FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day 20 December 2016

The blog continues to “develop,” and it’s a work in progress. I don’t have all the answers yet on just how the process works, but I’m working on it.  I hope you’ll be able to:

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3 Be able to leave a comment – if not today, in the near future.

4 Be able to subscribe to it.

5 Eventually I hope to be able to facilitate greater contributions and                interactions among readers, a long way of saying I’m still trying                  to figure it all out.

Tomorrow is the winter of hibernal solstice.  It’s the beginning of winter.  It’s the shortest day of the year with Seattle only seeing 8hr and 26min of daylight.  And it’s only 56 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training!

Over the weekend, Roger went skiing at Mission Ridge  It’s a great little ski area with a nice high speed quad.  On a stormy and foggy night in September 30, 1944, a Walla Walla Army Air Force Base B-24 Liberator was off course and in the darkness and weather crashed in to Mission Ridge just 500 feet below the crest.  There were no survivors.

A section of the wing is mounted at the top of what’s now called “Bomber Bowl” just off the Liberator chair lift. There’s small plaque to commemorate the event and honor those who were serving their country.

This Controlled Flight Into Terrain CFIT) event occurred long before we had the technology to prevent this type of accident.

Let’s move forward to this date in 1995.  American Airlines Flight 965 leaves KMIA enroute to Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport in Cali, Columbia.  The flight departed roughly two hours late due to a winter storm in the northeast and seasonal congestion of air traffic at KMIA.  Approaching Cali, the winds were calm and the controller asked AA-965 if they wanted to straight in to RWY 19 rather than coming around to RWY 01.  The crew in an effort to make up for some of their lost time accepted the new arrival and deleted the arrival to RWY 01 from the FMS  Cali had no functional radar to monitor the flight as it had been blown up by a terror group in 1992.  The controller cleared AA-965 for the approach and requested a check in over a waypoint that had been erased from the FMS LEGS page.  By the time they relocated and entered the point into the FMS, they had passed the point.  The crew then consulted their paper chart for the next waypoint on the approach profile, Rozo.  They were high on the new approach profile.  The pilot flying (PF) retarded the throttles and extended the speed brakes to begin their descent to RWY 19.   The Rozo NDB was identified as R on their charts.  The crew, now pressed for time, selected the first R from their database.  Columbia had duplicated the identifier for the Rozo NDB and the Romeo NDB near Bogatá and using their convention had listed the identifier near the largest city first.  Only by selecting the full name of Rozo would the crew have been able to identify this waypoint.  By selecting and executing R as the active waypoint, the autopilot initiated a turn east and a path toward Bogotá in a wide semicircle.  By the time the error was detected, the aircraft had descended into a box canyon roughly parallel to the one they should have been in.  Twelve seconds prior to impact the Ground Proximity Warning System activated with its associated warning.  Within one second the PF, the FO, disengaged the autopilot and advanced the throttles full forward.  However neither crew member retracted the speedbrakes located on the left side of the throttle levers and a bit harder to retard from the right seat.  There is no auto-speedbrake retract on the B-757 nor is there an EICAS message generated.  AA-965 impacted a 9800 foot mountain named El Diluvio (The Deluge) at the 8900 foot level.  Because neither the Boeing ECab nor the CDU/FMS simulator could be backdriven with the data obtained from the flight data recorder (FDR), it was never determined with precision whether AA-965 would have cleared the ridge if the speedbrakes had been retracted.   The NTSB report offered that had the crew retracted the speedbrakes one second after initiating the escape maneuver they could have been climbing through a position 150 feet above the impact point. As a new pup working Air Line Pilot Association issues, I was a member of the ARAC that recommended adaption of the Enhanced GPWS  ALPA was also asked by the Allied Pilots Association (American Airlines pilots union) to assist in the accident investigation.  Again as that young pup I was assigned to the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) Group.  It was my first commercial airline accident investigation.  I’ll just say this: No matter what position you hold as a pilot or crewmember or safety advocate, never, never, ever support any change that would allow the release of the CVR audio.  The effect of the adoption of GPWS and EGPWS rules and equipment is a success story in that there has not been a single passenger fatality in a CFIT crash of a large jet in US airspace since this equipment has been mandated.

20 December 1968: After 199 flights, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration cancelled the X-15 Hypersonic Research Program.

