Post-storm skies over the Fresno Grizzlies' ballpark this past weekend. "Perhaps a ray of hope in our drought-stricken land?"Dicky Murphy

Updates from past reports, one of them grim-toned and the others more encouraging. The grim one first:

Why the Fighter Jet Hit the Little Propeller Plane.

A British-registered Cessna 150, like the one involved in the crash two weeks ago. (Adrian Pingstone / Wikipedia)

Two weeks ago a U.S. Air Force F-16 hit a little Cessna 150 propeller airplane while both were in the air near Charleston, South Carolina. The Air Force pilot ejected to safety; the two people aboard the Cessna were killed. I wrote about the larger challenge of separating military and civilian general-aviation aircraft here.

Today the National Transportation Safety Board released its “preliminary information” on the crash. Final NTSB assessments can take many months, often years, to complete. This preliminary report has some compelling details. A lot of attention will be paid to the sequence described here.

The F-16 is making a practice instrument approach to Charleston airport, on a path that turns out to directly intersect with the Cessna’s as it is taking off from the small-Berkley County airport:

At [time] 1100:18, the controller advised the pilot of the F-16, “Traffic 12 o'clock, 2 miles, opposite direction, 1,200 [feet altitude] indicated, type unknown.” [This was the Cessna, which because it was outside Charleston’s “Class C” controlled airspace was not required to be in touch with the controller.]

The F-16 pilot responded and advised the controller that he was "looking" for the traffic.

At 1100:26 [eight seconds later], the controller advised the F-16 pilot, “Turn left heading 180 if you don't have that traffic in sight.” The pilot responded by asking, “Confirm 2 miles?”

Eight seconds later, the controller stated, “If you don't have that traffic in sight turn left heading 180 immediately.” [The word immediately is one you don’t hear very often from air traffic controllers. When you do, you know they mean it. You’re taught to do what they say immediately — turn right, turn left, climb, descend — and only then talk with them about it or ask further details.]

Over the next 18 seconds, the track of the F-16 began turning southerly. [Emphasis added.]

At 1100:49 [15 seconds after the first instruction to turn], the radar target of the F-16 was located 1/2 nautical mile northeast of the Cessna, at an indicated altitude of 1,500 feet, and was on an approximate track of 215 degrees. [That is, not yet at the requested heading of 180 degrees.] At that time, the Cessna reported an indicated altitude of 1,400 feet, and was established on an approximate track of 110 degrees.

The rest of the report describes the process until the planes met in the sky.

To spell this out: Some 30 seconds before the collision, the air-traffic controller was alerting the Air Force pilot that another plane might be in its path. Between sweeps of the radar beam there is some delay in radar-screen readings catching up with the planes’ real positions, so controllers must anticipate their paths. More than 20 seconds before the crash, the controller told the Air Force pilot to turn left, away from the other plane. More than 15 seconds before the crash, the controller said “turn left immediately.” For whatever reason this did not avert the crash. Exactly why will be the subject of the ongoing investigation.

Maine Maritime on Top

Now some better news. I’m a skeptic of college rankings, for reasons John Tierney explained well here. (And I say this as a one-time editor of US News & World Report, but that’s a longer and different story.) Yet, like everyone, I naturally will cite rankings when they happen to highlight an important result.

That’s very much the case with Money magazine’s recent set of rankings, which had the Maine Maritime Academy, in Castine, Maine, as its number-one overall public university, right ahead of Berkeley and UC Irvine. See for yourself:

Money magazine.

Why do I mention this? As an extension of our American Futures coverage of Eastport, Maine, our colleague John Tierney spent time in Castine reporting on  what the Maine Maritime Academy had meant to the students and the economy of the state. You can read his first report here, and a follow-up, on the virtue of this kind of practical education, here. Congratulations on this deserved honor to our friends in Maine, including the chairman of the MMA board, Captain Bob Peacock of Eastport.

Downtown Revival in Fresno

In a long series of posts this spring, we described Fresno’s ambition to rebuild itself as a commercial, technological, and even artistic center. Part of this drama centered on the Fulton Street Mall. In the 1960s, the decision to close off a multi-block section of downtown was seen as a progressive, civic-minded step. Then sprawl, white flight, and other common urban ills drained the downtown of its life and business. Fresno is now in the middle of a campaign to revive Fulton Street — in part, as explained here and here, by re-opening it to cars.

Reader Dicky Murphy of Los Angeles, who went up to Fresno to see for himself, sends this report:

I wanted to forward you a few pictures that I thought you might enjoy.

The first is  from Saturday night’s “Summer Sweat” festival, which was hosted by Peeve's Public House. It was the inaugural “sweat,” with bands playing day and night and a significant crowd of young people. I got the sense that there was something happening downtown.  

Dicky Murphy

The other is taken from the Tioga Sequoia brewery [previously here] across from Chukchansi Stadium. I was planning to see the Grizzlies play but, believe it or not, the game got cancelled on account of RAIN and LIGHTNING!

Dicky Murphy

The photo was taken just after the storm. Perhaps a ray of hope in a drought-stricken land.

p.s. Side note on local perception of downtown. Upon arriving at [a major hotel] where I stayed, which is located just off the Fulton Mall, I asked the concierge for directions to Fulton Mall. His response: “Oh, well there's not much there. Downtown Fresno shuts down at night.”

Never has a concierge tried to talk me OUT OF seeing the local sights.
Of course, Fresno was anything but shut down that night. It felt like a tiny Portland or Austin or any other hip city that everyone’s talking about. Guess it goes to show the “I Believe in Downtown Fresno” team has their work cut out for them.

Okay, One More.

“Scientists Launch Riverside’s First Brewery Incubator.” This was a story I had to read (even though it was from last year), and am glad I did. Thanks to all for the updates.

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