Electrical Fire on Board Malaysia Airlines 370?

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My friends are emailing me with the latest theories about Malaysia Airlines 370. There are many articles and blog postings (example) that posit that an electrical fire on board the airplane caused the crew to try to divert to a nearby airport. The original posting from Chris Goodfellow suggests the following:

  • an electrical fire caused smoke in the cockpit
  • the pilots pulled lots of breakers
  • the breakers that they pulled disabled everything that sends signals out of the airplane, e.g., the transponders and the ACARS
  • the breakers that they pulled had no effect on the air data computers, attitude reference systems, or autopilots, thus enabling the plane to continue to fly on autopilot for 6 more hours
  • the pilots tried to divert to a nearby airport

This does not match up very well with another bit of information we have about Flight 370, i.e., that the airplane was diverted (via the FMS (like the GPS in your car)) to an IFR intersection, which is an arbitrary point defined by a five-character code. If the pilots wanted to go to an airport they would presumably have typed in the four-letter airport ID instead of a five-letter IFR intersection in the middle of nowhere. (e.g., one could go to BOSOX with an airplane GPS and land on top of an exurban dentist’s McMansion and SUV collection or one could go to KBOS and find an assortment of two-mile-long runways; which would you prefer?).

The other problem is that autopilots just love to disconnect (I wrote about this in my first conjecture on Air France 447). So if one were to pull breakers at random one would be much more likely to cause autopilot disconnection (and a crash much sooner than 6 hours later unless the plane was being hand-flown) than to cause transponder and ACARS disconnection.

Finally you have to remember that, unlike in a crummy four-seat plane, all of that fancy stuff in front of the pilots in an airliner is not the real stuff that runs the airplane. It is mostly switches, knobs, and displays that connect through wires to the actual stuff, which is typically in “electronics bays” underneath the passenger seats (photos; don’t spill your Diet Coke if you want to get to Denver!). So even if a fire burned up the cockpit the transponders would continue to operate because the thing on the dashboard that says “transponder” is in fact just a control panel for a transponder located elsewhere. (I answered the question of Why is it possible to turn off the transponder? in a comment on an earlier posting.)

So I’m still as confused as anyone about what happened to this beautiful B777 and the passengers but based on the other information that we’ve received (many hours of pings, turn to an IFR waypoint,  etc.) I am pretty sure that there was not an electrical fire on board that yet left the autopilot and associated systems untouched.

Why is there any income limit on overtime regulations?

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President Obama last week expanded federal rules requiring American employers to pay overtime. In the press release the President said “So we’re going to update those overtime rules to restore that basic principle that if you have to work more, you should be able to earn more.”

What this means is that businesses that could formerly pay fixed salaries to some managerial workers earning over $23,660 will now be forced to comply with federal overtime regulations on workers earning perhaps as much as $50,000 per year.

But if this is a “basic principle” shouldn’t it apply to everyone? Los Angeles pays firefighters overtime though the average total compensation is close to $250,000 per year (article; cash pay was $142,000/year but they also get benefits including a pension starting at age 50 of 90 percent of their previous income).

Let’s consider Cameron Kennedy, a working mom featured in this Washington Post story. McKinsey pays her $350,000 per year, presumably a fair wage for her skills. If they make her work more than 40 hours/week because they don’t want to hire another $350k/year worker, why shouldn’t McKinsey pay her overtime? Hasn’t she earned it as much as anyone else who has worked more than 40 hours?

If it makes sense to impose a “basic principle” from Washington, D.C., what is the rationale for an income cap?

[And separately, can companies evade these new regulations by limiting workers to 40 hours/week?  Suppose that Business A has someone working 60 hours/week and getting paid a straight $10/hour = $600. Meanwhile Business B has an identical employee. Under the new regulation Business A would have to pay 40*$10 = $400 plus 20*$15 = $300 or $700, right? But couldn't the companies agree that they will swap these workers for the last 20 hours/week? So now there is no worker who works more than 40 hours/week. People are probably at their most efficient for the first 30 hours per week on a job, so wouldn't we expect a reshuffling of the workforce so that no company employs a person for more than 30 hours per week? Then employers don't have to provide health insurance under the Obamacare laws and they also don't have to pay overtime under the new overtime regulations.]

