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Air-Minded: Propellers of the Stars

I am the Nancy Grace of celebrity plane wrecks.

When I saw the first photos of actor Harrison Ford’s crashed airplane on the golf course in Santa Monica, I immediately zeroed in on the propeller. Probably only someone trained as an aircraft accident investigator would do that. I am such a someone, and that is what I did.


Left side, undamaged propeller blade (photo credit: unknown)


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Right side, snapped propeller blade (photo credit: unknown)

Propellers can give you essential clues right off the bat: was the prop producing thrust at impact, merely spinning in the wind, or stopped altogether? The prop, in turn, tells you what the engine was doing.

Metal prop blades are an easy tell: they bend. If the engine and prop are running and producing thrust at impact, the blades bend forward. If the engine and prop are merely windmilling, producing no thrust, the blades bend back.

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Forward bend, power on (photo credit: unknown)


Backward bend, power off (photo:

Wooden and carbon fiber prop blades snap or shatter, so they’re not reliable indicators of whether the engine and prop was running and producing thrust at impact. But if all the blades are snapped, you at least know the prop was spinning at impact; if one blade is snapped off and the other blade or blades are okay, the prop wasn’t moving at impact.


Messerschmitt with wooden prop (photo: Ekstrabladet)

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Carbon fiber prop (photo credit: unknown)

In the photos of Ford’s vintage Ryan PT-22 trainer at the top of this post, you can see it has a wooden propeller, so there’s no bending. One propeller blade, the one in the top photo, is whole and undamaged. In the second photo, taken from the other side of the airplane, you can see the snapped blade. From this I believe the prop wasn’t spinning at impact — the down blade snapped on impact; the up blade never hit the ground.

If the prop wasn’t spinning, the engine was stopped or seized, and that’s consistent with initial reports that Ford experienced an engine failure shortly after takeoff. By all accounts, he performed a textbook engine-off glide and landing; it’s too bad he didn’t have enough altitude to glide all the way back to the runway.

Astute observers might look at the photo of the crashed WWII Messerschmitt fighter in the farmer’s field and wonder why, if Ford flew such a good engine-off glide and landing, his airplane is so horribly damaged when the Messerschmitt isn’t. Here’s why:


Ford’s PT-22 in September 2013 (photo: London Ent/Splash News)

Belly landings are best done on a smooth, flat belly. The Messerschmitt’s retractable landing gear were up and locked when its pilot was forced to land in that field. Ford’s Ryan PT-22 has fixed landing gear: the wheels and struts most likely dug into the soft ground of the golf course on landing, flipping the airplane onto its nose before it came to rest as we see it in the photos. Frankly, I’m surprised there wasn’t more damage.

The Nancy Grace of celebrity plane wrecks is happy Mr. Ford knew what he was doing and wasn’t seriously hurt. She’s heartbroken there’s one less vintage Ryan PT-22 in the world, but hopes that perhaps, if the structural damage isn’t too severe, the loss will be a temporary one.


Thursday Bag o’ Sedition

i_heart_sedition_tote_bagI think of myself as progressive, at least when it comes to politics and public policy. Socially, I’m an embarrassment to the cause.

Social progressives reject certain thoughts as seditious. One such thought is that some people “choose” to be gay.

Based on all I know and have observed, sexual orientation is not a choice. We are what we are, gay or straight; most of us know what we are by the time we’re teenagers and tend to stay that way the rest of our lives. Some gay people live outwardly heterosexual lives because of social pressure, and I suppose that’s a choice, though a forced one. A few people seem to be genuinely bisexual and therefore don’t have to choose either way; a few more may experiment, at different times of their lives, with the other side, and I guess that’s a choice too.

Experimentation or rebellion aside, though, can people consciously choose to change their basic sexual orientation? Maybe, though it’s an unpopular thought on the left. I’m with the left when it comes to rejecting the notion that gay people can be “converted” to heterosexuality; there’s no evidence conversion has ever worked, and plenty of evidence it has wrecked lives. But I do believe that some people consciously choose to change their sexual orientation. Probably not many, but some. We know a woman who’s been a lesbian all her adult life; she’s also one of the first women to legally marry another woman in our state. Now, though, she’s divorcing her wife in order to marry a man she describes as her soulmate.

I could ask a million questions about her choices, but it’s none of my business. Suppose some people do choose to change their sexuality — so what? Let people be what they choose to be. Let people pursue their happiness. In that, at least, I guess I can claim to be socially progressive.


