A Word About Photos

Where possible, any images used are sourced from public domains unless otherwise stated & credited. If you find a photo or image that you believe you own & breaches copyright, please let us know & it will be removed immediately.

Friday, 29 November 2013

A Doco About Aviation Geeks, by an Aviation Geek

Hi Guys,

I want to give a plug to my half-dozen or so readers about a guy who's trying to finance a doco about "avgeeks". If you have a few dollars to spare (literally, anything over $1 is fine), you can contribute to a very worthy cause! Check it out & support him if you can.

Without further waffle, here's the link straight to his website:  AIRHEADS Documentary

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Perils of Pride

Back in the 1960's, the world was moving very fast. But in the world of aircraft & airliner design, they wanted to move even faster. Obscenely fast; & we're not just talking mildly profane, we're talking really offensive.

The collaborative efforts of Britain & France, through their state-owned aerospace companies BAC & SUD /Aerospatiale respectively, were the first to have a plane on the drawing board, capable of trans-Atlantic crossings at twice the speed of sound (mach 2). Russia's cold war spies were hard at work & soon the Soviets had their equivalent, the Tu-144, taking shape.
The Russians are here too. The Tu-144
The future is here. Enter, The Concord

But in the United States, they had a couple of problems. Firstly, they didn't have state-owned aircraft companies that the Government could pump millions of dollars into. The closest they had to that was NASA, & it was busy trying to figure out how to get to the moon. Secondly, most of the major aircraft manufacturers were busy being the latter half of the Military-Industrial Complex, building fighter jets, cargo planes & tankers for the USAF, Navy & Marines, to be born into battle in the skies over Vietnam. Nothing helps the demand for warplanes more than a war.

But the biggest problem America had was its' national pride. The Brits, the French, &, worst of all, the Russians, all had something that they didn't. Just like with radar & the jet engine, America was once again left behind & late to the party.

But Kennedy was a man of vision & big ambitions, & despite wars & rumours of wars, seemingly stimulated the national pride like no other at the time. He seemed to inspire the attitude that "anything they can do, we can do better". So whilst having challenged NASA to find a way to the moon, he threw out the challenge to aviation manufacturers to build America's own Supersonic Transport (SST) airliner. But forget mach 2; he told them he wanted mach 3.

Airline designers took the baton & got to work. Their plane would be bigger & better than anything the rest of the world could produce. It sounded like something that later inspired the unforgettable opening voice-over to "The Six Million Dollar Man" TV show..."we have the technology...we have the capability...better...faster..."

As ambition gave way to endorphin overload, so the concept of supersonic passenger travel gave way to something ever grander; a hypersonic transport (HST). Forget mach 3, lets do mach 5!

Credit: The Aerospace Project Review Blog
But as drawings led to thoughts of costs & materials, a very real problem emerged. Early flight testing of the Concorde revealed that the airframe would stretch by up to 10 inches during supersonic flight, as heat from friction between the air & the aircraft softened the aluminium. They calculated that at mach 3, it would literally melt it. At the time, the only thing they knew that could withstand mach 3 was titanium, as used in part on the mach 3 SR-71 "Blackbird", & later, the Mig-25 "Foxbat".

The problem with titanium, not to mention its' cost, was that it is very heavy. To build engines powerful enough to push a titanium airliner with 200 passengers through the skies at mach 3 or more, you would need fuel tanks the size of the entire aircraft itself. And then you have the problem that the weight of all that fuel only makes the aircraft even heavier, virtually guaranteeing a self-perpetuating, endless cycle of practical hopelessness. And then finally you would have to convince those 200 passengers to ride in what would essentially be supersonic bomb.

Pretty soon they realised it just wasn't going to happen. And if they couldn't do faster, they would have to settle for bigger. The Boeing 747, originally designed as a cargo plane for the USAF in competition with the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (the latter winning), would soon become the dominant long-haul commercial airliner for the next 25 years.

America's experiment with SST & HST was always fanciful, but at least they saw, as Britain & France soon found out, that it was never going to be financially viable either. The Anglo-French Concorde is an eternal symbol of aviation genius & beauty, but was also a symbol of their national pride as well, & the pride of those who flew on it.

Whether you judge national pride to be a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. It does seem to give birth to endless invention & technological advance. But at what cost?

