Running in southeast asia

“The running shoes, always in the suitcase”

My brother Javier loves this quote very much and he sticks to it whatever the trip he embarks himself on. I learned the habit from him and, although not as constant as he is in following it, it has provided me with good moments knowing the cities I have visited from another perspective while, practising sport.

So, when this year I fulfilled my old teenager dream of travelling southeast asia for some weeks (“in the pursuit of the brother pea” as my father would mock me 馃檪 ), my running gear was with me.

Running in the places I have visitied has been an enriching experience and in this post I want to share it commenting about that runs. I will tell chronologically as I travelled the region.

Bangkok, Thailand

The intense megacity was my first stop in a tour that would take me to five countries. I stayed in the Suk11 hostel in the crowded Sukhumvit street. With high rise hotels, somewhat creepy backstreets I needed a proper place to run. From the elevated monorail to Silom Road I spotted the meadows of Lumphini park. On the third day I went there to run.

Even though after two days I got used to the mix of high humidity, above 80%, and temperature, running in these conditions was another business. I went running two times to Lumphini Park and the first day I almost collapsed. Bangkok had beaten me at my first attempt. Around the park I completed 5,1 km at 6:35 min/km. 聽I was determined however to come back and try to do some sprints. Knowing the place already, and where to buy drink water, I succeeded. I a round split of 2,44 km I ran at 5:24 min/km. I had my revenge.

The Lumphini Park is surrounded by embassies and high end hotels, providing an asian version of New York麓s Central Park near Columbus Circle. The running atmosphere was ok, with mix of western and asian runners in the park the two days. I recommend visitors of Bangkok to put this park on their agenda.

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Bali, Indonesia

Second stage in the tour took me to the beautiful聽indonesian island of Bali. There I would meet good old friend Juan, who had arranged an amazing 4 days weekend. With a program full of activities it was not until the very last morning, before taking my taxi to the airport, that I went running to the beach of Seminyak, where our villa was located. Running on beach sand is quite healthy, but it prevents you from clocking good paces…unless a storm breaks and obligues you to take shelter and run as fast as possible to get back home, which is what happened to me. Of the 5,2km that I run, the first 4 were averaging 6:30 to 7 min/km, while the last one, rushing back to the villa under the rain was at 5:10min/km with peaks of 4min/km.

Beach course in Seminyak

Beach course in Seminyak

The town and beach of Seminyak being a spot for high end resorts and villas, it was not unexpected to find westerners running or walking along with me, even though the weather and hour, 7 AM, were not the most inviting:

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After discovering the jungle and modest villages of Bali, the contrast couldn麓t be bigger arriving at the high tech city of Singapore, one of the most developed enclaves in the world. At the beginning I feared that the central location of my hotel, in such an urban environment, would make it difficult to find a place to run. The entire city proved me wrong. Even though I had the Fort Canning park few minutes from the hotel lobby, in the first walk to the riverside I discovered that Singapore was a city on the run. Nice walks, bike lanes and passages made it easy for the runner to go wherever he liked. And there were dozens of them, at every hour, in the morning or the evening. Never had I seen such a density of runners, except in the race events. My pick was to run around the Marina Bay, with its fantastic skyline scenery. I was not alone in my choice. I went running at 8:30PM but the humidity, a constant in the region, was very high. The Garmin recorded two separated legs totalling around 5,1km at paces between 5:30 to 5:50min/km.

The highlight, apart from the scenery, was that on that weekend the Formula 1 Gran Prix would take place and the street race course was already set up. The organization opened it for visitors the very evening I was running, so that聽I had the chance to run some 100m聽of a strip where Fernando Alonso, Hamilton and the rest would be driving a day after. Unfortunately the Garmin did not engage the GPS signal, so I have only the time, 25s, but not the exact distance or pace.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Next stage in the tour was the neighbouring Malaysia. In Kuala Lumpur I had a bargain price for a 4 star hotel…not precisely with the best location. While it allowed me to know parts of the city no so touristic, I really did not find a park or a good spot in that jungle of asphalt and concrete to go running. The only option left to me was real street running. Considering also the heat, humidity and packed visit program, I went running on last day at 7AM, as I did in Bali. The surroundings of the hotel were really not the best and I recorded just 2,6km. The pace at least was quite聽decent at 5:16min/km.

Short street course in Kuala Lumpur

Short street course in Kuala Lumpur

In contrast to Singapore, so full of runners, or even the beaches in Bali (at 7AM!) or Bangkok麓s Lumphini park, the morning view of Kaula Lumpur was not very inviting. But even in these conditions, I think I spotted a fellow runner. For the pace I am not sure that he was running at all, but his sporty聽gear and shoes were evident…

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Siem Reap /Angkor, Cambodia

Final stage of the southeast asian tour was the imperial region of Angkor, where the visit to the legendary khemer temples was planned. Although I will ellaborate more on that visit in a dedicated post, here I focus on the running side. The small city of Siem Reap is the base from which to visit the woods where the temples are located. Again, the location of my lodging was not very centric and offered the same “real life” taste I had had in Kuala Lumpur. The adjacent streets, in contrast to Malaysia, although not especially inviting, had less traffic and were more comfortable to run. I reserved the day before the departure for a morning run. At 11AM I started and parted for the royal gardens in the city center. In total 5km at a relaxed pace of聽5:38min/km, ok considering the heat and humidity conditions that I had, by that time, gotten used to.

Circuit in the city center

Circuit in the city center

The streets offered a view of small shops and tents in the sidewalks, with nobler buildings and museums as I approached the city center and the royal gardens. This time, however I didn麓t find any fellow runner. No one. I noticed some curious faces looking at the guy running along the street, but I continued. In fact, with Singapore, this run was the most comfortable of the trip. I had had a great stay in the city and had enjoyed inmensely the visit to the temples. I guess my face reflected it 馃檪

Preah Ang Chorm temple in Siem Reap麓s Royal Gardens

Preah Ang Chorm temple in Siem Reap麓s Royal Gardens


In summary, having my running gear in the suitcase allowed me to run some 26km spread in 6 days during the 3 weeks. This modest amount of kilometres is clearly not enough to keep up with a typical training plan, but provides for an enriched travel experience, for example observing the differences in the “runner” atmosphere among the countries. I could gain also new running experience having suffered that extreme humidity in combination with heat. Now I know how my body reacts to it, as learned also troughout the years running in the snow, under heavy rain or with chilling low temperatures. And finally I reinforced the connection feeling with the cities and places I visited, and it was definitely healthier than not doing it.

For my next long holidays be sure I will repeat it.

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Quieting the boom – book review

With the undertitle “The Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstrator and the Quest for Quiet Supersonic Flight”, this ebook is a new release of the NASA ebook series, and comes just after the previous one devoted to the U-2 which was also reviewed here. From author Lawrence R. Benson, it provides historical overview on the more than 40 years of research towards quiet and efficient supersonic flight.

