Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Scottish spaceport is not ‘going away’

I seem to have been following various stories about Scottish spaceports for some years, since before the military base at Machrihanish was closed (and it was classified as “Scotland’s Area 51” as there was already so much spacecraft activity there – according to some 😉 ).

Much has changed since then, including the requirements for a facility which can support spacecraft launches, as criteria such as vehicle size and orbital altitudes have changed.

The whining of naysayers was loud in those early days, and can still be heard today, at the alternative spaceport sites now being proposed in the north of Scotland.

But the chances of that whining being rewarded by such proposals never coming to pass seem to be somewhat remote these days.

Activity and interest continues to grow, as we’ve noted in the past.

I can’t wait for the first launch, and just wish I was in a related industry/business (and lived up there, which would help).

It has been almost a year since it was announced that Scotland could host the very first UK spaceport – and interest is far from waning.

By the end of the year, plans could be submitted to build a facility at the A’Mhoine Peninsula in Sutherland.

But Scotland has a number of regions which look attractive to aerospace companies for development.

A consortium has revealed plans to build the UK’s first vertical launch site at Scolpaig, North Uist, following months of investigations.

Shetland has also been earmarked as a desirable location.

When looking to build a spaceport, the UK considered both horizontal and vertical launch sites.

Like their names suggest, horizontal launch sites fire rockets at a gradual angle – similar to what you would see at an airport.

Prestwick Airport, for example, is on the cusp of applying for a licence to carry out horizontal space launches from its 2,986-metre concrete case runway.

The airport also cites its “coastal take-offs, favourable weather conditions and excellent transport connections” among the factors which make it an ideal launch spot.

Similarly, Cornwall is also expected to have a horizontal spaceport operational by 2021.

A vertical launch pad, as the name suggests, is one which enables rockets to be fired directly upwards into space.

There are key criteria which are necessary for a site to be considered for this.

They revolve around the orbits of the rockets – principally known as polar and sun synchronous orbits (SSO).

An SSO is where it passes over any given point on the Earth’s surface at the same local solar time. A polar orbit is one that passes over polar regions, especially one whose plane contains the polar axis.

Scotland contains sites with the best access to polar and SSO orbits without flying over land inhabited by humans.

Why is Scotland a prime rocket launch site?

The above criteria are crucial, as anyone aware of the dire condition of land around the Soviet era Baikanur launch facility will already be aware. It is now contaminated and extremely hazardous to anyone living there, as fallen rocket bodies were just left to rot where they fell, discharging highly toxic propellants such as hydrazine wherever they fell.

The Western Isles have entered the race to create the UK’s first commercial spaceport.

The project led by Western Isles local authority – Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – is separate to bids to build ports in Sutherland and in Shetland.

It has been proposed the Western Isles’ Spaceport 1 be located at Scolpaig on the north-west coast of North Uist.

The comhairle said up to 70 jobs could be created at the site which would be used for small satellite launches.

Test launches could be carried out later this year.

The comhairle has agreed to invest about £1m to purchase the land needed.

Western Isles in race to open UK’s first spaceport

Lift off: UK’s first vertical-launch spaceport plans unveiled

Vertical Launch Spaceport

Vertical Launch Spaceport


12/06/2019 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

Clutha inquiry S04

This week…

Clutha inquiry: Helicopter operators ‘concerned about fuel indicators’ before fatal crash

Faulty fuel sensors on Clutha helicopter ‘were not replaced’

Clutha helicopter operators ‘worried about fuel display’

Clutha helicopter crash inquiry: two drops of water could have caused faulty fuel reading

Clutha: Two drops of water ‘could distort fuel reading’

Clutha inquiry: Pilot warned of faulty fuel reading

The Clutha Bar 2019

The Clutha Bar 2019

19/05/2019 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, Transport | , | Leave a comment

Clutha inquiry S03

This week…

Clutha Inquiry: Engineer’s fears over helicopter maintenance

Interesting – this next account seems to challenge the preceding.

Clutha Inquiry: Police inspector describes helicopter’s fuel warning ‘issues’

The Clutha Bar 2019

The Clutha Bar 2019

05/05/2019 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, Transport | , | Leave a comment

LNT – Is this the right way to use lighter-than-air craft?

My engineering heart always sinks whenever I see some great new announcement proclaiming that someone has had a brilliant bright idea, and that they’re resurrecting the airship in some way.

The last revelation was Airlander 10, but like most of these giants, it ended up having an accident.

Since day one of this, I always pointed out that if the military (with its budget) didn’t think they could make it work, and dumped it, its chances of civilian success were slim to nil.

Airlander 10 crash-landed after mooring line snagged power cables

I’m willing to go out on a bit of limb and suggest that, with current technology at least, basic physics means that these giants are doomed from the day they are conceived.

