Sunday, April 30, 2006

Cubs on the Loose - Recommended Reading

A couple of weeks back I took one of my routine visits to the annual Sun-n-Fun fly in at Lakeland FL. If you haven't heard about Sun-n-Fun its a spring gathering of pilots, airplanes and aviation enthusiats at the Lakeland-Linder Regional airport. It's probably the second largest aviation event in the country next to EAA's late July Oshkosh fly-in.

While there I met Lyle Wheeler who is a former commercial/airline pilot. Most importantly he is an avid owner of a piper J-3 cub. J-3's are yellow, rag covered and tube framed aircraft of yesteryear. The J-3 has a romantic lore. If each one could talk and tell a story they would. A few years ago Rinker Buck wrote a book Flight of Passage. In his book, Rinker describes the true adventures of two teenage boys who fly cross country in a Piper Cub. The J-3 is the type of aircraft barnstorming adventures are made from.

Lyle Wheeler also completed a book, Cubs on the Loose. Lyle tells from the aircraft's voice the adventures of six Piper Cubs on different flights and camping adventures across the US. The piper is a true NORAD aircraft. By NORAD we mean no radio. The type of flight is that of yesterday. Navigation is accomplished without GPS. Dead reckoning or pilotage skills only are used. The flight is low and slow. The book is truly about modern day barnstorming. I don't know for certain but it is probably the type of flying that has meant more to Lyle than all the commercial hours in 747s that he has logged.

If you can find either of these to books, Flight of Passage or Cubs on the Loose, I recommend them.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Reliabilty Models and Systems

I was in a meeting the other day and the subject of modeling reliability came up. The managers and engineers present really did not understand the question. They immediately thought of traditional process modeling used by chemical engineers. They were stumped.

One of the things I have realized in the chemical industry is that few companies have a good handle on the concept of reliability. They do not treat their processes as systems and analyze as such. Chemical engineers focus on theory, chemistry and derive many of the equations that apply to their processes. Most of this is done at the unit operation or sort of a micro level. Very few of them have been trained to examine their entire processes from a systems level or macro level. Industrial and Systems engineers have a better handle on this concept. In the aerospace industry for example there are so many components that make up a system that failure and failure rate of components has a large impact on reliability. The aerospace industry knows this very well.

Systems in chemical facilities can wind up being just as complex. There are often thousands of instruments, gages, pumps, pipelines and other equipment put together in sort of a complex maize. Although the industry does a good job of recognizing that a failure can have profound effect on a process, they it is rare that they analyze or try to predict the frequency or probablity of these failures occuring.