The SpaceX launch of the crewed Dragon module atop a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 27, was scrubbed 17 minutes before ignition/light off because of severe weather in the area. The next window for the historic mission will be Saturday, May 30, at 3:22 pm EDT. Another window takes place the next day, May 31, if needed.
While the mission has been 9 years in the making, a delay of even a couple of days heightens the level of anticipation—as Flying contributor Les Abend found as he waited during the last 59 minutes of the run-up to the launch, in the midst of celebrating another special occasion:
“Pleased that Elon Musk had made the decision to celebrate my birthday by launching astronauts to the International Space Station, my wife and I had driven to Cape Canaveral, bike rack and bicycles attached. After examining satellite photos like a CIA analyst, I had devised a strategy that involved positioning ourselves on a shoreline area with an unobstructed view of the event.
“The bicycles would allow us the mobility to park almost anywhere. Of course, no one but me had considered that plan. Within a minute of our arrival, a very polite law enforcement officer with a bona fide sense of humor informed me that he was the “fun police,” and that my strategy was not allowed. We accepted his advice that it was best to consider a libation while viewing the launch via the restaurant decks that lined the south shoreline of Port Canaveral.
“When I had awoke that morning to the sound of a Level 4 thunderstorm, I analyzed the Florida radar picture that was pixelating across my phone’s screen. My airline pilot brain told me that a launch had a marginal chance of happening. So, at T minus 59 minutes, I was surprised that the countdown was continuing. I found myself juggling between my radar app and the live NASA feed. Surely, someone at Mission Control would call me for advice. Infatuated with NASA of the 1960s—and geeked out on its trivia—I recalled the lightning strikes that had disabled Apollo 12’s navigation platform during its launch. That crisis was averted by some quick-thinking engineers, but it left enough of an impression where the current policy was established that if convective activity is within 50 miles, the launch does not occur.
“Though communication between Mission Control and the Dragon capsule held the standard monotone, airline-like demeanor, no doubt the astronauts were feeling the stress of the moment, probably wondering if mother nature was going to foil the day’s plans. At T-minus 30 minutes, my radar analysis indicated that the last band of weather needed to vacate the area more quickly to the east. If the band moved away, the next batch of convection to the southwest might just remain 50 miles away. I was amazed that propellant was still being added to the rocket.
“With approximately 17 minutes remaining, a dry humor comment from mission control that another 10 minutes was needed indicated to me that the launch was scrubbed. When the abort sequence was announced, it was time to beat the crowd. Despite the numerous TVs in the restaurant that were broadcasting NASA Live, it seemed that the other patrons hadn’t quite got the abort message. Surely, we would be the first to exit the parking lot. Once again, my strategy wasn’t an original thought.
“Though enduring the traffic was painful, I could have only imagined the frustration of NASA, SpaceX, and the astronauts. That being said, the appropriate decision was made to abort the launch. After being presented with a career of similar decisions, I had a tremendous appreciation for the protocol that was followed precisely. Thanks anyhow, Elon! Maybe next year’s birthday?”
The US Air Force still needs more pilots, despite the effects of the COVID-19 virus on the rest of the aviation industry. Last week, the Air Force removed one more barrier to recruiting the pilots it so badly needs by eliminating the height requirement for applicants. Under the previous Medical Standards Directory requirement, a pilot applicant was required to stand between 5'4" and 6'5" with a sitting height between 34 and 40 inches. While the service said its goal in dropping the height requirement was to attract a more diverse group of candidates, it admitted in a news release, “The previous height screening criteria eliminated about 44 percent of American women between the age of 20 and 29.”
According to the Air Force Times, “Instead of a blanket height requirement, the Air Force said that it will apply an ‘anthropometric screening process’ to figure out which specific aircraft applicants would be able to fly. These measurements, in addition to standing height, also measure an applicant’s eye height while sitting, buttocks-to-knee length, and arm span, are entered into a computer to determine which aircraft the applicant could and could not safely fit in.”
Pete Bunce said, “While the year started off strong, the health and safety restrictions put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic began to significantly impact global operations, supply chains and deliveries towards the end of the first quarter.” Bunce’s remarks were part of the General Aviation Manufacturing Association’s report of first-quarter aircraft shipments—Bunce serves as CEO of GAMA. “Many companies then supplemented ongoing activities with the production and transport of health-care materials needed by front-line health care workers and communities across the globe,” actions Bunce said serve as a testament to the adaptability and resilience of the industry’s workforce.
During the quarter that ended March 31, piston airplane deliveries declined 11.7 percent, with 219 airframes; turboprop airplane deliveries dropped a whopping 41.8 percent, with 71 airframes; and business jet deliveries declined 19.1 percent, with 114 airframes when compared to the same time period in 2019. On the rotorcraft side, turbine helicopter deliveries declined 18.3 percent with 85 airframes, while piston helicopter deliveries declined 43.9 percent sending just 37 machines out the door. Of the 404 total delivers in the first quarter, the majority–294–went to North America, 98 to Europe and nine to South America. Second quarter delivery numbers that should appear in late August are expected to reflect the full force of the COVID-19 virus on the industry.
A quick glance at some of the manufacturers showed Textron Aviation delivered 48 Cessna 172s, six Beechcraft King Air 250s and seven Cessna Citation Latitudes, while Robinson Helicopters shipped 50 airframes, including 15 R66s, 14 R44 Raven IIs, 10 R44 Raven Is, six R44 cadets and five R22 Beta IIs. Piper shipped 25 aircraft, the vast majority being Archer IIs. Pilatus shipped 11 PC-12s and seven PC-24s, while Icon Aircraft shipped six airframes and Honda Aircraft delivered seven HondaJets. Cirrus Aircraft delivered 85 aircraft in the first quarter, eight SR-20s, 20 SR-22s, 39 SR-22Ts and 18 VisionJets. Embraer shipped nine aircraft and Gulfstream delivered 23. More specific details of all delivers is available at GAMA.