April 1, 2014

WestJet goes metric

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:38

Published on 1 Apr 2014

Effective today, WestJet is changing the way we display our flight schedules, switching from our current system of “a.m.” and “p.m.” to metric time. For more information visit http://fly.ws/Metric-time.

From the official website:

WestJet converts to metric time.
Concerned about guest confusion, airline changes schedule display system.

WestJet announced it is changing the way it displays its flight schedule, switching from its current system of “a.m.” and “p.m.” to metric time effective immediately.

“We hope that by converting our flight schedule to metric time, it will simplify things for our guests and ensure they arrive for their flights with lots of time to spare,” said Richard Bartrem.

How to calculate your flight’s departure in metric time:

  1. Take your departure time in 24-hour time. Represented as HR:MIN.
  2. Multiply the HR by 60.
  3. Add the MIN.
  4. Take the total and divide by 1.44.

(HR x 60) + MIN = X / 1.44 = New metric flight time (in milliminutes)

Sample calculation:

5:42 pm = 17:42

(17 x 60) + 42 = 1062 / 1.44 = 737 milliminutes

March 22, 2014

Night Bombers, 1943

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Published on 30 Dec 2012

A unique record of the nightly air raids made on Germany during World War II. Archive colour footage from No. 1 Group, Royal Air Force operating Avro Lancaster bombers, in action, winter 1943. In the winter of 1943, RAF Bomber Command was sending massive raids almost every night into the heart of Germany. This is the story of one of them, an attack on Berlin. Although certain scenes had to be re-created for technical reasons, make no mistake, the raid is a real one and there are no actors.

Made by Air Commodore H.I. Cozens while station commander at Hemswell. This is the Only known colour record of the Bomber Command during WWII documenting a bombing raid targeting Berlin.

Another great find from the folks at Think Defence.

March 21, 2014

The Dambusters Raid – Full Documentary

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Published on 20 Apr 2013

On May 17th, 1943 the Royal Air Force carried out one of the most remarkable raids ever undertaken by any aircrew. On that night a squadron of Lancaster heavy bombers flew at low level across a blacked out Europe, towards the four great dams that delivered water and power to the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr. The aircrews had been trained for months to carry out this most daring and courageous of raids. Against a storm of anti-aircraft fire, they calmly flew their bombers in across the reservoirs, holding a specific height and speed, to deliver their strange cylindrical bouncing bombs, to explode against the face of the dams, and blow great holes in them. The factories of the Ruhr were crippled. 1300 German civilians died, and 53 aircrew were lost. For the very first time this programme explores both sides of a raid that has become an epic in the history of World War 2.

H/T to Think Defence for the link.

November 30, 2013

Creating a Scottish air force after independence

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

We looked at the problems of setting up a Scottish naval organization last week, and now Sir Humphrey turns his attention to the proposed air force for a post-independence Scotland. The proposed air force equipment from the white paper included “a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) squadron incorporating a minimum of 12 Typhoon jets based at Lossiemouth” and “a tactical air transport squadron, including around six Hercules C130J aircraft, and a helicopter squadron”:

The first challenge is the Typhoon fleet and how it can be operated to best effect. QRA is a very expensive thing to do properly — it’s not just about having pilots based in a cockpit ready to take off. Setting up QRA is about having a Recognised Air Picture, a means of sharing information and communicating it to the airbase. It is about having the C2 links in place so that in the event of a scramble, the means exist for the senior decision taking Minister to be able to authorise a shoot down decision and then for the pilot to carry it out in an appropriate manner. This ability needs to be available 24/7/365 and is an onerous task on aircrew and support teams.

In the SDF the reality is that with only 12 jets available, their entire effort will be taken up doing QRA — assuming two training aircraft come over, this gives a squadron of 10 aircraft to generate 2 airframes on a constant basis. Take two out of the equation for servicing, two on the flight line and two being prepared to take over, and this leaves you with a flex of four aircraft to conduct all training and flying for the fleet.

The MOD currently estimates that Typhoon costs £70k per hour to fly (full costs), so assuming that it flies for 30 hours per airframe per month over a year (an averaged figure as there will be peaks and troughs), you suddenly realise that it would cost £2.1 million per month, £25 million per year to keep each aircraft going, or a total of nearly £300 million per year to ensure that two jets were constantly available for QRA. This is well over 10% of the putative budget. Add to this the operating costs of RAF Lossiemouth currently exceed £100m per year, and you realise that nearly 20% of the SDF budget is going to be taken up just to run QRA.

