Monday, October 16, 2006

Roundup on Latest VLJ and Air Taxi Developments

Archive (Friday's Post) Here

Quarterly (4 months actually) Update on Very Light Jets & Air Taxis

After I posted a few items on how VLJs and Air Taxis look to be part of an emerging paradigm shift in air travel earlier this year, the Very Light Jet Market has heated up. Several direct competitors and ‘niche-fillers’ have made progress in many technological and regulatory compliance areas. To bring people up to speed on the major developments since I last reported, here is a roundup of news to-date. If you’ve been keeping up with the subject you may want to skip to the latest developments at the bottom of the post.

I’ve noted that with the increasing number of technical mileposts reached by the VLJ contenders, there has been a corresponding increase in ‘legal’ and ‘business’ articles on the subject. This is partly due to the fact that as the VLJs have become more ‘real’, the contenders are focused more in on the objective of getting their product to fit in the market – while the market is being defined - and the environment in turn is beginning to determine how Air Taxi aircraft will be integrated into the Air Transportation System.

I'vs collected these links over the past months. The articles are not comprehensive but I believe they do fairly well represent the thrust of developments since May :
It was a horse race to be first with FAA certification, and in these past few months, some of the contenders crossed the finish line, while others reminded the market that they were very close.

"Very Light Jet" is a term that is pretty loosely defined at this time. Use of the label spills over into describing jets much larger than the Eclipse or Cessna entries.

A ‘dark-horse’ jet company suffered a major setback.

A Surprise ‘Big Business’ player appeared

‘Safety’ and ‘Capacity’ articles started appearing more regularly. Part in response to the challenges ahead, but also in response to the airline trade industry’s group, the ATA jockeying to ensure VLJs don’t create any more instability for their industry than already exists. (Good luck with that!)

Sweeping speculations on the relative safety of different forms of air travel have started making the rounds, in part because of the involvement of high profile pilots and passengers in some corporate jet incidents the last few years.

People are suing over reserved spots for delivery orders. I take this as a positive development as nothing attracts lawsuits like ‘success’!

31 May 06
Eclipse nearing FAA certification

…The Eclipse 500 -- a twin-engine, six-seat jet aircraft that will cost about $1.5 million -- is on track for FAA certification by the end of the quarter, Eclipse said Tuesday in a news release.

…Eclipse said its test fleet has exceeded 2,000 flight hours.

…The FAA has estimated 100 "very small jets" -- also called VSJs, ultra light jets or microjets -- will be produced by the end of the year and that in a decade nearly 5,000 such airplanes will be flying, an estimate the FAA says is "relatively conservative."

14 June 2006
Eclipse building jets, hiring staff

...After years of work, and building five test jets to win Federal Aviation Administration certification, the first production jet is being built for delivery to a real customer. That customer is one of more than 2,000 people or companies who have already ordered their own jets and made deposits with Eclipse.

...“We'll be exiting the end of this year with production aircraft of just over one aircraft per day,” Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn said. “So we'll build about 86 planes this year and then about 606 airplanes next year.”

...The company plans to hire more than 300 more employees by the end of the year.
27 June 2006
FAA announces next-generation air traffic control

…The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that it is backing plans for new satellite technology to improve the safety and capacity of air transportation systems.

…The aviation industry as a whole welcomes the move, but the system will be introduced slowly in order to fully integrate processes and ensure a smooth transition, with passenger safety at the top of the agenda.

16 July 2006

Lots of developments in one:
There's A BRS Chute in D-Jet's Future

…During a lavish and ornate Saturday night public unveiling of Diamond Aircraft's single-engine Williams FJ33 powered D-Jet GA jet, Diamond CEO Christian Dries (pictured below) confirmed to ANN that they have entered into an agreement to develop a BRS emergency aircraft parachute system for the D-Jet.

…First announced by Diamond Aircraft in January 2003, the single-engine Diamond "D-Jet" is powered by a single Williams FJ-33 turbofan, an engine also used in the upcoming twin-engine Adams A700 and ATG Javelin. The five-passenger D-Jet is expected to cruise at a maximum speed of 315 knots, at an altitude of 25,000 ft while offering a range of 1,351 nm -- which translates to a decidedly un-jetlike fuel burn around 34 gallons per hour.

…..The composite aircraft features a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, which in basic configuration features a dual screen PFD/MFD with integrated GFC 700 autopilot. The optional enhanced avionics package adds a massive 15" MFD to the two 10" PFD's, a glare shield mounted autopilot controller for the GFC 700 and a center console mounted FMS controller.

24 July 2006
Eclipse successfully tests first customer aircraft

…Eclipse Aviation has successfully tested the first production aircraft that is slated for delivery to a customer.

…Until now, Eclipse has operated a fleet of five test aircraft, accumulating more than 25-hundred flying hours. F-A-A certification was expected by late June, but delays by suppliers have pushed the date back twice this year.

25 July 2006
Honda has been testing an aircraft prototype as a technology demonstrator since 2003 and everyone was wondering what they were going to do with it. Now we know....and it was a 'gut' decision. Who knew Honda management was sentimental?
Honda to Sell Commercial Jet

…The HondaJet cruises 10 percent faster, has a cabin that is 30 percent larger and a range that is about 40 percent greater on 14 percent less thrust than Cessna's CJI+ model, according to Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's AOPA Pilot magazine.