Friday, 13 September 2013

Black Thai Event

Back in February I wrote a blog about the Alitalia ATR-72 which ran off a runway & not only lost all its pride but also its complete Alitalia livery by the next morning. (Click here:  "The Italian Job: A Complete Whitewash").

Well, it seems the doctrine of "Brand Protection" just goes on & on. Last week a Thai Airways A330-300 suffered a nose gear collapse & went off the runway in Bangkok. Injuries & damage were relatively minimal, but of greatest concern to some in the airline was obviously the brand.

The Thai Airways livery is quite a pretty one. One any planespotting visit to Sydney, my wife will always say, "Look, there's the plane with the pretty purple tail!"
Photo:  flickriver.com
 But seriously, is this any way to treat it?

Photo:  Associated Press
You'd be mistaken for thinking this was a bad photoshopping job, but this crude insult to a beautiful brand was actually done in the name of attempting to preserving it. Go figure.

Photo: Bangkok Post
And whilst the Alitalia ATR was completely repainted, albeit very hastily, this effort, in my opinion, just adds insult to injury. Here's what happened the night before....

And when she was finally back on her feet, the Airbus was sporting something of a black eye.

What's my point? The simple fact is that everyone knows it was a Thai Airways plane. Hiding the brand doesn't make the problem go away; it just makes it worse. You don't see the media reporting, "A mysterious plane who's identity we can't be sure of has crash landed today in Bangkok. But don't worry, I'm sure it's not whatever airline you're flying on to, from or within Thailand."

No, instead, everyone knows it was Thai Airways. In fact, probably several times more people know about it now because the "brand protection" exercise received more formal & social media attention than the actual mishap did.

When will they ever learn?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Aviation & The Search for the Meaning of Life

My name's Ron Lucock & I like aeroplanes. I like looking at them in magazines. I look at them on the internet. I even have fantasies about them.

I'm not into cars. I don't smoke, drink alcohol or play any sport.

I've never actually grabbed a plane by the controls & flown one in the air. Like most people, my life is the product of the resources & opportunities allotted me. Some people might say they make their own opportunities. I say good luck to them. Some people, either by their choices, or through no fault of their own whatsoever, don't even get the opportunity to create an opportunity. Some just have to play the cards they're dealt.

My thing is aeroplanes. The only problem is, I don't know why. And because I don't know why I like aeroplanes, I feel somewhat silly most of the time, even embarrassed.

And then those closest to me will tell me I'm silly for feeling silly about it. They tell me I should just accept & embrace it. You'd think I was coming out or something.

But I'm intimidated by what I don't understand about myself. I don't have to understand big things, like the universe, or gravity, or teenagers. There's so much in nature that I can't understand, yet it absolutely fascinates me. But when it comes to me, I expect to know what's going on. Yet I don't, & it drives me mad.

I can't think of any one event that could have possibly spawned a life-long interest in aviation. My father often talks of the time he took me to Sydney Airport as a little boy, where a replica of Sir Charles Kingsford Smiths' "Southern Cross" hung from the terminal ceiling in honour of the airport's namesake. "Look daddy, it's got wiiiiings!!", I'm told I excitedly yelled. But I can't say that's what got me hooked on aeroplanes. I obviously already knew what a wing was after all.

I'm a man of faith. Is my interest in aviation a gift from God? Are we "given" interests? Do they come pre-installed at conception? I would gladly give up my day job to be a pilot for organisations like Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). But at 45 & no pilots' licence, that aint gonna happen. I think my wife & kids might have something to say about that too. So why was I given this gift, if that's what it is?

Are we given interests purely to have something to be interested in? To have something to do? Is that partly what makes us different from animals & robots? And if man was made in God's image, does that mean God has interests outside of things like salvation for all mankind & the end of the world? 

They're fanatics! Check 'em out.
Alone & isolated, I feel like a complete twit sometimes for being interested in aviation. Then I go to an airshow, or see planespotters at airports, or think about how much money is involved in this industry. Or sometimes it just takes a post from "Aircraft Fanatics" in my Facebook news feed, to remind me I'm not alone. We are legion, for we are many.

So to my fellow enthusiasts, be you armchair or professional, thank you, & may you keep & enjoy the passion, excitement & thrill of what you do. Whether you're making Airfix kits, listening to ATC scanners, planespotting, Tumbling, blogging, or flying for a living or in service to your country's defense, can I encourage you to follow your dream, & keep doing what you love. We might not know why we do it, but do it anyway.


