Sunday, July 18, 2010

Still some gloomy weather...

Not to bring a dark cloud to our generally cheerful and enlightened conversation, but I read some troubling news regarding potential developments at one of the largest General Aviation manufacturers this past week. The Machinist union leadership had discussions with HawkerBeech, and afterwards issued a rather alarming press release, to the effect that,
"Union officials said Wednesday that HawkerBeechcraft is considering moving work out of Wichita that could shrink its hourly work force 50 to 75 percent over the next two years.".

Ouch. One wonders how that would affect overall production from HawkerBeechcraft. And perhaps on a slightly less dark note, one might also wonder how much of that might be posturing as a prelude to contract negotiations. Donno.

Molly McMillin had an article covering that announcement in the July 15, 2010 Wichita Eagle; Union: Hawker may make massive cuts.

I suppose HawkerBeechcraft was in the awkward position of having to decide who to give the bad news to first, the media or the employees. They did the right thing by discussing it with the union- I suppose the union was obligated to inform the public after it told it's members, and the company issued a public statement following that.

"The company issued a statement in response to Rooney's letter to union members:

"Last September the company initiated a series of meetings to update the union leadership about serious challenges it faces during these unprecedented economic times," the statement said. "These conversations have included a spectrum of possibilities for the company's future footprint and the likely impact on its workforce in all its locations..

(Hmm, a too-common example, Salina, Ks).

"The company values this partnership and believes that there is a great opportunity available to us to work together to influence a positive outcome".

(Ugh- that last line is a press release* reminiscent of the original Eclipse P.R.'s with Vernian subterfuge and spectacular disconsonance).

Alas, sadly "us" will shortly be 130 smaller.

(*S-a-y, didn't Andrew Broom leave Eclipse to go to HawkerBeech? Yup, but he's since continued to move on- and nicely up; Andrew Broom, AOPA vice president of communications).

The rather discouraging news from HawkerBeechcraft was preceded by a couple of weeks by some odd news from Spirit AeroSystems. (Perhaps a new name for some- it's basically what was the commercial side of Boeing-Wichita, plus what was NorthAmerican/Rockwell/McDonnell/Douglas/Boeing-Tulsa. (Maybe somebody can clarify the Tulsa operation; the Wichita operation for Spirit is about 80% of what used to be Boeing Wichita- Boeing still has a couple thousand employees doing Military work in Wichita- including potentially significant KC-X tanker work).

At the end of June, the IAM voted to ratify**- sort of- a 10-year contract with Spirit Aerosystems- Jennifer Michels' June 28 story in Aviation Week:
Spirit AeroSystems Machinists Ratify Pact.

(**Actually, the majority- 57% -voted to reject the contract, but it seems it was set up as a strike vote rather than a ratification vote, and two-thirds majority were needed to authorize a strike. Seems weird that it wasn't set up that way- I can think of numerous instances in other industries where work continued with the expired contract terms in place during continuing negotiations).

Not to be outdone in the cheery press release competition, afterwards the IAM declared:
"On June 24, the IAM referred to the new contract, which covers about 6,000 workers, as a historic accord, providing “unprecedented levels of job security” as well as pay increases linked to company performance and pension improvements. The new contract “stems the tide of outsourcing and job offshoring,” according to the Local 839 Bargaining Committee".

(Buzz is there was a 150 share signing bonus, currently $20/share).

More details from Molly McMillin's June 24 piece in the Wichita Eagle
Spirit offers Machinists 10-year contract.

Spirit Aerosystems management is surely pleased with the stability and price=planning possible with the long-term labor contract, and so was Wall Street.

Interestingly, the Canadian firm Onex owns HawkerBeechcraft (in partnership with Goldman-Sachs), and owns58% of Spirit Aerosystems , and " through its portfolio of companies, is the second largest employer in Canada, after the Federal Government, with 238,000 employees".

I keep thinking things have bottomed out, but it seems every couple months have to lower the elevation on the valley floor. Perhaps there is a bit of encouraging news though, the 2010Q1 GAMA statistics show that although units delivered are down compared to 2009Q1 (390 vs 459), billings are up over 2010 by 7 percent. Hopefully that is translating into jobs somewhere.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Memorial Day Rememberance

Memorial Day 2010...
Last weekend presented a unique opportunity to tour a World War Two vintage B-17 bomber, on static (and flying) display at one of the local airports.
Quite an astounding opportunity, considering over 10,000 were built (some 65-75 years ago)- I was told there are around 14 in flyable condition- but only a few are actually flown.

Driving home from work a late afternoon on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, I noticed a rather large, rather slow airplane, deviating from the typical flight path of the airline crowd. I pulled over on the shoulder and watched, and it lumbered almost directly overhead: "Look- Up in the Sky- It's a Bird...(no)- It's a plane (well, yes)- it's a B-17 !" Asking around, I found it was the Liberty Belle, on tour. (Nine-month tour, it turns out- becoming a yearly event, since it's $3M restoration).

This particular aircraft was built too-late to participate in hostilities, and was delivered straight to the surplus holding area. "Honest Sam's Used (and Un-Used) Airplanes". Many were purchased for the full tanks of fuel which came with the purchase, and then parted out. This particular one became a test bed for Pratt and Whitney- a turboprop was mounted in the nose, where the plexiglass bombardier's window is on the original. Served as a test bed for 20 years, bought by a museum, stored, hit by tornado, stored, sold- restored ($3M), and has been flying (1,300 hours) since 2004.

While a wonderful static display, opportunity knocked, and plastic credit card answered the door- and for about $12/minute I was touring the countryside, about 1000 AGL, at 140 knots or so. Which, I reckon, almost exactly covered the av-gas bill- my small (REALLY small, in the big scheme of things) and humble contribution and thank you to those who flew in these machines decades ago.

