Posts for September, 2011
This is another in a series of posts addressing problems with our society today. I think many folks are concerned with the way things are and are going, what with huge deficits and debt, joblessness, civil unrest like the Madison teachout, race-involved mini-riots and politics in general, but don't really understand what's going on and what to do about it.
The recent recall elections, blaming selected legislators for necessary budget resolution actions that pinched the unions, were labeled the most negative on record, with 95% of ads sliming the opponent, 99% of Democrat ads and 89% Republican, so both contributed. Add to that joblessness and economic malaise and you have a witches' brew of problems with no apparent solutions.
I think part of the problem is the "blame game," where others are blamed for our own shortcomings. The Obama administration still blames the Bush tax cuts "for the rich" for a major part of our deficit problems. This in spite of the fact that Bush's rich-folks tax cuts--to those making over $250,000--amounted to only 15% of the total reduction, $81.5 billion, according to CNN Money. The remainder of the $544.3 billion in tax cuts went to the middle class, which Obama retained.
A little closer to home, a recent article in our daily newspaper described the tragic death of a 22-year old man who was having a pool party at his parents' home with one other young man and three young women. To liven things up, he and his friends concocted a party punch consisting of 190-proof alcohol (95% CP) mixed with Red Bull and Gatorade. This is apparently a popular mixture in some circles. The son became smashed, experienced rapid heartbeat, probably aggravated by the Red Bull, jumped in the pool swimming frantically in an apparent effort to "work it off," passed out and drowned. His parents were home at the time and were well aware of what was going on.
The mother is now spearheading a campaign to outlaw the sale of 190-proof booze in Wisconsin, blaming it in major part for her son's tragic death. (By the way, this stuff has been around forever as a punch additive. It used to be called 191-proof rum, which was a joke.) I don't mean to minimize this terrible tragedy, but shifting the responsibility to the alcohol is a cop-out. The parents condoned this crazy booze bash, were well aware of their son's drunken state and did not in any way supervise what was going on in their backyard. Also, the participants in this insanity were all over 21 (presumably) and responsible for their own actions. People who do crazy things, especially where alcohol is involved, often are victims of--or the cause of--tragic consequences. Blaming a bottle of booze simply shifts the responsibility to an inanimate object and solves nothing.
Until we begin to take responsibility for our actions, accepting the blame for our mistakes and mending our ways, we will continue to deteriorate morally as a society. Blacks blaming Whitey for their problems leads only to more problems instead of a solution. Democrats blaming Republicans, and vice versa, for the country's ills again is futile and unproductive and obviates any possibility of resolution. Blaming greedy corporations and CEO's for our economic ills shifts the focus away from government policies that were and are largely to blame for our present economic crisis.
The blame game guarantees a continuation and exacerbation of our problems. Until we--and that's a collective "we"--learn to quit throwing bricks and start accepting responsibility, and start communicating, the downward spiral of our society will continue.
Harry Truman had it right: "The Buck Stops Here!"
I'm sure lots of folks have or will comment on this the tenth anniversary of what happened on September 11, 2001. This is perhaps a different look.
I was getting off the elevator at Moreland Medical for a routine cardiologist appointment when a lady getting on asked if I had heard what happened to the World Trade Center in New York. I said no, I hadn't and she told me that an airplane had flown into one of the towers. I said something about how terrible and went on to my appointment. Not until I was driving home with the radio on did I realize what had happened. I was in disbelief, followed by intense anger.
Today, there is a tendency to view 9/11 as a great tragedy. This is the wrong word. It was an outrage of Biblical proportions. Yes, there were literally thousands of individual tragedies, but the event was a pure, unprecedented outrage. The target was civilians; not one active member of the military was targeted in the World Trade Center by our enemy. The Pentagon was also attacked, killing a few military among many civilian employees.This enemy, militant Wahhabist Islam in the personage of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda, in total violation of the Geneva Conventions, simply decided to attack and kill American civilians for reasons of pure hate and nothing else. Sadly, this heinous act was justified by him in the name of religion.
This enemy wears no uniforms or other identification and represents no nation. He represents a religion--actually a distortion thereof. He operates completely outside the Geneva Conventions that address military combat. In the past, wars began with one nation's military attacking another's. Civilians were not the target and the Conventions were adopted to insure this. For the first time in history, to my recollection, a combative entity preferentially targets civilians. In the past civilian deaths in war were considered "collateral', regrettable victims of attacks on military-industrial targets. Not here. They (we) were the primary target.
This is new ground in war, and war this is, make no mistake. Militant Wahhabist Islam considers us obstructive infidels and thus legitimate targets for elimination. In a grotesque distortion, we in the West are impediments to Islamic expansion (Jihad) and thus are legitimately subject to death. (Note that I am not indicting all of Islam, only the extremist militant Wahhabi version.) Thus, this confrontation is with an enemy who is not subject to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions subscribed to by nearly all of the civilized world. (There are two Protocols added in an attempt to cover "insurgents", but most nations, including the U.S. have not signed them.)
