aviation

sunshower

2016-10-10 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Sunshowers (rain showers in sunshine) have been frequent the past several days.

Rain seen laterally from our campus apartment. Judging from the darkness of the rain extending to the ridge line, I believe these are precipitation shafts not virga. Meteorological phenomena such as this remind me of the days when I flew airplanes. I sorely miss Bruce Lowerre, who was my friend, big brother, and flying buddy.
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japan airlines maintenance facility tour

2014-05-21 TOKYO, JAPAN -- Noriko and I toured Japan AIrline’s aircraft maintenance facility at Tokyo Haneda airport. We signed up online for the free tour.

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The tour begins with an indoor self-guided exhibit and a half-hour lecture.

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Noriko the cabin attendant.

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A retired pilot led our tour group through the hangar. Visitors wear strapless plastic helmets and name tags.

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Big hangar doors. The automated voice “Caution: doors in operation” is noisy and distracting.

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We viewed aircraft from heights and angles typically inaccessible to onlookers even at airshows.

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Where I trained and flew, we never call our aircraft “ships”.

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Our tour guide new the price of every part. This wing-tip vortex reducer costs $700,000.

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The wing-tip vortex reducer eventually is installed on the tip of a main wing like this one.

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Business class seats awaiting installation.

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First class seats cost $250,000 each. Most of the cost is for EMI (electro-magnetic interference) certification.

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Aircraft are stripped bare and painted with elastic paint that stretches and shrinks under large temperature changes.

death of a close friend

2014-02-09 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- I have been reticent because I have been in shock. I am stunned and paralyzed because my close friend Bruce Lowerre died in an airplane accident.

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Bruce and I met at work. The research institute we worked for is known for inventing the computer mouse (I knew Dave Engelbart -- his wife told me how she renamed the turtle the mouse). The research team that Bruce and I belonged to later developed SIRI, the speech recognition software used in Apple products.

Bruce was a decorated researcher. His invention (the beam search algorithm) is still taught in computer science classes today.

He started his career in chemistry (his first BS was in that area), but became enthralled with computers when, as an undergraduate student, he was hired by a local bank to write computer software. CMU initially rejected Bruce’s application for graduate studies in computer science because CMU believed solid training in logic was necessary. So Bruce earned a BS in mathematics (in the 1970s, computer science was not taught at the undergraduate level), went to CMU, studied under Raj Reddy, invented the beam search algorithm, and earned his PhD.

Bruce was clever with his hands. He brought his home-made telescope to his honeymoon. He flew radio-controlled blimps at HP labs, his workplace at the time. He built toys for children of his friends.

Bruce loved what he called bar room music. He often played the piano for Noriko and me.

But his most serious love was aviation. He earned his private pilot license in 35 hours (the legal minimum allowed), and continued with his instrument rating, commercial pilot license, and flight instructor certificate. I was one of his students. Through Bruce I learned the fascination of floatplanes. I earned my private pilot, single-engine sea at Dave Wiley’s seaplane base. Bruce had almost 2000 hours of flight time. I had much less, but at one point had more floatplane time than him. Bruce and I flew floatplanes together in Florida and Washington.

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As a young man, Bruce had become infatuated by the Spencer AIrCar, a wooden amphibious airplane with a boat-shaped hull and retractable wheels. Bruce resolved to build one himself. He obtained the plans for the aircraft, and bought or fabricated parts. On many occasions, I watched him working on his airplane, and sometimes handed him tools or parts. I never helped with the actual construction though, because I knew he wanted to claim he had built it all by himself.

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After many years, his airplane began to take shape. Noriko and I rode in the airplane on the ground (we enjoyed a high-speed taxi up and down the runway) but we never flew in it, because federal regulations require that experimental airplanes first be flown for at least 40 flight hours with no passengers, in order to test for safety.

It was during this period of testing that Bruce was killed.

In late September 2013, two days before his fatal flight, I called him in Florida from Oregon. He told me of his intention to fly to Lake Okeechobee that weekend, partly to observe issues with the exhaust manifold. The engine had either been running hotter than it was supposed to, or the exhaust manifold was unable to handle normally expected temperatures. I wished him well, and promised to visit him as soon as he could take passengers.

I did not learn of his death until after New Year’s. A Christmas card from Bruce's sister Edith told me the terrible news. Dazed, I read various news articles, a preliminary report from the NTSB, and a closed online forum for builders of the Spencer AirCar.

I had been worried because he hadn't replied to my email nor phone calls. I kept leaving messages on his voicemail. This was not the first time Bruce was incommunicado, however. There were times when he was offline for months on end, usually due to networking problems with his internet provider. I was however concerned enough to dig up Edith's mailing address (she doesn't use email) and had planned on writing her.

