Air Miscellaneous

12 July 2011
Landing on Barra beach (provided the tide is out)
Brian Micklethwait

A friend recently journeyed to the Hebrides, for one of those team-bonding, business-building get-togethers.

She had an interesting journey.  If, like me, you like small airports, you’ll love Barra.  It’s a beach with a bungalow on it!  Well, a bit more than a bungalow, but not a lot more.

So, presumably you can only land when the tide’s out.


The schedule is still governed by the ebb and flow of the tide …

Here’s the plane she rode in on, on the beach, snapped with her iPhone:


It’s a British European de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, or so I presume.  I like these obscure planes you’ve maybe not heard of, that do so much of the quiet donkey work in the world’s out-of-the-way places, of which, I surmise, there are a very great many.

Here’s a video of the same (or an extremely similar) plane landing at Barra.

And here’s an iPhoto my friend took from inside her plane, of that bizarre propeller effect that you get with mobile phone photography of propellers:


It’s fun the first few times you see this.  Ah the romance of propellers.  It’s like there are still real steam trains everywhere, rather than just pretend ones for tourists and for weekend loonies to play with.

31 March 2011
Brian Micklethwait

Today Instapundit linked to a report about how the HondaJet recently flew for the first time at its maximum speed of close to 500 mph.  Later (or maybe I just missed it the first time around) he added to his posting a link back to a piece he himself wrote a year ago about this airplane.  Good, I thought, because I had been wondering why he considered the HondaJet so worthy of his linkage.


Here is why:

The HondaJet is the brainchild of Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino. Fujino told me that his first job in the United States was in Mississippi, back in the 1980s, and that he found that wherever he traveled by air - even elsewhere in Mississippi - he usually wound up having to change planes in Atlanta. This seemed wasteful of time and fuel, and made travel iffier, since it created the risk of a missed connection. To Fujino, the hub-and-spoke system makes sense for a country like Japan, where Tokyo is at the center of everything, but much less sense for a country as big as the United States, where important places are widely distributed. For this, point-to-point travel is much better.

This is no secret, of course, to the people who travel by private jet now. But private jet travel is very expensive, which is why it is the domain of CEOs, celebrities and the like. The HondaJet represents an effort at changing all of that, by using technology and design to bring costs down and allow private-jet travel at costs that approach commercial ticket prices. (Fully loaded, Fujino says, the cost per seat on the HondaJet should be roughly comparable to a first-class commercial ticket). To keep costs down, the Honda folks have put a lot of thought into ways to make the plane as small and inexpensive as possible, without sacrificing comfort or speed.

I’m intrigued by the way the jet engines are above rather than below the wings.  This enables the landing gear to be directly under the engines, which means the wings need to do less structural work.  Hanging the airplane from its jets, so to speak, enables everything else to be nearer to the ground, which is convenient in all sorts of ways.  Including, I guess, that it makes the landing gear less bulky, because it has to reach down less.

Clearly, billionaires are a big part of the target market.  Billionaires may buy more - and more expensive - stuff than the rest of us, but at their own spending level they are presumably just as price sensitive as the rest of us.  That they have so much money suggests to me that they have a history of being careful with it.  So, I’m guessing lots of them will like this cheaper private jet, and lots of others will reckon this to be the first private jet worth buying.

But Honda are not expecting everyone who flies the HondaJet to be an owner of a HondaJet, or an employee or friend or relative of such an owner.  They also anticipate something more like a taxi model of USA air travel to develop.

It all sounds very promising.

It’s sort of the opposite extreme to the A380, the ultimate hub airliner.  That is trying to make air travel cheaper by making the biggest planes even bigger.  The HondaJet makes air travel cheaper by making the smallest and most convenient planes, that can still go fast and over long distances, cheaper.  The HondaJet is, you might say, the Dreamliner, only more so.  Or to put it another way, the HondaJet, it is hoped, will do to travel within the USA what others hope the Dreamliner will do for travel worldwide.

18 February 2011
The return of Concorde - as a spaceship?
Brian Micklethwait

On Wednesday of this week, both Michael Jennings and I attended a talk given by James C Bennett at the IEA, organised by the Economic Policy Centre, about private sector space development.  I was curious about where the money is either now being made in space, or is about to be made, and asked about that.  Military espionage, communications satellites, tourism, and (eventually - but how soon?) mining the solar system for physical stuff, right?

Nearly.  It will be some time before off-earth mining gets seriously going.  But the big immediate omission from that list turned out to be: transport!