Watching the fine machine taxi in and taxi out, and lumber over, I must say, it seemed rather quiet- sort of like a "squardon" of Harley Davidsons- with mufflers. (The muffler part seems to be increasingly rare, at least at squadron-level strengths). Once inside the beast, the sensations were a bit less...restrained.

Engine start was quite uneventful (the left engines were left running, and the right engines shut down, so pax could use the (right) rear door. The right engines seemed to start quite easily, and the left inboard was a bit smokey. From the 50-year old A&P training material, I vaguely remembered reviewing some regulation about how much oil reserve (gallons, or barrels- I can't remember which- but do remember thinking- "wow, that's a lot of oil") was required for large piston aircraft- I now have a bit more appreciation for that...

Taxi down wind was quite well, stimulating to the olfactory senses- good thing the war is over, or I woulda thought the bad guys were using chemical warefare- the air was thick with fumes of burned, and seemingly unburned, av-gas, plus a good measure of oil smoke thrown in.

At the departure end, a runup was performed- and the noise was- about what I anticipated- deafening, and delightful. The airplane shook some, but did not shudder.

Brake release, and the scenery slides by the open waist gunner station ports (actually, more like 3x4 foot frames) in the aft fuselage, where most of the 10 passengers are sitting on plywood benches, with seat belts. (Two or three were forward at various crew stations- the standard crew was 10- or 11 on some versions I think- here's a nifty interactive crew station diagram for "the real thing", circa WW2. For our "3 hour tour" (well, 30 minutes or so), only the pilot, copilot, and flight engineer were staffed by the aircraft organization- the rest of us were tourists.

The takeoff was so smooth (or the engines vibrations and smells were so strong:) that I literally could not tell when we had lifted off. The big fat tires, which I supposed were capable of rough field landings, no doubt helped.

Once at "cruising" altitude (the actual service ceiling was an an astounding 35K feet, thankfully, we putted around at less than 1/10 th of that), we were free to "move about the cabin"...and anywhere else we wanted to, except the ball turret on the belly. Which, I would have to say, is probably the last place I would ever want to be. The tail gunner's location was second least desirable, from the reactions of my fellow "tourists".

(The waist gunner's stations. Fairly roomy, at least when not wearing artic gear and oxygen apparatus. A family of five was commemorating their father/grandfather's service on a B-17 during the war, mom and dad dug it- the kids seemed a little nonplused- but were good sports about the ride).

It was interesting to see the flight deck- not nearly the mass of instruments and controls I expected.

(Not sure who our crew was- but a real B-24 navigator was invited to the flight deck for the duration of the earlier flight).

I belatedly realized most of the engine instruments would have been at the flight engineer's station...which for some reason didn't catch my attention. What DID catch my attention was the stack of radios- and I DO mean STACK- seemingly 3-4 feet high, a couple banks of them. Wow. I'm sure they must have been non-functional, but realistic of the equipment that would have been carried at the time.

The nose was equiped with a plexiglas bubble for the bombadier to use,
and what seemd to be a real Norden bombsight. I must confess, I was rather taken aback by it's inclusion- I had somehow thought it was still rather "secret"-ish. Guess not, in this world of GPS.

(Some of the reason I thought the Norden device might stil be classified: "Using the Norden, bombardiers could, in theory, drop their bombs within a 100-foot (30 m) circle from an altitude of well over 20,000 feet...".

Part of the reason why it's NOT still classified: "Bombing was computed by assessing the proportion of hits falling within 1,000 ft and 2,000 ft circles about an MPI (mean point of impact). To achieve a perfect strike, a bomber group would have to unload all its bombs within the 1,000 ft circle...Under perfect conditions only 50 percent of American bombs fell within a quarter of a mile of the target, and American flyers estimated that as many as 90 percent of bombs could miss their targets". Hmmm- that's sure to stir up some angst among "many veteran B-17 and B-24 bombardiers swore by the Norden".)

After everyone had clambered around- it really was neat to be able to check out the various crew stations while in-flight; I was a bit surprised just how much room there was- (particularly in the bombardier station- guess in an "operational scenerio" there were several guys down there- the waist gunner stations also seemed roomy, as if a dozen people could have ridden there), it was time to head home.

Landing was almost as smooth as takeoff- gentle sqeak of the mains, and a faint whiff of tire smoke. With the headwind, the engine smells didn't seem to intrude as much- given the thrill of the experience, not a big distraction anyway.

Thanks to everyone who flew and maintains this historical item. And especially to those who flew and maintained the originals , and the generations since with newer equipment.

Monday, May 3, 2010

First Term of A&P is over

Yes, I think we've all heard the Wedge is still involved in aviation- with a flying canoe or somesuch.

Fitting, but not quite the inspiration for The Scream. Four paintings and prints in a series by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch ("I was walking along a path with two friends — the sun was setting — suddenly the sky turned blood red — I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence — there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city — my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety — and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature").

(Four eh? I always wondered why it seemed renditions varied. Guess Hollywood wasn't the first to invent sequels...).

"One theory advanced to account for the reddish sky in the background is that Munch had observed an effect of the powerful volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883: the ash that was ejected from the volcano left the sky tinted red in much of eastern United States and most of Europe and Asia from the end of November 1883 to mid February 1884...Alternatively, it has been suggested that the proximity to the site of the painting of both a slaughterhouse and a madhouse may have offered inspiration.

"The scene was identified as being the view from a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hoved√łya, from the hill of Ekeberg. At the time of painting the work, Munch's manic depressive sister Laura Catherine was interned in the mental hospital at the foot of Ekeberg.

"In 1978, the Munch scholar Robert Rosenblum suggested that the strange, sexless creature in the foreground of the painting was probably inspired by a Peruvian mummy, which Munch could have seen at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris."

