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Monday, January 21. 2013
Pic: Doc's lifelong dream of flight begins to take shape
As noted in The F-35 Debacle, perhaps the goofiest weapon of war the United States armed forces has ever commissioned was the fastest, sleekest, most modern fighter jet in history — while requiring that it also have the capabilities of a helicopter.
The mind reels.
But, even though they now cost about 10 times the original estimate, this isn't to say that our money's not being put to good use. Sure, there are bound to be a few little glitches, but that's expected when developing a new breed of aircraft.
Little glitches like, say, turning into a fireball of death when hit by lightning.
But at least they're watching every dollar and not frivolously wasting it on unnecessary weight:
Or scaring innocent civilians on the ground by flying too low:
What's so sobering is that, after more than a decade, this thing's still in the developmental stage. It hasn't even been put to use and field-tested yet.
Let's hope the bad guys don't live in an area protected by lots of thunderstorms.
Speaking of fireballs of death, below the fold we'll get an update on the Boeing 787 and how our ever-vigilant MSM has handled the story.
You won't be surprised.
A few years later, an engine on a DC-10 fell off due to shoddy maintenance on American Airlines' part, killing all 271 people on board. The news media went nuts, claiming the DC-10 was a "death trap" and doing so much damage to future DC-10 sales and the reputation of the company that it eventually folded. The whole story is portrayed in Michael Crichton's superb novel, Airframe.
I was reminded of this recently when the media started going nuts over a few mishaps with the new Boeing 787. Some were even asking the question...
Actually, that would be the F-35, but we'll overlook that for now.
That "on the ground" line is somewhat telling, in that the MSM seemed to have accidentally overlooked that little detail in their recent 'fireball of death' stories.
The 787 Dreamliner is actually a pretty cool aircraft. I was lucky enough to ride in one on the Miami-Houston leg of my Christmas journey to CA. The thing just leapt off the runway, because its composite material makes it lighter than aluminum aircraft. Twice along the way the captain warned us to expect some turbulence, but nary a ripple was felt. The TV built into the back of the front headrest had 50 live stations for viewing.
I, however, was defying all convention by re-reading Airframe, a novel about a horrific airliner disaster. I told the person sitting next to me it was a case of, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
I have a handful of aviation-related videos here.
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Dreamliner. Good airplane indeed. All new ones have minor problems but people fear big problems.
When you subtract the two battery fires -- both of which took place on the ground in unboarded aircraft -- this thing has a remarkable record for a totally new breed of aircraft. Being lighter also means being more agile, so I bet the pilots love 'em.
I am not familiar with the systems on the 787 as I retired as an aircraft mech about 2 years ago. The last aircraft coming into the fleet was the cargo version of the 777. We also had DC10's that we converted to MD10's to improve reliability and better align with the MD11's we had. All of them had ships batteries using Ni-Cad battery banks. They operated on the ground and also in the air. There are AC and DC circuits in these aircraft and they are interconnected. Generally there is a learning curve for pilots and mechanics when new aircraft come into the system and its not unusual for minor fubars to occur. Perhaps they should be called fu's rather than fubars. I have little doubt this will be the most economical and reliable aircraft to have ever come into aviation. In my life I have found at least two things that journalists should never ever report on. One is military operations and the other is aviation. Journalists just do not have the life experience to deal with either and always screw up the reporting. You would think they would learn to hire experts in these areas but no, they would rather just pitch trash on the airwaves and in the print media. I guess there is a reason when you consider that the headquarters of modern journalist is Columbia journalism school which is also the US headquarters of the Frankfurt school.
The problem is the whole Joint Service aircraft purchasing concept. There is no such thing as a fighter/close air support aircraft that will satisfy the Air Force, Marines and Navy - it's just not possible because the systems become too complex to satisfy all the requirements. The only time all the services had a all-purpose fighter/bomber was the F-4 Phantom and that was entirely by accident.
Truth is that each service has different needs. The Air Force needs quick, agile fighters, the Marines need close air support fighter/bombers and the Navy needs CAP capable aircraft that can take a beating from repeated takeoffs and landings on short fields (aircraft carriers). That can't be fulfilled by one single aircraft.
With respect to the 787, we have a 787 pilot here in the condo complex - he loves the aircraft. Says it is the best airliner he's ever flown in 25 years as a commercial airline pilot.
One other point that could be made is, if also acting like a helicopter was so dang important -- what the hell happened to the Osprey? That was supposed to be the VTOL of the future. Sure, an F-35 is smaller and can land in a tighter combat zone -- except it can only deliver two people! And, in practice, only one, since the pilot wouldn't be expected to fight, much less leave a $150M aircraft lying around. An Osprey, however, can deliver a whole troop.
Most stories tend to resolve themselves over time. This one just keeps getting more and more bizarre.
That's always something that intrigued me - why is this VTOL thing important in a fighter. I can see it with the AV-8B Harrier II which the Marines fly - that's a pretty capable aircraft for close ground support and you can put them on almost any ship that has a helipad. It's faster than a heli, can carry more ordnance and if necessary land on unimproved zone for quick refuel/rearm. I've heard stories about Harriers in Afghanistan landing at forward bases, refuel/rearm and back to ground support in a half hour.
Now that the Army and Navy has pretty much admitted that they own stealth heli's, why would they need a multi-role joint service all purpose jet aircraft.
