Fully armed Lt Wilson lowers himself onto HMS Queen Elizabeth

Lt. Wilson ©Royal Navy 

The Hawker Siddeley Harrier, developed in the 1960s, is the first of the Harrier Jump Jet series of aircraft that could land vertically. But since then it has taken half a century longer to land one of these vertical takeoff aircraft on an aircraft carrier fully loaded with all its weapons without hovering alongside. I’ll explain. 

SpaceX is landing its booster rockets back aboard floating launch pads, so what’s the big deal you ask? I suppose it’s a saving at the same time as being a wondrous piece of flying. To land a plane vertically on a heaving deck of a ship while fully armed with missiles and fuel totalling 2,000 pounds is what the big  deal is all about.

Previously, the Hawker would have to jettison its payload before landing by a different method, hovering alongside the aircraft carrier.  That could see hundreds of thousands of dollars being dropping into the sea if it hadn’t fired off its inventory, never mind the environmental impact over the years. 

But the other big difference is that the old fashioned Hawkers would approach the ship very much as a helicopter, hover alongside, crab over the landing area, then touch down. 

Russia developed a Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL), but it required deck nets, which is not the same as an aircraft flying to a halt using brakes on board a heaving deck. Still, the Yak-38 “Forger” became operational with the Soviet Navy in the early 1970s and had a few technical issues. One was its incredibly high fuel consumption which reduced range after being flown vertically. While it technically achieved the SRVL, the use of nets meant it was not a true example of an autonomous landing. Nets are another form of cable which catch the plane as it arrives at normal landing speed.  

Yak-38 ©US Navy 

The SRVL technique is far more difficult. The aircraft hovers behind the ship, then lands straight down the deck using its own brakes instead of dropping and flying at a measly 60 knots. Most general aviation aircraft are close to stalling at this speed, it is really slow. 

F-35B’s thrust vectoring nozzle and lift fan ©Wikipedia

The physics required and the skill to achieve this has taken more than 25 years of planning to get right. It’s taken longer to plan and carry out this landing than it took NASA to plan and conduct the latest Mars Landing called InSight. 

And for codgers flying about like me, this story is motivational. That’s because the United States Civil Air Patrol was involved, which features mainly retired pilots who continue to fly on various duties for the nation. 

CAP Maryland Wing 2nd Lt. Peter Wilson is the hero of this story, and his tale is fascinating. He was flying the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and landed on the deck of the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. What he achieved was fairly simple in terms of the goal. The land the F-35B straight down the runway, without a wire and hook, and carrying more than 2,000 pounds of weapons and fuel. It was fully loaded.

Lockheed Martin F-35B 

Lieutenant Wilson has been directly involved in training for this one landing since 2006. That’s when he and his family moved from the UK to Texas to be closer to the Lockheed Martin aircraft factory. They moved again to Maryland to be near the Pax River Naval Air Station.

But he started working on the project even before training formally started. For over twenty years he’s worked as a test pilot for BAE systems, and much of his time at the company has been focused on achieving the feat of a SRVL.

So on October 14 2018, he donned his kit, climbed aboard the F-35B which was fully fuelled and armed, took off in the usual way (being slung into the heavens), then flew back to the HMS Queen Elizabeth and landed on deck without a cable, braked, stopped. Wiped sweat from his brow. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth ©Wikipedia

As pilots, we use lights to guide is in for visual landings, they’re called PAPIs. Precision Approach Path Indicator. In the case of Lt Wilson, the PAPIs were a range of lights on board the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

There are  21 pairs of lights embedded in the ship’s runway centre line, where the pilot sees red lights marking the beginning and end of the touchdown zone. He/She must then aim at a single pair of white lights that show them where to land on the heaving deck. As the bow rises, the lights move further forward, as it falls, they move further back.  

The view from Lt Wilson’s aircraft of the light array on board HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

After Wilson landed, a second test pilot flew off and completed the same test successfully. The UK is now working on making this process operational which could save the Navy millions of dollars over the next few years as it flights Vertical aircraft into missions. 

A Focke-Wulf in Vespa clothing

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The magnificent P149 I flew on 21 October 2008 – now converted to non-type certified ZU-FWP.

I once flew a Focke-Wulf Piaggio D149. Yes, it was one of the more memorable flights and yet, was also one of the shortest. A hop from Rand Airport to Lanseria, co-pilot aboard the Piaggio D149 FWP, licensed and produced by Focke-Wulf of Germany, manufactured in 1953, registration ZS-FWP. Zulu-Sierra Foxtrot Whisky Pappa.

Historic, total time 0.3. Which is 15 minutes. Why the excitement you ask? As I will explain, Piaggo Aerospace is one of the oldest motor or tech companies in the world, with its history going back to 1884. Unfortunately, the aviation arm is now bankrupt. More about this matter below. But first, a memory.

It’s Spring in Johannesburg, temperature  30˙,  really hot on 21st October 2008. and the plane had not flown for a year and flight instructor Russell Donaldson busied himself around the hangar checking the “warbird”. The D149 single engined “beastie” as Russell called it was manufactured after the Second World War, and it smelled of old oil, ageing leather and hot aluminium.

No pictures exist of that day, just this entry in my logbook. Russell would probably just shrug anyway, he’s flown just about everything with wings since he took off in 1962.

The year of my birth.

2008-10-21 – D149 Piaggio – ZS FWP

We were far too busy that morning at Rand Airport ensuring that this aged plane would actually get us off the ground in weather that was both hot and high. Being a rookie, my role was to hand tools to Russell who spent more than an hour going over the log book, the engine, and the plane. We weren’t entirely certain it would start.

But FWP turned over and purred like a big cat. Its thundering engine made the seats tremble, the Lycoming GO-480 B1A6 flat-six geared piston engine blasting away.

I must admit I was nervous, yet all my job entailed was to flip the undercarriage lever up and keep a close eye on the oil pressure, and a little radio comms. Russell was going to heave the “beastie” into the air and needed every ounce of focus on the aircraft.

