Guanine: The Threat Coninutes

RTS Guanine 02

The first couple of installments of the #ReduceTheStupid campaign seem to have been well accepted and widely shared.  So I couldn’t help spending a little time on an icy winter day dropping another one into the series.

Reducing the Stupid

RTS - Not Okay to be StupidAlthough it’s a departure from Airspeed’s usual aviation-centered content, I can’t help but occasionally post a polemic or two.  The latest in the #ReduceTheStupid series is up. Because, among other things, ignorance will keep us from getting to Mars or other places where we ought to be.


Team Tuskegee Featured on The Aviators


I arrived at AirVenture Oshkosh a little late this year, but I had a great excuse. Team Tuskegee met up with Anthony Nalli and the crew from The Aviators to shoot an episode for the show.  That episode (Episode 6.08: It’s the Frankenglider!/The Tuskegee Airmen) aired Friday 11 December in Canada and it’s now available through the show’s own site and on iTunes and Amazon Video.

Usually, an episode of The Aviators has two 11-minute segments and rounds out the remainder of the 25 minutes with other segments. We were very fortunate because the team essentially had this episode to itself, along with a nice, cogent summary of the achievements of the original Tuskegee Airmen.

We shot the episode at Lenawee County Airport (KADG) on the Tuesday of AirVenture Oshkosh 2015. Anthony and the crew had been at Oshkosh for the few days prior to that and was on its way out to New York to film the GEICO Skytypers. Anthony and I had been trying to get together to shoot this episode since a chance encounter in the hall at the ICAS convention in 2013. The episode was supposed to be a part of Season 5, but the shooting location at York Soaring across the border in Southern Ontario got soggy and stayed soggy though the spring of last year, foiling our plans. When he called, we arranged to meet at Adrian, only an hour’s detour from his route.


We launched from Detroit City Airport in time to make a Detroit Class Bravo transition and get to Adrian by 9:00, shooting B-roll the whole way.  I flew lead and John Harte (with student James Holmes) and Chris Felton flew 2 and 3, respectively. FOD took the controls and let me shoot some air-to-air that was used in the episode. The shoot itself included two sorties from Adrian, one of about an hour to shoot the formation passes and another to shoot air-to-air with John Sullivan flying his C-206. A little over hour hours total.

I’m pretty pleased with the episode. It’s not often that the final product gets your mission and the editorial content from the interview right.  I got a fair chance to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum‘s activities and mission. Everybody on the team got some screen time. I name-checked James and his training got a mention. And the team flew some of the best formation I’ve ever seen us fly.

Anthony shot all of the video on the ground and the three-ship air-to-air from the C-206. The rest of the B-Roll was mostly shot by the team, including video that I shot on Young Eagles rides.

Check out the episode through the links above and watch for the team at an airshow near you next summer!


The Martian Delivers

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FOD and I just returned from seeing The Martian, Ridley Scott’s film that adapts Any Weir’s novel of the same name to the big screen.

As you’ve come to expect from Airspeed, I won’t recap the film for you here, nor will I avoid spoilers. My only subjects are whether the film is worth seeing, whether it offends any scientific sensibilities, and – in this case – whether it faithfully follows the book.

Last things first. Why do I care so much about whether the film is faithful to the book?  For starters, the book is one of those rare things in science fiction: A well-researched and skillfully rendered story that gets all the science right and requires only minimal suspension of disbelief. I’ve been through the book twice, both times in the form of the award-winning audiobook performance by R. C. Bray. I really, really enjoyed the book.  Because of this, I walked into the theater with a large chip on my shoulder.  It’s not impossible to think that Hollywood might treat The Martian with the disdain that it did with Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

I’m pleased to report that the film is very faithful to the book.  There are minor differences.  Venkat Kapoor becomes Vincent Kapoor, presumably so that Chiwetel Ejiofor (a Nigerian-born actor raised on London) could play the originally Indian character.  The explosive loss of the airlock omits the part in which Watney pressurizes the lock and rolls it to where it needs to be.  The final retrieval of Watney from the MAV capsule involves Watney breaching his suit and executing a very unlikely Iron-Man self-propulsion to rendezvous with Commander Lewis, who has inexplicably left the bridge to suit up and go get him (despite the fact that two other crew members are already suited up and likely closer to Watney).