As a result of the outrage of 9/11, we embarked on a war with Afghanistan and its Taliban government that unwisely sheltered al Qaeda's headquarters. This attack was certainly justified, but al Qaeda is long gone and in disarray, and we're still fighting the indigent tribal Taliban under some misguided idea of nation building. This makes no sense. What makes even less sense is the expansion of our military actions into Iraq, where we still are, and now Libya which is completely senseless. There was some justification, largely mistaken as it turned out, for deposing Saddam Hussein. Libya is completely irrational. At least we finally got bin Laden, after he became isolated and essentially innocuous.
We are wearing out our military, especially our absolutely crucial air power, to depose a dictator who foreswore terrorism many years ago and posed absolutely no threat to us. The whole business has spiralled out of control, all initiated in response to 9/11. I maintain this militaristic nonsense dishonors the memory of that outrage.
Anger at our sworn enemy, a radical sect of Islam demanding fundamentalist Islamic theocracy and implementation of draconian Shari'a law, a system totally anathema to our concepts of freedom and democracy, is certainly justified. No moral code requires one to allow another to destroy him. However, we must be careful not to swing too wide an arc with our sword. There are over a billion Muslims in the world. Many are misguided into disliking us, even vehemently, for reasons that I think even they do not clearly understand. Perhaps it is a ridiculously long-lived resentment of the Crusades of the 13th Century, or perhaps simply a fear of a competing religion. However, this is not hate and is not a justification for reactionary fear and hate. Hate is a serious word regrettably all too thoughtlessly employed.
So, if some Muslims do not condemn the 9/11 outrage to our satisfaction, this is not justification for anger or--that word again--hate. We certainly should be vigilant and impersonally suspicious of young Mid-eastern men entering our country, and observant of suspicious activity. Fairly-applied profiling is simply prudent given the nature of terrorism. But, over it all we should be tolerant and above all, fair. Muslims too have a right to be here, so long as they are peaceful as the overwhelming majority are. So, amidst the outrage, let us remember the priniciples of Christian morality.
In that vein, I would like to close by quoting a familiar prayer, at the risk of offending some of you fine reader/commenters. Believe it or not, I subscribe to it completely while still being outraged and angry at what happened ten years ago on September 11, 2001, a day that will--and should--live in infamy.
Let us not, however, let that evil poison our outlook on our life and time. Recall the words of Desiderata: "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O devine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
In the news lately has been fairly extensive coverage of the tragic crash of an unlimited racer at the Reno Air Races. The crash killed several spectators and sent many to the hospital. I am always amazed at the incompetence of news reports concerning aircraft accidents. While there is no shortage of knowledgeable authorities on aviation, reporters seem to never avail themselves of this resource and persist in publishing ignorant reports of accidents. This is an attempt to correct some of the misinformation, misconceptions and clueless comments concerning this accident.
My qualifications for this critique are an 11-year Air Force career, 4 years active duty as a jet fighter pilot and 8 years in the Reserves flying C-130 tactical transports. I have maintained a strong interest in aviation and am a long-time member of the Air Force Association. I am also an engineer with a background and continuing interest in avionics and aviation. When it comes to flying, I think I know what I am talking about.
Something about the Reno Air Races. These are long-standing competitions going back at least 30 years, the only unlimited-class races left in the country. While there are other air races, the unlimited class, which is the premier event, features essentially any propeller-driven aircraft regardless of power and speed. It is dominated by modified World War II fighter planes, mostly P-51 Mustangs and F8-F Bearcats, with an occasional P-47 Thunderbolt. These planes are souped up and reach speeds in excess of 500 MPH around a closed pylon course. Practically any modification compatible with safety is permitted.
The races take place on a former Air Force base to the west of Reno in a town called Stead. The base configuration allows close spectator viewing on the former aircraft parking ramp. The closest spectator bleachers are reserved for VIP's. This may be unwise, but the safety record of the Reno Air Races is excellent. This is the first incident in my recollection where spectators were injured.
The aircraft involved in the crash was a heavily-modified P-51 Mustang named Galloping Ghost. It has competed for years and once dominated the race. The last few years it has not won. The owner and pilot, 74-year-old Jimmy Leeward, has competed in air races, especially Reno, for many years. Stung by the defeat of Galloping Ghost, mainly by a Bearcat, Leeward had reworked Ghost, upgraded the power and made some structural changes to reduce drag. He had high hopes of retaking the unlimited crown this year. Leeward was highly respected in the racing fraternity and a very active member of the Experimental Aircraft Association of Oshkosh fame.