New York Times: Malaysians are stupid because they ignored radar blips

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In “Series of Errors by Malaysia Mounts, Complicating the Task of Finding Flight 370,” the New York Times says the following:

The radar blip that was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 did a wide U-turn over the Gulf of Thailand and then began moving inexorably past at least three military radar arrays as it traversed northern Malaysia, even flying high over one of the country’s biggest cities before heading out over the Strait of Malacca.

Yet inside a Malaysian Air Force control room on the country’s west coast, where American-made F-18s and F-5 fighters stood at a high level of readiness for emergencies exactly like the one unfolding in the early morning of March 8, a four-person air defense radar crew did nothing about the unauthorized flight. “The watch team never noticed the blip,” said a person with detailed knowledge of the investigation into Flight 370. “It was as though the airspace was his.”

It was not the first and certainly not the last in a long series of errors by the Malaysian government that has made the geographically vast and technologically complex task of finding the $50 million Malaysia Airlines jet far more difficult.

The implication seems to be that the Malaysians are stupid while we Americans, especially New York Times journalists and our military personnel, are smart. We would never have done anything like this. The article certainly does not link over to Wikipedia, which notes “As the first wave [of Japanese aircraft attacking Pearl Harbor] approached Oahu, it was detected by the U.S. Army SCR-270 radar at Opana Point near the island’s northern tip. This post had been in training mode for months, but was not yet operational. Although the operators, Privates George Elliot Jr. and Joseph Lockard, reported a target, a newly assigned officer at the thinly manned Intercept Center, Lieutenant Kermit A. Tyler, presumed it was the scheduled arrival of six B-17 bombers. The direction from which the aircraft were coming was close (only a few degrees separated the two inbound courses), while the operators had never seen a formation as large on radar; they neglected to tell Tyler of its size, while Tyler, for security reasons, could not tell them the B-17s were due (even though it was widely known).”

Book review: The search for E.T.

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Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars starts off strong with the history of the human quest to understand the universe, going back to the ancient Greeks:

Atoms and void, Democritus argued, were all that existed, and were thus the source of all things—including living beings and their thoughts and sensory perceptions. In a universe infinite in space and time, he said, the endless dance of atoms would inevitably lead to countless other worlds and other lives, all in an eternal process of growth and decay. Not all worlds would be like ours—some would be too inhospitable for life, and others would be even more bountiful than Earth. We should be universally cheerful, Democritus believed, at our fortune to exist in a welcoming world with so many pleasures. His constant mirth at humanity’s tragicomic existence led his contemporaries to call him “the laughing philosopher.” Looking up at the dark Aegean sky, Democritus speculated that the stars, like everything else, were not made of a special celestial substance, but of atoms. They were simply suns, much farther away than our own, some so distant that in aggregate they formed the Milky Way’s pale glow.

In 1963 General Dynamics buried a time capsule with predictions about life in 2063 A.D.:

Mercury astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the planet, predicted that within a century we would have linked atomic power plants to “anti-gravity devices,” fundamentally rewriting the laws of physics and revolutionizing life and transportation on Earth and in the heavens alike. Another Mercury astronaut, Scott Carpenter, expressed his hope that the anti-gravity “scheme” would help humans colonize the Moon, the Martian moon Phobos, and Mars. The prominent astronomer Fred Whipple suggested that Earth’s population would have stabilized at 100 billion, and that planetary-scale engineering of Mars would have altered the Red Planet’s climate to allow its 700,000 inhabitants to be self-sufficient. The director of NASA’s Office of Manned Space Flight, Dyer Brainerd Holmes, suggested that in 2063 crewed vehicles would be reaching “velocities approaching the speed of light,” and that society would be debating whether to send humans to nearby stars. A majority of the twenty-nine respondents predicted a peaceful world, harmoniously unified under a democratic world government and freed from resource scarcity.

