Monday, May 16, 2005

SOS Redux

In today's New Republic Online (subscription required) is an article by Gregg Easterbrook titled "Test Flight" that, with added detail, makes essentially the same point I did in yesterday's post "SOS - Saving Our Senators." However, with some of those additional details I must take issue.

First, Mr. Easterbrook makes the statement, "The Cessna 150 is unpressurized, meaning it can only operate at low altitude, and has limited maneuverability, able to fly straight and level or in shallow banks." Well, the 150 has a limit load factor specification of +4.4 /-1.76 g. A 60-degree bank turn is a 2g turn. Is only 30 degrees from a vertical bank "shallow"? Certainly not the 7g or 8g turns I could pull in an F-4, but definitely not shallow. And at its slow flying speed, in a diving turn - diving to maintain airspeed - the 150 could prove a bit elusive.

Second, the statement is made that, "If the 'target of interest' had been a jet approaching at five times the speed of the Cessna, it might have reached its destination while flight crews were still adjusting chin straps." Very true. But keep in mind - and I don't know if they still do this or not - Air Defense Command pilots at one time would scramble without strapping-in before takeoff. Not the best procedure if one would wish to avail oneself of the ejection seat in the event of mishap. Securing oneself to the seat - known colloquially as strapping the plane to one's ass - would wait until one was heading to the intercept as fast as the little beast would go. If that's not what's done today, perhaps this time-saving procedure should be reinstated for the purpose of increasing the probability of timely intercept. Have fun, guys!

Third, the possibility of a playing possum scenario is described by Mr. Easterbrook:

"Studying this incident, any terrorists with access to a corporate jet or other jet won't take long to come up with this plan: Fly as slowly as possible on approach to Washington, in order to appear on radar like a lost single-engine prop plane, and then gun the engines to maximum once the White House is in view. A plane that's capable of doing more than 500 miles per hour, but playing possum at its minimum airspeed (usually somewhere around 140 miles per hour for jets), will look to air controllers like a little lost Cessna."

Sounds good, but probably more contrived than necessary. Get down "on-the-deck" - that's low enough to suggest one is trimming the tops of the higher trees as I once witnessed a fellow aviator do - go "balls-to-the-wall" - a "thousand miles an hour" as the F-105 Thud drivers would say - and don't forget to turn off that little black squawker, more formally known as a transponder. Which, by the way, does not identify the type of aircraft. Civilian transponders, as far as I know, do not as yet have IFF/SIF, as described in yesterday's feature broadcast on this same station. Altitude reporting, yes. Aircraft specs, no. If I’m wrong here, I apologize in advance.

And is it possible "the echo might be from a tiny Cessna or a 747"? Not likely. A 150 and a 747 have a bit of a different radar cross-section. The smaller the plane, generally the smaller is the cross-section, stealth tech not here being considered. Transponder off, just over the treetops, full throttle - they'll never see you coming.

And by the way, if you have one of those new-fangled, non-metallic composite structures for an airframe, without the transponder you are as stealthy as all get out!

Some Air Defense terms:

“Bogie” – what you’re looking for
“No Joy” – when you don’t see the bogie
“Tally Ho!” – when you do

Check six.

2020 zulu

Proposed solution from FASTFAC, an ol' Air Force buddy since our days together in pilot training. We even took our T-38 formation final check ride together. That is, he was in one plane with a check pilot and I in the other with my overseer:

Starting tomorrow:

"All private aircraft must "weigh out" prior to taxiing from the ramp to takeoff. Weight deviations in excess of +/- 1% of "empty" weight must be verified by TSA-trained ramp personnel by a combination of pounds of fuel on board, weight of all occupants on board (weighed prior to exit from the flight planning room) and all luggage...thoroughly inspected and tagged. In addition, all flight plans must indicate simple point-to-point navigation and always under IFR VFR flights are allowed for general aviation!

These are minimum restrictions. General government paranoia for anything that creates aerodynamic lifting capabilities (also know as "flight") will prevail for all civilian aviation, but only in so far that the primary focus will be on a 25 mile diameter circle somewhere on the East Coast. Other continental areas/facilities such as mid-plains areas such as reservoirs, major petroleum production facilities, and all facilities capable of holding crowds in excess of 25,000 are exempt from any of these fly-over restrictions...(did I happen to mention watching a Cessna 182 a couple of weeks ago out-fitted with pontoons circle over the Space Needle in Seattle and make a beautiful landing on the back bay?...twice in fact?...what could you possibly pack in two very large pontoons?)"

Check six.


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