As Sir Humphrey pointed out in an earlier post on the naval question, there’s no guarantee that lopping off a “fair share” of the UK’s existing equipment inventory makes any sense for the quite different needs of an independent Scotland. Again, the right approach is to ignore the equipment question at first and instead analyze the actual needs — what does Scotland need their air force to do — rather than building a wish list of impressive machinery that almost certainly won’t provide value for the money. An independent nation needs to protect their own airspace (or be involved in alliances to provide that protection communally), but that requires identification of actual or potential threats to Scottish interests.

Another problem with automatically adopting the same equipment as the UK is that the supporting organizations and infrastructure will also have to be created to utilize the equipment:

The other problem is who actually supports the aircraft — a lot of deep level RAF servicing has been contracted out now, and these contracts will be null and void for the SDF airframes. The SDF will either have to spend a lot of money to introduce servicing facilities (which are not cheap) or it will have to enter into all manner of very expensive commercial arrangements with UK companies to get them to support Typhoon in Scottish service. This sort of arrangement cannot be skimped either — if you don’t service your aircraft, then you quickly lose the ability to fly them. As such a newly independent Scotland may find itself hamstrung by a need to pay a great deal of money in support contracts and servicing contracts and not capital investment in new technology.


The proposal to acquire C130s seems similarly expensive. There is not, and has never been a C130 basing presence in Scotland. This means that the SDF would need to pay out from the start to set up a C130 support facility and hangar in Lossiemouth. They would also need to find sufficiently trained crews and groundstaff – a small point, but the C130 fleet has been based at Lyneham and Brize Norton for nearly 50 years. Finding a sufficient pool of operators and support staff to uproot from their home to go to a newly independent Scotland is going to be a major challenge in itself.

November 6, 2013

Taiwan suffers espionage leak

Filed under: China, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:17

Strategy Page on the most recent intelligence coup by the Chinese military:

Taiwan recently admitted that it had suffered some serious damage when it discovered that one of its air force officers (identified only as “Major Hao”) sold many technical details of the new E-2K AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft to China. Hao did it for money, and Taiwanese counterintelligence found over a dozen other Chinese intel operatives during the investigation that uncovered the E-2K leaks. Since the E-2K contains mostly American technology and is based on the E-2C use on American aircraft carriers, this intelligence disaster is going to cost America a lot as well. Since China now knows the details of how the E-2 electronics work, they can develop better ways to deceive and disrupt E-2 operations.

Earlier this year Taiwan received the last two of four E-2K aircraft from the U.S., where they have been sent for upgrading to the E-2C 2000 standard. The first two E-2Ks were sent in 2009. The upgrade cost about $63 million per aircraft. Taiwan bought two E-2Ks new in 2006 as well.

The Taiwanese E-2K is very similar to the American E-2C, which is being replaced with a newer model. In 2010 the U.S. Navy received its first E-2D aircraft. This is the latest version of the E-2 Hawkeye radar aircraft that was originally introduced in 1964. The two engine, 24 ton E-2 was never produced in large quantities (fewer than a hundred are in use). Six years ago the E-2 fleet reached a milestone of a million flight hours.


The U.S. usually does not export the latest versions of electronic equipment. Thus the Taiwan leak means the older American E-2C is compromised but not (to a great extent) the most recent E-2D model. But the Taiwanese are justifiably afraid that there will be even more reluctance by the United States to sell Taiwan the latest versions of anything because of the successful Chinese espionage efforts in Taiwan. Then again, maybe not. That’s because that espionage works both ways. The Taiwanese have been very successful using the same tactics (offering cash or using blackmail and other threats) against the Chinese. While the American and Taiwanese tech is more valuable (because it is more advanced) it’s useful to know the details of the best stuff the Chinese have.

November 5, 2013

Lake Michigan’s carrier fleet

Filed under: History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:21

I’d never heard of the US Navy’s carrier training ships that operated on Lake Michigan from 1942-45, so this link to a thread at Warbird Information Exchange from Roger Henry was of great interest:

This thread may give you a nice idea of what that exercise was all about. Many interesting images to study here and quite possibly of interest to those who are involved with the restoration of aircraft that have been recovered from the Lakes. I have also included a page from my dad’s logbook showing his 1st thru 8th carrier landings on the USS Wolverine in July 1944. Sources are the NMNA archives, Library of Congress photo archives, LIFE image archives.

