Monday, April 29, 2013

Apple #633: Weight of Airplane Paint

I just got back from a trip*, and it's very late and I'm beat, but I wanted to post at least some little tidbit tonight.  So here goes.

[*This was actually last week. It was about 3 in the morning when I finally admitted I was too tired to finish this entry.]

I traveled by airplane on this particular trip, and while taxiing to the runway, I watched the other planes we passed and thought again about how I heard once upon a time that painting airplanes adds a whole bunch of weight to the plane, which extra weight results in higher fuel costs.  But most airplanes have a bunch of colorful paint on them.  If it's true that more paint = more weight = more expensive, why do airlines keep painting their planes?

As you can see from all these airplanes grouped together, nearly all of them are painted in some color scheme or other. White counts as painted. (This photo was originally billed as a multiple exposure of planes taking off from one location, but actually it's just a fairly good Photoshop job of a lot of planes together.)
(Photo by Ho-Yeol Ryu, via Twisted Sifter)

  • Short answer: although it's true that paint adds weight, the increased costs to maintain planes with less paint outweigh or equal the savings in fuel.
  • The details behind this are pretty interesting.  First of all, there's no such thing as an unpainted plane.  
  • Every airplane needs to be coated with something so that it can withstand corrosion, resist getting pinged with little rocks and other debris, survive adverse weather, and so on.  For this reason, all planes do have a certain amount of "protective" (light gray) paint on key parts of the plane such as all composites, wing fairings, tail cones, etc.
  • From the protective coating, the next amount of paint that airlines could choose is considered "polished."  This still has the necessary protective paint, plus tiny bits of decorative paint that indicate the airline's name, registry number, logos, and a few small stripes.

American Airlines planes has used the polished approach for years.  Note the shiny metallic appearance on the majority of the body of the planes.
(Photo from NBC

  • The next level of paintedness is usually referred to as "decorative."  Airlines may use anywhere from 3 to 15 colors, and the extra or decorative paint is usually applied on the upper half of the body of the plane (fuselage), on the vertical stabilizer, and on the rudder.  The decorative paint might show some kind of design, the airline logo, lettering, stripes, etc.

This Qantas special-liveried plane would definitely qualify as "decorative."
(Photo by SE9 on Skyscrapercity)

  • So the amount of weight added by the paint depends on whether the airline has opted for polished or decorative, and how much decorative paint is added.  It also depends on the size and type of the plane.

Table 1: Decorative Paint Scheme Weights, Lb (Kg)

717-200 MD-80/-90 MD-11 737-700 757-200 767-300 777-200 747-400
Upper and lower half of fuselage and tail painted plus customer markings 119
Upper half of fuselage and tail painted plus customer markings 94
Polished skin and customer markings 23

  • The paint on polished planes is about 1/10 the weight of the paint on decorative planes.  So, clearly, more paint equals more weight.
  • As you would expect, that extra weight translates into higher fuel costs because, as Boeing puts it, "Less paint reduces takeoff weight and fuel consumption considerably."
    • I tried to find out exactly how much more fuel is burned for every, say, extra gallon of paint.  But I struck out here.  There are so many variables involved -- type of plane, number of passengers, weight of baggage, distance of flight -- I couldn't find a handy quick calculation.  If anybody knows of a quick formula, please tell me what it is in the comments.
  • But it turns out that extra fuel costs are not the only concern when it comes to paint.  Operating costs are also affected.  Basically that means maintenance.
  • Planes have to be washed regularly to protect against corrosion.  This is true for both painted and polished planes.

Washing an airplane isn't just some guy with a bucket and a sponge, it's a pretty complicated operation involving several people, machinery & equipment, and special solvents.
(Photo from British Airways, via Howstuffworks)

  • Also, any paint has to be reapplied every four years to re-coat any areas that may have gotten chipped or thinned.  Because extra layers of paint add still more weight, Boeing has made it a policy that no plane can have more than 2 layers of paint. So after it's been repainted once, they have to strip off the old paint and apply new.  Sometimes they only scuff-sand the old paint and other times they completely strip the old.  
  • Polished planes also need some extra attention.  Every time they're washed, they also need to be buffed.
  • So polished planes require more maintenance.  Like painted planes, they get washed frequently. But unlike painted planes, they also have to be buffed with every washing.  Then since polished planes do have protective paint on them, they also have to go through the same cycle of repainting, stripping, & repainting.
    • Boeing has a little table showing the difference in operating costs are for decorative vs. polished planes, but I confess I'm not sure how to interpret that table.  At the very least, I have a lot of questions about it that I can't answer satisfactorily.  So I will give you my best guess at the upshot.
  • It looks like the operating costs for polished planes exceed those of decorative planes by $60,000 to $82,000 per year.
  • As Boeing puts it, "the fuel-cost savings offered by polished surfaces is outweighed by the cost of maintaining the polished surfaces."
  • In addition, there's also the question of whether people like or trust polished planes.  Some polished planes look a little unfinished, or kind of dinged up, or otherwise manky.  If people don't trust an airline to get you there safely, they're not going to buy a ticket.  So this is another reason airlines tend to go with more paint.  It looks cleaner and safer, and they can also really trumpet their name for all to see. 