Cover of the book (credit to NASA)

Cover of the book (credit to NASA)

In these days when NASA has revived the effort to make the commercial supersonic flight possible, contracting to Lockheed a new X-plane, this book summarizes the research started in the 50s, after the first supersonic aircraft made “audible” the problem of the sonic boom, reviewing the main research programs that followed: the SST (Supersonic Transport), SCR (Supersonic Cruise Research), HSR (High Speed Research) and the two phases of the QSP (Quiet Supersonic Platform) which resulted in the Supersonic Business Jets demonstrator, which form the basis for today麓s effort.

With over 290 pages along 9 chapters and four useful appendixes, the book can be considered as a reference and starting point to deepen in each of the specific programs that were devoted to the sonic boom minimization effort.

The historical review is quite extense, therefore the following notes briefly provide my understanding of the progress made in that quest and the highlights of the different programs. I have to remark again, as I did in other reviews of the NASA ebook series, that some knowledge of aerodynamics is needed to follow the technical descriptions.

Protagonists and theoretical foundations

Starting point are the first encounters with the sonic boom during the flight test campaing of the Bell X-1S with Charles “Chuck” Yaeger at the controls. The sonic boom, or the accumulation of pressure waves, or energy, provoked by a body moving faster than Mach 1 was soon characterized by the N-wave form and the sonic cone:

N-wave and sonic cone

N-wave and sonic cone (NASA)

The first significant paper on the N-waves and perceived pressure levels (measured inpounds per square feet or psf) date from 1955 paper “The Relation Between Minimizing Drag and Noise at Supersonic Speeds” of Gerald Whitham and Frank Walkden, that established relation between the sonic boom and aircraft lift and volume. These two factors would be on the focus of all the minimization effort during the next decades.

Other important names cited throughout the book are those of A. Richard Seebass and Albert R. George of Cornell University as well as Wallace Hayes of Princeton, who advanced the provious theoretical research towards optimization of aircraft designs. The prolific work of these and other men during the 60s can be reviewed in the papers compiled of the sonic boom research conference of 1967. See the conference麓s report in this link [5MB pdf, 117 pgs]. The report lists the main lines of research at the time: propagation of the pressure waves, effects of atmosphere on propagation, effects of aircraft shapes on N-waves generation and first results on perception and effects of sonic booms on people and buildings on the ground.

This topic, the complaints of public to sonic booms would suppose the paramount barrier to the evolution of supersonic aircraft for continental flight, and due to regulation issued at that time, it lasts until today. During those years the consensus was established that an acceptance level of perceived boom would be around 1 psf. That would be the target for the optimization programs to come.

N-wave propagation (NASA paper)

N-wave propagation (NASA paper)

The theoretical efforts of the 60s crowned with the 1974 paper “Design and Operation of Aircraft to Minimize their Sonic Boom” by Seebass and George. With the advent of the computerized fluid dynamics, or CFD, it ushered a new era of computed models for boom minimization and propagation analysis. 聽NASA麓s Christine Darden and Robert Mack are two of the key names for those years, where blunt nose shapes with higher drag were identified as generating quieter sonic booms.

Darden-Mack麓s "low drag paradox" for boom minimization (NASA)

Darden-Mack麓s “low drag paradox” for boom minimization (NASA)

From then on, a myriad of research projects went on to model the aircraft desings, predict their N-waves and simulate the propagation. The book goes on summarizing many of them that took place during the 80s and 90s.

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In parallel to the review of theoretical work, the book gives account of the main programs which involved flight testing (also including boom perception on ground test in some cases). The early programs of the 60s, 70s and 80s took benefit of existing platforms for real flight research, even though they involved extensive wind tunnel testing of dedicated optimized models (especially in the 80s, in order to validate CFD results).

Later on, the QSP and its follow up SSBJ programs led to the creation of a dedicated sonic boom research prototype. The following are my notes on that.

Early research programs: SST, SCR and HSR

As noted in the first chapters of the book, the sonic boom research benefited indirectly from the flight test of many US Air Force fighters and X-planes, especially during the 60s, such as the XB-70 Valkyrie or the Lockheed SR-71.

The main program at the time was the Super Sonic Transport (SST) which, from early 60s to the 70s, grouped the efforts of academia, NASA, FAA, US Air Force and industry to achieve a supersonic airliner for continental flights. Alone NASA funded $1bn in research in that decade related to the program. Altough the public opposition to the perceived levels of sonic booms grew as to put an end to the program in 1971, the design concepts and target levels established then helped to define boundaries to the problem for subsequent studies.

Boeing proposal for SST program, the 2707-300 (NASA)

Boeing proposal for SST program, the 2707-300 (NASA)

The next cited program following up the SST is the Supersonic Cruise Research (SCR), that is described聽as amalgamating a series of subprograms related to supersonic flight: Advanced Supersonic Technology (AST) and Supersonic Cruise Aircraft Research (SCAR). The book revises the objectives of the proposals of these programs, in the range of a 300ft long A/C, for 2 Mach cruise at around 60.000ft for a maximum of 1psf perceived on ground. 聽The program, which ended 1981, went along benefiting from the early results of CFD-backed designs and simulation of propagation of N-waves.

Chapter 4 of the book deals with the next program, the High Speed Research (HSR).聽It is noted that although different programs went on separately during the 80s (USAF NSBIT or NASA麓s High Speed Cruise Transport) it was not until 1990 that the government launched a new ambitious effort under NASA leadership. That was the HSR, which comprised two phases. The first one, lasting until 1995, supported studies on aircraft configuration and design, acoustic propagation as well as continuing the noise聽acceptability research. This Phase I was backed with flight test with a SR-71 and a chase F-18 that took measurements of the acoustic near field of Blackbird. The second phase narrowed the design configuration to an airliner of 320ft long for 300 pax, flying at 2,4 Mach only over ocean and subsonic overland. The flight testing continued with the SR-71, for which optimized designs were proposed, followed now by an F-16XL for near and mid acoustic field measurements.

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However, the book details that,聽by late 1998, the HSR program confronted a combination of economic, technological, political, and budgetary problems, which led to its termination in 1999.

Modern programs: QSP and the F-5 SSBD

Last chapters of the book focused on the last 15 years of work, where focus has been put on advancing a smaller, but viable, supersonic aircraft for overland flight. The program that is discussed in the book is the Quiet Supersonic Platform (QSP). This program finally made the case for the arguments of Richard Seebass, that an aircraft in the size of a business jet and with an optimized shape for boom minimization could attain admissible noise levels overland.

Launched in 2000, the program established ambitious objectives and revamped existing lines of investigation across manufacturers, universities and insitutions. The book provides a summary of the projects and the roadmap of its two main phases:

Quiet Sonic Platform roadmap (NASA)

Quiet Sonic Platform roadmap (NASA)

I loved to read that among the many studies revised within the QSP, one had been done by spanish CASA, now part of my company聽Airbus DS, that at the time was building Northrop F5s under license for the spanish Air Force. A happy coincidence as I discovered later.

