Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Mardi Gras Y'all!

I'm typing this during my lunch break at the tower, so no long drawn-out missive today. But I couldn't let it pass without wishing everyone a happy Mardi Gras. As you might imagine, Mardi Gras isn't quite the big thing in L.A. that it is in New Orleans or Rio. The first most folks here at the tower heard about it was when I hit the top of the stairs wearing my beads. They all seemed okay with it though when the king cakes arrived (gotta have beads and king cake!)

For those who need a Mardi Gras primer, here goes: Mardi Gras (in French "fat Tuesday") or Carnival is the celebration running up to Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. In New Orleans, where I learned my Mardi Gras lore,
the Mardi Gras season begins on Twelfth Night, or the Feast of the Epiphany, which is January 6th (this is the twelfth of the twelve days of Christmas in the carol - Many people don't realize that the twelve days of Christmas are after Christmas Day, not leading up to it like an advent calendar). Fat Tuesday itself is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is in turn forty-six days (forty if you don't count the Sundays) before Easter, which is in turn the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 20th. Thus, the date of Mardi Gras moves each year just as the date of Easter does, and can be as early as the third of February or as late as the ninth of March. The king cake is ring-shaped (like a king's crown), and is in honor of the three wise men in the tale of the baby Jesus. That's also the origination of the baby in the cake, although in some cultures a bean is used instead. The tradition says that whoever gets the baby in the cake has to host the next celebration (in other words, provide the next cake). The traditional colors of purple, green, and gold respectively represent Justice, Faith, and Power. I was going to show you the cake, but . . .

I didn't think to get a picture of it before taking it upstairs, and food of this sort in the tower cab has no chance of approaching its 'sell by' date. So instead, here's the box it came in, all the way from Louisiana:

In other so-called 'news', the Oscars ceremony was this past weekend. While I didn't go, and in fact don't even know who did, I did get a shot of one of the full FBO ramps. Lotsa heavy iron in town:

Post script: The calculation of the date of Easter is known as computus, and is actually some what more involved than my abbreviated explanation above. For more, you might see this Wikipedia article.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Odds and ends

Sorry for the recent drought in entries, but as you may have heard we've had a bit of rain recently in Southern California . . . and my roof leaks. Like a sieve, lately. So the nice weather we've had for the last couple of days, which has for once coincided with my weekend, has seen me outside on the roof. Thus, this missive is mostly a composite of recent news items that I found interesting, with no particular connection to each other or anything else I normally comment on:

It's been a month for weird collisions. First, a couple of communications satellites collide in orbit. That news was followed by the announcement that a couple of submarines had collided beneath the surface of the planet's second-largest ocean. Then today, I heard about a train that hit a couple of girls who were sleeping on the tracks! Here are links to each of the stories:

Russian and US satellites collide

Nuclear subs collide in Atlantic

2 Teen Girls, Injured by Train, Cope with Change

Ever-so-slightly related to the first two stories, respectively, are two more. One about a joint effort to send a space probe to Jupiter's moon Europa, and the other about a recent discovery of a French battleship sunk in World War One:

Jupiter in space agencies' sights

Danton wreck found in deep water

I don't have anything special to say about the crash of the Colgan (flying as Continental Connection) Dash-8 last week. All the information I have came from public media sources, so no inside information stuff here. From the sound of it, the airplane had accumulated a load of ice, perhaps more than realized by the crew. When they extended the flaps on approach to Buffalo, the altered air flow over the wings and particularly the tail may have caused them to experience a loss of control. This could have been exacerbated by the reportedly gusty crosswinds in the area. The flight data recorder indicated that they attempted to retract the landing gear and flaps in their efforts to regain control, but ran out of altitude. While I have no Dash-8 piloting experience, I will say that the accepted practice in small general aviation aircraft is to leave the flaps up if the pilot suspects he may have accumulated ice. This quote comes from an FAA Advisory Circular to pilots about the effects of icing:

A tailplane stall occurs when, as with the wing, the critical angle of attack is exceeded. Since the horizontal stabilizer counters the natural nose down tendency caused by the center of lift of the main wing, the airplane will react by pitching down, sometimes uncontrollably, when the tailplane is stalled. Application of flaps can aggravate or initiate the stall. The pilot should use caution when applying flaps during an approach if there is the possibility of icing on the tailplane.