Hmmm. I would suggest an alternate explanation- the anguished figure just completed an Airframe and Powerplant General class.

For those curious- as I was for years- a couple decades, actually- I will briefly elaborate upon my experience. (Although, the adage "a picture says a thousand words", turns out to be mostly true, in my experience).

First- before anyone misinterprets that I consider an A&P license (certificates) an unworthy objective, I assure them, and more importantly- other potential A&P students, that I indeed DO consider it a worthy objective to pursue.

As I mentioned, my first curiosity about getting an A&P license happened when I visited a local airport to pick up some instruments being repaired, and drove by a hangar with a community college sign. I stopped in, and chatted. Sounded like an interesting program, but the time demands wouldn't work for me (two years, 25 hours per week). I don't believe the time requirements (set by the FAA) have changed any over these past 20 years- 1900 hours of "contact time"; essentially instructor-led activity- either classroom or shop time. Back then, I was working a lot of overtime, and had a 45 minute drive each way to work. Nah, wasn't going to work.

Fast (??) forward 20 some years, and just about the same thing happened a few months ago, except now I only have a 20 minute drive, and am only working 45-50 hour weeks. So, hey, what the heck- time to "just do it"!!

The local school doesn't use semesters, but rather trimesters, so instead of two years, it's 20 months, and 30 hours per week rather than 25. And to enforce uniformity, the school has a time clock. Odd, but I suppose "rules are rules".

The class was so-so; if you've never seen an airplane, it was okay. For most readers of the blog, I would suggest it was more like= think of the worst, most boring laboratory class you ever suffered though elsewhere, and imagine it being six hours long, every night, for 15 weeks. And there are absolutely no "skips" allowed. Car break down? Sick kid? Gotta work late? Guess what- you're going to be making up the time. When? The instructors were quite accommodating, but there is no weekend "make up" time available. So- either stay an extra hour every night, or take time off work. Either way resulted in a disappointing compromise with work obligations- arrive at work tired the next day, or take time off during the work day- which if you are busy, is exactly what you CAN'T do. Sprinkle in a dozen tests throughout the term, which one's "hours" must be currently 100%, and it was just a recipe for an exercise in unsatisfactory compromise. miserable frustration and exhaustion.

I guess one thing I couldn't really reconcile, was as a professional, having to make time for a vocational program. And I noted the other working students likewise had schedule pressure with work. To enjoy the program, one must either have a completely predicatable job, and preferably one with no week-day overtime requirements, and be willing to forego virtually ALL evening personal activities for some 75-80 weeks.

Maybe when I was younger, it wouldn't have been a more-fun / less-unsatisfactory experience. Which is my recommendation for anyone considering an A&P; don't put it off. Otherwise, put it off until retirement.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Day the Music Died...

"There's nothing certain but death and taxes".

Say, where'd THAT come from? Well, that's about the way the weekend went...(isn't the internet handy for things just such as this question:

"Several famous authors have uttered lines to this effect. The first was Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil, 1726: 'Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.'

"Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) used the form we are currently more familiar with, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789, which was re-printed in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1817: 'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.' "

Hmmm- just what I thought. No doubt the tea-party enthusiasts enjoyed extolling the former interpretation this past (Tax Day in the USA was April 15).

Anyway, unfortunate, but peculiarly fitting, I was working on taxes last weekend, and The Buddy Holly Story was playing on television. (A 1978 movie, staring Gary Busey. A bit of -ironically fitting- Busey trivia: "In 1975, as the character 'Harvey Daley,' he was the last person killed on the series Gunsmoke (in the third to the last episode, No. 633 - 'The Los Carnales'". (Okay, okay- I had to look it up too: "The Brotherhood"). An interesting- and shocking for anyone who has seen Gary Busey in, ah, anything lately: he was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Buddy Holly (the movie won an Oscar for, logically, Best Music).

Anyway, enough of Gary Busey- how about the REAL Buddy Holly. (Well, the real Charles Holley, a.k.a. Buddy Holly.

It's an unfortunate tale of Buddy Holly (age 22) and two other performers of musical persuasion (as opposed to performers of the tea-party persuasion), "The Big Bopper" (Jiles Perry "JP" Richardson, Jr.) age 28, and "Ritchie Valens" (Richard Steven Valenzuela) age 17, who were killed along with the pilot Roger Peterson age 21, back in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959.

The story I was -vaguely- familiar with was something along the lines of the Wikipedia synopsis:

"Holly was offered the Winter Dance Party by the GAC agency, a three-week tour across the Midwest opening on January 23, 1959, with other notable performers such as Dion and the Belmonts, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. He assembled a backing band consisting of Tommy Allsup (guitar), Waylon Jennings (bass) and Carl Bunch (drums) and billed as The Crickets.

"The tour turned out to be a miserable ordeal for the performers, who were subjected to long overnight travel in a bus plagued with a faulty heating system in −25 °F (−31.7 °C) temperatures. The bus also broke down several times between stops. Following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2, 1959, Holly chartered a small airplane to take him to the next stop on the tour. He, Valens, Richardson, and the pilot were killed en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, when their plane crashed soon after taking off from nearby Mason City in the early morning hours of February 3. Don McLean referred to it as "The Day the Music Died" in his song "American Pie"."

I had generally attributed the accident to weather- probably icing, turbulence, or systems failure in blind conditions.


As Paul Harvey used to say (before he rendezvoused with Buddy, the Big Bopper, and Richie - just over a year ago, as a matter of fact: September 4, 1918 – February 28, 2009, R.I.P.), it's time for THE REST OF THE STORY...

Here's the Civil Aeronautics Board report. (I found it a bit dismissive) -
"This accident, like so many before it, was caused by the pilot's decision to undertake a flight in which the likelihood of encountering instrument conditions existed, in the mistaken belief that he could cope with en route instrument weather conditions, without having the necessary familiarization with the instruments in the aircraft and without being properly certificated to fly solely by instruments".

