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Posts Tagged ‘aviation

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”*…

 

Castillo_de_San_Marcos

 

In 1702, when the Spanish still ruled Florida, an English fleet from colonial Carolina approached Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish stronghold on the Atlantic shore.

The fort guarded the Spanish empire’s trade routes as well as the surrounding city of St. Augustine, and the English wanted to run this politically and economically important outpost for themselves. Led by Carolina’s governor James Moore, the English boats dropped their anchors and laid siege.

But even after nearly two months of being shelled with cannonballs and gunfire, the fort’s walls wouldn’t give. In fact, they appeared to be “swallowing” the British cannonballs, which then became embedded within the stone. Precisely how the walls did this remained a mystery for the next three centuries.

Normally, a cannonball creates long, deep cracks in stone that radiate out from the impact’s center, causing catastrophic damage to a structure. This was clearly not the case for the walls surrounding Castillo de San Marcos. Built from coquina—sedimentary rock formed from compressed shells of dead marine organisms—the walls suffered little damage from the British onslaught. As one Englishman described it, the rock “will not splinter but will give way to cannon ball as though you would stick a knife into cheese.”…

The secret of the Spanish– and what it might mean for the future: “The Mystery of Florida’s Cannonball-Eating Spanish Fort.”

* Friedrich Nietzsche

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As we muse on mutable materials, we might send altitudinous birthday greetings to Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin; he was born on this date in 1838.  An inventor, engineer, and manufacturer, he was the aviation pioneer who built the first rigid dirigible airships– called, in his honor, Zeppelins.

He patented his idea in 1895, then formed a company to build airships in 1898–  though many thought his invention incredible, and dubbed him “Foolish Count.”  His first airship took off on July 2, 1900; its success stimulated funding.  Eventually, he produced more than 100 dirigibles for military uses in World War I, during which, the Zeppelins were used to bomb Britain.  After the war, he continued to improve the design and built a fleet of airships for commercial passenger service, which included transatlantic flights.  Zeppelin use ended after the May 6, 1937 Hindenburg fire disaster at Lakehurst, N.J.

220px-Bildnis_Ferdinand_von_Zeppelin source

 

Written by LW

July 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have time to fall”*…

 

paper planes

Three of the forty entires in a database of paper airplanes with easy-to-follow folding instructions: “Fold N Fly.”

* Orville Wright

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As we send ’em soaring, we might recall that it was on this date in 2003 that the final scheduled flights of the British Airways Concorde brought an end to the era of supersonic passenger service that had begun in January of 1976.

300px-British_Airways_Concorde_G-BOAC_03 source

 

Written by LW

October 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I was once told that flying involves long hours of boredom, interrupted by moments of extreme fright”*…

 

Boeing Model 314 Clipper “California Clipper,” Pan American Airways [source]

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, there was a Pan Am Clipper proceeding to Auckland, New Zealand [from its San Francisco base] when the radio operator announced to the crew, in a panicked voice, that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. The Captain realized that this was not a joke, after looking over at the radio operator’s face, and said, “Please confirm the details of your news with Pan Am headquarters in New Caledonia.”

When the radio operator returned to the Captain’s side he advised that the news was in fact correct and they advised me to tell you the following, Implement Plan A.” The Captain reached for a sealed envelope from his jacket…

And so began a globe-circling trek that ended on January 6, 1942 at La Guardia’s Marine Air Terminal: total flight time was 209 hours; total distance, 31,500 miles (a circuitous route that involved dodging first Japanese then German military aircraft that considered the American plane “a strategic military resource” to be destroyed).  It was the first around-the-world flight by a commercial airliner… the hard way.

Read the fascinating story of this unintended circumnavigation at “The Long Way Home….Pan Am Flight 18602.”

