FlightSim.Com Interviews Wesley Bard About Prepar3D

By Victor Baron


Will Prepar3D be supporting multiple platforms or just
Windows based?

Because of our hard dependency on DirectX we will be Windows based
for the foreseeable future. We’re excited about the Windows
platform, where it is heading, and how easy it allows for customers
and trainees to get started with Prepar3D and a whole host of Windows
compatible joysticks, touchscreens and other training devices.

How are you addressing concerns for future compatibility
with new Windows versions?

We have a variety of hardware and software we compile and test
Prepar3D on. As Windows gets updated, so do we.

Are there plans to include Real Weather in
Prepar3D?

There are several great add-ons that provide our customers the
option of real or live weather. We encourage our customers who have
those requirements to seek out some of the great add-ons that can
pull in live weather data.

Any plans to incorporate OpenGL support?

Not at this time, we are all-in on DirectX for the foreseeable
future.

Are there minimum system requirements for optimal
usage?

We publish and update the minimum system requirements on our web
site. Now that the platform is able to use more and more of the
graphics card for greater immersion and added features, the old adage
of having the best CPU you can buy still holds true, but we are also
able to do more and more with faster graphics cards as well.

Is there a 64 bit version of Prepar3D in the
future?

It’s on our roadmap definitely. However, 64-bit is a very
demanding technical challenge, and not something easily obtained. We
still feel there is a lot of room left in the 32-bit envelope. Our
recent refactor of the autogen system was a great example of this.
We were able to reduce the memory footprint of an autogen tree by
17x. As we get smarter and the DX11 engine continues to evolve we
will pursue many new opportunities for memory savings and performance
increases. We’ve already had developers reach out to us and tell us
how they are now able to pack more and more autogen into their
solutions and add-ons because of the recent changes.

Will 2.0 model icing?

We’ve added in ways for developers to define their own simulations
and systems, and incorporate them into the Prepar3D world. Other
companies have figured out ways to do this in previous platforms by
using direct memory access, but those methods will have to be
tailored every time an update occurs. That isn’t a problem for other
platforms that are end of life, but in a platform like Prepar3D that
is constantly evolving and being updated it makes it hard for the
developer to keep that add-on compatible. We’ve partnered with all
the add-on developers that have reached out to us to provide formal
interfaces and APIs to previous parts of the system they used to have
to use hacks or memory access to reach. In addition to simconnect
we’ve added a new PDK (Prepar3D Development Kit) API that brings much
greater control to all aspects of the system. Small examples of this
include full control over the cameras, so add-on developers can
render custom camera into rear-view mirrors for example, and they can
choose what not to render in those mirrors to keep the performance
hit to a minimum. They can then apply a custom post process to add
some glare or a fisheye effect to the mirror. Our new APIs really
allow a whole new level of immersion to developers to create Prepar3D
content.

Is there a difference in the damage model in 2.0?

We’ve added the simulation of vehicle health and damage
characteristics in the Professional Plus version of Prepar3D to
support our military customers. If you’re not using that version,
then you still have the same damage model from previous platforms.

Shadows add greatly to the realism of flying along with a
performance hit. Has the implementation of DX11 affected this
area?

It has, greatly. With v2.2 we recently added in the ability for
clouds to cast shadows. Dynamic shadows really add to the immersion
of the student and trainees, and we are very proud of our shadow
system we’ve engineered for Prepar3D v2. We had a lot of challenges
with the shadows that most developers don’t face, as we have to
simulate and shadow the whole world. Shadows are a perfect example
of a new feature that takes advantage of modern day graphics cards.
The faster your graphics card, the less fill-rate bound you will be
and the more graphics card dependent features you can employ. The
cloud and terrain shadow distances available in the UI might seem
unattainable now, but in a year or so the graphics cards out then
might be able to handle them with ease. We want the platform to
continue to be able to scale as hardware improves, both CPU and
graphics cards.

Have any changes been made to AI traffic in 2.0?

Not in the core platform. We have added additional AI “behaviors”
to support military training in our Professional Plus version. For
the general student or trainee, there are several great add-ons that
can fill your Prepar3D with AI aircraft if you have those
requirements. For the things that ecosystem and Prepar3D solution
developers are able to develop, we want to support and enable them to
make the best add-ons they can, we don’t want to enter their
space.

