Why aren’t there simple machines for finding septic tank covers?


A new employee from our septic tank pumping company showed up recently. He was unable to find the tanks or covers, even with a map, and eventually abandoned the project. Why isn’t there an inexpensive electronic device that can find the metal covers underneath a foot or two of dirt/grass? Then the job could be done by people at a lower level of skill.

It looks as though this can be done with ground-penetrating radar (example). It seems that the necessary equipment is more than $10,000, though. Everything else with sensors and electronics has gotten cheaper. Cars are sprouting radars everywhere. Why can’t this technology be cut down to $250 the way that everything else has been?

[Separately, the new employee was a white guy in his 20s. All of the people that I’ve seen in Massachusetts pumping septic tanks are white males, from which it is reasonable to infer that they are using their white male privilege to exclude women and minorities from this job?]

A country cannot get rich by buying college educations for everyone?


“School Is Expensive. Is It Worth It?” (WSJ) is a response to The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan, an economics professor.

Thus Mr. Caplan’s case against education begins by acknowledging the case in favor of getting one. “It is individually very fruitful, and individually lucrative,” he says. Full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree, on average, “are making 73% more than high-school graduates.” Workers who finished high school but not college earn 30% more than high-school dropouts. Part of the difference is mere correlation: Mr. Caplan says if you adjust for pre-existing advantages like intelligence and family background, one-fifth to two-fifths of the education premium goes away. Even so, it really does pay to finish school.

Mr. Caplan believes these signals [of having been smart, diligent, and conformist enough to finish a college degree] are reliable, that college graduates generally do make better employees than nongraduates. Thus it is rational for employers to favor them, and for young people to go through school. Yet the system as a whole is dysfunctional, he argues, because the signaling game is zero-sum. He illustrates the point with another analogy: If everyone at a concert is sitting, and you want to see better, you can stand up. “But if everyone stands up, everyone does not see better.”

The advantage of having a credential, that is, comes at the expense of those who lack it, pushing them to pursue it simply to keep up. The result is “credential inflation.” Today a college degree is a prerequisite for jobs that didn’t previously require one—secretary, rental-car clerk, high-end waiter. And to return to the concert analogy, if you’re unable to stand, you’re objectively worse off than before. “People who are in the bottom 25% of math scores—their odds of finishing college, if they start, are usually like 5% or 10%,” Mr. Caplan says. They end up saddled with debt and shut out of jobs they may be perfectly capable of performing.

The irrational actor in this whole drama, Mr. Caplan says, is the voter, who almost without exception wants to keep the tax money flowing. “Only about 5% of Americans say that we should spend less on education,” he says. Even among self-identified “strong Republicans,” the figure is a mere 12%.

The professor is down on Internet education:

“Online education is only a viable competitor if you think that the main thing going on in schools is teaching useful skills,” Mr. Caplan says. He doubts that any internet certificate can supplant the signaling function, especially when it comes to conformity: “If your new, weird signal of conformity attracts a bunch of nonconformists, it fails as a signal of conformity.”

But he is up on getting a job as a teacher:

“I’m not one of these professors that resents teaching or dislikes teaching. I love it,” he says. “Maybe most of the students aren’t that interested,” but if “there’s one person in the room that cares, that person to me is the center of the universe.”

If you look at “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (a.k.a. majoring in partying and football)” and similar chronicles of how American college students actually spend their days, it is tough to believe that anyone ever thought that using tax dollars to subsidize majors other than science and engineering was going to make society wealthier. Other scholars have pointed out that Americans don’t come out of a typical college program with measurably better critical thinking or writing skills than when they went in (see my reviews of Academically Adrift and Higher Education?) But maybe The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money is the first to point out the zero-sum nature of college credentials? That, even if the problems identified by other scholars were fixed and college were somehow made intellectually rigorous, college for everyone still wouldn’t provide a huge boost to GDP.

Recreation for Americans in Vietnam


Some stuff that probably wasn’t mentioned at yesterday’s Arlington Cemetery monument dedication ceremony

Guts ‘N Gunships: What it was Really Like to Fly Combat Helicopters in Vietnam is mostly about flying and fighting, but it contains some description of recreation.

