Monday, July 30, 2007

More Emerald Spectacles, Anyone?

It's reported today by a less than reliable source that Airbus is offering the A350-900R to British Airways with a range of 9,400 miles. That's the good news, and it is intended to capture the big BA order that's in the cards for this year. It's a significant ramp up in range, as the A350-900 has a range of about 8,100 miles.

The bad news is that it doesn't exist and is likely not to exist for at least seven more years, if ever, which is longer than it will take for the 12th Imamliner to emerge.

In a word, it's vaporware from da Festung.

But when something doesn't exist it can be anything you want it to be. How's that so? Consider this conundrum

"If I was in Africa on safari I betcha I'd shoot a water buffalo that's waaaaaaaaaay bigger than yours."

But instead of being in Africa I'm in Hibbing, Minnesota. And I'm not on safari, I'm working at a dry cleaners. And in seven years I'll likely still be there, working at the dry cleaners. In Hibbing.

That's how preposterous this is getting.

The even worse news is that you can already buy a Boeing B777-200LR off the shelf that can do this stage with 303 passengers more or less. And if Boeing gets around to building the B787-10, maybe that'll do it as well.

But one question you've just gotta ask your selves. Who in G-d's name wants to spend 20 hours on an airplane? Maybe some folks on the way to a masochist's convention who want a warmup.

This ought to be consigned to the dustbin of bad ideas that just won't die.

As Oliver Cromwell once said to the Rump Parliament: Begone, I say, and let us have done with you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

We Like You Just Fine, But Please Use the Servant's Entrance

Forbes tells us today that Airbus, in the middle of its Power8 garage sale, has decided that China's AVIC I's bid on buying six European Airbus plants was not going to be accepted.

I mean, it's one thing to sell the Chinese an assembly line for an aircraft that's more or less obsolete, albeit a good seller, but this?

Amazing. And they call us protectionists.

With Friends Like This Who Needs Enemies-Part Deux

I am something of a fan of the drama and character assassination that haunts the Big Enchilada, otherwise known as the Tour de France. Never a dull moment but the news the past few days has been stupefying. The Tour has gone in the crapper the last day or two in a BIG way.

Alex Vinokourov, the presumptive favorite at the start, crashed spectacularly and was patched up, sewed up, and carried on against all hope-busted for blood doping (those are transfusions to up the red cell count and thus the cyclist's O2 capacity) and the Astana team is gone with him including Kloeden, lying fifth and Kaschekin, lying eighth in the standings. It seems the test revealed it was an homologous blood transfusion, which you can read about here.

Cristian Moreni, riding for Cofidis, failed a test for testosterone in stage 11 and was escorted away by police at the end of stage 16. Cofidis withdrew from the Tour.

But by far the biggest smashup was today, when Rabobank threw Michael Rasmussen out on his keister when he'd won Stage 16 and seemed a shoo-in to take all the marbles in Paris next week. Seems that Rasmussen had missed a couple scheduled drug tests, as he says, for administrative reasons, that violated team rules and off he went.

All this is making my head spin. There's no innocent until proven guilty and little in the way of due process in the world of sport generally and in cycling in particular.

I don't know where this is leading, either.

More here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

With Friends Like This Who Needs Enemies? UPDATE

Photo credit Patrik Sinkewitz

Folks, as you know we here at the Dougloid Papers follow the Tour de France with great interest. In the world of the spectacular, the French rarely disappoint but the Tour is in a class of its own.

There's nothing I like to watch on teevee more than a good hard slogfest in the mountains and today's climb to the plateau was no different. It delivered in spades.

Ever since I discovered the Tour (and believe me, when you say 'the Tour' there is and can be only one, the numero uno, the Big Enchilada)....where was I? Oh. I remember. I discovered the Tour back in the years when Greg Lemond was a power in pro cycling, and although I have never been any sort of jock, I do make exceptions for pro football and professional cycling.

Anyway, as everyone except three guys trapped in an ice cave in Antarctica have heard, the Tour would not be the Tour without a doping scandal or three. It has been recently stated by some publicity starved loser or other whose name I cannot remember that Mike Rasmussen, currently ahead on points in the Tour, tried to get him to transport doping products a few years ago. That's what we call hearsay in the legal trade, although it seems in the Emerald City of the sports anti doping boobocracy, the notion of due process takes a back seat to headline grabbing. The greatest exponent of this artform is the Montreal Mouth, a/k/a the aptly named Dick Pound, known for his credo of '1: guilty until 2: proven innocent. If 2, refer to 1."

