Research: It was a MiG-29 That Crashed at Area 51

Comment

Research: It was a MiG-29 That Crashed at Area 51

When the news broke that an aircraft had crashed near Area 51, it set tongues wagging. What could the classified aircraft have been? Why did the military wait several days to announce the crash? Since the test pilot who was tragically killed had experience in the F-35, people were quick to wonder if that troubled program had just run into more trouble.

The Air Force was willing to dispel the last notion, adding that it wasn’t an F-35, perhaps to avoid any more bad press for the program. That announcement successfully shifted the narrative to two points: first, the incredible life of Lt. Col. Schultz, the test pilot flying the aircraft and second, what he was flying.

Most rundowns have focused on known aircraft, and rightly so. Any speculation on unknown aircraft has far more room and far more risk to become ungrounded in reality and, ultimately, very little reward as it could be decades before there is confirmation of the type, if any. Also, if the Air Force is not being disingenuous in its announcements, Schultz was flying at 6PM. At that time, on that date, the sky would have been light. Deep black programs at Area 51 typically fly at night, and may even avoid moonlit nights to further deter sightings. September 5th was only a few days after a full moon. Thus whatever aircraft Schultz was flying, it was acceptable to fly during daylight or dusk hours.

This probably indicates an airframe that, while its use was classified, is not unknown to spotters. The USAF might not acknowledge having the craft, for one reason or another, but it is rightly suspected to exist or has been previously seen. Hence, suspicion has focused on several aircraft right away: the F-117, the Su-27 Flanker, or a test article associated with the B-21 Raider program. The last has only been seen in model and concept form, although the sighting of mysterious flying wings fuel speculation that it has been partially seen.

 An F-16 (left) and MiG-29 (right) spotted near Groom Lake in 2009, via Phil Drake. Click for original

An F-16 (left) and MiG-29 (right) spotted near Groom Lake in 2009, via Phil Drake. Click for original

Ignoring the Area 51 hype and focusing on an aircraft with a semi-classified history with the Air Force and which represents an extremely likely threat brings another aircraft to light: the MiG-29 Fulcrum. The Air Force has had experience with the type via post-unification Germany. In 2009, Phil Drake, an aircraft spotter, photographed a MiG-29 and F-16 training together near Groom Lake. Tellingly, the United States purchased 21 of the MiG-29S version from Moldova, which have mostly disappeared into various laboratories and other exploitation centers.

Schultz had experience flying both single-seat aircraft (the F-35) and double-engine aircraft (the F-15E), so a Fulcrum is not out of the question. The Air Force claims he was on a training mission, which would be expected with familiarizing himself with the foreign aircraft. Further, after this article was written, rumors appeared via Aviation Week that Schultz was the leader of the "Red Hats" squadron who are suspected of operating foreign aircraft. This supports the idea that he was flying a foreign aircraft, and, if he were flying a training mission with a familiar airframe but classified payload the Air Force would have no reason to classify the airframe unless the payload were indicative of only one type of aircraft.

Why should we suspect the plane in question is specifically a Fulcrum? Because North Korea not only operates the aircraft, they operate the export version of the MiG-29S. These MiG-29SE are suspected to be based out of Sunchon and, at times, Onchon or Kwail. As the image below shows, a basic combat radius of 444mi allows these bases to cover all of North Korea. Assuming loiter and prep time decreases that radius, but they could still cover Pyongyang (the red star), Yongbyong (North Korea’s primary Nuclear Facility, the black icon), and several known missile launch sites (yellow icons). The radii for Sunchon’s aircraft are shown in shades of blue, those for Onchon’s aircraft in grey.

Animation: MiG-29 combat radii from Onchon, MiG-29 combat radii from Suchon, MiG-29 combat radii from both compared.

