Russian Helicopters conclude South Asian Heli Tour in Malaysia

Russian Helicopters holding company (part of Rostec State Corporation) recently concluded their South Asian Heli Tour with the last stop in Malaysia. The company showcased their latest offerings – the Mi-171A2 medium lift multi-purpose helicopter and the Ansat light multi-purpose helicopter. The South Asian Heli Tour began with participation in the Zhuhai airshow in China, followed by demonstrations of the two helicopters in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Malaysia was the final pit-stop in a long tour of South East Asian countries. Russian Helicopters held a demo event showcasing the two above mentioned helicopters at the Sepang Formula One circuit located near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)

The day began with a a session introducing the Russian helicopters company along with an introduction to the Mi-171A2 and the Ansat helicopters.

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A short address by different stakeholders followed, after which the action moved outdoors. It was now time to see the birds in action. As the participants moved to the helipad area, the two helicopters were spooling up for their demo flights.

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The Ansat helicopter (manufactured at the Kazan Helicopter Plant) was the first off the chocks, showing how nimble and agile it was. The Ansat is a light utility helicopter, powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PW207K engines, with a power output of 630hp each.

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The helicopter has an internal cargo capacity of 1272kg, with a MTOW of 3600kg. Its maximum flight range is 520km, with a service ceiling of 4600m (or around 15000ft) In passenger configuration, the Ansat can carry up to 8 pax.

As soon as the Ansat returned, the mighty Mi-171A2 lifted off for its demo flight. The Mi-171A2 is a medium utility helicopter derived from the Mi-8/Mi-17 family. The fuselage shape may seem to be familiar to people, but the helicopter is completely modernised.

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One of its most distinctive features is an X-shaped tail rotor that provides better stability.

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Both the main and tail rotors are made up of composites that reduce the overall weight while increasing reliability and durability. The Mi-171A2 features a full glass cockpit and is powered by two Klimov VK-2500PS-03 engines with a power output of 2000hp each.

It has an internal cargo carrying capacity of 4000kg, and can also carry payload on external slings. The maximum flight range with internal fuel tanks is 800km, with a service ceiling of 6000m (or over 19500ft) It is highly customisable in terms of internal configuration. In pure passenger configuration, the Mi-171A2 can carry up to 24 pax.

After the demo, participants got a chance to get up close with both the helicopters.

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People could be seen interacting with the helicopter crew.

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The Mi-171A with its rear cargo door open

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The interiors of the Mi-171A2. Pretty spacious!

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Post the demo session, it was time to head indoors for some lunch, followed by a press conference addressed by the Russian Helicopters CEO, Andrei Boginsky.

Mr Boginsky began by giving an overview of the successful South Asian Heli tour across China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. The tour resulted in soft and hard contracts totalling up to 70 helicopters.

According to Mr. Boginsky, demand for civilian helicopters in Southeast Asian countries may amount to 420 helicopters in the next ten years. “We are counting on a substantial share of this market, and the results of the demo tour suggest that we have every reason for this,” he said.

Mr. Boginsky gave a positive outlook for the company over the next 3-4 years, with multiple products on offer. The press conference ended with Mr. Boginsky inviting the participants to the MAKS airshow in Russia next year.

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British Airways retires the Boeing 767

British Airways retired its fleet of Boeing 767-300s from commercial service on November 25, 2018 after operating the type for 28 long years!

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The final 767-300 in service, registered G-BZHA completed its last passenger carrying flight on Nov 25, completing a round trip from London Heathrow to Larnaca, Cyprus.

The Boeing 767 was introduced into commercial service with British Airways in February 1990 with a special short flight from London Heathrow to Paris. Over the years, the 767 operated routes to Europe, Middle East, North America and even to India! The type was BA’s medium capacity, long haul workhorse till the induction of the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.

Although initially configured for long haul routes, the 767 was later re-configured to operate short haul routes. The aircraft were also retrofitted with winglets to improve their efficiency.

The Boeing 767 heralded the era of long haul twin engined jets that were more fuel efficient as compared to previous generation quad engined aircraft. However, as compared to newer more fuel-efficient jets like the Boeing 777s and especially the Boeing 787s, the 767s were noisy, more expensive to run and lacked the latest passenger friendly features.

They will however continue to be operated around the world for at least the next 5 years if not more. However, for British Airways, it is the end of an era!

