September 2008

29 September 2008
Come fly with me
Rob Fisher

In the first episode of his documentary Big Ideas, James May from Top Gear is in search of a personal flying car.  It’s rather less dumbed down than programmes like this tend to be.  James didn’t shy away from discussing gyroscopic precession in helicopters, for example.  And there are some inventions I hadn’t heard of before, like a nifty helicopter from Japan.  Of course, he covered the Moller Sky Car, too.  Now he’s discussing automated control systems which would make getting ordinary people into the sky feasibly safe.  He’s in a car that’s driving itself so well that it can cope with American 4-way stops.

James finished up with a rant about the reasons he thinks these products aren’t viable already: health and safety and bureaucracy.

The show is repeated next Thursday.  The graphic below should be relevant to your current location and time.

James May's Big Ideas - Come Fly with Me (Season 1 Episode 1) at

18 September 2008
A380 flight booked
Rob Fisher

I am excited because I am booked onto an Emirates flight to Bangkok via Dubai on an A380.  Ok, so I can’t afford a private suite, and none of the exit aisle seats were available (and I found out what a bassinet seat was and so avoided booking one of those), but Emirates is supposed to be one of the better airlines* so I have high expectations.  I should at least be well entertained.  The external camera views sound interesting.

My flight is not until March and the A380 starts on 1st December, so hopefully there won’t be any hiccups.  Will I be the first transport blogger to fly on an A380?

* Not everyone would agree.

09 September 2008
Ice in fuel caused Heathrow crash
Rob Fisher

Remember the Boeing 777 that crashed back in January?  Investigators are saying it was probably caused by ice crystals that formed in the fuel.

Investigators said three unique factors came together in flight BA038 that had not been found in 13,000 other flights: the length of time that fuel temperatures stayed below 0C; low fuel flow demands in cruising flight, and high fuel flow demands during landing. They added that the amount of water in the fuel supply - around five litres - was not abnormal.

No matter how carefully aircraft systems are designed, once in a while a combination of events will occur that you hadn’t tested for.  But at least it won’t happen again, and air travel will be just that little bit safer from now on:

Boeing said last night that it had devised “a number of operational changes” to prevent ice building up in 777 fuel systems that used the type of Rolls Royce engine involved in the crash.

Hat tip: The Google News Alert I set up, knowing that the follow-ups to this story probably wouldn’t make the front pages.

Update: Incidentally, in this story there’s a lot of insight into how air crash investigations are done.  13,000 normal flights were compared with this one.  That suggests that black box recordings from many flights are archived, and that statistical and data mining techniques can be used to find out what’s unusual about a given flight.  I wonder if enough computing power and clever enough software could be installed in the cockpit, comparing current data with all previous flights and warning the pilot of anything unusual.

07 September 2008
Terminal Five is quite good
Rob Fisher

I travelled to Rome on BA, and got to try out Heathrow Terminal 5.  Would my luggage travel with me?  Well, that story has long disappeared from the news so I could only assume so.

These modern steel and glass buildings look so much nicer than 60s and 70s concrete.

Arriving at T5
Arriving at T5

The large halls can handle large numbers of people without seeming crowded and stressful.  The check-in experience was pleasant and there was no queueing.

Checking in
Checking in

Security seemed as good as you could expect security to be: there are seats for putting your shoes and belt back on and putting all your gadgets and documents back in their correct pockets.  The departures area has plenty of shops, even a PC World to buy the gadgets you forgot to pack.  You can have coffee at Starbucks while watching the planes out of the window.  The walk to the gate is short.

Departures area and gates
Departures area and gates

Returning to the UK, you get to ride a little train.  Baggage carousels are nice and long, although there still seems to be no way of stopping people from crowding around the place where bags first appear.  For all the talk of the amazing luggage handling system, luggage takes about the same time to appear as at any other airport.

But it’s a pleasant place to arrive into.  It looks how a modern airport should look.  Visitors to London are likely to be impressed.

06 September 2008
The inventor of Mornington Crescent is dead
Patrick Crozier

I’ve only just heard that Geoffrey Perkins, inventor of Mornington Crescent1 and the man responsible for comedy productions ranging from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Have I Got News for You has died.

Far, far, far too young I might add.

Who will we look to for our transport-related parlour games now?

1.  See here for the infamous Transport Blog game from Christmas 2003.