Though Delta's planes are painted pretty much all over, the color is mostly on the tail.  This gives it a no-nonsense appearance. Which, I must admit, doesn't make me all that excited about getting on board.
(Photo from Aero News Network)

Conversely, I find Alitalia's livery really appealing. Makes me think that if I rode that flight, I would suddenly be very sleek and fashionable and speaking with an Italian accent.
(Photo posted by Boeing! at Skyscrapercity)

I like this one a lot, too, from Avianca.  It looks very aerodynamic and yet also soothing.
(Photo posted by Dreamliner at Skyscrapercity)

This one isn't over the top with the paint and the colors, but it still makes me want to fly to Thailand.
(Photo from Travel Daily Asia)

  • Postscript: American Airlines has been one of the few airlines that has consistently gone with the polished option.  But soon this will no longer be the case.  Now that they are trying to emerge from bankruptcy, they want to project a new image.  So they plan to go with more paint.  Also, their newer planes are being constructed with composite and plastic parts which absolutely need to be coated.  
  • Finally, coatings companies are developing paints that are lighter-weight and more resistant to corrosion, so American (and other airlines) can use these lighter-weight coatings without getting hit as hard with increased fuel costs.
  • So we may see airplanes going with even more paint in the future.

I have to say, I hope airlines don't take their cue from Southwest. This is downright vomitocious.
(Photo by Nick Ut, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Boeing, Painting versus Polishing of Airplane Exterior Surfaces, undated
"Silver Bird" No More? American Planes Likely to Get New Paint Scheme, The Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2012
The Skinny on Airplane Painting, The Cranky Flier, February 24, 2011 

New Promise in Paint, Aviation Maintenance, March 29, 2012
Fuel Burn Rates by Aircraft Type, Aviation Information)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Apple #632: Noteworthy Thievings

I don't know if you've noticed, but there have been some pretty unusual thefts in the news lately.  I don't mean to condone or even praise theft because it royally stinks when someone steals from you.  But these are too oddball to resist passing along.

1. Cookie Monster Holds Giant Cookie for Ransom

  • In January of this year, someone claiming to be Cookie Monster stole a giant 44-pound golden statue of a cookie in Hanover, Germany.
  • The cookie in question is the Leibniz square butter cookie made by Bahlsen. They're a big favorite in Germany, kind of like the Oreo is in the United States.
  • The company immortalized their tasty butter cookie in gold and hung the giant cookie over its corporate headquarters.  It's been hanging there since 1913.

A package of the Leibniz butter cookies, this variety coated in chocolate.
(Photo from i can't even's tumblr page)

Above, the figures in the statue holding the golden cookie between them. Below, the golden cookie is gone!
(Photo from Gawker)

  • Police said witnesses saw two men dressed in dark overalls taking the cookie in broad daylight.  One of the climbed a ladder and took it down while the other stayed below to take the hand-off.
  • The person who stole the golden cookie sent a ransom note saying "I have the biscuit!"  The ransom note is signed Krümel Monster (Cookie Monster in German).
  • What were the Krümel Monster's demands?  That cookies should be given to all the children in a nearby hospital.  But only "those [cookies] with milk chocolate, not those with dark chocolate and not those without chocolate. And a golden biscuit for the child cancer ward."  The Krümel Monster knows that most children prefer milk over dark chocolate.
  • Also, in response to Bahlsen's offer of €1,000 (~$1,400) for information about who was in that Krümel Monster suit, the Krümel Monster said Bahlsen should donate the reward money to the local animal shelter.
  • The punishment if the demands weren't met?  The golden cookie would wind up with Oscar the Grouch in the dustbin.
  • The ransom got enough notice that Sesame Street heard about it.  The real Cookie Monster tweeted that he wasn't the thief.  "Me no steal the golden cookie. But me willing to help find real cookie thief!"  Pretty good typing for having only 3 furry fingers per hand.
  • The company said it wouldn't be blackmailed and told the thieves, "Give us our cookie back."
  • Days later, Bahlsen received a second ransom note along with a photo of one of the thieves dressed in a (rather bad imitation) Cookie Monster suit and taking a bite out of the golden cookie. 

