DENVER — As the crush of passengers boarded United Flight 618
to Hawaii here last month, they passed by a silver-haired flight attendant in
bifocals who greeted them with an “Aloha, welcome aboard.”
Most of them appeared more focused on finding their seats than sizing up the
flight crew, but this flight attendant, Ron Akana, stood out, not least because
of the 11 sparkling rhinestones on the wings pinned to his lapel. The first one
was to commemorate his 10-year anniversary as a flight attendant, and he was
given another for every subsequent five years of flying.
Yes, Mr. Akana has worked as a flight attendant for 63 years, clocking some 20
million miles along the way, the equivalent of circling the globe about 800
times or flying roughly 40 times to the moon and back. Though no one tracks
seniority across all airlines, he is widely believed to hold the title of
longest-serving flight attendant in the United States.
“People keep on telling me to apply to the Guinness Book of Records,” he said.
“I’ll let somebody else do that."
Mr. Akana, 83, has just about seen it all. In his early years, impeccably
dressed passengers were served seafood salad and congregated at the cocktail bar
on board. But he is also the face of a profession that has gone from glamorous
to gray, as more flight attendants work longer than they ever imagined.
More than 40 percent of the roughly 110,000 flight attendants in the United
States are 50 or older, according to an analysis of 2010 census data by Rogelio
Saenz, a sociologist at the University of Texas, San Antonio, who has studied
the changing demographics of flight attendants. Less than 18 percent are 34 or
While the overall American work force has aged because of demographic shifts,
the ranks of flight attendants have aged faster as they have held on to their
After all, seniority pays off for flight attendants, because the longest-serving
ones get first dibs on flying schedules, and typically choose long-haul routes
that fill up their required hours each month much faster than short hops. With a
battered airline industry instituting furloughs and pay cuts, many workers have
delayed their retirement plans.
Mr. Akana cannot lay claim to all bragging rights — he is not the oldest working
flight attendant in the United States, for example. By many accounts, that
distinction belongs to 87-year-old Robert Reardon of Delta Airlines. Mr. Reardon
began his career flying for Northwest in 1951, two years after Mr. Akana took to
the skies as one of the first male “stewards” hired by United in 1949 for
flights between the mainland and Hawaii.
Mr. Akana has held the No. 1 spot at United for the past five years, since Iris
Peterson retired after 60 years of service at the age of 85.
While many of his older colleagues are still flying because they have to, Mr.
Akana said he does not work for the paycheck alone. At one time, just after he
turned 70, Mr. Akana was among the highest-paid flight attendants at the
airline, earning $106,000 a year through a combination of pay, pension and
Social Security — a situation that has earned him a “triple dipper” label by
younger colleagues and airline bookkeepers.
“When I fly, it’s vacation money,” Mr. Akana likes to joke. But after flying for
so many years, the idea of hanging up his sparkling wings is hard for him to
fathom. He added that he would miss the people he works with, the passengers he
meets and the routine he goes through for every trip, laying out his uniform and
packing the night before.
“I just always felt that it’s just too much a part of my life,” he said.
Decades ago, hiring policies ensured that the ranks of flight attendants
remained young. Stewardesses faced mandatory retirement by 32. If they married
or became pregnant, they were out. In 1966, a New York Times classified ad for
stewardesses at Eastern Airlines listed these requirements: “A high school
graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of
age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5’2” but no more than
5’9,” weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision
Stewards like Mr. Akana were not subject to quite as strict regulations. In
1963, he married a fellow flight attendant, Elizabeth Ann Ebersole. They met on
Waikiki Beach six months earlier when a colleague played matchmaker. He
continued to fly. She promptly quit.
“In those days, you had to,” she said. “There was no way I could be sneaky about
The next year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, but it was not
until years later, after numerous lawsuits against airlines’ discriminatory
practices, that such rules fell away and what had been a transient job for
primarily young women turned into a longtime career. Mr. Akana’s daughter, Jean,
born that same year, is now a 22-year veteran flight attendant for United.
Her colleagues will not let her forget that she has a father who is famous at
United. “The minute they hear my name, they go, ‘Wait, are you related to that
Ron?’ ” she said.
As No. 1 on the list at newly merged United-Continental, Mr. Akana always gets
the schedule he wants. Lately that means three three-day trips a month from
Denver to Kauai or Maui. He spends one night on the island, squeezing in lunch
with old friends or perhaps a round of golf before heading back home to Boulder,
He has the rest of the month off, giving him time to work on his golf game, hop
in his RV to visit a national park with his wife or take advantage of his United
travel benefits to fly someplace new if seats are available.
Over the years Mr. Akana has taken his wife and two children all over the world
free, including vacations to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Hong Kong. There
were also weekend jaunts to Chicago so the children could try deep-dish pizza.
Mr. Akana was a fresh-faced 21-year-old when he — along with 400 others —
applied in 1949 for one of eight steward positions United wanted to fill to
represent each of the eight major Hawaiian Islands.
“For a local Hawaiian boy, it was so exciting to get to the mainland,” said Mr.
Akana, who was born and raised in Honolulu. “I looked around and thought, ‘I’ll
never get this job.’ There were 400 other guys; half of them had coats and ties.
All I had was an aloha shirt.”
But after the first cut, he began calling the hiring manager weekly to check in.
His persistence paid off, and he was soon taking off on his first flight to the
Back then, the Boeing Stratocruiser, a long-range propeller plane powered by
four piston engines, was state of the art, making the trip between the islands
and the mainland in about 10 hours, roughly double the time it takes today.
Seats were all first class, with four bunk beds up front and a private stateroom
in the back with its own beds and bathroom. A circular staircase led to a
lower-deck cocktail lounge, and flight attendants prepared hot meals for the 52
to 54 people on board.
Passengers dressed up to fly. “All the men had suits and ties on. The ladies
were always showcases of fashion,” Mr. Akana recalled. “There was no such thing
as walking on a plane with slippers.”
Celebrity sightings were common, too. “I brought the whole cast of ‘From Here to
Eternity’ to Hawaii,” he said, rattling off the list of stars that included Burt
Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift and Deborah Kerr. “I made her bed in
the stateroom. That was exciting,” he added. “Burt Lancaster had 12 or 13
martinis, then came and bartended with me as if he hadn’t had one.”
Bill Clinton, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr. and Red Skelton were among the
notable passengers he has served. Mr. Skelton, sitting in the seat next to where
Mr. Akana delivered the life vest demonstration, mimicked the entire routine.
“It was hard enough for me to project my voice throughout the whole cabin
without this guy, with his cigar unlit of course, carrying on. Oh, it was just
so much fun,” Mr. Akana said, grinning from ear to ear.
It was not all enchanting, of course. In the early days, Mr. Akana recalls,
cigarette smoke filled the cabin as passengers lighted up after takeoff. And
between flights, the aircraft was sprayed with pesticide while flight attendants
were still on board. He has lived through decades of deregulation and the
turbulent industry economics, including bankruptcies and cuts that stripped
flights of most services.
As a result, he said, the job has fundamentally changed and service is no longer
as important as it was when he started 63 years ago. “The focus is more on the
safety things that you have to know, which is what we claim is the most
important thing,” he said on a recent morning on the way to the airport.
All along Mr. Akana has remained a loyal company man, but he is beginning to
think about retirement. After so many years of flying, he and his wife want to
see the country by RV and perhaps take a cruise.
Mr. Akana acknowledges that he is starting to slow down a bit. “We get an
average of four or five wheelchairs a trip,” said Mr. Akana, who underwent knee
replacement surgery last year. “I know our bones fail; I’m beginning to feel it
myself. Most of the people I help, I’m older than them.”
January 31, 2011
The New York Times
By GREG LINDSAY
IN his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama
talked about why things like high-speed rail and faster Internet connections
were critical to American prosperity. But he left out the fastest, safest mode
of transportation available: aviation.
It may be hard to imagine flying as anything other than a nightmare of packed
planes, crumbling airports, canceled flights and increasingly invasive security.
But these are all signs of how far our system has fallen. In fact, of all the
transportation options available, aviation is the one with the greatest
potential to improve the economy and Americans’ well-being — though it will take
major new investments to get there.
From 1975 to 2005, while global gross domestic product rose 154 percent and
world trade grew 355 percent, the value of air cargo climbed 1,395 percent.
Today, more than one-third of all goods by value, some $3 trillion, is carried
in the bellies of planes. These goods are the high-tech, high-value products
that Americans want to make — clean-energy technology, electronics and
biomedical devices — and they are key to the president’s goals of doubling
exports and revitalizing our economy.
What’s more, air travel remains ever more vital to American workers. The
transportation analysts Kenneth Button and Roger Stough found that the presence
of an airline hub in a city increased the local high-tech work force by an
average of 12,000. Another study concluded that each flight from Los Angeles to
Europe or Asia created 3,126 jobs, totaling $156 million in wages.
True, there’s always telecommuting. But high-speed Internet hasn’t diminished
the need for highly skilled workers to fly, because meeting face-to-face matters
more than ever when the products are ideas and the employees are spread across
Of course, some analysts predict that a return to $140-a-barrel oil would put a
crimp on the airline industry, if not ground it altogether. But aviation growth
doesn’t correlate to rising oil prices. Rather, it’s about expanding economies:
oil prices have tripled in nominal terms since the start of the Iraq war, yet
the annual number of passengers worldwide has risen 43 percent since 2003. In
the global economy, speed trumps costs.
The problem is that aviation in America is slowing down. For decades, even as
demand grew, we failed to expand runways, upgrade technology and build larger
terminals. New York‘s three airports, which suffer some of the worst delays in
the country, cost travelers $1.7 billion annually in lost time alone. Similar
stories abound across the country.