These aircraft are the most potent in North Korea’s Air Force. Aided by ground radar like the P-18 (chosen here because of its role in downing the F-117 over Serbia), whose detection range is shown in red, they would present quite a gauntlet to intruding aircraft heading for high value targets. If a B-2 flying along the yellow path were detected at maximum range, it would have 20 minutes before reaching its target, never mind exiting the airspace. For the F-22 at maximum Mach, this is closer to 10 although it also risks detection by the MiG's IRST. For the former, an encounter with a MiG-29 vectored by ground radar is a nightmare; for the latter, a hairy distraction which could imperil a sneak attack.

The United States acquired the technical details of the Fulcrum’s original radar, but North Korea’s MiG-29SE operate the replacement to the compromised system. Plus, theory doesn’t always match experience, so operating a MiG’s radar could, all these years later, still produce useful information. This is especially true if it’s being tested against an airframe that didn’t exist when the imported Fulcrum’s was tested.

Schultz may have been flying an imported MiG-29S to assess its capabilities against various stealthy systems that could be discreetly flown from Nellis Air Force Base (F-22s or F-35s), Tonopah Test Range Airport, or Groom Lake (B-2s, F-117s, the flying wings, etc). That Fulcrums are still operated is classified, hence the Air Force’s response, but they have been sighted and the Moldovan examples’ dispositions tracked, so it would be acceptable to train in the daylight. Schultz's position (100 miles northwest of Nellis) puts him close to Groom Lake, fueling the Area 51 speculations. It also puts him close to another feature of interest: the “Korean” airfield on Tonopah Test Range.

100 miles from Nellis AFB (the red circle) places the crash roughly 20 miles from both Groom Lake and the “Korean” Airfield

Besides having a design similar to Korean airports, there is a supposedly operational S-300 SAM system located there. While North Korea does not operate the S-300, they do  operate the S-200 and an indigenous SAM that is potentially related to and suspected to be on par with the S-300. This setup (S-200s and S-300s on the ground and MiGs overhead) would partially simulate the overlapping air defenses of the Hermit Kingdom. Additional observations could be taken by Groom Lake and Tonopah’s various radars and ECM systems to help refine an attack.

Attack on what, though? Given the Trump administration’s rather schizophrenic statements on the use of diplomacy in disarming North Korea; the threat of reliving “Scud hunting” with road mobile ICBMs in North Korea; the devastation that would result from a ground war; China’s resistance to American troops coming north on the Korean peninsula; and the US’s practice of “decapitation strikes,” then the simulated attack would probably be on North Korea’s command structure if not Kim Jong-Un himself.

With a President who may favor action over talking anxious to see North Korea’s nuclear program “solved,” it’s not unreasonable to believe that planners would respond to presidential pressure by suggesting that toppling Kim Jong-Un would collapse North Korea’s willingness to use those nuclear weapons without the risks of all-out war against a nuclear state capable of threatening allies and the homeland—it’s also plausible to believe that there are exercises practicing just such scenarios on a regular basis.

 F-16 (front) and Su-27P (rear) simulating intercepts in Nov 2016 near Groom Lake, via Phil Drake. Click for original.

F-16 (front) and Su-27P (rear) simulating intercepts in Nov 2016 near Groom Lake, via Phil Drake. Click for original.

All this is a dark assumption for why a MiG would be operating near Groom Lake, seeming to presage war or indicate a strong willingness to make it. Perhaps Schultz was flying an Su-27 in routine exploitation testing. So far commenters appear to favor the Su-27 as it was spotted most recently (2016 vs 2009), but since Flankers are legendary in aviation circles it is hard to imagine this hasn't biased that theory. There could be cooperative work with Ukraine going on at Groom Lake, where the Red Hats fly Flankers against Fulcrums flown by Ukrainian pilots as a half-way step to arming the Ukraine.

Both that theory and the theory that Schultz died flying a MiG-29 in support of a program assessing stealthy aircraft’s vulnerabilities against a North Korean-esque air defense system as they practiced a decapitation strike has the benefit of being timely with current events, but which is correct will have to wait until the USAF finally, if ever, says more.

Comment

Comment

Read What You (Think You) Know

For the recent college grad...

