Saturday, February 23, 2013

Welsh lightning lab goes down a storm with aircraft makers

Cruising at 35,000ft when your plane is zapped by lightning may sound like the stuff of nightmares.

But thanks to Welsh academic who regularly fires 200,000 amp lightning bolts at pieces of carbon fibre used to build planes, you needn’t worry.

Professor Manu Haddad helps run the state-of-the art Cardiff University lightning lab, a single unit on an industrial estate in the Splott area of the city which replicates the conditions planes are subjected to in lightning storms.

While we may happily be under the impression the phenomenon is a rare one, Prof Haddad says lightning strikes on commercial carrier planes are not as uncommon as we’d like to think.

“For civilian aircraft, on average, there's one strike to each civilian aircraft every year,” he said. “It's fairly common.”

The time to worry is when lightning is capable of doing damage.

But thanks to the work of Prof Haddad, and others, complications are few and far between.

The Cardiff lab is littered with panels of carbon fibre bearing the battle scars of being zapped to test their durability. And the conspicuous nose of a radar-carrying Boeing 737 lies in the middle of the lab for testing.

Capacitors – hooked up to cables running up and down the walls and the length off the laboratory – use the same electricity grid we use to boil a kettle to replicate the 30,000C temperature of lightning, five times the temperature of the surface of the sun.

Prof Haddad said: “When lightning is generated in the first place it's due to charged clouds.

“In real life they get charged with hot air rising up, there is friction in the air and then charged pockets in the cloud.

"We charge up the capacitor. Each one is charged to 20,000 volts. Then when you reach that level, you want to discharge.

“You want to deliver it and discharge it into the test object.”

Once the generator is charged, the capacitors are discharged and lightning is directed at an object in a specially-sealed room – accompanied by a deafening bang and cloud of smoke.

The lab replicates four stages of a lightning strike from the initial energy spike in less than 25 microseconds to a longer trail of energy and data is sent back to a special control room.

Pictures of what is happening can only be captured by cameras built to catch images at more than a million frames a minute.

But despite all that, thanks to new composite materials with an in-built copper mesh, the lightning current in a storm normally runs harmlessly over the body of the aircraft.

"Yes of course what the lab does really is it makes sure that everything that is used in the aircraft in terms of metals is safe as far as lightning is concerned,” Prof Haddad said.

"In particular, in the past, metal aircraft – also aluminum – was used which is a good conductor of lightning.

"The first discharge from the cloud is very large current but very fast. In less than 25 microseconds it just goes to its maximum 250,000 amps and then that's followed by lightning.

“Without the (copper) mesh it destroys it completely.”

All the latest planes, including the much-vaunted Boeing 787 Dreamliner, are using the composite materials tested in Cardiff as the primary material in the construction of their airframe.

The lab project in the capital has been running for less than two years through a £1.6m link-up between European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and the Welsh Government.

The name of the laboratory is the Morgan Botti lab – so called after Dr Jean Botti, chief technology officer at (EADS) and former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who jointly unveiled the scheme.

And while not many people know they might well have been on a plane struck by lightning, more people are getting to know about the work of Cardiff’s lightning lab – the only such university facility in the country, and possibly the world.

Professor Manu Haddad added: “In the university system we are unique as a research centre, even through Europe and throughout the world as a university that has such a set-up for aerospace.”

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Griffiss International Airport (KRME), Rome, New York: Takeoffs, landings drop 30% in one year

ROME --  The number of takeoffs and landings at Griffiss International Airport is down since 2011.

Recent figures from the Federal Aviation Administration show a drop-off of more than 30 percent, from 60,265 in 2011 to 40,474 in 2012.

The numbers come as construction gears up for a $1.5 million U.S. Customs office at the airport, which is operated by Oneida County.

“The numbers will fluctuate and the economy has something to do with that,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente.

The bulk of the decrease comes from general aviation flights, which are private planes used by businesses and individuals. Those plummeted more than 60 percent, from 54,331 in 2011 to 20,609 in 2012.

Picente and other county officials surmised that higher fuel prices could be part of the reason for the reduction in such flights, and said local companies with planes might be using them less in the tough economy. Still, they had not yet determined for certain what happened.