…The company began studying aeronautics to honor the memory of founder Soichiro Honda, who dreamed of building aircraft before he died in 1991, Koichi Kondo, chief executive of officer of Honda's North American unit, said in a January interview.

…"There was no grand strategy. It was kind of an emotional decision,'' Kondo said.

26 July 2006
Experimental plane crash kills two in Spanish Fork

… An experimental plane crashed at the city airport Tuesday after takeoff, killing two people who worked for a company building the lightweight aircraft in Utah County.

…"This was the only one. We have to determine what went wrong," Blue said. Spectrum employs about 80 people in Spanish Fork. Blue said it was too early to know the impact on future production. Rocky Mountain Composites, Inc. of Spanish Fork and Spectrum Aeronautical in June celebrated the first public flight of the plane.

…The plane's composite carbon-fiber skin, produced by RMC, is what makes it different from other similar planes.

…Comparable jets weigh around 13,000 pounds, while the Spectrum is about 7,000 pounds. With the cost of fuel, the lightweight spectrum will be more appealing to pilots than similar planes.

Victims In UT Spectrum Jet Crash Identified

...Austin Blue, president of Spectrum Aeronautical LLC, identified the two victims of Tuesday afternoon's crash of the Spectrum 33 prototype as Glenn Maben, director of flight operations at Spectrum Aerospace LLC, and vice
director Nathan Forrest.

...The plane that was lost was the sole prototype of the very light jet, introduced last November at the NBAA Conference in Orlando, FL.

…About the same cabin size of Cessna's Citation CJ-2+ and offering up to 10-place seating, Spectrum Aerospace told ANN in January its VLJ entry offers top speeds in excess of 415-knots, non-stop range of 2,000 nautical miles yet weighs in at a low 7,300 pounds gross takeoff weight. At maximum weight, the 33 can reach its typical cruising altitude of 45,000 feet in a direct climb of only about 20 minutes.

…Linden Blue, CEO of Spectrum Aeronautical, told ANN at that time he had high hopes for the Spectrum 33 commenting, "Citations are out of my range, and Lears are certainly as well. So is the King Air. I figured if we could make something significantly different in terms of weight and cost, it was worth doing. If all we could do was make a Citation that was maybe 5 or 10 percent better, that's just beating your head against the wall -- you've got to make a substantial improvement or it's not worth doing."

...It is not yet known what impact Tuesday's loss of two valued members of the Spectrum team... and the prototype... will have on the program.

Update: Preliminary Report Identifies Improper Maintenance

Honda Partners With Piper!

…Not only has Honda committed to production of the innovative Honda TwinJet, but Piper has been named a a partner in a venture that will in part, result in the production of that aircraft in the United States.

…Honda confirmed their plans to enter the innovative HondaJet in the growing very light jet market, with the process of accepting sales orders expected to begin in the U.S. in fall 2006. Toward this goal, Honda will establish a new U.S. company to hold FAA type certification and production certification. Honda's goal is to complete type certification in about 3-4 years, followed by the start of production in the U.S.

…"Aviation has been an important dream of Honda for more than four decades," said Satoshi Toshida, senior managing director of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. "Our goal is consistent with the philosophy of other Honda products -- to provide convenient and efficient transportation that will make people's lives better. We are excited now to enter a new dimension of mobility."

….To date the prototype six-to-seven seat HondaJet has completed more than 240 hours of flight-testing since December 2003. So far, the prototype HondaJet has achieved an altitude of 43,000 feet and a speed of 412 knots and is on course to meet or exceed all of its design specifications.

More information on the Honda Jet here.
1 September 2006
Eclipse Expects Fed Blessing; Full FAA Certification To Let Buyers Claim
Their Jets

...Eclipse Aviation expects full Federal Aviation Administration certification of its twin-engine jet within the next two weeks, president and CEO Vern Raburn said Tuesday.

...The company, which received provisional certification from the FAA in late July, had expected full certification of the $1.5 million Eclipse 500 by today.

...Since July, the company has been working on a handful of "IOUs" with the FAA, including the design and installation of new aluminum wingtip fuel tanks to replace composite tanks that failed a lightning test. The FAA still needs to complete testing of the Avio avionics system from Eclipse supplier Avidyne, which Raburn has said faced software development delays.

..."We're done except for one last thing," Raburn said.

...Upon full certification, customer delivery will begin "almost immediately," he said.

15 September 2006
Cessna's more conventional design at least gets 'bragging rights'.
Eclipse Rival Cessna First VLJ with Full FAA Ticket

...Cessna Aircraft Co. reported Monday that it has received full Federal Aviation Administration type certification for its $2.6 million Citation Mustang jet. The certification, awarded about a month ahead of schedule, makes Cessna the first company to receive full FAA certification for a so-called "very light jet."

..."Market expansion is what we're all about," Broom said of Cessna's certification announcement. "A new avenue for people to utilize private aviation is nothing but good for the industry."

...Many believe VLJs, generally defined as jet aircraft weighing less than 10,000 pounds, will revolutionize aviation by bringing jet ownership and operation within reach of pilots and owners who previously would have been limited to prop-driven aircraft.

...Cessna first unveiled its Citation Mustang in 2002. The company plans to build and deliver 50 planes in 2007, and reports it has 250 orders on the books, which will sell out production through 2009.

...For comparison, Eclipse says it has about 2,500 orders on the books and plans much higher production - eventually up to 1,000 planes a year. The company has said volume production is key to the Eclipse 500's comparably low price.

