The NTSB this week released preliminary aviation accident statistics for 2012, showing that Part 121 commercial airline operations remained fatality-free, and general aviation accidents were virtually unchanged. In the general aviation segment, the number of total accidents was 1,470 in 2011 and 1,471 in 2012. Fatalities decreased slightly, from 448 to 432, and the accident rate per 100,000 flight hours declined from 6.84 to 6.78. On-demand Part 135 operations showed improvement, with decreases across all measures, the NTSB said.
The safety board has been advocating for a change in the general aviation safety rate for several years, citing the failure to improve and a tendency for the same causes to recur over and over again. The NTSB recently issued a series of five online videos addressing the major causes of GA accidents. The 2012 statistical tables showing accidents, fatalities and accident rates for major segments of U.S. civil aviation are posted online.
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The company is not currently building airplanes, but Mooney had a presence at AirVenture 2013 to recognize the 60-year anniversary of the M20 and two pilots who set records in Mooneys, and to say the company isn't going anywhere. The company says it is still working to support the roughly 7,000 aircraft it produced that are still in service and says it "continues to discuss new investment opportunities with interested parties." Mooney's CFO, Barry Hodkin, said, "Nobody is quitting on the Mooney brand. It's among the most respected aviation brands in the world." Hodkin said he is optimistic about the company's future, and hopes to see it return to production.
At AirVenture, the company provided a forum for record setting-pilot Jack Wiegand, who became the youngest person to fly solo around the world in a Mooney Ovation 2 GX, because of its "balance between speed and efficiency," according to the company. Also appearing in cooperative support was Lee White, head of Toyota Racing, who flew a Mooney 231 to national and world speed records in 2000. Of some 11,000 Mooneys built since the 1950s, some 7,000 Mooney airplanes are still in service. There are still more than 50 Mooney service centers in operation, supplying parts and services to Mooney owners. According to Hodkin, "We're definitely looking at getting back in the game."
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Pilatus has chosen a Chinese company, Beijing Tian Xing Jian Yu Science Co., as a partner for expanding into the Chinese market, the company said on Wednesday. "We believe that a partnership with a local sales partner is the key to success [in China]," said Markus Bucher, CEO of Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. "Assisted by our joint venture partner … we will achieve our goal of establishing the Pilatus brand in China." The PC-12 and the Pilatus Porter PC-6 are "optimum" aircraft for Chinese buyers, added Oscar Schwenk, Pilatus chairman. "China has many small airfields with short runways -- our aircraft are ideal for operating in and out of them." An initial contract to supply a total of 50 PC-12s and PC-6s has been signed.
The newly created company and associated Pilatus activities in China "will not impact negatively on production operations in Switzerland," the company said in its news release. "On the contrary, production in Switzerland will be reinforced by the anticipated sale of aircraft to China." Pilatus, based in Switzerland, recently announced its first jet project, the PC-24.
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The 787 that was damaged in a fire at Heathrow recently can be repaired, but the exact procedure for fixing the damage is unclear and may prove costly, according to The Seattle Times. Although the fire blackened and damaged the composite structure, it didn't burn all the way through the skin, the Times said, but the skin will nevertheless need to be replaced, and "repairing the damaged Ethiopian Airlines jet will clearly be a major challenge for Boeing’s engineers." Depending on how big the damaged area is, it may be cheaper and easier for Boeing to replace the entire aft fuselage section, rather than install a large patch that would require extensive testing to prove its soundness to the FAA. Composites World called the effort "possibly, one of the largest composite repair projects in aerospace history."
Repairing the damage "is not as simple as cutting away the damaged skin section and fashioning a patch," according to Composites World. "Stringers and other sub-skin structures must be assessed, replaced and tested — all a first for Boeing." Boeing told The New York Times it was discussing the repair options with Ethiopian Airlines, the owner of the damaged aircraft, and would not discuss them publicly. “We feel comfortable that we know how to address this issue and most other structural issues as they arise,” Boeing CEO W. James McNerney Jr. said.
