The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Today's reading list

If only it weren't another beautiful early-summer day in Chicago, I might spend some time indoors reading these articles:

Time to go outside...

Busy weekend

Just a few things in the news:

And hey, summer begins in three days.

Stupid anti-union tricks

Delta Airlines' management showed this week that they have no clue how their greed comes across:

Two posters made by Delta as part of an effort to dissuade thousands of its workers from joining a union drew a torrent of criticism after they were posted on social media Thursday.

The posters included messages targeting the price of the dues that company workers would be paying if the union formed.

“Union dues cost around $700 a year,” one noted. “A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.”

The other, with a picture of a football, was framed similarly.

“What does $700 mean to you?” it said. “Nothing’s more enjoyable than a night out watching football with your buddies. All those union dues you pay every year could buy a few rounds.”

Delta made $5.2 billion in pre-tax income in 2018 and gave away about $1.3 billion to its employees in bonuses, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Union supporters were quick to point to the company’s financial success in recent years — it made $10.5 billion in revenue the first quarter of the year and saw its profits increase 31 percent to $730 million. Its chief executive, Ed Bastian, reportedly received $13.2 million in compensation in 2017.

Nice work, Delta. Yet another reason I fly American.

Can't suspend disbelief on this point (GoT spoilers)

If you haven't seen Game of Thrones Season 8, episode 4 ("The Last of the Starks"), stop reading now.

I need to rant about the impossible—not just improbable, but impossible—success of the Iron Fleet's attack in the middle of the episode.

<rant>

Now, I get that Game of Thrones is fantasy. White walkers, dragons, magic, and all that, I get it. I gladly suspend my disbelief in the fantasy elements of fantasy stories all the time. As a relevant example, when the Night King speared Viserion last season, it made sense, because the Night King was a magical being. Obviously he had a magic spear! I'm cool with that.

But dammit, get shit right when it's not a fantasy element.

Unlike the Night King, Euron Greyjoy is not a magical being, no matter what he thinks of himself. So him shooting down Rhaegal with a battery of ship-mounted, artillery-sized crossbows was total bullshit. It served the plot 

Hitting a fast-moving aircraft with a deck-mounted gun is so insanely difficult that navies could not reliably do it until the 1960s. You need computer-assisted, radar-guided targeting systems and gyroscopically-stabilized guns. Or ship-to-air guided missiles, which have radar and computers built in. Even then, they miss all the time.

Before computers, anti-aircraft guns worked by saturating the sky with rapid-fire, explosive ordnance. Flying through hundreds of exploding 50mm rounds will, sometimes, bring your plane down—but not as often as one might expect. And that's true even with guns mounted on solid ground. Ship-mounted AA guns gave sailors more of a feeling than a fact of protecting their ships from aerial attack. Just ask, oh, anyone who served on a ship before the Vietnam War. Or the guys on the Arizona.

Only after the 1890s, thanks to an invention US Navy brass didn't even understand at the time and almost killed, could a ship even hit another ship reliably from any distance over 100 meters. Even in World War I ships would pound away at each other with 15-inch guns and hit one time out of 100. (Of course, one or two hits with ordnance that size could sink a ship.)

The problem is roll. Ships roll in the water, even when at anchor, even in nearly-still water. Deck-mounted guns therefore need to float freely in their mounts so that they don't change position after you have a firing solution on your target. That was the invention the US Navy didn't even want until the officer who invented it demonstrated it in a live-fire exercise.

But even if the ships sat in completely placid water, the Iron Fleet's crossbows would have huge variations in accuracy because their projectiles lack flight stability. They had small fletching and the crossbows themselves provided no rifling. (Notice the bolts in the show don't spin in flight, even though archers in ancient times knew enough to add spin to their arrows by tweaking the fletching.) I would bet half the Lannister gold that one of those things firing from a fixed position on land at a range of 1,000 meters couldn't hit a barn twice in 100 shots.

So: The idea that a ship-mounted crossbow could hit a dragon in flight at a range of well over 1,000 meters while the dragon is actively evading it is so stupid I'm annoyed that it happened even once, let alone multiple times.

And let's not even discuss the energy required to launch a ballistic projectile that large across that distance. Energy that comes from human beings winding them up. It would take minutes to reload those things using human power. So even if they scored a nearly-impossibly-lucky, fatal hit on Rhaegal, Drogon would roast them alive while they were reloading.

Bottom line: unless the Iron Fleet secretly brought a modern destroyer to the battle, they couldn't have hit Rhaegal if he were sitting on the next boat, let alone flying evasively thousands of meters away. Hell, they couldn't have hit Denarys's ships at that range, except by accident.

And no, that's not my only problem with the episode, but it's the one that annoyed me the most.

</rant>

Quick links

The day after a 3-day, 3-flight weekend doesn't usually make it into the top-10 productive days of my life. Like today for instance.

