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  • When ships have an engine casualty, run aground or have a fire on board they need to be salvaged or their wreck removed. Specialised companies, like Ardent, focus on salvaging ships or removing wrecks. These tasks are sometimes challenging from an engineering perspective, and always interesting from the business side. In this episode we talk with Ardent's Bram Sperling, a senior salvage master, about both these aspects of salvage and wreck removal operations.
  • Mass spectrometers are devices for measuring the mass-to-charge ratio of molecules and ions. They use many different measurement principles and are used in various areas of science. Our guest Alexander Makarov works as a Director Global Research for Thermo Fisher's Life Sciences Division and has invented the Orbitrap principle used widely in modern mass spectrometers. We talk about mass spectrometry in general, the different measurement principles, engineering challenges, the invention of the Orbitrap, use cases for mass spectrometers and the different machines sold by Thermo Fisher.
  • In this 200th episode of omega tau we cover a topic that has been on our list for a long time: harbour tugs. We start out with a conversation with Lex van der Schaaf, the COO of Port Towage Amsterdam, who gives us a general introduction to port towage. Markus then joins Arno, Jan and Andrey on their tug Thetis for a day of towing in the port of Amsterdam. In the last conversation, Markus speaks with Baldo Dielen about the design of modern tugs, using the EDDY tug as a representative example.
  • As we have mentioned before on omega tau, aviation prides itself on a pervasive safety-culture that leads to a low accident rate. An important building block of this culture are incident reporting systems, where members of the community can confidentially report issues, risks or incidents, which are then followed up on, with the goal to resolve them. CHIRP is the organisation that handles this task in the UK. In this episode we talk to Ian Dugmore, the Chief Executive of CHIRP about the general idea, and about a few (typical) incidents reported to CHIRP.
  • Planet Labs is building small, inexpensive satellites, mostly from consumer-style components, for large-scale, continuous earth observation purposes. As a silicon valley startup, they pride themselves in doing things differently than then "big aerospace companies". In this episode, I am talking with Ignacio Zuleta and Creon Levit about small satellites, satellite constellations, phones, optics and earth observation.
  • In this episode we get a peek into how OHB System AG in Bremen develops satellites -- mostly based on the Galileo navigation satellites. We speak with Christian Pauly about systems engineering, with Mathias Tausche about manufacturing and integration, with Andreas Wortmann about the software on the satellites, and with Ingo Engeln about the company as a whole.
  • This is the first of several episodes from my trip to Airbus Toulouse: we cover flight testing of the A350. We have two guests. First, we speak with Peter Chandler, a test pilot at Airbus, about envelope expansion, the relationship between simulation and the real airplane, and test flying in general. Our second guest is Pascal Verneau, a test flight engineer. We discuss his role in flight testing, as well as some special equipment installed in (some of) the testing aircraft.
  • This is my report from Farnborough International Airshow 2016. The episode contains 13 short interviews, as listed below. I had an absolute blast in Farnborough, especially because I met the APG crew and participated in the epic live recording of APG 229.
  • During his career in the Royal Air Force, Dave Gledhill has been flying as a navigator in the Tornado ADV. After his career he wrote a book about this airplane, and its (not always problem-free) introduction into service with the RAF. In this episode we talk about the airplane, about his flying, about some of the challenges during its development and introduction into service, and how they were overcome to make the F.3 a capable interceptor after all.
  • This is the second episode recorded at my trip to Airbus in Toulouse and we take a trip down memory lane, covering some of Airbus' history. The first part of the episode is a recorded presentation (with some Q&A) with Alan Pardo, head of Marketing Communication at Airbus Toulouse. We cover the development of Airbus in general, and the Toulouse factory in particular. The second part is a walk through the Aeroscopia museum in Toulouse with David Bauser. Before his retirement he has worked for Airbus on the A-300 and the Concorde. We discuss those two airplanes, plus some general anecdotes from his time at Airbus. [The following string is used for claiming the feed at fyyd.de. Please ignore. mnX2r7grqd5bz8u9ntcrmb4a2ucy5bqlecrOxcsc]
  • 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 with talk with George about his work in this fascinating period of science and engineering history.
