What is in those bulky, black flight bags that pilots carry into the cockpit? It is not a change of clothes but reams of reference material needed for the flight — about 40 pounds of it. There are the aircraft’s operating manual, safety checklists, logbooks for entering airplane performance data, navigation charts, weather information, airport diagrams and maybe a book of KenKen puzzles thrown in for good measure.
But instead of carrying all that paperwork, a growing number of pilots are carrying a 1.5 pound iPad.
The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized a handful of commercial and charter carriers to use the tablet computer as a so-called electronic flight bag. Private pilots, too, are now carrying iPads, which support hundreds of general aviation apps that simplify preflight planning and assist with in-flight operations.
“The iPad allows pilots to quickly and nimbly access information,” said Jim Freeman, a pilot and director of flight standards at Alaska Airlines, which has given iPads to all its pilots. “When you need to a make a decision in the cockpit, three to four minutes fumbling with paper is an eternity.”
Alaska Airlines received F.A.A. approval in May to permit its pilots to consult digital flight, systems and performance manuals on the iPad — cutting about 25 pounds of paper from each flight bag. The e-manuals include hyperlinks and color graphics to help pilots find information quickly and easily. And pilots do not have to go through the tedium of updating the manuals by swapping out old pages with new ones because updates are downloaded automatically.
In the next phase of what Alaska Airlines calls Operation Bye, Bye, Flight Bag, the carrier plans to petition the F.A.A. to use the iPad to read aeronautical charts, saving another five pounds of paper per pilot. Counting both the pilot and co-pilot, that would remove 60 pounds of paper from the cockpit — a significant savings not only in paper and printing costs but also in fuel because planes are that much lighter.
Because Apple’s tablet computer weighs less and is more compact than a laptop and its touch screen easier to manipulate, its introduction in 2010 made the move away from paper in the cockpit easier.
Switching to the iPad is also expected to reduce health care costs and absenteeism from shoulder and back injuries associated with hoisting heavy flight bags, said David Clark, pilot and manager of the connected aircraft program at American Airlines. “Cockpits are small, and lifting that thing up and over your seat causes damage, particularly when you consider a lot of pilots are over 40.”
American Airlines won F.A.A. approval last month for its pilots to use the iPad to read aeronautical charts. American received authorization last year to use the device instead of paper reference manuals. Executive Jet Management, a NetJets company owned by Berkshire Hathaway, received the F.A.A.’s permission in February for its pilots to read aeronautical charts on iPads.
Moreover, the F.A.A. said pilots at the two airlines would not have to shut off and store their iPads during taxiing, takeoff and landing because they had demonstrated that the devices would not impair the functioning of onboard electronics. Alaska Airlines pilots, like passengers, still have to put their iPads away during those critical phases of the flight.
“Each airline must submit a unique proposal on how they want to use the iPad and prove that both the device and software application are safe and effective for that proposed use,” said John W. McGraw, the F.A.A.’s deputy director of flight standards. Executive Jet Management, for example, had 55 pilots test the iPad on 10 types of aircraft to prove that it was reliable and that it would not interfere with flight instruments. The iPad was also subjected to rapid decompression at a simulated altitude of 51,000 feet.
Private and corporate pilots, however, do not have to go through the same approval process. According to F.A.A. regulations, they are responsible for determining what technologies are safe and appropriate for use in the cockpit. As a result, iPads are quickly becoming essential tools in planes ranging from Gulf Stream G650s to Piper Vagabonds.
“I don’t remember a time when one product seemed to get so much buzz and acceptance,” said Ian Twombly, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “Many pilots approach new toys with skepticism, and the iPad seems to be almost universally appreciated as a cockpit device.”
There are now more than 250 aviation apps for the iPad, and one called ForeFlight is among the top grossing apps listed on iTunes. Its closest competitors are WingX, Jeppesen Mobile TC and Garmin My-Cast. Jeppesen is a subsidiary of Boeing, and Garmin is a leading manufacturer of global positioning and aviation electronic, or avionic, systems.
“The iPad apps can provide additional information and are often easier to use than avionics technologies installed in airplanes,” said Mark Erickson, a corporate pilot who flies a Gulfstream G450 and Falcon 2000 for a company based in St. Louis.
