Drone Package Delivery Successful in Zurich

In the world of online shopping and same-day delivery, companies are trying to tackle tough logistic questions. How do you get products from the warehouse to the customer’s door in the most efficient manner? One futuristic way to deliver packages is through the use of drones. We’ve already heard of tests by the likes of Amazon and even drone pizza delivery from Domino’s. But so far, nobody’s really nailed it.

While in the states, companies are wrestling with regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration and other obstacles, in Europe they’re trying to tackle the same problem. Last month, in a global first, online orders were delivered in the city of Zurich using drones sent out from vans. This sort of mobile drone delivery program was spearheaded by Matternet and siroop.ch in partnership with Mercedes-Benz.

Carried out over a period of three weeks, vans acted as mobile command centers for the drones. Packages were loaded onto the drones from the trucks, then the drones finished the last leg of the journey to the customer’s door. A total of around 100 flights were made without incident. Two drones were paired with two Mercedes-Benz Vito vans which were equipped with integrated landing platforms installed on the roofs of the vans.

The project was really a proof-of-concept to test the processes and procedures needed to run a system like this. The team set out to learn what some of the hiccups could be before deciding to scale the program larger.

The on-demand drone delivery project

Speaking on the pilot program Stefan Maurer, Head of Future Transportation and Mercedes-Benz Vans said, "We are extremely satisfied with the results of the pilot project in Switzerland. The aim was to test the technology and the concept in real-world conditions and find out where optimization was required. We also wanted to know how people would react to this new form of transportation."

Now imagine if the vans were fully autonomous. We’d have a robot army of vans sending out drones with packages. Let’s hope we don’t upset the drones and they start dropping rocks on our heads.

The Hyundai and Genesis Brands’ Split Is a Little Messy

The genesis of Hyundai’s luxury brand Genesis has been a little rocky. The marque that became its own luxury brand in 2015 makes some seriously competitive luxury cars at attractive prices, but the process of being spun off from Hyundai doesn’t seem to be going very well. The cars themselves aren’t the issue, and the people who drive them love them, but there’s been some drama behind the scenes.

The most recent example of this unclean break happened at a dealer council conference in Dallas earlier this month according to Automotive News. Apparently, attendees representing dealerships that sell both Hyundai and Genesis brands under one roof got so frustrated with high-ranking executives that they walked out of a meeting over how the Genesis retail network is going to work.

Here’s where the frustration comes from. Back when Genesis was first being spun off into its own brand a couple years ago, Hyundai dealers were told they could keep selling Genesis luxury cars at their existing Hyundai dealerships as long as they have a special spot dedicated to Genesis. Now, Hyundai is changing the plan to distance Genesis further from Hyundai sooner than planned. Hyundai understandably doesn’t like the idea of high-end G80 and G90 sedans sharing a showroom with economical Hyundai models like the Accent or the Elantra. Not that those more affordable compacts are bad cars, it’s just not very good for Genesis’ image as a luxury brand.

So the new plan is to boost exclusivity of the Genesis brand by limiting their availability to a dealer network as small as 100 locations in key markets with purpose-built showrooms just for selling Genesis luxury cars. This frustrates the dealers who've made a big investment in their dealerships to keep selling the Genesis brand, which casts a wider net to more demographics of car shoppers than Hyundai would on its own.

"The company's intent has always been that Genesis vehicles will be sold exclusively through a distinct Genesis dealer body that is profitable for dealers and will deliver the luxury experience Genesis buyers expect," Hyundai said, according to Automotive News. "Both the company and the dealers are in complete agreement that this is critical for the success of the Genesis brand and the dealer body."

Apparently, walkouts at dealer conferences are a sign of “complete agreement.”

Waymo’s Self-Driving Cars Have Racked Up 4 Million Miles on Public Roads

Waymo just hit a major mileage milestone. As of this month, its cars have covered over 4 million miles on public roads since 2009, when Waymo launched as the Google self-driving car project. It would take the average American driver about 300 years to rack up that much mileage, a company blog post claims.

Developing self-driving cars takes more than a few trips to the grocery store. The more mileage cars rack up, the more time engineers have to expose them to challenging situations and to continue refining software. The longer self-driving cars go without crashing, the more the public is likely to trust them.

Waymo's self-driving car fleet is accumulating mileage more quickly than ever. The company says it took six months to accumulate its last million miles, compared to 18 months to reach the first million.

That's at least partly due to the steady growth of testing grounds. As the Google self-driving car project, Waymo started out testing cars on the roads around Google's Mountain View, California, headquarters. It now conducts testing throughout the Golden State, as well as certain locations in Washington state, Arizona, and Texas. It will bring cars to Michigan this winter for cold-weather testing.

