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I once saw XH558. She (all ‘planes are “hers”) at Southport Airshow.

This is how it happened. I was sitting on the beach and this thing came in stage right. It was fucking utterly awesome. I have seen many flying machines but this was something else. At the left end of the beach it stood on it’s tail and lit the fires and went vertical. I can still feel the heat of the four Rolls Royce Olympus Turbojets. The very fire of the Gods. It is on my top ten list along with Angel Falls in Georgia, USA, the Caldera of Santorini, Greece, at dawn, the Tennessee River in er… Tennessee, the birth place of Aphrodite in Cyprus, The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, this Thinkpad, a pair of Phantoms supersonic over Bamburgh Beach, the buses of Malta and some other things. Most recently the Glasgow Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. I have seen things on three continents. Wondrous things. But that ‘plane…

It was emotional. I have seen flying things. I have seen Enola Gay (static display and surrounded by plexiglass to prevent numpties damaging it – I had to go to Virginia for that). The Vulcan was something else mind. So low, so fast, so agile.

It made a tour of the North West on Saturday. A goodbye tour. I shall never see it fly again and nor shall you. For shame! It was built just up the road from me in Stockport. AVRO no longer exists. Oh, Hell as a kid I got onto, in Newcastle, my town of birth, HMS Illustrious which was on a courtesy visit to it’s home port on the Tyne. Now that was at Swan Hunter. I think the Neptune Yard. All gone so many years ago.

So very sad.

But what is sadder is this…

I have a thing. I am good at maths. Very good. This means I am good at physics and not bad with computers. But I am smart enough to know my limits. I am utterly pantage with languages. My wife doesn’t (shame!) know dy/dx of sin(x) = cos(x) but she does know what a gerund is. What the fuck is a gerund anyway? And how come people get interested in the human and not the universal? Maths is the universal. It is so true it is scary.

Now you either see the beauty or you don’t. Of course there are also Maxwell’s Equations. And the equations of Thermo-D. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!” Do you have any idea how many accessible microstates exist for a can of Coke at 300K? It’s a lot. And this is all true.

So, I know about this stuff. Yes, but as I hinted, there are shed-loads I know nothing about. I also know about flight. Why? Well I know aerodynamics and things. I also love ‘planes. I have loved them since before I could read. I know ‘planes. Lads my age had posters of Kylie. I had an F-15 on the wall. I’d love to fly the F-15. What I’d like to do with Ms Minogue is a matter between her me and the wallpaper.

So, there are things I know about and things I couldn’t pretend to (though I do understand Kylie – I just can’ get her out of my head – not in that frock anyway). So when XH558 got stricken from the list I was annoyed. And then I was mental when I read this…

This is from the Daily Fail…

Britons given a final chance to see an icon of the skies as the Vulcan fighter jet begins its farewell tour of the nation.

I do know about aircraft and that ain’t a “fighter”. That was designed to slam nuclear weapons at Moscow. Yes, it was that awesome. And it still was when I saw it. It was awesome when a Vulcan did Operation Blackbuck. At the time the longest bombing raid ever. Subsequently the USAF has beaten that with B-1s, B-2s and the very old soldier the B-52 (I read an interview in The Times with a B-52 pilot whose Grand-father was also a B-52 pilot – when it finally quits the youngest airframes will be 80 years old. It has generally been used against goat-molestering Qu’ran botherers recently (Commies before). Odd thing about the 2 billion dollar B-2 is that nobody at the USAF or Northrop-Grumman thought to include a bed. So, for 36 hour missions, the aircrew installed a chaise longue for a bit of a kip. And this was to bomb the utter wrecks who couldn’t even conceive of a stealth bomber. I mean these were folks who banned the flying of kites.

You see I know my limits. I know a lot about various stuff. I also know there are many things I know little about. So the retirement really narks.

And calling the ‘plane a fighter just adds pignorence to injury. Thanks Daily Fail.