The strangest entry of all was the long, decidedly pessimistic response of Harold Urey, the Nobel-laureate chemist. … He lamented how technological progress had cut off his children from many of the bucolic joys of his own upbringing, such as riding “in a sleigh behind a matched team of blacks, on a clear night with stars above and white snow around . . . nestled warm and cozy beneath a buffalo robe.” Looking ahead, Urey glimpsed a not-too-distant future in which things could fall apart, when the centers of the modern world could not hold, a time when growth would stagnate. He postulated no proximate causes other than already-existing cracks in civilization’s façade. Schemes for world government were unfavorable, he believed, because governments tended to grow bloated and cumbersome from “fantastic national debt” that outstripped both inflation and revenue. The ruinous deficits would be produced by “the curious psychology of politicians” paired with “the development of war machines by applied scientific methods,” and would be exacerbated by the need to provide healthcare and social security for a large, aging populace. Turning society over entirely to the whims of large, private corporations was no alternative, Urey observed, because companies would inevitably conspire to pursue short-term profits against the public interest and common good. through some uneasy and uncertain balance between government regulation and private enterprise could the status quo of growth be maintained. Even then, it could not be maintained indefinitely. [emphasis added]

The author, Lee Billings, writes about how California’s state government has been starved of revenue:

Housing prices and infrastructural necessities rose as capital continued pouring in, and property taxes rose with them, until in the 1970s wealthy, established Californians rebelled. They voted to keep property taxes artificially low, and shifted the state toward a dysfunctional political culture where time and time again voter-led “ballot initiatives” earmarked spending while also eliminating sources of revenue. Since the turn of the millennium, the state had been in near-constant budgetary crisis. When the real-estate bubble burst in 2007, it helped kick off the Great Recession of 2008, which reduced California’s coffers to catastrophic lows. Funding was slashed for public assistance to the poor and disabled, for state colleges and courts, for municipal emergency services, and more.

Billings doesn’t stop to ask the question that we’d expect scientists to ask: “Compared to what?” Since California is the 4th highest tax state in the U.S., as a percentage of residents’ income collected, why can’t they afford to run their schools, fire departments, etc. like the rest of the states do?

An important question for calculating the probability of finding an extraterrestrial civilization is how long such a civilization might last. Billings devotes a lot of the book to speculating that our penchant for digging coal, oil, and natural gas out of the ground and setting it on fire will result in, not simply global warming, but extinction of the human species. The experts he interviews, however, contradict this perspective: James Kasting says “We’re squandering Earth’s resources. We’re doing terrible things to biodiversity. I have no doubt we’re living in the midst of another major mass extinction of our own making. I take what little comfort I can from knowing we probably can’t drive life itself to extinction or push the planet into a runaway greenhouse. The carbonate-silicate cycle will erase the fossil-fuel pulse in a timescale of a million years, and then the long decline of atmospheric CO2 will continue.”

Billings describes NASA as the world’s most wasteful non-military enterprise:

The chimeric [Space Shuttle] vehicles that finally emerged were elegant, versatile, and irreparably flawed. Instead of achieving 50 flights per year as originally projected, the entire shuttle fleet collectively flew 135 times during the program’s thirty-year lifetime. The shuttles lofted payloads to orbit at a cost estimated anywhere between $18,000 and $60,000 per kilogram—more expensive than the expendable launchers they were built to replace. The shuttle program’s failures came in part from the fact that many of its “reusable” components required extensive refurbishment by a small standing army of technicians after each flight. They also came from the shuttle’s inescapable operational risks, which led to the tragic losses of two orbiters and crews. Space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch in 1986 due to a sealant failure in one of its boosters, and the Columbia disintegrated during reentry in 2003 after a piece of foam insulation punctured a wing. Politically driven compromises made early in the shuttle design process proved to be major factors in both disasters.

