I have to admit I was a little surprised when Rocketplane-Kistler (RpK) won one of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration $200 million-plus space act agreements (SAA).
It's a lot of money but compared to what has to be achieved over the next four years, demonstration of cargo, and possibly crew, transportation to the International Space Station, its peanuts.
Rocketplane is a team of committed people working hard to turn a modified Learjet into a suborbital spacecraft.
They have some excellent engineers but they have always been cash strapped
August 2006 Archives
I have to admit I was a little surprised when Rocketplane-Kistler (RpK) won one of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration $200 million-plus space act agreements (SAA).
Almost three weeks ago, my hold-all and I were on our way to a holiday in the Dordogne. Instead, it and I parted company at the easyJet check-in at Gatwick on 11 August, the day after the new security clamp-down was launched. And, while I made it to Toulouse, my bag is still languishing under a mountain of untagged luggage at the UK airport...probably.
I say probably because it is impossible to get any information on my luggage's whereabouts out of easyJet. Up to 30 minutes of listening to a recorded message gets you through to a very pleasant call centre operator who does a few tappety-taps on her keyboard and gives me a more breezy version of the catchphrase familiar to any Little Britain fans: "Computer says nah". In other words, they have no information on where my bag might be. No hunch, beyond that it is most likely at Gatwick. And if it's lost its tag - like that's down to my carelessness - it's like searching for a needle in haystack. It might, they say, take five weeks to find.
Now I know in the whole scheme of things, compared with ruined family holidays and - God forbid - the terrorists being successful, my bag being lost for a month or more (together with BlackBerry, house keys, spectacles and spare contact lenses) is a minor inconvenience. I made it to Toulouse and had a very pleasant vacation. And if resources are scarce, I'd much rather the ground staff at Gatwick were concentrating on finding the bad guys and their Dr Pepper explosives than searching for my bag. But it's just another small example of airport operator BAA's inability to cope with the crisis.
Three weeks ago, the day before my holiday, I blogged about how Gatwick and the great British traveller were coping heroically with the new security regulations. The fact that the infrastructure coped at all I suppose was a minor triumph. But travelling through Gatwick again yesterday, two and a half weeks after the new regulations were imposed, there did not seem to be any undue pressure on the system. The August holiday rush is over. Why finding a very distinctive bag is still such a problem baffles me.
It’s hard to believe the amount of time that has passed since Lockheed Martin won the USA’s Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) contest, but October will see the fifth anniversary of the company’s victory over rival manufacturer Boeing in the most spectacular of “winner takes all” contests. This October will be another massive month for the US-led project, as Lockheed could conduct the first system development and demonstration phase flight of an F-35 – the next-generation combat aircraft which has now been dubbed the ‘Lightning II’.
Like one of my current favourite aircraft – the US Air Force’s Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II, or ‘Warthog’, the JSF poses a major problem to the enthusiastic, but thoroughly untrained aviator such as me: it only has one seat. This means that although we are probably at least six years away from the type’s entry into service with current potential buyers Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Turkey, the UK and the USA I’m already depressed by the knowledge that I will never get the chance to fly in one.
Thankfully, technology is a wonderful thing and I have now had the good fortune to twice have a go at flying the JSF in the synthetic domain. The first chance came about two years ago when I briefly flew a representative simulator for the JSF as part of a military demonstration here in London, but it wasn’t until just before last month’s Farnborough air show that I got a really good taste of what the new aircraft will be like to operate in one of its most challenging flight scenarios: vertical landing.
The US Marine Corps and the UK Royal Air Force and Navy will be the launch users for the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, with the type to replace their Boeing AV-8B Harrier II and BAE Systems Harrier GR9/9A ground-attack aircraft from around 2012. You’re 10 times more likely to have an accident flying a Harrier than another fast jet type, says Justin Paines, a development test pilot for UK research and technology company Qinetiq who flew 11 sorties on Lockheed’s X-35 demonstrators before leaving the RAF. And that was before he saw me trying to fly a Harrier simulator at the company’s Bedford site…
I had my first flight in a Harrier earlier this year with the RAF’s 20 Sqn operational conversion unit, and now know it was a good job that I didn’t realise how unruly the aircraft is in the hover before I had a go at the controls. I’m ashamed to say it, but flying the simulator for Qinetiq’s unique VAAC Harrier – the oldest two-seat example of the type flying in the world, with more than 30 years of research work now behind it – was a disastrous failure for me in conventional mode. Within seconds of taking control of the aircraft in the hover it was spiraling wildly on its axis and pitching about like a bucking bronco. And then I crashed it. Twice.