Democratic Minority Leader Frank Tallarino of Rome said Picente needs to develop better long-term plans for the airport and “just study why, why is it,” that the general aviation flights weren’t coming in.

Offsetting the slack general aviation numbers were slight increases in military flights and also in takeoffs and landings by planes likely coming in for repair and overhaul by companies based at Griffiss. Figures comparing 2011 and 2012 show:

  • There were about 2,700 more military takeoffs and landings at Griffiss in 2012.
  • 71 more operations involving commercial flights of 60 or fewer seats.
  • 45 more operations involving planes with 60 or more seats flew into Griffiss in 2012.
  • Fuel sales were up 5 percent, from 887,000 gallons to 931,405 gallons.

Those numbers are more important from an economic standpoint, said Randal Wiedemann, a Kentucky-based aviation consultant who has done work related to Griffiss in the past.

He said aviation activity in general took a hit when the economy plummeted in 2008, but has been slowly creeping back.

“Discretionary income has a lot to do with whether people go out to fly personally,” he said, referring to the general aviation flights.

Also, he said, the uptick in landings of larger planes is a good sign for the aircraft maintenance businesses at Griffiss. A look at FAA statistics going back to 2007 show those operations are up to the same levels they were at when another aircraft maintenance company, Empire Aero, was operating successfully there.

Steve Perta of the Oneida County Aviation Association said he isn’t sure why the general aviation numbers went down so precipitously, but he said Griffiss’ fuel prices were slightly higher than at other airports in the region.

“They can be as much as 50 cents a gallon more elsewhere,” he said.

Picente said the new Customs Office should help increase the number of military flights using Griffiss, as well as facilitate arrivals of planes coming in for maintenance at MidAir USA and Premier Aviation.

Meanwhile, operators of two small businesses based at Griffiss said they are doing fine.

Luigi Bottini of Galaxy Aviation flight school said he was doing “very well.”

“We had problems when we first went into the recession,” he said. “But the last couple of years it’s picked up.”

Michael Ezzo, owner of Air Charter Express private charter company said he is “happy with business the way it is.”

“Our business is driven by people who have to go places for specific reasons,” he said. “A lot of general aviation is recreational fliers. I can see where they might have reason to cut back.”

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Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport (KBRO), Brownsville, Texas: Determined to fly despite Federal Aviation Administration funding threats

Air passenger service will continue as normal at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport even if threatened staffing reduction comes to pass as a result of “sequestration.”

So says Larry Brown, the airport’s aviation director. Brownsville was among 25 smaller Texas airports on a Federal Aviation Administration list of facilities that could see air traffic controllers’ hours reduced if the federal government implements automatic spending cuts.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in a White House press briefing on Friday, predicted big headaches for air passengers if sequestration goes through and air traffic controllers and other FAA employees are furloughed.

Reducing employees’ hours is part of the FAA’s plan to shave $600 million in spending during the remainder of fiscal year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The cuts would be enacted March 1 and take effect in April.

Brown said that not having controllers in the Brownsville tower would create tremendous difficulties. He said he wasn’t aware of the latest list but that an earlier FAA list of airports facing possible cuts did not include Brownsville.

If the cuts occur, Brown said, he would keep controllers in the tower even if the money had to come from the airport’s budget. Without controllers, you can’t have flights. Valley International Airport in Harlingen and McAllen-Miller International Airport in McAllen were not on the FAA list.

“That would be very hard on the local community and the local economy,” Brown said.

He thinks sequestration is a bad idea, especially considering the impact on the country’s transportation system.

“It’s not something we would support,” Brown said. “We don’t support wiping out some of the air traffic network of the United States.”

The airport’s exact contingency plan would depend on the severity of sequester consequences, if and when they come down, he said.

“One way or another we keep the tower open, period. That’s it,” he said.

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Airports  marked for closure

Letter to airline and airport operators

Letter from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta
The lists of affected facilities can be viewed here:

Captain Billy Hock showcases musical talent during weather delay

ST. LOUIS (KSDK/CNN) - United Express Captain Billy Hock took matters into his own hands Thursday to help entertain stranded passengers at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. 

Hock and 1,700 other people were stranded at the airport due to bad weather when he decided to pass the time doing what he loves most: play piano.

He played for about three hours as a mixture of snow and sleet covered the runway.

