Stunning design for vertical launch plane looks like something straight out of …

We’ve been flying airplanes for more than 100 years, and we’re still waiting for something like the retro future of our dreams. Well, the aviation firm XTI hopes to change that.

Though it’s just a concept at this point, the company has proposed a concept vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plane dubbed the TriFan 600, which utilizes tilt-rotor engines. Put simply: The tilt-rotor engines function in a similar capacity to a helicopter and allow the plane to take off vertically, then turn and fly at high speeds like an airplane. The proposed model would be a five-passenger craft with a maximum speed of 400 mph and a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.

According to Popular Science, three ducted fans will lift the airplane in approximately 90 seconds, and two of those fans tilt from parallel to perpendicular, propelling the plane forward in the air. The report notes a sliding door covers the third fan, to prevent it from interfering with the aerodynamics during flight.

The concept might be awesome, but sadly, XTI doesn’t actually have the money to build this thing. The company is currently raising money through an “equity crowdfunding platform,” though it’s admittedly a long shot they’ll actually be able to pull it off. Regardless, this thing is absolutely beautiful. Just. Wow.

(Via Popular Science)

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How that thrilling opera scene in ‘Mission: Impossible 5′ was made

Mission: Impossible” has been captivating audiences with high-octane action sequences ever since the film franchise launched in 1996.

From the iconic wire hang in the first film to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge shootout in “M:I 3” to the Burj Khalifa sequence in 2011’s “Ghost Protocol,” there was a long list of thrilling and original set pieces that Christopher McQuarrie had to live up to when he took on the fifth film in the espionage series.

The opera house scene was McQuarrie’s answer to that challenge in this year’sMission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” Tom Cruise hanging off the side of a a plane 5,000 feet in the air caught the attention of anybody who watched the film’s trailer, but it’s the elegant and heart-pounding opera sequence that really wowed audiences upon the movie’s release.

The scene features Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and Benji (Simon Pegg) searching for a suspect at the Vienna Opera House. Various members of spy and counterspy organizations position themselves in what feels sometimes like a dance, sometimes like a fight, to either kill or protect the Chancellor of Austria — and sometimes it’s not clear exactly what fate someone has intended for the Chancellor, as is the case with Rebecca Ferguson’s mysterious Ilsa.

All this is going down during a performance of “Turandot,” an Italian opera by Giacomo Puccini. The aria “Nessun Dorma” in the final act is one of those opera pieces like Habanera from “Carmen” or “Ride of the Valkyries” from “Die Walkure” that are familiar even to those who have never seen an opera in their entire life.

HitFix looked back on this memorable scene in the hit summer movie with a chat with director Christopher McQuarrie.

Inspiration for the scene came during a vacation to relieve McQuarrie’s writers block.

“Very early in the process we were struggling with how to open the movie. You look at all the other ‘Mission’ films, and they open with a very distinct, very straight-forward sequence that requires little in the way of explanation. You’re just sort of dropped into the experience of the movie,” said McQuarrie, who also penned the film’s screenplay.

When he hit a wall trying to craft this opening sequence, “at a certain point I just decided I’m gonna walk away and I’m gonna take a little break, which of course everyone was horrified with cause the start date was approaching and they wanted me at my desk working,” he recalled. So he got out of London, where he was working on the screenplay, and his wife organized a trip to Paris. Watching the ballet there inspired McQuarrie to craft an action sequence in a grand auditorium. Ultimately, the opera sequence was pushed to later in the film when McQuarrie and Cruise realized having more time to introduce Ilsa and the head of the Syndicate gave the scene more heft.  

A Martin Scorsese short film convinced Cruise that a “Mission: Impossible” opera scene could work.

McQuarrie was worried that Cruise might not latch onto the idea of an opera scene, so when he pitched the sequence to the actor (who also produced the film), he came armed with a nine-minute short film by Martin Scorsese, “The Key to Reserva.” A long-form ad for Freixenet Cava champagne, the film chronicles Scorsese discovering and filming a “lost” Alfred Hitchcock scene that takes place during an orchestra performance.

After watching the short film and hearing McQuarrie’s pitch, Cruise was “very excited about the idea,” the writer-director recalled.


Why “Turandot”?

A visit to the London Coliseum led McQuarrie to settle on “Turandot,” a 1926 opera about a cold princess and the men who attempt to win her hand in marriage by answering riddles. The English National Opera was staging a production of “Turandot” at the time of McQuarrie’s tour of the venue. (It was a contender for the location of the scene before the production later settled on Vienna.)

“I was walking around backstage and saw these fantastic Chinese masks and all of this beautiful Chinese iconography and design and thought, ‘This looks great,’” McQuarrie said.

“So I ran home and immediately bought a copy of ‘Turandot’ and started listening to it,” he said. “That’s when I heard ‘Nessun Dorma.’ It had this beautiful emotional crescendo that was perfect. And there are several pieces around it that are also incredibly dramatic. So I started to structure the sequence with a sense that it was going to crescendo with ‘Nessun Dorma.’”

Treating the music of “Turandot” like the movie’s score helped in editing.

Composer Joe Kraemer was on set during production of the opera scene (a rare move, having a composer involved that early on). He gave McQuarrie this helpful advice: “Don’t think about the music. Don’t think about synchronizing the opera with the action because it’s all gonna change.”

McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton cut the scene without the music. “We just cut the scene to tell the story. We took all the opera out and just cut the sequence for the rhythms of suspense and action,” McQuarrie explained.

“Then Eddie brought in ‘Nessun Dorma’ and dropped it right where we wanted it to crescendo and worked backwards from there, putting in more and more of the opera,” the director continued. “There’s this moment when Tom sees Rebecca for the first time across backstage, and that musical phrase, that first reference of ‘Nessun Dorma’ comes right as he sees her, and it was so beautiful. It was just this chance emotional synchronization of music and image. That’s when I realized the sequence was gonna work.”

That accidental discovery in the editing room inspired Kraemer to use that musical theme of “Nessun Dorma” in his score later in the film for a key emotional scene between Ethan and Ilsa.

The opera as you hear it in the scene isn’t exactly as you’ll hear it if you see it performed. “At first we were determined to be really true to the opera,” McQuarrie said. “Once we let that go and started to manipulate the opera and extend ‘Nessun Dorma’ and borrow from other pieces of the opera and treat the opera like score that could be edited and re-cut, the sequence just really became infinitely more dramatic.”


Minimal CG was needed to craft the scene.

Cruise has garnered fame for doing his own daring stunts, and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” was no different. He really did hang off the side of that airplane taking off, and he really did fight a big dude on some theater lights trestles 60 feet above the ground.

The only CG required for that fight sequence was removal of the wires used while shooting for the actors’ safety and placing footage of the opera house auditorium in the green screen in deep background of the shot — the fight was filmed at a concert rehearsal space in London called LH2, which provided the filmmakers a higher ceiling than any soundstage available in the U.K. The production had just five days to shoot all of their Vienna footage, four hours of which was at Wiener Staatosper (the Vienna State Opera house). So time at the opera house was reserved for exterior shots and essential interior shots. The entire backstage and upper box seating was built at LH2.


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Jeep Flatfender – Garage Project GPW: Part 5

There are a million and one ways to build a rollcage from scratch, and there are almost as many seat options when it comes to assembling an early Jeep. Not all of them will look good or even work in the confined interior of a flatfender. Comfortably fitting in an early Jeep is not an easy task. If you’re any taller than 5 foot, 6 inches tall, you have to be a bit of a clown-car contortionist to even get in and out of a flatfender Jeep. If you’re 5 foot, 11 inches tall like Cappa, then you are near the max-height limit for this ride, unless you plan to cut and extend the body. Over the years we’ve come up with a few tricks to make the seating in an early Jeep more comfortable, while still retaining a low overall ’cage height.

