Monday, July 31, 2006

Yes, Virginia, Big Airplanes Can Shred Little Ones

I was watching 'Mythbusters' on the Discovery Channel the other day and they ran a segment entitled something like "Can an airplane propeller shred another airplane?". To test the premise the crew mounted a Lycoming engine and three bladed prop on a railcar and positioned the aft section of a Piper down the way, revved up the Lycoming, and sure enough, they shredded the fuselage-all of which I could have told them with a simple call.

So imagine, today, it was reported that at the annual EAA Fly in at Oshkosh, a Canadian registered two seat light aircraft was ass ended on the taxiway by a Grumman TBM Avenger, which swings a pretty muscular prop. The result was one fatality, coming on the heels of a wreck at Oshkosh on 23 July, the day before the fly in which took two lives.

Folks, airplanes are dangerous when in the wrong hands. I thought you knew that. Even Mythbusters knows it. Big airplanes can and do shred small ones.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Passenger Boarding Problems Solved

It was reported in the Scotsman today that it has been determined that Einstein's theory of relativity can be applied to the problem of more efficient passenger boarding of the world's very busy airline customers.

Scientists working at Ben Gurion University have determined that letting people board as they wish is probably more efficient than getting all anally retentive and making big lists.

In a vindication of the notion that getting intelligent people together to work in the same area has all sorts of interesting and useful outcomes, one scientist was applying Lorentzian geometry to an information processing problem, and one of his colleagues observed that the process had similarities to the problem of boarding passengers. It was ultimately determined that Lorentzian geometry could be used to describe congestion in passenger boarding, and the research will no doubt prove useful in making the life of the average air traveler a little tiny bit easier.

It's also a heartening story for another unrelated reason. Even while there's a brush fire war going on up on the Lebanese border and no end of heartache and misery in Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel, there is still time for the good people of Israel to devote themselves to the scholarly pursuits that bring real progress in human affairs. It's also a trenchant commentary on cultural values, who has them, and who doesn't.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Twice In One Day: Are We On to Something Here?

We here at the Dougloid Papers generally try and avoid commenting on political matters as inflammatory as the current Israel/Lebanon(read independent state of Hezbollah)/Hamas contretemps. We find such things interesting, but we'd rather talk about airplanes.

So, when we find something that's worth commenting about that's trenchant, to the point, and intelligently composed, we get impressed.

So it is with a column by Spengler in Asia Times Online today, and we commend it to you.

Spengler says that a conventional army can defeat guerilla armies with broad local support and it has happened in the past. He names the Culloden debacle as an example (although one might argue that Culloden was the result of the very bad idea of making common cause with the French against Britons), the Acadians in Canada after the seven years' war, the Greeks at the hands of Ataturk in 1922 and the Czech destruction of the Sudeten German community after 1945. He sees it reoccurring in the present conflict, and he believes that a war to a decisive conclusion in the middle east may have begun.

Spengler makes the observation that destruction of Hezbollah will mean the collapse of the Shi'a community in Lebanon with all the uncertainty that brings on their masters in Damascus and in Iran. He believes that this ultimately will bring a direct showdown between Iran and the west.

He notes that peaceful outcomes are possible when people have peaceable things to do, and the Shi'a of Lebanon have little enough beyond being paid day labor digging bunkers to hide Hezbollah's rocket launchers in.

Like I say, it's a very interesting article and well worth a read.

Now THIS is Starting to Make Sense

There is a most interesting article in Flight International about the production problems that the A380 has been having. In an unusual departure from past protestations of the "alles in ordnung"type from Festung Airbus, a reporter was given access to an as yet uncompleted A380 to see for himself what the ruckus was all about.

And, as I may have opined here or over on a while ago, the real snag happens to be out of position work.

Let me explain.

Production of a large commercial aircraft is based on a rigid schedule-line moves every so often. Where this gets problematic is in the issue of progress payments. If the line doesn't move, the builder doesn't get paid. Companies like Douglas were known to move aircraft when they had a case of the shorts, but the worst examples I'd heard about were when Rockwell was making the B-1 in Palmdale, and they'd move aircraft that had the wing planks held on with Clecoes to get progress payments-no wonder the sucker's leak more fuel than a Saudia line truck.

What this causes is sort of a snowball effect, as people who need to get their leftover work done, have to work around people involved on present taskwork, and often times they have to remove present taskwork to access areas that should have been closed out weeks or months ago.

It's what we called 'out of position' work at Douglas and it was a royal pain in the butt.

Now it seems that it's the same problem occurring at the Festung, according to Andreas Fehring, a program management person with the company. Large subassemblies from the outplants were shipped to Toulouse in an uncompleted state rather than slow down production. The problem snowballed when it was discovered, and things got rapidly worse from there.

I recall a similar fiasco at Douglas. One of the first milestones was "oil on": powering up the hydraulic system in the prototype MD11 number 447. It was pushed by management, and they did, by God, get oil on. The cost was, of course, a massive amount of rework. The team I was on wrote better than forty major defect reports (FRR-SR) in a three foot section of plumbing in the cargo hold. Sounds like this is at the root of the snags at Airbus.

