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Random aerospace news roundup—Feb 18th, 2010

  • Angelina Jolie visited Jacmel, Haiti, and Canadian Forces personnel stationed at the aerodrome there.  Sanctimonious celebrities are annoying, but at least Ms. Jolie has a way of backing her philanthropic exhortations with meaningful finances and action, and for that at least, I give her grudging respect.
  • Dr. William A Edelstein, Ph.D, Visiting Distinguished Professor of Radiology at Johns Hopkins University, notes that the kinetic energy of hydrogen atoms hitting a spacecraft crew at near-light speeds would kill them.  Although there only two hydrogen atoms per cubic centimetre of interstellar space, the effect of travelling at near-light speeds on the crew would administer a dose of more than 10,000 sieverts within a second (7 sieverts is fatal).  The radiation would also affect spacecraft structural and electronic integrity.  With various spacefaring theologies (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.) seemingly under threat, nerd credulity bristles in the comments section.
  • ODD: (Via Ghost of a flea) President Obama instructs NASA to act as a tool of international diplomacy and work with predominantly Muslim countries.  Indonesia is singled out as an example.  I wonder what Indonesia can bring to the table in terms of manned or unmanned space exploration?
  • Air Power Australia takes a very detailed look at the new Russian T-50 / Sukhoi PAK-FA, with alarming conclusions:

The available evidence demonstrates at this time that a mature production PAK-FA design has the potential to compete with the F-22A Raptor in VLO performance from key aspects, and will outperform the F-22A Raptor aerodynamically and kinematically. Therefore, from a technological strategy perspective,  the PAK-FA renders all legacy US fighter aircraft, and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, strategically irrelevant and non-viable after the PAK-FA achieves IOC in 2015.

Detailed strategic analysis indicates that the only viable strategic survival strategy now remaining for the United States is to terminate the Joint Strike Fighter program immediately,  redirect freed funding to further develop the F-22 Raptor, and employ variants of the F-22 aircraft as the primary fighter aircraft for all United States and Allied TACAIR needs.

If the United States does not fundamentally change its planning for the future of tactical air power, the advantage held for decades will be soon lost and American air power will become an artefact of history.

— Kopp, Dr Carlo, SMAIAA, MIEEE, PEng, and Peter Goon, BE (Mech), FTE (USNTPS).  “Assessing the Sukhoi PAK-FA.”  Air Power Australia, 15 February 2010.

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Haiti and building codes

Intact Digicel building (background) and devastated retail storefront (foreground) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 12th, 2010.

102_2244, originally uploaded by Boston Gringo.

Professor Karl Stephan, writing at the Engineering Ethics Blog, notes that the horrific death toll in Haiti is more or less explicitly tied to its lack of suitable building codes, and that condition is itself precipitated by a government and polity that are less than enthusiastic about future-directed regulation:

Amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince, the tallest building in Haiti—the Digicel building, completed about a year ago—still stands with only minor cosmetic damage. Why? It was constructed according to American building codes to withstand a magnitude-7 earthquake—and it did. A plainer argument for enforcement of building codes could not be imagined.

If Haiti has any building codes, I was unable to ascertain exactly what they amount to or where they apply. A project that was ongoing in 2007 under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS) put up a website that stated Haiti has no national building code, and was focused on developing one. According to news reports, any building codes that exist are merely on paper, and people use cinder blocks that are basically home-made, reportedly weighing only about 12% of what the same size block would weigh if it was made under U. S. standards. Reinforcing bar is used sparingly, if at all, and when people need more room they just go down to the homemade cinder-block store and pile another story or two onto their house. Radical libertarians might do well to study Haiti as an example of what happens when government absents itself completely from the supervision of private and even public construction. Things can go well for a while, but when an earthquake hits, the devastation is nearly total.

— Stephan, Karl.  “Building Codes, Earthquakes, and Haiti.”  Engineering Ethics Blog, 25 January 2010.

Worth reading the whole thing, along with the sources (1, 2) the Professor cites.

MTJA airfield flow and relief operations

Here’s a brief update to my prior post on the Jacmel aerodrome, as I have become aware of additional information. There are a number of good articles from multiple sources, each providing lots of good information. (Specifically a January 30th article in the Winnipeg Free Press; a January 29th article from Agence France-Presse; a January 19th article in the Globe & Mail; and an undated DND press release.)