America may not see the advantage to such investments, but China and India do.
Both are experiencing annual aviation growth rates as high as 20 percent as
their growing middle classes take to the skies. And they are building hundreds
of new airports to connect their once-obscure, now-booming cities to each other
and their neighbors, not to us.
Indeed, the rest of the world is interacting via air like never before. The
number of visitors to China from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America
quintupled from 2000 to 2007; not coincidentally, China’s exports to the Arab
world soared to $60 billion from $6 billion. America is, in other words, getting
We need to do three things to improve air travel and forge new links overseas.
The first step is to upgrade our air-traffic-control system, which dates back to
the 1930s. The government must finally switch from radar to the G.P.S.-based
system known as NextGen, which lets planes fly via satellite signal instead of
following radar beacons, saving time and fuel, which in turn increases airport
According to Alaska Airlines, which demonstrated the technology last year at its
Seattle hub, a G.P.S.-enabled system could save 2.1 million gallons of fuel at
an airport annually and cut carbon emissions by 35 percent.
We also need to treat our airports as strategic federal investments, rather than
local spending efforts. O’Hare International Airport, for decades the largest in
the world, is a primary reason that today Chicago has a higher G.D.P. than South
Africa. But O’Hare, like many American airports, desperately needs more and
longer runways. Unfortunately, there is not enough federal commitment to ensure
they are built, leading to time-consuming political and legal battles. Earlier
this month United and American Airlines sued Chicago to stop a $3.4 billion
expansion at O’Hare, fearful they would be stuck with some of the bill.
So far, though, we’ve made only tentative steps in the right direction. Last
fall President Obama pledged to repair 150 miles of runways around the country.
He must follow through on that, but he must also ensure that aviation receives
its fair share from the proposed national investment bank.
Finally, to help protect airlines from oil price spikes (and potentially
crushing carbon taxes later on), we need to make investments in high-grade
biofuels. The technology exists — a California company called Solazyme has
already sold jet fuel refined from algae to the Navy — but low-cost, high-volume
production does not. As in other areas of green technology, federal involvement
is critical to get the market moving.
President Obama is absolutely correct when he says that exports are vital to
American prosperity. But without significant new investments, the exports of the
future — from innovative ideas to high-end electronics — will be left sitting at
the departure gate.
March 22, 2010
The New York Times
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
Robert M. White, who played an important role in the
development of manned spaceflight as the first pilot to fly a winged craft into
outer space, died Wednesday in Orlando, Fla. He was 85.
His death was announced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
In the early 1960s, Major White, an Air Force pilot, was among those who pushed
the envelopes of speed and altitude flying above the California desert out of
Edwards Air Force Base, the fliers profiled by Tom Wolfe in “The Right Stuff.”
On July 17, 1962, he flew the rocket-powered X-15 plane to an altitude of
314,750 feet, or 59.6 miles, almost 10 miles above Earth’s atmosphere. “This
gets better all the time,” United Press International quoted him as saying as he
neared the end of his flight. “It’s a fantastic view.”
Major White was awarded the Collier Trophy for aviation from President John F.
Kennedy, and he was recognized by the Air Force as a winged astronaut.
He never achieved the enduring celebrity status of the Mercury 7 astronauts or
of Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier in 1947, but he was the Air Force’s
prime pilot for the X-15 program, which studied the effects of heat on aircraft
surfaces at extremely high speeds and altitudes, and the physiological impact on
fliers. Those X-15 flights helped propel NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo
missions as well as the space shuttle program.
He was also the first flier to pilot a winged aircraft at four, five and then
six times the speed of sound, exceeding that final milestone on Nov. 9, 1961,
when he flew his X-15 at 4,093 miles an hour.
Major White hardly personified the image of the cocky test pilot.
“He was the eternally correct and reserved Air Force blue-suiter,” Mr. Wolfe
wrote in “The Right Stuff.”
“He didn’t drink. He exercised like a college athlete in training. He was an
usher in the Roman Catholic chapel of the base and never, but never, missed
Mass,” Mr. Wolfe wrote. “He was slender, black-haired, handsome, intelligent —
even cultivated, if the truth were known. And he was terribly serious.”
Robert Michael White was born in New York City on July 6, 1924, and entered
military service in 1942. He flew more than 50 fighter missions during World War
II before he was shot down over Germany in February 1945 and taken prisoner.
After leaving military service in December 1945, he obtained a bachelor’s degree
in electrical engineering from New York University. Re-called during the Korean
War, he served with a fighter squadron based in Japan, and in the mid-1950s he
was assigned to Edwards.
Returning to combat in the Vietnam War, he flew 70 missions over North Vietnam
and received the Air Force Cross, the service’s highest award for valor after
the Medal of Honor, for leading an August 1967 attack on an important railway
and highway bridge in the Hanoi area. He retired from military service in 1981
as a major general.
General White is survived by his sons Greg, of Orlando, and Dennis, of Sarasota,
Fla.; his daughters Pamela White, of Pelham, Ala., and Maureen McFillin, of
Hoover, Ala.; his brother, Albert, of Eastchester, N.Y.; and four grandchildren.
His wife, Chris, died before him.
After his flight into outer space, the major was featured on the cover of Life
magazine next to the quote, “Boy, That Was a Ride.”
His persona, however, was unchanged.
“White had not unbent as much as one inch for the occasion,” Mr. Wolfe wrote.
“You could see them straining to manufacture one of those ‘personality profiles’
about White, and all he would give them was the Blue Suit and a straight arrow.
That was Bob White.”
January 1, 2010
The New York Times
By LIESL SCHILLINGER
Everyone knows that flying in a plane is potentially dangerous
— just as everyone knows that climbing Mount Everest is dangerous. What goes up
must come down; and if you put yourself at a great height, you put yourself at
risk of falling, though the odds of perishing in a plane crash are one in ten
million, whereas for every ten Everest climbers who reach the peak, one dies ...
a far less comfortable margin.
One reason that airports have bars, and that flight attendants ply passengers
with beer, wine and cocktails, is that flight industry higher-ups are well aware
that a drink or two can calm the nerves of timorous fliers, and that indeed most
of their customers fear air travel to some degree. If you doubt the truth of
this, take a look at your seatmates the next time a plane you’re on hits an air
pocket and drops before righting itself. You’ll see your fellow passengers (some
of them, anyhow) praying — hoping divine intervention will keep the magical
container aloft. Regina Spektor wove this thought into her album, “Far” last
June, in the song “Laughing With,” which goes, “No one laughs at God when their
airplane starts to uncontrollably shake.” It’s the 21st century, but that
doesn’t keep flying from remaining, on one level, an act of faith.
Nearly all of the millions of flights that take off and land each year proceed
safely, without incident. Any number of accidents can (but rarely do) put a
flight in jeopardy: from engine failure, to the sudden apparition of a flock of
geese, to electrical storms, to ice, to air pockets. But in the last decade,
beginning with the 9/11 attacks, the greatest assault on faith in air travel has
come not from accidents but from intentional acts of sabotage by a handful of
homicidal malefactors. Statistically, their criminal actions barely register.
But the ripple effect of public panic at the notion that any passenger on any
plane could be a human time bomb has rattled the airline industry and
compromised the freedom of travel that the world’s citizens previously enjoyed.
We understand other countries and other peoples best by seeing them; to see
them, we must travel; to travel, in any concision of time, we must fly. Last
week, one man with a grievance and exploding underpants boarded a plane for
Detroit. This week, the nation’s attention and travel plans in the new year are
held captive, as the battered American airline industry reels — this after a few
months in which airline stocks had finally climbed out of a deep hole,
anticipating the possibility of increased air travel in 2010.
The risk of a terrorist disruption of a flight is infinitesimal, but public
perception of that risk can be outsize and emotional ... understandably so.
Terrorists, like bogeymen, are frightening even when they don’t exist; and when
they do appear in broad daylight, citizens who learn that the government failed
to shield them from menace feel vulnerable and outraged.
In the wake of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempted sabotage, government and
air travel officials are scrambling to reassure the citizenry — investigating
information-sharing deficits, suggesting rapid deployment of full-body magnetic
resonance scans (a controversial and expensive measure) and adding blankets and
bathroom visits to the perks that air travelers may no longer expect in the age
of high anxiety.
And yet, from the point of view of the individual traveler, a risk-free flight
has never existed; nor has a risk-free car trip; nor a risk-free ocean liner
voyage; nor a risk-free bike ride. To be alive is to face risks.
When I was a child in Indiana, about to head to France to live with a French
family for a month — my first foreign trip — something happened that nearly kept
that journey from taking place. On May 25, 1979, a few weeks before my plane was
to leave Chicago for Paris, a DC-10 took off from O’Hare, then crashed and
exploded, killing all 271 people on board and 2 more on the ground.
I didn’t know this at the time, but my grandmother was horrified that my parents
went ahead with my trip after the accident. She told them they were sending a
little girl to her death (I was just out of elementary school); and though my
mother wept with guilt in secret, she protected me from their discord,
determined that I have the experience I’d anticipated for two years, a reward
for assiduous language study. That summer abroad was the single most formative
experience of my young life. I can’t count the number of foreign and domestic
flights I made in the ensuing two decades. Including, in 1995, a KLM flight from
Africa to America via Amsterdam — Mr. Abdulmutallab’s itinerary, more or less.
Since 9/11/2001, or since 12/22/2001 (when Richard Reid attempted to blow up a
Boeing 767 between Paris and Miami by detonating his sneakers), how many
grandmothers, how many parents, how many people of whatever age, sex, or
familial connection, have avoided air travel out of fear, or cautioned their
friends and relatives against it? The risks of air travel continue to be
minuscule, even during the War on Terror era, while the advantages of exploring
other countries remain precious and inarguable.
