Bede BD-5 jet; the little aircraft that could


If you are Bond fan, you may remember the opening of 1983’s hit movie Octopussy. In a fantastic aerial sequence, 007 skillfully flies a small jet aircraft out of danger, managing to destroy an enemy hangar in the process. The aircraft used for this scene was a Bede BD-5, a little aeronautical marvel that still today holds the Guinness record for the world’s lightest single-engine jet aircraft.

Yesterday, a veteran pilot and engineer named Howard Cox sadly lost his life when his plane came down in a field near Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. Cox was flying his own BD-5 plane at the time of his death. Himself and his classic machine were due to take part in the Foynes Air Show the following day.

The history of BD-5 model is quite notorious. It was created back in the late 60s by American aircraft designer Jim Bede, and it was marketed in kit form by the Bede Corporation early in the following decade. Its rather attractive sleek, fighter plane-like looks and relative low price made it an attractive proposition for aeronautical enthusiasts the world over. More than 5,000 kits were sold, but few were actually completed because Bede Corporation went bust in the mid-70s.

A few hundred kits did get built, however. The kit’s manual claimed that the aircraft could be built by a single person without any particular knowledge of aircraft design or knowledge, in a few hundred hours. Made mostly out of fiberglass, once built, the aircraft could be ferried around in a small trailer.

After flight testing of the prototype aircraft, production of the final model began in 1973. Over 4,300 pre-orders had been taken at this point, with a mere $200 deposit (in 70s money) required to guarantee delivery. However, there was a problem. No suitable engine could be found in time for production, so Bede took the step of offering to ship the kit without it, with the engine to follow. This option proved popular, and thus many would-be aircraft owners purchased BD-5 kits, expecting their engines to be received as soon as September 1973.

Then, in early 1974, after shipping out only 500 engines, Bede Corporation suddenly went out of business. Many of its clients were left with useless kits of an aircraft without an engine.

While bankruptcy proceedings got underway, many disappointed buyers either discarded or sold their incomplete kits. However, a few did not give up, and managed to finish their aircraft with engines designed by third parties and former Bede dealers.

But those who managed to secure an engine soon faced another problem; the construction time for the BD-5 turned out to be substantially longer than boasted by the sales leaftlet. A minimum of 3,000 – 3,500 hours were required to finish the model properly. And besides, despite claims by the company that anyone could build the aircraft in a garage, without any particular skills, the general consensus was that doing so was a recipe for disaster. It would be some time before the first consumer-build BD-5s flew.

Throughout the years, and after a few fatalities, modifications to the aircraft’s design were introduced by enthusiasts, making the BD-5 a nimble, if somewhat demanding, machine.

Several still fly, today, and Mr. Cox’s was one of them. He had spent some time building and modifying his model to make it safer.

While the causes of the crash remain unknown at this point, the BD-5’s enduring legacy as a “mass” consumer jet aircraft will surely earn it a rightful place in aviation history.

Confidence on Greek’s commitment to reforms wavers


Europe stands on the brink of a doomsday scenario. If one of its members, Greece in this case, is forced into a disorderly exit from the European currency, the consequences are wholly unpredictable and potentially disastrous for the entire euro project.

Greece is teetering on bankruptcy, that fact is clear to everyone. The country needs money, and fast. Banks have been shut for two weeks, and ATMs have been dispensing minimal amounts every day. With the population growing increasingly resentful of the predatory attitudes of their European “colleagues”, social unrest is all of a sudden not such an unthinkable idea.

The latest bailout offer calls for harsh financial reforms of the Greek system, including pension reforms, tax hikes, and privatisation of large chunks of assets, to be managed by an independent pan-European trust. In other words, Europe are asking the Greeks to hand over the keys to their national piggy bank, and quietly bow down while doing so.

A meeting by the 19 eurozone finance ministers broke off last night without agreement. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, and European Council President Donald Tusk are due to meet the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for private talks.

