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Author: Bill (Page 1 of 4)

Osprey shortcomings?

A few weeks ago, in one of my rants, I mentioned the fact that I thought the Osprey was a craft conceived by a crazy person. This article is about a patent for a new tilt wing to replace Osprey type aircraft. It is presented as a better idea, in light of the fact that the Osprey has no backup if one engine is fails (or more accurately, if it loses a rotor).

Osprey replacement article

These ideas make my head hurt.

You build airframes based on requirements (one would hope). But which requirement is a priority? How about survivability?

So you put many motors around a circular frame, like a bicycle wheel. You sling the payload underneath. Motors can pivot independently outwards slightly for forward thrust. Their rpm can be regulated. If you lose one or two. the remaining adjust their position on the wheel, to redistribute the load equally. This cannot be any more complicated than a tilt rotor, right?

I’m just saying…

Time to think

Recently, I joined the ranks of the unemployed. I still own a small company, but my day job has finally ended. it is kind of a bummer and kind of a relief. When you work states away from your boss, you don’t get a farewell lunch or plaque. You get a mailing address for returning all your stuff.

I do have more time to think now. Lots of time to ponder my situation, the past, the future, and everything in between.

I hear many people give their opinion of the Wall Street protests. “They want a handout” is a common phrase. If student loans are too high, it doesn’t matter. The students are the ones who accepted them. They have a choice. I hear this over and over. But it skips over the real issues of tuition costs skyrocketing, back breaking loans, and the real possibility of no job at graduation. There are so many issues like this wrapped up in the protests: Tax system unfair – lobbyists have all the power – congress is ineffectual – education costs are out of control – wall street killed our economy, but it did not kill wall street. I could go on and on.

Man, many Americans are just not sympathetic. And if they get their news from FOX, they leave their brain at the door. I just don’t think it is as simple as that.

People in these protests are mad, because they have seen too much in terms of not being fair and a lack of transparency. They have seen their vote amount to nothing. The rich wall street elite have more of a vote. The situation is not fair, and this gets to the hart of the matter. If you can afford a lobbyist, you can buy votes. It’s just that simple. If you are rich, you are insulated, perhaps. But you should at least pay a share of the taxes. A fair share. Of course, we idolize those who beat the system. Well, we did…

If Saddam would have had effective lobbyists, we would be up to our ears in cheap oil. Same with Gadaffi. We’d be swimming in it. Global warming be be damned. But no, we had to go to war. Let’s get physical.

We certainly did not need to invade Iraq. If you still cling to this idea, get help. We had two no fly zones over Iraq, so dangerous we engaged and destroyed our own helicopters on several occasions as a result of mistaken identity. We had every clandestine agency of world wide capability in there looking everywhere. Yet Saddam was creating a delivery vehicle that would hit Europe? Really? So what. Ever hear of the Tokyo fire raids in WWII? The Dresden fire raids? We now have weapons that make these bonfires look like Boy Scouts learning to make fire. We could have gone down this road instead of an invasion.

We did not need to invade Afghanistan either. Make a statement there? Yes, definitely. Something insanely ugly. But we certainly did not need to stay. Now, as soon as we leave, Afghanistan will fold like a house of cards. You heard it here first.

Anyone anywhere who understands our political system, our love of money, our self absorbed character, and our self imposed image of grandeur understands the leverage and power of effective lobbyists.

Unfortunately, you and I cannot afford lobbyists. It is beyond interplanetary for us. And we are invisible to them.

“But who will do all the research and brief our representatives?”. Gosh, maybe they could do that themselves with a staff?

Our political friends in Congress get a pretty good pension for not too much time served. Also, a majority are millionaires. If you are not a millionaire when you enter the Congress, you are almost assured you will be by the time you leave. Inside deals, with information we are not privy to, are made by our representatives daily. Ouch. How about a crumb for the little people?

Or maybe just some intelligent legislation?

Hey Circus Lady…

When I was a little boy, I stayed with my Aunt Marcy in Amelia, Ohio. She had a great big family, a cool home and big yard that went into the woods behind the house. But she wasn’t around much. She had to work away from home, leaving early, and returning home very late. I never know exactly what she was doing working so hard. A few days ago, going through old albums of my Mom’s, I discovered what she was doing. She was apparently the original Horse Whisperer for the local circus.

Just look at the eyes on that stallion. I sure would like to know what mental messages she was sending that horse…

Memorial Day in the present

Here we are at another Memorial Day. Pretty much everywhere you will see celebrations of gratitude. Churches will ask veterans to stand for a moment during the service. Parades will be packed with vehicles and veterans of previous conflicts.