The Shuttle does prove useful for repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, but Billings notes that “Critics of NASA’s human spaceflight program noted that for the estimated cost of each shuttle servicing mission, an entirely new Hubble could have been built and launched via expendable rockets, all without risking human lives,…”

Why can’t NASA find planets with fancy new orbiting instruments? “As was typical of so many government projects begun during Bush’s administration, the only thing Constellation seemed to excel at was transferring billions of dollars of public, federal money into the coffers of well-connected private contractors who too often delivered precious little in return. … After years of middling results and more than $10 billion in expenditures, Constellation was canceled in 2010 by President Barack Obama… The [planet finding] mission [of some other experiment] was repeatedly downgraded and its launch continually delayed, piling on empty expenses until, after consuming more than half a billion dollars, in 2010 SIM was quietly cancelled and its nearly complete flight hardware junked or repurposed.”

After describing NASA’s seemingly inexhaustible ability to squander money, Billings expresses dismay that the public doesn’t want to fund more exoplanetary research. Billings seems to think that it is impossible to get rich people to fund astronomy but does not justify this belief. Given that rich people funded nearly all of the work of astronomers for thousands of years, shouldn’t at least one of the world’s 1645 billionaires want to fund a planet-finding satellite? A planet, once found and named, is forever. Poverty or disease relieved today may return tomorrow.

Readers: Why don’t we see more private space-based science? My first job was writing software to analyze data from the Pioneer Venus orbiter. The mission cost about $225 million in late 1970s dollars. Presumably some costs have gone up since then but other costs should be lower, e.g., the $1 million PDP-11/70 that I used to analyze the data could be replaced with a smartphone app. Private funds are contributing significantly to the $1 billion telescope taking shape in the Chilean desert (article). Why wouldn’t private donors want to escape the Earth’s atmosphere? [coincidentally, the New York Times has a March 14 article on private funding of science]

There are some thought-provoking questions in this book but I can’t recommend it overall. If you’re desperate for something about how a planet can undergo dramatic change, check out Snowball Earth.

Oberlin College and how to meet women in New York City

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I’ve finished Little Failure now (see previous posting). The later parts of the book cover the author’s time in New York City’s Stuyvesant public high school and Oberlin College. Here are some quotes:

OBERLIN COLLEGE WAS ESTABLISHED in 1833 so that people who couldn’t otherwise find love, the emotional invalids and Elephant Men of the world, could do so.

It takes me but a few weeks to realize the frightening new prospect before me. Whereas in Stuyvesant I was at the bottom of my class, at Oberlin I can maintain a nearly perfect average while being drunk and stoned all day long.

I like going to classes because I can learn a lot. About the students, I mean. Here the great arias of self-involvement—far more operatic than Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro”—wind their way through the boxy little classrooms as professors eagerly facilitate our growth as social beings and master complainers. I learn how to speak effectively within my new milieu. I master an Oberlin technique called “As a.” “As a woman, I think …” “As a woman of color, I would speculate …” “As a woman of no color, I would conjecture …” “As a hermaphrodite.” “As a bee liberator.” “As a beagle in a former life.”

The things I say in class are no longer meant to be funny or satiric or ironic; they’re meant to celebrate my own importance, forged in the crucible of our collective importance. There is no room for funny at Oberlin. Everything we do must move the human race forward.

Following college the book becomes a bit of a Horatio Alger story in which the author is destitute (20th/21st century style, not 19th century style) until he gets a helping hand from a couple of successful guys, one of whom is Chang Rae Lee. Lee transforms Shteyngart’s life by getting him a contract for his first published novel:

In the year 2000 it is still possible to woo a girl with a book deal. And woo I do. But what’s so amazing is how quickly I am wooed back. How soon a number of warm and attractive women are keen to walk down the street with me, hand in hand, to see Cabaret Balkan or whatever foreign nonsense is playing at the Film Forum, without a second wood-carving boyfriend waiting for them on their Brooklyn couches. I quickly settle down with an interesting one, an Oberlin graduate with some jet-setting predilections—one of our first dates takes place in Portugal. Lisbon’s airport handily features a shop selling engagement rings, and my new sposami subita, with the thick pretty eyelashes and the sexy way of wearing a simple hoodie, encourages me to buy her an engagement ring right there (she is of a certain Asian culture that stresses matrimony).

I know how little attraction I pose for most women à la carte. And what I realize is that with Chang-rae’s single gesture, I will never have to go home to an empty bed again. From this point forward, I will know love whenever I need to know it.

