Burmese Spitfires to Fly?

Craig has an interesting (as usual) post on the crated Spitfires that are buried in Burma.

At the end of World War II, crated Spitfire MkXIVs had been sent to RAF squadrons in Burma. Fighting ended before they could be uncrated and made operational.  Rather than bother shipping them home, the Spits were simply buried as the RAF went home.

Spitfire warbirds are among the most popular airshow attractions. The Spit’s clean lines and the purr of the fantastic Merlin engine have serious devotees on both sides of the Atlantic.

But the MkXIV, while still a Spitfire, is a very much different bird than what we picture from the Battle of Britain and other popular culture.

By late 1941, the early Spitfires were becoming outclassed by later Bf109s, and the Fw190. There was a finite limit to how much power the Merlin engine could provide. So Supermarine and Rolls Royce turned to the much larger Griffon engine.  The larger engine, with greater torque, required a new, 5-bladed propeller, larger tail surfaces, and a larger fuselage to accommodate much greater fuel capacity. The Griffon sucked gas much faster than the Merlin, and just to maintain the Spitfire’s already modest range required stuffing gas tanks in all sorts of odd places.

Personally, I’m something of a fan of the Griffon powered birds. Some folks might call me a heretic for that. But the late model Spits show just how right the original Spitfire design was. Only a fundamentally sound original design would be so capable of such evolution.

Weapons stolen from Australian navy patrol boat

The Australian Department of Defence said the infiltrator “overwhelmed a duty member on-board a patrol boat” which was moored at HMAS Coonawarra, a naval base in the northern city of Darwin in a night raid.

“The intruder overpowered the duty member, accessed the vessel’s armoury and removed a number of weapons,” it said in a statement.

“The person then departed the vessel with the weapons.”

Police said two pump-action shotguns and 12 pistols were stolen by the intruder, who was wearing a balaclava and military-style clothing and who they said “appeared to have good knowledge of the vessel”.

via Weapons stolen from Australian navy patrol boat – Telegraph.

Oops.

This is, almost literally, right out of an episode of Sea Patrol.

X-47B takes a cat shot

Before the Navy sends any new aircraft to sea for carrier trials, the use a land based catapult to identify any potential problems. Here’s the unmanned X-47B taking it’s first cat shot ashore.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHtMowd8eWc&w=448&h=252&hd=1]

The video doesn’t specify where this was, but it was probably the naval air engineering facility at Lakehurst, NJ. And note that while the landing may seem a little… firm… that’s normal. Carrier based aircraft, unlike Air Force or civilian aircraft, don’t normally flare just before touchdown. Instead, just as in a carrier approach, they fly a constant speed, angle of attack, and descent rate all the way to touchdown.

Also, a large part of carrier suitability testing is just figuring out how to move an aircraft around the flight and  hangar decks of a carrier. Here’s the X-47B being hoisted aboard for early tests. Since it is unmanned, it introduces some new twists into what is normally a fairly straightforward testing environment.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTmGRHM9hSM&w=448&h=252&hd=1]

Normally, movement of aircraft on the deck of a carrier is directed by “yellow shirts” using hand and arm signals to give taxi directions to the pilot of an aircraft. Obviously, since there’s no pilot on the UCAS, that needs a little tweaking. In fact, one approach has been to teach the UCAS to actually recognize these signals. But that hasn’t come to pass yet, so the UCAS will be taxied via a joystick controller.

Any time you try something for the first time on a carrier, it’s an excellent opportunity to really frab things up, so they’ll start with an empty flight deck, peirside, work their way up to an empty flight deck at see, and eventually work up to more crowded, faster paced environments. And all this is probably before they ever attempt actually landing one on a carrier.

Unlike most drones that have human operators remotely piloting them, particularly for launch and landing, the X-47B is a truly autonomous aircraft, in that it will perform its own takeoffs, and carrier landings as well. Auto-land has long been a capability for manned aircraft, particularly the F/A-18, but is rarely used, as crews still need to maintain their proficiency, and you don’t get that by letting the computer do all the work.

But every UCAS approach will be on auto. It shouldn’t be too terribly challenging during good weather and calm seas, but it remains to be seen how well it will work in foul weather with a pitching deck.

Via War News Updates.

Demolition time

Today is the planned demolition of the F-1 engine test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center.
F-1_Engine_Test_Stand
The demolition company will leave the foundation intact in case there is a future need for it, but the rest of it is coming down.

Don’t be upset that this is going away. This test stand has not been used since 1969 because there is a nearby larger test stand designed for multiple engine testing. Also, most of the engine testing has been moved to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. It was time to either spend a lot of money that we don’t have on maintenance or tear it down.

I’ll update with the video when it’s available.

Court(yard) Drama

You may recall I did a major overhaul of my front courtyard last spring. If you really pay attention to the blog, you remember I only did the northern half. I started the southern half today.

Our courtyard, like many others in the desert, has landscaping of crushed rock on top of plastic sheeting. The plastic, of course, is intended to suppress weeds. There’s also an underground irrigation system for those plants we have put in. It’s a nice deserty landscaping, and very water efficient. Fairly low maintenance, as well.