When we set out to build our ’cage, we took the many rollovers of our last flatfender into consideration. There were a few parameters we worked with: the top of the cage had to sit below the windshield frame, it had to mount solidly to the Jeep’s frame, the seats and belts had to be mounted to the ’cage itself, we needed plenty of headroom all around, we wanted to keep it light, and the ’cage had to help make the hacked-up and crumbling 70-year-old body more rigid. We considered building a buggy-style cage but scrapped the idea because we like the look of a traditional dual-hoop ’cage better on this kind of Jeep. A dual-hoop ’cage is also a little easier to build, especially for a first-time fabricator. The main structure is made from about 30 feet of 1 3/4-inch, 0.120-wall DOM (drawn over mandrel) tubing. DOM tubing is roughly twice the strength of HREW (hot rolled electric welded) tubing and worth the small increase in cost, especially when fabricating a rollcage. Chromoly of the same size would be about 20 percent stronger than DOM, but it is significantly more expensive. However, to achieve that increased strength, chromoly also requires welding techniques and processes that are outside the realm of most at-home fabricators. DOM is generally the most cost-effective material for enthusiast rollcages built at home or in a professional shop.

We’re getting near the home stretch of finishing our GPW. Keep your eyes peeled for future installments.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Dom Weld Welding Cage Fabrication Prp Seats Cappa Lpr Photo 139037714

Our first flatfender had a three-hoop family-style ’cage. We don’t plan to carry passengers in the back so we opted for a simpler dual-hoop ’cage that we formed with a JD Squared Model 3 manual bender. We often see people get out of control with ’cage bends. The bends are considered a weak point. Fewer bends is better.

Jd2 Tubing Notcher Fish Mouth Rollcage Cage Dom Jeep Cappa Lpr Photo 90306843

We’ve been using this basic JD Squared TN-100 tubing notcher for over 15 years. It uses common bi-metal hole saws to make notches in the tubing. You use different-sized hole saws to fit the material you are working with. The cutting angle of the TN-100 is adjustable and features engraved degree marks. A single hole saw will last for more than a few ’cages if you are careful and cut slow. It’s best to not use cutting oil because it will contaminate the welds if you don’t clean it all off the tubing.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Dom Fabrication Weld Welding Footing Baseplates Cappa Lpr Photo 139037516

We used 3×3-inch, 3/16-inch-thick angle iron as the footing for the rear portion of the ’cage. It’s pushed under the body rail so the ’cage is not removable, but it bolts to the body in two planes for extra rigidity and support. This portion of the ’cage is also attached to the frame on the underside.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Dom Weld Welding Footing Baseplates Cappa Lpr Photo 139037645

With only two bends in the A-pillar hoop, we were able to match the angle of the windshield frame and kick the footings forward. This offers more room for ingress and egress on a flatfender, and it gives us the ability to mount the ’cage footings on two planes. The A-pillar is attached directly to the frame from the backside of the slanted footing.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Notch Notcher Welding Dom Weld Fitting Fishmouth Cappa Lpr Photo 90306846

Keep the gaps in the tubing junctions as small as possible. The supporting connections should always meet with another tube directly on the backside. This helps prevent shearing of the tubing in the event of a hard roll.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Weld Welding Prp Suspension Seats Cappa Lpr Photo 90306852

It’s a good idea to periodically check for head and body clearance while assembling your ’cage. You’ll want to keep the tubes at least 6 to 8 inches above your head. We prefer to keep the B-pillar a long ways away from us to keep from bonking our heads when driving over rough terrain, so we kicked it back to nearly the same angle as the A-pillar and windshield frame. Use wood blocks to mock up the seating position and try several locations for the best fit and comfort for you.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Dom Tubing Fabrication Weld Welding Prp Seat Mounts Cappa Lpr Photo 139037657

The main structure of our seat mounts is made from 1-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing. It’s welded directly to the A and B rollcage pillars. A ratchet strap comes in handy when pulling tubing together and holding it in place to be tack welded. Once the entire assembly is fitted and tacked, you can finish welding. Some areas will need to be welded during assembly because of limited access.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Weld Welding Prp Seat Mounts Cappa Lpr Photo 139037666

We added 1 1/2-inch 3/16-inch-thick strap steel to our tubular seat mounting structure for a solid flat mounting surface. We also bashed the wheel tubs back a bit for more seat room. A little heat and a big hammer simplify this task. We’ll have to build a transmission cover down the road, but we have an idea for that.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Weld Welding Prp Seat Mounts Cappa Lpr Photo 139037669

We chose PRP Premier Series low-back suspension seats. You can custom-order PRP seats in many different color combinations and styles that fit your needs. Some people complain that the Premier Series seats are difficult to get in and out of because of the tall bolsters. We spend more time sitting in them than actually getting in and out, so the extra effort worth it to us. The PRP Premier Series seats cradle us and keep us from feeling fatigued at the end of the day. PRP also offers other seats with less bolster support for easier entry and exit. We like to angle our seats back up to 15 degrees. This makes seating really comfortable (for us), increases headroom, and provides more legroom in the cramped quarters of this small Jeep.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Prp Seat Mounts Suspension Cappa Lpr Photo 139037678

PRP seats feature race-style seat-tab mounting. The company offers several different bolt-in mounts and sliders for more popular Jeep models. We like to use the flat-faced universal angle brackets (PRP part number C11) to simplify installation.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Prp Seat Mounts Safetboy Belts Lap Cappa Lpr Photo 90306858

We finished off our seats with some vintage-looking AutoLoc lap belts from Summit Racing. Several styles of belts are available in many different colors to match your interior. The AutoLoc airplane lift buckle is made from real metal. They are a bit long but can be made to work in a small Jeep.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Fabrication Advance Adapters Pedals Swinging Brake Clutch Cappa Lpr Photo 139037687

We added an Advance Adapters Dual Swing pedal kit (PN 716117) to the firewall of our flatfender. The master cylinder for the kit is not designed to be used with disc brakes, but the assembly gives us working brake and hydraulic clutch pedals as a starting point to build off of.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Glovebox Omix Ada Body Parts Rust Repair Cappa Lpr Photo 90306867

Most of the hard to find original trinkets had been pilfered from our GPW body tub, but Omix-ADA repops pretty much everything, including this GPW glovebox door. The A-pillar of the cage was in the way, so we stole an idea from a buddy’s Jeep. We cut the offending bit off the door and tack welded it to the glovebox opening, leaving us a fully functioning glovebox.

Gpw Jeep Flatfender Flattie Rollcage Cage Fabrication Summit Racing Fuel Cell Aluminum Gas Tank Cappa Lpr Photo 90306870

We wanted a larger and less leaky fuel tank than the stock one mounted under the driver seat. Summit Racing has a lot of fuel cell size and shape options. We found that this RCI 17-gallon aluminum fuel cell (PN RCI-2171A) fit easily between the rear fenders in the back of the Jeep. It is 30 inches long, 7 inches wide, and 17 inches tall. The narrow width and good height will help ensure that the fuel pump doesn’t starve at excessive angles off-road. It features -8 AN outlet, inlet, and vent fittings and comes with a 0-90 ohm sending unit. We cinched it in place with 3/4-wide 1/8-inch-thick strap steel.

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Thoughts from the Frontline: Weapons of Economic Misdirection

Measurement theory shows that strong assumptions are required for certain statistics to provide meaningful information about reality. Measurement theory encourages people to think about the meaning of their data. It encourages critical assessment of the assumptions behind the analysis.

