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Nov. 1 2016 7:04 AM

What Don’t Most People Know About Air Force One?

Answer by Ron Wagner, USAF pilot in presidential wing at Andrews Air Force Base:

When I received my special air missions certification as a pilot at Andrews Air Force Base, I got a guided tour of the secret places on base, like the SAM command post, which would soon provide me with mission support, and the SAM warehouse, which would provide me with logistical support. Here are some things I saw that took my by surprise:

Oct. 31 2016 7:03 AM

Is Civility Possible in a Dungeons and Dragons game?

Answer by David Durham, dungeon master:

I have the luxury of running games with a group of very seasoned players. The game takes place every Monday evening in Atlanta, and has for more than 30 years, from 8 p.m. until midnight. Most of the participants have logged at least 10 years in the game. Five of us have been there from the beginning. Currently, there are around 12 who regularly attend, and there’s a sizable waiting list to get into it. I don’t know how unique this situation is. We may be setting records in the annuls of D&D gaming, for all I know. The campaigns are based on the game’s second edition, but we have adapted anything we like from subsequent editions and absorbed them into the mechanics of our games.

Oct. 27 2016 7:02 AM

Is It Possible to Open an Airplane Door Mid-Flight?

This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

Answer by Ron Wagner, airline pilot and former USAF aviator:

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Sure, no problem at all, if you’re strong enough to pull sideways with 3 to 4 tons of force.

Every once in a while back in my airline days, a young flight attendant would breathlessly race into the cockpit to warn us that a guy in an emergency exit row was trying to open the door. She’d ordered him to stop, but he just kept trying. Now she needed one of us to come back and stop him. We just laughed and told her to ignore him. Because it is funny.

At cruise altitude, the average exit hatch has about 3 to 4 tons of pressure holding it in place. Even on the ground, once the pressurization is turned on, there’s maybe 400 to 800 pounds of pressure. Yes, airliners pressurize a bit on the ground, which prevents pressure bumps that would pop your eardrums during takeoff. It’s less than 1 psi, but multiply that by hundreds of square inches and you’ll see that even if we went back to try to stop the guy, even on the ground, if he was strong enough to pull it out, we weren’t going to stop him.

Now, escape hatches are different from the main doors and are pretty easy to design because since they’re removed from the inside, they’re simple plugs, and pressurization makes them essentially impossible to remove. The main doors do indeed open outward. Why don’t they blow out?

Airliner doors are ingeniously designed. Few people realize it, but it’s some really excellent engineering. Next time you’re boarding a Boeing, take a good look at the mechanism. Upon closing, the door swings inside the cabin and then nestles outward into a frame where the door becomes a plug. They’re called plug doors. In aviation, you always want physics to work in your favor, so cabin doors use physics to remain in place rather than fighting physics with some massive locking mechanism.

Without this design, eventually with daily use on tens of thousands of planes, over decades, one of these locking mechanisms would eventually break and a door would open in flight. I’ve never heard of a plug-type cabin door opening in flight.

Unfortunately, designers have not always used that principle on all aircraft doors. The doors on the lower baggage bins on a DC-10 are a tragic example. They used a locking mechanism, something akin to a bank vault. Very strong, but something that must not deteriorate with thousands of uses by baggage handlers. Sadly, a couple of them failed.

One such example was the crash of Turkish Airlines Flight 981. The rear cargo door blew out with such force that the entire aircraft frame buckled. (MD never built planes as strong as Boeing.) The buckled floors left the control cables under the floor hanging slack. The pilots' yokes in the cockpit were just loose and floppy. All they could do was let everyone pray while they watched the plane slowly go out of control and crash.

This crash resulted in a complete redesign of the locking mechanism, and no more DC-10 nor MD-11 cargo doors have blown out. But those accidents, combined with others caused by sloppy design, eventually caused the DC-10s to cease passenger operations. They now only carry freight.

Can an airplane's exit door be opened in mid-flight? originally appeared on Quora. More questions on Quora:

Oct. 26 2016 7:05 AM

Is Newton’s Principia Still Relevant?

Answer by Paul Mainwood, degrees in physics and philosophy:

I would love to know how many people in the world today have actually read Isaac Newton’s Principia. They don’t have to have read it in the original Latin, just a decent translation into English or their own native languages. But they do have to have read it all the way through.

Oct. 25 2016 7:03 AM

Do Fighter Pilots Know What Their Bombs Are Hitting?

Answer by John Chesire, former naval aviator and combat fighter pilot:

When I was a fighter pilot, I never dropped any bombs without knowing exactly what my target was. I also prided myself on being extremely accurate. The only exceptions were “sky spots” in free-fire combat zones in South Vietnam when flying off an Air Force lead aircraft with better navigation than ours.

Oct. 21 2016 7:05 AM

Why Is Miso Soup Sometimes Served With a Lid?

Answer by Kaz Matsune, founder, speaker, author, private sushi chef at Breakthrough Sushi:

There are many reasons to use a soup lid in Japanese cuisine, and many reasons why sushi restaurants in the United States may not use a lid. Here are a few ideas:

Oct. 20 2016 7:04 AM

How Does an Aircraft Carrier Maintain Fleet Readiness?

Answer by Marty Erdossy, captain, U.S. Navy (retired):

To maintain fleet readiness, a ship’s crew must be trained and proficient enough to effectively operate the ship in combat. Additionally, the ship and its equipment must be fully operational and reliable. Finally, the ship should have the supplies, ordnance, and fuel on board required for the ship to conduct sustained combat operations.

