CFM-56 – Politics, Exports and More.

I was wondering whether to blog anything about the CFM-56 engine following its recent appearance in the news headlines.  The media coverage following the in-flight failure of an engine on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 on April 17, 2018 dredged up several stories going back through the years, one of which piqued my attention and made me want to fill in some of the gaps in the narrative.   I have no doubt my teaching inclination influences my thinking, but the back story of one of the more common jet engines is a lot more interesting than I had imagined.

The CFM-56 is also known by its military designation F108 (I had no idea about this – I need to look at the F101 and F110 too to clarify which is which) and is joint project of Safran (formerly Snecma) and GE Aviation under the name CFMI (CFM International).  According to its Wikipedia page, the CFM-56 one of the most common turbofan engines in the world, with 30,000 units built by July 2016.

The project might have met an early (one might say premature) demise which was not of its own making. The first example ran in June 1974,  but for the next five years there were no orders for the engine. Two things saved the CFM-56. Firstly,  a contract with several American operators of the DC-8 to re-engine their aircraft, and secondly the decision by the US Air Force to re-engine the KC-135 fleet.

The origins of the CFM-56 are truly mundane and can be traced to two men meeting in Paris.  Gerhard Neumann from General Electric (GE) and René Ravaud from Snecma introduced themselves to each other at the 1971 Paris Air Show. In the 1970s GE and Snecma saw some potential in collaboration to rival Pratt & Whitney, and a partnership was born. I didn’t know this, but Snecma (Société nationale d’études et de construction de moteurs d’aviation) is the result of the nationalization of the Gnome & Rhône aero engine company in 1945.  Snecma and Sagem SA merged in 2005 to create the Safran Group, but I’m getting ahead of the narrative

US President Nixon and French President George Pompidou

Lobbying at the highest level.  US President Richard Nixon and French President Georges Pompidou prior to the U.S – French summit conference in Reykjavik, Iceland on 31 May – 1 June  1973, at which the production and export of the CFM-56 was discussed.  (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The politics behind the partnership and the marketing of the engine may be one of the reasons why no-one ordered any of them in the first few years. GE’s application for an export license was denied on national security grounds by Henry Kissinger in 1972. Lobbying continued at the very highest level,  and the matter appeared on the agenda of the US-French summit between Richard Nixon and Georges Pompidou in Reykjavik on May 31 – June 1 1973.  Chronologically this is a rather fascinating time in the former US president’s career.  A month previously, on April 30, Nixon had announced the resignations of H.R Haldemann, John Ehrlichmann and Richard Kleindienst, and the firing of John Dean. By the end of June 1973 a Gallup Poll found that 98 percent of Americans had “heard about” Watergate.

It would appear that the diplomacy involved with “French-made” engines involved GE sending engine cores from its plant in Ohio to the Snecma plant in France, at which point American GE technicians would mount the French components to the cores, and would release the engine for finishing. I assume that nothing as convoluted as this happened with American engines assembled in Ohio. The strict controls were related to the fact that the engine core for the CFM-56 was also being used in the development of the B-1 and thus was a fairly sensitive national security issue for the United States.

Orders for the CFM-56 started to come when aggressive marketing resulted in the contract to re-engine the DC-8 for three US Airlines (Delta, United and Flying Tiger). Boeing was prepared to offer a CFM-56 powered 707 named the 707-700, but no civilian orders were forthcoming. The research on the 707-700 project (and the prototype itself)  did however convince the US Air Force of the viability of the CFM-56.  The USAF promptly ditched the allegedly dirty and inefficient Pratt and Whitney J57 from the KC-135 fleet and replaced it with the CFM-56, calling the new type the KC-135R.

Boeing later announced that a CFM-56 would power the 737-300 series airliner.  Some re-design work  was necessary to accommodate such a large engine on an aircraft with a low wing and minimal ground clearance.  The CFM-56-3 for the 737  has a characteristic flat-bottomed engine nacelle which many of us have noticed on our travels around the world.