Wonkette and other progressive blogs love to poke fun at the right and its fixation with the threat of transgender toilets. Here’s a sample from the linked post:

If you are not familiar with the wingnuts’ argument against trans people in the bathrooms, or you can’t put it together in your mind using your Logic Skills, it goes like this: If transgender people are able to use their preferred bathrooms, then creepy straight men will fake being transgender — LIKE THEY ALWAYS ARE DOING — and hang out in the ladies’ room and leer and perv around. We are waiting for documentation that this is an ongoing problem in Obama’s America, but we are sure it is, the Christian Right never just cold fuckin’ lies about stuff, it’s against the Bible.

I don’t think transgender people go into restrooms in order to perv. I think they have to go potty. But there are pervs, plenty of them, and it’s not a stretch to imagine one cross-dressing in order to use the women’s restroom. I mean, damn, just look at the sort of things pervs get up to without cross-dressing:

Well, Wonkette, here’s a seditious thought: as long as there are pervs and potties, pervs’ll perv in potties — LIKE THEY ARE ALWAYS DOING. Even right-wing loons have legitimate fears.


Another thing we’re not supposed to do, if we’re socially progressive, is to scold or correct people for their language and grammar:

In essence, grammar policing on the internet [mostly towards strangers who we don’t have a personal relationship with and thus don’t know their background and feelings toward grammar policing] is a subtle act of classism. It’s shaming people for not having the opportunities that we have and it should be avoided.

I am an online grammar scold. When presumably educated people — people who have had the educational opportunities I have had, and that’s almost all of us — use “your” for “you’re,” I give them a nudge. If they persist — especially if they seem to be ignoring the rules on purpose or out of sheer laziness — it’s time to hold them up to ridicule, as I do with my Donkey Hote Twitter account, where I retweet the Tweets of Twitterers who should know better.

Yes, it’s classist, but I am classist. So are you, too, I bet. We judge people by their actions. In my book a person’s manner of speaking and writing is an action, a conscious choice, one of many reliable indicators of what they value and what kind of person they are. In other words, an indicator of their class and relative place in society.

It’s very easy to go in a racist direction with this, and Donkey Hote and I try not to do that — there is such a thing as black English, with its own rules, diction, and syntax, and we do not scold those who use it.

I will just note, in passing, that the social progressives who deplore the classism of scolding people for their language and grammar all seem to express themselves in standard, educated English. Why do you suppose that is?


Making Allowances

May I speak frankly?

We have a elderly out-of-town friend who comes to visit two weekends a year. He can barely walk, he has a constant wet cough, and lately he’s taken up belching (we think he has an esophageal obstruction of some kind). We’ve had to take him to the emergency room more than once. Lately he smells of pee, probably because he’s catheterized (we aren’t sure, and he won’t talk about it). He’s nearly deaf, so when he speaks he shouts, and when he watches TV he cranks it up to the point where we (half deaf ourselves) have to leave the room.

Beyond his health, he’s a handful in other, perhaps less forgivable ways. He makes a mess in the guest bathroom and never cleans up. He doesn’t listen to what we and others are saying; he’s too busy planning what he’s going to say next, which rarely has anything to do with what the rest of us are talking about. He doesn’t shower when he’s here, slathering himself with cologne instead (his presence lingers after he’s gone). Over the years he’s broken with several friends and family members, turning his back on them and acting as if they’d never existed. Inexplicably, he hasn’t turned on us.

He’s an old friend and we make allowances. Who knows what we’ll be like ten years from now? If we abandon old friends when they no longer please us, what might our younger friends do to us some day?

It hit us during his most recent visit that we’ve known this man since the early 1990s, when he was in his 50s. Comparing recollections in a private moment, we realized he was the same way then, minus the belching, odors, and mobility problems. We’ve been making allowances for him all along.

Should I admit we both sort of hope he’ll turn his back on us some day, as he’s done to others? Should I admit we’re already planning excuses to fend off his next visit?

Well, at least he hasn’t turned teabagger on us. He’s an old pinko, and we old pinkos have to stick together.


Spring Cleaning

No matter how much space my server company gives me, I’m always pushing the limits. Before I got smart about photos I loaded them onto the server, where they took up an ungodly amount of room. Four years ago I started uploading blog post photos to Flickr, where I have unlimited storage. The photos you see in newer blog posts on Paul’s Thing actually reside on Flickr, not my server.

But what to do about all those older photos on the server, still taking up room? This morning I moved them all to Flickr, and as I get time I’ll replace missing photos in some of the older blog posts. Not all of them, but the important ones, the ones blog posts won’t make much sense without … those I’ll replace.

