Thursday, October 28, 2010

Counter-MANPADS for commercial aircraft, where'd it go?

Posted by John McHale
Counter-MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) for commercial aircraft got a lot of press after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and I covered it quite a bit in our Homeland Security Solutions magazine back then, but I have not heard much about it in recent years till this week at the AUSA in Washington, DC.

Some of the technology explored for Counter-MANPADS was based on the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures (ATIRCM) system from BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H. I learned this while interviewing Burt Keirstead, director of integrated ASE (aircraft survivability equipment) at BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H., this week at AUSA about the ATIRCM.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Counter-MANPADS program was basically shelved due to reluctance from the airlines to spend money on the system unless subsidized by the government or if there is an attack from a shoulder-fired missile on a commercial airliner causing COutner-MANPADS to be mandated, Keirstead said.

Technologically "it was a success story," he said. BAE System's solution flew about 5,000 hours on a Boeing 767 back forth between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy airport outside of New York, Keirstead continued. A couple of the flights included celebrities such as Brittany Spears and Liza Minelli, he added.

It was mounted upside down about 10 feet in front of the fuselage and painted white, Keirstead said. The system was optimized for use on commercial jets with a different cockpit display and a lightening protection unit, among other adjustments, he added.

The system works and could be added in on to the aircraft if it is ever mandated, Keirstead said.

Let's hope it's not necessary.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Neil Armstrong on being there

Posted by John McHale
I saw a great quote from Neil Armstrong on a board at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show here in Atlanta that I'd love to use for our Avionics Europe Event. "You can settle with e-mails and conference calls, but there's nothing like being there. Trust me on this."

I agree with him, even though I've never been to the Moon. Live events and in-person meetings cannot be completely replaced by webinars and e-mails. Pressing the flesh and looking people in the eye is how you build relationships, not by just trading e-mails.

Maybe we can hold Avionics 2030 in a lunar base and get Mr. Armstrong to speak. Just a thought.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Owning my own jet vs. flying commercial

Posted by John McHale
On the flight down to my first National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show in Atlanta this week, I contemplated what it would be like to own my jet -- a Gulfstream or Embraer Phenom jet. Then I remembered I'm a journalist -- in other words not rich. So I'm stuck flying commercial, which can be good and bad.

The good is the occasional low fare, the safety of air travel in the U.S., and meeting interesting people. The bad is the myriad of ways airlines look to charge you, their bizarre rules, lost luggage, etc.

My most recent headache involved a trip to Germany on Lufthansa. I called the night before my return trip to the U.S. to reserve my seat. I was given 52C. The next day I get to the airport and was told I was put on standby. Of course I asked HOW CAN THAT BE? I had a seat, who moved me to standby?

Apparently Lufthansa can bump your seat if they oversell their aircraft. Essentially it becomes the German Southwest overnight, by making it first come, first serve to the airport.

Seems pretty silly, doesn't it? It was especially insane to the guy behind me in the standby line. He bought his ticket and reserved his seat in January! Funny thing, the Lufthansa agent neglected to tell him and me that the seats were not guaranteed. All we got was "enjoy your flight."

Despite all that silliness, I did enjoy my flight. I still got an aisle seat and lucked out with an interesting seat mate -- a recent Boston College law school graduate returning from a trek through Europe.

She had some crazy stories from her vacation. The strangest had to be the one about moped-riding, wristwatch thieves in a less elegant part of Naples, Italy. Apparently they are quite common and dangerous, ripping women's Rolexes right off their wrist as they speed by.

Yes, I've gotten off topic a bit, but the moped thieves story really stuck with me.

Back to business jets. I still want one. I put my business card in a bowl at a Boeing press conference, hoping to win one -- no dice. It was a model airplane, but I have to start somewhere.

Maybe I'll have better luck on the show floor tomorrow.