November 19, 2012
It’s one of those days—probably a Monday—where everything goes wrong. The alarm clock doesn’t go off. You oversleep. You have to crash land into enemy territory. It’s a good thing you remembered your U.S. Air Force Pocket Survival Handbook.
The handbook (republished this month) outlines the mission: As soon as you eject, bailout, or crash, your new assignment is to “return to friendly control without giving aid or comfort to the enemy, to return early and in good physical and mental condition.”
Let’s get down to the business of survival: Got a sucking chest wound? See page 60. You might need a stitch or two, although sometimes an airtight dressing will suffice. Perhaps you bailed out over a snow- or icebound area; page 92 explains how to make a suitable pair of shoes from moose hocks. (Skip ahead to chapter 14 for tips on how to kill animals both large and small. “Be sure the animal is dead, not just wounded [or] unconscious…. Poke all ‘dead’ animals in the eye with a long sharp stick before approaching them.”)
Now that you’ve survived that simple task, you can set to work building a para-snowhouse out of ice, your parachute, and urine (page 119).
The handbook explains how to build a variety of shelters, how to find and cook edible plants, and how to hunt, dress, and cook animals—everything from “fish tickling” to dressing a rabbit by flinging it between your legs.
We say this is $12.95 well spent.
November 15, 2012
While fighter pilots risk being shot down, or, in the case of F-22 pilots, suffering oxygen deprivation, it turns out that one of the hazards of flying an unmanned drone is boredom—or at least that’s what researchers at MIT have concluded.
“You might park a UAV over a house, waiting for someone to come in or come out, and that’s where the boredom comes in,” said Mary “Missy” Cummings, quoted in a study released yesterday by MITNews.
Cummings, a former F/A-18 pilot, is the director of the Humans and Automation Lab in MIT’s department of aeronautics and astronautics. She and her team set up a UAV simulation in which operators monitored the activity of four UAVs during a four-hour shift. Each subject was videotaped, and researchers noted when the operators were engaged, and when they were distracted. Not surprisingly, the operator with the highest score was the one who paid the most attention during the simulation. “She’s the person we’d like to clone for a boring, low-workload environment,” Cummings said.
The next-best performers were distracted a whopping 30 percent of the time—either reading a book, getting up to find a snack, or checking their cellphones.
Is being an unmanned aerial vehicle operator that bad? According to CareerCast.com, the worst job of 2012 is lumberjack, followed by dairy farmer and—wait for it—enlisted military soldier. Other hellish jobs include newspaper reporter, meter reader, and conservationist.
In the MIT experiment, participants were asked to rank their personality traits, including extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Top performers ranked “conscientiousness” as their strong trait. Sounds good, right? Maybe not. “You could have a Catch-22,” says Cummings. “If you’re high on conscientiousness, you might be good to watch a nuclear reactor, but whether these same people would be effective in such military settings is unclear.”
October 5, 2012
The odds of you being killed in an airplane crash, dear reader, are a million to one. But that didn’t stop the Discovery Channel from loading a 727 with a dazzling array of sensors and crashing it into the Mexican desert, all in the name of science. The results of the experiment will be aired this Sunday, October 7, as the season premiere of “Curiosity.”
Among other things, the filmmakers wanted to determine if there was anything a passenger could do to improve his or her odds of surviving. Where should you sit? Does bracing help, or is that an old wives’ tale? Crash-test dummies (which cost $150,000 each and provide 32 different types of data) were placed throughout the aircraft. Some were set in the brace position, while others were seated upright. “Low-tech dummies” were also used, either buckled into their seats, or seated without restraints.
An experiment on this scale, notes the film, has been tried only once before. In 1984, NASA spent millions crashing a Boeing 720 into Rogers Dry Lake in the California desert. But the aircraft lost control on the final approach and burst into flames after crashing—not good for collecting data. (The experiment was part of a joint research project between NASA and the FAA to test the effectiveness of a fire-suppressing fuel additive.)
Watch a clip from the show, below:
August 14, 2012
Last month, the U.S. Navy submitted a report to Congress outlining the policies and practices for naming Navy vessels. (The 82-page document provides a history of how the practice has evolved over time; download a pdf of the report here.)
The report, prepared by the Department of the Navy staff, highlights the tensions between “orthodox traditionalists” (those who believe that Navy ship names should remain faithful to naming conventions), and “pragmatic traditionalists” (those who view orthodox traditionalists as too rigid). The two groups have been able to work together in the past, however. Consider this: By 1968, the only active ship named in honor of a U.S. state was the USS New Jersey, an Iowa-class battleship. With battleships no longer in production, the report notes, state names were chosen to be applied to nuclear-powered guided missile frigates, as it was expected that 25 would be built. But only six were manufactured; so in 1975, Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf decided that nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarines should carry state names. “Consequently,” notes the report, “in the 1980s, the Navy’s battle force included three different types of ships in four different classes named for States of the Union.”