It’s not my highest priority at the moment; you’d have to be deep in the archives to find posts with missing photos, and most readers don’t go there. But some of you do, and I’m thinking of you. The photos, at least the important ones, will be back soon.


Air-Minded: Heritage Flight Photoblog

Once a year, civilian warbird and USAF fighter pilots meet at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, to practice close formation flying for the upcoming airshow season. The program, which features historical and current military aircraft, is called Heritage Flight. The annual practice session at DMAFB is the Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course.

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Mixed formation with Sabres, Lightning, Mustang (photo: Paul Woodford)

I don’t think the training session gets much publicity, at least not from the USAF, as you can tell by the out-of-date USAF links above. Sometimes I hear about it through the air museum; sometimes I don’t know it’s happening until I see Mustangs and Sabres flying overhead. When I know about it in time I’ll drive to the base, park at base operations, and head out to the flightline with my camera. There are never more than 20 or 30 other spectators on hand. So it is with this year’s training meet. Heritage Flight practice started yesterday but I didn’t learn of it until late in the afternoon; this morning I drove to the base and joined a small group of spectators on the ramp by base ops.

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P-47 Thunderbolt (photo: Paul Woodford)

These days active USAF participation is small. There were three F-16s and two F-22 Raptors on the ramp. No doubt DMAFB will contribute an A-10 or two, but there were no F-15s, as there have been in the past, and somewhat surprisingly no F-35s either, even though there’s a training squadron just up the road at Luke AFB. The rich guys with their restored warbirds outnumbered active USAF participants: there were at least four P-51 Mustangs, one P-38 Lightning, one P-47 Thunderbolt, one P-40 Warhawk, and two F-86 Sabres.

Here are a few thumbnails: as with the photos above, you can click on them to see the full sized images at Flickr. You can also click here to see my full Heritage Flight 2015 Flickr album.

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Raptor showing its weapons bays (photo: Paul Woodford)

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Mustang & Raptor (photo: Paul Woodford)

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P-38 Lightning (photo: Paul Woodford)

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P-40 Warhawk (photo: Paul Woodford)


Critters, Car Trips, Culture Wars

The dogs had their teeth cleaned Tuesday. You who do not have dogs might not know what a big deal this is. Antibiotics and anesthesia, and in Maxie’s case more antibiotics after, because in addition to the cleaning she had to have a couple of rotten teeth extracted. The girls were just coming out of anesthesia when we picked them up that afternoon, groggy and disoriented. Maxie actually fell down when we took her out back to go potty. They slept all night, cuddled in our laps until bedtime, then burrowed down between us under the covers. By Wednesday they were back to normal. We, of course, feel awful for putting them through the ordeal.


Schatzi & Maxie, good as new (now with Better Breath™)

Chewie the cat, who reveled in her dog-free day, was visibly crushed when we brought them home. Maybe we should take her in for procedure or two.

I’m planning a trail for an upcoming Hash House Harrier event, one that will start and end at our house. My knowledge of our neighborhood, thanks to all the hashing trails I’ve set through it, is almost carnal. This morning I mentally laid out a route, then checked it on Google maps. Later today I’ll ride it on my bicycle to get the feel of it.

Speaking of hashing, it’s starting to look as if we’ll be able to attend the big InterAmericas Hash House Harrier event in Portland, Oregon, this coming Labor Day weekend. We didn’t think we were going to be able to go: we, along with several hundred other InterAm wannabes, missed the registration deadline. Now, though, a friend of a friend whose plans have changed has agreed to sell his two registrations to us. We’ll be traveling by car, visiting friends and relatives in Nevada, Washington, and California along the way. Our 50th wedding anniversary is this coming December; September’s close enough to allow us to call it a golden anniversary road trip. We’re already excited.

This Bill O’Reilly thing escapes me. Everyone knows he’s equal parts bluster and bullshit, and in any case he’s not a newsman. He’s not expected to be honest or objective; his job at Fox News is to stir up the rubes and keep their resentment at a fever pitch. A lie from Bill O’Reilly is not at all the same thing as a lie from Brian Williams, who is supposed to be objective and self-effacing … even though what Brian Williams was doing on the NBC Nightly News could hardly be called reportage, as Bill Maher so hilariously points out:

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And now the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, has been caught exaggerating his military record, saying he was Army Special Forces when in fact he was not. Honestly, I can’t work up any outrage; it’s not like it’s a case of stolen valor. McDonald not only served (unlike all the chickenhawks posting angry tweets about American Sniper not getting more Oscars): he was a West Point grad who jumped out of airplanes with the 82nd Airborne Division, way way closer to special operations than anything I ever did. To my mind an Airborne troop or officer is just a tiny notch below a Ranger (and by the way, McDonald graduated from Ranger school, no easy task), a Ranger almost indistinguishable from a Green Beret.