So the book relates the dark inner journey of a writer but then has a happy ending.

Stealing and stashing a Boeing 777?

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Friends have been asking me, usually prefaced with “I’m not typically prone to conspiracy theory,” about the difficulty of stealing and hiding a Boeing 777. I’m hoping this is because of my experience as an airline pilot and not because they think that I am an expert on stealing and hiding things…

Anyway, one question that they seem to have is how big an airport one needs for such an airplane. If you want to land in bad weather, with lots of safety margin, and have a nice terminal for passengers, the number of places where a B777 could be landed is pretty small. FAR 121.195 requires that a turbojet be able to land in 60 percent of the available runway. You need to assume that the thrust reversers have failed and the plane can be stopped only with brakes (plus spoilers that pop out of the wings, typically, to destroy lift and make the brakes more effective). Pilots don’t even try to land on the first 1000′, since a wind variation or pilot error might result in landing a bit short. Thus if one is going to land and roll 5000′ one needs a 10,000′ runway to be legal. (See this posting about my LaGuardia landing for why this FAA rule is prudent.) For departure you need to be able to accelerate to about 180 mph, lose an engine, think for one second, hit the brakes, and stop without running off the runway (or a special overrun area beyond). Alternatively you must be able to accelerate to about 180 mph, lose an engine (i.e., half of your power), and continue the takeoff with that one engine, clearing whatever obstacles are beyond the runway.

What if you are willing to assume that you’ll make a reasonably competent landing and that the thrust reversers will function normally? Certainly a B777 could be landed in 5000′ of runway (less than one mile). See this article on how a Boeing 747 was landed at a ridiculously small airport in South Africa. The calculated landing roll, without reverse thrust, was 3000′ (the article says “landing distance” so this might actually be 1000′ of flying and then 2000′ of rolling). An Air Canada crew managed land a Boeing 767 at an abandoned airport that originally had a 6800′ runway (Wikipedia) despite a lack of engine power that limited their use of flight controls and therefore necessitated a higher-than-normal approach speed.

Could you take off again from a short runway? Sure. In this test flight, a journalist reports lifting off in a 777 about 3300′ down the runway. A Southwest Airlines B737 joined the Cessna crowd at an airport with a 3700′ runway and took off again without incident (story).

I don’t have any special knowledge about Malaysia 370, but it would definitely be possible to land such a plane at an out-of-the-way or decommissioned airport, refuel it, and take off again.

What could a person do with a stolen Boeing 777? The parts don’t have as much commercial value as one might think, due to the fact that operators in most countries need to comply with a lot of regulations regarding the serial numbers and provenance of all of the parts that are placed onto a certified aircraft, particularly one of “transport class.” Countries that the U.S. government doesn’t like, such as Iran, have trouble operating Boeing airplanes because we make it tough for them to get spare parts (see Wikipedia story on Iran Air).

Those are the answers that I’ve given to friends. I’m about as confused by the situation as anyone else, however. Certainly my personal hope is that the plane is parked under a tarp somewhere and the passengers will eventually return home.

Compensation for ex-government officials, then and now

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The book Coolidge, which I recently reviewed (posting), relates that the former president was able to earn about $150,000 per year by writing a syndicated daily newspaper column. That’s $2.1 million in today’s money, according to the BLS.gov inflation calculator.

Due to his having been sued for child support, the public now knows that Peter Orszag, a former Obama Administration official, is earning about $4 million per year from Citigroup (Washington Post).

