Monday, August 17, 2009


Man’s dream to be free as a bird in the sky has been around for quite some time. Ever since the myth of Icarus and Daedalus in which they flew away from the island of Crete with feathered wings held together with wax. The pioneers of aviation were thought to be a little crazy or “crackpots”. The Wright Brother’s were persistent and they toiled until they perfected a heavier-than-air, controllable flying machine. The great aviation hero and pioneer Charles Lindbergh promoted aviation and air travel in his early life. The air routes that airlines use today are a direct result of his work.

The technology of what an airplane is made of has gone from the days of wood, cloth and wires to high-tech composites for the wings, body and tail assemblies to exotic metals for the jet engines. To give an idea of how far aviation has progressed, the top speed of the Wright Flyer in 1903 was 10mph. The top speed of the Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane was well over 2,200mph. This is in a time span of less than 80 years.

There are also many unsung heroes in aviation. They are many and varied such as airline ticket clerks, baggage handlers and the people you never see such as the Air Traffic Controller in the Tower. They are the technicians and mechanics that maintain and repair aircraft. They are the skilled workers that manufacture aircraft and engines and all of the various assemblies and components they are comprised of.

Aviation has many facets such as military aviation, commercial aviation, general aviation, sport aviation, and rotary aviation.

Military aviation has had explosive growth (no pun intended).In military aviation the armed forces have used aircraft in many conflicts, such as (and this is not a complete list): Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf Wars (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm), Bosnian War, Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom), and the Afghanistan War (Operation Enduring Freedom).

In civil or commercial aviation airlines have gone from aircraft that had luxurious accommodations such as sleeping berths (similar to trains) in the late 1930’s to an airplane today called the Airbus A380 that can hold a maximum of 853 people in an economy class configuration.

In general aviation we have gone from airplanes with cloth covered wings to small jets with wings made out of composite materials. And from open cockpit aircraft to cockpits with color radar displays for weather and GPS navigation equipment.

Air Racing and participating in Air Shows are just two of things that comprise sport aviation.

Aviation has made the world smaller and the technology spin-offs from aviation are many and varied. Automobiles are more aerodynamic and fuel efficient due to the research done in aviation.

Aviation is amazing in my humble opinion.

Women in Aviation

I was thinking recently about women in aviation. Have they broken the so-called glass ceiling? Should I say "so-called"? Because it does exist, doesn't it? There are women pilot's who fly for airlines. The military has female pilot's. NASA has Shuttle Commander's that are female. Should I be saying women? or should I be saying female? Which is preferable or better or correct? Is this a sensitive or sore subject? Please let me know your thought's or feeling's (male or female) on this subject (for or against - positive or negative).

Pratt & Whitney Aircraft

Pratt & Whitney Aircraft manufactures aircraft engines. On their famous logo with the Eagle it says: “Dependable Engines”. In later years the company had the following slogan: “The Eagle means Business”. They have been manufacturing engines (piston and jet) since 1925. The man who started it was Frederick Brant Rentschler. And you thought the company was started by two people named Pratt and Whitney!

Well the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft story is a fairly long and convoluted one. Rentschler founded Wright Aeronautical. Wright Aeronautical was previously Wright-Martin. Wright-Martin was a merger of the Glenn L. Martin Company and the Wright Company which occurred in 1916. Wright Company was created by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Glenn Martin resigned from Wright-Martin in 1917. The company was renamed Wright Aeronautical in 1919. The Wright “Whirlwind” engine was used on the plane that the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh flew solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean on May 21, 1927. Then in 1924 Rentschler left Wright Aeronautical with some engineers after a dispute regarding funding for an air-cooled engine which the government requested development of. So Rentschler headed to Connecticut to Pratt & Whitney which at the time was called the “Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool Company”. It was founded in 1860 by Francis A. Pratt and Amos Whitney (a cousin of Eli Whitney). They were located in Hartford, Connecticut. Pratt & Whitney provided funds, building facilities, and even their name. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft was incorporated in 1925.

The following is but a short list of well-known aircraft that have had Pratt & Whitney engines installed on them:

B-52 Stratofortress (1952) - the J57
Boeing 707 (1958) - the JT3
SR-71 Blackbird (1964) - the J58
Boeing 747 (1966) - the JT9D
F-15 Eagle (1970) - the F100
Boeing 727 (1980) - the JT8D
Boeing 747 (1987) - the PW4000
Boeing 777 (1989) - the PW4084
F/A-22 Raptor (1991) - the F119

Pratt & Whitney Aircraft manufactured 363,610 piston aircraft engines during World War II which was nearly half of all the engines produced.