In fact, right after the QSP launch, Northrop-Grumman Corporation (NGC), decided to jump into the program and offered to modify an F5 with an optimized form. The decades of development of CFD optimization for boom minimization crystallized in the ultimate sonic boom protoype, the F-5E SSBD, for Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration.

The result of decades of work was a very good match between computed simulations of acoustic propagation of the boom and actual flight test measurements. The figure below compares CFD computation vs. pressure wave of an unmodified F-5E measured from a chase plane F-15:

F-5E pressure data. Simulation vs. flight test measurements (NGC)

F-5E pressure data. Simulation vs. flight test measurements (NGC)

In parallel, the book goes on giving detailed account of the shape optimization effort, model fabrication and wind tunnel testing up to manufacturing of the full scale prototype:

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History was made on August 27th 2002, when the F-5 SSBD performed the first demonstration flight test. The measurement arrays on ground confirmed the mitigation of the sonic boom, the characteristic N-wave had been flattened thanks to the new fuselage shape:

Historic flattened N-wave of the F-5 SSBD vs. baseline (NASA)

Historic flattened N-wave of the F-5 SSBD vs. baseline (NASA)

The reduction of the pressure peak was attained, from 1,2 psf to 0,8 psf, below the admissible 1psf target. The program had been a success.

The book describes the further tests of the F-5 SSBD with different measuring arrays on ground, utilization of gliders and other chase aircraft for near and mid acoustic field measurement.

In the last chapter it is noted that after the SSBJ success, the program lost momentum, coinciding in time with the 11-Sept attacks and the financial crisis. It lists a series of smaller follow up research projects including the design of maneuvers for focusing or minimizing the sonic boom (performed with a F-18), the nose spike installed on a F-15 and the characterization of its pressure signature.

Current efforts and final comments

The last paragraphs of the book note that, altough at a slower pace, the advancement of viable civil supersonic flight has not stopped. It describes the last round of US government funding from 2009 on and the proposals of manufacturers for supersonic business jet in the range of 30 to 100 passengers. It cites some of the projects of NASA, Lockheed or Aerion, a project of supersonic business jet born in the wake of the programs discussed in the book.

In summary, this book is my opinion the perfect reference document to understand 40 years of supersonic research and testing. It is represents the entry point to put in perspective the different research fields, the successes and the failures and identify聽where future lines of work could be opened.

However, as the book was written 2013, it did not capture the advent of new private initiatives such as Boom, that, in the fashion of the Aerion project, pursues a supersonic business jet. But, more than that, it misses the opening of the new era of X-planes.

I will surely post on that, as NASA麓s New Horizons 10 year initiative lays foundation for a new series of experimental aircraft, including the revamp of the quiet supersonic flight. For that project, Lockheed has been awarded a $20mio contract for the design of the next demonstrator.

On the personal side, apart from reading in the book about CASA麓s past contribution to the sonic boom reduction effort, I am delighted to see how my colleagues in Airbus are engineering partners to the Aerion AS2 supersonic business jet program.

In any case, whatever the outcome of these efforts, the future of the civil supersonic flight will be based on the decades of work and the flight tes results of the successful F-5E SSBD, the pelican:

F-5 SSBD, "the pelican" in flight (NASA)

F-5 SSBD, “the pelican” in flight (NASA)

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Free falling

Not describing a chaotic life period, falling apart like Tom Cruise sung on Jerry McGuire, but meaning skydiving, free falling is literally what a group of work colleagues did last July.

Whitin the group of engineers supporting flight development and operations at Airbus in Seville, we are fortunate to have the frenchmen Dany and Jean Manuel, with hundreds, if not thousands, of jumps from an airplane on their logs. Some weeks ago, they proposed the activity to a group, and 8 of us聽enthusiastically signed up for the morning of Saturday 16th.

Jumping from an airplane has as much of experiencing an adrenaline boost as it has of overcoming the atavic fear of falling. For more than one of our colleagues, this fear would grow until the very moment of jumping. I have to say that, except for some minutes on thursday night, it was not my case. Believe me. What follows are my personal notes about this experience.

Jean Manuel and Dany jump with andalusian Skydive Spain club, located in airfield La Juliana, just 20min a ride from Seville. Apart from them, who have the license to jump on their own, the rest of us signed up for聽the so called “tandem jump“, that is, to jump tied together to an experienced instructor who launches and controls the parachute.

Tandem jump with instructor (up with chute) and jumper below (from Skydivespain web)

Tandem jump with instructor (up with chute) and jumper below (from Skydivespain web)

The jump is made at 15.000ft, or 4600m, from a Dornier Do 28d which, with a capacity up to 8 pax and a big lateral door, is especially suited for this activity.

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The “dive” consists of about one minute of “free fall”, reaching a speed up to 130mph, followed by the deployment of the chute, in a controlled descent of around 5 to 8聽minutes where the instructor allows the jumper to take control for a while.

Before embarking into the Dornier for the ascent flight to jump altitude, a briefing takes place on ground, where the basics are explained:

Basic positions: a) in the airplane prior to the jump and during the free fall segment, with the body in a concave position with arms and legs bent upwards in order to lower the center of gravity for better control b) during the controlled descent, in vertical position and c) at landing, with jumper麓s legs held high to avoid tackling of the instructor ones.

路 “Shoulder taping” communication code: by means of taping on our shoulder, with one or two taps, instructors would let us know when to go to different basic positions and when to move our hands free or holding them secure by grabing the breast straps of our jump suit.

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Following these basic instructions, one can leave the rest to the instructor and be confident that they are doing this several times every day, nothing should happen… 馃檪 聽And indeed nothing happened to us! That thought at least allowed me to enjoy every minute of the ascent flight in the Dornier to 15.000ft laughing at the jokes of the instructors. It allowed me to not panic seeing others jump while I had the last turn, and definitely enjoy shouting from excitement in the first seconds of the jump.

One key aspect to get the maximum out of the jump is the confidence created by the instructor. In my view, these guys from Skydive are good at “reading people” and knowing who needs to relax with a joke or who needs serious instructions to follow. My instructor set the tone with his advice: “never go to the airplane without me, I carry the chute, not you, so you can jump alone, but then you will do it only once…” 馃槃 Great guy!

Me with instructor Manolo behind, tying tight the suit straps. Great mood!

Me with instructor Manolo behind, tying tight the suit straps. Great mood!

The free fall minute is a great experience loosely similar to floating in the water, where the aerodynamic noise doesn麓t let you hear the instructor (thus the shoulder-taping). The controlled descent is more relaxing, and the instructor may allow the jumper to control the chute, showing highlights of the landscape visible from the sky, thus engaging in a great experience.