ForeFlight, for instance, helps pilots devise and file flight plans, as well as provides maps, aeronautical charts, F.A.A. advisories, airport information and weather. If an iPad is equipped with 3G technology, it may even track a plane’s progress en route. The apps are usually free, but subscriptions to the data that makes them useful are $75 to $100 a year.
Jack Long, a technology entrepreneur in Austin, Tex., said he bought two iPads in December to use in his Pilatus PC-12, which he flies for business and pleasure. One iPad is for backup in case the other one fails. “I didn’t ease into using the iPad,” said Mr. Long, who has been a pilot for more than 30 years. “I jumped.”
His motivation was to save on subscriptions to paper maps and charts, which had cost him $1,414 a year. He now gets the same maps and charts digitally delivered to his two iPads for $150 a year. His iPads are also loaded with digital versions of all his aircraft, equipment and operating manuals as well as a complete copy of F.A.A. rules and regulations.
“I never pull out paper anymore,” Mr. Long said. “It’s about safety as much as convenience. I can get at information immediately to make critical decisions.”
Likewise, Alton Brown, a Food Network host and a private pilot, said his iPad had become standard equipment when he flies in either of his two airplanes — a Cessna 206 and a Cessna 414 — to book signings and locations where he is filming. “It’s especially helpful when you get rerouted” because of storms and such, he said.
Using an aviation app and information stored on his iPad, he can search for alternate routes, look up various airports’ approach procedures and tower radio frequencies and even compare fuel prices.
“Anything that makes me more alert, responsible and allows me to stay more focused on actually flying the plane is a good thing,” Mr. Brown said.
As shuttle era ends, questions loom for shrinking astronaut corps
By Brian Vastag, Published: July 4
When astronaut Garrett Reisman returned from an 11-day space shuttle mission last May, he knew he was headed to the back of the line. If he wanted to return to orbit, he would have to wait at least five years for a second tour aboard the international space station, which he had called home for 95 days in 2008.
And even if he were offered a chance to return to space, Reisman would have to fly aboard a cramped Russian capsule, not an American space shuttle. After NASA’s Atlantis rolls to a stop later this month, the Soyuz will be the only ride to space — and slots are limited.
For the foreseeable future, NASA plans to send just four to six astronauts — American and international — to the space station each year, paying Russia up to $56 million per seat.
Instead of waiting, Reisman joined a steady flow of astronauts drifting away from NASA like so many untethered spacewalkers.
The agency’s vaunted astronaut corps, trained to withstand high acceleration, dangerous spacewalks, isolation and countless technical hiccups, now confronts a challenge with no handy checklist: the unknown.
“A lot of astronauts have to make a decision. Do they want to wait five, six, seven years?” said Thomas D. Jones, a Baltimore native who flew four shuttle missions before leaving NASA in 2001.
At that time, the agency employed 150 astronauts, the largest space-going workforce in its history. By October 2009, that number had fallen to 92. Now it stands at 61, with two retirements imminent — including that of Mark Kelly, the commander of a recent shuttle mission and the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the wounded Arizona congresswoman — and “a few more departures” likely later this year, said Peggy Whitson, chief astronaut at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“This is a time of transition, and it’s stressful for everyone at NASA,” said Reisman. In May, the Ph.D. mechanical engineer landed at SpaceX, the Hawthorne, Calif., start-up that has a $1.6 billion NASA contract to resupply the space station. There he joins another former astronaut, Kenneth Bowersox, and together the pair are upgrading the company’s Dragon space capsule to one day hoist astronauts to the space station.
That goal will be aided by another former astronaut, Pamela Melroy, who left NASA in 2009. In June, Melroy joined the Federal Aviation Administration, where she will work closely with SpaceX and other companies to develop safety regulations for the fledging commercial space industry.
Melroy piloted two shuttle missions and commanded a third. But the tedium of training for an uncertain future drove her to seek new challenges. “I didn’t want to get into a position where I was jockeying politically to get onto one of last few [shuttle] flights,” she said.
No one knows when astronauts will fly the Dragon or any other U.S.-built spacecraft. President Obama and Congress have directed NASA to develop a capsule — originally known as Orion and now called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — for future flights to asteroids or beyond. In its 2011 spending plan, NASA says it will pour $1.2 billion into the new craft. But the Apollo-like capsule has no hard timeline for completion. No mission has been selected.
