Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #276

Today's award goes to the soldiers of Sweden's Life Regiment Hussars K 3. According to a Swedish news report:

A group of elite Swedish soldiers made a colossal error during a demolition exercise at the weekend when they blasted their way into the wrong house.

The incident took place during what was supposed to be a routine training operation, for a group of soldiers from Sweden's Life Regiment Hussars (K3), an elite cavalry division involved in intelligence and paratrooper training.

On its website, the Life Regiment Hussars characterize themselves as “light, highly mobile units with substantial strike power.”

Among other credentials, the Hussars also boast of having “long experience in the area of intelligence.”

But something nevertheless went wrong for the soldiers involved in an exercise which took place in Röjdåfors in northern Värmland in west central Sweden, near the Norwegian border, according to the Nya Wermlands-Tidningen (NWT).

The mission, performed in conjunction with the Swedish home guard (Hemvärnet), called for the soldiers to capture a house.

However, the elite unit somehow managed to hit the wrong target, and instead bombarded a house located about 200 metres from their intended target.

Collateral damage included blown out doors and window frames, before the soldiers discovered their mistake.

There's more at the link.

Now that's a monumental 'oops' in anyone's language! One hopes the owner wasn't at home at the time, or the troops would also face charges of practicing medicine without a license - in that they cured his non-existent constipation, at once and instanter!


Amazing pictures of a bird strike in Germany

The Daily Mail has published several photographs of a German Boeing 737 airliner hitting a flock of starlings on takeoff from Dusseldorf. It's believed that over 200 of the birds were ingested by an engine, which was reported to sound like 'sticking a bit of metal pipe into a blender'.

I've cropped and enlarged a close-up view of the engine in question, with part of the fuselage and landing gear around it, to show the flock at the moment of impact.

The pilot was able to return to the airport and make a safe landing. Congratulations to him on what must have been a hairy experience (or feathery, at any rate!), and on keeping control of his aircraft in what could have deteriorated into a disaster.

More details and pictures at the link.


The Roman Polanski gerfuffle

I'm . . . I don't quite know what to call it. 'Annoyed' is far too mild a word, but 'outraged' doesn't work either, because the idiots in Hollywood have caused that so often it's become a cliché. 'Fed up' will have to do for now, inadequate though it feels.

It seems that over a hundred Hollywood celebrities have come out in support of director Roman Polanski, who's in jail in Switzerland on a US warrant for his arrest on charges of child rape.

Roman Polanski in 2005 (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

His extradition hearings are due to begin soon. According to the report, Whoopi Goldberg has gone so far as to claim that what he did wasn't really 'rape-rape' (her choice of words).

Let's not lose sight of the facts. Polanski pleaded guilty to the charges against him, which were outlined by the prosecution in nauseating detail, including giving illegal narcotics to a 13-year-old girl before performing oral, vaginal and anal sex upon her, despite her terror and repeated pleas for him to stop. The sickening details are recounted in this news report, if you want them. For myself, having dealt with far too many pedophiles behind prison walls, I don't want to sully this blog with such filth.

Unwilling to face prison, Polanski fled the US after pleading guilty, and has spent the past thirty-odd years living a life of luxury, wealth and privilege in Europe. The nations where he lived obligingly refused to extradite him - not overtly, which would have aroused comment, but simply by ignoring his presence, neglecting the international warrant for his arrest. The Swiss finally appear to have grown a spine, and acted on the warrant. Good for them!

If you or I did what Polanski admitted, under oath, to doing, then we'd be facing the rest of our lives behind bars. No question. Why the hell should he escape the consequences of his actions just because he's a gifted film director? Why should that convey some sort of immunity to him? What do these Hollywood glitterati think they're doing, asking for an exception to be made in his case? What if it were their daughter he'd raped and sodomized? (I shudder to think of the possibility that some of them might actually tell their daughters to be proud of the fact they'd 'had so famous a lover'!)

Bring him back to the USA, sentence him, and throw him in prison along with all the other child molesters. The other convicts have interesting ways of showing their . . . ah, displeasure with such creatures - and Polanski will deserve every bit of it. In spades.


Amazing, beautiful, and as rare as rare can get!

I'm astonished to read of a cloth (described as either a tapestry or a shawl in different publications) woven entirely from the silk of the Madagascan golden spider. NPR reports:

This week in New York, the American Museum of Natural History unveiled something never before seen: an 11-by-4-foot tapestry made completely of spider silk.

Weavers in Madagascar took four years to make it, and the museum says there's no other like it in the world.

It's now in a glass case at the museum. The color is a radiant gold — the natural color of the golden orb-weaving spider, from the Nephila genus, one that's found in several parts of the world.

Madagascar red-legged golden orb-web spider (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Simon Peers, a textile maker who lives in Madagascar, conceived the project. ... [He] researched previous attempts, then teamed up with fashion expert Nicholas Godley to hire local weavers to try the near-impossible.

. . .

"The spiders are harnessed ... held down in a delicate way," Godley says, "so you need people to do this who are very tactile so the spiders are not harmed. So there's a chain of about 80 people who go out every morning at four o'clock, collect spiders, we get them in by 10 o'clock. They're in boxes, they're numbered, and then as they get silked, about 20 minutes later, they get released back into nature."

Peers picks up the thread of the story.

"It's called dragline silk," he says. "A spider can produce up to seven different types of silk. The dragline is what frames the web; it's the thicker silk on the outside. Also, it's extremely strong. The first panel that we wove, we were quite stunned by the fact that it sounded a bit like guitar strings, pinging like metallic guitar strings. I mean, it is a very, very unusual material."

A very careful person simply pulls the thread out of each spider and wraps it on a spindle. It's then put on a hand loom and woven.

The main threads consist of 96 twisted silk lines. The brocaded patterns in the tapestry — stylized birds and flowers — are woven with threads made up of 960 spider silk lines.