Waymo's test fleet originally consisted of Toyota Prius and Lexus RX 450h hybrids, which were eventually supplemented by small electric cars designed in-house. Waymo now relies entirely on Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. Chrysler delivered 100 last year, and the two companies announced an order for 500 more in April. Some of the minivans are being used in a pilot ride-hailing service in Arizona.

In addition to on-road driving, Waymo claims to have subjected its self-driving cars to 2.5 billion miles in simulators in the last year alone. The company also has a 91-acre private testing facility, where it claims to have run 20,000 unique driving scenarios. Testing away from public roads is important because it allows engineers to expose self-driving cars to a wider variety of situations.

Waymo has certainly come a long way over the past eight years, but it has a long way to go. The company only recently began testing self-driving cars without human beings behind the wheel, and it's still a long way from convincing the public and regulators that the technology can be trusted. That will likely involve an even larger fleet of autonomous cars operating crash free for a very long time.

Drone Pilot Arrested for Dropping Leaflets Over Football Stadiums

A drone pilot illegally flew his unmanned aerial vehicle over two football stadiums in California and was subsequently arrested on Sunday. According to Fox News, this resulted in federal, state and local law enforcement investigations. Unfortunately, this is nothing new.

We’ve reported on drone pilots trespassing on restricted property before, even interfering with search and rescue operations and the efforts of firefighters. What is new, however, is the motivation behind this particular incident. Reportedly, the pilot used his UAV to disperse pro-free speech leaflets that warned about how unreliable television media has become.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, this illegal drone-related stunt began at Levi’s Stadium during the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks game. The drone released leaflets onto an unsuspecting crowd. The drone then made its way to Oakland’s Coliseum stadium to do the same during the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos game. Even worse, the stadiums are within five miles of an airport.

Ariana Rivera, a San Francisco 49ers fan, told ABC7News that “If they are dropping leaflets, they can drop anything really, if you think about it, and it’s kind of scary to think that someone can just fly something over during the game and nobody can really stop it.” Rivera makes a good point and has very valid reason for concern.

In the past few months, corrections officers at several prisons around the country have had to contend with unwelcome aerial visitors flying in and out of correctional facilities. Discussions seem to have begun, regarding the best possible way of combating these incidents. Some argue that officials should be armed with anti-drone guns, while others prefer strong geo-fencing that would ground any unauthorized UAVs from entering a particular airspace.

According to Fox News, a majority of the leaflets blew away in the wind, never making it into the hands of football fans in attendance. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, Dan Moreno, a Santa Clara Police Lieutenant, said the drone operator was spurred on by “something about free speech and his belief that television stations are corrupt.”

It’s important to protect people from the increasing potential of drones being used as weapons. As Rivera pointed out, anyone who can afford a UAV could simply attach anything to it, and drop it onto a crowd. Perhaps geofencing around stadiums would be a good start. Whatever the solutions may turn out to be, they should include educating people on the hazards and legalities of engaging in an activity like this. In other words, don’t ruin the game for anyone disinterested in your cause, especially because you’ll be arrested shortly after.

Fuels and Lubricants: Perfecting Winning Formulations in Motorsports

Oftentimes, as motorsports enthusiasts, we don’t spend a lot of time dissecting the technical aspect of racing, but we should, especially when it benefits us in our day-to-day lives. Whether you are a fan of Formula 1, NASCAR, or IndyCar, you may find it surprising to know that the same fuels that these highly engineered machines run on around the track are what you, a regular consumer, pump at your local gas station—well, sort of.

V-Power and Shell Motorsports

Did you know that the fuel supplied to Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 team contains at least 99 percent of the same types of compounds as those found in the Shell V-Power unleaded road fuels available to ordinary customers like you and I around the world? In fact, Shell V-Power fuel sold on Shell retail sites is 99 percent the same as that used by Ferrari at Formula 1 races. Containing 200 different compounds, Shell V-Power race fuel is analyzed and provides key data to help develop Shell V-Power fuel used in road cars.

As an Innovation Partner of Scuderia Ferrari, Shell has a team of 50 technical staff that work in laboratories, facilities and track sides around the world contributing to their Formula 1 program. One of the longest and most successful relationships in motorsports dating back to 1929, their partnership plays a critical role in showcasing their products and provides the ultimate test bed to support innovation and product development. Shell provides the race team with full analytical support at every race with two Shell scientists conducting tests on-site out of a compact lab throughout the year.