The Krümel Monster's photo and second ransom note
(Image from Gawker)

  • This was more than Bahlsen's CEO could stand, apparently, because he then promised to give 52,000 packages of cookies to 52 different charities.  Why 52, I don't know.  Maybe for the number of weeks in a year?
  • A week later the golden biscuit was found -- hanging around the neck of a statue of a horse in front of Leibniz University.  The cookie was a little bit bent and dinged, but otherwise intact.  In other words, there was not a bite out of it.

The golden cookie, wrapped with a nice red bow, hanging around the neck of a statue in front of Leibniz University in Hanover. 
(Photo posted by Tintin at David

  • Not long after the cookie was recovered, the company received yet another note.  This was also made with cut-out letters, and it reminded the company it still had to make good on its promise to donate cookies to children, and to make sure the cookies are the kind with chocolate.  Accompanying the note was a photo of the Krümel Monster playing in the snow.
  • A lot of people thought this all might be an elaborate publicity stunt put on by the cookie company, but a few days later, a German TV station posted on its website an interview with four people whose identities were concealed -- including the one was dressed in a Cookie Monster suit -- who said they were behind the theft. They held up what they said was proof -- the original ransom note.
  • At last report, police said they were still investigating, and they released a photo of an investigator examining the giant golden cookie under a microscope.
  • The company is in the process of making good on its promise.  It invited charities to apply to the company to be given free cookies -- 1,400 groups did so -- and Bahlsen has recently announced which 52 charities will receive the cookies.  The charities include groups that help kindergarteners, children's hospitals and hospices, to supporting physically disabled children, children in special education, children in need, YMCAs -- all sorts of groups.
  • Not bad, Krümel Monster, not bad.

2. Five Tons of  Nutella Stolen

  • This one happened in Germany, too.  Last week, thieves stole 7 palettes of Nutella jars.  That's about  €16,000 (~$21,000) worth of the yummy, gooey, chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Nutella is made by Ferrero in Italy, is a huge hit in Europe, and is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Basically, you eat it like peanut butter. Except it's chocolate & hazelnut. Yum.
(Photo from Foodbeast)

  • The thieves broke into a parked trailer where the jars were stored and took the palettes.  Apparently, the area where the theft occurred (Niederaula, northeast of Frankfort) is a common weekend stopover point for truck drivers.
  • Other large-quantity thefts have occurred there recently, including 5 tons of coffee stolen in March, and 34,000 cans of Red Bull taken last August.
  • Or, maybe the theft is related to the insatiable desire for Nutella at Columbia University.  Last month, it became such the fad for Columbia students to eat Nutella that the student body was were going through an estimated 100 pounds of it per day. (That estimate is highly speculative. Some say it's way too high, others say it's way too low.)
  • Students were sneaking the jars out of the dining hall all sorts of ways -- under their shirts, in soup containers, in their bookbags.  They stole enough jars of Nutella that it cost the dining hall $5,000 to restock its Nutella jars the first week.
  • It became news when a freshman posted a message on a facebook page for Columbia freshman asking people "don't take more than you need at one meal."  I'm not sure if he meant "don't steal" or if he was really saying, "don't steal too much."
  • He did mean to say that if people keep stealing the good stuff, the dining services might stop selling any good stuff, which apparently made people panic that they the dining halls would cut out the Nutella, and the thefts only increased. 

One reviewer on Amazon said, "Words cannot express how much I love this spread. It is highly addicting so eating an entire jar in one sitting is easy."
(Photo from Your Internet Life Base)

  • Well, it's doubtful that the theft in Germany and the rash of thefts at Columbia are related, except that people love Nutella.  

3. Thief Stole an Excavator to Steal an ATM

  • This one is not food-related, but it's pretty unusual.  In Winston-Salem, NC, at 1:00 in the morning, someone stole an excavator from a construction site, drove it about 200 yards, and used the excavator to literally knock over an ATM kiosk.