Computers in this house…

I did a little audit this morning. My wife and I have approximately 6 desktop machines in various states of repair (got to get onto those), three laptops, two Kindles, two smartphones (which are computers essentially), a ZX Spectrum in Gateshead, a camera with GPS (very handy – where did I take that picture? – well it tells me to arc-seconds – Jebus wept). Just the laptops would make Alan Turing weep tears of blood. I suspect I am not unusual here. I have a plan. I can get Lenovo to supply me (and I have sold my soul to ‘em – I’m typing on a Thinkpad by them) which is to get a trio of Lenovo Intel Core 2 Duos for GBP89.99 a throw and do some Folding at Home. Or maybe something else. There was (is?) an outfit sponsored by Oxford Uni (the other place) and IBM for something similar but I is buggered if I can recall the name. Having said that if I can cure cancer in my shed (for that is where they shall reside) then I shall be proud. If you can recall the name please let me know for the screensaver is much cooler. And I used to have it installed before Thalia went TU (that’s a tech term BTW). I did work my way through the Muses (and me with a comprehensive edumaction!). Some I sold or gave away. Some did go twat-wise (another techie term). I love the things. They make me, me.

No! They made me glorious. I got a Speccy thirty-ish years back. That was wonderful. Computers had been things that Bond Girls tended and I was playing Manic Miner. Wow! I learned BASIC and Pascal and Fortran on the little beast hooked-up to a 14″ Ferguson B&W TV and a tape-recorder from Dixons. It was well cool. When I went to University in 1992 I had to learn to program to drive a robot around. I excelled. I knew what I was doing. I had written the thankfully forgotten game “Orc fighter” so I knew my stuff. My classmates were astonished but I had that key advantage. I had a Lego robot whizzing around. That was cool and people say physics is dull? Not for me. That was much more fun than Swift’s juvenalia or Thackeray’s senilia. It was like stuff, cool stuff. OK, some of the labs were dull. I could live another thousand years without attempting the Guoy method for measuring magnetic susceptibility again. That was bloody dreadful. It really was but there are always bones in the sweetest fish. And building a pico-Tesla magnetometer and knowing exactly who of the lecturers was turning up tardy to the car park was more than a compensation. That cost roughly 5 quid (not of my money). But if Dr Kent was late, I knew. Bloody Hellskis that was sensitive. My lab partner once approached it with a screwdriver and it went FSD. Cheers Rachel. Not only did she dump me for a twat from Macclesfield (of all places!) but she all but knackered my magnetometer.

Nice machines at the Uni of Nottingham – 386DX40s (this was ’92 to ’95) with more interfaces than you could shake a stick at. We also had BBC-Bs for data logging.

I grew up with computers. They are me. People ask me “Why?” and I can’t answer because I just know the answer. They are me. I am nearly 42 (the answer) but I have been surrounded by computers since I was a kid. Since I first played with a Commodore PET and fell in love. I drew a picture of a Chieftain tank in ASCII. I was that sad and have only become sadder.

Weird isn’t it? I am looking down at my Kindle Fire HDX which is a computer only not in name. It cost less (no adjustment for inflation) than my ZX Spectrum did in the ’80s. Wow. I mean Wowsers! That was thirty years ago. I had just spent an hour (just an hour – this isn’t chemistry which is glorified faffing if you ask me) fixing it up despite the ‘structions in very obscure English. Oh, China! “Please to be appointing the USB port”. AKA “plug it in”. I know computers and I am wired on them. From Augsta Ada and Babbage’s cogs to Win 10 count me in. That is why I give ‘em names. My first PC was Urania. I am typing on Athina. (and yes the translit is more accurate than Athena – I know my Greek – physics.). The Kindle is Loki BTW. I’m gonna rebuild Urania as Urania III. I have a weakness for classical female names. Who doesn’t? These things are to us what steam engines were to George Stephenson (who lived walking distance from where I grew-up. They are to me what jet engines were to Clarence L “Kelly” Johnson. Except he was a genius. Bugger.

Hell, but I can program a RS-232 interface in machine code (I could anyway, once). And I could make that little Lego thing do St Vitus’s dance. I just love these things.

I adore them. They are not means of communication. That is a horrid myth. I didn’t do an A-Level in maths but I had an Amiga and I programmed fractals on it out of Sci Am. I taught myself maths. One BSc in Physics and a (fully funded) MSc in Astrophysics later and I think I proved myself. Now I mooch in Ruby and stuff. But seriously mooch. I get to be a proper programmer then bread and cheese will end-up on the table.