This will be a large photo thread in a few parts so we’ll start with the two principal ships.

WIKI: USS Sable (IX-81) was a training ship of the United States Navy during World War II. Originally built as the Greater Buffalo, a sidewheel excursion steamer, she was converted in 1942 to a freshwater aircraft carrier to be used on the Great Lakes. She was used for advanced training for naval aviators in carrier takeoffs and landings. One aviator that trained upon the Sable was future president George H. W. Bush. Following World War II, Sable was decommissioned on 7 November 1945. She was sold for scrapping on 7 July 1948 to the H.H. Buncher Company.

The steamship 'Greater Buffalo' before it was converted to the 'USS Sable' (IX-81).

The steamship Greater Buffalo before it was converted to the USS Sable (IX-81).

Overhead view of the training aircraft carrier 'Sable' (IX 81) underway on Lake Michigan with an FM Wildcat making a deck launch from the flattop 1945

Overhead view of the training aircraft carrier Sable (IX 81) underway on Lake Michigan with an FM Wildcat making a deck launch from the flattop 1945

I was initially surprised that both training carriers were converted side-paddle steamers … I’d have thought the extra costs in converting to propeller drive would make them less-than ideal conversion subjects — you can clearly see in the second image that they left the side-paddles in place, so the main cost of conversion was the construction of the flight deck and repositioning the smokestacks to the starboard side (no hangar deck, elevators, or catapults in evidence):

WIKI: USS Wolverine (IX-64) a side-wheel excursion steamer built in 1913—was originally named Seeandbee, a name based upon her owners’ company name, the Cleveland and Buffalo Transit Co.[4] She was constructed by the American Ship Building Company of Wyandotte, Michigan. The Navy acquired the sidewheeler on 12 March 1942 and designated her an unclassified miscellaneous auxiliary, IX-64. She was purchased by the Navy in March 1942 and conversion to a training aircraft carrier began on 6 May 1942.[5] The name Wolverine was approved on 2 August 1942 with the ship being commissioned on 12 August 1942.[5][6] Intended to operate on Lake Michigan, IX-64 received its name because the state of Michigan is known as the Wolverine State.

The steamship 'Seeandbee' before it was converted to the 'USS Wolverine' (IX-64)

The steamship Seeandbee before it was converted to the USS Wolverine (IX-64)

A view of the USS Wolverine (IX-64) while underway in Lake Michigan 1942

A view of the USS Wolverine (IX-64) while underway in Lake Michigan 1942

And given that almost all the pilots were still learning their trade — these were training ships, after all — there were more than a few mishaps:

USS Sable (IX 81) showing a TBF hanging over the side after crashing during carrier qualifications on Lake Michigan.

USS Sable (IX 81) showing a TBF hanging over the side after crashing during carrier qualifications on Lake Michigan.

FM-2 Wildcat after crash onboard USS Sable

FM-2 Wildcat after crash onboard USS Sable

October 10, 2013

Defending an independent Scotland

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:33

Sir Humphrey has read the British Ministry of Defence paper on Scottish options in a post-independence scenario and has a few thoughts:

The paper nicely highlights the reality that you cannot slice up defence assets and turn them into a coherent military force – ORBATs may look impressive, but dividing them into something more meaningful is particularly difficult.

Additionally the paper highlights the issue of how one takes a world class military, optimised for power projection abroad, and then carves off a smaller chunk of it to focus on missions for which it was not designed. For instance, the idea that Scotland would keep running a modern air force built around Typhoon seems interesting, but where does the pilot training pipeline come from, how is this affordable and what happens when the Eurofighter nations move to upgrade their aircraft? Is it truly feasible to imagine a relatively small Scottish Defence Force being able to shoulder the burden of paying the costs of sustaining an increasingly obsolescent Typhoon fleet, which is no longer at the same standard as its multi-national peers?

The problem facing a newly independent Scotland seems to be that the UK military assets are simply not appropriate for what will be a low level defence force in a relatively small country. Stripped of the recruiting, support and logistical contracts and pipeline that have sustained the equipment, one can imagine a future Scottish Defence Force burdened down with legacy equipment which requires expensive training and support to run properly, and which is too expensive to meet what will be a very small budget.

