The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

May 25th has some history

As we wake up today to news that North Korea has reportedly detonated a 20-kiloton atom bomb (first reported, actually, by the United States Geological Survey), it's worth remembering two other major news events from previous May 25ths.

In 1977, Star Wars came out. (I saw it about a week later, in Torrance, Calif. My dad had to read the opening crawl to me.)

In 1979, American 191 crashed on takeoff from O'Hare, at the time the worst air disaster in U.S. history.

And now we add to that a truly scary development in Asia. And it's not yet 8:30 in Chicago...

Quick flight

Fighting bumpy air the whole way, I flew today to Rockford, Ill., 53 nautical miles from Chicago Executive. It's kind of a cop-out, of course: 50 nautical miles is the minimum distance of a flight's outbound leg in order for the flight to qualify as cross-country. Check out the KML, though: every time I flew over one of those fields, the plane jumped about 50 m straight up; every time I flew over one of those lakes, it dropped 50 m. Such is the fun of summer flying.

Beautiful day, though, high thin overcast and 21°C the whole time.

Tampa Bay at Athletics

While in San Francisco for the weekend, I decided to continue the 30-Park Geas by seeing what the Oakland A's were up to. Last place, it turned out; but then, so were their opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays.

From the moment you get off the BART, you know you're not going to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. Wrigley, for example, has less concrete and barbed wire:

Of course, Wrigley has fewer "World Champions" banners, too, but we'll skip that for now.

Not a bad game, on balance. The home team won, it turned out my Cubs hat was acceptable to the crowd (my brother had warned me that wearing the wrong hat in Oakland could result in ejection from the park...by the fans...over the railing), and my seat completely failed to suck:

The only bad parts, other than the park resembling in architecture and style (and, some might say, purpose) a medium-security prison: I forgot my camera, so I had to use my mobile phone to snap photos; and I couldn't find a score card. Oh well; still a fun game.

Fifteen down, 17 to go.

American to replace MD-80s at O'Hare

American Airlines, my carrier of choice, will finally replace its fleet of awful MD-80s, many of which it inherited from TWA:

The acquisition of 76 Boeing 737-800s through early 2011 represents a doubling of that airplane model flown by Ft Worth-based American.

All the new planes will be based at O'Hare International Airport.

The move also will lead to the eventual retirement of American's McDonnell Douglas MD-80s--a reliable but noisy aircraft that gulps 35 percent more fuel than the 737-800.

American plans to phase out its 280 MD-80s over about 10 years, said Dan Garton, the carrier's executive vice president of marketing.

"All of the new planes will be based at O'Hare..." Sigh. That makes me so happy.

Oops

Emirates A340-500 came centimeters from crashing on takeoff from Melbourne, Australia over the weekend:

The plane -- carrying up to 215,000 liters of highly flammable aviation fuel -- was less than 70 cm off the ground when it crashed through lights almost 200 m from the end of the runway.

...The fully-laden Airbus A340-500 was believed to have been travelling about 280 km/h when it reached the end of the runway without becoming airborne.

At the last minute, the two pilots "rotated" the plane [too steeply] causing its tail to crash into the end of the runway.

Damage to the $220 million plane is so severe that the airline is considering writing it off rather than repairing it.

... Aviation officials said ... Emirates' pilot training and competency standards are almost identical to those in Australia....

I corrected the penultimate paragraph because the reporter seems to believe that "rotating" is an emergency procedure that involves yanking the yoke back hard enough to bounce the tail off the runway. Actually "rotating" just means rotating the airplane on its horizontal axis so the nose points up. Rotating a Cessna 172, for example, is such a subtle maneuver at takeoff speed that non-pilot passengers often wonder how the plane got airborne. What the Emirates pilots did was to pull back so hard that they caused a tail strike. In other words, they panicked, which compounded the problem because the plane's angle of attack seems to have been too steep to generate sufficient lift to take off.

As you pull back on the yoke, the tail of the aircraft is pushed down, which pushes the nose up. This translates speed into lift. It also increases drag, which means pulling back too far slows the plane too much which causes lift to drop. In an airplane the size of a Cessna 172, this can cause a takeoff stall; with an Airbus 340, the plane is so long that the tail scrapes the runway long before the plane stalls. That causes a different kind of drag, of course, and now you're "in the world of physics" as pilots say and no longer flying.