When I graduated college with my philosophy degree, I was lost. There was nothing I would have rather studied, but the doubt my education had instilled in me was crippling at times. Even without a penchant for Nietzsche and Heidegger's existentialism, there was doubt to be found in the proliferation of competing systems of philosophy and the lack of application those systems found in the "real world." I could stay close to this "real world," a frustrating and messy place, or enter academia, a different kind of frustrating and messy place. Even changing myself could seem fruitless given that I would almost certainly never stay fixed and that time and the people around me would slowly alter what I thought, how I felt, what I believed.

I'm sure this post-college wandering is normal. So far, mine has brought to the Hutchinson Public Library (with plenty of places and stories before that!) and, since then, to weeding out the philosophy books at the library. There are a lot of them, and many of them are "personal philosophies."

‘Philosophy of life’ says about as much as ‘botany of plants’
— Heidegger, Being and Time

I'm reviewing great works I know, learning of good works that have been overlooked in my education (partially by necessity), and trying remove quite poor works.

We are each as much a bundle of doubts as we are a bundle of perceptions. Here is a more formal list of the few I intimated above:

  1. Do I know anything?
    1. What is truth?
    2. Can I access that which makes things true?
    3. Can I think objectively?
      1. Does it matter if I can't?
  2. Do I know what is right and wrong?
    1. What is right or wrong?
      1. What is the criterion or criteria?
    2. Is what is right objective?
  3. How can I convince others what is right and wrong?
    1. Do people really respond to logic and evidence?
      1. Does it matter if they do not?
  4. Does anything I do really matter?
    1. What does it mean for something to matter?
    2. Is "mattering" good?
    3. Is "mattering" important?

And so on. Like I said, I have plenty. It's easy to focus on these doubts, although I also have theories (that sounds less dogmatic than answers, and perhaps if we refrain from sounding dogmatic, we'll refrain from holding said theories dogmatically) that I could focus on. Which leads to more doubts:

  1. How can I know a theory I hold is sound when there are so many competing theories that could be sound instead or as well?
    1. How can I account for all competing theories?
    2. Does the publishing (both academic and general) process really work to find good theories or just ones with specific gains to the publisher and the (usually well-meaning) author?

Go ask Alice. Anyways, as an embodied agent (that's a belief, although relatively uncontentious) I exist (another belief, although maybe necessary) in a specific time (probably contiguous with previous memories) with existing beliefs (that's either necessary or sufficient for persons) that are probably somewhat continuous. I also have limited time and ability (probably physical necessities) and existing obligations (which may or may not be necessary), thus I cannot learn everything that may be needed to dispel even some of my doubts.

But this isn't the end of the story. Thanks to how philosophy is often written, reading it exposes us to other thinkers that both agree and disagree. Some of the best philosophy exposes us to psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature, statistics, physics, biology, and more. My argument is simple—not only is it acceptable to read in support of what you know, it is good so long as you do not do so exclusively.


First let's start with a relatively easy step. You are an embodied agent. You exist (now) with physical and mental limitations, some of which cannot be overcome. To one degree or another, you will always need food and water, air, sleep, and a suitable environment. You will probably never be able to remember everything. You probably cannot read faster than a certain limit. This is to say nothing of certain mental health requirements like socializing (for many). These physical and mental limitations cause a further temporal limitation—because considering theories requires time and because your physical limitations require time of their own and because your mental limitations either require time of their own or cause you to expend more time considering theories and because you will not live forever and because new theories are generated often, you cannot consider every theory in your limited time. And by considering, I mean thinking about (fastest), reading (probably slower), or talking about and listening to (probably slowest) theories.