Next to the officer’s club was a large steel cage that housed two adolescent sun bears. These sun bears, indigenous to Southeast Asia, are black with a fawnish face, and weigh more than one hundred pounds. The Camp Holloway bears were captured and rescued as cubs, when the Pathfinders were clearing a trail somewhere in No Man’s Land. They accidently got between them and their mother and they had to shoot Mamasan Bear when she attacked them. They decided not to leave the cubs in the jungle to die, so they brought them back to the cage, and had fed and raised them since. Often, when we were walking by the cage on the way to the club, there would be a couple of exceedingly inebriated Pathfinders, wrestling with them in the cage. Admittedly, the bears were not completely grown when I first observed these encounters, but throughout the year, they quickly became fine adult specimens. I guessed their weight at the time to be in excess of one hundred pounds each. And this was more than one hundred pounds of bear, for God’s sake. They had claws, seemingly as long as my fingers, and a set of teeth that any grizzly would have been proud of. In other words, the Pathfinders were regularly getting their asses kicked. The Pathfinders found a way around this, however. They just got the Bears drunker than they (the wrestlers) were before they entered the cage.

Through the bars, they would hand a beer to the bears, who would take it with their front paws, sit on their asses, and down the chute it would go. They would then beg for another, and another, until they were soused. With the playing field now more level, the Pathfinders would still get their asses kicked by the drunken bears, but it took the bears longer to pin them to the mat. To my knowledge, the bears never injured a Pathfinder, and were always careful to pull their punches. A lot of soldiers going past the cage would give the cherished bears food and beer. When the bears were drunk, they were hilarious, and, by the way, they were usually drunk. They would stumble around the large cage, falling and rolling into one another, making strange, gurgling sounds as they went. When they eventually stumbled into one another, a world class wrestling match would ensue. Seemingly, they would merge into a single large ball of fur, and would roll around on the floor of the cage like a huge, hairy, black and brown basketball. Then, when both of them thought the other had had enough, they would sit and face one another, and lick each other’s faces with a tongue that looked like it was a foot long. After recuperation they would again approach the bars of the cage, stand on their back legs, reach through the bars, and beg for beer and morsels of food. More often than not, they would get it.

There was also wrestling among humans…

I asked, “Aren’t you guys afraid of VD?” “Hell no, all you have to do is go to the flight surgeon and get a shot of penicillin. You ain’t getting out of this, Garrison. You might as well just stop whining around about it and enjoy yourself. Now come on, get out of the jeep and come with us.

The author ends up falling asleep with his new ladyfriend and missing his ride back to the base. So he ends up spending the night in a town where half of the people at VC sympathizers.

Things go a little more smoothly on leave:

In the summer of 1969, I became eligible to fly to someplace in Southeast Asia for about a week, to lick my wounds and convalesce from nine months of combat flying. There were several destinations that one could choose as long as they happened to be available. Places such as Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, and others. Most of all the married guys went to Hawaii to meet up with their wives. A majority of us wound up in rather more exotic places around the globe. I wound up in Taipei, Taiwan.

When I first arrived in Taipei, I was escorted by military vehicle to a place called the Kings Hotel. As soon as I situated myself in my room, I went down to have a drink at the hotel’s bar, and was almost immediately approached by a Chinese gentleman who asked me if I would be interested in a female companion for the evening. I asked what he had in mind and he told me to turn around and take a look. Against the wall behind me was a whole line of women, who had one thing in common. They were all beautiful. Adopting the old adage of, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” I took my pick. Prostitution was technically illegal in Taiwan at the time, so you were asked to sign a contract stating that you were to entertain the young lady for the evening by dinner and dancing and other rather benign activities. These contracts lasted for twenty four hours.

The author describes prodigious consumption of alcohol purchased at the military-run shop on the base, but no use of opiates or even marijuana.

What was it like to come home?