The Boeing 747 turns 50!

The Boeing 747, lovingly called the Jumbo Jet has turned 50! Its hard to imagine that this massive aircraft – once the workhorse of most major airlines globally has been around for half a century! It has been one of the most iconic – if not THE most iconic aircraft of all time.

The Boeing 747 first rolled out of the Boeing factory at Everett, Washington (purpose-built to manufacture the Boeing 747) on September 30th, 1968. Even as it stood there outside the factory, many had doubts that it could actually fly. They had never seen an aircraft this massive! How could it even get off the ground let alone fly, people wondered! But fly it did, and on it flew millions of wonderstruck passengers over the next five decades.

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The rollout of the first Boeing 747 at the Boeing factory, Everett Washington. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Building the Boeing 747 itself was a challenge. Such a massive aircraft had never been built before. It would be roughly twice the size of the then Boeing bestseller – the 707. Joe Sutter – known as the father of the 747 and his team spent countless hours conceptualising, designing and building the Jumbo jet (as it would be called later), and all of this before computer aided design tools became available. The Boeing 747 had a distinctive hump, housing the cockpit and an upper deck passenger cabin that gave it a distinctive look that we all have come to adore.

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Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-100 HZ-AIE (built in 1981) at BOM in January 2008

Pan Am was the launch customer of the Boeing 747, ordering 25 of these giant aircraft in 1966. It took roughly over two years for Boeing to undertake one of the most complex engineering projects – both in size and sophistication. The Boeing 747 was designed to carry larger number of passengers over greater distances than those possible with previous airliners. Additionally, it was also designed to carry a large amount of cargo with loading of oversized cargo possible through a swivelling nose cargo door. Such a large aircraft also required tremendous amount of power, which was made possible with the development of high bypass turbofan engines. The Pratt & Whitney JT9D was chosen to power the Boeing 747. Four of these engines, each producing between 43,500–51,600 lbf thrust would power the Jumbo jet, allowing it to carry between 350-400 passengers over its maximum range of 4620 nm. By the time it was rolled out of the factory, 26 airlines had ordered the Boeing 747 and their logos were pasted on the fuselage of the first prototype.

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Iran Air Boeing 747-200 EP-IAI (built in 1982) at BOM in Oct 2014

The Boeing 747 first flew on February 9th, 1969 with test pilots Jack Waddell and Brien Wygle, along with flight engineer Jess Wallick. The first flight went smoothly, and the aircraft soon entered into service on January 22nd, 1970 when Pan Am operated the first ever Boeing 747 commercial flight – from New York to London. Since then there’s been no looking back as the Boeing 747 quickly became the long haul workhorse of major airlines from around the world, carrying more passengers and cargo over longer distances than ever before.

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Iran Air Boeing 747SP-86 EP-IAB (built in 1976) at BOM in Sep 2010

One of the Boeing 747’s unique and most loved characteristic was its trademark hump. The front of the hump housed the flight deck providing the pilots with a panoramic view of the tarmac as they manoeuvred the aircraft through increasingly crowded airports. The hump also housed lounges or social areas on early build 747s that gave way to premium passenger cabins in the later variants. The upper deck on a 747 was THE place to be – exclusive to only a select few!

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Business Class cabin on the upper deck of Air India Boeing 747-400 VT-EVA (built in 1996)

As of today – 50 years later more than 1500 Jumbo jets have been built spanning multiple variants – passenger, cargo and even mixed (called Combi) The aircraft has made long haul international travel accessible to more and more people, and has opened up routes that were previously thought impossible.

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Air India Boeing 747-300 Combi VT-EPW (built in 1988) at BOM in Nov 2007

Rapid advancements in engine and airframe technology has made the production of  large airliners powered by twin engines possible today. These twin engined wide-body airliners are capable of carrying almost the same number of passengers as early 747s, over longer distances.  Shrinking profits caused by high oil prices and rapidly dropping airfares have led airlines to ditch four-engined very large aircraft (VLA) like the Boeing 747 in favour of large twin-engined jets like the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330. The two engines mean that they burn less fuel than the quad-engined 747s and are therefore cheaper to operate and maintain. Apart from the Airbus A380 (which could only manage limited sales) there has not been any new large four-engined aircraft developed. All new long haul wide-body aircraft developed will be powered by twin engines.

