The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Perfect day to fly

I took a combination sightseeing/cross-country flight today down to Valparaiso, Ind., 56 nautical miles away. I also stopped at Lansing, Ill., for good measure. (Actually, I stopped so I could get three full-stop landings in, which I try to do every time I fly for (a) practice and (b) convenience. You have to have three full-stop landings every 90 days to keep current at my flight school, and to carry passengers according to the regulations. It's very likely I'll fly again in less than 90 days, but I just like to keep my scorecard full.)

No Google Earth track yet—I expect to have that tomorrow morning, when I get around to it—but I do have art. This is the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Ill.:

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.

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.

Only a week late

I've finally gotten around to producing a .kml file from my last flight, on the 14th. I flew Chicago Executive to Waukesha, Wis., thence Milwaukee (where I made two A320s wait for me, but not on purpose), thence Waukegan, Ill., which is the #1 practice-landing destination in the North Suburbs, as far as I can tell.

Good flight, about 2.2 hours total, all logged as cross-country. I haven't seen the bill yet, but the fuel surcharge dropped from $3.20 an hour to 30c, so right there I'm saving...two cups of coffee.

Obligatory airplane-on-little-airport-tarmac photo:

I should explain that it took a week to get this photo onto this blog because I left my camera in the airplane, and only this afternoon had time to go fetch it. That means I was more concerned with safety than, you know, cameras. Right.