Trivia Testers : Q Branch, and the Q Quandry

Figure 1

Q Branch, and the Q Quandary
What was (is) the significance of QFE and QNH in aviation?

  1. none. These were early telegraphic codes used in the maritime services
  2. absolutely none. These were Ian Fleming’s two fictional branches for spy gadgetry in the original 13 James Bond novels.
  3. altimetry
  4. transponder operation

Answer: C. The international Q-codes for radio telegraphy were instituted in 1912, at the Radiotelegraph Convention, held in London. Back then of course, radio communication was almost exclusively via continuous wave (“CW”), meaning Morse code, and there was a significant advantage in being able to transmit a great deal of information in very little time. The QAA to QNZ series, where the second letter can be from A to N–and there are about 180 of them–are reserved for the aeronautical service. (If you are curious, a useful reference is the ICAO Procedures for Air Navigation Services, Abbreviations and Codes, Document 8400.) Many ITU Q codes are still in frequent use today, especially in the amateur radio community, and even though they may be spoken out loud, they still convey information. For example to “QSY” means to switch to another frequency. But two of the aviation Q codes in particular continue to have significance in the aviation community. These are QNH, which signifies an indicated height above sea level, and QFE, where the altimeter indicates height above the airport. QNH of course is the altimeter setting provided in ATIS information, and by ATC. For example, if you were at the Denver/Stapleton airport, and the altimeter setting was 29.92, using QNH, it would show about 5,430 feet, but using QFE, it would be zero. The QFE type of setting is actually used by many pilots (such as those practicing aerobatics). It actually would make good safety sense during instrument approaches; rather than having to remember some weird-ass number for a decision height, wouldn’t it be easier to simply look out for 200 feet? In Europe, QFE gets wider coverage. (Choice A, by the way, mentions maritime services. They also have their own range of Q codes, ranging from QO to QQ.)

There is one teeny problem associated with the practical translation of altimeter settings. Unlike the United States, where altimeter settings are reported in inches of mercury, the international usage is hectoPascals, or millibars (which mean the same thing, number-wise: 1 mb = 1 hPa). A US pilot landing in Europe who forgets this might get an altimeter setting of “992”, thinking it means 29.92 (which is equal to about 1013.2 hPa), and set his altimeter accordingly. However, they would really have meant 992 hPa, which is equivalent to about 29.29 inches of mercury, and which is 630 feet lower! Hmmm…as Desmond Llewelyn might have said, bit of a sticky wicket, 007…

The Early Bird Gets The…Patent? …Part II
Approximately how many patents for flying machines were filed with the US Patent Office before that of the Wright Brothers?

  1. approximately 400
  2. about 175
  3. roughly 20
  4. exactly none

Answer: B. Four HUNDRED? Good golly, we probably had quite a crop of candidates for the laughing academy, but not quite that many. Believe it or not, starting in 1799, there were just over 200 aviation-related patents filed before the patent (number 821,393) that was granted to Orville and Wilbur Wright on May 22, 1906. To their credit, many were ostensibly sound and sober, though there were a few misguided crackpots out there in left field. About 175 were actually awarded and had patent numbers assigned, and about an equal number were for actual flying machines, as opposed to means of propulsion, components, etc. (Incidentally, we had our first patent law in 1790, before we had thirteen states; the first patent statute was passed by the Congress of the twelve United States about seven weeks before Rhode Island ratified the Constitution.) Among the titles for the various types of flying machines were such things as “aerial steam car”, “balloon locomotives”, “apparatus for navigating the air”, “flying ship”, “flying machine” (Otto Lilienthal, 1895), “soaring machine” (Octave Chanute, 1897), “navigable balloon” (Graf Ferdinand Zeppelin, 1899), “aeroplane” (the first such named, by one Silas Conyne, in 1902), and “aerial vehicle” (Alexander Graham Bell, 1904). There were many patents that were titled “flying machine” (as was that of the Wright Brothers) or “flying-machines”, and which were awarded before that of the Wright Brothers (about a dozen and a half, actually). And there were many other similar titles, now somewhat archaic, which one would expect of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition, there were well over 100 more aviation patents filed after that of the Wright Brothers, even before 1910. (There was also another patent filed by “O. & W. Wright”, in 1909, titled “Mechanism For Flexing the Rudder Of A Flying-Machine Or the Like”.)

Catastrophic Visions Of Biblical Proportions?
Can more than one tornadic event occur in the same general location at once?

  1. Yes, several waterspouts can in fact form in a straight line, very closely spaced.
  2. Yes, but never more than two at once, although it is not possible to have separations under two miles, due to the balance of pressure gradient and centripetal forces, and more importantly, the friction between adjacent funnels.
  3. Yes, but no closer together than about three miles in very severe “supercell” storms.
  4. No, not if you define “same location” as anywhere within five miles.
  5. No. There has never been more than one tornado sighted within visual range of another.

Answer: A. In the case of waterspouts, adjacent multiple waterspouts can form along a cloud line, and violent tornadoes can develop as multiples, with one central large funnel, and smaller ones rotating (and revolving) around it.

Multiple waterspouts off the Bahamas Islands
By Dr. Joseph Golden, NOAA
August 1999, off the Italian coast, on the Adriatic Sea
By Robert Giudici