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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Northwest McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30

NTSB inconclusive on root cause of Ted Stevens crash

“Temporary unresponsiveness” of the 62-year-old, 28,000-hour airline transport pilot probably caused the crash that killed Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and four other passengers on Aug. 9, 2010, said the National Transportation Safety Board at a public meeting May 24.
Why the pilot became unresponsive during the 50-mile flight from a corporate-owned lodge to a salmon fishing camp “could not be established from the available information.”
The amphibious-float-equipped turbine de Havilland Otter struck mountainous terrain in a climbing left turn about 10 miles northeast of Aleknagik, Alaska, 15 minutes after departure. Four passengers survived the accident, among them former NASA chief Sean O’Keefe. In an opening statement, NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman summarized the NTSB’s findings from “nine months of exhaustive investigation, numerous consultations, and a host of expert opinions.”
Minutes before the crash, the turbine Otter, equipped with amphibious floats and state-of-the-art avionics, was reported on course. The pilot, Hersman said, was “highly experienced” and familiar with the route. Days prior, he had lost his son-in-law in another Alaska aviation accident. In 2006 the pilot had suffered a stroke, and in 2008 and 2009 he had received a first-class medical certificate. The pilot had inhibited the terrain awareness and warning system's aural voice and pop-up text alerts.
In a set of 20 conclusions about the crash, the NTSB described the regional flight surgeon’s issuance of an unrestricted first class medical certificate to pilot Theron Smith, without certain additional medical consultations, as “inappropriate” considering a stroke Smith suffered in 2006. However, the board could not determine if a medical condition played a role in the accident.
It said that the lack of a cockpit voice recorder system hindered determination of a cause of the crash.
The NTSB issued recommendations on detailed annual inspection procedures for emergency locator transmitters, having found during the crash probe that the accident aircraft’s ELT had become separated from its antenna. No ELT signal was detected after the crash.
The report criticized the pilot’s failure to brief passengers about on-board emergency equipment including a satellite telephone. The NTSB specifically addressed a recommendation to AOPA, urging the association to educate pilots on the importance of providing a briefing on emergency equipment location and use.
AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg said the foundation’s Air Safety Institute will address the recommendation with educational resources. “We endorse the board’s recommendation [for pilot education], and we will be putting together guidance for pilots of Part 91 operations on preflight briefings,” Landsberg said.
The pilot would have had aural and visual warnings of an impending crash about 30 seconds before impact—instead of only about four seconds before the crash—had he not inhibited an on-board warning system, the NTSB said.
Smith’s transient incapacitation or impairment could explain the circumstances of the crash, said the NTSB, but it was not possible to determine whether such a condition existed. Neither of the two surviving passengers who were awake at the time of the accident was seated with a clear view of the pilot, the board said in its synopsis.
“What we do not know—and may never know—is what happened in the last three minutes of that fatal flight,” Hersman said.
Hersman recognized Smith’s contributions to safety of flying in Alaska during his career, and she acknowledged the respect he commanded in the aviation community. “Today's discussions are difficult because aviation in Alaska is safer today than it was in the past, due to the efforts of many of the people on the airplane, including the accident pilot who was known by his fellow Alaska Airline pilots as the ‘Legend of Alaska’ and who dedicated much of his life, professionally and personally, to aviation safety efforts in Alaska,” she said.
The NTSB characterized the FAA’s “internal guidance for medical certification of pilots following stroke” as “inadequate because it is conflicting and unclear, does not specifically address the risk of recurrence associated with such an event, and does not specifically recommend a neuropsychological evaluation (formal cognitive testing) to evaluate potential subtle cognitive impairment.”
The summary addressed weather systems and information, noting that “widespread Automated Weather Sensor System site deficiencies, if not corrected as expeditiously as possible, will continue to adversely affect the weather reporting network's ability to offer adequate coverage for providing National Weather Service forecasters and pilots with accurate ceiling and/or precipitation information.”
A recommendation urged a test program for collecting and relaying real-time weather information from datalink-equipped aircraft to the Alaska Unit of the National Weather Service.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Denver (CO) KCNC: Tonight At 10: CBS4 Investigates Outsourcing Airline Maintenance . More   -