BBC: Plane crash in NY state kills 50

FAA Advisory Circular 91-51A

Capt. Dave's blog, part 1

Capt. Dave's blog, part 2

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

LAX aircraft spotters' guide: Airbus A330 (Re-revised)

March, 2011: It's been two years since this originally was published, and there have been some notable changes that called for another revision. Notably, Aeroflot and Hawaiian both now bring A332s into LAX; Northwest no longer exists but their fleet still flies in Delta colors; and LTU is now Air Berlin.

This entry has been revised a couple of times since I first posted it, and now features technical data on the A330. In addition, this will be the first part of an occasional aircraft spotters' guide series on the aircraft types seen at LAX.

The title for this piece was originally going to be something along the lines of "Something Old, Something New", but the old got away before I could catch it with the camera. So instead, I'll just cut straight to the new, seen recently at LAX: Our first Northwest Airbus in Delta colors. Not only an Airbus, but it's a heavy Airbus: the first A330-300 I've seen at LAX. Northwest replaced its DC-10s (finally) with Airbus A330s, both -200s and -300s. I got to see both while I was in Memphis, but this is the first heavy Airbus that Northwest has brought into LAX. We have seen A330s here before, but only the -200 model, which is the shorter of the two: LTU and Aer Lingus, both of which have disappeared from the LAX scene, flew them to Europe, while Qantas occasionally uses one to Auckland.

Our first A333, seen here at gate 26, with an A320 and a B744 for comparison.

Here it is again, pushing off the gate for departure. That's an American Eagle E140 in the background on runway 24 left.

An Eva Cargo MD11 touches down as this Delta A332 taxis out for departure

A Delta (formerly Northwest) A332, with a Korean B773 and a Continental B753

Delta A332, United B772, Air France B773, Southwest B737

Delta A332 with a United B763 and a Skywest E120

That's an A332 on the corner gate, with American MD80 and B752 on the taxiways; in the foreground is a B764, not often seen at LAX these days, along with the smaller B752 at the gate next door.

Almost the same picture, but with a B753 in the foreground instead

Here's a rogue's gallery of A332's that I've seen at LAX:

Aer Lingus (callsign: Shamrock) just arriving. They stopped service here in November, but had plans to return in the spring. Two years later, we have yet to see Aer Lingus again at LAX.

LTU, in Air Berlin colors, arriving a few minutes before. This was the last LTU scheme I saw here. Haven't seen them at all since last fall. Like Aer Lingus, LTU currently considers LAX a seasonal destination. LTU was taken over by Air Berlin in 2007, but continued to use the 'LTU' callsign, at least on the flights I've seen. Air Berlin still operates to LAX on a seasonal (summer) basis; the LTU brand and callsign are no more.

Here's LTU again, this time in their own scheme. The Air France is a B772.

LTU's previous livery.

Qantas seasonally (winter) brings in an A332 on the flight to/from Auckland, New Zealand. The A330 and A340 models were developed concurrently, and in some ways are the same airplane, with a choice of two engines or four, and various fuselage lengths. The Air Tahiti in the background at gate 102 is an A343.