19 September 2006

Not a VLJ, but a prop cousin to their jet project. Given the high commonality between the two projects this has to be considered a step forward for the jet as well.
Adam Aircraft Receives FAA Production Certificate

…the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Production Certificate to Adam Aircraft, giving the company approval to manufacture and deliver its A500 aircraft under an FAA-approved type design. This allows Adam Aircraft to accelerate production of the A500 by being able to inspect and apply standard airworthiness certificates under a system approved by the FAA. The FAA Production Certificate substantiates that Adam Aircraft's Quality System and manufacturing procedures meet the Federal Aviation Regulations.

…The A500 twin-engine piston aircraft has been Type Certified by the FAA, and the
A700 AdamJet is currently undergoing flight test and development.

27 September 2006
Honda to Start Taking Orders for Small Business Jet Next Month

…Honda Motor Co., the world's largest engine maker, starts taking orders next month for a new small business jet as the Japanese company diversifies from its main auto, motorcycle and power products businesses.

…Sales of the seven-passenger HondaJet begin Oct. 17 at the National Business Aviation Association show in Orlando, Florida, spokeswoman Alicia Jones said today. Honda will announce the price and specifications for the jet then, she said.

…``It will be priced under $4 million,'' said Jones, with Honda's U.S. unit in Torrance, California.

…Competitors include Textron Inc.'s Cessna, Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica
SA and Eclipse Aviation Corp.

29 September 2006
FAA, GA Leaders Agree On Impact Of Very Light Jets

…Jack Pelton, Chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and Chairman, President, and CEO of Cessna Aircraft Company, addressed recent concerns regarding the effects of the introduction of VLJs.

…"The introduction of VLJs will be at a rate in which they will be transparently and smoothly absorbed into the system.”

…"FAA officials, Nicholas Sabatini, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, and Michael Cirillo, Vice President of Systems Operation Services within the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, agreed. They told the committee that the FAA has the capability to safely introduce all aircraft into the system, no matter the size, speed or performance. “VLJs will be assimilated into the system in an orderly fashion,” said Sabatini. Cirillo added, “Major airports will not be inundated with VLJs.”

…"This hearing has also completely discredited the myth propagated by the airlines that VLJs will place an undue burden on the national airspace system.”

1 October 2006
Eclipse Aviation Gets E500 Certification

…Eclipse Aviation Corp. said its E500 "very light jet" has been fully certified by the Federal Aviation Administration - meaning the small aircraft are cleared for delivery to customers.
3 October 2006
NBAA's Bolen Blasts ATA For 'Unfounded' Comments On VLJs

…Disputes Assertion Jets Will Be "Significant Burden" On NAS On Monday, the National Business Aviation Association came out swinging against allegations made by the Air Transport Association the emergence of very light jets (VLJs) would impose a burden on the nation's aviation infrastructure.

…As Aero-News reported, an official with the commercial airline lobbying group contended last week VLJs would be a "significant burden" in the aviation system, interfering with the operations of the commercial airlines. NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen (right) says ATA's statements simply don't hold water -- and what's more, several government officials have already said as much.

…"The unfounded comments by the ATA fly in the face not only of public statements by Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Marion Blakey but also congressional testimony by top FAA officials," said Bolen. "The fear-mongering by the airlines may be part of their broader strategy to pay less for air traffic services even as they try to seize control of the system."

…"The development of VLJ aircraft is good news on many levels," Bolen said. "Their introduction produces high-skill manufacturing jobs. They will help make many small and mid-sized companies more competitive. And, they will strengthen aviation services for many small communities. Those benefits should be the focus of discussion about VLJs."

5 October 2006
Eclipse Aviation Sued By Swiss Customer

…Says VLJ Maker Delayed, Then Cancelled Order Despite great news from Eclipse Aviation in the past few days... there are a few flies in the ointment at the Albuquerque, NM-based planemaker. Aviace Limited -- a Swiss start-up jet charter company, and what would have been one of Eclipse's first big customers -- is suing the company, after it says Eclipse first delayed, then cancelled, a 112-plane order supposedly made four years ago.

...Aviace alleges the situation is all about money -- that Eclipse deliberately cancelled the order, so it could sell the same planes to another customer at greater profit.

...On Tuesday, US District Judge Christina Armijo denied a request by Aviace
for a temporary restraining order, according to the AP.

6 October 2006
A comprehensive rundown on business jets (including supersonic projects!) and an update on the future of the Spectrum 33:
New Bizjets

…Calif.-based Spectrum Aeronautical is vowing to press ahead with the Spectrum 33 program, despite the fatal crash of its sole prototype on July 25.

…The NTSB found no evidence of any pre-existing failures of the airplane’s structure. However, “examination of the translation linkage on the aft side of the aft pressure bulkhead revealed that it was connected in a manner that reversed the roll control…the linkage was connected such that left roll input from the sidesticks would have deflected the ailerons to produce right roll of the airplane, and right roll input from the sidesticks would have deflected the ailerons to produce left roll of the airplane.”
…“The nature of the accident didn’t call the Spectrum 33’s design characteristics into question,” Blue said. The next test aircraft will be closer to a “production configuration” and will be designed to ensure that the controls can never be misrigged, he noted. This aircraft is expected to fly next year.

…Spectrum plans to release more details at the NBAA Convention this month, where it will begin taking orders for the $3.65 million twinjet.