The flight conditions, while bad, was not as brutal as the -25 degrees earlier encountered in the tour. A tour bus was used to transport the bands- but there was some severe weather, and the bus had numerous mechanical problems- including the heater- the Big Bopper and Richie Valens both had colds from conditions in, and out, of the bus. Buddy had rented the airplane for only his own band, but they gave up their seats for the ailing Big Bopper and Valens; Waylon Jennings "Jennings admitted that, in the years afterward, he felt severe guilt and responsibility for the crash. After Jennings gave up his seat, Holly had jokingly told Jennings, 'I hope your ol' bus freezes up!' Jennings shot back facetiously, 'Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes!'"; Tommy Allsup "a coin flip Allsup had with Ritchie Valens on February 2, 1959 that saved Allsup's life"; the other member, Carl Bunch was previously incapacitated: "The tour bus heater failed, and Bunch suffered from frostbite and was hospitalized".

Not quite as glamorous as today's rockstar acoomodations.

The C.A.B. report comments on the pilot,
"Roger Arthur Peters, 21 years old, was regularly employed by Dwyer Flying Service as a commercial pilot and flight instructor, and had been with them bout one year. He had been flying since October of 1954, and had accumulated 711 flying hours, of which 128 were in Bonanza aircraft. Almost all of the Bonanza time was acquired during charter flights. He had approximately 52 hours of dual instrument training and had passed his instrument written examination. He fail an instrument flight check on March 21, 1958", but this was some nine months prior to the accident.

The pilot does seem to have been conscientous, and alert to the potential of weather complications-
"At approximately 1730, Pilot Peterson went to the Air Traffic Communications Station (ATCS), which was located in a tower on top of the Administration Building, to obtain the necessary weather information pertinent to the flight...At 2200 and again at 2330 Pilot Peterson called ATCS concerning the weather...At 2355, Peterson, accompanied by Hubert Dwyer, a certificated commercial pilot, the local fixed-base operator at the Mason City Airport, and owner of Bonanza N3794N (the aircraft used on the flight), again went to ATCS for the latest weather information...While the aircraft was being taxied to the end of runway 17, Peterson called ATCS and asked for the latest local and en route weather."

The ceilings had decreased from 5000 ft in the early evening, to 3000 ft at the time of takeoff. The C.A.B. report continues-

"A normal takeoff was made at 055 and the aircraft was observed to make a left 180-degree turn and climb to approximately 800 feet and then, after passing the airport to the east, to head in a northwesterly direction. Through most of the flight the tail light of the aircraft was plainly visible to Mr. Dwyer, who was watching from a platform outside the tower. When about five miles from the airport, Dwyer saw the tail light of the aircraft gradually descend until out of sight. When Peterson did not report his flight plan by radio soon after takeoff, the communicator, at Mr. Dwyer's request, repeatedly tried to reach him but was unable to do so. The time was approximately 0100."

Although light snow was reported at the time (and when the wreckage was found 8.5 hours later, there was 4 inches of snow on it), it would seem the snow wasn't extremely severe, if the 12 volt tail navigation light could be seen from the ground at 5 miles out.

But the weather was changing fairly rapidly-
(At 2330)"The Mason City weather was reported to the pilot as: ceiling measured 6,000 overcast; visibility 15 miles plus; temperature 15 degrees; dew point 8 degrees; wind south 25 to 32 knots; altimeter setting 29.96 inches.

"At 2355, Peterson, accompanied by Hubert Dwyer, a certificated commercial pilot, the local fixed-base operator at the Mason City Airport, and owner of Bonanza N3794N (the aircraft used on the flight), again went to ATCS for the latest weather information. The local weather had changed somewhat in that the ceiling had lowered to 5,000 feet, light snow was falling, and the altimeter setting was now 29.90 inches.

"The passengers arrived at the airport about 0040 and after their baggage had been properly stowed on board, the pilot and passengers boarded the aircraft. Pilot Peterson told Mr. Dwyer that he would file his flight plan by radio when airborne. While the aircraft was being taxied to the end of runway 17, Peterson called ATCS and asked for the latest local and en route weather. This was given him as not having changed materially en route; however, the local weather was now reported as: Precipitation ceiling 3,000 feet, sky obscured; visibility 6 miles; light snow; wind south 20 knots, gusts to 30 knots; altimeter setting 29.85 inches."

The C.A.B. report continues-
"The accident occurred in a sparsely inhabited area and there were not witnesses. Examination of the wreckage indicated that the first impact with the ground was made by the right wing tip when the aircraft was in a steep right bank and in a nose-low attitude. It was further determined that the aircraft was traveling at high speed on a heading of 315 degrees. Parts were scattered over a distance of 540 feet, at the end of which the main wreckage was found lying against a barbed wire fence. The three passengers were thrown clear of the wreckage, the pilot was found in the cockpit...

"Although the aircraft was badly damaged, certain important facts were determined. There was no fire. All components were accounted fro at the wreckage site. There was no evidence of inflight structural failure or failure of the controls. The landing gear was retracted at the time of impact. The damaged engine was dismantled and examined; there was no evidence of engine malfunctioning or failure in flight. Both blades of the propeller were broken at the hub, giving evidence that the engine was producing power when ground impact occurred. The hub pitch-change mechanisms indicated that the blade pitch was in the cruise range."

