The Kopp-Etchells Effect

137 Comments

A CH-47 helicopter whirls in with a “sling load” of resupplies from Camp Bastion to FOB Jackson in Sangin.

The pilot comes in fast, to the dark landing zone, lighted only by “Cyalumes,” which Americans call “Chemlights.” The sensitive camera and finely engineered glass make the dark landing zone appear far lighter.  The apparent brightness of the small Cyalumes provides reference.

A show begins as the helicopter descends under its halo.

The charged helicopter descends into its own dust storm.

Gently releasing the sling load.

The pilot hovers away from the load, pivots and begins to land.

The dust storm ripples and flaps over the medical tents.

Heat causes the engines to glow orange.

Dust begins to clear even before landing.  The helicopter, under its own halo, casts a moon shadow.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dinah Lord · 11 years ago
    Well, I'm crying now, Michael. Such a beautiful and moving tribute to such brave, magnificent soldiers. Thank you for bringing their stories to us.

    Your photos are a strong testament to them.

    Stay safe and may God bless you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gerald L Smith · 11 years ago
    "....For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
    But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
    An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!..." Rudyard Kipling

    I salute all those that serve. GLS, Col USAR Ret.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    K J Black · 11 years ago
    As a veteran of the the Vietnam war my heart and soul goes out to the all servicemen and women, support staff who are serving, have served or will serve in Afganistan.
    I pray that dear God don't let the generals and politicians stuff up another war through lack of resolve and lack of support for these brave people.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter Moseley · 11 years ago
    The technical name for the effect is the triboelectric effect. It is indeed caused by friction. See wikipedia for full explanations.
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    Kenneth H. Gillis · 11 years ago
    This effect seems to me to be certainly a Triboluminesence effect. The term derives from the same root as the word "tribulation", meaning to trouble, abuse or disturb. In this case sand grains suspended in the air are "troubled" by being struck by the whirling rotors, causing the emission of a cloud of photons, which appear as "sparks" on the photos. The photos which show continuous "streaks" probably represent a condition where the "sparkles" exceed the resolution limits of the photosystem. This is not the same nor related to the throwing of sparks from-say-a grinding wheel which is a chemical effect. The effect has been known for a long time--I have seen examples in the 1950's, using the same terminology, although the context was, of course, different.

    The photos are extremely good, and could serve as textbook examples.

    Someone mentioned Titanium-nickel as a participant in the transaction--"In my day" the rotors were more likely Sitka spruce.l

    Congrats to the photog--and best of luck to those who must fly the aircraft in what must be rather nasty conditions.,

    K. Gillis
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    bill · 11 years ago
    I believe this phenomenon is called "St. Elmos's Fire."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SAM · 11 years ago
    I've run a literature search on the research publications and there's no work done on the subject, which is remarkable in and of itself - there is some work on fixed wing aircraft and static discharge, but nothing else.

    I'd be curious to know what the engine mechanics have to clean out of the hot sections in the turbines, as this stuff often melts to glass there.

    The phenomena isn't St. Elmo's fire - that will accumulate at discharge points etc. (pitot tubes and the like) as well as rotor blades. This phenomenon has been noted among helo pilots for some time and speculation has it as some kind of piezoelectric discharge (caused by impact with the quartz sand) that mimics the von Guericke effect by creating static discharge from the quartz structure that's carried into the airframe. The sparkling effect is primarily from the static discharge wicks at the rotor tips. In other operational areas, this has been noted in operations over high-quartz sand and concrete which gives anecdotal support to the piezoelectric theory.

    http://www.iop.org/EJ/abstract/0022- 719/12/17/012

    Triboluminescence is likely a byproduct of piezoelectricity, and the differences don't matter here since the article was really about the loss of fine young men set against the fireworks of sand and motion.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carlie · 11 years ago
    Landing lights - MORON
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ian C · 11 years ago
    In your list at the bottom of the article it states Guardsman Christopher King (Died 22nd Sept) held the rank of Guardian this should be Guardsman.

    Please could you correct this.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    rotors · 11 years ago
    Thursday 11th February 2010
    “Helicopter Rotor Blade Scintillation”
    12: 0 – 16: 0 Centre for Defence Enterprise, Start Electron, Harwell


    http://www.ndi.org.uk/events/centre-for-defence-enterprise-seminar-helicopter-rotor/
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David Campbell · 11 years ago
    ""Basically it is a result of static electricity created by friction as materials of dissimilar material strike against each other. In this case titanium/nickel blades moving through the air and dust. It occurs on the ground as well, but you don't usually see it as much unless the aircraft is landing or taking off.

    *** The most common time is when fuel is being pumped.***

    When large tankers are being fueled they must be grounded to prevent static electricity from discharging and creating explosions.""

