Upcoming Concorde and Apollo documentaries

Gene Cernan was the last man (for the time being) to set foot on the moon. A new 99-minute documentary, The Last Man on the Moon, tells his story. Personally, I’m very excited to see it when it is released. For now, there’s a tantalising trailer. (Hat Tip IO9)

Another promising documentary is Chris Purcell’s Ode to Concorde. In some ways Concorde was Britain and France’s space program – it certainly cost a lot! Whereas 12 people walked on the moon, many thousands got to fly supersonic on Concorde. I managed to do it three times, twice on Air France and once on British Airways and I remember seeing the last three planes fly into Heathrow from the roof of my Chelsea flat. Again, there’s a trailer and the producers are crowdfunding to complete the project.

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Lie Back And Think Of England: London To Austin On BA’s New 787 Dreamliner

I’m in Austin. No, I’m not late for March’s SXSW. I’m really early for next year’s event. Or at least, I’m on a reconnaissance mission for it.

In recent years, Austin has emerged as a tech hub with ambitions to rival Boston and Silicon Valley. SXSW, a music, film and interactive festival, is emblematic of a city that is culturally rich, liberal and tech-savvy. It is home to major offices for AMD, Apple, Google, IBM, Intel and Dell, among other famous tech firms.

There is also a thriving startup community supported by tech hubs like Capital Factory. The whole place has an exciting buzz about it. It’s like Shoreditch with a Texas drawl.

Perhaps this is why British Airways has launched a direct, non-stop service to the city from London using one of the airline’s new Boeing 787s.

BA 787 at Heathrow Terminal 5

BA 787 at Heathrow Terminal 5


The airline invited me to check out the plane soon after the inauguration of the new route. (Full disclosure: they paid for the trip.)

On board the 787

Boeing says that the plane is 20 percent more fuel-efficient than similarly-sized aircraft. It also has a 60% smaller noise footprint – meaning that the plane makes less noise on the ground.

Certainly, at take-off, the engine noise inside the cabin was much quieter than I expected but in the cruise it didn’t seem much quieter, perhaps because wind noise is louder at speed than engine noise. My iPhone recorded a sound level of 83.92 dB on the outbound trip, which is louder than it felt, but it was quieter on the return flight.

The plane appeals more to the other senses. It uses LED lighting to gently change the mood on board, simulating sunrise and sunset. The electronic dimmers on the window also give more control over the lighting.

When the dimmers are on, you can still see through the window but it’s just very dark. Personally I like looking out so this is a nice touch, especially because the windows are much larger than on other planes.

787 window

Windows on the 787 have dimmable LCD shutters

Two other factors help to make the 787 a more comfortable plane for long-haul flights. First, it is the first plane to use a gaseous filtration system to remove odours, irritants and gaseous contaminants from the air supply, which are contributors to throat, eye and nose irritation.

Second, the cabin is pressurised to a new maximum level of 6,000 feet; whereas other planes are have an internal altitude of 8,000 feet. This means that the body absorbs 8% more oxygen, reducing headaches, dizziness and fatigue. I can testify to this from my experience flying unpressurised light aircraft at 8-10,000 feet.

My own experience, getting off a nearly 11-hour flight from London was that I felt less scratchy and tired than I expected. It’s hard to be scientific about it but I’ve done many long-haul flights and this did feel better, even compared to other flights in British Airways Club World.

British Airways Club World

BA’s 787s don’t have first class seats, only economy, premium economy and business class (‘Club World’). The seats in Club World are lined up parallel with the fuselage, facing front and back. Personally, I prefer sitting backwards as I think it’s likely to be safer but the first time you do it, it does feel a little odd.

The seats recline to form a fully-flat bed and a button-operated privacy screen makes the little cabin quite private, especially if you’re sat by the window. Some seats have direct aisle access but on others you may have to step over someone’s legs to get out.

Rolls Royce engines on the Boeing 787

Rolls Royce engines on the Boeing 787

The seats are very comfortable and I slept easily on both flights. The only minor gripe is that they are a bit narrow and there are no cubbyholes for bits and pieces, like bottles of water or eyeshades, when you’re lying down. The in-flight entertainment system was excellent with a large touch-sensitive screen and a huge library of film, TV, talking books and music. It’s definitely the best of its type that I’ve seen.

Flying direct to Austin beats a stopover regardless of the airline but flying BA makes it a pleasure.

This article was first published on my Forbes Aviator blog.


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A practical jetpack (finally) takes off

Martin JetPack P12

Jetpacks have been a staple of science fiction and movies for decades. Remember James Bond’s flight in Thunderball? However, these older designs had a number of drawbacks: they couldn’t fly very far or very long and they were difficult to control. If you wanted a jetpack, you’d be better be a daredevil stunt pilot. Until now.

The Martin Jetpack, developed by a plucky 13-employee company in Christchurch, New Zealand has built and tested a practical jetpack.It is much easier to control and heralds the age of a practical everyday jetpack.

The company is equipping its existing prototype with an improved engine and building a second prototype to accelerate testing. The company has received authorisation from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority to carry out manned flight tests and has classified the jetpack as a Class 1 microlight aircraft.

