AVweb AVFlash - Volume 20, Number 2a

July 11, 2013

Sikorsky Prize Won By Toronto Team

The elusive $250,000 Sikorsky Prize has been won by a Canadian engineering team. AeroVelo's Atlas human-powered helicopter satisfied the requirements of the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition in a flight inside a soccer center near Toronto. The flight occurred June 13 but the announcement was made Thursday after videos of the flight were viewed and verified by the competition committee. The competition was launched 33 years ago and the Atlas was judged to be the first human-powered helicopter to rise out of ground effect to a height of at least three meters (9.8 feet), fly for at least 60 seconds and remain hovering within a 10 meter (32.8 feet) by 10 meter square. AeroVelo's Dr. Todd Reichert provided the pedal power to keep the huge quadcopter aloft for 64 seconds. 

The aircraft is actually larger than any real helicopter and is more than 190 feet across with four 67-foot rotors. It weighs only 115 pounds, including the carbon-fiber bicycle that was modified to transmit the pilot's power. It made its first flight in August of 2012 and was in a race against other teams from Canada, the U.S., Japan and elsewhere. “It took AeroVelo’s fresh ideas, daring engineering approach and relentless pursuit of innovation—coupled with more than three decades of advances in structures, composites, computer-aided design and aeromechanical theory—to succeed in achieving what many in vertical flight considered impossible," said Mike Hirschberg, executive director of American Helicopter Society International, which oversaw the competition. It's not Reichert's first trip to the human-powered flight record books. In 2010 he provided the power for an ornithopter that flapped about 145 meters.

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Typhoon Landing Causes A Buzz

YouTube

Some airshow enthusiasts watching from the cheap (actually free} seats got a little more than those who'd paid their way into the Royal Air Force Waddington International Air Show on Sunday. Although the Royal Air Force said the Typhoon was on a normal flight profile for landing at the show, some might argue with that claim. Several spectators, who were in an area off the end of the runway that was placarded as potentially dangerous, dove for cover as the state-of-the-art fighter finished its approach. The RAF says they got what they paid for but still apologized.

"The area concerned is directly under the flight path of the runway and has clear warnings and flashing traffic lights designed to ensure that the public stay clear," the RAF said in a statement. "The approach of the Typhoon to RAF Waddington was completely normal and within all normal parameters. Individuals placing themselves under the flight path of aircraft that operate hugely powerful jet engines should not be surprised if they experience jet wash, nevertheless, the RAF apologises for any inconvenience caused."

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Heathrow 787 Fire: Batteries Not Involved

BBC

Heathrow Airport near London has reopened after a fire in a parked Boeing 787 prompted closure of the airport Friday. The blaze broke out in an Ethiopian Airways Dreamliner that was parked in a remote area of the ramp but the fire does not appear to be related to the batteries that caused the grounding of 787s for months earlier this year. Officials have not said the cause of the fire but have described it as an "internal" blaze. Photos from the scene show all the main cabin doors open along with an access door near the tail of the aircraft after firefighters used foam to quell the fire. The fire burned through the carbon fiber skin on the fuselage just in front of the vertical stabilizer. The batteries are forward of that in a bay under the floor. There was no one on the plane at the time. 

This 787 was the first to return to revenue service after a months-long grounding of the type due to two battery fires on 787s earlier this year. The fleet resumed airline operations after Boeing came up with an FAA-approved fix that involved isolating the batteries in case they caught fire. The batteries are now in fireproof enclosures that are vented to the outside to eliminate fire fumes from the cabin. Although there has been no connection made between the battery issue and this fire, Boeing shares nevertheless dropped by more than 5 percent when word of the fire reached the markets.