  • The V-22 Osprey is the first operational tilt rotor aircraft. After not always problem-free development and test period, it is now used successfully with the USAF and the USMC. In this episode we talk to a V-22 pilot, Maj. Seth Cannon of the 7th SOS in RAF Mildenhall about the aircraft, some of its systems, and, primarily, about how it is flown. I met Seth Cannon in Bayreuth, where one of the 7th SOS had to land because of problems with a gearbox. Read the story here. This is also where I took the pictures below.
  • When I was young, in the 80s, I was extremely interested in military airplanes, I more or less grew up with three iconic fighters: the F-15, F-16 and F-18. I want to thoroughly cover those airplanes on omega tau, and this episode on the F-15 is a great start. I talk with Jeff Fellmeth, a former F-15A/C/E pilot about the airplane, avionics, trainings, missions and the units he has been a part of. We also talk a little bit about related topics, such as the Bronco and gliders.
  • Tidal power refers to extracting electrical energies out of the tide streams in oceans. Various techniques exist. Tocardo is a provider of axial turbines, and our guest, Pieter de Haas, is their CTO. In this episode we talk about tidal power in general, siting, the design and engineering of Tocardo's turbines as well as the overall economic and technical trade-offs in making the turbines work over the long run.
  • The sea ice in the arctic and antarctic regions of the earth is an especially sensitive indicator of the earth's climate, and in particular, the current overall atmospheric temperature of the planet. It was recently reported to have reached a new low. Our guest, NASA's Walt Meier explains why this is the case and which processes govern the increase or decrease of the ice. We then discuss how the ice mass is measured based on satellite and how its thickness is estimated based mostly on in-situ measurements. We cover climate modeling and its connection to sea ice and conclude with an outlook on future research.
  • Particle accelerators are the backbone of today's particle physics research and help us understand the smallest building blocks our world is made of. To understand this deeper, more powerful accelerators are needed, beyond what is possible with today's LHC. The world's physics community is continuously running studies to explore science questions and evaluate the required accelerators; one of those the studies is the Future Circular Collider study led by CERN. In this episode we discuss the science questions as well as the core engineering challenges with the two leaders of the FCC study, Michael Benedikt and Frank Zimmermann.
  • Last fall I visited EPFL for a programming languages workshop when I saw a poster on bio inspired systems. Darja's name was on the poster because she coordinates the programme; I sent her an email and asked if she wanted to talk a bit with me about this field while I am at EPFL. Her calendar had some free time, and so we met. In the episode we discuss why it makes sense for system designers to look at biology and nature as an inspiration and then explore lots of examples that are currently being researched at EPFL.
  • Rick Ruiz is a pilot for Atlas Air where he flies various versions of the Boeing 747 freighter. Previously he flew the 767 and the 777 for LAN Chile, primarily cargo as well. Rick is also a crew member of the Airline Pilot Guy podcast, where he is known as Miami Rick. In this episode, we stroll through the woods around Landstuhl, Germany, where I visited Rick while he was on a layover. We geek out about flying the Big Boeings.
  • Last fall I visited ESTEC, ESA's space research and technology center. In this first of three episodes, I talk with Maria Hernek, who heads the Flight Software Systems section. We talk about the challenges of space flight software, the development processes used by ESA and its vendors, as well as means of ensuring the required quality attributes. This episode can be seen as a continuation of the conversation with Andreas Wortmann in the OHB episode.
  • Late 2016, during a trip to the Netherlands, I visted Rutger Vlek of River Creative Technology in his home studio to record an episode about synthesizers. We talked about the basics of sound generation, various enveloping and filtering techniques, sound design, the different fundamental approaches of sound synthesis, as well as a couple of classic synths. Rutger illustrated lots of approaches with samples from some of his many synthesizers.