Shell Motorsports Formula 1 Trackside Lab

One of the cool things about covering motorsports is that I often have an opportunity to do things the average fan will never do. From riding shotgun on an autocross course with Ben “The Stig” Collins from Top Gear to doing a hot lap with Formula 1 Champion Sebastian Vettel at the Ferrari Finali Mondiali, and actually building a NASCAR engine at Hendrick Motorsports with the help of Valvoline, I’ve done some pretty amazing stuff! Some would even say impressive. Recently, I had an opportunity to add on to my long list of cool adventures in motorsports when I was invited by Shell for a unique opportunity to not only tour the Shell Technology Center in Houston, Texas, but also attend the USA Formula 1 Grand Prix where I was able to personally interact with Shell scientists in their Trackside Laboratory. Never one to waste a great opportunity, I did a brief Q&A with Guy Lovett, Shell Motorsport's Innovation Manager and here is what he had to say:

Guy Lovett Talks Oil and Protecting an F1 Engine:

[This interview was edited for clarity]

Guy Lovett: In Formula 1, it’s quite the purist as you suspect within the garage. Everything has to be important. If things in the garage don't make the car go faster, they're not in the garage. And the fact that we're given such a large amount of space is testament to the work that we do here in Formula 1 in support of Ferrari and the value that Ferrari place on our trackside support.

We take used oil samples from the gearbox and from the engine and every time the car… with the engines fired in the garage, we use this instrument to measure for wear metals. The gearbox of the engine…it's a very, very harsh environment and inevitably this is a metal-metal contact. Some of those metal...some of the parts from the surfaces will come away and accumulate within the oil and that's completely normal. What we're tracking for is any abnormal or elevated levels of wear metals within the oil because that could be an early warning sign of a potential problem in the engine. That itself is important to track because each driver gets only four engines for the whole season so we need to not only protect these engines but also maximize the performance over their total lifetime.

Both Ferrari and the customer team that Ferrari is supplying engines and gearboxes too will be running samples all the way through the weekend so we can expect like a hundred sample. And, the oil that will be used in Formula 1 is not so dissimilar to low-going oil. Obviously, it's different because we can tune the oil to maximize the performance and efficiency for one specific engine, or for four Ferrari Formula 1 engines. The technologies...the building blocks that we have available to us, in terms of base oil like PurePlus Technologies, the added packages, and modifiers, you know, all the other stuff that we use to make the oil, we use exactly the same things as we would for Pennzoil Platinum® for the road; it's just constructed differently, so same stuff...just made a bit differently, and we've been...as I said, we can just completely optimize for Formula 1 to maximize the performance and efficiency.

Over on this side of the lab, Drew is responsible this weekend for fuel analysis. Now, fuel in Formula 1 is a little bit different, slightly different conditions than the oil because the fuel is quite tightly regulated in terms of the formulations and specifications and that's very important because it means that the fuel we use in here in Formula 1 is very close, very similar to the fuel you can buy in the gas stations just outside the circuit. The race fuel contains 99 percent of the same types of compounds you could find in road fuel. They all are similar. You could take our fuel and run in your old car and during this time, it will run quite well. You can also take the fuel from the gas station here and it will run in a car like ours, this would be optimized. It would be down on performance and down on power. Because we have quite a large team of scientists and engineers, both fuel and lubricant scientists, constantly running programs to develop the fuel formulations to bring more performance to the track, typically, we bring anything from three to five new oil or new fuel formulations throughout the whole year, so we're always trying to step forward in performance and efficiency.

Shell Motorsports Formula 1 Trackside Lab

The analysis that Drew is doing is to check for quality and legality, to the FIA, the governing body behind Formula 1, are...quite insistent. Not only do they give us very strict regulations to work towards, they'll have to test against those regulations on a frequent basis. You can liken it to drugs tests in athletics. So at any point through a race, we can let them come and take samples of the fuel from here in the lab, from the car, from the drums that are in the compound, from the fueling rigs, anywhere they like. And as soon as they take a sample, they will take it back to their own small laboratory and using the same instruments that we have here, or similar instruments, they would take a digital fingerprint of the fuel. It's a unique identifier of that fuel formulation and if it doesn't match the digital fingerprint that we have pre-approved ahead of the race. If those traces don't perfectly overlay, we've got a problem. The fuel is illegal and also, we could be disqualified from the race. And so, to protect against that, to ensure that doesn't happen, we're here...and check, and double-check every time the fuel is moved to make sure it is on spec and is legal.

As you can imagine...gather through the engine samples that we're processing on a race weekend, we gather massive amount of data intelligence from how our products perform at the track and we share all of that through live data systems with our technical facilities around the globe, really with our part of operations for motorsports in Hamburg. When that stops, that's then taken into the development program for next-generation analysis. We also share everything that we do here with our colleagues developing next-generation V-Power for the road for consumers to try and extract as much knowledge, information and technology from here at the track and apply that to our regular products—very important elements in what we do.

Q: Do you make any adjustments...do you test during the race as well? If the data shows that something is wrong, can you make adjustments accordingly, or no?

