Practice Rounds and a Lack of Sleep

mini golf and ben’s excited!Last night there were some issues regarding bedtime. While we had a 11 o’clock curfew by which we had to be inside a room and relatively quiet, there was no official time that we had to be sleeping. Granted, we wanted to get to practice rounds today as soon as they started at 7:30, meaning wake-up time was soon after 6. But after playing an epic game of mini golf, swinging on the best swingset ever that is located right next to our dorms, playing an intense card game of B.S., and eating lots of starbursts and sour patch kids, somehow sleep didn’t come easily. We dropped off gradually, with a kid going to bed every half hour once it was past 2:30, but there were still five of us who were up until 4:30.

paying close attention during the presentationsWhen the alarm clock went off at 6:15, we had some difficulty waking up. Apparently, at 7:05 (when we were supposed to have left at 7), someone went in Liam’s room, told him the time, and he seemed to have been dreaming that we were still involved in the card game and yelled his disbelief at his awakener. Eventually, we all deliriously shuffled out of the dorms and into the cars.

kevin asleep on the floorWe practiced our head-to-head code, and it ran pretty well. We then headed to the auditorium to listen to three presentations by scientific/engineering related speakers; I’m sure they were fascinating, but my brain definitely didn’t absorb much of it in its sleepwalking state. After the break for lunch, we listened to another speaker, and this one I was able to fully pay attention to since lunch had revived me nicely. His was more of a philosophical talk regarding the role of robots in society and in the media. He showed multiple movie clip examples of machinery and robots being controlling, dangerous, and in control of the society in which they belonged. It is a fairly common plot theme, because the thought of robots becoming powerful enough to be independent of humans is strange and slightly terrifying. So that talk gave us a lot to think about.

Next, we headed for practice round 2 of the day, which was just an hour long so we only got a few runs in. When the line closed, we still had some code edits we wanted to try, so we were planning on coming back to this third round, which goes from 7-9.

stop at sonic after the movieWhile the Beyond Botball head-to-head rounds were going on, we went on the most anticipated field trip of the week. We, along with our adopted team Notre Dame Academy, headed to the movie theater to see the very appropriately themed Wall-E. It was a great movie, and one of the cutest movies I’ve ever seen. Hannah and I said “aww” at least 50 times. The boys didn’t enjoy it quite as much, especially since most of them dozed off at least once during the show. But I loved it.

Now we are at practice round 3 and still not quite done perfecting our code. After a 6th place score in the seeding round, we’re hoping to do really, really well in head-to-head tomorrow. We’re just adjusting little things, nothing big, just hoping we do our absolute best in the morning.

The Checklist

The New Yorker recently published the following anecdote:

On October 30, 1935, at Wright Air Field in Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army Air Corps held a flight competition for airplane manufacturers vying to build its next-generation long-range bomber. It wasn’t supposed to be much of a competition. In early evaluations, the Boeing Corporation’s gleaming aluminum-alloy Model 299 had trounced the designs of Martin and Douglas. Boeing’s plane could carry five times as many bombs as the Army had requested; it could fly faster than previous bombers, and almost twice as far. A Seattle newspaperman who had glimpsed the plane called it the “flying fortress,” and the name stuck. The flight “competition,” according to the military historian Phillip Meilinger, was regarded as a mere formality. The Army planned to order at least sixty-five of the aircraft.

A small crowd of Army brass and manufacturing executives watched as the Model 299 test plane taxied onto the runway. It was sleek and impressive, with a hundred-and-three-foot wingspan and four engines jutting out from the wings, rather than the usual two. The plane roared down the tarmac, lifted off smoothly, and climbed sharply to three hundred feet. Then it stalled, turned on one wing, and crashed in a fiery explosion. Two of the five crew members died, including the pilot, Major Ployer P. Hill.

An investigation revealed that nothing mechanical had gone wrong. The crash had been due to “pilot error,” the report said. Substantially more complex than previous aircraft, the new plane required the pilot to attend to the four engines, a retractable landing gear, new wing flaps, electric trim tabs that needed adjustment to maintain control at different airspeeds, and constant-speed propellers whose pitch had to be regulated with hydraulic controls, among other features. While doing all this, Hill had forgotten to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. The Boeing model was deemed, as a newspaper put it, “too much airplane for one man to fly.” The Army Air Corps declared Douglas’s smaller design the winner. Boeing nearly went bankrupt.

Still, the Army purchased a few aircraft from Boeing as test planes, and some insiders remained convinced that the aircraft was flyable. So a group of test pilots got together and considered what to do.

They could have required Model 299 pilots to undergo more training. But it was hard to imagine having more experience and expertise than Major Hill, who had been the U.S. Army Air Corps’ chief of flight testing. Instead, they came up with an ingeniously simple approach: they created a pilot’s checklist, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing, and taxiing. Its mere existence indicated how far aeronautics had advanced. In the early years of flight, getting an aircraft into the air might have been nerve-racking, but it was hardly complex. Using a checklist for takeoff would no more have occurred to a pilot than to a driver backing a car out of the garage. But this new plane was too complicated to be left to the memory of any pilot, however expert.

With the checklist in hand, the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 1.8 million miles without one accident. The Army ultimately ordered almost thirteen thousand of the aircraft, which it dubbed the B-17. And, because flying the behemoth was now possible, the Army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War which enabled its devastating bombing campaign across Nazi Germany.

Learning from the mistakes of the Army Air Corps, the Dead Robot Society always uses checklists and have never crashed a multi-engine aircraft.