Add to Technorati Favorites expat Abu Dhabi Dispatches: April 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Bad Day at the Office

While testing for an oil leak, Airbus Industries' engineers ran this A340-500, destined for delivery to Etihad Airways in a few days, up to takeoff power in a testing area. The parking brake was overcome by the thrust (no chocks) and the aircraft hurtled toward the blast fence with devastating results. The Airbus engineer at the controls released the parking brake when the aircraft started moving but inexplicably did not apply maximum braking pressure via the foot pedals.

You can see the skid marks from the nosewheel as the mechanic deflected it to the maximum 72 degree angle in an attempt to avoid the obstruction. Amazingly, none of the three occupants suffered serious injuries.

The number one and two engines were crushed on impact as seen in the photo (left wing) but the number three and four continued to run. The outboard number four engine was extingushed with water and foam but the number three engine ran for several hours until the fuel was exhausted.

I realize this old news in some circles, but this is the first photo I have seen from above. There is word going around that this accident was caused by Etihad personnel. Nothing is further from the truth. The person in charge and at the controls was a senior Airbus test engineer. Cockpit tapes reveal that it was the Etihad representative that alerted the Airbus guy that the plane was starting to move. An observer in the cockpit jumpseat yanked the power levers back to Idle Detent seconds before impact, too late.

If it ain't Boeing, I ain't going!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Global Swine Flu Scare Claims First U.A.E Victim


Today I went on one of my Beer, Bacon and Tobacco (BBT) runs to Spinney's near the Corniche in town. If you recall, Spinneys is a supermarket catering to Western expats and coveniently has a liquor store in their building with a separate entrance. The supermarket is also one of the few pork outlets in the Emirate. There is a separate room at the back of the market separated from the rest of the sales floor by sliding glass doors. Inside you will find all of Oscar Meyers' finest processed porcine delights being eagerly snapped-up by British and Filipino expat customers. 

Down to my last 4 strips of bacon and totally out of ham slices for my sandwiches, I was going to stock up.  Just as I rounded the cheese display on the way to the Pork Room, I saw something that deflated my usually high spirits.  The pork room was dark and there were signs all over the locked doors saying it was closed indefinately. I was puzzled by this as it had never been closed before and it has to be a huge profit center for the store and it wasn't a Muslim holiday that I knew of. Oh well, I went about my business and figured it was just another "one of those things" that have to be dealt with in living over here.

It wasn't until driving back to the apartment and listening a BBC World News report about swine flu on the car radio that it hit me that this is the reason the Pork Room was closed! This is really bad news as the local culture of my host country consider pork as unclean and is already skittish about pork sales here. This new development may give them cause to permanently suspend pork sales in a "I told you so" stance. Looks like it's gonna be a long time between porkchops for me and I am here to tell you that turkey bacon substitutes suck!

I certainly hope a Beer Flu never materializes which would cause the local government to rethink suds availability in this land. Then I would be in real trouble! On second thought, I think I have had Beer Flu on more than a few occasions upon awakening in the morning. It usually went away after a few hours though.

On another note, it was 44C (111F) degrees here today so Summer has definately arrived and it's not even May yet. The Jeep has removable plastic panels for the roof which are unfortunately not insulated underneath. It is uncomfortable to put your hand on the underside of the roof for more than a few seconds while in the car and this compromises the A/C efficiency. At a stop light or in slow traffic you can feel the heat radiating from the roof onto your head and shoulders. I will plan a project to remedy that soon with some foam rubber and velcro, redneck style! 

As for the swine flu, avoid large crowds, wash your hands frequently and drink copius amount of adult beverages.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yas Island Formula One Complex

The Etihad Airways-Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix is scheduled for October 30-November 1, 2009 at this complex.  I am no construction expert but as this photo taken from my balcony April 22nd shows, there seems to be a lot of work to get done in the next 6 months.

I am sure the complex will somehow get completed in time with enough manpower and money thrown at it. When finished,  it should be one hell of a place!  The buildings in the photo with the rounded roofs are the two parts of the hotel. The racetrack will run between the two hotel wings.

For the rest of the year, the complex will be a Ferrari theme park among other things.

I will periodically provide construction update photos until the race date.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Abu Dhabi Red Bull Air Races

One thing I have always wanted to see live is this event and I got to last weekend. Many times in the past, while channel surfing on a lazy afternoon I would discover coverage of this spectacle. I would lose track of the remote when this happened as I knew it would not be needed for the duration. My fate was set for the next few hours.

The series has a lot going for it. Bring together an elite group of the world's best stunt pilots, go to the most exotic locations on earth each month during the season and set up time trial courses which force the participants to negotiate a gauntlet of 60' tall inflatable pylons with such precision as to tax the skills of the most experienced pilots. The average age of the competitors is 47 with the oldest at 53. Something for us older guys to cheer about!

The fact that the race takes place on a tight course 50 feet above MSL (or AGL) means that it is a spectator's paradise. The venues are usually a famous body of water so there is usually plenty of attractive public spaces for the fans to spread out and relax in a pleasant atmosphere. The event is well organized and there were no long, boring breaks in the action.