Guy Lovett: We don't do...we can't do...we have access to the telemetry...live telemetry, you know what's happening on the car...track...but what we don't do is see anything that's happening with the fuel or the oil on the track. It's just tested before and after the sessions. From the product side, we certainly will not change anything here at the track. We don't want to. We've done all the hard work through tens of thousands of hours every stage of development before the products get here so what we do take on the fuel side is quality control, and on the oil side, it's about the health of the engine. But we do bring, sometimes, different formulations of fuel and oil to the race track and then make a decision as to which of those formulations are the right ones for the condition, or for the engine specification that Ferrari is using.

Q: What if the data shows that it's not going to work...that there's going to be some issues, can you make adjustments to the engines based on that?

Guy Lovett: Yes. Usually, if we saw our problem from our wear-metal data, if we saw elevated levels of zinc, copper, for example, that can suggest issues with the battery. We'll share that information with Ferrari, they would put it together with the telemetry level and the information from that sensor, and by making all that jigsaw fit we will have a good indication of what's going on with the engine. We can't take it apart; once it's in service, it's sealed. At that point, if the perception is, "Okay, there is a problem. We've got to do something"...if it happens before the race, the right thing to do if you're concerned is to change the engine. The most critical time for us, actually, is right now because it is through practice, through qualifying...it's usually every two hours…it takes two hours to change an engine. If the teams enter qualifying with a particular engine, they have to use that for the race as well so it's the last chance now to change an engine or any of the hardware before it becomes really critical because if you do have to change an engine afterwards, it's a penalty.

Shell Motorsports Formula 1 Trackside Lab

Q: Have you ever had approval issues, or is it always pretty smooth?

Guy Lovett: We've seen, once or twice this season, that the information that we provided to Ferrari has helped them make an informed decision to change some hardware...can't say all this, the details, but I think the fact that we are here, we are in the lab every race weekend, it's a testament to the value that Ferrari places on the work that we do with them.

Q: You said you can use the same gas in your regular car. What kind of octane gas are you running?

Guy Lovett: That is something I can't tell you. In the regulation, there is a minimum octane limit to how we measure octane in Europe, but there is no maximum limit. There are other aspects behind the regulations, which do really limit how high we can go, and also, the important thing is we're limited to 105 kilograms of fuel for each driver for the race so that they only have so much fuel to burn for the whole race.

For the formulation, what we're trying to do is, maximize the performance or tuning of the engine from octane. But, if we did just that, we wouldn't be able to put very much energy into the fuel because if the proponents are high in octane but low in energy, or vice-versa. So, for overall performance of the car, we need to balance all the different aspects of formulation--from energy, flame speed, octane, etc.--and that blend is the ultimate fuel formulation for us.

History in Motorsports

Ferrari and Shell have amassed 12 Formula 1 Driver’s Championships and 10 Constructors’ Championships. Shell V-Power Unleaded fuel and Pennzoil Platinum engine oils are a large part of the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 team development. Shell is the single fuel partner of the Le Mans 24H, the title sponsor of the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team and the Shell Malaysia MotoGP, and a technical partner to Ducati Corse and BMW Motorsports. Shell and Pennzoil also sponsor Team Penske in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the Verizon IndyCar Series where they are the preferred supplier of fuels, lubricants, and related products. The Critical data unlocked during motorsports testing also aids Shell in formulating and designing customer-grade lubricants and fuels.

The 2019 Aston Martin Vantage is Almost Sold Out Already

Just days after the car was unveiled, the all-new 2019 Aston Martin Vantage with a starting price of $149,995, is almost sold out. The styling of the new luxury sports car was a bit controversial in automotive press circles, but the people have spoken and apparently the folks who are actually in the market for this car really like the new look.

“Most of our production for next year is already sold out,” Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer told Bloomberg without specifying production numbers. According to Bloomberg, 80 percent of Vantages for the 2019 model year have already been sold.

The slick new Vantage has a front-mid-mounted, AMG-sourced 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine which makes 503 horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are almost identical to the more expensive Aston Martin DB11 V8. At launch, the new Vantage is only available with an eight-speed ZF automatic transaxle running model-specific software and a torque-vectoring electronic rear differential. Expect a seven-speed manual transmission to be available within a year from now.

This is just more good news for Aston Martin, where things are already going pretty well. Sales are up 65 percent in the first nine months of 2017 and the British automaker is on track to turn an annual profit for the first time since 2010 largely thanks to demand for the DB11 flagship.

Until recently, the Aston Martin lineup was starting to look a little stale compared to its rivals. Aston is doing a fantastic job turning that around with fresh, competitive new models and it's being rewarded for that effort. With momentum like this, the folks at other high-end sports car brands like Porsche and Ferrari should be worried about a British invasion.