Given the ground observations, I'm not sure how pertinent to the accident the "Flash Adviosry" on weather was (although it could well have become a significant factor if the flight had continued much further)-

"Another advisory issued by the U. S. Weather Bureau at Kansas City, Missouri at 0015 on February 3 was: 'Flash Advisory No. 1. Over eastern half of Kansas ceilings are locally below one thousand feet, visibilities locally 2 miles or less in freezing drizzle, light snow and fog. Moderate to locally heavy icing areas of freezing drizzle and locally moderate icing in clouds below 10,000 feet over eastern portion Nebraska, Kansas, northwest Missouri and most of Iowa. Valid until 0515.' Neither communicator could recall having drawn these flash advisories to the attention of Pilot Peterson. Mr. Dwyer said that when he accompanied pilot Peterson to ATCS, no information was given them indicating instrument flying weather would be encountered along the route."

Probably at least an equal factor to the pilot's lack of instrument rating, was the instruments he had available:

"When his instrument training was taken, several aircraft were used and these were all equipped with the conventional type artificial horizon and none with the Sperry Attitude Gyro such as was installed in Bonanza N 3794N. These two instruments differ greatly in their pictorial display...The conventional artificial horizon provides a direct reading indication of the bank and pitch attitude of the aircraft which is accurately indicated by a miniature aircraft pictorially displayed against a horizon bar and as if observed from the rear.. The Sperry F3 gyro also provides a direct reading indication of the bank and pitch attitude of the aircraft, but its pictorial presentation is achieved by using a stabilized sphere whose free-floating movements behind a miniature aircraft presents pitch information with a sensing exactly opposite from that depicted by the conventional artificial horizon.

"Service experience with the use of the attitude gyro has clearly indicated confusion among pilots during the transition period or when alternating between conventional and attitude gyros. Since Peterson had received his instrument training in aircraft equipped with the conventional type artificial horizon, and since this instrument and the attitude gyro are opposite in their pictorial display of the pitch attitude, it is probably that the reverse sensing would at times produce reverse control action. This is especially true of instrument flight conditions requiring a high degree of concentration or requiring multiple function, as would be the case when flying instrument conditions in turbulence without a copilot. The directional gyro was found caged and it is possible that it was never used during the short flight. However, this evidence is not conclusive. If the directional gyro were caged throughout the flight this could only have added to the pilot's confusion.

"It is believe that shortly after takeoff pilot Peterson entered an area of complete darkness and one in which there was no definite horizon; that the snow conditions and the lack of horizon required him to rely solely on flight instruments for aircraft attitude and orientation.

"The high gusty winds and the attendant turbulence which existed this night would have caused the rate of climb indicator and the turn and bank indicator to fluctuate to such an extent that an interpretation of these instruments so far as attitude control is concerned would have been difficult to a pilot as inexperienced as Peterson. The airspeed and altimeter alone would not have provided him with sufficient reference to maintain control of the pitch attitude. With his limited experience the pilot would tend to rely on the attitude gyro which is relatively stable under these conditions."

The accicident airplane involved, was a Beech Bonanza , indeed, the first year of production-

"The aircraft, a Beech Bonanza, model 35, S/N-1019, identification N 3794N, was manufactured October 17, 1947. It was powered by a Continental model E185-8 engine which had a total of 40 hours since major overhaul. The aircraft was purchased by the Dwyer Flying Service, July 1, 1958, and, according to records and the testimony of the licensed mechanic employed by Dwyer, had been properly maintained since its acquisition. N 3794N was equipped with high and low frequency radio transmitters and receivers, a Narca omnigator, Lear autopilot (only recently installed and not operable), all the necessary engine and navigational instruments, and a full panel of instruments used for instrument flying, including a Sperry F3 attitude Gyro."

Now, I don't want to stir up a beehive of frenzied Bonanza enthusiasts, but I'll quote from an article I found, on a 1965 S35 Bonanza- which is a six-seat model, 18 years newer than the original involved in the Buddy Holly accident-

"Recent photos of N1965Z were taken (May 2007) showing important structural safety modifications to the tail area. The vee-tail Bonanzas, particularly the early 35 models, have 24 times more incidence of in-flight airframe failures and breakups than the straight tail Bonanzas, which have an excellent safety record. The early vee-tail Bonanzas had thin-skinned wings without a shear web in the wing leading edge. The ruddervator tailplanes starting with the C35 model had increased area forward of the spar (leading edge 16 inches forward of spar) and showed a pattern of tail failures where the tailplane skin fails and folds over the spar, leading to loss of control. Actual separations of the control surfaces from the vee-tail have occured. The vee-tailed models have very light ailerons and low lateral stability, causing 'spiral divergence'. If a wing drops a little, it tends to keep dropping with low rolling stability, unless caught by the pilot and corrected. In IFR conditions or storm turbulence the stable flight situation can quickly get out of hand, leading to a 'graveyard spiral'.

"Intrinsic low longitudinal stability or rearward c.g. limit exceedances of the Bonanza's already narrow c.g. envelope can quickly lead to airspeed and altitude excursions. The c.g. moves aft as fuel is burned due to the wing leading edge fuel tank locations. Remember to observe that the maneuvering speed is less than the cruising speed. A moderate or abrupt control wheel pullup under such cruise speed conditions can easily exceed g limits with high destructive airframe forces. The Bonanza does have a sharp stall characteristic with little aerodynamic buffeting. With any back seat passengers, the aft c.g. limit may be easily exceeded, exacerbating the stability problem with an illegal flight condition.

"Also, the ruddervators are sensitive to flutter from any imbalances. Repainting the aircraft requires careful measurement and rebalancing the tail, by removing and weighing all components. As little as two ounces of imbalance can be dangerous, causing flutter under some flight conditions. The ruddervator must be within specified weight and balance conditions. N1965Z has several mods to strengthen the leading edge of the ruddervator's tailplanes. Several A.D.s (airworthiness directives) have been issued by the FAA pertaining to conditions that could lead to flutter and its destructive effects in vee-tail Bonanzas."