In Abu Dhabi, six of us merely threw out a blanket on a grassy, date palm shaded area and enjoyed the fun. A video wall was within 150' of our location showing live, in-plane action  and the edge of the race course itself was only 300' away. It was all very civilized compared to some other sporting events where you are packed in like sardines rubbing elbows with the ubiquitous irritating lout you have the misfortune of being assigned a seat next to. Hot dogs, fries, ice cream and of course Red Bull sources were close by. My only complaint was that there were no draft beer outlets, but considering the sensibilities of my host country, that was to be expected. My thirst for the suds was slaked with my freinds later in the day with many ice-cold units of the Netherland's greatest export since tulips.

I recommend anyone with the opportunity to see a Red Bull Air Race to do so. It offered a relaxing day in the sun watching extreme flying. The photographic and video chances can't be beat as the action is so close. The venues are naturally beautiful. It was one of the best spectator experiences I have had.

See my web album here with captions:

2009 Red Bull Air Race Album

And enjoy the video:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Redneck Riviera

The "Redneck Riviera" is the nickname of the Gulf of Mexico coast that lies between Pensacola and Panama City, Florida. I grew up in Fort Walton Beach which is slap dab in between the two. It is an area that boasts sugar-white sands and clear turquoise waters rich in gamefish. Jimmy Buffet also grew up 50 miles West of here in Mobile, Alabama. It's a laid-back lifestyle kind of place. 

The area got it's nickname from the tourists that visit during the Summer as they mostly hail from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. They are mostly a fun-loving bunch that add to the area's reputation as a party capitol. The U. S.'s biggest Spring Break venue is down the road in Panama City. I fondly remember the days of my youth when my buddies and I would roam the beaches like sharks trying to "poach" the tourist girls. Sometimes we actually got lucky, it was a numbers game. Don't tell my mom.

So, back to the recent trip. I exited the plane at the VPS airport, collected my bags and went to the arrivals area. There was a big celebration there as some troops were coming back from overseas (it's a big Air Force town) but I didn't see Mom so I went to the bar to get a beer and call her to tell here I had arrived. She answered the phone and she said she was back at home. Come to find out, she had been there at the time of my arrival but we did not see each other due to the festivities at the arrival area. She went back home thinking I had boarded a later flight. Trip snag #1.

Mom and I spent the next 2 days visiting and relaxing. I had some ex-coworkers and friends from St. George, Utah that were going to meet me there and my brother was going to drive down from Huntsville, Alabama. There were 2 factions coming from Utah. For simplicity (I know, too late!), Faction 1 is a married couple and their 16 year old son, Faction 2 is a couple of my pool-shooting buddies.

Faction 1 was going to Savannah, Georgia for a wedding and were to fly back to ATL and then VPS the next day. Well, the flights from ATL to SAV were full so they rented a car and drove to SAV. Faction 2 got to ATL and sat all day trying to get space available seats to VPS but couldn't and decided to cut their losses and return to Utah. I don't blame them, ATL will suck the soul out of you especially when Florida-bound. At the same time, Faction 1 could not get a flight back from SAV to ATL because of worsening weather and decided to drive from SAV to VPS. Trip snags #2 and #3.

Faction 1 finally got to Ft. Walton after a harrowing drive through a nasty coldfront. My brother had also arrived. We all went out for seafood that night but the weather was colder than a witch's fun-bags with brass you-know-whats. The female contingent of Faction 1 had to get back to Utah the next day for work duties so we called it an early night. Her and her son were to drive to ATL the next morning leaving her husband to catch a flight a few days later as he is a lazy SOB that has a cush job (Just kidding!).

The weather worsened overnight and being concerned about the Faction 1 wife driving to ATL, I called her when I arose the next morning and was surprised to hear a flight attendant announcement in the background when she answered. "Where the hell are you?" I asked. She was aboard a Continental flight in VPS to IAH to SLC to SGU. As it turned out, it had snowed as far south as the Alabama-Florida state line which is very rare in itself and the inclement weather had all but closed down the Atlanta airport not to mention the connecting interstate highways.  Snag #4. She did made it to Utah in time for work.

So it was now me, Faction 1 husband and son, Mom and my brother the rocket scientist. We all met the next day at a rustic surfside restaurant for raw oysters on the half shell and beer. The weather had improved and the sun was out. For those who have never sampled fresh Apalachicola grown oysters on a cracker with hot sauce and a suds chaser, you are missing one of the great pleasures of life. Some say they are still alive when you eat them. I try not to think about that! You really can't tell by looking at them anyway.

The next day we visited the fine weapons technology and historic aircraft on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base. Jimmy Doolittle trained here for the surprise WWII Tokyo aerial attack back in the day.

So to make a long story short (again, too late!), My brother went back to Huntsville, Faction 1 hubby and son went back to Utah and I went back to Abu Dhabi. My flight was enjoyable as I had popcorn and Heinekens while I watched "Slumdog Millionaire" and the new James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace" in business class between naps. Both are two thumbs up!

I am so fortunate to have good family and friends. I miss them greatly and appreciate the effort they made in hooking up under less than ideal conditions. I hope I can return the favor soon.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.