250 bundles of leaflets on Rouen, Caen, Paris and Amiens, France at 2215–2327 hours without loss.

    For extensive background, see this Wikipedia article, where the passage above came from:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Week

    The USAAF Strategy of Big Week

    Operation Argument marked a massive strategic change in how the Bomber Generals fought the air war.  Previously the idea was that large formations of self-escorting heavy bomber would strike the key parts of the German “industrial web” with “precision bombing” and collapse it’s economy.  This “win air superiority through industrial collapse” theory quite literally went down in flames on  14 October 1943 when the second Schweinfurt raid lost 60 bombers, while failing to destroy the German ball bearing industry.

    Big Week abandoned this pre-war doctrine.  Generals Carl Spaatz and Fred Anderson, respectively commander and chief of operations of United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, and William Kepner, Eighth Air Force fighter commander decided to fight a different war, a war of attrition, aimed at the German fighter force.  The heavy bombers were sent against the German aviation industry, not because they could destroy it — it would be great if they did — but because it was a target that the Luftwaffe had to defend.

    Rather than being the single and only war winning super-weapon, the Heavy bomber was demoted to the role of a staked goat.  The bomber streams of B-17 and B-24 were bait for the Luftwaffe fighter force to come up into the guns of  American escort fighters.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    BIG WEEK, Plus 75 Years

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 20th February 2019 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 75th Anniversary of Operation Argument otherwise known as BIG WEEK.  When on Sunday, February 20, 1944 the 8th Air Force went after the Luftwaffe in the skies over Germany to take air superiority for the Normandy invasion in June 1944.

    These were the results of the 1st day of combat —

     

    Day One “Big Week” combat results from “Coming of Aerial Armageddon” by Dr. John Curatola

    Mission 226: The Eighth Air Force begins “Big Week” attacks on German aircraft plants and airfields. For the first time, over 1,000 bombers are dispatched; 21 bombers and 4 fighters are lost hitting three areas in Germany:

     

    1. 417 B-17s are dispatched to Leipzig-Mockau Airfield, and aviation industry targets at Heiterblick and Abtnaundorf; 239 hit the primary targets, 37 hit Bernburg (Junkers), 44 hit Oschersleben (AGO, prime Fw 190A subcontractor) and 20 hit other targets of opportunity; they claim 14-5-6 Luftwaffe aircraft; seven B-17s are lost, one damaged beyond repair and 161 damaged; casualties are 7 KIA, 17 WIA and 72 MIA.
    2. 314 B-17s are dispatched to the Tutow Airfield; 105 hit the primary and immediate area, 76 hit Rostock (Heinkel) and 115 hit other targets of opportunity; they claim 15-15-10 Luftwaffe aircraft; 6 B-17s are lost, 1 damaged beyond repair and 37 damaged; casualties are 3 KIA and 60 MIA.
    3. 272 B-24s are dispatched to aviation industry targets at Brunswick, Wilhelmtor and Neupetritor; 76 hit the primary, 87 hit Gotha, 13 hit Oschersleben, 58 hit Helmstedt and 10 hit other targets of opportunity; they claim 36-13-13 Luftwaffe aircraft; 8 B-24s are lost, 3 damaged beyond repair and 37 damaged; casualties are 10 KIA, 10 WIA and 77 MIA.

     

    Missions one and three above are escorted by 94 P-38 Lightnings, 668 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-47 Thunderbolts and 73 Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51 Mustangs; they claim 61-7-37 Luftwaffe aircraft; one P-38 Lightning, two P-47 Thunderbolts and one P-51 Mustang are lost, two P-47 Thunderbolts are damaged beyond repair and 4 other aircraft are damaged; casualties are 4 MIA. German losses amount to 10 Messerschmitt Bf 110s destroyed and three damaged with 10 killed and seven wounded. Total losses included 74 Bf 110s, Fw 190s and Bf 109s and a further 29 damaged.[11]

    For extensive background, see this Wikipedia article, where the passage above came from:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Week

    For a really engaging lecture on “Big Week”, watch Dr. John Curatola’s video here:

    I’ll be posting more in this series including other lectures and background on how Operation Argument came to pass and its results.

     

    -End-

     

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun – Book Review: Rockets and People

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2018 (All posts by )

    Today being the 61st  anniversary of the Sputnik launch, here’s a rerun of a post about a very interesting book.

    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.

