Travel

NASA awards Lockheed Skunk Works $247.5M supersonic X-plane

Supersonic commercial air travel may once again become a reality under a partnership between NASA and Lockheed Martin. The American space agency announced on Tuesday that it awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works to design, build and flight test the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD), an X-plane that will be used by NASA to find ways to bring supersonic jet travel back to the skies. The cost-plus-incentive-fee contract is valued at $247.5 million. Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works will build the full-scale experimental X-plane to be about as loud as a closing car door, addressing noise concerns. A preliminary design was crafted as part of NASA’s Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) effort. The aircraft will travel at about 940 miles per hour and cruise at 55,000 feet. Current regulations ban commercial supersonic travel over land, something that contributed to the demise of the Anglo-French supersonic Concorde. That aircraft began commercial service in the 1970s and lasted until the early 2000s. “We look forward to applying the extensive work completed under QueSST to the design, build and flight test of the X-plane, providing NASA with a demonstrator to make supersonic commercial travel possible for passengers around the globe,” Peter Iosifidis, Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator program manager at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, said in a statement on Tuesday. NASA said it will accept the aircraft from Lockheed in late 2021 and will fly it over select U.S. cities starting in mid-2022, collecting community responses to the flights. The data will be provided to U.S. and international regulators to use in considering new sound-based rules for supersonic flight over land. The contract comes a month after the Trump administration – which has been a proponent for NASA – requested full funding for the program in its fiscal year 2019 budget proposal. Lockheed’s Skunk Works has partnered with America’s space agency for years and was awarded a contract in February 2016 for the preliminary design of the X-plane aircraft.

Very cool!!     🙂

Extreme vetting: State Dept. to demand tourists’ social media history

The State Department will publish new rules this week that would require most visitors and immigrants to the U.S. to turn over their recent social media histories, carrying out one of President Trump’s key security enhancements from his extreme vetting executive order. Travelers would also be asked to list previous phone numbers, email addresses and international travel during the previous five years, and to detail any immigration problems they’ve had, whether with the U.S. or elsewhere. They’ll also be asked about potential family connections to terrorism. And in a striking human rights move, would-be immigrants from countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent would be directed to a website ensuring they’re aware the practice — common in some African countries — is illegal in the U.S. The proposals are laid out in two new documents slated to be published Friday, kicking off a comment period before the government finalizes the policies. “This upgrade to visa vetting is long overdue, and it’s appropriate to apply it to everyone seeking entry, because terrorism is a worldwide problem. The aim is to try to weed out people with radical or dangerous views,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies. She also called the effort to discourage female genital mutilation “innovative.” “The message needs to be sent that ‘we don’t do that here,’ ” she said. Security experts have demanded the government collect more information from visitors and immigrants for years, but civil liberties groups have been wary of the move. Homeland Security had floated plans to track social media of immigrant applicants, but the State Department’s new proposal would apply to tourists and others coming on temporary visas. Some 14 million people would be affected by the request for information, the department’s documents say. Don Crocetti, a former senior fraud investigator for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said it makes sense to collect the information — but said officers need to stay within privacy rules, too. He said in the immigration context, looking at social media can help an adjudicator assess whether the story the applicant is telling for applying for a benefit rings true — such as in the case of a marriage petition. But Mr. Crocetti said someone’s refusal to turn over the passwords or other non-public social media information can’t be used on its own to deny approval. “The use of social media is a wrench in their tool box. It’s not that you use that same wrench for everything you do, but it’s a wrench, it’s a different sized tool, and you have use that selectively,” he said. The State Department said it already collects limited information about travel history and family relations. The new information will go beyond that to include prior passport numbers, information about family members, and a longer history of past travel, employment and contact information. “Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” the department said. Ms. Vaughan said she wished the State Department had also requested information on the visitor application asking whether female travelers are intending to enter the U.S. for the purpose of having a child. She said that could cut down on what’s known as “birth tourism,” where women in the late stages of pregnancy visit the U.S. in order to give birth on American soil, which secures citizenship for the child.

