RegGuheert wrote:I don't agree with what was portrayed as perhaps the "main meaning" of this adventure, but I hardly see it as "a meaningless stunt".GRA wrote:I watched it, and all through I just kept thinking, what a tremendous expenditure of human energy, brainpower and money for a meaningless stunt.Bertrand Piccard conceived of this flight in 1999. No doubt he fully intended to complete this flight in, or before, 2005. I'm pretty sure he did not expect it would take 16 years and countless millions of Euros before the around-the-world flight could be started.GRA wrote:The attempted justifications to try and provide some larger context (We're popularizing sustainable energy and energy efficiency!) struck me as as at least a decade too late - If this flight had started in 2005 instead of 2015 that might have been valid, but RE and energy efficiency were both widespread and well known by the time this came about.
My family and I went to see the Solar Impulse several years back. That Solar Impulse plane that we saw at the Udvar-Hazy Museum was not this one which flew around the world, it was a prototype. In other words, that one was not quite able to achieve the final objective.
My conclusion from all of this is that this flight was not really possible before 2015. It's clear from what was portrayed in the NOVA documentary that it was barely achievable as it was. I believe that this type of "first" is important because when we look back on history, we can say with some confidence that such a feat was likely NOT possible using the technology which existed up until approximately that point in time.
Of course it wasn't possible in 2005, and as you note it was barely possible in 2015-16. The main justification for both pilots was to achieve a first, and while that's good for getting into the record books and makes the sponsors happy, it often (as in this case) has nothing to do with technical development for practical usage. Firsts/records are something that runs in Piccard's family, as both his father Jacques (first along with Don Walsh in the bathyscaphe Trieste to the bottom of the Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench, the deepest known point in the ocean) and grandfather Auguste (set and then broke his own absolute height record, in 1931 and 1932, in balloons with two different companions) did them, and Bertrand along with Brian Jones were the first to make a non-stop balloon circumnavigation. At least in Auguste's case they were expanding scientific knowledge, and there was some minimal information gained by the Trieste. I can't say the same for this flight.
RegGuheert wrote:I did watch the show and that is NOT what happened. What ACTUALLY happened is Pierre took off for Hawaii with the full blessing of the engineering team. After some time, he reported a malfunction with the system which monitors the autopilot and alerts the pilot if it determines his attention is needed. This malfunction threatened to (and proved to) put additional stress on a pilot who was already attempting to extend a human endurance record by a large margin (over 5 days of continuous flying versus 3 days). The engineers, who have responsibility for the safety of both the pilot and the aircraft, felt that this added additional risk was not warranted and they recommended that Pierre turn around and return to Japan before he reached the limit of an abort. Pierre and Bertrand overrode their recommendation and decided to push on to Hawaii. This created a significant amount of friction within the team and Bertrand fully expected some of them to quit even if they reached Hawaii safely. NOVA did an admirable job of capturing this very human drama.GRA wrote:If you watched the show, you know that the decision to take off for Hawaii was made against the unanimous advice of the engineers, who said it wasn't worth the risk.
Yes, you're right about the sequence. Thanks for correcting my memory.
RegGuheert wrote:Your characterization of this decision is:You went on to imply that this had become a "daredevil stunt". I have to agree with you that achieving the goal of flying this plane around the world was very much at the forefront of the decision to push on, but while it was originally a personal goal of only Bertrand Piccard, it had also become a corporate goal of ALL of the people involved in the effort as well as of the financial sponsors and many other supporters.GRA wrote:That the pilot decided to do so anyway shows that this was about personal goals and not disappointing sponsors rather than gathering technical information, not that there was ever much doubt about that.
What you failed to point out were the following very pertinent facts:
- Pierre had previously aborted this flight after taking off due to adverse weather conditions, resulting in the plane being in Japan instead of China.
- The flight had been aborted again on the runway while trying to take off from Japan, again based on weather.
- As a result of these two aborts, the window was rapidly closing on successfully achieving this five-plus-day flight to Hawaii. The main reasons for this were 1) the Summer solstice had passed and thus the available solar energy for the flight was being reduced each day. There was very little energy margin, even right at the solstice, 2) The typhoon season was quickly approaching, which not only threatened to prevent the flight, but could actually destroy the blow-up hangar and the plane itself, and 3) The team was starting to suffer from severe fatigue from the waiting and the three periods of intense preparation (and worrying) for this most-difficult flight which they had just gone through.
- Bertrand felt that if this flight was aborted, the entire mission would fail.