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Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 9V-SPA (built in 1994) at SIN in Jan 2010

The large twin-engined aircraft although quieter, more efficient and capable of flying longer distances do not quite have the grace and character of the Jumbo. The distinctive nose and hump, high-mounted flight deck and four engines that produce some of the sweetest music on the tarmac provide instant recognition for any aviation enthusiast.

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Lufthansa Boeing 747-8I D-ABYL (built in 2014) at HND in Feb 2018

Despite the preference for newer, more efficient aircraft, the Boeing 747 lives on – finding its place (though in decreasing numbers) in the long haul fleet of airlines around the world. The Jumbo still rules in the cargo world however, ferrying thousands of tons of cargo across the world every single day. The nose cargo door allows unparalleled flexibility for loading oversized cargo inside its cavernous interiors.

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Silkway Cargo Boeing 747-400 Freighter 4K-SW888 (built in 1999) at KUL in Apr 2016

The next few years will see more and more airlines around the world retire the Boeing 747s from their fleet, as newer aircraft get inducted. However, the Jumbo will soldier on – in one form or another for at least a decade and a half, allowing the current generation of aviation enthusiasts a chance to marvel at this amazing feat of engineering.

The first Boeing 777 ever built is finally retired!

The first Boeing 777 aircraft ever built – a Boeing 777-200 L/N 1 (in service with Cathay Pacific Airlines till June 2018 and registered B-HNL) has finally been retired from commercial service.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-200 | B-HNL

This aircraft was the first of its type, built by Boeing in 1994. Although United Airlines was the launch customer of the Boeing 777 in the year 1995, this aircraft served as a test aircraft for Boeing till Cathay Pacific acquired it in the year 2000. It flew with Cathay Pacific for 18 years before being retired from the fleet in June 2018. The original registration of this aircraft while with Boeing was N7771 (aptly so!) and changed to B-HNL upon joining the Cathay Pacific fleet.

It was powered by two Rolls Royce Trent 877 engines, and had a seating capacity of 335 passengers in a two class configuration. It was Cathay Pacific’s standard workhorse for regional high density flights for over a decade and a half.

The aircraft was flown yesterday from Hong Kong to Tucson, Arizona where it will be kept on permanent display at the Pima Air and Space Museum.

 

 

 

 

United bids farewell to the Boeing 747

After a long innings spanning 47 years, United Airlines is set to retire the iconic Boeing 747 from its fleet. The final regular passenger flight operated by the Boeing 747-400 will be on October 29th 2017, from Seoul to San Francisco. It will be the end of an era for United, in which its much loved “Queen of the skies” ruled the skies across the world.

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United Airlines had taken delivery of its first ever Boeing 747 on June 26th 1970, with its first commercial flight from San Francisco to Honolulu a few weeks later on July 23rd 1970. The Jumbo jet served as the workhorse of the airline’s long haul fleet for over four decades, and was adored by passengers and crew equally.

United operated multiple versions of the Boeing 747, starting with the original 747-100, 747-200, 747-SP (taken over from PanAm) and finally the 747-400. It allowed the airline to carry over 300 passengers comfortably to popular destinations in Europe, Asia and Australia.

To commemorate the retirement of this iconic aircraft, United will be operating a one-off farewell flight on the 747-400 from San Francisco to Honolulu on November 7th 2017. This flight will recreate the first 747 flight operated by United in 1970. From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, passengers will help send the Queen of the Skies off in true style. Tickets for this farewell flight were sold out within two hours of going on sale.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was the de-facto hub for United’s Boeing 747s, and it is only fair for the airport to operate the farewell flight.

I had the opportunity to spot the United 747-400s in action at SFO a few years ago. Here’s my tribute to the Queen of the Skies…

 

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United 747 in the classic “Tulip” livery about to touch down on Runway 28L at SFO

 

Air India’s Star Alliance fleet

Air India joined Star Alliance – the world’s largest global airline alliance on July 11, 2014 as its 27th member. As is the custom, the alliance members paint a few of their aircraft in a special Star Alliance livery. This livery usually consists of a white fuselage with the words “Star Alliance” across it and a black tail fin with the alliance logo.

At the time of joining the alliance, Air India painted one of its Airbus A320s, VT-ESF in the Star Alliance livery. This was rolled out on July 11, 2014.

Here is VT-ESF painted in the Star Alliance livery, touching down on Runway 09 at BOM.