In pure science, we can form a better, more coherent, and objective picture of the world, based on the information measurement provides. The information allows us to create models of (parts of) the world and formulate laws and theorems. We must then determine (again) by measuring whether these models, hypotheses, theorems, and laws are a valid representation of the world.

Gauri Shankar Shrestha

In science, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner.

It was, perhaps, the most unusual episode in the long running duel between the two giants of twentieth century economic thought. During World War Two, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek spent all night together, alone, on the roof of the chapel of Kings College, Cambridge. Their task was to gaze at the skies and watch for German bombers aiming to pour incendiary bombs upon the picturesque small cities of England.

Night after night the faculty and students of Kings, armed with shovels, took it in turns to man the roof of the ornate Gothic chapel, whose foundation stone was laid by Henry VI in 1441. The fire watchmen of St. Pauls Cathedral in London had discovered that there was no recourse against an exploding bomb, but if an incendiary could be tipped over the edge of the parapet before it set fire to the roof, damage could be kept to a minimum. And so Keynes, just short of sixty years old, and Hayek, aged forty-one, sat and waited for the impending German onslaught, their shovels propped against the limestone balustrade. They were joined by a common fear that they would not emerge brave nor nimble enough to save their venerable stone charge.

Nicholas Wapshot in Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics

I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

Lloyd Bridges in Airplane!

I write these words feeling a little bit like the Lloyd Bridges character in Airplane! With global markets going crazy, I obviously picked the wrong week to go on vacation.

On the other hand, maybe it was exactly the right week. I decided last week that I would rerun something from the archive for this weeks Thoughts from the Frontline. That freed me to think about the weeks events from a different perspective. It also gave me time for some long conversations with friends who are real experts. I learned some things I will share with you in due course.

This weeks letter will deal with the problems of determining what GDP really is, and Ill throw in a few quick remarks on what the recent GDP revision means for the Fed and whether theyll raise rates.

GDP is far from the rather exact number most people think. There are lots of ways to measure GDP; and recently, what is not measured has been the cause for some controversy, at least among economists who care about such things. Given that second-quarter GDP was revised up substantially on Thursday to a surprisingly high 3.7%, it is even more appropriate to look at how that number is created. Bloomberg ran a short article pointing out that if you took the oil slump out, it was much higher still:

The U.S. clocked its fastest rate of economic growth in nine years. Well, at least if you strip out the effects of a battered energy sector.

Oil and exploration companies this year have cut back on investment in response to a plunge in crude prices that gathered steam as 2014 drew to a close. If it weren’t for such a dramatic reversal in demand for drilling rigs and wells, the economy would have posted its strongest pace of growth since the start of 2006.

Gross domestic product, which includes what consumers, companies and governments spend and invest, increased at a 4.5 percent annualized rate in the second quarter when outlays for exploration, shafts and wells are excluded. 

Can that really be true? Even without taking out the oil industry, GDP growth this quarter was about as good as it gets these days. It gets even better when you realize that nominal GDP was 5.85%, with a 2.09% implicit price deflator.

Lets review that for a second. Well above 3% growth, 2% inflation, the most popular measure of unemployment is down to 5%, and interest rates are still held to 0%? What is wrong with this picture?

How in the name of holy righteous monetary policy can the Federal Reserve not raise rates at its next meeting? If they use the recent market turbulence as an excuse, they will lose all credibility as to being focused on monetary policy rather than looking at the stock market to determine what policy should be. They told us they wanted two percent inflation? Bingo got it. Unemployment is moving in the right direction; and unless we get some disaster of an employment number in September (which doesnt appear very likely), we have to be as close to the sweet spot for an interest rate hike as the Fed has been in seven years. Truly, I can see no reason for a delay other than some very misguided understanding of how the economy works. This zero interest rate policy is creating all sorts of malinvestment and inappropriate financial behavior, and we need to begin to move towards normalization.

A relevant thought comes from Mr. Yao Yudong, head of the Peoples Bank of Chinas Research Institute of Finance and Banking, who asserted recently that its not China that is causing the current market chaos so much as it is the Federal Reserve generating confusion around whether it will lift off. Further, he pointed out that the Chinese devaluation was very modest only a few percentage points and came after several years of strengthening of the renminbi.

I suspect that much of the rest of the world agrees with him. Its quite easy to say that all problems are caused by someone else; but frankly, the Federal Reserve is the keystone of global monetary policy, and when theres confusion emitting from the FOMC, a little market turbulence here and there should be expected. In reality, though, the recent global market turbulence is undoubtably due to a combination of things.

Whatever; lets just hope the Federal Reserve finds some backbone and raises rates, if only by 0.25%. If an economy growing at +3% smack in the middle of the Feds inflation target, with falling unemployment cant handle a quarter-point raise in rates, then were in sorry shape indeed. Now lets move on to the topic of how GDP gets calculated.

Weapons of Economic Misdirection

The problem we have today in economics is that many people, and not a few economists, seem to regard economics as pure science, as described above by Gauri Shankar Shrestha. If you delve deep into measurement theory, you find that all too often the way in which you measure something determines the results obtained from your experimental model. How you measure the effectiveness of a drug can sometimes determine whether it gets approved apart from whether it actually does any good. The FDA actually works rather hard at measurement theory.

And if youre using models, as we do in economics, to determine policies that govern nations, your efforts can result in economic misdirection that seems for a time to work but that all too often can lead to a disastrous Endgame. A shortsighted economic policy is not unlike a drug that makes one feel good for a period of time but ultimately leads to further weakness or collapse.

In this weeks letter we look at the construction of gross domestic product (GDP). As we will see, GDP is a relatively late-to-the-party statistic, thoroughly malleable in its construction and often quite contentious in its application. Yet the mainstream media regularly releases GDP numbers with the implicit assumption that they are in fact an accurate reflection of the general economy. We shall soon see that GDP is instead a fuzzy reflection of the economy, derived from a model that is continually readjusted in a well-intentioned effort to understand the scope of the economy.

GDP is one economic model among several that could serve the purpose, but its use conveniently leads to policies that reflect the thinking of a particular school of economic monetary and fiscal policy advocates.

We all know that in operating a business we need to be able to measure the profits of our company and then adjust our prices and production to make sure that there are enough profits to adequately fund the company. That is a relatively straightforward process, since the amount of money in the bank at the end of the month is a real number.

Hayek Versus Keynes

When most people see the release of the GDP number, they equate the precision of that statistic with the bottom right-hand number in their bank accounts. And news anchors and journalists rarely acknowledge the rather significant caveats that the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes along with that data.

What we are going to find is that developing the concept of gross domestic product was more than a dry economic and accounting undertaking. At its very core, GDP is John Keynes versus Friedrich Hayek writ large. And their debate explains a great deal of the current tension between those who would make final consumption or what we call consumer spending the be-all and end-all of economic policy, and those who feel that productivity and income should instead be the focus. The very act of measuring GDP as we do gives the high and easy intellectual ground to those of the Keynesian persuasion.

Let me hasten to note that I have no problem with the concept or the calculation of GDP in general. It is absolutely a number that we need to have in order to understand the workings of a part of the economy. But it is just one tool in the economic toolbox. If the only tool you use to affect (determine, guide choose your word) economic growth and the creation of jobs is the hammer of GDP, the world ends up being a very strange-looking, rather deformed nail, bent time and time again by the imprecise blows of those wielding the hammer.

GDP is an important concept, perhaps one of the more important that we have looked at in quite a few years. I urge you not to roll your eyes at the attempt to understand yet another dry economic statistic, but instead to look deeply at how the attempt to measure GDP affects everything in our lives.

GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History

The subtitle above is taken from the title of a recent book by Diane Coyle. (For economics wonks, she writes an interesting blog at

GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History is a fascinating 140-page book that I cannot recommend highly enough. This is simply the best book on GDP that Ive ever seen. You can read it on a few hours plane ride or a lazy Sunday afternoon. And Ms. Coyle actually makes a relatively dry subject interesting and at times a page-turner. She has a true gift. (Now that she has conquered the GDP mountain, might I suggest she move on to CPI?)

Ms. Coyle starts with the predecessors to Adam Smith and takes us through the 17th century right up until today with the development of GDP, so we see the ebb and flow of ideas through time. Who knew the early developers of the model did not want to include defense spending, as they saw it as a wasteful, nonproductive activity? Or that Adam Smith thought the inclusion of services in the concept was misleading. The provision of more services was a cost to the national economy, in his view. A servant was a cost to his employer, and did not create anything. Importantly, money spent on warfare or the interest on government debt was also being used unproductively. The nations wealth was its stock of physical assets less the national debt. National income was what derived from the national wealth.

(I read this book on my iPad using my Kindle app, an extremely useful tool. As it turns out, if you highlight passages in the book you read [and even make notes and comments], you can go to your Kindle web page and see all the passages you highlighted. I regularly do that now and find it an extremely useful exercise, one that I would suggest to any serious researcher, as notes in a book tend to get buried and lost; and often you just cant quite (at least at my age) remember those connections five or ten years later, especially if youre reading more than a few books a year. Now my notes are in the cloud. Wow. And when I access the notes, I can touch a link to go back to the original passage in the book, making sure I have the context. How cool is that?

I found myself highlighting more than the normal number of passages, as seemingly every page had something I wanted to be able to remember for future use. Just for fun I cut and pasted my highlights into a Word doc and found that they ran to some 15 pages, or more than 10% of the book.)

And while I would suggest you read Coyles book, I know that many of you dont have the time or inclination, so Im going to try to summarize the highlights and arguments and quote somewhat freely from the text here and there. (Unless otherwise noted, all quotations below are from the book.)

Will the Real GDP Please Stand Up?

Let me note up front that Ms. Coyle takes us through not just the development of GDP but also the problems inherent in the concept. She delves into its misses and its misfires, some regularly discussed in public circles and a few new to me.

There is no such entity out there as GDP in the real world, waiting to be measured by economists. It is an abstract idea. I also ask whether GDP alone is still a good enough measure of economic performance and conclude not. It is a measure designed for the twentieth-century economy of physical mass production, not for the modern economy of rapid innovation and intangible, increasingly digital, services. How well the economy is doing is always going to be an important part of everyday politics, and were going to need a better measure of the economy than todays GDP.

GDP is a huge undertaking, full of rules, with almost as many exceptions to the rules, changes, fixes, and qualifications, so that, as one Amazon reviewer noted, GDP is in reality so complex there are only a handful of people in the world who fully understand it, and that does not include the commentators and politicians who pontificate about it almost daily. The quarterly release of GDP statistics is more akin to a religious service than anything resembling a scientific study. The awe and breathlessness with which the number is discussed is somewhat amusing to those who understand the sausage-making process that goes into producing the number. Whether the GDP reading is positive or negative, it often changes less in a given quarter than the margin of error in the figure itself, and it can be and generally is revised significantly often many years later when almost no one is paying attention. Whens the last time the mainstream media reported a five-year-old revision?

If you pay someone to mow your lawn and report wages paid, that adds to GDP. If you pay that person under the table, it doesnt. If you pay your maid to clean your house, it adds to GDP. Except if you marry her, then it doesnt. Unless of course she gets access to the credit card, in which case spending probably increases GDP dramatically. In England, sex with your wife does not add to GDP, but sex with a prostitute does even if it is unreported. Go figure. There are so many jokes and one-liners that I could add to this litany, but Im going to resist. Okay, just one. Can you imagine the reception if you came home with a blonde hair on your dark suit and your excuse was, Honey, I was just doing my bit for the national economy. We all have to make sacrifices.

Housekeeping, cleaning, cooking, and other such duties do not get counted in GDP, although without them GDP would suffer significantly. Perhaps that is because when the original discussions about what constituted GDP were underway, womans work was significantly undervalued.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before we discuss how GDP is constructed (and abused), lets take a look at the history of how it came about. It will not surprise most readers to know that governments decided they need to know what the gross domestic product of the country was in order to be able to both tax that productivity and decide about a nations capabilities to wage (and pay the wages of) war.

Ms. Coyle starts her book with the rather dramatic story of the calculation (or rather the miscalculation) of Greek GDP upon that countrys entry into the European Union. The Greek group responsible for creating such numbers worked in a dusty old apartment without any computers and seemingly engaged in little activity. The real work was done by politicians, who did not appear to feel the need to be burdened by anything so aggravating as actual numbers. When the European Commission and the IMF decided to send someone to create an actual statistical agency in Greece, they selected a well-respected Greek economist, who within a year was charged by the Greek government with the crime of betraying the national interest, an offense that theoretically carries a life sentence. Essentially, he was charged for not cooking the books, which the Greeks had perfected as an art form. Evidently, in Greece economics is a full-contact sport, and the calculation of GDP had real-world implications for whether the government would get desperately needed money from its Eurozone lenders and for how many government workers would lose their jobs, not to mention the impact it would have on the living standards of millions of Greeks.

GDP is the way we measure and compare how well or badly countries are doing. But this is not a question of measuring a natural phenomenon like land mass or average temperature to varying degrees of accuracy. GDP is a made-up entity. The [current] concept dates back only to the 1940s.

According to Benjamin Mitra-Kahn, The Wealth of Nations introduced a new idea of the economy, and through the effort of Adam Smiths students and admirers, it was adopted almost instantly. In Smiths own words: There is one sort of labour which adds to the value of the subject upon which it is bestowed: There is another which has no such effect. The former, as it produces a value, may be called productive; the latter, unproductive labour. Thus the labour of a manufacturer adds, generally, to the value of the materials which he works upon, that of his own maintenance, and of his masters profit. The labour of a menial servant, on the contrary, adds to the value of nothing. A man grows rich by employing a multitude of manufacturers: He grows poor, by maintaining a multitude of menial servants. The idea of a distinction between productive and unproductive activity, adopted by Adam Smith, dominated economic debate and measurement until the late nineteenth century.

(A side note: Karl Marx agreed with Adam Smith, and up until the collapse of communism in 1989, the Soviet Unions economic statistics ignored service activities. Go figure.)

Simon Kuznets was a Russian-American economist and a true giant in the field. Much of what we regard as economics today was developed under his aegis. Wikipedia notes: His name is associated with the formation of the modern economic science as an empirical discipline, the development of statistical methods of research, and the emergence of quantitative economic history. Kuznets is credited with revolutionising econometrics, and this work is credited with fueling the so-called Keynesian revolution (even though Kuznets had significant disagreements with Keynes). Kuznets himself was influenced by Schumpeter, Pigou, and Pareto; and he early on introduced Kondratiev to the West.

Kuznets, when he originally developed an approach for measuring GDP for the American economy, did not want to include expenses on armaments, most of the outlays on advertising, a great many of the expenses involved in financial and speculative activities, and much of government activity, including the building of subways, expensive housing, etc.