But my visit to Bedford wasn’t intended solely to dent my confidence. Qinetiq had invited me to the site to fly the device under the supervision of Paines and two of the UK Ministry of Defence’s test pilots from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire to show me how much better things will be in the F-35B. Qinetiq has since 1999 used its lone VAAC airframe to assess a variety of flight control laws intended to make a JSF pilot’s life a whole lot easier and is now involved in a flight test campaign to fine-tune the likely final configuration. You might have seen a news report yesterday by ITV science editor Lawrence McGinty, who was also receiving instruction at Bedford but – unlike me – was lucky enough to go on to successfully fly and land the real VAAC Harrier at Boscombe Down.
While it is without question one of the greatest engineering marvels of the first century of manned flight, the Harrier is a confusing beast to fly, with more controls to take care of than the pilot has hands. With the F-35B, however, that problem will be no more, and I was assured that after no more than a quick briefing I would be able to fly and land the VAAC Harrier, this time using its so-called unified control laws. After one dummy run with a test pilot looking over my shoulder I locked myself into the domed motion simulator, strapped myself in to the unique Harrier cockpit and prepared to redeem myself in front of the professionals.
Here’s the really good news for anyone reading this who might be pondering embarking on a career as a fighter pilot within the next decade or so: it really will be easy to fly a JSF in the STOVL configuration. Forget the current requirement to control the Harrier’s attitude with the joystick, its forward speed with the throttle and (and here’s the difficult bit) its nozzle control lever to stop it from falling out of the sky. In the F-35B the left-hand will control the throttle inceptor: push forward and you accelerate forwards, pull back and you decelerate and eventually go backwards – and the bigger the input the greater the response. In the hover the right-hand side-stick will be used to control everything else: push left or right and the aircraft will jink to the left or right, push forwards and it will descend, pull back and it will climb. On my two attempts to enter the airfield circuit and land on a pad using visual markers to line the aircraft up I succeeded in getting the VAAC down safely, albeit at a snail’s pace, which did wonders for my dented confidence.
If the modified Harrier’s performance is anything to go by, the stability offered by the F-35B’s liftfan and roll posts will be truly spectacular, with only slight inputs required to manoeuvre it around an airfield or onto the deck of an aircraft carrier or assault ship. And Qinetiq has already successfully demonstrated the VAAC Harrier’s ability to automatically return to and land aboard a rolling and pitching aircraft carrier with centimetric accuracy, meaning that the F-35B’s safety record should be remarkably better than the STOVL platforms it will replace.
It’s not just in the hover that the F-35B will be different to fly. I’ve always found it difficult to maintain the determined height during a turn, but during my simulator ride I found that on each turn I was gaining a considerable amount of height, as my automatic reaction – to pull back on the stick slightly to maintain my altitude – was not necessary in the new generation aircraft. The flight control system knows how much throttle the pilot has requested and will make adjustments during the turn to make his or her life that little bit simpler and free up valuable time for system management tasks.
My initial attempts to hover the VAAC Harrier had been so spectacularly bad in conventional flight mode that my test pilot guide later quipped in an e-mail: “I’m very confident that you have got a good understanding of the differences of control between the old Harrier and where we are going with the JSF control laws!!”
But if all this technology is going to make it so spectacularly easy for a pilot to fly the STOVL variant JSF, what will the next generation of pilots for these aircraft have to boast about over their peers on conventional platforms like the Eurofighter Typhoon? “That’s easy,” says one test pilot: “we’ll still be able to hover!”
I get to go to some strange and exotic places in the course of researching my stories for Flight International, but it looked as though I was going to have to make a rare step into the political arena next month to report on an interesting-looking aerospace event in the UK.
