The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Leaving on a jet plane

Now that I'm more than two weeks past my second Pfizer jab, I'm heading to O'Hare tomorrow for the first time since January 2020. I remember back in September 2018 when I finally broke my longest-ever drought from flying of 221 days. Tomorrow will mark 481 days grounded.

But that's tomorrow. Today, I'm interested in the following:

And finally, Chicago's endangered piping plovers Monty and Rose have laid three eggs. We should see baby piping plovers in about four weeks.

Lunchtime reading

Travel in the US just got slightly easier now that the Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline to get REAL ID cards to May 2023. Illinois just started making them a year ago, but you have to go to a Secretary of State office in person to get one. Due to Covid-19, the lines at those facilities often stretch to the next facility a few kilometers away.

Reading that made me happier than reading most of the following:

And finally, Ravinia has announced its schedule for this summer, starting on June 4th.

Lunchtime reading before heading outside

Today is not only the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it's also the 84th anniversary of the Nazi bombing of Guernica. Happy days, happy days.

In today's news, however:

I will now get lunch. And since it's 17°C right now (as opposed to yesterday's 5°C), I may eat it outside.

Yes, AVGAS still has lead in it

MSNBC is scandalized that 100-octane low-lead aviation fuel (AVGAS) still exists, but as usual for general stories about technical topics, they miss a few important details:

While leaded gasoline was fully phased out in 1996 with the passage of the Clean Air Act, it still fuels a fleet of 170,000 piston-engine airplanes and helicopters. Leaded aviation fuel, or avgas, now makes up “the largest remaining aggregate source of lead emissions to air in the U.S.,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

For now, leaded aviation gas appears to be caught in a bureaucratic limbo: stuck between not meeting the environmental demands of the EPA and the commercial realities of the aviation community. It is the primary viable option for this type of aircraft, as the general aviation community argues it remains critical given the needs of the current fleet.

“Fuel and emissions are governed by the federal government,” said Eric Peterson, county airports director with the County of Santa Clara, which owns Reid-Hillview. “So until they come up with an alternative fuel, there is a limited amount the county can do to address that.”

But why, oh why, do piston airplanes still use leaded gas? MSNBC doesn't spend a lot of their article explaining that it's so the airplane engines don't just stop suddenly during flight. Lead reduces "knock," which can annoy you if it happens to your car's engine, but which can kill you if it happens to your plane's.

Also, lead boosts octane, and for high-performance aviation piston engines, nothing less than 100 octane will work.

Alternatives are coming, soon, but it will take some time. The FAA explains what needs to happen before they can approve 100-octane unleaded fuel:

The FAA requires the fuel producers to complete the following "pre-screening" tests prior to a candidate fuel formulation entering into more extensive testing through the PAFI (Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative) program:

  1. Successful completion of a 150 hr. engine endurance test on a turbocharged engine using PAFI test protocols or other procedure coordinated with the FAA;
  2. Successful completion of an engine detonation screening test using the PAFI test protocols or other procedures coordinated with the FAA
  3. Successful completion of a subset of the material compatibility tests using the PAFI test protocol or other procedures coordinated with the FAA.

Development and pre-screening testing is taking place at both private and public testing facilities across the country. The FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center is providing engine-testing services through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) with the individual fuel companies. While COVID-19 has delayed the completion of the pre-screening tests, the tentative schedule is to re-start formal PAFI testing in 2021.

So, yes, I and every other private pilot out there wants to use unleaded fuel—or, really, a completely different power source. But as long as the consequences of sudden power loss remain different for aircraft than for any other type of vehicle, we have to keep using the only safe (for the airplane, anyway) fuel that remains widely available.

Sure Happy It's Thursday! Earth Day edition

Happy 51st Earth Day! In honor of that, today's first story has nothing to do with Earth:

Finally, it looks like I'll have some really cool news to share about my own software in just a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Biggest aviation news since 1903

This morning, around 2:30 Chicago time, we flew an aircraft over an alien planet:

At about 3:30 a.m., the twin, carbon-fiber rotor blades began spinning furiously, and the chopper, called Ingenuity, lifted off the surface of the Red Planet, reaching an altitude of about 10 feet, where it hovered, turned and landed softly in an autonomous flight that lasted just 30 seconds, the space agency said.

Inside the flight operations center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, engineers broke into applause when confirmation of the flight arrived, more than three hours after the flight, in a data burst that traveled 178 million miles from Mars to Earth.

To make the brief flight, Ingenuity’s technology had to overcome Mars’s super-thin atmosphere — just 1 percent the density of Earth’s — which makes it more difficult for the helicopters’ blades, spinning at about 2,500 revolutions per minute, to generate lift.

As President Biden once said, this is a big fucking deal.

The world keeps turning

Even though my life for the past week has revolved around a happy, energetic ball of fur, the rest of the world has continued as if Cassie doesn't matter:

And if you still haven't seen our spring concert, you still can. Don't miss it!

Good morning!

Now in our 46th hour above freezing, with the sun singing, the birds coming up, and the crocuses not doing anything noteworthy, it feels like spring. We even halted our march up the league table in most consecutive days of more than 27.5 cm of snow on the ground, tying the record set in 2001 at 25 days. (Only 25 cm remained at 6am, and I would guess a third of that will melt by noon.)

So, what else is going on in the world?

And now, back to work.

Waiting for one CI build, then another

It's every other Tuesday today, so I'm just waiting for the last continuous-integration (CI) build to finish before deploying the latest software to our production environment. So far, so boring, just the way I like it. Meanwhile, in the real world:

  • In a symbolic but meaningless vote, all but 5 Republican members of the US Senate voted to let the XPOTUS off the hook for inciting an insurrection against, well, them, as this way they believe they get to keep his followers at no cost to themselves. If this past year were a novel, the next sentence might begin with "Little did they know..." Which, you know, describes those 45 Republicans to a T.
  • Dutch police arrested more than 180 people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam for rioting against Covid-19 lockdowns: "A leading Dutch criminologist, Henk Ferwerda, said the riots involved 'virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild – all three groups came together.'"
  • Air travelers across the US can rejoice that CNN Airport News will go away on March 31st.
  • Over 1 teratonne of ice melted over each of the past few years, increasing concerns about global sea level rises.
  • Two mathematicians argue that time-travel paradoxes don't exist, because the universe routes around them.

Finally, snow continues to fall in Chicago, so far accumulating to about 100 mm by my house and as of noon about 125 mm at O'Hare. Calling this a "snowstorm" seems a bit over the top as it's coming down at under 10 mm per hour and forecast to stop before too long. Plus it's barely below freezing for now—but forecast to cool down to -11°C by Wednesday night before creeping above freezing Friday and Saturday. So we might have a blanket of snow for a bit. Still, it's the most snow we've gotten all season, with less than 5 weeks to go before meteorological spring starts March 1st. I'm OK with this mild winter, though it might presage a very hot summer.