Still, a fortress mentality settles in each time a new instance of attempted
airborne thuggery hits the airwaves. In the wake of alarming headlines, an
obstacle course of cumbersome but laudable security precautions unrolls at
airports, leading many of the earth’s seven-billion-odd inhabitants to resolve
to remain earthbound as much as possible. One goal of terrorists is to make
ordinary people afraid to leave their homes and interact with the wider world.
Attacks on individual courage may leave no scars, but that does not mean they do
In this last decade, nobody can tally the number of flights not taken,
adventures not dared, countries not visited, because of the public’s anxieties
about air travel. In 2005, rebelling against my own fears of traveling to
sections of the globe that had come to seem perilous, I booked a flight to Syria
and Lebanon to visit journalist friends who were living there. Days before my
flight left Kennedy Airport, Syria revealed it had halted military and
intelligence cooperation with the United States. My adrenalin racing, I packed,
in anticipation mingled with dread. In the waiting room at the plane’s gate, as
I sat amid women in hijab and children with stuffed animals and pink backpacks,
I took half an Ambien to dim my worries. My companion, meanwhile, was watching
“24” on a laptop; and as Kiefer Sutherland blew away one Arab “bad guy” after
another, a family moved a few seats away from us, because we were so scary.
I’m grateful that I overcame my cowardice and traveled to Damascus — the most
fascinating, culturally diverse city I’ve ever visited — and to Baalbek, in
Lebanon, which Alexander the Great called Heliopolis and which is now home to
the ruins of great temples the Romans erected beginning in the first century
Baalbek, also a stronghold for Hezbollah, is admittedly not the most welcoming
destination. All the same, how can such a monument go unseen? It’s hard to
assess the cost of the sacrifices an uneasy populace makes to the great idol
Safety — sacrifices that have no sure reward.
Steps are already being taken to shore up air security in the aftermath of last
week’s breach. But when will the skies again be truly friendly? When will
Americans again be free to be curious, flight-miles-earning world citizens?
Maybe we already are — as long as we’re willing to get to the airport a few
hours early to run the ever-lengthening security gauntlet. In 2010, potential
dangers will attach to every flight, just as they did 10 years ago, 20 years
ago, 30 years ago and before. Does that mean everyone should just stay put? For
more than three years, the Department of Homeland Security has ranked the threat
risk of domestic and international flights at “Code Orange”— high. But staying
in your own house still puts you at “Code Yellow” — elevated risk.
How, then, to proceed? Perhaps there’s only ever been one trick to keeping one’s
cool in challenging circumstances, the same one the British adventurer T. E.
Lawrence offers for dealing with pain in David Lean’s film “Lawrence of Arabia,”
set a century ago, in another war. The trick, he says, “is not minding.”
October 31, 2008
The New York Times
By HENRY FOUNTAIN
THE first thing visitors encounter in the main display area of the Udvar-Hazy
Center, the National Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles airport in the
Virginia countryside, is a huge black spy plane.
It’s an SR-71A Blackbird, the ultimate hot-rod aircraft, one of about 30 built
at the Lockheed Skunk Works in California in the 1960s. This one last flew in
1990, traveling the 2,300 miles between Los Angeles and Washington in 1 hour 4
minutes 20 seconds — a transcontinental blur.
But now it’s at a standstill, giving visitors the chance to appreciate its
outrageousness. There are the two massive engines on short, stubby wings; the
tiny cockpit where the two-man crew was shoehorned in wearing bulky pressure
suits; and the sweeping titanium fuselage that was built so loosely, to allow
for expansion in the heat of supersonic flight, that the fuel tanks that made up
the bulk of the plane routinely leaked, losing as much as 600 pounds of fuel
taxiing to the runway.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., is about air and space, yes,
but as the Blackbird shows, it’s also about frozen time. More than 150 aircraft
and spacecraft that in their day were among the swiftest or slowest, most
graceful or ungainly, most useful or useless, sit on the floor and hang among
the catwalks of this giant hangar of a museum as if plucked from the sky.
For Washington visitors whose encounters with the Air and Space Museum have been
limited to the original 1976 building some 30 miles away on the National Mall,
the Udvar-Hazy Center, which opened in 2003 and is named for a major donor, an
aviation industry executive, can be quite a different experience. There are
fewer “name” aircraft like the Spirit of St. Louis to gawk at, no moon rocks to
touch, and while as in the Mall building there can be hordes of schoolchildren,
their noise tends to dissipate in the cavernous arched structure. Over all, with
more than twice the exhibition space and about one-fifth the visitors, the
Virginia museum has a quieter, more worshipful feel.
“There’s no frou-frou here,” said Janet Baltas, one of the museum’s nearly 200
volunteer docents, who can become so absorbed in describing the planes that
their free tours often continue beyond the scheduled two hours.
IN truth, there is a little frou-frou — an Imax movie theater, a few simulator
rides and a tower that, while it offers the chance to observe what passes for
aviation today in the comings and goings at Dulles, has an exhibition about
air-traffic control that seems like a promotion for the Federal Aviation
But the Udvar-Hazy Center is really about aircraft — and more aircraft. There
are some of the earliest, including a replica of a Wright Flyer (the only
nonoriginal plane in the place) and some of the latest, including the military’s
Joint Strike Fighter. There are small propeller-driven acrobats, commercial
behemoths, carrier jets, pontoon planes, flying wings, helicopters and gliders.
All the major World War II fighters are here, as are several German and Japanese
warplanes of the same era, including the Aichi M6AI Seiran, which was intended
to be carried inside a huge Japanese submarine but was never used in that way.
Visitors can gaze down into the glass-enclosed cockpit of one of the center’s
few celebrity aircraft, the Enola Gay, the mammoth B-29 that dropped the atomic
bomb on Hiroshima; study a landing gear of an Airbus 330 that sits like a giant
turkey leg on the exhibition floor; or examine the patched exterior of a Huey
helicopter, testament to its service with the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion
in Vietnam. There’s a Bellanca CF, a prototype of the earliest passenger planes,
with mahogany plywood panels and bench seating, a Grumman Goose “air yacht” and
a Boeing 307 Clipper, the first pressurized passenger liner, its gleaming
aluminum fuselage attached to wings and a tail section adapted from the B-17
Over in the space gallery, the main attraction is the shuttle Enterprise, which
was designed solely for flight testing in the atmosphere and will eventually be
replaced by one of the spaceworthy shuttles when they are retired. The
Enterprise proved its value many times over, most recently after the shuttle
Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in 2003. Investigators used wing panels
from the Enterprise in tests that helped prove that the impact of pieces of
insulating foam during launching doomed the Columbia. The testing scars are
visible on the Enterprise’s left wing.
The space gallery holds some of the more unusual items. There are rocket engines
with exquisitely tooled ductwork and bell-shaped nozzles and an old Univac 1232
computer, used by the Air Force to control satellites for more than two decades
(and originally equipped with a paltry 120 kilobytes of memory). Hanging from
the ceiling is a replica of a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, a sprawling
piece of hardware with solar panels and a couple of what appear to be giant mesh
umbrellas. Odder still is the wheel-less Airstream trailer with the olive-drab
interior, which the Apollo 11 astronauts stayed in for three days after their
return from the moon out of concern they might have picked up an alien bug. NASA
called this trailer, one of four, a “Mobile Quarantine Facility.”
That bureaucratic love of euphemism is also on display in a nearby glass case,
where an astronaut diaper is described as a “Disposable Absorption Containment
Trunk.” There’s space food as well, including borscht and cottage cheese for
Russian cosmonauts that look like old tubes of Brylcreem, and probably didn’t
taste much better.
The enormity of the collection can prove overwhelming, docents say, as can the
vastness of the building (which has huge sliding doors to allow new additions
in, towed or taxied up from the runways at Dulles).
Rodney L. Wright, a docent who is helping build a database of information about
the museum, said that many visitors, most often men, spend hours wandering from
airplane to airplane, like kids in a candy store. Family members who lack the
patience or interest to keep up have been known to retreat to the museum’s
restaurant or gift shop, or down the road a couple of miles to the Sully
Plantation, an antebellum historic site that makes a good change of pace.
Gary Dietz, from upstate New York, was one visitor who had been wandering from
plane to plane — accompanied by his wife, Connie, who showed no signs of wanting
to bail out.
“You really learn a lot by coming here and seeing things,” said Mr. Dietz, who
had been looking at what docents call the “wind chime,” a collection of early
satellites suspended from the ceiling. “You’ve really got to admire what we were
able to accomplish.”
Like the other docents, Mr. Wright has long had an interest in aviation, though
his career was elsewhere — he’s a retired Army officer. Some of the other
docents have pilot experience, and a few even flew some of the models on
display, like the B-29 and F-4. All the docents go through training before they
can give talks, and they know a lot about the planes — including what the
insides look like, which is helpful as none of the aircraft are open for viewing
the interiors. (At the Mall building, visitors can walk through several of the
planes, including the nose of a 747.) The center does have computer kiosks that
display the cockpits of all the planes.
For the more mechanically inclined there is a collection of aircraft engines
tucked away in a corner of the main exhibition hall. Among these are the tiny
Heath-Henderson B-4, a 30-horsepower motorcycle engine that was converted for
use in a small plane, the Parasol, which was sold in the 1920s and 30s.
At the other end of the scale is the Lycoming XR-7755, a 36-cylinder,
5,000-horsepower, 6,000-pound monster designed in 1944 for use in a heavy bomber
that was never built. Unlike almost everything else at the Udvar-Hazy Center,
that engine never reached the sky.