Hock said he composes all of his music.

"Everything I like to play I write myself. I just find it more fun," he said.

About 300 flights were canceled at Lambert Airport on Thursday. 

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Captain Meynard Halili still has 'right stuff' at 67

Capt. Halili is the only Filipino licensed to perform aerobatic aircraft exhibitions in the country.

Captain Meynard Halili flew a kite when his folks wanted him to sleep after lunch so he’d grow up to be tall. 

 “But look at me, I’m short!” he said. It was a few years after World War II, and one particular afternoon, that his kite pointed him to a dream.

“[There] was a gleaming airplane,” he recalled. “This was a post-war situation. 1950's, and this American flyer was doing loops, rolls, and everything. And I said that when I grow up, I'll fly just like that.”

He wouldn’t fly a plane until he became 40-years-old, but he sure held on to his dream.

It was new journalism writer Tom Wolfe who chronicled the elite requirements needed to transform test pilots into astronauts in his book “The Right Stuff”. Transcending enormous risks and technical dangers needed a different level of mental and physical strength; what jet pilots called the "right stuff."

Capt Halili certainly has the right stuff. First, he surmounted his childhood in a poor family, then he worked for Philippine Airlines and got into the cargo business afterwards, where he earned enough to send himself to study flight in the United States.

“I learned everything from seaplanes to gliders, aerobatics,” he told GMA News Online. “I just loved it.”

Now at 67, he still flies his plane at the 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival. He’s the only Filipino licensed to hold aerobatic exhibitions in the country.

Throughout the four day gathering, he’d hop into his plane twice – in the morning right before the Breitling Jet Team flies, and once more in the afternoon.

“I do aerobatics but that [Breitling] team is superb,” he declared in awe.

Capt. Halili has been flying for years, but his record is not spotless. One time, he had an air show accident that almost cost him his life.

“I went up to about 800 feet upside down [and] rode to a cloverleaf,” he told GMA News’ Cata Tibayan. “[Then] I went for a hammerhead and on the way up at 200 feet the engine fails.”

With strong faith, he converted his fall to airspeed to bring the plane relatively safe on the ground.

“People thought I’d be gone. But God is good, I had no bones broken. But I have, what, 50 stitches on my face? You just can’t see them.”

Halili flies a Bellanca, a design of aircraft known for their efficient, low operating cost gaining fame that does well in world record endurance and distance flights. Capt. Halili's “been married to” his yellow plane since 1999.

“Look at her. Well taken care of, [and] she still looks brand new. [I] never put her under stress, never scolded her for mistakes that I made,” he told GMA News Online.

So if you happen to catch him and his yellow plane when you go to the 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival, give him a wave. He could have stopped flying because of his age, but he still does it for the love of it. The same way he looked up at the sky and tried to reach it at 40. The same way he watched a plane while he flew a kite as a child.

Then maybe, you’d consider flying at 40 years of age while playing with a kite at the festival.

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Massachusetts jet breaks sound barrier over New Hampshire, Vermont

WESTFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts Air National Guard fighter jet flying a routine training mission over the New Hampshire-Vermont border inadvertently broke the sound barrier, rattling some residents and sparking concerned calls to police.

The National Guard says the pilot of the F-15C Eagle was completing qualification training in a controlled military airspace Thursday morning when he flew at just under 700 mph at 20,000 feet above sea level, National Guard spokesman Maj. Matthew Mutti said.

The area isn’t among those designated by the U.S. Air Force for supersonic flights, he said.

Residents of the Vermont city of Bradford and the New Hampshire communities of Lyme and Orford may have heard the resulting sonic boom, according to a statement released by the National Guard.

Orford police Officer Michael Foster said the sonic boom prompted about a half dozen residents to call his department. ‘‘It was just concern because of the noise,’’ he told The Associated Press.

Dispatchers at the Hanover, N.H., police department, who take calls for 23 towns, told the Valley News of Lebanon, N.H., that they received 15 calls related to the sonic boom.

The National Guard says it didn’t intend to cause undue concern.

The military restricts supersonic flights to specific operating areas in an effort to avoid disturbing communities over which the jets are flying. The aircrafts are allowed to exceed the speed of sound when flying ‘‘15 miles off the coast at a specified altitude ...for the same reasons we don’t fly supersonic over the land,’’ Mutti said.

