03 Feb. 2013
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Another Speculation Violation

I am going to engage in another bout of silly speculation about an aviation issue. As I mentioned in this blogitem a month ago, I am no expert, and the real experts are working harder on this and know a lot more than I do.  Which, as before, doesn't prevent me from engaging in guesswork.  Last time, I thought I had at least a bit of logic on my side, and some inconsistency in the FAA reports to work with.  This time, my speculation is logic-free, and there is no FAA report and may not be one for a while.  For which reasons, view the babble below with almost as much skepticism as you would one of my excursions bounded by the <FICTION></FICTION> HTML tags.

In this speculation, I am talking about the Case of the Burning Batteries.  I.e., the still unresolved issue of the lithium batteries that have grounded the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner."  Although Boeing continues to manufacture these aircraft, they are piling up, so to speak, because the FAA is understandably reluctant to allow them to fly while their batteries are bursting into flame*.  It's been a few weeks since the grounding order, and from what I have (and haven't) read, the cause still seems to be a mystery.  In other words, it's a chasm into which idiotic speculation is ready to be poured.  Here's mine, quoted from my post a few days ago on the Prius Chat internet group where this was being discussed.

If one cell goes into thermal runaway, the whole assembly will be destroyed. The real question, though, is why even one cell would self-destruct. I'm sure that Boeing tested the batteries at simulated altitude and temperature. What they may not have been able to do is test with a simulated radiation environment equivalent to the real one at 40,000 feet. I wonder what would happen if an energetic particle hit a cell and left an ionization trail through the separators. Would that be enough to allow an unintended current to flow, which would in turn create heat, which in turn might increase the width of the channel, and so forth? No idea, really, if this is plausible. But if it is, it means that there really is no "flaw" in the design of the electronics or the batteries, and it will take quite a while to prove this is the cause since it happens only randomly and only at altitude.

This problem reminds me of the weird issue they had with memory chips in the '70s, when bits would flip for no apparent reason. Turned out to be alpha particles from radioactive materials in the chip packaging.

So there you have it.  Ionizing radiation, hard to test for on the ground.  Am I right?  Time may or may not tell.  The batteries that did burst into flame were so badly damaged that the cause may never be determined.  Or it may be something that they discover soon, e.g., manufacturing process error, bad circuitry, or the ever-popular "software."   I'll even leave a space for my usual follow-up since I'm sure there will be one.

Meanwhile, Back In Web Land

A strange thing has happened to my blog.  Until a few days ago, I had a box to do a Google search of my blog in the left-hand column.  It has disappeared!  If you have any idea what happened to it, please email me!  (If you took it, I'll plead poverty to any ransom demands.)

*  I once had an in-flight fire, and believe me, I was pretty frightened for the five or ten seconds it took me to realize what was "burning" and to pull the circuit breaker.  In my case, it turned out to be a 2-cent resistor, and I'm exaggerating about the "fire" since the component only turned out to be a little charred.  I'm with the FAA on this one, at least for now.

Follow-up ??? 2013

Some day, hopefully soon, a solution will be found or hands will be thrown in the air along with the aircraft.  For the benefit of future millireaders, I'll try to remember to summarize it here.

"The Keeper of the Keys"
H.P. Lovecraft




Jimi Hendrix was ever so much more prolific after his death than he was before.  It seems that he had recorded or jammed at almost every New York City recording studio, and everybody had a master tape.  The Crash Landing album and many others resulted from an attempt to exploit this 16-track treasure trove. 

Unless you're a big Hendrix fan, you've probably only heard the material from his official albums.  The fact that I happen to have this really nice T-shirt doesn't imply any endorsement of those posthumous albums by this shirt's owner.

Jimi Hendrix "Crash Landing" T-shirt
Richard Factor

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