When Bad Goes Happen – WIF Engineering Boo Boos

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Tragic Engineering

Miscalculations

In Space and Terra Firma

Engineers are one of the most important behind-the-scenes groups of people, and most of us just take them and their work for granted. The truth is that there can only be so many designers, and the vast majority of engineers do the un-glamorous, but no less important work, of building, testing, and improving things for safety to make sure nobody gets hurt and no one has to pay for large amounts of property damages. However, when you don’t hire enough skilled engineers to properly focus on safety, and do that all-important work that they do, you can end up with examples like the 10 tragic events in today’s list.

10. The Deepwater Horizon Disaster Gushed 130 Million Tons Of Oil Into The Ocean

Back in 2010, BP’s Deepwater oil rig, operated by the Switzerland based company Transocean Ltd., suffered a massive blowout, and the world watched in shock and horror. Eleven people died and 17 were injured in the initial blowout, and immediately people wanted to know how it had happened. But soon, something even more important became apparent: Due to the fact that the well was 35,055 feet under water, which was far deeper than any well in existence (and the only one that was in truly deep water), the oil that started leaking out quickly became a huge concern.

For years BP and Transocean had contended to regulators that their oil rig was fine because they were prepared for cleanup, but all they had were the same techniques that worked in shallow water. No company, BP or otherwise, had any real plan for how to stop a gushing oil leak coming out of the ocean floor in actually deep water. BP took 87 days before they managed to plug the leak, and during that time an estimated 130 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, with the Audubon Society estimating a good one million birds and other marine life were killed by the spill. As for how it all occurred, it turned out there wasn’t a single reason the oil rig suffered a blowout. It was caused by multiple failures that could have been prevented in time if not for lax regulators, and a lax company culture from both BP and Transocean Ltd.

9. Earthquakes May Have Damaged The Fukushima Reactors Long Before The Tsunami

Most people know that that there was a meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after a tsunami several years back, but many don’t know the official story — or at least what some suspect is the true cause. The official story is that an earthquake knocked out the power to the plant, but apart from that it left the plant largely unharmed and functioning just fine. In fact, according to this official story, the plant only failed when the tsunami came along and destroyed their backup generators, after which the plant’s cooling system stopped working and the meltdown occurred.

However, investigative reporters who interviewed workers that had been at the plant when the earthquake occurred offer a version of events that differs a bit from that of the Japanese government. Many of them claim they saw significant damage to pipes, some of which led to cooling systems for the reactors. Others saw serious structural damage or other issues and claim they were already told to evacuate because of oxygen tanks exploding and pipes bursting well before the tsunami hit. Then, as they were leaving, the tsunami warning came and they had to go to the top of the building to wait to be rescued. While the government version of the events calls into question the safety of a reactor near the coast (due to the possibility of a tsunami), the second version of events calls into question any reactor of a similar design that is in any kind of earthquake zone at all.

8. The Challenger Disaster Was Caused By An O-Ring, But Only Because Of Poor Decisions

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger was set to launch and it was going to be a truly epic affair. A schoolteacher had been chosen to join the six astronauts, in order to show that even normal civilians could go into space, and children around the country were watching the launch from their classrooms on that cold Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, the festive atmosphere soon turned tragic as the shuttle exploded before reaching the upper atmosphere, killing all seven people aboard. The Secretary of the State at the time, William P. Rogers, formed a commission to find the root cause.

They quickly found that the technical cause was a faulty o-ring. This small piece of plastic helped form seals in between the parts of the rocket boosters, and doesn’t operate well in cold — it tends to lose its elasticity. In fact, the commission found that despite knowing the o-ring didn’t function well below 53 degrees, they went ahead with the launch despite it being 36 degrees outside that morning. The commission found that there were concerns about the o-ring, but that they never reached the top of the chain of command. This is believed to have been due to incredibly poor communication, and that the top brass was desperate to get the launch done in time for Reagan’s State of the Union, so they weren’t particularly interested in learning about potential last minute problems that would delay the launch.