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After the briefing and during the preparation for the flight, we were made familiar by the instructors with some aspects of this sport. They explained us the climatic constraints, where autum and winter are preferred to summer due to termic currents, dangerous for this activity, and which makes Spain and Seville a real hub in winter for european skydivers. They talked about to the materials and rituals, from the different sizes of chute canopies necessary to control the descent speed (from 350sq ft for tandem jumps, to 120sq ft for experienced jumpers to the crazy 60sq ft ultrafast canopies for the risk seekers), to the art of repacking (where it seems that Dany especially excels) the canopy and all the harnesses.

As the group had to split among separated flights for the jumps, some of us were always present at the landing area to cheer and welcome the jumpers, who were high on adrenaline. We shared our feelings and some beers at the end in the airfield cantine.

Our "Skydive social club" in high sipirt after the jumps

Our “Skydive social club” in high sipirt after the jumps

Although Dany told us that what we did was in fact “just falling” (rather than the more complete experience of diving, as the jumpers do when going solo) this was a great event, a demonstration for some that almost every fear can be overcome and a perfect ocassion to share more of avgeek spirit with great colleagues. As we all said, this was the first time, but definitely won麓t be the last.

“… Freeee, free faaaalling!!”

To finish the post, I leave you a video from Skydivespain麓s website with an example of a tandem jump:

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The guns of august – book review

“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life time” 聽Edward Grey, british secretary of state for foreign affairs, on August 3th, the outbreak of WWI

Written by Barbara W. Tuchman, this release winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1962, has 483 pages and, as the quote reveals, narrates the outbreak of World War I, beginning of August 1914, along with the battle account during that first month.

Cover of the book (credit Random House)

Cover of the book (credit Random House)

In my personal view, the book has聽political聽relevance beyond the historical facts on which it focuses. In the midst of the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy gave a copy to british premier Macmillan indicating that world leaders should avoid the kind of escalation that led to August 1914.聽As the reader of this blog may know, I am a big movie fan, so there is a personal note on this. One of my favorite movies is Roger Donaldson麓s Thirteen Days, about the cuban missiles crisis in 1963. Well, in the most tense moments of the movie, the character of Kennedy reflects on his reading of “The Guns of August” in order to put in perspective the development of the crisis, with the risk of escalating to an unstoppable war.

The personal note goes beyond that. In fact I bought the book in the New York Public Library in 2014 as part of the actions of the institution remembering the centennial of the begining of the war. Moreover, one week before buying it, I had visited the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, where my brother Javier and I had been reading the original documents from the missile crisis. Buying the book聽made then all the sense and closed the circle.

Coming back to the book, with exhuberant prose, it moves at different levels, from capturing the philosophical and cultural zeitgeist of those years, to the technical account of the war practice (structure of armies and corps, gunnery, transport metrics, men density across frontlines…). It also goes from the detailed background, both personal and political, of the main actors to the myriad of anecdotes from the man of the street, the bartender and the journalist.

The book has a clever structure, with three parts corresponding to: the war plans of the armies and governments, the outbreak of war on the first day, and finally the account of the first month of combats. In each part, the book travels along the four main scenarios of the beligerents, France, Germany, United Kingdom and Russia. It goes from the streets of Belgium in the battle of the West Front to the woods in the East Front. It has a picture section and provides battle maps to follow the evolution of the fronts.

Personally, I was captivated reading the first two parts or until page 200, which I devoured in my trips between Germany and Spain when we came back from the US. Then, coinciding with my change of job, I started to read the detailed account of the battles of the third part and got stuck there for long time. It took me a while until I聽resumed the reading, as I had to link again the connections among the different scenarios on the fronts and the many generals and commanders cited in those chapters. The narrative style, however, helped me in that effort.

Now, taking benefit of the notes I made on the book I want to share some passages that I found notable for citing:

路 “Eliminate the red trousers?” he cried. “Never! Le pantalon rouge c’est la France!” quoting french War Minister M.Etienne, on discussing the soldier麓s uniform vs. the german more modern grey designs. A mistaken position, as it turned out in later battles. (pg.43)

路 “Build no more fortresses, build railways.” quoting german General Moltke, on one aspect of the german military strategy. In fact, throughout the book the monumental logistc plans of the germans are depicted to the detail of horses per train and timetables. (pg.88)

路 “[french] Ministers reopened the heated argument whether to invoke Carnet B, the list of known agitators, anarchists, pacifists and suspected spies who were to be arrested automatically upon the day of mobilization” Gives a glimpse of the oppresive political atmosphere reigning at that time. (pg.96)

路 “The occasions when an individual is able to harness 聽a nation are memorable, and Grey麓s speech proved to be one of those junctures by which people afterwards date events” The author is elegantly underlining the value of british Secretary of State E. Grey麓s speech at the House of Commons to make the case to enter the war. (pg. 129)

路 ” ‘Snipers!‘ (…) ‘Man hat geschossen!‘ that was to be the signal for every reprisal upon civilians from Vis茅 to the gates of Paris. From the first day, the figure of the terrible franc-tireur, remembered from 1870, which the Germans were to conjure into gigantic proportions, began to take shape” the author remarks in several passages the state of mind of german soldiers, using the figure of enemy snipers as trigger to unleash all their destruction power, which shocked the world. (pg.187)

路 “‘That may be your plan, it is not mine’. The truth was that to Joffre what counted in the immense chaos of war was not the plan but the energy and verve with which it was carried out. Victory, he believed, would come not out of the best plan but out of the strongest will and firmest confidence, and these, he had no doubt, were his.” about french General Joffre, Commander in Chief at the outbreak of war, stressing the fundamental philosophical difference to the german “scientific” approach to the conflict. (pg.199)

路 ” ‘ We must be prepared,’ he announced, ‘ to put armies of millions in the field and maintain them for several years.‘ His audience was stunned and incredulous, but Kitchener was relentless.” In contrast to the german plans calling for a victory within weeks, the author remarks the vision of british Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener, who ultimately proved right. (pg.213)

路 “But once divinity of doctrine has been questioned there is no return to perfect faith” clever formulation聽from the author reflecting the doubts of german generals when deciding course of action against french movements after the first to weeks of battle. (pg 235)

路 “The Germans had worked it out that the logical place for the British to land would be at the ports nearest to the front in Belgium, and von Kluck麓s cavalry reconaissance, with the marvelous human capacity to see what you expect to see even if it is not there, duly reported the British to be disembarking at Ostend, Calais, and Dunkirk on Agust 13. (…) In fact, of course, they were not there at all but were landing down the coast at Boulogne, Rouen and Havre” another brilliant line from author describing the many flaws of war聽plans when faced with the conundrums of human execution. (pg.245)

At the end, I underlined many more passages that I found either brilliantly formulated by author Barbara Tuchman, or of special historic value quoting the main characters or relevant data about the battles. I leave it to the prospect reader to find and select hers.

Not being normally a reader of books on history, my final comment goes to the lesson I extract from the book, which I think it is behind the recommendation of the book by President Kennedy. In spite of the聽intertwine among the european economies and societies at that time, those bounds could not prevent firing up long standing resentments, many of them political and personal, which escalated to the outbreak of war. Quoting聽from the movie about the missile crisis, the american Secretary of State 聽Dean Rusk:聽“hopefully cooler heads will prevail” in the years to come.