10 PRINT “Nick is Great”
20 GOTO 10

I have moved on a bit since then. And I am not blowing my own horn (it would put my back out) but celebrating the sheer fact that I was fortunate to be born in an age and a place where these things I quite simply cannot imagine my life without existed. I couldn’t have invented them but can I use them – yes! Aeroplanes and computers. How the devil did humanity manage for fifty thousand years without them.

I also want to build a Tesla coil. Just for the hell of it. And if it kills squirrels then like whatever. The cat is way too smart to get in the way.

I’ll keep the computers away. This will be purely analogue. Of course many will object to me “wasting ‘tricity” but fuck ‘em. My follow-up will be an Alcubierre Drive. Now that is a bit of a tough call. I mean I’d have to create negative mass for a kick-off. But Barnard’s Star in hours… Kicks HS2 into a most cocked hat. It is a fucking railway. 200 years after Brunel and the politcos haven’t got over it (one was run-over at Rainhill). And don’t talk to me about Skylon A1 or C2. Just don’t. They want to spent ten times the amount on a Stephenson gauge railroad but can’t fund a variable cycle aerospace plane. That fucker could get from Bristol Internal Spaceport (how cool is that?) to Sydney in four hours. And that is on an arctic great circle so as to not piss the Russians off but at that height and speed it ain’t MH17 is it? So fuck ‘em.

I’m a techno-fetishist. I make no apologies. Fuck railways (other than to tie Corbyn to the tracks and ride a shitty commuter train over his beardy commie corpse, back and forth) and build Skylon. But do any of our PPE elites have the imagination? No. Oh, fuck no! Wall, stand against and I’ll get the rifle.

Chuckles – the gift that keeps on taking…

So, Prince Charles has been to Washington DC (as have I) but whilst I flew steerage in an American Airlines A330 (and had to change at Philly – the most confusing airport this side of Mars) he went in style. He went on a chartered A320 configured as a private jet that costs GBP250,000 a hop. Or approx. 800 times what I paid (hard to say exactly – there were several hops on that hoilday which included Key West). Well, I guess it evens out because he got to meet Obama and I trogged the Smithsonians until my feet hurt – badly. He got a gong for his tireless crusades (or whatever) on the environment. He almost certainly clocked more CO2 than I can manage in a fecking lifetime. And then he delivers a lecture on the environment… Because the A320 normally carries just over about 160 passengers and not just a dickhead and his moll.

But that’s OK because it is only the little people who deserve to be taxed out of the air and not the nobs and he is a nob in every sense.

Somehow this has something to do with Christmas…

A puzzle…

12 men but no women have stood on the Moon.

Why did Neil and Buzz sort of wear bras on their away-days?

Well, not quite. There are bonus points for telling the full story and why?

And for real bonus points can you name some stuff they left there?

Top Gun, Bottom Prices…

Ever wanted to re-enact Top Gun scenes with your own privately owned fighter jet, well the RAF have helped two people do just that.

Erm… Well, I have never wanted to be a midget squealing, “Speak to me Goose!” whilst battling with my latent homosexuality during the least realistic dog fight ever committed to celluloid. If that would have been for real and I’d been in a “Mig-28″ Mr Cruise would have taken an early bath.

The military service allowed a 1976 Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR3 jump-jet and 1988 Panavia Tornado F3 to be auctioned off without a reserve.

The Harrier was sold to a gentleman from Essex for £105,800 while the Tornado was sold at a relative snip at £36,800 to a female pilot.

Wowsers! Now, obviously what 2&8 the Tornado is in is but still that is not an especially pricey sports car! God knows where I would have parked it but it certainly gains the drop on the Current Vauxhall Corsa. Get that up to 80 and it shakes like the Millenium Falcon getting up to light-speed.

Nice to see things what cost millions going for a song though.

Diplomacy amidst the wreckage and the rhetoric

Malaysian PM Najib on MH17

Although not a fan of Malaysian PM Najib Razak, his approach to the MH17 disaster has been more diplomatic than the angry rhetoric of both the US and the UK. Indeed I would go further and say that it demonstrates the difference between Cameron and Obama, who are simply politicking and the governments of Malaysia and the Netherlands who are attempting to recover the bodies of their citizens and understand why MH17 is spread across 8-miles of a Ukrainian war-zone.