7. The Columbia Disaster Could Potentially Have Been Avoided As Well

The Columbia was a storied space shuttle that had been flying for decades and was set for its final mission. After many delays, it took off with a crew of seven on January 16, 2003. As the shuttle was launching, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the propellant tank and hit the left wing. Engineers at NASA tried to look at it with every camera angle they could and see how bad the damage was, but it was hard to make out. Now, NASA’s top management was not particularly concerned, as foam insulation had broken off at three launches in the past and hadn’t caused any critical damage. However, some felt that this time it might be critical, and pushed to use satellites to get a closer look.

Unfortunately, no one took that look during the Columbia’s two week mission, partly because some of the top brass felt there would be nothing they could do at that point even if critical damage had occurred. Then, on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle reentered Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart, killing all aboard and scattering debris far into the distance. The damage to the wing allowed the heat from reentry — along with the wind — to basically tear it apart, and after that the rest of the shuttle wasn’t far behind. While those in charge had decided to do nothing while the crew was in space, thinking nothing could be done, they were wrong. Later studies found that rescue, or even a possible repair by spacewalk, could have been done — NASA’s top management just didn’t take the danger that seriously.

6. The Apollo One Fire Almost Put An Early End To US Ambitions To Fly To The Moon

On January 27, 1967, NASA was testing their Apollo One command module, in advance of attempting a potential flight to the moon. There were three astronauts aboard: Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom, and they were bolted into the pressurized compartment to begin the launch tests. While the tests were not proceeding particularly well and they were having technical issues, things were not anything beyond frustrating until the call of “Flames!” came over the communications equipment from inside the command module. The workers outside did everything they could to get the door open, but by the time they had, it was too late and all three astronauts were dead — the Apollo program was then shelved for 18 months while the situation was investigated.

The United States lost three pioneering astronauts that day, but at least NASA did learn something from the situation. It turns out that a single spark from a faulty piece of equipment had spread like wildfire in the all-oxygen environment of the cabin, and to make matters worse, most of the material they were sitting on and around was highly flammable. On top of that, the highly secured door usually took a good minute and a half to open at the best of times, and with the extra pressure in the air from the fire, they just really didn’t have a chance. While this should have been something NASA accounted for to begin with, they made future doors much quicker to open, replaced the flammable materials, and made the air an oxygen and nitrogen mix that would not so easily spread fire all over the place.

5. The Boeing 737 Max Crashes And Subsequent Scandal Are Harming Boeing’s Reputation

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 went down over the Java Sea carrying a full load of passengers — 181 passengers and eight crew members all perished. Then, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopia Airlines Flight 302 crashed and took 149 passengers and eight crew members with it. While plane crashes are always alarming, experts noticed that there were similarities between the two crashes, and that both involved the new Boeing 737 Max Jet.

The system that allegedly caused all the trouble was called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation Systems, or MCAS for short. The system used two sensors to determine the nose of the planes’ so called “angle of attack” and adjust it if it thinks it is necessary, even if the pilot disagrees. On the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the black box showed that the plane was dangerously changing the angle of attack, and despite the pilot and copilot’s constant and best efforts, they could not prevent an uncontrollable nosedive.

Boeing has been under fire because regulators around the world allege the system did not have enough redundancy to spot malfunctions, that pilots were not given proper knowledge of it (or proper training for it), and that the limited information they did give on how to deal with a malfunction was used by the pilot and copilot in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and that it did not save them. Due to the loss in reputation, Boeing has had to scale back production to 42 jets from 52 and the 737 Max remains grounded worldwide until Boeing satisfies people’s fears.

4. The Chernobyl Disaster Was Caused By A Poorly Done Safety Test And Inadequate Design

The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, when Soviet engineers were doing a test on the number 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in order to ascertain if the emergency water pumps could be run on inertial power. In order to prepare for their test, they actually disabled the emergency safety systems of the reactor the night before. They also removed quite a few of the control rods for the reactor as well, which are used to control power output. When their experiment didn’t work and they started to worry about meltdown, they reinserted all 200 control rods at once, which turned out to be a fatal mistake. The rods had graphite tips, which when inserted under already volatile circumstances caused a chemical reaction that blew the concrete and steel roof right off the reactor.