I don’t know where the borderline lies, but the basic flaw is that their propulsion systems are limited in relation to their size.

While there is a practical limit to the force they can exert on a relative small amount of air, and impart a controlling force to the craft, as they get bigger and bigger their area (and volume rise rapidly, meaning that the effects of wind and buoyancy rise faster than any of the controlling forces available to the pilot.

The bigger the get, the slower they get, and also the lower the wind speed they can legitimately operate in.

While the financial rewards for smaller craft are less attractive for the big monsters, I’d always maintained they could be more successful if anyone dared downsize developments, instead of continually trying to make these things ever bigger.

It’s almost as if the first thing those involved do is throw all thoughts of ‘Commin Sense’ out the door.

Now, it seems someone has taken that step, and I’ll be interested to see if progress of these smaller craft leave the big monsters in its wake.

Researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) have helped create a revolutionary new type of aircraft.

Phoenix is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to stay in the air indefinitely using a new type of propulsion.

Despite being 15m (50ft) long with a mass of 120kg (19 stone) she rises gracefully into the air.

She looks a little like an airship, except airships don’t have wings.

“It’s a proper aeroplane,” says the UHI’s Professor Andrew Rae.

As the project’s chief engineer, he has overseen the integration of Phoenix’s systems.

“It flies under its own propulsion although it has no engines,” he says.

“The central fuselage is filled with helium, which makes it buoyant so it can ascend like a balloon.

“And inside that there’s another bag with compressors on it that brings air from outside, compresses the air, which makes the aeroplane heavier and then it descends like a glider.”

New aircraft rises ‘like a balloon’

First lighter-than-air aircraft I’ve come across in years that hasn’t made me say “Oh no” at first sight.

UHI Phoenix Via BBC

UHI Phoenix Via BBC

23/04/2019 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, Transport | , | Leave a comment

Clutha inquiry, not new

It’s only the opening stage, but if it carries on like this, I wonder if anything new will come out?

This is really no more than we had in the days following the incident.

Clutha Inquiry: Lack of crash evidence ‘frustrating’

Lack of Clutha crash evidence ‘leaves unanswered questions’

Going over the existing material is good, it has to be reviewed, but after so many years, we might expect information to appear that was not available at the time.

Perhaps the legal people are preparing the way for new/additional legislation.

Clutha crash site

Clutha crash site

18/04/2019 Posted by | Aviation | , | Leave a comment

Media still noticing Clutha inquiry

A little further down the feeds now…

Clutha pilot ‘may have been dangerously misled by manual’

Clutha inquiry told how helicopter crash victims died

Clutha FAI: Helicopter pilot ‘dangerously misled’ by manual (the Scotsman really should close the now generally moronic comments section)

Clutha helicopter crash inquiry: pilot could have been ‘dangerously misled’ by maintenance manual error

Clutha Tributes

Clutha Tributes

11/04/2019 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Clutha inquiry, day one, pretty much as expected

No surprises about what media homed in on.

But the AAIB has at least tried to make the purpose clear.

Philip Sleight, deputy chief inspector of air accidents at the AAIB, told the court that the AAIB’s purpose was to investigate the circumstances of an accident and make recommendations with the intention of preventing a reoccurrence.

He said the focus of the AAIB was “encouraging safety” not “apportioning blame”.

Clutha helicopter pilot given five low fuel warnings

Helicopter attended false alarm call before Clutha crash

A different quote came in another article, about the FAI.

Phil Sleight, deputy chief inspector of air accidents, told the inquiry there had been new documents presented but none of them were considered new or significant enough.

The purpose of the FAI is to determine the cause of the deaths, establish whether they could have been prevented and enable the sheriff to make recommendations that could prevent fatalities in similar circumstances.

Clutha FAI: Helicopter pilot received five low fuel warnings

Clutha helicopter crash inquiry: pilot ‘received five low-fuel warnings’

Another reminder was given.

The Crown Office has previously said there is insufficient evidence for criminal proceedings.

It’s easy to make ‘knee jerk’ judgements, but that would be wrong, since the media articles are just samples of proceeding, and those involved are privy to much more material than can make into these tiny articles.

Plus, as noted, there is something in the order of 3 to 4 months’ worth of material to be looked at, and that will probably take about six months, so nothing is going to happen soon.

When you sit on something like this, it can be amazing to see one small detail can take up a most of a day when being reviewed.

Clutha crash site

Clutha crash site

10/04/2019 Posted by | Aviation | , | Leave a comment

Clutha inquiry begins

Hard to miss the start of the inquiry into the helicopter crash into the Clutha bar, it was still intriguing to see the news feeds arrive from the few sources I let send such things.

I wonder how many articles there were across the whole media today?

