Archive for the ‘Aviation’ Category

MH370: Too mysterious a disappearance to be accidental

October 3, 2017

I wrote quite a few posts about the MH370 vanishing when it happened almost three and a half years ago.

Australia has now ended its search and  Australian investigators “have delivered their final report into missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370, saying it is “almost inconceivable” the aircraft has not been found”.


“It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era with 10 million passengers boarding commercial aircraft every day, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said on Tuesday.

“Despite the extraordinary efforts of hundreds of people involved in the search from around the world, the aircraft has not been located.”

Their final report reiterated estimates from December and April that the Boeing 777 was most likely located 25,000 sq km (9,700 sq miles) to the north of the earlier search zone in the southern Indian Ocean.

But some people somewhere know what happened, but they are not telling. The aircraft and its 239 passengers and crew just vanished in March 2014.

Little has changed since I wrote this:

MH370: One year on and those who know still aren’t telling

March 8, 2015

Some few do know what happened to MH370 a year ago.

My post from April 13th last year speculating that this was a state sponsored and highly successful hijacking, is just as valid or invalid as it was then. There has been much speculation since but no new, certain, evidence has appeared. In fact even the “handshake” tracking which places the plane in the Southern Indian Ocean turns out to be fairly speculative in itself.

Whatever happened to MH370 was no accident. In one year there has been no evidence to alter my belief that this was the most successful hijacking and “disappearing” of a commercial airline and its 239 passengers and crew. And the objective – which was clearly achieved – was to prevent some passengers or cargo or both from reaching Beijing.

MH370: Emirates CEO suggests plane’s flight was controlled, October 11, 2014

MH370: Further indications of a deliberate event to prevent technology reaching Beijing, June 22, 2014

MH370: Very short preliminary report issued – could have been “laundered”, May 2, 2014

MH370: The most successful, state-sponsored hijacking ever?, April 13, 2014

MH370: The altitude excursion which could have rendered most unconscious, April 1, 2014

A deliberate excursion?


EngineAlliance GP7200 engine fails on Air France Airbus380

October 1, 2017

This time it wasn’t a Rolls Royce engine. It was an Engine Alliance (GE/Pratt & Whitney) GP7200 on an Air France Airbus A380-861 (registration F-HPJE).

Fortunately this was one engine on a 4-engine plane. Even two-engine planes (B777 for example) are supposed to be capable of making a controlled descent with just one engine, but losing one in four is a lot less chancy than one in two.


An Air France Airbus A380, operating flight AF66 from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, France, to Los Angeles International Airport, California, USA, diverted to Goose Bay, Canada following an en route engine malfunction (Engine Alliance GP7200). 
The aircraft lost the no.4 engine inlet cowling. A decision was made to divert to Goose Bay where a safe landing was carried out on runway 26 at at 15:42 UTC. 
After landing, ARFF reporting damage to the leading edge of the wing above the no. 4 engine. Additionally, the no.4 engine cowling had disintegrated. 
Photos from the incident seem to show that the entire fan is missing from the engine. 

EngineAlliance is an American aircraft engine manufacturer based in East Hartford, Connecticut. The company is a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric, and Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies.

The GP7200 is a twin spool axial flow turbofan that delivers 70,000 pounds of thrust for the Airbus A380. The GP7200 is derived from two of the most successful wide body engine programs in aviation history—the PW4000 and GE90 families. The engine benefits from each programs’ latest proven technologies and incorporates lessons learned from more than 25 million flight hours of safe operation on both engines. The GP7200 entered service in 2008 with the world’s largest A380 fleet, Emirates. The first GP7200-powered A380 was delivered to Air France in 2009. 

No injuries, no fatalities.

The GP7200 competes with the Rolls Royce Trent 900 for the A380. It has always struck me that with only two suppliers available, this is a strange competition where neither can afford the other to fail. In fact the plane manufacturers and the airlines both need that neither fails. Markets don’t like monopoly situations. History shows that monopoly situations can lead to the death of a product or even a technology. It may take time but alternative technologies do appear.

As I wrote some 7 years ago:

Trent 900 vs. GP7200: Competitive pressures getting too hot? 