CFM56-3 engine

CFM56-3 engine, with its recognizable non-circular “hamster pouch” inlet, installed on a Boeing 737-400 . (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In a gesture of European solidarity,  Airbus have also joined the CFM-56 user community for large and small Airbus products.

The full list of applications for the CFM-56 according to its Wikipedia article is as follows.

Airbus  – A320 family, A318, A340.
Boeing  – 707-700 (prototype only), KC-135R Stratotanker, E-3D Sentry, E-6 Mercury, RC-135,  737 Classic, 737 Next Generation, 737 AEW&C, C-40 Clipper, P-8 Poseidon, Business Jet.
Douglas – DC-8 Super 70.

CFM-56 installation on a NASA DC-8

Never seen this before. CFM-56 installation on a NASA DC-8 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Sadly,  the CFM-56 has had its share of bad publicity.  The most notable failure (notable to me, anyway) occurred in the UK in January 1989. A fairly new British Midland 737-400 on a flight from London to Belfast crashed at Kegworth while trying to make an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport, following a fan blade failure in a CFM-56-3.   Two other fan blade failures occurred in British 737-400s shortly afterwards, resulting in the type being grounded world wide while modifications were carried out to the engines.  The recent failures on Southwest Airlines 737s (Flight 3472 from New Orleans to Orlando in August 2016, and Flight 1380 from New York LaGuardia to San Francisco in April, 2018) indicate that fan blade fatigue is an ongoing issue.

There have been incidents of CFM-56 engines flaming out in heavy rain or hail.  The most dramatic incident  involved  TACA Flight 110 from Belize to New Orleans in May 1988. Both engines on the 737-300 flamed out while passing through hail and heavy rain, and the crew was forced to carry out a deadstick landing on a grassy levee adjacent to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans near the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.  Only one minor injury was sustained among the the 38 passengers and seven crew.

The story of TACA 110 is pretty amazing as this YouTube clip may show.  The hail damage on the nose cone of the 737 is visible in the thumbnail below and is indicative of the strength of the storm through which the aircraft inadvertently passed.

As a result of this and other flameout instances,  CFMI made modifications to improve the way in which the engine handles hail ingestion. The pilots of TACA 110 selected continuous ignition for the engines as their training advised in the weather they experienced. CFMI have added a sensor to the CFM-56 to start continuous combustion automatically in conditions of heavy hail or rain.

I was tempted to give some click-bait title to this blog entry and play up the Watergate connection, but that would be a little dishonest.   However it is interesting that a turbofan engine which we find so commonplace today has its roots in a meeting of two executives the early 1970s, and featured on the international summit agenda of a US President who was, to say the least, looking a little beleaguered politically by this time.

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No, they’re not kidding

I received the May 2018 issue of FlyPast the other day, and saw several things which delighted me. One of these was Spitfire XIVe NH799, which I remember had crashed in New Zealand some years ago,  [1996]  injuring Sir Tim Wallis fairly seriously.  It apparently flew again in 2015, and the FlyPast  article  included a couple of lovely air-to-air shots of NH799 in its new (to me) SEAC paint scheme.

Being thus inspired,  I found that there are a several YouTube clips featuring NH799 which include some very nice Rolls-Royce Griffon sounds – here are a couple.

It amazes me to see how many heavily damaged warbirds have been painstakingly restored after serious post-restoration accidents. NH799 is one such example.  Another which springs to mind is Spitfire TR.9 PV202 which, many years ago, [2000] was involved in a fatal flip-over landing accident, sadly killing both occupants.  The aircraft remains were sold and slowly rebuilt.  PV202 is now very active on the scene in the UK, having  undergone a couple of very distinct scheme changes (at one stage reverting to its old Irish Air Corps identity) during its second or third life.