That's been the Floyd Landis story, and I'm more convinced than ever that Floyd is a man who got tossed under the wheels to serve as a message to somebody about something or other. That doesn't even get to the possibility of sabotage, as among the mob of spectators slapping cyclists on the back on their way up a slope, a hand slathered with testosterone cream might well have been the culprit. Crowd control on the Tour is nonexistent, because it would of course be impossible.

However, in the cited article we've found something that underscores the conceptual differences between continental lawyers and common law lawyers.

Patrik Sinkewitz, pictured above, is a German cyclist who's in the same pickle that Floyd was in last year, but Sinkewitz's German lawyer Michael Lehner opines that any of his clients who are guilty ought to confess. With a lawyer like that, Sinkewitz could do better on his own, no need to spend a tin pfennig on that kind of 'service'. And why would anyone in his right mind hire this numbskull? To what end? Plead guilty and spare me the trouble? It's a disgrace to the profession and a disservice to the notion of zealous advocacy. With an attorney like this the outcome's pretty much a done deal.

Patrik, we here in the states may be a lot of things, some of which Europeans disagree with, but I am here to tell you in my line of work in my little corner of the world we fight for the people who entrust their lives and their fortunes to us, and if we don't have the stomach for it, we find other things to do. Just like you fight on the mean streets of the Tour, it's in our nature to go the distance. All of which is something that champions in the truest historical sense of the word understand but some folks quite plainly don't.

UPDATE Tuesday: Since we wrote this piece it was revealed in the Guardian that Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI which is the international cycling union and something of an important body said that it would be better if someone else were to win the Tour besides Michael Rasmussen, although since he hadn't broken any rules you have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Huh?! Does that sound as goofy to you as it does to me?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Broken Promises in the Heartland: Adams Pressed Metals, John Deere, Galesburg, and China

This is a pretty interesting story, and it presents a cautionary tale for all those small towns in the midwest who see their biggest employer getting ready to pull up stakes or close for good.

As it happened, I got involved in this because of my representation of a small electroplating shop in Iowa. Here's how it happened.

Adams Pressed Metals Corporation was established in Galesburg, Illinois back in 1919 to provide stamped metal parts to the automotive and agricultural equipment trades. As it happened, John Deere in East Moline happened to be one of their best customers, and Deere orders rapidly became the backbone on which the company was built. As part of its business, Adams Pressed Metals would stamp metal parts and send them to a number of small shops in the Quad Cities region for electroplating, baking, and parkerizing before they'd be returned to Adams for shipment to the John Deere works and incorporation into the agricultural equipment that Deere was building.

Matters went from success to success and people around Galesburg grew up, worked for and retired from Adams Pressed Metals.

But that all changed with the new century, when Deere began sourcing the parts that Adams had formerly made to a shadowy company in China named Tristar Industries that was operated by one Doctor Johnny Liu. Adams couldn't make the parts for what Liu charged, and a plant closing seemed imminent. Deere, that penultimately American-as-apple-pie green tractor company did not, it seems think much of an Illinois vendor that had given them over eighty years of good service and fair pricing.

Adams was in deep trouble, and just when things seemed darkest, Doctor Johnny Liu rode to the rescue with a plan to acquire and save Adams with a large infusion of cash-to be matched, of course, with industrial development grants from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and and the Illinois Ventures for Community Action (IVCA).

And so it was, or so it seemed. Illinois Governor Blagojevich's office announced in June, 2003 that loan funding would be provided, and the company would stay in business in Galesburg. The truth of the matter was that at about the time the governor's motorcade disappeared up the road heading for Springfield, a line of trucks waited to remove all the machinery in the plant, for shipment to China.

Some Adams workers went with the machinery to teach the Chinese how to put them out of work. Adams became a Potemkin village with just enough connection to the heartland to give Deere a fig leaf of plausible deniability to hide their nakedness.

And that's where my client came in. He had acquired an older plating company that had had Adams as a core customer for many years. During the period of 2004-2005, he was doing subcontracting work for the new Adams Metals, and the bills weren't getting paid regularly. When he needed money and offered to settle the balance for something less, Adams stopped buying and stopped paying and stopped answering his phone calls-although they were still shipping work to other electroplaters and subcontractors in the area and bitching about the quality of the work he'd done which was never a problem when they weren't paying their bills.

The parts ultimately supplied to Deere, as it happens, were no longer made in Illinois but were being shipped there by Tristar from China.

Ultimately a lawsuit was filed, a settlement was reached at the last minute, the electroplater recovered most of his money I got paid, and we called it good.

And that's where matters stood until a couple weeks ago when I received a notice from a bankruptcy attorney that Adams Metals of Galesburg, Illinois had filed a bankruptcy petition on the 20th of June of this year.

