iRadio MAX Story 3

iRadio Max

The folllowing are stories that appeared on an interesting experiment, an internet radio-on-demand station, iRadioMAX, which has sadly folded. Read the scripts and listen to the shows on the links below:


Story 3.    Looking  Out  The  Window
Flying, global warming, bushfires and the human spirit 

Listen to the broadcast :

3. Looking Out The Window

Flying back to Dubai from Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania the other night I was treated to an awe inspiring display in the moonless night sky. Some Pilots at night try to trick their body-clock by having the flight deck brightly lit which obscures the stars. Luckily, on this occasion my colleague was happier with all the lights dimmed, almost to black, and we sat, as if on a thousand kilometer per hour magic carpet, heading north east, crossing the equator, with the Milky Way extending from our front, just left of center and up over our heads.

If you’ve ever been on a Flight Deck and seen out the windows you’ve probably been unimpressed with the scope of the vista. It’s not until you occupy a control seat and move it up and down, forward and aft, so that your eyes line-up with the two pea-sized balls, designed to ensure that all Pilots’ eyes are in exactly the same spot, despite different body shapes and sizes; that you experience the full panorama … being able to see right back to the wing tip and beyond.

Incidentally, by being in exactly this position, and not a centimeter further forward, the manufacturer supposedly guarantees your safety if a large bird decides to come in through the window. The sheets of optical glass have fly-wire sheets of tiny gold fibres, invisible to the eye and heated to keep the glass from becoming brittle. If the bird enters, the glass melts and solidifies around the intruder, stopping the whole mess a few centimeters before your very eyes. So they say. It’s explanations like these which is how they con Pilots to sit only inches from the front of the speeding aluminium dart, being assaulted by feathered artillery, lightning bolts, ice and rain which sometimes sounds so heavy you have to shout, full voice, through the intercom, to be heard.

We were watching for the Leonid Meteoroid Shower, expected to be at its best that night, as the earth annually passes through the dust trail left by the 3.6 km diameter Temple-Tuttle Comet on its 33 year orbit between Mars and Uranus; which would be best seen immediately in front of us in the hours just before dawn. Leonid particles are usually half a millimeter in size and each weigh about sixty-thousandths of a gram. They’re doing 71 kilometres a second and to be defined as a shower, we’d have to see 13 an hour of the firey pin stripes, or roughly one every four minutes. For it to be defined as a Meteor Storm, we’d have to see one a second.

Above us was my favourite constellation, Pleiades, a cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus, including six bright stars, originally called the Seven Sisters, the seventh bright star has apparently faded from sight since the original sightings. About 415 million light years away, on a clear night on a coastal beach with binoculars you can see about 20 stars in the light fuzzy smudge.

To the east a planet, probably Mercury, was rising, regularly flashing red and white just like the lights of another plane, and often reported as a UFO, as its light spectrum is bent around the earth, coming to us through the dust laden atmosphere about ten minutes before the planet is visible over the horizon.

Earlier in the day, sitting in the hotel in Dar Es Salaam, I had downloaded and read the latest communiqué from the world’s top brains at the IPCC who have proved, beyond doubt, that the climate is changing. Just how much man has caused this is still in debate, but there is no doubt that the Climate is changing and we have to change our ways.

Sitting in the front of an aeroplane, burning about five and a half tones of fuel an hour, you have time to think of the damage you’re causing to the planet. While aviation causes about 2.7% of the world’s carbon emissions, compared to 15% from livestock, there is evidence that the white condensation clouds left behind us reflect a percentage of the sun’s incoming radiation, which might be helping reduce global warming.

In the days following 911, when there were no aeroplanes flying about the USA, variations in high and low temperatures showed an increase of 1.1 degrees Celsius. So, grounding the world’s aviation fleet may show a 3% decrease in carbon emissions but may accelerate the warming we are all worried about.

As John Howard found out, Australians are worried about the environment and want to see action. Making Tim Flannery Australian of the year for his defining book, The Weathermakers, was a good start, but real changes were needed.

Dubai’s Ruler decreed last October that, from January 2008, all new buildings must meet green international standards in construction and design, minimizing water and energy use. Just Do It, seems to be his motto. His plans include making Dubai the world showcase for self-sustainability, and to help he is enlisting the help of a leading Australian expert in green architecture.

Australia could easily have grabbed such a role, when they held the technological advantage in Solar development in years gone-by. Sadly the brain drain to the US occurred and Australia appears to be doing nothing.

What is hard to take, looking as an outsider, is Australia’s ability to grab defeat from the jaws of certain victory; and fail to become the world leader in the new technology that could help save the planet.

Sitting in my ergonomic Pilots seat, surrounded by the 135 computers controlling the million or so parts that make up my aeroplane, looking down at the planet each day, I came up with an idea I’d like to share.

In the late 1940s the energy efficient Transistor was developed, winning its discoverers the 1956 Nobel Prize for physics, and changing the world evermore.

No longer would power-hungry valves have to be warmed-up before use in radios, televisions and computers. In 1958 the trick to putting six transistors together on an Intergrated Circuit board was discovered. Gordon Moore’s Law, that sees the doubling of the number of transistors that can be placed per unit area every 1.5 years, has held true since 1960. The company he founded, Intel, has made it a mind-boggling art form.

Our childhood memory of the five dollar Tranny which allowed us to carry our new music from the local radio station around in their pockets was the by-product.

