November 21, 2015

One of the most gifted engineers in our nation’s history was Mr. Bill Lear.  Lear was born in Hannibal, Missouri on 26 June 1902 and over a forty-six (46) year time period produced one hundred and twenty (120) patents.  He founded the LearJet Corporation.  The Lear jet is without doubt one of the most beautiful aircraft ever conceived.  From one memorable life came one memorable quote, as follows:

“If an airplane looks like it will fly—it will fly”.

He was talking about profile, lines, curvature while imagining the “slip-stream” created by the leading edges and the flight surfaces.  One other airplane that fits that description is the Lockheed Constellation or “Connie” as the design came to be known.  A remarkably beautiful aircraft.

My very first flight was in 1969. My father, sister and I departed Lovell Field in Chattanooga, Tennessee heading to Atlanta.  We flew to Atlanta in a DC-3, twin engine propeller-driven aircraft.  (I’m sure after death I will have to change planes in Atlanta before arriving in heaven.  Some things never change.)  Moving from arrival gate to departure gate during the very early years of commercial aviation took a minimal amount of time.   The Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was not the city within a city that exists today.  Upon arriving at our departure gate, I saw for the very first time a marvelous aircraft meeting all of the descriptive points Mr. Lear had in mind. Let’s take a look.


Lockheel Constellation

The Lockheed Constellation (“Connie”) was a propeller-driven, four-engine airliner built by the Lockheed Corporation between 1943 and 1958 at the Burbank, California Lockheed facilities. The Constellation’s fuselage is shaped like an airfoil to add lift.   It curves upward at the rear to raise the triple tail out of the prop wash and slightly downward at the front so the nose-gear strut did not have to be impossibly long. Lockheed decided that the airplane’s admittedly large propellers needed even more ground clearance than did Douglas or Boeing on their competing transports, which resulted in the Connie’s long, spindly gear legs.

It was known as “the world’s best tri-motor” because it had so many engine failures it often flew on three.  There were large numbers of engine fires during the Constellation’s early development, but many airline pilots flew it for years without ever feathering an engine.

The Constellation was one of the first pressurized airliners with the Boeing 307 Stratoliner being the very first.  Cabin pressurization was absolutely required to improve the service ceiling of commercial aircraft and make flying above the “weather” a very welcome reality.  During WWII it was discovered that flying about 10,000 feet required oxygen to preclude issues with dizziness.  It was no different for commercial flying.

Lockheed built 856 aircraft using numerous model configurations—all with the same triple-tail design and dolphin-shaped fuselage. Most were powered by four 18-cylinder Wright R-3350s. The Constellation was used as a civil airliner and as a military and civil air transport, seeing service in the Berlin Airlift . It was also the presidential aircraft for Dwight D. Eisenhower.   At the present time President Eisenhower’s Air Force One is resting in a field at Marana Regional Airport.   Dubbed Columbine II in honor of the state flower of first lady Mamie Eisenhower’s native Colorado, the plane was state-of-the-art in its time.  It’s a real shame this early version of Air Force One is not on display.

The Constellation’s wing design was close to that of the P-38 Lightning, differing obviously in size.  The triple tail kept the aircraft’s height low enough to fit in existing hangars, while features included hydraulically boosted controls and a de-icing system used on wing and tail leading edges.  The aircraft had a maximum speed of over 375 mph (600 km/h), faster than that of a Japanese Zero fighter, a cruise speed of 340 mph (550 km/h), and a service ceiling of 24,000 ft (7,300 m).  At the time the service ceiling was a significant breakthrough in aviation technology.

According to Anthony Sampson in Empires of the Sky, Lockheed’s Skunk Factory and Kelly Johnson may have undertaken the intricate design, but Howard Hughes’ intercession in the design process drove the concept, shape, capabilities, appearance, and ethos.   These rumors were discredited by Kelly Johnson. Howard Hughes and Jack Frye confirmed that the rumors were not true in a letter in November 1941.

After World War II the Constellation came into its own as a very fast civil airliner. Aircraft already in production for the USAAF as C-69 transports were finished as civil airliners, with TWA receiving the first on 1 October 1945. TWA’s first transatlantic proving flight departed Washington, DC, on December 3, 1945, arriving in Paris on December 4 via Gander, Nova Scotia and Shannon, Ireland.

Trans World Airlines transatlantic service started on February 6, 1946 with a New York-Paris flight in a Constellation. On June 17, 1947 Pan American World Airways opened the first ever scheduled round-the-world service with their L-749 Clipper America. The famous flight “Pan Am 1” operated until 1982.

