Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Equilibar Engineering

Well, I said no more pressure-suit updates for a while, but a nice note from Dave ____, at Equilibar came in, a goo dindication of where I am at present; working on the pressure relief valve which will dump exhaled breathing gas from the helmet/suit at exhalation...if all goes as planned!


The Equilibar regulator can be operated at very low exhaust pressures such as those you mentioned with no problems [and in near vacuum]. In fact we pride ourselves on the performance at low pressures. Do you have a pressure that you wish to maintain inside the suit/helmet? It would seem that somewhere close to 1 atm would be needed to sustain lung function. We also need to understand the flow rate and our quick experiment suggests that about 10scfm seems to be appropriate. Of course that rate is based on subject not performing heavy work--our tester was only standing and exhaling into a flow meter.

If we have your best estimate of those those variables we can give your an estimate for our appropriate standard product. And, from there we can explore the rest of the challenges


To clarify things, I replied to them with some information, and the following crude sketch of my pressure suit; we'll see what happens next. Immediate plans, though, are to suspend this project as I need to get cracking on preparations for Alaska this winter!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Scale and Intensity

A thrilling Sunday afternoon at the park, bringing up my wing and turning to sprint down the little slope with the wing wanting to lift off...Good training for launches in a place where a blown launch is survivable! And with good winds I even managed about five, 2-4 second 'flights', which is pretty remarkable in a park in NW Portland! Every time you bring up the wing it's a real adventure, I have no idea what will happen from moment to moment, I have to continually adjust to the wind. Good to see my muscle memory is still there, I make my corrections automatically and without fuss, the wing stays up over my head, just pulling straight up, wanting to fly!

Even a 2-second 'flight', a glide at an altitude of two feet, is thrilling and rewarding. Being two thousand feet up, as you see above, doesn't really add to the intensity; to tell the truth, altitude is your friend because it gives you time to react to problems, whereas flying low (as you see below, where I'm just touching down) means you don't have that time.

So, scale and intensity here are not cleanly linked; a two-second, ten-foot high flight burns as bright as a twenty-minute, two-thousand high flight.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gliding Flight and a Note from Praxis


A hawk does not know when a gust is going to bring it up, or slide it swiftly at a tree; the hawk cannot see the air. What the hawk can do, and does moment-to-moment, is adjust to the circumstances. Fighting the air is foolish, but good reactions are sufficient. A rising gust and the hawk simply wheels over and drops, smoothing its way back into glide. The hawk's flight is equal parts proaction and reaction.

And, below, part of a nice note back from Praxis Books, leaders in space exploration books. Though I find it hard to think about space colonization--the frustration with a world in perpetual war and wretchedness for billions is almost overwhelming--but the fact is this: if humanity stays on Earth, it will be incinerated with the rest of the solar system when the sun eventually collapses. Now that is simply a fact of plain physics, the sun is going to collapse on itself and then expand in a superhot helium blast, swallowing up the whole solar system. Ergo, a species that doesn't figure out how (or, more importantly, ante up) to move to other worlds, burns up. That's it, end of story. It's spae colonization or incineration, and I mean of everything; the pyramids, every flower, every jellyfish, every sculpture, the Globe Theatre, the the Library of Congress, Antarctica, all of it, gone. As H.G. Wells put it, "It's the universe, or nothing." So, my long-simmering ideas about why humanity must press itself to colonize space, a topic that so many people find 'far out', which only increases my frustration, well I've finally pitched these ideas as a book, to Praxis, and in the first pass, they've liked it, so they've sent the following note. I put it here for a chuckle, because it's so completely British, in every way;

Dear Cameron

This sounds an interesting project. To evaluate it we will need you to complete an Author's Questionnaire (AMQ). Please send the completed AMQ to us as an attachment, as well as a 500 word synopsis, made up of an historical backdrop setting the scene for the book, followed by promotion/information text detailing the content and attributes of the book and its importance, together with a draft Table of Contents, with subchapter headings where appropriate. Any specimen material would also be helpful.

