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Letters to the Editor



"Fuel Tanks: A History of Blown Tires" 

[aircrash ed: note that this letter to the editor was sent on Jan 8, 2000 but has to date not been published.  Why?]

January 8, 2001

The Editor, (
The International Herald Tribune

Dear Sir,

Your article, "Fuel Tanks: A History of Blown Tires" (IHT-January 6/7, 2001) asks more questions than it answers. The most important one is:

Why has it taken 57 tirebursts over 21 years and a horrendous fatal crash to draw attention to the inherent design flaws that exist in airliners?

The Concorde tragedy simply epitomizes the problems of aircraft safety in more ways than one. The root of the problem is ethics and morality; right above that level is aircraft design.

The common practice of attaching landing gear and engines to fuel tank supporting structure, in combination with excessively high take-off and landing speeds on overstressed tires, is a perfect recipe for fiery disaster. The Concorde is just the latest victim of these flaws.

The August 7, 2000 issue of Air Safety Week does an excellent job of highlighting the problem:

"Bursting airplane tires are like 'rubber bombs.' Under extreme conditions of pressure and heat buildup, an exploding tire can release the energy equivalent of 4-5 sticks of dynamite. The potential for cascading, possibly catastrophic, damage to nearby fuel tanks and engines is a well-recognized hazard. The fiery July 25 crash of an Air France Concorde has cast the issue of bursting tires into chilling focus."

For more than six decades, man has known how to vastly improve aircraft safety and has had the technology to implement that improvement.

The hazards inherent in the conventional airliners we fly in today were recognized by industry and government alike in the mid 1930s. So was the superior lifting body technology of the brilliant Texan, Vincent Justus Burnelli, which eliminated the aforementioned conventional airliner flaws. In fact, in 1939, the Dean of the Guggenheim School of Aeronautics, Dr. Alexander Klemin, at New York University, with a group of outstanding pilots and wind tunnel engineers from NYU and NACA, all signed the following statement:

"We regard the Burnelli principle of design as a valuable and fundamental contribution to the art of aviation. Its application provides larger accommodations, more comfort and greater pleasure in faster air travel. The disposition of the power plants, logically inherent in the design, enhances safety and reliability far beyond conventional practice. The perseverance shown in its successful development is the best in American tradition." [emphasis added]

On September 19, 1939, General H. H. Arnold, Chief of the U.S. Air Forces, highly recommended Burnelli planes to the Secretary of War and, regarding Burnelli safety features, stated:

"The [Burnelli] design embodies extremely good factors of safety-- considerably higher than the streamlined fuselage type." [emphasis added]

General Arnold ended his glowing Burnelli recommendation thusly:

"In my opinion it is essential, in the interest of national defense, that this procurement be authorized."

Despite Arnold's plea, no Burnelli planes were purchased, and, because Burnelli's financial backer was a staunch Republican foe of President Roosevelt, Burnelli and his company were blackballed. This blackball has remained in force to the present date. As a consequence, air travelers the world over have been denied their God given right to fly in much safer airliners embracing America's much superior Burnelli technology.

The problem facing us in aircraft safety has been, and remains, the lack of honesty, integrity and morality in many places of industry/government and the media. Their repeated refusals to make the true state of affairs known to the public continues unabated. Instead, they have made unethical, immoral, self-interested decisions which are to blame for the air safety situation we face today. But it is not limited to them alone. Those who have known about the Burnelli blackballing and have chosen to do nothing, because they believe that they are powerless, must share the blame.

The Concorde tragedy was a reminder to me of the political suppression of Burnelli lifting body design, and that, in turn, makes one remember the words of Abraham Lincoln:

To sin by silence when we should protest
makes cowards of men.

And, also the words of Plato:

The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs
is to be ruled by evil men.


Chalmers H. Goodlin, Honorary Fellow
The Society of Experimental Test Pilots
2615 Granada Boulevard
Coral Gables, Florida 33134
Tel: 305-448-0574


Appearance is all that counts

The July 26, 1999 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology had an interesting letter to the editor insofar as it demonstrates that what takes place at the higher echelons of management invariably trickles down whether good or bad.


With regard to your editorial on the "Aerospace in Crisis" articles (AW&ST July 5, p.66; June 21, p.63), I've read the letter Phil Condit of Boeing sent to his troops and believe he is out of touch with his workforce. This is particularly in light of the fact that within a week of his epistle, one of his East Coast divisions sent out an employee bulletin admitting to an unusually large attrition and saying a "study" would be conducted to find out why.

I recently was a 20-year Boeing employee. I left for pretty nearly all the reasons covered in the article and recent letters. However, the biggest reason I left was Boeing's lack of respect for technical/engineering acumen. Engineers are no longer promoted or paid well based on their technical contributions.

Appearance is all that counts. If people can "sound" like they know what they are talking about and agree with upper management, they are promoted and paid. First-level engineering management is quickly becoming devoid of technical talent. This situation is further exacerbated when the manager begins to "bring up" people of his own ilk. My old boss used to say the pendulum always swings back. I fear it will not happen before I retire.

name withheld by request "

It is refreshing to know that at least one Boeing engineer recognizes the fallacy of yes-men mentality in the production of safe aircraft. 