The disaster killed two people immediately, and at least 28 workers later succumbed to radiation poisoning. The fallout is said to have poisoned thousands and it led the entire world to put a lot more thought and effort into nuclear safety. The disaster was such a gigantic blow to the Soviet Union that Mikhail Gorbachev later lamented that it may have been Chernobyl that truly led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

3. The Grenfell Tower Fire Highlighted The Possibility Of Future, Similar Tragedies

On June 14, 2017, a fire rapidly spread through Grenfell Tower in West London. By the time the smoke had cleared, upwards of 80 people had died and dozens more were injured. The tragedy became global news and the entire world looked on in horror, as we all watched the building burn before our eyes. It was quickly discovered that the reason the fire was able to spread so rapidly was due to a cladding on the outside of the building, which was there both to spruce up the design and also slightly increase energy efficiency. Now, this cladding is usually aluminium, and has some kind of filler inside, and those fillers can be fire retardant. Unfortunately, the filler in the cladding at Grenfell tower was highly flammable, and the fire quickly raced all around the building.

After the tragedy, authorities in London have now inspected a lot of buildings that have cladding, and found that most of them failed safety tests. This highlights a serious public safety concern, as it means there are many, many more buildings at risk of simple fires raging out of control.

2. The Hyatt Regency Hotel Walkway Collapse Killed 114 People And Injured Another 216

On July 17, 1981, there was a Tea Dance at the Hyatt Regency Hotel In Kansas City, and the ballroom was hosting about 1,600 people. The hotel had four floors, and upper walkways that extended across the main lobby area. The fourth floor walkway was positioned above the second floor walkway, and a couple dozen or so people were watching the dance from the walkways above the lobby. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the fourth floor walkway collapsed on top of the second floor walkway, which then collapsed the whole pile onto the dancing couples below.

The aftermath was utterly appalling and rescue workers likened it to a war zone. 114 people were killed and 216 were injured. Many of them were crushed in half, and others were suffocated or dealt with other awful injuries. Unsurprisingly, an inquest into the matter occurred as people wanted to know why such a catastrophic failure would happen. The issue was the second floor walkway had originally been intended to be suspended from the stronger ceiling supports, but was instead suspended from the fourth floor walkway. As for how such a bad decision could be made, the change was actually approved over the phone.

1. The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Killed 21 People And Injured 150 More

If you haven’t heard of this tragic story before, it’ll likely sound too bizarre to be true. On January 15, 1919, a tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses ruptured in Boston’s North End. The stories say that its initial speed was 35 miles-per-hour, and that it reached a wave of 25 feet high and 160 feet wide; 21 people were killed and at least 150 more were injured by the time all the molasses had settled. Many who were close to the explosion were simply pulverized, and others drowned in the goop as the kinetic forces dissipated and it turned back into its highly viscous consistency.

Back in the day they were never really sure what happened, but recent investigations have discovered that the tank was almost certainly just not adequate for the job. It was too thin, and while built to hold 2.5 million gallons of liquids, it wasn’t designed for a thicker liquid that might weigh more — like molasses — and had even shown signs of cracks that were ignored by the owners and operators of the tank. Some reports even say it was leaking so badly before it burst that children would come with cups to fill up from the cracks. It just goes to show that sometimes, on rare occasions, molasses actually flows quickly in January.


When Bad Goes Happen –

WIF Engineering Boo Boos

Air Force One Fun Facts

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Things You Probably

Didn’t Know About

Air Force One

air-force-one

Air Force One, a.k.a. that enormous plane that carts the president around, is one of the most enduring symbols of American power. To this end, the planes carrying the Air Force One designation are filled to the brim with bleeding edge technology and a bunch of other cool stuff we’re going to talk about… well, right now. For example, did you know…

 10. There are Massive Rolls of Carpet for it Lying Around Somewhere

most of the things aboard Air Force One come fitted as standard, like bulletproof windows and, we presume, high-tech anti-ninja technology, the President and his spouse have some control over what the interior of the plane looks like so it better suits their tastes. Much like a fancy car, the President, or more specifically the First Lady, can choose the color of the interior of the plane. To this end, they can make it as pimp or spartan as they like.