Massachusetts Police Stop Mazda With Massive Christmas Tree On Its Roof

Ah, the holidays. A time of peace, togetherness, understanding—and above all, making really bad decisions like strapping a Rockefeller Center-sized Christmas tree to the roof of the family car and heading out on the road.

Police in Sudbury, Massachusetts stopped this Mazda5 after somehow spotting it underneath the needles and branches of what looks like a fully mature douglas fir on Friday, the day when a lot of families first head out to get their tree for the season. The angle of the photo makes it hard to judge just how big it really is, but given how it dwarfs the 15-foot-long minivan, it appears no one told the driver that Christmas trees always look bigger indoors.

The Facebook post states that the department wants to remind everyone to haul your trees "responsibly" this holiday season, and it doesn't say whether the driver was cited. We sympathize with the plight of hauling an oversize load with a small vehicle, but the diminutive Mazda5 really isn't the right choice for some logging truck cosplay.

It's a funny sight, no doubt—insert obligatory Christmas Vacation reference here—but every year, improperly secured trees come flying off the roofs of cars and cause at least a few crashes between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to the AAA. To make it home without your holiday centerpiece turning into dangerous road debris, the association recommends using strong, quality rope, an appropriate vehicle, a light touch on the gas pedal, and lastly, some common sense.

Award Reveals USAF Rivet Joint Spied on Iranian Forces During 2016 Hostage Crisis

As 10 U.S. Navy sailors sat in the custody of Iran’s quasi-military Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Farsi Island on the night of Jan. 12, 2016, they had no idea what to expect. By the next day, though, a U.S. Air Force RC-135V/W Rivet Joint signals intelligence plane was orbiting nearby, listening in on the Iranian’s communications and eventually making sure they followed through with the deal to free the Americans.

The crew of that aircraft, which had the callsign Python 72, won the 2016 General Jerome O’Malley Award for the best reconnaissance crew in the United States Air Force. The independent Air Force Association gives out this honor each year and presented it to the crew during its main yearly convention in September 2017. The exact reason for the distinction remained obscure until the Omaha World-Herald obtained a copy of the official, unclassified nomination letter from U.S. Air Force Colonel George Reynolds, who had commanded the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska at the time.

“This crew demonstrated superior airmanship and tenacity while conducting sustained combat support operations in support of coalition forces,” Reynolds explained in one utterly boilerplate description of the mission, according to the World-Herald. The officer made clear elsewhere in his letter, though, that Python 72’s sortie was anything but ordinary, even by the standards of an aircraft that spends its time quietly spying on enemy troops.

Packed with various systems to spot, track, and record communications transmissions, the 17 Rivet Joints spend their time forward deployed around the world flying various patrols in both active conflict zones, including Iraq and Syria, and near potential opponents, such as North Korea. In 2016, another RC-135V/W crew from the 55th, which went by the callsign Python 71, won the O'Malley Award for a mission against ISIS in the Iraqi city of Fallujah the previous year. The Wing controls all of these aircraft, along with the three RC-135S Cobra Ball and two RC-135U Combat Sent aircraft, both of which are configured to gather other types of electronic intelligence.

The events that led to the flight remain controversial. On Jan. 12, 2016, a pair of Riverine Command Boats (RCB) assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet set out on a routine transit between Kuwait and Bahrain. During the trip, one of the craft broke down and drifted into Iranian territorial waters near Farsi Island, at which point IRGC forces surrounded the Americans and detained them.

A subsequent U.S. Navy investigation uncovered a series of missteps on the part of the two crews both during their planned operation and when the Iranians intercepted them. The review also placed blame on leadership within Fifth Fleet for rushing ahead with the transit in spite of obvious risks from the outset. Lastly, the service faulted Iran for failing to respect international law and detaining the crew, despite their obvious lack of hostile intent.

Critics of the response, including then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, accused President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the rest of the administration of taking a deferential stance toward Iran, not being more forceful in their response to the incident, and allowing the government in Tehran to humiliate the United States on the world stage. Kerry did obtain the release of the sailors after they had spent 15 hours in detention without concessions and the U.S. government denied issuing an official apology for the incident.

However, the Navy’s review noted that after learning Iran had captured the sailors, the Commander of Fifth Fleet, then U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Kevin Donegan, “directed a military response” in coordination with the Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Central Command’s leadership, and the State Department. We now know this eventually included Python 72’s mission.

At the time, the Rivet Joint was forward deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The Air Force had originally planned for the Rivet Joint to fly a mission over Afghanistan, where the crew would likely have been zeroing in on and monitoring communications from the Taliban and other militant and terrorist groups.

An RC-135V/W Rivet Joint at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar in July 2017.

