J. VanDomelen Mil/Aero Blog

J. VanDomelen holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and myriad certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTia in varying facets of computer software, hardware, and network design and implementation. He has worked in the electronics industry for more than 12 years in varied fields, including advanced systems design of highly technical military and aerospace computer systems, semiconductor manufacturing, open source software development, hardware design, and rapid prototyping.

31 July, 2015

Commercial passenger jets on the ground or in the hangar don’t make airlines money, and that means that airlines are motivated to keep every airplane in its fleet operational. One key way to do that, and to meet airworthiness requirements and comply with regulations, is through proper aircraft maintenance.

Some of today’s aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) suggest that airlines are doing quite the opposite: cutting corners to save money. Members of Transport Workers Union Local 591 allege in a lawsuit that American Airlines (AA) managers pressured mechanics to skimp on maintenance and repairs to the aircraft fleet.

To keep airplanes in service and generating revenue, AA management representatives allegedly subjected AMTs to “ongoing pressure from to commit maintenance fraud, disregard maintenance discrepancies, deviate from federally-mandated maintenance procedures, abstain from required lightning strike and bird strike inspections, and otherwise violate federal aviation standards,” according to the lawsuit. These representatives, the plaintiffs contend, would threaten discipline, termination, arrest, station closure, and staff reductions if AMTs didn’t comply with their wishes.

AA_Maint

The lawsuit describes multiple instances of mechanics being pressured to cut corners to put airplanes back into operation, and threatened with “retaliatory action for reporting safety violations.” Safety violations cited in the lawsuit include: the fraudulent sign-off of maintenance work, expired oxygen canisters and missing equipment on aircraft, improper maintenance of door seals, cracked engine pylons, painting over damage, and more — all of which were flown in revenue service with flight crews and passengers onboard.

FAA officials, made aware of the allegations, launched an investigation into the airline’s maintenance activities in Chicago and Dallas. An AA spokesperson insists that company officials “continually and consistently work with regulators so that American’s maintenance programs, practices, procedures, and overall compliance and safety are second to none.”

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31 July, 2015

Commercial airline pilots flying for Allegiant Air (of which there are more than 500) were recently so “uncomfortable remaining silent about company practices that negatively impact…safety” that they were moved to pen a letter to passengers.

In a letter, the pilots call Allegiant Air “the most profitable airline in the industry” with “48 consecutive profitable quarters” and accuse company executives of “driving a race to the bottom in service [and] safety standards.

“The fleet is plagued by persistent mechanical problems due to poor equipment and the company’s unwillingness to invest in its operation or its workforce, as attested by the numerous FAA safety investigations, aircraft groundings, and training program closures,” the pilots flying for Allegiant Air describe. Despite taking home “tens of millions of dollars in dividends in the past few years,” the company’s CEO has “refused to reinvest returns into our infrastructure [or] operation” and the airline has adopted a “minimalist approach to maintenance and safety.”

allegiant

“With Allegiant making millions in profits each year, our customers should not be put at risk by a company that is content to just barely meet safety standards – a mindset that results in the delays and cancellations you experience when you fly with us,” the pilots explain. They close the letter to passengers by calling for investments in the company’s infrastructure, fleet, pilots, and mechanics and pledge to “continue to speak out to protect travelers and our pilots from being taken advantage of by a company consumed with a dangerous approach to its safety standards, customer protection, and employees.”

What the letter doesn’t include are specifics. For this reason and the timing of the letter, Allegiant Air officials have dismissed the pilots’ claims, calling the letter a “scare tactic” and attempt to benefit from contract negotiations for higher pay.

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31 July, 2015

Airlines worldwide, when faced with high fuel prices and other fiscal challenges, adopted a number of different methods both to save money and to increase revenue. Budget airlines – such as Ryanair, Allegiant Air, and others – are known for having become especially frugal.
Some of the airlines’ cost-cutting and income-driving tactics include: putting more seats on each plane, reducing weight, filling every seat, and redefining basic comforts (including, in some cases, access to the onboard bathroom) as extras, and charging higher fees. Fuel prices have since declined, but extra fees and cost-cutting practices remain in effect, in most cases greatly boosting company profits.