This, coupled with the fact the plane is specially equipped with the ability to communicate via everything from morse code to email, and can fly thousands of feet higher than even most military planes, means it could theoretically stay aloft, beaming down freedom, forever. In reality the plane could probably only stay aloft for a few months before it needed to stop for food (in a pinch even this could be delivered in mid-air), which is probably a good thing considering…

9. It Can Fly Forever

In the event these systems all fail, Air Force One is built sturdy enough to weather an undisclosed number of direct missile hits and could probably smash into the ground at Mach 3 and still not kill anyone aboard. Not that you’d ever get anywhere near the plane, given that it can fly in the upper stratosphere and secretly call on supersonic jets to aid it over any allied country. Even if you managed to do enough damage to hurt the President, he’d probably be fine, because it can stay in the air forever.

8. Everybody Aboard is a Picky Eater

Like with everything else, no expense is spared when it comes to the kitchen aboard Air Force One and prior to a flight, secret service agents will painstakingly seek out and purchase the freshest, highest-quality ingredients one at a time from nearby stores to minimize the risk of the President being poisoned.

The gourmet chefs working aboard Air Force One are said to be able to cook virtually any foodstuff known, are trained in virtually all culinary disciplines, and have access to every kind of cooking implement possible (except a deep fat fryer, for safety reasons). This is an issue because the most popular foodstuff aboard is burger and fries. Yes, despite Air Force One being basically a flying 5-star restaurant, most people aboard, including the President, normally just order burgers and sandwiches.

While the food has gotten healthier, mostly thanks to the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama, it’s noted that journalists still mostly opt for sandwiches, coffee and soda, with the kitchen going as far as stocking peanut butter for especially picky eaters who don’t want to eat any of the fancier fare Air Force One’s chefs can cook up. While officially Air Force One does serve balanced meals, anecdotally most people just eat junk food, partly because everyone except the President is charged for their meal, with the exception of a free bag of M&M’s every person aboard is given after a flight.

Not that the President is immune from encountering food they don’t like. For example, George H.W. Bush is said to have literally ordered that brocoli be banned from Air Force One because he hated it that much, once stating: “I do not like broccoli, and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

7. They Destroy Everything that Doesn’t Work

As a symbol of the American presidency, most everything aboard Air Force One is fittingly adorned with either the presidential seal, the current sitting president’s initials, or both. On top of this, every item aboard is polished, cleaned and meticulously maintained to avoid the embarrassment of a foreign leader or diplomat being given a chipped mug to drink out of, or a journalist tweeting a picture of a dirty towel. You know, stuff that would make the President and, by extension, America look bad.

To deter thieves, extensive checks are carried out on everyone leaving Air Force One and you can be sure anyone selling an official Air Force One toilet roll holder on eBay would be soundly detained and questioned by the FBI. As an added measure, anytime anything stops working on Air Force One or becomes unacceptably damaged or dirty, it is quickly removed, pulverised into dust and then burnt. An extreme measure we’ll admit but one that ensures the air of mystique about the impossibly high-standards aboard Air Force One is maintained. Hey, speaking of that…

6. Every Member of the Staff Could Kick Your Ass

 Like any plane, Air Force One has flight attendants and other staff who perform basic custodial duties aboard the plane, like telling you where the emergency exit is and handing out little bags of peanuts. Unlike a regular plane, these staff members are all highly trained military personnel with spotless records, who are carefully screened and subsequently trained to handle nearly any conceivable emergency. As a result, every member of the crew aboard Air Force One is well versed in emergency survival techniques, weapons handling, and generally messing up your day.