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In an update issued Tuesday afternoon, the NTSB said the captain of a Southwest Airlines 737 that landed nosewheel-first at New York's LaGuardia Airport on July 22 had taken over control from the first officer "at a point below 400 feet" as the jet approached for landing. It was the first time the two pilots had flown together. The first officer had flown into LGA before, including six flights in 2013, and it was the second arrival for the captain, who had acted as the monitoring pilot both times. The nose gear collapsed on the runway, causing substantial damage to the airplane. All 150 onboard were evacuated and eight people were treated for injuries. "At this point in the investigation, no mechanical anomalies or malfunctions have been found," the NTSB said. "A preliminary examination of the nose gear indicated that it failed due to stress overload."
The safety board also said the captain has been with Southwest for 13 years, and has been a captain for six years, with more than 12,000 hours of flight time. The first officer has been with Southwest for about 18 months, and has about 5,200 total flight hours. Tuesday's report also said, "The crew reported that below 1,000 feet, the tailwind was about 11 knots. They also reported that the wind on the runway was a headwind of about 11 knots." The NTSB said investigators have collected five videos showing various aspects of the crash landing. The team will be analyzing these recordings in the coming months.
At the traditional wrap-up news conference at Oshkosh on Sunday afternoon, EAA Chairman Jack Pelton said this year's show succeeded in meeting its main objectives. The number-one objective, he said, was to have a safe AirVenture, and that was accomplished. The second major success was to have an airshow at all, given the challenges posed when the FAA declined to pay the expenses for air traffic controllers, and sent EAA a bill for almost $450,000. The third challenge was to provide an entertaining airshow, despite the lack of military participation. "Most of you will agree we exceeded that expectation," Pelton said. EAA also said it had a record number of vendors at the show, many of whom reported robust sales.
"The traffic is just nonstop all day," Bret Koebbe, from Sporty's Pilot Shop, told EAA. Vendors cited growing optimism regarding the economy, plus good crowds drawn by the near-perfect weather, for improved interest and sales. Joe Blank, of Van's Aircraft, told EAA that sales were strong, especially for the new RV-14, introduced last year. Pelton said he wanted his staff to "come away with the overall feeling that would bring people back next year, and we feel [that] objective has been achieved." AirVenture 2014 is scheduled for July 28 to August 3. That show will honor the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the jet engine, along with many other features and events to be announced.
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At AirVenture, we talked to Aerocross Systems' Tam Pho about a new product the company is introducing. It's essentially a wearable HUD, consisting of a pair of lightweight glasses with a primary flight display projected directly in front of the eye. Pho says the system is designed to be practical and affordable.
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Anyone who's made the annual EAA pilgrimage to pre-sequestered Oshkosh understands the excitement of scanning for traffic while listening with rapt attention to ATC. You can maintain that razor's edge year-'round by acing this quiz.
You solicit silly opinions from pilots, and they always rise to the challenge. Brainteaser Quiz #185 asked, "What's the silliest aircraft name you've heard?" To get the giggling juices flowing, I suggested the Piper Tomahawk, not only a silly-looking airplane with its scorpion tail and pedal-plane ramp demeanor, but a silly name since a real tomahawk is a crude tool -- except in the hands of Ed Ames -- and doesn't convey the grace one expects in an airplane. Likewise the doppelganger Beech Skipper, which sounds like a child's pool toy: "Timmy, stay close and don't lose your Beech Skipper!" The Beechcraft Musketeer is only marginally more acceptable to the pilot ear.
A Rose By Any Other Name ... Isn't a Rose
Beechcraft took another raspberry from a survey respondent who loves the North American T-6 Texan and warned, "The 'new' Beechcraft T-6 (II) 'Texan' is misnamed. One should never re-use much-respected aircraft names." But reused they are. At least one reader thought the name Beech Hawker 400 was totally bogus: "It's a BeechJet! It isn't a Hawker. It'll never be a Hawker, and there already is a Hawker 400 that's been around for 40 years!" Actually, the email read, "There already is a Hawker 40 that's been around for 400 years," but we'll assume that's a typo.
