Saturday, February 13, 2010

More retro-action for Haiti

It's just over a month since the Haiti earthquake. The Haiti airlift story has been an interesting one, albeit the story being a small element of a massive, difficult effort addressing an appalling disaster. What is important is the people addressing Haiti's problems and this discussion is only a view highlighting some of the events and history behind them, and in no way intended as a political commentary or criticism of the situation.

Since my previous post on the story here, much more has come to my attention, so this is more of a selection of follow-up items than an essay on the story as before.

A USAF shows a low-level LAPES style drop, as discussed in the previous Haiti blog post, and seen here at the much missed Mildenhall Air Fete. Author.

My friend Eric Presten found the story of a Grumman Albatross being used to deliver relief medical supplies and medics to the coast of Haiti. The team's website is here, and the blog here. As Eric pointed out, this adds a parallel to the Lake Havel flights of the Short Sunderland flying boats of the Berlin Airlift. The Albatross was essentially a military-only amphibian, but they are all retired now, and with its 'go anywhere' capability it's a very popular warbird cum air-yacht. Nevertheless, this is the first time I can recall hearing of a pleasure-flying Albatross being used for humanitarian work. Good for them. Video of a Miami take off and a news item here.

Dusty airstrip, C-130 delivers. The Hercules doing the job from the 1950s to today.

It might seem odd at first glance to highlight the work of the Canadian Forces C-130 Hercules flying into the small strip at Jacmel, Haiti, again as mentioned on WIX. (Video here, news report from the Globe & Mail here.) But the historical angle is that this is exactly what Lockheed's Hercules was designed to do, and that was back in the early 1950s - over half a century ago, and over half the history of successful heavier-than-air flight ago. To compare it to marine transport it would be akin to using an ancient Greek trireme as a modern warship; yet the Hercules, essentially the same design updated, still continues to be one of the world's key airlifters.

Rarely seen in public, a Lockheed U-2 at the Mildenhall Air Fete. Author.

Another current military type with a long history is the Lockheed U-2. Older readers, or those interested in the history of the Cold War will recall the name Gary Powers hitting the front pages of the world's newspapers in 1960. The modernised version of his spyplane, the U-2S is being used as part of the United States Air Force effort, and is covered by Warbird Radio's report here.

The 'world's biggest operational aircraft' the Antonov An 225 arriving at Miami. Credit: Michael Jones.

Another angle of history is the 'smallest, fastest, lowest and biggest' statistics beloved of some. If you have a big problem, maybe the world's biggest operational aircraft is what you need. (The immediate thought of course is 'will it fit!'.) The Antonov An 225 Mriya ('Dream') has been called in on the Haiti op, and 'Silverplate' (Michael & Audrey Jones) at WIX saw it arrive at Miami International, Florida, and posted their pictures here.

The Antonov An 225 at Miami. Credit: Michael Jones.

They said:
The world’s largest aircraft, an Antonov An-225 landed at MIA on February 10, 2010 for an overnight stop prior to departing for Haiti. The flight originated at Narita, Japan with a stop in Fairbanks, Alaska and on to Miami. The flight was carrying aid relief for Haiti.
The fascinating story of the An 225 is covered on the Wikipedia page here. (And having found my own photos of the beast at Farnborough some years ago, it'll probably feature in a future blog post here.) As to whether or not it is the world's largest aircraft, see the excellent drawing on the same page, enlarged here.

The biggest of the 'Big Ants' on approach some years ago at Farnborough Airshow. Author.

There are some aspects that are also ambivalent in other ways. Chris Williams commented on the previous post about the use of a DC-3;
I can't help thinking that, cool as it is, a DC3 is taking up a landing slot that a C130, with in with a seriously larger payload, could use (let alone a C17). So count me unimpressed with that particular bit of an otherwise impressive story.
It's a fair comment, but the issue wasn't so much which aircraft were used but getting the system to work properly. A DC-3 remains viable to fly in and use. Again, while lots of well intentioned people crowding in to Port au Prince international was an issue in itself, it's perhaps unfair to castigate those who actually achieved something - who got their aircraft, with supplies, where it should be - but, on the other hand, were they 'in the way' of another, more useful delivery? In this, alone, we can see the reality of the difficulties and frustrations - not to mention chaotic challenge in such relief efforts.

And then there's the celebrity offer. A lesser known aspect of film star John Travolta's life is that he is one of the few people in the world who owns his own vintage jet airliner - and it's not some half size effort, but an intercontinental range ex-Qantas Boeing 707. He's officially an ambassador for Qantas, who are Australia's flag carrier, and thus entitled to wear a Qantas captain's uniform. (The Federal Aviation Authority of the USA more practically have endorsed his licence to fly his jet.) Travolta said "We have the ability to help make a difference in the situation in Haiti," according to the Guardian newspaper here. The difference included 'six tonnes of ready-to-eat military rations and medical supplies' and a number of Scientologist volunteer ministers who offer help with their 'touch' program. That will not be something discussed further here.

For those interested in more insight to the various factors of the Port au Prince lift, I've also been directed to Chris Taylor's blog, which has posts on the Haiti situation here and here, the latter link discussing the issues, also with firsthand input of the logistics there.

I hope you've found the historical context and sidelights as interesting as I have, while not forgetting the Haiatian's tragic situation and their efforts for the future. It is a reminder that history is really a matter of life, death and survival not just academic or technical interest.

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