Wednesday, September 27, 2006

NIE Wake-Up Call

The recently declassified NIE sounds like interesting reading, if this article is at all accurate about it's contents. I'm interested to see what sort of reaction it gets, since the author points out what the government goes great lengths to avoid talking about -- that general Muslim sentiment about the U.S. is a reaction to its policies around the world, and not some sort of relgious crusade against freedom.

In some ways this article really surprised me. This is a view that's been frequently expressed by some of my friends, but rarely examined by mainstream media. It's occasionally admitted that U.S. support for Israel might be a reason for some anti-U.S. sentiment, but even more so than anti-U.S., reasons for anti-Israeli feelings are never to be examined. The implications are always that it's because there are no reasons, just a vague, irrational hatred that can't be appeased.

After all, if there were reasons for these feelings, you could do something about them, couldn't you? And that would be a far more difficult situation.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Walking Around York

I spent some time yesterday and today walking around York, which, like many old European towns, is wonderful for walking, because it was designed for it (as much as it was designed for anything). Inside the old city (York still has intact city walls), many of the roads are closed to vehicle traffic.

I went to see York Minster, which is one of the oldest (and most-visited) cathedrals in England. The cathedral is very impressive, with enormous ceilings, and an organ mounted mid-way down the main corridor (I'm sure there's a better term for it than that). I won't try and describe it, but I did get some inside photos that I'll try and upload. Connections are iffy here in the hotel.

The photos from inside the cathedral came out slightly blurry, because the lighting inside was fairly dim, and the flash isn't remotely able to light it up.

After walking through there, I wandered around the rest of town, managing to find a small shop selling adapters for the massive U.K. electrical plugs, so I can recharge my laptop. I also spotted a used bookstore, which I will probably hit prior to my return flight.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Travel to York

9/24/06, 10:45am PST

I’m flying to York today on business, which basically means I’m spending the next day and a half in various airports. I flew out of Santa Barbara this morning at 8:20, having dragged my grandparents out of bed early to schlep me to the airport. The hour-long flight left me with several hours to kill until my London connection, which I decided to spend “productively” creating blog entries. Besides, I have power here in the airport, so I can spend as much time as I want on the laptop (I decided not to buy an inverter to run the laptop on the plane. I’m already carrying around enough crap).

6:15 pm PST

I tried to sleep on the plane, with no real success. I think I might be able to if it was actually time for me to sleep, but I think my internal clock still knows it’s too early to be hitting the sack.

Foiled in the best available time-waster, I also tried looking at the in-flight video/movie selection. They have some 40-odd channels available on the in-seat video system, but they have apparently decreed that now is sleepy time, so they’ve killed all the video feeds as well. Joy.

At this point all I have left is trying to read some engineering specs. They’re dull as dishwater even when I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, hopefully a few paragraphs of spec-language can knock me out.

8:42 pm PST

I have reached the end of the Internet. Or, at least, the end of the programming cycle for the plane’s 5 or so channels of entertainment. The spec turned out to be dry as dust, but completely ineffective as a sleep aid. I am considering filling out my U.K. immigration form, which they helpfully provided at the beginning of the flight, giving me adequate time to fill out the 6 items of information which are, um, exactly the same as those on my passport. Couldn’t they just take a photocopy? It would undoubtedly be more legible than my handwriting.

Hmmm. I just discovered that Windows comes with games other than “Solitaire.” Perhaps I have found my next diversion.

12:15 am PST

I have successfully navigated customs (I went through a detailed interrogation this time – they actually asked *what sort* of business I was on in the UK), and made my way to the gate. By some miracle, it appears my laptop may have actually picked up a public access point, which would allow me to post my thrilling dialog shortly. As soon as I find out what time it is.

Whoops, ix-nay on the access-point-ay. It did pick up an access point, but it’s T-mobile, and again I’m not paying however many pounds for the 15 minutes I’ll be sitting here. Posting of my magnum opus will have to wait.