I will collate and summarise the data points below to make it easier to comprehend, so that one does not have to flip between the various sources to get the big picture.

  • The strat-lifters (CC-150, CC-177) typically operate between CFB Trenton (CYTR) and Norman Manley Intl Airport (MKJP) in Kingston, Jamaica. The tac-lifters (CC-130) then take the cargo from Kingston to Jacmel. (See map below for more details.)
  • The CF installed airfield lighting at Jacmel in order to permit 24-hour flight operations; a fueling station has also been set up.
  • HMCS Halifax remains on station in Baie de Jacmel, providing radar coverage for air traffic separation.
  • CFB Trenton is burning through 500,000 litres of fuel a day. Keep in mind, though, that this is for all of CFB Trenton’s flight operations (training, flights to Afghanistan, etc), not just those relating to Haiti.
  • MGen Yvan Blondin elected to have Canadian Forces aircraft utilise Jacmel; USAF had previously surveyed the field and decided that its 3,300ft asphalt runway was too soft to handle the stress of high optempo, and too short to provide adequate margin of error for tactical airlifters.
  • CF engineers determined that the runway could sustain regular CC-130 operations, so long as the aircraft’s total weight (aircraft, fuel and payload) does not exceed 100,000 lbs / 45,359 kg.
  • The minimum landing distance for a CC-130H with a 100,000lb payload is approximately 3100 feet (1000 foot touchdown zone, 2100 foot rollout distance). This gives pilots a 200 foot margin of error.
  • The aerodrome has handled up to 64 aircraft movements in a single day.  This breaks down as 2.67 movements every hour, or one every 23 minutes.
  • The runway is already pitting and suffering damage from the optempo surge. High optempo is likely to last for 60 days and slacken thereafter.

Here’s an image I created using data from the Great Circle Mapper, showing approximate transit times for CF flights.

And another pre-earthquake image of Jacmel’s tiny terminal and apron.

Eastern Health for thee, but not for me

Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams has administered a self-inflicted wound by jetting to the US for heart surgery and offering no explanation as to why the procedure couldn’t be done by cardiac surgeons in his own jurisdiction.

Giving the premier the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there is some procedure available down south that surgeons in Newfoundland and Labrador can’t yet offer.  If that were the case, the smart thing to do would be to have offered up such an explanation immediately, well in advance of departure.  It would disarm the critics before they had a chance to reach the high dudgeon setting.

Otherwise, one could posit—as the nurses in this 2008 article did, presciently—that the premier has chosen one health care system for himself, and another slightly less capable health care system for the residents of his province.

No politician of Mr. Williams’ experience could possibly want to send that message, and the shame of it is that it could have been so easily avoided.

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MTPP airfield flow and relief operations

Main apron of Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Taken by the GeoEye-1 satellite from 423 miles in space at 10:37 a.m. EST on Jan. 16, 2010.

Over at the Flea’s place I left a lengthy comment about how some online observers have some pretty silly ideas about how fast aid can be delivered into a nation with tightly constrained infrastructure.  In Haiti’s case, the sheer volume of aid that has to get in, and evacuees that have to get out—and all of it combined with the lack of high-volume airport infrastructure country-wide—means there are going to be bottlenecks for a very long time.

In MTPP with a single taxiway, the departing craft has to sit on the ramp itself. It can’t position at the departure end because the turnaround bays at either end are too small for the wingspan of a med/heavy aircraft. Likewise it can’t position on the single taxiway because the arriving aircraft needs to use that taxiway to exit the runway.

And because the taxiway is in the middle, arrivals need to backtrack the runway in order to reach the taxiway. Similarly, departures also need to backtrack the runway in order to position at the departure end.

…You would be lucky to get one aircraft movement every ten minutes under such a system, or 144 movements per day. Assuming the movements occur like clockwork, nobody has to remain on the ramp for any longer than it takes to unload, and everybody tankers their own return fuel aboard and does not require refueling from one of the airfield’s two trucks.

