Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Gooney Bird will never die.

I was excited by a recent photo on the front page of the NY Times...a DC-3 spraying dispersant over the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill. Amazing. The DC-3...still serving.

More affectionately known as the Gooney Bird, the DC-3 began life in 1935 when American Airlines asked Donald Douglas for an improved sleeper-transport. It cut the cross-country time down to 15 hours with three refueling stops.

The airplane in the photo applying dispersant is operated by Clean Gulf Associates and is built by Basler Turbo Conversions. Pretty amazing -- they take the DC-3 airframe, add PT6 turboprop engines plus new fuel, hydraulics, electrics, and avionics. And they get about 35% improved performance. Sweet.

My DC-3 Stories

In the winter of 1980 I was a Navy flight instructor flying the T-2C. I caught a DC-3 ride from NAS Key West to NAS Chase Field in Beeville, TX. We stopped to refuel in New Orleans. The weather in Texas was pretty bad, and the crude instrumentation in the DC-3 was not reassuring. It was a rough ride and it took forever.
That was my last flight in a DC-3.

I saw my last commercial DC-3 fly out of Honolulu in 1995. I had a consulting gig. Every day at dawn I would drive to the Naval Station Pearl Harbor, and usually I could see a lone DC-3 from Kamaka Air taking off from Honolulu airport. It flew cargo to Molokai and Lanai. It would lumber off just after dawn when the rest of the island was still sleeping, and the sound of those big avgas reciprocal engines on Hawaii would rock you right back to WWII. I can almost smell the exhaust now.

Tell me your DC-3 stories.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Time to pull the plug on the F-35 JSF

On 12 April 2010 I had a letter to the editor published in Aviation Week & Space Technology. In that letter, I advocated for the termination of the F-35 Lightening II aircraft, arguing that:

- There is no current or (projected) future threat that the F-35 would address, therefore no sense of urgency.

- The F-35 is simply unaffordable, having grown way, way beyond justifiable costs.

Today, I discovered that way back on March 20th, the GAO had prepared a scathing report on the F-35 program, citing cost overruns, testing disruptions, and numerous schedule delays. You can read the report here:

I stand by my earlier letter. Time to terminate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, gather up the lessons learned, and restart.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Robert White, X-15 test pilot and space pioneer, dies

I want to pause a moment to reflect on the astonishing career of Major General Robert White, who passed away March 19, 2010. Robert White was not nearly as well known as some other early USAF test pilots, such as Chuck Yeager, but he was equally -- perhaps more -- famous and accomplished.

Nearly 50 years ago, Robert White was the Chief Test Pilot for the X-15 rocket-powered airplane. I remember being in awe of him as I built my model X-15.

He was the first man to break Mach 4. And the first man to break Mach 5. And the first man to break Mach 6 -- > 4,000 mph at an altitude of 59 miles

That was 50 years ago. No one has come close since. And at last he has slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings. Farewell Robert White.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

USAF launched unmanned "shuttle"

Surprisingly, the USAF has actually held the first launch of their robotic shuttle, the X-37B. When the NASA Space Shuttle program retires later this year, this will be the only launch-and-return vehicle in the entire US space inventory...and it's unmanned, and really a mini-shuttle, being only about 16 feet wide.

But, it's an interesting idea and darn well worth pursuing. Without a manned crew, both endurance, safety, and payload are improved. Undoubtedly the X-37B will carry classified USAF surveillance and detection equipment...and perhaps more, maybe real scientific experiments...but the important thing is it can return to Earth.

Will be fascinating to watch this vehicle, which is now aloft, and see how this first flight goes.

Friday, April 23, 2010

F/A-18 Super Hornet III ? Maybe.....

I've been interested lately in some suggestions that Boeing (I still want to say McDonnell Douglas) is quietly offering an upgraded Super Hornet III design, to more-or-less replace the existing F-35 Lightening II. The idea being that the F-35 is just too expensive and offers minimal enhancements over today's aircraft and certainly not over an enhanced Hornet.

Interesting idea that should be considered. I do think the F-35 is too expensive, too troubled, and will offer minimal enhancements in capability, particularly for the USN.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

EADS re-enters USAF Tanker Competition

Overcoming a previous withdrawal by partner Northrup Grumman, EADS -- the European consortium that makes the Airbus -- has decided to re-enter the competition for the next generation USAF tanker. This is great news as 1) the procurement needs competition to ensure a fair deal for the Govt, and 2) the Airbus A330 is probably the better airplane for this job, and I would say certainly better than the nearly 50 yr old 767.

So, I'm
happy to see this development, and hope for a fair and spirited competition.