Archive for the ‘John Petersen’ Category

Flying Silently (Part 2)

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

The GA industry has been treating noise like the automobile industry has been reacting to calls for better fuel economy.  Even though it is reported that every automobile sold in China must get at least 35 miles per gallon in fuel economy, major American manufacturers launch all of their lobbyists on Congress every time the hill wants to raise the average CAFÉ standards to something like 28 miles per gallon . . . by 2025!  They say they can’t do it and it would cost jobs, etc., etc.  Can you believe that if American and Japanese and German engineers suddenly were required to build more fuel efficient engines they couldn’t equal the efforts of Chinese engineers?  (Well, the fact probably is that some of those cars manufactured in China are engineered by GM engineers and other folks a little closer to home, so maybe it’s not just an engineering issue after all.)

The same certainly is the case with engine and propeller noise in aircraft.  If we wanted to do it, we could certainly find solutions.  We just don’t think that it is important.  I once suggested to an aviation association VP that aircraft noise had the potential to be a major issue threatening the future of GA and got not much more than a shrug in response.  Regardless of the reality, the public already thinks that we’re a bunch of rich guys who either own or operate airplanes.  Why do you think they’ll cut us some slack downstream when they finally get really mad about all of this when most every other polluting industry is working on eliminating their effluent and we’re not.

Once it seemed that it might just be possible to convince my wife that flying an ultralight out of one of the fields of our farm in West Virginia would be a reasonable idea.  So, I went to Oshkosh and checked it out — but I didn’t want to hassle the neighbors with the noise from the Rotaxes that they all use.  Remember, people like the country in part because it is quiet.  The manufacturer’s rep said that there was nothing they could do to make the engines quieter (something about them being 2-cycle, or something), but I knew friends who were doing exotic aircraft design for spooky government agencies who were producing little lawn chair construction aircraft (and helicopters, for that matter) for sneaking into dangerous places around the world that made almost no noise . . . so I knew it is possible.  The incentives are just not in place. Commercial aircraft have certainly gotten much quieter.  Why can’t we?

Airplanes are not just noisy, they’re more expensive to operate because they’re noisy.  We have to burn gas to make that noise.  It costs more and doesn’t do anything for us.  It’s like waste heat, or sulphur dioxide coming out of the stack of a coal-fired power plant. If engine and prop manufacturers put their heads to it , they could produce more fuel efficiency and less noise at the same time.  That’s a particularly good idea in the face of an almost certain global decrease in the production of petroleum in the coming years (which is another piece of this puzzle).

So every time you look up with interest to the sky (as I always do) when I hear an aircraft two or three miles away, think about the future of aviation, the pollution of the environment, citizens who want to live in peace, the cost to operate an aircraft, and the decreasing availability (and therefore increasing cost) of fuel. Just think about quality of life.  That might convince you that it’s high time that we in the aviation business began to seriously work on silently pursuing our wonderful profession.

Flying Silently (Part 1)

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Some years ago I went down the hall in the E-ring in the Pentagon to see the then 3-star admiral friend of mine who ran all of naval aviation.  At one point I got around to asking him what his biggest problem was at that time.  I was surprised at his answer: neighborhood encroachment at his naval air stations.  What he was telling me was that as civilians built houses closer to his airfields the noise from the aircraft were causing a problem with the homeowners and they were raising a ruckus with their politician friends . . . and that was causing a significant issue for the Navy all over the world.

It reminded me of when I was a nugget junior officer living on base at the Alameda Naval Air Station in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  Every time the repair facility would do an engine test on the J57 engines for the A-3 aircraft that I then flew, even though they had the test stand sticking as far out in the bay as they could, it rattled the windows in the bachelor officer quarters such that all conversation would stop for the 3-5 minutes while they ran the engine through its high-power run-up test.

I was young then and didn’t think much about it.  If I had, I may have had the bumper sticker opinion that all that noise was just the “sound of freedom” as I’ve heard some old soldiers referring to the disruption produced by helicopter operations near residential areas. Maybe it’s just my problem, but I’ve never equated patriotism with pollution, although I guess some people do.

It’s interesting that we in the GA business have such a low sensitivity to the noise that our machines produce.  What other job can you think of where a goodly number of the profession puts on a coat and tie and goes to work in an environment where the ambient noise level is so loud that they have to use headphones to muffle the outside noise and amplify the normal speaking voice of the folks that they are communicating with – some just a couple of feet away.  Ours is not a steel mill or an aircraft carrier deck.  We’re not stamping metal with giant presses that shake the ground.  Think about it, we’ve got engines the size of those in every car and truck in the country, but ours make far more noise.

In my profession of looking at future trends it is clear that people all over the world are becoming increasingly concerned about their environment.  It’s certainly the case with smoking in public places, tail pipe pollution pumped into the air, industrial and agricultural run-off finding its way into streams and rivers, and sound levels in neighborhoods.  There have been mini-revolts in the spiffy suburbs around Hollywood generated by the disruption produced by weedeaters and leaf blowers wielded by foreign workers who were impervious to the noise because they were wearing Mickey Mouse ears (that’s what we called noise suppression devices in the Navy).

Of course, the AOPA has full-time people fighting the neighbors all around the country who want to close local airports.  San Jose, San Mateo, Naples, and any of a number of other places where GA flies close to the people. Why?  Mostly because of the noise.  Can you imagine what the problem might be if there wasn’t any noise – or if it was the level of an automobile or a pickup?  I don’t think there would be a problem.  People aren’t concerned about low flying aircraft – they don’t want to be disrupted.