Following internal evaluation, if the project is deemed appropriate, drawing on the referees you nominate in Point 10 of the completed AMQ, we'll send the complete proposal out electronically for peer review. Please be sure to include their e-mail addresses as well as their full postal addresses, including zip codes together with their professional title/affiliations.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,
Praxis Publishing Ltd
The White House, Church Lane
West Sussex PO20 3UR

Reading that, I am right back at Durham, in the shadow of Durham Cathedral!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lightning Sprites and a Beautiful Landing

No surprise that things go on, up in the sky--every moment of every day--that we don't understand.

Below, a very beautiful landing in very difficult conditions; equal parts skill and luck, I think!

Bravo, Buddah!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sting Ray, Ecuador

A sting ray lifts from the sea floor off Salango, Ecuador. Every time one came up, startled by me and shooting away into the murk, my heart leapt at the sudden billow of sand.

Regarding their longevity, the Animal Diversity Web report:

Some researchers estimate that the largest sharks and rays may not reach maturity until 20 to 30 years of age, and that they may live to maximum ages of 70 to 100 years or more...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"So, I am safe emerged from these broils!"

After 'work' -- teaching human evolution at two universities -- I retire home, a bubble of quiet solitude, where I can spend hours alone and finally thereby see things in focus. One of the things I do is work on my High Altitude Balloon Project, photographed below, where I'm examining a breathing-gas regulator at my workbench.

Another I do, and will do increasingly between now and December, where I'll once again take on the very real pains of not being with my family during the Christmas Season, is work on my gear for the upcoming expedition. From here on out, no more photos of the Pressure Suit project -- from here on out, I need to be doing training flights, test flights, and preparing all my gear for the Arctic Winter conditions.

One source of inspiration comes from John Keats' play, "Otho the Great". In Act 1, scene 1, the player Conrad says:

"So, I am safe emerged from these broils!"

I love this line; Conrad is safe, and proud to be safe, and proud and astonished to be safe and alive. How many times have I thought the same thing, in essence!

"So, I am safe emerged from these broils!"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

One Step

One moment on land;

One moment in the air;

...the next moment an explosion of bubbles, pieces of one world being dragged into another, dragged down with the sinking body, obscuring vision until things settle, the silver spheres surge up and away, back to where they belong in another world, and--as one gawps in disbelief for a few moments--the forms of a new world begin to slide, first into position, then into focus.

Respect to all who step into something new.

In the photo, an early 'hard-hat' diver steps off a pier (I've been unable to find the source of this image).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


What a beautiful instrument. Based solely on atmospheric pressure--which is lower, the higher one moves through the atmosphere and approaches space--this instrument indicates one's altitude. Inside the cylindrical instrument (the cylinder, extending a few inches behind the indicator, is not visible in this photo) is a very sensitive capsule of air in a thin-walled tank; as the tank expands (as pressure is lowered with increasing altitude) or contracts (as pressure increases with decreasing altitude), its motions are translated into the turning of a series of toothed gears that in turn rotate the hands on the dial, indicating altitude. The instrument requires no power, a big point in the design of my flying machine.

Like all instruments, this machine points, generally, at reality; but things other than sheer altitude can effect atmospheric pressure, leading to an erroneous altitude reading...these are things I need to know about, and which I am learning about as I research the variables of the exploration of the stratosphere.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ecuador Update

Home now, and processing my photos (although I'm shooting digital now, I 'm also still shooting some film, and it takes time to develop...imagine that!) and trying to find the time to write it all down...that's the hardest to do, because to write, for me, takes time. I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to sit or pace or stand in the shower, or do whatever I need to slip my mind backwards, time-travel really, back to the moments so I can feel the sand in my shoes, so I can hear the faintest gust and taste the seaweed-water in my mouth again. The slightest interruption makes this impossible. So, finding that time...that's the hard part.

Below, for the moment--as images and words of Ecuador are reforming the experience, bringing it here to Portland whereas it all actually happened thousands of miles away--a sketch for yet another helmet, this time for my Arctic flights this winter.