Showing posts with label aviation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label aviation. Show all posts

Monday, August 1, 2011

Heritage aviation remains a dangerous affair

This unique modern replica of the airplane of the Wright brothers is referred to as the Wright "B" Flyer Silver Bird.

Its first test flight, which took place just 6 weeks ago in Ohio, is presented in this interesting video.



Last Saturday morning, the Silver Bird went down suddenly, killing its pilot and passenger.
I dedicate this blog post to the memory of my friend Adrian Lyons, 43, and his guest pilot David Sayers, 41, who were killed exactly 12 years ago—on August 1, 1999—when the Jet Provost trainer belonging to Adrian and his wife Patricia Tomkins crashed in a cornfield at Staverton, 20 miles from Gloucester Airport (UK).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Potentially breakneck Aussie invention

Some Aussie activities don't look particularly risky at first sight. Take rock fishing, for example. There's no danger whatsoever in being perched on a rock on the edge of the ocean… as long as there are no big waves in the vicinity. For rock fishing to become dangerous, you need at least one big wave in the vicinity. Often a single exceptional big wave is largely sufficient...

An invention known as the Hoverbike is the brainchild of an Australian motorbike enthusiast named Chris Malloy, seen here astride a prototype version of his toy… conveniently tethered to the ground to prevent it from flying into the heavens.

For the moment, the device is being thoroughly tested, with utmost caution, and Chris has never been tempted to release the straps that force the craft to hover close to the ground. At some time in the future, though, Chris figures out that his invention would be capable of rising to an altitude of a couple of thousand meters, and cruising at a speed of over 250 km/hour (like a motorcyclist having fun on a country highway). Here's a view that lets you see the main components of this rather elementary machine:

It occupies roughly the same surface as an automobile, but it's not intended to travel down the same roads as traditional vehicles. One day, when it's flightworthy, the Hoverbike will share the same aerial itineraries as helicopters, ULMs, hang gliders, etc.

Will this craft be risky? No more so than rock fishing… when there are no big waves in the vicinity. At a rough glance, I would imagine that, if ever there were sudden power fluctuations in one of the two propellers, the Hoverbike would immediately develop a tendency to stand up on one end, or turn somersaults, or spin out of control, or maybe simply drop. In rock fishing terms, that would be like the sudden arrival of a really big wave. But nothing like this could possibly happen as long as the Hoverbike remains firmly tethered to the ground.

Maybe, one day soon, the Hoverbike might set out unexpectedly on its maiden flight into the sky… when two of those tethering straps happen to work loose from the ground, at the same time that the pilot is revving up his toy. If this were to happen, the drop to the ground would probably be harmless, but it would be important to avoid having a spinning propeller drift down onto the pilot's head.

When all's said and done, I think it would be preferable to stick to rock fishing, or other relatively safe pastimes such as bushwalking without a compass, or surfing on unknown beaches, or swimming in crocodile ponds… Or maybe riding an old-fashioned motorcycle along winding country roads at the same cruising speed as an air-borne Hoverbike.

Now, I can imagine brave young Hoverbike enthusiasts criticizing me for whimpering liked a scared child. If you're not prepared to take a few risks, then you shouldn't even dare to walk across a busy suburban road. As I've often pointed out, my grandfather died (at the age of 93) as a result of falling off a swivel chair while changing a light bulb in his Gold Coast apartment. So, what's so crazy about jumping onto a Hoverbike and opening the throttle, then flying through the air with the greatest of ease, like the daring young man on the flying trapeze? OK, your arguments are indeed convincing. I'll think about it, and let you know if I change my mind. Meanwhile, please carry on your tethered testing.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday mystery

This week, the excellent online Gallica department of the national French library asks us to try to identify the designer of the aeronautical system seen here:

I would guess that the inventor might not have made the same mark upon aviation history as, say, Louis Blériot, Roland Garros or Jean Mermoz. Today, of course, certain professional cyclists could draw upon the powerful resources of newly-invented varieties of aviation fuel (more or less fit for human consumption) to get such a device into the air. Some riders, borne by such magic wings, would even be capable of getting their machines rapidly up to the summits of Alpine slopes.

My favorite image from the early history of aviation shows Icarus taking off cautiously, under the worried gaze of his dad Daedalus.

This work in oil by Charles Paul Landon [1760-1826], painted a decade after the French Revolution, hangs today in a provincial gallery in Alençon (Normandy). It might be a depiction of my father teaching me how to swim by throwing me into Deep Creek, out in the bush… except that we didn't have wings, and we weren't stark naked.

ANSWER: In 1921, this so-called aviette contraption—designed by a certain Gabriel Poulain—was able to cover a distance of 12 meters at an average altitude of just over a meter. Even if his experimental aircraft had crashed, the courageous pilot would not have been gravely injured. So, we can understand retrospectively why he saw no point in wearing any kind of safety helmet.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sinister name

In the following NASA image, the dense white horizontal bars that look like gigantic clouds indicate the shifting location of the Intertropical Convergence Zone [ITCZ], which is the equatorial region where winds of the northern hemisphere clash with those of the southern hemisphere.

Colossal storms rage constantly in these skies, and it's possible that lightning from one such violent eruption resulted in the loss of Air France Flight 447 a few days ago.

Seafarers have always dreaded this zone, where the friendly trade winds often cancel one another, meaning that vessels get stuck there, often in a blanket of dense fog. To designate the unfriendly ITCZ in the Atlantic, between West Africa and the New World, French mariners use the everyday term pot (recipient, as in chamber pot). The zone is referred to as the pot au noir, which might be translated as the black hole. [Click here to see my recent blog article entitled Loose language.] In fact, the origin of the adjective "black" is particularly sinister. During the terrible era of the slave trade, vessels leaving Africa with their human cargoes were often held up in this zone, because of a lack of winds. In such cases, the captain often gave the order to throw overboard any slaves who happened to be sick, because it was considered that the vessel would not have sufficient supplies to keep such individuals alive up until their arrival in America. So, the ITCZ "pot" was black in the sense that the murky depths received the bodies of black-skinned slaves.

Our planet has indeed been an ugly place at times. It's still ugly, today, when a plane full of people disappears without an adieu.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Flight pioneers

Over the last year or so, there has been some discussion about the claim that the hang glider was invented by John Dickenson in Grafton, but there now appears to be an international consensus of opinion that he deserves this honor.

Click the photo to access a recently-developed and well-documented website on this question.

When his Dickenson-designed wing soared above the Clarence River on 8 September 1963, the pilot Rod Fuller was in fact being tugged by a speed boat. I've often thought that the presence of this noisy aquatic partner may have diminished the impact of these pioneering flights. Observers tend to associate the mythical dream of Icarus with an aerial and ethereal world of silence, devoid of mechanical monsters such as speedboats. We imagine the god of flight as a giant but quiet bird.

In July 2006, this Japanese aircraft powered by dry-cell batteries took off, ascended to an altitude of five meters, stayed in the air for about a minute and covered a distance of several hundred meters.

In April of this year, the Boeing corporation tested in real flight, in Spain, a tiny plane that runs on hydrogen batteries.

The propeller-driven test aircraft flew at a speed of a hundred kilometers an hour, at an altitude of about a thousand meters, for twenty minutes. Later, a spokesman for the manufacturer suggested that aviation power based upon hydrogen batteries could become a feasible technological and commercial possibility within some twenty years. In my imagination, that would be the authentic dream of Icarus.