As soon as the aircraft took off and departed Vietnamese airspace, I told myself that I would never complain about anything again. I felt extremely lucky to have been on the flight home. I thought about all the close calls I had had flying missions, and knew that I could well have been killed in combat.

Of course, I’m human, and I have failed miserably about the “not complaining” promise that I made to myself. But when things have gotten tough in life, I remember how things were then, and it helps to put things in perspective.

Then I was to report to good old Fort Wolters for instructor pilot training. This time I would be an instructor. I planned to be every bit as tough as Toth was with me, to give my students every chance of making it home alive, as I had done. I entered the Seattle Tacoma Terminal along with the other soldiers, and we were met by a rather large group of war protesters, carrying placards that said things like, “MOTHERFUCKING BABY KILLERS, WAR CRIMINALS and FASCIST PIGS.” Then their spit hit my face.

As it happened, the author was not a supporter of the war per se. He thought that the U.S. should either go into North Vietnam with a full-scale invasion to try to win or go home. He describes the other pilots as similarly disillusioned with the general idea of the U.S. Vietnam effort. Their motivation for fighting was to save the lives of American ground troops, not a belief that the politicians back in Washington or the generals in Vietnam had sensible ideas.

More: Read Guts ‘N Gunships: What it was Really Like to Fly Combat Helicopters in Vietnam.

Southwest 1380: think about the flight attendants


The media is gushing over the heroic deeds of an airline captain on Southwest 1380, which suffered an uncontained engine failure. The stories generally do not mention a co-pilot (example) and therefore it would be impressive for this captain to have been the first person to earn a single-pilot type rating for the Boeing 737-700. However, when the airliner checks in with PHL tower, the first officer’s voice is heard on the radio (full audio). Newsweek identifies this pilot as Darren Ellisor. The big safety innovation of airlines is the crew concept and the multi-pilot crew so it is surprising to me that every time a flight makes the news the media gives us the impression that we are back to the 1920s single-pilot airline system (see below for how Captain Sully was apparently by himself in the Airbus).

[Why is the public apparently more interested in a narrative of a lone hero, be it Captain Sully or Tammie Jo Shults, the Southwest captain? Why wouldn’t a story about five people (two pilots plus three flight attendants) working together to achieve a successful outcome actually be more inspiring? Most of us work on teams so why wouldn’t we be more inspired by a story about teamwork?]

For the pilots of this airplane it was like a normal day in the simulator (they actually said as much a couple of days later in an official statement: “As Captain and First Officer of the Crew of five who worked to serve our Customers aboard Flight 1380 yesterday, we all feel we were simply doing our jobs.”). Essentially all airliner or bizjet sim training is single-engine operation following a failure because flying a working jet with a three-pilot crew (bulletproof autopilot, left-seat captain, right-seat first officer) is actually easier than a lot of single-pilot operations in light aircraft (hence the higher accident rate for four-seaters, even when experienced pilots are at the controls). Thus, the “engine failure then land single-engine” is something that a mid-career airline pilot would have done 500 times or more in a sim that is so realistic it can be logged as time in the actual aircraft. A 18-year-old seeking a multi-engine rating on his or her Commercial certificate would have to demonstrate managing an engine failure in a piston twin and then flying a single-engine approach and landing… solo. The applicant who failed to demonstrate this competently to an examiner would fail the checkride and not earn the rating. Similarly the pilot seeking a type rating for a turbojet-powered aircraft, such as a business jet or a Boeing 737, must demonstrate this capability before being legally authorized to fly the aircraft (only as part of a crew in the case of the B737, which requires two pilots minimum).

What did happen from the pilots’ point of view? The plane depressurized, necessitating the donning of oxygen masks (the ones in front are “quick-don” types accessible by reaching behind one’s shoulder) and then a reasonably rapid descent from what seems to have been about 32,000′. The goal is to get down to about 10,000′ where everyone can take off their oxygen masks. At the same time, the airplane would yaw because of the asymmetric thrust (dead engine on one side). The plane would have been on autopilot at the time and therefore the yaw damper would automatically kick in some rudder to counteract the yaw.