The run up took 15 minutes as we listened  for any sign of engine trouble. It also gave the Lycoming time to heat up so that any oil leaks or fuel fires would hopefully start now, if they were to start at all.

No fires. We’re off.

Russell taxied out to runway 350 and turned left at the threshold instead of right, saying he wanted as much runway as possible. He also knew that at the end was a golf course, a couple of warehouses, and mine dumps. If we had to go down, rather there than towards suburbia on runway 290.

Runway 350 is 4800 feet long and 50 feet wide – 1463 x 15 meters. That’s not a lot of space for mistakes.

We began the 4750 run from the very edge of runway 350.

My heart was in my mouth as the old warbird gathered speed, and finally 70 knots – ROTATE!

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This map points due north (at the top), therefore, runway 350 is the one starting near the word “Google” middle/bottom and ending near the golf course, top left. Where we scared some blokes with clubs. 

As the wheels left the tar I flipped the undercarriage lever up and fixated on the oil pressure and temperature gauge. All good so far.

We just cleared the trees and I saw golfers eyes flash past below. That was low.

After we climbed to 6500 feet Russell said “You’ve got her” and I held the stick. No yoke or side lever here it was just good old fashioned stick between the legs stuff.

A few minutes later we were in Lanseria Airspace, Russell took over, undercarriage down, land.

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FAGM to FALA – whack whack. Done. 

What an experience on so many levels. But this tale has a sad ending. Piaggio Aviation, you see, have just declared business rescue – the company is bankrupt.

Which is confusing because Piaggio also produces the wonderful moped known as Vespa which is a roaring success.

Founded in 1884, Piaggio Aero Industries is one of the world’s oldest aircraft manufacturers and has always designed unusual planes. Probably the most unusual is its final plane, the flagship P180 Avanti II, a twin-engine, turboprop executive aircraft known for its “distinctive styling, spacious interior and low fuel consumption”.

The main problem, however, has been the business of aviation. There’s no doubt the Avanti II is the best of its kind in the world.

The company manufactured in short bursts, and that was its achilles heel. For example, the Avanti Evo is one of the best looking planes ever built. Yes, beauty is sometime in the eye of the beholder, but here’s a picture.

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Here’s another :

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Wiping saliva from desk beautiful .. .the Piaggio Evo. 

The Avanti II producer is now insolvent, in special administration. That is despite being bought by a Sheik. Well, by Mubadala, an investment fund based in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

This is a real pity for world aviation and pure blooded brilliant aviation design. The company was busy with unmanned reconnaissance aircraft design too, called The Hammerhead. As you can see, the Evo is pretty much a Hammerhead.

Piaggio are probably more famous for the Vespa, through the official motoring company Piaggio & C. SpA. They produce seven brands, including the Vespa, Gilera, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Derbi and Scarabeo.

Quite a change from a company that was formed to build locomotives and railway carriages.

As with all Italian mechanical engineering companies, at first the company build defence type machines too. Like motorboats, then anti-submarine motorboats, aeroplanes, seaplanes, and onwards to land.

Between 1937 and 1939 Piaggio broke 21 world aviation records for both aircraft and engine design. The most feared for allies was the Piaggio-P.108 bomber.

That attracted attention, and in 1940 the company’s Pontedera plant was flattened by Allied bombing. After the war, the company diversified and the MP5 or Paperino (Italian name for Donald Duck) was born. All because the first Vespa was so strangely shaped.

After a few rejigs, the Vespa proper (which means wasp) was born, and by the sixties, more than a million of these fund bikes were rolling around Europe.

And Italians got a new word – “vespare” which means to go around on a Vespa.

But I must say I’m rather sad. The fantastic Piaggio D149 that I flew across Johannesburg in 2008 remains in my memory for its pure-bred power and excitement.

One of these is still around in South Africa, the ZS-FWP that I flew has been altered to a ZU-FWP non-type certified and is hangared last I heard at Baragwanath airfield.

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The latest Wasp – electric. Don’t tell Donald Chimp. 

Air India Drunk Pilot Hiccup and another Naughty Gupta Hair Of The Dog


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Arvind Kathpalia Facebook mug shot. 

Not sober. That was how Captain Arvind Kathpalia was described after he tested positive for alcohol levels in his blood that would have floored a college drinking club master of the CH3CH2OH before an Air India flight AI-111 from Delhi to London.

The drunk was supposed to fly a 787 Dreamliner with about 300 passengers on board.

No doubt it was sobering for these 300 upon hearing their great and glorious chief aviator had been saved from himself by a simple puff into a plastic straw.

It’s the second time in less than two years that Kathpalia was apparently poegaai before a flight. Just to add insult to injury for South East Asian aviation buffs, Captain Kathpalia is also a board member at Air India and in charge of air operations.

Or was.

The mid-afternoon flight was delayed while a stand-by pilot was called in, and Kathpalia is now shamed across the country. This should never have happened, he should have been removed from the roster a year ago when he crooked a breathalyser test and was caught red-handed on CCTV.

What must come as a bit of a shock is that (ex)-Captain Kathpalia was promoted into the position of overall command of Air India operations in January 2017. That was only two months before he was blotto in Delhi the first time around.

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Look carefully. Is that Captain Arvind Kathpalia slumped in the left seat? Can’t tell. ©Facebook 

It’s a year later and he’s blotto again.

Worse news still, every year at least twenty pilots are grounded for failing the breathalyser test according to the Times of India.

It also reports while its a crime to drive under the influence in India, its not a crime to fly under the influence.

Yes, the aviation authorities can suspend you, but there is no criminal charge. Which is why pilots continue to try to fly while babelaas because they haven’t experienced the delights of Delhi or Mumbai correctional service system.

It’s only when you’re punished that you stop doing bad things. In South Africa you’re arrested as a driver and flung into penitentiary and that’s as a driver, while as a pilot a dronk gat aviator would be suspended immediately and probably lose his/her license.

