Remembering the Stars and Stripes

SkyGeek may not be some things, like a Fortune 500 company. We are not big business. But there is one thing you can be sure of: We are proud to be American.

As we celebrate Fourth of July, among the BBQs and the fireworks we realize that sometimes the more important aspects of the holiday are pushed aside.

Freedom and independence – ideals that were hoped for by a bunch of colonial rebels and now are dreams realized and remembered among the stars and stripes of Old Glory.

Imagine being a minuteman up against a formidable opponent, a lobsterback, a soldier better equipped and suited for combat? To be outnumbered and out-trained is enough to retreat for good. Isn’t it amazing that colonials in the 1770s didn’t back down when it made sense to?

History tells who prevailed and that is why year after year we celebrate those who sacrificed to ensure a country was established based primarily on inalienable rights for citizens seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Fast forward to today and you will see America has grown to a superpower. Pretty impressive given such humble beginnings.

This may seem like a a long rant. It is (hey, it’s my inalienable right). But there is a point.

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The little engine that could. The logo for yellowairplane.com.

SkyGeek is a small business and while other aviation supply companies are bigger, that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to fight to serve you, the customer. Perhaps our journey will be like America’s, an underdog ready to rise and eventually reaching the top. We shall see if history favors us…

Speaking of history and speaking of underdogs I want to mention a nice site I stumbled on recently: yellowairplane.com.

At first glance, this site looks like a piece of history itself – something out of the 1990s. The layout is in need of an upgrade and the links are not very refined. But the amount of research and effort put into the content is commendable.

I applaud the owner of the site for compiling a list of aviation museums, which a visitor can search by state. I think this is a great site not only for Fourth of July but one way to discover ideas for summer vacations or really vacations of any kind, especially for aviation enthusiasts.

“These airplane museums not only tell about aviation history, but they tell us about the history of all mankind. They tell us about the tremendous wars that we have fought to keep our freedom.”

Who wouldn’t love to explore a site with that kind of mission statement?

Yellowairplane.com may no longer have an up-to-date list as information is always changing. What I would say is explore the site and give the owner feedback so he can improve an already comprehensive directory. It would be wonderful to contribute and help out someone so determined to preserve and promote aviation. A true patriot!

Do UAVs Wear Bomber Jackets?

Ever play with toy planes, you know those that require a remote control? Ever wonder if they could be designed for more than just sport and recreation?

Well, child’s play is over. Adults want in on remote controlled flying vehicles and it isn’t for the purposes of impressing the neighbors or making fun-time at a birthday party.

They’re called unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, and they’re the poster child for robotics and their future role in military operations.

The concept of UAVs is nothing new. Ideas about its use in combat have been around since World War I. During the Cold War, the U.S. began to seriously consider the development of UAVs. And by the time the Vietnam War rolled around, UAVs were in their infancy.

The proliferation of UAVs can be attributed to a less geographic –specific conflict and a more pervasive enemy: the War on Terrorism.

According to Daniel L. Byman, Research Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, the Obama administration has authorized over 400 UAV strikes up to August 2013. In comparison, former President George W. Bush approved of fewer than 50. This evidence suggests that UAVs are here to stay.

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Toying against terrorism. Soldier using a mini-drone. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin via the Orlando Sentinel.

From an Armed Forces perspective, the use of UAVs is practical. Using UAVs—sometimes referred to as drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)— in place of a pilot and a plane lends itself to many advantages. Obviously a drone shot down will result in fewer fatalities in the sky. Drones also are more economical as they are more compact, weigh less, cost less, and can stay in flight longer. It makes sense to use them.

Besides acting as targeted killing machines, drones also serve as efficient means of surveillance and reconnaissance. UAVs have even been employed by the movie industry. Benefits there are aplenty.

But while this invention sounds like a welcomed vision out of science fiction the reality is that controversy surrounds their use. Several ethical and moral issues arise. What criteria are used to justify the use of a drone strike? UAVs may be an effective tool for our war on terrorism but are they themselves promulgating fear as well? What effect does it have on a population to have drones flying around them? Do citizens exposed to their presence feel safer or more scared?

What seems to be dismissed at least in part in this ongoing debate is the loss of the human element. Sure UAVs are advantageous in many ways and they work and will continue to work for various purposes. But what concerns this writer is at what cost?

