Monday, April 10, 2017

Encomium

Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey

Roughly ten years ago, as I was writing this post, I told Geoff that I did not know what I was going to do when it was time to do the same for Red.  I suspected it would come along sooner rather than later, but like so many of my suspicions in 2007, I was very wrong.  To put this in perspective for me, in the time between that post and this one, I have met, got engaged to, and married to my wife, and we have a son in kindergarten.  And yet that is less than one-third of Red's career behind the bench at Michigan.

Red Berenson did not invent Michigan hockey, that's Vic Heyliger and Al Renfrew.  But Red did save Michigan hockey, first with the Regina Regiment, then by coming home to Ann Arbor in 1984.  He was hired by Don Canham, and he, slowly but surely, brought Michigan back from the abyss.  He won 848 games in the NCAA, fourth most in college hockey, and starting in 1990-91 when Michigan posted a 34-win season and its made first trip to the NCAAs in 14 years, an event they would not miss for the next 22 seasons, Michigan began a streak of 8 straight 30-win seasons, with 6 Frozen Fours and 2 national titles, Michigan's eighth and ninth all time.  And in all of this, in the down seasons, after the Hunwick fueled miracle run in 2011, after Mel left, and we wondered when would this moment come.  Then came last year, when Michigan hockey was fun again and four NHL-caliber players were lighting the lamp and Michigan won the conference tournament, there was the notion of maybe the old magic had been recaptured, let Red have one more run this year and then hand the reins off after one more season.  But, wishing doesn't make it so, and Michigan Hockey Summer took its toll, as it is wont to do.

It's difficult to tell a legend that it's time to move on, which is why legends very rarely end their tenures on the highest notes.  Coaches, especially, generally want to believe that they guys they recruited can do it for them one more time, that the lows were not a new normal, but a blip, and when you've had so many great years, you think you can find your fastball again.  But it was not meant to be this year.  Michigan staggered and stumbled every which was during the 2016-17 campaign, never looking sharp, never looking crisp on the simple things.

Through all of this, I looked for one signal on the moment: My mother.  My mother adores Red.  My love of hockey is matrilinear, I got it from my mom, who got it from her mother.  My grandmother was obsessed with Gordie Howe, my mom adored Red.  Even five years ago, when I would talk to my mom about the possibility of Red retiring, she would say something like "No, no, he's a young seventy-something."  (I will not dissent, everyone seems to agree on this point.  He is still in great shape.)  But as I was talking with her this morning, about the final game at Joe Louis Arena, and she said to me "I saw Red at the game last night and he looks old.  Red has never looked old."  This is true, Red has never looked old, always classic.  But I think that moment last night, it allowed my mom to finally conceive that the coach that had always been her reason for loving Michigan hockey, and passing that love on to me, could finally be riding off into the sunset, and it would be OK.  When so many things are changing in the world, the desire for constancy is understandable.  But time marches on, torches are passed.

Red has given me, on the whole, more joy as a fan than any other coach.  Not Bo, not Scotty, not Sparky, not Babs, not Harbaugh, not even Coach Carr. I will always appreciate Red for that simple fact.  Michigan hockey has also given me more heartbreak, but that is part of the package.  Being at Yost, watching those teams zip up and down the ice, playing good old fashioned firewagon hockey, and filling the faithful with an innate belief that Michigan was in every game they played.  For most of my formative years as a Michigan hockey fan, that wasn't just an article of faith, it felt like it was sincerely possible.  Red was the architect of that feeling, of those teams, of those moments.    We should all be so lucky to have that as fans.  #thankyoured

Saturday, March 25, 2017

V1

The MD-83 turning onto Runway 23L at Willow Run International Airport (KYIP) would never be able to takeoff, but no one on board knew that. The right elevator was jammed in the down position, and the pilots had no chance of ever being able to raise the nose enough to lift off.

Designing and flying a safe airplane is about delicately balancing huge forces. Gravity's remorseless tug must be balanced by lift; thrust is balanced by drag. If you do this right, you get steady level flight. To turn, you have to slightly perturb this arrangement. The ailerons on the wings bank the airplane (this is called the roll axis). The rudder rotates the plane left or right (yaw). The elevator, meanwhile, rotates the nose up or down (pitch).



The tail (or the empennage, if you want to sound fancy) on most conventional airplanes consists of a vertical stabilizer, sticking up like a shark fin and housing the rudder, while the horizontal stabilizer sprouts from either side of the tail, each containing half the elevator.