Having established that you cannot consider all theories regarding your doubts because of your embodiment, which theories should you consider? None? The most "important?" The most "famous?" There is that nihilistic bent that says none need be considered because none matter. Of course, that is a theory on its own, so it can occupy an awkward position of arguing that no theories regarding what we doubt matter except for the theory that no other theories matter. I think it might be defensible, but it should not be adopted with any less consideration than it devotes to arguing against other theories. There is also a bending towards ignorance that says none need be considered because you can live without them either by acting automatically or by following convention. If you accept either of these, I doubt you would be reading this. Both are open to consideration, and may stand or fall together given how you came to act in the ways you find automatically are probably influenced by convention. If you (probably) believe it is worth considering different theories to assuage your doubts, but cannot consider them all, that leaves our nihilistic "none" need be considered or that at least some do. But which ones?

Something quantifiable would be helpful, like the realization that the more cited a paper is, the more important or useful it is. Granted, it could also be more controversial. Establishing a quantifiable way to determine which theories merit consideration is not inherently bad, although it comes with the same pitfall that not establishing one would: a dark horse theory or work, which is revolutionary and overlooked or which you can connect with may not surface.

If a quantifiable method works for you, and exposes you to new theories, good. For many though, I suspect that is a little too machine and you, the reader, a little too human to keep up with it. If you read what you already know and read what connects to that, you are more likely to ensure that you are reading what connects with you, for one reason or another. In addition, you're going to move, step-wise, through theories. Assuming that philosophers cite works that argue against them and reference works that argue with them, by following the latter, you're going to discover theories with a high degree of initial similarity, but which diverge enough on some details to merit the later author writing a new work. Not all positive citations will lead to theories with a high degree of similarity, as broad agreement is often valued in philosophy, and not all negative citations will lead to theories with a high degree of similarity either, but these are the same chances you would take by jumping from the one highly quantifiably ranked theory to the next. The same chance of dark horses exists as well, but the nature of a dark horse is such that missing it is always a risk.


So, since you cannot consider all theories that would reassure you of your doubts and since following the references in philosophy papers is likely to reveal connected works, the next step is to start. Start where? Where you are familiar, is my answer.

In my list of mental limitations I did not include "interest," or "motivation" but those are also important ones. Your interests are probably not all expansive. Some things motivate you more than others. While discovering new things can be exciting, you also probably already have a sense of ones that motivate you. If interest and motivation are limited, especially more so than a broad desire to "know," than an efficient distribution of your motivation could be important in helping you walk through all of the theories that you can consider. 

And since the theories that have interested you in the past are likely to reference closely connected theories, you have a place to go after you start, and since you can't read all written theories, this gives you a natural criterion by which to choose.


Especially after the 2016 US Presidential election, echo chambers, where your beliefs are amplified and reinforced to the exclusion of competing beliefs, have become an important consideration. If you read what you know and use that to find more of what interests you, will you build a coherent set of beliefs that excludes any possibility for revision?

It's possible under almost any circumstances, short of living with crippling doubt, that you hold beliefs you will not revise. Even if you don't realize it. Still, you have a fighting chance so long as you're 1) continuing to encounter works that reference other works and 2) actually reading works that challenge your own theories. (1) because it holds the works you're reading to a certain standard that, hopefully, keep their assertions grounded, or at least, allow you to verify them. (2) because it increases the odds that if you encounter something truthful but counter to your own theories the exposure will not merely reinforce your own beliefs.

Now, it's easy to observe that upon confronting an uncomfortable fact, people will reinforce their existing beliefs even if they are being proven wrong by said fact. You need only watch people to see this. It is also discussed in psychological studies. How do you prevent the effect from closing yourself off from the truth when you encounter an uncomfortable fact that negates your own theories? There is probably no easy answer, but my personal theory is that if you are encounter works that reference other works and you seek out the works referenced, you're going to encounter works critical of what you know. To soften any psychological resistance to countervailing facts if you follow a reference that is critical of a theory you find agreeable, perhaps don't read it right away. Instead, read the critics of that reference first. Although they may not be criticizing the original critic from a position you find agreeable, they might do so from a position that you are not as strongly opposed to. Even if you find the critic's critic despicable, the separation between what you were reading out of personal interest and the criticism of that means there is little risk you'd have accepted the critic's critic's position under other circumstances and are now merely resisting it out of hostility towards facts counter to what you believe. Still, one must try and move forward with an open mind when reading criticisms.


