August 16, 2013
The media is beside itself with the news that certain information about Area 51 — like the fact that there is such a place — and the aerial goings-on there has recently been “declassified.” But the reaction of most aviation enthusiasts has been [sound of crickets chirping].
An e-mail exchange with T.D. Barnes, president of Roadrunners Internationale, an organization devoted to “preserving the history of the aviation pioneers and programs that developed the U-2, A-12, and YF-12″ reveals that…nothing new is really being revealed. He writes:
In 2010, I led an Oxcart Legacy Tour to Washington, where we did a panel presentation at the National Air and Space Museum [See video below] as well as at numerous other agencies. During our presentation at the CIA, Dr. David Robarge, Chief Historian moderating our panel, officially lifted the restriction on the use of the name Area 51.
This current flurry is about the name no longer being redacted on formerly declassified documents. This is a common practice. For example, the existence of the A-12 Oxcart planes was declassified in 1991, the missions in 2007, and the identities of us working on the project in 2010. This is just now showing up in document releases, but we’ve had some of these documents on our websites for months.
The Agency is acutely aware that much of the Cold War legacy was never recorded and is being lost with the passing of the participants. That was one of the purposes of the legacy tour and a prime purpose of our Roadrunners Internationale website, which is supported with material by the agency.
Thank you, Mr. Barnes.
July 1, 2013
Halfway through the new movie World War Z, the captain of a transport aircraft preparing to land at Cardiff, Wales, broadcasts “pan, pan, pan” over the radio while Brad Pitt battles zombies in the fuselage. What the…?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the proper call is “pan pan, pan pan, pan pan.” As opposed to “Mayday,” which the crew transmits when an aircraft is in hair-raising danger, pan-pan (from the French panne, for breakdown) means “We’re not exactly crashing yet, but things are not going well.” In the movie, smoke was streaming from one engine and Pitt was about to trigger a hand grenade so the marauding zombies would get sucked out of the fuselage—so, yeah, not going well at all.
Pan-pan is one of those dorky phrases you learn in ground school, like “wilco” (short for “will comply),” that you’d sooner die than utter over the radio for your fellow pilots to hear. However, the crews of Swissair Flight 111, Qantas Flights QF-74 and QF-72, and Air Berlin Flight 9721 wisely radioed the distress call when push came to shove.
April 15, 2013
While meandering around aviation web sites, I came across an item that said the Blériot XI at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in upstate New York might have been the one from which Harriet Quimby and a passenger fell to their deaths in 1912. Could this be true, or is it another aviation urban legend?
Photo and illustrations editor Caroline Sheen put the question to a couple of knowledgeable folks. Says Andrew King, once an Old Rhinebeck pilot and one of the most experienced fliers of early aircraft: “Harriet was killed in a two-seater, and the Rhinebeck one is a smaller one-seater. I think it is thought to have been at the  Boston meet though, so that might be where the rumor started.”
And from early aircraft photographer Gilles Auliard, who has been shooting at Old Rhinebeck since 1988: “The Old Rhinebeck Blériot (c/n 56) was found in Lacomia, New Hampshire, in the early 1960s and is reputed to have participated in the Squantum meet, or so [Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome founder] Cole Palen told me. According to the Blériot production list, it was completed in 1909 (and it actually makes sense, as Blériot was turning out models XI like pancakes).
“Harriet Quimby was flying a brand new Blériot XI at the meet, which would imply a 1912 building date, and it was reported as a two-seater version (even though this is also questionable as pictures of the meet show her in a single-seater).
“Three years of flying in the early 1900s was long time. The life expectancy of an airplane was computed in months, not in years (even though they could be repaired and modified at will to reappear later).
“It also remains to be seen if Quimby bought a French-made Blériot or a U.S.-made copy or licensed version, as there was a plethora of authorized/unauthorized manufacturers.
“If one could determine that it was a U.S.-built machine, this would be the end of the controversy.”
So, the verdict: likely an urban legend.
March 20, 2013
The National Air and Space Museum recently posted a list of some 300 objects it wants to de-accession (translation: get rid of). The items run the gamut from socks, a comb, and mittens to a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine, a Sikorsky UH-34D Seahorse, a WACO primary glider, and a Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
One small catch: The accessioner (taker) must be a museum or an educational organization. Hey, can do! Just hire an accountant and a lawyer to negotiate 501C status and the Internal Revenue Service paperwork.
I’ve got my eye on a G-suit so I can go swagger around a Cessna 172 at the local airstrip.
February 20, 2013
Australian meteorologist Grant Denyer went for a joyride with Red Bull air race pilot Matt Hall the other day, jonesing for an adrenaline rush. “Eight Gs,” Denyer begged Hall, after breezing through some four-G maneuvers. A few seconds after Hall began wrenching the airplane up one wing, then the other, knife-edge to knife-edge, Denyer’s head hit the backstop, eyes closed and down for the count. G-LOC, the pros call it: G-induced loss of consciousness.
Military pilots wear G-suits and/or tense their muscles to prevent blood from draining from the torso, but civvies are on their own, and rarely make it through six Gs, let alone eight. At six Gs, your vision begins to “gray out,” narrowing to a tunnel as blood drains from your head. It can take several seconds for pilots and joyriders to wake up from their involuntary nap, and several more seconds to realize where they are, which is why G-LOC can be deadly. Even more uncomfortable is the onset of negative Gs, when you “red out” from the blood rushing to your head. Pilots and airplanes can cope with only fairly light negative-G force — maybe one half of the positive G-load they can withstand.
At least Denyer wasn’t caught drooling on camera, something I fear when I doze off on a commercial flight.
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