So here are some things I'm too lazy to write more about today:

Now, to write tomorrow's A-to-Z entry...

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

More on the 737 MAX 8 crashes

Pilot and author James Fallows points out this Seattle Times article as a good explanation of how the Boeing-led safety process for the 737 MAX 8 airplane may have contributed to their recent accidents:

The FAA, citing lack of funding and resources, has over the years delegated increasing authority to Boeing to take on more of the work of certifying the safety of its own airplanes.

Early on in certification of the 737 MAX, the FAA safety engineering team divided up the technical assessments that would be delegated to Boeing versus those they considered more critical and would be retained within the FAA.

But several FAA technical experts said in interviews that as certification proceeded, managers prodded them to speed the process. Development of the MAX was lagging nine months behind the rival Airbus A320neo. Time was of the essence for Boeing.

A former FAA safety engineer who was directly involved in certifying the MAX said that halfway through the certification process, “we were asked by management to re-evaluate what would be delegated. Management thought we had retained too much at the FAA.”

“There was constant pressure to re-evaluate our initial decisions,” the former engineer said. “And even after we had reassessed it … there was continued discussion by management about delegating even more items down to the Boeing Company.”

Wow, that sounds familiar. And this is why we need competent, well-funded regulators for safety-critical industries.

The Ethiopian government says they'll release the preliminary accident report in 30 days.

The world panics about an airplane

Two Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes have crashed shortly after takeoff in the last few months, killing hundreds of passengers and crew. As a result, the European Union, the UK, China, and other countries have grounded the model pending investigations. Notably, the FAA has not. In the US, only American and Southwest are flying the new plane.

This is, simply put, panic. But no one wants to be the guy who will get blamed if another one goes down, even though that is highly improbable.

The Lion Air crash in Indonesia back in October seems related to a software change in the 737 Max 8 that the pilots didn't know about. That accident is still under investigation. Obviously so is Monday's crash in Ethiopia, with the flight data and voice recorders only retrieved yesterday.

While the Washington Post runs a story about how similar the crashes appear, and the President spouting off about how planes are too complex to fly these days, I turn to fellow pilot James Fallows for a dose of reason:

In the Lion Air crash, the pilots apparently kept trying to pull the plane’s nose back up. The MCAS system kept pushing it down. The automated system eventually won. The question that’s not yet answered about that crash is why the pilots didn’t turn off or disable this system. Such fail-safe override controls are built into every automated flight system I’ve ever heard about. As Patrick Smith discusses in his post, it’s possible that the pilots didn’t understand how the new MCAS system worked, or what it would be trying to do. It’s possible that they didn’t know where the overrides were. It’s possible that … well, anything might have occurred.

Is this what happened in the Ethiopian Airlines case as well? Was the AOA-sensing system that triggers the MCAS flawed or broken? Were the automatic controls trying to push the plane down, down, down, while the pilots fought to keep it up? Did the pilots try to override or disable the system? (For instance, by lowering the plane’s flaps, which happens on every landing and is designed to automatically disable the MCAS system.) Were they caught by surprise and unaware of what that system was doing? Were they fully aware, but still unable to alter the fatal path down?

Or was something else, something entirely unrelated, responsible for this crash? Something that had nothing to do with this model of airplane, or these new automated systems? At the moment, I believe no one knows. That is what Boeing, the Ethiopian authorities, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the world’s airlines are trying to figure out. There are enough differences between the two crashes—for instance, in the fluctuations in speed and altitude before impact—that the causes could turn out to be wholly unconnected.

Fallows links to "Ask the Pilot" Patrick Smith, with this also reasonable thought:

For pilots, dealing with the unwanted nose-down command would be, or should be, straightforward. The MCAS commands, faulty or not, can be overridden quickly through a pair of disconnect switches. Why the Lion Air pilots failed to do this, if in fact they did, is unclear, but unaware of the system’s defect in the first place, we can envision a scenario in which they became overwhelmed, unable to figure out in time what the plane was doing and how to correct it.

“Though it appears there’s a design flaw that Boeing will need to fix as soon as possible,” I wrote in November,“passengers can take comfort in knowing that every MAX pilot is now acutely aware of this potential problem, and is prepared deal with it.”

The Ethiopian accident, though, makes us wonder. With the Lion Air crash fresh on any 737 MAX pilot’s mind, you’d expect the crew to have recognized the malfunction right away and reacted accordingly. Did a disconnect somehow not work? Were they so inundated by a cascade of alarms, warnings, and erratic aircraft behavior that they failed to recognize what was happening? Or was the problem something else completely?

We won't know for a long time, in any event no sooner than the FDR and CVR data gets analyzed.

The last moments of winter

Today actually had a lot of news, not all of which I've read yet:

And now, good night to February.