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X-47B Drone Completes First Arrested Landing At Sea

The Navy this week said its X-47B drone successfully landed on an aircraft carrier at sea, using the arrested landing system to control its rollout on the deck. The drone had launched from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, and flew to the carrier USS George H.W. Bush, which was sailing off the coast of Virginia. After the first landing, the drone then launched from the deck and came back around for a second successful landing. The drone used "precision GPS navigation, a high-integrity network connection and advanced flight control software to guide itself through the turbulent air behind the aircraft carrier and onto the moving flight deck," wrote Capt. Jaime Engdahl, program manager for the drone, at the Navy Live blog

The Navy's two X-47B aircraft are now certified to conduct carrier flight operations, Engdahl wrote, including catapults, arrested landings, flight-deck taxi operations, maintenance and refueling. "It has taken several years of software development, thousands of simulated landings in high-fidelity labs and many hours of flight test in the Patuxent River landing pattern to prove this aircraft is up for the challenge," says Engdahl. "The revolutionary technologies that we have developed and proven in the harsh carrier environment, including aerodynamics of a tailless aircraft, autonomous aircraft behavior, precision GPS navigation, and digitization of the aircraft carrier air traffic control procedures will truly impact the way we integrate manned and unmanned aircraft on carrier flight decks in the future." The X-47B itself is not intended for operational use. The program demonstrated the ability to seamlessly integrate unmanned systems into the carrier environment with only small changes to existing equipment and operations, says Engdahl.

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NTSB: No Problems With Asiana 777 Flight Controls

The pilots aboard Asiana Airlines Flight 214 called twice for a go-around, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said in a news briefing on Thursday. The cockpit voice recorder shows the first call was three seconds before the crash and the second, from a different pilot, was 1.5 seconds later, she said. Investigators have found no anomalies in the autopilot, auto-throttle or flight director systems in the 777, she said. Also, the pilot at the controls said that at about 500 feet altitude, he briefly saw a bright light "that could have been a reflection of the sun," but he said it didn't affect his vision or his ability to fly the airplane. Hersman said it was not a laser. All debris has been cleared from the runway, which is expected to reopen by Monday. 

Thursday's news briefing was the last one to be held in San Francisco, although on-scene investigative work will continue, the NTSB said. Video of the briefing will be posted on the NTSB website when it becomes available, probably by Friday morning. Further updates will be provided from NTSB headquarters in Washington.

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Animation Depicts Flight 214 Crash

A Florida company that specializes in animations that re-create crimes and accidents has released its animated take on the crash landing of Asiana Flight 214 at SFO earlier this month. Eyewitness Animations, which has been doing the animations for court cases and accident investigations for 23 years, shows the final 40 seconds of the Boeing 777's flight to San Francisco and includes a "ghost airplane" in the sequence showing the proper flight path of the airliner. The crash airplane was going about 20 knots slower than it should have been so the ghost aircraft's position relative to the crash plane had to be adjusted to keep it in the frame. 

The animation shows a last-ditch attempt by the crew to clear the seawall at the end of the threshold of Runway 27L but by then it was too late. The right mains hit the wall followed by the tail, which breaks into three major pieces. The animation also shows the left engine rolling away as the aircraft rotates almost 360 degrees laterally and becomes briefly airborne before sliding to a stop on the infield. The animation also depicts first-class passengers in lap-and-shoulder harnesses that held them securely in their seats while those in coach had only lap belts. It has been widely reported that many of the injuries are back and head injuries caused when passengers were flung into the seats (and seatback TVs) in front of them.

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Lisa Amphibian Production Back On Track

Lisa Airplanes, based in France, will be back at EAA AirVenture later this month, the company said on Thursday, but their amphibious Akoya airplane will stay at home to continue flight testing. Lisa, which had entered receivership last year, recently got a $20 million funding boost from Chinese investors. The company said this week it is now able to finalize the airplane and will provide Oshkosh visitors with an overview of its innovations and capabilities. The Akoya is one of several amphibious sport planes that have been working their way to market, along with Icon's A5 and Independent Aircraft's SeaDragon.  

LSA expert Dan Johnson recently reported there are close to two dozen different light seaplanes either in production or in development. Atol Aviation is working on an update of its 20-year-old seaplane, which won't be ready to show at Oshkosh, but first flight is expected soon. The airplane will be available in both LSA and ultralight versions. Also in the works are the electric-powered Equator Excursion and the FlyWhale ultralight amphib, both in Europe. Johnson said there are at least three more new seaplane models in development that haven't been officially announced yet. AVweb posted a video about the Akoya last year.

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Short Final

Greetings from South Africa.

My story concerns ZS SAJ, a classic jumbo that received a loud and traditional paint job as part of South Africa's bid for the 2010 Olympic games.