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Russian Spy Planes in U.S. Skies

The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military and American intelligence agencies have quietly pushed the White House in recent weeks to deny a new Russian surveillance plane the right to fly over U.S. territory. This week, the White House finally began consideration of the decision whether to certify the new Russian aircraft under the so-called “Open Skies Treaty.” And now the question becomes: Will the spies and generals get their way?

As the United States and Russia face off publicly over Ukraine, behind the scenes, President Obama’s national security cabinet is having its own quiet feud over a long-standing agreement to allow Russian surveillance flights over U.S. airspace.

The spies and the generals want to deny the Russians the overflight rights for its latest surveillance planes. The State Department, which ultimately makes that decision, has favored such certification. On Wednesday an interagency meeting of senior officials failed to reach consensus, delaying the decision until Obama takes it up with the National Security Council, according to U.S. officials involved in the dispute.

At issue is the Open Skies Treaty. First signed in 1992 and finally ratified in 2002, the treaty adopted by 34 nations allows the safe passage of planes equipped with advanced cameras and sensors that give governments the imagery and data they use to assess everything from compliance with arms control treaties to troop movements.

On April 15, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, and the Republican chairman of that panel’s subcommittee that oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Rep. Mike Rogers from Alabama, urged Obama to deny Russia the right to fly its new planes over U.S. airspace.

In their letter, the two lawmakers write, “We agree with the concerns expressed by the Intelligence Community and the military leadership of the Department of Defense” in their opposition to certifying the new Russian planes under the treaty.

The State Department on the other hand has argued the United States should live up to the treaty’s obligations and approve the new Russian aircraft. The decision to certify the planes and their sensors has been pending since late last year, long before the Ukraine crisis began. One senior U.S. official said, “This isn’t just an issue between the United States and Russia. Our allies and partners depend on this treaty for insight into Russia because they don’t have the same capabilities as the United States.”

The Russians use the aircraft today to monitor U.S. nuclear weapons as part of arms control agreements between both countries. The Russian planes, according to U.S. officials involved in the dispute, contain a new sensor package that would allow Moscow to surveil American nuclear assets with a level of precision and detail that makes U.S. military and intelligence leaders deeply uncomfortable.

A letter first published by the Weekly Standard on April 13 from two Republican and two Democratic members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said the Russian Federation had just completed construction of aircraft that will “support digital photograph equipment, sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar, and infrared equipment.”

A U.S. official familiar with the dispute and sympathetic to the concerns of the military and intelligence community told The Daily Beast that the worry over the new Russian aircraft is independent of the standoff in Ukraine. “This would have been an issue even if there was no Ukraine crisis,” this official said.

In some ways, however, the Ukraine showdown has placed pressure the White House to hold off on further angering the Russians. The State Department, which has worked with Russia to iron out at least an agreement in principle to begin to disarm the pro-Russian militias that have seized eastern Ukrainian cities, wants to allow the new Russian aircraft to fly over U.S. airspace.

The Ukraine crisis has complicated the decision-making process on the Open Skies issue. Ukraine’s military has still failed to take back cities that have fallen to militias that Western leaders have said publicly are orchestrated by Russia’s special operations units known as the Spetsnaz. 

In Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the beginning of a process to de-escalate the crisis. But Lavrov also promised Kerry there were no military plans to take Crimea in late February, only to see Spetsnaz soldiers in uniforms without insignia take the peninsula’s airports and government buildings. 

In Moscow on Thursday there was the most bizarre spectacle. Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor now wanted in U.S. court to face Espionage Act charges, asked Russia’s president whether his government collected as much Internet data as his old government did. 

Over the weekend in nearby Moldova inside the quasi-independent region of Transnistria, the United States observed Russian troop movements that looked like they may be preparing to launch stealth operations into southern Ukraine.

Sporadic fighting also continued in eastern Ukrainian cities on Thursday.

But nonetheless there were some signs that the fighting is coming to a pause. Lavrov on Thursday agreed to support the demobilization of the militias that Kerry himself said his government was responsible for helping organize.