…… It follows that for the airlines and the airplane manufacturers that the market (in this case the number of A 380s) be split between the two suppliers such that:

  1. neither supplier gains a dominant market position such that it can dictate the engine price,
  2. each supplier has a large enough market share and sufficient earnings such that their continuation in the market is not jeopardised (for the sake of spares, service, development of new engines and, above all, to avoid a monopoly situation arising by the exit of one supplier).

If either engine supplier has an uncompetitive product – whether for price or for performance – the monopoly becomes inevitable and immediately jeopardises the continuation of the market itself. So if only one engine supplier was available, the A 380 itself becomes non-viable.


ANA to replace all 100 Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines on its Dreamliners

September 1, 2016

An in-flight, uncontained, engine failure not only trashes that particular engine, but can also send shrapnel into potentially vulnerable areas of the aircraft (wing fuel tanks for example). The aircraft may still be able to fly without that engine but the effects of shrapnel are potentially lethal.

Rolls Royce had its share of teething problems with its Trent 900 engine for the Airbus A380 (Trent 900 failures) and had to spend at least $300 million to replace faulty engines. There are only two engines from two manufacturers available for the A380 (Trent 900 from Rolls Royce and the GP7200 from the Engine Alliance – a 50/50 JV between GE and Pratt & Whitney), and competition is limited. Whereas the A380 has 4 turbofan engines, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has only two. Again competition is limited between Rolls Royce’s Trent 1000 and GE’s GenX.

But the Trent 1000 is having erosion/corrosion problems which are causing blades to crack. Blade failure is particularly nasty since the entire engine downstream of the failure can be easily wiped out. Worse, a broken blade or its fragments travel at high speed and can be ejected through the engine casing creating the “uncontained failure”. Vibration induced failures usually show up relatively quickly but corrosion/erosion induced failures can take a few thousand hours of operation to show up. In any event, the Japanese airline ANA has five affected engines but is replacing all 100 engines on its 50 aircraft.

The Guardian:The Japanese airline ANA has said it will replace all 100 Rolls-Royce engines on its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners after three engine failures in 2016 caused by corrosion and cracking of turbine blades.

The world’s largest 787 operator said all 50 of its 787s would receive engines fitted with new blades, a process that could take up to three years.

ANA had five engines that currently needed repairs “but we will replace all the 100 engines for enhanced safety measures”, the company said, adding that it had already repaired three engines.

A flying boat or a swimming aircraft? China rolls out the AG600

July 25, 2016

China unveils AG600 – Peoples Daily

AVIC TA-600, Flying boat
The AVIC TA-600, also known as AG-600, is a large amphibious flying boat that is being designed and built in China by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China.  
Top speed: 570 km/h, Wingspan: 40 m, Length: 40 m Maximum take-off weight 51.5 t.
Manufacturer: Aviation Industry Corporation of China Wikipedia
AG600 - AVIC
China has just rolled out the world’s largest amphibious plane, AVIC’s TA600 designated the AG600.  The AG600 is intended
to fight forest fires and be used for maritime search and rescue (SAR) operations. Being able to land on water means that they can quickly pump in tons of water to fight forest fires. For SAR purposes, the ability of large seaplanes like the TA-600 to land directly near survivors means more rapid rescue responses compared to slower helicopters, which will be attractive to Chinese maritime enforcement agencies. Perhaps most important to current regional tensions, the TA-600 may also offer a new scale and means to rapidly deploy or resupply any current or new remote island garrisons in the South China Sea. A number of islets and reefs are too small to have runways to accommodate conventional transport planes like the Y-8, but sited so as to have strategic value.
It is not as large as the eight-engined Howard Hughes H-4 “Spruce Goose”, the largest seaplane ever built, which weighed 180 tons in full and had a wingspan of 97 meters. But the Spruce Goose only flew a short distance on its maiden flight in 1947 and never lifted again.
But more to the point, the AG 600 can carry 50 passengers whether people being rescued, or troops on the move to a South China Sea island. Certainly the AG600 adds significant strategic capability to the Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947 LA Times.

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947 LA Times.