I know special ops folks will disagree with me on that. It’s a touchy subject. I have to be careful myself how I talk about my time with the US Special Operations Command, lest people think I’m claiming a special ops background. I served a joint tour with USSOCOM J3, but I was not a special operator. I was an Air Force fighter pilot who happened to find himself on the USSOCOM staff after the Goldwater-Nichols military shakeup of 1986. Almost all of the officers and enlisted people I worked with at USSOCOM, however, were special ops, so I can at least claim to know something about it.

Last night MSNBC, in conjunction with NBC’s Telemundo network, aired an hour-long town hall interview with President Obama on immigration. Obama’s interlocutor, Telemundo correspondent Jose Díaz-Balart, repeatedly engaged with the live audience in Spanish. Obama heard a translated version of Díaz-Balart’s remarks through an earpiece and responded in English. Those of us watching at home, if we didn’t speak Spanish ourselves, could only guess at what had been said by Obama’s responses.

Granted, Telemundo is a Spanish-language network serving a huge Latino audience in the USA, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of the bilingual Jose Díaz-Balart on NBC and MSNBC. Nevertheless, my inner conservative became increasingly restive as the interview, with all the untranslated Spanish language exchanges, went on. My inner conservative felt as if something was being shoved down its throat by the smug, superior liberals at MSNBC. I sent my inner conservative to bed without dinner, never fear, but I took note of his resentful reaction: at the very least, its intolerance helped me understand Bill O’Reilly’s popularity with the Fox News shut-ins.

¡Buenos días, amigos!


I Don’t Know if Scott Walker’s a Shoplifter

After all, I’m not a scientist.

Why are Republicans still fixated on President Obama’s otherness? Especially now, when Obama’s in the final year-and-a-half of his final term in office, soon to join the ranks of former presidents? You’d think after Obama decisively won his second election, and after it became clear the threat of impeachment was an empty one, Republicans would have moved on to trashing Hillary Clinton, Obama’s likely successor. And why is trash-talking Obama even news? Look, media executives: we already know he’s black; we already know Republicans can’t get over it. Isn’t there any serious news you could be reporting on?

Also. Is Hollywood done patting itself on the back yet? From the SAG Awards to the Golden Globes, from the Emmys to the Oscars, I’m burnt out on red carpets and vapid celebrities. I never want to see another awards show. Get back to work and shut up.

There. I’m glad I got all that off my chest. In local news, the dogs are at the vet’s getting their teeth cleaned. Since they have to be anesthetized they haven’t had food or water since last night, and the look in their eyes when we didn’t feed them this morning! We are almost as beside ourselves as they are.


You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

Great news! Instead of trying to preemptively ban controversial material in state schools, Florida instead plans to proactively expose 8th graders to new ideas. Oh, wait….

In previous YCRT! posts I’ve followed the battle between conservative parents and teachers over textbooks and reading assignments in a Dallas, Texas suburb. Here are the latest updates from Highland Park:

What happened in Texas, sadly, isn’t staying in Texas. The fever to whitewash American history has spread to Georgia, where the state senate is considering a statewide ban on AP history classes. Oklahoma too.

Oddly enough, conservative parents and elected officials in Jefferson County, Colorado, where the current round of opposition to teaching actual, as opposed to idealized, American history began last year, have dropped their efforts to ban AP history classes.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, a new front in the battle over education has formed. A bill making its way through the state legislature would allow for the arrest and prosecution of school teachers and administrators accused of exposing minors to “harmful material.” What kind of material are they worried about? Why, anything to do with S-E-X, of course!

Are American public libraries purging old books that reflect the racist assumptions of their time? This journalist says they are. If true, it’s something to be concerned about.

A British journalist offers a succinct summary of book banning in modern times, useful catch-up reading for those new to the topic, then outrageously claims Oxford University Press is telling prospective British textbook writers not to mention “pigs, pork or sausages for fear of causing offence.” I didn’t buy that … until I Googled it. Alas, it is so.

In some countries, accepting a copy of The Watchtower from a Jehovah’s Witness could land you in prison.

Here’s a pretty great infographic from the American Civil Liberties Union. Scroll away, banned book lovers!