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Posts Tagged ‘Aircraft’

The downside of travel — turbulence!

In behavior, business, Technology, travel, world on March 3, 2016 at 12:45 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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At least a space station doesn’t budge!

Do you hate turbulence as much as I do?

Some people actually enjoy it, but this year — thanks to the strongest El Nino in decades — many flights are proving to be much bumpier than anyone ideally prefers. Like, screaming, throwing up, we’re-all-gonna-die bumpy.

Flights are increasingly being diverted to airports where the plane can actually land safely, as a recent instance in Canada where it went to an entirely different province. Or passengers and crew are injured and the flight diverts to the nearest airport and hospital that can accommodate it.

I’ve been flying around the world for 40+ years, on tiny aircraft (the Arctic, Caribbean, Nicaragua) and 777s and A320s, but (thank heaven!) have not ever had a really terrifying flight.

I do live in fear of one and yet I live to travel. Bit of a dilemma!

I figured others were noticing this pattern, certainly anyone who flies often.

I pitched the idea to The New York Times, for whom I’ve been writing for years.

Here’s my story.

I love the accompanying illustration with it (please go look!) by Randall Enos, a local artist exactly my age, whose work has accompanied other stories of mine in the paper. How on earth do you illustrate something invisible?

I was so thrilled with what he produced I called him at 9:00 in the morning to thank him — he was already up caring for his six horses. “I’m a horse janitor,” he said.

An excerpt:

There are many different kinds of turbulence, with the most problematic to predict and to avoid being clear air turbulence (which is very difficult to detect using conventional radar). Much of it is typically experienced at cruising altitude.

In the last few months, at least three commercial flights, two on American Airlines and one on Air Canada, have experienced severe turbulence that resulted in injuries to those on board. In two instances, the flights were diverted to nearby airports so the injured could receive treatment.

Aviation professionals classify turbulence from light to extreme, a form they say is very rare. The challenge of reporting turbulence, several pilots said, is that the reports themselves are subjective.

While in flight, pilots file Pilot Reports (Pireps) to alert airline dispatchers and other pilots en route of any turbulence they’ve encountered; what one pilot considers mild might feel moderate to another.

 

This was by far the toughest story I’ve written in a long time!

 

I’ve never studied physics or aeronautics or flown a plane myself. Because so many people fly, even those who hate and fear it, I knew it would be well-read. I also knew that aviation professionals would likely read it so see if I got my facts right.

It’s not a simple, quick story, which also made reporting and writing it so satisfying. I like a challenge.

But I also live in terror of making a mistake!

I started by reading basic news reports to find out how widespread the problem is and what’s being done about it.

I wanted to speak to someone who’d been on a really bad flight to describe it firsthand. I found him by seeing him quoted in a Canadian news story, checked him out on LinkedIn and then had to persuade his assistant and his public relations agency to speak to me about it.

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Our last transatlantic flight — mostly smooth! — from Dublin to New York

This was one of those stories where my network really came through for me, without which I simply couldn’t have done a decent job on a complex topic.

I asked an aviation writer, a woman I’ve never met, if she could recommend a source/expert, and she did, immediately — a pilot with decades of experience now teaching aeronautics. He proved invaluable throughout the lengthy process or producing this story, which took weeks of interviews and revisions and cuts.

I also spoke to four working pilots and a flight attendant — all working long-haul routes on 777s and their like. I wanted people in the air now, not retirees, and that meant I couldn’t name them.

That meant the Times refused to allow me to use their helpful insights and comments, at least not in quotes.

I spoke to several meteorologists to try and parse the many kinds of turbulence — some of which seem banal to pilots, if not to us shaken-up and scared passengers!

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I love London — and have to cross an ocean to see it again

My goal was to both soothe nervous flyers as much as possible while making clear how essential it is to buckle your seatbelt!

 

I learned a lot and was so frustrated I couldn’t include more detail and quotes. But that’s journalism, kids!

We always work within some sort of restraint, whether time, length or access to sources.

I hope you’ll read and share it.

I think you’ll find it helpful!

The miracle of aviation — “Skyfaring” by 747 pilot Mark Vanhoenacker

In beauty, journalism, Technology, travel, world on October 30, 2015 at 12:33 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Temple roof, Mae Hong Son, Thailand -- right across the street from the airport!