So NASA officials point to the next generation of crew vehicles in development by U.S. firms. In April, the agency split $269 million among four companies — SpaceX; Boeing; Blue Origin of Kent, Wash.; and Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev. — to push development of spacecraft rated for human flight. By 2016, the agency says, one of those vehicles will carry NASA astronauts into orbit.
Former astronauts point out that joining the corps has often meant a long pause before spaceflight. Reisman waited 10 years, while Story Musgrave spent 16 years at NASA before launching on the first of his six shuttle missions, in 1983. Until now, though, one thing was always certain for ASCANs, or astronaut candidates: Unless you screwed up big-time, NASA would reward your years of sacrifice with a trip to space, said Roger Launius, a space historian at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
All 59 active-duty, non-retiring astronauts have, in fact, made it off Earth.
But for the latest crop of trainees — four American and five international ASCANs selected in 2009 — question marks loom. The first astronauts since the 1970s not to train for shuttle flight, they will instead spend up to five years preparing for space station life, spending some 30 to 40 percent of their time training overseas. They will learn Russian — for 400 hours. They will stuff themselves into spacesuits underwater. And if they do well, six of them will fly to the space station by 2016, according to a presentation chief astronaut Whitson made to a National Research Council panel in January.
That panel is now reviewing the country’s astronaut needs. By the end of August, it will recommend how many astronauts, training aircraft and training facilities NASA should maintain in the post-shuttle era.
The American with the most experience in orbit — Whitson lived aboard the space station for more than a year during two missions — adamantly wants to maintain an astronaut workforce of about 60. “We’re looking forward to 10 more years of 24/7 occupation of the international space station,” she said.
In her January presentation, Whitson highlighted the need for a robust crew of backup fliers, as the dangers of training and living in orbit can keep otherwise qualified astronauts grounded. Between mid-2009 and early 2011, five astronauts underwent shoulder surgery after injuring themselves in spacesuits. A further 26 shoulder and elbow injuries required rehabilitation. And recovery from bone loss after space station stints can take up to three years.
Already, though, astronaut budgets are declining. For fiscal 2012, NASA has asked Congress for $84 million for human spaceflight operations, down from $104 million in 2010. Still, Whitson advocates hiring nine new astronaut candidates in 2012 and six more in 2014.
Despite the end of the shuttle program, interest in a trip to space — no matter now uncertain — continues to soar. In selecting the 2009 class, NASA managers had to sift through some 3,500 applications.
Woman 'tried to sneak inmate out of prison in suitcase'
A woman was caught trying to sneak her common-law-husband out of a Mexican prison in a suitcase following a conjugal visit, according to police.
8:11AM BST 05 Jul 2011
Staff at the prison in Chetumal in the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo noticed that the woman seemed nervous and was pulling a black, wheeled suitcase that looked bulky, said a police spokesman.
Prison guards checked the bag of 19-year-old Maria del Mar Arjona and found inmate Juan Ramirez Tijerina curled up inside in the fetal position, he added.
The prisoner is serving a 20-year sentence for a 2007 conviction for illegal weapons possession.
Arjona was arrested and charges are pending.
The attempted escape comes months after police discovered a bar at prison in northern Mexico that served beer, tequila and vodka to inmates.
Security at Mexican state prisons is notoriously lax. Jailbreaks are common, inmates are often found to be directing criminal operations from behind bars, and corrupt guards are often found to be involved.
Plenty of Blame to Go Around for ‘Disappearing’ Warship By David Axe July 5, 2011 | 8:46 am Categories: Navy
Austal, America’s newest warship-builder, is still scrambling to recover from the late-June revelation that the USS Independence, the Littoral Combat Ship it just built for the U.S. Navy, is “aggressively” disintegrating.
But the shipbuilder probably isn’t the only party at fault in the case of the disappearing warship. “I think this issue reflects poorly on the entire LCS and Navy acquisition process, rather than just Austal,” Eric Wertheim, author of the definitive Combat Fleets of the World, told Danger Room.
Also suspect: General Dynamics, the Virginia-based shipbuilder that helped Austal’s recently-established Alabama yard produce Independence. General Dynamics subsequently ended its partnership with the upstart Australian firm and announced it would compete with Austal for future LCS contracts. After the split, General Dynamics was in a position to undermine Austal’s reputation, whether purposely or not.
The overall picture is one of poor planning, sloppy design and possible corporate infighting, and which has huge implications for the Navy as it struggles to build its future fleet.
