The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Actually, it is rocket science: personal edition

One of my friends from high school, Beth Moses, today became the 571st person to travel into space:

Virgin Galactic sent three human beings on Unity for the first time in Friday's supersonic test flight, which reached three times the speed of sound on its way up. Just before the flight, Richard Branson's space tourism company told CNBC that astronaut trainer Beth Moses is on the company's spacecraft Unity, along with the two pilots.

"Beth Moses is on board as a crew member," a Virgin Galactic spokeswoman told CNBC. "She will be doing validation of some of the cabin design elements."

The mission launched horizontally, rather than the traditional vertical method of launching rockets. The jet-powered mothership Eve lifted the spacecraft Unity, taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. Upon reaching an altitude above 40,000 feet, the carrier aircraft released Unity.

MacKay and Masucci then piloted the spacecraft in a roaring burn. The flight pushed Unity to a speed of Mach 3, which is three times the speed of sound, as it screamed into a climb.

After performing a slow backflip in microgravity, Unity turned, gliding back to land at the runway it took off from about an hour earlier. Unity is the name of the spacecraft built by The Spaceship Company, which Branson also owns. This rocket design is officially known as SpaceShipTwo.

When Beth was in high school, she said she wanted to be an astronaut. After a long career at NASA she joined Virgin Galactic as their chief astronaut instructor. And today, she made history.

Congratulations, Beth! You're officially out of this world.

Beth Moses, center. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Cosma.)

Speedbirds in the news yesterday

From a longtime reader in the UK comes the story of British Airways (callsign: "Speedbird") celebrating the airline's 100th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Boeing 747 by painting one in its 1964-to-1974 BOAC livery:

Large crowds turned out at Heathrow on Monday to welcome the plane, decked out in livery not seen for four decades.

The plane will keep flying in its retro BOAC design until 2023, British Airways said in a statement.

Tuesday's flight retraces the first route a Boeing 747 took in BOAC colors.

Also yesterday, a Virgin Atlantic B787 caught an unusual jet stream over the Atlantic that propelled it to a record-breaking ground speed:

A Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles to London peaked at a whopping 1,289 km/h Monday evening 10,500 m over Pennsylvania. “[N]ever ever seen this kind of tailwind in my life as a commercial pilot,” tweeted Peter James, a jet captain.

It appears that’s a record for the Boeing 787-9 twin jet, which in the past has flown at speeds up to 1,249 km/h. The ordinary cruising speed of a Dreamliner is 903 km/h, with a maximum propulsion of 944 km/h. Any speed gained on top of that is thanks to Mother Nature’s helpful boost.

Although the plane didn’t remain in the “jet streak” — the zone of maximum wind embedded within the jet stream — for long, it still arrived 48 minutes early. And you might notice something suspect about the 1,289 km/h reading — it’s above the speed of sound (1,234 km/h). However, whether air travel breaks the sound barrier is dependent on its airspeed — not its ground speed.

Vroom.

Home sick and tired

I'm under the weather today, which has helped me catch up on all these stories that I haven't gotten to yet:

And now, I will nap.

We're #1 again!

At least by one metric, O'Hare has pipped Atlanta and gotten back to the top of the league table for total annual aviation operations:

O’Hare saw 903,747 flights in 2018, up 4.2 percent compared with the previous year, while Atlanta hosted 895,502 flights, up 1.8 percent, the FAA said. Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth and Denver were in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively.

O’Hare also handled more than 83.4 million passengers last year, a 4.5 percent increase over 2017, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Both O’Hare and Midway Airport together saw more than 105 million passengers, a new record, the city said.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is still No. 1 in terms of passenger volume, and has held the crown of world’s busiest airport by that measure for 20 years. But a travel industry analyst said the new numbers are “excellent news” for Chicago, which is embarking on an $8.5 billion O’Hare modernization.

The article implies to big factors in the statistic: first, O'Hare now has six parallel runways instead of six intersecting ones, meaning traffic can flow much more easily. But second, American and United rely more on smaller, sub-50-seat airplanes than Delta does, which means more operations but fewer enplanements. So, it's a mixed bag, good for Chicago in some ways but not great for travelers at O'Hare.

Aviation-induced snowfall

Yesterday, a combination of moisture and cold caused snow to fall in a singularly odd pattern near Chicago:

Although no widespread weather systems were in the area to crank out snow, flurries were still falling across parts of the area.

These unusual phenomena were thanks to a supercooled atmosphere interacting with exhaust from a power plant and also the air flow around commercial aircraft.

Farther to the north, a bizarre radar signature in the shape of a loop showed up just northeast of the Windy City, out over Lake Michigan. It turns out this dash of winter was caused by aircraft landing at O'Hare International Airport.

Observations from the airport at the time reveal a temperature of 22 degrees and a dew point of 17 degrees, both well below freezing. Additionally, the closeness of the temperature to the dew point meant the air was near saturation. There was 82 percent relative humidity at the time.

It's likely that supercooled water droplets were present in this air mass. That means the water vapor was below freezing but couldn't entirely transition into ice crystals because of a lack of particulates upon which to freeze.

In this case, though, an aircraft - or many aircraft - passed through this layer.

Meanwhile, police and firefighters closed streets around tall buildings in downtown Chicago yesterday as chunks of ice came crashing down on them. (On the streets, not the firefighters.) You can imagine the commute.

Squirrel!

When I'm explaining software designs, I'll often say things like, "I don't care if the data comes from SQL, NOSQL, or a squirrel..." It turns out, Frontier Airlines cares very much:

A passenger was removed from a Frontier Airlines flight late Tuesday when she attempted to fly with her “emotional support” squirrel and then refused to get off the plane when she was told no, according to the airline.

A Frontier spokesman said in a statement that the passenger had alerted the airline that she would be bringing an emotional-support animal on the flight but did not mention it would be so . . . bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

“Rodents, including squirrels, are not allowed on Frontier flights,” the statement read. “The passenger was advised of the policy and asked to deplane.”

 

I wonder if the person escorting the passenger off the plane was named Boris or Natasha. Or if they'll allow an emotional-support moose. And I probably never will.

Queued up for later

Some questions:

And finally, when can I take a nap?

Lunchtime reading

I didn't have a moment to write any code from 9am until now, so my lunch will include doing the stuff I didn't do in all those meetings. At some point I'll get to these:

Now, back to writing code, as soon as I make yet another vet appointment for my bête noir.