On Jan. 13, 2016, though after getting word of the developing situation on Farsi Island, officials at the base requested permission to send the aircraft into the Persian Gulf instead. U.S. Central Command gave the green light and the RC-135V/W and its crew of 19 headed for the crisis area. On board were signals analysts and linguists who could find Iranian transmissions, listen in, and translate what they heard for any word of the captives.

Though both the Air Force and the Navy routinely conduct surveillance missions against Iran while passing up and down the Persian Gulf in international waters – a boundary route one Air Force report referred to simply as “the black line” – getting close to Farsi Island called for an atypical orbit, Colonel Reynolds explained in his letter, the World-Herald reported. But the information the RC-135V/W was scooping up turned out to be invaluable.

A grainy scan of an image showing

Thanks to a suite of powerful data links, the Rivet Joint was sending new information and updates to the Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and the State Department in near real time. Secretary of State Kerry reportedly used some of the information to improve his negotiating position with the Iranians.

More importantly, after Iran did agree to release the sailors, bad weather forced the IRGC to keep shifting the drop off location. U.S. officials were concerned that the changes were a stalling tactic or, even a worse, a ruse to lead them into a trap. Python 72’s linguists were able to determine that the Iranians were telling the truth about the situation, averting further conflicts.

Even after the sailors were safe and sound, the RC-135V/W continued to orbit in the area, monitoring Iranian activities. Colonel Reynolds said the crew was able to gather an “unprecedented” amount of information on IRGC tactics and standard operating procedures during the operation, which could be invaluable in the future.

An RC-135V/W Rivet Joint takes off from Al Udeid Air Base in October 2016.

As we at The War Zone described in detail before, American sailors routinely find themselves squaring off against Iranian ships, forced to make split second decisions that could cause a major international incident. In this case, thanks in no small part to the crew of Python 72, a potentially more serious confrontation never occurred. It’s quite possible that there are still more important details yet to emerge about this incident, as well.

Thanks to one of our own Freedom of Information Act request, we at The War Zone know that a C-40A Clipper passenger plane from the U.S. Navy's Fleet Logistics Support Squadron Five Eight (VR-58) criss-crossed ten countries between Jan. 22 and 24, 2016 in order to bring the crews of the two RCBs back to the United States.

That mission reportedly took 45 hours and covered 11 time zones in total. Vice Admiral Donegan included these details, but did not name any of the countries involved, and lauded the crew of this aircraft in an official letter dated Feb. 11, 2016, the bulk of which we have reproduced above.

As time goes on, perhaps more details about the U.S. military’s response to this controversial incident will continue to emerge.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

2017 Los Angeles Auto Show Preview: Expect a Giant SUV Traffic Jam

Los Angeles isn’t just the City of Angels, but the City of Sequels. For the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show—officially known to its organizers and no one else as "AutoMobility LA"—that means more SUVs, the ultimate tentpole attraction that ensures industry buzz, sales, and profits. If that makes L.A. yet another auto show that's as predictably generic as a Transformers flick...well, these rampaging, increasingly robotic SUVs will have to do, at least until automakers can turn their electric concepts—such as Mercedes-AMG’s 1,000-hp Project One hypercar, making its North American debut—into showroom reality.

All-new Wrangler cleans up nicely for the red carpet in LA

From three-row, tardy-to-market haulers—the Subaru Ascent or BMW’s concept X7—to an all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler and crossovers like the Volvo XC40, these SUVs are charged with staving off an inevitable, cyclical drop in car sales for a few more years. In the wake of the Great Recession of 2009, American new vehicle sales recovered quickly and have climbed for seven straight years, culminating in a record 17.55 million in 2016. That historic pace won’t be topped in 2017, with Moody’s now projecting a 3.6-percent drop and another 0.6-percent decline in 2018.

We didn't think it looked real, either. But the Project One hypercar is bound for LA

Yet that still leaves Americans buying more than 16.9 million new cars this year, and around as many in 2018. And with automakers having reduced break-even points via efficient production and other cost savings—oh, and don't forget transaction prices of option-stuffed cars reaching all-time highs—the softening market still translates to multi-billion-dollar profits for major automakers.

And since no auto show would be complete without earnest discussions (or pompous gas-bagging) about our transportation future and impending human obsolescence, AutoMobility LA will look to lure traditional tire-kickers with four days of tech conferences, demos, and more than 50 vehicle reveals. As for the general public, the Los Angeles Auto Show welcomes them to the city’s Convention Center from December 1 through December 10. If you’re planning on attending, or doing your part to plump those industry sales, then do check out some of the latest wares in Los Angeles. And check out The Drive's live coverage during the show's media days on Wednesday and Thursday, where several more cars will break cover.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

The early star of the L.A. show might seem a craggy-faced relic on par with Clint Eastwood. But where most hardcore off-road SUVs have seen sales dry up and several nameplates have died off entirely, the Wrangler has never been more popular. Jeep’s tall-riding cowboy found nearly 203,000 American buyers in 2015, and about 192,000 last year. Incredibly, the Wrangler never once topped 90,000 annual sales between 1997 and 2006.