I don’t want to appear prurient or ghoulish but I wonder sometimes what has happened to the remains of Spitfire XIV RM689 / G-ALGT, formerly  owned by Rolls-Royce, which was involved in a fatal crash at an airshow in 1992. I remember watching a video clip of the accident at Woodford, and not unnaturally everything went very quiet. It seemed tasteless at the time to ask what happened to the wreckage.   A rapid google would tend to suggest RM689 is receiving attention somewhere, so I expect that in time it will emerge from someone’s restoration shop and fly once more.  To paraphrase a  commentator on a bulletin board , it seems that once the supply of ‘found’ restorable airframes dries up,  we will find that a few of the recent crash wrecks will become viable for rebuild once again.  Some of the wrecks that were pulled out of the former Soviet Union in the early 90s will no doubt find their way back into the air.

Of course what’s original and what’s a new about something as complex as a Spitfire is something that many people like to argue about on the bulletin boards.  At least one Spitfire restoration to my knowledge is based on nothing more than eight feet of nose, a solid engine block,  and a firewall, but since there was a manufacturer’s data plate, it became a restoration, not a reproduction.  However,  I’m carping.  The efforts that have been made are staggering and I for once will continue to be impressed, since I love to see these machines and remember the personal contributions of everyone who has been involved with them in their past.

But wait

What really grabbed my attention in FlyPast was the news that a group down in Uckfield, Sussex (I used to drive through there frequently on my way to and from Brighton) are trying to restore a Hawker Typhoon 1b to airworthy condition. What? Wow! This is RB396 formerly of “XP-W” of 174 Squadron. Major components survived a forced landing in Holland in April 1945. The group’s biggest boost was apparently the recent acquisition of a potentially restorable Napier Sabre engine. Looking at the photos of the Sabre, I am awestruck with the sheer size of the block and anything with 24 cylinders in an “H” configuration.   I think the block in the picture is a sectioned example which was used for educational purposes somewhere, not engine they are using for the restoration.  If you’re like me and had no idea what an H-24 configuration is, it’s apparently two horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder engines one on top of the other.   I was trying to imagine six Volkswagen “Beetle” engines, but that’s not helping much.

The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group are most certainly not kidding, look at their website https://hawkertyphoon.com/

Hawker Typhoon RB396

Hawker Typhoon RB396 will be restored and aims to fly in 2024 (Warbirds news)

Who knows? In a few years we may see a sight like this (below) again. According to the Flypast article, no Typhoon has flown since 1947. The restoration crew of RB 396 seem to be determined to alter that.

Hawker Typhoon Mk IB RB402

A production line neighbor of RB396,  Hawker Typhoon Mk IB RB402, “5V-P” of No. 439 Squadron RCAF, landing at Goch, Germany, 1945. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Farewell Then, Tornado

Not right now, but in about 11 months, at the end of March 2019, the Panavia Tornado will retire from service with the RAF. With a front line service record that spans 36 years and something like four decades of service in the RAF, it’s a pretty staggering thought. The Tornado pretty much symbolizes the RAF of the eighties, nineties, oughts and teens.

A while ago I was looking for images of the Tornado marked with the 40th anniversary livery and haven’t found anything suitable (i.e. something that I can post with a clear conscience) yet. But I did run across this YouTube video (“Tonka Tails take to the Skies”) published by the RAF which shows five Tornadoes in September 2015 – apparently four from Marham and one from Lossiemouth – wearing commemorative schemes of their operators. I think I can see IX, 12, XV, and 31 squadrons represented, with the addition of the type 40th anniversary commemorative machine.

It’s a very short video, but nice to see, if a little poignant. Enjoy

It’s beginning to look a lot like Amelia

Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020

Amelia Earhart and the Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020 in which she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared in July 1937.
(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

It started quietly,  but the mainstream media have picked it up now.  TIGHAR’s Nikumaroro thesis on the fate of Amelia Earhart received a significant boost with the publication of a 16-page paper in the March 2018 issue of the scholarly journal Forensic Anthropology (not Forensic Pathology as stated in some sites), published by the University of Florida Press. See the article itself at this link: http://journals.upress.ufl.edu/fa/article/view/525

The author of the article is Richard L. Jantz, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, and Director Emeritus of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Jantz’ research focuses primarily on forensic anthropology, skeletal biology, dermatoglyphics, anthropometry, anthropological genetics, and human variation, as well as the development of databases to aid anthropological research. Jantz is a prolific author,  and his research has helped lead and shape the field of physical and forensic anthropology for many years.   In the paper in question, he concludes that the bone fragments found, analyzed and subsequently lost in the 1940s are most probably those of Amelia Earhart.