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Unlimited Horizons – book review

Released in summer 2015, “Unlimited Horizons, Design and Development of the U-2” by Peter W. Merlin is the latest ebook of the NASA series. Unlike the other books of the collection, devoted to experimental and research airplanes, this one discusses one of the oldest aircraft still in service, 60 years after its first flight.

Cover ot the book (credit to NASA)

Cover of the book (credit to NASA)

The book describes the rationale for the design and development of the type by the afamed Lockheed麓s Skunk Works under the lead of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. The idea was to provide a platform for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering above a ceiling of 75.000ft (22.000m) in order to avoid the russian interceptors of its time, in the middle of the Cold War. The particular design concept, aerodynamics and powerplant resulted in a mission platform proven unbeatable for earth observation and research, one of the reasons why the airplane is still in operation and in service also with NASA.

The release has some 240 pages in its e-reader version (Pdf format also available), structured in 9 chapters dealing with: the concept and project inception, the design evolution along the decades, the flight operations for the spy missions, but also a summary of the research possibilities. The appendixes provide a good summary of the technical specs, timeline of the U-2 versions and a note on the Skunks Works method.

Let me share in the following lines some of the highlights of the book that captured my attention.

Design, versions and technical features

路 Concept.

The first prototype, called CL-282, based on a modified fuselage of the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, but with redesigned wings with an aspect ratio closer to that of gliders for enhanced efficiency. The structural weight was taken to the minimum without the constrains of the load factors typical of the fighters. This allowed for higher altitude and space for reconnaissance payload, instead of weapons.

路 Powerplant.

Initially contracted to Pratt&Whitney. The unit selected 聽was the J57-P-31, with a consumption that would drop from 9000lb/h at sea level to 700lb/h at 70.000ft. However, flameouts at such low air density conditions led to evolutions of the powerplant. For subsequent enhanced versions of the U-2, the J75-P-13 with more thrust (17.000lb) was developed. GE was contracted for the final re-engine: the F118-GE-101, with up to 18.500lb, less weight and about 15% less fuel consumption than the J75 from P&W was the chosen one.

路 Versions.

The U-2 type evolved throughout the decades. The earlier U-2A/B and U-2C were enhanced with the J75 P13 powerplant in the U-2R end of the 60s. This later version had longer wings and enlarged fuselage, and mitigated聽the problem of earlier U-2 regarding the narrow marging between buffeting and compressibility at high altitude. This margin was only 6 knots for the U-2C and it increased to 20 knots in the U-2R, easing the pilot workload.

U-2C vs. U-2R (Lockheed and book author)

U-2C vs. U-2R (Lockheed and book author)

The type also enjoyed an in-flight refuelable U-2F version and a naval one, the U-2G, with reinforced structure around the landing gear and hook arrestor to support carrier landings.

After almost ten years of production stop, in the early 80s Lockheed was awarded new contracts that led to the military TR-1 and civil ER-2 versions with improved underwing pods and supporting the GE F118 powerplant. The author notes how difficult it was for Lockheed to tap into past experience to revamp the program, as many skilled workers that had participated in the first U-2 production of the 50s/70s had already left the company.

路 Technical highlights

Among the many unique aspects of this aircraft, the book ellaborates on the life support system, critical to allow pilots operate at such high altitudes. The cabin could maintain 聽pressure altitudes of up to 27-30.000ft when the aircraft was flying at 75.000ft. This required the development of partial and full pressure suits by supplier David Clark. The book describes from the earlier versions of the S100 model to the full S1010/1034 ones, with enhanced ergonomy. Still, above 18.000ft cabin pressure, pilots developed decompression sickness after long flights. Therefore the environmental control system was enhanced to keep the pressure altitude at 15.000ft in the later versions of the aircraft.

These concerns were the main activity of a dedicated Physiological Support Squadron, which had to deal as well with higher radiation levels than those experienced in flights at lower levels. The 10 to 20 碌Sv (micro Sievert) of absorbed radiation at 75.000ft were equivalent, for example, to those in the surface of Mars. On the other hand, other “important” topics organized by that Support Squadron were the menus for long flights which included the famous “Chicken 脿 la King”, much beloved by the pilots.

Another feature, contrary to classical wing architechtures, is the separated left and right wing construction, without continous central spars. This solution saved weight and allowed for a lot of free space for the so called Q-bay, where the bulk of sensors and reconaissance equipment was located. In turn, the aircraft sustained less loads due to this configuration.

Other curious element was its Astroinertial Navigation System (ANS) which combined inertial data from gyroscopes with optical reference of the stars for guidance. These elements can be observed in the image below.

U-2 sensors and equipment including ANS and Q-Bay (Lockheed)

U-2 sensors and equipment including ANS and Q-Bay (Lockheed)

Finally, one last curious feature of this type of aircraft is the support of “chase cars” accompaining the landing of the U-2s to help pilots with indication of the feet to touch down after the long flights. These feature, with bicycles instead of cars, is also employed by the experimental Solar Impulse 2 aircraft, as I could learn recently (see post here about it).

U-2 chase car (USAF amd book author)

U-2 chase car (USAF amd book author)


Political relevance and relation with NASA

The path of the U-2 from a reconnaissance “spy” aircraft to a civil research platform was not free of political problems. The book takes note of the early problems of covert missions in the cold war. The most famous being the capture of pilot Francis Gary Powers during a secret mission departing from Pakistan in which he was discovered by russian air defence and took down north of the russian border to Kazakhstan. The CIA made arrangements to convince the public that such missions were flown by NASA, but it did not always succed, as this cartoon of that time depicts:

Cartoon mocking the CIA attempt to covert missions with NASA flights

Cartoon mocking the CIA attempt to covert spy missions with NASA flights

Indeed, along the years, the scientific community and NASA worried that its integrity was questioned and be associated with CIA missions. Quoting a op-ed of that time:

鈥渄amage to NASA鈥檚 scientific integrity may count for little in the calloused calculations of CIA supersleuths, but it will do irreparable harm in the international scientific community鈥”

The fact is, however, that NASA research programs greatly benefited from an outstanding observation platform. The final chapters of the book list many of the missions and instruments developed for earth observation, from atmospheric sampling at high altitude, to geological surveys, which were fed by high quality imagery, not possible to obtain with satellite platforms.

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The book ends noting that the U-2 has evolved from a high altitude camera platform for spy missions, to a complex multisensor platform with military and civil uses. It discusses that even modern drones, such as the Global Hawk, intended to replace the type in such missions, still do not match its characteristics. In the case of the RQ-4, even if it has superior autonomy, 30hrs of the drone vs. 10hrs of the U-2 due to pilot fatigue, it is more costly to operate (35k$ per FH vs. 31k$ per FH of the U-2), to procure and it has less payload and electrical power available for sensors.