I received an invitation from the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) to attend a joint meeting with the Amicus trade union as a side - or "fringe" - event to next month's Labour Party Conference in Manchester. Unfortunately the invitation - which concerned a debate on the UK's Defence Industrial Strategy to include a presentation by defence secretary Des Browne - arrived too late for me to register ahead of a 28 July party deadline to sign up for free media accreditation.
Well that's a nuisance, I thought, but as such deadlines are usually only there for guidance I reckoned it would probably only be a small fee for me to sign up a few weeks late. A quick call to Labour's conference unit soon put that belief in its place though: "Ah yes, but as you're signing up late there's a registration fee of ｣360," I was told. After a bit of expert haggling I was instead offered a fringe-only pass at a knock-down rate of just ｣230. "We're having to absorb increased administration costs this close to the event," the official on the other end of the line told me. No kidding!
But resilience is an important part of journalism, so I tried another avenue within the party machine and have received some good news - I can now go to the event, and at a much cheaper rate of only ｣36! There's just one catch to this opportunity though: to take advantage of this give-away rate I would actually be required to join the Labour Party.
I have a fundamental problem with this proposal though: the party website tells me that signing up by direct debit will "save the Party ｣5 a year which can be spent on campaigning, not admin". Now I know Labour has the small matter of a ｣27 million ($50 million) hole in its finances to concern itself with, but I really don't think that trying to encourage reporters to compromise their journalistic integrity is the right way for it to cover its debt.
So with apologies to the SBAC and Amicus, this is one party that I'm not interested in attending. But I'd better not say too much here, because if the events at Labour's conference in Brighton last year are anything to go by (remember the rough treatment afforded to 82 year-old Walter Wolfgang?), then heckling could still be dangerous�
Pre-arrival flight deck briefings are usually innocuous affairs. Not today. “If it appears to be a bit of a heavy landing and rather abrupt braking,” advises BMed’s Capt Jason Holt, “that’s just me making sure we don’t go too far down the runway.”
Going too far down runway 16 at Beirut Airport, of course, would mean winding up in the bomb crater at the southern end. Rafic Hariri International had been among the first points of call for Israeli fighters 35 days before, when the smouldering tension with southern Lebanon’s Islamic resistance group Hezbollah exploded into armed conflict. Precision air strikes, notably along the three runways’ centrelines and several taxiway intersection points, appeared to have crippled Beirut’s main gateway.
Not so. With a fragile ceasefire barely 80 hours old, BMed flight KJ001 (with Flight International as the only aviation press representation on board) touches down on the foreshortened runway (a NOTAM declares the available landing distance to be just 2,000m, some 40% shy of its physical length) and taxies to a reception committee of military personnel, ground handlers, Lebanese reporters, politicians and excavators. Even as military engineers are digging in the background, working to remove three or four unexploded Mk 84 bombs, there’s a sense that, in this city, the locals view a state of war as no less transient than Londoners would a particularly heavy downpour. It’s an inconvenience; find shelter, it’ll pass.
Beirut Airport is open, and the staff aren’t easily discouraged by minor issues such as an absence of aircraft – flag-carrier Middle East Airlines decamped to Damascus rather than risk a potentially-expensive return visit from the Israeli Air Force – or passengers. The departure hall is deserted. There isn’t a customer in sight but practically every shop is open, lit and manned – even the small souvenir kiosk, an outpost of defiance in the face of Lebanon’s wrecked tourist season.
None of the postcards features the landscapes of Dahieh and Haret Hreik, the residential suburbs through which the airport road passes, and over which Israeli aircraft have unloaded a devastating quantity of ordnance in a bid to dislodge Hezbollah from its southern Beirut stronghold.
Shells of apartment blocks, blackened by fire, stand adjacent to unrecognisable piles of concrete coated with grey dust – ten-storey buildings vertically compressed to barely ten feet. Smoke is still rising from some of them, and in the air hangs a faintly sweet, but nevertheless unpleasant, scent. At the end of one blasted street, where a lone child aged about nine is salvaging metal scraps, the twin-spired Al-Hassanein mosque is unscathed. It’s a stark reminder of the accuracy of precision-guided bombs. Even if, from where I’m standing, Haret Hreik looks as though it’s been precisely bombed just about everywhere.