Pearson airport, in contrast, handles about 1200 movements a day, and it slows down considerably after midnight due to aircraft class noise restrictions. Haiti will never handle 1200 movements a day, not even if every single airport in the nation were pressed into service. There are six of them, and all have single-runway, single-taxiway designs. Only two have runways long enough to cope with international transoceanic flights.

Now compound that with tons of aid arriving, and literally about a hundred thousand foreign nationals requiring evacuation (that alone would be about 300 flights) and you’re looking at a recipe for unimaginable delays for a very long time.

Skimming the news articles today, I found some confirmation of the airport’s throughput capacity.   This article notes that since AFSOC’s arrival on January 13th, MTPP has handled in excess of 600 aircraft movements.

“We arrived the first evening with three U.S. aircraft. Within 28 minutes we established command and control, airfield management, and were able to land aircraft that night,” said Col. “Buck” Elton, Joint Special Operations Task Force commander. “On a typical day, the Port-au-Prince airport lands about three aircraft. Since we landed Wednesday, over 600 aircraft have landed and taken off.”

— Salanitri, David [Sr. Airman, USAF].  “AFSOC Airmen save Haitian earthquake victim, land more than 600 aircraft on island.”  Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs, 17 January 2010. [Emphasis mine]

If we gauge that the story was filed and published on the same date, then that gives us a time frame (13-17 January, or five days) for those 600+ aircraft movements.  This means then that the airport handled in excess of 125 movements per day, or slightly better than five per hour—one every twelve minutes, which is remarkably close to my estimation.  And, I think, a rather fantastic achievement by the men and women on the ground, given the state of the facilities.

Also of note in the AFSOC article:

  • Haitian air traffic controllers have returned to work and are handling “long range control”; which I interpret to mean high-altittude enroute traffic passing through the Port-au-Prince FIR (MTEG), while USAF combat controllers handle arrivals and departures in the terminal zone.

Also interesting: From the image that caps this post, you can see the Port-au-Prince airfield as it was on January 16th, 2010.  I want to draw your attention to the C-17 parked at the western end of the ramp.  You might assume that this would be from one of the usual military C-17 operators (USAF, CF, RAF, RAAF) and it is, after a fashion.  It is a Qatar Air Force asset, and although dedicated to military airlift duties, this aircraft is the only C-17 to wear both a civilian paint job (as Qatar Airways) and a civil aircraft registry code, A7-MAB.

BREAKING: SecDef Gates’ noted on Friday that DoD did not conduct airdrops of food and water in Haiti because it feared the possibility of riots and fighting on the ground.  That decision has apparently been reversed; this afternoon I have received information that USAF will conduct its first airdrop of food and water this evening, into a drop zone that has already been secured by U.S. military personnel.  The exact location of the DZ will, of course, be protected so that there is no possibility of riots or violence arising from foreknowledge of the event.

UPDATE 190530Z JAN 2010: The airdrop occurred five miles north of Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport and, according to CNN, 40 pallets or bundles of MREs and water (55,000 lbs total) were released by one C-17 operating from Pope AFB, NC.  I think CNN has their nomenclature confused, because while a single C-17 is capable of delivering 55,000lbs of payload, it can only accommodate 18 standard Army/Air Force 463L pallets (in two parallel rows).  An airdrop of forty 463L pallets would thus require three C-17s, at minimum.  C-17s can carry, however, 40 container delivery system (CDS) bundles; they are typically loaded in two parallel rows of twenty, so it is probable that CDS bundles are what is actually being employed.

UPDATE 191315Z JAN 2010: Airfield flow at MTPP appears to be improving.  LTG Ken Keen, Commander Joint Task Force Haiti, notes that throughput has increased every day for the past six days, and Monday’s total was 180 aircraft movements (with no delays!).   This means the airfield is generating 7.5 aircraft movements every hour, or one every eight minutes.  The general’s discussion of challenges at the airfield is illuminating.

One challenge in getting aid to Haiti has been the backlog of airplanes trying to land on the airport’s one runway. Keen said it was like “pushing a bowling ball through a soda straw.” He said the U.S. Air Force helped the Haiti government get its airport operational within 24 hours of the earthquake and the service is now helping to manage the air traffic control with the Haitian government determining the priorities of which planes should land first.

In the days that followed the disaster, some planes, carrying much needed emergency supplies, doctors and field hospital equipment, were turned away because there were delays in getting planes on the ground to take off. That created a backup of other planes that were flying in and needed to land.