Definitely, the book is the account of the success of another outstanding design by Kelly Johnson麓s Skunk works. In fact, the book will end with some appendixes rich in information about the flights and version specifications and, as mentioned in other NASA books I have reviewed, a summary of the Skunk Works rules and design method.

Another delight for aviation geeks served by NASA.

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Solar Impulse 2, an inspiring message

“It is about the message, about the world that we want to leave聽to our children” 聽Guy Morex, SI2 Ground Crew

Solar impulse 2 (credit

Solar impulse 2 (credit

Those were the words that concluded my visit to the Solar Impulse 2 hangar聽in Seville with some Airbus colleagues the last week of June. The solar electric demonstrator had landed in Seville after crossing the Atlantic and having departed from New York in the 15th flight of its tour around the globe, and we couldn麓t let the chance go to be closed to such a dream.

My colleagues and me in front of Solar Impulse 2 (thanks to Guy)

My Airbus colleagues and me in front of Solar Impulse 2 (thanks to Guy)

In this post I want to share some notes about the project and about my visits to the aircraft.

The Solar Impulse is an inspiring project born to raise awareness about clean technologies. Led by swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard and Andr茅 Borschberg, the solar plane features four electric engines along with high density batteries and arrays on the wings and fuselage distributing more than 17.000 solar cells, as energy sources.

From a technical stand point, the specs provided in the website speak about a remarkable aircraft, with over 71m of wing span, while only weighing 2,3 tons thanks to its light materials. The solar cells, for instance, produced 5600kWh during the leg from Abu Dhabi to Hawaii, and the electric engines are able to convert energy into propulsion for an average airspeed of 75km/h. I invite the reader to browse through the videos and resources made available in the web (link here). They are worth reading and watching.

In fact, as part of the outreach and educational effort of the team, the website is rich in resources for schools and communities (link here), such as papers on electric fundamentals with exercises to play with.

Relating to the previous post I wrote about electric aviation (read it here), I can put in perspective the electrical performance of the Solar Impulse. With an energy density聽of 260Wh/kg,聽its batteries are in the high end of current technologies, matching the ratio of the ones installed on Tesla cars, for instance. Still, with 633kg, these batteries only generate a fraction of the energy the Solar Impulse needed for its Hawaii flight.

Now let me comment about the visit as, thanks to the nice ground crew, I was able to learn聽different aspects about their mission.聽

I visited the hangar in two occasions, the first one alone. In both, I聽had the opportunity to talk with team members, one of the production team, Nicholas, and two ground crew members, Paige and especially聽Guy, which in the last visit was very kind welcoming us and sharing experiences from the project.

Solar Impulse hangar close to Airbus DS facilities in Seville

Solar Impulse hangar close to Airbus DS facilities in Seville

Paige described the collaboration project of its company, materials supplier Covestro, to engineer enhanced polymers for the aircraft cabin, which are able to better isolate the pilots from exterior temperatures. In addition, among her other roles, she helps in the landings as back-up “catcher” following with an electric bike the Solar Impulse while ground crew is trying to capture the wing supports. This technique resembles that of the U-2 spy plane, with bikes instead of cars.

Closer view of the cockpit, including light material panels

Closer view of the cockpit, including light material panels

Nicholas shared account of its day to day activities and involvement with the project, from the workshop duties, to servicing of the aircraft and mechanical repairs.

Guy ellaborated on the dependency on the meteo for the flight planning, and shared many anecdotes with us. From the enhanced cooling of the batteries on ground, to the movements of the aircraft to fit it in the hangars. We could take a closer look at the flight controls and surfaces, including the counterbalances designed to alleviate the long cycles of maneuvering for the pilots.

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He spoke about situations they had to face during their journey around the globe, while mobilising a team of some 50 people. After all, Solar Impulse in nothing less than a small “company” embarking some 100 people in a project since the early 2000麓s. If one thinks the resources needed for such enterprise (in my estimates around 10M鈧/year), it is clear why they needed the prominent partners and patrons listed in their website.

Guy麓s final comment was a remark about the message of the entire project, which is that at the end of the day, we need to pursue clean technologies to secure a better future. Wether we will reach it through full electrical aircraft or hybrid technologies combining batteries, solar generators or any future technology, is not yet clear. Nevertheless one thing is sure, the Solar Impulse team believes in its mission. As I said to Nicholas when he first welcomed me into聽the hangar: “trully inspiring what your are doing here, guys!”

Thanks for the inspiring message, Bertrand and Andr茅.

Me inspired by Bertrand and Andr茅麓s Solar Impulse

Me inspired by Bertrand and Andr茅麓s Solar Impulse



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Notes on aircraft and car electric propulsion

Reading recently about NASA麓s LEAPTech program to demonstrate the concept of electric distributed propulsion for aircraft I recalled a conference given by Elon Musk at MIT half a and a year ago. In that conference he was interviewed and asked about different aerospace topics but, as I highlighted聽in a post devoted to it, he especifically mentioned a couple of key magnitudes where the frontier of feasible commercial electric flight could be set.

He mentioned that a next generation of viable Ion-Lithium batteries could reach a specific energy of 400Wh/kg, and with such batteries, an aircraft with a weight ratio of the batteries of around 70% would make a viable transcontinental commercial airliner.

In order to have a clearer picture about such an statement and put in context the NASA program, in these notes I want to ellaborate a bit on those numbers, even if just talking in average values, and discuss some examples of the efforts currently ongoing related to electric aviation.

Energy densities of Fuel vs. Lithium-ion

Starting point of the anlysis is the energy densities for the current technologies currently available (and affordable) for transportation. From Wikipedia:

路 Jet Fuel: 12kWh/kg

路 Automotive fuels: 13kWh/kg (average, for comparison, as the electric car is already a reality)

路 Lithium-ion battery: 0,3kWh/kg (current benchmark)

Looking back at the statement from Mr. Musk, benchmark technologies are close but not yet where he sees the critical value of energy density to make viable commercial flights. From a rough comparison, the density advantage of fuel is still almost of an order of magnitude. But, if a value of 0,4kWh/kg would make electric flight feasible, is this advantage that critical or relevant at all?

For the anlaysis, I will first have a look at the automotive sector, where examples of established products based on both technologies are available, and then I will draw a comparison to the aircraft industry.

Weight of energy storage in聽cars.

I take the example of cars because it offers comparable products, for example Tesla麓s S Model P85 and a comparable fuel sedan, in the size of an Audi A6. Both types share a similar autonomy for one tank/charge of some 600/650km.

From the S Model P85 specification we get an energy reserve聽of 85kWh which (assuming a perfectly efficient electric engine) gives us, with the current Li-Ion batteries density a weight of around 280kg in batteries. (A less efficient engine would result in higher battery weight for the same reach in km). Although Tesla doesn麓t provide date for it, estimations of total weight for this model lie around 2.000kg. That gives us a ratio of 14% of the total weight in batteries.