One could almost argue that rather than take much UK military equipment, it would be more sensible for Scotland to instead take a large cash payment and procure a low level defence force (with UK forces providing sovereignty assurance in the interim) which better meets their specific needs. So, procurement of low level OPVs, simple vehicles and so on – in other words start from scratch with something that is feasible, and not take on equipment that is designed for a very different role.

Update: His look at the SNP’s proposed military structure from last year is also worth reading:

At the moment, the current policy seems to be that on separation, those army regiments deemed Scottish will become part of the SDF. Similarly, an equivalent amount of manpower, roughly 1/8th of all UK military assets and personnel will be offered to the Scottish Government. In broad-brush terms, this leads to an Army of about 10,000 troops, 5,000 air force and 4000 navy/marines (say 19,000 overall).

Here is where the fun really starts. Firstly, the armed forces do not neatly break into component parts which can be divided up. An infantry battalion may have 650 people on its strength, but there may be many more from supporting arms such as REME and so on who will be there to maintain and support weapons and equipment. Do the SNP want to take the supporting arms too?

Secondly — how will they attribute manpower against specialisations — the RN for instance has a deeply specialised manpower structure, made up of composite branches – it’s not just a mixy blob of 30,000 sailors looking good and drinking rum prior to catching the eye of hairy women with tattoos, it’s a collection of branches and capabilities.


The author knows relatively few individuals who would willingly wish to transfer to any SDF. Most of the Scots personnel he knows are immensely proud of being Scottish, but are also equally proud of belonging to something much greater in the form of HM Armed Forces. They relish the challenge offered by soldiering in a military that has a track record for being employed aggressively overseas. How many of them will willingly want to transfer to a SDF that is unlikely to be used in any similar manner?

The SDF is going to have a challenging initial few years — it will inherit people at all levels, but probably not enough for any one role. It’s going to take time to grow personnel into the jobs required of them, and even if it started recruiting on the day of independence, it would still take 5-10 years to grow the critical mass of SNCOs and junior officers needed to manage and lead the organisation.

September 23, 2013

The venerable B-52 – “sturdy, cheap, and good enough for government work”

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:24

Steve Chapman talks about the BUFF:

This bomber is the combat aircraft that will not die. In 1977, when Congress was debating whether to build a replacement called the B-1, the complaint was that the B-52 was older than the pilots flying it. This fact was supposed to capture its obsolete character and sagging decrepitude.

The pilots of the 1970s may no longer be fit for duty, and other planes of that era can be found only in museums. But the B-52, which began production in 1952 and stopped in 1962, has defied the actuarial tables. Air Force Capt. Daniel Welch is piloting a plane that his father flew during the Cold War and his grandfather flew in Vietnam, The Los Angeles Times recently reported.

Don’t be surprised if another generation of the family is in the cockpit before it goes into retirement. The Air Force plans improvements that will keep the plane around till 2040.


One of its virtues is relatively low cost, which presumably makes the Pentagon more willing to use it. The high price tags on the B-1 and the B-2 Stealth bomber mean the Air Force can’t buy as many of them and has to exercise more caution about putting them in harm’s way.

Another factor is that while more advanced aircraft possess capabilities that are rarely needed, the B-52 is perfectly adequate for most real-world contingencies. MIT defense scholar Owen Cote told me that since the 1990s, “we’ve been essentially continuously at war against smaller powers with weak or nonexistent air defenses, against whom the range, persistence and versatile payloads of the B-52 can be invaluable.”

July 23, 2013

San Francisco TV station tries using DMCA to hide embarrassing clip

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

At Wired, David Kravets reports on San Francisco’s KTVU and their attempt to hide the newscast where they “identified” the pilot and crew of Asiana flight 214:

While many of the videos of the segment were still live on Google-owned YouTube, the reason why the Fox affiliate has been demanding their removal doesn’t concern copyright.

“The accidental mistake we made was insensitive and offensive. By now, most people have seen it. At this point, continuing to show the video is also insensitive and offensive, especially to the many in our Asian community who were offended. Consistent with our apology, we are carrying through on our responsibility to minimize the thoughtless repetition of the video by others,” the station’s general manager and vice president, Tom Raponi, told Mediabistro today.

More than 180 were injured and three were killed July 6 when the Boeing 777 slammed on the tarmac.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, owners of websites where the content is user-generated are obligated to remove copyrighted material at the rights holder’s request, or face the same potential penalties as the uploader. A successful copyright lawsuit carries damages as high as $150,000 per violation.