Now THIS is a story I can understand.

Reports of Airbus' Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

One of my correspondents suggested he was waiting to see my post Farnborough report. I took that as something of a challenge for me to put my money where my mouth is and justify my sometimes critical view of events transpiring within Festung Airbus, although I have been less than approving of the Prussian Airplane Company, because of their dismemberment of my beloved Douglas.

So here you are, my friend.

A number of important things happened, as you would expect. Airbus, having received a lackluster reception for its A350, bit the bullet and announced a total redesign of the jet(A350WXB) that promises to be more competitive with Boeing's 787. This was accompanied by a launch order from Singapore Airlines for 20 of the redesigned aircraft and 20 options, although what will happen with the existing orders for the earlier marks is not yet clear. In addition, deliveries will not start for several years.

In addition, Singapore Airlines, not known for their willingness to accept the same old crap, voted with their wallets and converted nine options for the A380 into firm orders and purchased a few more options in addition to the A350WXB buy. This represents a spot of good news for a program that has been delayed by production problems, administrative delays, and the ever present specter of a distinct lack of payload capacity which we have blogged about previously.

Concluding that this order validates the business case for the A380 is something of a non sequitur-the basic numbers haven't changed with respect to weight, range, and payload, and the metrics of the business case have not changed. Orders for super jumbo aircraft have been few and far between for both manufacturers, and Richard Aboulafia says that there is far too much development money chasing far too narrow a slice of the market.

The real bright spot for Airbus continues to be the A320. They can't build them fast enough, people love 'em, and they're lining up. The A330 also scored some modest successes at Farnborough.

The news from Boeing is mixed, although they are generally more conservative in their statements about pending orders than Airbus is. Airbus, as you know, uses the Airshow circuit to trumpet its successes. Boeing doesn't seem to want to count the chickens before they hatch. Whatever.

Boeing did receive an order for 10 of the 747-8 freighters from Emirates.

Boeing has put together some figures that compare structural efficiency of the 747-8 freighter as against the A380 freighter. The A380 freighter simply carries too much dead weight for every kilo of payload. That's a real problem.

Another real competitive advantage that all fans of LTL trucking will know about is that straight in loading of the 747 freighter variety will always be more efficient than having to make 90 degree turns with the cargo, both in terms of the cargo you can accept and how fast you can load and unload it.

By far the best read on the subject is the piece in the New Yorker entitled "The Fatal Flaw Myth" which I have linked to. It offers a distinctly refreshing view of the subject that suggests we underestimate the value of luck in business affairs and see patterns where none exist. I commend it to you.

So there you have it. How'm I doing?

Friday, July 21, 2006

More Great News From Seattle: This RIF's For You

Hidden in all the post coital afterglow from the Farnborough Airshow this week was a report from the Long Beach Press Telegram that 140 60 day RIF notifications were handed out to some of the workers at the C17 plant. This, in a city where aerospace workers are fast becoming one with the snail darter and the ivory billed woodpecker-more noted for their absence than their presence and certainly on the endangered species list.

Another in a long series of talking heads from the Prussian Airplane Company said that this RIF was 'not related to the possible shutdown of the C17 production line' but was part of a continuing effort to 'reduce costs'.

It all makes perfect sense. One could reduce costs to zero by firing everyone tomorrow and walking away from the place, because Boeing, does not, after all, own the building or the tooling. That was ever so thoughtfully provided by the taxpayers, and Boeing has been happily milking the last of the order book dry.

Expect no commitment from these people to Long Beach, Southern California, or the people they are busy discarding like last week's Press Telegram. It was ever and always 'Douglas delenda est' to paraphrase Cato. It remains only to plow up the ground and plant enough salt so that nobody will ever get the same idea ever again.

In a few years when the kids around Long Beach ask each other what a tank mechanic or a flight line inspector or a production planner does, and when they wonder where all those white coveralls at the swap meet that say Douglas on them came from, it'll be drinks all around in Chicago.

Farnborough: Reversal of Fortune?

News from Farnborough.

It's been widely reported that Festung Airbus has announced that Singapore Airlines will be the launch customer for the new! improved! better than ever! A350 now called the A350WXB, and has also signed a letter of intent to purchase nine additional A380 Albatrosses.

The A350WXB is going to be something of a clean sheet of paper design which offers an opportunity to design a credible alternative to the 787 and 777. The only fly in the ointment seems to be that you can't have one until 2012 or thereabouts, which is giving the Prussian Airplane Company one heckuva head start.

As far as the Albatross goes, time will tell whether the modest Singapore Airlines order for nine additional will be enough to signal a reversal of fortune for the entire program and validate the business case for the product. Judging by the fact that the customers are staying away in droves from the competitor's 747-8 as well, one could reasonably conclude that carriers are just not very interested in such things, particularly when there are plenty of good serviceable 747s around that have plenty of service life left in them.

If this is the best they can come up with, they've opened the garbage can lid and sprayed in enough Right Guard to hold down the smell of decomposition for a while.

A lot can happen between now and 2012, both good and bad, although the general trend of human affairs suggests that more bad stuff happens more often than anything else.