Peers says they never broke a single strand, yet the tapestry is as soft as cashmere.

Peers and Godley say they spent a half-million dollars of their own money to make the tapestry, which is on display at the museum for several months.

There's more at the link.

In another interview, Peers pointed out that there were unexpected difficulties in gathering the silk.

Initial attempts to recreate an elaborate mechanical contraption that could harness up to 24 spiders at a time were thwarted when the female spiders started eating each other.

Mr Peers [said]: 'We would start with 20 and end up with three very fat ones.'

Well . . . er . . . yes, quite so! I'd imagine being digested halfway through the spinning process would definitely affect one's productivity!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #275

Today's title goes to whoever in Paterson, NJ thought it was a good idea for police officers, on foot, to lasso an escaping bull.

A 1,400-pound bull escaped from a northern New Jersey slaughterhouse and dragged officers with a lasso down a street before being captured and sedated.

The bull was being unloaded at ENA Meat Packing Inc. when it broke loose just before 8:30 am on Monday, said John DeCando, spokesman for Paterson Police's animal control division.

Police tried to catch the bull by lassoing a rope around the animal's neck, but it dragged officers down the street instead, The Record of Bergen County reported.

Luckily, traffic was light during the bull run, and officers finally corralled the animal after it ran 10 blocks. Mr DeCando was able to sedate the animal after it was cornered.

There's more at the link, including a splendid photograph of the bull and police.

Surely someone did the math? I mean . . . weight of angry bull: 1,400 pounds. Weight of three or four police officers, even those with severe donut-overdose problems? Perhaps 1,000 pounds in all. Result? Bull wins, every time!


Moving - Day 2

Ah, the joys of moving house . . .

1. Use the master bathroom for the first time and discover that the toilet, when flushed, leaks water from its base onto the floor. Not good - or hygienic.

2. Use kitchen taps for the first time and find that when you twist the tap to turn the water on, the entire tap turns, not just the handle.

3. Call landlord (a personal friend). Landlord uses rude word (or two, or three, or . . . ). Plumber will be here on Thursday. Until then, please use second bathroom, OK? Pretty please?

4. Stub toes on endless series of boxes and bags, all of which are laying all over the place. I swear some of them have mated overnight and borne offspring, all of whom are actively plotting to trip me ass-over-teakettle every time I pass.

5. Telephone line transferred today from old house to new one (including new number). Connect modem to check that DSL is active. It isn't. Spend half an hour tinkering - no joy. Eventually, in desperation, try unplugging telephone from other half of DSL filter jack. Suddenly DSL works fine! Clearly, what was a working configuration at the old place isn't going to work here. Find other places to plug in phones, so that DSL modem can have a connection to itself. (I suppose I should re-wire the connections, but since this is a short-term rental, it's not worth the fuss and bother.)

6. Meet neighbors' cat in driveway. Cat (very furry, very fat, very friendly) immediately tries to follow me indoors, urgently indicating imminent starvation, and pointing out that I don't have a cat indoors to keep me company. Must . . . resist . . . mrrow? . . . feline . . . mind . . . meeeow! . . . control . . .

7, Washer, drier and freezer supposed to be delivered today. Guess what? Yep - make that Thursday. Call purchaser of my old home, ask permission to delay final move-out until Thursday so that I'll have somewhere to put my frozen food when I remove it from the old freezer (which she's bought, along with other major appliances). Fortunately, no problem.

8. Supposed to have two people work with me this afternoon on getting more boxes over here. Guess what? Yep - no-shows. Make alternative arrangements (with other people) for tomorrow morning. Closing scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, so I'll have to stop moving boxes and get showered before heading into town for the signing.

9. Food. Ah. Yes. I'm hungry, but haven't unpacked any cans. Pizza! Pizza! (Diet? What diet?)

10. Neighbor's cat likes pizza.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Moving day

Not much energy to blog tonight, friends. I moved house today, so I'm sitting in a new (rented) place, surrounded by boxes, bags and more boxes, trying to figure out where supper's coming from (I know it's in a box somewhere - the question is, which box? In which room?)

I'll try to get back to normal blogging tomorrow, if a heap of boxes doesn't fall on me and crush me!


Sunday, September 27, 2009

John Stossel on Obamacare

I've written in the past about the manifold problems presented by the current Administration's plans for centralized, subsidized health care. John Stossel, in a piece for ABC's 20/20 investigative reporting program, puts things into a short but handy perspective. Here it is.

I couldn't agree more! Obamacare is an abomination, at least as currently planned by the Democratic Party and the Administration. Delenda est Obamacare!


Weekend Wings #34 - Stealth Aircraft: The Old Becomes New Again

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get out another article in the 'Weekend Wings' series. Unfortunately, they take a lot of time to research and prepare, and pressure of other work in recent months has meant that I didn't have the time to do a proper job. I don't want to publish a half-baked article that isn't comprehensive enough to satisfy me, let alone my readers! I have a couple more in preparation, and I hope the next one won't take so long.

Last year I published an article about 'invisible aircraft', where experts postulated that new technology might make airliners invisible to those nearby. That was an isolated reference . . . but a wave of new information coming out in dribs and drabs from various sources suggests that this is an idea whose time has come. The experts are calling it 'visual stealth', and claim it's the next wave in stealth or low-observable technology for aircraft, following the 'radar stealth' already achieved.

The field of 'visual stealth' encompasses every arm of the military, and everything from the lowest technology to the highest. In its simplest form, it can be a change of color, or a change of physical camouflage pattern to hide something against its background. For example, deep-diving nuclear submarines have traditionally been painted black, because in the deep waters where they habitually patrol, there's little or no light, and a black hull is thus well hidden. However, in littoral operations (i.e. near the shore - something that's becoming more common in a post-Cold-War world), black is a very poor choice, as it stands out against the color of the sea in shallow water.

