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VOYAGE OF A LIFETIME

The article on voyaging on a slow boat to Australia in the July issue of E&T ('By Sea to Oz' http://bit.ly/15QUFAh) reminded me of part of the expedition I made on P&O's SS Arcadia in the late 1960s.

The Arcadia operated on a round-the-world circuit and one could hop on and off at various ports and pick up another ship to continue the voyage at leisure. I set sail from Australia in the late 1960s bound for the UK, as many Aussies did. Most people are familiar with the medical researchers and practitioners, singers, artists and comedians that have made their names in the UK. However, few know of the engineers who were also making this journey to gain expertise in their chosen field. This was especially true of the aviation industry, which in the UK was a vibrant sector that supported many firms, all of which operated at the forefront of technology.

Initially, I was planning on getting to the UK via the Suez Canal, Italy and across country, through Europe, to London. However, I spotted an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald offering the voyage of a lifetime! The itinerary was to sail to Nahodka via Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo. From Nahodka we travelled across the USSR to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which in the 1960s was not as palatial as the luxury train'on which the tourists of today travel. The final leg of the journey was by train through several Eastern and Western European countries to the Hook of Holland, ferry to Harwich and British Rail to London.

Having reached the UK I turned up at the parent company of the firm I worked for in Sydney, from which I had two years leave of absence, and was greeted like a long-lost member of the family. I enjoyed the increased challenge of engineering in the UK so much that I am still here today long after the allotted two years.

If the aspirations of Project Orient Ltd for their future service to Oz materialises I can confirm that such a voyage would be a life-changing experience.

D Little MIET
By email

What a delight it was to read that there are plans to revive the Orient Line. As a member of what must be a very select bunch of IET members who started their careers as Radio Officers with the original Orient Line, the plans brought back memories of the wonderful food, the ballroom, the cinema and race nights on the quarterdeck while running down through the tropics on passage to Australia.

The dear old 'Orcades/MABA' would give the new ships a good run for their money – the 25 kts run across the Tasman to make up lost time alongside in Auckland in 1963 remains fresh in my memory.

The article in the same issue on current technology in ships served to remind me that everything that is still needed to run what is only a repeat of the immense list of stores, bunkers, fresh water, spares and the host of other items to keep a floating city at sea was done by five Marconi Radio Officers using W/T MF/HF Morse, Marconi 'Worldspan' and 'Globespan' transmitters plus a pair of 'Mercury' and 'Electra' communication receivers and an 'Atalanta'. Occasionally we made long-range R/T calls for passengers, but being double sideband all too often they weren't considered 'commercial' and were repeated the next day to see if the ionosphere was more amenable.

Mind you, life was a bit jaded taking press from the UK, Australia and San Francisco overnight, and typing directly onto Ronio sheets with only a Ferrograph wire recorder as backup against the inevitable HF fading as dawn came up on the 4 to 8am radio watch – so maybe there are some advances to modern communications after all.

Roger Taylor CEng FIET
By email

OBSTACLES TO FLYING BIKES

I was particularly interested in the August 'Big Picture' story about the XploreAir flying bicycle due to my redundancy-cum-retirement career being in microlight aviation. Information about the project on Kickstarter implies that it can be flown from "any open space", requires "no licence to fly" and is suitable for people "living in London". All of this may be true, but with serious caveats.

In the UK at least, air law isn't as flexible as a powered parachute's wing. The sort of open spaces where take-off and landing are legally permitted for anything other than helicopters do not occur in conurbations, and London's airspace is severely restricted by the presence of airports, so our Londoner would need to travel out of the capital to be able to launch skywards.

While flying the paramotor without the bicycle-and-trailer attached would be legal without a licence, anyone wishing to fly the configuration pictured in E&T must, in the UK at least, hold a private pilot's licence for powered-parachute microlight aeroplanes; this fact is hidden deep in the Kickstarter text. Any such flying bicycle based in the UK would also need to be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority as a sub-115kg single-seat microlight aeroplane and appropriately insured to comply with EU aviation regulations.

A search of the CAA's website delivers all the licensing requirements in their full glory, as well as the appropriate air law and the Rules of the Air (including Rule 5 – Low Flying Prohibitions) with which all pilots in the UK, licensed or otherwise, are required to comply.

As a recreational device, I think the XploreAir Paravelo could be immense fun and I wouldn't mind one myself for calm evening flying, but as a commuter's personal transport it would be seriously impractical.

Joan Walsh CEng MIET
Saxon Microlights, North Weald Airfield, Essex

TURBULENT TIMES

I was delighted to see the aviation-related articles in the August 2013 issue of E&T, and particularly liked the striking cover photograph of wing-tip vortices. What I didn't like was the accompanying text: 'Fight for flight: Airlines tackle climate-change crash risk'. Crash risk? I went straight to the article by Anne Harris (http://bit.ly/1cxxn5a), which reports on some interesting research by climatologists on possibly increasing exposure to clear-air turbulence (CAT) in winter due to climate change.

Concerning risk, I couldn't remember a single airline hull-loss accident in the last few decades of which a significant cause was CAT. There is a risk, indeed people have been killed and injured, but it's not a crash risk.

I checked the databases. The only possibly turbulence-related airline hull-loss in this millenium occurred on 22 August 2006 to a Pulkovo Airlines Tu-154M, which tried to climb over towering cumulus (that is, building thunderstorms) and stalled in severe turbulence at 39,500ft, entering a deep-stall from which it didn't recover. Those weather conditions are obviously not CAT.

The article quotes British Airways pilot Captain Steve Allright, who says of severe turbulence that it is "extremely uncomfortable but not dangerous". One of the report authors, Dr Paul Williams, says "it is not particularly dangerous".

Some severe turbulence encounters can be dangerous if you are not belted in, but there is vanishingly small risk of losing an aircraft from the turbulence alone.

Professor Peter Bernard Ladkin FIET
Faculty of Technology, University of Bielefeld, Germany

WRITER AND ENGINEER

Stuart Bridgman (Letters, August 2013) praises the 1951 film 'No Highway' for making the leading character an engineer. I haven't seen it, but assume it was based on a novel of the same name, by Nevil Shute.

Older readers will recall that Shute was the author of more than 20 popular novels. They may not have known that he was also an extremely successful aeronautucal engineer who after graduating worked on performance calculations at De Havilland where he also learned to fly. He then acted as deputy to Barnes Wallis in the design, within a private company, of the R100 Airship, in official competition with the Air Ministry's R101 design.

R100 fulfilled its contract while the R101 crashed in France on its first real test flight in 1930. Shute created the pioneering Airspeed Ltd company, which produced the Airspeed Courier, the first British aircraft with a really practical retractable undercarriage.

Geoff Thompson CEng MIEE
By email

BRAINS DRAINED

Whatever happened to 'Thunderbirds' engineer Brains, letters about fictional role models in the August 2013 issue of E&T ask. The answer is simple. He is now stuck in a seemingly endless sequence of pointless meetings where his senior management tell him his ideas are too risky.

Brains, like so many of us I'm afraid, is having the joy of engineering slowly crushed from him by bean counters. That said it's still the best job you do.

Mike Ormond IEng MIET
By email

FACE VALUE

I enjoyed the 'Classic Project' article on John Harrison's wonderful chronometer in the August 2013 issue of E&T (http://bit.ly/15eY7hG), but did notice one glaring error. On a Roman numeral watch face, 4 is normally shown as IIII and not the usual Roman IV as it is in your illustration.

Michael Kampff
Penicuik

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