A pretty typical excavator -- a Case CX470C, to be exact.  The specs say it has operating weights ranging from 105,300 to 108,600 pounds. That sounds about strong enough to lift an ATM.  I'd like to learn how to operate one of those things.
(Photo from Aggregates Manager)

This is the literally knocked-over ATM kiosk, now without its ATM.
(Photo by Aaron Glancy/WGHP)

  • Using the excavator's claw, the thief picked up the 2,000-pound ATM and dropped it into "a waiting vehicle" and then drove off with the ATM.  I'm thinking that vehicle must have been a pick-up, but the reports don't get more specific than that.
  • The still photos from a surveillance camera do show a white male who had to stretch to reach for the excavator's steering wheel, so they think he might have been short. The camera also captured a black Crown Victoria with tinted windows parked nearby.

Surveillance photo of the nearby Crown Victoria.
(Photo from WGHP)  

  • I don't know if this was once a police car, but Crown Vics have been tailor-made for police cars for decades.
  • So what do you think, is the suspect an ex-cop?  Or a cop-wanna-be?  And could a Crown Vic carry an ATM?  
  • Police do want anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800.

4. Supposedly Stolen Tortoise Hidden in an Elevator

  • This one has a happy ending.  In early April, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium (which is not in Mississippi but rather in Dubuque, Iowa) put out a notice that its African leopard tortoise named Cashew had been stolen.

Cashew weighs 18 pounds, and her exhibit is surrounded by a four-foot clear plastic wall.
(Photo by Katlyn R. Gerken, National Mississippi River Museum)

  • Two days later, a visitor discovered Cashew riding an elevator in the museum building.
  • At first the aquarium speculated that whoever stole Cashew later repented and put her in an elevator and left.
  • But it was later revealed that a staff member found the tortoise wedged behind a museum wall. Embarrassed at having told everyone the tortoise was stolen when in fact they'd just lost track of her, the staff member put Cashew into an elevator to make it appear that she'd been taken and returned by a thief.
  • Fortunately, the aquarium says, Cashew does not appear to be especially stressed by the incident.  Heck, she was probably happy to get out and ride the elevator for a change.

German 'Cookie Monster' Holds Giant Golden Biscuit Ransom, Time, February 4, 2013 
Thief Who Stole Iconic Golden Cookie Releases Amazing Ransom Note Demanding Cookies for All the Sick Kids in Town, Gawker, undated
Relief after Hanover Find: Police Retrieve Missing Cookie, Der Spiegel, February 5, 2013
A Giant Gold Cookie Goes Missing, Sets Off Monster Investigation, The Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2013
Thieves steal five tons of Nutella, The Telegraph, April 8, 2013
On Campus, Costly Target of Brazen Thefts: Nutella, The New York Times, March 6, 2013
Man used stolen construction equipment to steal from ATM, (WGHP), April 8, 2013
Excavator Stolen, used to Steal 2,000-Pound ATM in North Carolina, Huffington Post, April 8, 2013
NC Police: ATM Picked up by Excavator, Stolen, ABCNews, April 9, 2013
Cashew the Stolen Tortoise Discovered Chilling in Elevator, RYOT, April 5, 2013
Cashew the Tortoise is Found, KCRG, April 4, 2013
African Leopard Tortoise Cashew Was Never Stolen, NPR, April 8, 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

Apple #631: April Fool's Day Pranks

For your April 1 pleasure, I thought I'd collect a few especially choice April Fool's Day pranks.

Left-handed Whopper

(Photo from Magique)

In 1998, Burger King published a full-page ad in USA Today, saying they were offering a new sandwich: the Left-Handed Whopper.  All condiments had been rotated 180 degrees for the ease of Burger King's 1.4 million left-handed customers.

Lefties all over the country lined up for the new Whoppers, many of them failing to realize that rotating the condiments 180 degrees meant there was actually no difference.

Instant color television

Black & white TV, magically transformed to color
(Photo from Ugo

In 1962, when televisions were still only black and white, the Swedish television station Sveriges had a "technical expert" tell people on the air that if you stretched a pair of nylon stockings over your television, the nylon would bend the TV's light wavelengths in such a way that you could see the black & white picture in color.  You also had to "angle yourself" so your eye could catch the wavelength from the right position.

An estimated "thousands" of people who tried it discovered that it did not work at all, only stretched out a perfectly good pair of nylons.

Internet shut down for spring cleaning

This prank first sprang into existence in 1997, but it's been updated and resurrected periodically ever since.