Which is also its old deep space exploration vehicle

NASA's Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle NASA
Today NASA announced a plan that was largely expected but is now official: Orion, the scrapped then not-scrapped crew module from the definitely scrapped Constellation Program, will serve as the backbone of a new NASA crew module slated to go into service by 2016. Lockheed Martin, which never stopped working on its Orion capsule, will continue developing the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), the next-gen rocket-launched capsule that will carry a crew of four on missions lasting up to three weeks.
The announcement, in some respects, is anticlimactic. We’ve known that Lockheed was still working on Orion, and it appeared all along that the company knew something that we didn’t--you don’t build a 41,000-square-foot Space Operations Simulation Center to train astronauts on a vehicle that you believe will be axed. And while the final MPCV won’t be Orion down to the very last bolt, it won’t be a wildly re-imagined spacecraft either.
That’s probably a good thing. NASA is temporarily out of the manned space business after the last shuttle mission launches in July, and it appears private spacefaring companies are ready to take over that role within this decade. So it’s time for NASA to look to a variety of missions beyond low-Earth orbit, and a multi-purpose vehicle is exactly what the agency needs.
Aside from being 10 times safer than the shuttles during launch and re-entry (so NASA officials tell us) the MPCV is truly versatile. It will be capable of both deep space missions and, if necessary, routine trips to the International Space Station. It will be able to dock with other spacecraft and support spacewalks. With 316 cubic feet of habitable pressurized space, a very patient and non-claustrophobic crew could conceivably man the capsule for up to 21 days in space.
For NASA, the announcement is less about the technology and more about settling some points that have been more or less up in the air. Since President Obama eight-sixed Constellation last year in favor of longer term goals that put Americans on an asteroid by 2025 and on Mars by the 2030s, NASA has suffered somewhat from a lack of clearly defined goals. Now, with a heavy lift rocket in the works and a final decision on the next crew capsule, the agency can get back to what it was designed to do: making giant leaps for mankind.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PAN AM Boeing 727-2

The Skylon Spaceplane Reaction Engines
The Skylon spaceplane, a concept spacecraft that has been incubating in the UK for something like three decades, has all of a sudden taken a big leap forward thanks to a technical review by the European Space Agency. And if the money comes through--Skylon is a privately funded venture--this summer’s test program could quickly turn into a full-fledged ground demonstrator engine followed by a fifth scale model of one of the engines that would actually take to the skies.
The proposed Skylon would be reusable like the space shuttles but would dispense with massive, expensive rockets, taking off and landing via a conventional runway instead. Its novel integrated engine design allows the spacecraft to operate more like a conventional jet at lower altitudes, pulling in oxygen from the atmosphere rather than from external oxygen tanks. This drastically cuts down on its fuel load at takeoff.
At higher altitudes where the atmosphere thins, Skylon’s Sabre engine switches to full-on rocket mode and propels itself more like a conventional launch vehicle--though by this point it is already moving fast enough, and the air is thin enough, that it doesn’t need too terribly much fuel. Along the way it has to shed no external fuel tanks, allowing for what engineers are calling “single-stage-to-orbit” spaceflight. In this way, the reusable 275-foot Skylon could launch payloads of more than 16 tons into space with regularity at a far lower per-kilo cost than conventional rockets can.
But the hybrid air-breathing/rocket engine presents some serious challenges as well, and that’s what’s kept Skylon grounded for so many years. The engine must manage 1,000-degree high-speed gases flowing through its intake, then cool them prior to compressing and burning them along with hydrogen. This has led to the design of a novel heat exchanger that can take said gases and plunge them to -130 degrees celsius in just 1/100th of a second--no small feat. Engineers then had to devise a unique anti-frost solution that allows this heat exchanger to run continuously without freezing up.
By the ESA’s account, engineers working on the Skylon and its Sabre engine have done all of these things. ESA’s technical staff have seen it working on the lab bench and have given the engine their approving nod to go ahead with ground tests. That will happen this summer, when a scaled-up version of the cooling tech will be demoed.
That’s a big deal. If Skylon--or something like it--ever takes flight, engineers claim it could bring the roughly $7,000 per pound payload cost to launch satellites into orbit down to less than $500 per pound.
Skylon's Sabre Engine:  Reaction Engines