AFFTC History Office

A 200th X-15 flight had been scheduled, but after several delays, the decision was made to end the program. (The last actual flight attempt was 12 December 1968, but snow at several of the dry lakes used as emergency landing areas resulted in the flight being cancelled.)

If you have a reasonable singing voice, or if you bring libations for me in particular and you, you’re welcome to stand outside my place and observe National Go Caroling Day.  Speaking of caroling, there is a very funny parody of It’s a Wonderful Life and It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year out there.  Check it out. .  Thanks Norm for the heads up on this.

Today is also Mudd Day when we remember Dr. Samuel Mudd (it’s his birthday)  who provided medical assistance to John Wilkes Booth after Booth had assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on the evening of Good Friday, April 14, 1864.  Dr. Mudd was known to Booth, having met him when Booth was hatching a plan to kidnap Lincoln and exchange him for Confederate POWs.  Booth and conspirator David Herold rode to Mudd’s [ctct]home in the early morning of April 15, 1864, where Booth received treatment for the broken leg he suffered while jumping to the stage at Ford’s Theatre. He was convicted as a conspirator in the Lincoln murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment.  He served as the prison doctor during a yellow fever outbreak at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas  about 70 miles west of Key West.  He was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson.  On your next visit to Key West, I recommend a trip to the Dry Tortugas.  It’s a good trip and will allow you to prepare for your next Duval Crawl in Key West.

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FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day

19 December 2016


On this day in 1732, Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanack.  It’s the Fireball’s Observations of its Day, with some added preaching of prudence.  It was certainly one of the most popular publications in colonial America and was published continuously for 25 years.  Over 10,000 copies per year were printed and distributed.  Franklin’s interests varied widely, yet he continued to maintain an interest in science, politics and certainly the art of negotiation throughout his life.  He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was instrumental in persuading France to lend military assistance to the colonies during the Revolutionary War.


Pamphlet publication and newspapers were the information sources of the day in the late eighteen century and a skilled blogger, I mean writer could mobilize an emerging nation.  Thomas Paine was an author and an orator that could inspire all those around him.  His Common Sense had been instrumental in persuading the colonists to declare independence from the British and to engage the British in a fight for independence.  In the midst of the Revolutionary War and after Washington was forced to retreat from New York City and across New Jersey his troops and the fledgling nation needed a shot in the arm.  Realizing the power of the pen, Thomas Paine on this day in 1776, published a second pamphlet American Crisis

These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”  These words, read by Washington to his dispirited troops, invigorated his soldiers and mustered their remaining hopes for victory and independence.  On Christmas night Washington and his forces crossed the icy Delaware River, surprised and defeated the Hessians and again on January 2, 1777, defeated Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Princeton.  These victories greatly influenced the French to side with the Patriot cause.



During 1777, George Washington and his 11,000 Patriot forces enter winter camp at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania just north from British-occupied Philadelphia which had been the capital of the United States.  Washington had recently suffered major defeats at the battles of Brandywine, and Germantown.  Many troops had enlistments that were expiring or that had expired.  They had not been paid and they had few supplies to sustain their camp.  The winter of 1777-1778 was particularly brutal. 

Valley Forge is on the west bank of the Schuykill River and could be effectively defended in the event of a winter attack by the British.  Hundreds of troops died from disease.  A late arrival Prussian military adviser Frederick von Steuben established sound military routine with drills, improved sanitary conditions and trained the soldiers in modern military strategy.  Washington stayed with his men and they emerged in the spring a stronger and more effective fighting force than when they had entered winter camp.  Just nine days after breaking camp on June 19,1 778 they won a great victory against the British under Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey.  I spent a week camping and exploring the Valley Force grounds.  There’s lots to see and do there.


The US Naval Academy class of 1942 graduates six month early on this date in 1941 due to the nation’s entry into WWII.