The petition lists assets of zero and debts in excess of $1 million.

What's interesting about this is that according to the Galesburg Register-Mail, a two day auction was held in the beginning of March in which all the remaining assets of Adams were disposed of.

Reading further, it appears that all assets of Adams aside from a couple Chevy trucks were transferred to IVCA on October 17, 2006, about the time that one Dirk Pfeil garnished what was left of Adams' bank accounts in a collection lawsuit. There remains $7.45 in the Adams bank account.

What's also interesting is that two Chinese nationals appear as the president and director of Adams and neither of them is Dr. Johnny Liu who apparently got his name off the paper in October 2006.

As an attorney who sometimes works on the fringes of bankruptcies, that's a real eye opener, because it sounds like somebody cleaned out what was left of Adams and left a lot of people holding the bag.

The petition makes for interesting reading.Among the unsecured creditors are the IRS and a number of other creditors but the big loser at $373, 787 was IVCA, less whatever they recovered in the auction. That's real money, that was a real loan, and a real loss.

TSI International of Hong Kong appears as an unsecured creditor in the amount of $573,719 but that company's website tracks back to a shadowy real estate investment company in Toronto. I find the name TSI to be far more than mere coincidence, however.

Either TSI just fell off the turnip truck or TSI needed a big loss and what better way to do it than invest on paper in a failing company that was a mere shell of its former self?

I'm sure there's more to this story, but as I said in the beginning it is a cautionary tale for every small town in the midwest that sees one of its larger industrial operations failing.

Sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease.

New Beginnings and Old Victories

July 17 was an important day here at the Dougloid Papers. For one, it was the day of Jubilee here as we declared our independence from credit card hell. It was a long five year slog but it meant that we had paid off all our short term debt accumulated since 1993, some $25,000 or more, at 100 cents to the dollar.
I'm kind of like the camel who's been relieved of his load. What do I do now?
It was also coincident to July 14, which every believer in republicanism knows is Bastille Day in France and has ever since been a beacon to the oppressed and an inspiration to those who seek liberty, equality and brotherhood. Long may the tricolor wave.

In addition July 17 was what we here at the Dougloid Papers call Corrigan Day, as it marks the 69th anniversary of Douglas Corrigan's solo crossing of the Atlantic in a second hand Curtiss Robin.
For those of you who are unacquainted with Douglas Corrigan, he was an aviation mechanic who worked at Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego and had a Curtiss Robin he had equipped for long distance flights. Part of that project was ditching the Curtiss engine and installing a Wright Whirlwind, the vitality and dependability of which was vindicated by Charles Lindbergh.
Corrigan flew nonstop from California to New York and was there told by the aeronautical authorities that he could not cross the Atlantic, it was not permitted, his airplane was a death trap, and pezzonovante publicity seekers were not welcome on the North Atlantic trail, thank you very much.
Douglas smiled that enigmatic Irish smile, filled the Curtiss Robin up with gas and announced to all and sundry that he was headed back to Los Angeles, and disappeared into the clouds.
Some hours later he landed in a field in Ireland and reportedly asked "Is this California?" When apprised by startled Irelanders that he had landed in Ireland, he said "I must have gone the wrong way, then." Thus the legend of 'Wrong Way' Corrigan was born.
A book and a movie followed, and Corrigan later worked for Consolidated and Douglas as a test pilot and retired to the orange grove he'd bought with the dough from the book and movie. I saw him once from afar at an airshow a few years before he died, and I've always wished I'd been able to have a conversation with him about ordinary guys up against steep odds with a chorus of naysayers providing the music.
What Corrigan's story is really about is the triumph of the average Joe who listens carefully to all the people who insist they know better, and who then follows his own heart. As I am a teetotaler these days, I shall lift a can of Vernor's ginger ale to Douglas Corrigan today, and I hope you will too.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dr. Baekeland's Child Grows Up in Renton