So you're an embodied being, with a life constrained by different limits and probably without the time to sort through all the competing theories about life and its details that exist. Maybe the fact there are all these competing theories even fills you with a paralyzing doubt that makes you suspect none of them can be worth reading, or that if some are, you are unsure which to read. It's okay though, because if you read works that reference other works, and start with the ones you know, you're going to be entering into the web of human knowledge, tied together by infinite connections. So long as you keep following those connections, keep thinking, keep asking, you'll be pulling on the threads of all of human knowledge on a search which binds us all together.

Comment

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt6: The Pattons

Where are the ones who have gone before us?

Celeste and John H. Patton

We have parts of the story of Olive Beech, of Beechcraft's partnership with Morane-Saulnier, of the jets sold and the lives they touched, but what about the people Olive gave these pictures to? Who were they and why was she giving them these pictures? Were they potential buyers? Friends of Mrs. Beech? Or was it at an event like a benefit?

John Hastings Patton was born in 1912 in Mercer County, Ohio. Celeste Patton née Harrington was born in 1905, and would marry Mr. Patton in Tulsa in 1938. He would serve as a Chaplain in the Air Force in WWII before spending the rest of his life in the I70 corridor between Salina and Kansas City. 

 The Patton's marriage license.

The Patton's marriage license.

In 1950, John Patton re-enlisted as an Air Force Chaplain.

 From the Kansas City Times, September 22, 1950.

From the Kansas City Times, September 22, 1950.

He must have left the Air Force around 1956, because there are no newspaper mentions of him after re-enlisting and before 1956. After his return, he taught religion and headed the Westminster (Presbyterian) Fund at the University of Kansas. As a part of this, he and his wife participated in a trip which became known for challenging segregated living in the South:

So far, between 1956 and 1960, I have found no newspaper articles that indicate an association between either John or Celeste and Olive Beech. There is a chance that John and Olive met via the United Way as many news clippings mention Olive Beech and Beechcraft's United Way goals, and if the United Fund referenced in this article is an early version of the United Way it offers another possible overlap:

 From the Lawrence Daily Journal World, August 7, 1956.

From the Lawrence Daily Journal World, August 7, 1956.

Another possibility is that Celeste and Olive knew each other via one of Celeste's social engagments. Articles consistently indicate Celeste was busy in the community, being involved in the Federated Club of Lawrence and the Business and Professional Women's Club (my personal bet for where the connection lies) among others.

So far, it's not clear why the Patton's were given these photos. Were the pictures meaningful to Olive Beech or were they surplus given in support of a charity benefit? Did the Patton's really know Mrs. Beech or was it a short encounter in which the pictures were exchanged? If it were the former, it seems the bonds of friendship do not preserve as well as the papers I've been searching.

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt5: F-WJAB

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt5: F-WJAB

Where are the ones who have gone before us?

Jet #4 — F-WJAB, Serial Number 6

Registered to Beech Aircraft Corp as N84J, this Paris was probably a company demonstrator purchased in support of Olive's partnership with Morane-Saulnier. Perhaps her sale to the Appliance Buyer's Credit Corp of St. Joseph, Missouri in 1963 marked the end of that plan. Were N84J a person, she would have been shy. Finding actual photos has proven next to impossible.

If shy, she was a survivor, however. In 1965, her landing gear collapsed at a landing in Amarillo, Texas while registered as N760J. Sold in 1966, 1969, 1977, and 1978, she had a total of 6 owners.

It's fitting that the story of the Beechcraft Paris's ends, by serial number, with her, as she crashed at an airfield in Texas that itself has been forgotten. Bulldozed and landscaped to support homes now, as much of a ghost as N760J was in service and as her remains became in scrapping—installed in appliances or used to support structures which we could today interact with, having no way of knowing the connection to Olive Beech and the lives wrapped up in the sage of Beechcraft's Paris jets.

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt4: N760H

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt4: N760H

Where are the ones who have gone before us?