The paper is a significant work, drawing on Jantz’ own expertise and a re-evaluation of the data recorded in Fiji in 1941, the last (and probably only) time that the bones were subjected to scientific analysis. Jantz says that additionally, information concerning Amelia Earhart’s body dimensions came to light in 2017 through a new study of Earhart’s clothing,  held in the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue University.

The article challenges two assertions. Firstly that the bones were those of a stockily built male about 5’5″ in height.  Secondly,  notwithstanding speculation at the time, the skeletal remains were not considered to be those of Amelia Earhart because she was always thought to be tall, slender, and gracile (a word I have never used or read until now). The re-evaluation of the bone data, and measurements taken from her clothing, suggest that despite being 5’7″ tall and presenting a fairly elfin figure, Earhart was apparently a little more stocky in build, and around 20 pounds heavier,  than contemporary accounts and the evolving legend (courtesy no doubt of George Palmer Putnam)  would have us believe.

Jantz states in his conclusion: “Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers”

UTK (University of Tennessee at Knoxville) wrote a news release on the article here:  https://news.utk.edu/2018/03/07/researcher-new-forensic-analysis-indicates-bones-were-amelia-earharts/

It’s comforting to this part-time academic that the article itself was received by the journal in August 2017, was revised in October, and accepted for publication in November 2017, finally appearing in Vol.1, No. 2 in March 2018. The academic publishing process is as tortuous as ever.

I await with some interest the response of the supporters of the other theories.

On The Trail

I should know better than to read some news articles.  At least I don’t read the public comments since my blood pressure wouldn’t stand it.  Today I read an article that said some of the Chemtrail believers are getting more vocal.   The bit that really got me was one of the prime movers who said “20 to 30 years ago we didn’t have these.”  What?

I’m a Brit so one of the first images that came to mind was this one:

British and German aircraft after a dogfight

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1940. Pattern of condensation trails (contrails) left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight. (Public Domain – Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons)

Last time I looked, 1940 was a bit more than 30 years ago.   Of course I can remember a time when 1940 *was* 30 years ago, but that was 1970.

A little later, aviation historians will remember pictures like this of B-17s and B-24s on bombing missions in the Second World War.

B-17s from the 340BS, 97BG

A formation of B-17Gs from the 340th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group wing their way towards Linz, Austria, while their P-38 Lightning escorts contrail above them. (Public Domain – US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons)

Contrails do date to a time before The Second World War. The Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine quotes an observer who saw “the condensation of a cumulus stripe from the exhaust gases of an aircraft” over the Austrian Alps in 1915. (Full article at https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/flight-lines-3-18415244

Another early contrail was observed in France in 1918 , according to a 2007 article in Air Power History.  “Wakes of war: contrails and the rise of air power, 1918-1945 Part I – early sightings and preliminary explanations, 1918-1938”  (The URL has been hijacked and leads to some weird page about investments in French – this is why there’s no link). 

I shall have to do a little more image research to see if there are any more early pictures of contrails out on the web.  I remember seeing a picture of a very high flying JU86 observed over Sussex on 18th  August, 1940 leaving a high thin contrail which must have displeased the reconnaissance crew no end. There must be something earlier.

I learn something new today in my searches. Contrails have an opposite.  The dissipation trail, or distrail. Warm exhaust air causes particles of moisture to evaporate and produces the effect of a line being drawn through a cloud with an eraser.  These are much more fleeting than a contrail and have their own strange beauty. I think I may have seen these over the years, although my eyesight is not of the finest. I’d be interested to know if any of the readership have any personal experiences with distrails.

