Landing A Shuttle

I was reading Austin Mayer’s blog post on shuttle orbiter re-entry when this piece struck me:

After de-orbit burn, the shuttle heads for the atmosphere at 400,000 feet, 17,000 miles per hour, and 5,300 miles away from Edwards. (Yes, you are landing in the Mojave desert and you are starting your landing approach West of Hawaii). Not a bad pattern entry, huh? In reality, the autopilot flies the the entire 30-minute re-entry, and the astronauts do not take over the controls of the shuttle until the final 2 minutes of the glide. The astronauts COULD fly the entire re-entry by hand, but it is officially discouraged by NASA. The reason is obvious… these speeds and altitudes are way outside of normal human conception, so our ability to “hand-fly” these approaches is next to nil.

In the history of Shuttle missions (the 100th mission has just come to a close as I write this), the real space shuttle has been hand-flown for the entire re-entry only ONCE, by an ex-marine pilot, as I understand it, who was ready for the ultimate risk and challenge.

A few minutes of research suggests this was Joe Engle a retired U.S. Air Force Major General and a former NASA astronaut. The Wikipedia entry credits him as “the only astronaut to have manually flown the shuttle through reentry and landing”. It should be noted however that he flew Shuttle Enterprise, and from 25,000 feet to landing. He didn’t re-enter the atmosphere from space. That however doesn’t diminish the task. He flew what was likely the worlds heaviest and untested glider successfully by hand. An absolutely insane task, and succeeded!

Homemade 737 Simulator

Homemade 737 Simulator

So here’s a guy who built his own amazingly accurate 737. Made with a real 737 cockpit. I suspect it’s running X-Plane (likely v9) as it sounds like it shares software called Sim Control with this guy.

I’m always amazed when I see someone take their hobby overboard like this. Click through for some video of this thing in action. It’s impressive to say the least.

The Rise Of Open Data

There’s lots of talk about open source software in use all over the place. Linux runs everything from servers to cell phones. You can find it powering the entertainment system on your next flight. You can find it anywhere you use technology.

We talk much less about open data, but it’s equally interesting. The first and most prominent source is of course Wikipedia which is of course one of the largest sites on the Internet by most metrics. It’s data is widely used in many applications from being accessible on the Kindle to priming Facebook and presumably Quora (I don’t think they have ever confirmed it) with pages. It’s been downloaded and analyzed many times. Even the edits have been scrutinized by researchers to learn how people interact with each other.

Lesser known is OpenStreetMap, a project that may eventually challenge the long dominant Google Maps. OSM is to maps what Wikipedia is (or was) to encyclopedias. It’s website is still a bit crude and if made better would likely encourage some usage from folks who are opposed to Google on privacy grounds. Even more interesting is that OSM’s data is pretty widely consumed. Apple appears to be starting to use it. as they look to break the dependency on Google, a competitor for maps. Laminar Research uses it to generate a “plausible world” (their words not mine) in X-Plane 10. Think about that, a simulator using real street map data to generate a world that looks in many ways like the real world. It’s amazing.

Data has been ignored for so long, it’s just starting to get recognition. It was partly ignored because processing data used to be expensive. Cheap computing means data can be created, stored, processed, sifted and sorted, save and sent quicker and more affordable than ever before. We’re still at the beginning of this revolution.

Microsoft Flight

I was curious about Microsoft Flight, since it was released today. It’s not really a simulator like Microsoft Fight Simulator was. It’s really just an arcade style game but of higher production quality. The graphics are not bad, it runs smoothly, however there’s not much to keep you playing with it. 30 minutes in and already bored. I personally don’t find it entertaining or challenging.

X-Plane 10 on the other hand is mindbogglingly complicated and I suspect I will never even get “OK” at it, much less good.

It’s a shame Microsoft didn’t just spin off or sell the MSFS product to someone. I bet it could have done fine on it’s own. It seemed to have a pretty dedicated community around it.