Okay- before I get a load of bombs dropped on my head, I'll point out the accident airplane was NOT a C-model or newer, with the propensity for structural failure due to the (ill-supported) extension of the stabilator leading edge. BUT- I would question why a 9-inch extension of the stabilator leading edge was needed- perhaps to improve the "spiral divergence"?

(And the 1947 model did NOT have the extra row of seats in back. I suspect the rather skinny Buddy Holly and Richie Valens (age 22 and 17 respectively) being young and a product of the less "portly" 1950's, did not present any c.g. challenges, despite the somewhat more "substantial" Big Bopper being onboard.

But the Buddy Holly plane did not have the extra 18 inch fuselage length, nor larger tailplanes, so I would expect it to be a bit more fidgety in turbulence. (How's THAT for being diplomatic! :)

Another factor is pilot fatigue- even though the flight was just minutes old, I wonder how well rested the pilot was-

"On the evening of February 2, 1959, the manager of the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake contacted Peterson to arrange a charter flight from Mason City to Fargo, North Dakota. The Ballroom was hosting the Winter Dance Party that evening and one of the tour's performers, Buddy Holly, wanted to fly ahead of the rest of the tour members, who were traveling by bus. Peterson agreed to take the flight, and when the performers arrived at the airport, he learned that in addition to Holly, his other two passengers would be Ritchie Valens and J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson."

It sounds like a spur of the moment arrangement, the pilot had probably been up since 6 or 7 AM, going on 18 or 19 hours at the time of the accidemt.

The proverbial accident chain, is more like a wobbly stool at this point:
1) Relatively low time pilot
2) Probably ill-rested pilot
3) Aircraft with demanding flying characteristics
4) Non-standard instrumentation (for the era)
5) Weather conditions which exacerbated all of the above

A most tragic confluence of circumstances...

Here's a picture of the Sperry F3 Attitude Gyro

And a discussion of attitude presentation conventions.

The theory/speculaton of Bonanza flight characteristics arose from some conflicting information:

The C.A.B. reported-
"Examination of the wreckage indicated that the first impact with the ground was made by the right wing tip when the aircraft was in a steep right bank and in a nose-low attitude. It was further determined that the aircraft was traveling at high speed on a heading of 315 degrees. Parts were scattered over a distance of 540 feet...All components were accounted fro at the wreckage site. There was no evidence of inflight structural failure or failure of the controls."

But this narrative notes (with a lot of other interesting non-crash related items)-
"Part of the tail was found 1/4 mile away and a wing was found 1/2 mile away."
Which if true, seems to support the spiral divergence/structural breakup scenerio...

Also, the coroner's report notes-

"The main part of the plane lay against the barbed wire fence at the north end of the stubble field in which it came to earth. It had skidded and/or rolled approximately 570 feet from point of impact directed northwesterly. The shape of the mass of wreckage approximated a ball with one wing sticking up diagonally from one side." Here's a picture of the airframe. (It looks like the left wing is the one still "attached"- from the pitot probe and airleron orientation? A right side impact would have probably sheared off the right wing...but a separated right wing would be consistent with the impact orientation- I'll trust the C.A.B. report...mostly- it would sure be interesting to read local paper accounts).

Here's a couple of accounts of the tour "the boys" were on:
Winter Dance Party Map
Winter Dance Party Itinerary
That was a rigorous tour!

Interesting to note the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa is still open. (Last year was the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the last performance). Going to see a show there? Considering the circumstances, I don't know as I'd recommend flying in. But I don't think I'd take a bus either!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A New Appreciation for Aspect Ratio

Say, something looks a little funny here...
(And it's NOT me !! :)

While shuffling around the flight line one day, I took a break from looking at my shoes and belly button, and happened to look up. Not quite at the stars, as it was daytime. There is a subtle danger with when and where one looks- I had a friend who would fall asleep in a car with his eyes open. Fortunately, this was only when he was riding, rather than driving. I've heard it said that such things are a symptom of insanity. (Which might explain his choice of friends... or render a verdict on my conversational skills).

Surfing the web a bit, it would appear that- no, it is not a sign of insanity, but a neurological abnormality. Reckon some misconception like that is how the Salem witch trials started. (It was kinda spooky though). Fortunately, driving into something wasn't a danger for my friend- but staring into the sun was. Anyway- I was more-or-less awake (I doubt if my boss would appreciate a helpful website I found while researching my friend's problem: "How to Rest With Your Eye's Open"), and not staring into the sun, but nonetheless, what I saw rather started me into a heightened sense of awareness; I happened to look up at the wing of a Dash-8.

And, by golly, it was a rather odd sight. Such a long airplane, and a reasonably long wingspan- but a markedly short-cord wing.

I had flown on a Dash-8 over the holidays, and was modestly impressed. Or if you prefer, modestly impressed it wasn't as bad as I expected: equivalent to a typical RJ in passenger "comfort", but at least it had a certain quaintness about it. It was fairly fast (perhaps a 25% longer trip time on the 400 nm one-way journey), and yes, noisier- even though it was the "Q" model with active noise cancellation.

I'm no aerodynamicist, but for years (like, decades), I've heard "how much more efficient a turboprop is" than a jet. I don't know why that is supposed to be true- but after contemplating the seemingly high aspect ratio of the Dash-8 wing, I wondered if that was a key element.

Aspect Ratio is defined as the wingspan-squared divided by wing area. This gets a little tricky when one considers what is "wing area"- the parts that jut out from the fuselage, or should the fuselage area that "connects the wings" be included in area. I believe this is called "gross area" (as opposed to net area excluding the fuselage area between the wings), and it is what I tried to use for all the comparisons. (Some of the data was vague, but I did my best to maintain consistency- please point out any corrections to individual aircraft if you see them).