Basically, low earth orbit is an economically rational way to do what Concorde did but failed to do rationally.  Getting money-no-object business execs, and high value cargo like urgent legal documents, from A to B in two hours rather than six or ten, basically.  I had assumed that the only people who would soon be “going into space” would be doing this purely for the fun of it.  Not so.  No need to land where you took off from.  Why not go somewhere?

Very fast.

30 October 2010
Aerial electricity
Brian Micklethwait

Internet connections when on the move are nice, but increasingly, as Michael J told me would happen several years ago, people now have their own.  What they don’t have is their own everlasting mobile power supply.  Or not yet.  So, the fact that these are now appearing in more and more British train carriages is very welcome.  Few use them.  I seldom use them myself.  But I like it that they’re there.

That’s not so difficult to arrange.  But in the air, where every ounce counts, supplying electricity is, as James Fallows reported some days ago, a lot harder.

Question: will ever cheaper and more fequently used international travel, combined with arrangements like this, eventually create demand for a global standard in electric plugs?  Or are we stuck with state-imposed confusion for ever?

Remember when it was said that only Government could sort out the mess of conflicting computer and computer plug and computer storage (etc. etc.) standards.  Imagine the permanent bedlam that actually existing governments might have imposed upon all that, also.

RELATED: Tube Wi-Fi trial at Charring Cross.  The point being, presumably, that our regular internet connections don’t work down there.

Glasgow is there already.

27 February 2008
Open Skies Part II
Patrick Crozier

As promised, Open Skies Part II, in which Michael and I talk more about slots, the likely effects of open skies and the rise of Emirates.

I should also point readers in the direction of this rather good essay on the subject by Michael from a few years ago.

26 February 2008
Podcast: Open skies over the Atlantic
Patrick Crozier

Uh oh!

I’d managed to press stop.  It was an accident but that was it.  Ten minutes of quality podcasting consigned to oblivion.  I suppose I should look on the bright side.  We had at least got half an hour recorded.  And I had got a long way down the podcasting road before my first stick-on disaster.  Worse has happened to better people.  And at least when last week Michael and I sat down to see if we could pick up where my clumsy fingers had left us off we only had 10 minutes to do (although in the end we happily chatted away for 20).

Anyway, here in its authentic truncated form is Open Skies Part I in which - in the guise of a discussion about open skies policies - Michael Jennings and I manage to talk about the importance of Heathrow, the dire financial status of American airlines and the weird world of landing slots.

Here’s the trailer.

Open Skies Part II to follow Real Soon Now, as Brian might say.

21 December 2007
Air France launches in-flight mobile phone service
Brian Micklethwait

Yes!  Soon the person sitting next to you on that interminable flight from Greece to London will be able to make continuous phone calls!  “Hello, I’m just a quarter of an hour out from Heathrow, so I should be in Croydon in about seven to nine hours!  How are the kids?  Let me talk to them!” etc.  Presumably it will cost a lot, and will be how airlines of the future make any money.

Via engadget to whom thanks.  I tried copying and pasting from the story they linked to but all I got was idiot adverts for mobile phones.

18 December 2007
Playing with fire
Brian Micklethwait

David Thompson links to stuff about scramjets:

Recent breakthroughs in scramjet engines could mean two-hour flights from New York to Tokyo.

And it looks like a Dan Dare Spaceship:


Cool.  Well, not really.  It has to work inside a fire, which is what happens when something travels at Mach 6, and they test it by firing a big blowtorch at it to simulate this.

I love this from one of DT’s commenters, even if it is off the transport topic:

I notice Ted Taylor gets a mention. He worked on the early atmospheric tests in Nevada and famously used a parabolic mirror to focus the glare of a 14 kiloton explosion and light his cigarette. Which, I guess, makes him a real hombre and the coolest guy on Earth.

I suppose people playing with fire have to be ultra-cool, so it doesn’t set fire to them.

12 November 2007
The age of TV flatness
Brian Micklethwait

I’ve already got a flat computer screen, but my TV still sticks out at the back as if it is expecting a baby TV any week now.  But the amount of space that I would save by getting a flat one is not that huge, so I will wait until the pregnant one conks out or until new TVs are seriously better.

But when it comes to TV in transport situations, the calculation is completely different.  When a few inches per seat adds up to a huge loss of ticket sales, each flight, every flight, year after year, well, the old pregnant TVs were just not a possibility.  But, the new flat TVs make perfect sense.  This is surely flat TV’s killer app, making the difference between a flight through hell and a really quite nice flight.  Much depends on how much choice there is of stuff to watch.  Every TV show or movie ever made plus the internet, would be my suggestion.

Buses and trains could have this also.  Do they?  I’ve never seen it, but that proves nothing.