Charles Lindbergh was once employed at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft The desk he used can be seen at the Pratt & Whitney Museum in Hartford, CT. Connecticut’s economy relies in large part on the Defense Industry and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft is the states largest private employer.

Over the years Pratt & Whitney Aircraft has made engines that have been installed in a large variety of civil and military aircraft. They have also made engines (both piston and jet) that have been used to generate electrical power on the ground. There power plants have been installed in U.S. Navy ships. They even in had small helicopter turbine engines installed on Indy and Formula One racing cars. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft also has a division in Canada that was founded in 1928. It makes turboprop engines for small aircraft.

In 1929 Rentschler incorporated the company called: “United Aircraft and Transport Company”. The creation of United Airlines came about from this company. United Aircraft and Transport Company then became United Aircraft Corporation which was comprised of the following four companies: Pratt & Whitney, Vought Aircraft (from Chance Vought – another aviation legend – but this company left in 1954), Sikorsky Aircraft (from famed helicopter inventor Igor Sikorsky), and Hamilton-Standard which makes propellers. Then in 1975 United Aircraft Corporation became the United Technologies Corporation which we know today. United Technologies Corporation or UTC also has Carrier (air conditioning and refrigeration) and Otis (elevators) as business units.

Henson and Stringfellow

If you recall in the 1965 version of the movie “The Flight of the Phoenix” the character Heinrich Dorfmann says the following: “In 1841 Henson and Stringfellow built a rubber-powered model that flew 600 meters before encountering an obstruction”. So you ask yourself who are Henson and Stringfellow. Were they aviation pioneers? Did they do something historic? And if so what was it?

Their names were William Samuel Henson and John Stringfellow. Henson was born May 3, 1812 in the town Chard, which is in the county of Somerset, England. He became a successful businessman like his father in the lace-making industry in Somerset. John Stringfellow was born December 6, 1799 in Attercliffe near Sheffield, England. He was an engineer and also in the lace-making industry in Somerset.

Mr. Henson’s aeronautical work was influenced by the world renowned Sir George Cayley. Henson and Stringfellow designed a steam-driven aircraft which they called an: “aerial steam carriage” which was the first known design for a propeller-driven fixed-wing aircraft. Mr. Henson submitted a patent (British Patent # 9478) in 1842 for a flying machine called the “Aerial”. When one looks at these drawings the elements of design and construction that were later used in Word War I era aircraft can be seen.

And according to the patent it planned "to convey letters, goods and passengers from place to place through the air". This would have made it the first air mail carrier or airline. In 1843 Henson and Stringfellow formed a company with Frederick Marriott, and D.E. Colombine called: “Aerial Transit Company”.

Frederick Marriott was credited in later years with coining the term “aeroplane”. What Henson and Stringfellow had done was 60 years before the Wright Brother’s first successful flight on December 17, 1903. They also created a very impressive public media campaign with flyers and posters of the aircraft “Aerial” depicting it in flight in exotic locations. These flyers and posters appeared all over the world. And the “Aerial” had never actually flown; it had made a very, very short hop. The reason for this is that it’s power plant which was a steam engine was too heavy and under-powered (it had 30-horsepower). But the engineering of the aircraft design itself was very sound and it would influence future aeronautical thinking.

Henson was married to Sarah Ann Jones in 1848. In 1849 he and his wife emigrated to the U.S. and they lived in Newark, New Jersey. He would go on to be known as “Mad-man” Henson. He was a broken and humiliated man in his later years. He died in 1888. He was buried in East Orange, New Jersey.

John Stringfellow was married to Hannah Keetch in 1827. He was awarded a prize of L100 pounds at the aeronautical exhibition at Crystal Palace in June 1868 by the Royal Aeronautical Society for his model steam engine. His steam engine had the highest power-to-weight ratio of the 15 engines on display. He was elected a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society also in 1868. He had a triplane design (see below) and his work laid the foundation for those that followed. Had Stringfellow had a small lightweight internal combustion engine available he would have been able to fly at least 40 years before the Wright Brother’s. John Stringfellow died in 1883 in Chard.

Charles Lindbergh - The Lone Eagle during WWII in the Pacific

Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, was against America going into WWII. After the Pearl Harbor attacks, however, he wanted to do whatever he could for the war effort. President Roosevelt didn’t want a national hero to be involved in any actual combat lest he got hurt or killed. Also the president held some deep resentment against Mr. Lindbergh because of Lindbergh’s activities before the war.

So in May 1944 Charles Lindbergh became a Technical Advisor/Consultant to the United Aircraft Company which required him to Field Test the F4U Corsair with the Marine Corps at Guadalcanal. He flew on 14 combat missions. Then in June 1994 he went to the lush tropical island of Emirau (also spelled Emira). This island is in the St. Matthias Group or Islands, also known as the Mussau Islands, in the Bismarck Archipelago that makes up part of Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is approximately 125 north of Australia.