President Obama expressed cautious optimism that the agreement in Geneva could bring the region away from the brink of war. “I don’t think we can be sure of anything [in the Ukrainian crisis]. I think there is the possibility, the prospect, that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation,” he said at the White House. 

The White House convened a meeting of top deputies of its national security cabinet to discuss the issue on Wednesday. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment on that meeting.

“Without prejudging the outcome of that review, I would note that the Open Skies Treaty enhances confidence and transparency by allowing the 34 countries that are parties to it to obtain information on the military forces and activities of other Treaty partners,” she said. “It contributes to European security by providing images and information on Russian forces, and by permitting observation flights to verify compliance with arms control agreements.”  

U.S. officials said the State Department favored granting the Open Skies certification for the new Russian aircraft. 

Jennifer Elzea, a Defense Department spokesperson, said, “The Defense Department does not have a comment to provide at this time. Treaty compliance issues are the purview of the State Department. Department of Defense components, specifically the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Air Force, do provide personnel and aircraft for Open Skies observation flights, but overall treaty compliance issues fall to our colleagues at State.”

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Domestic “Drones” Are the Latest Object of Threat Inflation – SYS

By

Recently, several news outlets reported on a supposed plot by a Moroccan national to use remote controlled model airplanes as flying bombs. The story seems to lend credibility to speculation that model airplanes could be the next terrorist threat. In reality, however, these fears are part of a larger pattern of threat inflation about domestic “drones” that mirrors the kind of threat inflation that we see too often in public policy debates about new technologies.

Much of my writing has focused on public policy debate around cybersecurity. In that work, I have called attention to the threat inflation that often drives these debates. In doing so, I have pointed to a number of characteristics of threat inflation. We can observe these same characteristics in the emerging public policy discourse around domestic use of “drones.”

Those characteristics include:

Conflation

In the case of cybersecurity, we see the conflation of a number of quite different problems–e.g. hacktivism, crime, espionage, terrorism, warfare–into a more generic category like “cyber threat” or “cyber war.” Differences in particular problems, technologies, actors, motivations, etc. are largely ignored. The generic “cyber threat” is better able to motivate a policy response, with the temptation being a one-size-fits-all solution.

In the case of civilian use of so-called “drones,” we are seeing a similar pattern. Both in public discourse and in emerging government regulation, “drone” and “unmanned aircraft system” (UAS) are used as imprecise, catch-all terms. As currently used by the FAA, for example, the term “UAS” includes, on one hand, armed military aircraft used to carry out a global campaign of surveillance and targeted assassinations, but on the other, what have until recently been seen as toys, model aircraft (PDF). In fact, in a recent court ruling regarding the FAA’s authority to regulate UAS, the judge found that the agency’s definition was so broad as to include paper airplanes and toy gliders, a definition that he ultimately rejected (PDF, pp. 2–3).

Similarly, FAA has made little distinction between different types of uses and users of “drones.” Anything deemed by the agency to be commercial (PDF), including beer delivery, photography, or journalism, is said to be illegal. Recently, the FAA has said that even activities that are not commercial are also considered illegal, in this case the use of a model aircraft to aid in search and rescue operations.

Media discourse has largely followed the FAA’s lead. Or perhaps it is the other way around. Whatever the case, as the use of the now iconic Predator drone as a surveillance and strike platform has caught the attention of the public and politicians, “drone” has become an object of fear. This fear has extended to model aircraft with increasing calls for legislation and regulation of their use.

Hypothetical Scenarios

In the case of cybersecurity, I have noted the important role that hypothetical scenarios have played in raising fear and, thus, motivating a policy response. Often, these take the form of “cyber doom scenarios” in which a fictional cyber attack destroys or seriously disrupts critical infrastructure. These scenarios often hinge on the use of analogies and metaphors of war and natural disaster, in particular Pearl Harbor, 9/11, nuclear war, and Hurricane Katrina.