Are some cost-cutting measures threatening the safety of flight crews and passengers, as well as people and property on the ground? The traveling public hopes not; yet, many airline pilots and maintenance technicians believe so.

boeing maint

Aviation industry analysts have written a great deal on the topic over the past decade, drawing correlations between airline maintenance cutbacks and commercial airplane crashes.
“From 1994 to 2004, maintenance problems contributed to 42% of fatal airline accidents in the United States (excluding the 9-11 terrorist attacks). Maintenance related accidents and incidents are caused by a breakdown of the organization processes, decisions, and culture,” Jeff O’Brien wrote in his 2012 article, entitled “When Poor Aircraft Maintenance Costs Lives” (http://ow.ly/Qj0MR).

In fact, in 2003, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Member John Goglia was quoted as saying that cost-cutting has hurt maintenance and the industry needs to focus on improving it, or expect more disasters (http://ow.ly/Qj0Th).

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30 July, 2015

Are airlines’ cost-cutting measures endangering the lives of passengers? Some commercial pilots think so, including those at Allegiant Air – a budget airline in Enterprise, Nev., formerly known as WestJet Express.

Allegiant Air has been in the news a great deal this year – for reasons both positive and negative. On the positive side, Allegiant is expanding operations at some airports and establishing hubs at others. On the negative side, the airline seems to be plagued with problems lately, including: noise complaints, pilot and flight attendant strikes, flight delays and diversions, and various emergency landings – and all that is just in the past two months.

This week, 144 passengers on Allegiant Air Flight 426 – which was one hour late leaving Las Vegas – were alarmed (and may even have feared for their lives) when the pilot made an emergency landing due to a lack of fuel. In an audio recording released today, the pilot can be heard pleading with an air traffic controller to permit him to land the passenger jet immediately; yet, a temporary flight restriction was in place at Fargo’s Hector International Airport to enable the Blue Angels to practice in advance of a weekend air show. The pilot refused to divert the plane to another airport, claiming not to have even 20 minutes’ worth of fuel. The Blue Angels were moved and the flight was allowed to land in Fargo.

Allegiant Air Boise_Wing_Passengers

FAA investigators are looking into the event, especially considering all flights are required to have 45 minutes’ worth of extra fuel on board. Allegiant management says they are doing the same, checking “all channels of communication” and “circumstances leading to the declaration of emergency.”

This story doesn’t end there, certainly. Be sure to read on.

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30 July, 2015

Sikorsky Innovations executives in Stratford, Conn., are on a quest for cutting-edge technologies that can benefit vertical flight applications. In fact, they are putting their money where their mouth is, offering a $25,000 cash prize to the winner of the next Entrepreneurial Challenge.

“If you are a startup with concepts in the areas of energy storage, sensors, virtual reality, or 3D printing, you should strongly consider learning about the 6th Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge,” says Entrepreneurial Challenge Lead Jonathan Hartman.
The competition, having evolved since it was launched in 2002, features four hot global technology topics: (1) wireless sensing, (2) augmented reality, (3) aerospace quality additive manufacturing, and (4) next-generation energy storage.

“Sikorsky is serious about finding aligned, disruptive technologies,” affirms Sikorsky Innovations Senior Manager Simon Gharibian. “As a global leader in rotorcraft, Sikorsky is looking for determined enterprises that are ready to test their concept and win the opportunity to work closely with us. We have been impressed by the level of creativity among past winners, and expect to see high-caliber companies vying once again as part of the competition.”

Sikorsky_S-97_Raider

“Sikorsky Innovations launched five years ago with the charter to take on the toughest challenges in vertical flight,” said Chris Van Buiten, Sikorsky Innovations’ Vice President. “The Entrepreneurial Challenge represents one of the resourceful methods the organization has embraced to mine new ideas and talent. Innovation springs from all technology domains, and we are looking forward to seeing what the 6th Entrepreneurial Challenge brings.”