As soon as we begin to fly as student pilots, the instructors are on the lookout  for drug and alcohol abuse. They lean towards you before each flight, subtly checking your eyeballs and during the briefing, and reminding you that alcohol is a poison.

They tell you stories of the hippie from Durban who partook assiduously of a delicate herb and  was last heard on radio reporting he was flying in an easterly direction out of Virginia Airport in heavy clouds and singing “No coastline no cry”.

Wreckage never located.

The little ditty pilots recite is “8 hours between bottle and throttle”.

According to FAA rules :

A pilot may not attempt to fly an aircraft or even attempt to be a crew member of a civil aircraft 1:

  • Within 8 hours after consuming alcohol;
  • While under the influence of alcohol;
  • While under the influence of any drug that impairs a person in a way which is is contrary to safety;
  • While having a blood alcohol concentration equal to or greater than 0.04 grams per decilitre of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 litres of breath.

Airlines can deny you boarding rights if you’re drunk AS A PASSENGER.

If you have six beers and then a few shooters, let say three, that amounts to a binge. This takes up to 72 hours to work out of your system fully. Yes, 8 hours later you are what appears to be sober, but the hangover you’re enduring is actually the alcohol slowly squeezing out of your body.

Imagine a pilot experiencing babelaas followed by moderate to severe turbulence.


(ex)-Captain Kathpalia was previously caught cheating the system in March 2017 when he was asked to breath into an “anayzer” and refused, leaping aboard his plane instead.

The Delhi to Bengaluru flight AI-174.

When he landed back in Delhi later that day, he entered the testing office and made a false entry in the log book but was caught on CCTV.

The Indian Pilots Union filed a complaint against Kathpalia and his possible bottle buddy,  former joint Director General of Civil Aviation in India, Lalit Gupta, who appeared to cover for him during his hearing.

Eventually Kathpalia was suspended for 5 months, but miraculously Gupta and his ilk signed him back into the left-hand all powerful Captain’s chair and back into his job as head of Air Operations after a paltry three months.

Ja-nee, all you need is high friends in places.

Lukla Airport, Nepal. No drunks allowed. 

Hangovers are not for pilots. The main symptoms of a hangover are exactly what you want to avoid as a passenger, let alone a pilot.

Drinking all night then trying to fly 300 people to another country is not just stupid, its criminal.

Hangovers cause mood swings, they cause a drop in blood sugar, dehydrate you, cause sleep deprivation, increases the heart rate and leads to a loss of focus.

It also causes shaking and a sensitivity to light. Dr. Lindsay Henderson who’s a psychologist quoted by Insider says hangovers include “dehydration and a drop in blood sugar, both of which have distinct physical symptoms that include dizziness, nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness, shaking, numbness, racing heart, and confusion.”

Not what Captain Biggles wants as she begins the steep descent into Nepal’s notoriously dangerous Lukla Airport in the Himalayas, throwing up into the little bag and shivering while wishing for hair of the dog.


Lion Air horror show continues with flight JT610

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This blog has complained frequently of the uselessness of Indonesian Aviation authorities.

The latest is ANOTHER Lion Air incident which also happens to be the worst air crash of 2018.

One hundred and eighty nine people are dead.

If there is one thing you must know deep in your marrow, dear reader, it is this:

Do not fly on any Indonesian low cost airline if you value you or your family’s life. 

Australia, which admitted isn’t Indonesia’s closest chommie*, has banned its officials from flying on Lion Air with immediate effect, along with the company’s two other related airlines.

“Following the fatal crash of a Lion Air plane on 29 October 2018, Australian government officials and contractors have been instructed not to fly on Lion Air. This decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear,” said Australia’s Federal Authority on October 30th.

Here is a list of Lion Air incidents over the past decade and a bit for those who think this blog is surrendering to anti-Indonesian propaganda.

  1. On 14 January 2002, Lion Air Flight 386, a Boeing 737-200 crashed after trying to take-off with an incorrect flap configuration at Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport. Everyone on board survived but the aircraft was written off
  2. On 30 November 2004, Lion Air Flight 538, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, crashed in Surakarta with registration PK-LMN (c/n 49189); 25 people died.
  3. On 4 March 2006, Lion Air Flight 8987, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, crashed after landing at Juanda International Airport. Reverse thrust was used during landing, although the left thrust reverser was stated to be out of service. This caused the aircraft to veer to the right and skid off the runway, coming to rest about 7,000 feet (2,100 m) from the approach end of the runway. There were no fatalities, but the aircraft was badly damaged and later written off.
  4. On 24 December 2006, Lion Air Flight 792, a Boeing 737-400, landed with an incorrect flap configuration and was not aligned with the runway. The plane landed hard and skidded along the runway causing the right main landing gear to detach, the left gear to protrude through the wing and some of the aircraft fuselage to be wrinkled. There were no fatalities, but the aircraft was written off.
  5. On 23 February 2009, Lion Air Flight 972, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 landed without the nose gear at Hang Nadim International Airport, Batam.
  6. On 9 March 2009, Lion Air Flight 793, a McDonnell Douglas MD-90-30 (registration PK-LIL) ran off the runway at Soekarno–Hatta International Airport. No-one was injured.
  7. On 2 November 2010, Lion Air Flight 712, a Boeing 737-400 (registration PK-LIQ) overran the runway on landing at Supadio AirportPontianak, coming to rest on its belly and sustaining damage to its nose gear. All 174 passengers and crew evacuated by the emergency slides, with few injuries.
  8. On 13 April 2013, Lion Air Flight 904, a Boeing 737-800 (registration PK-LKS; c/n 38728) from Bandung to Denpasar with 108 people on board, crashed into the water near Denpasar/Bali while attempting to land. The aircraft’s fuselage broke into two parts. While Indonesian officials reported the aircraft crashed short of the runway, reporters and photographers from Reuters and the Associated Press indicated that the plane overshot the runway. All passengers and crew were evacuated from the aircraft and there were no fatalities.
  9. On 6 August 2013, Lion Air Flight 892, a Boeing 737-800 (registration PK-LKH; c/n 37297) from Makassar to Gorontalo with 117 passengers and crew on board, hit a cow while landing at Jalaluddin Airport and veered off the runway. There were no injuries.
  10. On 1 February 2014, Lion Air Flight 361, a Boeing 737-900ER (registration PK-LFH; c/n 35710), from BalikpapanSultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Airport to Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar/Bali via Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, with 222 passengers and crew on board, landed hard and bounced four times on the runway, causing a tail strike and substantial damage to the plane. There were no fatalities, but two passengers were seriously injured and three others had minor injuries.
  11. On 20 February 2016, Lion Air Flight 263 from Balikpapan Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Airport to Juanda International Airport in Surabaya overran the runway on landing, with no injuries. The National Transportation Safety Committee investigation into the incident found that failures in crew resource management led to improper landing procedures, and recommended that Indonesian airlines improve pilot training.
  12. On 2 April 2017, about 300 litres of fuel spilled on the tarmac at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya. Pictures taken by passengers on board showed fuel pouring out of one of the aircraft’s wings. Shortly after, all passengers were evacuated and the plane was grounded for further investigation. No casualties were reported. That same day a representative from Lion Air was summoned by the Indonesian Transport Ministry to clarify the incident. An early statement by a Lion Air representative said that the leak was caused by a non-functioning safety valve and overflow detector.
  13. On 29 April 2018, Lion Air Flight 892, a 737-800 (registration PK-LOO), made a runway excursion at Jalaluddin Airport after landing under heavy rain conditions, resulting in the main nose gear to collapse. There were no fatalities.
  14. On 29 October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610, a 737 MAX 8, crashed in the Java Sea 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, with all 189 passengers and crew onboard missing, presumed dead.