10 October 2006

A very good summary of Air Taxis and VLJ developments, with special emphasis on the variety of business models and strategies.
NBAA 2006: Meter's running - The air-taxi era in the USA

…At next week’s National Business Aviation Association convention in Orlando, Florida, the potential of the air-taxi sector will be one of the biggest themes, as the most talked about air-taxi operator and air-taxi aircraft – Florida’s DayJet and the newly certificated Eclipse 500 – get ready to begin service.

….The “air-taxi” epithet is convenient, but confusing. Each of the major services so far operating or planning to launch has a distinctive business model. Not all even call themselves air taxis. Only DayJet – which has 239 Eclipses on order – intends to immediately offer services on a per-seat basis. Although all of them plan to eventually operate VLJs, SATSair has built a successful regional business around the Carolinas and Virginia using SR22s. Linear Air, based near Boston, Massachusetts, has launched its service with Cessna Caravans, although it has 15 Eclipses on order. Some shun the air taxi moniker: Magnum, in Stamford, Connecticut – which has ordered 110 Adam A700s and 50 Embraer Phenom 100s – markets itself as an “air limousine” service; Point2Point of Bismark, North Dakota, another SR22 operator, insists it is a “personal airline”.

…Of all the new air-taxi business models, DayJet’s is the most radical – and risky.

…Iacobucci – a former associate of Eclipse Aviation founder Vern Raburn – has no doubt he has his sums right. Announced in 2002, DayJet plans to set up bases at a network of underused local airports, called DayPorts, from where it will try to match travellers who want to go from one to the other at roughly the same time.

11 October 2006
href="">16 October 2006

Spectrum Aero has some good news! I like what they're doing at the 'larger-VLJ' (for the lack of a better term) This is a pretty positive development from them that only adds to their credibility…
GE-Honda Venture Gets First Customer for Jet Engine
…GE Honda Aero Engines LLC, a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Honda Motor Co., said plane maker Spectrum Aeronautical will be the first customer for its small, Honda-designed jet engine.
….Spectrum begins taking orders for its Freedom jet and the smaller, $3.65 million Independence model at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Orlando, Florida, starting tomorrow, Blue said.
….Honda will use the convention to start taking orders tomorrow for the HondaJet, its new entry in the light-jet market. Tokyo-based Honda also has said it may sell a small engine for propeller-driven aircraft.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Very Light Jets (VLJs) and Air Taxis

I haven't posted anything about Very Light Jets and the Air Taxi concept for a while, but there's been a lot going on lately in this emerging aerospace sector. In anticipation of upcoming posts giving quick summaries on all the latest VLJ news ('Carnival of VLJ PR Releases' if you will), this post will be put in the permanent link area to serve as a kind of EOP clearinghouse on the subject. I plan on posting the first summary sometime this weekend, as the last month or two has been very busy for the VLJ sector.

From the Elements of Power archives (From Oldest to Newest):

Eclipse Wins Collier Trophy

Air Taxis: a Work in Progress

Eclipse Starts Production

The Air Taxi: Disruptive Innovation

The Air Taxi: Disruptive Innovation Part B

Air Taxis: The Players

Air Taxis: The Contenders

FAA Changes Improve Air Taxi Prospects

May-Oct 2006 Roundup on Very Light Jets & Air Taxis

"Big Air" Pushes Their Vision of the Future

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Moonbat Hunt Called Off

I initially wrote about half of this as another "Moonbat hunting" piece, but it came over as just plain mean given the target, which isn’t part of my nature (No really! – life is mean enough without adding to it unnecessarily!).I want to reserve Moonbat Hunting for the really mean ones that deserve it, so instead I am compelled to write this as an advice column.

WSJ Online’s Best of the Web Today identifies a Ms. Demetra Delía with a problem (fifth item):
'Those Hateful Airplanes'
More fun from the letters column of the San Francisco Chronicle (fourth letter):

Thank you, Fleet Week. My preschool-aged daughter, having heard your airplanes overhead all week, is now completely traumatized and afraid to go outside. She just heard a commercial airliner in the sky and ran inside shrieking, shaking, and trying to close all the windows and doors. We tried to have a fun family weekend enjoying free music in our park, but it was ruined by the thundering sound of those hateful airplanes overhead, forcing her (and most of the other children I saw) to throw her hands over her face and cower.

If there is ever an opportunity for me to vote on any proposition keeping this ridiculous event and huge waste of resources from marring the skies of my city again, you can bet I'll be the first in line to get it voted in.

San Francisco
Taranto notes:
Apparently Demetra's little girl also is afraid of commercial planes, not just "hateful" military ones. Shouldn't parents try to help their children overcome such fears rather than wallow in them?
Now, 1) with a name like Demetra Delía, 2) living in Frisco, (they hate it when you call it ‘Frisco’) and 3) with a demonstrated penchant for carping about jet noise [aka the Sound of Freedom Baby!] I just KNEW Ms Delía had to have a good, even if somewhat short internet spoor trail to follow.....and I was right.

From her presence on the Internet, we can deduce that Ms. Delía, unfortunately, might have difficulty helping her child overcome her fears.

Here we see her with her daughter at the last Phish concert/festival in August 2004. I’d say off-hand they seem to be about the most normal-looking people at the concert. But if the event was anything like the pictures taken, it looks scarier than the 2002 Laughlin River Run to me. I know sound can have a powerful effect on even unborn children: an unkind person would point out the Phish noise might have traumatized the lass even through her ear protectors, so let's just say all the creepy characters that seemed to permeate the place could have done it instead.