Usually the crew divides responsibilities between the Pilot Flying, who manipulates the flight controls and/or supervises the autopilot, and the Pilot Monitoring, who does everything else, including talk to Air Traffic Control (ATC). The Captain and First Officer, both of whom are fully trained to fly the aircraft, swap these roles after each leg of a trip. If something goes wrong, the Pilot Flying will take over the radios and thus free the Pilot Monitoring to dig into the checklists, typically accessible via a “Quick Reference Handbook” (“QRH”; see this example from the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) that I used to fly). It is the Pilot Flying’s job to ask for the appropriate checklist, e.g., “Give me the Engine Fire Message checklist” (though the Pilot Monitoring can suggest checklists, e.g., “Would you like the Left Engine Oil Pressure Message checklist?”). There are some items to do from memory, with the two pilots cooperating so that they can agree on which engine is the dead one and should have its thrust/fuel lever cut off, for example.

Airline training stresses the use of the autopilot in an emergency, which frees the human pilots to concentrate on the checklists and not pulling back, for example, the thrust lever on the running engine. The Pilot Flying monitors the autopilot and the Pilot Monitoring is going through the checklists and making sure that items such as gear and flaps are set appropriately at various times.

The Southwest crew was favored with “Day VFR” flying conditions (i.e., it wasn’t dark and there weren’t low clouds over the runway) and were near a super long runway, the 12,000′ 27L runway at KPHL. Once any fire is extinguished, e.g., by cutting off the fuel or blowing the squib on a bottle of fire extinguishing stuff (that’s about as technical as we got in training), the situation on a CRJ is no longer considered an “emergency” but merely an “abnormal” operation and the pilots go to the “Single Engine Procedures, In-Flight Engine Shutdown” checklist. The APU is started so that there is a backup source of electrical power (in case the second engine quits!) and various switches are set up so that the dead engine is secured.  Then it is time for “ABNORM 1-9, Single Engine Approach and Landing.” The CRJ checklist calls for landing with partial flaps, thus resulting in a 25 percent increase in landing distance. Full flaps enable landing at a slower speed, but the extra drag means that the remaining engine would be straining to keep the plane on the standard glide path to the runway.

For a plane that ordinarily can land in 5,000′, landing on a 12,000′ runway with one engine is a normal day at the office (sim). As noted above, this is the very situation for which nearly all of airline sim training is directed, albeit usually in uglier scenarios, such as an engine that fails just as the plane is taking off (a “V1 cut”). The wind was favorable on the morning of April 17, blowing straight down the runway at roughly 20 knots (on the recording you will hear the Tower controller saying that the wind is from 280 (magnetic west-northwest) and a plane pointed down 27L would have a magnetic heading of 267 degrees (“27” is short for “270”, a west heading; the L is because there is a parallel 27R and, to avoid confusion, the final parallel runway is “26”)). This reduces the touchdown groundspeed and therefore the landing distance (I was once a passenger on a B737 landing in Ushuaia, Argentina into a 50-knot headwind, which the pilots said was normal for Tierra del Fuego. The airspeed of 120 knots thus translated into a groundspeed of 70 knots, a slower touchdown than a Cirrus SR20 in calm wind conditions!)

Not to take away too much from the pilots’ achievement, but keep in mind that a Boeing 737 on one engine and no pressurization is still a much more capable aircraft than a typical light Cessna, Cirrus, or Piper. The autopilot is much better (if it even exists in the little plane!). The climb performance is better (not that this crew ever needed to climb). There are a lot more redundant systems. That’s why there is the standard joke about the airline captain who rents a Cessna from a flight school and puts “Will be declaring an emergency” in the remarks of the FAA flight plan form. The Tower controller later asks why and the captain responds “I’m going to be down to one engine, one radio, one navigation system, and no autopilot.”

If you’re looking for heroes, though, think about the flight attendants. They’re in the back of the plane with 140+ screaming passengers. There is a hole in the airplane. At least one person has suffered injuries that will prove to be fatal. Others are injured as well. They have received no training for this scenario. (Most flight attendant training, as I understand it, is directed at evacuations once the aircraft has landed.)