Jet #3 — N760H, Serial Number 5

N760H was definitely purchased through Olive's business agreement with Morane-Saulnier [Mike Jerram, General Aviation]. Her first owners? Henry and Louise Timken, who I know from railroad fame for inventing the tapered roller bearing [Demonstration Locomotive]. The two took turns piloting her, holding onto N760H into 1969-1970. A Neil Cargile became her owner at that point, and the Timkens bought a Learjet [Alex Kvassay, Professional Pilot Magazine, Geoff Goodall].

 Louise Timken with N760H, date unknown. Via Alex Kvassay.

Louise Timken with N760H, date unknown. Via Alex Kvassay.

N760H at an unknown location, date unknown. Screen capture of scan of slide from an expired Ebay auction, unknown seller.

 N760H painted as she was when she was with the Timkens. Unknown location, June 1962.  Archived here , click for Ebay store.

N760H painted as she was when she was with the Timkens. Unknown location, June 1962. Archived here, click for Ebay store.

 N760H at an unknown date and unknown location, by G. Bouma via Joop de Groot, click for original. The file title suggests this could be 1964, which would be a credible date given that her paint has changed since pictured in 1962.

N760H at an unknown date and unknown location, by G. Bouma via Joop de Groot, click for original. The file title suggests this could be 1964, which would be a credible date given that her paint has changed since pictured in 1962.

Neil Cargile was a man with a colorful life. He had learned to fly in the US Navy, and he was known for appearing at clubs with his girlfriend while they were both in gowns. He ran a mining company by day. His most noteworthy news appearances happen after N2NC née N760H passed through his hands.

From the Hattiesburg American, June 19, 1979. N2NC had been sold two years prior.

N2NC probably would not have handled an unpowered highway landing well. From The Sunday Tennessean, April 1, 1990.

Palm Beach Post, August 3, 1995.

In 1973, N760H had become N2NC which became N2TE in 1981, then XB-FJO in 1990 while registered in Mexico, before returning to the US as N2TE in 1996. Those in-between times are hard to follow. She would crash that year, sadly killing three people whose lives merit stories of their own.

From the Orange County Register, December 2, 1996—2 days after the crash of N2TE

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt3: N776K

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt3: N776K

Where are the ones who have gone before us?

Jet #2 — N776K, Serial Number 3/1043

The second Paris in our saga is a unique one. Manufactured in 1958, she is the oldest of the three that stayed in the United States and has even made me wonder if the owner imported her himself. Owned by one J.W. Keeney (from Santa Barbara), N776K appears in two period photos from the Santa Monica Airport [Geoff Goodall]

 At the Santa Monica Airport (confirmed by the sign over N776K's port wing). From San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives.

At the Santa Monica Airport (confirmed by the sign over N776K's port wing). From San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives.

Mr. Keeney was a pilot for United Airlines, which explains why he was comfortable buzzing an air base 100 feet above the runway at 400 knots upon a request to show off the foreign aircraft [Santa Barbara City Directory].

From the Oxnard Press Courier, February 4, 1961.

Mr. Keeney featured in an ad in the Oakland Tribune, July 16, 1957.

After Mr. Keeney, she was reregistered as N760C to a Sherwood Johnston of Scottsdale, Arizona. I can find very little on her starting at this time, except perhaps that the Johnston's were quite the socialites.

From the Arizona Republic, June 21, 1967, after N760C had changed hands again.

In 1966, N760C was rechristened N760S. Under this designation she passed through quite a few hands until she landed with her current owner in 1986 or 1993. I say either because I have a sneaking suspicion that J & B Inc of Washington DC and B Air Inc of Alexandria VA are really owned by the same person. In this guise, she's made appearances in Fort Lauderdale, perhaps on simple jaunts or for the owner to winter there. Her last appearances were in 1991 and 1993.

 N760S at Fort Lauderdale Executive, October 8, 1990. By Simon Brook.

N760S at Fort Lauderdale Executive, October 8, 1990. By Simon Brook.