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But, you’ll be astonished to learn, this being a desert, there are lots of dusty breezes blowing through. Over the years, the accumulation of that dust has formed a layer of clay like soil on top of the plastic sheeting. For a few years, most weeds rooting in that plastic can be suppressed via herbicide. But eventually, they start to take over. Further, the plastic sheeting deteriorates. So my task is to pull up the rock, wash it, remove and dispose of the accumulated dusty clay like soil (and often, some of the nice sandy loam underneath), lay new plastic, and put the freshly washed rock back in place. Sounds easy, huh?

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It’s actually not so bad. Except sifting the dirt out of the rocks is physically demanding. The weights aren’t excessive, but they are awkward.

The real problem today came from the irrigation system. The system consists of a 3/4” PVC pipe running from a control box on the far wall underground the length of the courtyard.  From holes poked into it at various intervals, 1/4” plastic tubing risers come up to the surface, and discharge through drip heads, misters and other fittings. The control box is a timer, so the system is only pressurized for about 30 minutes, at 8am each day. And what I’d failed to consider was that the same harsh UV and other stresses that effect the plastic sheeting also work on the plastic tubing. As I was clearing away rocks from the soil, sure as heck, I broke one of the tubes.

Well, I’m not the handymanest of men, but this was no biggie. I’ve got a supply of extra tubing and fittings and connectors. But the problem was, the tubing was so deteriorated, I had to replace it all the way down to the PVC. And when I unthreaded the connector to the PVC, I dumped a bunch of dirt in the open pipe.

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If I try to just reconnect it, all that sandy soil will instantly clog the system. And since I can’t for the life of me figure out how to adjust the timer system to run some water through the line, to clear it out, I’ve got to wait until morning for it to run. And flood, of course, And only then can I try again to reconnect the tubing, without screwing that up. Which there’s a fair chance I will…

I’ve been away from the infantry a long, long time, but I guess I still just have to play in the dirt.

Dash and Elan

There was a time, before socialism became the culture of Great Britain, when troops loyal to the Crown were among the most intrepid in the world, and had a government worthy of their esprit.

The beginning of June 1942 was perhaps the nadir of the Allied effort against the Axis powers.* Virtually every Allied effort to stem the flood of the Axis tide had met with disaster.  Vast swaths of the Pacific lay under the heel of the militaristic Imperial Japanese Boot.  Tripolitanian North Africa was the scene of brutal battles between Britain, Italy and their German allies. Russia was being bled white by the enormous Wehrmacht assault in the East. And of course, virtually all of Western Europe was under the heel of the Nazi boot. Most famously, France, just two years before considered the greatest power on the continent, had suffered a humiliating  military and moral catastrophe in their defeat by the Blitzkrieg of the Germans.

America had entered the war some 7 months before, but for now, Great Britain,  alone among the Western powers, struggled to hold the line. Britain knew that eventually, to defeat the Nazi’s, it would take more than they alone could provide. More even than they and the Americans could muster. And for moral reasons, if no others, if France was ever to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other nations of the world, its citizens would have to fight alongside the Allies to reclaim their own soil.

So while the battle to reclaim France was still two years in the future, the fight to inspire even the smallest amount of national pride in the Frenchman in the street, to inspire hope that someday the French could indeed return to independence, was very much in the forefront of British thinking.  And with that goal in mind, the RAF ordered a daring daylight raid on Paris.  A massive fleet of Lancasters or Stirlings? Mosquitoes swirling? Nope…

Read the whole story.

*As of the  day of this raid, 12 June 1942, while the Battle of Midway had been fought and decisively won, the full scope of that victory was still generally unknown to the public.

Thanks to Craig for the head’s up on  this.

A Lot More VA Oversight

About damned time.   From MSNBC:

Members of Congress angrily vowed Wednesday to crank its investigative floodlights far brighter on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, accusing agency leaders of dodging direct questions on travel and conference spending, failing to disclose a gathering in Las Vegas, and exhibiting “total incompetence” as veterans wait in record-long lines for medical help.

I will admit to some of this being personal, as “budget shortfalls” forced cancellation of a major (for us) contract with my business, which makes the $9 million for the Orlando fiasco all the more maddening.  (Note that the VA was one of two Federal entities to have budgets INCREASED in 2011.)

But the long lines and interminable wait times, and sometimes downright snotty and incompetent service that Veterans are having to endure are inexcusable.  These conditions seem to be true especially for new Veterans looking to have disability ratings judged, and wanting to receive medical care after multiple combat tours.

Earlier, Gould opened by describing the VA’s beefed-up oversight to block other Orlando-type escapades, which he called: “abdications of responsibility, failures of judgment, and serious lapses of stewardship.”

Now, the VA has a justifiably angry Congress breathing down their necks.  That gunshot wound to the foot is self-inflicted.     Were I Eric Shinsecki, I would have culled the upper management herd long ago.

But, of course, we will hear the platitudes about how dedicated and hard-working everybody is, and how they really care and do a great job.  Makes you puzzled as to how all those wonderful workers and managers can produce such a soup sandwich so often where the rubber meets the road.

A cautionary tale in all this is what happens when an institution has a captive audience and no particular motivation for customer satisfaction (it’s not like I can just go into ANOTHER VA system) or business efficiency.    Which is precisely the situation that any and every gummint-run enterprise finds itself in.  Sooner rather than later.

For all those in the VA who do such a wonderful job within an inherently unwieldy, unresponsive, and often obstructionist system, you are greatly appreciated.  To those who make that system unwieldy and unresponsive, be gone with you.  You are not worthy of the Veterans whom you are paid to care for.