Someone once told me that curiosity doesn’t kill cats – it’s answers that tend to prove fatal. Hezbollah sentries in T-shirts are guarding a makeshift barricade, blocking access to a main road. My taxi driver says that, beyond, is a ‘secure zone’. Quite what needs to be secured isn’t obvious.
Despite my not speaking a word of Arabic, carrying no identification bar an expired press card, and not being equipped with any of the other normal tools of ad hoc diplomacy – cigarettes, hard currency and the like – I stride towards the barricade, optimistic of blagging passage, or at least a photo or two. I’m a dozen steps away when a white van, its driver’s directional awareness bordering on the suicidally deficient, tears through the checkpoint. On his feet in an instant, one of the sentries pours AK-47 fire at the receding vehicle, bringing the van to a sudden, screeching halt before he sprints after it.
Fluency in Arabic, it turns out, is unnecessary. As I raise my camera, a combination of shouting and gestures clearly hints that photography at this moment could be disadvantageous, particularly if my current list of advantages counts being able to walk. Best I leave now. The taxi driver, who has heard the gunfire, appears mildly surprised - perhaps that I'm still alive. He asks, grinning: “Did you upset Hezbollah?”
Camera-shy its members might be, but Hezbollah isn’t anti-Kodak. Photographs of missile-blasted homes make good propaganda, especially those whose walls are draped with sarcastic banners declaring that this mess was ‘Made in the USA’ and cryptically referring to ‘The New Middle Beast’. Demolished tower blocks, indistinguishable between streets, on closer inspection reveal grim reminders that these were individual homes: a sofa, lampshades, rugs, kitchenware. Copies of the Koran lie outside one obliterated residence, and from the dust of another taped-off heap of masonry I pull a child’s stuffed toy dog, its yellow fur coated grey and embedded with glass shards.
Even with Hezbollah’s permission, and the licence afforded to me as a journalist, each photograph feels somewhat indecent, as if Haret Hreik has become a grotesque tourist attraction. I return to the battered silver taxi, and ask the driver – who has patiently acted as negotiator, advisor and translator for an hour – to take me back to the hotel. He looks at me knowingly. “You can smell it? In the air? That’s the bodies they haven’t reached yet.”
Just five minutes’ drive from the suburb, much of the evidence vanishes. The Khatem Al-Anbiyaa mosque, with its distinctive blue domes and sandy towers, is tranquil and magnificent in the morning sun. Beirut’s traffic and bustle seem to belie any suggestion of a city so recently at war.
Rafic Hariri Airport, three hours later, is trying with only partial success to imitate the same sense of normality. Middle East Airlines, which yesterday managed to uphold Lebanese pride by scrambling to operate the first Airbus into its home base, is preparing a scheduled A321 service to Amman. It’s parked at gate 20. The BMed A321 is back (having had to hop across to Cyprus for fuel), waiting at gate 21. Every other gate is empty. None of the indicator screens shows any flight information and there are still more shops than people in the departure hall.
One of those shops appears busier than the others. But it’s not doing any business. The staff are boxing up its entire stock of Lebanese confectionery, hastily abandoned a month before when Israeli jets blazed over the horizon. It’s expired, says the storekeeper, and illegal to sell. Everything is to be dumped; an ironic footnote, given that southern parts of the country are receiving food hand-outs from humanitarian aid convoys.
Having turned down my cash-for-cakes offer three times, the storekeeper is becoming increasingly apologetic and flustered. I suggest that, if she can’t sell them, perhaps she’ll agree just to hand me a box, no questions. She can’t, she says, politely – she’ll need all manner of permission from her manager, else she’ll be in trouble for giving me, of all things, out-of-date dates.
Even negotiating with Hezbollah wasn’t this difficult. But eventually I offer a compromise: I’ll help her dump the stock. I’ll dump one tub of it. In London. She capitulates, on condition I don’t tell the other passengers. I don't have the heart to point out that there aren’t any other passengers to tell, so I promise and head for the gate. Diplomacy in the Middle East works after all.