 N760S at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Valentine's Day 1991. By Pete Thorns

N760S at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Valentine's Day 1991. By Pete Thorns

Of the four Paris jets Beechcraft had ties to, N760S is the only one remaining. If she were a human she'd be the closest yet to achieving immortality. Unlike the others whose parts were probably melted down and reused in other planes and products, N760S pushes on, having escaped the random acts of misfortune which can doom warbirds and vintage aircraft.

I especially like the last picture, which feels sedate after her youthful days of buzzing airports and carrying party-goers. Maybe she will achieve something even closer to immortality on this owner's retiring her and be donated to a museum where she can be showcased with the full story of Olive's business jet dream, an end to which I can think of no analogue for a human.

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt2: F-WGVO

Comment

Where Are They Now? pt2: F-WGVO

Where are the ones who have gone before us?

Jet #1 — F-WGVO, Serial Number 1

Registered in 1955, F-WGVO would quickly be re-registered as F-BGVO—first named "Fleuret II" the type was soon permanently changed to "Paris" [Geoff Goodall]. She flew 647 sorties with 1670 passengers after being shipped to the United States, not flown, then reassembled. Flown in 31 cities for a total of 307.54 hours in the air, she had an excellent maintenance record. These flights were conducted from June 14 to August 31, 1955 [Mike Jerram, General Aviation; Beechcraft]. My poor French even suggests that F-BGVO set a civil aviation record for flying from DC to NYC in 36m.

The prototype in flight early in 1955. From Aviation Magazine via Minijets.org

F-BGVO with passengers during the trial, including the woman responsible for its being there: Mrs. Beech.

An ad for the demonstrations in the San Antonio Light, August 12 1955.

Notice the record-breaking flight documented on the upper left.

An article on the demonstration flight in the San Antonio Express, August 7, 1955.

Presumably shipped back across the Atlantic, F-BGVO appeared at the Zurich Airshow in '56, made a world tour in '57, specifically toured Argentina before the air force adopted the type in '57, and made a demonstration for the Portuguese air force in '58. Unfortunately she would run off the runway at Lisbon and catch fire on May 25, 1958.

Comment

Where Are They Now?

Comment

Where Are They Now?

Olive Beech was a remarkable woman—hired as an office manager by the nascent and not-too-later non-existent Travel Air Company she would helm Beechcraft after the death of Walter Beech. Surely this is the first example of a woman running an aircraft manufacturer in a field that is, today, still male-dominated. Yet Olive Beech's relative obscurity seems to imply that she lived a life with very little worth remembering.

Of course, it's tempting to think that only if I do something that will be remembered through the ages have I done something of note, an assumption we often will admit is wrong, and, often will believe almost simultaneously with the former. The pictures Theresa and I discovered in an antique shop are a window into the lives of people who did not rise to the level of fame as Mother Theresa or notoriety as a serial killer.

Let this small post be a tribute to the people whose lives were tied together by this story, the aircraft involved, and Mrs. Beech's attempt to bring the world's first business jet to the US. And, an attempt to answer that question that has haunted people forever: where are the ones who have gone before us?

(because each post has a significant number of pictures, I've had to separate them out, click for the full post)

  1. F-WGVO, Serial #1
  2. N-776K, Serial #3
  3. N760H, Serial #5
  4. F-WJAB, Serial #6
  5. Celeste and John H. Patton

Comment

Rockets and Reuse

Comment

Rockets and Reuse

In a blog post on the Mercury-project experiments recovering Redstone booster rockets (located here), I deferred on commenting outside the historical and engineering context.

But as I implied with hyperbole in that post, it is a well-kept secret that reusable rockets, in some form or another, are much older than the oft-cited (the SRBs and Falcon 9) and equally-deserving dark-horses (DC-X and Blue Origin). Indeed, from the start of liquid-fuel rocketry, reusability was present. Dr. Goddard reused components of his rockets [1: Alway, Peter. Retro Rockets: Experimental Rockets 1926-1941, p26] and for the same reason that takes precedence in arguments for reusability today: economy [2: Ibid. p28]. The German A5, probably to accommodate Von Braun's incremental approach to development, was, in at least one version, capable of being launched, recovered from sea, and reused [3: Ibid. p66][4].