  • In October 2015, Joseph Tainter was my guest in omega tau 184 to discuss his concept of increasing complexity and eventual collapse of societies. In this episode, our guest Paul Arbair discusses these concepts in the light of today's rising populism in several countries. The episode is based on two articles Paul wrote on his blog: one on Brexit and one on Trump.
  • David Woods has a new book out, so of course he has to talk about it on omega tau :-) His recent book is about the Saturn V launch vehicle, i.e., this time it is about the rocket, not about the spaceship. In this episode we dive into lots of details that we did not cover in the two Apollo episodes (episodes 83 and 97) -- make sure you have listened to those before you listen to this one.
  • During my visit to ESA's ESTEC last fall, I talked to Jose Gonzalez del Amo, who is the head of the Electric Propulsion Lab. We discussed the basics of electric propulsion, the pros and cons compared to chemical engines, different engine styles and their use cases, as well as the work ESA performs in the lab.
  • This is the last episode recorded during my visit to ESA's ESTEC last fall. I get a tour of the Test Centre with the head of the section, Mark Wagner. We discuss the various test stands and facilities, including the thermal vacuum facility, the large space simulator, the thermal vacuum chamber, the vibration facilities, electromagnetic testing and acoustic testing.
  • The increasing complexity of software requires increasingly sophisticated means of ensuring its correctness -- "just" testing is not necessarily good enough, depending on the domain in which the software is used. Formal specification, verification and proof is a field with a long tradition in computer science that is gaining more (practical) relevance these days; and in this episode, we cover the basics. Our guest is Benjamin Pierce, professor of computer science at UPenn. We discuss the nature of (good) specifications, how verification and proof is different from testing, and where and how these techniques are successfully used today.
  • During my visit to DLR's Earth Observation Center earlier this year I also talked to Dana Floricioiu about her work in glaciology. We discuss a couple of her recent publications, and then focus on her trip to the Darwin Glacier in Antarctica. Together with a team of fellow scientists, she camped on the glacier for three weeks to conduct various in-situ experiments. We discussed the work, but also life on the glacier.
  • Dr. Douglas Hofmann works as a scientist in the Metallurgy Lab at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I visited Doug during my US trip earlier this year, and we chatted about metallic glass. In particular, we discussed its properties, how to create it in bulk, how to test its properties, as well as how and why it is interesting for use in space.
  • In this episode we look back at (aspects of) the North American Air Defense system in the cold war. In particular, we look at the distant early warning line(s), the F-106 interceptor and the SAGE computer system. For DEW, we talk with Mike Milinkovich and Brian Jeffrey who have both worked on the DEW line; Brian also maintains a great website on DEW. For the F-106, we talk with Richard Embry who has flown the interceptor. And for SAGE, we speak with Bernd Ulmann, who has written a very detailed book on SAGE's underlying AN/FSQ-7 computer system. Bernd has also been a previous guest on Episode 159 on analog computers.
  • During my trip to the US I also visited the Basic Plasma Science Facility at the UCLA in Los Angeles. I talked with the two professors who run the facility, Walter Gekelman and Troy Carter. We discuss the basics of plasma, the research questions of plasma physics and some of the experimental challenges. I also get (and report on) a tour through the facility, which was very impressive, mainly because the whole system was built by the team around Walter and Troy!
  • As part of my US trip 2017 I visited Nellis AFB, where LtCol Jan Stahl flies the F-16 for the 64th Aggressor Squadron. We spent a day around, in and under the F-16. The episode contains five parts. A brief introduction to the F-16 and its development, a discussion about flying it, a walkaround, a look at all the knobs, switches and displays in the cockpit as well as a detailed discussion on the HOTAS system that forms the backbone of the pilot's interaction with the avionics.