Nimrod Down.

Well, I guess you’ve heard of the four missing British yachtsmen. Now the big searchers for them (or their remains) is the US Coastguard. Fine. No issues with the fifth service of the US military. They know what they are doing and they appear to have deployed significant resources to the task for it is a hell of a lot of ocean to search.

So, what have us Brits done… We have sent an RAF C-130 to Canada. Now the BBC News was giving mixed messages on this. They showed USCG C-130s and said the RAF plane was the same which is not exactly true. You see the USCG C-130s aren’t transports – they are specialized recon platforms. The RAF plane is the standard transport and they had an RAF Air Marshall saying basically that it was going to have folks looking out the windows and using the MkI eyeball. Magic.

The 2010 UK defence review resulted in the scrapping of our Nimrod maritime recon planes. Now these were designed to hunt Soviet subs. They had been re-jigged at enormous expense and were scrapped when almost ready. Now, I don’t think they should have been re-jiggled because my absolute fave company BAE systems had no idea how to do it so it cost a fortune hence they were scrapped. A better idea would have been to take the recon kit and stick it on an A320 or 737 – i.e. not an airframe from the dawn of the jet age. But… regardless we need a maritime recon platform. Do you want me to draw a map to explain why?

Obviously Nimrods never sank a Sov sub – it never came to that thank Gods! But they were very useful for SAR missions. Quite simply they can’t do it all with choppers.

This video makes me ashamed to be British…

What an utter fuck-up beyond belief. That C-130 we dispatched is literally (litorally?) the best we can do to protect our shores and hunt for the missing. It is beyond pathetic.

Tupolev Tu-95: World’s Fastest Prop Aircraft

Counter-rotating fans! How cool is that!

One of the commenters says the thing is ugly, but I think that in flight it’s quite beautiful, at least from the video. There’s also back-and-forth as to whether it’s a Russified Nazi plane or an American one.

Published on Sep 1, 2013

Russian Aircraft The Tupolev Tu-95 (Russian: Туполев Ту–95; NATO reporting name: Bear) is a large, four-engine turboprop-powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 entered service with the Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040.[1]

[ ... SNIP of a great deal more info. Go to UT and click "See more"* ...]

*But be warned, among other things “See More” passes us such gems of information as this:

An aircraft is a machine that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. …

And this:

The human activity that surrounds aircraft is called aviation.

It also includes a few titillating details about the USAF. Actually the thing reads like a paper written for school by someone of Junior-High age (say, 11-14).

However, there are some interesting, substantive comments.

It must be true because I read about it in the Daily Mail…

[Editorial note - this story is from a while back but I've been sick as a mangy hound with nastiness so never finished it. I'm back now.]

… except it isn’t. Since childhood I have been an aviation fanatic. I’m astigmatic, somewhat short sighted and RG colour blind. So when I started my degree I spoke to the recruiting officer for the East Midlands Universities Air Squadron and when I explained my ishoos I was told to politely eff off. Having said that would you really trust someone who had to be told what colour Corsodyl toothpaste is with hands on the throttle and stick of a something that costs more than David and Victoria Beckham’s house and can drop JDAMs?

Thought not.

Shame but fair enough I guess. Having said that the highest scoring fighter ace in British history, Major Edward “Mick” Mannock, Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and Two Bars, Military Cross and Bar (61 confirmed kills, maybe 73) and that Irishman was blind in one eye (allegedly). He (allegedly) bribed someone in the medical section to get the sight-test chart and memorised it. I think they are a bit more careful these days. Never trust the Irish or the Daily Mail.


Prince Harry has created a scholarship to get wounded veterans behind the wheel of an iconic Spitfire.

A fine and noble goal except a Spitfire (do we need to be told it is “iconic”? Do we ever need to be told something that actually is iconic is “iconic”?) doesn’t have a wheel. No, seriously. This is a snarky piece but it is aimed against the Mail and not Harry. I knew a lass at Nottingham University who helped out with riding for the disabled. Imagine how freeing it is for a paraplegic to be astride a horse and to gain that speed, height and mobility. A Spit has rather more horses in the front so…

The scheme, inspired by Second World War pilot Douglas Bader, will see the strongest candidates move up from a Tiger Mother biplane, to a Harvard, to the bespoke craft.