Clutha crash inquiry hears of helicopter’s final seconds

Inquiry into Clutha crash which left ten dead begins

Clutha survivors ‘apprehensive’ as disaster inquiry begins

Clutha FAI: Witness describes helicopter sounding like ‘an old car trying to start’

Clutha FAI: The night tragedy befell ‘a pub without pretension’

Clutha helicopter crash inquiry: Witness relives the moment he saw helicopter light ‘go out’

Clutha helicopter crash inquiry set to open in Glasgow today after five-year wait for answers

Clutha crash victims remembered as Fatal Accident Inquiry begins at Hampden

The Clutha Bar As Was

The Clutha Bar As Was


08/04/2019 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, photography, Transport | , | Leave a comment

Today is Smoke and Mirrors Day

29 March is Smoke and Mirrors Day.

Deceit, deception, illusion, even fraudulent cunning and those we’d better not mention, plus all other types of trickery are celebrated on Smoke And Mirrors Day.

The phrase “It’s all smoke and mirrors” refers to the way magicians use distraction to make sure their audience fails to see what’s really going on. The more complex the illusion, the more successful the magician.

The technique played its part in World War II, with many examples, the simplest being inflatable vehicles. A Boeing aircraft factory in America was concealed beneath a decoy town laid over the top, the D-Day invasion was hidden behind false radio messages from a few trucks driving around (including some in Scotland, to keep the enemy from discounting the west coast as an invasion departure point), the forces to be deployed were transported under cover so the build-up would not be observed, and in more technical efforts CDL (canal defence lights) were tanks fitted with strobe lights operating around 6 Hz which could confuse enemy observers. Famous magician Jasper Maskelyne tested a system of rotating mirrors and lights intended to be deployed to protect the Suez Canal, but it seems that only a prototype was ever completed, and it was not used. Most of these can be found with more detailed accounts given online.

But it’s not just magicians that have learned and perfected this art, as we see with ‘legalese’’ an incredibly convoluted language that lawyers use to make sure no-one but them understands what’s going on.

It’s nice to see there are now those who oppose that practice, and just use plain English to say what they mean, so the client (and everyone) can understand what’s happening.

Some say… it’s even been rumoured that politicians do the same.

Smoke and Mirrors

One of my favourite examples of Smoke and Mirrors can be seen in the vintage TV series – Mission: Impossible, which ran from 1966 to 1973.

Trying to pick just one? Nope.

This montage is a better reminder.

29/03/2019 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , | Leave a comment

Leonardo da Vinci knew a good thing when he saw it

I’ve already mentioned Leonardo Da Vinci: A Life in Drawing at Kelvingrove.

I probably won’t include any pics of the exhibits though, as the room has subdued lighting to protect them for damage by over-exposure to light. Maybe later, when it’s quieter. But the sketches are both small and very subtle, a result of the way they were produced by silverpoint, in which a silver-tipped instrument inscribes lines on a surface that has been coated with a ground or pigment. This was used for drawing used in drawing during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries because it produced a fine line, and the sharp point was maintained in use.

But I came across an image of an earlier exhibition, The Da Vinci Experience, which took place in San Diego back at the end of 2009.

The pic makes it look as if da Vinci is looking (approvingly) at the A-12 on display just below his eyes.

Although most will identify the aircraft as an SR-71, it seems this is A-12 – 06933, on display at San Diego Air and Space Museum.

Briefly, The A-12 was a single seat aircraft, while the SR-71 (and YF-12) were 2 seat. The A-12 was shorter and lighter than the SR-71, meaning it could fly a bit higher and faster. Operationally, the A-12 was designed for direct overflight, with cameras pointing, straight down. The SR-71 was designed with oblique (side looking) cameras, avoiding the need for direct overflights.

da Vinci and A-12

da Vinci and A-12

Follow this link for the source, full size original of this image, and a collection showing all but one of the surviving aircraft on display.

06/03/2019 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, council | , , | Leave a comment

Are hawks the deer of the sky?

Not a problem I have to worry about, but after seeing this video taken during the  Avalon Airshow, Avalon, Australia, of a USAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster III experiencing a birdstrike, I wonder if hawks are as smart as deer as regards traffic.

The airlifter was on its take off roll for its aerial display when a big bird was ingested by the engine, and almost instantaneous subsequent fireball and bang.

It didn’t take the fried meal long to go through that oven!

The C-17 aborted its take off and came to a stop on the runway before being taxied to a hangar for inspection. Since it didn’t fly on the following day, the damage may have been significant, or required more detailed inspection.

Closest I’ve been to an incident was the halting of the Prestwick airshow, to allow a passenger jet which had declared an emergency to land during the show.

I think someone had reported smoke in the cabin.

05/03/2019 Posted by | Aviation, military, Transport | , | Leave a comment

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