I am crestfallen with the death of my friend. When Dave Wiley died in the floatplane that I had been trained in, I essentially stopped flying. With Bruce gone, I may never fly again, even to renew my license (I need to fly with an instructor and pass a knowledge and skill test every 2 years). The cockpit would remind me of the friends I lost.



Below are pictures from September 2011, the last time we visited Bruce in Florida.

At his hangar, Bruce shows me an airplane ride machine he is building for his great-nephew and great-niece. A leaf blower gives children the sensation of flying.
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Bruce and I mess with the engine cowling. The propeller of the Spencer AirCar faces rearward.
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Bruce takes Noriko and me on a high-speed taxi ride.
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The Spencer AirCar has dual controls, but the right seat pilot almost never flies the airplane.
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We did about 60 knots (about 70 mph) on the runway.
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Video of the high-speed taxi. 110906_high_speed_taxi_3

Friends unconditionally embrace their friends’ passions.
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Bruce signs me off for my biennial flight review. We flew a different airplane (a Cessna 150) for my review.
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Bruce, Edith, Noriko and I dined richly every day. This is the Big Bear Brewery.
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We lost Emily (Bruce’s wife, 2nd from left) and her mom Agnes (far left) several years ago. Now Bruce. We miss you so.
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Noriko believes that Bruce and Emily are now happy. I hope so too. But at this moment I am inconsolable.

jetstar comes through

2013-02-03 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Jetstar is an LCC. LCC stands for “low cost carrier” and refers to commercial airlines that offer no-frills service. No free drinks, no free meals, no free anything. But the price is cheap.

I have personally experienced several instances of Jetstar flights being canceled or rescheduled. A website called don’t fly Jetstar is full of complaints from irate passengers. Some customers allege that Jetstar is reluctant to refund fares.

That worried me because I had 3 refund requests with Jetstar. Remarkably, as of last week all 3 requests were met and paid. Of these requests, 1 involved a full refund for flights (Jetstar changed the flight times that did not mesh with our schedule), 1 involved a seat upgrade refund (Jetstar gave me a lower-cost seat following a change of aircraft), and 1 involved a hotel and taxi reimbursement (Jetstar’s flight was canceled due to weather, and I had to stay at the airport overnight).

Since I first flew Jetstar on 2012-08-02, I have flown Jetstar 7 times, have had my flight schedule changed 5 times, and requested refunds 3 times. Based on my experience, yes, Jetstar has changed my flight schedule often (70 percent), and yes, they did give me my money back (100 percent), although it took them some time (3 to 10 weeks).

A few months ago, I had wondered whether LCC stands for “low conscience carrier” because some LCCs seem to have no scruples about mistreating their customers. No, not Jetstar, at least not in my experience. Their web site is bizarre and tricky but functional. Their wildcat sales are rather unfair but their everyday fares are low enough. They have strange boarding and de-planing practices such as checking boarding passes after boarding the aircraft, and chaperoning passengers after they get off. But their aircraft is brand new, and their up-front seats are worth the extra price. Overall, I am happy to fly Jetstar.

The keys to satisfaction on Jetstar are to (a) plan flexible itineraries, (b) keep records of all purchases and correspondence, (c) write refund requests, (d) follow up on refund requests, and (e) wait for refunds to be processed.

Overall, Jetstar offers the lowest prices, the newest aircraft, and the best refund policies. I have decided not to fly Skymark because they cost more and will not (as a matter of corporate policy) re-book passengers on non-Skymark flights or pay or assist in transportation or accommodation even when Skymark cancels flights. I will not elaborate on my repeatedly negative experiences with Skymark here. I will however offer to predic that Skymark will go out of business if they continue charging medium prices for rock-bottom service. Air Asia (according to their website) seems to have rebooking and reimbursement policies similar to Skymark.

(This article was revised 2013-03-13 to describe AirAsia’s rebooking and reimbursement policies.)

jetstar

2012-12-31 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- Jetstar is an LCC. LCC stands for “low cost carrier” and refers to commercial airlines that offer no-frills service. No free drinks, no free meals, no free anything. But the price is cheap.

I wonder whether LCC stands for “low conscience carrier” because some LCCs seem to have no scruples about mistreating their customers. My definition would include more expensive airlines such as Delta, which we are forced to fly, although their aircraft and service are barely adequate.

Jetstar routinely cancels or reschedules flights, and is reluctant to refund fares. There is a website called don’t fly Jetstar that is full of complaints from irate passengers.

I have 3 outstanding refund requests with Jetstar. Remarkably, 2 of them have been approved. We’ll see if Jetstar does give me back my money for a canceled flight and a seat downgrade. (I paid extra for a better seat but they gave me regular seats after a schedule change.) There is 1 refund request outstanding -- my flight returned to its point of departure and I spent a night at an airport hotel. We’ll see if Jetstar keeps their promise about reimbursing me up to 12,000 yen for accommodation and ground transportation costs.