Temple roof, Mae Hong Son, Thailand — right across the street from the airport!

Do you love the smell of JP4 — jet fuel — as much as I do?

Live to plane-spot?

Enjoy the app FlightRadar24.com, which tracks every commercial flight in the world, offering its starting and ending points, time left in flight, airline, flight number and aircraft model?

This is your book!

Isn't this cover gorgeous?

Isn’t this cover gorgeous?

The author, who is American, came late to aviation — 2003 — and now pilots 747s for British Airways on long-haul flights.

Here’s a Q and A with him from The New York Times:

When you fly from London to Tokyo, you go into the Arctic and it’s a night flight. You leave London in the afternoon and you get to Tokyo in the morning. So it’s a night flight. But the sun never goes down because in those higher latitudes it doesn’t go down at all during the summer. So you fly into that area where it’s continuous sunlight, and by the time you’re flying out of that area, it’s morning where you are. But sometimes you turn south a bit and the sun will set. Then when you climb, you get higher — just a few thousand feet can make the sun rise again because you’re still getting that higher vantage point over the top of the Earth. And so, you can get three or four in the flight. It really makes you question what exactly is a day. It’s sunrise to sunset, or is it?

His book is lovely and lyrical and completely captures so many of the fleeting, private feelings that aviation inspires.

Like this passage:

“It’s four days later. I’m at home, standing sleepily by the sink. The water runs over the soles of my sneakers, sweeping the African dust brightly over the stainless steel. I have to say it in my head, practically to spell it out, ‘This is the red of the soil under the South African tree, from the morning I saw the weavers and their nests.’ I think of the term earth, both soil and planet; this earth could not have expected to meet this water, here.”

The only child of a couple that lived to travel the world I’ve been flying from an early age, my first solo trip from Toronto to Antigua, age seven.

I love the expression “turning left” — i.e. into the first class cabin — a place I’ve yet to experience. I’ve enjoyed business class a few times.

I’m enough of a geek that I often stay to the very end when disembarking just to say hello to the pilots and sneak a peek into the cockpit or ask a question. I once noticed retro-fitted winglets on one aircraft, mentioned them to the pilot, who lit up with pride and pleasure that anyone had even noticed.

When flying home to Toronto from Westchester, NY, I end up in propeller planes so small — maybe 10 seats per side — I call them the cigar tube.

Other memorable flights I’ve taken:

— Flying into Nairobi, the city suddenly appearing out of nowhere like a handful of Legos tossed into dust, Isak Dinesen’s Ngong Hills nearby

I was lucky enough to go there in my 20s

I was lucky enough to go there in my 20s

— Flying out of Charles de Gaulle, in Paris, and its weird space-age tube-enclosed escalators

— My longest flight, 15 hours, from Los Angeles to Sydney

– A crazy flight into Cuzco, aboard Faucett, that made like a sewing machine needle, up and down through cloud cover, seeking that airport’s only runway between the Andes. Shriek!

– An astonishingly luxurious trip aboard a 767 aboard Open Skies, flying from JFK to Orly, fitted normally for 300 passengers, that held about 80 people. The seats were so wide I could tuck my legs beneath me sideways. Heaven!

— The flight from Managua to Bilwi (coastal town) where they weighed every passenger because the plane was so small

Our flight from Managua to Bilwi

Our flight from Managua to Bilwi

— Flying from Caracas to Los Roques in a plane where every bit of writing was Cyrillic, a former Russian aircraft

— Heading north from Kujuuaq, Quebec to Salluit, Quebec, a town of 500 people near the Arctic Circle, landing on a small, narrow landing strip of — what else? — ice

— Smuggling my hamster Pickles underneath my coat in a specially-made box from Toronto to Edinburgh for the summer (before the use of security checks and Xray machines)

Our aircraft from Managua to Bilwi -- and back!

Our aircraft from Managua to Bilwi — and back!

Tell us about some of your most memorable flights!

Canadian Student Makes Aviation History With Flapping-Wing Plane

In business, design, History, science, Technology, travel on September 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm
Ornithopter Flight - July 08, 2006; Registrati...
An earlier protoype….Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a video of a plane you’ve never seen before — one that, like a bird, flaps its wings.

The 94-pound ornithopter flew on August 2, the invention of University of Toronto Phd Todd Reichert. (My alma mater!)