Here’s a picture of the interior of a Singapore Airlines A380, all TVed up, although this looks more like mass propaganda instead of individual entertainment:


This is picture 9 of 17.  11, 12 and 13 are also worth a look, to see seats that turn into beds.

22 October 2007
Mobile phone news
Rob Fisher

I recently learnt a couple of things about mobile phones by reading the backs of other people’s newspapers on the train.  (I don’t read my own newspapers as a rule because I like to maintain a cheerful, optimistic outlook.)

The first thing is that a system is being trialled that will allow a mobile phone to be used as a train ticket.  The newspaper story contains almost no details about how this will work, but Chiltern Railways provide more information.  It’s actually quite clever:

Passengers receive their ticket in the form of a barcode sent directly to their mobile phone by an SMS text message. Staff on board the train and at London Marylebone station will be able to check the ‘mobile ticket’ with special barcode scanners.

The second thing is that airlines are gearing up to allow the use of mobile phones on aeroplanes.  Previously airlines and the FAA have maintained that this is far too dangerous, what with the radio waves and sensitive equipment on board.  Certainly any interference problem would be exacerbated by the fact that, unable to see a nearby base station, a phone ramps up its power.  The system planned by airlines including Ryanair works by putting a base station repeater on the plane, enabling phones to work at very low power levels.

The Metro article does not go into much detail, but a very well referenced Wikipedia page comes to the rescue, with information on these developments and the issue in general.

30 July 2007
Red Bull Air Race
Rob Fisher

Perhaps this is only loosely about transport, but, well, the pilots of the Red Bull Air Race planes were certainly transported very quickly around a course over the Thames this weekend. I went along to see what it was all about.

The 13 pilots take part in a series of time trials around a course marked out by inflatable conical gates. Various high G aerobatic maneuvers are involved, at high speeds and very low altitudes. Watching the aeroplanes take turns to fly the same course would quickly become repetitive were it not for the sheer excitement of the spectacle and the slick presentation. Competition is close, it is obvious when a pilot makes a mistake, and thanks to the excellent PA and commentary it is easy to follow the progress of the competition.

Although air racing is almost as old as aviation, the sport in its high profile, international, Red Bull guise is young. An interesting new development is that one of the pilots flies an Extra 300SR specially modified for air racing by the manufacturer. If manufacturers start to compete as they do in Formula 1, this will add a new dimension to the sport. I hope that it grows and television coverage becomes more prominent.

Quite how Red Bull manages to sponsor so many expensive looking sporting events is an interesting question. It is a privately owned company, so I have a romantic vision of a wealthy owner with a passion for extreme sports. I wonder if this is anywhere near the truth.

23 April 2007
BA self-inflicts more Branson humiliation
Brian Micklethwait

This is amazing:

British Airways has removed a shot of Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson from the in-flight version of the James Bond movie Casino Royale.

Sir Richard was seen briefly in the original film, passing through an airport security scanner, but can only be seen from behind in the new edit.

“Many films are edited in some way on board,” said a BA spokesman.

Daniel Craig’s debut last year as 007 became the most successful Bond movie at the worldwide box office.

Sir Richard was given a cameo after supplying a plane for use in the film.

The British Airways edit also obscures the tail fin of a Virgin plane that was seen in the original.

As I like to remind the universe every year or two, because it is one of the most interesting things about me, I was at the same Prep School as Richard Branson, and the guy was a force of nature.  He used to run straight through bigger boys on the rugger pitch, on account of being willing to die rather than yield.  And that was just silly rugger games.

So imagine what it has been like for British Airways, whom Branson took against some years ago, when he started quarreling with them about something or other that I can’t remember.  Landing slots at Heathrow, was it?  I don’t known.  Anyway, they thought they were big and Branson was too small to hurt them, and I remember at the time thinking that these people had no fucking idea what was about to hit them.  Sure enough, ever since then Branson has made the lives of the upper management of British Airways a living hell, and they hate him with an intensity that makes perfect sense to me, given that he has been trampling all over them and totally humiliating them for the last decade or more, but which most other people don’t understand.  That’s because most other people didn’t go to school with Branson, and they just don’t know what it’s like to have him on the opposite team against you.  Every time British Airways tries to take a swipe at Branson, they end up stabbing themselves, and each time this happens they get that bit more insane in their hatred of the man.

The above goes some way to explaining the truly cretinoid insanity of this latest self-administered BA stab wound, about which Branson must be grinning even more widely than usual.

18 March 2007
Luxury A380
Brian Micklethwait

I featured a small Airbus A380 on my blog after I’d been in France and snapped it in a shop window, and Alan Little commented, promising a picture of a bigger A380 made of granite.  Here is that picture.