As the first pressurized airliner in widespread use, the Constellation helped to usher in affordable and comfortable air travel. Operators of Constellations included the following airlines:


For its time, the cabin represented the ultimate in luxury with comfort and room to spare.


Cabin (2)

Maybe someone can comment on a statement I have heard more than once.  In the early days of commercial aviation, all of the cabin crew had to be registered nurses.  Do you know if that is a fact?


Notice from the digital below, all of the flight systems were analogue. No digital in those days.  Also notice, the aircraft was meant to be managed by a three-man flight crew; i.e. pilot-in-command, co-pilot and flight engineer or navigator.  The right side of the cockpit was designed for a navigator.


Two fairly large fans, one left and one right, kept the flight crew reasonably comfortable.

Times have certainly changed from my first flight in 1969.  No more analogue or two-man flight crew and now air travel is the “new” Greyhound.  It’s affordable, at least to some degree.

As always, I welcome your comments.


August 22, 2015

Flying remains one of the safest, if not THE safest, modes of transportation when going International or cross-country.  The U.S. Department of Transportation tells us that 815.3 million scheduled passengers traveled on U.S. airlines and airlines coming from foreign countries to the United States in 2012.  This equates to 580,501,000 passenger miles. 2013 numbers approach 600 million.  We have all been in situations where we wish we were “down there”, but those are mostly weather-related and we did survive.   I used to fly two and sometimes three times per month and in the forty plus years in the air there was only one incident where mechanical difficulties or weather took us down.  I was flying from Atlanta to Sao Paulo on business when we lost an engine.  This was over Brasilia.  This pilot, to his credit, was very calm and indicated we needed to make an unscheduled stop.  We landed and deplaned for a four hour wait until repairs were made.  No panic.

If we examine the most-used modes of transportation, we see the following:


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives us the following statistic:

“In 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 crashes (30,296 fatal crashes), killing 32,999 and injuring 2,239,000 individuals.  The 32,479 traffic fatalities in 2011 represented the lowest in sixty-two (62 years) (1949). Records indicate that there have been a total of 3,551,332 motor vehicle deaths in the United States from 1899 to 2012.”  Each year just about the same number of fatalities demonstrates the stark reality that driving is, by far, the most dangerous way to travel.


If we look at the total number of airline crashes on a global basis, we see the following.



Transportation by rail is very safe although hundreds of individuals die each year from walking on rails, running barriers when trains are approaching, and other weird occurrences.  The Federal Railroad Administration issued the following news release:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Apr. 13, 2015 – Latest safety statistics released by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in April confirmed 2014 was the safest year on record for freight train operations in the United States.

Highlights of FRA freight rail safety data (per million train miles):

Since 2000, the train accident rate is down 45 percent, a new low, and the 2014 train accident rate was down 7 percent compared with 2013.

The track-caused accident rate has dropped 54 percent since 2000 and 12 percent from 2013.

The equipment-caused accident rate has dropped 44 percent since 2000 and 6 percent from 2013.

The rate for human factor-caused accidents has declined 44 percent since 2000 and 4 percent from 2013.

“The freight rail industry is working all out to prevent any train incident, large or small. It is an ongoing 24/7 commitment and our goal remains zero accidents,” said Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “Freight railroads are always looking to further advance safety and will continue to move forward with safety-focused initiatives and cutting-edge research and development.”


  • In 2012, the Coast Guard counted 4515 accidents that involved 651 deaths, 3000 injuries and approximately $38 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.
  • The fatality rate was 5.4 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. This rate represents a 12.9% decrease from last year’s fatality rate of 6.2 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. • Compared to 2011, the number of accidents decreased 1.6%, the number of deaths decreased 14.1% and the number of injuries decreased 2.6%.
  • Almost seventy-one (71) percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, almost eighty-five (85) percent were not reported as wearing a life jacket.
  • Almost fourteen percent (14) of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction. Only nine (9) percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received boating safety instruction from a NASBLA approved course provider.
  • Seven out of every ten boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length.
  • Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure, and excessive speed rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
  • Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was listed as the leading factor in 17% of deaths.
  • Twenty-four children under age thirteen lost their lives while boating in 2012. Ten children or approximately forty-two (42) percent of the children who died in 2012 died from drowning. Two children or twenty (20) percent of those who drowned were wearing a life jacket as required by state and federal law.
  • The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (47%), personal watercraft (19%), and cabin motorboats (15%).
  • The 12,101,936 recreational vessels registered by the states in 2012 represent a 0.59% decrease from last year when 12,173,935 recreational vessels were registered.