Where the Grumman Goose Roosts
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, is near
Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., about 30 miles from central
Washington. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily except Dec. 25. Admission is
free, but there is a $12 charge for parking. More information is at
The best way to travel to the museum is by car, though the trip can be made by
public transportation with this route: From the West Falls Church Station on the
Washington Metro’s orange line, Washington Flyer buses travel to Dulles for $18
round trip; travel time is 15 to 20 minutes. From there, the Virginia Regional
Transportation Association has regular service to the museum for a 50-cent fare
on the Dulles to Dulles bus. The trip takes about 5 minutes.
Another option is to take a taxi from Dulles; cab fare to the museum is $8 to
The museum’s only restaurant is a McDonald’s that includes a cafe section
offering wraps, salads, pastries and espresso drinks.
Sully Plantation, a few miles from the museum just across Route 28, is open from
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays and some holidays. The plantation’s main
house was built in 1799 by Richard Bland Lee, Robert E. Lee’s uncle; guided
tours are offered. The surrounding park includes original outbuildings and a
modern reproduction of a slave quarters. There’s a film and other information
about colonial and slave life. More information is at
Published: 21 December 2007
By Cahal Milmo and Mark Hughes
Millions of Britons taking to the air, railways and roads over the festive
period face an unprecedented level of delays, cancellations and disruption –
including the threatened closure of all major airports – as the nation's
creaking transport infrastructure suffers the effects of a seasonal flurry of
engineering works and industrial action.
Union leaders last night raised the prospect of bringing Heathrow, the world's
busiest airport, and six other key airports including Gatwick and Stansted to a
grinding halt over the new year with a strike over a move by the Spanish-owned
British Airports Authority (BAA) to close its final salary pension fund to new
Unite, the recently-merged super union, and two other unions are expected to
announce today that 5,000 members employed by BAA, including large numbers of
vital security and maintenance staff, have voted to go on strike. The unions
claimed that the loss of so many security screening staff as well as key
personnel including firefighters and administrative staff would force the
closure of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted in London as well as the airports at
Glasgow, Edinburgh, Southampton and Aberdeen.
Up to three million Britons are due to fly abroad for the festive season and the
first stoppage could come as soon as 29 or 30 December. A spokeswoman for the
Transport and General Workers Union section of Unite said: "You simply cannot
run an airport without, for example, security staff."
The threat of major disruption at airports is just one element of a potentially
chaotic Christmas and new year across the transport network, with two major rail
arteries closed for at least part of the next 10 days, creating misery for
passengers and also for 18 million motorists.
A strike at Heathrow and the other London airports would lead to the
cancellation of hundreds of flights and spell financial disaster for BAA, which
last year made a £607m profit but is saddled with debt following its £10bn
takeover by Grupo Ferrovial. BAA declined to comment, saying only that it
considered the actions "unnecessary".
In a separate dispute, 3,000 cabin crew with Virgin announced two 48-hour
stoppages on 9 and 16 January after voting to strike over a rejected pay deal.
The action will almost certainly result in cancellations of flights.
The turmoil in the aviation industry will offer little solace to rail passengers
seeking alternative means of travel due to heavy delays and disruption caused by
a programme of engineering works which will see the partial closure of both the
west coast and east coast main lines, as well as the 10-day closure of Liverpool
Street station in London.
Passenger watchdogs expressed their dismay after Network Rail, the company in
charge of rail infrastructure, announced that its works from 27 to 30 December
on the west coast main line will overrun by a day.
Virgin, the rail company, said the extension to New Year's Eve of the closure at
Rugby, which will add an hour to passengers' journeys by requiring them to take
a bus between Birmingham International and Northampton, would affect at least
50,000 people. Under the terms of its contract, Network Rail is obliged to give
at least 12 weeks' notice of line closures but it only revealed the 24-hour
extension on Wednesday. Anthony Smith, chief executive of the rail watchdog
Passenger Focus, said: "This is unbelievable. Thousands of people have booked or
planned new year travel in good faith."
Rail industry sources confirmed that the quantity of engineering work was
"substantially above" what is normal. Up to four million people are expected to
use trains today and Saturday as the festive getaway begins, with a further 18
million taking to the roads. Most of the railway closures begin on Sunday, thus
causing massive disruption to passengers trying to travel on Christmas Eve.
The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) described as "completely
baseless" claims that its members were restricting the number of discounted
tickets to maximise their profits. The TSSA rail union claimed cheaper deals
make up only 10 per cent of sales on busy routes and were often snapped up weeks
in advance of travel during peak periods.
Network Rail defended its decision to close large sections of the railway by
saying it expected most people to travel before Sunday and had deliberately
chosen the festive season because – beyond pressure points this weekend and
around the new year – it was one of the quietest periods of the year.
Despite a move by the Highways Agency to alleviate traffic jams by completing or
suspending two-thirds of its road works on motorways and A roads in England by
today, motoring organisations warned of congestion throughout the weekend at hot
spots including the M25 and parts of the M1, M6 and M62.
Transport campaigners said the seasonal travel misery was a symptom of the
pressure being put on Britain's stretched infrastructure by chronic
under-investment. Jason Torrance, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said:
"We are seeing our infrastructure going in the wrong direction from what is
necessary. Over the last decade we have seen road traffic increase and a
diminishment of government funding going into our rail infrastructure which will
result in people paying more for their rail fares."
They do things differently on the Continent
More than 1.5 million people will leave Paris railway stations over the next
three days but scores of extra trains have been scheduled and no delays are
The threat of a renewed French railway strike has been averted. The state-owned
railway company, the SNCF, will run 1,787 trains from Paris stations before
Monday evening. The most popular Christmas destinations are the Alps, for the
start of the ski season, and the Mediterranean coast.
A strike by ground staff forced the cancellation of 40 Air France domestic
flights at Orly airport south of Paris yesterday. But it is notexpected to
disrupt flights over the Christmas weekend.
Italy is bracing for the mother of all holiday jams as the motoring
organisations predict that 15 million cars will be piling on to the motorways
between today and Boxing Day. The most critical days are predicted to be today
and tomorrow, with Sunday not far behind.
Recent strikes involving every form of transport from Airbuses to articulated
lorries and hearses have acclimatised Italians to travelling misery, but with
the highest per capita car ownership in the world behind the US, vast holiday
jams are as traditional at Christmas as panettone and ravioli. Nor do train
travellers escape: the high-speed network will soon span the whole country, but
in the meantime poor maintenance and other problems routinely cause massive
delays to supposedly high-speed journeys.
Spaniards were expected to make up to 18 million journeys during the Christmas
holidays from today to 7 January. With heavy rains expected to lash parts of the
country and many people attending parties or returning to see relatives, drivers
were warned to take extra care. More than 8,000 extra police will be deployed,
some working in helicopters, and 990 speed cameras will keep an eye on anyone
putting their foot down. Last year, 114 people were killed on the roads. In an
effort to cut this year's death toll, a television advertising campaign warned
drivers: "In your car you can live it all or lose it all. You decide." Major
airports including Madrid Barajas, Barcelona, Malaga and Tenerife were expected
to be very busy with travellers asked to turn up in plenty of time.
Christmas and New Year travel in Germany is likely to be chaotic on the roads as
schools in nearly all 16 federal states break up today. There will be more
traffic jams on autobahns on the weekend of 5-6 January with school starting
again on Monday 7 January.
Extra trains and buses run on New Year's Eve and into New Year's Day, but
commuters face no services after 7 January if Germany's train drivers go ahead
with their threatened pay strike . Several airlines, including British Airways
and easyJet, are offering no services to Germany on Christmas Day.
September 10, 2007
Filed at 10:47 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LONDON (AP) -- An unmanned solar-powered aircraft that soared for 54 hours
more than 50,000 feet above New Mexico may hold the record for unmanned flight,
defense research company QinetiQ announced Monday.
The record is currently 30 hours, 24 minutes in a flight on July 23, the company
QinetiQ's trapezoid-shaped, ultra-thin ''Zephyr'' plane may not hold onto the
record because the flight at the White Sands Missile Range in the New Mexico
desert was not witnessed by officials from the World Air Sports Federation,
which keeps and certifies records, the company said.
Built from carbon fibers, the aircraft has a 59-foot wingspan and weighs about
66 pounds -- light enough to be launched, by hand, by a team of three. It uses
paper-thin silicon panels to draw on the sun's power and stores the surplus in
lithium-sulphur batteries, which power it through the night.
QinetiQ said Britain's Ministry of Defense had contributed several million
pounds to the project, but the company declined to say how much it cost.
Zephyr could be used for surveillance and communications, the company said.
July 27, 2007
Filed at 12:34 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) -- An experimental jet that resembles a
flying wing successfully flew for the first time in a program that could lead to
more fuel-efficient, quieter and higher-capacity aircraft, NASA said Thursday.
The remotely controlled, 500-pound, three-engine jet with a 21-foot wingspan
took off July 20, climbed to an altitude of 7,500 feet and landed about a
half-hour later, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center said.
The X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft was controlled by a pilot at a ground
station. NASA and Boeing said data from the flight are already being compared
with data from wind tunnel tests.
The aircraft and a duplicate were designed by Boeing Co.'s Phantom Works in
cooperation with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson
Air Force Base, Ohio. Built by Cranfield Aerospace Ltd. in Bedford, England,
they are 8.5 percent-scale versions of a future full-size design.
The X-48B resembles a flying wing, but the wing blends into a wide, flat and
tailless fuselage, NASA and Boeing said.
The design is intended to provide more lift with less drag compared with the
cylindrical fuselage of a traditional aircraft, reducing fuel consumption while
The engines are located high on the back of the aircraft, which should mean it
is quieter inside and less noise reaches the ground during flights.