Some questions that friends have asked:

Why is the term “souls on board” used in aviation? Why does ATC ask? Does it matter if there are 50, 100 or 150 on board? Answer: They want to know fuel on board so they can figure out how much firefighting gear to bring to the scene and also S.O.B. so that they know when to stop searching for bodies. It is the standard phrase even for quotidian matters such as filing an IFR flight plan mid-air (e.g., if the weather turns out not to be clear as hoped).

What is an “extended final”? Answer: Based on the plan discussed in the ATC recording, the plane was lined up with the runway about 20 miles away rather than the usual 7 miles or so (for instrument conditions; it might be only 1 mile at a crazy airport such as LGA in VFR conditions; I wrote about this). That makes life easier for everyone.

Dumping fuel? Answer: 737 does not have a fuel dump capability. If you’re too heavy to land you fly around in circles for a while or just try to land gently so that you don’t stress the gear. If you’ve got a serious emergency and the plane is already damaged it doesn’t matter. You just land overweight. Remember that the max landing weight is for an incompetent landing and is mostly driven by how much abuse the gear can handle.

Do you think damage to cowling/wing/window affected flight performance in any measurable way? And if so, would autopilot recognize and be able to compensate? Answer: The autopilot will manipulate the controls to achieve its programmed goal, e.g., airspeed of 210 knots or heading of 180 (South). Airplanes are usually at least slightly misrigged so that the autopilot will have to hold a bit of left aileron pressure, for example, to keep the airplane from rolling off course. So slight damage to one wing would be like a worse-than-average rigging.

[If you want to truly scare yourself, read Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds: The Tragedy & Triumph of ASA Flight 529, about Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529, which suffered a prop failure and ended up with a huge amount of drag on one wing that could not be corrected by feathering or any other pilot action. The twin turboprop couldn’t hold altitude on the remaining engine. Flight attendant Robin Fech proved to be a true hero.]

So… let’s hear it for flight attendants who put their lives on the line every day and don’t get to log multi-engine turbine time or look out the front windows. Also for any passengers who got right on a replacement B737 and took off again from PHL to Dallas or wherever else they were ultimately headed. And let’s try to remember poor Jennifer Riordan, the unlucky passenger who died.


Starbucks: “Black Lives Matter, but not enough to train this month.”


In writing “While Starbucks runs a re-education camp for employees, can we run a re-education camp for customers?” I left out the most interesting part.

The racist incident occurred in mid-April. The anti-racism training is scheduled for May 29. So the corporate message is the following:

  1. racism is bad
  2. at least some Starbucks employees are racists (but won’t be after they get training)
  3. we’ll continue to operate our racist enterprise in a racist manner for another 1.5 months

This doesn’t seem like a good theme for a press release!


Quota system for movie directors means consumers will look for white male films?


Our MIT alumni magazine ran a feature on an alumna who works in Hollywood, Dottie Zicklin:

Dottie Zicklin was working on Wall Street when she decided she needed a change. So she drew from an interest she picked up at MIT—theater. … As a woman who came to directing later in her career, Zicklin is enthusiastic about the future for women in that profession. “There’s sort of a tipping point here in Hollywood where they really want female directors,” she says. For example, the influential television writer and producer Ryan Murphy wants half of his directors to be female, as does NBC, she says. “I got into it late because it’s really tough to break into as a woman, but I think the younger generation is really going to bust through this.”

[Now that i know that it is easy to break into Hollywood if you’re a white male, I will send you all my forwarding address in Santa Monica.]

“White Men Still Dominate Behind-the-Camera Jobs in TV” (Fortune):

Some top producers, such as Lee Daniels, Ryan Murphy and J.J. Abrams, have mandated hiring more women and minorities for their TV shows, and started programs to mentor aspiring writers and producers. Shows such as “Empire,” “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” have large portions of their writing staffs made up of minorities and women. Ava DuVernay hired only female directors for her TV show “Queen Sugar,’’ as did Frankie Shaw for her Showtime series “Smilf.’’