If you’re not convinced that I am correct about the dire warnings, then you have the self-preservation characteristics of a Kamikaze pilot.

Never allow your loved one’s anywhere near one of these carriers. Everyone wants to fling their sallow & pasty bods into one of Bali’s lovely seascapes, and some are lured by these nefarious low cost snake oil aviation companies.

Do not play with your life dear reader.

Avoid Indonesian low cost airlines like the plague. Pay the additional fee and fly Emirates or Qantas or British Airways or Ethiopian Airlines or South African Airlines.

Indonesian aviation has been a sea of lies, a swamp of corruption, a mosh pit of nepotism.

This crash comes only months after it received a positive safety rating following an ICAO audit.  This incident may reverse the rating.

Indonesian aviation authorities were previously criticized for poor management and safety. An EU ban on Lion Air was only lifted in 2016 after numerous incidents like those outlined above. After the investigation which will follow, perhaps it will find its name amongst those blacklisted once more.

And now, another 189 people have died.

Perhaps the Boeing concerned experienced engine problems. Perhaps the maintenance crew failed to connect A to B.  Perhaps pitot covers were left on. Perhaps … perhaps.

Indonesian aviation has grown incredibly quickly over the past two decades as its economy thrives. There are a remarkable 17 000 islands that make up this nation, and now it needs a proper aviation authority with a proper code of conduct for such a vast network of airports. The old boy network of winking officials must be caustically removed as a matter of urgency.

And the men who’ve facilitated a poor attention to aviation detail need to go to jail.

*Chommie: South African for “pal” or “mate”.


Belgian Engineer destroys F-16 jet with a Vulcan 20mm Cannon

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This is what an F-16 looks like after being hit by +/- 120 rounds fired from a Vulcan 22 Cannon. Image: Facebook.

This apparently happened by mistake, but when you look at some of the facts, that mistake was a big one. By all accounts, it was not a dark and stormy night back on October 11 2018 at Belgium’s Florennes Air Force Base. Its located about 4 kilometres South East of the city of Florennes in the Walloon municipality.

Base authorities say a maintenance worker accidentally caused a 20mm Vulcan cannon to open fire from an F-16 jet on which he was working, destroying an F-16 parked opposite, while damaging another aircraft nearby. Miraculously no-one was hurt in the incident but one F-16 took the full brunt of the Vulcan, it caught fire and exploded as it was fully loaded with fuel awaiting an afternoon sortie.

“You can’t help thinking of what a disaster this could have been,” said Col. Didier Polome, the base commander, speaking to Belgium TV.

The hangar from which our engineer let loose with his Vulcan 20mm Cannon. Image: PPRUNE

Two fighter squadrons operate out of the Airbase, 1 Squadron which dates back to 1917, and 350 Squadron, founded in the UK in 1942 during the Second World War.

Both units fly the F-16 Falcon.

But how could a maintenance worker mistakenly trigger a dangerous high speed cannon that fires more than 70 rounds in 0.5 seconds? That’s enough power to literally rip a wall in half. In this case it appears the cannon rounds missed a wall erected between the hangar and the apron, passing through a small gap. For more read on.

Another angle of F-16 no longer operative. Image: PPRUNE

There are a few things here that need clarity. For instance, what was a fully armed F-16 jet doing inside a hangar being worked on by an engineer? Surely even in an operation environment, the jet is “made safe” before someone goes tinkering on the vehicle? Again, I try answer this below.

The 20MM Vulcan is a gatling gun, which means its not just a cannon, its a cannon with an attitude. As the 6 barrels revolve, they proceed through the different stages of the gun firing cycle, which produces an utterly terrifying firing rate of 6,600 rounds per minute.

The engineer apparently let fly for a few seconds. Maybe two seconds. That means 120 High Explosive or Armour-Piercing rounds flew out of the hangar and into the parked F-16. It blew up almost instantly according to reports.

Note how the rounds missed the defensive wall in what was a shockingly accurate piece of shooting. This is from Facebook, so I must point out that the entrance to the hangar is actually on the left. But it makes a nice picture. Image : Facebook.

Rules governing armed jets and maintenance

If the F-16 is to undergo light maintenance, which involves a series of checks more than anything else, only the bombs and missiles are removed from the plane. After this incident, perhaps they should consider removing the massive ammunition drum too.