Here, for example, is the USS Chicago (SSN-721), a US Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine, photographed at periscope depth from an aircraft flying overhead. The black paint on her hull, including the gray areas on top where it's faded through exposure to sea air and foot traffic, and the green of underwater plant growth, can be clearly seen against (and through) the blue of the sea.

The Royal Navy is taking steps to render its nuclear submarines less visible in shallower waters, and the US Navy is almost certainly doing likewise. It was reported in 2006 that the Royal Navy had developed a new shade of blue paint for its submarines, which is almost invisible against typical sea conditions in their operating areas. Below we see HMS Torbay, a Trafalgar-class nuclear attack submarine, first in her old black color and then in her new blue paint.

Of course, if HMS Torbay happens to patrol in an area where the sea is green, rather than blue, this might be a handicap: but even then, the blue should be less visible than a pitch black color.

The next step in visual stealth is to avoid solid colors altogether, and move to a pattern of colors and textures that will blend in better with a given background. This has been a common practice in most of the wars of the 20th century, but the advent of digital technology has meant a quantum leap in the effectiveness of camouflage. From uniforms to vehicles to weapons, the new digital camouflage is revolutionizing what can - and can't - be easily seen and identified.

As an example, let's take the work of a Canadian company, Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp., which has become a world leader in digital camouflage techniques. They developed the KA-2 digital camouflage pattern that was adopted by the Jordanian armed forces, first as a uniform:

then on their vehicles:

and they're now considering it for their warplanes. Hyperstealth took this photograph of a USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft (top image, painted in 'Compass Ghost' gray, of which more later) and digitally edited it to apply their KA-2 digital camouflage pattern to it (bottom image). Note how much less visible the aircraft is, particularly from far away. It would be very hard to visually locate or identify it from above at a range of more than a mile or two.

The non-camouflaged fuel tanks beneath the wings are a stark reminder of how visible the 'standard' USAF paint job is to other aircraft against such a background!

Hyperstealth have also sold their camouflage patterns to other armed forces. Here's a Slovakian Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29 in their CloudCam pattern.

Hyperstealth is also looking into digital camouflage patterns for warships. Here they took an existing photograph of a US warship, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81), digitally altered it to apply their Razzcam digital camouflage scheme, and modified the background to represent a typical littoral operating environment. The difference is staggering!

Clearly, from anything further than close range, an enemy observer would have a hard time distinguishing the ship from her background, and even then might not be able to readily identify her, due to the visual confusion caused by her camouflage.

The principle is also being applied to hide buildings in surroundings where they appear unsightly, or detract from natural beauty. For example, Hyperstealth worked with the Bureau of Land Management of the US Department of the Interior to camouflage a generating station, to make it stand out less from its scenic background. These before-and-after pictures illustrate their success.

Hyperstealth is far from alone in developing digital camouflage patterns. The US armed forces have adopted them in their respective uniforms. The US Marines developed MARPAT, the US Army developed ACUPAT (also known as ARPAT), the US Air Force has its Airman Battle Uniform, and the US Navy has a new Working Uniform. They all use the same design principles. As an example, here are some Marines wearing snow MARPAT camouflage on an exercise (it also comes in desert and woodland patterns).

Such digital camouflage principles may also be applied to vehicles of the US armed forces: indeed, the US Marines have already applied an experimental digital camouflage scheme to one of their F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter aircraft.

Nevertheless, despite the very real advance that digital camouflage represents, it retains one fundamental disadvantage: it works only against an appropriate background. If one took soldiers wearing that Jordanian KA-2 camouflage uniform and put them in a field of snow, they'd stand out like sore thumbs! Ditto taking US Marines in snow MARPAT and placing them in a field of grass. The Slovakian Air Force MiG-29 shown earlier, or the US Marine F/A-18 shown above, will be well camouflaged against the typically cloudy, hazy skies of central Europe: but put either one low over a field of bright green grass, and it'll be visible for many miles to any aircraft flying at a higher level.

Attempts to make aircraft less visible to other aircraft, or from the ground, date back to World War I. In 1916 the German Linke-Hoffman R.I bomber was built using a type of celluloid covering over the aft fuselage and tail, in an attempt to render those parts transparent.

The experiment was not successful, largely due to the poor quality of materials available at the time, and the aircraft never reached production status or saw operational service. Other aircraft were painted in 'earth tones' to make them blend in better when flying low over the ground, but these efforts were seldom centrally co-ordinated, being typically the product of individual initiative.

During World War II the US Navy undertook Project Yehudi in an attempt to render its anti-submarine aircraft less visible during their approach to a target. A Grumman TBF Avenger was fitted with a series of lights around the engine cowling, along the leading edges of the wings and on the tailplane, as shown in the photographs below.

In tests during 1943, it was shown that the Avenger without lights could be seen silhouetted against the sky from up to twelve miles away. This meant that a submarine could see the aircraft and crash-dive before the aircraft could see the submarine. However, when the lights were switched on and adjusted to match the intensity of the light in the sky, the aircraft could approach to within two miles before being seen, giving its crew ample time to detect the submarine and set up an attack approach.

A B-24 Liberator heavy bomber was also equipped with Yehudi lights, with equally good results.

However, the Yehudi Project never progressed to production status, because improvements in radar technology meant that aircraft could detect submarines at much greater ranges, and no longer had to rely on getting close to them in order to detect them visually.

During the Vietnam War the idea was resurrected in the Compass Ghost program. USAF F-4 Phantom fighters were visible from a great distance, due to their size and the smoke trails left by their engines. Enemy fighters could easily turn away in time to avoid combat, or circle around outside visual range to come in behind the US fighters and ambush them. To make the Phantom harder to see, it was fitted with lights, and painted in a combination of light blue and gray to match the hue of the sky.

The exercise proved successful, and the distance at which the Phantom could be visually detected was said to have been reduced by 30%: but the lights were not adopted for use in service. However, the color scheme would be further refined, and become known as 'Compass Ghost gray'. It has since been applied to many different types of aircraft in USAF service. It's shown below in an early form on F-4 Phantom fighters of the USAF's 456th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.