In both of these early cases, though, the vehicles involved were relatively small, slow-moving (for a rocket), and carried very little payload. In addition, the payloads were research related and tightly tied to the development of the vehicle. It is an admittedly different situation for ICBMs converted to space launchers or for space launchers meant to accept many possible payloads like Atlas V, Delta IV, Ariane 5, and so on.

Reading about the relative successes of the Redstone booster recovery project, and taking it as one fairly prominent attempt at reusability that punctuated many quieter ones, one has to wonder why we insist on building "one-shot" rockets? Is it hubris? A sort of conquering of fire and overwhelming the basic forces that tie us to Earth that keeps us interested in sending them up, but after which we lose interest in the rocket's fate once it surrenders to those forces? Is it desperation? A deep-seated desire to "slip the surly bonds of Earth" that holds such sway we're willing to discard tons of metal, hours of work, and plenty of money just to push a small vehicle out into space? Is it greed? A short-term calculation that the historical investment in rockets allow us to launch money-making packages without the costly investment in landing systems?

Certainly economics and the desire for profits has played a part in this. With the fairly quick expansion of rocket capabilities, it became profitable to launch using the research done in the past with minimal additional investment. On the flip side, there was no profit to be had in developing reusable rockets in the immediate term. Additionally it has been an intrinsic property of rockets that they propel themselves somewhere but only an instrumental property that they are recovered.

It was, and so far has, remained an investment and when it comes to weighing the future versus immediate gain, we have never been very good. While the technology is a challenge compared to the centuries of rocket development that, with engineers' and scientists' continued contributions, has made rockets ever easier to launch, it's probably never been impossible—just expensive.

The oxidizer tank of Unha 3 #2 recovered by the South Korean Navy. Though not a rocket designed for recovery and reuse, the potential is clearly there at a loss of payload or fuel—alternatively with weight-savings through structural improvements. Getty Images.
Fascinating analysis by Norbert Brugge here. Reading about the recovery of this tank and the fuel tank of Unha 3 #3 (sunk on impact) reminded me of Andrew LePage's interpretation of the Gemini 5 Titan II recovery where the heavier portion of the stage (the fuel tank with its attached engines) caused a bending moment that tore the stage between the oxidizer and fuel tanks. That both launchers use UDMH/N2O4 is also a happy coincidence.

Incidentally, the expense and challenge of instituting reusability could be useful. Ernst Stuhlinger's famous letter justifying the exploration of space over addressing Earthly concerns (directly) included the argument that competition in access to space united large groups of people to develop challenging technology that could be spun off was more productive than war which left lots of resources and lives ruined—the only other enterprise with comparable motivational and innovative power.

Today you see a miniature race in developing reusable rockets. The leading contestants are Blue Origin (listed first here because they managed to land their, albeit suborbital, launcher before SpaceX, for which they do not receive enough credit) and SpaceX, but ULA has thrown its hat into the ring. Airbus has its own project. But this race is not the kind Stuhlinger was defending. He advocated a race that broke down national barriers and united people in their humanity, this is pure commercial competition, which builds barriers between small fiefdoms within national barriers. While I doubt Mr. Stuhlinger was comfortable with the nationalization of industries, I imagine that he would view these approaches as outside the justification for the space program which he provides. A competition to achieve reusability could be useful in developing spin offs and uniting people like he implies the space program is good for, but thus far what we've seen is not it.

 Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle at EAA Oskosh in 2017. By ThePenultimateOne under a Share Alike License

Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle at EAA Oskosh in 2017. By ThePenultimateOne under a Share Alike License

 

VS

 
 B1019 at SpaceX HQ. By  Juan Kulichevsky  under a Share Alike 

B1019 at SpaceX HQ. By Juan Kulichevsky under a Share Alike 

Comment