The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Letter to SXM

Pilot Patrick Smith writes an ode to Maho Beach, Sint Maarten, which remains closed after being partially destroyed by Hurricane Irma three weeks ago:

St. Maarten — or St. Martin — is part French and part Dutch. Princess Juliana (SXM) is in the Dutch section, and Maho sits just off end of runway 10. And when I say “just off,” I mean only a few hundred feet from the landing threshold. As arriving planes cross the beach, they are less than a hundred feet overhead. For an idea of close this is, you can check out any of a zillion online pics. Like the one above. Or this one, or this one, or any of hundreds of YouTube videos. Unlike so many other scary-seeming airplane pictures you’ll come across, they are not retouched.

Thus, planespotting at Maho beach is an experience unlike any other in commercial aviation. Not that you need to be an airplane buff to enjoy it. For anybody, the sights, sounds, and sensations of a jetliner screaming overhead at 150 miles-per-hour, nearly at arm’s reach, are somewhere between exhilarating and terrifying.

This is what he's talking about:

Could have been worse

An Air France A380 carrying 520 passengers lost an engine over the Atlantic this weekend:

“Flight 066 landed without further damage at the Goose Bay military airport in Canada and all of the 520 people on board were evacuated with no injuries,” an Air France spokesman in Paris said.

Video and photo images posted on social media, apparently by passengers or their relatives, showed extensive damage to the front of the outer starboard engine, with part of its external cowling stripped away.

The cause of the problem was unknown, with one of the plane’s passengers suggesting that a bird might have collided with the engine which was damaged.

There are many potential causes of the engine losing its cowling in flight, but a bird strike at FL400 is not likely one of them.

Also, the passengers were never in any danger. Four-engine planes have to be able to fly upwards of 275 km on two engines to pass certification.

Meet the Plimp

Via AVWeb, a company in Seattle is making an old kind of drone:

Two brothers in Seattle, working as Egan Airships, have built a drone that combines features from both fixed-wing aircraft and blimps to create an aircraft that can hover, take off and land vertically, and fly at up to 40 mph. The 28-foot-long aircraft weighs less than 55 pounds and uses a patented streamlined envelope design, rotational wings and an extended tail. It’s powered on both the wings and the tail.

The inflated portion of the Plimp aircraft is filled with helium, which is not flammable, and provides part of the lift, which is supplemented by lift created by the rotational wings. Due to its buoyancy, the company says, the Plimp is more efficient than helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft for surveillance and inspection operations. The aircraft is highly visible for miles, so line-of-sight rules can be adhered to for much greater distances than conventional drones, the company said. Its size and visibility also enhance collision avoidance. The aircraft can be operated remotely by a pilot and flight technician, and does not require a runway or launch/recovery system to operate.

Here's the company's video about the aircraft:

Note to the URI in my nose right now: I will defeat you

I've gotten a lot of sleep the last few days and also a lot of exercise. I can tell that the upper-respiratory infection burbling away in my head right now is taking a beating, and will soon be as dead as any strand of viral DNA can be.

In a timely posting, the Economist's Gulliver blog hints at its origin:

A recent study from the University of Stirling and the University of Ulster...examined hundreds of aeroplane crew members and discovered a direct link between air contamination and respiratory, cognitive and even neurological health problems. Out of 274 pilots questioned, 63% reported health problems consistent with breathing tainted air. When the team examined 15 separate incidents of acute aeroplane air contamination, most of which involed oil leakage, nearly 75% of the time multiple crew members on the flight reported adverse health effects. Airline staff are not the only ones at risk. “This is equally applicable to passengers because they breathe the same air,” says Susan Michaelis, one of the researchers and former airline pilot.

The problem has long been discussed within the airline industry, with several small-scale studies having been undertaken. But the new report is a fresh and more comprehensive take on the issue. The authors argue that manufacturers must change the way planes get their air. Boeing 787s, for example, have a separate system that does not draw in air through the engine.

OK, it really doesn't talk about pathogens spreading on airplanes, and since both my flights this past weekend were on 787-8s, the post doesn't even apply to me.

It's still an interesting post.