~ 3 AM PST

Arrived at the Manchester airport, collected my baggage and made my way over to the train station for York. Picked up a train ticket and had a relaxing 2-hour ride through the English countryside, which made me appreciate, among other things, why people talk about taking a relaxing ride through the English countryside. Quite pleasant, with rolling hills and little farms dotting the view. Well, quite pleasant once you get out of Manchester, that is.

~ 5:30 AM (PST)

Have arrived at the Monk Bar Hotel, in York, which is where I’m staying for the week. I'm now working on what could be my most challenging task of the day, which is staying awake until sometime vaguely around bedtime, so my clock is sync'ed up in the morning.

Air Combat

I woke up bright and early yesterday for Air Combat school. Keith picked me up at my grandparents’ house and we headed over to the school, which was flying out of the Santa Barbara airport.

The pre-flight briefing was pretty short. First they gave us a couple of flight suits (well used, and mine a bit short in the legs. I’m a little tall to be a fighter pilot). Nails, the chief pilot, gave us a brief run down on the safety equipment (parachute and Mae West vest), and the bail-out procedures for the aircraft. Afterwards he grabbed a couple aircraft models and briefly discussed the maneuvers we would practice in the morning session, which were the high and low yo-yos.

Afterwards we hung around the facility (a receiving area for private/corporate jets) and waited for the aircraft to come in from the previous session. The aircraft we would fly in the day are Marchetti combat trainers, which are propeller aircraft built to handle more like a jet fighter.

For the morning session, Keith flew with Nails, and I flew with Obie, a former F-16 pilot. We practiced some formation flying on the way out to the practice area (out over the water), and I immediately found that the Marchetti is far more sensitive than a Cessena. The smallest movement sent me drifting towards or away from the other aircraft, and I had to learn to make very small corrections to keep in place.

Once at the practice area (an arbitrary dot in the middle of the ocean), we set up drills. We would take turns being the bogey (target) and the fighter (aggressor). The bogey aircraft would fly in a constant bank turn, and the fighter practiced high and low yo-yo maneuvers, which allow a faster plane to maintain separation while setting up a good position on the tail of the bogey. The idea of the yo-yo is that you go high and then low (high yo-yo) or low and then high (low yo-yo), and turn tighter than the bogey during the low-energy part of the maneuver. At least I *think* that’s the idea of it. In light of the fact that both Keith and I are engineers, Nails told us during our briefing to “just do it” and not over-analyze what was going on.

After our drills we flew back to the airport, again in formation, although I got to try a barrel roll back on the way in. Fun.

The afternoon was the “practice” part of our theory & practice setup, so after flying out, we spent just a short amount of time running drills (I did two more yo-yos, and then a barrel roll on to target), and then we went on to the real thing. Or the simulated real thing, at least. We swapped up instructors – Keith flew with Obie, and I flew with Monk, the third instructor who was present that day.

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they’re different.

The dogfights were tough work. The basic idea is you line up and head at each other, with the opposing aircraft on your left. As soon as you pass, the instructor calls “fight’s on!” and you immediately go into a maximum-G left turn and try and turn in behind the other fighter. If you can turn faster than the other plane, you keep doing this until you get behind him and line up a shot. Once the shot is lined up, the instructor radios “guns guns guns!,” the target aircraft pops smoke to acknowledge, and you set up the next engagement.

The first engagement was short and sweet. I turned, but not at max rate, and Keith dropped in behind me and got the kill. Note to self: turn harder.

The second engagement lasted longer – I kept pulling hard, and we spiraled around until we hit the soft deck, at which point I backed off and Keith tagged me.

The third time, having lost twice in a row, my instructor had me try something new. Instead of doing a hard left turn, I pulled straight back into a loop, then rolled out into a turn. At this point I had a few angles on Keith, so I kept doing yo-yos to work the angles down. Eventually he flew straight into the sun, but I managed to line up a shot on him anyways and ended the engagement.

The fourth and the fifth engagements were similar – more difficult fights, as I started to figure out the dynamic. One win each for me and Keith’s plane (now flown by the instructor, as Keith was feeling a little green).