Ms Delía’s letter above is somewhat of a ‘disconnect’ from the one she wrote last year to where she described her daughter as “curious, independent, loving and fearless”. I say ‘somewhat’ because as you can in last year’s letter Ms Delía seems to carry a lot of anxiety over being a parent. I hate to inform her, but while 28 may seem to be a young age to be a mother in San Francisco, where for ‘some reason’ they aren’t having many kids, in the real world it is quite normal to have them even younger!

She seems to have some of the important basics down: such as “kids really need is to know that their parents love and support them”, but she gets it wrong about it being ‘all’ they need. They need structure, rules, and routine to feel secure. They need to think they are exploring without your supervision and yet find that you always somehow seem to be there to keep them out of serious trouble. When they learn the rules well they don’t need you physically there to protect them later at all – your early lessons will protect them. While Ms Delía would “rather spend my time enjoying her – not stressing about the possibilities”, 'stressing' is the parents job, especially when they are very young (You do it when the're older out of habit). Stress and prepare now, sleep better and more soundly later, not because it is easier in the long run (it is) but because it is better for the person you are parenting. More than once in this modern age did I have to remind one of my kids that I wasn’t their buddy, their friend, or their peer: I was their Father and I took the job seriously. I thanked my parents for taking that attitude when I was older, and my first-born has already done the same. In comparing the two letters, I have to wonder if the fear she sees in her daughter might be a case of simple projection.

And finally Ms. Delía, and this may seem a little harsh, but if you really want a more happy and healthy, well-adjusted life for and your daughter, you really need to find a better belief system (fourth response) .

Almost forgot!
About those airplanes scaring your daughter: at her age is when many children go though their first unreasonable ‘fear’ experiences: don't 'stress' on little things like that, just get some parental support.

UPDATE 10/13/06: "Best of the Web Today imitates Elements of Power after Elements of Power Shamelessly (Metaphor Alert!) Hangs on Best of the Web Today's Coattails". Seems I wasn't the only one that pulled on this thread (sixth item today).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Horton is the Who…

As in “Who is a ranting Anti-globalist, Anti-capitalist, Anti-Western, Useful Idiot, Lancet Editor with his panties in a knot?”

Lest you have any doubt about how absolutely ludicrous the ‘new’ Lancet ‘report’ that claiming 600,000 ‘excess’ war deaths is, just consider the source…..

Little Green Footballs Clearly Identifies the Enemy
Lancet editor Richard Horton was a “star” speaker at the recent “Time To Go” demonstration of the UK “Stop The War Coalition”. Updated 13 Jan 08: here's a direct link to the ‘You Tube’ video (Click on Screenshot below).

This is what passes as a ‘professional’ this days?
He does seem pretty passionate (frothing, actually) and his self-righteousness comes over loud and clear. Of course he was pretty self-righteous about the MMR shot a few years back, before his ‘error’ (see I’m a nice guy) was exposed and he had to play CYA.

Two Questions...
As this appears to have all of the statistical claptrap normally reserved for Second-Hand Smoking ‘studies’, I just have the same two questions about this so-called ‘report’:

1. What were their names?
2. Where are they buried?

Now this is the second Lancet sham piece on the subject of Iraqi war deaths (as I’m sure you’ve heard about by now or remember the first), so one wonders how much longer he will be at the helm of what was once the “world’s leading independent medical journal” given his apparent proclivity to spew this nonsense, alienate others in his profession AND bite the hand that feeds him.

If Horton is allowed to stay at the Lancet, I think we can count on another one of these ‘reports’ to come out in two years.......just before the next election....... again.......for the third time.

I can see it now:

Six MILLION Excess War Deaths” Yeah, thats the ticket!

PS: I wasn't going to blog tonight, but this guy gets the 'Noncom' BS Artist Detector in me going. For all his tough talk in front of a luddite crowd, something tells me that even if this twit had a d*** -- he still wouldn’t be a man.

The lead 'researcher' of this 'study' is the same as the last one. Coincidentally, he just happens to be a New York Democrat with political aspirations AND (Surprise!) an apparent bug up his sphincter about the war in Iraq.
UPDATE to UPDATE 01/13/07: The link above would have diirected you to an article about Les Roberts but the link has disappeared (it looks like it was due to the incompetence of the source vs. the conspiracy of a capable one), but the essence has been captured here (for now).

Monday, October 09, 2006

F-22 Critics: Not What They Used to Be (If They Ever Were)

“Spook 86” at In from the Cold has a most excellent fisking (Worth the Money?) of a recent opinion piece in Jane’s Defense Weekly by two agents of one of my least favorite domestic Non-State Actors: the Center for Defense Information. It has the honor of being among the least favorites because unlike most other anti-military establishment policy groups, it hacks away at Defense Policy under the guise of ‘saving’ it, and it seems like CDI has been against every “advanced” air weapon system that has come down the ‘pike. As I’ve mentioned before, CDI also seems to be one of the preferred megaphones for military and defense malcontents who think they had a better idea but “nobody will listen”.

The only contributions I would add to Spook 86’s point-by-point discrediting of the Sprey and Stevenson piece is that you can see a non-subscription copy of the article referenced at the CDI site here. For the time being, you can find additional Powerpoint briefings at the root of the article here if you want a good laugh.