  • On the second day of my visit to Nellis AFB we covered the Red Flag, an advanced aerial combat training exercise hosted at multiple times per year at Nellis. We started out with a general overview with Jan Stahl; we also covered the role of the aggressors. I then talked with John Traylor who works as a ground intercept controller for the aggressors. Next is a conversation with Graham Johnson about Red Flag from the perspective of a blue force participant; he flies an F-15C out of Lakenheath. We conclude the episode with a look at the historical context that lead to Red Flag, again with Jan.
  • In late March 2017 I was participating in the media day of the European Air Refuelling Training Exercise, organized by the European Air Transport Command headquartered in Eindhoven. While the planned flight on the Dutch KDC-10 did not work our for technical reasons, I recorded a follow-up interview with tanker captain Martin and boom operator Louis. We discussed a number of details around air-to-air refuelling in general and the KDC-10 in particular. The episode begins with an overview of aerial refuelling that I recorded myself.
  • As part of my trip to the US earlier this year I visited NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. I conducted six interviews over two days, the ones concerning subscale research (i.e., on model airplanes) are in this episode. We start with a conversation about flying wings in general and Prandtl-D in particular with Armstrong's Chief Scientist Al Bowers. Next, we chat about flutter research and the X-56 with project lead Cheng Moua. Finally, we talk to Matt Moholt about his project, the Spanwise Adaptive Wing project.
  • As part of my trip to the US earlier this year I visited NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. I conducted six interviews over two days, those concerning full scale ("real") aircraft are in this episode. We start out with Kevin Weinert, with whom we talk about the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge project, essentially a flap made of flexible materials to save fuel and reduce noise. Next up is Jim Less, one of NASA's F-15 and F-18 pilots; we chat about his flying and various research projects where the jets are utilized (you can see this part as a continuation of Episode 73, where we chatted with Dick Ewers). Finally, we talk about flying the MQ-9 and RQ-4 unmanned aerial vehicles with the pilots Scott Howe and Hernan Posada.
  • In this episode we speak with David Baker, who wrote a fascinating book about spy satellites. We cover the political and military context that drove their development, their (known and suspected) capabilities, methods of recovering the images, as well as typical orbits and the sartellites' ability to change that orbit for quick repositioning.
  • Secondary surveillance radar (SSR) is the radar technology used in aviation to query transponders; it forms the backbone of today's air traffic control infrastructure. Our guest in this episode is Mike Sharples who has been part of the development of the technology and is intimately familiar with the details. We discuss the importance of SSR today, the details of the protocol, the difference between and evolution from Mode A/C to S as well as the relationship to ADS-B.
  • Quantum Systems designs, builds and sells unmanned air vehicles for professional use. Their particular specialty is VTOL designs, i.e., UAVs that take off and land vertically, but then switch to airplane mode for airplane-like speed and range. In this episode we chat with Quantum's CEO Florian Seibel about their primary drone, the Tron. We focus on the motivation for developing the aircraft, the use cases, as well as design decisions and technical aspects.
  • In this episode we chat about the science and engineering involved in nuclear weapons. Our guest is Alex Wellerstein of the Stevens Institute of Technology. We talk about atomic bombs as well as hydrogen bombs, how to refine the necessary fuels as well as a little bit of history.
  • This episode is a continuation of the two previous episodes (132, 133) with Davide on the Space Shuttle. Based on his new, second book we talk about the contributions the Space Shuttle made to space exploration in general. These include advances in space suits, the construction of the ISS, satellite servicing, its use as a science platform as well as military operations.
  • Conlangers are people who design human languages, either just for fun or for use in works of fiction, often TV series or movies. My guest, David Peterson, has designed several languages, including the the Dothraki language featured prominently in Game Of Thrones. In this episode we use Dothraki (and English, and a bit of German) to introduce the basics of linguistics, i.e., the science behind natural (and in this case, designed) languages. We also discuss a few specific of Dothraki, and how it gets used in Game Of Thrones.