I always think of the people who never made it home. Some of them were volunteers. Many were draftees fulfilling their obligation. A few were running from trouble. What they all had in common is that they all thought they would return home. These were young men and women who for the most part imagined their deployment would be a brief interlude in what would surely be a long life. Some believed in the cause of the time, while others just believed in service to the nation, or to go along with their friends and get their obligation over safely. We can all identify with them in some respect. They are all gone. They will not return home alive. Some will not return home at all.

Then I think of current events. I think of all the people deployed to our two fronts. I think about it too long, and I get irritated.

Our nation is good at many things. One of those things is apathy. It is an apathy about the services and their hardships. People are even tired of hearing about the hardships. After all, we are talking about volunteers. “We didn’t make them join the service.” That is true. But we elect our government, and that government influences what happens to our military. And frankly, those we elect don’t get it most of the time. They never served or deployed.

Life in the service is a voluntary life of sacrifice. Even in the best non-conflict circumstances, it can be a difficult life for the service member and the family. You experience dangerous training deployments, high stress situations, and personal strife from long deployments. I know everyone experiences stress in their lives. I am just saying the average service member’s fun meter is usually pegged a little bit more than a civilian.

When you send a person into a shooting war, and they spend some time there, they change. Most of the time, they change a great deal. Don’t take my word for it, do some research. I was never in a shooting war, but I have been around more than a few folks who have. Men and women. They change.

Our manpower numbers are so thin that we are putting our military through an out of control machine of deployments. The same people deploy over and over. You go for months deployed, then a year or so home, then back, then home, and on and on. Change upon change upon change. Over time we have accrued all these professional warriors who like being deployed more than being home. But then we sweep them out like so much dust and dirt. They get therapy in bucket loads, but they are out. Their identity is gone. Sorry, we need the money.

We reduce costs by reducing manpower. It is the quickest way a corporation can raise cash in house. Our Military is no different. “The missions have changed” or “our strategic threats have changed” etc. Sure they have. But while we reduce manpower, we continue to buy unnecessary vehicles, systems, doctrine, and support. I will cite the V-22 Osprey as one example. What madman dreamed that aircraft up? “We need speed, more lift, etc, due to our threats”. Is it cheaper than two helicopters? One Osprey’s fly away cost is 67 million dollars today. The workhorse in Afghanistan is still the Chinook. Fly away cost 37 Million. The Chinook seats more troops, can lift 50,000 lbs which is only 10K less than the Osprey, and is definitely slower. As for the speed issue, the latest Sikorsky experimental helicopter is in the 400 mph range, comparable to the Osprey. My point in droning about all this is we are paying twice as much for more complexity, an unproven over time design, and less troop capacity. Ouch.

Which leads me to the point of all this. Our military is stretched too thin. In 2009, the Army had 548,000 active duty. With a mission to bring in over 80,000 new soldiers per year, the force is 1/7 untrained and unprepared to fight. Since a percentage is always leaving, meaning they don’t fight all the way up until the day they muster out, there is another hefty number not able to fight. Ouch. And since not everyone in the Army is a shooter, but may be a supporter at home in an office, this cuts the availability of a fighting force even more.

Is the answer more brigades? This is the structure the Army is adopting, the modular brigade concept. Brigades cost big money by any estimate. The GAO estimates 3 to 4 brigades and 3 headquarters of approximately 20,000 soldiers (brigades and headquarters combined) would cost about 2 billion annually. There is no free lunch, unfortunately. The Osprey’s cost is at 27 BILLION as of 2008. Think about that. That’s more than a few brigades.

A soldier can be trained to do many many things. They are cheaper, more flexible, and the rate of return is greater for your money. The more you have, the easier it is to do things. A soldier can run, climb, swim, think, and sacrifice. It’s all about boots, especially in today’s up close and personal combat situations. That is the one lesson we haven’t learned from previous conflicts.

So when you see all the nice and impressive vehicles and aircraft at the parade, look close. You will see a soldier somewhere. He or she will look tired, and bored. They have changed permanently, and they are waiting to go back. Because they know it’s coming, and there’s no one else to go.

Rockets in the Spring

When your hobby is building and flying airplanes, helicopters, and general kid/man stuff, winter is the time for preparation. It is a time when goofy ideas begin to turn into visions within our grasp.
Right now, in the Rineyville Skunkworks, we are getting ready for the next chapter of aviation. But more on that later. This is where and how it all started…

The Day of the Underwear.

In Vine Grove Kentucky, we had a little tradition.
Every 4th of July, to celebrate the birth of our great nation,
we launched a pair of underwear into outer space.