Mr. Tsipras will be asked to push legislation through over the next 48 hours to prove that he is committed to the reforms requested by European moneylenders, but this will directly conflict with his party’s anti-austerity policies that won them the election.

And further afield, the United States have expressed concerns over the potential geopolitical consequences of Greece exiting the eurozone and become isolated within a region that is already fragile in political terms.

18th century slavery in 21st century Ireland: Live-in au pairs paid €2 an hour


The issue of punishing childcare costs in Ireland has taken a sinister turn with the revelation that families are resorting to a form of slavery in order to reduce mounting creche expenditure.

The Migrants Right Centre of Ireland (MRCI) is claiming that young, immigrant women are being exploited by hard-pressed middle-class families by employing them as child minders for as little as €2 an hour.

This alleged exploitation is particularly bad in South Dublin, the organization claims.

Only it is not just child minding duties that the workers are expected to fulfill.

Besides looking after the family’s children, in many cases the person is also expected to do all the housework, including cleaning, ironing, running chores, school runs, cooking for the family, etc., all for wholly inadequate remuneration.

The MRCI says that girls from Brazil, eastern Europe, France, Spain and Italy are working up to 60 hours per week for as little as €2 an hour.

Numerous complaints have been lodged with the organization, regarding remuneration, mistreatment, and other issues.

A spokesperson for MRCI said that the problem is getting worse, and that there seems to be a feeling of ‘culturally acceptable’ for some Irish families to exploit people in this way.

While the spokesperson did concede that some an pairs are treated in a fair manner, there is an awareness that many are not, and that in many cases reported to MRCI, it is akin to slave labour.

It is estimated that about 10,000 au pairs are currently working in private homes across Ireland, though the exact number is impossible to quantify, as the industry is not regulated in any way.

Ardmore Studios: Cinematic dreams on the way to Limerick



Lights, camera, action. The old mantra from the world of celluloid illusions might soon be heard loud and clear here in Limerick city. Film addicts and cinema buffs alike may see their dreams of a film studio sited in their locality realized if Innovate Limerick, a company set up by Limerick City and County Council, gets its way.

For you see, Ardmore Studios, currently headquartered in Bray, Wicklow is running out of space, and it is looking to expand right here in our own very doorstep. The company’s eyeing up a gigantic 33,445sq metres (that’s about 340,000 square feet) building unit at Plassey Technological Park to fulfill its need for further studio space. That particular building was formerly occupied by Dell, and further back in yonder years, Wang Computers. The site was purchased by Limerick businessman PJ Noonan 12 years ago, and was leased to Limerick City of Culture last year as a dedicated events venue.

Ardmore Studios opened way back in 1958, and has evolved in sync with the times ever since. The studio has played host to a large number of productions over the years, both foreign and domestic. From episodes of Fair City to Braveheart and the stylish Excalibur, Ardmore is no stranger to fame and notoriety in the international circles.

Limerick is a city of many facets, but one that is sorely lacking is the presence of a large TV and cinema studio, one facility that can breathe life into the dreams of many, one focal point that can act as catalyst to spark the collective imagination of cinema fans the city over. It’s not for lack of local talent, mind you. The likes of Richard Harris, Liam Redmond, and Daragh O’Malley were all locally born and bred. And there is a wide array of amateur actors and filmmakers out there, scoping out projects, showcasing their stuff, hoping to make it big.

Furthermore, the city of Limerick enjoys great connectivity to the wider world; Shannon airport is only a stone throw away, and with comprehensive rail and bus links to the rest of the country, business trips in and out of Ireland would be a breeze.

The former Dell building is almost purpose-built for the job. While building a studio facility from scratch would take years, the mammoth size and roof height of the erstwhile manufacturing plant could be readily transformed into a dream factory in a matter of months, if not shorter.

The financial boost to the city in terms of jobs and the general economy cannot be underestimated. The studio itself would create about 750 new jobs, with many other ancillary jobs coming onstream in its wake; catering companies, supplies, entertainment, you name it. Limerick would get a new lease of life.