“There were planes that were scheduled to land but didn’t,” he said. “The pilot at some point has to make a decision about continuing to burn fuel or divert to the Dominican Republic. . . . That’s unfortunate and not what we want to see.”

Another problem at the airfield, Keen said, has been that air traffic control officials often didn’t know what was aboard incoming planes so that made it difficult to prioritize which ones should land first — an issue that he said is being fixed. And there was only one forklift at the airport when U.S. military arrived to help. More equipment has been brought in to help quickly unload planes.

Keen said the airport’s flow of planes has improved since the first days when only 13 flights a day were landing. Monday, he reported that 180 flights used the airport with no delays.

— Hedgpeth, Dana.  “U.S. task force commander for Haitian relief says logistics remain stumbling block.” Washington Post, 18 January 2010.

A simple mechanical fault on any one of the arriving or departing aircraft could derail the entire airport, though.

His biggest nightmare: A plane delivering supplies has a flat tire on the one runway at the airport. “I’m out of business,” he said. “That blocks the whole runway and we don’t have the equipment to move it.”

Canadian air travel roundup

Terminal 3 Pearson Airport, originally uploaded by Allan P1.

A somewhat random collection of bullet-points from the world of Canadian air travel.

  • Air France caves in to the class action suit brought by passengers of AF358, and settles for CDN $11.65 million.  The seriously injured (mentally or physically) will receive a maximum $175,000 payout, while the uninjured will receive the minimum payment somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.  I remind readers that the AF358 incident was a runway overrun in which there was no loss of life amongst its 297 passengers and 12 crew, and in which the biggest financial loss was borne by the airline itself, which had to write off the aircraft completely.  Suits still pending: Air France, suing GTAA and Nav Canada for the loss of an aircraft; GTAA, suing Air France for the cost of post-accident environmental remediation; and one passenger (who opted out of the class-action lawsuit) who is suing all parties.
  • Airline and airport staff are not entirely clear on the specifics of the nonsensical and hastily composed new carry-on baggage regulations, and kind of making it up as they go along.  Big surprise there.  Your correspondent has a suggestion, based upon years of experience watching his wife haul around purses of various sizes (the largest of which could have discharged a tank platoon on Juno Beach in 1944).  A “small” purse is one that can accommodate your wife’s wallet and phone.  A “large” purse is one that has any excess payload capacity beyond that.  As far as laptop bags go, they are all “large”, even if made to cart around a 13″ netbook.  There is no such thing as a small laptop bag, because people cram them full of junk.
  • Farouk of the Flaming Underpants had fantasies of being a holy warrior, says the Toronto Star.  Well yeah—that’s what radical Islamists do.  If he didn’t want to wage jihad against the Great Satan, he probably would have sat down and watched a football game instead of fabricating explosive Y-fronts.
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Selling the drama

I have some respect for the passengers of Northwest Flight 253, especially Dutch filmmaker Mr. Jasper Schuringa, who reacted quickly and appropriately to a dangerous situation.  But please, pundits professional and amateur, put aside the euphoric army-of-Davids, pack-not-a-herd rhetoric.

NWA253 wasn’t saved because of alert passengers.  It was saved because the would-be bomber was incompetent in both design and fabrication of his explosive device. The passengers did nothing to pre-empt impending tragedy; they merely restrained the bomber after his unsuccessful detonation.  It is not even on the same level as the passengers and cabin crew of American Airlines 63, who halted the attempted ignition of Richard Reid’s shoes.  The fuse leading into Reid’s shoe hadn’t been lit; let alone lit and providing an obvious warning in the form of firecracker-like noises and smells.

The moral of the Flight 253 story is not that ultra-vigilant passengers will save the day (although this is not a bad thing and sometimes, they might).  Remember that had the explosive device been properly designed and fabricated, there would have been precious little for those passengers to do except fall to their deaths.

There are instead three better lessons from NWA253. The first is that you cannot always rely upon airport screeners (whether foreign or domestic) to have and use the best possible equipment.  They might not have the equipment, or when they do, they might use it selectively—by prioritizing it for something other than routine screening (like say, narcotics smuggling).  This might require certain nations (or air carriers themselves) to have their own screening personnel and equipment at the originating airport.