Applications are due to Sikorsky Innovations by 5 p.m. EDT on Friday, 16 Oct. 2015. Visit www.sikorsky.com/EChallenge to enter the competition and to read all terms and conditions.

Sikorsky Innovations is the technology development division of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (NYSE:UTX).

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30 January, 2015

The military and aerospace (mil/aero) has had its ups and downs. Whereas military investment has been stagnant in the U.S. and Europe, other countries – including Brazil, Turkey, India, and more – continue to bolster their defenses. Even so, the global military market is being outpaced by the aerospace sector.

The aerospace market is a bright spot in the mil/aero community – and it shows few signs of slowing. In fact, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that have traditionally delivered only on defense contracts are focusing their sights on serving the growing needs of the professional aerospace community, including platform and systems developers.

At the same time, businesses in various locales are banding together to better serve the aerospace industry – and to benefit the local community in the process. For example, Dubai World Central Aviation City, currently being built in Dubai at a cost of roughly $12 million U.S., dedicates more than 80,000 square feet (or 7,400 square meters) in an effort to construct the largest aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) center in the world.

DWCAviationCity

In the U.S., proactive economic development, commerce, education, research & development, and other entities have assembled burgeoning aerospace clusters. Many of these technology clusters encompass various essential elements, including training and education, manufacturing, R&D, systems engineering and integration, shipping, and other resources.

As aerospace firms throughout the world embrace globalization, they are opening satellite offices in, relocating facilities to, and partnering with these aerospace-specific clusters. For examples of aerospace sectors making headlines, look to: Aero Montreal, Oklahoma, Florida’s Great Northwest, and the Rockford Area Aerospace Network.

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30 January, 2015

Last year (2014) was a bright spot in the aerospace market, with two industry-leading companies – Boeing and Airbus – breaking industry records in the area of commercial transport aircraft.

Boeing broke an aerospace industry record in 2014, delivering an impressive 723 airplanes in a single year. Airbus has, likewise, announced significant achievements.

Airbus officials this month announced that the company exceeded its targets for 2014. The airframe manufacturer delivering 629 aircraft to 89 customers, of which eight were new clients. “Airbus’ aircraft deliveries in 2014 were up for the 13th year in a row, surpassing the previous record set in 2013,” a company spokesperson says.

Airbus officials are calling 2014 was the second best year in company history. Specifically, Airbus Group won 1,456 net orders from 67 customers, of which 14 are new; the airframe manufacturer also reached a record backlog – and not just a company record, but an industry record.

airbus_a380

“By year end, the backlog had climbed to a new industry record of 6,386 aircraft valued at US $919.3 billion at list prices,” says a spokesperson.

“2014 has been an excellent year and the teams in Airbus not only delivered on, but exceeded their targets and commitments,” explains Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Brégier. “Airbus also made strong progress towards a faster, simpler, and more agile company, while our strategy of incremental innovation is helping to consolidate our market-leading position in all categories.”

During 2015, Airbus management is setting its sights on such key milestones as the A350 XWB’s commercial service entry and production increases, as well as deliveries of the first A320neo jetliner and A330 variant.

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29 January, 2015

The global military and aerospace (mil/aero) industry is robust and expanding, with the greatest growth taking place on the commercial or civil side of things. That is, Boeing and Airbus – two of the top airframe manufacturers, which deliver platforms for commercial and military aviation and space – broke industry records in 2014.

Officials at both Boeing and Airbus this month announced their airframe deliveries, orders, and backlogs – including several record-breaking achievements – of the past year.

“Our Commercial Airplanes business successfully increased production rates and set an industry record for annual deliveries while also growing its backlog to new highs on record new orders for the year,” says W. James (Jim) McNerney, Jr., chairman of the board and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Boeing Company.

Boeing officials announced that the airframe manufacturer set a global industry record for the most commercial airplanes delivered in a single year: 723 aircraft in 2014. In 2014, Boeing booked 1,432 net orders, valued at $232.7 billion at list prices.