A normal sedan聽can have a fuel tank of around 60litres which, calculating with 0,8kg/l of density, gives us some 50kg of fuel. Although this fuel is consumed during the ride, the ratio of the initial load to the weight, for a total empty weight of around 1530kg, is of roughly 3%.

Not taking into account difference in weight(*) of the electric engine vs. internal combustion ones, and being other structural weights considered equivalent for both types, one can derive that fuel cars are currently more “weight efficient” than electric ones in energy storage.聽In fact, some 5 times more efficient.

On the other hand, taking a look at the energy efficiency, while the Tesla S Model needed just the 85kWh to complete聽a 600km ride, a fuel sedan 聽is consuming good 650kWh (50kg x 13kWh/kg) for approximately the same ride. Here the electric car has the same advantage in energy efficiency that fuel cars had in weight, around 5 times.

If we see that the energy to total weight ratios move from 3% in fuel to up to 14% in electric cars, and that weight is important but not that critical for cars, we can understand how electric cars are enjoying the success they have when factors like pollution reduction and energy efficiency gain in relevance (a trend that I fully support!)

Weight of energy storage聽for aircraft

The story for aircraft, however, is quite different. For cars most of the energy is spent in moving the vehicle forward, because weight is countered by the reaction of the ground to the wheels and it is a secondary factor to the energy consumption. In aircraft, on the contrary, weight is the ultimate factor driving every design, and energy must be used to “move” the aircraft forward and, with the help of aerodynamics, to generate the lift to counter the weight and initiate the flight. After all, flying is nothing less than the fight of lift against weight.

Now, the comparison analysis is here a bit more difficult than cars, as the different missions and ranges of aircraft give a wide variety of ratios of fuel weight to total weight. Most of them are designed to reach distances one order of magnitude higher than road vehicles, in the thousands of kilometers, so we shall expect also higher ratios. Let see some examples:

Cessna 172 (light propeller aircraft) 290kg fuel to 1110kg total weight (or MTOW) for a range of some 1200km. That is 26% (double the range of a fuel car, double fuel ratio for light aircraft)

ATR 72 (regional propeller aircraft) 5.000kg fuel to 23.000kg MTOW for 1.500km in range. 23% of fuel to total weight.

BAe146 (regional jet engine aircraft) 11.700kg fuel to 42.000kg MTOW for a range of 2.900km. Takes the ratio to 28%.

Airbus A330 (wide body jet airliner) 111.000kg fuel to 242.000kg MTOW for a range of 13.000km. 45% fuel to total weight.

This review of current achitectures of small to large aircraft, propeller to jet engines, result in ratios of 1/4 to 1/2 in fuel for ranges from 1.000km and on.

If we remember the different in weight efficiency of energy storage (5 times) between fuel and electric cars, we see that such ranges are just not reachable with current electric technologies. Taking one of the very few examples of electric aircraft we can understand this:

The Airbus E-Fan technology demonstrator is a very light propeller aircraft using electric engines and Lithium-ion batteries as energy source. These batteries have an energy density of 207Wh/kg (still not the 300Wh/kg of the benchmark or the 400Wh/kg predicted by Musk) for a total of 29kWh at 167kg in batteries. This provides the aircraft with an autonomy of 60min flight, which at 160km/h cruise speeds, results in 160km of range. With a total weight of 550kg, we have already a ratio of 30%, for a bit more than the tenth of the range of a small Cessna. And it is a prototype with rather conventional design.

Now, if we remember how much the weight of energy storage increased from electric to fuel technologies (5 times) for comparable car ranges, we can now understand how far we are from viable electric commercial flight. The 70% ratio from Elon Muks that I mentioned聽at the beginning聽is, in light of these facts, not only not exagerated, but probably optimistic with current technologies. In fact, he commented that significant architectural changes should be made to aircraft designs to save weight in other elements (including flight controls and surfaces!) in order to shift it to energy storage.

In my view, this is probably the idea behind the LEAPTech Program that opened this post. While the E-Fan is still a “conventional” light aircraft with electric propulsion, that could show the road for light electric general aviation with short ranges, the step taken by the LEAPTech prototype goes in the direction proposed by Musk. Its key feature is the distributed electric propulsion, not the battery energy density (at 100Wh/kg even lower than that of the E-Fan). The program investigates how distributed small propellers can聽produce equivalent lift for smaller wing surfaces than conventional designs.

Still, there are other areas of investigation to tackle the bottleneck of energy storage. For instance, the technology of structural supercapacitors (here link to research at Imperial College). Still, this form of energy storage is 10 times lower than current Lithium-ion.


Maybe in the future a combination of batteries with energy densities even higher that the 400Wh/kg, aircraft elements with extensive use of structural supercapacitors, distributed electric propulsion with lighter wings and other disruptive technologies yield reasonable commercial electric aircraft designs that can compete in range and efficiency with the fuel based ones.

I would love to see that but,聽when will it come? Well, soon after reading the LEAPTech insert, NASA released its Strategic Implementation Plan (link to pdf聽here). This is聽fantastic聽document, worth reading (and about which I will surely post). But with a quick look at it, one can derive that the full electric aircraft for longer ranges is not in the agenda of NASA at least for the next 10 years. One of the three “Mega Drivers” presented there and two of the six “Strategic Thrusts” deal with energy efficiency and greener aviation, but no one foresees complete electric flight. In fact, in one of the risk assessments, the following is noted (page 49):

NASA Strat Plan Alt Prop risks

So, for the years to come, and with increasing success for electric cars, we will see and listen more voices claiming for electric commercial aviation. But, in my view, with the weight constraints of flight and current and energy storage technologies, this will not happen in the next few decades and, if any, only restricted to aircraft of very limited range (as we can already see in remote controlled aircraft and small drones). Unless several significant disruptions appear in the way, we will see…



(*) I have not made the numbers yet, but talking about tenths or even hundreds of kgs, that difference could still be offset by the fact that the fuel weight is reduced along the ride vs. the fixed weight of the electric architecture.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 ocean landing webcast – Engineering made cool

This is insane

Tom Praderio, SpaceX firmware engineer and webcast host, on the euphoric reaction of SpaceX麓s staff to the landing of Falcon 9 1st stage.

Last Friday, April 8th 2016, marked another milestone in the spaceflight聽(1) with the landing of SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher 1st stage on a droneship over the Atlantic Ocean.

Falcon 9 1st stage landed on droneship - credit SpaceX/NASA

Falcon 9 1st stage landed on droneship – credit SpaceX/NASA

Beyond the technical and engineering feat of such maneuver, the thrilling webcast arranged by SpaceX was, in my opinion, a remarkable example of the outreach and branding effort that the company has put in the webcasts of its space operations. I enjoyed a lot the live streaming of the event and in this post I want to comment on it. But first, dear reader, have the opportunity to watch it聽yourself聽[video 36:54min]:

Now, let麓s comment on some aspects that caught my attention:

Language. Although the team of hosts provides a wide array of technical explanations along the broadcast, these are intended for a broader audience, in contrast to what in fact they call the “Technical Webcast“.This one focuses on the internal communications of the teams involved in the operations, and needs deeper knowlege of rocket science to be followed.