A Tiger Mother? God help us! The Harvard though was the RAF’s LIFT at the time so OK there but what’s that with “bespoke”?

Oh, and we had many disabled pilots in WWII. One bloke had nose art on his Spitfire showing the arm he’d had blown off flicking the V-sign.

Harry, an Apache helicopter pilot, launched the scholarship by climbing into the cockpit of a Spitfire and starting it.

Er… He’s an Apache WSO. Whatever.

But this is astonishing…

Not Spitfires

The Mail caption is this, “Britain built about 20,000 Spitfires, but they became obsolete after the invention of the jet engine. Here, a fleet is pictured with wing commander Robert Stanford-Tuck for the 1968 film.”

I’m not even going to point out they are Hurricanes.

I can fact-check stuff in the press. But I have limits. I know about certain areas such as aviation, bits of physics, a few other odds and ends but that is my lot. Worrying isn’t it? How much can the media smuggle past you as “truth” if you don’t know the subject?

I’m just wear my Mr Sceptic hat. I’m not exactly accusing them of making things-up or even of cherry-picking things to reflect their views but of in a fundamental way not really caring about hard truth. I mean that in the sense that the Mail sees the truth of telling a heart-warming story of the dashing young prince driving fast cars for a good cause (which it is) is more important than the awkward little facts. They all do it. What we have to do is behave like small Danish boys and sometimes shout, “But I can see his willy!!!”.

A tale of two passengers.

I have flown from Malta to Manchester. I can’t say it was a great experience. Flying very rarely is these days but fortunately I wasn’t on the plane with this tosser. Please read the whole thing – it’s mind-bending. Here is a taste…

A drunken jet passenger was tasered by police after stripping naked on the airport tarmac – and challenging the captain to a fight.

The 52-year-old man, who had arrived in Manchester on an easyJet flight from Malta, also urinated up the side of the Terminal One building.

Video taken of the amazing incident shows the burly, bald man removing his clothes on the runway apron and posturing at the captain – before receiving a slap across the face from his female companion.

Almost makes you wish for the days of Paul Temple on flying boats with wicker chairs and a G&T served just right.

Apparently the gentleman in question has been arrested on the grounds of being suspected of being “drunk and disorderly”. I hope the magistrate doesn’t feel the need to consider this one for too long.

On the other hand this is a brilliant story.

Politics in it’s old hat.

This started as a reply to Sam’s comment here.

Sam, you have a point. The older I get the more I realise that politically we are regressing to a bastardized-Victoriana that never really existed. How else would the largest ever proposed engineering project in British history be a railway that George and Robert Stephenson could envisage – literally – it’s George’s gauge metal rails of course. It’s also 50 billion quid jizzed up the wall

It was cutting edge when George and son were building the Rocket but that was nigh on 200 years from an MP idling on the track and getting mown-down by the Rocket to the first paying passenger getting on the “new” HS2. What happened to the Fairey Rotodyne? Political pignorance and bastarding fuckwittery is what happened. There were concerns over noise (Fairey had got it down to the sound of a tube train). The fact the US military wanted loads of ‘em was irrelevant. The fact there was significant commercial interest in a high-speed city to city VTOL aircraft matter nothing if it scared the horses. Literally. The Bellendius Maximus who first championed HS2 was (and is) Lord Adonis. Yes, it does sound like he should be a porn-star. Lord Andrew [which means "manly" BTW] Adonis looks like this…

What mental image do you have of a Lord Adonis? A sort of demi-god who traded blows with Hektor of Troy? Or that piss-poor wankenshaft? He wrote a scholarly history of the poll-tax.

Short version. I did more against that. I simply didn’t pay. Not because I objected nor because I knew it was wrong as such but because I knew I could get the feck away with it and those quids in my pocket were worth more to me than being in the pockets of the cuntcil. At the time, there was, as ever a C19th (perceived as) idea that the community charge was either right or wrong. I just didn’t want to pay. Yes, I was shellfish. I was the full lobster.

