Friday, August 26, 2011

Video Del Fuego, Part XLVII

The 1950s were a fine time to be an aeronautical engineer. There was so much new ground to be covered. There were so many new ideas to try. Many of those ideas were pretty weird, and there are plenty of perfectly good reasons we don't try them anymore, but no one knew those reasons ... yet. And there was only one way to find out. Which made that era, from approximately 1940 to 1960, such a rewarding time to work at places like Convair, Lockheed, Bell, or North American.

Some of the ideas to come out of that era shaped the way we still build airplanes to this day. Others, not so much. Some really peculiar aircraft parted company with their shadows in those years. For example, did you hear the one about the supersonic seaplane?

This beautiful craft was a contemporary of Convair's other delta-wing fighters, the F-102 and F-106, adapted to take off and land on the open ocean. The basic problem was this: the Navy wanted a supersonic fighter for fleet defense. But, there were serious doubts about being able to launch and recover supersonic fighters from aircraft carriers. So, Convair came up with the idea of adapting the Delta Dart with skids, so that it could take off and land at sea. The F2Y was a stunningly beautiful aircraft, and to this day is the only seaplane to break the sound barrier. That said, landing a delta-wing aircraft on water without hurting yourself is damn hard. They never built more than the one F2Y prototype.

Now, the Navy's designation F2Y leads to a question. Pre-1962, the Navy system for aircraft designation was first, a letter or letters for the mission; second, a series number; and third, a letter for the manufacturer. The numeral "1" was usually omitted. So, the Grumman F4F Wildcat was the fourth Navy fighter built by the Grumman corporation. And the Convair F2Y would have been the second Navy fighter built by Convair. What was the first, you ask?

Hoo boy ... Here was another solution to the problem of basing aircraft on ships. The Convair XFY was to be a VTOL fighter that could take off and land on any ship, meaning that any task force at all could have fighter support, even without a flat-top present. Lockheed also had an entry in this category, the XFV, but it never actually achieved full transition from vertical to horizontal flight, and never flew without a protective undercarriage. The Pogo managed several such transitions. The concept had a serious flaw, though. Imagine, for a moment, trying to land this thing on the fantail of a frigate, pitching and heaving in the middle of the ocean.

Yeah. No one else thought it was a good idea, either. You have to love a flight test report that ends, "We think it highly inadvisable to land this airplane."

We can look back and laugh now, but still ... this would have been a fine time to be a staff engineer at Convair. They got to work on some incredible stuff. For every crazy idea that didn't work, they had one or two that did. Designs that were cutting-edge when conceived were sometimes obsolete by the time they entered production. It was a wild, crazy time, and I'm kind of sorry to have missed it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Election 2012 Preview: Handicapping the Primaries, Part II

Now that football season is underway, it's just about time for the Presidential primary season to being in earnest. Just about everyone who's going to participate in next year's Republican primary has declared their candidacy. And, of course, we already know who the Democratic nominee will be. (You get three guesses. The first two don't count.) With all that said, we're going to dust off our crystal ball, and do some more prognosticating. (All figures from, current as of Friday night.)

(Prognostication is something I probably shouldn't do. My record is somewhat less than stellar. I'm on record predicting Donovan McNabb to give the Eagles good reason to regret trading him to the Redskins, after all, and we all know how that turned out. Anyway...)

Democratic Party

I'm only doing this for completeness' sake. It's all over bar the shouting. As I said before, in the modern era, sitting Presidents just don't get turfed for re-nomination. And also in the modern era, they just don't go for a re-do on their running mates, either. So, I'm not even going to bother looking up the numbers. It's Obama/Biden for Team Blue in 2012, unless one or both of them get run over by a bus or something. (Which ain't gonna happen.)

Republican Party

And the Republican race is about to get fun. In the list to follow, one person wasn't even on it back in March, and ... well, let's just get to it.

Rick Perry, 32% -- And, surging out of nowhere, the Governor of Texas is in the lead, at least according to Vegas. He should officially declare his candidacy tomorrow in South Carolina. This is a development that should surprise no one. He spent a good bit of time last year denying he'd seek the Presidency. But it takes an extraordinarily humble man to resist that clarion call, and successful politicians are very seldom humble. He'd already become the longest-serving Governor in Texas' history. What else was there for him to do, but to go for the brass ring? And in a very real sense, his presence sucks all the oxygen out of the tent for everyone else. With his executive experience, his popularity with the Tea Party, and his skill in political skullduggery, he steals damn near everyone's trump cards. The man's got a clear path to the nomination, provided he doesn't do anything utterly stupid.

Mitt Romney, 29% -- Romney still clings stubbornly to second place. As well he should: he's been laying the groundwork for 2012 ever since the dust settled from 2008. But nothing important has changed. The big millstone around his neck is still the fact that ObamaCare is RomneyCare with the serial numbers filed off. He's going to have to find a way to run away from that without looking ridiculous. This feat is probably beyond him. He'll do all right in the Northeast. But once the race swings into the South and West ... well, let's just say Perry's got him bore-sighted.

Sarah Palin, 7% -- Yes, no one else is even out of single digits. Frankly, Palin has waited too long to get into the race. Michele Bachmann has already garnered much of her Tea Party base, and Rick Perry has already stolen most of that thunder. There might be room for two Tea Party candidates in the primary. No way is there room for three. Thanks for playing, Ms. Palin, your consolation prize is a Fox News gig.

Ron Paul, 6% -- Ron Paul will hang on until the bloody, bitter end. He hasn't a ghost of a chance of winning the nomination, but as long as he gets a bully pulpit, he'll use it to air his ideas. He's quite mad, of course, but I respect his persistence.

Michele Bachmann, 5% -- Given that Bachmann will probably win Iowa, I'm surprised to find her this low on the list. I'm going to kick myself for not buying a handful of Bachmann shares now, and unloading them right after the Iowa caucuses. I could turn a tidy profit. Still, she won't last. She's got Iowa, Romney's got New Hampshire, but after the race heads South, it's all Perry all day. (Seriously, I don't see how that dude loses, unless he shoots himself in the foot.)

Tim Pawlenty, 5% -- And sinking like a stone. I don't see how he recovers from the evisceration he got in last night's GOP debate. Stone barking mad Bachmann may be, but she was all over Pawlenty like a cheap suit. This just ain't Tim's year.

Others -- Not much to say. Newt's toast, but we knew that, even if no one's actually told him yet. He's still got a 1% share, for some inexplicable reason. Other than that, I see a whole bunch of names with zeroes by them. To a first approximation, this is probably going to be a three-way race initially: Perry, Romney, and Bachmann. Then, there'll be a down-select to Perry and Romney, and I expect Perry to win the nomination. They're laying down a 32% chance that the VP nominee will be Marco Rubio, but that's no more than a wild guess. As we all know, the VP pick comes down to who wins the nomination, and what sort of VP they want. We don't have enough information to go on yet to make a reasonable prediction.

And The Winner Is...

Currently, the betting line is 51%-47% in favor of the Democratic candidate, if you go by party. On the individuals list, Barack Obama leads with 49%, the nearest competitor being Rick Perry at 17%. It's going to be a tougher sell next year unless the economy improves, but if the Republicans go full-bore extremist, that might scare enough independents back into Obama's column. It'll be an interesting election season next summer and fall. But, I still think it favors the incumbent. Obama/Biden for the win is still worth a buck or two.

Remember, kids, vote early, and vote often!