It's not every day a new industry and market comes along and the potential for space tourism is, if not infinite, then certainly global.
This week the Personal Spaceflight Federation (PSF), comprising of private, public and non-profit organisations working to make commercial human spaceflight a reality, re-launched itself with a new slate of officers and a new chairman.
In journalism cynicism and even paranoia are necessary for the job. So many people want to tell you the product they are pushing is the best thing since sliced bread and everyone seems ready to tell lies, damned lies and stretch statistics as far as they will go.
So when people come along and demonstrably do what they said they would do and in a field as difficult as spaceflight, it's a pleasant change.
Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis I spacecraft is a success that quite frankly has not been covered widely enough in the media. A subscale version of the BA-330 vehicle, envisaged to be a space complex for science, manufacturing or a vacation, is testing out systems necessary for human habitation.
The reason why the wider, mass, media should be covering it is that it is, as far as I know, the first time an inflatable vehicle has been launched. And this one is privately financed, not another state funded project.
There have been inflated re-entry thermal protection systems but never an inflatable vehicle. As silly as it sounds it's a very good engineering solution to the problem of lifting mass out of Earth's gravity well.
To take a technology that NASA abandoned, develop it, build a spacecraft around it and get it launched and then operate it successfully in orbit is something that the world's space agencies would be shouting very very loudly about if they did it.
It's no small thing to place a spacecraft in orbit. With the recent failure of a Dnepr rocket, which Bigelow used to launch its Genesis, they did get lucky. But then the harder you work, the luckier you get; yes?
Talking to the company's founder, Robert Bigelow, last week it was clear that his team had exceeded their expectations with Genesis I. The company had been talking about a series of spacecraft being launched to 2010, followed by an attempt to fly a full scale complex. Now they intend to announce in January that these plans are to be accelerated. I would imagine we will see a full size BA-330 launched in 2008, probably using a US Delta or Atlas launcher. Bigelow does have a contract with Space Exploration Technologies to launch on its proposed Falcon 9 rocket. However it's unlikely this will be ready in time.
I'm rarely one to sing the praises of anyone or anything, just read my blogs. I will leave that to them, whether they are Boeing or the European Space Agency.
But Bigelow Aerospace's achievement is genuine and significant.
It would be pretty cool, although I've got my own doubts about how much money can be justified to keep large jets flying down the years. I love them as much as the next man, but if we want to keep many of them around we are talking millions of pounds, dollars or whatever you choose.
Anyway, there are plenty of people who do think they should keep going - and it's fair to say that few aircraft would look better as the years roll by than the Avro Vulcan - a stratgegic nuclear bomber with fighter-like handling. Like the Spitfire, the Vulcan scarcely has an ugly line on it, and in the air it is simply thrilling.
As you can read here a British group has been trying to get one airborne again, and has had some financial success - unfortunately it needs still more. I wish them luck.
The Vulcan has nearly as many stories about it as the English Electric Lightning I talked about earlier. There are plenty of them here.
When I was in the RAF there were numerous ex-Vulcan pilots among the flying instructors because the Vulcan force was being run down, and I was brought up on V-force stories of varying plausibility. But I quite liked the one from the very last days of the type when a few were being used for electronic surveillance of the USSR in what turned out to be the closing years of the Cold War.
They tested the exact location of the Soviet border quite a bit, and one of our instructors once filled in his flight-plan - sent to assorted ATC authorities - 'for information Leningrad FIR'.
Chris duly gave his commanding officer "a good listening to" and is today safely ensconsed as a management pilot in a much safer operation.
On our homepage we've been running a poll asking which manufacturer's aircraft you believe are safest out of Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and Bombardier.
For a while it ran pretty much neck and neck, then after a couple of days Embraer suddenly shot up to about 40% of people considering it the safest - and an awful lot of people voting. Hmm...
