Hello World! Introducing Propeller Head

October 20, 2009

4 Min Read
Hello World! Introducing Propeller Head

Even today, 106 years after Wilber and Orville did their thing; aviation is something that seems apart from other technology based pursuits.If an airplane transits the airspace 1,000 feet above your head, don’t you squint and look up, searching for the source of the commotion? But you don’t do that when a bus or car or train goes past do you?

The subject matter involved makes an impressive list: commercial aviation, military aviation, general aviation and experimental aviation. Throw in Captain Kirk’s “Space - The Final Frontier” and you have aerospace with all its different meanings and permutations.

The whole thing is a subject that has fascinated me since I first looked up at a Waco biplane doing aileron rolls over my 7 year old head. But then, electronics fascinated me too.

So for the past 35 years I’ve been an electrical engineer and a commercial pilot, flying corporate airplanes as well as my own. When I could, I escaped from the cubicle to haul some suits around or transport a few technical types, along with my own body, to a worksite where we’d solve a problem or defuse an electro-political situation. And in the evenings and on weekends, I’d teach others to fly.

Being an engineer, some things that were only superficially understood by my non-technical aviator brethren provided fodder for investigation and hopefully some not-to-boring stories. At least, that was the pitch I made to my editor here at Design News.

So the powers that be thought about it for awhile and decided aviation and aerospace were unique enough subjects that they should have their own blog. And as if by magic The Propeller Head blog was created with me as the chief propeller (and yarn) spinner.

Over the lifetime of the blog, I’ll present stories and opinions based on the engineering and pilot hats I wear. I’ll try to relate the designer and manufacturing perspectives to the way pilots view the same issues. And I’ll present some landmark accidents that had an engineering or design aspect in their probable cause.

Occasionally, I’ll give you a “There I was…” story where some device or component didn’t perform as expected. I’ll strive to put you in the cockpit with me and hopefully you’ll sound off on the design — or execution of design — aspects responsible for the problem.

Some blog postings will be mercifully short - just a quick hit on a subject that may interest you. Others will be in-depth explorations of an event or a technology.

Through it all though, I hope you’ll take the time to comment with a posting of your own because the intent of the blog is to involve the readers of Design News in a dialog with each other. If we can get some discussion going we’ll be happy. If the discussion is spirited, with some back and forth on how things could have been done differently, we’ll be very happy.

But the stories won’t always be disaster related or gloomy. On occasion, they won’t even be all that technical. After all, the reason most men and women learn to fly in the first place is to experience the intangible side of the technology.

Trying to explain the intangible side of flight has never been done better than by a young, World War Two, Royal Canadian Air Force pilot. His deft handling of the English language was awesome but bittersweet. His words are the very best way I can think of to close this initial blog posting.

Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee flew with No 412 squadron, RCAF. It was during the early days of the Battle of Britain when the lifetime of pilots was measured in weeks. He was killed on December 11th, 1941, but not before he captured the essence of flight in his eloquent pilot’s anthem, High Flight.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Loughmiller is an Electrical Engineer, Commercial Pilot, Flight Instructor and a Lead Safety Team Representative for the FAA. He can be reached at [email protected].

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