A recent article in Salon hypothesized about the possibility that “the next attack” could come from “an explosive-stuffed model airplane guided by GPS.” The article warns, “America has smart bombs and drones. Others could create something as deadly with a remote-controlled car and camera.” It does not, however, provide any evidence to support its implicit or explicit claims. Instead, it merely provides a history of U.S. attempts to create remotely controlled aircraft and guided munitions of sufficient military value. In fact, instead of providing evidence that the United States’ enemies are creating weaponized drones, the article seems to recommend that they should do so. “A better RD strategy for America’s enemies,” it says, “would be to develop robotic IEDs that combine off-the-shelf technologies—an explosive-stuffed model airplane guided by GPS, for example, or an IED built using a radio-controlled car with a video camera in its nose.” None of this serves as evidence that a model airplane packed with explosives can in any way be “as deadly” as a Predator firing Hellfire missiles, or that terrorists are actually interested in or capable of carrying out such attacks.

In cases employing appeals to cyber doom or “drone doom,” hypothetical scenarios are used because relevant, real-world events have not yet been damaging enough to motivate the kind of response that advocates of change wish to see implemented.

Exaggeration

In addition to raising the level of fear by resorting to hypthetical doom scenarios, when relevant, real-world events do occur, their impacts are often exaggerated. In the case of cybersecurity, we have seen this with some of the most prominent and large-scale examples of cyber attack. For example, some compared the 2007 denial of service attacks against Estonia to nuclear war when, in reality, a more “real-world comparison might be if an army invaded a country, then all got in line in front of people at the DMV so they couldn’t renew their licenses.” Recent research even indicates that Stuxnet, the joint U.S.-Israel cyber attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, which has been hailed as the first example of a cyber attack to have physical, real-world impacts of strategic importance, was not nearly as effective as we were initially led to believe.

Likewise, of the thousands of terrorist incidents that occur worldwide each year, few if any involve the use of model airplanes. The State Department’s 2012 report on worldwide terrorism incidents, for example, makes no mention of model airplanes. As far as I can tell, there have only been a handful of identified plots where terrorists contemplated using model aircraft. All of them were foiled, as was the most recently reported case of the Morrocan man in Connecticut. One report even indicates that the FBI will not be charging the man for a terrorist plot after all.

Nonetheless, in each case, including this most recent one, news reports and commentaries speculated about whether terrorism with model airplanes might be the next big threat. Without actual events, the importance of the meager number of failed attempts that have occurred is exaggerated and they become fuel for yet more speculation and hypothetical scenarios. Though these few incidents may not provide evidence that such threats are probable, the are used as evidence that they are possible, which is enough for many to call for precautionary action to prevent their realization, however unlikely.

Projection

In the case of cybersecurity, it has become increasingly clear that the United States is one of the chief perpetrators of the kinds of cyber threats it has pinned on others for years. In psychology, this is what is known as “projection” and involves seeing in others the thoughts, desires, feelings, beliefs, or actions that you yourself harbor but do not wish to acknowledge. The tendency for the United States to engage in projection regarding cyber threats became evident as early as June 2012 with revelations that it was behind the Stuxnet attack on Iran. The tendency has been overwhelmingly confirmed over the last year as revelations from the Snowden leaks made it clear that the United States has engaged in practically all the activities it has pinned on others for years.

Similarly, much of the news coverage and commentary about possible terrorist use of model-airplanes-cum-“drones” implies that since the United States uses drones (e.g. Predators) as weapons against others, we should, therefore, expect that others will use drones (e.g. model aircraft) as weapons against us. This is the rationale behind a January 2013 piece in Time warning that “criminals and terrorists can fly drones too.” The article opened by reminding readers of the United States’ use of drones in surveillance and assassination missions before going on to discuss a failed terrorist plot to use a “drone,” in this case a model airplane, to carry out an attack on the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon. Likewise, the article in Salon mentioned above was premised on the idea that “America has smart bombs and drones. Others could create something as deadly with a remote-controlled car and camera.”

In short, concern over possible use of drones against us is a projection of our own fear that the “golden rule” might actually be applied to us, that others might do to us what we have been doing to them. While this might be a valid moral concern, it is not evidence of an actual threat.