So did they make the wrong decision? Hindsight tells us that the flight to Hawaii was a success. Pierre was certainly more harassed by the autopilot monitor than he should have been, but he did an amazing job piloting the plane and pulled through to achieve an incredible world-record feat of endurance. The batteries failed during that flight and the rest of the mission had to be pushed back until 2016, but that design issue was already baked in and was not part of the go/no go decision. And, yes, the engineers were pissed off that their recommendation had been overruled by "two managers". In the end, however, none of them quit.
I have to say I feel that Bertrand and Pierre made the correct decision. Note that those two people who made that decision were the person whose life was on the line and the person whose personal reputation was most on the line. They personally had the most to lose in case of a failure. Ultimately, the entire team would have been MUCH more upset had they aborted and had the entire mission been scrubbed.
All of which just goes to show that personal and PR motivations drove this, not technical development. Sure, Piccard and Pierre chose to risk their lives, but as there's absolutely no need to do so in this case to gather technical data, it's clear that the driving force was personal (ego if you will) rather than scientific. Nothing wrong with that, as lots of people try and test their own limits, but it's not science. There were a couple of moments in the film that I thought accurately showed the adventurer/explorer as hero idea. One was when Piccard was having stomach problems and wanted to take off anyway, Pierre took him aside and out of hearing I imagine told him not to be an idiot - aside from every other reason not to do this, the last thing you want when flying in an unpressurized a/c over 25kft is gastric issues.
The other case was when Bertrand gave an example of Chuck Yeager choosing to fly the Mach 1 flight with a broken rib as a reason to press on, which is a perfect example of personal goals overriding sound decisions (and was immediately quashed by the Chief Engineer IIRR). If Yeager hadn't made the flight his back-up Bob Hoover would have, or they could have waited until Yeager was able to fly - there was no technical reason to rush. As it happens it's entirely possible that the sound barrier had been broken by George Welch in a dive in the prototype P-86 (later F-86) Sabre shortly before, but as it wasn't instrumented to the same level there was no way to tell - the F-86 was definitely capable of doing it. Yeager did the flight because he wanted to be first, plus the usual fighter pilot "I can hack it" machismo. But if the flight had failed because of his injury, with the loss of the a/c and/or his life, would anyone conclude that he made a good decision?
RegGuheert wrote:As far as collecting data goes, the data which was yet to be collected was the data which could ONLY be gathered on this leg of the mission. They needed to find out if the plane could store enough potential and battery energy to make it through the night over the Pacific, and to do this over and over again each day for five days. They also needed to find out if Pierre could manage to fly the plane for five days. The ONLY way to collect that data was to actually DO it. It turned out that Pierre WAS able to succeed even with an additional hurdle put in his way. OTOH, it also turned out that the thermal design of the batteries was insufficient for the purpose.
Data could just have easily been collected flying over land, or out and back over the ocean. It was the need to be seen as the adventurer as hero that made it necessary to fly over the Pacific. After all, can you name the pilots who prior to Lindbergh flying non-stop to Paris had previously flown a non-stop distance and endurance more than sufficient to make the flight ( in the a/c Lindbergh had tried to buy for the fligh)t, but did so while flying back and forth over Long Island? I mentioned them in my post a page or two back, but I'll repeat their names: Clarence Chamberlain and Bert Acosta. How about the names of the first pilots to fly across the U.S. non-stop (in 1924), a greater distance than that from Newfoundland to Ireland? Or how about the names of the designers of the WB-2 and the Spirit of St. Louis; can you tell me either without checking the wiki? The main reason why flying across a large body of water engages the public's mind is because of the perceived (and in many cases actual) greater danger to humans, and their willingness to risk it. Can you name the first trans-oceanic flight by a drone, without looking it up?
RegGuheert wrote:Ultimately, it was bad enough that this around-the-world series of flights stretched into a second year. In my mind, that was a bit of a failure. But had they balked at attempting that longest leg in 2015, the effort possibly would have either dissolved at that point or the adventure would have stretched into the third year, with no improvement in the possibility of success, but a greatly increased probability of failure due to a loss of funding.
Right, a personal adventure/test driven largely by sponsorship concerns.
RegGuheert wrote:I appreciated that NOVA did an excellent job of showing how challenging this task really was. I appreciate this documentary in the same way that I appreciate the HBO documentary series "From the Earth to the Moon" that brought that same kind of information to light about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. Ultimately, there are a LOT more challenges in such an undertaking than you can appreciate by just watching it unfold on TV or on the internet. The difference with the NOVA documentary is that they recorded the events as they happened, so likely it was more accurate than the HBO dramatizations.
Much as I watched the flights, the whole manned moon program was largely an exercise in the astronaut as mythic hero - the public had far less interest in the 20 or so previous unmanned flights which had reached the moon and orbited, crashed into or landed on it, and which did the science. While lots of people watched Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars, is there any doubt that public interest will be far greater when we send humans there?