  • In December 2017 I had the opportunity to spend a few days on board the Royal Navy's HMS Enterprise on her trip from Limassol, Cyprus to Valetta, Malta. HMS Enterprise is a survey ship, her primary task is to map the sea floor using sonar and feed the data into civilian and military maps. In this detailed episode, we chat about the ship, its mission, the survey equipment, the technical aspects of the propulsion and systems, plus about life on board a ship and nautical issues in general.
  • During our tour NorthWest 2017 I visited the drop tower at Uni Bremen's ZARM and talked with Martin Castillo, the head of material science at the facility. We discussed the basics of microgravity research, the technical aspects of the tower, how to set up experiments, and also about his particular work in material science.
  • The Perlan Project aims to fly gliders into the stratosphere by exploiting mountain waves in order to better understand those waves and to explore the edge of what gliders can do. In fact, last September, they broke the world altitude record for gliders. In this episode we chat about the project, the airplane and the flying with engineer Lars Bensch and pilot Jim Payne.
  • Superconductivity, the ability of a material to carry electrical current with zero resistance, is a surprising property of nature, which man has been able to exploit in many ways, in particular, for high-performance magnets. Those are used in magnetic resonance imagers, but also in colliders and fusion reactors. In this episode we discuss the basics of superconductivity and its uses with Pierre Bauer, a superconductor engineer at ITER.
  • Effects devices are essential for electric guitars and keyboards because they shape sound and make it interesting; many classic devices exist. However, those are rare and/or expensive, plus, even if they are not, carrying them around on a tour costs money. This is why these hardware devices are simulated in software, and distributed as plugins for audio software. Native Instruments is a manufacturer of such software analog effects packages. In this episode I chat with one of their engineers, Julian Parker, about how this software simulation of the electronic hardware is done.
  • In this episode I talk with NASA Armstrong's chief scientist Al Bowers about the research projects he has been involved in during his long career at NASA. We cover deep stall research with a Schweizer sailplane, high-alpha flight and thrust vectoring with the X-29, X-31 and F-18 HARV, aero-tow of fast jets with the F-106, supercritical wings with the F-8, as well as space related projects using the SR-71 and the X-30. This is one of my favourite episodes of all time, since it is a bit of trip down memory lane for me personally, and Al perfectly hits the sweet spot between recounting facts and telling anecdotes.
  • A few years ago, I interviewed Arjen Lucassen about his wonderful music and how he makes it; obviously, I am a big fan! Recently, his Ayreon universe was performed live on stage and I was blown away. I decided I had to talk the the guy behind the live shows, Joost van den Broek. Luckily he agreed. So I visited him in his studios and we talked about music production and arrangement in general, and specifically for the Ayreon live shows.
  • I chat with Daniel Geaslen about bush flying. His (at this time, former) job is to fly Kodiak turbo props for Mission Aviation Fellowship in Papua Indonesia, supplying remote villages. We cover the airplane, the missions, as well as the flying itself, with a particular focus on weather and challenging airfields.
  • CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences in bacteria and archaea that are a part of these organisms' cellular defense system. A recent discovery showed how this mechanism can be used to edit genes much more easily than legacy methods. In this episode I chat with Sam Sternberg about the naturally occuring CRISPR systems, how they work, and how CRISPR together with its associated enzymes can be used to cut, and subsequently, edit, DNA. We conclude the episode with an outlook on the potential use in medicine.
  • On October 20, the BepiColombo started its flight to Mercury on an Ariane 5 from Kourou. I was at the launch press event at ESOC in Darmstadt to follow the launch and to record a couple of interviews. The episode consists of three major parts. The first part is an interview with Pablo Munoz about mission analysis and flight dynamics. The second part looks at the science with Joe Zender, Roberto Peron, Ajako Matsuoka and Joana Oliveira. And part three are multiple short takes with Paolo Ferri, Andreas Rudolph and Fabian Luedicke recorded in the middle of the night at ESOC.
