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A new advisory from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says that terrorists have tried to use small aircraft for attacks abroad, may attempt to use them in the U.S., and that one explosives-laden small aircraft would have the destructive capacity of "a medium-sized truck bomb." The Transportation Security Administration says intelligence suggests al-Qaida has "a fixation with using explosive-laden small aircraft in attacks," and that security is currently so lax around GA -- especially charter operations -- that such a mission would be relatively easy to complete. But one unnamed staff member at the House Transportation Committee told United Press International (UPI): "There is an unwarranted fixation on the part of some of these security people with small planes" and "... a lot more willingness to restrict the movement of small planes than there is of large trucks." The advisory says that security agencies learned of planned (and presumably foiled) attacks using small aircraft against the U.S. Consulate in Karachi and against a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf. The Washington Post last week reported that two U.S. officials said, "The details of the aerial assault plan, which was nearing fruition, came from the suspects themselves during interrogations by the Pakistani intelligence service." The account conflicts with a UPI report that "Pakistani officials said they knew of no such plot against the U.S. consulate in Karachi." Regardless, the DHS has dutifully repeated a list of security do's and don'ts for pilots and other airport personnel.
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) says the advisory's wording shows the DHS' profound lack of understanding of GA and charter operations, calling the verbiage a "breathtakingly reckless portrayal" of charter and GA operations. In a pointed letter to Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, NATA President James Coyne says the advisory "contains contradictory, misleading and, in our opinion, factually incorrect statements regarding charter and general aviation operations." Coyne noted the DHS' assertion that all a terrorist needs is an "established line of credit" to get hold of an aircraft and the department's apparent belief that some charter operations allow customers to fly the plane themselves. Coyne wasn't alone in frustration. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association and AOPA pointed out the many security initiatives promoted and undertaken by GA since 9/11. AOPA's Warren Morningstar noted that the new advisory tells pilots and the GA community to do exactly what AOPA's Airport Watch program has been suggesting for quite some time. GAMA President Ed Bolen was substantially less agitated about the advisory. "It is our understanding the alert is not based on new information," he said in a news release. "Rather it is a reminder that, despite reduced threat levels and the conclusion of major military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to remain vigilant." Heather Rosenker of the Transportation Security Administration seemed to echo that sentiment and told UPI, "Though there's no credible, specific threat in the United States, it's still important for [pilots] to know that these concerns are ongoing and not to let down their guard."
The FBI has enlisted the aid of 18,000 state and local law personnel agencies to watch out for, among other things, airplanes flying too close to nuclear power plants. In this case (again), according to the Associated Press, the FBI doesn't have any specific threat in mind, it just wants to keep the local gumshoes on their toes. The FBI circular followed the release of new security rules by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission aimed at preventing terrorist attacks on nukes. Many of the protective measures are classified. However, just to be helpful, the FBI suggests that any nuclear plant official who thinks an airplane is flying too close should report the tail number to the FAA. The report doesn't elaborate on the practical benefits of such reporting in the case of an attack. Meanwhile, the FAA has cancelled a so-called "permanent TFR" around the home of the Air Force's B-2 bombers. The 10-nm-radius, 18,000-foot ceiling TFR around Whiteman Air Force Base was one of 16 established when the terrorism threat meter went to orange just before the war in Iraq. At the time, we were told the TFRs, which surround other bases, chemical weapons dumps and other inviting terrorism targets, were probably there to stay. But the Whiteman TFR was cancelled on Friday and AOPA wants the others dropped, too. "Today's cancellation is the first of many small steps it [the TSA] is going to take to get the National Airspace System back to normal," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. The cancellation returned life to normal for pilots using nearby Skyhaven (9K4) and Sedalia (DMO) Airports. Both were only a few miles from the edge of the TFR.
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Look out Lycoming and get ready Continental, Bombardier is apparently pushing its way into your sandbox. Bombardier, which makes Rotax engines for light and ultralight aircraft, has developed a line of engines aimed squarely at the mainstream GA market. A very cryptic statement from the company says the "engines will deliver what pilots and aircraft manufacturers have been demanding for over 30 years." Which, of course, depending on who you ask, could be anything, but might imply a line of mid-horsepower, certificated engines with advanced electronic controls that run on unleaded fuels, weigh less, last long and require little maintenance ... then again, maybe not. Bombardier plans to offer its definition at a formal unveiling July 29 at EAA AirVenture 2003 ... but you may find out sooner. According to AVweb's sources, technical details of the engines are a closely guarded secret, but Bombardier will lift the lid a little during a media-only briefing May 16 in Orlando. Word is, however, that while media outlets will be let in on some of the details of the new engines at the Orlando meeting, they may be asked not to publicize them until the public debut at Oshkosh, or just before. While Bombardier has managed to keep this apparently ambitious development project under wraps for years, it remains to be seen whether the aviation press can be equally disciplined.