I had a quick look this morning and, surprise, surprise, found another 4,000 people had suddenly voted - taking the turnout to 11,000, about five times more votes than we've ever had before - and pushing Boeing up to roughly equal. At the time of writing we have 12,747 votes, with Embraer and Boeing running at 44% and 43% respectively. Airbus and Bombardier are at 8% and 5%.
I don't think that tells us much about safety, or even perceived safety, but it's quite illuminating about the web habits of manufacturers' staff!
When Mauricio Botelho announced that he would step down from the helm of Embraer I speculated here that Fred Curado (or Frederico Fleury Curado, as people have suddenly taken to calling him) would be the new CEO (hardly rocket science) - and I'm glad to see that he's been chosen.
Curado is currently executive vice president airline market and he starts in the post in April next year.
My doubt was that Embraer might conclude that they needed someone with stronger military credentials in order to grow the business.
Curado has impeccable credentials in Embraer's core regional airliner business and I've no doubt that Botelho, a great strategist, has ensured that he has had the greatest possible exposure to the rest of the company. But it's still vital for Embraer that it can make a more robust breakthrough into the military market than it has so far managed.
The company is enjoying great times right now but its strongest success is coming right in a sector of the airliner market - 70-110 seats - that almost defies analysis regarding its future. In this long-cycle business, Embraer has got to where it is by brilliantly understanding the market, its vulnerability as ever in aviation is that somebody else will better understand the next cycle. And there is the additional challenge this time that Boeing and Airbus are closely examining the smaller airliner market as they formulate their own single-aisle strategies.
In the years ahead Embraer may find life more competitive than ever - its success in understanding what's possible for it in the military market, and especially the USA, coudl be crucial to where it stands in a decade's time.
Despite talk of the nation pulling together, exhibiting the blitz spirit, and all that good stuff - quite a few Brits (and one Irishman - guess who) are at each others' throats after the last week's security saga. It's a complicated situation, but this is my best stab at summarising it. Pay attention, and note that this is a fast-moving legal scenario.
British Airways (BA) is thinking of sueing BAA; Ryanair is thinking of sueing BAA and the Government; Easyjet is thinking of sueing someone but it's too early to decide whom; BMI will probably sue whoever BA sues; Virgin doesn't think it's appropriate to sue anyone (but does want some money back from the BAA); BAA thinks it did a great job and everyone else can get lost; and London's Metropolitan Police are not sueing-sort-of-people but also want BAA to cough up. I rather suspect nobody will end up sueing anybody but I sympathise with those that are fed up with BAA. It really is a deeply irritating entity.
Through an accident of ideology this public (ie private) company controls nearly all of London's airport infrastructure (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted - leaving only Luton, for those of you not familiar). This gives it enormous power and a business case that the rest of us can only dream of. But also implies huge responsibility - and BAA doesn't seem to get that bit.
Air transport in London (and elsewhere) is heading for crisis. Already it's a hideous experience for passengers and it's gradually becoming less and less economically efficient. If you stump up for a business class fare it's still routine to have to leave home four hours before your flight. And if you're in coach - well, a week before the current crisis I sat with hundreds of other passengers in the luggage hall at Gatwick for an hour and watched as precisely no luggage at all was being delivered.
BAA's response tends to be wearyingly repetitive: it's not responsible for baggage, security rules, delays, pollution, travel costs, etc... But it's also pretty selective about what it can achieve.
Consider last weekend - when the Government relaxed the emergency carry-on rule BAA promptly announced (with passengers queuing in the street outside Heathrow) that it couldn't implement the relaxation for 24 hours because it couldn't get the message to staff. But a couple of days earlier when it became apparent that its duty-free sales were hurting because of the new rules, it reacted in a flash to let duty-free liquids be sold and taken on aircraft.
A lot of people in the air transport world today are having to take responsibility for things that aren't their responsibility. Why are Boeing and Airbus investing in air traffic control R&D - because if the system grinds to a halt then there will be no flying and nobody will buy aircraft. Why are numerous companies funding environmental R&D - because if aviation doesn't do the right thing then it will be legislated to death. BAA, and its soon-to-be new owners Ferrovial, need to start pulling their weight.