Fairly early in the race, Ghost was doing well but suddenly, just after passing the VIP bleachers, pitched straight upward, stalled (lost flying speed), nosed over into a dive and plowed nearly vertically into the concrete ramp near the bleachers. The aircraft completely disintegrated, hittiing the ground at a speed probably well over 200 MPH, creating a large crater. The explosion and debris reached the stands and caused extensive injuries to the VIP spectators. Leeward was of course killed.
Media speculation has centered on an observed small part of the plane that fell off during the vertical ascent. The guess is it was an elevator trim tab. Media reports have described it as a "piece of the tail that helps the aircraft maintain lift." This is flat wrong. Anyway, it reportedly broke off after the P-51 pitched up so could not have been the cause.
Now we have to talk about aerodynamics--how an airplane works. This will refer to the type of vintage aircraft involved, not more modern planes. There are three control surfaces on a plane that control its movement in the air: ailerons, elevator(s) and rudder (vertical stabilizer). The ailerons are small panels at the trailing (back) edge of the wings, one on each side. They move up and down in response to cockpit control ("joystick") movement in opposition: one moves up and the other swings down a like amount. This controls the aircraft's roll motion and is the primary factor in turns. (No, it's not the rudder.)
At the rear of the plane are horizontal and vertical surfaces that form the tail, the horizontal and vertical stabilizers ("rudder"). At the trailing edge of the horizontal stabilizer is a panel, sometimes split in two halves on either side of the rudder, that moves up and down in response to joystick movement to control the pitch of the aircraft, causing it to climb or descend. Elevator upward movement creates a downward force on the tail, causing the aircraft to nose up.
The rudder is not a primary control surface; its purpose is to "coordinate" turns and correct for engine torque. Simply, it keeps the aircraft turning smoothly and evenly. (Certain landing procedures use the rudder to twist the aircraft horizontally, called a "skid" or "slip". This is not pertinent here.)
Now to the famous trim tab. As aircraft speed increases or decreases, the air pressures on the control surfaces vary. This tends to push them up or down, requiring the pilot of counteract this pressure with the controls. This would require constant force on the joystick during flight, which can be fatiguing and is not conducive to precise aircraft control. So, at the trailing edge of each of the control surfaces is a very small panel that can be adjusted up or down from the cockpit, usually by a 4-way switch on the top of the joystick. By adjusting these tabs--usually electrically--the control forces can be neutralized. These tabs do not in any way contribute to lift or primary aircraft control. There is no way the loss of a trim tab would have caused this accident. Pilot Leeward would have easily counteracted any control pressures resulting from such an incident.
So, what do I think happened? Realize this is pure speculation, albeit not completely in the dark. The NTSB will take a year to analyze this and probably come up with some unlikely scenario indicting the FAA. (That's another story.) Galloping Ghost went completely out of control beyond the ability of an experienced pilot to cope. The only failure that would cause the aircraft to pitch straight up would be a failure of the elevator system. Leeward lost complete control of the aircraft, although it did appear near the end he made some attempt to pull out. If so, I have no idea how he did this.
I believe the elevator control surface suddenly slammed full up, which would have pitched the aircraft violently upward. Originally, most WW II aircraft control surfaces were actuated by steel cables. If an elevator cable broke under the pressures of extreme high-speed maneuvering, that could have caused the problem. It is not unlikely, however, that Leeward had modified Ghost with modern hydraulic actuators, which opens up the possibility of a hydraulic valve failure. A broken elevator hinge might also be a possibility, but the pitch-up seemed too smooth for that. Bottom line: elevator failure causing a full nose-up maneuver uncontrollable by the pilot. What part specifically broke is impossible to pin down.
Leeward had made some modifications to the control surfaces as part of his attempt to reduce drag and obtain increased speed. He reportedly made them smaller. This could have caused increased stress during the race, but personally I think that is unlikely. I suspect the NTSB will not agree.
The saddest thing would be to dishonor Jimmy Leeward's legacy by cancelling the Reno Air Races. However, I'm afraid that is exactly what will happen as a result of a tragic accident caused by a mechanical failure.
Sometimes I think we try to be too safe.
Photos sent to me by an email correspondent strongly suggest another possible--I would say probable--explanation for the crash. If Leeward's seat had failed during a high-G maneuver such that the backrest broke at the bottom where it meets the seat and fell backwards with him tightly strapped in, his hand being on the stick would have pulled it violently back causing the aircraft to pull up with tremendous force. He would now be in a prone position, unable to reach the joystick controls.
At that speed, the stress on the elevator assembly due to the violent stick pull-back would have been extreme, possibly breaking off the trim tab. There would probably be no way Leeward could sit back up and regain control. He may have been able to raise his head for a moment which one photo seems to show.
This scenario is supported by the fact that one of the photos shows the Ghost in her final dive with no-one visible in the cockpit. (See photo below.)
(There is another photo which seems to show a broken seat flying through air at impact.)
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