With the right elevator jammed in the down position, the most that the pilots would be able to do would be to cancel it out by pulling back on the control yolk until the left elevator was in the full up position. Even by doing that, they could only get back to zero net effect on pitch. They couldn't overcome it and raise the nose to takeoff.

What's more, they wouldn't be able to figure out there was a problem until they were already at a high enough speed to takeoff. On the DC-9/MD-80/MD-90 family, the full elevator isn't controlled by the yolk. Instead, only a small servo tab at the trailing edge of the elevator is actually controlled. Once the tab is deflected into the airstream, the airstream creates lift on the tab. Since it has a lever arm relative to the rest of the elevator, it uses this torque to pull the rest of the elevator in its direction and into the position desired by the pilot. This GIF is for a trim tab, but it works on the same principle.



The upside is that this significantly reduces the force needed for the pilot to move the big elevator without requiring hydraulic assistance. This directly translates into a weight savings. In aviation, weight is everything. A pound of extra weight is a pound of load you can't carry. Worsey, you also have to buy fuel to haul that extra pound of dead weight around with you.

The downside is this exact scenario. If the elevator is jammed but the servo tab is free to move, it's hard to tell that anything's wrong. The pilots would have no idea: I can move the controls back and forward with no problem.

The big question is one that I can't answer: Should the pilots have known that the elevator was jammed prior to beginning their takeoff roll? I don't know. I'm not a pilot, let alone an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) with a type certificate for the MD-80. I don't know if part of their pre-flight inspection is verifying that the elevators are both in a neutral position / can freely move. It's possible that those big, gusty winds jammed the elevator during taxi. The NTSB's prelimary report lays the blame on damage to "right elevator geared tab inboard pushrod linkage". I can imagine a scenario where it was already fatigued and a gust of wind on taxi or while parked on the ground finished it off.

I will, however, contend that the pilots did everything right once they began their takeoff. The captain pulled back on the controls at 152 kts. Nothing happened. The speed rose to 166 kts, when the crew decided to abort takeoff. At this point, they had to know that they were above a speed known as V1. V1 is the maximum speed at which you can abort your takeoff and have enough runway left to safely stop without runnning off the end. They knew they didn't have enough room to stop, but they also correctly decided that they had a better chance of staying alive even if they ran off the end of the runway. They reached this conclusion probably less than 3 seconds after first trying to pull back on the control yoke. Between the decision to abort and braking / activating the thrust reversers, the plain gained another 7 kts of airspeed, but the speed dropped quickly as they approached the end of the runway. Without accidentally rolling the airplane, they also managed to veer left and avoid the metal structures of the runway lighting and instrument landing systems as they came to rest balanced over a ditch. Everyone walked away, which is the best thing you can say about a plane crash.

    Bullets
  • The pilots were some grizzled veterans. The captain for this flight "had accumulated 15,518 hours total and 8,495 hours on DC-9 type aircraft" and his co-pilot was the charter company's chief pilot (9,960 hours total, 2,462 hours on DC-9s). The captain had spent almost an entire year of his life aloft in DC-9s alone. Combined they'd spent almost 3 years in the air.
  • The wind might have damaged the aircraft. But it probably helped them stop in time. Airspeed is the measure of how fast the wind is going over your wings. With the winds reported at KYIP at that time, they had an effective 30-43 kt headwind, meaning they could be going 30-43 kts slower relative to the ground when they tried to take off. So that 173 kt max speed turns into about 140 kts of ground speed, which may have saved them a critical amount of stopping distance before the trees and ravine ahead of the plane.
  • Pulling the yolk all the way back would only cancel out the effect of the jammed elevator on pitch. The elevator would also have smaller but notable effects on roll and yaw that would have to be canceled by movements of the ailerons and rudder.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Moe Weasley, No Problems

Let's go, Moe!  (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
As many of you know, I am not, first and foremost, a basketball fan.  It's not that I don't enjoy it, as much as it's just not my favorite sport.  But my son loves it.  He started playing this year, and his love for the game is true.  He loves dribbling, he loves shooting, and he loves being part of his team.  As his season wrapped up on Saturday, we decided it would be fun to take him to the Michigan/Purdue game, especially when it ended up being a 4:00 PM tip.

My wife asked me if I had cautioned our son that Michigan may not win this one, that Purdue was atop the Big Ten standings and ranked, that Michigan has been well, inconsistent to say the least this season, but I was more hopeful after the last two weeks, even after the hiccup at Rutgers, that Michigan could keep it close.