The 418-foot-long Independence (pictured) is slowly disappearing due to a process known as “galvanic corrosion,” where electrical current passes through a join between two different metals — in this case aluminum and steel — causing one of them to break down at the molecular level. Independence will be spending some time in San Diego for repairs.
The Navy has systems for dealing with galvanic corrosion, but did not include them in Independence’s design. And early on neither Austal nor General Dynamics seemed terribly alarmed at the omission. It’s possible they planned to control corrosion with rigorous, post-delivery maintenance procedures.
The news of Independence’s corrosion, initially published by Bloomberg, could not have come at a worse time for Austal. The Australian-based shipbuilder was still getting established in the U.S. market while also lobbying to build copies of the lightweight vessels for Saudi Arabia — a deal that could be worth billions of dollars.
There had been plenty of skepticism about Austal’s mostly-aluminum version of the LCS even before the Pentagon reported pockmarked metal around the steel engines of the brand-new Independence. The Navy has long preferred mostly steel warships over largely aluminum vessels. Aluminum is cheaper and lighter, but steel is more durable — and that can really matter on the high seas and in combat.
But as part of the late-’90s-early 2000s “transformation” craze, the Navy was eager to replace older ships with newer, supposedly cheaper ones. In the minds of some top admirals, that meant aluminum, regardless of that metal’s deficiencies. It also meant opening up the $15-billion-a-year U.S. warship market to foreign companies specializing in small, lightweight vessels. That was Austal’s cue to establish its American division.
In part to help pay for the aluminum ships, the sailing branch prematurely decommissioned dozens of steel warships that were still in the naval equivalent of middle-age. The drawdown had an unintended effect: it made the need for vessels so urgent that the Navy and shipbuilders might have felt pressure to cut corners on new designs and their construction. A whole generation of high-tech new ships — not just LCS — shows signs of sloppy planning and building.
“I think the Navy quite possible ‘threw out the baby with the bath water’ by retiring perfectly good ships … and replacing them with untested, untried and unproven technology for the sake of ‘transformation,’” Wertheim said. Independence’s disintegration is just one consequence.
It didn’t have to be this way. Despite its relative inexperience with warship-building, Austal claims to have extensive expertise managing corrosion on the hundreds of aluminum ships it has built for civilian customers. Should the company have alerted the Navy about Independence’s design flaw?
Perhaps, but when? Austal and General Dynamics manufactured Independence as a team, using Austal’s Mobile River facility. But once the ship entered Navy service, maintenance became General Dynamics’ sole responsibility. Then in early 2010, the two companies ended their partnership. And a few months later, the Navy settled on Austal and Lockheed as the prime LCS builders, effectively barring General Dynamics from ever getting a piece of the small-warship pie.
Instead, General Dynamics started pushing hard to sell the Saudis a version of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. If the Saudis buy LCSs from Austal, they might not need the Burkes. There’s no evidence that General Dynamics deliberately allowed Independence to corrode in order to damage Austal’s chances at winning the Saudi contract. On the other hand, there’s no strong incentive for the Virginia company to meticulously maintain the ship.
Now, Austal might have spared itself some heartache by mentioning the corrosion issue earlier, even though it wasn’t solely the company’s fault or responsibility after all the corporate shuffling was said and done.
In any event, Austal seems determined to ensure that future LCSs don’t suffer Independence’s fate. “We are eager to move beyond short-term remediation and help the Navy, from the design stage on, apply the best practices in corrosion management to the entire Independence-variant LCS class,” Austal USA president Joseph Rella said.
Coronado, the next Austal-built ship, will get “new anti-corrosion surface treatments,” Austal spokesman Craig Hooper told Danger Room. And the vessel after that, Jackson, will be delivered along with “an array of tested corrosion-management tools and processes,” Rella said.
“In the end I do think that we’ll eventually fix the problems with LCS … just like we’ve always been able to fix problems with ships in the past,” Wertheim said. “But I do hope that DoD can use this as a learning experience.”
The major lessons? Take your time designing new ships, build them right and brace for corporate shenanigans. In the meantime, hold on to older vessels that are still working just fine, as insurance. And remember: aluminum corrodes when it touches steel.