Equipment on Pad 13 (we spared no expense)

The Launch Vehicle (just like you would see at NASA)

The Payload, complete with special re-entry coating

The Flight Ain’t she a beauty! Up, Up, And Away!

Another small step for man…a giant leap for Kentucky. And,
another pair of underwear into outer space!

This year, possibly in April, we will make the aviation community cringe again. We will launch the sacred Saturn V Rocket (almost complete):

Launch it, we will, with the mighty launch controller:

And of course, the finale will be the space underwear launch (candidate yet to be chosen). We have begun construction of the launch vehicle. Stay tuned.

Afghanistan – just say no

I think I’m losing my patience as I get older. I’d rather not hear anymore about Iraq, and especially Afghanistan.

We Americans are in love with the impossible. No matter how many countries have tried in the past, whatever it is, we can surely do it. We’re Americans.

Afghanistan, in terms of what we want to do, is impossible. We have set out to transform a people. We plan to take a 4th century country, and change its culture, it’s governmental structure, it’s very technology base. We want to do this over several years, with less than 100,000 teachers (soldiers, NGOs, etc). Impossible.

In WWII, the objective was to kill the enemy, up to a point that they surrendered, or to a point where there just wasn’t too may of them left alive. We bombed Dresden, Tokyo, and other major civilian structures into oblivion. Collateral damage was off the chart. Civilian casualties were also off the charts. No more enemy, job done.

We are after Osama Bin Hidin, and his organization. We think he and it is now in Pakistan. We don’t want Afghanistan to become a terrorist staging area. So take the money we save from the war and send up a new spy satellite. Keep a few more SR-71s flying. Buy a few more Global Hawks. But don’t send more troops to chase shadows. Recruit more people into the CIA.

Western Armies are very useful. But, they are best used against other like armies. in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are more like security guards. The biggest killer, the roadside bomb and the suicide bomber, continue with success.

Western Armies are typically very good at swift large scale destruction. The typical America 4 tank platoon routinely trains to defeat 14 or more opposing weapon systems entering their engagement area, in under a few minutes. Unfortunately, this kind of fight doesn’t happen in Afghanistan.

Coaching the Afghans to do their own fighting and ruling is like going through little league with your son. He cant grow up fast enough, no matter how hard you want him to. It’ll take years, and you’ll never be finished.

Government in Healthcare…ok, but…

I used to think government involvement in health care, in order to fix the current system, would be a no-brainer. Of course the government can do it just fine. I know the government manages Medicare, and I for one am gratefull. But my own life as a contractor has forced me to rethink my support.

The government gets its work accomplished largely through the management of contracts, and their favorite contractors. The government, DOD, everyone uses contractors. So why does the government use so many contractors? Easy access to high quality expertise, convenience and competition. As a government entity, I can ask for contractors to bid on my work, and I get to choose the one I want. I can get bids, and select the lowest bidder with the best approach and save the tax payer money. Sounds great, right? It would be great, if it worked that way.

As the government, I can pick expertise from a waiting pool of contractors, and escape all the messy management of my own workforce. However, every few years, as the government, I get paranoid and swell with positions to keep expertise. Then, years later, I cut them to save money like I never knew them. Other than these organized purges, it’s hard to remove a government employee. Not so with a contractor. All a government manager has to say is “I am not comfortable with Joe” and they are on their way out. The government can terminate whole contracts fairly easily.

Contractors are much more agile that the government. Filling a government position takes months. The president still doesn’t have all his people seated. It’s not his fault: it’s the system. And this is during the biggest financial emergency in our history. A contractor has bodies staged to place into work. I can hire and have someone in place in two weeks. I know other contractors that have shortened that down to a day.

The government wants us to think they are the honest brokers of everything, including contracts. I certainly wish they were above it all, but this seems rare in practice. It is more frequently based on who you know, who you will hire, and who has just retired into your company, from the inside of the government organization immediately before your bid.

Longevity plays negatively into the government personnel system. I can say many of the people I deal with in government have figured out where the “autopilot” button is for their job, and have pressed the button years ago. And, in my workplace, if a General has bright ideas about how to do something innovative, the civilian leadership will just wait him out. He will rotate in 3 years or so. This is the scale at which they think.

Government folks have their favorite contractors, and they will take their word over any one else, right or wrong. You also have people in government who worked on a previous job as a contractor. Now the ones in government have an informal alliance with those who remained as a contractor. This funnels work to the contractor, despite competition. You would think there would be too many checks and balances in the system. In practice, the system insulates the government from all but the loudest contractor calls for fairness and fair consideration.