Friday, 23 August 2013

100 Happy Virgins

Firstly let me apologise to anyone who actually follows my blogs. I haven't written much in a couple of months; been too distracted playing airline empires.

But tonight I return, not with any great pearls of aviation wisdom, perception or crap, but just to celebrate with Virgin Australia on the delivery of their 100th Boeing 737.

I know, I know, lots of airlines fly 100 B737's or more. Some fly two or three times more. But Australia is not a big country. Well, actually it is. It's about the same size as the USA, or you could fit pretty much all of western Europe into it.

But our entire national population is only about 22 million. The United Kingdom has three times that number & yet you could fit England, Scotland & Wales into the Australian state of Victoria. And Victoria is one of our smallest states. Let's just say we like to spread ourselves out. Having a great big desert in the middle of your country also helps.

Virgin Australia started with only two leased B737's, only $10m in the bank (courtesy of Mr Branson), & a lot of balls (also borrowed from Mr Branson). They started at a time when Qantas & Ansett dominated Australian domestic aviation in a cosy duopoly, while others who tried to break into it neither lived long nor prospered. Then known as Virgin Blue, their motto was "keeping the air fair".

September 11 2001 was a terrible day for humanity, & the flow-on effects put many airlines into bankruptcy. But what few in Australia knew was that the very day before, September 10 2001, Australia's 2nd biggest & equally iconic airline, Ansett Australia, was already bankrupt. It's owners, Air New Zealand no less, were offering it for a song to Qantas; literally handing them complete domination of the Australian skies. Qantas said they would think about it & get back to them. The next day they decided it wasn't a good day to buy an
airline. And whilst Australians, like the rest of the world, sat glued to their news broadcasts, another lesser story but closer to home suddenly broke - Ansett was gone.

Whilst it was no time to gloat, Virgin Blue realised it had been suddenly thrown a break. And whilst Qantas scrambled to find additional capacity, Virgin Blue humbly stepped up to the plate. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Congratulations, Virgin Australia, on your evolution into a trusted, quality airline. Congratulation in succeeding where many had failed. Congratulations on the success of your engaged, customer-focused management & staff, on the proliferation of your brand, & on your growing network into the regional, low cost & premium airline markets.

Live long & prosper. You've earned it.

The photographs presented here are from Virgin Australia's Facebook page & used in full credit, respect & recognition of their uber awesomeness.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

When it comes to my nations' "national carrier" (whatever that means these days), I've tried not to disparage Qantas just for the sake of it. But sometimes I just don't understand things.

This week social media was abuzz with Qantas's announcement of its' 250 Boeing aircraft, which they all seem to think is a big deal. Once upon a time, we all thought the price of petrol reaching $1.00/litre was  big deal too.

An interesting Qantas/Boeing partnership timeline was then presented (click here) which starts off with references to DC-3's & De Havilland aircraft, because "both companies eventually became part of Boeing". Somehow I don't think both aircraft were still in production when that occurred. It also doesn't mention that Boeing only owned De Havilland for 6 years, lost a billion dollars on it, before selling it to Bombardier in 1992.

Both the timeline, & the press statement from CEO Alan Joyce, continue to remind us that Qantas invented Business Class in the glory days of the late 1970's. Unfortunately they didn't patent it & many other airlines have certainly perfected it. The repetitive crowing of their great achievement nearly 35 years ago reminds me of the Barry Manilow song where Lola is still sitting at the bar of the Copacabana, still wearing the same dress she wore 30 years ago when she was a showgirl. She's lost her youth & she's lost her Tony, now she's lost her mind. Qantas may well be feeling the same way.

IN: A "Qantas Boeing" DC-9
And then the timeline brings in Australia's then-Government owned domestic airline, Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), which was later re-branded as just Australian Airlines. TAA/Australian operated B727 & B737-300 aircraft, as well as Douglas DC-9's which are also reportedly included in the tally. This was when Douglas was still Douglas/MDC, & DC-9's were still DC-9's, not B717's! 

TAA/Australian itself was never in fact Qantas. At best, the two airlines could be described as "brothers". Both were wholly owned by the Commonwealth Government of Australia; Qantas did the international duties with an all-B747 fleet, whilst TAA/Australian was the domestic airline. Although there was the occasional bit of plane-swapping from time to time, the two airlines were completely separate of each other. It was only for reasons of economic rationalism (ie, privatisation), that TAA was absorbed into Qantas, before the combined package was then sold off.