Secret Service Scrambling For Answers Following Fox News Twitter Attacks
By DAVID LIEBERMAN, Executive Editor Monday July 4, 2011 @ 3:55pm EDT Tags: Fox News, FoxNewspolitics, Hackers, President Obama, Twitter
The Secret Service and Fox News are investigating a series of attacks early Monday on one of the news network's Twitter feeds, FoxNewspolitics, in which hackers erroneously said that President Obama had been assassinated in Iowa. The six messages were taken down several hours -- around noon today -- after they were posted. Fox News Digital General Manager Jeff Misenti says the company has asked Twitter to conduct a "detailed investigation" into the incident and to come up with "measures to prevent future unauthorized access into FoxNews.com accounts." A student newspaper at the State University of New York at Stony Brook said that an anti-corporate group called The Script Kiddies claimed responsibility and may hit Fox News again.
Here's Fox News' statement about the attacks:
FoxNews.com's Twitter feed for political news, FoxNewspolitics, was hacked early Monday morning.
Hackers sent out several malicious and false tweets claiming that President Obama had been assassinated. Those reports were incorrect, of course, and the president was spending the July 4 holiday with his family at the White House.
The tweets have been removed from the feed.
FoxNews.com alerted the U.S. Secret Service, which is declining public comment. Jeff Misenti, vice president and general manager of Fox News Digital, said FoxNews.com was working with Twitter to address the situation as quickly as possible.
"We will be requesting a detailed investigation from Twitter about how this occurred, and measures to prevent future unauthorized access into FoxNews.com accounts," Misenti said.
FoxNews.com regrets any distress the false tweets may have created.
U.S. willing to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq past year's end, officials say
Keeping U.S. troops in Iraq after the departure deadline would require accord of Iraq's deeply divided government. The Iraqis have not made a formal request for U.S. troops to stay.
By David S. Cloud and Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times July 6, 2011 Reporting from Washington and Baghdad
The White House is prepared to keep as many as 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of the year, amid growing concern that the planned pullout of virtually all remaining American forces would lead to intensified militant attacks, according to U.S. officials.
Keeping troops in Iraq after the deadline for their departure at the end of December would require agreement of Iraq's deeply divided government, which is far from certain. The Iraqis so far have not made a formal request for U.S. troops to remain, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Some powerful Iraqi political forces are staunchly opposed to a continued U.S. presence.
The Obama administration has been debating how large a force to propose leaving in Iraq. It made its proposal now in hopes of spurring a request from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government, and to give the Pentagon time to plan, the officials said.
The troops would be based around Baghdad and in a small number of other strategic locations around the country, the officials said.
Noting that Iraq had not asked yet for troops to stay, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said: "There's only so much time here available for the Iraqi government to make such a request. If they do, we will consider it. Otherwise, we are keeping on schedule."
Unless Iraq asks for a change in its 2008 agreement with the George W. Bush administration, only about 200 active-duty troops would remain as advisors after December, the officials said. More than 166,000 American troops were in Iraq in 2007 when the U.S. military presence there peaked. There are about 46,000 remaining.
The idea of keeping any U.S. forces in Iraq remains deeply controversial, both in Iraq and the United States. Maliki faces pressure from hard-line members of his governing coalition not to extend the U.S. presence, and some American lawmakers strongly favor bringing all the remaining troops out on schedule.
As a candidate in 2008, President Obama promised to end the conflict in Iraq, and after taking office, he pledged to abide by the deadline. But administration officials have also signaled that they would be open to discussions with Maliki's government about extending the U.S. presence.
Though violence in Iraq has greatly diminished in recent years, car bombs and other attacks remain an almost daily occurrence. Iraqi and U.S. officers say that Iraq continues to need assistance, both in dealing with insurgents and in training its army and air force.
Iraqi government officials are divided on whether the Americans should stay. Of the country's major ethnic and religious groups, only the Kurds have come out publicly in favor of U.S. forces staying. In private, Maliki is thought to want troops to stay, but his Islamic Dawa Party released a statement in mid-June declaring that American troops should honor the agreement to leave at the end of the year.
Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr's political movement is strongly opposed to the presence of U.S. forces and probably would present the biggest obstacle to large numbers of American troops remaining. Maliki needs Sadr's support to stay in office. Political leaders are expected to convene a meeting this week to discuss power-sharing in the Iraqi government, but they are also likely to broach the issue of whether American troops should be authorized to stay on.
Sami Askari, a senior member of Maliki's State of Law alliance who played a key role in negotiating the 2008 agreement, said political rifts in Iraq make it far more difficult this time to keep American forces on the ground.