The V-22 is doing great service for the Marines and AFSOC. It's a challenging, new, technology, that certainly has growing pains. But, the V-22 doesn't compare to a Marine fighter designed to land in small spaces. The V-22 is a helicopter replacement, not a fighter replacement. It's a mini-van, not a sexy sports car.
I'm familiar with government acquisition. Seems the challenge is that we can't establish reasonable, achievable, requirements. We want a Corvette that gets the same gas mileage as a Prius, and hauls like a dump truck, or on a bad day, a Ford F-350 dualie. Plus, it'll never need repair, is solar powered, and has a better communications systems than the Star Ship Enterprise. It'll land on 350 feet of unimproved runway, and accelerate to Mach 3 in 5 seconds, is invisible to all known and future threats, can survive hurricanes, blizzards and sandstorms, and is considered completely benign by California, even after it decomposes, when no longer needed, in a land fill, in under six months. And it costs less to operate than a Crown Vic taxi.
Civilian equivalents would be a no risk stock that pays 30-45 percent per year (and is union and environmentally friendly); a $45 per night beach front, private pool, 5000 sq ft, vacation suite in the Bahamas; or a risk free, $500 entry cost business that'll earn one $100K in two years, while working 28 hours a week, at the computer, in jamies. We want the impossible, and are surprised when we don't get it, or find it's expensive.
Govt acquisition is a little like world peace---nice in concept, but hard, if not impossible, to achieve in the real world.
I'm saddened by the challenges Boeing is facing with the Dreamliner. I've liked the company since I built B-17 models in the 70's with the really cool rotating gun turrets. Boeing apparently took a risk with the Dreamliner with world-wide manufacturing and some new technology, and has been challenged. I think they can fix it, but it'll be hard and expensive. On the bright side, it shows industry, not only government, can make some huge, expensive errors.
You make the common mistake that many have made before you - thinking the F-35 program is about a fighter. It is not. It is about jobs.
Let's hope so.
Because at least that's a reason.
Remember the F-111? Joint AF-Navy aircraft? Didn't pan out, but the AF versions became a capable fighter/bomber. Jokes? Cartoon of F-111 with an Edsel grille. How do you know there's one on base? Base is tilted and the hydraulic leaks lead to the low point.
Parkinson's Law: You can't do just one thing. For aircraft, it can do one thing really well, and a 2nd pretty dang good. A third thing is right out, as the Brits say.
I am not a pilot but had the good fortune to be stationed with F-111 pilots and have talked with many of them including many who saw service in Vietnam. The big complaint about the F-111 was it had slow acceleration and it's complexity often kept it on the ground. What the F-111 pilots who went to Vietnam said was that unless Mig saw them first, which was unlikely because of the way the F-111 was flown, that the Mig couldn't shoot them down. They generally did not engage the Mig but because of their electronics and ground following flight technique the Mig could not engage them. They were free to complete their mission. It was the thuds that were effective against the Migs and if the enemy knew a thud (F-105) was in the sky they would not takeoff and if they were already in the air they would run as fast as they could. The thing is both of these planes were designed for different missions. The F-111 was pretty damned good at putting bombs on target and getting back to base. They were effective at identifying air and ground targets and they could get in and out of North Vietnam usually without being seen and if seen they were almost impossible to shoot down. Was the F-111 the best plane ever made? No, it was a prototype with incredible capabilities that were later refined and used on what are now considered the most capable military aircraft in the world. My boss was a thud pilot and his stories about Vietnam would scare you shitless. He liked the F4 but mostly he liked to use them as bait for the Russian pilots in their Migs. Suprisingly he didn't like the thud even though it was incredibly effective, but because it scared the shit out of him.
Interestingly Of all the pilots I knew (including some SR-71 pilots) the F-111 pilots tended to be the least boastful or reckless (No, not reckless, perhaps daring). I don't know why that is but it was true. Perhaps the daring young men just weren't attracted to the slower lumbering F-111. By the way I witnessed an F-111 flying at night over rough terrain at Mach 0.9 less then 50' above me. This was a common everyday (night) training mission and if you knew were to hike into you could wait for them (usually two) and if you were close to the uphill side of their travel you could even get a burn from their after burners. Somewhere near Lockes NV at about 11:30 PM. But that was a long time ago...
Agree that much media coverage of the 787 problems has been ignorant and borderline hysterical. But I'm pretty sure this statement:
"the aircraft's two lithium-ion batteries, which are only engaged when the plane is on the ground and never in flight"
isn't true. If there is a total electrical power loss in flight, the aft battery will be used to start to Auxiliary Power Unit, which then can provides electricity to the plane independent of the engine-driven generators. I'm not sure exactly how to forward battery is used, but believe it supplies power to instruments, avionics, and other critical systems during a brief main power outage.
Even during normal operation, I doubt that the batteries are disconnected from the system but are more likely trickle-charged to make up for any discharge occurring during ground operations.
The article should have said, "the aircraft's two main lithium batteries." As I understand it, there are two real biggies that take care of the ground stuff, then the usual slew of smaller batteries spread throughout the craft for various functions. And I'd presume all of them are lithium.
Some information about the 787 battery system here:
Sounds like the critical battery is the forward one, which provides backup power for the (electrically-actuated) brake system and also for flight instruments until the ram-air turbine (or the APU) takes over. Something needs to provide control power for the ram-air release system (not much, though, because the release is spring actuated), and I'd bet that is also the forward battery.