From the Montreal Gazette:

Todd Reichert, an engineering graduate student and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, accomplished the feat when he flew the aircraft “Snowbird” for 19.3 seconds on Aug. 2 at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham, Ont.

The 42-kg plane made from carbon fibre, balsa wood and foam, travelled 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 km/h during the flight.

“Our original goal was to complete this sort of, original aeronautical dream, to fly like a bird,” said 28-year-old Reichert on Wednesday. “The idea was to fly under your own power by flapping your wings.”

The four-year project, a brainchild of Reichert and student Cameron Robertson, was worked on by 30 students, including some from France and the Netherlands.

The plane, with a wingspan of 32 metres, was powered by Reichert, who pedalled with his legs, pulling down the wings to flap. He had to endure a year-long exercise regime to bulk up on muscle and lose nearly 10-kg so he could fly the aircraft.

I live to travel, love aircraft and have visited Kitty Hawk, N.C., the site of the Wright Brothers’ first short flights 107 years ago. Wish I’d been there!

More details here.

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Skip Flying (Even Without Volcano Fears) And Really See The World

In travel on April 21, 2010 at 9:55 am
Train entering a Circum-Baikal tunnel west of ...

Image via Wikipedia

Loved this op-ed in The New York Times:

Airplanes are a means of ignoring the spaces in between your point of origin and your destination. By contrast, a surface journey allows you to look out on those spaces — at eye level and on a human scale, not peering down through breaks in the clouds from 35,000 feet above — from the observation car of a rolling train or the deck of a gently bobbing ship. Surface transport can be contemplative, picturesque and even enchanting in a way that air travel never will be.

My girlfriend and I recently set out to circumnavigate the globe without the aid of any aircraft. Along the way, we took the Trans-Siberian Railway across the wilds of Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok, and drove a car through the empty doomlands of the Australian outback. These journeys take less than half a day if you go by plane. Each lasts nearly a week when you stick to the ground. But taking to the air means simply boarding, enduring the flight and getting off at another airport. Going our way meant sharing bread and cheese with kindly Russians in a shared train cabin, and drinking beers with Australian jackaroos (we’d call them cowboys) at a lonely desert roadhouse. These are warm, vivid memories that will stay with us forever.

Think of the trans-Atlantic flights you may have taken. Do you remember anything about them? (Turbulence, bad in-flight movies and screaming children don’t count.) Because flying is an empty, soulless way to traverse the planet, the best flights are in fact the ones you forget immediately after hitting the tarmac.

Now, imagine floating across the Atlantic on a ship. Do you think you might enjoy those days of transit — the joys of a starry night in the middle of the ocean, or a round of drinks with new friends as you look out across the stern railing at the glimmering water — and hold them in your memories well after your vessel made landfall?

Fellow True Slant writer D.D. Cook wrote, back in January, about  his cross-country train trip.

I’m pretty evangelical about travel — my Mom and I share the fantasy of true wealth being a deep drawer filled with pre-chosen tickets to places we haven’t even thought of into which you’d dip your bored hand, then go! — and especially about non-airplane locomotion. I love trains. My Dad loves buses. I once dragged my horrified high-end sweetie onto a series of buses in Mexico (we all know how horrid much bus service is in the U.S.) and showed him the deluxe travel, complete with movies and clean comfortable seats, first-class carriers offer there.

(Although, and we have a the photo to prove it, we were less amused when each bus showed a video, sort of like pre-flight announcements on a plane, showed a bus rolling over and crashing and telling us what to do. Hmmm, pray?!)

I recall most of my non-flying moments vividly:

A 2.5 hours bobbing under a blazing sun traveling by boat from southern Thailand to Ko Phi Phi, tropical paradise.

Five fragrant days traveling across northern Corsica on a mo-ped — inhaling the smells of sun-warmed maquis — which I wrote about for The Wall Street Journal.

Gabi and me jumping into the back of a pickup truck in Jaji, Venezuela to attend a local dance, so high in the mountains we were literally shrouded by the occasional cloud.

Eight days in a truck with Pierre, the French trucker who spoke no English and let me share his cab from Perpignan to Istanbul, no showers along the way; cops confiscated my film in Bulgaria and thieves siphoned gas from the tank while we slept in the cab in (what was then still) Yugoslavia.

What has been your best non-airplane journey?

