Tulsa: January 2009 Archives

Partly personal, but this news is reason for a bit of local pride, a bit of reflection on the reach of products built right here in northeastern Oklahoma.

Today, Prince William of Wales began an 18-month search-and-rescue training course at the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) at RAF Shawbury, in Shropshire near England's border with Wales. According to the Times, Flight Lieutenant Wales, as he is known in the Royal Air Force, "will train on Squirrels and Griffins before moving on to the workhorse of the SAR, the Sea King."

Squirrel, Griffin, and Sea King are RAF nicknames for military variants of the Eurocopter AS3 50BB, the Bell 412EP, and Sikorsky S-61, respectively.

FlightSafety Simulation Systems, based in Broken Arrow, builds helicopter simulators as well as training devices for fixed-wing aircraft, and over the years they've done a number of simulators for Bell 412 variants, most of which are based at FlightSafety's Fort Worth Learning Center, just across the airfield from Bell Helicopter Textron's Hurst, Texas, factory.

In the late '90s, FlightSafety Simulation also built a Bell 412-based simulator to be used at DHFS to train Griffin pilots. In 1999, I was assigned to rewrite the communications link software that allowed the main simulation computer to send commands to the image generator that produced the out-the-window picture seen by the pilots in training. A brand new Evans and Sutherland Harmony image generator didn't have all the bugs worked out, so they were going to try an older-generation model. The older model used a different communication method than the new one, so I had to change the main simulation computer software so it could talk to the older image generator. (It used raw Ethernet packets over a point-to-point crossover cable.)

So in late May of '99, I traveled to RAF Shawbury, and spent hours in the very loud and very air conditioned computer room of DHFS's new simulator building. Mornings I marked up source code listings at the Albrighton Hall hotel over a full English fry-up or in my room, a much more comfortable place to work. I finished my work in five days and had a spare day to drive through the countryside of north Wales, take a ride on the narrow-gauge Talyllyn Railway, and pay a visit to Portmeirion, setting for the '60s spy series The Prisoner. Earlier in the week, I'd managed a quick evening visit to Hay-on-Wye, the famed town of second-hand bookshops; most other evenings I made it in to historic Shrewsbury for a meal and a walk around. Our visual software expert, Jim Narrin, arrived a couple of days before my departure to modify the software that formatted commands to the image generator to work with the older generation E&S.

Within a couple of years, the Harmony IG was deemed ready for use and the older IG was replaced. The IG communication code I developed was no longer needed (although there's still some general purpose code on the simulator that I wrote).

But I was just one of dozens of Tulsa-area engineers and technicians who had a part in bringing that simulator to life (not to mention all the support staff in human resources, accounting, travel, program management, etc.). This simulator brought millions of dollars to the Tulsa area in payroll for high-tech jobs.

And now this Broken Arrow-built simulator will almost certainly be part of the search-and-rescue training program for the future ruler of the United Kingdom. I'm not a royalty enthusiast, but I was still somewhat excited and proud to come across this bit of news today.

Here's a description of the DHFS course from the website of FB Heliservices, Ltd., the contractor that runs the program, and here's a bit about the simulator itself. More here at the BBC News website.

Looking for some information relating to my next column (dealing with the requirement to add sprinklers to older apartment and condo buildings), I found the text of one of Ronald Reagan's radio commentaries from the summer of 1977 that had to do with Tulsa and part of the local Army Corps of Engineers office moving into more expensive digs because of Federal fire prevention rules. It's found on pp. 178-9 of Reagan's Path to Victory, but with Reagan's edits and abbreviations. I've retyped it to read as he would have read it for broadcast.

Government Cost
July 6, 1977

Every once in awhile another example pops up to illustrate why government costs so much. Since it's your money, I figure you should know about it. I'll be right back.

Over in Tulsa, Okla., the Army Corps of Engineers is moving about a fifth of its operation out of its present quarters and into a new office building at roughly four times the rent NOW being paid. The figures are really interesting. The engineers are leaving almost 21,000 sq. ft. of office space for which they pay $2.89 a sq. ft. to move into only16,000 sq. ft. of office space for which they'll pay (make that, we'll pay) $11.88 a sq. ft.

The operation that is moving represents only about 22% of the Corps' Tulsa headquarters. The other almost four-fifths of their offices are located in the old Federal building which has 75,000 sq. ft. of vacant space and which was remodeled 10 years ago at a cost of $700,000 for use by the engineers.

Apparently none of this is the doing of the engineers. The Business Service Center of the General Services Administration is in charge of this move. According to the chief of GSA the new more costly office building is the only building in Tulsa which meets "Standard 101 of the National Fire Protection Code" called "Code for Life Safety from Fire in Buildings and Structures." He says the government is really getting tough about the fire regulations. Standard 101 is a book with 16 chapters.

The CIty Fire Marshal of Tulsa says he doubts any building in Tulsa can meet all the requirements of Standard 101. The Fire Marshall isn't saying downtown Tulsa is a fire trap -- he's indicating Standard 101 like so many government documents goes beyond the bounds of common sense and reason. To their credit the Corps of Engineers had asked for other locations but were turned down by GSA.

A lot of questions come to mind in this whole thing, beginning with why the one-fifth of the engineers' operations aren't over in the Federal Building with the other four-fifths where there is vacant space amounting to more than four and a half times as much space as they are moving into. If the Federal Building doesn't meet the rigorous requirements for fire safety laid down in Standard 101 why haven't the rest of the engineers been moved out? A spokesman for the Corps can only say it will be up to GSA to say when the building is no longers uitable for use by Federal employees. That answers another question. Standard 101 isn't a code that can be enforced on buildings in general. It's just a code for the protection of Federal government employees. Taxpayers can work and earn in less protected quarters. And just between us I'm sure with every bit as much safety as government employees are provided.

According to the Tulsa Tribune the shortcomings of the building the engineers are leaving consists of the following: one stairway is 4 inches too narrow, and there was some concern expressed about the distance to the rest rooms.

Don't feel guilty if you can't make sense out of what they're doing. Let me read a paragraph from a memo on another subject -- zero budgeting by the Office of Management and Budget. When you can understand this paragraph everything will become clear to you.

"Agencies may use whatever review and ranking techniques appropriate to their needs. However the minimum level for a decision unit is always ranked higher than any increment for the same unit, since it represents the level below which activities can no longer be conducted efficiently. However, the minimum level package for a give decision unit may be ranked so low in comparison to incremental levels of the decision units that the funding level for the agency may exclude that minimum funding level package."


This is Ronald Reagan. Thanks for listening.

(Audible.com offers a downloadable five-hour collection of Reagan's radio commentaries for less than $20.)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa category from January 2009.

Tulsa: December 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa: February 2009 is the next archive.

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