Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2013 – The 230th Anniversary of Humanity’s First Flight

It may had become difficult to separate fact from fantasy on what inspired the Montgolfier brothers to make mankind’s first flight, but was it their own effort when they successfully did back in 1783?

By: Ringo Bones 

It maybe quite understandable for something that happened over 200 years ago that it has since become quite difficult to separate fact from fantasy on how the Montgolfier brothers got into the field of ballooning that eventually led to humanity’s first successful flight into the wild blue yonder. The most popular version of the story has it that Joseph Montgolfier – elder of the brothers – was idly standing into his fireplace one evening in 1782, watching the smoke curl lazily up the chimney. The tale goes on to say that Joseph borrowed a piece of silk from his housekeeper and fashioned it into an open-bottomed bag. Then, holding the bag above the fire, he let it fill with heated air and smoke. When he released it, the bag rose to the ceiling.
After this initial success, the Montgolfier brothers tried other, more ambitious experiments using larger balloons. Within six months, utilizing an outdoor bonfire as a source of heat, they had sent a balloon aloft to a height of a little more than a mile, a feat that was witnessed by a large crowd of spectators. Little did the brothers know that they actually invented the concept of hot air ballooning which changed very little even today. 

News of the Montgolfier flights reached King Louis XVI, who ordered a command performance at Versailles. For the occasion, the brothers built an elaborately decorated balloon and, as an added attraction, decided to find whether animal life could survive in the upper air. A sheep, a duck and a rooster were sent aloft from Versailles on September 19, 1783, in a tub-shaped basket suspended from the balloon. The flight lasted eight minutes and the balloon traveled a mile and a half. On landing, the animal passengers suffered no ill effects. The Montgolfier brothers immediately set about building a man-carrying balloon.
The new model was provided with its own airborne furnace for sustained flight. It took two months to get the balloon ready and several trials were held with the balloon tethered to the ground. Finally the Montgolfier brothers decided that everything was ready. 

News of the impending flight had spread throughout France and excitement ran high. King Louis XVI himself took an active interest and even offered to provide two condemned criminals to serve as passengers. At this, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a young historian and a ballooning enthusiast, became indignant. 

“Shall vile criminals have the honor of first rising into the sky?” he stormed. “I myself shall go!” 

The dream as old as history became fact on November 21, 1783. On that day two Frenchmen, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and another volunteer, the Marquis d’Arlandes - a.k.a. François Laurent d'Arlandes, flew over Paris in a balloon, travelling five and a half miles in 25 minutes. At first it lifted very slowly and Rozier began stoking the fire with straw. The balloon began to ascend more rapidly, but at the same time several small fires broke out in its fabric; the two “aeronauts” raced around the gallery with wet sponges, extinguishing the flames. Once the fires were out, the remainder of the ride was sheer exaltation as the balloon sailed over the rooftops of Paris for 25 minutes before it landed safely five and a half miles away. For the first time in the history of the world, mankind has achieved free flight. 

Ten days after the Montgolfier brothers’ first ever manned balloon flight came the second manned balloon flight. This was under the same Parisian sky, some 200,000 French citizens witnessed the pioneering French physicist Jacques Charles and a companion made a two-hour 27-mile flight in a hydrogen-filled balloon. They both landed safely. But when Charles’ companion climbed out of the gondola, he automatically lightened it; the balloon with Charles still in it, soared back up into the air, inadvertently making Charles the first ever human being to make the first solo balloon flight. It was now dark, and the balloon climbed to a record height of 9,000 feet. By the time Charles got back to earth, he was so shaken that he swore never to set foot on another balloon ever again. Despite Jacques Charles’ defection, the ballooning craze inevitably swept all of Europe. 

Within a decade, other balloon flights had been made in England, Germany, the United States, Belgium and the Netherlands. Under a Union Jack painted balloon, the Italian diplomat Vincenzo Lunardi ascends over London in a gaudy gondola in 1785. A year earlier, Lunardi made the first ever manned balloon flight in England. 