The F-15s — extremely maneuverable tactical fighters designed to enable the Air Force gain and maintain air supremacy over the battlefield — secure the northeastern United States airspace.

‘‘We will continue to work hard to prepare our pilots to fulfill our mission of air superiority, and our commitment to the community’s safety is always paramount, never intending to cause undue concern,’’ said Col. Kenneth Lambrich, vice commander of the 104th Fighter Vice Wing based in the western Massachusetts town of Westfield.

Federal Aviation Administration: 787 Can't Return Until Fire Risks Fixed

Federal Aviation Administration officials said they're reviewing a proposal from Boeing Co. to let the 787 Dreamliner fly again, but reiterated the agency won't permit the plane to return to service until officials are confident safety risks over the jetliner's lithium-ion batteries have been addressed.

The agency's comments came after FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari met Friday with a delegation led by Ray Conner, chief of Boeing's commercial unit, to discuss a package of modifications to the 787's battery system that Boeing hopes will end the FAA's five-week-old grounding of the 787.

The meeting was viewed as a first of many pivotal steps in Boeing's effort to resume flights for its flagship plane despite the inability of the company and government investigators in the U.S. and Japan to determine the root cause of two incidents last month in which the Dreamliner's batteries burned.

While FAA engineers and managers were briefed by Boeing in the days leading up to the meeting, the agency's leadership told the company beforehand not to expect any decision at Friday's high-level session, according to people familiar with the details. After a detailed technical briefing, senior FAA officials reiterated they needed more time to analyze the proposed fixes, according to one knowledgeable person, and indicated they weren't ready to commit to a company request to start flight tests as soon as early March.

Besides Messrs. Huerta, Conner and Pocari, Boeing and FAA officials in the meeting included Peggy Gilligan, the agency's top safety official, and her deputy, John Hickey, who was head of the FAA certification office for new jetliners when many of the 787's safety reviews were conducted, and Mike Sinnett, the 787's chief engineer, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The early March date is important for Boeing if it hopes to get the planes back in the air sometime that month or in April, which is the expectation of some airline customers. Also during the first part of March, the National Transportation Safety Board is slated to release further details of its probe of burning 787 batteries. With Boeing pushing the FAA for a speedy decision, some agency officials are leery of moving before the safety board's findings can be fully assessed.

The FAA is "reviewing a Boeing proposal and will analyze it closely," agency spokeswoman Laura Brown said in an email. "We won't allow the 787 to return to commercial service until we're confident that any proposed solution has addressed the battery failure risks."

Boeing called the meeting "productive," but offered no details on its proposed fixes. "We are encouraged by the progress being made toward resolving the issue and returning the 787 to flight for our customers and their passengers around the world," Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said in an emailed statement.

Boeing's proposal involves a 10-point package of changes, according to government and industry officials. They include a containment box to surround the battery, venting tubes for smoke or fumes, greater spacing between the battery's cells and additional internal temperature and voltage monitoring.

The FAA's decision holds huge stakes for Boeing and for the eight global airlines whose 787s have been idled. Boeing also has been unable to deliver dozens more already built Dreamliners while the grounding is in effect, meaning it can't get fully paid for the jets, and putting new operators on hold.

Mr. Birtel said Boeing, the FAA and other authorities have "been working closely" while "teams of hundreds of experts and working this issue around the clock" to return the 787 safely to service.

The safety board has been conducting an intensive probe into what caused a battery aboard a Japan Airlines Co. 787 jet to catch fire on the ground in Boston after a flight from Tokyo on Jan. 7. That was followed on Jan. 16 by an All Nippon Airways Co. 787 that was forced to make an emergency landing during a Japanese domestic flight after a battery overheated. The FAA ordered all U.S. Dreamliners grounded, with regulators around the world quickly following suit.

Columbiana County (02G), East Liverpool, Ohio: Airport operator settles rent dispute

GLENMOOR - The former operator of the Columbiana County Airport Authority recently agreed to pay what he owes for storing his aircraft at the facility, but nothing more for failing to live up to the terms of his contract.