Sprey and Stevenson’s cackling of course is refuted by the F-22 operators.

About the only thing EVERYONE agrees on is that if we do buy the F-22, we aren’t buying them in the numbers they’re needed. Blame Congress: their hand has been the one on the funding ‘start-stop’ button. And don’t be deceived by the now-standard ‘too costly’ critique. This is now an all too familiar game plan, repeated often enough to be included in Professor Mac’s Acquisition 101 course:

A Minor Nit
Sprey and Stevenson take a stab at 'clever' by posing a question to the effect of something like "Will the F-22 be the US's Sturmvogel"? An analogy to the Me-262 as a 'superior plane bought in too few numbers' to make a difference. The answer of course is this: it depends on whether or not the naysayers succeed in further slashing the number of F-22s. This bit of cleverness also then begs the question as to who is playing the role of the modern-day Hitler - whose dalliances in the development and mission delayed Me-262 production until it was too late to be a major factor in the outcome of the war? Would that be CDI and their ilk?

Hey, It wasn't me that brought up the Nazis!

Footnote 1: It is an odd coincidence that Sprey shows up on my radar at this time. I just finished reading a pretty decent book on the A-10 (and am preparing a review of it as a low priority behind my review of the AF 'force reshaping' pitch) where the author fairly gushes over Mr. Sprey.

Footnote 2. Sprey is player #2 of the Fighter Mafia that CDI has trotted out on this issue. The first was Colonel Riccione, who was pretty much saying the same things about the F-22 for CDI a few years back (maybe still?).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Air Force 'Force Reshaping' Sales Pitch. Part 3

What we’ve covered so far:

Part 1: “OK people, listen up. We’re going to fight this War on Terrorism and win, OK? That’s a given. And we’re going to do as much as we can to take care of everyone that will be affected by some changes we need to make to ensure our future. But what this is really about is making sure we have the tools and resources we’ve planned for so we can accomplish our mission in the future.” (and everything before the “but” is bulls***)

Part 2: “Let’s ignore the fact that when you stop reducing numbers of people the impact of pay raises on total personnel costs becomes apparent over time. This net cost growth per person was hidden in the aggregate cost as long as the forces size was being reduced. Also, don’t talk about how when you start moving your people around, use them in combat, and personnel costs increase. DO talk about personnel costs in an as abstract as possible way.” Thus, the AF’s ‘big idea’ amounts to this: “If we can reduce rising personnel costs (that Congress had intentionally increased over time) by ‘laying off’ the very people Congress was trying to take of in the first place, then Congress will give us more money for hardware.”

And now…..Part 3
The AF, having misrepresented (hell – Ignored!) the drivers behind a apparent [update: corrected sentence to how it should have read in the first place] rise in personnel costs, continues to mischaracterize “Today’s Fiscal Environment” through oversimplification and studious avoidance of identifying other root cost drivers. It seems as if they believe that if they oversimplify for the audience (the same people most in the know AND affected by this ‘reshaping’) the troops won’t notice two things:
1. The course the AF has chosen wouldn’t be ‘necessary’ if someone had headed off the budget train wreck when they saw it coming and…
2. This course of action is hardly the best one. It is just the easiest and most politically expedient one that a myopic leadership is willing to employ.

Unless you are a “bean counter”, comprehend the nuances of acquisition, and/or grasp the importance of logistics, your eyes may glaze over in this session

Beginning with the next two slides (8 & 9) in the ‘Fiscal Reality’ section of the brief…..

We see the briefing now attempts to illustrate a relationship between increased operating costs and age of the aircraft.

It is true there is a relationship, but these charts do not show it. How can we tell? Simple: Chart 9 merely shows the cost to operate aircraft in average ‘millions of dollars per aircraft’ over a very diverse aircraft fleet being used in very different ways and at varying operational tempos.

Assuming the AF chart makers still have integrity (not a stretch…yet), let us also assume (without any evidence to support the assumption) the charts are normalized to factor out the increased cost of consumables such as fuels and lubricants (you may have heard about the rise in cost of petroleum products pacing the cost of living these days). Let us then assume the costs shown represent only those costs incurred to keep the aircraft in a Mission Capable state reflected by the Mission Capable Rate (MCR) shown. The really big thing missing from Slide 8 is that you do NOT see is any indication as to how much the USE RATE (flying hours/year) is affecting total operating costs.

If the chart did reflect the impact of the use rate, the ‘Costs’ would be expressed in terms of average cost per aircraft flight hour. It is entirely possible that the chart makers specifically avoided showing that statistic because it could actually be dropping, because it costs X amount of dollars to fix malfunctions whether you operate the aircraft or not. If a plane is flying longer or more sorties than usual (common in wartime scenarios), the failures & fixes per flight hour and the repair costs can go up or down for several reasons, including dependence on where the aircraft is in its lifecycle. Towards the end of the lifecycle is where the age of hardware comes into play as an increasing cost driver.

Physical age in years doesn’t necessarily mean much to failure rates, while the amount of use (flying hours) during those years is meaningful. Physical age is more relevant to the costs of repair, because part obsolescence, economic order quantities, and supplier business models all play a role. This is now a particularly acute problem with electronic parts. Weapons system acquisition programs now have to make many more decisions at the start of a program as to whether to:
1. pay for the continued production overhead of an existing part,
2. forecast a lifetime buy quantity to purchase and warehouse for future needs or,
3. implement a preplanned system redesign program to keep the technology fresh.
These questions were once a major concern more towards the middle or end of a weapon’s lifecycle, but now contractors must demonstrate a robust approach to deal with obsolescence just to be awarded the contract in the first place.