[Coolidge might have been able to spend more than Orszag, however. The top income tax rate in 1930 was 25 percent and that applied only to income over $100,000 ($1.4 million in today's mini-dollars). So let's assume that Coolidge kept about 80 percent of his income after taxes or $1.68 million in 2014 dollars. Orszag, on the other hand, under New York law will owe 17 percent of his pre-tax income to a recent ex-girlfriend, mentioned in the article as having given birth to a daughter. The mother is described as a "venture capitalist" but even if she were to earn $10 million per year that does not affect her entitlement to child support at the 17-percent rate. (New York courts can cap the amount of income on which the 17 percent is calculated, however.) Let's assume that Orszag pays about 50 percent of his income in local, state, and federal taxes plus the standard 17 percent pre-tax child support in New York. Thus Orszag keeps 33 percent or $1.32 million. According to the Post, the child support plaintiff in D.C. seeks $264,000 per year in "direct" payments to herself plus, presumably, additional amounts to pay for the actual expenses of the two children that have given rise to the lawsuit. Politico.com says that the plaintiff seeks $300,000 per year (to supplement a $350,000 per year pre-tax income from McKinsey and $2 million in liquid assets). The Post says that the children attend Georgetown Day School, where tuition seems to be about $35,000 per year (are there any government officials whose children go to government-run schools?). This New York Post article implies that the children are with their father at least some of the time. Thus, in addition to paying for the two kids when they are at their mother's house, Orszag also will pay for these two kids' expenses when they are with him. At a minimum that would entail a bigger apartment so that they can have rooms. The USDA "cost of raising a child calculator" estimates that a high-income two-parent family in the Northeast will spend about $40,000 per year on two kids, excluding "child care and education". Add that to the $70,000 in private school tuition and using the $300,000 per year child support number from Politico and the total is a $410,000 per year after-tax subtraction from income.  The Post article says that the $400,000 trust fund established by Orszag for the children's education has been depleted. So he'll need to put away $50,000 per year for college (child support recipients are not expected to save any of the money that they receive). This New York Post article mentions that Orszag had at least one previous legal dispute with this plaintiff, from whom he was divorced 8 years ago. So Orszag may have ongoing legal fees averaging $200,000 per year. That leaves Orszag with $660,000 per year with which to support himself and his current family.]

Pilatus PC-12 NG test flight and cabin noise measurements

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I had the opportunity to test-fly a PC-12 NG. I was interested to see how this would compare to the “legacy” PC-12 that I flew back in 2006 (review of that plane). The new plane has a more powerful engine and is therefore a few knots faster. Friends who are pilot at PlaneSense, the largest U.S. operator of the PC-12, said “the extra speed might save you an hour per year.”

What does the new engine do to cabin noise, a traditional weakness of turboprops compared to jets? Here are some data from January 17, 2014 in N47NG, a 2010 PC-12 NG, serial number 1103, in a flight from KBED.

  • idling on the ramp: 76 dBA center cabin
  • taxi: 76 dBA center cabin
  • takeoff: 85-90 dBA center cabin
  • climb: 86-88 dBA center cabin
  • level 6000′, 217 knots: 90 dBA pilot ear level; 87-88 dBA center cabin; 84-87 dBA rear of the cabin (but 89 dBA next to the cargo door)
  • level 10,000′, 200 knots: 90-91 dBA pilot ear level; 85-87 dBA center cabin; 84-88 rear of the cabin
  • level 15,000′, 200 knots: 89-90 dBA pilot ear level; 83-87 dBA center cabin; 83-86 rear of the cabin
  • descent: 80-83 dBA center cabin
  • pattern: 80 dBA center cabin

I didn’t record the numbers as carefully back in 2006 but it seems that these are roughly 4 dB louder than the older slightly slower airplane. In fact, the PC-12 NG has roughly the same measured interior noise level as a friend’s G36 piston-powered Bonanza and is louder than a Diamond Star DA40 (previous posting). From a pilot’s point of view, the 90 dBA in the front exceeds OSHA limits (85 dBA) for exposure at work without hearing protection (and so do most of the cabin readings). This is 9 dBA louder than an early 1980s Twin Commander turboprop that I measured (posting). It is also much louder than a King Air (previous posting), though no worse than a TBM 850 (previous posting). For reference, interior noise levels in light jets are usually below 80 dBA in the cockpit and below 82 dBA in the passenger cabin, closer to the engines.

How about the fancy Honeywell avionics in the front that are part of the NG experience? The PlaneSense pilots all have hundreds or thousands of hours of experience with this system but they prefer the legacy avionics, updated with the latest Garmin touch-screen GPSes.

