NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter will attempt to fly again on Monday, following several delays

mars ingenuity helicopter rotor blades spin
The Perseverance rover captured the Ingenuity helicopter before (left) and after spinning its rotor blades.

  • NASA plans to launch its Ingenuity helicopter on Mars on Monday.
  • “Our team considers Monday’s attempted first flight like a rocket launch,” wrote NASA’s MiMi Aung.
  • The flight had been delayed after a test ended abruptly due to a “watchdog” timer.
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NASA on Saturday said its Ingenuity helicopter may take flight on Mars as soon as Monday.

A flight is planned for 3:30 am EDT after a series of delays pushed the scheduled take-off back. Data is expected to arrive on Earth a few hours later, the agency said in a press release.

“We are optimistic that the helicopter will be able to take off from the Martian surface at this time; however, this is a test and we are prepared that it may not occur,” wrote MiMi Aung, a project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a Saturday blog post.

Aung added: “Ingenuity is a technology experiment. As such, our plan is to push the envelope and learn by doing. We take risks that other missions cannot, weighing each step carefully.”

NASA will launch a livestream at 6:15 am EDT, a few minutes before the flight data is expected to reach the Space Flight Operations Facility.

A successful take-off would mark the first powered-controlled flight on another planet, a milestone that NASA previously compared to the Wright brothers’ flights on Earth.

NASA engineers included fabric from the Wright brothers’ first airplane aboard the helicopter, The Associated Press reported last month.

The helicopter traveled nearly 300 million miles tucked under the belly of the NASA’s Mars rover, the Perseverance. Space enthusiasts have watched as Ingenuity stretched its legs, snapped its first low-resolution picture of the Martian surface, and spun its rotor blades for the first time.

NASA officials a week ago delayed the Ingenuity’s flight after the spinning blades abruptly stopped.

In an April 9 test, the helicopter’s blades were supposed to spin at full speed while its legs remained planted on the Martian surface. They were expected to spin in opposite direction at 2,500 rotations per minute, about eight times faster than helicopters on Earth.

NASA said a “watchdog” timer expired during the test. This is a trigger meant to alert engineers to potential problems with the helicopter.

Aung said Saturday that NASA has been working on two solutions, including adjusting the timing sequence for the helicopter’s transition into “flight mode.”

“Our team considers Monday’s attempted first flight like a rocket launch: We’re doing everything we can to make it a success, but we also know that we may have to scrub and try again,” Aung wrote.

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Southwest Airlines passengers dance and cheer as couple accused of refusing to wear masks get thrown off flight

Southwest Airlines flight
Passengers on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 flight line up to exit the aircraft after arriving at Houston’s Hobby airport March 20, 2021.

  • A TikTok video shows a woman arguing with a flight attendant about not complying with a mask-wearing mandate.
  • Passengers on the Southwest Airlines flight can be heard heckling and jeering at the passenger.
  • As the woman and her partner are escorted off the flight, those on the plane cheer and dance.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A TikTok video shows an entire plane clapping and cheering after a couple is escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight, Newsweek reported.

In the video shared by user Brendan Edler, a woman is seen arguing with a crew member.

The footage, which is filmed discreetly from three rows back, starts mid-argument.

The dispute revolves around a passenger who refused to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols by not wearing a mask.

Read more: Inside Southwest Airlines’ legendary culture – and how to get hired there

It should be noted that the woman is wearing a mask at the start of the clip.

The reaction of those on the plane, however, suggests this was not the case earlier on.

The woman, whose identity is unknown, is insistent that she did not break the rules. “I did comply,” says the woman to the flight attendant. “You’re saying I didn’t comply and put my mask on when you ask asked me to?”

Shortly after, the woman accuses the flight attendant of not telling the truth. “You’re a liar and you have to live with that,” she is heard saying.

Those on the flight then begin to heckle the woman and start saying their farewells.

“Bye,” shouts one person.

“Get off the plane,” yells another.

“That’s what happens when you don’t say you’re sorry,” someone else can be heard saying.

The woman then stands up, shows her middle finger to those on the plane, and walks off with her traveling companion.

The remaining passengers appear jubilant, with one woman proceeding to dance.

Insider contacted Southwest for further context on the incident. The airline said that it does not have any further details on the situation but provided information on its mask-wearing policy.

“Federal law requires Southwest to ensure every person age two and over to wear a mask at all times throughout a flight, including during boarding and deplaning,” a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said. “We communicate the face-covering mandate to all Customers at multiple touchpoints throughout the travel journey.”

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Southwest Airlines has added new service to 2 hot vacation destinations ahead of the potential summer travel boom

Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airline.

  • Southwest Airlines will begin offering new services to Florida and Montana.
  • This includes Florida’s Destin-Fort Walton Beach and Montana’s Bozeman Yellowstone airports.
  • Southwest has been drastically expanding its flight services since last year.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Southwest Airlines will begin offering flights to Florida’s Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport and Montana’s Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in May ahead of the potential summer travel boom.

Travel, especially by air, dropped significantly in 2020 as COVID-19 first began taking its hold on the US. But now, the travel and hospitality industry is hoping that pent-up demand and the continuing vaccine rollout will lead to a big spike in travel this summer. 

As a result, companies are gearing up for this potential boom, including Southwest Airlines. In the last year, Southwest has dramatically expanded its flight offerings with new services to locations like Palm Springs, California, Cozumel, Mexico, and Miami.

Now, the airline has added additional flights to two travel hotspots: Florida and Bozeman, Montana.

Bozeman, Montana – known as “Boz Angeles” – has become a hot destination, especially for wealthier travelers looking to trade city life for a break in nature. Bozeman also been named one of the fastest-growing cities in the US and offers close access to hotspots like Yellowstone National Park. 