An early French balloonist, Jean Pierre Blanchard waved the French tricolor flag over Brussels back in 1786. His rig included two balloons and a parachute. Blanchard earlier had shared the first English Channel crossing on a balloon with John Jeffries, an American doctor. Later, in 1793, Blanchard introduced balloon-flying to America at Philadelphia. The first ever equestrian ascent – i.e. riding a balloon while on horseback – was made by Pierre Testu-Brissy over Paris back in 1798. As we observe our 230th Anniversary of the first ever manned balloon flight this year, it seems that manned ballooning have never gone out of style since it began. 

The Airbus A350: World’s Greenest Passenger Plane?

Given that lithium iron phosphate battery powered jet airliners – like those proposed by Bauhaus Luftfahrt – are still decades away, is the Airbus A350 currently the greenest conventionally fueled jet powered passenger plane? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Given that it successfully flew its maiden flight without incident at 0800 GMT back in Friday, June 14, 2013 at Toulouse, France, Airbus’ latest passenger plane – and slated to compete commercially with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner – the A350 is chock full of the latest boutique high-tech aerospace design concepts all aimed at to reduce its fuel consumption. But does it truly qualify its credentials as the greenest conventionally fuelled passenger plane? 

After the various components are delivered by the Beluga cargo plane to Airbus’ main plant – i.e. the fuselage was assembled in Germany while the new fuel-efficient high-thrust engines are manufactured in the UK while the avionics in the plane’s nose are from France– the A350 is also slated to be Airbus’ headline product in the 2013 Paris Air Show. The mostly made of carbon fiber fuselage and wings which on average weigh a fifth that of steel allows the A350 to be more fuel efficient than current and competing models.  

The unique wing shape and the large titanium fan blades of the new Rolls Royce turbofan engine whose inside working temperature is half that of the surface temperature of the sun and the monocrystalline heat resistant alloy of the inner turbine blades all work in conjunction to make the Airbus A350 the most fuel efficient conventionally fuelled plane in current production. Given that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has just recently shaken up the unairworthyness of the lithium batteries of its auxiliary power unit, the Airbus A350 could well be the unopposed greenest passenger plane currently exhibited on the 2013 Paris Air Show. 

Should All Of The European Union’s Air Traffic Control System Be Centralized?

Given that there are currently 9 regional air traffic control blocks in the EU, should it be centralized as a way to effectively cut running costs? 

By: Ringo Bones 

According to the powers-that-be in the European Union’s headquarters at Brussels, the current air traffic control system currently managing the commercial air traffic over Europe is costing passengers 5 billion euros a year. But will merging the 9 regional EU air traffic blocks into a one centralized system and simplifying its current “arcane” and “rigmarole” air traffic routing operation result in a cost savings that can be passed to the consumer? 

Unfortunately, the proposed merger plans to centralize the EU’s currently fragmented air traffic control system had triggered an air traffic controllers union’s strike in France back in Tuesday, June 11, 2013, that cancelled 1,800 flights and cutting every major European city’s airport’s timetable in half. Disruptive and hard on the airline passengers had the strike had been, are the grievances of the striking air traffic unions’ rejection of the proposed merger plans justified? 

The planned merging of the EU’s patchwork air traffic control system and opening it to privatization in order to reduce operating costs that can be passed on to the consumer will, sadly, result in the sacking of most tenured air traffic control workers. Back when Ronald Reagan was still president of the United States, the Reagan administration’s drastic curbing of the air traffic controller’s union’s bargaining powers had resulted in mass firings of experienced air traffic controllers that could have spotted the anomalous behavior of those hijacked planes that were flown straight into the World Trade Center buildings back in September 11, 2001. And I highly doubt it if most budget frequent fliers will ever get their money back or know the difference if the centralization of the EU’s patchwork air traffic control system goes through. 

Cebu Pacific Planes: Addicted to Concrete?

With their propensity to overshoot even 10,000-ft. long runways, are Cebu Pacific planes for all intents and purposes addicted to concrete? 

