The Power of 25

Think of it as a crash course in aeronautical trivia.

A Boeing 767-300 lands on Los Angeles International Airport’s runway 25L. (Sam Chui)
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How Much for That?
In the 1960s, 25 cents could buy you a North Pacific Sleek Streek balsa wood, rubber-band-powered model airplane (the kind with wheels). Today, for $25 you can buy a used Piper Seminole flight manual, while $250 will get you a used Beechcraft Musketeer cabin door. Spend $2,500 and a used Piper J4A engine cowl and nose bowl is yours. A used glider in top condition might cost you $25,000, while a Cessna 172 will set you back about $250,000. Still, that’s a pittance compared to NASA’s $250 million “water recovery system,” which recycles urine, sweat, and wastewater aboard the International Space Station.

Up, Up, and A…wheeeeeeeeeeee!
Above 25,000 feet, the jet streams run—swift air currents that air travelers abhor on westbound flights and adore in the other direction. Balloonist John Wise was the first American to understand their usefulness; he wrote in the 1850s of a great river of air he hoped would one day carry him across the Atlantic. Record-setter Wiley Post was the first to exploit them in an airplane. In 1935, he reached a ground speed of 340 mph in his Lockheed Vega (which ordinarily had a top speed of 185 mph), proving that altitude was key to speed. Two years earlier, four British adventurers in two Westland open-cockpit biplanes flew over 29,000-foot Mt. Everest, and were almost slapped into the mountain by winds of 60-plus mph. In January 2004, astronauts on the International Space Station got a gander at what the British airmen might have faced: a nine- to 12-mile-long snow plume from the peak of Everest caused by winds associated with the East Asian jet stream. During World War II, based on a meteorologist’s 1920s measurements of strong westerly winds, the Japanese military sent bomb-carrying balloons to ride the jet stream across the Pacific to the United States. Of 9,000 balloons, only one reached a target, killing six on an outing in Oregon. The U.S. military also consulted meteorologists during the war, as B-29s flew at high altitudes to Tokyo and other Japanese cities, getting a boost from healthy tail winds on their return flights.

25 Ways to Crash an Airplane
As a service to everyone from student pilots to transport crews to passengers who are tapped to land an airliner when the crew eats bad fish, Air & Space presents 25 actions to avoid (which unfortunately others did not) to ensure the aircraft stays right side up.

1. Fail to remove gust locks from ailerons.
Crashed: Helio Aircraft LTD H800, Sept. 1, 2004, Fossil, Oregon

2. Neglect to lower the landing gear.
Crashed: Piper PA-31-350, Dec. 8, 2010, King Island, Tasmania, Australia

3. Enter an active runway while another aircraft is taking off or landing.
Collided: Boeing 727 vs. Douglas DC-9, Dec. 3, 1990, Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan

4. Take off with a bird or insect nest in the engine.
Crashed: Piper PA-18-150, July 15, 2008, Surfside Beach, South Carolina

5. Leave a gas tank cap slightly ajar.
Ditched: Cessna A150K, Mar. 12, 1986, Hanakuli, Hawaii

6. Take off with water-contaminated fuel.
Crashed: Piper PA-18, Aug. 1, 2007, Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska

7. Fill the fuel tanks of a piston-engine aircraft with Jet A.
Sank: Cessna 340, Jan. 2, 1983, Monterey, California

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