Let’s put aside the fact that innocent civilians can be killed or that this brings to mind notions of “Big Brother” spying on the world population? Is there honor in this type of warfare?

I’m reminded of a book I read years ago called Wired for War. In it author P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells of how robotics technology is revolutionizing the battlefield. A few points stood out:

+++The widespread use of robots has created a more intimate relationship between man and machine. At one point, Singer mentions how a soldier showed remorse when a robot was destroyed by an al-Qaeda planted IED (Improvised Explosive Device) that it was designed to detect. It was like how some law enforcement officers grow attached to bomb-sniffing dogs.

+++Knowing that generations born after 1976 are more tech savvy and into gaming, the military encourages the use of video games such as Call of Duty and even uses controllers that resemble ones used in gaming consoles for use in operating robotics.

+++Portions of the book suggest that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 on American soil was a way of al-Qaeda addressing what they consider US cowardice. By having UAVs fight our enemies from a distance and not directly confronting them face-to-face, terrorists feel compelled to target the location and source of the mechanized warriors, i.e. bring the fight to the continental US.

And so while writing this, I wondered: Do UAVs wear bomber jackets?

Obviously they don’t require clothing but what I mean is does the use of UAVs warrant pride? Bomber jackets became a popular symbol of style and adventure, but more importantly they became a symbol of honor.

This post is not a condemnation of UAVs nor is it an advertisement. However, with their ever-increasing use in public and private matters more awareness should be raised.

Like any piece of technology, its use will determine the merits of its existence. But unless some UN-sponsored ban is placed on them, UAVs will continue to gain ground as a permanent fixture of military operations and will undoubtedly, in time, find more applications, both commercial and maybe even one day civilian. Are we ready for that kind of future?

The Space Above, The Space Within

When we think of space it is always with a tilted head upward. Look toward the stars, they are the future of exploration.To some it is the “Great Beyond.” Undiscovered planets and the potential resources they may provide are the things of imagination and science fiction.

When we think about space and space exploration, certain keywords come to mind. Solar systems. Black holes. Supernovas. Constellations. Stephen Hawking.

And of course, NASA.

NASA is as American as baseball or apple pie. It’s an institution, a symbol for forward thinking, advanced technology with a scope that goes beyond our borders. It is the Promised Land for countless nerds, geeks, and technophiles in search of etching their name in the Annals of History.

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The Official NASA insignia. Unofficially, it’s a symbol for forward thinking and progress.

While this post is not an exploration about the agency’s history, there are plenty of NASA Facts out there in cyberspace, including some from Buzzle.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was founded in the late 1950s. One of the primary reasons the agency was established: to beat Communist Russia and win the Space Race. Fortunately, there is no more Cold War. Instead, the only competition between Russia and the U.S. is now viewed for sport during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

But while most recognize NASA and its prolific space program, their research into landing on the moon, Mars, or anywhere else has benefited and continues to benefit us here on Earth.

Through each technological advancement humankind has taken one giant leap into a better tomorrow. NASA’s contributions toward that cause are certainly astronomical.

Don’t believe me? Think about it. In order to build rockets and space shuttles that will withstand immense forces and pressures not normally experienced at ground level, you have a staff of certifiable geniuses constructing the means to defy gravity, shielding precious cargo, and catapulting people outside of an atmosphere that sustains life. And then you have to replicate conditions on Earth in these man-made structures and have people live in zero gravity. Yeah, that’s not impressive (sarcasm).

Sadly, not all those that govern our country consider NASA’s accomplishments as practical or as worthy of the praise that its reputation once garnered when Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words to Mission Control back in 1969.

In recent years, the government has decided to impose cutbacks on NASA’s funding. Apparently space exploration is not as much of a priority as it was in decades past. Trips to Mars will remain, for now, a distant dream that reality cannot support.

Perhaps those in favor of slashing funds would be well advised to search the confines of their immediate surroundings and realize the agency’s influence is not beyond reach. In fact, the by-products of NASA’s interstellar escapades are ironically put to use in our everyday lives. Better tech equates to a better quality of life. That is a fact you can bank on and to which a definitive return on investment cannot be measured.

To demonstrate the value of their efforts, here’s a fragment of products that we can thank NASA for helping to invent:

Water Filters
Cordless Tools(some of which we sell)
Scratch-Resistant Lenses
Shoe Insoles
Camera Phones

According to the Buzzle article from which this partial list is derived, there are over “1300 commercialized NASA inventions that have benefited the world.