The final engagement was the longest and most difficult of the bunch. I managed to get an early angle advantage, but Keith’s plane still had altitude on me, and our speed was low. We started with a hard bank, I think we did a loop in the middle (it’s a sign of how much attention you’re paying to the dogfight when you suddenly find yourself inverted, and only know you are inverted by feel), and then we got an angle advantage and started doing yo-yos to work it down. The problem was at this point I was about 50-100’ lower, and slow, so every time I tried to pull up to make the shot the plane would start to buffet (edge of a stall). So at that point we would have to dive and turn it into another low yo-yo. I finally managed to line it up and end it, but everyone was pretty beat by that time.

I had chatted some with Monk about my (limited) time in the Cessena, so he had me fly the approach into SBA while he worked the radios, finally taking the aircraft about 500’ from the runway to flare and land. By this point I had become somewhat accustomed to the Marchetti, so I was no longer weaving about like a drunken sailor trying to maintain a heading.

It’s hard to describe feeling of doing the dogfights. For starters, I would say that it’s way, way, way cool, except that that’s not enough “way”. It’s also seriously hard work. Once the fight’s on, you’re pretty much pulling 2-4Gs until you win (or lose), because if you’re not doing a max-rate turn, you’re toast. Also, if things are going OK, the opposing aircraft is directly above you, so you’ve got your head cranked all the way back to keep him in sight while you’re loading on the Gs (if it’s *not* going well, of course, he’s *behind* you, and even harder to see). And the plane is moving all over the place, as you do lots of maneuvers to try to line up or shake the other guy. Fortunately, I’m nearly immune to motion sickness, but anyone with any susceptibility is likely to get queasy.

We have the whole dogfight on video, so I’ll be editing up something as soon as I’m back from traveling, but as I have nearly four hours of footage to sort through from the two planes, it may take a while.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Learning to Fly

I have ranted in the past about the silliness of the recent "binary liquid explosive" scare and the resulting ban on any sort of liquid in aircraft. After this, and the complete lack of any significant criticism of the decision by our lawmakers ("Hey, we're doing someting" does not constitute criticism), I figured the situation about airline travel was only going to get worse before it got better.

So, with option A ("don't fly") not particularly practical, and option B ("submit oneself to personal indignity and unpredictable delay in the name of security") getting worse, I decided to look into option C -- fly yourself there.

Is it a practical alternative to airline travel? Not really. But I've been fascinated by flying for forever, so it didn't take much of a push to convince me to learn.

Today I just completed my third lesson. Highlights of today's lesson were that I performed two unassisted take-offs, and landed the plane with only minimal assistance. I also started learning how to say all that cool airport talk.

I've been trying to get one lesson in per week, although upcoming travel is going to cause problems with that. By the official plan, that gives me 17 lessons left until I test for my license (VFR), although I suspect in reality it will take more than that. Which is fine, I'm not in any hurry.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Changing the Standard

Q: How many Microsoft employees does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. They declare darkness to be the standard.

In a fine example of reality imitating, well, reality, it turns out that the U.S. Military has made significant progress in controlling the insurgency in Baghdad, having cut the murder rate to one-half its rate from the previous month. And they accomplished this significant feat as a result of a security operation by U.S. and coalition forces.

Oh, and somewhere in there they redefined what "murder" is.

This has apparently led to some confusion inside Iraq. They seem to be a bit off-message. Perhaps no one sent them the memo. Or maybe they're just confused, because approximately the same number of people died of violent causes in August (1536, for those counting) as died in July.

When confronted with this curious statistic,
Johnson would not provide the figures used to calculate the percentages and said the military would not give detailed information about trends because that could provide "our enemy information they need to adjust their tactics and procedures to be more effective against us."

Which, though it sounds a bit odd, makes perfect sense when you connect that statement with Rumsfeld's revelation that the enemy is, in fact, the liberal media and unpatriotic Americans who have the temerity to question their fearless leadership.

See? It all makes sense if you think about it long enough.