Built in Toledo, Ohio, the redesigned Wrangler JL comes to showrooms in early 2018, lightened with aluminum for better fuel economy. Available features include a cool cantilevered bikini top, Chrysler’s trusty UConnect infotainment, and two likely engines: A 2.0-liter turbo four and the familiar Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6, mated to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. Further down the road, a Wrangler-based pickup called the Scrambler will join standard two- and four-door models. A hybrid and possibly a diesel are in the works, all designed to keep the Wrangler climbing up the sales charts.

2018 Mercedes-Benz CLS

The CLS kicked off a body style that’s become all the rage: the slinky-roofed “four-door coupe” that was promptly mimicked by the Audi A7 and Volkswagen CC, and now utilized by the Kia Stinger and many more. That CLS also signaled Mercedes’s radical, generational shift from sedate, avuncular models to high design, boutique luxury cars, now expressed in everything from the flagship S-Class to the AMG GT sports car. That makes an all-new CLS a very big deal. So far, Mercedes has managed to tease auto fans while keeping the new model under wraps before its LA debut—though some enterprising blogger/hacker from Azerbaijan is sure to spoil that. Still, we’re expecting a mix of the usual and not-so-usual powertrains, from biturbo sixes and eights to a mild hybrid version.

Better late than never, three-row X7 goes on sale early next year

BMW Concept X7 iPerformance, 2018 i8 Roadster, 2018 M3 CS

Tired of standing on the sidelines while the Audi Q7 and Mercedes GLS-Class hog the glory and sales, BMW—finally—has its own three-row luxury SUV coming in the X7. It’s heading to showrooms in fall 2018, built in Spartanburg, S.C. on the lightweight, carbon-fiber-enhanced platform of the 7 Series sedan. First shown in Frankfurt, the Concept X7 iPerformance advances the nostalgic trend toward squarer, more-upright SUVs, seen everywhere from the Audi Q7 to Volkswagen Atlas. The interior is sumptuous, including quilted leather seats, a vast panoramic sunroof and the latest toys. The concept flaunts a plug-in hybrid powertrain, likely similar to the battery-boosted turbo four found in hybrid versions of the X5 SUV and the 3 and 5 Series sedans. But showroom versions will surely offer the option of turbocharged six-cylinder or twin-turbo eight-cylinder engines.

For Bimmer fans with fewer children to carry, BMW is also expected to unveil an electric model—likely the long-aborning Roadster version of the i8 hybrid sports car, with an electrified X3 SUV a long-shot possibility. And if that’s not enough, BMW will show the 453-horsepower M3 CS, the most powerful factory M3 in history. Consider stealing the show car off the floor, because just 1,200 copies will be made.

Aston Martin Vantage replaces the 12-year-old original

2019 Aston Martin Vantage

If you get tired of gawking at SUVs, try drooling over the all-new Vantage, which The Drive's Mike Spinelli did during his sneak peek in Gaydon, U.K. earlier this year Taking its knee-wobbling cues from the larger DB11 and 007-approved DB10 concept, the Vantage amasses 503 horsepower from the Mercedes-AMG-sourced, 4.0-liter biturbo V-8. An eight-speed automatic transmission attends the car’s showroom debut, but a seven-speed manual transmission will follow, to purists’ delight. Particulars include a 3.6-second scamper to 60 mph, a 195-mph top speed, and a $149,995 base price.

Ascent is Subaru's first three-row SUV, and its largest by far

2018 Subaru Ascent

Subaru can do no wrong these days, so unless it fumbles as embarrassingly as Mark Sanchez, the production version of the three-row Ascent—shown in Viziv-7 concept form earlier this year—should win its share of former Outback and Forester families who’ve struggled to master birth control. This seven-passenger SUV is built on the brand’s new, lightened Subaru Global Platform (SGP) platform. Stretching several inches beyond a beefy Ford Explorer, the Ascent will need every ounce of power it can squeeze from its new turbo-boosted boxer four, which displaces 2.4 liters. And where frumpy styling might stop another SUV dead in its four-wheel tracks, Subaru fans never seem to mind.