A380 googling revealed that there is another obvious-when-you-think-about-it way to think of the biggest passenger aircraft ever built.  Instead of bragging about how many human sardines you can cram into it, why not convert one into the world’s most luxuriously huge flying home?  (That’s not a carbon footprint.  This is a carbon footprint.)

Trouble is, because the A380 is selling so slowly, airports are reluctant to lengthen their runways.  Or maybe it’s the other way round.

It sounds like the owner of the A380 may be able to sympathize with Larry Ellison, the owner of the Rising Sun megayacht, it’s a shame to have the most fabulous creation in the world and have nowhere to park it.

Problems problems.

16 February 2007
Talking of bombs:
The next time you find yourself on a plane, sitting next to someone who cannot resist chattering to you endlessly, quietly pull your laptop out of your bag, carefully open the screen (ensuring the irritating person next to you can see it), and hit this link.
Stephen Pollard.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Air Miscellaneous
06 February 2007
A pilot would get in the way
Brian Micklethwait

Unmanned Everest rescue helicopter  from a New Zealand company working with this organisation, both enterprises having been started by Trevor and Glenda Rogers.

Why an unmanned rescue vehicle? For high altitude rescues a pilot actually gets in the way. The pilot is not acclimated for the altitude or prepared for the extreme cold so they must stay inside the aircraft and cannot help in the rescue efforts. Also, the elimination of the pilot-support equipment leaves room for more rescue gear.

Thank you engadget.

05 February 2007
Chuck tantruming brats off planes - says Amy Alkon, praising AirTran's decision to do just that. Couldn't agree more (via Pajamas Media)  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Air Miscellaneous
03 February 2007
Another flying car!
Brian Micklethwait

Inevitably the YouTube promo for this gizmo concentrates on its public service abilities.  It can rescue people (but only one at a time) from burning skyscrapers.  It can be an aerial ambulance, even if there are traffic jams.  It can catch criminals.  There’s no mention of air jams.  But that last bit got me thinking.  What this really is is the perfect getaway car.

Thank you Gizmodo.

Basically, this is a couple of small person pods attached to about seven fan heaters without heating of various sizes, and pointing in various directions.  A helicopter for dummies, you might say.  It reminds me a bit of a lawnmower, of the sort that has a big fan for chucking the grass cuttings into a big bin, or just elsewhere.

22 December 2006
Fog causes chaos at Heathrow - you may not have known that  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (1)Air Miscellaneous
10 December 2006
Leaving a jet plane
Jackie D

Trying to get off an American Airlines flight in New York on Saturday, I was most perplexed when the flight attendants blocked the path of those of us trying to leave the plane from the business class section, so that the first class passengers could exit before us. I suppose that paying a few thousand extra should carry some perks, and getting to deplane first doesn’t seem an unreasonably lavish one. But I cannot recall ever before being physically prevented from exiting a flight this way. (What peeved me was that all the first class passengers were very slow to exit, lollygagging and taking their sweet time down the corridor, taking up lots of space and just making things difficult for those of us trying to jog to immigration in order not to spend hours in a queue. But slow people who are unaware of their surroundings and the impact of their actions on others are more of a general transport peeve of mine. Not even the pavements are immune from that one.)

22 November 2006
What’s now flying?
Brian Micklethwait

Here‘s an interesting site.  It tracks all the passenger airplanes in the air in the USA at any one time.  Quite what you can learn from this, aside from what planes are in the air in the USA at any one time, I’m not sure, but it surely has its uses, for more than planespotting.

It’s useful, for instance, if you are hoping to meet a plane, I guess.  Or blow one up.  I can’t quite work it out, but I think it tells you if a plane is running late, while it is still airborne.

I tried to find similar info for Europe, but all I could get to was cheap flight offers.

I got to this site via this guy, who I got to thanks to an email from Michael Jennings, pointing out this, but that’s another story.  (In my opinion the iPod toilet roll holder, which I had already viewed before Michael clocked it for me, is not tasteless enough.)

17 November 2006
Penis at Number 2 Terminal
Brian Micklethwait

I can’t remember how I found my way to this transport related controversy, but I did.

Taipei - A giant wooden sculpture of a penis on display at Taipei’s international airport has stirred up controversy among some foreign visitors and flight crew, who have demanded its removal, media reported Tuesday.

The one-metre-long sculpture in the Number 2 Terminal is part of an exhibition of artifacts of the Thou tribe, one of Taiwan’s ten tribes. But some foreign visitors and crew find it offensive and have demanded its removal, according to the Liberty Times.

Sadly, I am unable to locate a picture of this masterpiece.  The nearest I got was this picture, of a Taiwanese citizen who, in 2003, deployed a giant penis on the coast of Taiwan, in response to five hundred mainland Chinese missiles.