"Maliki in 2008 took the lead on pushing everyone to agree on this; now he can't do that. Why would he do that and pay the political price?" Askari said. "It is madness for him to do this without being assured of support from others."
U.S. officials are concerned that Iraqi politicians will only make a decision after most or all of the remaining U.S. troops already have left, forcing the White House into the politically difficult position of deciding whether to send some forces back.
Pentagon officials have been saying for months that they need a decision on whether U.S. forces will remain. Last week, Navy Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, nominated to command U.S. special operations forces, said a small force of special operations troops should remain in order to assist Iraqi units in going after insurgents.
Giant Spy Blimp Battle Could Decide Surveillance’s Future By Noah Shachtman July 6, 2011 | 7:00 am Categories: Air Force
How many giant experimental spy blimps does the military need over Afghanistan, exactly?
That’s one of many questions the Senate Armed Services Committee is asking after an intramilitary battle has erupted over what many expect to be the future of aerial surveillance. The Army and the Air Force each have their own football field-sized airships in the works; the Senate panel wants to know why it should pay for both — especially as the Air Force seems fickle about its model and keeps changing the spy sensors on board. Legislators are asking: What gives?
This is more than some obscure bureaucratic hair-pull. The answer to those questions — and the winners of those fights — could determine the direction of U.S. intelligence-gathering for years to come.
Here’s why. Surveillance drones like the Predator and the Reaper are starting to lose just a bit of their sheen in military circles, even though their number of “orbits,” or combat air patrols, has more than quadrupled in the last five years. Giant spy blimps are the new hotness. They can stay in the air for much longer than any drone. Instead of a Predator’s single camera, the blimps can carry a whole bunch of surveillance equipment, because they’re so freakin’ huge. Any one of those sensors could spy on an entire town at once. There’s even enough space on board the airship to process all that data in the sky, easing the burden on overloaded intelligence analysts.
A sign of the spy blimp’s rising stock: Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula — who, until recently, was in charge of all Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) programs — is now the CEO of MAV6, a Vicksburg, Mississippi, startup building one of these next-gen airships for the military.
It’s part of a project called “Blue Devil.” The behemoth, 340-foot-long blimp and all of its spy gear should be ready for Air Force duty by January, Deptula promises. And if Blue Devil works as promised — staying four miles above Afghanistan for five days at a time — drones could suddenly seems like an expensive anachronism.
“It brings to bear a completely different concept for ISR: multiple sensors on one platform integrated with on-board processing and storage. It’s the first time we’re using a modular system on an aircraft to host a variety of sensors, and they can be rapidly changed for new or different sensors in a matter of hours,” Deptula tells Danger Room. “We’ve got the world’s largest ISR payload — and ‘real estate’ to host it, and nearly a supercomputer on board to process what they find.”
The Pentagon is planning to spend $4.5 billion to mount 15 more drone air patrols. The costs of operating, maintaining and processing the information from the roboplanes runs about $8,000 per hour. Deptula claims Blue Devil would run $1,000 per hour, because it requires fewer people (although that’s just an educated guess; the thing hasn’t flown yet). “A handful of Blue Devil orbits could achieve significantly greater ISR effectiveness for a fraction of that cost and save billions,” he insists. For now, the Air Force is spending $211 on one of Deptula’s blimps.
The Senate Armed Service Committee digs the idea. “There are many platforms and systems that advertise ‘multisensor integration,’ but almost always the different sensors … cannot view the same piece of terrain at the same time,” the committee notes in its recent report on next year’s Pentagon budget. “Blue Devil is different: this QRC [quick reaction capability] is designed to give ground forces a new capability to detect, locate, identify, and track targets seamlessly, building on concepts and practices pioneered by special forces to tightly integrate sensors and pursuit operations.”
But the committee “is concerned about recent turmoil in program plans,” according to the report. For starters, Blue Devil isn’t the only ginormous airship heading for Afghanistan. The Army has one in the works, too.
It’s called the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, or LEMV. It’s being built by Northrop Grumman, the defense contracting behemoth. It’s allegedly going to start casting its “unblinking eye” by January. And the LEMV supposed to stay in the skies for weeks, thanks to a combination of lighter-than-air helium and the aerodynamic lift you’d ordinarily see in an airplane. Initial cost: $517 million, for three airships. But, according to InsideDefense.com, the Pentagon is already asking for another $28 million.