So I didn’t pay and they never got me. So, what’s my point? Well, possibly it is Ike’s about “guided missiles but unguided men”. No politricks this last fifty years has moved much beyond WWI. Anywhere.

Look at the lavish expense of HS2 and compare with the dismal spending on Skylon? The first is a C19th solution to a C21st problem and the second is an SSTO aerospace plane that would result in Bristol Filton being re-monikered “Bristol International Spaceport”. Now if that isn’t cooler than making the trip from London to Birmingham 15 minutes shorter I despair. I have been to Birmingham. It’s OK but space!

It is the chronic lack of imagination that gets me about politricks.

And put it this way… 50 billion quid in you or my pocket is much more likely to get us to Mars than any ammount in the poche of the taxman. And that will only get you to Brum.

Which is like OK and all but seriously nothing to write home about.

Birmingham – it’s OK I guess.

Total Fucking Barbarians…

From The Guardian

One of seven Saudis due to be put to death on Tuesday by crucifixion and firing squad for armed robbery, speaking over a smuggled mobile phone from his prison cell, has appealed for help to stop the executions.

Nasser al-Qahtani told Associated Press from Abha general prison on Monday that he was arrested as part of 23-member ring that stole from jewellery stores in 2004 and 2005. He said they had been tortured to confess and had no access to lawyers.

They were apparently juves at the time which don’t matter a jot to me. Nothing much does when I hear the word “crucifixion” uttered in anger in 2013AD. And I bet it’s done in public though you won’t be able to sup a beer during the hilarity for that would be immoral. Or watch girls in their summer clothes for that too would be immoral. Crucifixion for three days though is moral. Sometimes allegedly they behead you first – with a sword. Thank heavens for small mercies. God almighty, even the bloody Romans would take a few coins to break the condemned’s legs and help ‘em on their way. These depraved camel fuckers are beyond anything I can imagine – 3 days! Is that in the Qu’ran? I’ll bet dollars to donuts it ain’t anyway it’s 2013 for the love of fuck. A kid was born recently who was HIV+ and is now not. Dennis Tito is planning a second honeymoon for a middle-aged couple to Mars! My wife’s new phone has more computing power than Alan Turing ever played with. But not it would seem in the Un-Magic Kingdom (the unhappiest place on Earth). What an epic shit-hole!

1. 9/11 terrorists – 15/19 were Saudis.

2. One enlightened princeling owns an airline (as you do) and employs a female pilot. This is progress – w only got there with Amy and Amelia when my grandad wasn’t even in short pants – of course we could have got there sooner but we had to wait for two guys from Ohio to build a ‘plane. Of course whilst she can fly (because they never got around to banning it) she can’t drive to the airport because women can’t drive. She’s allowed to fly a Boeing or Airbus but a Toyota is beyond her.

3. The last King (the one before Abdullah) had hordes of children due to his harem and due to his alleged “dicky ticker” had the planet’s only one-step escalator installed in the Royal Palace.

4. I can’t go to Mecca on pain of death! Only Muslims can. Not that there is much point anyway because it’s all been paved to build 5* hotels for rich folk on the Hajj (have you seen the cost of that?). The archaeological stuff has just been flattened. It’s like Vegas without the gambling and booze and broads. Or a complete fucking waste of concrete in the desert.

But they are a key ally in the “War on Terror” (see 1) and for some Godforsaken reason we sell ‘em Gen 4.5 Strike Fighters. Blimey. The first time I saw a Tiffy it was in RSAF colours in Malta. I assume on a ferry trip. They also crucify people. I wouldn’t trust those intellectual and moral retards with a propelling pencil let alone a fighter jet. And BAE Systems only managed to get the deal via grand an hour hookers and Scotch Whisky laid down when Rob Roy was knee-high to a grasshopper. If it wasn’t for the World-Class blow-jobs and the Malts they’d have bought Block-52-60+ F-16s like any sensible person. But so would we! And I guess when you are in a country that is dryer than an Arab’s sandal* and all the girls wear the Millet’s back catalogue God knows.

Perhaps the odd crucifixion relieves the tedium somewhat. God alone knows why we don’t call them for what they are. They aren’t the only gaff knee-deep in four-star. Alberta is but that involves fracking which is controversial. Now if fracking is controversial where does that put crucifixtion?