I was actually happy about three differences. The film omitted the the event in which a short-circuit kills the Sojourner, as well as both the the roll-over accident involving the rovers and the dust storm on the drive to Schiaparelli Crater.  Of those three, the dust storm was the only situation that produced an interesting solution, as opposed to brute force or lots of boring work to overcome. While all three events worked int he book, omitting them from the film made all kids of sense.

I liked that the film even kept many of the inside nerds-only jokes, such as the Lord of the Rings mention and the “steely-eyed missile man” reference. Movies need to quit worrying about whether a particular remark will go over the audience’s heads. Those who get the references will love you for including those elements.  Those who don’t get the references probably won’t notice them anyway and – in any case – who the hell cares what non-nerds think, anyway?

If there were other material differences, I’ll admit that I didn’t notice them much.  I consistently found myself remembering lines from the book as they were faithfully written or spoken on screen. I can’t think of another film that is as similar to its underlying book.

The science was pretty good.  From depictions of orbital mechanics and rendezvous to the botanical representations, just about everything was convincing.  I did see a few problems, though.

  • The zero-G kickoff and multiple pulls to pick up speed as the crew moves around the spacecraft are unrealistic.  When you pick up momentum, you have to get rid of it in one way or another.  Experienced astronauts rarely build up that much momentum because they’re liable to break stuff or get hurt.  I also saw several delta-vees (usually diving from a, axel tube into the spoke of a rotating section) that would have required thrusters to accomplish.
  • Mars surface gravity is less than half that of Earth (3.7 m/s² on Mars vs. 9.8 m/s² for Earth). Yet all of the action on the surface of Mars appears to be in Earth-normal gravity.  The atmosphere is less than 1% as dense as Earth’s atmosphere, which would have shown up in differences in the way the wind works and the effects on blown objects.
  • The circular patch of the airlock frame looked suspiciously flimsy.  (Am I the only guy who thought that all of the spare hab canvas looks exactly like faded visqueen?) And, in one scene, the wind makes the patch go concave into the hab.  With the 13 or so psi that all of the readouts indicate, it would seem impossible that wind could push a patch to the point of concavity.
  • FOD and I attended the film with fellow lawyer Don Crawford, who is also an active diver.  Don sad that some things about the atmosphere and the readouts made little or no sense, but we didn’t have time adequate to discuss them.

The film never blew the transmission delay between Mars and Earth in an obvious way, but it wasn’t always clear that many minutes had passed between transmission and receipt. Maybe this is brilliant, inasmuch as it lets the conversation happen in near-realtime for moviegoers who aren’t aware of the physics, but is always plausibly there for moviegoers who know about the delay.

Bottom line:  The film is very much worth seeing.  In fact, I might try to get out to see it one more time while it’s in theatrical release,  It’s that compelling and that pretty.  I think it’s going to be regarded as one of the best of the year.


Audio Episode Show Notes: River Days Airshow – Part 4 – Debrief

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio here:

Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

We did it!  We put on a full-up airshow over the Detroit River in some of the most challenging airspace in North America. In this episode, David Allen takes the bully mic again and Dean Greenblatt (“BIRD” during the show) joins Steve to talk about what went right, what went wrong, and what’s in store for the show next year.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 4.01.28 PMHear how we put a jet, three gliders, and lots of other aircraft up in this box and managed to do it despite low weather on Saturday, communications SNAFUs, and the fact that nobody on the crew had ever put on an airshow before.  It’s an exciting story of what can happen when a dedicated crew of volunteers gathers together to turn dinosaurs into decibels.

Many thanks to Jo Hunter for the great photos!