This ends my Short Review. Carry on.
This ends my Short Review. Carry on.
When deciding to become a novelist while keeping the day job – sadly necessary if you also choose to live in a house and eat food – you have to be willing to give up most of your hobbies, or at least the most time-consuming ones. In my case, that was modeling and high-power rocketry (HPR, for the uninitiated).
HPR is the grown-up version of the ubiquitous Estes model rockets some of you might have toyed with as kids. Typically the rockets are big enough, and engines powerful enough, to require FAA waivers which close the airspace to conflicting traffic. You also have to go through a certification process with one of the national hobby organizations.
If you’ve been hanging out at this blog for a while, you know I’ve been a rocket and space geek since I was a little kid watching Apollo missions on the old black-and-white TV. When I discovered high-power about ten years ago, it hooked me completely. Better Half was less excited but she at least tolerated it. And to be fair, it’s not cheap: the cheapest motors are around twenty bucks each, and that’s if you’re using a reloadable system which means you’ve already forked over a hundred for motor casings. Throw in medium- to high-tech materials (fiberglass, composites, etc) and electronics (those parachutes don’t deploy themselves at 10,000′) and stuff gets spendy in a hurry. I built a couple of fiberglass rockets and one partially with composites, and that’s about as techy as it got. Perhaps if I’d invested in an altimeter-controlled recovery system, I’d still have Red Death instead of it being carted off by winds aloft somewhere into the next county.
This project, on the other hand, looks to be a bit more complicated.
It’s essentially an open-source Mercury/Redstone vehicle, taking advantage of modern building materials and 50-odd years of acquired knowledge. If you’re looking for a challenging build, this might be it.
These stories seem connected somehow:
Consider the teacher new to an upscale suburban town. Shuffling through the sheaf of reports certifying the educational “accommodations” he was required to make for many of his history students, he was struck by the exhaustive, well-written—and obviously costly—one on behalf of a girl who was already proving among the most competent of his ninth-graders. “She’s somewhat neurotic,” he confides, “but she is bright, organized and conscientious—the type who’d get to school to turn in a paper on time, even if she were dying of stomach flu.” He finally found the disability he was to make allowances for: difficulty with Gestalt thinking. The 13-year-old “couldn’t see the big picture.” That cleverly devised defect (what 13-year-old can construct the big picture?) would allow her to take all her tests untimed, especially the big one at the end of the rainbow, the college-worthy SAT.
Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history.
The men who built the Empire State Building stood on bare planks to work in the sky; paradoxically, they were grounded in reality, not theory. They did not have to concern themselves with tones and timbres; nor did the educated architects who dreamed up skyscrapers. One suspects that if either the man on the beam or the one with the blueprints had been approached by a tanning-booth-bronzed-and-manicured corporate bureaucrat, and asked to enumerate their “goals” as part of their “performance review” they both would have hooted at him in derision. “My goal,” the first would say, “is to not fall. It’s to stay alive so I can pick up my pay, have a beer with the wife, raise the kids and get into heaven a half-hour before the devil knows I’m dead.”
“My goal,” the architect would say dismissively, “is to make your jaw drop, and the drop it some more; I want to build a mystery!”
Very likely the bureaucrat — too timid to walk the sky, and too unimaginative to even conceive scraping it — would have found their answers vague, and given both of them low marks in team-building, professional comportment and attention to guidelines. He would recommend training meant to get them comfortable with thinking and living inside the approved boxes, “and at no point should such recklessly lighthearted men be considered for promotion,” he would write.
Hat tip: Instapundit.
So this ad shows up in my mailbox today:
It’s called the “banana bunker” (uh-huh), and note that it’s SOLD OUT. I really hope nobody is stupid enough to slip one of these into their kid’s lunchbox.
So yeah, I’m putting Perigee back in Amazon’s Kindle Select program and will be running a brief $0.99 sale for Mother’s Day. So any of you Muthas who haven’t read it no longer have an excuse: it’s cheap, and if you’re an Amazon Prime member it’s even cheaper. That is, free in the Kindle Owners Lending Library. And we all like free.
I’ll even make it easy for you! Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Perigee-ebook/dp/B006PNL48I
This looks cool, but I wouldn’t get into a twist over it just yet. Remember the Sonic Cruiser? That was an actual development program (which eventually morphed into the decidedly less-sexy 787) whereas this is still just R&D. Not to say it won’t go anywhere, but don’t look for any Mach-busters in spiffy airline paint anytime soon.
A little closer to home, there are still ways to squeeze serious knots out of a piston single, and most of them are downright gorgeous. Though if you’re not into racing, there’s always this little beauty:
The limiting factor in terms of my own future enjoyment? Regulations, which equals money. Lots of it. The process for certifying a new aircraft design is so cumbersome that it easily doubles – maybe even triples – the price of a finished product and takes it well beyond the reach of normal people. Even a mundane little Cessna 172 costs well north of a quarter million dollars new. That’s like buying a Lamborghini. Does anyone really believe a design that’s more than half a century old is worth three hundred large?
< crickets chirping…>
Granted, production airplanes should be expected to cost more because they need to be a great deal more reliable than cars. But when the regulatory hoops push even a simple light-sport design into six-figure price tags, something is seriously out of whack.
This is why there’s been such a boom in homebuilt aircraft kits over the last 20-odd years: no doubt many builders wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m certain a sizeable fraction are in it to get a hot plane for less money. At least the ones I know are, even though we’re still talking a fair amount of dough for a project that can easily take 5+ years. That’s a commitment I have a hard time getting my head around, and this is coming from a guy who writes novels. At least my finished products don’t have the potential to kill me if I screw them up.
Hopefully relief will be coming in the next couple of years. As one who’d dearly love to someday fly something like this, I can only hope.
SpaceShip Two finally had its first powered flight today, passing Mach 1 with a 16-second burn of its solid/liquid hybrid engine. The jury’s still out as to how much of a safety advantage that may be, but it sure does look cool:
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. And video is worth even more:
UPDATE: In more mundane aerospace news, Boeing’s 787 is finally returning to service. That program’s been a massive Charlie-Foxtrot from the beginning, but I do have high hopes for this bird.