There is a process to make the Vulcan 20mm Cannon safe during storage and maintenance.

It takes the following, according to the F-16 Flight Manual.

  1. Rounds limiter switch set to ON with rounds counter set to 990. (set to OFF or ON with 510 or less on counter when hot gun needed)
  2. Electrical safety pin installed. (Removed when hot gun needed)
  3. Clearing sector holdback toll installed. (Removed when hot gun needed)

The really important note here is that every single step above must be taken to ensure the gun won’t fire on its own.

It takes a huge 35 horse power to actually fire this weapon, with it’s massive alloy barrel and the pressures required to move 20mm shells so quickly.

So either it needs the engine running, or a hydraulic test rig to be setup which is used to check landing gear, flight controls, brakes and the gun system.

But the big problem is how to setup “fire on the ground” options. It goes like this

  1. Find the GND JETT switch and switch to ENABLE.
  2. Select gun mode (A/A or A/G)
  3. Select Master Arm switch to arm and
  4. Press the trigger.

The Vulcan 20mm fires from the left of the cockpit. Image: F-16.net

So as you can see, dear friends, all of the above means someone has to have screwed up really, really badly to have managed to fire one of the most lethal cannons every designed on the ground into your own airforce.

I’m not suggesting anything like a conspiracy, just that it is a truly shocking event that fortunately ended well compared to what could have happened had these rounds missed the F-16 and hit a motorway or similar nearby.

Need I say that the Belgian Air Force is investigating?

Ethiopia – darling of African aviation – is accused of covering up a potentially deadly risk


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Ethiopia is long cited as one of the two main drivers of aviation growth in Africa, the other being Kenya. But this growth has revealed a really serious safety hazard which the government of Addis Ababa may regret should it not deal with the reports properly.

Kenyan aviation authorities have already complained about an ATC strike that has apparently caused major problems at least between the Kenyans and the Ethiopians.

“There have been several incidents of loss of standard separation between aircrafts at the point of transfer between Addis Ababa and Nairobi due to wrong or no estimates from Addis Ababa,’‘ the Kenyan Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a statement.

International operations team called OpsGroup which represents pilots, Controllers, Dispatchers, Managers and Problem-solvers of International Flight Operations has warned of a dire situation which the government of Addis Ababa has reportedly tried to hush up a potentially catastrophic situation.

On the 30th August 2018 the president of Kenya Air Traffic Controllers’ Association issued a public letter revealing what he said was examples of  poor management of air services. These include:

  1. Flights inbound to Nairobi from Addis are calling Nairobi control without prior estimates.
  2. There have been several incidents of loss of separation between aircraft at the transfer point due to incorrect or in certain instances, no estimate whatsoever from Addis.
  3. There has been one serious close call event between B737 and B767, both maintaining FL360, with no prior co-ordination from Addis.
  4. Addis airspace is currently manned by retired Controllers with no validation who have no understanding of current airspace procedures and who are overwhelmed.
  5. The few estimates passed by Addis to Nairobi have included incorrect call signs and even destinations.
  6. Aircraft are entering Kenyan airspace at flight levels different to those passed by Addis Controllers.

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When the strike was imminent, Ethiopian Airlines  tried to alleviate the effect by importing Air traffic controllers from other countries. It seemed like a perfectly plausible plan. Find ATC, pay them lots, fly them in and they help.

So they turned to nearby nations – like the DRC. The small team was not enough to cope, so the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority then requested 30 more air traffic controllers from Sudan and at least 24 from Kenya.

The Ethiopians even approached Zimbabwe and Malawi for help.

The crisis management obfuscates a real issue – ATCs need about 3 months to become acclimatised to the local circuits and operations. Anything else is just asking for trouble.

The other issues around this strike include the failure to issue NOTAMs or notices to airmen/women.

But that’s not all folks. Nine workers were arrested after apparently preventing international flights from landing at the Bole International Airport which is Ethiopia’s busiest.

The head of the ECAA, Colonel Wesenyelew Hunegnaw said the strike was over as workers had until Tuesday 4th September to return of be fired.

“Some of the employees engaged in the strike are returning back to their work. The remaining should submit a letter of apology and return to their work. They have until Tuesday (September 4),” he said.

In a statement, the airline also scotched rumours of close shaves involving aircraft.

“…all Ethiopian Airlines scheduled and unscheduled flights and other airlines operating to/from Ethiopia have been operating smoothly with high standards of flight punctuality and safety,” the airline said in an online statement.

“We would like to inform all our customers that we did not have any flight delay or cancellation caused by ATC. In fact, we are happy to announce that taxi-in, taxi-out and flight arrivals efficiency has improved significantly in the week under ATC strike.”

While we wonder what’s next, just remember that the African Union is based in Addis Ababa, and that the continents leaders constantly fly into the country along with government officials.

The negative effect of a military run society running ATC services then trying to determine the communication of a high risk scenario could lead to a severe incident should this issue not be sorted ASAP.

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Ethiopian Airlines pilots doing what all aviators like doing (after a long hot flight) – having a little champagne.

That’s because Ethiopian Airlines is growing at a rapid rate, operating a large fleet of more than 116 international passenger and cargo destinations across five continents and has a fifteen year strategic plan called Vision 2025 that’s going to rocket the nation into the top spot in African aviation.

Let’s hope they sort out their ATC issues or we may hear bad news from Addis.







Wonderboom Plane Crash, a Qantas link and a Puerto Rican warning

It’s been two weeks since a classic twin engined Convair crashed near Wonderboom in Pretoria. Dramatic footage filmed from a smartphone inside the rapidly descending Convair 340 registration ZS-BRV has emerged as one of the passengers kept his phone rolling while the plane came down near Wonderboom Airport.

This is not for the faint hearted.

But its also incredible to hear the passenger, who could be one of the two engineers or other builders on board, talking normally as the aircraft lost altitude as it’s left engine spewed flames and smoke.

His calm manner is extraordinary.