Update: It could well be that I may have a small plate of crow to eat here. Time will tell. However, expect a full summary of the Farnborough show, and if Heckle and Jeckle are on my menu I shall be pleased to sit down to dine in public. As my old crew chief once said "Crow doesn't taste too bad with salt and pepper."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

From the "Are You Surprised?" Department

It's been widely announced that Airbus is, as expected, going to announce a complete redesign of the A350, a subject that's been up in the air ever since it began to emerge last year that the design that was being shopped to potential customers was something of a warmed over piece of hardware.

Let me be specific. The now departed A350 was offered to the airline buyers with Gallic nonchalance: "the customer can take it or leave it alone but because we say it is infinitely superieur, they will take it and like it, even if it is a few years late."

Well, they didn't. The customers stayed away in droves while, to put it bluntly, the competition was beating the pants off of Airbus, despite a steady stream of red herrings from Festung Airbus about the competition's technology being underdeveloped and dangereuse.

As if that wasn't bad enough, there was a simultaneous meltdown in the A380 Albatross program, which may end up being a lot worse than anyone thinks. The Great Satan, Richard Aboulafia, suggests that there is far too much development money chasing far too small a share of the market for new aircraft un the ultra jumbo category. Perhaps he is right.

One thing's for sure-that's another program where the customers have stayed away in droves.

All in all, Farnborough should be verrrrrrrrry intereschtink, as they used to say on Hogan's Heroes.

One thing's for sure. There is much more interesting stuff coming out of France right now, and that's The Tour. If you have to ask "what tour?" You've been away too long.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Today I'm An Indian

It was widely reoprted yesterday that bombers attacked a series of sites and trains in Bombay along a rail line that carries commuters from downtown to their homes in the 'burbs. Knowing a little about India from watching the telly the past few decades, it's quite likely that many if not all of the folks on board the trains and on the platforms were working stiffs trying to make a life for themselves and their families.

As usual, the bombers did not have the cojones of real pistoleros, instead making war against blameless civilians from cover as they do. We here in the states have a special relationship with the people who were damaged here, as we took the first hard hits in a war we don't even know how to define or identify the perpetrators.

So today, I'm an Indian.

Friday, July 07, 2006

On the Subject of Dangerous Vermin.

As we here in the civilized world stop in our daily toils to take note of the anniversary of the London bombings, another in a series of numbskull videos has surfaced, this time from one of the morons who pulled this atrocity off.

I'm speechless at the offensive audacity of these young men, who, lacking the cojones of real gunmen blew themselves up in the subway and on a bus-taking muslim victims as well.

There is little that can be said to comfort those whose loss we Americans feel deeply, perhaps because this time, we took the first hard blows in a war we now know to be ideologically driven and in which no quarter will be given by the opposition.

I'm quite confident that Britain will survive, contend, struggle and eventually triumph with all the rest of us who believe in essential dignity of all people, freedom of belief, and the free exchange of ideas.

The best that we can do from this distance is to pass along these words to the people of London from a lawyer from Illinois, while we doff our Stetsons and our hardhats and our seedcaps.

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Abraham Lincoln, 1863.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Big Noise From Pyongyang: An Update

As everyone except three guys in Greenland up on the rapidly shrinking polar icepack knows, those wonderful folks from North Korea followed through on their threat, celebrating July 4 by launching the Taepodong 2 missile yesterday. I mentioned the possibility a couple weeks ago on 19 June, and said then that the best result would be for the Taepodong 2 to blow up on the pad.

At the same time yesterday the North Koreans launched a bunch of SCUDs, perhaps to impress the rest of the world or confuse the spy satellites parked over the Taepodong 2 launchpad. A rather expensive demonstration of something or other, no doubt.

Well, it didn't blow up on the pad. It blew up after 40 seconds or so in flight. It seems that reliable ICBM technology of the kind developed in this country and abroad back in the fifties has yet again escaped the North Koreans. It ain't as easy as it looks, folks.

It's kind of pathetic that a country that doesn't seem to be able to feed and clothe its people is wasting resources and man hours on projects that have as little potential as this one to move it toward better relations with the rest of the world. The only thing dumber has to be the atomic bomb, and that's the other big noise from Pyongyang. Sooner or later they will test this one, because that's about all they've got left in the way of sabers to rattle.

One thing's for sure. I'm damned glad I am not the guy who had to tell Kim Jong-il that the Taepodong launch was a failure.

Update: 9.25 pm CDST more on the Taepo Clunker 2

The Australian has a good commentary by a fellow named Peter Alford. In essence what he says is that the launch (if you can call it that) of the Taepo Dong 2 (which may be Korean for "squib") undoubtedly left North Korea in worse shape than they were if that's possible.

Alford says that the events of the last few days have proved a tactical failure if the intent was to bluff the Americans, that we now have more technical information than we need or want about the Taepo Dong 2 because we watched it very carefully, and that the launch of the main event and some Scud pops has embarrassed the Chinese and the government of South Korea with its show of belligerence.

Well worth a read. It reinforces my belief that the guy who had to get on the phone to tell the Beloved Leader Person that the launch was a dud has got to be one sorry mofo.,20867,19699808-31477,00.html