* “Franklin W. Dixon” (the shared pseudonym of the many authors of The Hardy Boys novels)

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As we buckle our seatbelts, we might recall that it was on this day in 1920 that Lt. John H. “Dynamite” Wilson of the 96th Aero Squadron, Kelly Field, Texas, leapt with a parachute from a De Haviland B airplane at an altitude of approximately 20,000 feet and made a safe landing in a turnip patch.

 source (and larger version)

 

Written by LW

June 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The safety of the people shall be the highest law”*…

 

As society creates new technologies and new kinds of risk, we’re often slow to pass laws to regulate them. Tort law is a democratic tool for people who experience harms to seek redress and to make a difference that benefits others: prompting new discoveries, clarifying the nature of the harms involved, and deterring powerful organizations from propagating those harms…

How do lawsuits grow our understanding of the risks and harms of new technologies? What incentives do they offer corporations to ensure the safety of their products?  The American Museum of Tort Law in Winchester Connecticut– the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to any part of the law– aims to explain: “The American Museum of Exploding Cars and Toys That Kill You.”

* Marcus Tullius Cicero

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As we ponder the precautionary principle, we might send high-flying birthday greetings to Paul Kollsman; he was born on this date in 1900.  An inventor who was obsessed with aviation, he invented the world’s first accurate barometric altimeter (1928), a device that became vital to aviation safety.  It found wide acceptance when, in September, 1929, Jimmy Doolittle made his historic “blind flight,” proving that the Kollsman altimeter made navigation possible “flying on the gauges.”  The invention played a major role in enabling routine scheduled air service in the U.S. and around the world.

 source

 

Written by LW

February 22, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The dice of Zeus always fall luckily”*…

 

14th century medieval dice from the Netherlands

Whether at a casino playing craps or engaging with family in a simple board game at home, rolling the dice introduces a bit of chance or “luck” into every game. We expect dice to be fair, where every number has equal probability of being rolled.

But a new study shows this was not always the case. In Roman times, many dice were visibly lopsided, unlike today’s perfect cubes. And in early medieval times, dice were often “unbalanced” in the arrangement of numbers, where 1 appears opposite 2, 3 opposite 4, and 5 opposite 6. It did not matter what the objects were made of (metal, clay, bone, antler and ivory), or whether they were precisely symmetrical or consistent in size or shape, because, like the weather, rolls were predetermined by gods or other supernatural elements.

All that began to change around 1450, when dice makers and players seemingly figured out that form affected function, explained Jelmer Eerkens, University of California, Davis, professor of anthropology and the lead author of a recent study on dice.

“A new worldview was emerging — the Renaissance. People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers,” he said. “We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games”…

From fate to fairness: how dice changed over 2,000 years to be more fair: “It’s not how you play the game, but how the dice were made.”

[via Tim Carmody‘s always-illuminating newsletter, Noticing]

* Sophocles

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As we consider the odds, we might send frontier-challenging birthday greetings to a man who tempted chance– Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager; he was born on this date in 1923.  A flying ace, test pilot, and ultimately U.S. Air Force General, Yeager became the first human to officially break the sound barrier when, in 1947, he flew the experimental Bell X-1 at Mach 1 at an altitude of 45,000 ft. 

Perhaps as famously, Yeager was a mentor and role model for the first class of NASA astronauts, as memorialized in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, and Philip Kaufman’s film adaptation.  On finishing high school at the beginning of World War II, Yeager had enlisted in the Air Force as a private; he served a mechanic before being accepted into the enlisted flight program, from which he graduated as a “Flight Officer” (equivalent to a Chief Warrant Officer).  His extraordinary skill as a pilot fueled his continued rise through the ranks.  But NASA’s requirement that all astronauts have college degrees disqualified Yeager from membership in the space program.  So though he was by most accounts far the most qualified potential astronaut, he became instead their head teacher, the first commandant of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School, which produced astronauts for NASA and the USAF.

Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, which, as with all of the aircraft assigned to him, he named Glamorous Glennis (or some variation thereof), after his wife.

source

 

Written by LW

February 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”*…

 

If all goes as NASA — and Elon Musk — have planned, at some point in the not-too-distant future, a group of astronauts will begin a years-long round trip to Mars. In NASA’s plan, during each six-month (or more) leg of the journey, the members of a small crew will strap themselves into a cramped spacecraft that offers limited opportunities for recreation, distraction or privacy. As they get farther from Earth, they’ll be increasingly isolated from everything they’ve ever known. Real-time communication with mission control or family members will become impossible.

All of that is a recipe for psychological stress, even above and beyond what astronauts have already experienced. So scientists are trying to identify the unique mental pressures that would accompany a trip to Mars so they can select crews who will cope the best, prepare them to handle the difficulties they will face, and learn how best to help them when they’re millions of miles away…

Preparing for a trip that will make a tourist seat on a United flight seem luxurious: “What Going To Mars Will Do To Our Minds.”