We live in a very morally troubled World.

*BTW the (in)famous episode of “Yes, Minister” in which Jim Hacker get’s pissed on a visit to a fictional Mid-East country is based on truth. That’s magic that is, “There is a call from the Scotch (sic) Office – a delegation of Teachers”. “A call from the Soviet Embassy – a Mr Smirnoff”.

Yet Another Mail Fail.

This is the opening of a Fail article on the restoration of an aircraft…

150 V1 rockets were fitted with cockpits so they could be steered into targets before pilots attempted to bail out.

And this is the end…

The rocket is 28ft long, has a wingspan of 22ft and is fitted with an Argus 109-014 pulse jet engine.
The museum is due to take delivery of it later this week.

Epic face-palm! You spotted the cock-up yet?

The V-1 was a jet not rocket as the frankly self-contradictory final line states. Who writes this drivel? Why do they employ such numpties? Why does basic factual accuracy on matters of aerospace not matter (and the Mail are far from alone here). And is it just aerospace where they just casually display complete pignorance and lack of basic fact-checking? I know a lot about ‘planes and stuff, not so much about other things. Should I be worried?

That’s rhetorical by the way.

Kill Devil Hills 17/12/1903.

Just over a century ago there was a race on…

It was won on this day in 1903 by two bicycle makers from Ohio. And not with a bicycle. Although that does matter and I shall get onto why later.

I could write (!) a lot on this but sometimes a picture says a thousand words…

This is Samuel Langley’s “Aerodrome” about to take an early bath in the Potomac around Quantico, VA in front of the World’s press… And perhaps more importantly, the US War Department in the form of Teddy Roosevelt who must have concluded that wasn’t $50,000 well spent – I mean I could go further through the air on a skateboard. There were journalists there with (relatively) new-fangled magic picture boxes (can you imagine the embarrassment!). Oh, and they also managed to nearly drown the pilot, twice – they tried again later. Samuel Langley (who wasn’t the pilot but was director of the Smithsonian) got his deputy to fly that contraption and that was into a river in VA in autumn – that’s gotta be ball-shrinkly cold. That was on October 7th 1903 (a follow-up with similarly dismal results occurred on December 8th of the same year – with the same pilot who must have been getting really narked by then).

On this day though, 109 years ago (and shortly after Langley caught the drink – or rather his poor “pilot” did (twice!)) this happened on Kill Devil Hills, NC…

Like I said about pictures…

I saw a documentary about the Wright Brothers a couple of years back. Marvelous stuff! Unlike the $50,000 of “government” money Langley spent the best estimate on what the Wright’s spent is $1,000 which is I suppose the cost of a decent camera these days which is ironic because that image is for me the image of the century of my birth (I happened a mere 70 years later) and you wouldn’t want it caught on your ‘phone. Also I have seen the Wright exhibition in the Smithsonian of which (at the time of the first flight) Samuel (putting a bloke in the drink, twice) Langley was director. When I visited the Smithsonian NASM I saw the ephemera of the Wright Brothers including Will’s pocket watch with which the dream of time immemorial was finally recorded upon – less than the wing-span of a 747 – 12 seconds. I also (it’s right at the entrance) saw the Apollo capsule that took Neil and Buzz and Mike safely home a mere 66 years later. Chuffed would be one way of putting it but I was utterly beside myself. I was seeing for real things I’d dreamed about since reading Bill Gunston as a little kid! It was superlative. Epic beyond my own dismal comprehension.

But there are unleft issues are there not?

Langley managed to panel his ‘plane and pilot into the Potomac. He had not thought of control. You see the thing was the Wright’s knew bicycles and I assume most readers can ride a bicycle. Odd things bicycles. I don’t think I have been on one since 2007 but I know I could ride one right now. Dead easy. Except it isn’t, is it? Langley attempted stability, the Wright’s attempted control. Most early attempts at heavier than air flight (including Langley’s) were based upon the idea that we would “sail the skies” with positive stability rather than metastatic stability (consider a pencil – easy to stand on it’s end – tough to stand on the point even though the symmetry suggests it should do just as well – that’s the difference – the point is meta-stable like the co-linear Lagrange points – it has no come-back from a minor perturbation like someone sneezing in the next room). So you need control because stability is undoable.