The perils of travel

It's not really that perilous to travel from the US to the UK, unless you're in a step challenge.

This past week, I was traveling for almost 40 hours—including 14 yesterday thanks to ordinary aviation delays. When you're on a plane, it's pretty hard to get steps. Fortunately the time change from the UK back to the US is in my favor, so I got 6 extra hours in which to walk, and I also got Parker back. Still, I barely squeaked in with 10,689 for the day and an unusually low 81,638 for the week (helped immensely by Wednesday's 18,319).

The nadir, of course, was last Sunday, when I flew to London. The lost 6 hours occurred right in the middle of the day, so not only did I get the fewest steps (7,407) since June 11th (7,044), but also this happened:

Sheesh.

So naturally, I walked to work today. I'm already at 9,770 and heading towards 20k (assuming I walk home, too).

London again, for a few hours

This turns out to be my 35th trip to Heathrow this century. Of those, 20 have flown from O'Hare, and of those, 11 were on American flight 90. This is, however, the first time I've flown on AAL90 in something other than a Boeing 767, and I have to say I really like the business class in American's 787-8 planes.

This is not my first time in a 787, nor is it my first time in business class on one. (It's my second for both.) I flew from London to Montreal in British Airways' coach class in 2013, and from Los Angeles to Dallas in American's (domestic) business class in 2014. Since then, American has reconfigured its business class to fit in more seats in a diagonal front/rear-facing jigsaw. The result is that only six business-class seats actually put your head next to a window; the other 10 "window" seats put your feet by the window so they feel more like aisle seats. Thanks to SeatGuru, I got some warning about this so I could choose wisely when my upgrade went through.

A couple more observations. First, it seems that GPS signals have a harder time penetrating the composite skin of this airplane than the aluminum skin of the other Boeing models in American's fleet. In consequence my phone can't tell me where I am right now, so I'll have to grab the coordinates retrospectively from FlightAware. Since I'm posting this entry retrospectively anyway, this isn't that big a deal.

Second, despite the widespread passenger loathing of American's 767 fleet—at least for everyone who didn't get a "twilight zone" seat in rows 10 through 13—the flight attendants I spoke with actually preferred the 767s to these new 787s. Apparently the galleys on the 787s are cramped and lack adequate counter space.

Third, I'm not sure if we should give kudos to American for ditching the 2-4-2 seating arrangement in coach in favor of 3-3-3. This increased the number of passengers by increasing the number of middle seats. But more passengers on the airplane generally translates into lower fares. Also, it means that American can move their 777s (which are still 2-5-2 in coach) to their Asia routes and fly 787s exclusively on the Chicago-London route. The 787 is just enough smaller that it doesn't feel like a freight car in coach. Even if American moves to 3-3-3 seating on their 777s, the planes still carry almost 100 more people, which makes boarding and baggage claim that much less enjoyable.

I'll have a couple of photos at some point. A couple of four-hour train rides and two-hour ferry rides will give me some downtime to edit photos.

Drawing pictures in the sky

Chicago-based Boeing tested new engines on a 787-8 Wednesday, and chose an imaginative flight path:

Quartz has the story:

Without context, this seems like a publicity stunt. The distance covered in the flight is estimated to be about 25,400 km (15,800 miles). By one estimate, the 787-8 dumped more than 300,000 kg of carbon dioxide in the process.

The endeavor was not a complete waste. A Boeing spokesperson told Quartz that today’s flight was to test the endurance of new engines and it was required by regulatory agencies. “Rather than fly in random patterns, the test team got creative and flew a route that outlined a 787-8,” he said.

Boeing's company blog has more:

With time to spare in the air, a Boeing test team got creative, flying a route that outlined a 787-8 in the skies over 22 states. The nose is pointing at the Puget Sound region, home to Boeing Commercial Airplanes. The wings stretch from northern Michigan near the Canadian border to southern Texas. The tail touches Huntsville, Alabama. The flight plan is visible using a flight tracking website like Flight Aware. The 787 Dreamliner is designed to allow carriers to provide more direct flights on long-distance routes.

Hey, if you have to fly for 18 hours straight, at least have some fun with it, right?

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.