Qantas A332 bearing the Oneworld livery and a Delta B752

Qantas A332 with a Hawaiian B763

Qantas A332 with an El Al B772

Sandwiched between a pair of B744s

Aeroflot now uses A332s on the LA - Moscow route, replacing B763s

The A330 is built on the same production line with the A340 in Toulouse, France. The -200 and -300 differ in length (193 feet vs. 209 feet) and, oddly enough, tail height (the -200's tail is 2 feet taller to counter for the reduced effectiveness caused by the shorter fuselage). They share the same engines, wingspan (198 feet), and maximum takeoff weight (233 tons). The shorter -200 carries more fuel (36,746 gallons vs. 25,669) and thus has a 1000 miles greater range than the -300: 6749 miles vs. 5669. The -300, however, has more seating capacity: 295 in a 3-class configuration, compared to the -200's 253. The -300 also needs more runway: A maximum weight takeoff in the -300 requires 8,200 feet, while the -200 gets airborne in 7,300 feet. Both models have a normal cruise speed of 541 MPH at 35,000 feet; maximum cruise speed at the same altitude is 568 MPH. These speeds are 82% and 86%, respectively, of the speed of sound at that altitude, and might be filed on a flight plan as .82 Mach or .86 Mach. The aircraft type on the flight plan will be listed as A332 or A333. Besides Northwest, the only other US carrier operating the A330 is US Airways, but they don't bring them into LAX. No longer true: Hawaiian has added A332s to their fleet:

Hawaiian has added 294-seat A332s to its fleet; the Airbuses have thirty seats more than Hawaiian's B767-300s.

An interesting side note is that last year, Northrop Grumman won the Air Force aerial refueler competition with a tanker version of the A330-200, which was to be called the KC-45 and assembled in the US. The Boeing entry was based upon the smaller B767. Airbus had already developed the A330 MRTT tanker and it is operated by Australia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the UK. The results of the US Air Force competition were challenged and as far as I know the outcome has yet to be resolved. It has now: The USAF has chosen Boeing to supply new tankers. Tanker article Another tanker article


Airbus Industries


And now, an addendum:

After the piece about the crash that killed Buddy Holly, et al, a friend of mine told me about a tribute done that weekend on A Prairie Home Companion. Here's a link to that weekend's show: PHC

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Our newest airline, and another on the way

Yesterday saw the arrival of a brand new airline at LAX: V Australia, which is the international arm of Virgin Blue. Virgin Blue is the Australian equivalent of Virgin America here in the states: another of Richard Branson's start-ups, of which Virgin Atlantic is yet another. Unlike the other Virgin operations (Atlantic and America) here at LAX, V Australia is using Boeings: brand new B777-300's. In fact, the airline had to delay starting its service due to aircraft delivery hold ups created by a strike at Boeing last year. According to their website, scheduled service to Sidney will start on the 27th of this month, with daily service starting on March 21st - I suppose that's when they'll get their next airplane. Service to Brisbane begins in April, and Melbourne will be added in September.

Their arrival on Friday was for inaugural festivities, as well as for checking that the big Boeing would fit at their assigned gates at Terminal 3. Prior to this, the largest aircraft that I can recall operating out of Terminal 3 were Amtran's Tristars. V Australia will be in direct competition with Qantas on the Brisbane and Melbourne routes, both Qantas and United on the LAX to Sidney route. This could be interesting, since we're hearing rumors that Qantas already hasn't been able to fill all the seats on their A380's. Advertised round trip fares to Sidney are under $800 (not counting fees and taxes) at both Qantas and V Australia.

Another Qantas A380 rumor that I just heard this past week is that the airline is seriously considering pulling the A380's out of LAX in favor of San Francisco. Supporting this idea is the real fact that the A380 has yet to depart out of LAX on time. Any A380 movement on the airport requires a good bit of coordination between airport operations, the tower, and other affected ramp operations. I've been told that it takes five City Operations escorts to manage vehicle traffic on the access roads when the A380 is moving, regardless of whether it's under power or being towed. Each time this happens, the vehicle traffic gets seriously snarled due to blocked intersections and road segments. This can in turn affect movement of other aircraft, and has been a real problem during instances when the A380 cannot immediately get onto its assigned gate or ramp. We're still expecting Singapore and perhaps Emirates to bring in A380's, and having multiple A380's on the field can't make things any better - which might be part of Qantas' reasoning (if that's in fact the case - remember, I'm rumor-mongering here).

My first view of the V Australia B773: Friday afternoon, parked on the Imperial Terminal ramp.

