Friday, October 29, 2010

You are going to go far

Human beings are always going somewhere or want to go somewhere. What is on the other side of that ridge? That mountain range? We go to the store, to the movies, to the bank, to the supermarket, to the kitchen, to bed (usually on a daily basis), to the bathroom (sometimes more than once), to the moon (we haven’t been there in a while). We are even told where to go – “Go west young man!”, or “You can go to hell!” First, humans walked/hiked/trekked to explore. Then humans rode animals, and then they had carts or wagons, and then boats. We went up and down rivers, across ponds, lakes, seas, oceans. Then we wanted to copy the birds and fly, or was it more than that? To slip those surly bonds of earth as it were. Do we want and need to conquer our surroundings? our world? To show that we are the masters? We always want to get somewhere quicker or faster. When the Mayflower came across the Atlantic Ocean in 1620 it took 65-days to do it. In 1927 when Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean it took 33-1/2-hours. In 1996 a Concorde Supersonic Airliner flew across the Atlantic Ocean in under 3-hours. In 1974 (22-years earlier) a U.S. Air Force ‘spy’ plane flew across the Atlantic Ocean in under 2-hours. It used to take days, weeks, or even months for a letter to reach someone via snail mail (do people even write letters anymore?). Now with the click of a button we can send an e-mail or a tweet to anyone anywhere on or off the earth instantly. The world is shrinking. Aviation and Technology are rapidly advancing.

Speaking of aviation, I love aviation! That is an understatement! Aviation is more that just people, aircraft, technology, or history. Imagine the joy, admiration and/or fascination a young child has when they see an airplane up in the sky for the first time.

And what about Rotorcraft or Helicopters? They have been used throughout aviations short history. First to save peoples lives, then later on to be used as a weapon in war. It has also been used to save peoples lives in war.

People talk about the spinoffs from NASA, well what about the spinoffs from aviation? Have we gone far or have we advanced from the technologies derived from aviation? Yes we have. Automobiles for instance are more aerodynamic. Speaking of automobiles, here is a little side note, the SAAB automobile comes from a company that started out by making airplanes. The name SAAB means “Svenska Aeroplan AB”. “AB” is the rough equivalent of company, so SAAB literally means Swedish Airplane Company. There have been may more spinoffs from aviation, in the areas of metallurgy, composite materials, and electronics. Anti-lock brakes were first developed for aircraft back in 1929.

So, are we going to go far? Yes. We have gone far from that famous first flight on December 17, 1903 and we will keep going far.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Webster’s defines collaboration as: “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor”. Think of some great collaborations, Lennon and McCartney in music, Abbott and Costello in comedy. Husbands and Wives collaborate also. Sports teams couldn’t win without teamwork and collaborating with each other. Would Apple Computer be where they without Steve Jobs collaborating with someone? (another Steve, Steve Wozniak for instance). What about Microsoft? Did Bill Gates do it all by himself? Charities and grass-roots movements would not exist without collaboration. Curing diseases and inventing new technologies would not happen without collaboration. But I digress. In the relatively short history of aviation collaboration has played an integral part. Take the Wright Brothers for instance. The collaboration they had was phenomenal and has been written about extensively.

Charles Lindbergh was called the “Lone Eagle” but he did not make his historic flight in a vacuum. The “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane that he made his historic flight in was called the “Spirit of St. Louis” and it was designed by Donald Hall at Ryan Airlines and built by all of the hard work of the engineers and workers there. The engine that powered his airplane was the Wright J-5C “Whirlwind” from the Wright Aeronautical Corporation and the following were some of the people involved in creating it:
Charlie Lawrance – President (and one of the men who developed the Whirlwind engine)
Kenneth M. Lane – Chief Airplane Engineer
Richard “Dick” Blythe
Edward “Ed” Mulligan
Kenneth Boedecker
Thomas Kincaid

Not only that, but Charles Lindbergh had an organization of backers supporting his endeavor and it was called “The Spirit of St. Louis Organization”. Some of it’s members were as follows:
Harold M. Bixby
Harry H. Knight (and his father Harry F. Knight)
Major Albert Bond “Doc” Lambert
J.D. Wooster Lambert (Docs brother)
E. Lansing Ray – He ran/published the St. Louis Globe-Democrat Newspaper
Frank Robinson
William “Bill” Robinson
Earl C. Thompson

Would Neil Armstrong have been able to step off that ladder onto the moon and utter his most famous words without the collaboration of thousands of people? – Scientists, Engineers, and an untold number of workers who are just as much the heroes as Neil was. What about Jack Northrop, Bill Boeing, Chance Vought, Igor Sikorsky, Bill Piper, Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech (and his wife Olive), Clarence “Kelly” Johnson (and his Skunk Works Team at Lockheed), Donald Douglas, Glenn Martin, Leroy Grumman, Larry Bell, Glenn Curtiss, and many, many others. They didn’t all do it alone, they collaborated. With each other, with the military, with the government, with academia. Things get done when people collaborate.

Some collaborations are not always good or legal. When Julius Rosenberg (yes, that Rosenberg) and others in a spy ring gave the technology for an aircraft tracking radar (SCR-584), it’s analog computer gun director (M-9) and proximity fuse to Soviet Spy Alexandr Feklisov it gave the Russians the ability to track and destroy our fighter aircraft. The spy plane that Francis Gary Powers was flying on May 1, 1960 was tracked and shot down that way. William Perl (real name Mutterperl) who worked for the NACA (the predecessor of NASA) also gave advanced aeronautical data to Alexandr Feklisov which allowed the Russians to develop the unique tail-fin design used on the MiG-15 jet fighter. This plane was flown against American pilots during the Korean War. Aviation has had many, many collaborations, mostly for good, some not so good. But collaborations will continue.