OUT: A "not-Qantas-enough" B717
But whilst the Douglas DC-9's of a different airline are included in the list, according to Australian Aviation magazine, the tally doesn't include actual Boeing 717's in Qantas colours operated by Qantas subcontractor Cobham Aviation Services. It seems the definition of what is a Qantas Boeing aircraft over time & what isn't is a bit wibbly-wobbly.

And just to make matters a bit more confusing, despite being pictured & mentioned on the timeline, Australian Aviation magazine also reports that the list actually doesn't include the DC-3's. Go figure.

The timeline finishes with mention of the proud pending arrival of the B787 Dreamliner, the first of which will be operated by Qantas LCC subsidiary Jetstar. And whilst the press release thanks Boeing for their support, & Qantas pledges their "continued strong partnership", it seems that Boeing just had to cop it on the chin when Qantas cancelled 35 of their 85 Dreamliners ordered, including many which occupied early production slots reserved by Boeing for Qantas, which was a big deal-sweetener at the time of the order. Just as sweet for Qantas is the compensation payments it now receives from Boeing for delays in the delivery of the remaining 50.

The mothership. Definitely not a Boeing
Regardless of how many Boeing aircraft Qantas has received over the decades, I'm just left wondering what it's all actually supposed to prove. It's true that Boeing make good planes. In the days of the B707 & early B747 models, Boeing was the only maker of planes that could connect our isolated country with much of the rest of the world. Since then, Qantas is also happy to use Airbus A330 & A380 aircraft, the latter proudly now occupying the coveted "flagship" position. Qantas is happy to fleet out Jetstar in A320's & A330's, whilst I'm sure Boeing regards Virgin Australia as an important customer too, operating B737 aircraft as well as the only Australian B777 operator. Qantas rejected the B777 on the basis that it was too little capacity for LA & London, whilst too much for much of Asia. VA chose it in preference to the A340. I'm happy to respect Qantas's decision, but you only have to sit & watch the comings & goings on SYD 34L to see that many of the worlds airlines also have no problem bringing B777's to & from Australia every day.

At the end of the day, Qantas's orders over the years are relatively small compared to some other airlines, particularly the big US airlines. And more to the point, Boeing salesmen would run over their grandmothers to sell planes to anyone, anywhere.

So hooray for Qantas, hooray for Boeing, & thank Heavens for Airbus.

Want to read more?

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Excuse me while I run my imaginary airline!

For those who subscribe to my blog, you may have noticed I've been a little quiet over the past month or so. Well, there's a reason, & it's summed up in just two words: Airline Empires.

There are a number of airline simulation games on the web. Many of them cost real money, either to purchase or participate in. Among the free ones, some are pretty lame (eg: www.puffgames.com/airline), some are initially addictive but ultimately pointless (eg: www.takeoffgame.com). Some I've found to be incredibly complicated or slow in their gameplay (eg: www.airlinemogul.com), although that may be just due to my own impatience.

And then, like an oasis in the desert, I discovered Airline Empires. This game is seriously addictive & realistic enough in enough respects. There are various game worlds which usually span a forty year period, some starting in the '60's or 70's (when Fokker Friendships & DC-10's ruled the skies), whilst others might start at 1980, 1990 or even 2000, the latter ones including all models of B787's, A350's & Bombardier C Series aircraft. Game play usually runs at 1 Day = 20 min real world, which means 1 month in the game will take about 10 hours real time, or a year takes about 5 days. And it's totally free.

I do have a few criticisms of it. It doesn't appear that you can do refuelling stopovers, so Sydney to London for example is out of the question if you can't stop over in Singapore or (for QF flyers now), Dubai. The other problem is that you're competing against other online players in real time, many of whom are die-hard, experienced players who take the game very seriously. Many players are also teenagers on the other side of the planet flying airlines in your home country with no idea of the relevance or importance of any of the particular cities. When you start competing against B727's flying between Sydney & Newcastle (think Jetstream 31 territory), you know something is wrong.

But for those looking for an innocent obsession & are interested in airline simulation games, I highly recommend it. And they haven't paid me a cent to say this.

Find the game here: www.airline-empires.com

PS. Just don't mess with Airboss777 or Benevolent Airlines!