Overreaction

In cybersecurity, we have witnessed a level of fear that has seemingly warranted putting the military, via the National Security Agency, in charge of cybersecurity, various attempts to pass legislation, some of which would further erode privacy, and the overzealous prosecution of anyone deemed to be a “hacker.” The ironic effect has been to make the United States less secure in cyberspace and to harm the international standing of its information technology industry.

Similarly, the FAA has overreacted by attempting to impose a blanket ban on anything it deems to be a commerical UAS, which, as I noted above, includes everything from a model airplane up to a military Predator. It has gone after operators of what amount to little more than toys, attempting to fine one operator of a four and a half pound styrofoam airplane $10,000. In over a dozen other cases, it has sent cease and desist letters to operators of model aircraft for engaging in photography. It has even implied that it could take legal action against a news outlet for publishing donated video taken by a model aircraft flown by private citizens, which is very likely an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech. Some have warned that while the military uses of the technology are flourishing, the civilian industry, where the technology might be put to more socially beneficial uses, is languishing under the FAA’s purported ban.

I readily acknowledge the dangers posed by drones. They are potentially counterproductive when used as a tool for targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is disturbing that they have been identified as an important node in the NSA’s system of mass surveillance. Given their demonstrated use as a tool for mass surveillance, I am supportive of legislation making its way through many state legislatures that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using drones for surveillance. I also acknowledge that there is real potential for safety concerns as the number of UASs, both large and small, begin to fill the domestic airpsace. Sensible regulations are appropriate.

But thus far, sensible regulations based on a nuanced understanding of the technological devices and uses to be regulated is not what we have. Instead, we have an attempt by the FAA to institute a blanket ban on everything from children’s toys up to Predator drones. This overreaction is underpinned by irrational and misplaced fear, including the fear of terrorist use of model aircraft, as well as the fear that comes from conflating military drones with the small model aircraft used most often in emerging civilian applications of this technology.

But the FAA’s purported ban does little if anything to address Americans’ actual fears related to drones, which revolve primarily around government use of this technology. That is, the ironic effect of fear sparked by government use of armed surveillance drones combined with threat inflation about terrorist use of model aircraft has been an increase in government control of the technology, enforcement actions that seem to be focused primarily against First Amendment-related use of drones, as well as enforcement that stifles innovation in the nascent UAS industry in the United States.

We must reject threat inflation surrounding domestic “drones” if we are to find any use for this technology beyond those that frighten people the most (i.e. surveillance and targeted killing). Otherwise, we will have a situation in which “drones” are only available for these uses while being prohibited for more socially beneficial uses. That is, threat inflation and irrational fear could lead to a world in which the government can use Predators and their equivalent for surveillance and assassination, while prohibiting private individuals and groups from using model airplanes to find lost children and puppies. That is not the future that we should court for this technology.


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Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Queensland

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Designing A First Class Airbus Showroom

Some orders are extraordinary challenges, even for experienced model builders like Modellbau Robert Hofmann. The order for the Airbus Showroom in Toulouse, for which cabin elements, or “mock-ups”, needed to be created in a 1:1 scale, was such an “exotic.” The task was to design 28 Business Class seats along with 6 individual cabins and a lounge for First Class in close collaboration with designers from Design Investment. In the Airbus Showroom, the airlines’ buyers can let themselves be inspired about what long-haul flight luxury can look like, in advance of purchasing a wide-body aircraft like the A380.

View: Photos of the Day: Inside the Airbus A380 Super Jumbo’s Luxury Class

Anyone who is familiar with a 12-hour long-haul flight from Zurich to Hong Kong knows how strenuous travelling can be, particularly when flying Economy Class. Even in Business Class, the seats are not necessarily luxurious for such a long-haul route. The same route in First Class of an A380 has a high price compared to Business Class, however, the interior fittings and passenger service are extremely pleasant. The mock-ups are seat modules and sleeping modules, which ensure as much relaxation as possible through restful comfort with integrated entertainment. The First Class fittings are regarded as image carriers and brand messengers for airlines, even if the majority of passengers tend to only be able to afford lower-priced classes.

Objective for the model builder

As is customary for experienced model builders, the design of the mock-ups needed to be indistinguishable from a series version, in terms of impression, function and feel. In order to achieve this, Modellbau Robert Hofmann pulled out all the stops in process engineering, with regard to mould making, rapid prototyping and refinements.