FOD Fireballs Observations of the Day

There have been other companies who were considered “too big to fail”.  The British East India Company was faltering in 1773 and arranged for the British Parliament to pass the Tea Act greatly lowering the tea tax and giving them a virtual monopoly on the tea trade in the American Colonies.  In protest of the tax, Colonists boycotted British tea and forced most British ships to depart with their tea still aboard.  When three British ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver arrived in Boston Harbor in 1713, Boston colonists demanded they return to England.  When the appointed Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the ships to leave, Patriot leader Sam Adams organized his underground resistance group, The Sons of Liberty (the terrorist group of its day, depending upon your political side at the time).  Thinly disguised as Mohawk Indians roughly 60 members of the Sons of Liberty boarded the ships under cover of darkness and dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor, valued at some $18,000 or around $700,000 today.  Outraged by the blatant destruction of British property, Parliament enacted a series of measures called the Coercive Acts but labeled the “Intolerable Acts” by the colonists which closed Boston harbor, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts (ending its self-government), made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, required colonists to quarter British troops.  You’ll see a distinct reaction to these acts years later in the US Bill of Rights mentioned yesterday.   In their first major combined efforts the Thirteen Colonies unified their additional acts of protest and convening the First Continental Congress.  They petitioned the British monarch to repeal these acts as they believed their rights as Englishmen were being violated as they had no representation in the Parliament who was enacting taxes upon them – “No taxation without representation.”  Generally the crisis continued to escalate the American Revolution began outside Boston in  1775.


In the last major German offensive of WWII, the German Army through 406,000 soldiers, 1214 tanks, tank destroyers, and assault and 4224 artillery pieces into the initial assault, including 14 German infantry divisions guarded by five panzer divisions against a thinly held 80 mile stretch or hilly, wooded forest area known as the Ardennes in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.  The surprise attack took the Allies completely off guard despite the fact intercepted German communications indicated substantial German offensive preparations were being made, but were not acted upon.  Bad weather over the days previous also limited effective air reconnaissance.  Under cover of night and thick fog allowed he German attack to proceed unabated.  The Nazi strategy was to drive to the Belgian port of Antwerp, spit the Allied lines, encircle and destroy the four Allied armies and then sue for peace under favorable terms so as to be able to concentrate on the Soviets on the Eastern Front.  At this point the Allied forces had advanced at a greater rate than expected and found their own supply lines stretched to the max and with few reserves of men and supplies, particularly fuel, as Antwerp had not ramped up with the necessary inputs from the UK.  The Allies called it the Ardennes Counteroffensive, but the phrase “Battle of the Bulge” was coined by contemporary press  to describe the bulge in the Allied front lines and has become the most widely used name for this battle.  By 21 December the town of Bastogne and its network of 11 hard surfaced roads leading through the widely forested area was surrounded and defended by the 101stAirborne Division and the 969th Artillery Battalion and the Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division.  Food was scares and most medical supplies and medical personnel had been captured.  Artillery ammunition was restricted to 10 rounds/day/gun.  When weather permitted supplies were dropped, primarily ammunition. Despite determined German attacks the perimeter held. When Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st was told of the Nazi demand for surrender, in frustration he responded, “Nuts.”  After considering more pressing matters his staff reminded him that he should reply to the German demand.  One officer, Lt. Col. Harry Kinnard, noted that McAuliffe’s initial replay would be “tough to beat.”  Thus McAuliffe wrote on the paper, which was typed up and delivered to the Germans.  The line was made famous, boosted his troops morale.  That reply had to be explained to both the Germans and the non-American Allies.

Mustering all available assets the Allies were able to halt the German offensive.  As you’ll recall from the movie, Patton, he was able to disengage on this front in France, turn north and engage the south salient of the bulge.  Large German units were surrounded and large quantities of heavy equipment fell into Allied hands due to strong Allied airstrikes, added Allied troops and a lack of fuel for the German equipment.  While the last vestiges of the bulge were not countered until late January it did have the effect of delaying the Allies movement toward the German borders by weeks and inflicted the heaviest American losses of the war.  While American casualty estimates vary numbers of around 75,000 American casualties and in excess of 100,000 German casualties are good estimates.  For the Nazis their last reserves had been expended, the Luftwaffe had been shattered and the remaining forces were in pulled back further.  The Battle of the Bulge also saw the integration of black soldiers into regular Army units and was the first step toward integration of the US military.


And because I won’t be doing this after today, I should include the most important date in aviation history, December 17,1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved the first controlled and sustained flight in a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft four miles south of Kitty Hawk, NC.  While not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, they wer the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.  Using their own homebuilt wind tunnel, they collected more accurate data than ever before enabling them to systematically develop wings and propellers that were more efficient.  Thus they concentrated on the control elements of “the flying problem” vice trying to develop a more powerful engine which added weight.  Of all the biographfies of the Wright Brothers I recommend The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough.

As many of you know, I retire today.  It’s a good thing and it’s time.  I’ve had a great run and I can’t cry because it’s over, I’m just smiling because it happend.