Pair with a packing list for Mars: “The Earth In A Suitcase.”

* Elon Musk

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As we buckle in, we might spare a thought for Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., USN; he died on this date in 1957.  An explorer, aviator, and scientist, he was the first man to fly over both of the Earth’s poles.

From the age of 13, he showed an adventurous spirit, traveling alone around the world.  He joined the Navy, and by WW I was commander of U.S. Navy aviation forces in Canada.  To improve aerial navigation for occasions when no land or horizon would be visible, he developed a bubble sextant and a drift indicator.

On May 9, 1926, in order to demonstrate the practicability of aerial polar exploration, he and a copilot circled the North Pole.  During an Antarctic expedition, he organized scientific studies, surveying, and collection of meteorological and radio wave propagation data. Then, on November 28-29, 1929, with three crew, he made a flight to the South Pole.

By the time he died, Byrd had amassed twenty-two citations and special commendations, nine of which were for bravery and two for extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of others. In addition, he received the Medal of Honor, the Silver Lifesaving Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Navy Cross, and had three ticker-tape parades– the only individual to ever receive more than two.

Byrd was one of only four American military officers in history entitled to wear a medal with his own image on it. The others were Admiral George Dewey, General John J. Pershing and Admiral William T. Sampson.  As Byrd’s image is on both the first and second Byrd Antarctic Expedition medals, he was the only American entitled to wear two medals with his own image on them.

Byrd and his Vought VE-7 Bluebird seaplane

source

 

Written by LW

March 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?”*…

 

Detail from the “Balloon-Prospect” image, featured in Thomas Baldwin’s Airopaidia (1786) [source]

Although it is often dismissed as a comedy moment, an amusing episode in the history of flight, ballooning had a profound effect on the epistemological model of being in the world and viewing landscape. That balloons are innately comic is undeniable, and their physical attributes were a gift to satirists of the late eighteenth century, who riffed delightedly on the graphic and semantic associations of this new and somewhat unlikely technology. Furthermore, in the first few decades of ballooning, its utility was unclear. Although flight had been achieved, the power to navigate had not, so balloons could not be used as aerial transport. Once airborne, balloonists were dependent on the mysteries of the upper air and its currents to carry them along. In this captive state, aeronauts set about conducting experiments with a full array of scientific instruments, their own senses and perception being among these. Tasting ginger to see if it was as spicy, or undertaking a complex mathematical equation to test mental acuity at altitude, went alongside checking height and air pressure.

In some cases, science funding had got them up there in the first place. The first successful manned balloon flights were conducted in France with state support. The ascents themselves became known as “experiments”, and were concerned with an exploration of the upper air. In Britain, the Royal Society withheld support from such endeavours, so the first British ascents were underwritten, in the words of one early balloonist, by “a tax on the curiosity of the public”. This affected the cultural profile of ballooning in England: it was always more of a spectacle than a science. In 1785 Tiberius Cavallo, a member of the Royal Society and author of the first English history of ballooning, concluded that:

…many, if not the greatest number of the aerial voyages, though said to be purposely made for the improvement of science, were performed by persons absolutely incapable of accomplishing this purpose; and who, in reality, had either pecuniary profit alone in view, or were stimulated to go up with a balloon, for the sake of the prospect, and the vanity of adding their names to the list of aerial adventurers….

The late-18th Century version of Stewart’s impulse: “‘For the Sake of the Prospect’: Experiencing the World from Above in the Late 18th Century.

* Stewart Brand, as part of his 1966 campaign to have NASA release the then-rumored satellite image of the entire Earth as seen from space

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As we jettison the sandbags, we might send high-flying birthday greetings to Amelia Earhart; she was born on this ate in 1897.  An aviation pioneer and author, she was the fist female to fly solo across the Atlantic (a distinction for which she received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross).

Earhart set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.  She joined the faculty of the Purdue University aviation department in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and help inspire others with her love for aviation, and was a member of the National Woman’s Party, and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

During an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Model 10 Electra, Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean.  Fascination with her life, career, and disappearance continues to this day.

 source

 

Written by LW

July 24, 2016 at 1:01 am

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