Growing questions about CNN’s airport monopoly as network veers left

CNN’s ubiquitous presence in airports — where it broadcasts from thousands of screens to a captive audience of millions — is facing new scrutiny after the cable network’s hard left turn. The CNN Airport network dates back to when CNN was known for straightforward news programming — and has been a fixture at airports since before competitors MSNBC and Fox News even existed. But critics are now asking if busy travelers should be subjected to CNN’s increasingly ideological programming — at gates, bars, food courts and baggage claims — which can include on-screen chyrons or subtitles that gleefully mock President Trump. Many travelers have even taken to Twitter and started online petitions to urge airports to change the channel. Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor told Fox News that CNN has become more partisan than MSNBC since Trump moved into the White House and travelers should have the option of not watching the network. “How are airports justifying the idea of bombarding captive viewers with content many of them oppose? Sadly, almost any outlet is fairer now than CNN,” Gainor said. But CNN isn’t actually forced on travelers because airports are looking to disseminate liberal doctrine. It’s forced on travelers because of money. CNN pays airports to leave the network on, and many travel hubs even have agreements in which CNN pays for their TVs and infrastructure. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that airports also receive “up to six minutes each hour to promote the airport or local attractions” as part of the deal. “CNN Airport covers the costs related to the TVs and related infrastructure, provides programming specifically geared for airports, and pays us for the opportunity to be in our facility,” a representative from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International said, while Miami International’s spokesperson simply pointed us to a document proving that CNN is willing to pay the most. Long-term contracts typically give CNN the ability to curate content seen by travelers whether they like it or not. The eight-year contract that was signed in 2016 promises Miami International Airport “a maximum annual guarantee of $150,000” that may be adjusted annually to ensure the deal is on par with similar airports. “Airports feel like a lesser version of hell with dirty seats, overpriced food and propaganda posing as news on CNN,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said last month. The agreements blur the lines between news and advertising as the network blurs the lines between news and political activism. Carlson said the agreement to air CNN on unsuspecting travelers made sense when CNN had a “centrist reputation,” but now the network “has strayed so far to the left, constantly promoting wacky Russia-related conspiracy theories.” A CNN Airport media kit says a whopping 323 million people view CNN Airport on an annual basis at the 2,400-plus gates throughout the country that carry the channel. “We have received complaints about CNN and the content they air,” a Salt Lake City International Airport spokesperson said…

It IS obnoxious just how much of a monopoly CNN has at airports.  I oftentimes find myself rolling my eyes at the stuff they put out while I’m waiting to board a plane…or waiting at baggage claim.  CNN used to be boring, middle of the road, reporting when it first aired.  But, in the last 10-15 years, it is become more and more liberal/left-leaning in its programming to the point where it is basically competing with MSNBC for being the most liberal cable network…and a large percentage of travelers are simply tired of it.  For more on this article, click on the text above.

 

Congress scrubs Thomas Jefferson from Gateway to the West

With nary a nay, Congress has scrubbed Thomas Jefferson’s name from a park built to celebrate one of his life’s great achievements and the way it changed America. The famous arch on the Mississippi River’s western bank in St. Louis anchors what has long been named the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. On Thursday, however, a unanimous voice vote in the House sent to President Trump a bill to rename it Gateway Arch National Park. The bill passed the Senate without objection in December. Those involved hasten to note that the act isn’t rooted in political correctness. Instead, they say it’s a sound marketing scheme. Since hardly any Americans know the park’s name but practically every American knows the Arch, it is sensible to refer to the place by its most familiar landmark. “This gives this national icon an updated and recognizable name,” Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Democrat Hawaii, said during the House debate Monday. The bill was introduced by the two senators from Missouri: Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt. The House version also had Republican and Democratic sponsors. Robert Vogel, acting deputy director of the National Park Service, signaled the administration’s support in testimony to Congress in July. “The name ‘Jefferson National Expansion Memorial’ does not readily identify where the memorial is located or the fact that the key feature of the park is the Gateway Arch,” he told lawmakers. “Using ‘Gateway Arch’ in the name of the site would make the name immediately recognizable to all citizens and future visitors to St. Louis.” Indeed, increasing the number of those future visitors is more of a reason for the change than Jefferson’s parenting with Sally Hemings. In its heyday, the Arch drew 3.2 million people a year, but that number has fallen to 2.3 million for various reasons. A name change and a private-public renovation to the tune of $380 million, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony set for July 3, are also part of this campaign. “Not at all,” said Ryan McClure, communications director for the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, when asked if modern politics were behind the removal of a past political master. “With this renovation, I think Jefferson’s role is highlighted even more than in the past. Jefferson’s vision is still recognized and honored in the park, and I don’t think this diminishes his role at all,” he said. When the park was envisioned between the world wars, its primary booster, Luther Ely Smith, saw it as “a suitable and permanent public memorial to the men who made possible the western territorial expansion of the United States, particularly President Jefferson.” The Gateway to the West refers to the Louisiana Purchase, the real estate deal engineered by Jefferson’s administration when European strongman Napoleon Bonaparte wanted money for war. With the stroke of a pen and pennies on the acre in 1803, Jefferson added 828,000 square miles to the U.S. But much that came after that is also a part of the park. Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off on their fabled journey from a spot beneath the arch. The park also holds the Old Courthouse where Dred Scott, whose name would sound above the din of America’s bloodiest battles, first sued for his freedom from slavery. Much of this was in President Franklin Roosevelt’s mind when he signed an executive order creating the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and when Congress gave its imprimatur in 1954. In addition to famous names, Congress said in the chestier tones that Americans used to employ when talking about their history, the park would honor “the hardy hunters, trappers, frontiersmen, pioneers and others who contributed to such expansion.” Some believe all this history will be lost in the name change. While relieved to learn that social justice storm troopers weren’t behind the change, Illinois lawyer David Shestokas, who has followed the name switch at his blog, wondered if something wasn’t being lost nonetheless. “Why not call it ‘Jefferson Gateway Arch National Park?’” he asked. “That’s what all this was supposed to be about in the first place because without Jefferson there is no Louisiana Purchase.”