I was listening to NPR, a/k/a National Proletariat Radio this afternoon and in a spectacular event of convergence, today happens to be the 100th anniversary of Leo Baekeland's application for what became U.S. Patent Number 942,699 which you can see here.
Dr. Baekeland synthesized what became known as Bakelite-the first synthetic plastic, which is still in use today because of its incredible strength, utility, and dielectric properties. Although celluloid came earlier, it was cellulose nitrate, derived from plant material, and it was a great propellant and firestarter but not much good for serious work. Dr. Baekeland changed all that. You can read about him here.
Bakelite was a resin produced from the reaction of certain components of coal tar and wood alcohol combined under heat and pressure. When molded with fillers such as wood flour, carbon black, or cotton fibers, it produced an incredibly strong and robust material that is always recognizable by a faint whiff of phenol. In fact, bakelite impregnated fabric were some of the first composites and I have worked with them plenty.
What's significant about the anniversary is that it came about exactly 100 years before the rollout of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the first large-ish commercial aircraft made out of what is, well, plastic-in this case CFRP.
What makes this anniversary so important is that the B787 is the first commercial aircraft that was designed from the beginning to utilize all the benefits that are gained when one takes advantage of the properties of the material itself in the design and fabrication process, rather than using it as a substitute for conventionally made parts-so called 'black aluminum'.
And that's what distinguishes, and will continue to distinguish the B787 from its pallid imitator from France which, as far as we know, may well be called the A350 12th Imamliner for obvious reasons.
Would Dr. Baekeland be proud of what his child grew up to be? I think so. Happy birthday, Bakelite.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Composite Revolution in Renton

Design News has a most interesting article last month ('Boeing 787 Dreamliner Represents Composite Revolution') on the subject of the composites that are in use on the B787 and the obstacles that Boeing faced in implementing series production of large scale composite aerostructures and the advantages that are gained by its use.

It is well worth your time to study this article. There's far more to it than I thought.

Through The Looking Glass With Business Week

Business Week published a piece this week ('Airbus Bides its Time in Boeing Battle') on the subject of composite aircraft that makes me think they've got a direct line to da Festung for propaganda.

If this is what passes for critical analysis over at BW these days, that flopping sound you hear is Rod Craib rolling over in his grave at about 700 rpm or so. Rod was the transportation editor at Business Week some years ago and it was my privilege to be his student at Rutgers one semester and to know him personally. He was not one for puff pieces like this seems to be.

It starts with a recap of the much ballyhooed "Airbus is back!" message put out at the Paris Air Show and it suggests that the A350 is a 'credible competitor' that is set to thrash the B777-200, largely based on the spate of 'orders' that were garnered there.

Well. I thought it was competing with the B787. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. Help me out here.

Then we have 'clear signs that Boeing and its suppliers are struggling' and dark hints of program delays.

Next we have Ole Swampgas himself, John Leahy, opining that if he loses the first 600 orders to Boeing, "so what?" because the market is so huge anyway. Is his company able to give away 600 orders and say "so what?" about it? I think not.

Then he states that 'nine abreast in our aircraft will be very comfortable in our aircraft and marginal in theirs, and we'll carry more cargo to boot and yield 4-5 per cent better fuel economy.'

OK. So, it's competing with the B787-right? And that five inch dimensional difference between fuselages (0.55 inches per seat) means the difference between very comfortable and marginal?

But what about cabin width? The A350 is 18 ft 4 in, and the B787 is 18 ft 9 in. So who's going to be marginal? And what about the noncompetitor B777? It's 19 ft 3 in. Does that mean even more comfortable?

But then we have Scott Hamilton saying that the A350 blew the B777 out of the water in orders at the air show.

Well, of course it did, assuming that you buy into the fiction that these are real world orders that will actually be delivered and assuming that they're all new orders that didn't exist beforehand.

The A350 program has been around since 2005. In that time Airbus has captured around 160 orders give or take, depending on how you parse their 'announcements'. In that same period the B777 program has received 290 orders and delivered 143 aircraft.

But that's not the competitor-or is it?

When you sort through all the spin, the message is that Airbus is trying to position the A350-900 and 1000 as competitors to the B777-200 and -300, set to arrive when the B777 is getting a little bit out of date.

Does that mean they realize that the battle for the B787-300 slot is already lost?

And there's that small problem, a mere bagatelle, really, of product definition.

Until Airbus freezes the design and starts cutting metal, they can pretty much say the A350 is anything the customer wants it to be.

While we're on the subject of small problems, we have that problem of dates. The A350 is not slated to fly until 2012, and that's if there are no program delays or 'wiring problems'. By 2012, the B777 program will probably deliver another 300 or so aircraft depending on the demand and the order book, and the B787 will have been in series production for four years.

So if the A350 is competing with the B787, they're spotting Boeing at least 4, maybe 5 years head start. If it's competing with the B777, well, that looks more like a 15 year head start.

I'm thoroughly confused. What segment of the market is it competing with and how is that going to happen? You can't just say "It's better than a B787, and that's why it's a competitor to the B777."

And if you suspend disbelief long enough, you also have to believe that Boeing is going to sit on their butts, do the Rip van Winkle, send the engineers packing, and be there with the same exact product five years hence without a single improvement made.

There's an awful lot of wishful thinking that's passing for the unvarnished truth with the bark still on it these days.

Or maybe it's more like what Mother used to call 'whistling past the graveyard.'