In this case, also special third-party services, such as covering with fine leather. Particularly the high-quality finishing of plastic parts at economical unit prices and form-fitting assembly are included in the disciplines in which Modellbau Robert Hofmann ranks among the world’s leading companies in the industry. In view of the huge modules, many individual components needed to be coordinated to fit precisely – from development, to production, right up to the finish.

Not only were the time constraints set by the client, Airbus, tight, but the designer’s aesthetic requirements also needed to be fulfilled. In close collaboration with the client and designer, Project Manager Ingo Güttler coordinated the respective teams of model builders and external partners. A “truly mammoth task,” says Ingo Güttler now.

The major advantage for the model builder, based in Lichtenfels, was its experience with clients from the aviation and aerospace scene. The Hofmann Group supplies prototypes, tools and series parts to Diehl Aerosystems, B-E Aerospace Systems, Airbus Group, Latécoere and AOA Avionics Dresden. Therefore, the preferences regarding safety concepts, material selection and execution are known. In terms of series parts, components are sent to Hamburg-Finkenwerder or Toulouse for the Airbus series A320, A340, A380 and the newly developed A350.

Safe light in the air

Assemblies for passenger aviation must meet the criteria for lightweight construction, as known from motor racing. However, in addition to this, extremely high safety requirements apply, which can only be fulfilled using high-temperature-resistant high-performance plastics, such as PEEK or PEI. For the production of tools and processing of these materials, this requires a great deal of experience and, particularly, process know-how.

Through intelligent engineering design and material selection, many components can be configured in a weight-optimised manner, which leads to enormous cost savings over the long product lifetime of an aircraft. With its modernly equipped injection moulding centre, Hofmann offers its clients run-in capacities for parts in single-component and multi-component technology, right up to 3K parts. Machines are available with special fitting packages of between 500kN and 16,000kN of clamping force, which can take on virtually any task.

Modern 3D printing technologies in aviation

Particularly for the Hofmann Group, it also applies that specific technologies, such as LaserCUSING with metal powder, can be included. A laser builds up generative components layer by layer from titanium powder, for example. The extremely hard and durable material is extremely popular in the industry, as well as in aviation.

The laser melting process with metals allows extreme geometry freedoms and functional integration for developers. Application examples include bionic holders for connecting the outer skin of the aircraft with the cabin or filling connections for oxygen supply. “LaserCUSING sets completely new benchmarks for the development of components.

Generative processes, such as 3D printing, must be seen completely separately from the boundaries of tool and mould engineering. This way solutions become possible that seemed impossible a few years ago using classic casting methods,” says Jens Henzler, Managing Director of Robert Hofmann GmbH.

Mock-ups require full service under one roof

Hofmann took over the true-to-scale production of the mock-up modules, right up to installing them in the aircraft fuselage, which can be found in the Airbus Showroom in Toulouse. For the interior fittings, Modellbau Robert Hofmann employed its entire engineering expertise for the process chain, product development, right up to production and implementation.

In detail, this means draft designs and concepts, 3D constructions, assessment of variant engineering designs, product analysis (e.g. FEM analysis), simulation, stress tests and functional tests. With complex assemblies like mock-ups, these services are very advantageous for the client, as he receives the required products from a single source with the certainty that they are in no way inferior to series parts in functional terms. The “one-stop shop” not only saves Airbus time, but also offers potential for supply reliability.

The example makes a clear impression

The project is among the prestige projects of the Hofmann Group; on the one hand, as a highly complex planning task, and on the other hand, under the aspect of process and method combination. “The tasks of model construction for such presentation applications are diverse. In addition to aircraft engineering, this is an interesting option for the initial presentation of fittings options.

Model construction and small series are interesting for the utility vehicle sector, for passenger transport systems, such as buses and railway vehicles, right up to boat building and the caravan sector,” explains Jens Henzler. After having mastered such a task for the demanding aviation industry, his statement can absolutely be believed.

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Experts say video doesn’t show Earhart wreckage

– Experts retained by an aircraft preservation group say underwater video shot in the South Pacific yields no evidence of the wreckage of the missing plane piloted by aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.

Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1932. She was trying to become the first female to circle the globe when she and her navigator disappeared somewhere in the South Pacific in 1937.

The mystery of what happened to Earhart and the twin-engine Lockheed Electra she was piloting holds a continuing fascination for The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) of Pennsylvania and its executive director, Richard E. Gillespie.

They’ve staged repeated expeditions to search the waters around the Kiribati atoll of Nikumaroro, about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii.

Wyoming resident Timothy Mellon, son of the late philanthropist Paul Mellon, filed a federal lawsuit against the TIGHAR group and Gillespie last year. Mellon claims they had found the wreckage of Earhart’s plane in 2010 but kept the discovery a secret so it could solicit money from him to continue the search.

Mellon, a resident of Riverside, says he gave the group more than $1 million in 2012 to help pay for another South Pacific search.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper last year dismissed Mellon’s allegations of racketeering and negligence. Skavdahl has set trial for August on Mellon’s remaining claims of fraud and misrepresentation.

At a court hearing last year, lawyer John Masterson representing the defendants told Skavdahl that Mellon’s allegations amounted to a “factual impossibility.”

Masterson said it was absurd for Mellon to argue the group had found Earhart’s plane and kept the search going to fleece donors. An actual discovery could spawn movies, books and other lucrative ventures that would raise far more money than continuing the search, he said.

Expert witnesses for Mellon filed statements in court earlier this year in which they superimposed drawings of objects such as the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra over shapes on the sea floor.

“The objects we have identified in the 2010 video footage are consistent with parts of the Earhart Lockheed Electra Model 10 and, in the absence of an alternative explanation for the source of those objects, we conclude that they are likely to have originated from Earhart’s Electra,” wrote Rhode Island engineer John D. Jarrell, one of the experts who reviewed the video for Mellon.

Expert witnesses for Gillespie and TIGHAR filed statements in court on Tuesday saying they had reviewed both the video and the findings of Mellon’s experts and saw no such thing.

“I regret to have to say that I am entirely unconvinced, and not even mildly suspicious, that the 2010 TIGHAR expedition produced evidence of an aircraft debris field on the reef at Nikumaroro,” stated Les Kaufman, a professor of biology at the Boston University Marine Program who reviewed the materials for Gillespie and TIGHAR.

Gillespie said Wednesday he’s pleased with his experts’ reports. Discussions are underway to see if the lawsuit could be resolved, he said.

Efforts to reach Mellon’s lawyers for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Gillespie said he questioned the approach of Mellon’s experts in overlaying computer-assisted drawings of the airplane parts to try to match shapes in the underwater coral shown on the video.

“ `Because this thing seems to fit this thing, therefore it must be this thing.’ It’s totally circular reasoning,” Gillespie said. “It’s just astounding to me that anybody with a straight face would offer up something like that in support of Mellon’s allegations. It’s mind-boggling.”

Gillespie said that there’s been no doubt about it when his group has encountered the submerged wreckage of other aircraft.

“The wreckage is just sitting there. It’s totally different from the surrounding environment,” Gillespie said of the other aircraft his group has encountered in its underwater searches.

“There might be some coral growth on it, but generally speaking, coral doesn’t like aluminum,” Gillespie said. “You don’t see a lot of coral growth on aluminum. When we have seen aircraft wreckage underwater, it’s very apparent that’s what it is.”

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Domestic “Drones” Are the Latest Object of Threat Inflation

Recently, several news outlets reported on a supposed plot by a Moroccan national to use remote controlled model airplanes as flying bombs. The story seems to lend credibility to speculation that model airplanes could be the next terrorist threat. In reality, however, these fears are part of a larger pattern of threat inflation about domestic “drones” that mirrors the kind of threat inflation that we see too often in public policy debates about new technologies.

Much of my writing has focused on public policy debate around cybersecurity. In that work, I have called attention to the threat inflation that often drives these debates. In doing so, I have pointed to a number of characteristics of threat inflation. We can observe these same characteristics in the emerging public policy discourse around domestic use of “drones.”