Of course such technological innovations are major players in the aviation industry as well. Modern aircraft operate much better due to “spin-off” technology from NASA’s research and development initiatives.

Absolutely fascinating.

And while grand stories of public heroics about the agency are as numerous as the stars, personal ones are just important to our national dialogue. I didn’t know much about my grandfather, who passed away when I was 12-years-old. But I recently discovered that my grandfather helped design and test the actual battery used to run the spacecraft used in NASA’s Gemini Project, which ran from 1962-1966. Here is a man that didn’t graduate from MIT—he  fought in World War II and didn’t even finish high school— but in his own way contributed to space exploration. He is among those in the Annals of History.

It’s amazing how NASA has inspired and influenced us. ..

There’s a running joke at SkyGeek Headquarters that we need a link from NASA to our site, but when I look around with my plastic, scratch resistant lens glasses at my bottle that contains filtered water, I know that we are in many ways already connected.

The love for making the unknown known is at the heart of NASA’s mission. And exploring and discovering the nature of the universe is something that is incalculable in transforming the lives of us all. Now let me ask you this: Isn’t that worth something beyond budgetary constraints?

Cockpit Commentary: A Trip to the Past

Flying is dangerous.

That is the somber sentiment I am reminded of from time to time.

Human beings are not naturally gifted with the ability to defy gravity. Yet we did it—at least through innovation and technology. Unfortunately, with such triumph came sacrifices. A lot of trials, tribulations, and tragedies were the expenses paid for sustained flight. But we persevered, evident by the mundane modern flight we experience every day.

As a global society, most of us almost intuitively understand the benefits of air travel; they are immeasurable. Flying saves time, it saves money. It’s good for business. There are countless ways it has collectively improved our lives, directly and/or indirectly.

Commercial flight has been around for decades. What’s your business? What’s your pleasure? Going on vacation? Let us take your bags. Let us accommodate you and make your trip enjoyable.

Originally, that was the ideal vision of air travel and for awhile I suppose it existed. But that fairy tale is pretty much just dust in the wind.

Since 9/11, air travel has been anything but novel and flying seems anything but convenient. The word “luxury” exists but in smaller supplies. Don’t expect a full meal; you’ll get a bag of peanuts and like it. Fees for this and fees for that. Oh wait, you can’t bring that nose clipper on board because it might be a grenade launcher. Security is tight. Terrorism pervades the tarmac. Flight is seriously not a prelude to fascination and fun.

My sunglasses have long ceased to be rose-colored.

More planes in the air mean tireless coordination and navigation to minimize collision. And in addition to increasingly screwy weather in the last few years, there’s an even greater possibility for delays.

You know what else causes delays? Mentally unstable individuals that cause chaos in airport terminals.

I’m sure many of you reading are well aware of the recent LAX incident. It’s sad. Whenever such stories crop up (which seems to be more and more frequent) I shake my head and wonder why. Why do we, despite elevated security, continue to witness threats like this in the news?

I don’t have an answer. But my thoughts often make we wish I could take a special trip to the past, when something like a terrorist on a plane was as uncommon to the natural order as flying cars.

I found this clip. It’s a 1958 Pan Am commercial that displays their 707 jet service.

Would you look at that food? Would you look at that service? The dishes and meals look like a five-star restaurant! Air travel certainly seemed much better.

Of course, that is only a matter of perspective. Flying was comparatively much more expensive right after WWII. The perks of flying were much different as well. Would you rather play with a puzzle (1950s) or watch a Blu-Ray of the latest blockbuster (today)? Would you rather be able to light a cigarette (1950s) or be squished by a nearby passenger’s encroaching waistline?

There are merits and advantages to both decades of flight. I’m not about to begin to tell a reader that the 1950s was perfect for aviation. Watching the above clip might be painful but is it as painful as being poked and probed by TSA officials? That’s your call.

I guess the point of my ramblings is to show that while air travel has advanced considerably, we still have a ways to go. And while more complicated security measures are sure to be enacted, I often yearn for a simpler time. A time when entering a plane wasn’t a pain and your head was filled with wonder not the effects of a migraine produced by bureaucratic red tape.

I guess for now I will have to be content with putting on the occasional rose-colored pair of sunglasses.