The second lesson is that intelligence and law enforcement services need greater cooperation and coordination in order to effectively act upon leads given to them.  Having received a timely warning from Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father, the bomber should have been set aside for more intensive scrutiny prior to boarding, which—presumably—would have led to denial of boarding.

The third lesson is that the approach to security screening that we have today—a widely-cast net, inefficiently searching one and all for a limited range of explosives and weapons—is inadequate; it is not focused, accurate or granular enough to detect the threat.

There are other, more manpower-intensive approaches—just one example would be the behavioral profiling used by Israeli carrier El Al.  El Al interviews every passenger before boarding, relying on the experience and intution of its screeners to weed out the nervous and suspicious.  Our own airport security screeners do not tend to focus on human intelligence and psychological factors; they rely on technical means (x-ray scanners and chemical detectors) instead.  And technology, of course, is not as infallible as many would like to think.

Perhaps the best defence is a fusion of these methods; human intelligence buttressed with technical intelligence.  Surely that is several times better than your seat-mates reacting to a bomb after it’s failed.

The battle will go on for the rest of our lives

Christopher Hitchens engages in a rambling and somewhat self-indulgent rant about “security theatre”, but manages to get the lead out in the closing paragraph.

What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims. Our civil aviation is only the most psychologically frightening symbol of a plethora of potential targets. The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don’t get the point prefer to whine about “endless war,” accidentally speaking the truth about something of which the attempted Christmas bombing over Michigan was only a foretaste. While we fumble with bureaucracy and euphemism, they are flying high.

— Hitchens, Christopher.  “The truth about airplane security measures.” Slate, 28 December 2009. [Emphasis is mine.]

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When your old life catches up with your new life


Edita Schindlerova, 22, in Ryanair uniform (left) and in what one might charitably call an undress uniform (right).

Ryanair is an Irish low-cost airline headquartered in Dublin, with Dublin Airport (EIDW) and London Stanstead Airport (EGSS) being its major hubs.  Every year the company recruits a dozen of its good-looking cabin attendants to pose in skimpy outfits for a calendar whose proceeds are donated to charity.

This year, an eagle-eyed tabloid reporter realised that one of Ryanair’s flight attendants, Ms. Edita Schindlerova, also had a second career in the adult entertainment industry.  To their credit, Ryanair’s spokesmen waved away the media’s salivating prurience by stating “What people do before or after they work for us is their business.”

What a rare and refreshing display of sanity from an employer.

Edita in the Ryanair 2009 calendar (February)

Ms. Schindlerova in the Ryanair 2009 calendar.

For those of us who have not had to worry too hard about where the next paycheque is coming from (and I count myself in that number), it can be all too easy to dismiss folks who take a harder, grittier road as moral and intellectual midgets. Women like Ms. Schindlerova, Dr. Brooke Magnanti (a.k.a Belle de Jour) and Ms. Louisa C. Tuck (a.k.a Crystal Gunns) attract much attention and opprobrium; much of it, I think, patently misguided.

We have many examples of how society treats people once their seedier pasts become known.  Ms. Tuck’s employer (the Vineland, N.J. school district) was pressured to fire her; she eventually resigned.  In another famous instance, a Florida town manager got the axe because his wife was a porn star.  The exception of course is Dr. Magnanti, who wrote a well-read blog, then a book which in turn was optioned for a successful television series.  But not every journey into a career catering to men’s fantasies is so lucrative, rewarding and favourably regarded.

Not having lived each circumstance in intimate detail, we cannot always know what factors drive some people to make the choices they have.  I have, however, known some people who have had to take on careers that I would consider both morally and objectively horrifying, and yet those people have survived, flourished, found stable relationships and started families in spite of those potentially soul-deadening experiences.  I do not think any less of them for it; my attitude is simply “There but for the grace of God go I.”  For I do not harbour flattering illusions about what any human being might be motivated to do, given the right circumstance.

And I must applaud Ryanair—whatever their other failings as a commercial carrier—for acting humanely and sensibly.  In this generation, where adults and kids routinely share too much of their private lives—on television, Facebook, blogs and any other outlet within reach—our notions of propriety are surely going to be stretched in uncomfortable ways.

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