So now we know what the relevance of age is to cost. Why didn’t the AF brass direct the chart makers to show what parts of the fleet are the problem instead of presenting a broad-brush and meaningless fleet average? Is the whole fleet the problem? Is the Air Force throwing away manpower so they can afford to buy a “totally new Air Force”? Aren’t some types are older than others?

To get the answers, let us now dig into the details behind the AF’s aircraft age chart. Using publicly available numbers (pdf file) , here’s what the average age of Air Force aircraft looks like broken down by type:

Anyone familiar with the Air Force would see no surprises as to which aircraft types are oldest. However the average age by type doesn’t reflect the impact of each type on the fleet average, because each type has a different impact based on the percentage of the fleet the type represents. More airplanes = more impact. This could be a positive impact by many young systems or a negative impact from many old systems. ‘Racking and Stacking’ by relative weights (average age of type times the percentage of fleet the type represents) we can demonstrate which aircraft types have the most impact (for better or worse) on the ‘fleet average’ number as shown here:

By just looking at the plot above, you will observe that by an overwhelming margin, a relative few aircraft types have the most impact on the total fleet average age. Looking at the top ten “age drivers” we see that they represent over five and a half times the impact the remaining 31 aircraft types combined have on the overall fleet average age.

The Top Ten ‘Impacters’ are mostly what I would have expected. The only surprise to me is the T-1 ‘Jayhawk’. Since that type isn’t very ‘old’ the AF must have bought more of them than I recalled. Clearly though, the ratio of ‘old’ to ‘new’ can be claimed to be 9 to 1. Note: The F-15 and F-16 fleets may be approaching ‘middle-age’ compared to the B-52, but with a ‘yank and bank’ history and a requirement to survive in the most hostile environments, fighters can be considered to age ‘faster’. Also, the secret to the long life of the B-52, (aside from the powers of nostalgia) has been its adaptation to roles that remove it from the highest threat operating environments; an option not available to fighters.
This list is a good stepping stone to introduce a few more detailed observations:

1. The T-1 fleet is relatively young and represents the 8th most numerous type. These aircraft drive the age curve to skew to the left, but are more than counterbalanced by all the old planes whose age skews the ‘average’ (such a meaningless term by itself) to the right.

2. A conscious decision to keep aging T-38 (Talon) and T-37 (Tweet) trainers has been made several times. The AF finds it cost-effective to perform ‘SLEP’(service life extension program) upgrades to them and fiddle with their flight envelopes to squeeze more life out of them than replace them. ‘Age’ as far as the Air Force is concerned is 'taken care of' with these aircraft

3. C-130s have been the workhorses since they’ve been fielded, they’re not getting any younger, the C-130Js aren’t being bought in the numbers they probably should be given the airframe service life they’re consuming, and the avionics upgrade program for the older models is experiencing ‘problems’.

4. B-52s. B-52s. Their true fleet mission-capable rates and maintenance costs over the last 20 or so years was/is hidden behind a little Congressionally-mandated requirement that co-located the attrition reserve fleet with the combat-coded aircraft. This allowed some operating units to rotate aircraft in and out of the CC pool and incur costs and downtime away from the O&M accounts. There’s not a lot of them (anymore) so their advanced age skews the average age higher, but their cost impact is (relatively) trivial. If they could survive in a high-threat environment, we could keep them almost forever. The AF is considering new Long Range Strike (LRS) options at this time, but whatever is decided, the LRS solution won’t be to replace the Buffs (Standoff Attack), it will be replacing the Bones (B-1s, Direct Attack)
As long as the AF decides to upgrade instead of buy new, we have to assume it is because it is cheaper to keep these systems than replace them, or the fight to get the money to replace them isn’t worth it.

This leaves us with just the REALLY big age/cost drivers to discuss:
1. The F-16 fleet is relatively young and is the most numerous type. The major reason the average age of the F-16 fleet isn’t higher is because many older models have been retired or ‘surplused’. The average age still includes a lot of old (for fighters) airframes with older avionics and other systems though. Future survivability concerns have to factor into the obsolescence equation, but the AF doesn’t really talk about that as much as they should. It is much easier to talk about ‘old’ vs. ‘new and improved’ than to explain radar cross-section and detectability.

2. The F-15 fleet is chronologically 30%+ older than the F-16 and probably much older average flying hours-wise. And there’s A LOT of them. On some of them, the systems on board are another half to full-generation behind the latest F-16s, so the F-22 (partial) replacement is sorely needed.

3. We really DO need a tanker replacement….BAD. They are old, the oldest are really old, and newer engines or not, we’ve flown the wings off them keeping the rest (especially the short-legged fighters and the big airlifters) of the Air Force flying. [We would have had one on the way too, if McCain hadn’t decided to get all pissy on the acquisition strategy. Never underestimate the power of ‘manhood’ issues with self-important Congress-people who want to be something more. The Darlene Druyun flameout didn’t help either.]

