The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

So long, big guy

Yesterday around 7pm, as I dropped a friend off at O'Hare, I was lucky enough to see the last United 747 take off from Chicago:

Chicago-based United still has 14 747s in operation that typically only fly from San Francisco to a handful of cities in Asia and Europe.

But United will have one of its 747s fly from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to San Francisco on Friday, the airline said. Tickets for the flight — UA2704, departing Chicago at 6:30 p.m. — went on sale Tuesday, said United spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin.

Here's the airplane's flight track.

It was majestic, this huge thing taking off over Terminal 5 just as we were pulling up. And then it was gone, never to return.

Kind of like the American 767s that used to fly from Chicago to London twice a day. My flight next Sunday will be on one of American's brand-new 787-8 airplanes, and wow, am I looking forward to it.

Grounded for a very long time

Through a number of circumstances mostly beyond my control, I didn't fly anywhere between last December 26th and this past Saturday, a total of 208 days. I have to go all the way back to 2006, when I didn't fly for 154 days, to get even close to that interval. On average, since 1 January 2001 I've taken a flight every 10.6 days. Even last year, in which I flew the fewest miles since 2003, I flew every 25 days on average.

Well, the next five weeks will bring the 2017 average up a bit. But still, I miss traveling. I hope I can do more of it going forward.

Lunchtime link list

Among the browser windows I have open are these:

Now, back to coding. In Ruby, yet.

Still too damn hot in Phoenix

Following up on last week, Ask the Pilot weighs in on exactly why the heat in Phoenix is grounding airplanes:

Extreme heat affects planes in a few different ways. First, there are aerodynamic repercussions. Hotter air is less dense than cooler air, so a wing produces less lift. This is compounded by reduced engine output. Jet engines don’t like low-density air either, and don’t perform as well in hot weather. Together, this means higher takeoff and landing speeds — which, in turn, increases the amount of required runway. Rates of climb are also impeded. Performance parameters require that a plane be able to climb away safely following an engine failure, and this might not be possible. Engines also are subject to internal temperature limits — exhaust gas temps, etc. — beyond which operation isn’t permitted. When it’s really hot outside these limits are easier to exceed.

Then you’ve got the simpler, more tangible effects: overheating electronics, increased brake temperatures, cabin cooling issues, and so on. Airplanes have a lot of internal machinery, and much of it runs hot to begin with. Throw in triple-digit temperatures, and things begin to break down. And let’s not forget the effects on ground support equipment and, of course, the people working outside.

It's currently a balmy 39°C in Phoenix. That's almost tolerable, with enough air conditioning.

Just too damn hot

Phoenix hit a record high temperature yesterday of 48°C, and it's already that hot again today. And right now, it's 50°C in Needles, Calif. In fact, it's too hot for airplanes to take off:

As the Capital Weather Gang reported, the Southwest is experiencing its worst heat wave in decades. Excessive heat warnings have been in effect from Arizona to California and will be for the remainder of the week.

And it was so hot that dozens of flights have been canceled this week at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

American Airlines alerted its customers over the weekend, offering fee-free changes to upcoming flights that were departing or arriving at Phoenix between 3 and 6 p.m., when temperatures peak.

Regional flights on American Eagle were the most affected, because they use Bombardier CRJ planes that can only operate at temperatures of 48°C or below, Feinstein said. Flights on larger Airbus and Boeing planes were not canceled because they are able to operate at higher maximum temperatures: 52.7°C for Airbus and 52.2°C for Boeing.

Meanwhile, a cold front has come through Chicago, dropping the temperature to 18°C at O'Hare around 2pm. And I'm about to walk home in it.

Biggest. Airplane. Ever.

Paul Allen has funded development of an airplane designed to launch satellites into space. It's...huge:

Called Stratolaunch, the plane has some impressive stats: a wingspan of 117 m, or longer than a football field, and a height of 15.24 m. Unfueled, it weighs 226,800 kg. But it can carry 113,400 kg of fuel, and its total weight can reach 590 tonnes.

But, really ... how big is it? It’s so big that it has 28 wheels and six 747 jet engines. It’s so big that it has 96 km of wire coursing through it. It’s so big that the county had to issue special construction permits just for the construction scaffolding.

But why is Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks, building such a massive plane?

It’s not to carry passengers, but rather rockets. The bigger the plane, the larger the rockets, or the greater the number.