Such thinking could not stand the scrutiny of politicians, however:

With this aim, in fact, Kuznets was out of tune with his times. Welfare was a peacetime luxury. This passage [and his early work on GDP] was written in 1937, when his first set of accounts was presented to Congress. Before long, the president would want a way of measuring the economy that did indicate its total capacity to produce but did not show additional government expenditure on armaments as reducing the nations output. The trouble with the prewar definitions of national income was precisely that, as constructed, they would show the economy shrinking if private output available for consumption declined, even if the government spending required for the war effort was expanding output elsewhere in the economy. The Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply, established in 1941, found that its recommendation to increase government expenditure in the subsequent year was rejected on this basis. Changing the definition of national income to the concept of GDP, rather than something more like Kuznetss original proposal, overcame this hurdle.

There was a heated debate between Kuznets and other economists, especially Milton Gilbert of the Commerce Department, about the right approach. The discussions were highly technical, but the underlying issue was profound: what was the meaning of economic growth and why were statisticians measuring it? Gilbert and his colleagues were clear that the aim was to construct a measurement that would be useful to the government in running its fiscal policy.

The inclusion of business taxes and depreciation [in GNP measured at market prices] resulted in a production measure that was more appropriate for analysis of the war programs burden on the economy. Kuznets was highly skeptical: He argued that Commerces method tautologically ensured that fiscal spending would increase measured economic growth regardless of whether it actually benefited individuals economic welfare. In the policy tussle in Washington, Kuznets lost and wartime realpolitik won. [And that those arguing against Kuznets were heavily influenced by Keynes is rather difficult to deny. JM]

This decision was a turning point in the measurement of national income, and it meant that GNP (or later GDP) would be a concept strikingly different from the way the economy had been thought about from the dawn of modern industrial growth in the early eighteenth century until the early twentieth century. For two centuries, the economy was the private sector. Government played a small role in economic life, and featured mainly because it looked to raise taxes to pay for wars. Its role expanded steadily over the centuries, however. In Victorian times this began to extend to the provision of other services, those we take for granted now such as roads and water as well as the historic government roles of defense and justice.

Keynes himself, on the other side of the Atlantic, was arguing for an extended role for statistical analysis in government planning. He set forth his case in a 1940 pamphlet called How to Pay for the War.

Coyle notes (emphasis mine):

Crucially, the development of GDP, and specifically its inclusion of government expenditure, winning out over Kuznetss welfare-based approach, made Keynesian macroeconomic theory the fundamental basis of how governments ran their economies in the postwar era. The conceptual measurement change enabled a significant change in the part governments were to play in the economy. GDP statistics and Keynesian macroeconomic policy were mutually reinforcing. The story of GDP since 1940 is also the story of macroeconomics. The availability of national accounts statistics made demand management seem not only feasible but also scientific.

Understand what this means. One thing that Paul Krugman and I can agree on (and I say this with utmost confidence) is that we both believe that real economic growth is necessary to get us out of our current situation. (I am sure there are some other things that we could agree on, such as our mutual love for science fiction, but nothing else leaps to mind right now.)

However, if your measure of economic growth overweights the contribution of government spending to growth and underweights private production by focusing on final consumption, then when you are looking for policy dials to turn on the economic control panel in order to increase growth, the dials you reach for will be the two largest ones in your equation for measuring success: final consumption and government spending.

GDP Is a Political Construction

Coyle underlines the inherently political nature of GDP measurement:

We are now awash with macroeconomic models and forecasts, published by official agencies and central banks, by investment banks, by think tanks and researchers, as well as by commercial forecasters such as DRIs successors. Indeed, the idea of the economy as a machine, regulated by appropriate policy levers, took firm hold.

Debate rages in particular about the multiplier, because the issue of whether extra government spending or tax cuts (a fiscal stimulus) will boost GDP growth turns on its size. If it is greater than one, a stimulus will help growth, while austerity measures will hurt it. Its actual size is hotly contested among macroeconomists, especially in the context of the present political debate about how much fiscal stimulus the government should be applying to get the economy growing faster. There is an unsurprising alignment in the multiplier wars between macroeconomists answer to the technical question about the size of the multiplier and their political sympathies.

It will be clear by now that the ambition of measuring national income has a long history, with correspondingly many changes in how people have thought about it. As Richard Stone put it, national income is not a primary fact but an empirical construct: To ascertain income it is necessary to set up a theory from which income is derived as a concept by postulation and then associate this concept with a certain set of primary facts. There is no such entity as GDP out there in the real world waiting to be measured by economists. It is an abstract idea, and one that after a half century of international discussion and standard-setting has become extremely complicated. [emphasis mine]

Today, as Coyle notes, the process of comprehending GDP is somewhat akin to what happens when my kids play a videogame. The basic concepts are simple, but as you master each level and move on to the next, complexity increases almost ad infinitum. There is now an entire international community of statisticians (a surprisingly small one at that) that actually determine what is accepted as statistically relevant to GDP. The first United Nations guide on national accounts was 50 pages. The latest edition has 722.

It should not surprise readers that every few years new rules are created for the figuring of GDP. British statisticians just this year declared the UK economy to be 5% bigger than previously thought. What brought about this magical boost in productivity? There was no discovery of buried treasure hidden away in the vaults of the Bank of England. Instead, statisticians turned to counting the economic contribution of prostitution and illegal drugs (along with a few other odds and ends). If you are borrowing money and your creditworthiness depends on cash flow and your debt-to-GDP ratio, you tend to look for sources of income that werent previously accounted for.

Did the size of the US economy increase by 3% last summer? According to the statisticians it did. They decided to include music and entertainment and make adjustments to how we deal with investments. These changes were then calculated for all previous years, and suddenly the economy was 3% bigger! Small positive annual changes can add up over 40 years.

GDP has always been a political construction, subject to the ebb and flow of the intellectual and political climate, the need to raise taxes, and the military needs of the day. It is also a tool used to argue for or against income inequality (depending on what country youre in).

GDP is particularly bad at detecting innovation, as George Gilders powerhouse work Knowledge and Power explains. There is a clear consensus emerging in economic circles about that weakness in the formula for calculating GDP, but there is nothing approaching consensus on how you might actually measure the contribution of innovation to GDP. How do you measure the value of Google maps? The voice recognition software that Im using right now has made me significantly more productive, but how do we measure that?

And somewhat provocatively, there is growing disagreement over the contribution of the financial services sector. Depending on how you measure it, you can even determine that the actual contribution of the financial services sector is negative, although I would not make that argument. But was the contribution of financial services in 2005-2006 as positive as their impact on GDP suggests? Or was it part of the destructive process?

If I purchase a solar energy system for my home, that purchased immediately adds its cost to GDP. But if I then remove myself from the power grid I am no longer sending the electric company $1000 a month and that reduces GDP by that amount. Yet I am consuming the exact same amount of electricity! My lifestyle hasnt changed and yet my disposable income has risen.

Black markets? The sharing economy? The new gig jobs which are off the radar? So much of our economy doesnt easily fit into neat financial models.

GDP is a financial construct at its heart, a political and philosophical abstraction. It is a necessary part of the management of the country, because, as with any enterprise, if you cant measure it you cant determine if what you are doing is productive. That said, the act of measuring GDP precipitates the observer effect writ large.

But as we will see next week, there are additional (note, I am not saying alternative) ways to measure growth and the size of the economy. Those measures would actually lead to policies more favored by Hayek, as the largest dials on the control panel would become productivity and income rather than consumer spending and government.

Stay tuned as next week we ponder the question of How in the name of all that is righteous and holy could Hayek lose the argument? His proponents are right to argue that the match was rigged and the judges were bought. If you have a few minutes, watch these two brilliantly done, hilarious, and instructive YouTube videos, here and here. I think you will come away smiling but also gain an understanding of the true terms of the debate. At the end of the day, I keep coming back to how central the arguments between Hayek and Keynes are to almost every economic discussion.