Hot air balloon does in 11 days and 6 hours what Solar Impulse 2 may do in 17 months

July 23, 2016

Solar Impulse 2 set off on its journey around the world on 9th March 2015. Tomorrow it sets off on its last leg from Cairo to Abu Dhabi and it should complete its journey in just under 17 months.

In the meantime, it is reported that Steve Fossett’s record of 13 days and 8 hours to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon, set in 2002 has been broken. A Russian balloonist has completed the journey in 11 days and 6 hours. Fedor Konyukhov has been using a Cameron balloon and set off on 12th July.

Flyer: Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov has set off on a solo round-the-world flight in a balloon, aiming to beat Steve Fossett’s 14-year-old record for the 33,000 kilometre trip.

Konyukhov set off from Northam, Western Australia yesterday – the same place Steve Fossett set off from in July 2002. The record stands at 13 days 8 hours 33 minutes. Konyukhov is hoping to beat the record by a substantial amount using up-to-date technologies. He is, however, using a very similar balloon – a Roziere 550 built by British company Cameron Balloons.

“Nobody in the world makes better balloons that the Brits,” said Konyukhov, “so our balloon is being made by Cameron Balloons and it will fly on Russian helium.”

balloon australia

Fox News:

An official says a Russian balloonist has claimed a new 11-day round the world record. Support crew member Steve Griffin says Fedor Konyukhov’s balloon on Saturday passed directly over the airfield at the Australian town of Northam where he began his journey on July 12.

American Steve Fossett also started from Northam to set a record of 13 days and eight hours for his 33,000-kilometer (21,000-mile) journey in 2002.

Konyukhov has taken roughly 11 days and six hours. …… Konyukhov is expected to land later Saturday.

Cameron balloon

Structure of the Cameron balloon image via


JAS Gripen 39E – A “6th generation” stealth fighter with anti-stealth radar

May 15, 2016

Saab’s JAS Gripen Next Generation (NG or E/F) has been called the “planet’s best stealth fighter and a step improved from Lockheed Martin’s F-35. 

The reason that the JAS 39E may earn “sixth generation” tag is that it has been designed with these issues in mind. Software comes first: the new hardware runs the latest Mission System 21 software, the latest roughly-biennial release in the series that started with the earlier, A and B models of the aircraft. 

Long life requires adaptability, both across missions and through-life. The Gripen was designed as a small aircraft with a relatively large payload. And by porting most of the software to the new version, the idea is that all of the C and D models’ weapons and capabilities, and then some, are ready to go on the E. 

The Swedes have invested in state-of-the-art sensors, including what may be the first in-service electronic warfare system using gallium nitride technology. It’s significant that a lot of space is devoted to the system used to pick out friendly from hostile aircraft; a good IFF (“identification friend-or-foe”) system is most important in a confused situation where civilian, friendly, neutral, questionable and hostile actors are sharing the same airspace.

The first Gripen E is to be unveiled in the coming week on May 18th.

It’s supposed to have “anti-stealth” radar (of course if anti-stealth radar becomes standard it makes “stealth” obsolete). Which means that “deep stealth” will have to be developed next and when that can be detected, the defence industry – like physicists – will have to go looking for “dark stealth”.

But it looks good.

JAS Gripen 39NG test aircraft - image Saab

JAS Gripen 39NG test aircraft – image Saab


Passenger comfort is no longer in the vocabulary of airlines and airports

April 10, 2016

Travelling by air has become an exercise in minimising the discomfort imposed by the purveyors of air travel. There is discomfort involved in all aspects of travelling by air. Depending on how fortunate one is, there could be levels of discomfort involved in arriving, in checking in, in negotiating harassment at security, in getting to the gate, in waiting at the gate, on board the aircraft, in leaving the aircraft  in collecting luggage and in leaving the airport. A nightmare journey is when you experience discomfort at every stage – and that is less uncommon than one would think.

Sometime last week the US Senate declined to bring in regulation to set a minimum regulation for seat size and leg-room on commercial aircraft. I don’t disagree with that because that should not be a matter of regulation. That is about passenger comfort, and that should be a matter which engages the airlines not the law-makers. It seems that for airport designers, airport managers, immigration and customs authorities and, most of all, for airlines, passenger comfort is no longer something they feel it necessary to deliver.