Diversity doesn’t guarantee ratings success. Fox’s viewership has slumped, even for “Empire,” and ABC has also lost ground despite featuring shows such as “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Black-ish” that star minorities.

If there is a quota system in place for everyone other than white males, doesn’t that mean that, on average, the white males who can overcome this discrimination will be more skilled than everyone else in the industry? If so, maybe consumers will start to seek out movies that are directed by white males and wait for streaming if a movie was directed by a female director with whom they aren’t familiar?

Perhaps skill in making films is simply a question of prejudice. “Sorry, Hollywood. Inclusion Riders Won’t Save You.” (nytimes):

Instead, the burden should be on white and male celebrities to realize that much of their power stems from their whiteness and maleness and to step back and empower marginalized people to have more roles on their sets, on and off camera.

In addition, studios could change their policies and actions. People in power should simply hire as many white women, people of color and L.G.B.T. people as possible. They should do so even at the perceived expense of white people, and even if those candidates are viewed as somehow “less qualified,” with the understanding that those perceptions are culturally fixed in racist notions and structures.

Perceived incompetence with Avid and Adobe Premiere is a cultural notion, according to the 2015 Harvard Law School graduate Rebecca Chapman (a photo suggests that she may identify as one of the “white women” whose hiring she promotes; I wonder if she would suggest that her law firm would have done better to hire a non-white woman (“twofer” in the old government contractor parlance) with apparently inferior qualifications).

Unless the government can force consumers to purchase tickets to female-directed movies or minority-directed movies, is it possible that we’ll begin to see audiences gravitating toward the creations of white males?

Social welfare academic does arithmetic and it turns out that we will be crazy rich soon


“When Children Grow Up Poor, the Nation Pays a Price” (nytimes) is by Mark Rank, a sociologist and “professor of social welfare”. It turns out that a nation can get rich as easily as spending money on welfare:

Our analysis indicated that for each dollar spent on reducing childhood poverty, the country would save at least $7 with respect to the economic costs of poverty.

Back in 2011, spending on federal welfare programs was roughly $60,000 per family (Senate Committee on the Budget). Adjusted for the inflation that the government assures us does not exist, that’s $68,000 today. At least in theory, nearly all of this money, free housing, free health care, free food, and free phone service shoveled out to adults is for the benefit of children. So if we use the sociologist’s arithmetic and assume that each welfare family has an average of two children, that would be $612,000 per child spend by taxpayers over an 18-year period. The return on investment will be $4.3 million, according to Professor Rank’s arithmetic.

Between 21 and 43 percent of children in the U.S. are eligible for welfare (source) and there were roughly 74 million children in 2010 (Census). Taking an estimate in the middle of the range, that’s roughly 25 million children who were on welfare in 2010. Each child will yield a return on investment of roughly $4.3 million. That’s a total of $100 trillion in profit to the U.S. government, 5X the national debt and sufficient, one would hope, to cover pension and health care liabilities that are not on the books as official debt, as well as money that has been borrowed by state and local governments.

While Starbucks runs a re-education camp for employees, can we run a re-education camp for customers?


Starbucks will shut down on May 29 to train employees: “Starbucks to Shut 8,000 U.S. Stores for Racial-Bias Training After Arrests” (nytimes). In other words, the company will run re-education camps without the heat and humidity of Vietnam and Cambodia.

Could we use the same day to run a re-education camp for Starbucks customers? Let me start on the syllabus and readers can fill in the details…

  • Lesson 1: There is a place called “McDonald’s” where insiders can purchase coffee for 99 cents and, even more miraculously, the food does not come out of a microwave.
  • Lesson 2: latte is actually “milk,” a drink for baby mammals.
  • Advanced Topics: How to obtain free refills on coffee at Panera.

Landing a helicopter in the middle of a jungle


Tomorrow at 4 pm there will be a dedication ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for a Vietnam helicopter aircrew monument (Army Times).