In other words, every member of staff aboard Air Force One, from the pilot to the guy who cleans the toilet, could snap your neck with a rolled up newspaper or beat you to death with a shoe without breaking a sweat. Essentially, while flying through the air in his big plane, the President is surrounded by an entourage of highly capable killing machines who also just so happen to be able to make a mean margarita or whip up a steak on the presidential grill. As if this wasn’t enough, when he takes off he is also…

5. Being Watched by a Special Team of Snipers

The President is an important dude, and spends much of his time being flanked, shadowed and watched over by an elite team of bodyguards versed in 80 plus ways to obliterate a human testicle at 80 yards, with their eyebrows. Specifically, whenever the Commander-in-Chief is about to board Air Force One, though, he is also being protected by a special team of sharpshooters armed with 50 caliber sniper rifles. Why 50 caliber? So that in case someone tries to hijack the plane, they can shoot through the normally bulletproof windows and decorate the cockpit with the part of their brain that thought hijacking Air Force One was a good idea.

These snipers are amongst the best, if not the best the US has at its disposal, and are said to be able to hit a target the size of a dog’s butthole from a half mile away. Their identity is obviously a secret, and they’re additionally used to protect the President during speeches and possibly while he checks his mail. And while we’re on the subject of secrets…

4. Who Made the Toilet is a Big Secret

As noted, everything aboard Air Force One is (usually custom) made to the highest possible standard of quality, using the finest available materials. Now, you’d think any company making a product that was being used aboard freaking Air Force One would boast about that fact because, well, why they hell wouldn’t you? As it turns out though, no company involved with manufacturing anything involved with the plane is permitted to advertise that fact, mostly due to it being a possible security risk, and partly because it’s kind of tacky. This means that we have literally no idea who made the toilet, or indeed any item aboard Air Force One.

The government is such a stickler for this that it sent a very stern letter to the company that manufactured the oxygen masks aboard Air Force One after they advertised that fact in a magazine in 2001. This is a shame for the companies who do make the items aboard Air Force One, because along with being associated with the presidency, they would also get to advertise their products fly…

3. On a Nuclear Bomb-Proof Plane

Like the staff, Air Force One is prepared for virtually any possible emergency scenario and is equipped to deal with nearly any potential threat, from a rogue jet firing sidewinder missiles at it, to a nuclear explosion. Along with being immune to the effects of an EMP blast, such as one produced by an exploding nuclear warhead, Air Force One is shielded against conventional damage in the form of bulletproof plating and flares to deter heat seeking missiles.

 But here’s the best part: after the First Lady or President picks out a particular style of carpet or type of soft furnishing they want to decorate the plane with, some hapless sap from the Secret Service has to go get a special fire-retardant version specially made, because regular carpet is seldom thermite proof. Because everything aboard Air Force One has to be spotless, this carpet is replaced frequently, leading to a massive stockpile of it being kept in a secret location in case someone spills beer all over the floor or something.

 2. There’s a Special Fridge Full of Blood on Board

The full specs of Air Force One have never been disclosed but we do know that it has a fully stocked medical bay staffed by seasoned medical professionals. So prepared is this medical bay that it carries, at all times, an emergency supply of blood, drugs and vaccines for most known diseases, poisons and illnesses and is specially stabilized so that doctors aboard could give someone open heart surgery during an emergency take off. You know, if they really had to.

Even better, if they had to, all the potential assassin would see is a fiery ball of freedom ascending to the heavens because…

1. Air Force One is Polished to a Mirror Sheen

The extreme efforts the government goes to in maintaining Air Force One can be no better summed up than by the exterior of the plane itself, which is said to be polished to such an offensively bright mirror sheen, you can use it to make sure your hair is suitably on point.

 Though it’s likely few people reading this will ever get all that close to Air Force One, people who have are often shocked by just how perfectly clean and shiny the exterior of the craft is, with some noting that workers sometimes wear sunglasses while polishing, buffing and otherwise maintaining it. Are there more interesting facts about Air Force One? Probably, but we think the fact that the plane is maintained to such an extent it could potentially blind foreign leaders with sheer bling is a pretty strong note to end on.

Air Force One

Fun Facts