Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rich Kid Terrorist

Here's a shot of ADX Florence, the federal government's maximo del maximo prison in southern Colorado, and I have no doubt the most recent aspiring plane bomber, Mr. Abdulmutallab is headed there on an all expenses paid one way ticket.

However, he will not be able to wear the skivvies of his choice. During the course of this journey he was toting a package of PETN explosive in his jockey shorts, and only his inartful attempt to detonate the explosive and the quick actions of passengers opening up a can of whoopass saved the day.

The aforementioned skivvies on the right seem to indicate that the ...ahem....combustion may have had some therapeutic results, when you take into account positioning and male anatomy.

However Umar fumbled the ball on the goal line, it did raise the entirely more frightening threat of people keistering in explosives, and in fact al Qaeda pulled off this schtick in Saudi Arabia a while ago in an attack on the Saudi anti terrorism chief. In that case the package was a pound or so of high explosive with a cell phone detonator.

On the subject of post 2001 airport security I'd just had my first experience with it the week before the Crusader Holiday and it was not nearly as burdensome and onerous as I'd supposed. The TSA people were uniformly polite and professional, gave clear and concise instructions, and even when they decided to give my vintage Nikon and my can of tea bags a second scoping, they didn't make me feel as if I was being imposed upon.

That said, I suspect things will be somewhat different in the future, particularly if the flight is inbound from overseas and most importantly from places where security is lax. We can add Schiphol to that list.

It seems that Mr. Abdulmutallab managed to get on an inbound flight despite all the markers that should have set up red flags-particularly in paying cash for a one way ticket. I guess those al Qaeda fellows are ever the pennypinchers. A one way ticket says "I ain't coming back."

It turns out that there are a fair number of photographs of Umar Abdulmutallab floating around, and most of them seem to have that curiously vacant, head slightly cocked to one side eyefuck stare. It looks as if he'd worked on it, and the message it conveyed.

Reports in the National Post seem to suggest that what we have here is a teenage angst ridden spoiled rich kid wannabe who got in way over his head. I mean, what son of the oppressed Muslim masses lives in a 2-million pound apartment while studying at a ritzy Crusader university with a private tutor no less?

I seem to remember a few rich kid wannabes from my first college who chatted idly about bombing government buildings back in the days of SDS. Then they went back to the suburbs and showed up in January with new Volvos and Head skis.

I think had Umar had to make his own way in the world by the sweat of his brow on the mean streets of Lagos he might well have valued other people's lives and property more highly. In any event I am not aware of any passage in the Koran that instructs people that it is their sacred duty to fill their britches with explosives and attempt to murder innocents. Or stuff it up their butts either.

Well. Things will change but young Umar won't know it because he will be out of the picture permanently, and I'd wager he will spend his best years talking to himself in solitary in Florence.

I wonder what he'll have to say to himself. I have a feeling I know the answer.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

New Heavy Lifter Takes A Bow.

Almost completely overlooked in the to-do over the 787 and its revolutionary first flight/proof of concept was an equally important first flight-at least to the people whose jobs are on the line- and that was of the Airbus A400M military cargo lifter. The first flight occurred December 11 of this year from Seville.

It's rare enough when something that's so new the paint isn't dry gets airborne with propellers these days-and what propellers they are.

In addition, the A400M's Europrop engine installation is a clean sheet of paper design that's got enough power to haul the goods.

Now. You know that I have a major weakness for big muscular props, and I consider the Convair 580 to be the finest aircraft ever made anywhere. But this is light years ahead of the 580.

All this may be moot, however, as cost overruns and delays have put the program at a substantial risk of cancellation.

It seems that Airbus agreed to a fixed cost contract (something we don't do anymore here in the bumptious rude frontier republic that is the United States because we clearly don't know anything), and when the development budget spiraled out of control that left Airbus holding the bag and under a threat to have the countries that ordered it eat their lunch for them.

It reminds me of a case I worked on a number of years ago. A guy out west of here operated a custom feedlot. Here's how the deal worked. You sign a contract, he acquires the cattle, feeds them to market weight at a fixed cost, merchandises them and you split the profits.

All of that was wonderful-until, in 1996, corn, which had been selling at about average prices of $2.50 a bushel spiked to $3.90 a bushel. The end result was that the feedlot owner simply stopped buying feed and by the time people woke up, he had disappeared into the nether world of the Poky feedlot in Garden City, Kansas, knowing a lot more about the perils of fixed price contracting when you have no way of meaningfully predicting the cost of inputs going forward.

Upwards of 900 cattle died in the winter of 1996-1997 in his feedlot.

Images courtesy of and property of Airbus, Reuters.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The End of the Aluminum Age

We're informed that the much heralded, oft-delayed and widely watched first flight of the Boeing 787, a/k/a Dreamliner went off

without a major hitch recently.

Sighs of relief all around, no? A bit of flag waving as well? You betcha, as Mrs. Palin says.

We're also reliably informed by a gentleman in the country of unimpeachable integrity (Saj) that the test flight of the second aircraft will take place tomorrow morning-all of which promises to accelerate the flight test schedule significantly.

It's rare when two aircraft are delivered to a flight test program in such a short time, and it speaks to Boeing's determination to ramp up the flight test program and thereby make up some lost marches. It also tells us that the flight test program is the first priority.

The Dreamliner, of course, represents a completely new departure for manufacturing large civil aircraft, being constructed largely of carbon fiber composite material, including the wings and other structural members.

In fact it's the first major advance in aircraft structure and coverings since aluminum skin and structure confounded the purveyors of dope and fab, plywood skinned, wooden wing stuff like the Curtiss Condor or the Fokker Triplane back in the thirties.

It's been rumored that the Ford Trimotor was a reverse engineered Fokker in corrugated aluminum, and so it may be. Reasonable minds may differ-although the resemblance to the things Dr. Junkers was doing at the time is more than coincidental.

Of course, as we have noted here in the past, we in this country do have a pretty good track record working with carbon fiber composite structures in large aircraft- albeit in military programs such as the F117 fighter and the B2 bomber-that spans the last twenty five years, none of which expertise was acknowledged by the competition.

There was plenty of "It'll never work", "You won't be able to maintain it in the field", "Our experts assure us it's unworkable" and similar canards from the usual suspects, to be followed shortly by "Well, we can of course show you impetuous colonials how real experts do it."

Well. It flew. Another one's flying tomorrow. There'll be more before 2012 or whenever the A350 emerges blinking in the watery sunlight of Toulouse. And they'll be piling up a record of revenue service by that time.

It was also significant to us here at the Dougloid Towers when the fellows at Vought in South Carolina-now part of Boeing-signed a check for the world's largest autoclave. They're committed to the technology, for good or for ill.

The only thing on the horizon that's even in the same ballpark is the proposed Airbus A350
which is not slated to fly until until 2012, barring any delays. The A350 as it is currently envisioned will be made up of carbon fiber panels mounted on structure where the 787's fuselage structure is monolithic. In the quest for weight reduction, this will prove to be lighter and thus stronger, pound for pound.

We're not fans of idle speculation here, but we think that the introduction of this technology will fundamentally rewrite the commercial aircraft construction and engineering book.

There will be problems to remedy as we've already seen, and there will also be serendipitous discoveries that will accrue to the benefit of American engineering genius-which has been getting a bad rap lately.

As Mark Twain once opined "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." Words to live by? We think so.

Photo credits ASC Systems, Boeing,