(More on this subject next month.)

The next and biggest threat to GA (part 2)

Monday, August 26th, 2013

We may already be seeing the beginning of the government’s plan to eliminate VFR flying. 

Following the initial reporting by Ken Mead of AOPA, FLYING’s Robert Goyer, (among others) have been relaying the growing numbers of random, unfounded stops by heavily armed, threatening teams from CBP, Homeland Security, and local authorities of aircraft that were flying under VFR rules.   

Pilots should consider the following:

1.       The government has identified VFR flying as an area that they do not control in the way that they do most other areas of transportation.  They will work to eliminate that ambiguity.

2.       The government is being influenced by a concept described in a book, read and promoted by President Obama, named Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, by American academics Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.  One interviewer, reported, “When I talked to Thaler earlier this year about Nudge and asked him what was the core theme of the book, he said: “The central question is really whether by understanding human nature you can use what we call “choice architecture” to devise policies and institutions that make it more likely that individuals will make decisions that are good for them.””  Thaler has just come off of a stint working in the Executive Office of the President at the White House where his job was to devise situations where people were put in situations where the choices they were given were biased toward decisions that the government had determined beforehand were beneficial.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that the probing, increasing visible stops of pilots by authorities could be the initial attempts to “nudge” the aviation system in a direction that they desire (or to test to see what kind of response they get). 

3.       Federal and local agencies now use massive, overwhelming, intimidating force in unthreatening situations.  For example, John and Martha King were confronted as though they were known drug runners when they were stopped by four cars worth of gun drawn officers because of an N-number confusion.  The point is that there is a clear, new, nation-wide attempt by law enforcement agencies to default to force and intimidation as the de facto approach in increasing numbers of situations.  There is a clear trend toward intimidation.

4.       The most likely scenario – one used in many other situations – is to capitalize on an upcoming event, either contrived or not, to try to make the point that this lack of control presents the country with a vulnerability that must be eliminated. 

5.       There are a number of defensive strategies that could mounted to fend off this trend.  One is to begin to raise the awareness of the importance of VFR flying by reminding the pilot community of the unique, beneficial value of coming and going as we wish.  A clear community-wide commitment to the values of VFR flight would be useful if there were a future run at visual flying.  

Another would be to become increasing vocal, as AOPA and FLYING, and other publications have been, about the efforts of the government to stop pilots without probable cause. 

There could also be defensive legislative remedies as well.

It would be very sad to lose the last real example of freedom that aviators in the U. S. (and not many other countries) have — to take to the sky without a reason or necessary destination, only because of the joy and wonder of it all.

The next and biggest threat to GA (part 1)

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I’m a pilot.  I flew aircraft carrier-based airplanes in Vietnam and spent many years building my own airplane.  But my day job is that of a professional futurist.  I’ve written three books, worked with governments about how to anticipate surprises, designed national surprise anticipation systems, etc.  I track trends, early indicators and weak signals and develop scenarios about what those inputs might mean

In the mid-2000s I saw the beginning of what is blossoming into a significant threat to flying in the U.S.  During a high-level planning meeting with representatives of DOD the White House, DHS and others who were considering how to set up the airspace around Washington, DC to eliminate the likelihood of another 9/11.  I was the self-appointed representative for general aviation in the room.

It was illuminating.  The arrogance and ignorance about GA of the group that would affect so many private pilots was rather amazing.  Their position essentially was, “We don’t care what the implications are to pilots – or the economy, for that matter – we are the government and we’ll decide.”

Since then I have watched and chronicled how our government, in the name of “fighting terrorism”, has systematically eliminated our ability to do things that common sense tells us are protected by the Constitution. (See this, this, and this, three articles from The Austin Chronicle by Michael Ventura that catalog the effective negation of most of the major amendments to the Constitution.)  What this means, by the way, is that under the present rules of operation, government agencies like DHS and CBP believe that they can stop and search anyone, anytime for any reason that they want, which why they are sending heavily armed and SWATed-up teams into train and bus stations and highways to randomly stop and search individuals with clearly no probable cause.

The systematic intrusion into tracking in real time and collecting every bit of information on all communications and commercial transactions is ubiquitous and comprehensive in terms that the vast majority of citizens do not understand.  For example, the NSA data center that is being built south of Salt Lake City is literally designed to hold 100 years’ worth of all of the transactions, movements and communications of the complete lives of all Americans, organized in such a way that at will, an analyst can chronologically array a complete lifetime of a selected individual – where they went, what they said, what they purchased and what they read and watched.

This trend has grown very rapidly at an unprecedented rate and there has been a clear attempt to widen the information capturing net to encompass every area of each of our lives.

That brings us to GA.

At a time when individuals, automobiles and trucks, ships and every other form of transportation are being tracked, one mode of transportation stands out as not being within the surveillance net: VFR flying, especially without a VFR flight plan.  In ways that are significantly not the same with other modes of transportation, an aircraft squawking 1200 says nothing about where it came from, where it is going and who and what is onboard.  It is hard to believe, in light of the extraordinary, broad based trends that dominate every other area of our lives that the government will not try to remedy that.

(My next posting will address this trend and what we can do about it.)