Retablos And B-29 Bombers — A Tucson Afternoon

In History, travel on January 12, 2010 at 1:19 am
SR-71B Blackbird, taken on December 1994 from ...

The Blackbird. Image via Wikipedia

Few people might equally enjoy visiting an 18th-century Mission and an aviation museum filled with Migs and cargo jets and Sikorskys, but I was lucky. I spent the afternoon today with Roxana, a 23-year-old Tucsonian who recently graduated journalism school here, a former student of my partner in a workshop held here every two years by The New York Times.

She must have wondered how the day would go, as I did  — sort of a blind date between two women of quite different ages who had never met, but two passionate photographers and writers. We had a great time.

The mission, established in 1700, is extraordinary, sitting nine miles outside the city on the reservation of the Tohono O’odham tribe. Its exterior is blinding white plaster on the side that has been restored, with only one tower retaining its cupola.

The interior, restored by a group of Italian and native conservators in 1995, is a riot of carving, faux-finishing, plasterwork and retablos. Two lions with gilded heads guard the altar and there is a wooden statue of St. Francis in one side niche, his lacy robe covered with tiny votos, the medallions that express wishes and prayers for health or a home or recovery. Pinned to his robe was a black and white image from someone’s sonogram, a man’s driver’s license, color photos of people.

There is nothing virtual here. This is faith and prayer made physical and visible, pinning ones hopes, quite literally, to the robes of a wooden statue of a beloved saint.

Roxana and I ate frybread, made fresh under the shade of a nearby shelter by native women, and sat in the sun for a while. We were so still that a roadrunner hopped up the hill to our very feet, then hopped away again.

We drove to the Pima Air & Space Museum, with four hangars and more than 300 different aircraft spread out under the desert sky over 80 acres. If, like me, you love airplanes and the whiff of jet fuel, this is geek heaven. Seven Migs, a B-377SG Guppy, the weirdest thing you will ever see with wings — used by NASA to transport Saturn V parts, the astonishingly sleek SR-71 “Blackbird”, capable of Mach3+, and a  B-29 Superfortress with a 141-foot wingspan.

There were planes so enormous and heavy you could not imagine them ever leaving the ground. As we strolled and patted the gleaming riveted hulls, we heard F-16s roaring overhead, training from the nearby base.

It’s hard to understand war until you see, this close, how men worked and sat or crunched themselves into tiny frigid cabins in these battered old bombers and fighters. One of the most chilling artifacts were the hand-written paper tags, Kobe City, Nagasaki, tagged to the bombs rained down on Japan, now preserved in a glass case.

An afternoon of wings — of angels and aluminum. Heaven.

His California Garage Is A First-Class Airplane Cabin. Really.

In business, travel on October 26, 2009 at 6:33 pm
Pan Am logo, as used by Pan Am Systems (former...

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re under, maybe 30, flying has become a nightmare. Those of us with a few decades of air travel hold treasured memories of what it was like to go on an airplane trip. People dressed well, even dressed up. Real meals were served on china and glass with metal cutlery — only available now to first-pass passengers on most flights. Flight attendants (aka stewardesses) smiled and were friendly.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a great story about Anthony Toth, who has built a precise replica of a first-class cabin from a Pan Am Worldways 747 — in the garage of his two-bedroom condo in Redondo Beach, CA. Toth, a 42-year-old global sales director for United Airlines, has spent 20 years and $50,000 on the project. I get it. If you really enjoy traveling, it’s easy to miss the days when getting there was as lovely as arriving.

The closest I’ve come to commercial aviation heaven recently was our flight to Paris in October 2008 on Open Skies, an offshoot of British Airways. (We paid full price, $1,000 apiece, so there’s no other reason for me to rave except it was fantastic.) It began at JFK where the check-in desk had an enormous vase of fresh flowers. “Happy birthday,” the agent said to my sweetie, whose birthday it was (evident from his passport.) The leather seats — only 84 of them on a 757-200 — were so deep and wide my feet didn’t touch the floor and I could tuck one leg beneath another. The food was great and, halfway through the flight, a handsome, silver-haired man moved through the cabin asking each of us — like a chef moving through his restaurant — how we were enjoying our flight. The captain. Everyone was stunned with pleasure.

I hated to leave the aircraft and am counting the minutes until we have the cash to do it again.

Flying, fun? Imagine.

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