The story of the development of the first 'stealth' aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk, is well known, and I won't repeat it here. Those who'd like to read about it will find an excellent overview here. The F-117 was followed by the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, and the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. The F-35 Lightning II, the product of the Joint Strike Fighter program, is currently nearing entry into service. It's less stealthy than the F-22, being optimized for the strike role rather than interception and air-to-air combat, but is nevertheless classified as a stealth aircraft.

All these aircraft are shaped in such a way as to deflect and/or absorb radar impulses. They're not actually 'invisible' to radar, but the range at which they can be detected is drastically reduced. In terms of relative radar cross-section, the F-4 Phantom might be described as the equivalent of a whole flock of birds; the F-117 Nighthawk as the equivalent of a sparrow; and the B-2 Spirit or F-22 Raptor as the equivalent of a large winged insect such as a wasp.

All of these aircraft are well-known by now, and I don't need to speak of them in detail. However, it should be noted that the F-117 and B-2 both share one critical limitation. They were and are designed to operate within range of enemy defenses at night only. They may be invisible to radar at all except close range, but they can be seen, and they're not fast enough to run away from fighters or missiles. They must therefore rely on darkness to hide them. (The F-22 is fast enough to be able to approach - and, if necessary, outrun - enemy defenses during daylight, and it's presumed the F-35 will be too.)

It can thus be seen that stealthiness against radar is not enough, in and of itself, to render an aircraft immune to enemy defenses. It should be as stealthy as possible against any possible means of locating and identifying it, whether electronically, by radar; in the infra-red spectrum, through the heat signature of its engines or their exhaust, or its airframe, heated by friction as it passes through the air; or visually. Radar and infra-red stealth is well advanced, but the latter field, visual stealth, began to receive increased attention in the 1990's, as it was the field where 'stealthy' aircraft were - and remain - most vulnerable.

During the 1990's increasing attention was paid to the aspect of all-round stealthiness. One of the most important projects of that decade - one that is largely forgotten today, which I find strange - was Boeing's Bird Of Prey technology demonstrator aircraft.

Its existence was revealed only at the end of its test program in 2002, and it was mothballed almost immediately thereafter. However, it brought together several aspects of stealthiness in a combination never before achieved by another manufacturer. An article published at the time it was unveiled analyzed them well:

Technologically, Bird of Prey represents a level of stealth that is more advanced than anything seen on any other known aircraft.

. . .

Everything about the Bird of Prey - high sweep angles, a low-profile cockpit that masks the inlet from the front view, stabilizing surfaces blended smoothly into the wings, flexible control-surface hinge covers and razor-sharp edges - speaks of an aircraft designed for an unprecedented low RCS [radar cross-section] level. Most sources quote the RCS of current stealth aircraft - the F-117, B-2 or F-22 - at around -30 to -40 dBsm (decibels relative to a square metre target). In everyday terms, this is equivalent to a small-to-medium bird at the top end and a large insect at the lower end. But a paper co-authored by an employee of Overholser's company, Denmar Inc, refers to aircraft with an RCS of -70 dBsm, or rather smaller than a mosquito.

This would suggest that the Bird of Prey was built to demonstrate ultra-low RCS levels in flight, as Lockheed's Have Blue had done in the -30 to -40 dBsm level two decades earlier. The problem, however, is that it is very difficult to obtain any measurements of such a stealthy aircraft without flying dangerously close to it.

The clue to the puzzle is the Bird of Prey's colour scheme, which is clearly designed for low visibility in daylight, even including a pattern of counter-shading around the inlet. The shape of the aircraft, too, is rather interestingly formulated to avoid shadows.

Now, recall a number of stories in various comers of the media in 1996-97, suggesting that the USAF was evaluating different forms of active counter-illumination, using light sources to match the luminance of the target to a backlit sky.

In its basic form, this technology dates back to the US Navy's Project Yehudi of the 1940s. Counter-illumination was also evaluated on an F-4 in the early 1970s, under the Compass Ghost programme, and a system developed by Scipar Inc of Buffalo, NY, would have been tested on Have Blue had both prototypes not been lost during tests. However, visual stealth becomes more important as RCS is driven down, because the visual signature becomes dominant - that is, the signature that can be detected at greatest range.

It's also worth noting that the Bird of Prey was fitted with a Pratt & Whitney JT15D5 engine. This engine's 3:1 bypass ratio is certainly higher than optimal for a stealth aircraft, requiring a larger inlet and exhaust system than would be needed for a pure jet engine. However, it is better from the viewpoint of both infra-red and acoustic signatures.

Disclosing the fact that Boeing has demonstrated the ability to achieve stealth in daylight is very important.

There's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis. Here's a video clip of the Bird Of Prey demonstrator at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio, along with some footage of the aircraft in flight.

Remember that Bird Of Prey was publicly revealed only at the end of its test program, in 2002. In the seven years since then, I'm sure progress has been rapid. The technology demonstrated on Bird Of Prey has been incorporated into subsequent programs by many manufacturers, and the fact that the aspects identified in the article above haven't been talked about much since then speaks volumes in itself. If they're not being talked about, it's because they're highly classified, and people want to keep them that way. What we see flying on the F-35 today is early- to mid-1990's technology, which is finally reaching production status. What's incorporated into new prototypes like Northrop Grumman's X-47B (described in Weekend Wings #30, and shown below) is post-Bird Of Prey technology, and even that's already being superseded in the laboratories.

