Category Archives: Slightly Off Topic

Video: Ivan surveys Cuban TV from a cruise ship

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ivan Cholakov, who shares the following:

[W]hile on a cruise ship 30 miles off the coast of Cuba (January 2017) I pointed a small active antenna towards the island and scanned for old fashioned analog TV.

The results show analog TV is alive and well in Cuba! Multiple programs on multiple channels.

From what I understand Cuba has selected the Chinese digital TV standard but using their own channel spacing so I am not aware of any receivers that can pick up Cuba’s digital TV transmissions.

I posted the YouTube video of my channel scan here:

Click here to view on YouTube.

St. Helena is “ready to welcome the world”

If you’ve been a shortwave listener for very long, you may remember the annual Radio St. Helena Day: one weekend a year when this small island broadcaster hit the shortwaves and accepted reports from across the globe. I never had the fortune of receiving their modest signal, but I surely tried!

Since I’m fan of remotely inhabited parts of the world, St. Helena is on my bucket list of places to visit–and it looks like visiting the island may become much easier:

(Source: BBC Travel)

For more than 500 years, the only way to reach the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena was by sea. Travelling to the South Atlantic island by sailboat, after a nine-day voyage from Namibia, my family and I made landfall the way every person before us has: the way Napoleon Bonaparte did when he was sent into exile in 1815; the way modern-day Saints (as the local population is known) do when they venture home from work in the UK; and the way the occasional, intrepid visitor has always done. But we were one of the last travellers to do so.

In April, the first commercial plane landed at the island’s new airport, and the last working Royal Mail Ship, the St Helena, was slated for decommissioning.

A dwindling population and defiant island geology – which, as Charles Darwin put it, “rises abruptly like a huge black castle from the ocean” – were long-time barriers to the development of an airport. But fears that the island could become nothing more than a remote old age home as younger Saints look elsewhere for employment finally forced the issue. Planned weekly flights will replace the monthly ship visits, and tourism is projected to take off.

Now, for the first time, visitors won’t risk being doused in the Atlantic swell when they reach for the ropes at the sea-washed Jamestown landing, trying to time their first step onto solid ground.

Continue reading on the BBC Travel website…

I do understand that the new airport may be a challenging place to land an aircraft. The following is noted on Wikipedia:

Due to the short runway and the long distance to South Africa, a Boeing 737-700 flying to Johannesburg is not able to use its full seat and cargo capacity. Only flights to and from Namibian and Angolan destinations would allow using a Boeing 737-700 near its full load capacity. The other planned destination, London, requires a fuel stop in Gambia, at almost the same distance as Johannesburg.

If Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island were open for commercial non-military flights, it could be listed as an alternate aerodrome; this would mean that the load capacity of an inbound Boeing 737-700 could be increased as fewer fuel reserves would be required.

The distance from key destinations, the length of runway available, and the type of aircraft available in the region dictate that air services to St Helena must operate to the requirements of extended twin engine operations (ETOPS) which implies the provision of an instrument approach system based on an off-set instrument landing system localiser (ILS LLZ).

Such is also required by the terrain of the airport which, in commercial passenger air transport terms, is safety-critical due to its steep approaches, high elevation (1,000 ft or 300 m above sea level) and rocky outcrops. Without an instrument approach the provision of a viable air service is considered impossible.

There were doubts concerning local weather conditions and, in particular about the amount of turbulence on the approaches from fallwinds resulting from the elevated location and the surrounding bluffs. Therefore, it was recommended that a charter aircraft should perform approaches to and departures from the intended runway. By April 2016 such flights had taken place, and they weren’t 100% positive[…]

There are so many reasons air service will help this isolated community–especially for medical evacuations–but I suspect this will be a challenging airport for any pilot. St. Helena is one of the most remotely inhabited island on earth–due to aircraft fuel limits and the inability to land at alternate locations, aircraft will be forced to land in occasional adverse weather conditions.

While I’d love to to take a cruise to St. Helena, air service will likely make my future visit much more accessible!

Post readers: Please comment if you’ve visited or live(d) on St. Helena! Please share your experiences! Has anyone had luck receiving Radio St. Helena Day broadcasts in the past?

George Knudsen (W4GCK): A Life in Apollo

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I’m very proud to note that my good friend, George Knudsen (W4GCK), has been featured on the excellent omega tau podcast.

The interview is absolutely fascinating–here’s a description:

George Knudsen started working in 1958 on the Redstone missile, and moved on to working on the Atlas ICBM. Later he worked on the Saturn 5 launch vehicle, where he was responsible for the fuel tanks. He was on the launch team at Cape Canaveral for various Apollo missions. In this episode [we] talk with George about his work in this fascinating period of science and engineering history.

Click here to listen via the omega tau site.

omega tau, hosted by Markus Völter, covers a wide variety of topics from engineering and science. It’s one of my favorite podcasts, so I would encourage you to not only listen to this episode, but subscribe to the podcast.

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Approaches Jupiter

Juno-NASA

SWLing Post readers might recall the Juno spacecraft we featured in a post dating back to October, 2013. During an Earth flyby, NASA invited ham radio operators around the world to say “HI” to Juno in a coordinated Morse Code message.

It was a unique opportunity for sure, and I made time to participate. NASA even followed up with a paper QSL card:

JunoQSLFront-Med JunoQSLBack-Med

Juno is now reaching the insertion point of Jupiter and its true mission begins. According to NASA:

Juno’s primary goal is to improve our understanding of Jupiter’s formation and evolution. The spacecraft will investigate the planet’s origins, interior structure, deep atmosphere and magnetosphere. Juno’s study of Jupiter will help us to understand the history of our own solar system and provide new insight into how planetary systems form and develop in our galaxy and beyond.

Juno will have to withstand Jupiter’s intense radiation and gravity, and–though the craft was designed with this in mind–NASA reminds us that this is very much uncharted territory in space exploration.

Check out the following 360 video from NASA:

Click here to view on YouTube.

If you’d like to follow Juno’s progress, I encourage you to bookmark the Juno news page on NASA’s website.

The Snowbirds in Québec City

DSC_4513Maybe it’s my radio-loving fascination with technology, travel, and what at times seems like sheer magic–-but for some reason I’ve long been something of an aviation enthusiast, as well. Over the years, I’ve discovered quite a lot of SWLs and ham radio operators share this interest…and if you’re one of these folks, well, have I got a post for you.

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Wednesday in Québec City, as the sun dipped in the sky, viewers standing on the city’s walled fortifications were treated to an amazing aviation display which included a CF-18 Hornet, the CH-146 Griffon and last but definitely not least, the Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron––aka, the Snowbirds.

In the first act, helicopters:  four CH-146 Griffon helicopters in neat formation, and then the Canadian Coast Guard demonstrated lowering a guy from a emergency helicopter onto a Coast Guard boat in the middle of the St. Lawrence, , then drawing him back up into the chopper a few minutes later––with, of course, maneuvers throughout.

For the second act, the CF-18 Hornet pounded the sky with an assault of black-and-yellow speed, twice turning and showing both back and belly.

And for the finale, the Snowbirds skimmed into view in exquisite formation, and with tight, astonishing precision, glided around the ramparts of the old walled city, leaving perfectly drawn contrails of colored smoke.

Here are a few photos I snagged of the demo:

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The Snowbirds

This particular public event wasn’t granted permission for a full acrobatic show, but the Snowbirds were in the air at least thirty minutes and showed off every one of their nine-plane position formations.  And were they ever precise!

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The Snowbirds gave us a flawless and graceful show, one I’ll never forget. Canadian readers, you should be mighty proud of your Snowbirds; they’re an aviation team to be reckoned with.