I hope to read follow-up about this when it's available; in particular, I'm wondering what went on in the cockpit at takeoff.

Note that the photo is not of the accident airplane.

Slow news day

Wow, so I'm out of touch for a few hours, and this happens:

  • The Federal judge in the Ted Stevens corruption trial has ordered a criminal investigation of the prosecutors who tried the case. It may be surprising, but apparently a heavily-politicized Republican Justice Department may have deliberately thrown it. Hmm.
  • The Canadian dude who stole a Cessna yesterday was apparently attempting suicide by fighter jet, but for some reason opted out of suicide by crashing into the ground, and so will now face Federal prosecution.
  • As absentee ballots get counted in Minnesota's (longest-in-history) U.S. Senate race, Democrat Al Franken's lead has opened up to 312. Republican former Senator Norm Coleman has vowed to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where he hopes to get five more votes. His lawyer, by the way, is the same guy who got five extra votes for Dubya in 2000.
  • And, oh yeah, Vermont legalized gay marriage, overriding the governor's veto to do so.

OK, I have about 90 minutes to enjoy (*kaff*) downtown Houston before going to my first Cubs game of the season. Then I'm going to an odd little bar that I discovered when I worked in this fine city back in 2001. In fact, my hotel room looks out over the dazzling, deodorant-stick-shaped building that the client I worked for owned before they went bankrupt spectacularly later in the year. Hmmmm...can't remember their name... I'll have to compare photos of the building to help me remember.

Amazing feat of flying

A pair of F-16 fighters escorted a Cessna 172 stolen from a Canadian flight school all the way from Michigan to Missouri this afternoon:

The plane was reported stolen at about 2:30 p.m. ET and was spotted flying erratically.

At about 5 p.m., the state capital building in Madison, Wis., was evacuated before the plane passed near the region. Police cars cordoned off the streets around the building and officers told people to move away from the area.

What I find amazing: How did the F-16s fly that slowly? I mean, the stall speed in a C172 is around 35 knots with full flaps; I think F-16s move that fast when parked.

And another thing, how amazing is it to find a Canadian that stupid? Or did some American dude sneak over the border and steal the plane?

I hope there's follow-up on this story. It seems improbable.

Landing practice

I got a lucky break yesterday: low winds, clear skies, cool weather, decent landing practice. Not an exciting flight (see the .kml), just up to Waukegan, and one go-around caused by coming in too high and fast, but otherwise a good use of time.

People wonder why I'd go up just to practice landing. Simply put, all landings are mandatory, and one prefers to do them well. The more practice I get landing the less I have to think about during the most difficult (and, again, mandatory) part of a flight, which makes it more enjoyable.

I've booked another plane for mid-month. April usually has better weather than January, so I might even get to fly, and if so, I'll actually go somewhere.

Metra: Party like it's 1979

Metra, which runs Chicago's heavy-rail commuter lines, hasn't changed much at all since the 1970s, as today's Chicago Tribune describes in sad detail:

Metra runs on paper, as in paper tickets. Although the majority of riders use monthly passes, passengers in January still bought more than 666,000 one-way tickets or used 10-ride tickets, which conductors have to punch individually.

... Other open rail systems have done away with punching and checking individual tickets. For example, conductors on Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority check tickets with hand-held electronic devices. ... On Caltrain, a commuter rail line operating between San Francisco and San Jose, passengers buy tickets from vending machines and conductors make random checks. Anyone without a ticket faces a $250 fine.

[And] it's cash or checks only on Metra. The line doesn't take plastic because of the processing fees that credit-card companies impose, Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

The article also mentions a lack of information about train whereabouts that even our CTA buses provide.

I think the article makes Metra sound better than it really is, simply by comparing it only to its American analogues. The authors ignore, presumably out of pity for Metra, the Shanghai Maglev at one extreme, or even more typical European rail systems like Berlin's S-Bahn and the UK's Oyster Card scheme as examples of how to modernize at the very least how people pay for transit.

All right, maybe Transport for London isn't the best example. Still, when Boston has free Wi-Fi and we can't even pay with credit cards, something is wrong. At least TfL has a dedicated express train running from Heathrow to central London (on which you can use your Oyster Card), and we have...the Blue Line. Sad, really.