NASA administrator Michael Griffin announced at the 9th International Mars Society Convention in Washington DC on 3 August that his agency would undertake studies of manned Mars missions next year. It won't be the first time NASA has carried out such a study. In 2007 it will be 10 years since the 237 paged "Human Exploration of Mars: The Reference Mission of the NASA Mars Exploration Study Team" was published. And this time we may already know what the new study will say.
It's just past midday at Gatwick on 10 August and calm chaos would be an apt oxymoron to describe the mood at Gatwick's South Terminal. As I drive in from the M23, it's eerily quiet - few cars and an easy drive into the short-term car park. Apart from the parked police van and the guy handing out forms detailing the new security measures, there are no signs that anything is amiss. Walk over the footbridge into the terminal, however, and it's a very different story.
The queues for check-in snake from the terminal itself, across the 100m walkway over the railway line and down the zig-zag ramp to ground level, and then across to the bus station on the other side of the road. Most of the travellers at this time of the day at the South Terminal are families going on holiday, and most people appear resigned to their fate. "What right have they to disrupt our day like this," complains one elderly woman in the queue, searching for the right description of those ultimately responsible: "....those hooligans." But amazingly no one seems to be fuming or having a tantrum. Everywhere, airport and airline employees are breezily busy, advising travellers, handing out the see-through plastic bags for carry-on items and generally herding the crowds. I overhear one mentioning that he hasn't had a break yet, but no one appears stressed-out.
Around the EasyJet check-in area is a teeming mass of would-be travellers. Any impression of a queue - even for queue-hardened Britons - has disappeared. An EasyJet employee stands on the desk with a loud-hailer, announcing flights still leaving (the carrier - the biggest user at the terminal has since cancelled all today's flights from its three London airports). The departure screens show about half the flights cancelled...others are leaving three, four or five hours late.
The main chaos is at check-in. The security queue itself is not much worse than normal by this time of day. Although people are being rigorously searched, the absense of carry-on bags is probably speeding up the process.
Over in the North Terminal, British Airways' base, the scene is slightly more ordered. There are proper queues at the check in desks, but a harassed BA employee is imploring passengers whose flights have been cancelled to go home. A sign warns that flights cannot be rebooked for 48 hours.
The blitz spirit is a cliche, but people do seem to be taking it without a fuss. Airline and air traffic controller strikes have caused chaos before. London's airports have been hit several times by major security alerts. What is more impressive is that the emergency plan appears to be working. There are no headless chickens. Everyone knows what they are doing and there are plenty of staff about. Unlike previous alerts, where tanks rolled up at Heathrow without any real explanation beyond a vague serious security threat warning, people realise that what the police have foiled is a proper 9/11-style plot. As the five year anniversary of that horrific day approaches, people know that this sort of thing is the price we have to pay, occasionally, for airborne security.
To say that rockets are complex things is almost ridiculous, an observation that is so patently obvious that the phrase "rocket scientist" has passed into common cultural usage to mean, someone who works with very complicated things.
Then one wonders why Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) rocket scientists made such a basic mistake with the 570kg (1,254lb) to low Earth orbit (LEO) Falcon 1 launcher that led to its disastrous maiden fight on 31 March this year.
Spare a thought for Christian Streiff. When most French are hitting the autoroutes this weekend - heading for the coast, campsites or countryside - the Airbus boss and hundreds of managers and engineers will be staying behind, like a strict new form-master and schoolboys in detention, to fix the A380. It's difficult to judge Streiff from his one public appearance so far - at a mobbed press conference at Farnborough - but he certainly comes across as someone who is determined to put things right. The "old" Airbus would have turned up at the air show and, with a combination of arrogance, spin and bluster, denied that there was a problem. But the Forgeard era is over and the new Airbus is prepared to admit past mistakes. We filmed the press conference on Flight TV, which you can see here.
We also got a chance to go on board the A380 MSN001 at Farnborough. You can see what it's like here on Flight TV. My colleague Max-Kingsley Jones took these pictures. In a few weeks time, Flight International's test pilot Mike Gerzanics will be getting a chance to fly the airliner for the first time. You will be able to read what he made of the superjumbo in Flight International and on flightglobal.com.