Tag Archives: flying

Not Buying It

Posted by lex, on October 30, 2008

A couple of occasional readers have sent along this clip:

And one has even provided an interview * with the “pilot.”

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My Small Moment With Chuck Yeager

Since his retirement from the Air Force in the late 70s, General Yeager lived just “up the hill” in Nevada County, in part of our historic gold rush region.

He certainly was an American Icon. Not only for what he did, being the first person to break the sound barrier, but the way he did it.

Which started the evening before in the desert at Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club. By the way, do you know how this legendary place, long since gone, got its name? I didn’t know for years, and as is my nature kept looking until I found the answer.

Pancho rented horses, horses allegedly so gentle, that the rider was guaranteed a “happy bottom” in riding them!

I’ve had an Internet friend for years, who is a retired Air Force test pilot, who remembered for years seeing the ruins of Pancho’s on the edge of Edwards (called Muroc in its early days).

Anyway, the icon part of the story started the evening before that historic October morning, when Yeager fell off one of those gentle horses and broke some ribs.

And since he didn’t want the mission to be cancelled the next morning and in all probability lose his ride, kept this news from the powers-that-be.

Sidebar: If someone else had taken his place next morning, would he have survived? Yeager encountered extreme buffeting in that Bell, and nearly lost control. One of the reasons they learned later on was because of the conventional elevators on the horizontal stabilizer. The fuselage was shaped like a .50 caliber bullet, but the empennage was like all empennages at the time. With a conventional horizontal stabilizer.

A typical subsonic empennage, with elevators and horizontal stabilizer. Whether on the simplest Cessna or the largest Boeing 747, this is the empennage.

What they learned from this flight, with help from our cousins the British (OK, full disclosure – I think from their own experiments into supersonic flight, they contributed this design for us!) A stabilator made the transition to supersonic flight almost seamless. Unlike the illustration above a stabilator uses the entire horizontal stabilizer as an elevator, and pivots on the fuselage.

Since this site is dedicated to Hizzoner, here is the stabilator from an F/A-18 Hornet:

From Yeager’s flight on an early October morning in 1947 to the Hornet – a stabilator to ease the transition at the sound barrier.

So anyway, back to the making of an icon. Despite the pain of broken ribs (alas, no happy bottom the previous evening!), Yeager shows up at the appointed time and because of the pain, asks his friend to help him by giving him a lever to close the lock on the hatch, which was a broom handle.

On that cold crisp desert morning, those on the ground heard a shock wave, and assumed the worst. And Yeager flew into aviation history.

I remember some passages from his autobiography I read years ago. How many airline pilots of the 50s, in talking on the passenger intercom, wanted to imitate that West Virginia drawl. How in training at Tonopah in an Aircobra, witnessed terrible attrition from new pilots.

How over in Germany, and seeing an overwhelming number of 109s and Focke-Wulfs, would just dive into the melee.

How in one of those melees, he became an ace – shooting down 5 planes- in a matter of minutes.

Part of his secret, he would admit, was his vision which was 20-10.

For a fighter pilot, particularly one before all the electronic days, being able to see enemy planes first could mean the difference between life and death.

Chuck was the epitome of cool.

I would like to think that there is some party at Pancho’s now.

Oh, and about my own small moment? It was so small I think I can say with certainty that Chuck wouldn’t even remember it.

It was probably during the time during the 80s he was associated with AC-Delco.

I was going south down Hwy 99, a rather boring and desolate highway running down the middle of the Central Valley, in my Toyota. And as was my nature at the time, trying to eck out a few MPH over the limit, while hoping not to attract the attention of the Highway Patrol.

Anyway, somewhere below Galt, I saw a metallic blue Corvette just ambling along in the right lane.

Which caught my attention because, well, most Corvette drivers wouldn’t putt along at 55 on the highway.

As I got closer I saw the license plate – “Bell X1A“. I was wondering at that moment if the driver was who I thought it might be.

As I passed, sure enough it was General Yeager, driving with nothing to prove.

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Filed under Flying, Heroes Among Us, History

Bomber Command

Posted by lex, on January 13, 2008

The heroics of the 8th Air Force over France and Germany are fairly well known to enthusiasts of the literature. Their mission was to conduct massive, daylight bombardment of the German war machine in Western Europe from airfields in Britain. By 1944 8AF could launch a 2,000 strong wave of B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers over Europe, escorted by a thousand fighters. They flew over 400,000 sorties into that sharply contested continental air space. Their crews went out day after day, even though – with 25% casualty rates on some missions, and roughly half of the US Army Air Corps’ total casualties – their losses were appalling.

Less well known were the logisticians and ops planners who  coordinated these missions while the aircrew rested in preparation for their mission. Over at Michael Yon’s place, retired USAF LCOL Leslie Lennox tells this tale:

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Flying, History

Glacier Girl

Posted by lex on June 23rd, 2007

In what has to be graded as an “A” for stick-to-it-iveness (even if they get an “F” for on-time delivery), an entrepreneurial group is preparing to fly a World War II vintage P-38 Lightning from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to London.