The Post has video. That is a very large airplane indeed:

By Giant_planes_comparison.svg: Clem Tillier (clem AT tillier.net) White_Knight_Two_planform.png: Mwarren us derivative work: Mwarren us (talk) - White_Knight_Two_planform.pngGiant_planes_comparison.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I read the news today, oh boy

Item the first: S&P just cut Illinois' bond rating to one level above junk. Thanks, Governor Rauner.

Item the second: According to Brian Beutler, at least, President Trump could be in serious trouble after James Comey testifies before Congress next week. Will Trump care? Will he even notice?

Item the third: May was cold and dreary in Illinois. Today it's 24°C and sunny, which is neither cold nor dreary.

Item the fourth: Cranky Flier believes that we absolutely should open up the U.S. to foreign airlines, so they can lose money just like American companies.

Item the fifth: People on Chicago's west side oppose extending the 606 Trail because it would increase property values.

I am now going to take a walk because it's emphatically June outside.

This IS the golden age of air travel

Pilot and author Patrick Smith points out that air travel is so much better than it was even 20 years ago, it's hard to see how far we've come:

People often talk about a proverbial “golden age” of air travel, and if only we could return to it. That’s an easy sentiment to sympathize with. I’m old enough to recall when people actually looked forward to flying. I remember a trip to Florida in 1979, and my father putting on a coat and tie for the occasion. I remember cheesecake desserts on a 60-minute flight in economy. Yes, things were once a little more comfortable, a little more special.

One of the reasons that flying has become such a melee is because so many people now have the means to partake in it. It wasn’t always this way. Adjusted for inflation, the average cost of a ticket has declined about 50 percent over the past 35 years. This isn’t true in every market, but on the whole fares are far cheaper than they were 30 years ago. (And yes, this is after factoring in all of those add-on “unbundling” fees that airlines love and passengers so despise.)

I could mention, too, that the airplanes of decades past were louder — few things were more deafening than a 707 at takeoff thrust — and more gas-guzzling and polluting. And if, in 2017, you’re put off by a lack of legroom or having to pay for a sandwich, how would you feel about sitting for eight hours in a cabin filled with tobacco smoke? As recently as the 1990s, smoking was still permitted on airplanes.

As for legroom, there’s that conventional wisdom again, contending that airlines are forever cramming more rows into their aircraft. Except it’s not necessarily true. The spacing between rows, called “pitch” in the business, is, on average, less than it was 20 or 30 years ago — and yes, passengers themselves have become larger on average — but only slightly. Remember Laker Airways, whose “Skytrain” service ran between the United States and London in the 1970s and early ’80s? Sir Freddie Laker, the airline’s flamboyant founder, configured his DC-10s with a bone-crunching 345 seats — about a hundred more than the typical DC-10 at the time.

Sure, air travel is a pain in the ass. But it's safer, cheaper, more accessible, more convenient, quieter, and faster than it's ever been.

Don't push that button!

British Airways cancelled all of its flights out of its two biggest hubs in London today because of a power-supply failure:

The airline hoped to be able to operate some long haul inbound flights on Saturday, landing in London on Sunday, Mr Cruz added.

The GMB union has suggested the failure could have been avoided, had the airline not outsourced its IT work.

BA refuted the claim, saying: "We would never compromise the integrity and security of our IT systems".

All passengers affected by the failure - which coincides with the first weekend of the half-term holiday for many in the UK - will be offered the option of rescheduling or a refund.

The airline, which had previously said flights would be cancelled until 18:00 BST, has now cancelled all flights for Saturday and asked passengers not to come to Gatwick or Heathrow airports.

Some things never change.

Why it's called Royal Dutch Airlines

It turns out, the King of the Netherlands has an air transport pilot certificate:

King Willem-Alexander, reigning monarch of the Netherlands, revealed in an interview with Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he'd regularly flown flights for a subsidiary of the Dutch flag carrier for over two decades.

Calling the part-time role a "hobby," the King says that he'd taken to the cockpit as a co-pilot of KLM Cityhopper -- the airline's short-haul carrier -- flights for over 21 years.

Being the co-pilot also allowed him to retain his anonymity, even while addressing the passengers, he said.

"The advantage is that I can always say that I wish everyone a heartfelt welcome in the name of the captain and the crew," he told De Telegraaf. "So I don't have to say my own name. But most of the (passengers) don't listen anyway."

That's kind of cool.