Perhaps one day someone will design a train that looks like a penis.  Imagine that going into a tunnel.

10 November 2006
Airship over London
Brian Micklethwait

Yes, yesterday afternoon, an airship flew over London, and many other British landmarks.

It has very good fuel economy, apparently:

The Spirit of Dubai is the world’s largest commercial airship and is managed by Airship Management Services, Inc (AMS). The Spirit of Dubai will operate at around 1,500 to 3,000 feet with a cruising speed of around 30 to 50 mph - the airship can reach speeds of up to 70 mph (or faster, with a tailwind!). While cruising at 30 knots The Spirit of Dubai airship consumes 8 gallons (48 lbs) of fuel per hour. During a week of operations The Spirit of Dubai will consume less fuel than a 767 uses to simply move away from its gate to a runway!

It was only when I read this posting today that I was reminded that I had also photoed this beast.

09 November 2006
The White Elephant versus the Dreamliner
Brian Micklethwait

Time to kill off the A-380? - asks the New York Times blog.

Floyd Norris briefly lays out the pros and cons of this “overpriced white elephant”, i.e. he’s con.

Personally I like flying but hate all the hideous delays before and after.  So anything that minimises the number of airports you go through – the Boeing Dreamliner goes from anywhere to anywhere and always cuts it to two – is good.  Plus, delays are less horrendous at small airports than at big ones.  The Deamliner connects all small airports to all other small airports.  No days wasted at “hubs”.

Or, as Norris puts it:

How would you like to line up at customs having just gotten off the back of the second or third A-380 to arrive? Would passport control take longer than the flight?

Incidentally, the NYT calls it the A-380, but in the picture they show, it’s A380, minus the hyphen.  Odd.

Being anti-EU, I want the A380 to be a disaster, because if an air of disaster settles upon “Europe”, my country is more likely to free itself from “Europe”, which I would like.

Ooh, Instapundit links to a Popular Mechanics report on the same topic.  They call it the A380.

On the other hand, these two media organs are both American, and as such the hired lackeys of Boeing.  I wish I was a hired lackey of Boeing.

Final thought: I have long noticed that whenever a company is trying to interest actual people in a piece of electronic gadgetry, as opposed to merely trying to interest other companies, they stop calling it the PQ9132X(2) and instead call it the Zippopod, or some such.  That Airbus call their bus the A380, while Boeing calls theirs the “Dreamliner”, says to me that Airbus reckons that other companies will decide this thing, while Boeing reckons it will be people who ultimately settle it.  Speaking as a person, I hope that Boeing is right.

Final final thought: Maybe they’ll change the A380’s name to “While Elephant”.

Emirates first to offer in-flight calls. They've beaten Ryanair to the punch, apparently. Engadget have their links in a twist, but one of them is to this BBC report.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)AirAir MiscellaneousLow cost airlines
25 October 2006
Gloomy transport ruminations from Julian's great uncle.

Sir Geoffrey Ingram Taylor may, says Julian, have been the first man ever to have jumped out of an airplane in a parachute.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)AirAir Miscellaneous
24 October 2006
Airport eavesdropping
Brian Micklethwait
Dave Barry has a rather alarming Atlanta Airport Update today:
So I'm waiting to get on the plane, and the pilots arrive at the gate, and as they walk past, one of them says to the other - this is a direct quote - "Hey, it flew in, it'll fly out."
That's it. That's his entire posting. As I say, rather alarming.

I was a bit surprised that the RyanAir plane that took me home from Brest to Luton a few weeks back had just been taking a load of people from Luton to Brest. If the Luton to Brest bit was delayed, so was Brest back to Luton. No maintenance, and hardly any cleaning. I suppose they do enough maintenance for about five trips, at night.

That A380 image
When I was a kid, passenger airplanes were called "liners". Now an entire major airplane making enterprise comes straight out with it: they're buses. Here's an Airbus snap I took recently in Brittany, through the grubby window of a travel agency. And I've another Brittany transport picture here, along with a London duck, which is also for transport.

15 October 2006
The other day the BBC's Money Programme was complaining that the big trans-Atlantic airlines were running a price-fixing cartel. At no point did they manage to suggest that one of the reasons that the airlines were acting like a cartel might have been because (as Michael Jennings has explained) they are a cartel and a government-created cartel at that. I suppose most of the arguments that apply to monopolies (warning: placeholder) also apply in this case.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Air Miscellaneous
09 July 2006
Personally, I doubt if commercial airships will ever take off but, still, they're kind of cool aren't they?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Air Miscellaneous