Fair enough..   Regardless.. having grown up in St. Louis, I’m excited to see the renovated park.  If you’ve never seen the Arch, put it on your bucket list.    🙂

Visiting North Korea? Draft a will and make funeral plans, State Department says

Americans can travel to North Korea, if they wish — but it may just be a death wish, the U.S. State Department cautioned. The State Department last week issued a stark warning to people setting out for the Hermit Kingdom, cautioning that anyone heading to the dangerous dictatorship should prepare for the possibility of not returning. “The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in North Korea as it does not have diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea,” the State Department published Wednesday on its website. Those who wish to travel to North Korea must be approved for a special validation, which are handed out on “very limited circumstances.” U.S. travelers given the approval to experience Kim Jong Un’s regime should then prepare for the worst — including drafting a will and making funeral and property arrangements with family and friends. “Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney; discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, etc.,” according to the recommendations. The agency also urged people to have a “contingency plan for emergency situations,” be updated on the State Department’s social media platform and alert systems. President Trump announced in November the U.S. designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, adding the country to a short list including Iran, Sudan and Syria. North Korea had been removed from the list by the Bush administration in 2008. Trump cited Kim’s “murderous” rogue regime and the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year and died days after he returned to the U.S. in a coma, as reasons for the return to the list. “North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism including assassinations on foreign soil,” the president said. “This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons.” The State Department’s recent warning comes just weeks after Kim, while calling for improved relations with South Korea, threatened to strike the U.S. with nuclear warheads, claiming he had a button to fire nuclear weapons on his desk. “The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range,” he said. “…The United States can never start a war against me and our country.”

Most livable: America’s 50 best cities to live in

As the land of opportunity, the United States has attracted people from around the world for centuries. Yet not all parts of the country are equally desirable, and some cities are far more livable than others. On an individual level, subjective measures often override other, more objective, considerations. Sometimes, we live in a place simply because it is where we grew up — it is familiar and where we feel at ease. Still, a range of factors can help compare U.S. cities objectively. Low crime, a healthy economy and affordability are just a few examples of universally desirable attributes in any community. 24/7 Wall St. created an index of over three dozen socioeconomic measures to identify the 50 best American cities to live in. The most livable cities span the country — from the Deep South to New England and from the Mid-Atlantic to the Pacific Northwest. Click here to see the list.

Here at The Daily Buzz, we’re based out of southeast Aurora, Colorado.  So, we’re pretty excited about #2!     🙂

Best and worst airports in US according to new J.D. Power survey

Airports often bring out the worst in people, between the crowds, delays and general stress of traveling — but according to a new survey, customer satisfaction is at an all-time high when flying through U.S. airports, according to J.D. Power’s 2017 North America Airport Satisfaction Study. Traveler satisfaction scored a 749 out of 1,000 points, an 18-point increase from last year’s survey, despite increasingly packed terminals. The improved score comes primarily from higher satisfaction with security checks, check-in/baggage check, and food, beverage, and retail, the survey reports. “Capacity has become a huge challenge for North American airports, with many reporting 100% of available parking spots being filled and large airports, such as Orlando International, setting passenger volume records each month for more than three years straight,” said Michael Taylor, Travel Practice Lead at J.D. Power. But, he says despite these difficulties, airports are responding with both new technology and personal skills to win over travelers. “These range from smartphone apps that tell travelers where to find a parking spot to therapy dogs—and in one case, a therapy pig—mingling with travelers to relieve stress and improve the overall airport experience.” The survey ranked airports across the U.S. based on several key factors: accessibility, check-in and baggage check process, security screening, shopping, terminal facilities and baggage claim. Airports were broken down into three categories based on size. “Mega” airports were defined as those handling more than 32.5 million annual passengers. The “large” category included airports with 10 million to 32.4 million passengers and “medium” airports are those with between 3 million and 9.9 million passengers. So which airports topped the list? Orlando International Airport won the first-place spot for “Mega” airports, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., won the “Large” category and Sacramento International Airport was ranked number one for “Medium” airports. Orlando International Airport received a score of 778 out of 1,000, beating out the runner up, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, which received a 767 score. Earning a much less coveted spot, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey received the lowest ranking among “Mega” airports, earning a score of 686. LaGuardia Airport, in New York City, ranked worst among “Large” airports, with a score of 654, and Bradley International Airport in Hartford County, Conn. for “Medium” airports, earning a 742 score.