Those characteristics include:

Conflation

In the case of cybersecurity, we see the conflation of a number of quite different problems–e.g. hacktivism, crime, espionage, terrorism, warfare–into a more generic category like “cyber threat” or “cyber war.” Differences in particular problems, technologies, actors, motivations, etc. are largely ignored. The generic “cyber threat” is better able to motivate a policy response, with the temptation being a one-size-fits-all solution.

In the case of civilian use of so-called “drones,” we are seeing a similar pattern. Both in public discourse and in emerging government regulation, “drone” and “unmanned aircraft system” (UAS) are used as imprecise, catch-all terms. As currently used by the FAA, for example, the term “UAS” includes, on one hand, armed military aircraft used to carry out a global campaign of surveillance and targeted assassinations, but on the other, what have until recently been seen as toys, model aircraft (PDF). In fact, in a recent court ruling regarding the FAA’s authority to regulate UAS, the judge found that the agency’s definition was so broad as to include paper airplanes and toy gliders, a definition that he ultimately rejected (PDF, pp. 2–3).

English: Air Force officials are seeking volun... English: Air Force officials are seeking volunteers for future training classes to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly, FAA has made little distinction between different types of uses and users of “drones.” Anything deemed by the agency to be commercial (PDF), including beer delivery, photography, or journalism, is said to be illegal. Recently, the FAA has said that even activities that are not commercial are also considered illegal, in this case the use of a model aircraft to aid in search and rescue operations.

Media discourse has largely followed the FAA’s lead. Or perhaps it is the other way around. Whatever the case, as the use of the now iconic Predator drone as a surveillance and strike platform has caught the attention of the public and politicians, “drone” has become an object of fear. This fear has extended to model aircraft with increasing calls for legislation and regulation of their use.

Nederlands: zelfgemaakte foto van modelvliegtu... Nederlands: zelfgemaakte foto van modelvliegtuig met benzinemotor Taxi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hypothetical Scenarios

In the case of cybersecurity, I have noted the important role that hypothetical scenarios have played in raising fear and, thus, motivating a policy response. Often, these take the form of “cyber doom scenarios” in which a fictional cyber attack destroys or seriously disrupts critical infrastructure. These scenarios often hinge on the use of analogies and metaphors of war and natural disaster, in particular Pearl Harbor, 9/11, nuclear war, and Hurricane Katrina.

A recent article in Salon hypothesized about the possibility that “the next attack” could come from “an explosive-stuffed model airplane guided by GPS.” The article warns, “America has smart bombs and drones. Others could create something as deadly with a remote-controlled car and camera.” It does not, however, provide any evidence to support its implicit or explicit claims. Instead, it merely provides a history of U.S. attempts to create remotely controlled aircraft and guided munitions of sufficient military value. In fact, instead of providing evidence that the United States’ enemies are creating weaponized drones, the article seems to recommend that they should do so. “A better RD strategy for America’s enemies,” it says, “would be to develop robotic IEDs that combine off-the-shelf technologies—an explosive-stuffed model airplane guided by GPS, for example, or an IED built using a radio-controlled car with a video camera in its nose.” None of this serves as evidence that a model airplane packed with explosives can in any way be “as deadly” as a Predator firing Hellfire missiles, or that terrorists are actually interested in or capable of carrying out such attacks.

In cases employing appeals to cyber doom or “drone doom,” hypothetical scenarios are used because relevant, real-world events have not yet been damaging enough to motivate the kind of response that advocates of change wish to see implemented.

Exaggeration

In addition to raising the level of fear by resorting to hypthetical doom scenarios, when relevant, real-world events do occur, their impacts are often exaggerated. In the case of cybersecurity, we have seen this with some of the most prominent and large-scale examples of cyber attack. For example, some compared the 2007 denial of service attacks against Estonia to nuclear war when, in reality, a more “real-world comparison might be if an army invaded a country, then all got in line in front of people at the DMV so they couldn’t renew their licenses.” Recent research even indicates that Stuxnet, the joint U.S.-Israel cyber attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, which has been hailed as the first example of a cyber attack to have physical, real-world impacts of strategic importance, was not nearly as effective as we were initially led to believe.

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