*** Attention ***
It's that time again!
As many of you know, each year the Internet must be shut down for 24 hours in order to allow us to clean it. The cleaning process, which eliminates dead email, inactive ftp and www sites, and empty USENET groups, allows for a better working and faster Internet.
This year, the cleaning process will take place from 12:01 a.m. GMT on April 1 until 12:01 a.m. GMT on April 2 (the time least likely to interfere with ongoing work). During that 24-hour period, five powerful Internet search engines situated around the world will search the Internet and delete any data that they find.
In order to protect your valuable data from deletion we ask that you do the following:
1. Disconnect all terminals and local area networks from their Internet connections.
2. Shut down all Internet servers, or disconnect them from the Internet.
3. Disconnect all disks and hard drives from any connections to the Internet.
4. Refrain from connecting any computer to the Internet in any way.
We understand the inconvenience that this may cause some Internet users, and we apologize. However, we are certain that any inconveniences will be more than made up for by the increased speed and efficiency of the Internet, once it has been cleared of electronic flotsam and jetsam.
We thank you for your cooperation.
Kim Dereksen
Interconnected Network Maintenance staff,
Main branch,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Sysops and others: Since the last Internet cleaning, the number of Internet users has grown dramatically. Please assist us in alerting the public of the upcoming Internet cleaning by posting this message where your users will be able to read it. Please pass this message on to other sysops and Internet users as well.
Thank you.

BBC Suspends gravity

In 1976, an astronomer for the BBC's Radio 2 told listeners that later that morning, Pluto and Jupiter would align in a way that would cause a temporary reduction in gravity on Earth.  He said that at 9:47, people should jump in the air so they could experience a brief sensation of floating.

One minute later, the phone lines into the BBC were jammed with calls from people saying they had jumped at precisely 9:47, and they had experienced the sensation of floating.

This is apropos of nothing. I was looking for a photo of people jumping in an elevator and came across this. Since it's April Fool's, I thought I'd show it to you anyway.
(Photo from Elevator World)

BBC Flying penguins

In 2008, the BBC released a video showing an amazing discovery -- a group of penguins can fly.

It was such a hit, they still have a link on their Nature Wildlife page that suggests that the penguins are real: "Flying penguins are a very recent addition to the penguin family in evolutionary terms."

Here's how they did it:

Towing an iceberg

In 1978, Australian electronics entrepreneur Dick Smith often wondered why you couldn't tow an iceberg from Antarctica to places that needed fresh water.  He'd said these musings aloud to the media, and they were forever asking him when he was going to do this.  Finally, he announced that an iceberg would be arriving in Australia the following week, and the media passed on his announcement to the public.

That April 1, his employees started phoning radio stations and newspapers, saying, "What's that thing out in Sydney Harbor?  It looks like an iceberg." 

There was in fact something large and white in the harbor, but it wasn't an iceberg.  It was a barge, covered with a big sheet of plastic, shaving cream, and fire-fighting foam.

Enough people believed it was an iceberg that even the Australian Navy called to offer them a place to moor.  Within hours, driving rain had melted much of the foamy "ice," and the jig was up.

Entrepreneur Dick Smith and his "iceberg."
(Photo from

Fake volcano eruption

In 1974, residents of Sitka, Alaska, woke up to black smoke pouring out of the top of Mount Edgecumbe, which was a giant volcano.  They called the police, ran out of their homes, and otherwise feared imminent eruption.

Actually, a man named Porky Bickar had dropped a hundred tires, oily rags, Sterno, diesel oil, and smoke bombs inside the mouth of the volcano and set them on fire, creating the black smoke.

Mount Edgecumbe, with Porky's faux eruption.
(Photo from Sitka, Alaska)

He also wrote "April Fool" in giant letters in the snow nearby.  Since he used a helicopter to fly all his incendiaries up there, he told the FAA what he was up to.  And as a member of the police commission, he also told the police what he'd done. Now that's preparation.

The FAA controller reportedly said, as the helicopter was coming back to ground, "The son of a gun looks fantastic!"

Sitka residents also say that when Mount St. Helens erupted six years later, one of their townsfolk wrote to Bickar saying, "Now you've gone too far."

I say, let's have more pranks like people used to pull in the 1970s.

Huffington Post, The 10 Best April Fools' Pranks Ever, March 29, 2012
Squidoo, Top 10 Biggest Pranks Ever
Dan Fletcher, The Left-Handed Whopper - 1998, Time, April 1, 2011
Mark Hill, The 7 Ballsiest Pranks You Won't Believe Actually Worked,, April 1, 2010
Sitka, Alaska, Porky's April Fool's Day Adventure, Internet Spring Cleaning
UK Mirror, Football's greatest April Fool pranks, Just tip of the iceberg, March 29, 2003