Rollout of Northrop Grumman X-47B in December 2008 (image courtesy of Northrop Grumman)

Artist's impression of X-47B in flight (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Radar cross-section and heat signature reduction are well-known disciplines, and progress there is a matter of incremental improvements. However, in the field of 'visual stealth', we're on the verge of a quantum leap in technological capability, with the advent of 'active camouflage'. This works on the principle of taking an image of what's on the far side of an object, and projecting or displaying that image on the side nearest the observer, so that from any sort of distance, the object disappears against its background. Because the projection or display is constantly updated to reflect what's on its far side, the object will remain relatively invisible even if it's moving.

The picture below illustrates the principle. The camera on the left is photographing the scenery behind the television screen. The screen is displaying that image in a 1:1 reproduction, true to scale. As a result, one doesn't notice the TV set itself: one instinctively looks at the scene it's displaying, ignoring the screen.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Scientists and engineers are working to develop films that can be applied to the surface of vehicles and buildings, to display such images in real time. If used on an aircraft that also employed anti-radar stealth technology and had a suppressed infra-red signature, the aircraft would become as close to undetectable - i.e. invisible - as makes no difference.

This is far from a pipe-dream. A report from the University of Southern California notes:

Researchers at the University of Florida are in the process of developing an ‘electrochromic polymer’. These thin sheets cover the aircraft’s white skin and sense the hue, color and brightness of the surrounding sky and ground. The image received is then projected onto the aircraft’s opposite side. When charged to a certain voltage, these panels undergo color change.

At the Tonopah test range airstrip in Nevada, another system was tested; as claimed by a technician working at the base, an F-15 equipped with this technology took off from the runway only to disappear from sight 3 Km away.

Yet another similar “skin” is being tested at the top-secret Groom Lake facility at Area 51 in Nevada. It is composed of an electromagnetically conductive polyaniline-based radar-absorbent composite material. The system also disposes photo-sensitive receptors all over the plane that scan the surrounding area; subsequently the data is interpreted by an onboard computer which outputs it much like a computer screen.

Perhaps one day, in the very near future, one may fly in a completely invisible aircraft.

There's more at the link. The USC report appears to be confirmed by a recent article in Flight International, which states:

The secrets of next-generation stealth concepts remain well-kept within the aerospace industry, but a clear trend is beginning to emerge. The next wave of progress in stealth technology will be to reduce an aircraft's signature simultaneously across all bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, from microwave waves to foil radars to visible light to deceive even the naked eye.

Lockheed is understood to have launched the pursuit of visual stealth technology for next-generation combat aircraft, to include a future version of the F-35.

Asked to clarify its studies, the company replies: "Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and our advanced development programmes are continuously working to mature technologies and capabilities to improve all aspects of stealth. All [Lockheed] stealth technologies and research in this area are sensitive and/or classified and are co-ordinated with the appropriate US government agencies."

Just as wing-mounted lamps were used in the Second World War to obscure Grumman TBM-3D Avenger dive-bombers from ground observation, the next generation of US combat aircraft are likely to feature techniques to make them invisible to a naked human eye - or electro-optical sensor.

. . .

Sensors embedded in an aircraft skin can now precisely measure the brightness of the air as an aircraft moves through the sky.

In a modern update of Project Yehudi, Kevin Dowling, an engineer for Philips Electronics North America, has patented a concept to embed sensors and light emitting diode-based lighting into the skin of a stealthy aircraft.

Dowling says the technology exists in the lighting industry to sense the contrast between the colour of the sky as the aircraft passes through it, then adjust the colour radiated by LED panels to match it. From a certain distance, an observer would see only a shimmery, blurry object moving through the air, he says.

In recent weeks, a major West Coast-based US defence contractor has contacted Philips to develop the concept for naval applications, he says. Philips is not in a position to develop and sell a visual stealth system, Dowling adds, but would supply lighting components to a systems integrator.

More recently, a joint team of researchers at Duke University and the Southeast University of Nanjing unveiled a composite material whose properties are invisible to certain microwave bands, which is the first step in developing a structure capable of cloaking.

There's more at the link.

As the above article mentions, we're seeing renewed attention being paid to the principle of electroluminescence - the idea behind Project Yehudi in World War II. Last year a small unmanned aircraft with a wingspan of less than 7 feet demonstrated how the use of electroluminescence made it disappear against the sky from an altitude of only 1,000 feet. A report and images may be found at the link.

I'm sure the people who thought up Project Yehudi, almost 70 years ago, and their successors in Project Compass Ghost, more than 40 years ago, would never have dreamed that their idea would represent cutting-edge technology in the 'stealthy' world of today's aircraft! I wonder whether any of them are still alive? If so, I hope they have the opportunity to visit some of the plants where modern applications of their techniques are being studied. I think it would be a fitting and appropriate gesture, just as Jack Northrop was allowed to see the design of the B-2 Spirit before he died, to acknowledge that his idea for a 'flying wing' had at last come to fruition.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #274

Today's litigious Doofus is from New York.

Dalton Chiscolm is unhappy about Bank of America's customer service -- really, really unhappy.

Chiscolm in August sued the largest U.S. bank and its board, demanding that "1,784 billion, trillion dollars" be deposited into his account the next day. He also demanded an additional $200,164,000, court papers show.

Attempts to reach Chiscolm were unsuccessful. A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment.

"Incomprehensible," U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said in a brief order released Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

"He seems to be complaining that he placed a series of calls to the bank in New York and received inconsistent information from a 'Spanish woman'," the judge wrote. "He apparently alleges that checks have been rejected because of incomplete routing numbers."

. . .

... the money Chiscolm wants could dwarf all the bank's other problems.

It's larger than a sextillion dollars, or a 1 followed by 21 zeros. Chiscolm's request is equivalent 1 followed by 22 digits.

The sum also dwarfs the world's 2008 gross domestic product of $60 trillion, as estimated by the World Bank.

. . .

Judge Chin gave Chiscolm until October 23 to better explain the basis for his claims, or else see his complaint dismissed.

There's more at the link.

Hmm. So you want damages totalling a sum many times larger than the entire planet's gross domestic product? Good luck cashing that check, Mr. Chiscolm! How about asking for it in $1 bills, while you're at it?