Contractors have their warts too. If the government wants an elevator to Mars, every contractor will bid, and all their energy will go into winning the bid. Only after they win, will they actually figure out how to do the job. Also, some contractors hold the government hostage by promising to deliver, while costs go ever upward. Seldom does the government realize this.

So back to health care. I don’t fear government involvement because of privacy issues, or cost issues, or difficulty in getting care.

I fear the magnitude of the unmeasurable bias, favoritism and lack of visibility that is possible.

Reporters and Journalists – check your citizenship.

I watched the Charlie Rose show last night. The show was a rebroadcast of selected interview spots with Robert F. McNamara. In one spot, Charlie Rose asked him why he had not weighed in on the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. McNamara stated he will not comment out of fear of hurting the war effort. He also fears helping the enemy effort. “The current Sec Def has access to information I may not have” he replied. “How can I comment?” (I paraphrase).

This is a journalist quizzing a former statesman. It made me consider my own feelings about reporters, now typically embedded with units of our armed forces. As if combat wasn’t difficult enough.

I harbor no particular fondness of McNamara, aside from finding his interviews interesting. I do not dislike him, but I can see why others might. He was a key figure managing a war that to this day is discussed with emotion as if it were yesterday. I had two cousins in that war, and both returned physically whole. I have a best friend who had an oldest brother. That brother did not return, and his name is on the wall. One only needs to compare lives lived, with lives absent, to feel the gravity of a war’s lasting damage.

I can understand why McNamara refuses to comment. Part of me gets it, and that may be from being in the service. Part of me likewise understands that in a free society, you need open debate about the course of great undertakings that use monstrous amounts of a nation’s resources, and the lives of its youth.

If a reporter was embedded in my squad or platoon, I’d have to ask him or her “ok, so are you an American?” and I’d ask “what is your objective in riding along with my platoon? To report it as it happens; to report a side of war unseen; to personally observe the unrelenting weight of combat and stress?” In other words, you have to choose a side. You are not the Red Cross.

“Have you considered your being here as having a distracting effect on my unit?”

* * *

I watched one hour of 360 where Anderson Cooper, a journalist, was commenting on a politician’s controversial decision, saying “is that leadership?” I had to wonder – what does he know about leadership? I did not ask for his opinion on leadership, and probably never will..

I do not believe journalists or investigative reporters are Priests, owing allegiance to some greater unquestionable good. How close do you have to get to war, to be satisfied it is indeed war? The stress, hardship, sadness and enduring scarring is not new, and it is not news. It seems to be the latest entertainment for a society with so many distractions that boredom of too many choices becomes a license to do and view the previously unthinkable. Reporters serve it up in buckets.

I really have no issue with investigative reporters seeing some worldly ill, and working hard to expose it, so that society can then correct it. But some things are hard enough without a reporter interpreting what just happened. You want to experience war, and be in the “experienced combat and lived” club? Then raise your hand. And even then, you might not get admitted.


Knock knock – it’s China

You read a lot of press about how China, the waking leviathan, will eventually be the center of gravity for commerce, and leader of economies locked in global competition. Well, that time is now. Surprise surprise.

The latest developments in radio control center around three areas: brushless electric motors, lithium type batteries, and spread spectrum 2.4 gigahertz band radios. More and more modelers are converting their radio systems to 2.4 ghz, and just about everyone has an electric indoor and outdoor airplane and helicopter of some sort. Everyone flying an electric airplane or helicopter has multiple batteries, so they can fly on one while they charge another. Every day another manufacturer of these batteries pops up in an ad in the trade magazines. All promise longer life, more recharges, and safer technology, and most are originating from China. These batteries are not imported and relabeled and resold in the states; they are mailed directly to you from China, where they are manufactured.

Today, I can buy a very good high quality large capacity battery, and get it in about 10 days directly from China. The shipping is free, and the price is already lower than any retailer in the states. And its not just batteries. Everything that has to do with the Radio Control hobby can be ordered online from China. The only downside, the longer shipping time, has to do with customs inspections.

These Chinese manufacturers are also running full page ads in the RC magazines every month. You quickly see that other manufacturers cannot beat the price for just about any item. Many Chinese manufacturers are also opening offices for support in the states. Kind of a different ‘Chinese human wave”.

Well, they might as well get in the game. And it is a truly global game. I recently saved a bunch of money on Frontline flea and tick medicine for our dogs. I ordered it from Australia.


Flying over the lake

Saturday, May 23rd, my Radio Control Club hosted a Float-fly at Freeman Lake, in Elizabethtown KY. Of course, we had to mount a camera to a 110 inch wing spanned float equipped airplane, and fly over the lake. Boy with toys. What can we say?

Photos at www.hcrcm.org

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