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6 More Lost and Found Airplanes

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I once thought that it should be very hard to lose something as big as an airplane. When planes fly into deep water, high altitudes, ice, snow, jungle, or desert, it happens more often you'd think. Finding those planes many years later is a rare occurrence, but it happens. After the previous article 9 Lost and Found Airplanes, readers suggested other cases to look up, which led me to even more stories of planes recovered many years after they were lost.

1. Juliet Delta 321

The Lockheed LC-130 was a version of the C-130 Hercules cargo plane that was designed for Arctic conditions. It had skis in addition to wheels for landing gear. The Hercules named Juliet Delta 321 was put into service in Antarctica in 1960. On December 4th, 1971, the plane's solid rocket fuel bottles dislodged during takeoff and damaged two propellers and one engine. Pilot Ed Gabriel crash landed the plane, and the crew and passengers all survived with no injuries. The ten people lived in survival huts for three days before the weather was safe enough for rescue. The plane was left to be buried in the snow. In 1982, pictures were taken showing just the tail of the Hercules sticking out of the snow. A recovery effort brought the plane up in 1986, fifteen years after the crash. Parts of the plane were sold for more than enough money to pay for the recovery effort. Juliet Delta 321 was refurbished and put back into service in 1993, and was retired to Arizona in 1998.

2. Lake Mead's Bomber

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On July 21, 1948, an Army Air Forces B-29A Superfortress bomber crashed into Lake Mead while on a scientific mission to study solar radiation. The pilot was told to fly as low as possible. Flying down to 300 feet above the lake, the inexperienced pilot with a malfunctioning altimeter dipped too low and bounced the plane across the water's surface. All four engines were damaged. The crew of five escaped in lifeboats, and the plane sunk to the bottom. It was not seen again for 53 years. Divers from In-Depth Consulting found the plane in 2001 using a side-scan sonar device. They announced the find in August of 2002. The plane remains at the bottom of the lake.

3. Kookaburra

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Daredevil pilot Charles Kingsford-Smith flew his plane named the Southern Cross on an attempt to set a speed record for flying from Australia to England in 1929. "Smithy" and his crew of two set off on March 30. Bad weather and bad navigation caused them to miss their planned stop at Wyndham and they set down near the Glenlg River. But this story is not about the Southern Cross. A search was launched to find Smithy and his crew. One of those looking for them was Keith Anderson, piloting the plane called the Kookaburra. It left Alice Springs had to land in the Tanami Desert due to malfunctions. The plane never took off again. The crew of the Southern Cross was found by another search plane. Meanwhile, back at the Kookaburra, Anderson and co-pilot Bobby Hitchcock died of dehydration before they were found  two weeks later. The plane was abandoned in the desert for 49 years until it was recovered by Dick Smith. The Kookaburra's remains were taken to Alice Springs where they have been on display at the Central Australian Aviation Museum in Alice Springs since 1982.  Image by Flickr user amandabhslater.

4. Operation Auca

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In 1955, five Christian missionaries from the United States approached the Huaorani tribe living in the rain forest of Ecuador. The Huaorani were a violent tribe, sometimes called Auca (the enemies) by other tribes. The missionaries first dropped gifts from their plane, then contacted the tribe on the Curaray River. On January 8, 1956, all five missionaries were killed by Huaorani warriors with spears. Nate Saint was the pilot of the group. He owned a Piper aircraft the he used to ferry supplies to missions before he joined the four other missionaries. After he died, his plane sat in the sand of Palm Beach and became half buried for 38 years. The murders spurred others into volunteering as missionaries, and many the Huaorani were converted over the next few years, including some of those involved in the killings. In 1994, Bill Clapp of the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) identified the remains of a plane found in the sand as Nate Saint's. More airplane parts were then discovered in the surrounding area. The frame of the plane was reconstructed and is now on display at the MAF headquarters in Idaho.

5. The Maid of Harlech

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On on September 27, 1942 Second Lieutenant Robert F. Elliott was piloting his US P-38 Lightning fighter plane on a training mission in Britain when low fuel forced him to land on a beach in Wales. The water landing damaged the plane's wing, but Elliot was unhurt. However, he was later shot down in combat and died only weeks after the ditching incident. According to official records, the fighter plane was salvaged, but that turned out to be not quite so. Beaches were closed to the public during wartime and sand gradually buried the plane. In July of 2007, a family spotted the plane, 65 years after it was left on the beach. The plane is now called the Maid of Harlech, and TIGHAR is raising money to fund the plane's recovery.

6. Star Dust

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British South American Airways flight CS 59 took off from Buenos Aires, Argentina en route to Santiago, Chile on August 2nd, 1947 with three crew members and six passengers. The plane was called the Star Dust. The crew kept in contact with the ground via Morse code as the plane flew over the Andes mountains. The last three messages were the letters STENDEC, (which no one on the ground understood) and the plane was not heard from again. The armies of both Chile and Argentina scoured the mountains, but found no trace of the Star Dust. Over the next 50 years, many theories about the cryptic letters STENDEC and tall tales about the illustrious passengers of the Star Dust grew. In 1998, two mountain climbers found a Rolls-Royce airplane engine and some fabric in a glacier 15,000 up Mount Tupungato. In 2000, an expedition confirmed the crash site as that of the Star Dust.

See also: 9 Lost and Found Airplanes and 7 Horrifying Aircraft Landings.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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