While the CAA begins its investigation, we can surmise a few things.

  1. The left (port) engine appeared to be experiencing problems.
  2. The twin engined aircraft could not continue to fly with just one engine operating.
  3. The problems began during the ground roll before take off.

This aircraft had an interesting history.  It was registered first as a  Convair C-131D-CO Samaritan, which was the military version of a 340. While the CAA crash investigators apply their minds, we live in a free country and I’m applying mine.

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Convair with smoke pouring from left nacelle immediately after takeoff at Wonderboom Airport 10th June 2018. @PPRUNE.Org

Initial reports (which are unverified but fit the general evidence) indicate that a fuel line fractured on the left engine carburettor during the take off ground roll. Fire then burned through the oil lines, that led to a loss of pressure which meant the propellor couldn’t be feathered.

Feathering a dead engine

That’s a lot of aviation speak. When an engine fails, the propellor needs to be feathered to reduce the drag.  Think of it allowing the car wheel to continue spinning freely after the engine failing, instead of the wheel being locked or moving a lot slower than the others. What is actually going on is the blades of the propellor can be rotated parallel to the airflow to reduce drag in case of an engine failure.

This also reduces what is known as “adverse yaw” where the plane is pulled towards the dead engine.

There is an old saying in aviation – why does an aeroplane have two engines? So that when there is an engine failure, the working engine can take you to the location of the accident.

At Wonderboom, the Australian pilot then turned right downwind to avoid landing on the nearby built up area, in other words, they banked the plane towards the live engine. That is the correct technique, the incorrect is to bank against the dead engine.

They were trying to turn back to the runway, but on the base leg, lost too much height and plunged into a warehouse. The plane then broke apart after landing straight ahead, which definitely led to the saving of lives.  At least 18 passengers walked out of the fuselage, almost unheard of in a crash like this.

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ZS-BRV wreckage. @Twitter

While the two pilots survived the crash,  the flight engineer who was sitting in the middle or jump seat, was thrown through the windscreen and killed.

Qantas issued a statement saying A380 captains Douglas Haywood and Ross Kelly who is retired were critically injured.

“The pair boast more than 37,000 hours’ flying experience between them and more than 30 years’ service with Qantas,” the airline said in a statement.

“This news has shocked the Qantas pilot community and everyone’s thoughts are with the families. We’ve reached out and are providing whatever support we can.”

But one of the pilots has subsequently died, bringing the death toll in this unusual accident to two.

Puerto Rico Convair Crash

In Puerto Rico, another Convair CV-340/440-38 accident has thrown into sharp relief the challenges the plane experienced when flying with one engine operative.

The Convair in question crashed in a lagoon after suffering an engine failure which followed a fire. The airline, FreshAir inc, was criticised by Safety Board officials afterwards for lax maintenance and safety standards.

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That is unlikely to be the case in the Wonderboom accident, but we still await the findings there.

In the Caribbean example, the 1953 Convair CV-340 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney supercharged 18 cylinder radial engines which included full feathering props, fire detection warnings, and a fire extinguishing system for both engines.

It was being used for hauling freight in the Caribbean but pilots began to report issues. Firstly, the plane was underpowered and when empty, and experiencing an engine out, would only climb at 500 feet per minute.

They also warned that at sea level when fully loaded – the plane actually would not climb at all but only managed level flight.

In March 2012 the airplane took off from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport near San Juan in Puerto Rico after the pilots had filed a VFR or visual flight plan for the island of St.Maarten.

Minutes after takeoff, the First office told the tower they were declaring an emergency and requested to turn back to San Juan. As the pilots grappled with the plane, it appeared to lose height short of the runway and crashed into Laguna La Torrecilla.

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The plane had been loaded with 12,100 pounds of wheat and bread products. The plane was then estimated to weigh around 47,710 pounds. If so, that by itself would have doomed the aircraft as its maximum allowable takeoff weight was only 40,900 pounds.

They had conducted a double engine test prior to takeoff, not unusual for an old plane. I had the glory of flying a remarkble warbird, a Focke-Wulf FWP. 149D from Rand airport to Lanseria one day, and we doubled up on all the checks because of the aircrafts’ age, and the fact that it had not been flown for six months.

The pilot in command of the FreshAir Convair CV-440 in San Juan had flown more than 9 000 hours in the Convair CV-340.

It its findings the National Transportation Safety Board said that based on the captain’s history of antidetonation injection (ADI) and autofeather nonuse and the postaccident position of the autofeather switch, the flight crew likely did not use the ADI and autofeather systems during the takeoff and as a result, the accident airplane exceeded the maximum allowable takeoff weight of 40,900 lbs.

So it crashed.

Wonderboom Investigation continues

Returning to the accident on June 10th 2018 the Convair 340 ZS-BRV had not flown much over the last nine years.
It had been moved a few times between Lanseria and Wonderboom where it had been stored.
There is a propensity for older piston engines to become US or unusable suddenly and unpredictably when they are stored for long periods, then fired up and run at full tilt.
The investigation continues.

Stewardess – the longest word in English typed with just the left hand


Male and Female Flight Attendants – 1940s.

Well no wonder that we now use the phrase flight attendant to describe those hard working folks who run about before during and after a commercial flight.

Stewardess – a ten letter word. Six more than four.

Apparently its also the longest word in English typed just with the left hand. Try it at home, kids.

Imagine a court case where two stewardesses claim the other has committed libel in 1954. A typewriter does not have copy and paste, so the cramping in the left flexor muscle would have been severe as the court scribe pounded away.  Think about the extensor digitorum which is a classic antagonist to the flexor muscles and is based in the forearm.

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That means when you stick the middle finger up in the air, your flexor muscle is antagonised by your extensor digitorum.


