Re: Zen and the Art of Flying Saucer Maintenance

Michael Lorrey (
Sun, 13 Jul 1997 12:32:57 -0400

Michael M. Butler wrote:
> >> Bzzzt! Have you further considered that that's because they're absurdly
> >> specified and designed, by political and pocket-lining
> >> creatures?
> >
> >By what basis do you make this assertion? There is no politics in
> >engineering.
> Direct testimony to Congress, for starters.
> But there is politics in aerospace development and procurement.
> I'll address the "no politics" claim again a little further on.

What happens before the engineers put something on paper and prototyped
is not part of the engineering process, it is market research. That the
market can't pull its head out of its proverbial ass is in no way the
fault of the engineers.

> >The more complex a device, and the more severe its
> >operating environment, the greater its maintenance requirements.
> This is tautologous: the harder things are, the harder things are.
> But the better technology and wealth get, the more overdesigned
> for the environment a piece of gear can be. You don't seem to address this.

I don't address it because in the context of our dicussion, my assertion
is that our most likely alien visitors will not be that much farther up
the technological scale than we are, contrary to most people's
fetishistic fantasies of technological paradise in alien civilization.
Given this, they will have not had enough experience in interstellar
length missions to be able to overengineer their vehicles for the
operating regeime.

> >>You do know the story of the B-1 and of F-111s, right?
> >> To take the latter example, suppose I insisted on fielding a full
> >> complement of F-111s (the B variant, I think) fully loaded with Phoenix
> >> on an aircraft carrier. You're going to have hella high maintenance
> >> if you really want to keep everything flying; in fact the carrier may
> >> never be the same, either:). Those tubs land *hard*.
> >
> >F-111s have been flown on carriers, and were originally supposed to be a
> >multiservice platform. The naval version was going to have several more
> >struts in the fuselage, a sturdier wing, and heftier landing gear.
> >>
> Evidently you _don't_ know the story.
> I'm keeping myself from laughing my guts out here. Talk to one of the
> F-111B crew chiefs, as I have. They _could not_ get that puppy to hunt;
> I'm familiar with the B variant mods, the plane was still too heavy
> to land on an aircraft carrier unless you burned off all the fuel and
> launched missiles (expensive missiles) before landing. Not very cost
> effective. Oh, you could underload the planes, but then they had a
> real hard time performing their mission--long loiter fleet stand-off
> defense--you need the fuel _and_ the missiles.

I worked on those particular hogs, sir. I do know what pigs they are
considered now compared to other newer planes. When they were new, they
were the hottest shit in the skies. I was a phase dock inspection cheif
for the electro-environmental systems at Cannon AFB, working on the D
model. I also did work on the flight line. WHile they are bigger than
the F-14, they are not bigger than the Crusader nor the E-2. With its
swing wings, it actually can come in at a rather low speed. Like I said,
in order to make that plane useful to a carrier crew in the 60's all it
would have needed were a couple of body struts and heavier duty landing
> As I said, the decks didn't like it much either. Oh, you could beef
> up the carrier deck--but that would take the carrier out of service
> for *quite* a spell while there's a war on, and the gross tonnage
> gets screwed up, so you can't carry as much ship's stores, so now
> the _carrier_ has trouble performing _its_ mission... and around
> and around.

SOrry, the Ardvaark is not any heavier than other planes which land
regularly on aircraft carriers, and would not have posed any additional
wear on the decks.
> F-111s were developed _by order_ of Macnamara, who *knew* that the
> life cycle costs of a "joint" vehicle *had* to be less. Others
> *knew* what the mission-role requirements had to be for the Air
> Force and Navy. Even Silly Putty can only stretch so far.
> And everybody was making money even if the thing didn't work,
> so what the hell?

In the end, granted, the F-111 is an example of the worst top level
compromise of specs, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the
engineering. If an engineer is told to build such and so a plane for a
given budget, he or she goes and designes the best damn plane they can
for those requirements.

> >There is no politics in engineering.
> OK; then the Shuttle and modern aerospace contract developments
> like the F-111, Shuttle and America's Vanishing Space Station
> are not engineering. We agree. :)

Why do you take the worst examples alone? How about the best examples,
like the 747-400, the F-15, etc.

The shuttle was an obvious abortion produced by a specs committee that
couldn't agree on what it wanted. Typical 70's politics. THis does not
mean that the shuttle does that compromise mission to the best of its

The Space station isn't even a product of engineering yet, so you can't
even include it in this argument. The station has been used to spread as
much pork around as possible, with no plan to actually build something.
Every new administration and congress feels that it has to redesign it
in order to get their own names on the project. You seem to be confusing
the inability fo the customer to decide what it wants and whether it
wants to pay for it with the engineers ability to deliver what the
customer says it wants.

> The biographers of Max Faget will, I hope, address the Shuttle
> and its co-option into its current bad design. If we have to,
> I'll go into it. However, just talking about Shuttle ops,
> permit me to commend to your eyes
> _The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture,
> and Deviance at NASA_ by Diane Vaughn, University of Chicago Press, 1996,
> ISBN 0-226-85176-1.
> Onward.
> The service ceiling of a standard B-1 is less than 30,000
> feet. Why? This is *not* the original spec; it was supposed
> to outfly the B-52 in all particulars, all conditions.