The new engines will be built in Austria and distributed through a newly formed company called Bombardier Aircraft Engine Corporation. It will operate independently of the existing engine business, which will keep right on making its popular line of small engines for ultralights and light aircraft. The company has reassured manufacturers, service outlets and end users that it's business as usual for supply, service and support and that the new engine company will not overlap the Rotax market. This announcement comes a month after Bombardier reshuffled its corporate deck and decided to sell off its Recreation Products division, under which the aircraft engine operations fall. The sale of the snowmobile, boat and ATV subsidiary will help shore up finances at the aerospace and railway products arms. The company's Web site says preparations for that sale are progressing. The Bombardier family, which founded the company to build snowmobiles, is said to be interested in buying back a chunk of the old family business.
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Beleaguered aerospace workers in Wichita got a small break last week, one they might technically not be entitled to, but welcome nonetheless. Thanks to some furious lobbying by one of their congressmen, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Goddard), the Department of Labor has agreed to apply an unemployment insurance benefit extension for laid-off airline workers to those who have lost their jobs at Wichita's four aviation manufacturers. "It's a done deal," Tiahrt told The Wichita Eagle. The package will give the workers an extra 26 weeks of benefits, even if their claims have already run out. It was part of a $3.1 billion aid package aimed at airlines affected by 9/11 and the war in Iraq and there were fears it wouldn't apply to the Wichita workers. In the end, the federal Department of Labor decided it would let the state of Kansas interpret the eligibility standards for the extension and you can guess how they're handling that. State officials found a thread to hang the Wichita eligibility on with the bill's phrasing that the extension can apply to an "upstream producer or supplier for an air carrier." While Boeing workers in Wichita clearly qualified, it wasn't so certain for Raytheon, Bombardier and Cessna employees. In fact, Cessna spokeswoman Marilyn Richwine had a hard time believing her company qualified but quickly accepted Tiarht's assurance. "It appears he should be the one who knows," she told the Eagle. But it's not just Wichita that's suffering. Gulfstream Aerospace announced Thursday it will close its Savannah, Ga., plant for most of July to allow production to match demand of its pricey bizjets. Other plants in California, Massachusetts, Texas, Wisconsin and Mexico will not be affected.
Flying to Alaska can now be the start of an even bigger adventure. The FAA has issued a NOTAM opening a VFR route from Alaska to Russia. Route B-369 takes the venturesome GA pilot from Nome to Provideniya, a 275-nm trip that includes 39 miles over open water. Alaska Region FAA staff have been working on the route for three years and hope it eventually leads to a safe VFR route to Japan. But before you start packing your fur hat, be mindful that the legendary Russian bureaucracy must have its due. Pilots with passports can expect to wait at least 30 days before finally getting the nod to take off. First, you need an invitation to apply for a visa. Then you need to actually apply for the visa and, 14 days in advance, you must get permission from Moscow to make the flight. On the day of the flight, an ICAO flight plan must be filed. Keep your wallet handy. Russia imposes an air traffic fee of $49 per 100 kilometers -- about $200 for this flight. The VFR corridor is 10 km wide and approved altitudes are 5,000 to 10,000 feet.
Making history can be easier, in some ways, than re-creating it, as three aerospace engineers are finding out in California. Michael Aten, Scot Hazel and Ben Barackman have been pulling their hair out trying to build a replica of the glider the Wrights built before they strapped an engine on the contraption. The glider weighs just 115 pounds but it's taken the engineers six months of evenings and weekends to build. It made its first public appearance at the Wings Over Gillespie air show last weekend and will eventually hang in the San Diego Aerospace Museum. As with most modern attempts to re-create the Wrights' genius, materials and building techniques posed the biggest challenge for the group. The steam-bending technique used to form the wooden wing slats hasn't been used since horse-and-buggy days and the engineers had to build their own steamer. Then they had to learn how to use it. "We had to remake parts so many times it almost became a mantra," said Aten. And while the group learned a lot about history, technology and the roots of their own profession, they aren't satisfied. They're now planning to apply their newly found, old knowledge to the construction of a 1908 Wright Model A, identical to the one taken to Europe by Wilbur Wright.
