I have been resolving an extreme case of Tsundoku [see ‘Tsundoki‘ on May 24th, 2017] over the last few weeks by reading ‘A short walk in the Hindu Kush‘ by Eric Newby which I bought nearly forty years ago but never read, despite taking it on holiday a couple of years ago. Although it was first published in 1958, it is still in print and on its 50th edition; so, it has become something of classic piece of travel writing. It is funny, understated and very English, or least early to mid 20th century English.
It felt quite nostalgic for me because about thirty years ago I took a short walk in Gilgit Baltistan. Gilgit Baltistan is in northern Pakistan on the border with China and to the west of Nuristan in Afghanistan where Eric Newby and Hugh Carless took their not-so short walk. I went for a scramble up a small peak to get a better view of the mountains in the Hindu Kush after a drive of several days up the Karakorum Highway. We were driven from Islamabad to about a mile short of the border with China on the Khunjerab pass at 4730 m [compared to Mont Blanc at 4810 m].
I was there because the Pakistani Government supplied a small group of lecturers with a mini-bus and driver to take us up the Karakorum Highway [and back!] in exchange for a course of CPD [Continuing Professional Development] lectures on structural integrity. This we delivered in Islamabad to an audience of academics and industrialists during the week before the trip up the Karakoram Highway. So, Eric Newby’s description of whole villages turning out to greet them and of seeing apricots drying in the sun on the flat roofs of the houses brought back memories for me.
The Southwest airplane accident last week has been initially attributed to a fatigue crack in a fan blade in the engine. One of the reasons that this an extremely rare event is the enormous research effort that has been expended on the design, testing and maintenance of the engines and the airframe. It’s an ongoing research effort to address the trilemma of aircraft that are safe, sustainable and low cost to build and operate. In collaboration with Strain Solutions Limited, we are in the last year of a three-year project called INSTRUCTIVE which is funded by the Clean Sky 2 programme of the European Commission [see ‘Instructive report and Brexit‘ on March 29th, 2017]. The focus of the research is the development of techniques for use in the aerospace industry to detect the initiation of cracks in the airframe before the crack is visible to the naked eye [see ‘Instructive update‘ on October 4th, 2017]. Laboratory-based techniques exist with this capability and the objective is to transfer the technology to the industrial scale and environment – initially in structural tests performed as part of the design and certification process and perhaps later as part of inspections of aircraft in service. So far, we have moved from the small components reported in the update posted in October, to a chunk of aircraft fuselage in our lab and we are preparing to participate in a test being conducted by Airbus later this year.
We are also planning a knowledge exchange workshop on ‘Real-time damage tracking in engineering structures’ on November 21st, 2018 at the University of Liverpool’s London campus. The one-day workshop is being organised in collaboration with the British Society for Strain Measurement. More details to follow – it will be free!