    Some vignettes, themes, and excerpts I thought were particularly interesting:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Rerun: The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity)

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd July 2018 (All posts by )

    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.  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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Tech, USA | 7 Comments »

    Extremely Cool, but…

    Posted by David Foster on 25th June 2018 (All posts by )

    A Gloster Meteor in flyable condition–the Meteor being Britain’s first operational jet fighter–has come to the US on a permanent basis.  The jet has been purchased by the World Heritage Air Museum, which is located near Detroit.  It will be at the EAA Oshkosh show this July, along with two other early British jets.

    The prototype Meteor first flew on March 5, 1943, and the type’s first use was against the V-1 cruise missiles that plagued London.  Meteors were sent to the Continent in early 1945, they were restricted in their operating area for fear of having downed aircraft captured by the Germans or the Soviets and were used for airfield defense and ground-attack missions.

    I believe this was the only flyable Meteor in the UK except for two owned by the Martin-Baker company and used to test ejection seats…as working aircraft these planes probably aren’t available for public display very often, if at all.  It’s great to have a Meteor in the US, but I would have thought that given this airplane’s historical significance, someone in the UK would have raised the money to keep it flying there.

    Posted in Aviation, Britain, History, Military Affairs, Tech, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    DC-3 plus 82

    Posted by David Foster on 7th June 2018 (All posts by )

     

     

    June 7, 1936 marked the first delivery of one of the most important airplane types ever developed:  the Douglas DC-3, which has been called “the Model T of aviation.”

    The story of the DC-3 begain with a very long telephone conversation between the heads of American Airlines and Douglas Aircraft.   AA had been conducting coast-to-coast overnight sleeper service using Curtiss Condor II biplanes, and CR Smith of American wanted a more advanced aircraft for this service. Douglas Aircraft was then fully occupied with production of DC-2s (which were too small for sleeper berths) and Donald Douglas was reluctant to undertake the project.  He was persuaded of the merits of the project over the course of a 2-hour phone call, the bill for which came to something like $5400 in today’s money.

    The DC-3 could accommodate 14-16 passengers with berths–see this promotional film–or, alternatively, 21 passengers in a seating-only configuration, which was the more common arrangement.  The type quickly became a huge success.  According to Delta, by 1940 the DC-3 carried 80% of the world’s airline traffic. Thousands of DC-3s (under the military designation C-47) were built in support of the Allied effort in WWII, and after the war a high proportion of these found their way into passenger and freight service.

    Perhaps the best way of discussing the characteristics of the DC-3 is in the context of a walkaround and flight.  (I’ve had two opportunities to fly DC-3s with instructors, the first in 2006 and the most recent in 2017)

    The most noticeable thing about a DC-3 on the ground is its nose-high attitude: this is a tailwheel airplane, whereas most planes today have a nosewheel.  The tailwheel is better for operations on grass and other unpaved strips, but it does make ground handling and landings a little more tricky.

    The airplane has two engines…a few years prior to its introduction, three-engine airplanes had been the thing for passenger traffic, the theory being that the loss of one engine in that case would represent only a 33% loss in total power rather than 50%.  Eliminating the third engine (in the nose) reduced noise and vibration, but required that there be enough reserve power for single-engine flight to be feasible.

    The wings have a noticeable sweepback.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with supersonic or near-supersonic aerodynamics, but was done for reasons of balance.  Wing construction used a stressed-skin approach with a cellular, ‘honeycomb’ internal structure.

    Entering via the rear passenger door, you walk up a fairly steep inclination to get to either a passenger seat or to the cockpit.  (Douglas devoted considerable attention to ensuring that the passenger seats were comfortable, and also to soundproofing the airplane as much as possible.) Pilot and copilot seats are also reasonably comfortable . Electrical switches are on the overhead panel, engine controls in the center:  prop, throttle, and mixture.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Russia, Transportation, War and Peace | 18 Comments »

    Automation, Aviation, and Business

    Posted by David Foster on 10th April 2018 (All posts by )

    A thoughtful post about the impact of automation in aviation, and how some of the problems occurring in this field are also relevant to potential problems with automation in business:

    Since the 1980s, automating various flight management operations has contributed to a profound improvement in air transport safety and effectiveness. But a related human issue — automation dependency — has emerged as a significant challenge to further improvements in safety levels. Automation can contribute to diminishing manual flying skills and increasing complacency, as pilots avail themselves of automatic flight management and navigation systems to aid much of their decision-making.

    In some cases, pilots don’t fully understand the automatic processes controlling their sophisticated aircraft. The ironic enquiry “What’s it doing now?” is sometimes heard in the cockpit, as pilots struggle to figure out the actions of the “automatics”, as these systems are referred to on the flight deck.