The plane was one of six Lightnings and B-17 Flying Fortresses that were to be delivered to the European Theater of Operations in July of 1942. Damn Interesting’s Alan Bellows has more:

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Flying, History, Military

Su-30MK Video

Posted by lex, on February 10, 2020

I always loved getting in the proverbial “knife fight in a phoneboot” that BFM represents. But I have to admit that watching this video of the Su-30MK being put through its paces made me thougtful. I could do a lot of things with the Hornet. I could sometimes make her sing. But there are a lot of things this guy is doing that I couldn’t have done.

Retired USAF MGEN Hank Stelling agrees according to the email in which I received this clip, saying:

This is for those of you who will understand how remarkable this really is. Any way you slice it, this is pretty impressive. Great camera work. This remarkable aircraft and its pilot demonstrate what I thought impossible for a high speed jet fighter. In the SU-30MK, Russian aviation has surpassed that of the US and its NATO allies. This truly impressive fighter can stall from high speed flight to stop in less than a second.

It can fall back on its tail, without compressor stall, and go into a flat spin and recover in less than a minute. There is no aircraft in any country’s inventory that could stand up to it in a dog fight.

So. Probably a good idea not to climb into the phonebooth with the Su-30MK. Maybe send along an AIM-120 or an AIM-9X instead.

Sort of like a “proxy fight.”


09-27-20 The video that Lex referenced wasn’t available online. H/T to xbradtc for finding a similar one – Ed.

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Flying, Military

And I Thought My Solo Was Exciting

Took me 2.5 hours to get down with a strong crosswind. Or rather, get down and stay down.

Here’s a 17 year old girl on her solo who was informed her wheel fell off her Piper Warrior.

Listen to the audio with ATC though the links.

Stressed, but kept her head and resumed flying a week later.

Good on her.

I’ll bet there are some interesting stories on solos. Some funny.

H/T to Comjam.

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Fate and Mystery

As I have mentioned from time to time, I am fascinated by history. Not only how the past made us as we are, but how many seemingly small and inconsequential events can have profound consequences.

I am currently reading a book by a favorite author, Erik Larson, on Winston Churchill during the time of the Blitz.

It’s his contention that a German navigator’s error, in mistakenly jettisoning their bombs over London rather than a country field during inclement weather, led to Hiroshima.

Personally I think that may be a bridge too far, for reasons that I outlined here.

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Filed under Flying, History, Hollywood

A Simple System with Profound Consequences

Among the many programs I have been watching on Amazon Prime and Netflix is a short series on airliner crashes over the years, with detailed explanations as to the causes. Actually in checking imdb, there have been many seasons but Amazon has just the first.

The accident investigators are interviewed, the controllers, and sometimes the passengers. I’ve seen 3 or 4 episodes, and it has been illuminating, not only for the causes but the pressures from the airline industry (which is understandable, given their investments). I’m thinking of the episode detailing the United Airlines 747, flight 811,  that had the cargo hold door explode from pressure over the Pacific.

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Filed under Aeronautical Engineering, Flying

Into Thin Air

Yesterday, some of us in the F/B group were reading Lex’s post on hypoxia. It reminded me of a time in the early 80s as a (then) active pilot with the massive experience of 200 hours, I was given the opportunity by the FAA to attend the Navy’s physiological course at (then) NAS Miramar. It was probably the same place Lex went to a few years later.

That day remains etched in my mind for all that I learned. As I recall all those years ago, it was comprised of 2 parts – the causes of vertigo and hypoxia, which is the body’s reaction to the thinning air at altitude.

Both can be insidious and sneak up on you,  and you aren’t even aware of it. Both can kill you if you are unaware of their effects.

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What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max

This article is a long read and in case you haven’t seen it, worthwhile if you really want to know what brought these down.

The Cliff Notes version?

“Malfunctions caused two deadly crashes. But an industry that puts unprepared pilots in the cockpit is just as guilty.” 

This was sent to me by someone I’ve known a long time, a retired Air Force test pilot. He believes that this problem is only going to get worse, and chooses to fly on only a few airlines.

I have a good friend who bought his dream car a few weeks ago – and has discovered that it is so heavily invested in electronics and “driver aids” – he is starting to hate it. He calls his car “the beast“.

He almost rear-ended someone thinking his cruise control – with a forward radar that keeps the distance of the car ahead of you – was on.

Point is with that car and this issue, when we depend too much on electronic aids – use them as a crutch instead of an assist – we can get into trouble when the electronics fails.

As an aside, this author knows flying. In addition to his own credentials, his father wrote the classic book on piloting.

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Filed under Airplanes, Flying