I am reminded of nothing so much as the words of Lewis Carroll in Through The Looking Glass :

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'

Friday, July 06, 2007

Plastic Comes Of Age In Renton

A fine little girl
She waits for me
She's as plastic as she can be
She paints her face
With plastic goo
And wrecks her hair
With some shampoo
Plastic people
Oh, baby, now you're such a drag
I hear the sound of marching feet...
down Sunset Boulevard to Crescent Heights...a
nd Pandora's box...
We are confronted with...a vastQuantity of...Plastic people...
Take a day and walk around
Watch the Nazi's
Run your town
Then go home and check yourself
You think we're singing'Bout someone else
But you're Plastic people
Oh, Baby, now
You're such a drag
-Frank Zappa

Remember the scene in the graduate where the guy buttonholes Dustin Hoffman and tells him "Plastics"? Cue the wave of hippie revulsion.

These ideas were an anthem for a generation. Plastics were considered down market, cheap, throwaway things to be tolerated until we could get our mitts on steel, aluminum, leather, walnut and glass.

While all this was going on, the folks who paid attention to such things were quietly improving plastic material technology and what they have wrought is to be unveiled to the public in Renton a few days hence.

And what plastic it is!-pound for pound stronger than anything that airplanes have ever been made out of before.

Carbon fiber reinforced plastic (hereinafter CFRP) is set to take its well earned place among the best engineered materials we work with daily. CFRP starts with synthetic cloth that is baked, carbonized, and impregnated with epoxy resins before it is formed, vacuum bagged, and cooked in an oven-at which point the epoxy resins fuse the entire mass together into light, strong, flexible structural material.

The idea is not that much different from the fiberglass Uncle Sid used to patch the boat where he'd hit a stump on the shallow side of the lake, but the strength of the material is a quantum leap forward.

The art in utilizing this material is in laying up the cloth before bagging and baking it. Suitably shaped, wing spars and structure as well as skin can be fabricated in new and efficient ways. In addition, primary shapes of structure need not be assembled out of bits-they can be monolithic architecture, as the B787 fuselage sections are.

So what we're going to see develop as the B787 moves from the rollout to flight test and then to production on a grand scale, is nothing less than a tectonic shift in the way aircraft are built and assembled, not only because of the material itself but also because of how it can be utilized to construct things. I've said it before: this changes everything.

And that's the difference between the B787 and the competition's proposal(not to mention that one exists and the other doesn't).

On the one hand the technological shift is comprehensive and addresses the fundamental advantages that are gained in the ways the material can be used. What the competition's offering is a reluctant half measure, either because they don't trust the material or they aren't capable of utilizing it or they don't have the engineering knowhow or it's NIH-not invented here.

While we're on that subject, the conventional wisdom we hear is "Oh well-we'll carefully evaluate the B787 and make sure that all the mistakes Boeing makes won't be made by us, and then we'll really show you how it ought to be done! Being later is therefore being better."

It isn't. The mercurial Nathan Bedford Forrest once opined that victory belongs to he who 'gits thar fustest with the mostest' and that's as true today as it was 150 years ago.

Being late to the dance is just that-being late to the dance. What's worse is that what the competition intends is a half measure-it breaks no new ground in fabrication methods. When the A350 enters service five years hence, assuming that Airbus stays on task, it will be a good competent aircraft that is a day late and a dollar short.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pig, Meet Poke: Dubai Takes Piece of EADS

Bloomberg reports today that Dubai International Capital (a proxy for Sheikh al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai) took a 3.12 per cent stake in EADS this day in an apparent bet that da Festung can wheeze back to financial health on the strenth of some Power8 steroids.

The company has no intention to take an active management role in the company or put someone on the board of EADS.

I believe that, too.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The A320 Replacement From Embraerbus?

Aviation Week has an interesting story to the effect that da Festung is seriously considering some sort of team arrangement when it comes time to develop and build the replacement for their wildly successful smaller aircraft of the A318/319/320/321 varieties.

They've got their eyes on Embraer, so 'tis said. Embraer seems less than enthusiastic, thinking that an aircraft to replace these aircraft and its competitor from the Evil Empire Of The Pacific Northwest is likely to be 8 or 9 years away.

There may be other reasons that Embraer is not falling all over itself to get into bed with Airbus.

It is certainly food for thought for the paranoid, and one might expect that Embraer has studied the operations and track history at da Festung and doesn't see a good reason to throw in with that outfit. You've got to figure that Embraer could probably do this one themselves without any 'help'.

Just the notion that Airbus is heading into a technological dead end with the A350 and have spotted the competition a five year technological edge kind of makes you wonder.

Time will tell.