When you ride a bike you don’t think of it but you make minor adjustments all the time utterly unconsciously. Flight needs a pilot in much the same way. Orv and Will got this key point. Langley was trying to make a flying ship that would sail the friendly skies and remain stable without control input. Don’t work. That is how he wrecked his craft and almost drowned/froze his “pilot”. Because he wasn’t a pilot. What the Wright brothers figured was that control was more important than stability.

Many people think it remarkable that mere bicyclists first flew a controlled, powered, human-carrying aircraft. I don’t. They were well set-up for it.

But also, think on this… The bicycle was a huge invention. It enormously enlarged human freedom. It was the of it’s day (read late C.19th stories if you don’t believe me). It was the first time really that the likes of a nanny or accountant’s clerk could go on a trip. It was the automobile, indeed the aeroplane of it’s day. It probably did more for female (and male) emancipation than voting rights. It wasn’t exclusive or high-tech – that is my point – and that is why it caused a revolution. So it is fitting, sweet, and obvious (if you think about it) that bike makers invented the aeroplane off their own bat rather than a civil servant. They had the know-how and they also realised not so much the aeroplane (flying machines of sorts were not exactly new) but the conception of the pilot and the idea that control was the key. And that came from the bicycle. Now we all know the old saw about how you never forget how to ride a bike. What is hidden in there is the idea that no adult ever actually really recalls how they learnt. That is why the Wrights were utterly brilliant. They saw what other’s didn’t. They didn’t so much invent the ‘plane but the pilot. Now that is clever.

And also think on this. As I said the Wright’s spent 1/50th of the monies Langley got from the War Department. His attempt ended in dismal failure (at least partly because he was obsessed with stability rather than control) but the private enterprise model worked instead because…

Well, of the $50,000 Langley spent attempting to drown a man (twice) $10,000 of that was spent on his launch catapult. The Wright’s launched from a wooden rail that by all accounts was bought from a local timber yard and cost the princely sum of $4 – you can’t get a Happy Meal for that these days! Unlike Langley with his enormous ($50,000 was a lot of money back then!) funding the Wright’s were on a shoestring. Their “Flyer” was spotted (I hope you know what I mean by that?) by the local life-savers on the beach and a “curious teenager”. I assume from the timing the kid was on his way to school. I bet nobody believed him when he gave his excuse for why he was late!

Flick forward over a hundred years now. We have SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. Not NASA as much (who are still expanding into space – office space). I saw a documentary about Burt Rutan recently. Utter gonzo-spacing – excellent stuff! I might get to the methane seas of Titan after-all.

The state didn’t make people fly and it won’t take us to Mars or the stars.

I think we can all take comfort in that.


Back in 1996 (around this time of year) I was in NYC. Now I had to get back to Atlanta. A naive person might imagine since the invention of the aeroplane this is a minor detail. I was indeed booked on a 9.30am Delta flight from La Guardia to Hartsfield. Do I need to add that Hartsfield is Delta’s major base? Do I need to add that Delta allegedly run 4 flights a day between La Guardia and Hartsfield? So, I’m on the first of four flights that day but no… I wind up on the 6-30pm one because effing Delta “consolidate” all four onto the final flight.

So, eventually I get on this MD-80 and am chucked a bag of nibbles by an extremely bored looking FA (I suspect she wanted to get back to ‘lanta too). But to crown it all we are exiting the holding pattern over Hartsfield and coming in and then we just zoom climb. The captain sounded shaky on the intercom but bloody hellskis I never knew an MD-80 could climb like a Sabre. It was emotional I can tell you. Instinctively my girlf grabbed my hand. But not too tight.

What had happened was that a 767 was crossing the runway and our pilot had seen it just in the nick of time, yanked the stick back and went balls to the wall with the throttle. Well, it took another 45 minutes of orbit to get a slot and I felt Like the Pope when I finally de-planed. Never has this goodly Earth seemed so… er, goodly.

Well, it would appear Delta has bought up 49% of Virgin Airlines. Great! I wouldn’t trust Delta to fly a kite.

And me reporting this on this of all days.

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