The team of hosts. Moving away from traditional senior hosts from NASA and the media conducting space broadcasts, SpaceX has put a team of its young engineers in cool looks to cover the event. From Brian Mahlsted at launch site in Cape Canaveral, to Tom Praderio and Kate Tice in Hawthorne headquarters, they wear rather T-shirs and casual than suits and ties. Note聽the Occupy Mars” T-shirt Kate is wearing, a funny reminder of the ultimate mission of SpaceX, as stated by CEO Elon Musk. All these elements appeal to a generation of young students and engineers.

Show and gamification. SpaceX seems to have captured the essence of gamification (2) for their webcasts, providing a “progress bar” at the bottom of the screen (see picture above), marking the stages of what we are going to see. Including聽a countdown, and with only 9 minutes from the lift off to the landing, the video has the dramatic elements and duration suited for the generation of mobile video consumers.

The聽Trick. Although the excitement shown on screen tells different, the webcast was about the CRS-8 mission, a NASA one contracted to SpaceX to dock the Dragon module on the International Space Station (this happened almost two days later). Hosts Kate and Tom try to put in context聽what is just an “experiment”, the landing, just seconds before it actually happens (min 26:30 and on). In the words of Tom:

even if it is not a completely successful landing, every little bit of data counts, this is an experiment, is not related to the main objective of today麓s mission, which is to get the Dragon to the Internation Space Station.

good try. If you listen to the background euphory, they clearly do not succeed. It is all about the landing of the first stage.

And a final remark. SpaceX made an amazing聽recap聽video of previous Falcon 9 launch and successful continental landing of the first stage. With this new leap forward of聽the landing on the droneship, I can麓t wait to watch the new recap. What I believe is that high schools and engineering faculties should show it to students when it comes on air.

In summary, SpaceX webcasts, and this one in particular, include elements appealing to new generations, as much as Elon Musk do with his presentations of Telsa cars and products.

Engineering made cool. Once again, Mr. Musk, respect.


(1) This landing is part of the validation of the reusable launcher. A concept that aims at reducing the cost of access to space by a factor of 10 or even 100. I wrote a post about an interview to Elon Musk where he ellaborates on this effort. Read it here.

(2) Gamification聽can be defined a design approach, and has already been discussed in this blog. It transfers game design elements into non-game contexts in order to help make content more appealing or boost its impact.


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Entertaining with finance and business models

Even though the expressions finance and business models might not seem to have much in common with entertainment, I want to write about a discovery I made a year ago which makes it possible. I mean the american TV show Shark Tank, airing since 2010 on the american broadcaster abc.

For non-US residents, the format is based on another show, Dragon麓s Den, an original from Japan which had versions in many countries around the globe (including Spain with Tu Oportunidad).

The show麓s mechanics is聽simple, entrepreneurs are given the oportunity to do a short pitch of around 3 minutes in front of famous investors to request money in exchange for equity to grow their businesses. Then, the investors may ask questions about the business or idea and eventually strike a deal. In similar fashion to other TV shows such as contests of cooking, dancing and the like, the presentations and background of participants have some dramatization in order to suit the requirements of聽large TV audiences.

There are, however, three aspects in my view that make the show definitively a good pic for entrepreneurs, investors or MBA students:

Business models: through questions to the contesting entrepreneur a lot can be learned about the value chain of the different ideas, learning how to identify customers and suppliers, market segments, size and share, cost structures and sales channels in just some minutes.

Finance and valuation: although the show focuses on the exchange of cash聽for equity, the venture capitalists often ask the candidate about the debt structure or the revenue streams in order to assess the value of the enterprise and make an offer. We can get a glimpse on how an endeavour has been financed from the starting up and how can it be scaled. This process is very dynamic in the show.

The pitch: characteristic of the american version is the quality of the pitches. From a pure public speaking perspective (as a Toastmaster I am biased in this sense) there is a lot of value in watching the many different “elevator pitches” and the effect to them on the investors. This is a field where a lot of improvement can be achieved outside the US.

A note about the investors. Apart from Mark Cuban, owner of basketball club Dallas Maverics, the others which are part of the cast may be relatively unknown to non-US viewers. Besides聽the financial aspects, their performances and comments on the set range from the supportive to projects grown from communities to the patriotic, and to the most extreme american capitalism in some cases (the “only-money-counts” of Kevin O麓Leary). Watch below a capture sneak, with spanish subtitles:

In any case, the show has enjoyed success along 7 seasons (unlike i.e. the short lived spanish version with only one) and I recommend it to every reader interested in having some fun while validating the typical coursework material or their own business ideas. Entertaining business, who would have said it 馃檪

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On the Challenger Space Shuttle, a remembrance.

On this day, February 1st, 2003, the Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated during the reentry maneuver at the end of mission STS-107, killing its crew of seven. The reader can pay tribute to them in the NASA Day of Remembrance website.

If you took a look at the website you could see that another recent date, last Thursday, January the 28th, marked also the 30th anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986, which resulted in the death of its crew of 5 NASA astronauts, 1 Payload specialist and a teacher part of the Teachers in Space program.

Challenger lift off

Challenger lift off

It is with occasion of this second anniversary that I want to recall the powerful influence of the聽Challenger in my childhood. It was probably Christmas of 1984 or 85 when my brother Javier and I got scale models of the space orbiter, the first toy I remember I took to the kindergarten.

As he wrote in a dedicated post, those toys marked our passion for聽all things flying, which led us to the pursue of university studies in aerospace engineering. As I commented to the article, things turned out that, thanks to the ESA Outreach Program for aerospace students, we both ended up knowing and sharing good moments with the dutch Wubbo Ockels, one of the astronauts that flew the very last complete mission of the Challenger, just 3 months before the disaster one. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

During our studies at ETSIA in Madrid, we also had the chance to take some courses lectured by spanish astronaut Pedro Duque, who flew the Discovery Shuttle within the STS-95 mission (and was later in 2003 in the International Space Station). 聽We could somehow fulfill the dream to be close to those men of the stars. Our professional paths, however, took us some kilometers lower, down to where the airplanes fly. But I like to think that it all started with that wonderful toy with a cursed name, the Challenger.

Today, remembering these dates, I also marvel at the success of the Space X reusable Falcon 9聽launchers, or the historic Rosetta mission of ESA, with its lander module Philae, or think about NASA麓s Orion Program for the human exploration of Mars. Then, I wonder how many little children will now be playing with their model toys of such magic spacecraft, not well aware that the seed of space exploration is already planted in them. If they become the future Wubbos and Pedros, or they remain at lower flight levels as we do, may they have the chance to fulfill the childhood dreams as we did.

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