Oct. 19 2016 7:06 AM

What Would Happen if Google Experienced a Major Outage?

Answer by Ashish Kedia, web solutions engineer at Google:

In August 2013, Google and all of its services came down for two to three minutes. Internet traffic as a whole went down by a massive 40 percent. A similar incident occurred in May 2009.

Note that these events were just for two minutes. Imagine if it had been for 30 minutes. It's highly unlikely, but if it did, here is what I think would happen.

During the first few minutes of the outage, people will check their internet connections. Some will even call their ISPs. Those who are tech savvy may check for hardware failures on their side (which is more likely than a 30-minute outage on Google’s end).

Oct. 18 2016 7:03 AM

Trump’s Businesses Are Hundreds of Millions in Debt. Is This Unusual?

Answer by Peter Lynch, VP at Argenta Partners, former analyst at J.P. Morgan and Rabobank:

It is very common for a business to employ leverage (debt) in an effort to reduce the overall cost of capital and to boost returns to shareholders. The decision to assume debt should follow a very careful evaluation of the company’s cash generation and potential to maintain appropriate levels of liquidity moving forward. From what I read, it appears this last step is where Donald Trump struggles.

Oct. 14 2016 7:02 AM

Why does Star Trek have a huge following?

This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Robert Frost, instructor and flight controller at NASA, on Quora:

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The Star Trek franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary in September. During that 50 years, more than 700 episodes and 13 movies have been made. One could watch Star Trek for more than 500 hours without seeing anything twice.

Star Trek stories are humanistic; they are founded in Gene Roddenberry’s belief in the perfectible human. They provide an optimistic vision of our future. Star Trek tells us that no matter how crazy the world may look today, it will get better. We will get better. There will be a time in which doing great things will be the norm.

Contrary to the common perception, Star Trek did not perform poorly when it aired on NBC between 1966 and 1969, but it didn’t perform strongly enough to justify its very high cost. After airing its third season during a time period in which its core audience wouldn’t be home, NBC canceled the series. Three seasons of a show used to be an important benchmark, because it made the show a valid candidate for syndication sales. During the mid-1970s, UHF stations all over America purchased the rights to re-air those three seasons. It began to air daily and found audiences that missed out the first time. The popularity of the show grew immensely, particularly amongst juveniles and young adults. Vietnam was over, and man had walked on the moon. There was a vast sea of young people who found the bright future of Star Trek inspirational.

Star Trek depicts a meritocracy. The characters were cool not because of looks, wealth, or social position, but because they were very good at their jobs. It is a rare television show that sends the message that it is cool to be smart.

Star Trek’s optimistic view of the future stands as a contrast to the bulk of science fiction. Most television and cinematic science fiction depicts varying dystopian futures. Dystopia provides writers with shortcuts to conflict; it’s easier. When just making it through the day provides conflict, writers don’t have to generate as many new ideas. Star Trek thrives on those new ideas.

Star Trek’s “Wagon Train to the stars” construct meant that each episode found the crew in a new place. Each new world enabled the writers to imagine new scenarios to challenge the crew of the Enterprise. The veil of new species and new civilizations allowed the writers to tell issues stories and create moral plays that probed our contemporary views without overtly criticizing them.

The ridiculousness of racism could be exposed through the artifice of an alien white on one side of his body and black on the other in conflict with an alien black on one side and white on the other. The Vietnam War and the Cold War could be criticized by putting the Federation and the Klingons in the position of arming less developed planets in the buffer zone between them. The roles of technology and automation could be examined in an episode that depicted a computer replacing the captain of the ship. Our very humanity could be examined by telling stories about an outworlder from the planet Vulcan or a man-made android.

Star Trek excelled in its characters and casting. The original series focused on a trinity of characters. At the center was the classic hero, Captain Kirk, a dashing and passionate adventurer burdened with the responsibilities of command. Like angels and devils on his shoulder were his advisers, Spock, the logical Vulcan viewing the world through a cerebral lens, and McCoy, the ship’s physician and the very embodiment of heart, compassion, and morality. Surrounding them was a spectrum of diversity that showed us people of different backgrounds working together, seamlessly.

Star Trek showed blacks, Asians, and women in roles of respect in a time when that was not the norm. Whoopi Goldberg has talked about freaking out when, as a child, she tuned into Star Trek and saw that black women were part of the future. Nichelle Nichols has told the story of how when she was contemplating leaving the show, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told her not to, because her character was a symbol of hope for equality.

I came to Star Trek long before I understood the concept of race. The fact that Uhura’s skin was browner than Scotty’s or that Sulu’s eyes were different than Chekov’s was shown as being no more significant than the fact that Scotty’s hair was a darker color than Captain Kirk’s hair.

Twenty-one years after Star Trek premiered on NBC, a new television series called Star Trek: The Next Generation began airing in syndication. It was a huge success and ran for seven seasons. It continued the formula of a bright future, a highly competent crew, and moral plays.

Three more television series followed, but the concept had been saturated. For 18 years, Star Trek appeared on television on a weekly basis. It lost its casual audience and was surviving off of only the die-hards. So, Star Trek took a four-year break.

The strengths of Star Trek make it best suited for television and less well suited for the cinema. It has had mixed success on the big screen. The multiplex is about spectacle. When Star Trek returned to the big screen in 2009 it was welcomed by a large audience, but it wasn’t quite Star Trek. Star Trek is more about thinking and talking than blowing things up. In 2017, Star Trek will return to its native format and hopefully that audience will be hungry, again.

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