Whilst taxiing at JFK, the ground controller asked, "Say, Springbok, did you park in a bad neighborhood last night?"

Tod Burns
via e-mail

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Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

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WingX Pro7 Product Tour

Aviation Consumer's Paul Bertorelli walks through the features of Hilton Software's latest release of WingX Pro on the iPad.

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My Friend Mike

I have spent a lifetime fooling around in high-risk sports—flying, skydiving, motorcycles. It follows that I have a lot of friends who do the same and a few weeks ago, I lost one of them. In any high-risk activity, there are always people who rise to the top and stand apart from the rest and who, by dint of experience, competence and aura, are the last people you’d ever expect to die in an accident. Yet one did. Mike Truffer was a pilot and skydiver and well known in the sport, involved in all levels of it for many years and for many of those years, he was publisher of Skydiving magazine, the sport’s independent voice. Mike died over the Memorial Day weekend following unsurvivable injuries from a hard parachute opening. He was 63.

Mike and I shared a friendship based not just an intersection of interest but also of professions. He was an Aviation Consumer reader and we traded off expertise. If there was anything Mike didn’t know about skydiving—its history, trends and industry dynamics—I’m quite certain I never discovered what it was. I would occasionally call him to ask about some obscure parachuting subject; he’d call me to ask about aviation topics since, as editor of Aviation Consumer, I was supposed to know such things.

He owned at least a couple of airplanes during the time I knew him, including a vintage twin—a Travel Air, I think or maybe an old Baron—with tapped out engines that he once called to ask me about. Mike’s humor could be almost as black as mine, so when we ran through the numbers and I darkly suggested that maybe a hangar fire might be the most economical option, he got the joke. Not everyone does.

If Mike were here now, he’d roll his eyes if I fell into the trite prose of the typical memorial hagiography by suggesting he touched many lives, so I won’t do that. Respect and fondness for a person is usually erected on a foundation of specific memories and in Mike’s case, I recall two.

In 2005, through the lens of skydiving, a conversation we had reset my thinking on aviation risk assessment and how I analyze and write about it. Most skydivers these days use something called an automatic activation device or AAD. It will automatically deploy a reserve parachute if a skydiver fails to deploy on his own below a certain altitude and airspeed threshold. I have one and assumed Mike did, too. But quite purposefully, he did not. His reasoning, as it always was, was old school, but sound. AADs protect against a small slice of risk—distraction and/or failure to pull or incapacitation in free fall. These are exceedingly rare events. But AADs have been known to malfunction, deploying when you least want them to. We agreed that we had no reliable numbers on unintended activations and measured against bona fide saves, Mike figured the risk was about a wash, so he didn’t use one. You probably know people like Mike, who like to push back against the accepted wisdom that accrues from group think, not to mention marketing boilerplate.

I continued to use an AAD, conceding to myself that the real risk mitigation, as Mike maintained, was probably more between the ears than real. But isn’t that usually the case? The very same logic applies to some aviation equipment many of us have come to believe is indispensable. Not having an AAD, by the way, had nothing to do with Mike’s accident.

Mike and his partner Sue Clifton retired from publishing Skydiving in 2009 and shuttered the publication. It is missed mightily, for every discipline and interest benefits from having an independent news outlet. Mike got that. I did some writing for Skydiving and one of the things we covered was a certain type of reserve parachute that clearly had a design defect. It had a degree of longitudinal instability that made it all but impossible to flare. I had personally seen two skydivers stall it and suffer identical injuries as a result. When I approached Mike about reporting this, he didn’t flinch, despite the reserve’s manufacturer being an advertiser. All publishers should do so well. And it wasn’t an isolated example, either. Mike had that rarest of qualities: advocacy uncompromised by obsequious glad-handing. When you asked him a question, you’d get an unvarnished answer, usually based on first hand knowledge. I don’t know about you, but I value this in human character above all else.

In the wake of a tragic accident like Mike’s, we sometimes soothe our grief by drawing from it some lesson that may save a life in the future, but there is no such lesson here. The reality is that high-risk activities always involve a degree of randomness that respects no person and defies the prepared, the skilled, the competent.

Mike knew this because he and I talked about it. Of course, in the end, it’s just words on a page, none of which make it any easier to accept his passing. For me personally, there simply are no words for that.