[UPDATE Aug. 28, 2015: The next week issue described above actually ran on July 27, 2014: Time to Put a New Economic Tool in the Box.]


Rhode Island and Toronto

I am in Boston this morning but will leave soon for Newport, where we will spend the next few days living on Steve Cucchiaros sailboat. This will actually be a new experience for me, and I expect it to be quite fun. I am more than a bit susceptible to motion sickness, so we did pick up the patch. One of the premier biotech scientists in the world is Dr. Cameron Durrant. As a side venture he is on the board of a company called ReliefBand, which is an FDA-cleared, wearable device that helps prevent nausea. It omits a low-frequency electrical micro-signal to your median nerve. This interferes with the feedback loop to your chemoreceptor trigger zone, which is involved with nausea. While Skipper Steve has promised smooth sailing, I will probably opt for the belt and suspenders approach and depend on the patch, too.

Sunday Im back to Dallas, and Monday I get back into my regular routine of working out and eating healthy. The last two months of travel have taken a toll on my workout routine and certainly on my weight. Im concerned there will be white whale sightings in Newport. And with the exception of a few day trips here and there, I should be home until the end of the month, when I go to Toronto for a speech or two.

One small correction. Earlier this week I mentioned a song with the lines, Theres something happening here. What it is aint exactly clear. I couldnt remember who did the tune, but my intrepid editor, Charley, who knows nearly all such trivia, supplied the info that the song was performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. However, I was quickly informed by Transformational Tech guru Patrick Cox (who is a true music afficianado and remembers all the details) that is was a Buffalo Springfield number, circa 1967. The title of the song is For What Its Worth. But then others pointed out that Stephen Stills and Neil Young were in Buffalo Springfield, and the song was written by Stills. Many think it was a protest song about the Vietnam War or Kent State (which actually came later), but my sources assure me it was about protests over traffic laws meant to dampen down the club scene in LA. The protests got large and rowdy, and the police clamped down, arresting in the process a young Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, who later went on to film the iconic youth/hippie-movement movie Easy Rider.

CSNY evidently covered the song in 1982, and that version is all over YouTube, which is what Charley saw when he did his own fact check. So, now you know more correct details about something that never previously crossed your mind than you needed to know. But we do like to get things straight here.

The weather in Boston is about as perfect as it can get. I have my music loaded in my phone and iPad, and Steve has a killer sound system on the boat. Sailing the waves, listening to tunes new and old and relaxing with friends and a great Chardonnay Im sure it can get better, but Im not sure just how. The skipper is calling his crew down to the car for the drive to Newport, so its time for my weekend adventure to begin. You have a great week.

Your thinking about the The Road to Serfdom analyst,

John Mauldin

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Your Story Made Here: Airframe Components

September 1, 2015

Updated Sep 1, 2015 at 7:38 PM EDT

KENDALLVILLE, Ind. (21Alive) — People who own their own aircraft can be a picky lot, so when something happens to their plane, more often than not, they steer toward a cornfield in Kendallville, Indiana, where the craftsmen at Airframe Components can get it wheels up once again.

It’s kind of surreal, walking into the Airframe Componentsfacility in rural Noble County. Like a model airplane store…except the planes are real. The company was started in 1980 and has grown into a worldwide business.

” We have a reputation as being the number one shop in the world specifically for wing and control service rebuilding,” owner Roy Williams says.

The shop is an FAA and EASA certified repair shop where they fixed damaged wings, and tails and flaps and send parts all over the world. It’s a very specific demographic and the employees here are well-trained craftsmen who know their work will speak for itself.

“And this is something I stress to my employees every day…we are going to get a reputation whether it’s good or bad…and at that point it’s mostly word of mouth advertising that generates our growth,” Williams says.

Nathan Whetzel, Foreman says that “Typically it takes a good year to train somebody to be able to rivet. What we do here, you have to start out doing it. You have to be trained on the job because there is a specific way you need to hold a rivet gun, a way that you need to hold a bucking bar in together and knowing how to feather a trigger on a rivet gun….”

” Each of these employees is a craftsman. This is something that you just don’t learn every day in school or at a college. This is something that has to be developed over time,” Williams says.

Something else that has been developed over time….a love for aviation in Roy’s three daughters. The eldest is a freshman at the Naval Academy in aeronautical engineering. She flies and helped Roy refurbish her own plane. 15 year old Daughter number two will get this 1969 Piper when they finish restoring it. And the 13 year old will also fix up and get her own aircraft.

In addition to repairing wings and control units, the company carries more inventory than any other facility, including some aircraft manufacturers. There’s a cost to that…but it gives the company a competitive advantage. Many aircraft owners want their own parts back though, all fixed up. As with people who own their own boats and car buffs, they become attached to the thing…almost like it’s a member of the family.

“Sometimes it becomes an emotional connection to that aircraft,” Williams says.

“It’s their baby and they trust us to making sure that it comes back 100 percent new.”

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A Journey from the Salt to the Brickyard and Back

Indy. If you were glued to the radio on May 30, 1964, you were likely listening to broadcaster Sid Collins skillfully paint word pictures of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a hundred million listeners worldwide. Many of us wondered what it would be like to be at the Brickyard, not as onlookers but driving in the Indy 500 or involved turning wrenches for one of the teams. Indy was a very big deal back then.

001 Hedrich Scooter


Skip Hedrich on his Kiawatha Doodlebug scooter at age 9, and standing proudly with his American Eagle streamliner on the salt. Could his 9-year-old self have imagined a racing career that would lead him to the 300 MPH Club?

Skip Hedrich didn’t wonder. He raced midgets and Sprint Cars, focused on the day he would compete in the 500. While that dream was dashed by an injury, his talent as a skilled fabricator put him in great demand in Gasoline Alley.

Ultimately, it was Bonneville that got Skip back in his shop, building a creation so striking in beauty and speed, it takes one’s breath away.

003 Hedrich 1926 Ford Model T Nose Plug


Skip bought an historic Model T hot rod in 1953 and set about fixing what had been broken over the years, including the crumpled track nose that had been formed by Frank Kurtis. Lying against each wheel are the plug and the mold he made to form the car’s new fiberglass nose. Kurtis Kraft was in the business of building Championship cars by that time, and having a duplicate nose made from aluminum was out of his price range.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Born in 1935 in Vista, California, Skip Hedrich grew up in Altadena, just up the hill from Blair’s Auto Parts in Pasadena. Skip’s father, Otto, was a mechanical engineer who designed the steam power plants in Glendale and Burbank during WWII, where power was essential for the aircraft plants in the area.

A friend of Skip’s brother Holly (who later became publisher of HOT ROD magazine) had a Deuce roadster that he had taken the body off of. A pre-teen Skip got the chassis for 20 bucks. When his dad asked him what he was going to do with it, Skip said he was going to build a roadster out of it. He learned how to braze up the many holes in the frame using his dad’s Prest-O-Lite acetylene torch.

Skip had been eyeing a ’29 Model A body that had been sitting at Blair’s quite a while. Skip had built up a rapport with Don Blair and Blair’s dad, and they sold the body to him for $20. It then took Skip three years of sanding and filling to finish it. Skip used his mom’s vacuum to paint the body when he was 11.

Though the body was painted, Skip couldn’t muster up enough money to finish the engine, which was in pieces. His paper route money would only allow him to build the flathead bit by bit. Skip would pay for half a set of lifters one month and the other half the next.

004 Hedrich 1926 Ford Model T Side


Skip’s finished Model T parked in front of his parent’s house. The roadster caught the attention of Dean Batchelor, Hop Up magazine’s editor, who wrote a feature on the car titled “Terrific T V-8” for the January 1953 issue. Unfortunately, Skip wasn’t given credit in the story for restoring the roadster, specifically the nose.