Lindbergh was stationed with the 475th Fighter Group which was part of the 5th Air Force. This group was known as “Satan’s Angels.” He would be flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. He took part in 50 combat missions and even shot down 1 enemy plane.

As an observer he quickly calculated that the combat radius of the P-38 could be extended by 30%. A standard technique at the time was to cruise at 2200 – 2400 rpm’s with a fuel/air mixture set to auto-rich with the manifold pressure set to low. Lindbergh called for only 1600 rpm with a fuel/air mixture set to auto-lean and a manifold pressure set to high. This reduced fuel consumption to between 63 and 70 gallons per hour from 90 to 100 gallons per hour. The cruising speed was around 185 mph. The P-38’s used to fly a five-hour mission and come back on fumes, but after taking Lindbergh’s advice, the range of the P-38’s increased as much as 400 miles. The mission’s (bomber escort and loiter) time was increased to nine hours with fuel to spare. I doubt that the pilot’s enjoyed sitting in the cockpit for nine hours!

When Lindbergh first gave his advice for extending the range of the P-38, the pilots and especially the mechanics were against it. The mechanics thought that the engines would be put under too much strain and that part’s of the engines would rapidly wear out. But after the P-38’s came back from missions, the mechanics would strip the engines down and find no abnormal wear or tear. Lindbergh was vindicated, but he chose not to lord that over anyone. He let his actions speak for him.

Airline Accidents - Airline Maintenance

I am neither an Airline Pilot nor an Aviation Mechanic. I have observed the news with regards to airliner accidents though. The articles that I have read talk about the possibility of poor or shoddy maintenance, mediocre at best. I believe that the majority of Aviation Maintenance Facilities are reputable and that they employ skilled Mechanics. Having said this, some of you out there may think that I am naïve and not in touch with reality. That's fine. I look forward to any comments, insights, or criticisms. Airlines have outsourced there maintenance operations to cut costs. To be in the airline business today is financially a very risky proposition. Some people believe that when airlines outsource the maintenance to cut costs that they also cut corners. But think for a moment about all of the millions of people that fly on airlines each year, and think of the millions of air miles that are flown each year, without incident. But the media will put an airline crash on the front page because if it bleeds it leads. I am not faulting the media, they are just doing there job. I know that it has been said many, many times that: "Air travel is safer than _____" (fill in the blank). But to the loved ones that have perished in those accidents that is no consolation. Could some of the accidents have been prevented? I am sure of it. Were the accidents due to pilot error? Were the accidents due to a bad design or an engineering flaw? Were the accidents due to bad maintenance? The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates the crashes to find out. People have asked if the FAA is doing its job. That could be debated on and on. Are all the Aviation Maintenance Facilities around the world at the same level? Do all the Aviation Maintenance Mechanics around the world have the same level of expertise? I am asking a lot of questions here. I look forward to reading the replies that contain possible answers and to the dialogue that hopefully gets sparked.

A Look at the B-52 Bomber

The historic Boeing B-52 Bomber first flew 57 years ago on April 15, 1952. The B-52’s official name is ‘Stratofortress’ but its nickname is BUFF which stands for ‘Big Ugly Fat Fellow’ among other things. The B-52 has been used in combat missions from the Vietnam War up to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. NASA has used a B-52 (Serial Number 52-0008 – it was the 10th one off the assembly line) from 1959 until 2004 as a “Mothership” to lift aloft experimental and research aircraft on test flights. It was the oldest aircraft NASA had and it was the oldest flying B-52.

The idea for a long range large bomber started in 1946. The design of B-52 was to originally have straight wings and be propeller driven. The Air Force wanted a jet engine powered bomber. Then on the weekend of October 23-24 in 1948 in a room at the Hotel Van Cleve in Dayton, Ohio the current design (swept wing and jet engine powered) was made by a team that consisted of the following people: of Ed Wells, George Schairer, Art Carlsen, Vaughn Blumenthal, H.W. “Bob” Withington, and Maynard Pennell.

The B-52 was developed to thwart the Cold War threat of the Soviet Union. It was designed to carry nuclear weapons. Boeing manufactured a total of 744 aircraft. There are currently 76 in active service and 20 in reserve.