The Authority board voted in December to approve an agreement in which Scott Lesh would pay them $1,230 in back rent, with the Authority forgiving the alleged debts he incurred during his period as the airport's operator.

Board Chairman Mike Diloreto said they were satisfied with the deal since it made Lesh current on his back rent, and they were not really out any other money.

"What we ended up doing was treating him like any other tenant," he said.

Lesh was hired to serve as the airport's operator under a two-year contract approved by the Authority board in October 2008. The contract required Lesh's Quantum Aviation to pay the airport $400 a month, plus utilities.

Lesh only paid $300, triggering a late penalty, and nothing toward utilities. Lesh rarely showed up and then quit making payments altogether, owing $8,200 as of May 2011. The board declined to renew the contract after it expired and then began trying to collect what it was owed.

Assistant County Prosecutor Andrew Beech recommended the airport settle for the hangar rent Lesh owed and waive the rest, which Diloreto said was mostly penalties anyway.

The airport operator sells fuel, offers pilot training and provides aircraft mechanical repair services. Diloreto said they knew at the time it might not work out with Lesh since airplane owners were cutting back due to the recession and rising fuel prices. Lesh was already busy serving as the operator at the Beaver County (Pa.) Airport and as a pilot instructor for U.S. Airways when he signed on.

"We knew we were going out on a limb in the first place," he said.

Lesh was the airport's third operator who has been unable to make a go of it since the 2004 retirement of Jerry Gearhart, the airport's long-time operator. Rather than actively search for a new operator, the board decided to operate the airport themselves as much as possible. An automated system was installed that allows pilots to purchase fuel around the clock, and pilots also have access to the terminal any time. The airport also has a manager who maintains the buildings and grounds.

Diloreto said many small airports are having a difficult time finding operators because of the economics. "You know what they say: If you want to make a $1 million in aviation, start out with $2 million," he joked.

The airport's main source of revenue is $10,000 they receive annually from county commissioners, plus rent from 26 hangars, all of which are currently filled. The airport must obtain federal and state grants to resurface and rehabilitate the runway.


Chautauqua County/Jamestown (KJHW), Jamestown, New York: Airport Director Deserves A Chance

Sam Arcadipane sees a day when the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown will not only break even, but make money.

An enterprise account making a profit - what a novel idea.

From 2006 to 2010, the Jamestown airport lost $3,637,312. It lost a little more than $900,000 in 2011. In a recent interview, Arcadipane said the airport is operating within its budget. While that is great news, being within budget is a long way from being a revenue generator.

Arcadipane says one of the biggest obstacles for the airport is its small runway. The 5,300-foot runway can't accommodate larger planes that would allow the county airport to expand its offering of destinations and lower ticket prices. He estimates the airport needs at least a 6,000-foot runway to begin bringing in the larger planes and proposes expanding the runway 500 feet on each end.

Arcadipane will have to make a very strong case to the County Legislature for such an expansion project.

Right now, we don't know what types of carriers could be coming to the airport, where those flights may be going or how much lower ticket prices will be. Those unanswered questions mean we don't really know how spending the money on a runway expansion will affect the airport's bottom line. Arcadipane's task is made even more difficult since the county has spent more money on alleged money-making enterprises in the past only to be disappointed by a gas well at the Chautauqua County Home and lower than anticipated revenues from its methane to energy project at the Chautauqua County Landfill.

Don't forget, too, discussions in 2010 over airport grants. It took several meetings and pointed discussion to get legislators to agree to accept federal grants then - and many of those same legislators will have a say in any of Arcadipane's plans.

It will be interesting in the future to see how legislators handle airport spending, especially in light of ongoing discussions involving the Chautauqua County Home. Some legislators already seem content to let millions of taxpayer dollars go down the drain with the county home, a facility that runs at 98 percent occupancy and still loses nearly $9,000 a day. But, the home's drain on the county's finances is likely to limit local share money for airport improvements unless Arcadipane can demonstrate the project will dramatically increase the airport's earning power. We doubt some legislators would be able to see the benefit of 700 feet of runway that would give the airport a chance to make money, not when the county is putting extra money into IGT funding for the home.

Arcadipane's passion for the airport is evident when one looks at the work he has done already, especially given the airport's shoestring budget.

He deserves a chance to argue for the airport's future.

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