His friend, the late Larry Burford, saw the scattered flathead parts on the garage floor. “We’re leaving for Bonneville next week,” Burford said. “You’ll never get the motor done in time.” That was in 1951.

Larry called Skip three days later saying a guy had loaned him a ’29 Ford coupe on Deuce rails to run at Bonneville and asked Skip to go to Speed Week with him. “I told Larry the roadster was together and I was ready to go, but instead four other guys and I spent 20 hours a day getting the coupe ready, and I left the roadster at home.”

005 Hedrich 1932 Ford Roadster Front Three Quarter


If you had roll-up windows, the Southern California Timing Association wanted nothing to do with you until the first Bonneville Time Trials in 1949. Meaning, roadsters were for racing, closed cars weren’t, at least in SCTA’s eyes. And Skip, being a racer, had to have one. “I got it from Bruce Charlin and his brother Bill in 1954 when I was going to college. It was a beautiful showpiece of a Deuce. I drag raced it almost every weekend at Santa Ana, Saugus, and Pomona. It was also a girl magnet.”

First Bonneville Adventure
In the late ’40s and early ’50s, it was an adventure to just make it from Southern California to Wendover. “We left for Bonneville at night to beat the heat towing my dad’s trailer behind Hambone’s [Don Hambrick’s] ’46 Ford two-door with a couple of drums of alcohol and a couple of 5-gallon cans of nitro,” Skip remembers. “Jack Schmidt drove his mom’s new ’51 Ford convertible. Larry Burford rode with Jack, and they flat towed the coupe.”

They got as far as Lone Pine before Jack fell asleep. “We went up an embankment. I was asleep in the back seat when I saw the drums rolling out on the road with sparks coming off them, but they didn’t catch fire. We pushed the drums to the side of the road and found some milk cans at one of the ranches, rinsed them out, went back, and put the nitro and what fuel we could salvage in the back of Jack’s trunk. The hitch to my dad’s trailer was twisted off, so we pushed the trailer under some bushes and left it.” On the way back Skip got a hitch, found his dad’s trailer, and towed it home.

“We were pulling a steep grade going to Tonopah, Nevada, elevation 6,047 feet, and Hambone’s ’46 boiled over. So we poured the fuel out of the coupe and put in some gas, fired it up, and helped with pushing the car over the hill with the tow bar. It took us two days to get to Bonneville.”

006 Hedrich 1932 Ford Roadster Engine


Skip’s 3/8ths by 3/8ths 296ci flathead had all the whips, whistles, and balloons: Weiand intake manifold, Navarro heads, and a Kong (Jackson) ignition. “You could advance the ignition from inside the car,” Skip recalls.

When they finally did arrive, “I was wondering if I was on the same planet. I never envisioned anything like the whiteness of the place.”
Skip’s roadster shows up in the 1951 Speed Trials program as a Class C Roadster entry because he pre-entered the car. In its place they entered the coupe in Class C under Burford-Hedrich. Skip had no record of the speed the car reached, but thanks to Jim Miller of The American Hot Rod Foundation, we learned the Burford-Hedrich entry was Sixth fastest in class with a respectable 128.388 miles per hour. Mickey Thompson was First in class at 141.865 miles per hour.

As it turned out, Skip’s roadster never made it to Bonneville, and it would be decades before he would return. He street raced the roadster for a couple of years before selling it to buy a T roadster.

007 Hedrich Sprint Car Construction


Skip began his fabricating skills early when he built this Sprint Car in the mid 1950s. Jerry Huth built the first tube-bending prototype in 1958, so such a device wasn’t available when Skip built the chassis. Instead, he packed sand into the tubing to keep the pipe from kinking, then heated the pipe and bent it. He fabricated everything on the car except the tail section.

An Historic T
Why would Skip sell his A roadster, that he spent years working on, to buy a crumpled T roadster that had seen better days? Well, this was no ordinary T roadster; it had history. Few, if anyone, gave a hoot about old hot rods or race cars back then. But Skip did.
That the T was literally built by hand in 1930 by Frank Pommer was an understatement. Pommer ran at Muroc dry lake when speed equipment was not something you ordered, it was something you made. Frank started with the framerails from a Star automobile and added Model A front and rear crossmembers. While going to L.A. Trade Tech High School, Pommer fabricated the front axle out of 4140 chrome-moly tubing. He also made the kingpins from 4165 bar stock; he hand-fabricated the spring perches, tie rod, drag link, and the pitman arm. Frank also built the transmission case out of aluminum while going to night school. Most importantly, the aluminum body panels and nose were formed by Frank Kurtis in Frank’s backyard, long before Frank started Kurtis Kraft in Glendale.

The T was far from the gem that Pommer had built when Skip purchased it 23 years later for $150. “It had been wrecked by the rich kid I got it from,” Skip remembers. “The frame was bent, and I had to straighten it. The side panels, the hood, and the nose Kurtis built out of aluminum were completely wadded up.”

Fixing the T’s nose is a story unto itself. “I shaped the original nose with enough Bondo to make a plug out of it,” Skip says, “and then I took it to some fiberglass guys to make a fiberglass nose. I couldn’t get the nose to separate from the plug because their parting agent didn’t work. I took a rubber mallet and tried to separate the aluminum from the mold just enough for a gap. I talked to the guys at Union Ice Company in Pasadena to allow me to put the mold in their icehouse. I taped it up to hold water, figuring if I put water between the aluminum nose and the mold, when the water froze it would expand, the aluminum would shrink, and it would pop the mold from the aluminum.” It took multiple attempts of freezing, then widening the gap by adding more water, to accomplish Skip’s theory, but the nose eventually popped. And it was a perfect match.
Skip’s flathead went into the T. “I drag raced it at Pomona, Saugus, then I went to Santa Ana in 1953 with it. The record was 103.6, and I went 103.8. I never could get it any faster than that. I kept it a couple of years and sold it for $4,200.”

008 Hedrich Sprint Car Race


“My first Sprint Car race, in El Centro in 1962,” says Skip. “I had to learn pretty fast that when I got spun into the wall it was because I was the new guy. My friend Colby Scroggins said when you go out again in the semi, you run that guy into the wall because it’s your first race and everyone is watching you. If you don’t put him in the wall, the other bullies will crash you every race.” Scroggins won the CRA points championship in 1962.

Skip graduated from John Muir Junior College in Pasadena in 1953. Eventually, he went to Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, where he could have gotten a degree in mechanical engineering had he not started crewing on a Midget. The owner of the car let Skip take a couple of hot laps and he was hooked. “Those hot laps convinced me that was what I wanted to do. As a class project, I started building a 3/4 Midget with a Harley engine so I could use the school’s machine shop welders nights and weekends.”
Now, 3/4 Midgets weren’t kid stuff. They were like speedway bikes with four wheels—very, very fast. Building the Midget may have been a loose form of mechanical engineering, but not the kind his parents, especially his father, envisioned. Skip went home in 1958 just 12 units shy of his degree. Racing the Midget would have to suffice as his sheepskin. “Who needs an engineering degree when you can drive a race car?” Skip reasoned.

Skip wound up trading the Midget for a Sprint Car, keeping the engine. The Sprinter was built by Eddie Kuzma, an L.A. area builder who fabricated the famed Championship car that Troy Ruttman drove to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1952. This was the Sprinter that Skip raced as he worked his way up for the chance to drive a Championship car.