July 13, 2013

TV station pranked

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

TV station KTVU actually reported that the flight crew on board crash-landed Asiana flight 214 were:

TV station pranked

Deadspin has more, including the video clip:

Bay Area Fox affiliate KTVU purportedly learned the names of the flight crew of Asiana flight 214, which crashed last Saturday at San Francisco International Airport, killing two. These — “Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow” — are not their names. The newscaster’s credulous reading puts it over the top.

H/T to Doug Mataconis for the link.

Update: Dave Owens offered the following explanation on one of my mailing lists:

What’s even more awful is that an intern at the NTSB gave them the names.

I imagine he’s a former intern now.

NTSB has apologized.

Update, 15 July: Asiana Airlines has lawyered up over the incident.

Asiana is suing KTVU-TV to ‘strongly respond to its racially discriminatory report’, Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin said.

She said the airline will likely file suit in U.S. courts. KTVU-TV did not immediately reply to emails sent by The Associated Press seeking comment.

The station was quick to correct the gaffe after an ad break following the humiliating broadcast, clarifying the names were clearly wrong and blaming the NTSB for the incorrect information.

Update, 29 July: Korean newscasters get a bit of revenge:

It looks like a Korean news agency is having some fun at KTVU’s expense. After the landing gear failure of the Southwest flight at LGA they showed this graphic with American pilot names “Captain Kent Parker Wright”, “Co-Captain Wyatt Wooden Workman”.

They even went as far as making up fake names for people to interview. Flight instructor “Heywood U. Flye-Moore” and skeptical passenger “Macy Lawyers”.

H/T to Tabatha Southey for the link.

July 10, 2013

How Avro salvaged a bad design to create the Lancaster bomber

Filed under: Britain, History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait goes back to his Airfix modelling days to rediscover his admiration for Avro’s Lancaster bomber. In the process, he discovers just how strange the evolution of that aircraft actually was:

In the late 1930s, believing that bombers would always get through and that they therefore had to have lots of bombers or lose the war, British Air Officialdom had two ideas about how to build a bomber. They accordingly announced two specifications, which different potential bomber-makers were invited to meet with their designs. They wanted a two engined bomber, like those that the Germans bombed Britain with in 1940 but better, or like the Wellington but better. And they wanted a much bigger four engined bomber, such as the Germans never got around to building, and like … well, like the Avro Lancaster.

So, the Lancaster was Avro’s answer to the second requirement? Actually, no. Or, not at first. Britain ended up with three four-engine heavy bombers, the Short Stirling, the Handley Page Halifax, and the Lancaster. But strangely, by far the worst of these three, the Short Stirling, was the only one of the three that was all along intended to be a four-engine bomber. Both the Halifax and the Lancaster started out as answers to the two-engine specification rather than the four-engine one.

[. . .]

In particular, all the work that Avro had done improving, as they had hoped, the fuselage of the Manchester, which had done nothing to improve the Manchester, suddenly came into its own in the new configuration. Ever since I built my Airfix Lancaster as a child, I have wondered about the oddity of that Lancaster fuselage. Simply, this fuselage seemed too small for the airplane as whole. And the wings seemed too big. Not ugly exactly, in fact not ugly at all, but nevertheless a bit like the arms of one of those misshapen body builders with excessive biceps. My Lancaster photo (above) even shows how the wings between the fuselage and the inner two engines go straight out rather than tapering, as if these wings were only widened late on in the design process. Now, all that makes sense. The Lancaster’s fuselage began life as the fuselage of a smaller airplane. No wonder it looked to me too small. It was too small. The Lancaster’s wings look stretched because they were stretched. It is only now, after half a century and more of gazing at the Lancaster, that one looks at the Manchester, and sees its fuselage as too big and its wings as too small.

The birth of the Lancaster illustrates a general point about making airplanes, which explains why successful airplanes often fly on for so long. Consider the airborne WW2 mega-hit, the DC-3 (aka the Dakota), and then later the big Boeings, the B-52 and the 747. The Lancaster didn’t last as long as those hardy perennials, because propeller driven heavy bombers were soon replaced by jet bombers (like the B-52) and by intercontinental ballistic missiles. But even the Lancaster flew on for many decades, in the only slightly altered form of its close cousin, the Avro Shackleton, which only went out of service in 1991!