In general, a wide wingspan, and small area (short cord) yield a high aspect ratio, and higher efficiency, with less induced drag. There are some complications though(fuel area, wing bending loads, flight control packaging).

I had been thinking of a typical jet as having an aspect ration of around 8; which turns out to be not such a bad estimation. I was considerably surprised in checking a multitude of aspect ratios, with the high placement of turboprops. I did a relatively thorough comparison of a wide variety, and 250 aircraft (see list at the end), and I was reasonably astonished at the Aspect Ratio placement of regional airliner turboprops: below are the two dozen highest aspect ratio airplanes. The turboprop commuter aircraft fell neatly between a reasonably capable older sailplane (Schweizer 1-26), and the Lockheed U2: quite surprising, to me anyway.

As VLJ fans (of sorts), I thought it interesting to note the Eclipse 500 aspect ratio is approx. 9.69, and the Cessna Mustang a 8.89.

Interestingly, the Boeing 787-8 has an aspect ratio of approx 11.12, versus 8-to-9 for other Boeing contemporary models. Airbus models were generally 9-to-10 (except for the A380, 7.52; perhaps structural constraints- especially wing bending loads for such a heavy airplane, kept the wingspan shorter.

RutanModel 76Voyager (non-stop prop)33.85
Scaled CompositesModel 311Global Flyer (non-stop SEJ)32.49
NorthropRQ-4AGlobal Hawk25.01
SchleicherASW28Sail Plane21.42
General AtomicsMQ-1Predator19.23
GrobG-102Astir (sailplane)18.27
LockheedRQ-3Dark Star14.83
DeHavilandDHC-8-300Twin Turboprop13.39
SonexXenoshomebuilt sailplane13.22
DeHavilandDHC-8-400Twin Turboprop12.79
Hawker SiddeleyHawker Siddeley HS 748Turboprop12.67
PiaggioPA-180Avanti (main wing)12.29
ATRATR-72Twin Turboprop12.01
ATRATR-42Twin Turboprop11.09
DiamondDA42TTwin Engine11.06
Saab2000Twin Turboprop11.02
Dornier328Twin Turboprop11.01
Beech1900DPuddle Hopper10.85
LockheedU-2SSpy Plane10.61

Here's the Great-Grand Daddy of all Aspect Ratios lists.

(There were some notable difficulties- swing wing geometries didn't list different wing areas for swept versus non-swept, although some reading suggests it's about a 10 percent reduction). Also, canard configurations are a bit more difficult to compare (should the canard be included in wing area? I did not). Also bi-planes (Wright Flyer) counted both wing areas, although I've read somewhere that a rule of thumb is only a 10% gain in effective wing area for a biplane.

It's kind of fun to look at the data sorted in other ways too (might have to download them and then open them- quirky Google docs issues- even quirkier!):

By Manufacturer/Model

By Wing Span

By Wing Area


By Wing Loading (at MTOW)

Oh, what the heck- Here's the whole list! (Just in case there are difficulties opening the Google doc files. Plus, I was curious to see how big of a spreadsheet I could upload. "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should ..." :)