Aerotoxic syndrome: the latest developments

Back in February 2008, in Weekend Wings #7, I examined the topic of aerotoxic syndrome. At the time, I wrote:

. . . it appears that engine oil compounds and byproducts are increasingly implicated as pollutants in engine "bleed air", to the point where they are major contributors to health risks. These threaten not only flight safety, but also the long-term health of those exposed to them.

The topic has been of growing concern to a great many people, as outlined in the earlier article.

Now, seemingly out of the blue, BAe Systems has teamed with Quest International to produce a system to purify cabin air.

UK-based Quest International and BAE Systems have jointly launched a revolutionary cabin air treatment system that promises both to sterilise recirculated onboard air and eliminate toxins from pressurised engine bleed air supplied to the cabin. It has been certificated by the European Aviation Safety Agency for use on the British Aerospace 146 and Avro RJ regional jet series, and has been given a supplemental type certificate for use on Boeing 757s.

Marketed as AirManager, the system is easily retrofittable to all commercial aircraft types, according to Quest founder David Hallam, but it has been trialled first on the 146/Avro RJ series and the 757, the two types known to have experienced the highest incidence of reported cabin air contamination by toxic organophosphates in pyrolised engine oil fumes.

. . .

Hallam says that the air treatment system was originally developed to purge nursing homes of smells, bacteria and viruses, and it is now becoming extensively used at medical establishments. The partnership with BAE was set up, he says, because the potential for the system in commercial air transport was clear, and he needed to work with an aerospace partner to test it in the aviation environment.

There's more at the link.

The timing seems suspiciously appropriate. As David Learmount of Flight Global points out:

BAE Systems, in partnership with Quest International, look as if they have come up with a brilliant solution to a real problem - contaminated cabin air.

But if you had asked BAE the day before the 15 September press conference that launched this new system (called AirManager) whether contaminated cabin air was a problem, they would have said it was not - or at least not one of any significance.

When I asked - at the press conference - why BAE had produced a solution for a problem that does not exist, the response was accurate and well-rehearsed.

Not the whole truth, maybe, but true. The new system, says BAE, will improve the quality of cabin air, and offering "improvement" is a sufficient incentive for installing this equipment. They have a "duty of care", the company said. How strange that, in previous discussion of this subject, that expression was not evoked.

. . .

BAE and the UK Government have told us that events involving oil-based organosphosphate fumes/mists getting into cabin air have been incredibly rare, and when they happen it is not at harmful levels.

I was informed at the press conference that it is more or less a coincidence that the first two aircraft types that have been fitted with this clever invention are the two that have suffered "fume events" more commonly than any others: the BAE Systems 146/Avro RJ series and the Boeing 757.

Maybe we should just be grateful that, finally, it looks as if a viable solution to contaminated cabin air has been found?

No, not good enough. The rights of crew and passengers whose health has already been ruined by neurotoxin fume events have to be properly recognised. The same treatment should apply to those whose health has yet to be damaged by flying in aircraft that suffer unfortunate fume events while their aircraft is awaiting fitment of AirManager (or any other worthy competitor that emerges).

Within a month or two of today, Professor Clement Furlong of the University of Washington, Seattle, will have identified the biomarkers that scientifically link sickness in passengers and crew to aircraft fume events. Then the industry's lawyers will no longer be able to rely on legal technicalities to avoid facing reality.

At least the launch of AirManager is a sign that reality is beginning to be faced in a practical and beneficial way.

Again, there's more at the link.

I'm glad to see that such a system is now available: but I hope that something will be done for the thousands who've allegedly been affected by a problem that the authorities, aircraft manufacturers and major airlines appear to have ignored for a very long time. I suspect the legal fight is far from over.


Now that's an expensive 'Oops!'

I'm amused to read of an accounting mixup that's headed to court.

The University of Notre Dame mistakenly gave a $29,000 gratuity check to a catering employee. Now it's suing to get its money back.

The South Bend Tribune reports that on April 17, the university made a mistake and sent Sara Gaspar a check for $29,387 when it should have been in the amount of $29.87. The lawsuit alleges that instead of notifying the university about the wrong check, Gaspar spent the big pay day on bills and a new car.

Gaspar said she left messages for university officials, and when her call wasn't returned, she assumed it wasn't a mistake. She adds that she was even told by her supervisors that the check wasn't a mistake and that they would pass on the message to the human resources department.

"I guess because it was there and I was in a bad situation, I went out and spent it," Gaspar told the Tribune. "I was so excited ... I thought, I could pay some of these bills."

The university hasn't issued a statement, but Gaspar's attorney said that because the money was under "gratuity" and not "wages," Gaspar was in the clear.

Her attorney may have a point. If she did, indeed, attempt to contact the university, telephone records should list her calls. If they do, and if her supervisors did, indeed, advise her as she claims, and if the payment was, indeed, listed as a 'gratuity' rather than 'wages', then there's no legal reason I can see why she should not have assumed it was for real. Certainly, because there was no regular monthly amount involved (as would have been the case with wages or salary), there wouldn't have been a discrepancy to alert her, and that can't be used as an argument by the University.

This should make for a very interesting court case.


A piece of maritime history comes ashore

The SS Laurentic was built in 1908 for the White Star Line, later owners of the infamous RMS Titanic.

SS Laurentic in 1910

Laurentic and her sister ship, SS Megantic, served the trade between England and Canada. They used different engineering plants as an experiment to determine which would be more suitable for the larger Olympic-class liners that were to follow them: Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. According to the Great Ships Web site:

Laurentic and her sister Megantic were used by their owner and their builder as an experiment. Although otherwise identical, they were outfitted with different propulsion systems. Megantic had a conventional arrangement of twin screws powered by quadruple expansion engines, while Laurentic was given a novel triple screw system, with triple expansion engines powering the wing propellers and exhausting into a low pressure turbine linked to the center propeller. Laurentic's arrangement proved to be both faster and more economical. As a result, that system was chosen for use in White Star's Olympic-class liners.