The planes are initially flying at low speeds to gather information about the
stability and flight-control characteristics of the design, particularly during
takeoff and landing.
Another X-48B used for wind tunnel testing is available as a backup for flight
July 20, 2007
Filed at 5:26 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A man who died while traveling from China in the wheel
well of a jetliner likely fell victim to asphyxiation or hypothermia during the
11-hour flight, officials said.
The body of the apparent stowaway on a United Airlines Boeing 747 that arrived
at San Francisco International Airport from Shanghai on Thursday was found in
the nose gear wheel well during a routine post-flight inspection, airport
spokesman Mike McCarron said.
The man, who appeared to be Asian and in his 50s, had few obvious injuries, said
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault, who planned an autopsy for Friday.
But officials said the man -- like many others who try to hitch rides in a
plane's underbelly -- probably died from a lack of oxygen or hypothermia in
minus-40 degree temperatures for most of the flight. He was wearing several
layers of clothing, including two jackets, Foucrault said.
Most stowaway attempts end unsuccessfully. Counting the most recent victim, the
Federal Aviation Administration has tallied 75 similar stowaway attempts on 65
flights worldwide since 1947, and 59 of them ended in death, FAA spokesman Ian
''People think they can make it into a country by hiding in a wheel well,'' he
said. ''Almost invariably they get crushed to death, freeze to death or fall to
There is little U.S. regulators can do to prevent the practice on international
flights, Gregor said. ''The security issue is with the origin airport,'' he
The last time someone was found alive after a stowaway flight to the United
States was in 2004, when a survivor made it to Miami on a plane from the
Dominican Republic, Gregor said.
Stowaways who survive are usually sent back to their country of origin. That was
the case with Fidel Maruhi, who survived an ascent of 38,000 feet inside the
wheel well of a Los Angeles-bound Air France flight originating in Tahiti in
Sometimes stowaways are allowed to stay after flying illegally into a country.
Victor Alvarez Molina got refugee status in Canada after enduring a four-hour
flight from Cuba. He told reporters he clung to a picture of his daughter and
hot air pipes in the wheel well to survive a temperature that aviation experts
calculated would have been minus 40 Fahrenheit or colder.
May 31, 2007
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 3:34 a.m. ET
The New York Times
ATLANTA (AP) -- SARS on a plane. Mumps on a plane. And now a rare and deadly
form of tuberculosis, on at least two planes.
Commercial air travel's potential for spreading infection continues to cause
handwringing among public health officials, as Tuesday's news of a jet-setting
man with a rare and deadly form of TB demonstrates.
''We always think of planes as a vehicle for spreading disease,'' said Dr. Doug
Hardy, an infectious disease specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in
In the latest incident, reported by health officials on Tuesday, a Georgia man
with extensively drug-resistant TB ignored doctors' advice and took two
trans-Atlantic flights, leading to the first U.S. government-ordered quarantine
The man, who officials did not identify, is at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital
in respiratory isolation. He was not considered highly contagious, and there are
no confirmed reports that the illness spread to other passengers.
But his case illustrates ongoing concerns about the public health perils of
plane travel, as well as the continuing problem of Typhoid Mary-like individuals
who can almost be counted on to do the wrong thing.
The man decided to proceed with a long-planned wedding trip despite being
advised not to fly.
''There's always going to be situations where there is a lack of understanding
and appreciation of responsibility to the community in a situation like this,''
said Dr. John Ho, an infectious diseases specialist at New York-Presbyterian
Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
The incident also points out weaknesses in the system: The man was able to
re-enter the United States, even though he said he had been warned by federal
officials that his passport was being flagged and he was being placed on a
CDC officials said they contacted the Department of Homeland Security to put the
man on a no-fly list, but it doesn't appear he was added by the time he flew
from Prague to Montreal and drove across the border from Canada.
A Transportation Security Administration spokesman could not be reached for
Challenges in coordinating with airlines and in communicating with the media
also have emerged, said Glen Nowak, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
''This clearly is going to have some relevance to our pandemic influenza
preparedness,'' Nowak said.
There have been several prominent disease-on-a-plane incidents in recent years.
Perhaps best known is severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which erupted
in Asia in 2003. Over three months, CDC workers delayed on the tarmac 12,000
airplanes carrying 3 million passengers arriving from SARS-affected countries,
isolating people with SARS symptoms.
Last year, CDC officials worked with airlines and state health departments to
track two infected airline passengers who may have helped spread a mumps
epidemic throughout the Midwest.
And in March, a flight from Hong Kong was held at Newark International Airport
for two hours because some on board reported feeling ill from a flu-like
illness. They were released when it became clear they had seasonal flu, and not
an avian variety.
Medical experts say TB is significantly less contagious than flu, SARS and other
maladies that have led to airport alerts.
''This is not as easily transmissible as what we're concerned about with a flu
pandemic,'' said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive
medicine at Vanderbilt University.
A more contagious bug, carried by a stubborn or evasive passenger, could be much
more problematic, experts said.
It's remarkable how rarely serious contagions are on planes, Ho noted.
''If you count the number of international flights there are on a daily basis,
this is really a minuscule event'' in terms of rate of occurrence, he said.
''However, this underscores the interrelatedness of the global community. We can
no longer escape things considered foreign'' in this age of jet-travel, Ho said.
November 12, 2006
The New York Times
By JEFF BAILEY
ATLANTA, Nov. 6 — Since Aug. 10, when a ban on
most carry-on liquids sent the amount of checked luggage soaring, airlines have
been misplacing many more bags, and the fumbling could well escalate during the
busy holiday travel season.
The Transportation Department reported that 107,731 more fliers had their bags
go missing in August than they did a year earlier, a 33 percent increase. It got
worse in September, with 183,234 more passengers suffering mishandled bags than
a year earlier, up 92 percent.
Globally, about 30 million bags are mishandled each year, according to SITA, a
company that sells software to airlines and airports for baggage and other
systems. Airlines spend about $2.5 billion to find those bags and deliver them
to waiting, often angry, passengers.
All but about 200,000 bags are eventually reunited with their owners each year —
a number that sounds pretty high on its own, but that represents less than 1
percent of the billions of bags that are checked annually.
Efforts are under way to fix two of the worst baggage operations in the United
States — at US Airways in Philadelphia and at Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which
operates as Delta Connection here. Both airlines had scrimped on workers and
equipment at these airports. But it is far from certain whether these hubs will
be running smoothly by Thanksgiving.
Because of the relatively primitive technology used by airlines to track
baggage, passengers typically only learn that their luggage missed their flight
after a futile wait at the carousel. Then, travelers must hunt down baggage
agents, fill out forms, and wait for hours or even days for someone, often
unannounced, to deliver their bags.
Rhoda Frank of Chicago took her 12-year-old granddaughter, Bronwyn, to Manitoba
last month for a vacation in which they hoped to see polar bears. Bronwyn flew
on United Airlines from Raleigh, N.C., to meet her grandmother in Chicago, but
her bag stayed behind.
The flight to Manitoba was not until the next morning, and United told Mrs.
Frank the bag would be delivered by midnight. “It didn’t come,” she said. They
flew north anyway, without Bronwyn’s long underwear or down jacket. The bag
finally arrived, just before it was time to come home. In the meantime, “I
scrounged for clothing,” Mrs. Frank said.
Airlines were generally misplacing slightly fewer bags this year until Aug. 10,
when authorities in London foiled a plot to blow up airliners using liquid
explosives mixed onboard. The liquids ban led to a roughly 25 percent increase
in checked bags, which stressed some baggage operations.
Many of the bag-handling problems are because of the industry’s cost-cutting.
US Airways, twice in bankruptcy since Sept. 11, 2001, and then merged a year ago
with America West Airlines, had a baggage meltdown at its Philadelphia hub
around Christmas of 2004. Executives said they had known they needed to add
people and equipment there. Some of that occurred. And through July of this
year, fewer bags were going missing.
But with the surge of checked bags in August, the hub’s bag-handling performance
began “backsliding,” said J. Scott Kirby, president of the airline. “A lot of
balls in the air with the merger,” he said. “This one didn’t get done as well as
it should have.”
Crews at Philadelphia, for instance, were short of equipment and fighting over
the tractors — known as tugs — that they use to pull baggage carts.
“There’s a real lack of organization on the ramp in Philadelphia,” he added,
where three-to-four times as many bags are misplaced as at other US Airways
US Airways is hiring 190 additional workers and 60 managers to fix the bag mess.
The company is also buying more tractors, but is still about 40 short of its
“We’re not going to fix the thing overnight,” Mr. Kirby said.
Regional carriers have been the fastest-growing part of the airline business in
recent years, as they started flying some of the short routes abandoned by big
carriers like Delta Air Lines. For example, Atlantic Southeast — which Delta
sold last year to SkyWest, but which still operates as Delta Connection —
carried twice as many passengers in 2005, 12 million, as in 2000.
When it was owned by Delta, which is operating under bankruptcy court
protection, Southeast was denied the tractors, carts, computers and people it
needed to keep up with its baggage — in Atlanta 30,000 pieces a day now. “When
Delta sold us Atlantic Southeast, part of the reason was for us to fix some
things,” said Jerry C. Atkin, SkyWest’s chief executive.
But over the last year, Atlantic Southeast has showed only modest improvement,
remaining the worst bag handler in the Transportation Department’s rankings. And
then in August its performance deteriorated again. Delta began complaining
directly to Mr. Atkin, who installed new managers and agreed to hire 300 more
ground workers and double Atlantic Southeast’s fleet of carts to carry baggage,
among other equipment purchases.