ManufacturerModelName/CommentsWingspan (ft)Wing Area (sq.ft)MTOW (lbs)A.R.(gross)Wing.Load
WainfainFMX-4Facetmobile (Homebuilt)152147401.053.46
Birdman, IncWing.suitDarwin Special5161801.5611.25
LockheedSR-71Spy Plane55.618001720001.7295.56
General DynamicsF-16XL(Cranked Arrow Wing)34.25646480001.8274.31
General DynamicsF-111.sweptAardvark325251000001.95190.47
FaireyDelta 2Supersonic Research26.8360138841.9938.56
NorthropYF-23Black Widow II43.6900620002.1168.89
RockwellSpace.ShuttleSpace Brick78.0628402300002.1580.98
BoeingX-32Ugliest Airplane Award36590380002.1964.41
ConvairF-102ADelta Dagger38.1661.5315002.2147.61
ConvairF-106Delta Dart38.25661.5418302.2163.23
VoughtXF5UFlying Pancake32.5475187722.2239.52
North AmericanX-15Rocket plane22.3200340002.49170.01
LockheedF-35A (USAF)Lightning II35460700002.66152.17
AvroVulcanBritish Flying Wing99.435541700002.7847.83
McDonnellF-4EPhantom II38.4530617952.78116.59
McDonnellF-15EStrike Eagle42.8608810003.01133.22
Wright BrosFlyer(Bi-plane, calc. w/o canard)40.35107453.181.46
RockwellB-1BLancer (wings swept)7919504770003.21244.61
MitsubishiF-2(F-16 Agile Falcon)36.5375330003.5588
General DynamicsF-16CFalcon32.7300423003.56141.01
McDonnellAV-8BHarrier II30.25243.4310003.76127.36
North AmericanF-100DSuper Saber38.8400348323.7687.08
McDonnell/Gen DynA-12Avenger II70.31308800003.7861.16
NorthropF-5ETiger II26.7186246643.83132.61
GrummanX-29Forward Swept Wing27.2188.8178003.9294.27
McDonnellF-18ESuper Hornet44.7500660003.99132.01
North AmericanA-5Vigilante53700629534.0189.93
VoughtA-7ECorsair II38.8375420004.01112.01
North AmericanF-86FSaber37313.4181524.3757.92
Handley PageB.1Victor11024061850005.0376.89
LockheedJetStar IIBiz Jet54.9542445005.5682.11
PiperPA-28-140Cherokee-fill in the blank3016021505.6213.44
North AmericanT-39DSaberliner44.5342.1177605.7951.91
BellX-1Rocket plane28130122506.0394.23
General DynamicsF-111.landingAardvark63657.41000006.04152.11
Hawker SiddeleyHS 125-700Biz Jet47353255006.2672.24
BAE SystemsMRA4(Evolved DeHaviland Comet)12725382323156.3691.53
GulfstreamG.450Biz Jet77.8950739006.3777.79
WittmanW10Tailwind (Homebuilt)249014256.415.83
Fairchild-RepublicA-10Thunderbolt II (Warthog)57.5506500006.5398.81
CessnaICitation-fill in the blank43.5278.5118506.7942.55
Cessna 310Twin prop3517946006.8425.69
CessnaBravoCitation-fill in the blank47.3322.9148006.9345.83
BellV-22Tilt Rotor, fixed-wing only45.8301.4605006.96200.73
Hawker800Hawker 80051.4373.9280007.0774.89
Hawker4000Hawker 400061.8530.8395007.1974.42
LearModel 60Lear 6043.8264.8235007.2488.75
Ford5-ATTrimotor ("Tin Goose")77.8835135007.2516.17
TerrafugiaTerrafugiaFlying Car27.5103.114747.3314.29
LearModel 45Lear 4547.8311215007.3569.13
NorthropYB-35Flying Wing (props)17240002090007.3952.25
NorthropYB-49Flying Wing (jet)17240001939387.3948.48
McDonnell-DouglasC-17Globemaster III169.838005850007.59153.95
PiperPA-39Twin Commanche36.817837257.6120.93
LockheedP-3Navy Patrol99.713001420007.65109.23
CessnaXBiz Jet63.6527364007.6769.07
GulfstreamG.550Biz Jet93.61137910007.7180.04
GulfstreamG.650Biz Jet99.61283996007.7377.73
PiperPA-42-720Cheyenne IIIA47.7293112007.7638.22
CessnaSovereignCitation-fill in the blank63.1510303007.8159.41
Cessna421CGolden Eagle41.121574507.8634.65
EmbraerERJ-140LRRegional Airliner65.8550.9465177.8684.44
Cessna340ATwin prop38.118459907.8932.55
CessnaV & UltraCitation-fill in the blank52.3342.6163007.9847.58
BeechPremier 1ABiz Jet44.5247125008.0250.61
Cessna 303Clipper/Crusader39189.251508.0427.22
CessnaXLS+Citation-fill in the blank56.3371202008.5454.45
MitsubishiMU-2Twin Turboprop39.2178115758.6365.03
BombardierGlobal.ExpressXRSBiz Jet941022995008.6597.36
Cessna425Corsair/Conquest I44.222582008.6836.44
McDonnell-DouglasMD-95(also Boeing 717)93.410011210008.71120.88
EmbraerERJ-195Regional Airliner94.39961152808.93115.74
Socata850Single Engine Turboprop41.6193.773948.9338.17
CessnaEncoreCitation-fill in the blank54.1322166309.0951.65
CessnaCJ1+Citation-fill in the blank46.9240107009.1644.58
CessnaIIICitation-fill in the blank53.5312220009.1770.51
ExtraEA-400Composite, piston37.7153.644099.2528.71
EmbraerERJ-175Regional Airliner85.3783855169.29109.22
BombardierCRJ-200Regional Airliner69.6520.4530009.31101.85
CessnaCJ2Citation-fill in the blank49.8263.6123009.4146.66
LearModel 85Lear 8561.5401335009.4383.54
RockwellCommander-500Piston Twin49.125567509.4526.47
General AtomicsMQ-9Reaper66460105009.4722.83
Cessna441Conquest II49.3253101659.6140.18
RockwellB-1B Lancer (landing config)13719504770009.62244.61
LockheedL-1049GSuper Constellation126.216541375009.6383.13
CessnaCJ3Citation-fill in the blank53.3294138709.6647.18
EclipseEA500Oh Be Nice37.4144.459509.6941.21
Cessna 206BCaravan52.1279.487509.7131.31
Dassault7XFalcon (three engine)86761700009.7291.98
BristolType 167Brabazon (post WW2, 8xradial)23053172900009.9554.54
CirrusSR-22who needs a name38.3144.9340010.1223.46
PilatusPC-12Single Engine Turboprop53.3277.81045010.2337.62
BoeingB737-800(with winglets)117.4134417420010.26129.61
Shorts360Twin Turboprop74.85442600010.2847.79
SwearingenMetroliner-23Twin Turboprop573101600010.4851.61
Beech2000AStarship (main wing)54.52811490010.5753.02
DiamondDZ40XLSingle Engine39.2145.3264510.5818.2
LockheedU-2SSpy Plane10310004000010.6140.01
Beech1900DPuddle Hopper583101712010.8555.23
Dornier328Twin Turboprop68.94313084011.0171.55
Saab2000Twin Turboprop81.36005026511.0283.78
DiamondDA42TTwin Engine44175374811.0621.42
ATRATR-42Twin Turboprop80.65864100011.0969.97
ATRATR-72Twin Turboprop88.8656.65026512.0176.55
PiaggioPA-180Avanti (main wing)46172.21155012.2967.07
Hawker SiddeleyHawker Siddeley HS 748Turboprop102.58294650012.6756.09
DeHavilandDHC-8-400Twin Turboprop93.26796450012.7994.99
SonexXenoshomebuilt sailplane45.7158127513.228.07
DeHavilandDHC-8-300Twin Turboprop90604.74300013.3971.11
LockheedRQ-3Dark Star69321850014.8326.48
GrobG-102Astir (sailplane)49.313399018.277.44
General AtomicsMQ-1Predator48.7123.3225019.2318.25
SchleicherASW28Sail Plane49.2113115721.4210.24
NorthropRQ-4AGlobal Hawk116.25402290025.0142.41
Scaled CompositesModel 311Global Flyer (non-stop SEJ)1144002210032.4955.25
RutanModel 76Voyager (non-stop prop)110.73629694.533.8526.78