Both ships were to gain a great deal of publicity when the murderous Dr. Crippen fled from England to Canada with his mistress aboard another ship, the SS Montrose. Alerted by a signal from Montrose's Captain, Chief Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard took passage across the Atlantic aboard Laurentic, which was a faster ship than Montrose, and arrived in Montreal before her. Boarding Montrose in the St. Lawrence River along with the pilots, Dew arrested Dr. Crippen and his mistress, and took them back to England aboard Megantic.

Chief Inspector Walter Dew (center, in black hat) leads a handcuffed
Dr. Crippen down the gangplank of SS Megantic in Liverpool, 1910

Dr. Crippen was found guilty of murdering his wife, and hanged in late 1910. His mistress, Ethel le Neve, was acquitted. Dr. Crippen has gone down in history as the first criminal to be captured by means of wireless communication.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Laurentic and Megantic were immediately mobilized as troopships, transporting Canadian forces to England. In 1915, Laurentic was converted to an armed merchant cruiser. She was used to transport German prisoners and civilians from that nation's West African colonies after they were taken over by British forces, and later sent to the Indian Ocean and Far East, where she served as an auxiliary cruiser.

SS Laurentic in 1915, prior to her Armed Merchant Cruiser conversion

In late 1916, Laurentic returned to England. In January 1917 she loaded 3,211 bars of gold, worth about £5 million at the time (today worth at least £250 million, or about US $400 million), into her second-class baggage room. It was to be taken to Canada en route to the USA, where it would pay for munitions.

Laurentic sailed from the Royal Navy base at Lough Swilly in Ireland on January 25th. Almost immediately she struck a mine, part of a field laid by the German submarine U-80 off Fanad Head. She sank within an hour, taking with her almost three-quarters of her crew. Only 121 survived out of 475 souls on board, most perishing due to the bitter cold of wind and water during the winter season.

Needless to say, with so valuable a cargo aboard, salvage efforts were instituted immediately. The Deep Image Web site notes:

During the same month of her loss Lieutenant-Commander G. C. C. Damant was summoned to an urgent meeting with the Admiralty and was given the task of recovering the lost gold. [He was] selected as a man with a reputation as an experienced and efficient naval diver, and somebody whom had carried out a string of successful and dangerous operations.

By September 1917 Damant and his team of divers, working in twenty-three fathoms [138 feet of water] had recovered £800,000 worth of gold from the wreck. Little did Damant realise when he met at the admiralty offices that he was about to begin a seven year salvage epic to recover the gold. Still to this day the quantity of gold that was recovered from the wreck stands as the greatest amount ever recovered from a sunken shipwreck. Damant's salvage is well documented, and the story of the recovery appears in almost every treasure book ever published.

Another reviewer has noted:

Perhaps the most famed recovery in terms of money salvaged vs. cost to salvage was the HMS Laurentic. A converted White Star liner, the Laurentic struck a mine near the Irish Sea in 1917 while carrying 43 tons of gold worth five million pounds when a pound was a pound. In salvage operations that consumed parts of six years, all but 25 of 3211 gold ingots were eventually recovered for 99.2 percent recovery at a cost of only 2.5 percent of total value recovered.

The wreck was largely dismantled during the salvage operation, as can be seen in the two photographs below.

Some of the gold bars were recovered more than 30 feet below the surface of the seabed, where they'd sunk into the soft mud of the bottom. It's presumed the missing bars are still buried there, perhaps even deeper.

Ownership of the wreck of the Laurentic was later purchased by Mr. Ray Cossum of Ireland. Shares in the wreck have been offered to the public. It's hoped that some or all of the outstanding 25 bars of gold may yet be found. Today, they'd be worth approximately £10 million (about US $16 million). Those hopes may be slim, but greed springs eternal . . .

Which brings us to the point of this post. One of Laurentic's 6" cannon, weighing 10 tons, was raised from the wreck in 2007. After a long restoration, it's now been mounted on the quay in Downings Bay, as a memorial to the wreck and those who died aboard her.

Diving enthusiasts are regular visitors to the wreck of the Laurentic, which lies at a depth of 130-140 feet, easily within reach of scuba apparatus. Here's a video of a recent dive on the wreck.

May those who died aboard Laurentic rest in peace: and may her cannon, now mounted as a memorial, remind us of the perils always faced by those who 'go down to the sea in ships'.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #273

Today's award goes to the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department in California.

A new and expensive mobile law enforcement command center that officials say is critical to emergency response in San Joaquin County is illegal to drive on California roadways, forcing officials to spend more taxpayer dollars to correct the problem.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department said the $500,000 vehicle is designed to coordinate emergency responses in natural disasters and fast-paced criminal investigations, but it cannot be used because it is too heavy.

The two-axle vehicle weighs about 2,060 pounds too much under California law, and the manufacturer will have to add another axle to hold up the weight and make it street-legal.

The vehicle was built in Ohio, where it is legal to drive on roadways, and was in use for about six months on local roadways until the Sheriff's office discovered the problem.

"Without the fix, we wouldn't be able to use the vehicle legally on California roadways," said Lt. John Williams of the San Joaquin Sheriff's Department.

There's more at the link.

Ah, yes. That would be rather embarrassing . . . to roll up to the scene of a disaster, only to have your command vehicle ticketed by other responding officers! One might even suspect that evil-minded mean-spirited officers from other agencies, which lack such spiffy command vehicles of their own, might take a certain malicious delight in doing so!


To my readers who drive off-road . . .

. . . do, please, be extremely careful if your vehicle gets stuck, and you have to pull or tow it out (or be pulled or towed by someone else).