But who kicked-it off?

It was the US Military who placed a monumental order for transistors for use in radios, radars and weapons systems that brought down the cost of a transistor from millions of dollars per unit, to a matter of cents.

Today, the thing that holds back wider use of Solar power is battery technology. And whilst the latest announcement of a Japanese car battery that can really make electric vehicles a viable alternative, I contend that Australia can make a mark similar to development of the transistor.

Imagine that the Federal Government decided to treat the need for sustainable solar power, captured from the sun at its point of use, with a vigor normally reserved for time of war.

A sweeping mandate that every street light in Australia must be replaced by a Solar light within two years.

The tender for the solar collector and battery technology would attract revolutionary ideas, with the sheer number of units allowing economies of scale which would drive the cost of components down to previously unimagined levels.

The lights would have no requirement for their own powerlines.

They would come on automatically when conditions required, utilize bright long life LEDs and intelligent mirror reflectors. Running at varying levels, they’d be brightest, say from start of darkness for three hours, then stepping down in intensity every hour until just before dawn, saving energy in case the sun was obscured for a few days.

Surely such a mammoth effort; paid and managed by the Federal government, using the resources of the States and Local governments for the production, assembly and erection of the lights, and recycling of old components; would give the country a boost, not only in terms of pride and enthusiasm.

Australia could lead the world in this technology, selling it worldwide, just in the same way that Germany and Belgium own the windmill technology we buy today. Spinoffs could lead to cheap lighting for emerging economies.

The IPCC report says that the changing climate will see hotter summers and, for southeastern Australia, more droughts and bushfires.

A mate of mine who flies choppers for Victoria’s Country Fire Authority every summer is getting sick of it. Spending weeks on 24 hour reserve, away from home, then spending each flying hour bounced around hot, smoky skies, in teeth-busting turbulence, using every once of his twenty five year flying skills to dangle the bucket into ever-dwindling dams, whilst the rotor blades trim the leaves off surrounding trees, as he tries to save houses from advancing fires.

So what happens when he hangs up his Raybans and David Clark headset? We’re so short of experienced Pilots.

The thought of each bushfire season getting longer and hotter leads many to despair. The aging volunteer force struggling to keep private property protected, while the public forests are defended mainly by holidaying uni students, doesn’t bode well for the future.

Whenever Melbourne has one of those February days, with the hot north winds that drive the humidity down and temperature up, those of us touched by Ash Wednesday 1983 feel uneasy.

The winds that took the fire east were forecast to bring the fire to the tiny hamlet of Cockatoo in a matter of hours. What was subsequently learnt from that fire was that, when big enough, the fire creates its own wind, sucking the oxygen ahead and all moisture from the trees in front of it, accelerating its progress. The oil in the eucalyptus trees actually explodes in horrifying crown fires. Instead of hours, the fire was upon the townspeople in twenty minutes, evaporating 307 buildings and six lives.

A year after the fire I interviewed veteran journalist Mike Edmonds, who, covering the more-deadly Beaconsfield fire, jumped a ride on a fire truck and was first on the scene of the fire fighters who perished when caught in the blaze. Asking him how my interview would effect him, he went quiet, then softly said he probably wouldn’t sleep for three nights.

Imagining a world where Ash Wednesday fires are commonplace is just one aspect that makes you think that the problems of global warming can seem insurmountable. Coupled with the tipping point that is Peak Oil, it can leave you wondering what hope is left.

And then you think about the human spirit, and how ordinary people can make a difference, and you think that maybe, we’ll get thru these challenges.

It seems like yesterday that I discovered that, when faced with tragedy, normal people can step up and make a difference.

David, the ex-cop Private Detective who was a regular on the afternoon show and I were standing outside radio 3AW the day after Ash Wednesday. Our job was to sort the thronging public who had come in response to the station’s public call for cash, clothing and food.

In the irony that is nature, the cool change that had quenched the fires had brought a stiff cold south westerly, and the fires’ refugees were freezing, most having lost all their clothes along with their houses.

A white van pulled-up and the Hilton Hotel’s Manager flung open the door to reveal hundreds of expensive woolen blankets, one taken from each room, to be given to the survivors on the proviso that no-one ever knew where they came from. A request never broken until now.

And then the thing that, when looking down from my cockpit even now, gives me goose bumps everytime I recall it, and makes me think that, when pressed, the human spirit can achieve anything.

A young mother, in an aqua windcheater, dirty jeans and bare feet came down LaTrobe street with a tiny girl at her side who was carrying a much-loved soft doll. The mother was tightly holding a crunched-up ten dollar bill and a can of bake beans.

We took the food and sent her inside to reception to pay the money and get a receipt. Over a million dollars cash came in the front door that day.

They walked back up the street, then stopped. The daughter pulled her mother low and whispered something to her.

She then left her Mum standing there, walked back to us, handed David her doll to give to a bushfire victim, turned, and walked back to join her mother. Two tough blokes, and we couldn’t speak.

No matter what nature has to throw at us, it’s the human response that stops you in your tracks,
every time.

Elvis Skycrane

Story 1.  DUBAI:  Centre Of The World
Dubai - centre of the new world
Story 2.  THE U.K.  End Of The Empire
BBC Radio 4 killed it's Opening Theme and the Empire
Story 4.  BA 777 Crash Initial Reaction
24 hours after a double-engine failure, why are 777s still flying?