Boeing Seahawks

The company also grew its backlog of unfilled commercial orders to what it calls “an historic high” for the firm of 5,789 airplanes. That backlog totals $502 billion, an increase of $61 billion over prior year-end. The company’s revenue also reached a new high, rising five percent year-over-year to a record $90.8 billion.

“What the Boeing team achieved in 2014 is truly unprecedented, especially in the face of fierce competition,” says Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner.

As for Boeing’s goals for 2015, McNerney says: “We will continue to build on our commercial airplanes market leadership, strengthening and repositioning our defense, space, and security business and working to better meet the needs of our customers by focusing on improving productivity, executing to development plans, and delivering our portfolio of innovative aerospace products and services.”

Next, this mil/aero geek focuses on Airbus, which also announced a record-breaking year.

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31 December, 2014

Military and aerospace (mil/aero) engineers and executives know all too well the (very long) time it takes to see a new technology designed, developed, tested, manufactured, and fielded.

Long acquisition cycles have long plagued the mil/aero community—in some cases, leaving soldiers and astronauts waiting egregiously long for much-needed solutions. Times are changing, however, and new tools, systems, and components just might be delivered to awaiting mil/aero personnel sooner rather than later. After all, NASA and its contractor were able to deliver a tool to the International Space Station (ISS) in just one week’s time—a major mil/aero achievement and an historic first.

It can take months or even years, depending on the launch resupply schedule, to get equipment to space, and for exploration missions, resupply from Earth may be impossible, NASA officials explain. Yet, additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) may change not only how NASA completes exploration missions, but also the way science is conducted on the ISS, they say.

In just one week, California-based contractor Made in Space Inc. designed a 3D model of a ratchet wrench and delivered it to NASA engineers, who performed safety qualification testing. Once the design was finalized, the ground station print of the ratchet was sent to NASA authorities for a safety qualification. After qualification, the file for the ratchet was emailed (also called uplinked, or uploaded via a link between the ISS and NASA on the ground) to the ISS laptop connected to the Zero-G Printer. Made In Space engineers confirmed that the file was uploaded correctly and sent the command to initiate the print.

Butch-operating-3D-printer-on-ISS-credit-NASA-1024x576

“This wrench will not be used in space, but what if it were a tool the crew needed?” ponders Niki Werkheiser, space station 3D printer program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “We are breaking new ground not only in the way we manufacture in space but also in the way we operate and approve space hardware that is built in space, rather than launched from Earth.

“If you can transmit a file to the station as quickly as you can send an email, it opens up endless possibilities for all the types of things that you can make from CubeSat components to experiment hardware,” Werkheiser adds. “We even may be able to make objects that previously couldn’t even be launched to space.”

The 3D-printed ratchet wrench will be delivered to Earth for analysis and testing, along with the other parts printed at the ISS. Great work this year, mil/aero community. Here’s to an innovative new year!

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31 December, 2014

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) completed the first phase of a NASA technology demonstration by printing a tool (a ratchet wrench) with a design file transmitted from the ground to the Zero-G 3D printer in space.

“For the printer’s final test in this phase of operations, NASA wanted to validate the process for printing on demand, which will be critical on longer journeys to Mars,” says Niki Werkheiser, manager of the space station 3D printer program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “In less than a week, the ratchet was designed, approved by safety and other NASA reviewers, and the file was sent to space where the printer made the wrench in four hours.”

The Zero-G 3D printer built the wrench by depositing 104 layers of plastic, a process called additive manufacturing.

nasa_3dwrench

The 4.48-inch-long by 1.29-inch-wide wrench was designed by Noah Paul-Gin, an engineer at Made In Space Inc., a northern California company that NASA contracted to design, build, and operate the printer. Paul-Gin digitally crafted a 3D model of the tool using Autodesk Inventor, a popular 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software used in product simulation, 3D mechanical design, tooling creation, design communication, and engineer-to-order applications.

This is the first time a design file has been sent from the ground to make a tool, a NASA spokesperson explains. The entire process – from tool design through qualification testing and printing – was accomplished in just one week. Military and aerospace (mil/aero) geeks everywhere recognize that achieving this feat in such a small window of time is very rare.

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