Shown here in concept form, the pert, handsome Kona may be a sleeper hit of the show

2018 Hyundai Kona

Hyundai looks to continue its remarkable winning streak with the Kona, whose cool, caffeinated styling might give it a leg up against blander crossover SUVs. On sale in the first quarter of 2018, the Kona is built on a new compact SUV platform. It offers four-wheel-drive, LED headlamps, and a pair of engines: A 2.0-liter, 147-hp four or a 1.6-liter turbo four with 175 horses. The stronger engine gets a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, or a conventional six-speed for the 2.0-liter model. A new Display Audio system allows Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to be run on a central screen.

2018 Nissan Kicks

With tiny SUVs proliferating like Tribbles on Star Trek, Nissan gets into the act with the Kicks, a subcompact crossover first shown in concept form in 2014 at the Sao Paulo Auto Show. The Mexican-built Kicks, already on sale in Latin America and other markets, is a bit longer and taller than the current Nissan Juke, built to take on models like the Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, and Toyota CH-R.

The first XC40s began rolling off the assembly line in Ghent, Belgium on November 22

2018 Volvo XC40

Volvo couldn’t find buyers for small wagons to save its Swedish ass, but the all-new XC40—yet another compact luxury SUV—may be a different story. Looking like a cross between a Land Rover Evoque and a Jeep Renegade, this cutie-pie aims for a younger, slightly less affluent audience than the larger XC60 and XC90. Flashing some extroverted color and trim choices for the usually sedate Volvo—Lava Orange carpet, anyone?—the XC40 goes on sale next year, battling models including the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

Slice the roof, and likely the wing, and you've got the ZR1 Convertible

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Convertible

Corvette connoisseurs are always on the hunt for a collectible, and the ZR1—especially with an epoch-changing mid-engine ‘Vette in the works—seems to fit the pricey bill. After dropping the ZR1 coupe in Dubai, Chevy is expected to unveil the hair-rending convertible version in L.A. History’s fastest Corvette cranks 755 Porsche-pissing horsepower from its supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8. Corvette honchos say the latest ZR1 will top 210 mph, and may top a long list of exotics if it can crack the seven-minute barrier at the Nürburgring – aided by its gaudy “high wing” that’s said to clamp down with 950 pounds of downforce.

Midsize QX50 brings the world's first variable compression ratio engine to production

2019 Infiniti QX50

Coming to showrooms next year, the new QX50 crossover SUV flaunts an impressive world’s first in technology: An engine that can vary its compression ratio on the fly, to boost either performance or fuel economy. The VC Turbo engine generates a healthy 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque from just 2.0 liters of displacement, mated to a continuously variable transmission. Infiniti claims the QX50 will sip unleaded at 27 miles per gallon in both city and highway driving, or 26 mpg for AWD versions. This tech hotbed also debuts Nissan and Infiniti’s ProPilot, a suite of semi-autonomous driving aids.

2018 Lexus RX L

Take the wildly popular Lexus RX midsize SUV, stretch it to add a coveted third row, and voila, you have the RX L. Powertrains and designations are equally familiar, via the V-6 RX 350L and hybrid RX 450h L.

And you thought you'd see a total solar eclipse before you saw a new Mitsubishi

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

How popular are SUVs right now? Even Mitsubishi is banking on one to revive the corpse of its U.S. sales and brand. Mitsu’s first all-new model in several years is a small crossover in the vein of the Jeep Compass or the impressive new Subaru Crosstrek. On sale early next year for roughly $22,000 to start, the Eclipse Cross is definitely not bland: A new “Dynamic Shield” grille nods to Lexus’ schnoz treatments. If that’s not polarizing enough, a two-part, bisected rear window is already drawing comparisons to Walter White’s favorite whip, the maligned Pontiac Aztek. The interior, however, is a major upgrade from current Mitsubishis—yes, they still sell Mitsubishis in America—and power comes from a new, direct-injection turbo four with better than 166 horsepower.

Ford Dealership in New Jersey Owes $150K to Chinese Techs

Chinese auto technicians at a Ford dealership in New Jersey are due $150,000 in back wages thanks to a consent decree that came after a discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The dealer, Winner Ford, agreed to settle the lawsuit launched in September 2016, which accused it of paying higher wages to non-Chinese technicians.

Since 2010, the EEOC charged, the dealer paid its Chinese emergency and accessory installation technicians a lower starting wage and hourly wage than non-Chinese technicians at its Cherry Hill, New Jersey, location.

When a Chinese worker complained about the wage disparity, he was reprimanded and told if he sought legal help, he would be out of a job, the EEOC said in a release last week.

In a story published Monday, the Philadelphia Inquirer detailed the case of one impacted worker, Ping Zhang, who was being paid $12 an hour by the Winner Ford dealership after five years on the job.

Zhang, already experienced in electrical work when he started at the dealership in 2011 at $9 an hour, later learned that a non-Chinese employee hired with little experience would be making $13 an hour.