Which naturally has lead the Senate Armed Service to ask why we need both of these things.
“These developments raise the question of the value of Blue Devil Block 2,” the committee report reads.
“The Army now plans to deploy the LEMV to Afghanistan in the same timeframe as Blue Devil Block 2. Moreover, the Army is now planning to rapidly equip LEMV, after it is first demonstrated, with the same sensor systems that were originally planned for Blue Devil Block 2,” the committee adds. “The sensor changes raise questions about how effective and useful it will be, while progress in the LEMV program raises the issue of whether Blue Devil Block 2 funds would be better invested in LEMV program acceleration and expansion.”
LEMV may not be able to stay in the air quite as long as advertised. A recent technical presentation (.pdf) noted that the airship might stay aloft for a mere 10 days at a stretch.
Yet the Air Force is showing some signs of ambivalence about its Blue Devil airship. Turns out, the air service has grown rather attached to its current gaggle of spy planes.
That’s ironic, since it wasn’t that long ago that Defense Secretary Bob Gates complained that getting the Air Force to field more Predator and Reaper drones was like “pulling teeth.” The upstart robo-planes were a threat to the air service’s established, man-in-the-cockpit fleet. Now, however, the upstarts have become the establishment. Drones form the bedrock of the Air Force’s surveillance effort.
“Big Safari” — that’s the code name for the Air Force office in charge of special intelligence programs — doesn’t appear to be quite ready to shift gears again. Especially not when shifting gears means putting a small company like Deptula’s in the driver’s seat.
“The Air Force transferred responsibility for Blue Devil recently to the Big Safari Program Office, which promptly proposed wholesale changes to the program — an entirely different platform, continued use of legacy [c]ameras, and different SIGINT [signals intelligence] sensors,” the Senate report notes.
Most of those changes were ultimately beaten back. But there are still open issues about the future of Blue Devil — and how the airship relates to its past.
The Blue Devil program started by packing a bunch of sensors together onto a turboprop plane. That surveillance gear includes eavesdropping equipment that can pinpoint a chatty militant’s location, as well as the Angel Fire “wide-area airborne surveillance system,” or WAAS. It’s a hive of nine separate cameras, each one shooting at a very slow rate and at a slightly different angle — allowing a whole town to be watched at once.
On the Blue Devil turboprop plane, the WAAS sensors and the eavesdropping unit can tell each other where to look or listen. According to the committee, that combo is now “making significant contributions” in southern Afghanistan, “particularly in support of prosecuting high-value targets.” In other words, it’s helping the military hunt down and kill militants.
But Deptula — and the Air Force — don’t just want to move that gear onto the airship for the second phase of Blue Devil. There’s talk of upgrading the WAAS sensor, from nine cameras to 92. Plus, the blimp has room for more and bigger antennas. And the more and bigger antennas you have, the easier it is to pinpoint locations. The blimp could be a much better eavesdropper. The Air Force and the ear-men at the National Security Agency are still wrestling over which signals intelligence package will fly on the airship.
Even muddier is the Air Force plan for what to do if the spy blimp wows the military if and when it goes to Afghanistan; there’s no follow-on effort in the budget, at the moment.
Making things murkier still is that there are two more giant blimp programs making their way through the military’s development chain.
The Armed Services Committee is kind of fed up. It’s demanding that the Pentagon appoint a single point person who can sort out which airship projects make sense, and which don’t. This is supposed to a time of coming budget cuts, after all. The sky is pretty big. But it’s not big enough for all these king-sized blimps.
By Jodie Ginsberg LONDON | Wed Jul 6, 2011 7:30am EDT
British lawmakers will hold an emergency debate on Wednesday over a phone-hacking scandal at a top-selling newspaper that has prompted calls for the resignation of a well-connected Rupert Murdoch executive and provoked a public outcry that could damage the paper's sales.
Revelations that the News of the World may have accessed the voicemail messages of crime victims -- including an abducted 13-year-old girl later found murdered -- have caused outrage in Britain and brought to a head a long-running saga previously thought to have targeted celebrities and other high-profile figures.
Three hours of parliamentary time has been cleared for the debate on Wednesday where some politicians have said they could call for a national boycott of the News of the World.
Automaker Ford has already said it would pull advertising from the News of the World (NoW) until it saw how it deals with the matter. Other companies said they were reviewing the situation.