One of my early instructors told me that the U.S. government crashed 7,000 helicopters in Vietnam. Guts ‘N Gunships: What it was Really Like to Fly Combat Helicopters in Vietnam is a reasonably good explanation as to how this could have happened. (The book is included with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.)


In Advanced Primary Flight School at Fort Wolters, you were taught to land in what was called white, yellow, or red tire areas located in the Texas countryside, usually on the bluffs. These target areas had painted automobile tires in them that could be seen easily from the air. The white tire areas were fairly large and spacious and comparatively easy to fly in and out of. The yellow tire areas were smaller and more difficult to negotiate, and a student had to be with an instructor or be cleared by an instructor to fly into them solo. The red tire areas were small, and it took a lot of precision to get in and out of them. A student had to be accompanied by an instructor to fly into them. Working on more advanced maneuvers and flying in and out of these tire areas was the bulk of the rest of the training, along with continued study in ground school courses. When a student would fly solo into one of these areas, he would land and follow a precise procedure for safety’s sake.


The slick aircraft in our company was the UH1H model that was powered by a Lycoming, turbofan jet engine that generated 1,500 horsepower called a T-13. Its rotor blades had a chord (width) of 21 inches and were rather long.

The payload of the aircraft (how much weight it could carry) was about 4,000 pounds, which translates into ten to twelve troops including the crew, and a full load of JP 4 jet fuel that weighed 1,600 lbs. The aircraft had a loaded cruise speed of eighty knots, but unloaded it would usually cruise at over 100 knots and still maintain its altitude. The gunship pilots however flew a UH1C model, commonly known as a Charlie model that was equipped with a Lycoming turbofan jet engine that produced 1100 horsepower called a T-11. It had what is known as a 540 rotor system with a 27-inch chord of the blades, built more for speed and maneuverability. These aircraft took a lot of precision flying just to safely get them off the ground when they were loaded with rockets, ammunition, and a full 1,600 lbs of JP 4 jet fuel, because they were often underpowered.

Another thing that necessitates intensive in-country training from the senior pilots is the necessity of squeezing a chopper into very tight landing zones (LZ) especially with a bunch of enemy troops shooting at you. Sometimes there was only a few feet clearance for the spinning rotor blades before getting into trees, other helicopters, or God knows what. For instance, dropping a four-man Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP Team) into a deep, dark hole in the triple canopy jungle in Nam, when there was barely enough room for one chopper, and barely two- feet clearance of the blades on all sides, was, by no means, an easy feat. Again it was a hard job made even more treacherous when receiving enemy fire.

In the civilian world, the aircraft commander flies from the right seat in a helicopter and from the left seat in a fixed wing aircraft. In Vietnam combat slick pilots flew command from the left seat, because they were always flying into very tight areas, and they needed all the visibility they could get through the chin bubble and the instrument panel was skewed to the right. This obstructed their view somewhat from the right seat. Gunship pilots, on the other hand, followed the civilian tradition, and flew command from the right seat, because they didn’t generally fly into tight LZs.

Triple canopy jungle has three major growth levels of trees. The first level reaches a height of about 25 to 30 feet, and the tops form a sort of canopy. The second level is taller, and reaches to about 50 to 60 feet before it canopies. The last and tallest growth of trees may reach, in places, over a hundred feet high, before it forms the top and final canopy.

Cowboy and I made the approach to the area, and came to a hover over a hole in the jungle that I swore didn’t have room for half a Huey, let alone a whole one. When we stabilized, Cowboy lowered pitch and started down into the deep, dark hole. It didn’t look to me like we had two feet clearance on the blades, and I was as nervous as a whore in church. The door gunner and crew chief were talking earnestly to Cowboy, saying: “About two feet tail rotor clearance on the left, Sir. Whoa, whoa, you’re out of room, Sir!” Then from the right backside, “No more room back, Sir. Only about a foot on the right.” In the front, it didn’t look to me like we had any room to spare at all. It looked as if the blades would strike the trees at any moment, and we would go down in a fiery ball. I glanced at Cowboy. I had never seen such intense concentration on a man’s face in my life. He was staring straight ahead and glancing down through the chin bubble. We were now half way down at an altitude above the jungle floor of about fifty feet. The light faded, getting dimmer and dimmer as we descended.