Which brings us to carriers. The Navy’s first carrier (a converted collier), the USS Langley, was named for aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley, the inventor of the Aerodrome, and the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. When the Navy was compelled to stop building battle cruisers after 1923, Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby decided that new construction aircraft carriers (CVs) should be named after “historic Naval Vessels or battles” (think Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise, Wasp, and Hornet). Once World War II began, the convention was modified to “famous old ships and important battles of our history and present world war”—and included Independence-class light fleet carriers (CVLs).
During World War II, as the Navy began to acquire escort carriers, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox decided to separate them from CVs and CVLs by naming them after “sounds, bays, and islands.” (This was later amended to “sounds, bays, islands, and famous American battles.”)
By VJ Day (August 14, 1945), all of the Navy’s 28 fleet carriers and 71 escort carriers—save one—followed their naming conventions. The exception was an aircraft carrier named Shangri-La, meant to memorialize the famous 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. (The report notes that “to protect the fact that the raid had been launched from an American aircraft carrier, President Roosevelt announced the attack had been launched from a new secret base at ‘Shangri-La,’ the fictional faraway land in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon.”)
As World War II concluded, carrier naming convention was again modified. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal recommended to President Harry S. Truman that the second of the new Midway-class carriers be named in Roosevelt’s honor. It was the first time since the Langley that a carrier had been named after an individual.
In 1968, the USS John F. Kennedy was commissioned, and the orthodox traditionalist group recommended that future aircraft carrier names be considered on an individual basis. While carriers are now generally named in honor of past U.S. Presidents, some exceptions have been made, such as the USS Carl Vinson (in honor of Congressman Carl Vinson, known as “the father of the two-Ocean Navy”), and the USS John C. Stennis (named in honor of Senator John Stennis, and known as “the father of America’s modern Navy”).
August 3, 2012
U.S. Air Force officer Brian Castner spent three tours of duty in the Middle East, two of them leading a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. In his superb memoir The Long Walk (Doubleday, 2012) he describes hitching a ride to a forward operating base on a Marine Corps C-130 Hercules:
On approach and landing one night at a postage stamp of an airfield, we started to take incoming fire. This is less obvious than one might think. With no windows or flight plan for reference, the cargo hold becomes a timeless vibrating barrel. The only indication of landing is an odd gravitational sensation as the pilot edges the nose down, banks to the left, points a wing tip toward the airfield below, and begins the corkscrew descent. The shaking increases alarmingly as your back presses into your seat and your heart rises into your throat. The engineers in the tail grab their night-vision goggles and take their positions in the sling seats at the two porthole-like back windows, hands around the flare-ejection triggers, looking for the hot-motor flashes of incoming heat-seeking missiles. Blinding-white flares are the only defense a wallowing C-130 has against smart and agile surface-to-air missiles.
I only knew we were taking missile fire because the engineers began to thumb their buttons furiously, and suddenly daylight shone through their windows, lighting up the entire back of the aircraft. Seconds later we slammed onto the runway, jolted up and forward, and the engines screamed in reverse to bring the bird to an almost immediate stop. The ramp went down, in the middle of the runway where we had come to a halt, and the engineers screamed for everyone to get off.
I grabbed my pack and rifle and ran off the plane into the waiting hot night oven. Down the ramp and onto the runway, where the engineers were already ahead of us, not waiting to see if the disoriented passengers could find their way. The airfield was completely blacked out, so as not to provide a tempting target for rocket attacks, but incongruously there was light all over the runway: the flares and flare canisters kicked out of the plane by the engineers as we were only a few feet off the ground had ricocheted, angrily skipping down the tarmac, burning all over the infield. I ran across the concrete and turned to look back at the aircraft, expecting to see engines on fire.
Instead, the pilot threw the emergency engine stop at that moment. The emergency cutoff kills all engine activity immediately, and everything flammable is jettisoned out the back. Like jet fuel. Four Allison AE2100D3 turboprop engines’ worth of jet fuel came showering back, drenching me in liquid soot. I could taste the distinctive nauseating odor of JP-8 on my lips, in my eyes, in my ears. It soaked my uniform and oozed down my rifle like chocolate syrup. I stood on that runway as human tar paper, among the still-burning flares, in the desert night.
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