By: Ringo Bones 

The term “addicted to concrete” is often aimed at post World War II planes – especially jet-propelled types – that can no longer safely land on 5,000-ft. long concrete runways that became standard at the height of World War II. Should modern planes that that have a propensity to overshoot modern airport runways, especially those 10,000 feet long runways, be called addicted to concrete? Well, this actually happened back in June 2, 2013 at the Davao International Airport when a Cebu Pacific Airbus A320-200 as in Cebu Pacific Flight FJ971 overshot its assigned runway and disrupted the airport’s schedule during the first day of classes in the Philippines making 45 irate passengers sue the budget airline company not only for mental distress but also for having their travel itinerary disrupted. 

All flights out of Davao International Airport were temporarily cancelled for a few days since the Cebu Pacific Flight FJ971 mishap on 9 p.m. of June 2, 2013. Even though Col. Leopoldo Galon, chief of the military’s 5th Civil Relations Group have stated that the crew of Cebu Pacific Flight FJ971 did all that was humanly possible to avoid wallowing into the non-concrete portion of the Davao International Airport after the runway lights suddenly went out around 7:10 p.m., frequent fliers who experienced Cebu Pacific’s “amenities” have often less-than-diplomatic words to say about the budget airline company’s shortcomings. 

It wasn’t just the Cebu Pacific runway overshot incident back in 2011 when a Bombardier type twin engine prop plane plowed into the non-concrete portion of the runway of an airport in the Western Palawan province of Puerto Princesa. Frequent flying Filipino hi-fi enthusiasts who have to buy their hi-fi gear in Hong Kong or Singapore to the lack of hi-fi stores in the Philippines during the 1990s who are “unfortunate” enough to fly in a Cebu Pacific operated plane often complain of ear-ache probably due to insufficient cabin pressurization. Even though I too experience similar ear related anomalies while flying Cebu Pacific, such ear problems was inadvertently absent when I hitched on a Philippine Air Force C-130 plane bound to Manila from Cebu when I watched an Avril Lavigne concert back in March 30, 2005 or when my commandant and I flew a “loaned” F-20 Tiger Shark from Northrop to the Philippine Air force to 50,000 feet during my ROTC days. Cebu Pacific needs to reevaluate the quality of their service given that tourism in the Philippines is growing year after year. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Remembering Wiley Post’s Solo Around the World Flight

Even though it happened 80 years ago, how many were old enough to have seen and remembered Wiley Post’s first solo flight around the world?

By: Ringo Bones 

I wondered how many people ever tried a solo around the world flight with all the attendant dangers of sleep deprivation while flying a plane. But 80 years ago, an adventuring aviation pioneer named Wiley Post did the impossible and managed to circumnavigate the globe while flying all alone on his modified stripped-down plane. And I, too, now wonder if other folks will be remembering the 80th Anniversary of Wiley Post’s solo flight around the world? 

Back in July 1933, Wiley Post, piloting a modified and stripped-down Lockheed Vega monoplane named the Winnie Mae, completed the very first solo flight around the world. Landing only 11 times, he completed the 15,596-mile trip; starting and finishing at New York in just seven days and 18 hours. One of the other “newfangled” gears that made Wiley Post’s solo round the world flight was the autopilot. An early version of the aircraft autopilot system was developed by the Sperry Gyroscope Company where one of the early prototypes was used by Post in his solo flight around the world in 1933. 

Even though in aviation – as in being an airplane pilot – is where binocularity, or two-eyed vision, would seem to be indispensible; Wiley Post, the famous airplane pilot of the 1930s whose signature white eye patch over his left eye was almost a trademark, was such a rare exception. Though he might not be able to appreciate it if someone made a biopic about him in 3-D! 

Another thing which will be forever be remembered of Wiley Post was his custom pressure suit which was developed by B.F. Goodrich back in 1934 which was to protect Post under near space conditions when he sought to break an airplane altitude record of 47,352 feet. Strangely, the B.F. Goodrich’s Wiley Post pressure suit was eventually used in the movie Man From Mars a few years later.