This will be Southwest Airline’s first destination in Montana. Flights to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport will take off from airports in Denver and Las Vegas starting at $40 beginning May 27.

On the opposite end of the climate spectrum, Florida has also emerged as a top travel destination during the COVID-19 pandemic due to its warm weather and more relaxed restrictions. Southwest already flies to 10 other airports in Florida but decided to expand its offerings in the state for “winter-weary families” looking to get away to warm destinations, Andrew Watterson, Southwest Airlines’ executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said in the press release.

Direct Southwest flights to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport can be taken starting May 6 from these four airports: Dallas Love Field, Baltimore/Washington, Nashville, and Chicago Midway, the latter starting June 6. These flights will start at $70.

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How autopilot on an airplane works

  • Autopilot is a flight-control system that allows a pilot to fly an airplane without continuous hands-on control.
  • But this feature isn’t as automatic as you might think. There’s no robot sitting in the pilot seat and pressing buttons while the real pilot takes a nap.
  • A modern automatic flight-control system is made of three main parts: a flight-monitoring computer, several high-speed processors, and a series of sensors placed on different parts of the plane.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Autopilot isn’t as “auto” as you might think. There’s no robot that sits in the pilot seat and mashes buttons while the real pilot takes a nap. It’s just a flight-control system that allows a pilot to fly an airplane without continuous hands-on control.

Basically, it lets a pilot fly from New York to Los Angeles without white-knuckling the controls for six straight hours. But how does it actually work? Kind of like a polar bear. A polar bear’s core temperature sits at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is so well insulated against the frigid Arctic cold that it often overheats. When that happens, its body reacts by releasing excess heat through its hairless parts, like its nose, ears, and feet. The polar bear’s body temperature returns to a comfortable 98.6, and it’s free to hunt seals another day. That cycle is called a negative feedback loop, and it’s the same way an autopilot functions.

A negative feedback loop is a self-regulating system that reacts to feedback in a way that maintains equilibrium. Generally, it uses a sensor to receive some sort of data or input, and the system uses that data to keep functioning in a preset way.

For the polar bear, that preset is body temperature. For an airplane, it’s lateral and vertical movement. A modern automatic flight-control system is made of three main parts: a flight-monitoring computer, several high-speed processors, and a series of sensors placed on different parts of the plane. The sensors collect data from the entire plane and send them to the processors, which in turn tell the computer what’s what.

AFCSs come in three different levels of complexity. There are single-, two-, and three-axis autopilots, based on the number of parts they control. Single-axis controls the ailerons, which are these guys. They make the plane do this. Single-axis autopilot is also called the “wing leveler” because it controls the roll of the plane and keeps the wings perpendicular to the ground. Two-axis handles everything the single-axis does, along with the elevators, located here. They move the plane like this. And three-axis juggles those two plus the rudder. That one there is in charge of this movement. Then the computer tells the servomechanism units what to do. Servos are the little instruments that actually move the parts. All of these pieces come together to make sure your plane stays in the air, where it belongs. But they don’t just work on their own.

The success of the autopilot depends on the knowledge of the actual human pilot.

Greg Zahornacky: Autopilots are dumb and dutiful, meaning this: that if you program them incorrectly, they will kill you.

Narrator: Dumb and dutiful are the “two Ds of automation,” according to Earl Wiener, a former US Air Force pilot and an aviation scholar. He once described autopilot as, “Dumb in the sense that it will readily accept illogical input; dutiful in the sense that the computer will attempt to fly whatever is put in.” It’s crucial, and I cannot emphasize this enough, that you know how to fly a plane before you use an autopilot. Step one is inputting a flight plan. And step one is also where things could start going wrong.

To get from New York to LA, a pilot needs a route. That route translates to a flight plan, and that flight plan gets punched into the computer and logged into the database. If the pilot doesn’t know what the heck they’re doing, then they can end up programming the autopilot to fly the plane upside down or to spell out “I’m a Bad Pilot” in the sky. If they correctly navigate step one, step two is simply turning on the autopilot. The system executes the flight plan and takes over from there.

Zahornacky: That will stay operational until such time as they tell it or turn it off. But it is capable of flying the aircraft essentially from takeoff all the way to touchdown and including touchdown.

Narrator: But you can’t just tap it and nap it. It’s the ABCs of autopilots: Always be checking. Because autopilots can and do fail. Sometimes it’s user error when entering the flight plan. Sometimes it’s a sensor or servo malfunction. Either way, this is when it becomes very important that an inflatable toy isn’t flying the plane.

– Why is it doing that?!

Zahornacky: If it’s not doing what I expect it to do, I’m gonna disengage the autopilot. I’m gonna go back to hand-flying the aircraft and say, OK, this is what I want you to do. I’m gonna rebuild it again.

Narrator: The good news is autopilot will never take over a plane, à la HAL. Worst case, the pilot turns it off and on again or pulls the circuit breaker if that doesn’t work and reprograms it to behave itself. Worst-worst case, the pilot just has to fly the plane themselves.

Zahornacky: So, I am a very large proponent of hand-flying that airplane to keep your skills high because, you know what, you’ve gotta go through a check ride at least once a year.

Narrator: A check ride is a practical test regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration that US pilots must pass to get their licenses. And most airlines require yearly check rides to make sure their pilots can actually fly.

Zahornacky: ‘Cause if it’s on autopilot all the time, how can you keep your skills sharp?

Narrator:  There’s a reason we still have pilots flying planes and haven’t handed the yoke over to robots. As advanced as the technology is, an autopilot is not auto enough to think for itself, which means it’s not smart enough to fly a plane by itself, and that’s another thing autopilots have in common with polar bears.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2019.

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