While considering this incredible fact, its time to drop another list into the plethora of listicles spreading like a pool of warm custard across the ether. Some arbitrary facts on the listicle could include:

  1. American Airlines slashed $40,000 from costs by removing one olive from each salad served in first class.
  2. The Wing-span of the Airbus A380 is longer than the aircraft itself. Wingspan: 80m, Length: 72.7m.
  3. As the commercial airliner climbs, the cabin atmosphere dries out your nose and eyes and as altitude increases, around one third of your taste buds are numbed. You feel like more salt and pepper. And not just your hair.
  4. The internet & on-line check-in was first used by Alaska Airlines in 1999.
  5. In the 1930s The first women flight attendants were required to weigh no more than 115 pounds, be nurses and un-married. In those days they were called stewardesses.
  6. A single window frame of a Boeing 747-400’s cockpit costs as much as a BMW.

After some thought, its also time to analyse two words, the left-hand cramping stewardess and the far more diverse, flight attendant. Here are two definitions:

A. Stewardess

  • A woman who performs the duties of a stewardespecially one who attends passengers (as on an airplane).  Merriam-Webster 2018.

I collect dictionaries. Here are a few other definitions of stewardess.

  • A female waiter on shipboard . Websters Complete Dictionary 1882.
  • A female steward specifically a woman employed in passenger vessels to attend to the wants of female passengers. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913.
  • A female steward, specifically a woman employed on shipboard to attend passengers, esp women and children. Webster’s New International Dictionary 1934. 

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Real Life Stewardesses but these days PSA Airlines flying from Dayton International AIrlines in Ohio.


B. Flight Attendant/In-flight crew member 

  • A person who attends passengers on an airplane.

So not much history there – or is there?

  • The first the first flight attendant was a German man called Heinrich Kubis who first attended the passengers on board the DELAG Zeppelin in 1912. He also attended to the famous Hindenburg and was on board when it burst into flames and survived by jumping out a window as it dropped to the ground.

Kubis 1947
Heinrich Kubis in 1947.

  • But things have changed over the years.  For example, in the USA (and many others countries) in the 1950s, stewardesses had to be registered nurses or have at least two years in college behind them.


Appearance was very important and eventually the concept came to represent models in the sky.  In the 1950s Stewardesses had to be female,  between the ages of 21 and 26, between 5 feet 2 inches and 5 feet 6 inches tall and weigh no more than 135 pounds.

So the idea of stewardess emanated from the shipping world, where the derivation results from the international British maritime tradition dating back to the 14th century and the civilian US Merchant Marine.

So the first stewardess was actually a steward who was also a flight attendant.




Huge Kenya Cargo Drone is a Spanish Flying Ox tested in Iceland


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FlyOx – not a wagon and here is being used by the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Kenya is the second country in Africa to launch a Cargo Drone service after South Africa with Rwanda following shortly if officials there get their way.  Ethiopia is also drafting  drone regulations so things are looking up in UAV land.

Astral Aviation based in Nairobi says it wants to become the largest operator of cargo drones and as Amazon and other digital companies compete internationally in this space, entrepreneurs are lining up.

At this stage, drones are heavily used in South Africa and in Kenya along with Mauritius, but many other countries remain drone-free, at least officially.

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Putting it all together in Iceland – another FlyOx is assembled at Hofn. 

Astral’s offering includes three drones with the largest called the FlyOx which is a $1.5m behemoth that can carry 2200kg’s more than 1,300 kilometres.  That means the drone could fly cargo between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The FlyOx is manufactured by Singular Aircraft which is designed and built in Barcelona, Spain.  It’s first flight was  on May 16, 2015 at the airport in Hofn, Iceland and it is now signing with aviation companies worldwide.  The name FlyOx is really ironic, considering that one of the main modes of transport in the olde days was the ox wagon.

Here are the FlyOx specs.



Wing span 14 Mts

Overall lenght 11.50 Mts

Tail height 3.60 Mts

Max. weight  4,000 Kg

Landing gear retractable tail-wheeler

Landing surfaces Sea and Land

Basic empty weight 2,200 Kg

Payload 1,850 Kg




Take off roll 750 Mts

Landing roll 540 Mts

Rate of climb @ Vy 2,000 Ft/min

Rate of climb 1 engine operating 440 Ft/min

VNE 142 Kts

V. cruiser at 75% power 126 Kts

V. cruiser at 65% power 103 Kts

Max. Operational altitude 24,000 Ft

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The smaller drones will carry between 5 and 10kg objects for shorter distances.

In South Africa, drone companies have been targeting mines and agriculture, but the Kenyans are planning to offer services to gas and oil companies, along with these other two sectors.

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FlyOx testing in Iceland. 

With roads and railways in Africa still grappling with major underdevelopment, the Cargo Drone is another aviation solution that could escalate quite quickly.

With a price tag that is not for the faint hearted, but given its payload, this aircraft is expected to become a standard cargo carrier operating in East Africa – if certified by the country’s aviation association.






SAA not going like a Boeing but Gordhan the Excoriator is coming

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Aviation weather update – blustery at SAA inc.

SAA needs R20 billion to make it to 2021.  That’s the amount of cash it requires for operations which is only R1bn less than Mpumalanga’s entire annual education budget.  So let’s sink back into our bottom-scarring sardine-sized economy class seats and ruminate on possible SAA scenarios. If you’re South African place story over mouth and nose because your tax money is involved.

1. Business Continues

Note: This option is highly unlikely. 

SAA is in the throes of proving constantly that it is a “going concern” and this doesn’t mean its going like a Boeing.  No, going concern is simply having enough cash flow and dosh to continue paying workers, suppliers, international ATC and apron costs, landing fees, fuel and the large number of over paid executives who burgeoned like flies on a dying Pterodactyl courtesy of previous political deployment  (PPD).

The problem is, the Auditor General has publicly warned that SAA is “not a going concern”.

Truth A: Shamble Air

SAA is technically bankrupt and had it not been a “national” airline bailed out repeatedly by politicians, it would have been shut down two years ago.  Called on by parliament to explain the shocking state of affairs, former Board Chair Dudu “wake me up before you go-go” Myeni immediately disappeared into the humid air of Richards Bay like exploding methane from a hot sphincter.