Swissair 111

[The following letter to the editor remains unpublished to date.]

The Editor



 Fax: +33 1 4143 9210

 September 9, 1998


Dear Sir

 With regard to the Swissair Flight 111, the TWA Flight 800 and the Valuejet Flight 592 crashes, it is strange that the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Agency and the Flight Safety Foundation remain mute on the possibility that these crashes could have resulted from tire fires and/or tire blow-outs.

It is ironic that Swissair was the first to experience a tire disaster in 1963 when their Caravelle caught fire shortly after take-off at Zurich and crashed, killing all on board. The record shows that, since then, many airline disasters have occurred due to tire fires/explosions (see accompanying news reports). Is Swissair Flight 111 simply the latest example of this chain of egregious criminal negligence?

 Fires rhyme with tires!

Sincerely yours,

Chalmers H. Goodlin

(Nine Pages)


[See also Sept 22, 1998 tire blow-outs on Southern Air Boeing 747 ]



How about a safer aircraft?

The recent crash of a commuter aircraft in Georgia is the final straw. I am sick of these aircraft crashing and killing people, and of the excuse that by statistics "aircrash travel is safer per mile," etc.

One crash is too many. The pioneers of aviation demanded total excellence and would be appalled at our "write-off" of someone's children, parents or spouse.

Aircraft are going to crash as are cars, but we put airbags in cars, don't we? Why not make aircraft more crashworthy? Manufacturers are not even doing everything within current structurally unsound conventional designs. This means little effort and risk but maximum profit.


Originally published as a "Letter to the Editor," AVIATION WEEK & SPACE TECHNOLOGY / September 18, 1995



Bring back Burnelli

Sir--I must take exception to some of the remarks about the Burnelli principle of design in "Freighters for the real world" (July 22).

You said that Boeing and McDonnell Douglas have dropped the lifting-fuselage containerized freighter, based on Burnelli principles, "partly because of the severe induced-drag penalties of such a layout." The false allegation of "severe induced-drag penalties" is typical of almost 40 years of bad-mouthing directed at the Burnelli design. It is also contradicted by the following paragraph, which says that the 747F has a 35 per cent payload fraction, the projected twin-tube conventional design a 39 per cent fraction, and a flying-wing distributed-load freighter a 50 per cent fraction. This last figure would appear to be consonant with Burnelli qualities based upon my Aircraft Efficiency Formula, which measures volume/floor area/ useful load and cruise speed per horsepower or pound of thrust. For example, the last Burnelli aircraft, the CBY-3, was built in Canada in 1946. As it was certificated by the Canadian Department of Transport and had identical powerplants, it can be readily compared with the de Haviland AC-1A. Both aircraft were certificated at gross weights of 28,500lb. Using the total horsepower value (2,900 h.p.) as a common denominator and referring only to the Department of Defence flight-test reports, it is possible to compare their efficiency:

Volume per h.p. (ft3)
Floor area per h.p. (in2)
Useful load per h.p. (lbs)
Cruise speed per h.p. (kts)

This comparison suggests no such "severe induced drag penalties," in spite of the fact that the CBY-3 had a fuselage thickness ratio of some 21 per cent. Moreover, I flew the CBY-3, as well as numerous contemporary conventional aircraft, and I can flatly state that the claimed "drag penalties" are pure propaganda. Simple extrapolation of the above qualities to 707 and 747-sized Burnellis suggests fuselage thickness ratios of 13 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. Given dorsal-mounted powerplants for a clean leading edge, such designs could offer truly revolutionary payload and performance. As a bonus, Burnelli lifting-fuselage freighters would provide truck-bed-level loading facilities, eliminating the need for the complicated and expensive cargo-handling contraptions referred to in your article.

The conventional manufacturers have pulled out of the lifting-fuselage containerised freighter, based on Burnelli principles, for the following reasons:

  • They do not own the Burnelli principle of design.
  • Being large government contractors, they cannot afford to embarrass the Department of Defence, the agency responsible for the suppression of the Burnelli principle of design since 1941.
  • Production of Burnelli-type aircraft would be an admission that they have been building inferior and more costly airframes for at least 30 years.
  • These companies naturally wish to maintain their market domination and produce as many conventional aircraft as possible so as to maximize the benefits from existing tooling, regardless of operator, consumer and national interests.

Your article asked: "Can the air cargo industry support a pure freighter that will provide a return on investment for its manufacturer and its operators?" The answer is definitely "yes," and the only logical vehicle is a Burnelli. Along with lower construction costs and many other important advantages, the 50 per cent payload fraction and truck-bed-level facilities make the Burnelli freighter a "natural."

Vince Burnelli was distressed by the practice of mounting powerplants, landing gear and passenger seats immediately adjacent to the fuel tanks, and by the ever-increasing take-off and landing speeds necessitated by conventional tubular designs. He told me in the early 1950s that safety and economics would ultimately force the air transport industry to adopt his principle. Burnelli's time is now long overdue.

12a Cheyne Row,
London SW3

This letter to the editor appeared in FLIGHT International,
19 August 1978, p. 542


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