Distrail over Hong Kong, 2012

November 22, 2012. Wikipedia user ‘Earth100’ captured this rare shot of a dissipation trail (distrail), just 10 seconds old, formed by an airplane over Hong Kong. (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Thorny Questions of Restoration

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk ET574, which was discovered untouched in 2012 following a crash in the North African desert in 1942, has shown up at the El Alamein Museum in Egypt,  wearing some very dubious camouflage and markings after a fairly crude restoration job, as some pictures from Classic Warbirds on Facebook show.

The British press was up in arms over the affair in 2015, after it was discovered that the RAF Museum had handed over Spitfire F.22 PK664 to Kennett Aviation as payment for Kennet’s services in recovering the Kittyhawk and returning it to the UK.  The recovery part of the deal was undertaken and completed, but the Egyptian government decided they wanted to keep the aircraft and display it at the museum.  The Kittyhawk’s 2017 discovery or revelation at El Alamein has spurred the popular press anew, and a few historical websites lament the rather amateurish restoration carried out by the local museum. The aircraft is wrongly identified as a P-40B and there appears to be little or no acknowledgement that this is ET574.

ET574 At the El Alamein Museum, 2017

It is indeed unfortunate that the Kittyhawk could not have been recovered to the UK and restored or conserved sympathetically. The RAF Museum spokesperson said that almost as soon as the wreck was discovered, it was being stripped for scrap metal by the local population, so there was a necessity to remove it. This is how apparently it ended up in a shipping container at El Alamein. The uncertainty of the Arab Spring and the unsettled nature of middle eastern politics did the rest.

I personally don’t have a problem with ownership of PK664 having passed from the RAF to Kennet Aviation. There is a reasonable chance that Kennet may actually take some care of it and it’ll go into the restoration queue, although I understand that PK664 was not a complete airframe.

There are concerns concern about some remains found about 5 kilometers from the wreck of ET574. The RAF Museum and the British government say they are not those of  the pilot, Fight Sergeant Dennis Copping, and that his body has never been found. I have also read reports of conflicting stories about DNA tests, (even whether DNA testing has been carried out at all, and what the results were) which can only add to the anguish of Flight Sergeant Copping’s remaining relatives, which is regrettable to say the least.

The slightly thorny issue for trainspotters like me is the nature of the restoration of ET574. Certainly  the opportunity to conserve the wreck as a time capsule has been lost.  Yes, the paint job and markings are pretty amateurish, including the awful national markings and the 112 squadron “sharkmouth” which ET574 never wore during her service life with 260 Squadron. It’s an amateurish job, but cries that the machine has been “ruined” smacks of people in glass houses throwing stones.

Let’s look, for example, at the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The NMUSAF has in its collection Bristol Beaufighter Mk 1c A19-43 which was flown in combat in the south-west Pacific by 31 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force.  It was something of a basket case when recovered from Australia, although it had a known RAAF identity.  A19-43 is however painted as USAAF T5049 of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron in Italy.

Bristol Beaufighter Ic

Bristol Beaufighter Ic originally A19-43 in the Air Power Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Dayton, Ohio. (USAF – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Spitfire Vc (Trop) MA863

Spitfire Vc (Trop) MA863 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force,  Dayton, Ohio. (USAF – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Also at Dayton is Spitfire Vc Trop MA863.  This aircraft also served with the Royal Australian Air Force, and was acquired in a swap with the Imperial War Museum in March 2000 which resulted in a B-24 going to the UK.   MA863 is painted as a machine of the 308th Fighter Squadron,  31st Fighter Group,  USAAF in the Mediterranean theatre, where many “reverse lend-lease” Spitfires served.  However as Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) A58-246, the Spitfire served with 54 Squadron (RAF) in early 1944 as the personal mount of Squadron Leader E M Gibbs (wearing the codes DL-A) and later served with 452 Squadron (RAAF) coded QY-F. When I saw the machine in 2002 it was wearing the markings of 71 (Eagle) Squadron, RAF  and was situated in a Battle of Britain diorama looking very odd indeed with its tropical filter sticking out. My companions at the time were wondering what I was gibbering about.