As I get older I give more value to comfort. But it is a luxury which is no longer even on offer. So when I travel by air – which is still about 10 -12 times a year – my concern is just to minimise the hassle. For a journey of up to about 500 km my preference is to take the car and avoid the hassle. Time, I find, is no longer of the essence. I go early. I no longer run to catch flights. I don’t hurry, I stroll, the 2 km needed to make a transfer at Frankfurt airport. Making a transfer at Heathrow is only for the masochist. But since I am early, I usually have to wait; in the check-in line, in the security line, in the immigration line, in the taxi line. I choose a carry-on bag on which I can sit. This is essential even at the gate. When was a gate ever equipped with more seats than the aircraft to be boarded? I am resigned to paying double for my rubbery sandwich and diluted coffee. I have learned to switch off my taste buds at airports. Airport designers win awards for architecture but they would never win any awards for passenger comfort. Ground personnel resent that you haven’t used the check-in machine that wasn’t working. On Ryanair you are punished if you bring luggage. Jet Air has a luggage limit of 15 kg for domestic flights just to suit international travellers who come with a 20 kg allowance. Security personnel are required to – and do – suspend their brains as they blindly follow their protocols. You cannot take the shortest way to the gate at Arlanda because that would mean bypassing the shops. Cleaners wait for me to approach before they close and start cleaning the toilets. Low cost airlines don’t even arrive at the city they tout as their destination.

cattle class

Cattle Class

Of course the worst comes after boarding. The only defense I have found is to try and sleep through the entire time on board. I skip the meals. I ignore the passenger in front who has reclined into my face. I ignore the pain in my knees and my sore shins. Announcements on board are in 3 unintelligible languages (all recordings of course) – all about everything of no relevance. There is never any explanation of that big thump while descending.

What you pay for these days is for arrival. Not for when you might arrive. The price of being alive (just) when you arrive is however still included. Comfort is no longer included in the ticket price.

There was a time when there was a joy in travelling by air. I still enjoy arriving, but there is no longer any fun in the travelling. In fact part of the new joy of arriving is that the discomfort of travelling has come to an end. Until the next time.



MH370: Rolling in the deep

March 24, 2016

From somewhere in the depths of the Indian Ocean two pieces of debris have found their way to the shores of Reunion Island and Mozambique. It is thought highly likely that they are from MH370.

The Guardian: Debris found in Mozambique is “almost certainly” from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the Australian government has confirmed, fuelling belief that the remains of the plane will be found in the coming months.

Blaine Alan Gibson, an American lawyer who has given over much of the past year to his independent search for the plane, found a metre-long piece of metal washed up on a sand bank in Mozambique on 27 February.

Coverage of his find led South African teenager Liam Lotter to come forward with the similar item he found on a beach while on vacation in southern Mozambique in late December.

MH370 debris AFP

MH370 debris image AFP

We are maybe one millimetre closer to finding MH370 but we are still not much closer to finding out what happened to MH370. At least all theories which had the aircraft ending up on land (on Diego Garcia or in Uzbekistan) can be discarded. But all the many theories about how it ended up at the bottom of the sea in a deep and inaccessible part of the Indian Ocean are still alive.

My favourite theory that this was the most successful, state-sponsored, hijacking ever remains my favourite theory:

There were 20 Chinese software experts on board. They had been working for Freescale Technology in Texas on technology which could convert ordinary aircraft into “stealth” aircraft. Patents had been applied for but have not yet been granted. MH 370 was carrying a “large” package as a Chinese diplomatic package and was therefore not subject to any search or security procedures. The speculative, uncorroborated but plausible and most parsimonious explanation becomes:

  1. The Chinese software engineers “stole” technology on behalf of the Chinese government from Freescale.
  2. Freescale was slow in picking up the theft and alerting the authorities.
  3. US intelligence and security agencies were unable to prevent the engineers and their package from reaching Malaysia.
  4. They were also unable to prevent the engineers boarding MH370 bound for Beijing or the precious cargo from being loaded as diplomatic cargo.
  5. The operational arm of a US Security Agency took the decision – without recourse to their political masters – to prevent the engineers and their cargo from reaching Beijing, at any cost.
  6. Since collateral damage would be high it was imperative that all evidence be obliterated.
  7. With the probable assistance of Boeing, and soon after take-off, the in-flight computer was remotely re-programmed.
  8. The auto-pilot was remotely put into uninterruptible mode.
  9. The Malaysian military was “persuaded” – without the knowledge of their political masters – to ignore the plane’s turn-back and flight westwards over Malaysia for a few critical hours.
  10. The passengers and crew were all “executed” by the excursion up to 45,000 feet implemented by the autopilot.
  11. The remainder of the flight path was to get the plane and it’s cargo into an as inaccessible a location as possible.
  12. The aircraft was allowed to run out of fuel such that the auto-pilot made as soft a  ditching as possible in as remote a place as possible. This increased the probability of the plane sinking intact with little or no debris.
  13. The location was deliberately chosen to be over deep ocean so that any black-box evidence would be almost impossible to come by.

I am becoming convinced that this was all deliberate and a highly successful operation with a very high level of collateral damage – 239 dead.



MH370 – Two years on

March 8, 2016

Two years ago, today, MH370 disappeared. There were 239 people on board and not a trace of any thing has so far been found. After enormous search efforts – which still continue – we are no closer to knowing how or why this modern jetliner vanished without trace.

The theories are many. A new theory which I have seen recently is that the lithium-ion batteries on board over-heated, knocked out all electronic and electric systems, and started a fire which eventually caused the plane to crash.

Maybe the “burning plane” that an oil rig operator thought he saw over the South China Sea was MH370. But still no remains or debris has been found.

The search continues.

Remember Solar Impulse 2? Walking around the world would be faster

January 18, 2016

Remember all the hype last year?

The journey around the world started in March 2015 and was supposed to be completed in August 2015.

solar impulse 2 planned track

solar impulse 2 planned track

Leaving from Abu Dhabi they reached Hawaii in mid-July. But their batteries overheated and they are now stuck there till April 2016.  The flight is more hype than substance though there is some clever engineering and pilot endurance involved. It is supposed to be a flight which uses no fuel though reports that the batteries (when working) were recharged at every stop using grid power persist. What is not appreciated is the enormous support entourage that travels with Solar Impulse 2. Tony Thomas has an article about the “stranded monster” in The Spectator, and he points out:

To keep this gossamer confection airborne, an Ilyushin 76 strategic airlifter flies ahead with a blow-up hangar and all the high-tech servicing gear. Aviation buffs call the airlifter a ‘bad-ass’, not just because of its ugly nose and four droopy jets, but because its takeoffs are real Russian screamers. Once aloft, it burns eight tons of CO2-spewing avgas per hour.

This behemoth is accompanied by a   twin-turboprop ATR72 which can carry a support crew of up to 60, apart from the dozens left at Monaco mission control. The ATR burns a more modest tonne of fuel per 90 minutes.

Not quite ‘without using a drop of fuel’. It is “green delusionism” as Tony Thomas names it.

What is also worth noting is

This futuristic plane cruises at about the top speed of a postie’s bike, but can sometimes accelerate away to 90km/h.

Charitably assuming the plane does make it round the world in 18 months, that compares with other round-the-worlders such as:

  •  The Graf Zeppelin in 21 days in 1929.
  • Wiley Post in his Winnie Mae, in nine days in 1933
  • The Rutan Voyager, non-stop non-refuelled in nine days in 1986
  • Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones by balloon in 20 days in 1999.
  • Solo yachter Francis Joyon, in 58 days in 2008, using that other clean fuel, wind.

Someone could walk the plane’s route (somehow) in two years, not much longer than the flight time.

The flight and the engineering involved for Solar Impulse 2 are not unimpressive. But there is not very much which demonstrates anything which is new about solar energy. The entire enterprise is really about battery technology rather than solar energy. And what it does show is that battery technology has still quite some way to go.

I do dislike the ridiculous hype and the manner in which the “politically correct” and the fame-seekers jump on board.


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