Working for Master Builders
Skip continued to refine his craft by working for some of the best Championship car chassis builders in the trade. Quinn Epperley, who built the chassis that Jim Rathmann drove to Second behind Sam Hanks in 1957, hired Skip, as well as Lujie Lesovsky, another supreme metal shaper. “I’d work for Epperley on a project, then Lesovsky. I had a full-time job at Racing Associates, which was owned by Ebb Rose, who owned Rose Truck Lines. We went to Indy in 1962 where Ebb finished 14th.”

The word got out that Skip was a quality fabricator. “Once they got to know me, they’d come and get me,” he recalls, “like George Bignotti [who became A.J. Foyt’s chief mechanic] and Andy Granatelli, who had me working on the Novi. I was working freelance for various teams, busting my buns at Indy working in the pits to get my name out there, and to earn enough money to pay for my racing. I had a shop in Costa Mesa, and when I’d come back home, I’d work on other race cars.”

009 Hedrich Trenton 200


That’s Skip driving in the Trenton 200 in 1965, in as nasty-slippery a laydown roadster as you’ll ever see. The Offy was almost on its side, in contrast with Wally Dallenbach next to Skip. “I acquired it in 1962 and drove it in 1963 through ’65,” says Skip. He finished 21st that race. Not impressed? While A.J. Foyt won the 200, Skip finished ahead of the likes of Rodger Ward, Jim Hurtubise, and Lloyd Ruby. He funded himself.

May Day
Bruce Bromme hired Skip to help him sort out component problems on the radical magnesium rear-engine DOHC Ford V-8 Shrike (named after a bird of prey) that Eddie Sachs was to drive in the 1964 Indy 500. Skip would work on the car while it was still in California, then proceed to Indy as part of the team.

“Eddie Sachs, who I met in the garage working on the Shrike, became a mentor to me because I still had my eye on driving in the Indy 500,” Skip says. “But the Shrike had a steering arm that had a shape that I said would not work. It was going to crack. Eddie took a couple of laps during practice for the 500, and the steering arm broke when he was on the back straightaway. Then a second arm that was heat treated differently broke, causing Eddie to spin the car onto the grass.”

While the steering problem was solved, Sachs was rattled, according to Skip. “Eddie, we were told, went to a Catholic seminary for three days to be with the priests. When he returned to the Speedway he was his old self, waving to the crowd and ready to get into the car.”

010 Hedrich Indy Car Roadster


Skip’s photo of his slinky roadster taken over a half-century ago makes one wonder why a front engine Indy Car, with today’s technology, can’t be running the 500. After all, today’s front-engined Funny Cars rival rear engine Top Fuel Cars on the dragstrip.

Skip is still haunted by what took place before the race started. “During the singing of Back Home in Indiana, Eddie unbuckled himself, stood up in the car, and looked up at the sky. He said, ‘God, I’ll be with you.’ Not ‘God, be with me.’ He got back down in the car and we buckled him in again. I couldn’t believe what I heard. I asked some of the guys around me if they heard what Eddie said. They did. We couldn’t believe it. Just a few minutes later, Eddie was with God.”

Veteran driver Sachs and rookie Dave MacDonald crashed in an orange and black mushroom cloud of gasoline. Sachs was beyond help, dying on impact. MacDonald passed later that day from injuries to his lungs from the fire.

As millions of us listened to Sid Collins describing the nightmarish crash in turn Four on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, Skip was grabbing a fire extinguisher to put out the flames on rookie Ronnie Duman’s back. He sustained second- and third-degree burns as he crawled from his race car, which was caught up in the blazing crash. Looking at a photo of Eddie Sachs on Skip’s office wall, Skip is still devastated by the events of that day.

Skip Buys an Indy Car—Cheap
Skip was working for Racing Associates in 1962-’63 when the rear engine Champ cars started coming in “and the front engine cars became dinosaurs,” he recalls. “I asked what Racing Associates wanted for the front-engine roadster they parked. I was told to talk to Herb Porter, who was the chief mechanic on the roadster. Herb said $138 for the car. That’s what I paid for the laydown roadster,” Skip says with a laugh.

Most devastating part of Skip’s racing career was how it came to an end. “I had a ride at Indy driving for Federal Engineering. I was playing around on a Sunday afternoon and broke my knee riding a motorcycle. That was a turning point in my life.”

What Skip thought would be a simple surgery to repair the knee turned into something far more serious. One month in the hospital turned into three, and his car owner couldn’t wait. Skip lost his opportunity to race in the Indy 500. “I was in a body cast for three months in the hospital.”

Frustrated at his slow recovery and anxious to return to racing, Skip slit the leg cast and entered a Sprint Car race in Phoenix, only to find the pain was too great to continue. That is when he called it quits.

011 Hedrich Burkdoll Streamliner Bonneville


When Skip returned to Bonneville in 1990, he met Jim and Juley Burkdoll and struck up a conversation about their streamliner. “I told Jim about my background, Jim put me in the car, and by 4:30 that afternoon I had my SCTA license.” Before Skip moved on to build his own land speed racer, he reached close to record speed in class of 214.426 mph. “I drove for Jim and Juley for two years before I decided to build my own car in `96. We had a wonderful relationship.”

Return to Bonneville
Skip’s brother Holly went to Bonneville to drive a ’90 Lincoln Mark VIII for Ford Motor Company. Skip went to watch as Holly set a record of 181.171 mph, impressive considering it had a stock engine rated at 290 hp.

After some 40 years away, Skip walked through the pits marveling at the sound of wide-open horsepower that he had never heard in any other form of racing. The memories from 1951 flooded back. Drivers he met while walking along the pits had similar racing backgrounds. Skip wondered why he stayed away so long. Then he walked by a streamliner with names on it with records that the car had set. “It was a beautiful piece of machinery. I talked to the owner, Jim Burkdoll, and told him about the race cars I had driven during my career. That afternoon, I had my 150-mph license. I ended up driving the streamliner for two years.”

012 Hedrich Streamliner Body Plug


The construction of Skip’s streamliner was a complicated affair taking five years to build. “I envisioned a streamliner that was most importantly aerodynamically sound,” says Skip. He worked with aerodynamicist Lynn Yakel, whose experience included work with NASA, to create a body “like an airplane fuselage, excluding the wings.” Here, Skip is standing behind the top half of the plug used to make the fiberglass streamliner body.

013 Hedrich Streamliner Chassis


Visualize a Top Fuel dragster chassis, than compare it to Hedrich’s chassis, both designed for the 300-plus-mph range. Skip not only designed the chassis, he built it. Though the streamliner did not pass the SCTA tech inspection in 2013, Skip is not a quitter and will be headed back to the Salt Flats.

Skip drove everything on wheels with only one goal in mind: to strap himself in a Championship car to become one of the 33 drivers to make the field in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. That did not happen. But Skip’s legacy goes far beyond driving in the Indy 500. He created with his own hands a different kind of racing spectacle, a race car that appeared on the Salt Flats in 2001 that commanded a presence unlike anything seen before. In the American Eagle, he streaked down Bonneville’s 5-mile course at 347 mph in the measured mile (with a terminal speed of 353 mph) to become a lifetime member of the 300 Mile Per Hour chapter of the 200 Mile Per Hour Club. That achievement resulted from an accumulation of everything he learned in life as a builder, a driver, and a visionary. His father taught Skip at age 9 to save his money so he could buy anything he wanted plus invest his money wisely. He has done both.

014 Hedrich American Eagle Streamliner Bonneville Side


Skip makes certain that school children see the American Eagle, to reinforce the idea that “building race cars is not for the uneducated.” Plus, he uses the Eagle’s appearances to raise money for The North San Diego County Wounded Warriors.

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Unusual incidents rock Allegiant Air’s profitable course

Posted Aug. 31, 2015 at 11:53 AM
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