My son has an amazing knack for remembering things and noticing things to which I am not even paying attention.  (To wit, he not only told me yesterday that Louisville and Syracuse were playing for a second time yesterday, he told me the restaurant we were at when they were playing the first time.)  "Daddy, Michigan has never been behind in this game!"  "Daddy, Michigan has made all of their free throws!"  "Daddy, Duncan is in the game!"  (His current favorite player since he wears 22, his favorite number.  That's how these things work when you're a kid.)

I was focused deeply on Moe Wagner, and how he just seemed to be so at ease in the first half.  He was locked in, and even from the high perch of the upper bowl of Crisler, you could just see he was active, focused, and feeling it.  He didn't even need heat checks because everything was clicking.  Michigan's game prep saw something in Purdue's bigs they could exploit with Wagner, and while that's a great plan, Wagner still had to make it happen and he did.  He had "a game in a half" to borrow a phrase from Sunday morning's episode of "The B1G Show" and even though Purdue's adjustments lead to foul trouble for the big man, he had got Michigan off to the start they needed for this game.

So, in some way, the second half became Derrick Walton time.  It wasn't that Walton had a huge second half, just two field goals and three free throws, as much as he made the biggest shot of the day, an absolutely dreadful looking three-pointer on a dying shot clock with 1:46 left to stop the bleeding (Michigan had led 66-44 at the 8 minute mark and now it was 76-67 thanks to a 21-10 Purdue run over five and a half minute.) and put a bow on the game.  Walton's leadership, rebounding, and confidence helped Michigan prevent a dreadful collapse and likely, hopefully, put Michigan on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble.  There's a reason Walton was Kenpom's MVP, after all.

In the final analysis, it was a great day at the new Crisler, one that showed what Michigan can do when everything is clicking on both ends of the floor.  Michigan has now won five of its last six, a February flip of the usual Beilein script, and has two winnable (but also losable) games on the road against a very desparate Northwestern team (that will be very important for B1G Tournament seeding as well as Northwestern's NCAA tournament hopes) and the final game of the B1G regular season, an 8:00 PM tip against Nebraska on Sunday evening.  If Michigan can take its recent efforts and build upon them, maybe this season will be more than we could have hoped for just six short weeks ago.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

All aboard the Chris Evans hype train.  Human Torch indeed. (Credit: AP / Lynne Sladky)

Having a McCray Day! (Credit: AP / Alan Diaz)
They could have quit.  They could have packed it in, failed to make adjustments (looking at you, 2007 Rose Bowl).  But they didn't.  They didn't look great, they didn't have their all-everything Heisman finalist on defense, they lost Jake Butt in the first half, and they still score 26 points in the second half and lead in the final minute of the game, as they had done in every single game this season.

The disappointment comes in knowing that in all three of Michigan's losses, all away from Michigan Stadium, Michigan led in the final minute but could not find a way to close it out.  At Iowa, it was the inability to make a first down.  At Ohio State, it was a gassed defense not having enough to prevent OSU from driving for a game-tying field goal.  In Miami, it was the confusion of Florida State's Keith Gavin hesitating to take out Kenny Allen's kickoff, only to return it 66 yards, setting up FSU's touchdown.  Even then, Josh Metellus returning the blocked PAT for a defensive two-point conversion gave Michigan a chance.  Not much of a chance, but still a chance.  But it still couldn't close when it needed to do so.  So, it comes to be how you look at the game: A loss being a loss or a loss where at least Michigan showed life when the chips were down.

This season is a disappointment, in the final analysis, but one which I am OK with, solely because you cannot be disappointed without expectations.  Michigan's senior class was 12-13 in its first two years and 20-6 in its final two years.  Harbaugh has been as good as advertised, even if Michigan does not have the hardware yet to show for it.  But I have resolved to enjoy this, good and bad, because tying your emotional state to college students is rarely a good idea.

I love a sport where two of its best coaches are grown men who go by Dabo and Jimbo.  I love a sport where the national media of the professional version cannot understand why one of the most successful coaches in the sport would want to go back to his alma mater, but everyone from that school understands it.  I love a sport which has a hilarious Twitter subculture, if you know where to look for it.  There are dark sides, there are complications, there are difficult questions that the sport faces, in the immediate future and in the longer term, ones I do not know we're prepared to answer.  But I think we can resolve to be better, kinder, less jerkass towards other fans, and especially towards the players and staff themselves, we can go a long way to getting rid of one of the most insidious parts of the game over which we actually have control.

The long desert without college football is here.  The offseason will provide its usual storylines and chaos, and efforts to answer questions that cannot fully be answered until the fall.  We salute the senior class that made us proud.  We look forward to that Saturday in Arlington, and hope it goes better than the last time.  For now, always leading, forever valiant.