July 9, 2013

NYT writer files classic “First World Problem” article

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:35

In yesterday’s “Morning Jolt” email, Jim Geraghty made some sport of a New York Times article by James Atlas:

The comments section underneath the article raises the fairly glaring point that Atlas’s rose-colored memories of flying before these harsh Darwinist times (probably to be blamed on Republicans) ignore the fact that once you adjust for inflation, air travel is a lot more accessible to a lot more people today. In the “golden age” of attractive stewardesses that he romanticizes, flying was too expensive for most of middle-class America.

    Come on. Look at the prices (adjusted for inflation) of air travel back in the 60s that you so glorify. In 1972 it cost me about $350 round-trip to fly from Atlanta to Chicago to go to college (so usually I took Greyhound). According to online inflation calculators, that’s the equivalent of $1950 today. If we want the same level of service we got in the 60s and 70s, we’d need to pay equivalent prices. Airline travel in “economy” today is pretty much analogous to what bus travel was in the 70s; cheap enough that many people can afford it but dirty, uncomfortable, crowded, and miserable. Comfortable travel is available now, as it was then, to the more well-to-do — if you can afford to pay for first class, then your flight is far more tolerable than if you’re in economy. In 1972, the one time I flew, it was a lot more enjoyable than taking the bus. But then, as now, one got what one paid for. We expect airfares to be rock-bottom low and accessible to all — but we can’t then expect service levels to match what they would be if the airlines still charged the prices they used to charge.

I would note that higher-end air travel is one of those rare products where a large portion of the consumer base isn’t spending their own money. (How many business class or first-class passengers bought those tickets with personal funds, as opposed to having their employer pay for it?) When it’s somebody else’s money, hey, anything goes, or at least as much as you can get away with. (Of course, that’s at other employers. For the transatlantic flights for the Norway cruise, Jack Fowler has booked me a space in an overhead luggage rack.)

If everyone paid out of his own pocket, those passengers willing to pay $659 to $2,337 for a one-way first-class ticket from D.C. to Los Angeles nonstop would largely disappear. But those folks willing to pay those exorbitant costs — really, those companies willing to pay those costs for their employees — are what make the (relatively) cheap price of $234 for the same flight in coach possible. (I got those figures from plugging in a flight from D.C. to LA with one week’s notice into Expedia.)

Also … did no editor at the Times think it was bad timing to run a column complaining about insufficient legroom and stale ham sandwiches right after the crash at San Francisco airport?

July 2, 2013

Better batteries through soy

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:07

The Economist on a promising new development in battery technology:

LITHIUM-ION batteries are hot stuff. Affordable, relatively lightweight and packing a lot of energy, they are the power source of choice for everything from mobile phones to electric cars. Unfortunately, the heat can be more than figurative. Occasionally, such batteries suffer malfunctions that lead to smoke, flames and even explosions. In gadgets, such meltdowns can be distressing and dangerous. In aircraft, they can be fatal. Earlier this year airlines grounded their entire fleet of Boeing’s next-generation 787 passenger jet after the lithium-ion batteries installed in two planes caught fire. Last month they have been permitted back in the air after being retrofitted with a protection system in the form of a tough steel box that vents directly outside in the event of a fire.

A more comforting solution, of course, would be to build a lithium-ion battery that could not burst into flames in the first place. Katie Zhong at Washington State University might have just such a device. For the last few years, she has been working on battery technology for flexible and bendable electronic gadgets. By blending a polymer called polyethylene oxide (PEO) with natural soy protein, she had made a solid electrolyte for lithium ion batteries that could be bent or stretched to twice its normal size without affecting its performance.

Like all batteries, lithium-ion rechargeables consist of two electrodes separated by an electrolyte. In a typical lithium-ion cell, the electrolyte is a solution of lithium salts and organic solvents. Charging drives lithium ions from the electrolyte into a graphite anode. On discharge, the reverse happens, with a balancing flow of electrons through the device being powered.

June 20, 2013

Colby Cosh on re-visiting the TWA 800 crash investigation

Filed under: Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:39

I remember there were lots of “shoot-down” speculations about the loss of TWA flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in 1996, and that the formal investigation seemed unusually inconclusive, but I didn’t know that the National Transportation Safety Board was considering re-opening the investigation after all this time:

Many witnesses insisted they had seen a streak of light ascend toward the plane before it exploded, creating an initial suspicion that TWA 800 had been brought down by a missile. That is the theory favoured by the “Independent Researchers.” Although they are very careful about referring to “an external explosion” as their pet alternative to the official story — which is that an electrical short circuit blew up a fuel tank — it is clear enough that they are thinking “missile”. And it is clear enough that they suspect the investigation was obfuscated at the behest of powerful forces in the government, either because terrorists had succeeded in embarrassing its intelligence-gathering or because the explosion was actually the result of a military accident. Much is made of the radar signature of a mysterious craft that appeared on the surface of the water briefly at around the time of the disaster.