Here are some of the specifications of a B-52, ‘H’ Model:

Wingspan: 185 feet
Length: 159 feet, 4 inches
Height: 40 feet, 8 inches
Maximum Speed: 650 mph
Maximum takeoff weight: 488,000 pounds
Bomb Load: 70,000 pounds

The prototype model had tandem seats like jet fighters but General Curtis LeMay who was in charge of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) wanted the conventional side-by-side cockpit. The models went from ‘A’ to the current model ‘H’. The ‘A’ through ‘G’ models were manufactured from 1952 until 1962. The last ‘H’ model (Serial Number 61-0040) left the factory on October 26, 1962. Over the years the aircraft has been modified and upgraded. Its airframe has had sections modified and strengthened due to structural fatigue. Its avionics suite has been vastly improved. Their are crewmembers who have had fathers (and possibly grandfathers) that have been crewmembers. There have been suggestions of replacing the eight Pratt & Whitney jet engines with Rolls-Royce models but this would have been too costly. The replacement of the B-52 itself by the B-1 Lancer (nickname ‘BONE’) and/or the B-2 Stealth Bomber has been suggested but that hasn’t happened. The U.S. Air Force intends on deploying the B-52 until 2040.

The B-52 in September of 2006 became the first U.S. military aircraft to use an ‘alternative’ synthetic fuel mixture. It was 50% JP-8 fuel and 50% fuel from a process called Fischer-Tropsch (FT). This is so we will depend less on foreign oil supplies. The U.S. Air Force is planning on having all the aircraft in its inventory using this synthetic fuel by 2011. The B-52 has a long history and it doesn’t seem to be over yet.

First to Fly

Who was the first person to fly? Now when I say fly I mean sustained, controlled flight in a heavier-than-air aircraft.
Was it that snappy dresser from Brazil Alberto Santos Dumont? His countrymen fervently think so. His first flight was on October 23, 1906. It was recognized by Brazilians and by the French and other Europeans to truly be the first controlled flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft. It had the ability to take off from the ground without any catapult assistance and it was witnessed in public by a large crowd and the scientific community.
When the Wright Brothers flew in the United States in front of people in general and in front of the press in particular they asked that no photographs be taken. They were very secretive because they were afraid that others would steal their designs or technical features of the aircraft. During the timeframe of 1903 - 1906 they still didn't have an approved or accepted Patent which also was a factor in their secrecy. Their Patent (# 821,393) was granted on May 22,1906 - three years after they first flew. Then in 1908 they were awarded a government contract from the U.S. War Department ($25,000). They went to Paris on May 29, 1908 and finally demonstrated the aircraft in front of a very large crowd.
Was it Gustave Whitehead in Fairfield, Connecticut on August 14, 1901? Eyewitnesses have signed depositions years later attesting to that statement. Modern replicas of Whitehead's aircraft have been successfully flown. A contract was made between the estate of the Wright Brother's and the Smithsonian Institution to display the Wright Flyer' at the Smithsonian (National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.) which stated that if it is proven that anyone else had flown first that the Wright Flyer would be taken back. Conspiracy theorists say that this contract' was created to keep facts about Whitehead's alleged flight from being divulged and published. Does a photograph exist showing Gustave Whitehead in flight in 1901? Has the existence of this photograph been suppressed? Controversy to this day still swirls around all these issues.
Was it Richard Pearse from New Zealand on March 31, 1903? He had eyewitnesses also. But there wasn't any photographic evidence of flight. Also Richard Pearse has never said he was the first to fly and he does not want to take away that claim from the Wright Brother's. The New Zealand Mint struck a silver medal in 1982 to commemorate the: "80th Anniversary of the World 1st Powered Flight". The date on the medal is: "31-3-1982". This of course would have made the alleged 1st flight in 1902. The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Auckland which had commissioned the silver medal states on their website that the 1st flight was in 1903. So was it 1902 or 1903? The debate still goes on.
Was it Glenn Curtiss? He flew an improved (structurally modified) version of Samuel P. Langley's Great Aerodrome' in 1914. So does that mean it could have flown in 1903 before the Wright Brother's? The 'Great Aerodrome' fell off a houseboat in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. twice in 1903 (October 7th and December 8th).
Mr. Curtiss and the Wright Brother's had Patent Litigation for many years with regards towards "controllable" flight and whose control system (wing-warping or elevator's and ailerons) was the first and therefore legitimate.
Or was it really the Wright Brothers? It has been said that they didn't really fly on December 17, 1903. Allegedly when Wilbur Wright was running alongside the aircraft he was supposedly balancing he was actually lifting it while his brother Orville Wright was flying' it. The deep depressions of Wilbur's footprints in the sand are supposed to be proof of that.
Well I was born and raised in Connecticut, but does that mean I have to automatically state that Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly? On the contrary, I emphatically state that I believe that the Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) designed, built, tested, and flew the first heavier-than-air aircraft in sustained and controllable flight. Who knows, maybe someone someday will prove beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt that someone else was first to fly. But until that day comes I am sticking with the Wright Brothers.