"It Seemed Good on Paper"

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Chief Master Sergeant
Nov 9, 2015
I've often read about all kinds of interesting things regarding ideas that seemed good on paper but worked really bad in practice. I can't mention any of the political ones on this forum, as there's rules against this (and maybe it's not a bad idea).

However, there are some ideas that aren't exactly political, but ideas that looked good on paper but really worked out disastrously. I'm sure many of you have quite a number that you can add to this thread, which can be aviation or non-aviation themed.

Up Concrete Creak Without a Paddle

This was a mining giant that accidentally created gaping cracks in a conservation area in Australia while mining for coal. I've been told that when you make a mistake, it's important to clean-up after it. To their credit, they did.

Their proposal included pouring grout into the cracks to seal them up. As a liquid it flows into the cracks and hardens -- it couldn't be simpler, and definitely makes a degree of sense. Unfortunately, there was one detail they failed to look into: How deep the cracks go, and how sturdy the ground is. If they checked this out at all, they didn't do a very good job.

The execution was straight-foward: They got out several cement trucks and unloaded almost 400 million pounds of cement into the cracks. Unfortunately it didn't work so good because the cracks were through and through. They had cement flowing out the other end of the cracks, and that flowed right into a creek.

Since cement is wet and hardens when dry, you'd think that it wouldn't dry all that easy in the middle of a lake -- I wouldn't have though so -- but it wouldn't be the first time that you or me would be wrong. Whatever the creek was called before, it apparently was known as the concrete-creek (not to be confused with the concrete lake -- which is Lake Karachay) in 2013.

Last I heard they were proposing to jack-hammer the concrete away. Part of me thinks, as before, that if you make a mess, you should clean up after yourself; the other part thinks -- with all the screw-ups they did so far -- maybe they should call it quits and just go home.
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In the days when coal mining became a big industry in Northern England the Neville family made a fortune. Mr Neville senior decided to build the family a massive stately home with the proceeds. Construction went well and it was a really impressive building, in the days before underground mines were mapped and geological surveys would reveal a void below a house. Yup you guessed it, Mr Neville's house collapsed with subsidence caused by his own mines.
Without a lot of details, four come to mind immediately:
The lead water pipes of Rome

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge—built to collapse

The Hubble telescope—the $2 billion scientific marvel that couldn't see

The Spruce Goose—Howard Hughes's airborne atrocity: big, expensive, slow, unstable, and made of wood
During WWII VMF-112 loaned two of its Corsairs to help VMF-115 as it was forming up a few miles away. When it came time to return the borrowed aircraft, VMF-115 wanted to make sure everything was returned in perfect condition. Noting that the tail wheel pistons were under-inflated on both aircraft, maintenance crews used compressed breathing oxygen to increase the pressure. (No compressed air was handy at the time.)

As the Corsair returned to base, the aft oleo compressed forming a perfect diesel piston of oxygen and grease. The resulting explosion blew out fuselage panels, but there were no injuries and the aircraft was eventually rebuilt. Still, it seemed like a good idea at the time...



F4U-1A BuNo 17820 - VMF-112 - 5 Feb 1944 - 738.jpg
F4U-1A BuNo 17820 - VMF-112 - 5 Feb 1944 - 739.jpg
...The lead water pipes of Rome
The "plumbum" used by the Romans for their city water systems and for the aqueducts was of a pure enough quality that calcium carbonate (sinter) built up quickly, lining the interior of the pipes, insulating the water from the lead. Also, the water flowed quick enough in most cases, that any "leaching" leading to exposure was nil.

The high-end wines however, which were processed in lead-lined vats, is another thing entirely. The acids from the grapes leached the lead, creating a sweet taste which the Roman aristocrats craved...
Dave as ever you and I agree about 95% of the time. The short list I posted was without discussion. Recently a team of archaeologists and scientists examined how lead pipes contaminated ancient Roman "tap water." By measuring lead isotopes in the sediment of the Tiber River and Trajanic Harbor, they estimated that the piped water probably contained 100 times as much lead as local spring water. Was this amount in and of it self deadly harmful? Probably not but then lead is a cumulative poison and is not excreted from the body so after a lifetime of water consumption the levels within the body could become significant.
As you posted there were other much more significant sources of lead poisoning.
Vitruvius, who wrote during the time of Augustus wrote the following:
Water conducted through earthen pipes is more wholesome than that through lead; indeed that conveyed in lead must be injurious, because from it white lead [PbCO3, lead carbonate] is obtained, and this is said to be injurious to the human system. Hence, if what is generated from it is pernicious, there can be no doubt that itself cannot be a wholesome body. This may be verified by observing the workers in lead, who are of a pallid colour; for in casting lead, the fumes from it fixing on the different members, and daily burning them, destroy the vigour of the blood; water should therefore on no account be conducted in leaden pipes if we are desirous that it should be wholesome.

Now as to those other sources of lead:
Unfermented grape juice (mustum) was boiled to concentrate its natural sugars. The must was then further reduced to one half (defrutum) or even one third its volume (sapa). The boiling was preferentially carried out in lead vessels. Now copper and bronze vessels were also available for the boiling but, they are suspect as well. Not only, says Pliny, was the best bronze alloyed with ten percent lead and tin but "When copper vessels are coated with stagnum [a lead alloy], the contents have a more agreeable taste and the formation of destructive verdigris (copper acetate a bitter salt) is prevented". The "agreeable taste" is due to the fact that the boiling process produced lead acetate or sugar of lead as it was called. It is as sweet as sugar (which was unknown to the Romans) and was actually used by the Romans as a sweetener. Here it actually added very little to the sweetness of the defrutum, which derived from the concentrated glucose and fructose of the grapes themselves. What it did import was an onerous burden of lead.

Now going back to the lead pipes it is important to note that the Romans seldom drank their wine "straight". Unmixed wine (merum) was considered the drink of provincials, barbarians, and drunkards. So the wine that was drunk was invariably mixed, in varying proportions, with water which had been conducted through the lead pipes of the city.

The Emperor Claudius, was described as dull-witted and absent minded. He had disturbed speech, weak limbs, an ungainly gait, tremor, fits of excessive and inappropriate laughter and unseemly anger, and he often slobbered.

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