Besides, rumour has it that representatives from a major US film company have recently visited Ireland, looking for a studio to shoot a production early in 2016, and Limerick would be very much in their sights if the Ardmore expansion comes to pass.

We all hope for a rebirth of a city that has been being in somewhat of a decline over the last few years. Ever since the financial crash hit Irish shores, Limerick, as many other towns and cities across the country, has suffered badly in terms of unemployment and financial hardship. The arrival of a large and seasoned studio like Ardmore might herald the onset of a new epoch for the city on the Shannon.

And as the old movie goes, one might say that this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Last Stand: Battle for Kobani


Kobani, or Ayn-al-Arab in Arabic, is a small town right on the Syrian-Turkish border. The vast majority of its population is of Kurdish ethnicity, with some Turks, Arabs, and Armenian peoples also living there.

Up to three weeks ago, the town was unknown to the world. Today, what once was a mere stopover on the Konya-Baghdad railway, the town finds itself playing silent witness to a titanic tug-of-war between opposing warring factions.

Islamic State (IS) forces have been besieging Kobani for nearly three weeks. Kurdish fighters are fighting a bitter urban warfare in a desperate attempt to stop them. Coalition warplanes striking from the air are pounding IS targets on a daily basis, though close-quarter fighting around the town’s streets greatly diminish the effectiveness of air support.

Yet, the relentless and determined advance of IS seems unstoppable. Last week, IS’s black flag ominously flew from atop a bombed-out Kobani building. Today, the message has filtered out that the fall of the city is ‘inevitable.’ Unless Turkey opens its nearby border and allows weaponry and troops to pour into the place (something that Ankara has so far flatly refused to do), the old railway town seems doomed.

But what makes Kobani such valuable objective for IS? Why are they so doggedly determined to overrun the city? And why are Kurdish troops so desperate to prevent this?

Kobani straddles the Syrian-Turkish border. If the city falls to IS, its forces will be able to operate a safe staging area from which to strike into Turkey. The passage to the city’s north side (towards the border) is the only way that remains open to the Kurds. IS forces control the other three. If that last means of exit is closed, Kurdish troops will become encircled and trapped inside their own town. Defeat to IS will mean almost certain death, so they must fight to the bitter end to keep Kobani from falling.

The stage is set to make a stand. The next few hours and days will determine the outcome of the battle, and that of IS’s next move.

Deadly storm: The crash of Air France Flight 447


Air France Flight 447, a scheduled long-haul flight departs Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, bound for Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France. Just after three hours later, the last verbal communication with the aircraft takes place.

After that, radio silence. When the flight failed to respond to calls from air traffic controllers and from another Air France flight, the alert was raised. It was soon discovered that the plane had gone down in the Atlantic; all 228 souls onboard perished.

It would be nearly two years later that the aircraft’s flight data recorders were recovered from the bottom of the ocean, and an accurate picture of the events that led to the crash was pieced together.

The aircraft involved in the accident, an Airbus 330, is usually crewed and flown by two pilots. However, because the Rio de Janeiro-Paris route (a 13-plus hours long flight) exceeds the maximum 10-hour allowed duty time, a third officer was added to the crew. Thus, one crew member can always take a rest without compromising the two-man rule.

A damning new report published in Vanity Fair today however, reveals the fact that two pilots were asleep shortly before the crash. It was in fact the less experienced officer, 32-year-old Pierre Cedric-Bonin, who had been left to fly the aircraft on his own. This was in direct contravention of Air France regulations.

Failure of the aircraft’s pitot tubes due to icycle formation, and incorrect reactive measures taken by the flight crew would be officially listed as causes of the crash. The aircraft entered into a high altitude stall from which it never recovered. It descended rapidly from nearly 40,000 feet (above its operation ceiling) and slammed into the Atlantic Ocean belly-first with its engines revving up at 100% power. The aircraft disintegrated on impact, killing everyone on board.

As a result of the crash, Air France modified its training scenarios to deal with high altitude stall events.