Then, just when I thought that things couldn’t possibly get worse, they did. Things got a lot worse. It became a descent into Hell itself. Without warning, the whole LZ lit up with enemy, automatic bursts of AK47 fire, and it seemed all of Hell escaped its gates. Rounds were hitting the aircraft now, with that all too familiar slapping ping sound. One round came through the Fox Mike Radio that set between Cowboy and I, knocking it out, and then exited through the ceiling plexiglass panel in the cockpit. Cowboy screamed in the UHF Radio: “Receiving heavy fire!! Receiving heavy fire!! Nine o’clock! Nine o’clock! Right on LZ perimeter!!!” Both the door gunner and crew chief had already opened up with the tripod-mounted M60s with suppressive fire. Hot brass casings flew all over the aircraft. The LRRPs on board opened up with their M16s and more casings flew, two of them lodging under my shirt collar and descending onto my bare back, burning my flesh, as I flinched forward thinking once again, that this time, I had been shot for sure. We were still at about 30 feet altitude and it was too high for the LRRPs to jump. As I have previously mentioned, the enemy troops had learned to wait silently and hidden until the aircraft was half way down in the LZ. They knew we would not have the power to pull out until we got rid of some weight, in this case, the LRRPs.

Unexpected hazards:

One of the reasons a thorough preflight check was necessary was because of the sappers (enemy insurgents) who often managed to sneak through the perimeter at night, and booby trap aircraft, among other things. One of the things they were most notorious for, was pulling the pin on a hand grenade and putting a rubber band around the handle to keep it from activating. Next they would remove the fuel cap on a Huey, drop the grenade in the fuel tank, and replace the cap. A couple of hours later the fuel would dissolve the rubber band, letting the handle release, and boom goes the Huey. It’s bad enough if it goes off on the ground, let alone when the Huey is airborne. To counter this, when we left the aircraft in the evening after a mission, we would put a small pencil line on the fuel cap, extending onto the surrounding metal, and if this line did not line up exactly the next morning, you got the hell away from the aircraft in a hurry, and called the bomb squad.

The author explains that he actually transitioned to flying gunships, which attracted a huge amount of enemy fire, because landing in tight spots within the jungle terrified him.

The book is also pretty good for helping the reader understand why Vietnam was so challenging compared to our current desert conflicts. Despite the use of Agent Orange, the enemy was almost always hidden by the jungle and the helicopter pilots never knew when they would face concentrated rifle fire or worse.

More: Read Guts ‘N Gunships: What it was Really Like to Fly Combat Helicopters in Vietnam.

Is it necessary to purge the wife when dispatching a #MeToo offender?


“Sex Abuse Scandal Casts Shadow Over Nobel Prize for Literature” (nytimes) has a slight twist:

the newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported that 18 women had accused Jean-Claude Arnault, a major cultural figure with close ties to the academy, of sexual assault and harassment. Mr. Arnault is married to the poet Katarina Frostenson, a member of the academy, …

Ms. Frostenson has refused to step down from the academy, despite calls for her to do so. In a recent closed-door vote, eight members voted to keep her on the board and six voted to oust her. (Ms. Frostenson did not vote.)

Presumably the wife did not endorse any sexual activities between her husband and other/younger women. Why then does she have to be purged?

[Separately, if you were looking for a definition of “not woke”:

Worsening the scandal, new evidence has emerged showing that as early as 1996, a textile artist, Anna-Karin Bylund, complained to the academy’s top administrator at the time, Sture Allen, about sexual harassment by Mr. Arnault. Mr. Allen, who remains a member of the academy, has said he did not act on the letter because “the contents of the letter didn’t seem important.”



  • Knut Hamsun, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature who later became a supporter of Hitler (apparently this was less problematic than the #MeToo issues!)
  • Ernest Hemingway, a recipient who had “endless mistresses” (Daily Mail)
  • Bob Dylan, a recipient who may have interacted with at least one or two women?
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