One interesting aspect about this aircraft is that it belongs to the pre-merger Indian Airlines, and is equipped with a double bogie main landing gear. Indian Airlines’ first set of Airbus A320s delivered in the early 1990s all sported double bogie main landing gears, designed to handle the “not so perfect” airfield conditions in India at the time.

A few months later, Air India painted one of its Boeing 777-300ERs, VT-ALJ titled “Bihar” in the alliance’s colours. VT-ALJ was Air India’s first Boeing 777-300ER, delivered to the airline in 2007. Also, this was Air India’s first wide-body aircraft to be painted in the Star Alliance livery.

“Bihar” seen here on short final to Runway 27 at BOM on a dull, rainy day.

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Air India Boeing 777-300ER VT-ALJ “Bihar” in Star Alliance colours

Again in April 2015, Air India took delivery of a brand new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, VT-ANU factory-painted in the Star Alliance colours. This was the world’s first 787 Dreamliner to be painted in an alliance special livery.

Here is VT-ANU turning on to taxiway N1 at BOM for a morning departure.

Two year later, VT-ANU remains the only Boeing 787 Dreamliner to be painted in the colours of an airline alliance.

As of now, these are the only three aircraft in the Air India fleet sporting the Star Alliance colours.

As Air India starts phasing out its classic Indian Airlines era Airbus A320s and inducting brand new Airbus A320 NEOs, it is likely that one of these aircraft would be painted in the Star livery.

 

 

Juneyao Airlines joins Star Alliance as a Connecting Partner

May 23 2017 – Juneyao Airlines today became the first airline to join the Star Alliance network as a “Connecting Partner”. Juneyao Airlines is a major Chinese airline based in Shanghai, and operates to both international and domestic destinations.

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Connecting Partner is a brand new concept adopted by the world’s largest airline alliance, and this partnership will offer Star Alliance passengers opportunities to transfer through Shanghai’s two airports – Pudong International (PVG/ZSPD) and Hongqiao International (SHA/ZSSS) on the Juneyao Airlines network.

This partnership will also allow passengers travelling on Star Alliance carriers through check-in facility in both directions on Juneyao Airlines flights. Additionally, all qualifying Star Alliance Gold Status passengers will be provided the same privileges on their Juneyao Airlines connecting flights as they currently enjoy on the Star Alliance network.

These include:

• Lounge Access

• Fast Track Security

• Additional Baggage

• Priority Check-in

• Priority Boarding

• Priority Standby

• Priority Baggage Delivery

At present, 17 out of 27 airlines in the Star Alliance group operate more than 1600 weekly flights to various cities in China. Juneyao Airlines now offers Star Alliance passengers the option of connecting to more than 1,700 weekly flights to 69 destinations in eight countries and regions through Shanghai. This partnership is therefore a win-win proposition for both Juneyao Airlines and Star Alliance.

Currently, Air China and Shenzhen Airlines are two Chinese carriers that are full members of Star Alliance.

Juneyao Airlines has a fleet of 62 aircraft consisting of Airbus A320 & A321 narrow-body planes.

 

ATR 72MP – The pint sized Maritime Patrol platform

The ATR 72MP is a maritime patrol, C3I (Command, Control, Communication & Intelligence), ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) and SAR (Search & Rescue) aircraft.

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It has been derived from the popular ATR 72-600 commercial (passenger/cargo) aircraft.

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The ATR 72MP is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127 M turboprop engines mated with six bladed Hamilton Standard propellers. Each engine is rated for a maximum take-off power of 2750SHP.

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Similar to the ATR 72-600, the ATR 72MP is equipped with a full glass cockpit featuring five wide LCD screens.

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The ATR 72MP is equipped with the ATOS (Airborne Tactical Observation & Surveillance) mission system designed by Leonardo Airborne & Space Systems. This manages the wide array of sensors on the aircraft, combines the information received during missions (using Data Fusion) and provides it to the mission system operators in a suitable format.

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The aircraft can effectively communicate with ground stations, satellites and other platforms such as AWACS to provide excellent real-time situational awareness during surveillance missions.

The four main mission stations are equipped with large LCD display screens, which provide high-resolution imagery from the aircraft’s sensors.

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The ATR 72MP has two “bubble” observer stations on either sides, allowing an unhindered view to the observer during Search and Rescue missions.