With this in mind, let’s consider the airline industry and what lists represent the best and the worst.  The following lists were taken from http://www.planecrashinformation.com/cause.html.  Very good site and one I keep up with PRIOR to any foreign travel.

We all fly, at least occasionally, so let’s look at the best and worst airlines relative to safety.  This list was provided by the site previously mentioned and CNN. We won’t examine schedule reliability or lost bags at this time, just safety.


  • New Zealand
  • British Airways
  • Cathy Pacific Airways
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Finnair
  • Lufthansa
  • Singapore Airways


  • AirLingus
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Iceland Air
  • JetBlue
  • Jetstar
  • Kulula Airlines
  • Monarch Airlines
  • Thomas Cook Airlines
  • Tulfly
  • West Jet


I’m listing the worst airlines and a very brief bio of each airline. PLEASE NOTE:  Depending upon your final destination, there are other airlines with good to great safety records that will get you there.  It is always recommended you do your research relative to availablility.

  • TARA Air—TARA Air is the newest and biggest airline service provider in the Nepalese mountains. This company has started business with the mission of helping develop the rural Nepal. Accordingly, their service is concentrated in the hills and mountains of the country from the Far East to the Far West.
  • Nepal Airlines— Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) was incorporated on 1 July 1958 through enactment of Nepal Airlines Corporation Act. 2019 with the following main objective:  to provide air transport service to any person, agency or organization who need such service for transportation of men or materials from one airport to another, either within or outside the country.
  • Kazakhstan Scat Airlines— SCAT Airlines, legally PLL SCAT Air Company, is an airline with its head office on the property of Shymkent Airport in ShymkentKazakhstan. It operates services to all major cities of Kazakhstan and to neighboring countries. Its main base is Shymkent Airport, with hubs at Oral Ak Zhol AirportAqtau Airport,Astana International AirportAtyrau AirportKyzylorda Airport and Almaty International Airport.
  • Kazakhstan Kam Air— Kam Air is headquartered in Kabul/Afghanistan. It operates scheduled domestic passenger services and international services to the Middle East, Asian republics and from August 2010 also to Vienna (Austria) and London/Gatwick (United Kingdom) in Europe. Its main base is Kabul International Airport.
  • Malaysia Airlines— Malaysian Airline System  is a major airline operating flights from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and from secondary hubs in Kota Kinabalu and Kuching to destinations throughout Asia as well as a handful of destinations in Europe and Oceania. Malaysia Airlines is the flag carrier of Malaysia and a member of the One-world airline alliance. The company’s headquarters are located on the grounds of Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang, Selangorand Greater Kuala Lumpur.
  • Malaysia Philippines Airlines— Philippine Airlines (PAL), Asia’s first airlines and the national flag carrier of the Republic of the Philippines, showcases the best of the Filipino people and the country – warm hospitality, refreshing smiles, attentive service, and eagerness to help.
    PAL serves 31 destinations in the Philippines and 39 destinations overseas in Southeast and East Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, North America, and Europe from Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Centennial Terminal 2 in Manila and the Mactan International Airport in Cebu.
  • Air India Express— Air India is the flag carrier airline of India owned by Air India Limited (AIL), a Government of India enterprise. It is the third largest airline in India after IndiGo and Jet Airways in domestic market share, and operates a fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft serving various domestic and international airports. It is headquartered at the Indian Airlines House in New Delhi.  Air India has two major domestic hubs at Indira Gandhi International Airport and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, and secondary hubs at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata and Chennai International Airport. The airline formerly operated a hub at Frankfurt Airport which was terminated becauseof high costs. However, another international hub is being planned at the Dubai International Airport.
  • ASKY Airlines— ASKY Airlines is a passenger airline founded on the initiative of West African governments, and has its head office in LoméTogo. It operates across several West and Central African countries, operating out of its hub at Lomé-Tokoin Airport.
  • Avia Traffic Company— Avia Traffic Company is an airline with its head office in BishkekKyrgyzstan.  Its flights operate from Manas International Airport. The airline is on the List of air carriers banned in the European Union. The list of air carriers banned in the European Union is a list of airlines failing to meet regulatory oversight standards of the EU, and which are banned from entering the airspace of any member state.  The first version of the list was published in 2006, on the legal basis of the Regulation No. 474/2006 of the European Commission, issued on 22 March of that year. The current version of the list was published on 25 June 2015.