News International, which publishes Murdoch's stable of British newspaper titles including The Times and The Sun, said new information had recently been provided to police.
"Full and continuing cooperation has been provided to the police since the current investigation started in January 2011," it said in a statement.
"Well understood arrangements are in place to ensure that any material of importance to which they are entitled is provided to them.
"We cannot comment any further due to the ongoing investigations."
The BBC said the material passed to police related to a trail of emails appearing to show that payments were made to police in the past for information and that were authorized by former NoW editor, Andy Coulson, later David Cameron's head of communications.
Coulson resigned as News of the World editor in 2007 and has insisted he knew nothing about the phone hacking.
It is not the first time a News Corp paper has been linked to police payments. In 2003, Rebekah Brooks, then editor of The Sun, told a parliamentary committee that her paper paid police for information. News International later said this was not company practice.
QUESTIONS FOR PM
Broadcasters and newspapers rushed to publish new details of a saga that has forced the resignation of Coulson and has now come to the door of Brooks, now head of News Corp's British newspaper arm. She is a frequent guest at the country home of Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that News of the World journalists may have attempted to access voice messages left on phones as relatives waited for information about their loved ones in the aftermath of the London bombings in 2005, when British Islamists carried out suicide bombings on the transport network, killing 52 people.
The Independent newspaper said Brooks commissioned a search, on a personal matter, by one of the private investigators used by the News of the World to trace the family of the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler.
The Guardian said police investigating the phone-hacking claims were turning their attention to high-profile cases involving the murder or abduction of children since 2001.
The parents of two murdered schoolgirls in another high-profile case dating back to Brooks' editorship of the News of the World have been visited by police investigating the phone-hacking affair.
Cameron is likely to face intense questioning over the issue at the weekly prime minister's questions session in parliament on Wednesday, particularly his friendship with Brooks and her successor Coulson.
Cameron said on Tuesday he was "appalled" by the allegations that in 2002 the murdered schoolgirl's voicemail messages had been listened to and deleted by a News of the World investigator, misleading police and her family.
Cameron's government is weighing approval of News Corp's takeover bid for British broadcaster BSkyB. The hacking revelations are unlikely to derail that deal since approvals are focused on whether the takeover will give Murdoch too much power over the British media. The government has said it does not believe it will.
Murdoch transformed the British press landscape in the 1980s during Margaret Thatcher's years as prime minister, bringing in new technology and confronting printers' and journalists' trade unions. He commands audiences with global leaders and, through his media, is seen as one of the world's most powerful men.
Brooks, who has worked for Murdoch for nearly half her life, was previously seen as untouchable because of her close relationship with the News Corp chairman and chief executive.
But popular pressure could prove her undoing if readers, who had largely shrugged off news that investigators accessed the phone messages of royals, footballers and celebrities to break stories, start to desert the Sunday paper.
Facebook and Twitter campaigns have sprung up in the wake of the latest allegation encouraging readers and advertisers to boycott the News of the World.
Sales of News Corp's Sun newspaper never recovered in the city of Liverpool after it offended football fans in the wake of a stadium disaster more than 20 years ago in which 96 people died.
(Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan and Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Jason Neely)
Man preaches 'UFO gospel' Published: July 6, 2011 at 4:30 AM
SAN DIEGO, July 6 (UPI) -- A San Diego man who snapped a picture he believes depicts alien spacecraft 21 years ago says he believes UFOs will visit Earth next year to rescue humans.
Mike Orrell, 54, said he snapped a photo of the sky off Highway 78 at the Inaja memorial park in California 21 years ago and later noticed three red dots in the corner of the picture, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Tuesday.
Orrell, whose picture was recently featured as part of the "Science of Aliens" exhibit at the Air & Space Museum in San Diego, said his research since taking the photo has led him to believe the dots were extraterrestrial spacecraft. He said he believes the aliens will return to Earth next year to rescue humans from a cataclysmic event.
"I've been given a great gift that I have been trying to share," he said. "I believe I was chosen to spread the UFO gospel and to my dying day that's what I'm going to do."
Keith Taylor, former president of San Diego Association of Rational Inquiry, said there is a simple explanation for the prevalent belief in UFOs.
"It's the manifestation of deliberate ignorance," he said. "Our culture has developed to the point where we choose to believe what we want to believe."