Saturday, they moved it over to Terminal 3, where Virgin America now parks. Seen here at Gate 34, the B777 takes up all the space at Gate 35 as well. The other designated gate for it is Gate 38, which is at the bottom left of this shot: The jetway extends off the left side of frame.

A better view of the V Australia tail.

One more rumor that I've recently heard is that Jet Blue is going to make another try at starting service at LAX, flying to Boston and JFK. You may recall that we were expecting them to start service here last May or June, but just a couple of weeks before the start date they announced that they were going to hold off. Jet Blue already flies out of Long Beach and Burbank, and the Jet Blue planes that we've seen here at LAX are usually weather diversions from one of those. Checking Jet Blue's website, it looks like they'll be starting service on June 17th.

A Jet Blue A320 departing off LAX's runway 25 right, early one morning last year: The flight had diverted into LAX the night before due to fog at Long Beach. Jet Blue also operates Embraer E190's.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The day the music died

It was fifty years ago that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson died in the crash of their chartered Beech Bonanza in an Iowa corn field. Myths involving a frozen fuel line, ice on the wings, and even Buddy Holly's gun, have circulated as possible causes of the crash. The report by the Civil Aeronautics Board, the predecessor to today's FAA, came to a much more likely conclusion, though: the pilot, who was inexperienced and not qualified for instrument flight, became disoriented and flew the airplane into the ground. Did I mention that this flight took off after midnight into deteriorating weather that the pilot hadn't been briefed about?

Before: This is a Beechcraft Bonanza similar to the one chartered for the flight from Mason City, Iowa, to Fargo, North Dakota.

After: These photos of the crash appeared in the Mason City Register:


Compounding the pilot's difficulties, what instrument training he had received was in an airplane with a different instrument from the one he flew that fateful night. Known as the Attitude Indicator, a more familiar term for it is the Artificial Horizon. This instrument uses gyroscope to drive a display that shows the pilot the airplane's orientation relative to the horizon, and therefore the ground. From it, a pilot can see when the plane's wings are level, or parallel to the horizon, as well as whether the nose is above, level with, or below the horizon. The artificial horizon that the pilot trained with looked like this:

This instrument is similar to the one installed in the accident airplane. While it provides the same information to the pilot, it requires more concentration to interpret the display:


This is what a modern Attitude Indicator looks like. The blue and brown represent the sky and ground, respectively. The airplane is represented by the orange line in the center of the instrument.

The Directional Gyro installed in the plane would have looked similar to this one. The Directional Gyro, or DG, is a gyro-stabilized mimic of a magnetic compass. I say 'mimic' because while it presents the same information as a compass, the DG has no ability to sense north the way a compass does; instead the pilot must set the DG to match the compass before departure, and while in flight must periodically cross-check the DG against the compass and, if necessary, adjust the DG to match the compass. This style of DG, like the Artificial Horizon just above, requires the pilot to have a clear mental image of the airplane's position in space. One difficulty is that the pilot must turn away from a desired heading in order to reach it. For example, this instrument is indicating a heading of 325 degrees, which is basically northwest. If the pilot wanted to turn to the north, a heading of 360 degrees, he would need to make a right turn, although it appears to the left on this instrument. Many airplanes have magnetic compasses that indicate in a similar manner.
RCA 11A-15
This is a modern-day Directional Gyro, which is so much easier to use that it really isn't funny. In the case of the crash it really didn't matter though, because the investigators found that the DG in the Bonanza had been caged. That means that the gyro had been locked and the instrument was not operating, thus providing no useful information - assuming that the pilot realized that this was the case.

As is often the case, this crash was the end result of a series of unfortunate events. Had the
heater in the tour bus not been acting up, or had the laundromat in Clear Lake, Iowa, been open that day; if the pilot been told about the worsening weather, or had the flight been made in an aircraft equipped with a different gyro and/or a working autopilot and/or a more experienced pilot, or if they had just waited until the next morning, this story probably would have a different ending.

NPR's Morning Edition
The CAB Report

AOPA article