  • In mid-September I drove to Illesheim Army Airfield to meet with Caleb Marheine who flies the AH-64 Apache helicopter there. We talked about the helicopter's systems, the cockpit, aspects of flying it as well as some of the missions.
  • With power generation in the grid becoming more diverse and decentralized, energy storage is becoming more and more important. Eduard Heindl's gravity storage is an approach to storing electrical energy as potential energy by lifting huge masses cut out of the ground. While this sounds crazy, there are lots of reasons why this makes sense. In the episode we discuss then need, the general approach, the construction process and some of the engineering challenges. We also look at the innovation process, the path from the idea to something that is ready to be built.
  • Have you ever wondered how the processor in your phone or computer got so much more faster than what the increase in megahertz suggests? In this episode we talk with Lex Augusteijn about superscalar processors, pipelining, speculative execution, register renaming and the like. We also discuss concerns other than speed, in particular, energy efficiency.
  • Justin and Jason wrote a nice book on fusion called The Future of Fusion Energy, and this episode is based on this book. We start out by revisiting the breakthroughs that drove progress in fusion over the decades, including understanding stars, the tokamak, superconducting magnets, supercomputers and a number of specific aspects of plasma physics. We then look at the current state of fusion research as well as where it might go.
  • Throughout the cold war, and til today, the Cobra-codenamed ground, sea and air assets have been used by the US to monitor Soviet/Russian ICBM missile launches and warhead reentries. The air component consists of the RC-135 Cobra Ball/Eye aircraft. Flying from Shemya in the Aleutians they used cameras and other sensors. Our guest, Robert Hopkins has been flying the aircraft in the late 1980s. In this episode he tells us about the mission and the flying -- Shemya could be quite challenging.
  • In this episode I chat with Sean Brady about structural failures in civil engineering. We first discuss the technical and organzational causes for such failures. We then look at Sean's specialty, forensic engineering, which is about analyzing failures to determine the root cause. Sean also has his own podcast in which he delves into much more detail about engineering failures, not just in construction.
  • In our never-ending quest to understand fusion and its potential use in energy production, I visited the Wendelstein 7-X fusion experiment in Greifswald run by the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik. We started out with a visit to the experiment hall, while experimentalist Matthias Hirsch gave us an overview over the machine. Next we discussed theory and modeling with Ralf Kleiber. Finally, I returned to Matthias Hirsch, and we chatted about more experimental aspects of Wendelstein. It is probably best to listen to our previous fusion episodes (22, 157 and 304) before listening to this one.
  • Earlier this year I visited the London Air Ambulance, a charity organization that flies two MD-902 helicopters over the UK's capital. I chatted with their chief pilot Neil Jeffers about the flying and some of the medical aspects. My recorder then joined Neil on a short flight to their hangar at RAF Northolt. There, we met Adam Spink, a NATS air traffic controller at Heathrow, and the three of us chatted about the ATC perspective of flying helicopters (sometimes) in Heathrows's approach.
  • Socio-technical systems are systems where (groups of) humans interact with (non-trivial) technical systems; an example is the power grid. The people, the technical system and the combination might easily lead to complex behavior that is hard to predict and control over the long term. However, as illustrated by, for example, the need to transition our energy infrastructure to a more sustainable structure, it is necessary for society to "control" such systems. Igor Nikolic is a professor at the TU Delft where he uses agent-based modeling approach to try to understand, and thus help control and evolve such systems. We discuss the systems, the challenges as well as the modeling approaches.
  • In May I visited ALICE, one of the four large experiments at the LHC and talked with Despina Hatzifotiadou. We briefly discussed the science that ALICE is interested in, and then spent the majority of the time dissecting the detector to understand its components and how they detect the various products of particle collisions.
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