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The view from the “bubble”

The ATR 72MP can cruise at 465kmph (250 KTAS) at a maximum altitude of 25000ft. The aircraft has an astounding 10 hour endurance (plus 45 min hold time) at 5000 ft, allowing it to loiter longer over an area of interest. The aircraft can take off using only 1170 metres of runway at MTOW, allowing it to operate from small airfields that are not capable of handling larger jets. It can carry additional personnel using re-configurable airline style seating.

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The affordability and versatility of the ATR 72 platform means that one can acquire an effective force multiplier without having to break the bank. This is sweet news for agencies like the Coast Guard that need a robust maritime surveillance platform but have limited budgets for aircraft acquisition. The aircraft occupies a niche spot between maritime surveillance helicopters and larger long-range maritime surveillance aircraft like the Boeing P-8 Poseidon.

 

 

End of an Era! Indian Navy to retire Tu-142 ASW aircraft

The Indian Navy is set to retire its Tupolev Tu-142 long range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft by the end of this month. Eight of these gigantic turboprop aircraft were acquired by the Indian Navy in 1988 from the Soviet Union and served as the flagship maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare platform in the Indian Ocean region for nearly 30 years. The Tu-142s are based at INS Rajali, situated at Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu.

The Tu-142 was derived from the Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” long range strategic bomber designed in the 1950s. It is a large turboprop aircraft powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12 engines with distinctive contra-rotating propellers. It is one of the loudest military aircraft and is also the fastest turboprop aircraft with a maximum speed in excess of 850kmph/460knots. Its long fuselage, wide wingspan and high speed has earned it the nickname, “Albatross”.

The Tu-142 is a true long range reconnaissance aircraft with a combat radius of around 6500km. It can carry out long duration missions of nearly 11 hours with a large payload of around 9000kg. The aircraft is fitted with ASW equipment including sonar, magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), sonobuoys, anti-submarine mines and torpedoes.

However, age has begun to catch up with the Albatross, as newer anti-submarine warfare technologies have emerged in the recent years, thereby rendering the Cold War era Soviet equipment on the aircraft obsolete. The Indian Navy has already found its eventual replacement – the Boeing P-8I “Neptune” multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA). Eight P-8Is have already been inducted into the service, and are also based at INS Rajali.

Although the P-8I doesn’t quite have the range or the endurance of the Tu-142, it is packed to the gills with state-of-the-art surveillance & ASW equipment, including the deadly Harpoon anti-ship missile.

In addition to the Tu-142 & the P-8I, the Indian Navy also operates the Ilyushin IL-38SD maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The IL-38s were acquired by the Indian Navy starting in 1977, and were recently upgraded in Russia including fitting of a new radar and the Sea Dragon avionic suite, allowing them to soldier on for some more time. These are currently based at INS Hansa situated at Dabolim, Goa.

Newer technologies apart, none of these aircraft have the Cold War style awe and aura of the Tu-142. The retirement of the Albatross is truly the end of an era!

 

Saudi King Salman visits Malaysia

February 26 2017 – The ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Salman kicked off his month long Asian tour with a four day visit to Malaysia today. King Salman is visiting with a huge delegation of around 600 staff, ministers and officials. The King and his delegation arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) in three special aircraft earlier today.

The KUL plane-spotting community was out in force to catch the arrival of these special aircraft.

The King himself along with his close associates arrived first in the Saudi Royal Flight Boeing 747-400 registered HZ-HM1. The callsign was “Saudi One”

Saudi Arabian Royal Flight Boeing 747-400

The second aircraft to arrive was the highlight of the day. Carrying the Saudi delegation was the Saudi Royal Flight Boeing 747SP, registered HZ-HM1B. The callsign was “Saudi One Bravo”

We were lucky to spot this rare 39 year old classic as it touched down on Runway 32L.

Saudi Arabian Royal Flight Boeing 747SP

The final aircraft in the delegation was the Saudi Royal Flight Boeing 757-200, registered HZ-HMED, and callsign “Saudi 11”.

This is an interesting aircraft as it is practically a flying hospital. This aircraft is equipped with facilities and personnel to cater to any medical emergencies that might occur.

Saudi Arabian Royal Flight Boeing 757-200

 

As you can see, this was a great opportunity to spot some rare special aircraft. Enjoy the photos! 🙂