Instead of using dangerous hydrogen peroxide fuel, the Martin JetPack uses twin ducted fan engines powered by more a conventional V4 two-stroke engine generating 200 horsepower.

When the design is fully mature it promises an endurance of more than 30 minutes, at speeds up to 74 km/h and altitudes about 800 feet. It does come with one James Bond-style feature: a parachute for emergencies.


(This article first appeared on my Forbes Aviator column)


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A man in a hot air balloon realises he is lost

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost.

He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The woman below replied, “You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.”

“You must be an engineer,” said the balloonist.

“I am,” replied the woman, “How did you know?”

“Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help so far.”

The woman below responded, “You must be in management.”

“I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” said the woman, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault!”

GolfHotelWhiskey.com - Hot Air

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Best of the Web

Lost in the Bowels of LHR. What commercial pilot Alan Cockrell hates about London’s Heathrow might actually surprise you – unless you are a commercial pilot! Click here to read his post on DecisionHeight to find out more.

The Last RAF Vickers VC10 Retires to Surrey. The BBC, Harborough Mail and ThisIsLeicestershire.co.uk all have articles about the last Vickers VC10 built in the UK being flown to a Surrey airfield after being retired from RAF service. The RAF operated 28 VC10s for 47 years with the last aircraft to be put on display at Dunsfold Park.

easyJet Denies Boarding to a Passenger Who Tweeted a Complaint. In an odd story, a lecturer who sent a tweet complaining about easyJet after his flight from Glasgow to London was delayed was subsequently denied boarding. An easyJet spokesman said: “EasyJet has never denied boarding due to comments on social media.” However, the airline also tweeted an apology to Leiser.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Perfect Accessory for a Pilot’s Car. Want to show the world that you are a pilot? Get a Carprop, a free spinning propeller that mounts on the front of a car or truck and spins as the car moves. Mounting hardware is included and it installs in minutes while the base can be painted to match your vehicle color (optional). For more information, visit Carprop.com.

Stunning Alaska Photos. The Alaska Dispatch has posted a gallery of stunning photographs taken by a bush pilot flying through Lake Clark Pass from the Cook Inlet to a magnificent lake some 100 air miles into Southwest Alaska:


CAA Guidance on Sky Lantern Releases. In 2011/2012, there were 186 formal notifications of events made to the CAA where over 14,000 sky lanterns, sometimes known as Chinese lanterns, were released. However, the CAA recommended that 30 of these events should not take place due to their proximity to airports. The CAA is also reminding organisers that they must notify the CAA so they can warn airspace users of the possibility of encountering the lanterns in a given area.

Rarest Stamp Error in US History Commemorated. Finally and to celebrate the opening of the William H. Gross Gallery at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and promote October as National Stamp Collecting Month, the US Postal Service has dedicated a new $2 version of the most publicized stamp error in US history today: The 24-cent 1918 Curtiss Jenny Inverted airmail stamp. Strangely, the original stamp was created to honor the first airmail flight where the pilot got lost, flew in the wrong direction and crashed while a printing error depicted the biplane as flying upside down. The Inverted Jenny souvenir sheet is available at USPS.com/Stamps.

GolfHotelWhiskey.com - 24-cent Curtiss Jenny airmail stamp

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Aircraft colliding with cows

We have mentioned stories or incidents involving emus, dogs, rabbits, wild pigs, turtles, deer, a bull and even cat fish running, hopping or slithering across runways, but there have been several strange incidents involving cows which we noted earlier this year with General Aviation News mentioning yet another cow mishap.

To recap the cow mishaps we mentioned earlier this year:

  • NYC Aviation reported early last year an incident at the Mayor Buenaventura Vivas Airport in Santo Domingo, Venezuela, where an Aserca Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-82 struck two cows (who died instantly) because they did not move fast enough. The cows damaged the jet’s left main landing gear while the left wing flaps were damaged enough to keep the aircraft grounded until repairs could be made.
  • NYC Aviation also mentioned that in 2005, a herd of cows were hit by an Air France Airbus A330 while landing in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The incident led local authorities to arrest stray cows and hold them until their owners paid a fine.
  • The Jakarta Post reported in 2011, an Aviastar Twin Otter hit three cows while landing at the Komodo Airport in Indonesia. Komodo happens to also be the home of Komodo Dragons who presumably avoid wandering on runways!
  • We also posted a video of a British biplane clipping a cow while making a landing in a field back in 2008.

To add to these cow incidents, General Aviation News has posted a September 2011 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident report involving a Cessna 182 hitting a cow in Roundup, Montana. Apparently, the pilot was attempting to land on a dirt road when he overflew the area and noticed a group of cows nearby before entering a left-hand pattern.

During the landing flare, the pilot saw a cow approaching from the left and he attempted to swerve to miss the animal, but was unsuccessful and hit the cow. Although the pilot attempted to regain control, the aircraft continued to the left, landed hard, bounced and settled back onto the ground – resulting in substantial damage.

No word on whether the cow had also had substantial damage or survived while the NTSB ruled that the accident was caused by the pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from an obstacle (the cow) during the landing flare.

In other words, watch out for cows the next time you land on a dirt road or grass landing strip or an open field!

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