“I got tired of being embarrassed by the numbers,” Mr. Atkin said. Now, he
added, “there are some good people who have put their jobs on the line to fix
One of them is Walt Kaurin, the new baggage performance manager, whose leathery
skin shows his 24 years working outside on the ramp for Atlantic Southeast. Told
of Mr. Atkin’s remark, Mr. Kaurin grimaced, explained his initial reluctance to
become a manager, then, adopting a smile, said, “I was pretty confident we could
It will take time. October mishandled bag numbers, not yet released by the
Transportation Department, will again be poor for Atlantic Southeast, said Joe
Kolshak, an executive vice president at Delta, whose own bag performance is
highly dependent on the regional carrier.
Getting those 300 new hires up to speed will not be easy. “They’re minimum wage
in many cases,” Mr. Kolshak said. “And there’s high turnover.”
Financial problems have slowed industry investment in technology that could
improve bag handling. Radio frequency identification tags, in wide use among
retailers to track inventory, would allow airlines to easily know if a bag did
not make a flight. Then, the passenger could be warned via text messaging not to
waste time at the carousel, and to call to arrange a delivery.
Not waiting for airlines, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is
installing radio frequency readers and tagging all outgoing luggage. The tags
cost about 20 cents each, but are worth it to a city that relies so heavily on
“If they have a bad travel experience, they’ll look at each other and say, ‘Wow,
we don’t want to do that again,’ ” said Samuel Ingalls, assistant director of
Meanwhile, airlines can hope more travelers adopt the Zen thinking of Pamela
Ingram, a Binghamton, N.Y., consultant who travels five days a week. She checks
her bags, fearlessly. In the rare instances — once this year — of a tardy bag,
she happily makes do.
“I got to go to my meeting in jeans,” Ms. Ingram said. “You can’t travel this
much and expect everything to go right.”
October 3, 2006
The New York Times
By JOHN J. GEOGHEGAN III
MOSS LANDING, Calif. — It was the largest
aircraft ever built in the United States when it was launched by the Navy in
Larger than three 747’s parked nose to tail, almost four times as long as than
Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose and just a few feet short of the Titanic, the
U.S.S. Macon was the high-tech wonder of its day.
A rigid, lighter-than-air dirigible used by the Navy to extend the scouting
range of its fleet, the Macon weighed over 200 tons and had an aluminum alloy
skeleton underneath its canvas skin. It was kept aloft by 12 helium-filled gas
cells, which, though not flammable and therefore safer than hydrogen, were also
more costly and less efficient.
The Macon was also the last of its kind when it crashed off California’s Big Sur
coast in February 1935. Severe weather caused a massive structural failure in
the Macon’s tail section, shearing off its dorsal fin and puncturing two of its
helium gas cells. Two members of its crew of 83 died in the crash.
The Macon struggled for almost an hour before it hit the ocean and sank in
approximately 1,500 feet of water. It lay on the bottom undisturbed and
undiscovered for nearly 60 years.
Several high-tech searches were launched during the 1980’s to find the Macon,
but it wasn’t until June 1990 that it was located, by Chris Grech, deputy
director of marine operations for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute,
working with the Navy.
Earlier this month, Mr. Grech, co-principal investigator for the expedition, and
a group of scientists including two biologists, a maritime historian, a marine
archaeologist and the director of the Aerospace Robotics Lab at Stanford
University, returned to the Macon’s wreck site as part of a five-day research
The aquarium institute, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and
Stanford were among the institutions working together on the project. One goal
was to survey the Macon’s debris fields using new, high-definition cameras and
to assemble a photo mosaic of the site. Another was to inventory and categorize
the wreck’s deterioration and to gather the documentation necessary to have the
Macon entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
Finally, many expedition members were quietly hoping to discover the Macon’s
missing tail section, to better understand the factors behind the crash.
The expedition spent five days off the coast of Big Sur using a remotely
operated, deep-sea rover to accumulate 44 hours of surveillance of the wreck
The Macon broke up on the surface as it sank. As a result, the ocean bottom
looks like a giant erector set after a child’s tantrum. Perhaps the best
preserved artifacts are the Macon’s four Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk aircraft that
were housed in its belly. All four planes sit upright looking undisturbed on the
ocean floor, and two are almost nose to nose.
“The planes don’t look damaged,” said Mr. Grech, in large part because each
biplane’s wings are intact and their bright yellow color and blue and white Navy
star are visible.
In addition to the planes, five of the Macon’s giant Maybach engines can be
clearly seen, as can part of its galley and stove, its officer quarters and an
aluminum chair. A metal cabinet, a table, and a set of drawers are also clearly
visible, as well as numerous fuel tanks, which were thrown overboard to lighten
the ship and imploded as they sank.
Nevertheless, Mr. Grech has noticed differences in the site since his last
“A lot of the wreck is covered up,” Mr. Grech said. “It’s easy for sediment to
build up over time, and some large objects have moved.”
Records show that the Macon crashed three miles from the Point Sur lighthouse,
but the exact location has been kept secret to protect the site, which lies
within a marine sanctuary, from relic collectors.
It is too deep for scuba diving, but the site can be easily reached by a
submersible or drag nets.
The Macon is also a Navy gravesite, so the expedition was careful not to disturb
Though the bodies of the two crewmen were never recovered, Bruce Terrell, a
marine historian at the oceanic agency and a co-principal investigator on the
expedition, was careful to note that the researchers “had not seen any
indication of human remains.”
The Macon crash was later determined by a Naval Court of Inquiry to be the
result of inadequate repairs to its air frame after a previous structural
failure over Texas. The total loss of the ship, combined with the high cost of
the program (the Macon was also the most expensive aircraft ever built at the
time), put an end to the Navy’s 20-year lighter-than-air program.
Mr. Grech estimates that only two-thirds of the wreck has been found. The
Macon’s tail section, which was the first section of the great ship to sink, is
“It’s either buried under sediment or in one of the canyons,” Mr. Grech
speculated. And it’s likely he will be back to search for it.
CHICAGO, May 20 — Brace yourself for a summer
of miserable air travel.
Planes are expected to be packed fuller than at anytime since World War II, when
the airlines helped transport troops. Fares are rising. Service frills are
Logjams at airport security checkpoints loom as the federal government strains
to keep screener jobs filled. The usual violent summer storms are expected to
send the air traffic control system into chaos at times, with flight delays and
cancellations cascading across the country.
And many airline employees, after years of pay cuts and added work, say they are
dreading the season ahead. Those workers — and there are about 70,000 fewer of
them than in 2002 — will be handling more than 100 million more passengers this
year than they did four years ago.
The friendly skies, indeed.
"Everybody's stressed. Everybody's feeling it," said Bryan Hutchinson, a former
baggage handler at United Airlines who now works in a joint airline-union
program to counsel workers suffering from stress or other emotional problems.
Above gate B-22 at Denver International Airport, with smells from the Quiznos
sandwich stand below filling his office, Mr. Hutchinson receives a steady stream
of burned-out looking United employees.
Easy days are rare. An arriving plane is delayed. United shifts an outbound
flight to a smaller plane. Thirty passengers are bumped. Some become irate.
And at the end of the shift, a gate agent "shows up in my office and says, 'I'm
whacked out,' " Mr. Hutchinson said. He refers some workers to mental health
professionals, and offers others strategies for coping: Take a couple of deep
breaths; go vent to a co-worker.
Passengers feel the stress, too. For some, the best coping strategy is to avoid
flying. Randy McCroskey, a consultant who lives in Maryville, Tenn., grew weary
of sliding his 6-foot-4, 300-pound body into the seats of the smaller regional
jets that increasingly serve Knoxville's airport.
He says that he now drives to see clients as far away as 500 miles. His former
limit was 100 miles. That cuts his air travel by more than half.
"Rather than fight through security, not know if I'll get a seat on a flight,
get bumped, it's easier to just get in my car," Mr. McCroskey said. "When I pull
into rest stops, I see the same guys in the bathroom I'd see at hub airports."
But the airports are still busier, as traffic has risen along with the stronger
economy and the recovery from the sharp downturn that followed the 9/11 terror
attacks in 2001. About 207 million passengers are expected this summer, the Air
Transport Association said, roughly 2 million more than a year ago.
And the effects of that seemingly modest 1 percent jump are magnified by the
fact that there will be 4 percent fewer flights this summer, according to
Domestic flights are running at about 80 percent full, and that means that
flights on popular routes are often fully booked. Tim Winship, publisher of
FrequentFlier.com, said that advanced bookings suggest that planes, on average,
should be close to 90 percent full this summer.
"It means flights will be sold out," he said. "They're downgrading aircraft
types, from wide to narrow bodies, narrow bodies to regional jets."
Airline executives say they try to prepare for the always-busy summer season.
"Look, load factors are higher than they've ever been, and thunderstorms occur,"
said Peter D. McDonald, executive vice president and chief operating officer at
United. But United has spread out arrivals more evenly to avoid logjams, he
said, and more flight crews will be standing by on reserve in the summer to
handle scheduling mishaps.
Mr. McDonald said that despite the many sacrifices employees at United have made
to keep the airline in business, including steep pay cuts, "there's no reason to
believe they've lost focus here."
After 9/11, airlines parked hundreds of planes to cut costs. Financial problems
mounted, leading several major airlines to file for bankruptcy-court protection.
They laid off workers, cut frills and switched to smaller planes on many routes.
Six big airlines cut their fleets by about 700 planes, or close to 20 percent,
since the peak in June 2001, the Air Transport Association said.
Airlines also shifted larger planes from domestic to international routes. With
scant competition from low-cost competitors internationally, airlines can charge
higher fares on such routes.
Last summer, for instance, Delta Air Lines operated four big Boeing 767 jets,
with 252 seats each, on routes across the country.