So we see the ‘problem’ really isn’t fleet age, but the age of a relatively few aircraft types that make up a large proportion of the fleet. Why are these so ‘old’? Because the AF has failed to get several major acquisition program buy-in from Congress in the first place, or proper support of programs once launched (the AF has been particularly inept in keeping the F-22 sold). This has not been ALL the AF’s fault of course. Les Aspin (spit!) and the Clinton administration would be my number one villains in the complete disappearance of rationality from balancing need and cost in the budget process of the 90’s, with a complicit Congress squeezing every last dime from a non-existent ‘Peace Dividend’ coming in a close second. (we won’t talk here about how the departure from saneness actually began under Carter in the 1970’s – that was another travesty) This superpower-on-a-shoestring mentality only delayed ‘paying the piper, and the ‘piper’ charges interest.

The REAL Problem
If the AF insists that fleet age is the problem, then the problem reaches all the way back to 1973 where, according to chart 9 of the pitch, the fleet average age was only 9 years! I fault the current and prior AF leadership most for not making their case for more money to properly fund their slice of the defense responsibility. It seems either an odd form of cowardice, or complete lack of leadership has paralyzed the AF as an institution.

That an AF leadership would choose to throw a large portion of the force on the street instead of calling attention to the mismanagement of the past even if it meant falling on their own swords is, in a word: disgusting.

Speaking of AF leadership making their case, here’s the next slide (slide 10) of the brief.

Powerpoint Warriors Attack!
“Budget Growth is Slowing”? Now Ladies and Gentlemen, THIS is “professional grade” shtick in powerpoint! The uninitiated may not appreciate the subtle elegance of it, so a short tour is in order.

1. Note the use of a non-zero baseline that accentuates the ‘10% Growth’ side of the slide. Starting where it does just about doubles the apparent steepness of the ‘growth’ slope.

2. Note the slope of the two arrows and how closely the left arrow matches the growth to-date. What is with the slope of the arrow on the ‘projected’ side? A cynical mind might think the slide creator was attempting an optical illusion. If one matched the arrows slope on the right as closely as the one on the left, it would look like almost the same slope with a little saw-tooth dip at FY07.

3. Remember the left side is what HAS happened, the right side is somebody’s “idea” of what is GOING to happen. What did the left side look like when it was just an “idea”?

4. The chart is in “then year” dollars! To give you an idea how this inflates the number, $1 in 2005 is the same as the following in 2000 dollars
$1.13 using the Consumer Price Index
$1.21 using the nominal GDP per capita
$1.27 using the relative share of GDP
Or in layman's terms, even if there was no real growth between 2000 and 2005, the chart would still reflect between 13 to 27 percent growth over the same timeframe.
A more appropriate title of the above slide would have been: “AF Leadership 101 – Avoiding Real Budget Issues While Assuming Risk as a Long Term Conflict Resolution Strategy”. But I guess that would have been a tad too long to fit in the slide header.

And of course, NONE of this explains why the AF chooses to eliminate people instead of making the case for more money. We will examine the AF’s reasons in Part IV, but first here is ‘Question 7” where the AF chooses to start talking about the ‘bottom-line’. Not much of a segue, but hey!-It’s their spiel, and they’re sticking with it.

There’s a couple of fine points to be made here.
1. The AF’s whacking the civilian force is small yet still somewhat overstated: many if not most of the civilian reduction will be taken care of through normal attrition and retirements. They’re actually talking about having to increase hiring soon after the make their cuts. (Good luck getting anyone to come back after they’ve been jerked around.)
2. While the Guard and Reserve got a ‘pass’ the first two years, they get hit after FY07. This is after a lot of active duty folks got ‘purged’ and encouraged to go Guard and Reserve. I guess this is just the AF’s way of trying to ‘take care of people: some might get taken care of TWICE!
Note the last line at the bottom of slide 12. That will be my Pee Wee Herman (Everyone I know has a big "But") teaser for the next installment, where the AF inadvertently, yet brilliantly sums up the US military’s slide into ‘superpower-lite’ status before launching off into delusional flights of fancy about how everything will be better at the end of the yellow-brick road.

Monday, October 02, 2006

One Step For Man, One Step Back for Grammar

Vodkapundit has a post up about the latest 'revelation' concerning (a) man's first steps on the moon. Source Article HERE
High-tech detective work apparently has found the missing "a" in one of the most famous phrases ever spoken.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong's first words from the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, now can be confidently recast, according to the research, as, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
-"Research"? You call this research? Pfft!

First, there is a saying in web development that applies to any 'content providing' activity: "If the person can't find 'it' -- 'it' isn't there". Since none of us can find the 'missing a' with our ears, it wasn't spoken.

Second, I don't care how whiz-bang, or exotic a new and improved a pile of software is, if it is used to process a forty-plus year old chunk of audiotape, recorded in space, by a man working in a clumsy pressurized spacesuit, in an environment never before encountered by him or any other human being, as he plopped down 'to moon' off of a landing step -- it cannot be used to positively or even probably identify and discriminate the letter 'a', allegedly 'spoken' too fast to hear, from any other audible possibilities including a suppressed grunt, groan, hard swallow, or whatever.

And finally, as a ninth-grader who watched the event as it was transmitted to Earth, the original, accepted, and recognizable phrasing was so pure and so true to my heart, that sticking an unvoiced 'a' in the middle of it is akin to adding a few lines to the Gettysburg Address for laughs. Let the grammarians cavil over the differences between man and mankind, but to those of us who witnessed the images as we received them with those words, it was clear 'man' meant 'ANY man' and mankind meant 'ALL men'. So what if it isn't grammatically correct? It is great poetry!