It makes for a wonderful case study in the way conspiracy theories arise. The FBI was permitted to horn in on the NTSB investigation precisely because, and only because, there were so many witnesses offering contradictory accounts of the explosion. That, in turn, allows the Independent Researchers to hang upon the FBI every error, imperfection, and bit of official superciliousness perpetrated in the course of the investigation. The bureaucracy’s sincere desire to rule out a crime if no crime took place becomes, in the eyes of skeptics, circumstantial evidence of a crime concealed.

[. . .]

The NTSB’s respectful response to the Independent Researcher petition raises the question of whether there might exist a “Snowden Effect” resulting from the revelations recently made by a certain four-eyed former tech contractor for the National Security Agency. The TWA 800 conspiracists/countertheorists have been hard at work almost since the evening of the accident/incident. They have a filmed documentary in the works — which is, incidentally, a sizable point against them in my personal ledger: I observe an increasingly unshakeable rule of thumb that all documentaries are, if not lies, then practically indistinguishable from lies. (If you wish to disagree, I ask only that you send me a five-minute video clip of you doing or saying absolutely anything, and allow me to apply the composition, colour and film-grain effects, editing, and music of my choice.) Obviously they are not taking advantage, per se, of the climate of hostility and paranoia created by Edward Snowden’s account of the American security state. They were already hostile and paranoid.

But Snowden’s globally televised dissident activity may serve to create a more receptive audience for conspiracy theories about the U.S.A. It might, on the other hand, make American government agencies more aware of their public image and more eager to at least appear somewhat libertarian and sensible, a bit less like servants of bloodthirsty alien lizard-beings. And, then again, there’s a third possibility: Snowden’s audacity might shame other officials trying to retire with secrets in their bosom into stepping forward sooner. I think I have, unfortunately, listed these conceivable Snowden Effects in the order of their real likelihood.

June 12, 2013

Federal government to go ahead with Pickering airport

Filed under: Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:05

As my house is directly under the most likely approach to the new airport, I suspect my property value is about to take a big dive:

After four decades, the long-standing controversial plan to build an airport on the Pickering Lands is scheduled for takeoff.

But that doesn’t mean residents are on board.

At a press conference held on the lands Tuesday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the 7,500 hectares of land in Pickering, Markham and Uxbridge will be transformed into a new airport and a 2,000-hectare Rouge National Urban Park.

“These lands were acquired by the government more than 40 years ago with the intention of developing an airport, but it never got off the ground,” Flaherty said. “The uncertainty ends today.”

The plan is to begin work immediately, he said. It will take at least 10 years to build the airport in the lower quadrant of the lands with Hwy. 7 and Brock Rd. as a southeastern boundary. No cost has yet been assigned to the construction of the airport.

Of course, our local politicians love it:

Durham Council chairman Roger Anderson said the airport will reduce congestion on Hwy. 401.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to drive to Mississauga to go to Ottawa?” Anderson said. “For us, it’s a big win. It will show the province Durham should get one job for every three, which we fought about for years and the other thing — It’s not only good for Durham, but for Scarborough and York and Markham.”

The Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade is also backing the airport proposal, but said it wants to study it in more detail and consult with members. The board has been advocating for congestion relief in Durham Region and said the airport would be “a game changer.”

I wonder how long it’ll take after it opens to become the new Mirabel?

It was intended to replace the existing Dorval Airport as the eastern air gateway to Canada; from 1975 to 1997, all international flights to/from Montreal were required to use Mirabel. However, Mirabel’s distant location and lack of transport links made it unpopular with airlines and travellers. Moreover, Montréal’s economic decline relative to Toronto kept passenger volumes from rising to the levels originally anticipated. And so Dorval Airport not only remained viable but resumed handling overseas flights. Eventually, Mirabel was relegated to the role of a cargo airport. Initially a source of pride, the airport became an embarrassment, widely regarded in Canada as being a boondoggle and a white elephant. Ironically, the Dorval Airport was renamed Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport after the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, whose government spearheaded the Mirabel project to replace Dorval.

For “ironically” in the Wikipedia description, read “deservedly”.

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