This July, those four 767's, reconfigured with 204 seats — including business
class seats with elaborate entertainment systems — are flying to Edinburgh;
Düsseldorf, Germany; Kiev, Ukraine; and Budapest.
Replacing the 767's on domestic routes are smaller 757's, seating 183 each. And
that draws still smaller planes onto routes once flown by the 757's.
Over all, Delta will have 81,692 fewer domestic seats to sell each day this July
compared to the same month in 2005. That represents a drop of about 18 percent.
But while the airlines were shrinking their fleets, business came roaring back,
resulting in packed planes. "Travelers longing for an empty middle seat are
recommended to buy one," said Jamie Baker, an analyst at J.P. Morgan Securities.
Airlines, still struggling because of high fuel prices, have been able to raise
fares because of the tight capacity. David Strine, an analyst at Bear Stearns,
said that he expected fares to rise about 8 percent this year. Fares are still
not as high as they were in the late-1990's, though.
Free rides are increasingly hard to come by. "Using frequent-flier mileage is
virtually impossible today," said Julius Maldutis, an industry consultant.
Indeed, Mr. McCroskey, the Tennessee consultant, recently gave in and bought two
$600 tickets for a Las Vegas vacation with his wife, leaving his pile of Delta
frequent-flier miles untouched. "You can't use them," he said. "August was the
first thing they were showing."
As air traffic increases, the security screening system becomes taxed, too, and
those jobs become more stressful. The Transportation Security Administration is
hustling to fill screener jobs for the summer crunch. Turnover runs about 20
percent a year.
Los Angeles International Airport's screening staff is about 10 percent below a
target of roughly 2,000 screeners. The New York area's three big airports have
an aggregate screener crew of about 3,800, but even fully staffed that is
"inadequate" to handle traffic, said Marc Lavorgna, a spokesman for the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey. "They do a good job," he said, "with what
Still, Kip Hawley, the security agency's administrator, said in an interview
that, approaching summer, "we are going to be ready in terms of our work force."
Local managers have hiring authority to speed the staff buildup.
New procedures are likely to slow some travelers. The agency says it plans to
conduct more secondary screenings to check for traces of explosives.
Last month, at Atlanta's airport, a computer-generated image suggesting an
explosive— not from an actual bag being screened — was flashed to test a
The screener, after identifying the threat, is supposed to be told it was only a
test. This time, that didn't happen, and a frantic search ensued for a bag that
did not exist.
The terminal was shut down for about two hours, Mr. Hawley said, and the bomb
squad was called. The glitch that caused the panic has been fixed, he said.
"We do recognize the economic damage" of shutting a terminal down, he added.
"That won't happen again."
It's impossible to measure air rage accurately, but most experts think there is
more of it these days. Joyce A. Hunter, a former Delta marketing official who is
now an assistant professor at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, started
researching air rage in 2001 with the hypothesis that it is caused by poor
customer service, such as a lack of communication about delays and other
problems. While that contributes to it, she said, she has concluded that alcohol
is the main culprit.
Bars, of course, line airport terminals and drinks aloft can potentially send an
already angry flier into a fit.
Front-line workers — flight attendants and gate agents — usually bear the brunt
of problems. Sara Nelson Dela Cruz, a United flight attendant and union
official, said a lot of senior flight attendants schedule vacations "so they
don't have to work the summer crowds."
Onboard this summer, people are likely to feel "kind of like sardines," said
Reenie Prine, a customer service supervisor for Southwest Airlines at Midway
Airport in Chicago. Angry passengers are just part of the job, she said. "I
don't let it get to me," she explained. "An apology goes a long way: 'I'm so
sorry for your difficulty.' "
With airlines generally not expanding and traffic rising, is "fully loaded" the
new normal in a business that for decades flew planes at 60 to 70 percent
capacity? The ability to compare fares easily on the Internet has driven down
ticket costs but also helped airlines to sell the very last seat.
For now, it seems that only rising prices could dampen demand. Some travelers,
particularly business managers who are not paying for the seats out of their own
pockets, may even find it a relief to be charged more if it would lead to
"The thing that's starting to bother travelers more than anything else is the
comfort factor, not the fare factor," said Kevin Maguire, the in-house travel
manager for Applied Materials, a technology company based in Santa Clara, Calif.
"The airlines, federal government, general public need to sit down collectively
and find a way to get the transportation system back in order," he said. "I've
never seen it this bad."
Jane L. Levere
contributed reporting from New York for this article.
28 May 2005
By Michael McCarthy,
Marie Woolf and Michael Harrison
It might be cheap, but it's going to cost the
earth. The cut-price airline ticket is fuelling a boom that will make countering
global warming impossible.
The tens of thousands of Britons jetting off on cheap flights this weekend have
been given graphic reminders by leading green groups that the huge surge in mass
air travel is becoming one of the biggest causes of climate change.
Unless the boom in cheap flights is halted, say Friends of the Earth and
Greenpeace, Britain and other countries will simply not be able to meet targets
for cutting back on the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) that are causing the
atmosphere to warm, with potentially disastrous consequences. In spelling out
what is for most people - and for many politicians - a very uncomfortable truth,
they are echoing the warnings of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
and the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.
The scientists of the former and the MPs of the latter have set out in detail
how the soaring growth in CO2 emissions from aircraft that the cheap flights
bonanza is promoting will do terrible damage to the atmosphere and make a
nonsense of global warming targets, such as Britain's stated aim of cutting CO2
emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.
British emissions of C02 from aircraft, expressed in millions of tons of carbon,
shot up from 4.6 million tons in 1990 to 8.8 million tons in 2000. But based on
predicted air passenger transport growth figures - from 180 million passengers
per year today to 476 million passengers per year by 2030 - they are expected to
rise to 17.7 million tons in 2030.
Aircraft emissions that go directly into the stratosphere have more than twice
the global warming effect of emissions from cars and power stations at ground
level and, based on the Government's own calculations, the effect of the 2030
emissions will be equivalent to 44.3 million tons of carbon - 45 per cent of
Britain's expected emissions total at that date.
That growth alone, the environmental audit committee says, will make Britain's
60 per cent CO2 reduction target "meaningless and unachievable". The clash of
interests cannot be ducked any more, say the green groups. "The convenience we
enjoy in covering huge distances in a short time is one of the fast-growing
threats to life on earth," said Tony Juniper, the executive director of Friends
of the Earth.
"Aviation is an increasing source of climate-changing pollution and we must take
steps to curb it now. Planes pump out eight times more carbon dioxide per
passenger mile than a train. A return flight to Australia will release as much
carbon dioxide as all the heating, light and cooking for a house for a year."
Blake Lee-Harwood, campaigns director for Greenpeace, said: "The simple fact is
the boom in cheap air travel cannot be reconciled with the survival of those
things we most value about the planet, and will ultimately kill millions of
"The only way to stop the problem is to reduce our flying. We just have to
accept public transport and highly efficient cars are the only kinds of routine
transport we can sensibly use, and air travel is just for special occasions. We
may not like that hard truth but we don't have a choice." The green groups feel
the only solution is to cut back on demand by forcing prices up, especially as
commercial aviation has long benefited from a very easy tax regime. In other
words, people will have to be "priced off planes" and the cheap flights bonanza
will have to end.
Bizarrely, the Government is facing in two directions at once. In the 2003
energy White Paper, it committed itself to tackling climate change and announced
its 60 per cent CO2 target. But in the aviation White Paper later that year, it
promised to facilitate the expected mass increase in air traffic, if necessary
by providing several new runways to cope with increased demand
There is no sign of the two positions being reconciled by Tony Blair. Yesterday,
it appeared the leaders of the G8 group of nations, set to put climate change at
the top of the agenda at this summer's G8 meeting in Scotland which Tony Blair
will chair, are also flunking the issue. A leaked draft of a climate change
communiqué showed they were promising more research into the effects of aircraft
emissions, but shying away from any commitment to raise ticket prices.
One of the leading advocates of an emissions trading scheme for airlines is
among a group of UK business leaders who wrote to Tony Blair yesterday calling
for a "step change" in efforts to tackle climate change. Mike Clasper, the chief
executive of BAA, has been the aviation industry's most outspoken supporter of
the idea of forcing airlines to pay for excessive carbon emissions, even though
it could be financially damaging to many of his customers. Mr Clasper and 12
other senior businessmen say companies are deterred from investing in low carbon
technologies because of the lack of long-term government policies and concern
that their international competitiveness will be harmed.
Other signatories to the letter include the chairman of HSBC bank, Sir John
Bond, the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, Sir Stuart Hampson and the
chief executive of Scottish Power, Ian Russell.
The facts about flying
* Air travel produces 19 times the greenhouse gas emissions of trains; and 190
times that of a ship.
* Aviation could contribute 15 per cent of greenhouse gases each year if
* Greenhouse gas emissions caused by UK air travel have doubled in the past 13
years, from 20.1m tons in 1990 to 39.5m tons in 2004.
* During the same period emissions from UK cars rose by 8m tons, to 67.8m tons.
* One return flight to Florida produces the equivalent CO2 of a year's average
* Emissions at altitude have 2.7 times the environmental impact of those on the
* Air travel is growing at UK airports at an average of 4.25 per cent. In 1970,
32 million flew from UK airports; in 2002, 189 million. By 2030 some 500 million
passengers may pass through UK airports.
* Cargo transportation is growing by 7 per cent a year. In 1970, 580,000 tons of
freight were moved by plane; in 2002, 2.2 million tons. It is forecast to reach
5 million tons in 2010.
* 50 per cent of the UK population flew at least once in 2001.