The B-1A was designed for high altitude supersonic penetration, low
altitude attack. When word came through intelligence channels that newer
russian radars were specifically designed to pick up returns from
supersonic shock waves, that nixed the whole supersonic idea. Then
Carter nixed the B-1A.

On came Reagan with the revamped B-1. By this time, the AF had
formulated that a low altitude (nape fo the earth) subsonic flight
regieme was the best way to penetrate Soviet defenses, so the specs for
the new B-1B were changed from that of the B-1A, which is why it has a
different model type specification.

In its particular flight regeime, it can outfly the B-52 by a huge
margin, and is much more stealthy.

> >You think that there will be less than 1 maint hour per flight hour? It
> >hasn't happened yet, and the curve averages upward over time, so I doubt
> >that it will happen for anything but the most low stress flight regeimes
> >for quite a while.
> I did not exclude *any* flight regime, and neither did you
> at first--why do you now feel you have to?

Because I acknowledge that with simple planes flying in low subsonic
ranges with no aerobatic use, they can be easily overengineered due to
the length of time we have been flying in that regieme. Materials
technology can just barely handle the upper limits of our present top
flight regeimes.

> Wanna bet?
> My bet proposal: I pick "General Aviation, Ultralights
> (an artificial distinction created by the FAA) and Subsonic
> RPVs" as the flight regime, and I restrict
> the pertinent maintenance time spent to that spent on
> airframe, powerplant and VFR instruments (i.e., the
> equipment needed for safe VFR operation in 1950),
> over the useful life of the airframe or powerplant,
> whichever fails first.
> What do you like for the stakes?
> Just for the record, 150 hp Zoche turbo diesel engines will
> probably run $20k. :)

Sorry, I see the ace in your sleeve. An RPV is a remotely piloted
vehicle, hardly a category which has had millions of hours of
engineering and flight time yet. Now standard man rated ultralights are
an area I'd bet on. I'd even bet on a particular plane: the Paraplane.

> >> <snip>
> >> >As for your assertion of any visitors not being detected, this goes
> >> >against logic. Given that some group, corporation, or government on
> >> >another planet would have shelled out billions if not trillions of
> >> >EBE-bucks for such an expedition, the idea that they would not try to
> >> >wring out the maximum PR, scientific, or economic value from that
> >> >investment is ludicrous.
> >>
> >> Ah, but why is this a given at all? And who says they'd derive any
> >> benefit from being seen? How can you (or Hara Ra) be sure you know
> >> what their payoff matrix is for be3ing seen? What if their motto
> >> really is "Primum non nocere (at least at first...)"?
> >>
> >
> >So your beleive in alien abductions?
> >
> >Because Occams razor tells me if screwed up creatures like us with our
> >screwed up ways of doing things can make it, then any visitors are just
> >as likely to come from screwed up planets as well, and just as likely to
> >have short sighted, self centered, idiotic politicians and bureaucrats
> >in charge of things on their home planet. The ideas that people get from
> >Star Trek are much more unlikely than things continuing much as they
> >are now.
> >
> >Read Scott Adams new book, Dilbert Futures, in which he states "The
> >future will NOT be like Star Trek." because people will still be as
> >screwed up as they are now, they'll just have cooler high tech toys to
> >be screwed up with.
> I find myself unable to follow your reasoning. I find your confidence
> in your ability to predict other lifeforms' reasoning charming, but
> arbitrary. I couldn't have even predicted how relatively _un_ fucked up
> _I_ am now if I'd tried to, say, six years ago.

Its rather simple. If we can make it as screwed up as we are, then the
law of regression to the norm says that the most likely aliens we will
meet will be just as screwed up as we are, not some fantastic
technological and socioloigically perfect gods.

> No, I don't "believe in alien abductions". You seem to "believe" that
> >short sighted, self centered, idiotic politicians and bureaucrats
> >in charge of things
> somehow never screw up big engineering, and that's a bigger whopper
> than I could ever swallow these days. I don't get it.

No, I beleive that engineers usually don't screw up big engineering. I
personally view engineers on one side and politicians and bureaucrats on
the other in a planet wide battle of building and destroying. That we
succeed in spite of politicians and bureaucrats says volumes about

			Michael Lorrey
------------------------------------------------------------		Inventor of the Lorrey Drive

Mikey's Animatronic Factory My Own Nuclear Espionage Agency (MONEA) MIKEYMAS(tm): The New Internet Holiday Transhumans of New Hampshire (>HNH) ------------------------------------------------------------ #!/usr/local/bin/perl-0777---export-a-crypto-system-sig-RC4-3-lines-PERL @k=unpack('C*',pack('H*',shift));for(@t=@s=0..255){$y=($k[$_%@k]+$s[$x=$_ ]+$y)%256;&S}$x=$y=0;for(unpack('C*',<>)){$x++;$y=($s[$x%=256]+$y)%256; &S;print pack(C,$_^=$s[($s[$x]+$s[$y])%256])}sub S{@s[$x,$y]=@s[$y,$x]}