Monday, August 26, 2013

Why Don't Airports Routinely Film Takeoffs and Landings?

The crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International airport on July 6, 2013, brings to mind a thought I've had since coming into the age of airplane-crash awareness.  I don't know when that was, but it was a long time ago.

There it is, there, in the title.

Plane crashes take place overwhelmingly on takeoffs and landings.  I just made that up, but I believe it strongly. Planes tend not to fall out of the air, although sometimes they do run into mountains or depressurize or collide or stray into fatally bad weather.  If something is going to go wrong on a flight, usually the craft either doesn't make it too far off the runway, or it come upon it the wrong way. Wait, here you go -- Airplane Crash Frequency by Stage of Flight -- only 8% of accidents take place while the plane is "cruising," that is, not taxiing, taking off, climbing, descending, or landing.  But, oh those cruising problems -- no fender-benders up there.

But thankfully few of them, so let's concentrate on a more useful datum, which is that most airplane crashes happen at and very nearby identifiable, limited areas known as airports. 

It would be relatively easy to capture clear images of each flight's taxi, takeoff, early climb, late descent, landing, and final taxi.  The concept would not be to capture a single aircraft on a single dedicated recording, but to install enough  fixed high-def cameras to cover all the runways, and some of the airspace nearby either end.  The day goes by without incident, no reason to hang on to the recording.  If there's a problem, the images are preserved and assembled from the various fixed cameras that recorded the plane's path.

It wouldn't matter how busy the airport is.  O'Hare in Chicago has about 2400 takeoffs and landings every day.   But since we're not trying to track every plane's path with a single dedicated camera but only asking each camera to keep a steady eye on one particular scene day in and day out, flights could come and go with any frequency with no greater burden on the system of recording.  Just turn them on and let them run.

I don't know how many cameras it would take to cover every open runway.  On some, you might even want more than one angle.   What if it took, oh, 200 cameras at a particular airport?  Some may be mounted on buildings or the low-slung signage along the runways.   Some may be peering out from the tarmac.   The plane comes into the frame, travels through the scene, and exits the other side -- at which time, another camera's field of view has already picked it up, and camera number one has already recorded the next aircraft to pass the scene where it's aimed.   Each camera records merrily away until it's determined that the recording was unneeded, and you start all over.

Issues:  Darkness; bad weather; expense of acquisition and maintenance; vibration from the engines and rolling on the runway.

Of course, this plan probably has some drawbacks or difficulties that I can't imagine.   But I'm thinking that  technology has reached the point that high-quality video may be acquired from small, efficient, optically sophisticated devices and that images can be manipulated and blended to show all those thousands of dramas when those gigantic vessels rise into the sky or float to the ground.  Amateurs film plane crashes on their cell phones, and those images are coveted for what they tell us about why an aircraft failed to thrive.  It would seem to me to be a simple, if perhaps costly, matter to institutionalize the practice.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Roadside Shoe

When I'm out on my bike, I stop for turtles.

I've only stopped for one live one, a big old slider.  It was at the curb just west of Preston on Eldorado.  It looked like maybe it was trying to climb the curb, and it wasn't going to make it.  Sooner or later it was going to make a break across the open road and that would likely be its end.  I took it by the edge of its shell and somehow held it balanced on my handlebars until I could pedal over to the pond at nearby Warren Park.

But most of the turtles I stop for are less fortunate, and more characterized by flatness.   And most of them I pass by on the bike until something registers, and I think what was that and I go back and look.  I see more dead turtles on the byways here in Frisco than I do dead armadillos.

When I was out for my ride this morning, something caught my eye near a curb drain.  It was too smooth to be a turtle; I doubted it was a smooth soft-shelled turtle so far from water so I pedaled on for another few dozen yards or so, until I knew I had to turn around.

It was a shoe.

It was this shoe:

A woman's shoe with a smashed high heel.  I turned it over but its topside was crusted with dirt.  The little plastic sticker with what I assumed to be the size was still on it -- you can see it there.  It's either a W6 or a 9M, I think the latter.  

I wondered if it was ever a nice shoe.  The Memsahib could have told me, but I imagined the looks I would have gotten if I had brought the filthy thing home and asked her.  It looked to be worn through at the toe and there by the arch, and worn and stained on the sole, injuries probably caused by overwear and not the trauma of exposure.  It was probably a cheap shoe that just wore out and was thrown away.

But still I wondered about it.  Wondered at its story, at the story of the woman who wore it to pieces and eventually discarded it.  Who may have really loved that pair of shoes, must have, because she wore them until this one, at least, fell apart.  

And what about that heel, the tip broken off ?  Maybe it had been run over.  If not, though  .  .  . what violence brought it to that state?

And maybe I was wrong about those holes.  Maybe those holes weren't there when this shoe lost its way, and it has been in the elements for so long that rot or colllision or some other influence has brought it to that state.

Surely it had been a lot of places, with that tread worn smooth like that.  A woman wouldn't just wear heels like that around the house, would she?

And how did it get there?  Not such a mysterious question -- all kind of junk ends up next to roadways (but then, I wonder how that junk gets there, too).  Someone hauling garbage, and it fell out.  Someone littered.  

Where is its mate?

I imagined that a woman who wears holes in her shoes is not well off, or is otherwise unable to replace worn apparel.  Perhaps elderly -- but no, not with that heel, and not a shoe that strappy.  

I thought further back, to where the pair was made, and how, and by whom.  Where it was purchased.  Tried on, admired, just the ticket, I'll take them.

The only certain conclusion I reached was that no one who had ever encountered this shoe would have imagined that it would come to rest on the northbound Dallas Parkway just south of Panther Creek next to a curb drain.

But that's wrong -- it hasn't come to rest.  The next time I pedal by there, it will be gone.  Perhaps down the drain, perhaps scooped up by road cleaners, perhaps carried off by a critter.  

I got back on the bike and pedaled off, into my own unimaginable story.