* Flying 1kg of asparagus from California to the UK uses 900 times more energy
than the home-grown equivalent.
the first supersonic airliner,
completed its maiden flight
Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner took off on its maiden flight from
Toulouse today. It was in the air for 27 minutes, and the flight was described
as faultless. The test flight reached 10,000ft, but the Concorde’s speed never
rose above 300 mph — eventually it will fly at more than 1,300 mph. The pilot
decided to return to the airport because of worsening weather conditions.
Beaming with pleasure on his return to the airport, M. Andre Turcat, the
47-year-old Sud Aviation chief test pilot, who was the controls, said: “Finally
the big bird flies, and I can say now that it flies pretty well.”
M. Turcat, wuth his cew of co-pilot and two flight engineers watching over 12
tons of test equipment, had taken Concorde up to 10,000ft, made a practice
landing approach at high altitude, and then brought the revolutionary aircraft
straight back to the runway without any further tests. The flight had been
postponed on two successive days.
After a 20-minute technical delay in the starting of the first of four engines,
Concorde taxied sedately and deliberately to the end of the runway. A cloud of
black smoke billowed upwards as the jets were run up. Then, laden with 6,500
gallons of fuel and weighing 110 tons, she began to roll. As the speed built up,
Concorde lifted her tail stalk of a nosewheel leg off the ground. Balanced on
her main landing bogies, and with her long nose surmounted by the “snoot” angled
down at 12 degrees to give the pilot better vision, she looked like a great
white bird of prey.
As the aircraft reached and flashed past the press stand, all wheels now off the
ground, their was a spontaneous burst of applause, immediately drowned out by
the thundering backwash of the quartet of Olympus 593 engines.
To-morrow evening the airship R 101 will start from Cardington for Ismailia, en
route for Karachi. The Air Minister, Lord Thomson, and the Director of Civil
Aviation, Sir Sefton Brancker, will be on board, but no private passengers or
This flight is a greater and more interesting experiment than the flight of R
100 to Canada. R 101 embodies more experimental features than R 100, and this
flight will take an airship into tropical climes. So far as I can remember only
twice before have airships flown into the tropics.
Major G. H. Scott, our great airship officer, holds strongly that petrol must
not be carried on a commercial airship in the tropics. R 101 has five Diesel
engines which run on heavy oil. That is one of the novelties about this airship
from which great results are expected.
These engines are still experimental and they are much heavier in proportion to
their power than an aero engine ought to be. Therefore R 101 cannot carry as
many passsengers as was hoped.
That is a handle for the enemies of the airship experiment, but this criticism
is a damp squib. We cannot believe it is beyond engineers to producer a lighter
and more powerful Diesel engine.
The design of the metal wings and girders is another novel feature. It is
absolutely unlike Zeppelin methods, and is undoubtedly beautiful engineering.
She is now 777 feet long and has a gas capacity of 5,500,000 cubic feet. Of
course the lengthening has altered her proportions. We are feeling our way
toward the perfect airship, and do not profess to have got there.
We know other points where improvement is desirable. The gasbags of goldbeater's
skin are too expensive, but it would have been folly to hold back the flying
experiments while the chemists work. Then again, R 101 does actually carry a
little petrol, stored in the engine cars. The auxiliary engines use petrol.
Still there is no petrol in the hull, and the fire-proof smoking room, below the
large saloon, will probably be well patronised during the flight. On no other
airship in the world has smoking before been possible.
This flight to India has cost more than the flight of R 100. The shed at Karachi
is bigger than those at Cardington. The whole of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar
Square would go inside it.
There seems a [future] prospect that passengers to India and Australia will go
by airship, but for the present we must be content to learn what R 101 can teach
us by her maiden flight to Karachi.
Captain Lindbergh, the young United States airman, reached Paris at 10.22 on
Saturday night on his non-stop flight from New York. He is the first pilot to
have crossed the Atlantic by himself, the first to fly from America to France,
and the first to make an uninterrupted flight of 3,600 miles. The journey took
Early yesterday evening it became known that Lindbergh was approaching the
French coast. Orders were at once given to put the wonderful air-lighting system
of Northern France into action. The vertical projectors along the coast were
turned on and the well-marked London-Paris routes illuminated.
Thus, when the young flying man arrived at half-past eight over Cherbourg he
found himself helped by the nightfall, for his route was marked out for him. In
the Seine estuary he caught his first glimpse of St. Valerien twinkling in and
out. Thirty miles from Paris the revolving flare of Le Bourget began to flash
Shortly after ten o'clock he perceived the red rockets that flashed constantly
up from the famous air station, and shortly before a quarter-past ten he was
high above the light-flooded aviation field itself at Le Bourget. Despite his
thirty-three hours' strain since leaving New York this astonishing youth,
instead of coming down, spent nearly ten minutes circling over Paris, for the
illuminated pillar of the Eiffel Tower had caught his attention.
At length the roar of his propeller was heard by the vast crowd estimated at
100,000. A silver speck swam into the probing finger of a searchlight, and a few
seconds later the glistening monoplane was bounding lightly upon the vast
enclosed field. It was a perfect landing, delicately and skilfully done.
At such moments mass emotion becomes uncontrollable, even dangerous. A surge
began among the crowd, and instantly the barriers were down, the line of
guarding troops was swept aside, and thousands of men, carried away by
enthusiasm, were racing through the darkness towards the distant, now immobile
monoplane still glistening under the searchlight. When the crowd reached it it
still remained in all its brand newness just as it had emerged from the factory,
without a speck or a stain of oil or dust. A moment later it began to crumble
into splinters under the penknives of souvenir-hunters. The "Marseillaise"
alternated with roars of "Vive l'Amerique."
A young fair-haired face thrust itself from the pilot's window, a light Middle
West voice inquired "Where am I?" — "Just as if he had descended from Mars or
some other world" — and an astonishingly long, lithe body began to extricate
itself from the machine.
A holiday subject for a holiday mood - such
was the spirit in which members to-night came to the consideration of the great
In vain for Mr. Arthur Lee to try and make our
flesh creep with stories of the squadrons of Zeppelins at Germany's command, of
France's aerial navy, and of the aeroplanes with which the brothers Wright are
again darkening their native skies.
"Until Bleriot flew across the Channel the other day," said Mr. Cecil
Harmsworth, "people in this country regarded the airship as a mere scientific
toy, a sort of flip-flap, such as you see at Shepherd's Bush."
The Government, and even members generally were in advance of that belated view,
though the latter, to be sure, have not yet got beyond the stage of perceiving
something ridiculous in certain aeronautical terms.
"We have also ordered a gas-bag of very considerable size," solemnly announced
Mr. Haldane to-night, and without rhyme or reason members broke into shouts of
Apparently it is as risky to talk of gas-bags in Parliament as it is to mention
a rope in the house of a criminal.
"What progress have we made?" asked Mr. Haldane, "Not very much, I am afraid."
But Mr. Haldane felt confident that not very rapid progress was being made
anywhere. For naval purposes the rigid dirigible has been discovered to be the
only machine of value, while for the army the best is declared to be the
The aeroplane may become capable of great results," but from the war point of
view," observed Mr. Haldane, "it is not so at present."
Mr. Haldane felt no concern that we have not made the same initial progress as
Germany, France, or the US. At one time that was true of submarines, "and to-day
we are at the head of the world in submarines."
Moreover, it was equally true at the outset of our motor-car industry, which is
now as flourishing as any.
"Ah," was Mr. Arthur Lee's dark comment, "that is all very well; but some day
something will be invented with which we will unable to catch up before war
breaks out, and then where shall we be?"
Where indeed? But perhaps we may be the inventors; it would be just like us.
Whereas last year we spent only £5,000 on aeronautics, in the coming year we are
to spend £78,000. For this amount we are to have an equipment of dirigibles and
non-dirigibles, "with the prospect of two new aeroplanes".
"The use of these instruments at present is not very great," explained the War
The feat of flying across the English Channel
in a heavier-than-air machine - a thing which had never before been done - was
accomplished yesterday morning by M. Louis Bleriot in a monoplane of his own
It was done, moreover, in the short period of
33 minutes, the start being made at 4.35 a.m. and the descent at 5.08 a.m.
The distance traversed was 26 miles or more, the bee-line distance being 22
miles, whilst a parallel run along the coast, from St Margaret's to Dover, would
be four to five miles.
It was nearly half-past four yesterday morning when the news reached Dover that
M. Bleriot contemplated making the flight, and a few minutes later came a
wireless message stating that he was actually on his way across the French
coast, having ascended at Baraques, a village two miles to the west of Calais.
The monoplane travelled with great rapidity, and its motor made such a din that
it was heard when it must have been six or seven miles from Dover.
Dover had intended making a suitable demonstration when the Channel was first
crossed on a flying machine, but as events turned out there was no time to do
M. Bleriot's great bird-like machine was first sighted over the Channel to the
east ward of Dover, heading for St Margaret's Bay, a little resort about five
miles along the cliffs between Dover and Deal.
When off St Margaret's it suddenly came round with a fine sweep to the westward,
still at a high rate of speed. Strange as it may seem, the monoplane, now that
it was heading westward, was travelling against a fresh south-west
twenty-mile-an-hour breeze, but this appeared to cause no diminution in the rate
When about a mile out at sea the monoplane was judged to be flying at a height
of about 309 feet. It came over the naval harbour, passing above the battleships
of the Atlantic Fleet, and making a course for the opening in the cliffs behind
On the cliffs M. Fontaine, a friend of Bleriot's, had taken up position with a
large French tricolour which he waved vigorously as the monoplane came over the
M.Bleriot was looking for this to guide him to the place where he wanted to come
down. He steered the monoplane for the opening in the cliffs with as much ease
as if it were a motor-car.
He came at slightly reduced speed over the wire fence which divided the
Northfall Meadow from the cliff path, and was directed at an easily sloping