    Static electricity is not a function of friction, (friction is mechanical) it is a result of proximity of electrical charges in insulators. Static electricity is built up even when there is no friction between bodies, it is an electrostatic effect (Coloumbs experiments). The fact that the effect is seen consistently when the chopper is grounded to the Earth proves the energy for the luminious discharge is from the ground, not the blades. The blades are stirring up relative motion of sand against the ground, separated by several feet of chopper, that motion can generate massive charges. The lower part of the chopper is a giant electrical conductor to bridge the gap between the sand layer and the ground.

    A crude electrical analogy is a capacitor, electrical energy stored in an insulator between two conductive plates, except a capacitor stores free electrons in/from conductors, and static is a pheonomenon in electrical insulators.

    Light is photon emission when an atom's electron changes state from high to low. The eletrical energy is apparently from the ground, up (or down) through the choppers metal parts, through the blades (Ti is a conductor) and discharging against the sand cloud. The chopper conducts excess charge to the blade tip/edge where it arcs over to the swirling sand, with a light discharge.

    Piezoelectric effect would not take into account the fact that the effect is much more pronounced when the craft is grounded. It is purely within the (crystallaine structure) when mechanically distorted.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joe Smith · 11 years ago
    Yes,I find it interesting that I find it Real,,explainable,repeatable,and still so eerie,supernatural almost
    Joe in Texas
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ron angel · 10 years ago
    Maybe the effect could be called "St Georges fire" In memory of all the British & other personal who have lost their lives for England & the free world.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul G · 10 years ago
    Wonderful article Michael. Really moving.

    On a much lighter note, when I served in the 2/505PIR, we used to sling load HMMWV's with Chinooks. It was a ritual of sorts to have the new guy (myself included) hook the sling to the helicopter while a more veteran soldier was supposed to ground it first.... supposed to. Looking back, I can't believe we'd send that kind of voltage through a kid as a joke - although it still makes me chuckle to see a guy get thrown from the top of a HMMWV because his "buddy" didn't ground the hook.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rudolph Smith · 10 years ago
    Don't underestimate the resolve of the American patriot/citizen-soldier and don't 'fear' that the best have given their lives in vain and that there is none to take their place.. you would be mistaken, sir.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    B_Kohanloo, PhD · 10 years ago
    Triboluminescence here, nice pics, hence the erosion, a type of cavitation damage. Polyamide coatings should be cavitation resistant, they're made from castor oil which is cavitation resistant, hence no more sand issues, sand (quartz) or microquartz, it's a piezoelectric. http://www.rockhoundingar.com/quartz/experiments.html
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mancsphil · 10 years ago
    to name this effect after two fine young men is admirable & honourable, God bless you all. We will be safe due to you doing what you do.

    Philip Graham Etchells
  • This commment is unpublished.
    shotgunner · 9 years ago
    The name is fitting. Great piece Michael. I think the reason you don't see it on some nights is the air is more humid on those evenings. Static electricity works better in a dry environment.

    The reason it is not seen on the ground is the craft is "grounded" better than when in the sky.

    Keep up the good work!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jetdrvr · 9 years ago
    Michael, you are performing a great and compassionate service to the men and women of all nations in theater who are fighting and dying, mostly unheralded. Thanks for ensuring that they are not forgotten. You have earned a laudable position in the halls of combat journalism.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don · 9 years ago
    Titanium is used as a firestarter because it creates hot sparks when struck against dissimilar metals, as can be found in dust. I can imagine, without testing, that the high velocity friction creates a residual electro magnetic field effect.
    The only viable solution is to coat the titanium.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bobby Wingate · 7 years ago
    Michael Outstanding Tribute to both these Warriors and all who have served before them and after them.
    You truly are the word man. Thank You for sharing. GBU ALL THE WAY SIR AND THEN SOME
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Larry · 7 years ago
    Just saw the clip on Fox and Friends. Was hoping to see you but hearing you was just as good. Mothers like Jill are an inspiration to all of us. Kopp and Etchells did what they wanted and will always be heroes. Thanks Michael for your never ending work for bringing so many issues to the forefront.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Reacher · 7 years ago
    So many so young....keep our resolve so they did not die in vain. Help make your country a better place holding to the principles that they fought to preserve and the freedoms that are ever more close to a chopping block.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    sridhar.C · 7 years ago
    :roll: :roll:
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    Nanoalchemist · 7 years ago
    Should be pretty easy to distinguish between triboluminescence, thermal emission/ sparks, or static if you could get a picture breaking the light down into its component wavelengths.

    Rainbow lens/ starburst filter might be sufficient.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    billy · 5 years ago
    Thanks for serving
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