An acquaintance got into difficulties in a muddy patch yesterday, and didn't know enough about towing, winching, etc. to get his vehicle out safely. He's ended up in hospital with a broken hip, broken ribs, a broken arm and internal injuries after a steel cable snapped and whiplashed into him. Fortunately, his injuries are survivable, for which his wife and children are duly grateful: but with the pins the doctors have inserted, he'll have a built-in barometer for the rest of his life!

If you haven't studied the problem, I highly recommend this Web site for a primer in everything you need to know about hauling stuck vehicles out of their predicament. (Thanks to Alex C. for recommending it to me and others, some time ago.) It's a gold mine of information about the additional strain that being stuck in mud, or at an angle, will put on towing gear, over and above the actual weight of the vehicle, and provides clear instructions as to how to address the problem.

Even if you don't go off-road yourself, the information on the Web site is extremely useful as general knowledge. Highly recommended reading. In fact, I think I'm going to print it out and keep a copy in my truck - just in case.


Your taxes at (stupid) work

I'm sure you'll be as irritated as I am to find out how the National Institutes of Health are spending our tax money.

Lawmakers in Washington are calling on the National Institutes of Health to explain why millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on seemingly ridiculous research projects, including:

- how dragon boating can help cancer survivors;

- how canoes can help cultural identity;

- how snorting cocaine creates anxiety.

In a letter to NIH director Francis Collins, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) on Thursday demanded to know the screening procedures and review criteria used to approve $1.6 billion in stimulus grants and another $20 million in grants from the regular NIH budget.

"It's outrageous," says Walden. "It's beyond embarrassing in my book. I don't think there's enough oversight being done there."

FOX News identified more than a dozen suspect studies, many of which were funded by stimulus dollars, and compared them to Walden's research, to come up with over 30 studies that appear to be wasteful and silly -- and often on subjects who are not American.

Among those grants was $73,000 to study whether the Asian tradition of dragon boat racing will enhance the lives of cancer survivors more than just walking; $65,472 to study the relationship between HIV and sex in St. Petersburg, Russia; and $700,000 for a study that examines how taxes, trade and politics affect tobacco sales in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations in Southeast Asia.

. . .

The NIH is the primary federal agency that conducts and supports medical research, but money is tight and competition is stiff. Just 9,460 of the 43,467 applications submitted - 21.8 percent - received funding in 2008.

There's more at the link.

Dragon boating and cancer? Canoes and culture? What have the NIH administrators been sniffing? (Or drinking, for that matter!)

If only 21.8% of applications for funding were approved, just what sort of influence was wielded to get these particular applications through the process? And if these are representative of what was approved, what sort of applications were turned down, for Heaven's sake?

Bureaucrats! Grrr!


He should buy a lottery ticket!

This is one lucky guy!

A roadsweeper today told of his relief at being alive - after a commercial plane crash-landed on top of him.

A BAe Jetstream 41 airliner of SA Airlink, similar to the crashed plane

Abraham Mthethwa, 48, was working outside at 8am yesterday when the 29-seater jet hit difficulties after taking off from Durban International airport in South Africa.

As the stricken plane crashed it ploughed straight into the father-of-two from behind - breaking both his legs and leaving him with serious head injuries.

The Jetstream aircraft eventually came to a halt at a nearby school.

Today Mr Mthethwa described the terrifying seconds before the crash and said he could hardly believe he was alive to tell the tale.

Speaking from his bed in intensive care, he said: 'A colleague and I were sweeping the road near the school. I heard the plane but I thought it was going past.

'I'm in a lot of pain at the moment but I am going for an operation tomorrow. I can't remember much but I am so happy to be alive.'

There's more at the link.

He can say that again! Being clobbered by a crashing airliner isn't something that's terribly survivable at the best of times! With luck like that, I'd be buying lottery tickets. I couldn't lose!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sometimes the little guy wins after all!

Congratulations and kudos to Ann Minch, who mounted a one-woman crusade against Bank of America for its treatment of her, and called for a consumer's revolt against it and other banks like it.

On September 8th, Ms. Minch posted this video on YouTube.

Within days it had 'gone viral', with tens of thousands of views. On September 11th, she posted this follow-up video.

It seems Bank of America couldn't take the heat. The Consumerist reports:

A BoA executive contacted Minch to talk about her situation, her video, and her debts, and negotiated a 12.99% interest rate. The executive explained to her that her interest rate was hiked up to over 30% because of one missed payment. In 2008.

Interestingly, the bank has not asked her to stop her Internet activities or to take the video down. She plans further "debtors' revolt" activities in the future, and hopes to help other Americans in similar situations. As banks tighten their lending standards and are generally more cautious, this is a good thing for all credit card customers to keep in mind.

There's more at the link.

Ann Minch posted this video about her victory on September 19th.

A professor has pointed out that such consumer activism is growing in popularity - and having an effect.

Tom Hollihan, a communications professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Journalism in Los Angeles, said social networking sites such as YouTube and Facebook have caught the attention of companies big and small.

"She was able to use it to embarrass the bank," Hollihan said by phone Monday. "Social networking sites are very useful in a way to get the word out and help drive consumer choices in a way businesses have to take notice."

Hollihan noted there are several examples in which consumers have voiced their outrage with companies over the Internet.

"One of the most dramatic is the Whole Foods political activism against the founder," Hollihan said.

. . .

Even more impressive is Canadian singer-songwriter Dave Carroll's YouTube protest song against United Airlines' treatment of his guitar. Posted in July, "United Breaks Guitars" has generated more than 5.5 million views.

Carroll is scheduled to speak in Washington, D.C., today during a Congressional hearing on passenger rights.

Meanwhile, Minch told her audience Saturday that the war against the big banks isn't over. She has started a Web site ( that's under construction.

"Just because my personal account situation has apparently been resolved, this is a small victory for the debtors revolt movement," Minch said Saturday on YouTube. "The movement marches on."

And so it should! More power to you, Ms. Minch. Fight the good fight!