    Crucial as this is in the cockpit, automation dependency is equally problematic in many businesses today, whenever there is a disconnect between what managers think is going on and what is actually happening. The automation in question is not just technological, but also pervades the processes, algorithms, and reporting on which managers rely to inform their decision-making.

    Aviation is addressing this phenomenon as a major problem and is seeking solutions. We suggest that many companies should do the same before their “business automatics” put them at risk of losing control.

    RTWT

    Reminds me of this aviation classic, a 1997 talk by an American Airlines pilot:  The Children of Magenta.

    See also: Automation is Fragile, People are ‘Antifragile’ and my posts When Humans and Robots Communicate and Blood on the Tracks

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Management, Tech, Transportation | 19 Comments »

    A 60 Year Old Fighter Design – Still Operational

    Posted by David Foster on 10th February 2018 (All posts by )

    In 2009, Neptunus Lex paid tribute to the MIG-21, which he referred to as “a noble adversary.”  At the time, it appeared that the airplane was about to be phased out of service by those countries still operating it.  Didn’t happen that way. though…the airplane is still in use by several countries, most notably India, which still operates more than 200 of them.

    Design studies for the MIG-21  began in 1953, with first flight in 1958 and production shipments beginning in 1959.  As analogy for the design’s longevity, imagine the Red Baron’s Fokker triplane from 1918 still being employed in a military role in the post-Vietnam era of 1977!

    An article asks: is the MIG-21 is the fighter jet that could fly for 100 years?  Probably not, I imagine, at least in any kind of operational role…but it’s already done pretty well in longevity terms for a combat airplane.

    There are some web pages on the MIG-21 by a former East German fighter pilot.

    Also, there’s a pretty decent movie, based on real events, about the 1966 Israeli operation to steal a MIG-21 from Iraq.  The moviemakers were evidently unable to get their hands on a real MIG-21 (in 1988), so a MIG-15 was used for the flying scenes instead.

    More MIG-21 information here.

    Posted in Aviation, India, Russia, Tech, War and Peace | 15 Comments »

    Neptunus Lex – The Epilogue

    Posted by David Foster on 10th December 2017 (All posts by )

    After the Neptunus Lex website went down, shortly after his fatal accident, it very fortunately turned out that someone had saved most of the posts offline.  For the last several years, Bill Brandt has been posting these restored posts, on an almost daily basis, at The Lexicans.

    Sadly but inevitably, Bill has now come to the end of the saved posts.  He has some eloquently-written concluding thoughts here.

    Great job Bill, I’m really glad you’ve done this.

    We can hope that perhaps some additional Lex posts will show up somewhere in the odd corners of the Internet.

    Posted in Aviation, Blogging, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, USA, War and Peace | 19 Comments »

    Learning the 777

    Posted by David Foster on 12th October 2017 (All posts by )

    Airline pilot Karlene Petitt is doing transition to the Boeing 777 and blogging about what she learns:

    Aircraft overview

    Structure and materials

    Flight controls

    Roll controls detail

    Series will continue at Karlene’s blog

    Posted in Aviation, Tech, Transportation | Comments Off on Learning the 777

    Sputnik Anniversary Rerun – Book Review: Rockets and People

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2017 (All posts by )

    Today being the 60th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, here’s a rerun of a post about a very interesting book.

    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.

    Some vignettes, themes, and excerpts I thought were particularly interesting:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »

    Around the World by Zeppelin, in 1929

    Posted by David Foster on 21st March 2017 (All posts by )

    In August 1929, the airship Graf Zeppelin set off for a round-the-world tour.  Among the 20 passengers on board was Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, whose trip was paid for by the Hearst newspapers and whose assignment was to write about the venture from a woman’s perspective.  Lady Hay was somewhat disconcerted to find out that among the other passengers on the trip would be a journalist named Karl Henry von Wiegand, with whom she was deeply in love–Karl having broken off their relationship six months earlier.

    Here’s a wonderful pseudo-documentary about the flight, with the story told from Lady Hay’s perspective.  I call it a pseudo-documentary because while the film is genuine, the narration is only partly taken from Hay’s articles and letters–part of it was created by the screenwriters—and there is at least one event that was fictionalized. Includes great film footage of New York, Friederichshafen, and Toyko.  Very much worth watching.

    Posted in Aviation, Film, History, Transportation | 7 Comments »

    Night Carrier Operations

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2017 (All posts by )

    Neptunus Lex puts you in the cockpit.  It’s a long series…you can always pull the Eject lever–but I don’t think you’re going to want to.

    Part I

    Part II

    Part III

     

    Thanks to Bill Brandt for locating and posting this.

    Posted in Aviation, Military Affairs, War and Peace | Comments Off on Night Carrier Operations