  • Blue Wing— Blue Wing Airlines n.v. is an airline with its head office on the grounds of Zorg en Hoop Airport in ParamariboSuriname.  The airline started operations in January 2002 and operates charter and scheduled services from Paramaribo to destinations in the interior of Suriname,GuyanaBrazilVenezuela and the Caribbean area. Its main base is Zorg en Hoop Airport.  The airline was on the list of air carriers banned in the EU; however, they were removed from the list as of 28 November 2007. As of 6 July 2010, however, the airline was once again on the blacklist and remains on the blacklist to this current day. In 2014 the airline was ranked as one of the worlds least safe by Airline Ratings.
  • Camair Company— The Cameroon Airlines Corporation, trading as Camair-Co, is an airline from Cameroon, serving as flag carrier of the country, a role which was previously filled by the now-defunct Cameroon Airlines.   Camair-Co is based in Douala and operates out of Douala International Airport.  Camair-co was created on 11 September 2006 by decree of Paul Biya, the President of Cameroon, as a company aimed at replacing Cameroon Airlines, the country’s national airline at that time. Cameroon Airlines was shut down in June 2008, but it took until 2011 for Camair-Co to launch flight services. The inaugural flight from Douala to Paris via Yaoundé took place on 28 March.
  • Cambodian Ankor Air— Cambodia Angkor Air is the national flag carrier airline of Cambodia, headquartered in Phnom Penh. It commenced operations on 28 July 2009. The airline is owned by the Cambodian government (51%) and Vietnam Airlines (49%), the latter allowing for code-share flights. All of its planes are leased from Vietnam airlines
  • Daallo Airlines— Daallo Airlines is a Somali-owned airline based at Dubai Airport Free Zone in Al GarhoudDubaiUnited Arab Emirates.  With its main hub at the Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport, the airline operates scheduled services in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.   Daallo briefly ceased all operations in March 2010, but resumed operations later in the year.
  • Drukair Royal Bhutan— Drukair Corporation Limited operating as Drukair — Royal Bhutan Airlines, is the national airline of the Kingdom of Bhutan, headquartered in the western region of Paro.  Founded in 1981, ten years after Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck gradually began to open up the kingdom from self-imposed isolation, and seven years after welcoming its first foreign visitors, the airline commenced operations in 1983 with flights from Calcutta to Paro utilizing Dornier Do 228aircraft. A switch to BAe 146-100 equipment occurred in November 1988, and in order to meet increased demand, those aircraft were replaced in 2004 with two Airbus A319s.Drukair operates a modest scheduled flight network within the South Asian region from its base at Paro Airport and currently consists of eight destinations in five countries.
  • Fastjet— Fastjet Plc is a low-cost airline aimed to provide a pan-African service. The airline was initially created with the acquisition of Fly540, an airline operating in East Africa, and flights in Fastjet’s own name commenced in November 2012.  Fastjet had been in negotiations to acquire the assets of failed 1time Airline, but those talks were put on hold.  Fastjet had entered into a memorandum of understanding to form a joint venture with JetLink Express, but that, too, was put on hold.
  • Fly 540– Five Forty Aviation Ltd, trading as Fly540, was a low-cost airline which commenced operations in 2006 and is based in NairobiKenya, that operates domestic and international passenger and freight services.  The airline had two subsidiary airlines Fly540 Ghana (suspended in May 2014) and Fly540 Angola (suspended in February 2014) but has since focused its business expansion plans on East Africa.   All of these companies are majority stake-holder owned by the London-based African investment group Lonrho Ltd.  Fly540 was acquired by Fastjet Plc and began operating in November 2012.
  • Iraqi Airways Iraqi Airways Company, operating as Iraqi Airways, is the national carrier of Iraq, headquartered on the grounds of Baghdad International Airport in Baghdad.  One of the oldest airlines in the Middle East, Iraqi Airways operates domestic and regional service. Its main base is Baghdad International Airport.  Iraqi Airways is a member of the Arab Air Carriers Organization.

As you can see, the worst airlines in the world are operated mostly by regional, third-world carriers.  Africa, the Middle East and the Far East seem to operate regional carriers with significant issues; mostly maintenance-related.  Training is also a huge problem with these regional carriers.  If you are traveling and don’t have information regarding the carrier—LOOK IT UP. Get their safety record for the past five, maybe ten years.  Remember—it’s better to be down here wishing you were up there than up there wishing you were down here.

Just a thought.

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