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Remember that post-9/11, war-induced, economy-in-the-toilet downturn the aviation industry is battling? Someone forgot to tell Garmin and the company just kept making money. In fact, while many businesses were trying to keep their other foot out of the grave, the avionics company posted a record 23-percent revenue increase in the first quarter of 2003 (compared to the same period during 2002). Revenue increased to almost $124 million from $101 million and profits increased to $41.5 million from $26.8 million. "Overall demand for our products continues to expand," said CEO Dr. Min Kao. Garmin also won a couple of major contracts, including avionics for Cessna's new Mustang personal jet and Diamond's twin diesel, the DA42. And while aircraft owners all over the world keep putting the latest and greatest GPSs in their planes, Garmin is expanding its markets to include the automotive industry and the development of fully integrated GPS navigation for personal data assistants (PDAs). The company expects the current quarter to be even better, with revenues of up to $143 million.
An F-15 pilot broke the rules but didn't violate safety procedures when he rocked the normally quiet town of Geneseo, Ill., with a fly-past on Feb. 13. Maj. Whitney Sieben was subjected to "administrative action" for failing to ask the Oregon Air National Guard if he could use their airplane for an aerial tribute to his dying grandmother. And while Jean Sieben (who died 11 days later) and the rest of the Sieben clan were all ready for the jet display, the rest of the town wasn't. The police received more than 100 calls about the incident, which occurred shortly after the terrorism alert status in the U.S. had been raised to orange and the country was preparing for war in Iraq. The Air National Guard investigated and found that Sieben did not get prior approval to fly the impromptu air show. The probe also found that Sieben did not perform the barrel rolls and loops that so many witnesses claim to have seen. The jet was joined in the display by a light plane flown by Sieben's uncle, state Sen. Todd Sieben. Maj. Sieben's punishment was not released.
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The FAA has made a couple of minor text corrections to an Advanced Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking concerning the application of standard airworthiness certificates.
Owners of Schweizer Model 269D helicopters must inspect the aluminum horizontal stabilizer endplates for cracks, fretting and bending after reports of loose endplates and one coming off in flight.
Fuel boost pump wiring on Cessna 441s must be repetitively inspected for chafing. It will eventually have to be replaced with a better wiring harness.
Leaky fuel selector valves in Extra 300 series aircraft may have caused structural damage in the wings of the aerobatic planes. The FAA has issued an AD NPRM addressing the issue.
At least one Wichita aircraft manufacturer expects to do a roaring trade this year. The Ullman Aircraft Co. has successfully flown its Panther kitplane and hopes to have the kits on the market by the end of the year. The Panther is an all-metal, four-place, high-wing aircraft that cruises at 200 knots. After five years of development, the prototype flew March 29 and it's flown twice since. Bill Ullman, his son Brian, and their only employee, Harold Bowser, drew on the experience of other Wichita aerospace colleagues to design the Panther. The kit will sell for $51,000 and, depending on engine and other equipment choices, will end up costing up to $125,000 to complete. The fast-build kit will take an estimated 1,200 to 1,600 hours to complete. The Panther will debut at AirVenture 2003 in July, where refundable deposits will be taken on the kits. First deliveries are slated for December.
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Peter M. Bowers, who designed the Fly Baby homebuilt, died April 27. Bowers died at his home in Seattle and while he was best known for the tiny, folding wing, towable airplane that won the 1962 EAA design contest, he was also an author and respected aviation historian...
The NBAA has chosen five people to receive its First Century of Flight Award. Recipients include Serge Dassault, of the French firm that bears his name; magazine publisher David Ewald; aviation safety specialist Jerome F. Lederer; Ray H. Siegfried II, chairman of NORDAM Group; and John Tucker, vice chairman of Midcoast Aviation. The awards will be presented Oct. 9 at NBAA's annual convention...
WW. Boisture Jr. resigned as chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Boisture recently resigned from General Dynamics and Gulfstream. He joined GAMA in 1999 and pushed the organization to expand its membership internationally...
An air race commemorating Glenn Curtiss' first race victory will be sponsored by U.S. Air Race Inc. in July. The Renaissance 300 is open to any pilot flying a piston plane, starts and finishes at Elmira/Corning Regional Airport in New York and will be flown using pilotage only. Entries must be received by May 15;, go to the Web site for details or call 817-491-2842 or 903-564-9410.
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While flying between Ft Worth TX and Baton Rouge, LA I had to make a fuel stop as the Yak has only a 31 gallon tank to keep wayward Russian trainees close to home. I chose Many,La for a quick turn around and then on to BTR. After landing in Many, I taxied up to the pump, jumped out and streched my legs. While enjoying the small airport environment on this beautiful day, the silence was broken by the sound of 3 turbine Air Tractors coming in at low level and landing. They taxied smartly up to the parking area close to the fuel pumps and spun around into their parking spots and shut down their engines. All three pilots jumped down from their Air Tractors and started walking toward me. One of the pilots yelled out "Do you speak English?" in his thick Texas accent. All could think to say was, "Nhyet."
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