I suppose here I could mention B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” (that’s her behind MA863 in the picture above) resplendent in an Olive Green and Neutral gray paint scheme she never wore during her service with the 91st Bomb Group. The reason given was that so much remedial sheet metal work was carried out on the Fortress during its restoration that they felt obliged to paint her to hide it.

Also very close by is Spitfire PR XI PA908 which was handed over by 681 Squadron RAF to the Royal Indian Air Force in 1947 and which eventually found its way to the NMUSAF where it now wears the scheme of a USAAF PR XI with the serial MB950.

The restoration “proposal” which horrified me a few years back was the Brewster F2A-1 BW-372, a combat veteran of the Finnish Air Force. Flown by Lt. Lauri Pekuri it was damaged by a Soviet Hawker Hurricane and crashed in 1942 on Lake Big Kolejärvi, about 30 miles from Segezha, Russia. BW-372 was rediscovered in 1998.

Brewster B-239 BW-372

Brewster B-239 BW-372 in the Aviation Museum of Central Finland. (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The aircraft was transported to the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida in 2004.  In 2008 it was displayed at the Aviation Museum of Central Finland for the 90th anniversary of the Finnish Air Force. Fortunately,  apart from conservation work,  it doesn’t appear to have been touched.  A few years ago I read an article (which I sincerely hope was a piece of inaccurate reporting at the time), that the NNAM was proposing to restore and display the F2A-1 as a US Navy Buffalo, which generated shrieks of puritanical horror from me, at least.

I don’t want to imply that the restorations carried out by the NMUSAF or NNAF are not of a high standard. They do have resources far in excess of a small military museum in Egypt.  Even top-level museums are prepared to make exceptions  or reserve the right to display their collection in whatever way  they consider best according to their polices or other exigencies.  If the museum owns the exhibits, it can paint them any way they choose.  People like me can (and will) complain about the loss or originality,  but that’s just unfortunate.

One could go on. I do remember a quotation of Spencer Flack on the subject of his bright red Spitfire XIV NH904 / G-FIRE (now resident in Palm Springs and itself painted in a lurid approximation of a Korean War Spitfire 24). Flack said something on the lines of “If they give the the money they can have it any color they want” Most of his house fleet at the time was bright red, and having seen G-FIRE at displayed in the 1980s it didn’t look any the worse. What was more important was that it was there, it had been restored and in that particular case it was flying.

The RAF Museum spokesperson said that a quick recovery  of the Kittyhawk was necessary to stop it being destroyed.  We’ve seen pictures of the extent to which the ill-fated B-24 41-24301 Lady Be Good was systematically stripped between its discovery in 1958 and its removal from the Libyan desert in 1994. Bearing this in mind,  we can at least say that most of ET574 has been preserved even if the restoration fell well below the standards we expect in western museums.  Some people have pointed out that a lot of restoration expertise would have been available had the Egyptians asked, but that this doesn’t seem to be their process with regard to museum exhibits.

The social media comments on the various newspaper articles have ranged from the near sensible to the shockingly insensitive. I was going to make some comment on Facebook earlier when Susan shared the article about ET574 from Archaeology News but I thought I should probably just keep my thoughts in a quiet place on the deep web. Here they are, and here they will probably stay well hidden except from my dozen or so readers. Until of course I share this blog post on Facebook.

RIP Bruce McCandless

Bruce McCandless and his Jetpack in Orbit

Bruce McCandless and his Jetpack in orbit on Space Shuttle Mission STS-41B in 1984.
(Public Domain via NASA)

There are a number of iconic images in the brief history of manned spaceflight, and this is surely one of them.  Bruce McCandless flying un-tethered from Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984.  One could almost say Blue skies, Bruce, except in his case it’s the indigo and black of Earth Orbit.    Thank you for being there, and showing us.