I digress.  Here then is the latest SAA spreadsheet:

  • R3.7-billion loss for the period 2016/17 which is 71% higher than the budgeted R2.2-billion loss.
  • Year-to-date costs were R561-million above budget
  • SAA is forecasting a loss of R4.8-billion for 2017-18 as well as in the 2018-19 financial year
  • International sales declined 9% (R816-million)‚ regional sales 2% (R91-million) and domestic sales 16% (R617-million)
  • Maintenance costs 19% (R580-million) above budget‚ energy 3% (R173-million) above budget & labour 2% (R79-million) above budget.

If SAA was a proper company, the thundering noise you’d be hearing would be heads rolling down OR Tambo International arrival hall as overpaid deployee’s were dispatched by Excel spreadsheet waving Financial Viking Pravin Gordhan.

On the Wednesday 2nd May Gordhan told a joint parliamentary sitting of the portfolio committee on finance and public enterprises that he plans to locate the moolah funnelled out of these State owned Entities including names, dates and receipts.

Importantly, Gordhan also will change the way boards are appointed because they’ve become willing partners in state capture he said. Myeni enveloped in her invisibility cloak and others will be watching with some disquiet.

We await the moment of rolling heads with baskets.

Truth B: Tax the poor to pay the deployed

No-one but government is willing to give this airline a few billion rands for its perennial begging bowl. So taxpayers – get ready.  Most of you will never fly SAA but you’re going to be coughing up just so that some cadre deployed underdeveloped space cadet can wallow about the world pointing his/her latest hot thing at the SAA colours emblazoned upon a tail making grandiose statements like “I have an airline in Africa” and “Look Bushbuckridge unemployed are paying for my First class seat through the increase in VAT, they must be proud”.

2. Private Sale

Note: This scenario is unlikely 

Who wants this debt-ridden Pterodactyl of the modern aviation marketplace?

All you get is an over staffed fat, waddling and decrepit carcass, full of angry newly entitled folks who will strike if you try deal with the debt after purchase.  There are a few possible purchasers knocking about, but the government of South Africa is facing a classic ideological conundrum.

To state-own or not to state-own, that is the question.

State owned enterprises may be undergoing an operational reboot thanks to President Cyril Ramaphosa and his gifted special force financial Viking Enforcer, Pravin Gordhan the Excoriator, but its hard to remove rotten staff when they’re embedded like maggots inside the eviscerated bodies of SoEs.

Truth A: Protect staff = no sale

How much is SAA really worth? 

Given its financial report:  R1. 

That’s because the BIG problem at SAA is its debt. So any new buyer gets a name, a few leased aircraft, and the fun of facing political overlords called NUMSA et al with their union-leader purchased BMW Z3s and 5% per worker protection racket.

No chance of reality there. So any buyer is really not getting more than some great pilots and cabin and ground crew and a few ageing airliners.  And a very nice logo.

Truth B: Groans about loans

SAA says after making huge losses for the next 2 years,  its long-term strategy will lead to a profit in 2021.

But what happens to all these tax payer loans?  These politically inspired bits of billions poured into our symbolic national airline?  Written off? Sorry taxpayer.  Nix back.

The challenge of strangely structured employment contracts and onerous agreements are SAA’s millstone, but any new buyer would be forced to honour these. No go zone for proper investors.

3. Liquidate and Relaunch

Note: This is the most likely scenario 

And thus, we have come to the only solution for SAA.  When a company like SAA  reaches the financial point of no return, an obvious option is to liquidate and relaunch.  This has happened many times in recent years across the world of aviation.

Truth A: Bankrupt airlines can recover

The following airlines have been relaunched with most operations intact:

Swiss Air – liquidated then bought by Cross Air who relaunched Swiss Air Swiss International, now resold (with a profit!) to Lufthansa.  Jobs saved.  Well mostly.

Sabena Air – the Belgian government bailed out the national airline, then tired of this folly and let it be liquidated. Brussels Airline took over (owned by the Brussels Provincial government) made a profit and .. yes .. you guessed it .. sold to Lufthansa.  Some jobs saved.

Austrian Airlines – Bankrupted in 2008 and sold by its owner, the Austrian Government. A year later, yes the big boys of Europe, the Lufthansa Group purchased the airline after the deal was scrutinised by the EU. A few jobs saved.

Truth B : Sometimes they can’t 

Alitalia – Italy’s national airline.  The Italian government allowed Alitalia to file for bankruptcy in May 2017.   Its up for sale by auction and remains so.  This is the most likely option for SAA, with a long-drawn out negotiation as the pilots leave for Emirates et al, skilled maintenance engineers phone Beijing and cabin crew and ground crew are snapped up by Emirates, Qatar, etc etc. They don’t know what to do with the jobs.

Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) – Once the symbol of commercial passenger aviation Pan Am actually helped launch the International Air Transport Association (IATA) but in the 1970s the rot set in.  This was linked to deregulation and like SAA, it was a behemoth unable to cope with the lithe competitors. However it took one moment to permanently ground the airline – the  1988 Lockerbie disaster of Pan Am Flight 103, when Libyan terrorists planted a bomb that led to the deaths of all 243 passengers on board. Pan Am died in 1991. No jobs saved.

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SAA’s operating certificate which expires in June 2018. 

If SAA was a person, the family would be sorting out final matters and thinking about flowers and the cost of a casket. Sorry, much as I emotionally support my national airline, the reality is this beautiful story of Africa’s best Airline for well over 50 years will most likely end up being bankrupted, reconditioned and relaunched.

The other terrible truth which must be whispered is that times have changed. Kenya and Ethiopia are geographically located to steal SAA’s thunder.  These two countries are placed on the lucrative East West routes meaning they can tap into trans-continental passenger and cargo routes.  They can actually compete with Dubai for example, particularly Ethiopia.

Will SAA continue to dwell in the past as deployed cadres take turns through the boardroom turnstile, hustling to make a quick buck while the creditors pick apart the airline carcass, or will there be real hope and change?

Breath everyone.