Being an owner of a Honeywell glass flight deck is pretty expensive, with annual extended warranty coverage costing about $15,000 per year. In other words, every four years you pay Honeywell enough to have bought all of the stuff in a brand-new Garmin G1000 system. I’m not in love with the user interface philosophy of Garmin, but I think it would have saved everyone a lot of time and money if Pilatus had used a Garmin system, which nearly all pilots know how to use. Certainly if the Garmin systems are capable of supporting faster and more complex aircraft, such as the Embraer Phenom 300, they would be capable of performing in a PC-12.  It might be simpler for a piston pilot to transition to a Phenom 100 or Cessna Mustang twin-engine turbojet because (1) the piston pilot already knows how to use a Garmin glass panel, and (2) the latest turbojets include FADEC for the engines.

If you need 10 seats and must visit airports with short runways, the PC-12 remains a strong candidate. But the high cabin noise level, apparently made worse in the NG model, means that passenger and pilot comfort will not be comparable to a jet. Everyone in the plane should be wearing some sort of hearing protection.

(A friend who traded in his Twin Commander turboprop on a Phenom 100 jet a few years ago said that “Now we usually have to stop for fuel when we go to Florida, which we didn’t have to do in the Commander, but the family arrives much more refreshed.”)

Related: measurements from a 2000 Series 9 PC-12/45.

Red wine blind tasting results

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A friend who is a wine expert operated a red wine blind tasting (not double-blind, however). All of the wines were decanted and served in anonymous bottles.

The top three results:

  1. Little Penguin Shiraz 2012 (about $6 per bottle (link))
  2. Col Solare 2007 blend ($60)
  3. Villa Antinori Reserva Chianti 2010 ($29 per bottle)

With a score of 7, the Little Penguin scored nearly a full point (out of 10) higher than the $60 competitor. The rest of the wines were mostly in a cluster between 4.5 and 5.5. On the bottom end, the outliers with a Louis Jadot Beaujolais 2012 and an Oyster Bay 2011 Pinor Noir.

[It is unclear if Little Penguin Shiraz is the same from bottle to bottle or year to year. The company's Web site does not mention any vineyards or winery. So it might just be that they buy surplus wine from the persistent worldwide glut (see my February 2010 posting about how the French wine inside a $10 bottle costs 46 cents).]

Why don’t we have streaming data from the missing B777?

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The great minds of the New York Times are wondering (editorial) why we don’t have streaming data from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. (As previously noted here, none of the great minds of the New York Times have a technical background.) How much could it possibly cost to send back data at intervals?

It turns out that the retail cost of circuitry that will do the job is about $1000 (in the boutique quantities that the aviation industry buys; probably closer to $10 if added to every Honda Accord). I wrote about this a bit in my Heli-Expo notes:

Spidertracks is interesting because an FAA-approved GPS costs $5-15,000 and an FAA-approved Iridium phone installation is about $30,000. The Spidertracks box includes one of each for $1000 plus $1.90 per flight hour for Iridium fees to send back position reports.

For retrofitting a certified airliner the numbers above should probably be more like $500,000. I.e., the government regulations that the New York Times is fond of advocating add a factor of perhaps 500X to the cost of doing what they now want.

This is sort of the same situation as for the Asiana 777 that crashed in San Francisco. Recall that the ground-based instrument landing system radio beacons were inoperative that day so the four pilots decided to fly a visual approach, with the same results as five U.S. Air Force officers (three pilots; two flight engineers) flying a similarly sized C5 cargo plane back in 2006 (story). Equipment that enables a GPS-based precision autopilot approach costs about $500 in an experimental airplane (minimal regulation), about $10,000 in a crummy four-seater (onerous regulation), and perhaps $1 million  in a Boeing 777 (crazy intense regulation). Because airlines don’t want to pay a 2000X markup for regulation they generally fly with whatever avionics came with the airplane.

[This is not to say that I am advocating deregulating or privatizing aircraft and avionics certification. Only pointing out that we have as a society made a choice that we would rather stick with risks that we understand, e.g., 20-50-year-old technology in airliners, than suffer from the risks of innovation, e.g., letting passengers use Kindles and iPads.]

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