And typos might explain the ire the Boeing 717 conjured in the reader who said, "It may be a Boeing now, but it is a DC-9 -- 95!" This pushback against manufacturer merger-mania continued: "MD-11? [wait for it ...] It's a DC-11!" At that point he must've run out of exclamation points. You can never have too many when naming airplanes. Imagine how much more respect Cessna's Skycatcher would garner had it been named the "Skycatcher!" No? OK, try three exclamation points: "Skycatcher!!!"
Nah, still doesn't work.
A few readers thought Cessna had another dud name in its line-up with the Cessna Mustang. They took umbrage with that name applying to anything but the North American P-51. (For proof of the P-51's class, watch the CAF's Gun Fighter in flight.) And, no, Navions -- even though originally built by North American -- really don't look like Mustangs. And, c'mon, Navion Rangemaster? Good airplane in its own right, but Rangemaster? Sounds like a 1961 stove in Betty White's kitchen.
It should be noted that Mooney briefly toyed with the Mustang name for its pressurized Mooney Mustang. A few dozen of these hulking singles were manufactured between 1965 and 1970 until flying the company toward bankruptcy.
Good Plane, Bad Name
By contrast, the Mooney Mite -- while possibly a silly name -- was a gem of a single-seater. Almost 300 Mites were produced between 1947 and 1954. The same 65-hp Continental engine that pulled Cubs, Champs and T-craft around the sky at 60-70 knots propelled the retractable-gear Mite at speeds closer to 120 knots (some owners claim greater speeds). But Mite or Mustang, one reader just thought the name Mooney was silly.
Before it went bust, the post-WWII airplane boom produced more silly names beyond Mooney. Whoever thought the world would beat a path to the Funk factory? Good enough airplane that began life in the 1930s, but there were just too many ways to diddle with the F-name to save Howard and Joe Funk's 85-hp two-seaters in a market saturated with less silly names.
Such as Ercoupe! Notice how the exclamation point saved this twin-rudder sportabout from the late 1940s funk that settled over the small-airplane market. Ercoupes may have been promoted as being "spin-proof," but one reader -- who has owned two Ercoupes -- had to admit to finding the name a tad silly. Silly sounding or not, thousands of post-war Ercoupes were manufactured under several owners until 1968 when Mooney, apparently recovered from its Mustang hangover, took its turn at making Ercoupes. They renamed it the Mooney Cadet, with the classic twin-rudders replaced by Mooney's signature forward-sweeping, single, vertical fin. You won't see too many Mooney Cadets sharing ramp space with Mustangs of any kind these days.
It's a Zoo Up There
Mustang wasn't the only animal name that had readers snickering through their headsets. The WWI British fighter icon, Sopwith Camel, worked fine for Snoopy but nudged one reader to snark, "Camel? [There is] no hump, no long nose, doesn't spit and can't go for days without fuel." Actually, the Camel's twin .303 Vickers machine guns spat well enough to cause the Royal Flying Corps (RFC; later Royal Air Force, RAF) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) to purchase almost 5500 Camels.
The de Havilland Chipmunk conjured images of singing vermin for some who've probably never flown Chipmunks. Caribou, Yak and Sea Stallion made several readers grin, and one of our British correspondents asked whether we thought Fairey Albacore was a silly name. Not for a tuna can, but since I pictured the writer as John Cleese from the Ministry of Silly Aero Names, I found the name for this 1930s British biplane very silly indeed. Although perhaps not as silly as its sister ship, the Fairey Battle, a three-seat, low-wing, light bomber that vaguely resembles a Hawker Hurricane (now there's a name) but lacked the Hurricane's performance and sadly proved easy fodder for Luftwaffe pilots, who never flew anything with silly names. Or pronounceable, such as the WWI German Imperial Flying Corps' (Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches') Gotha heavy bomber biplane from Gothaer Waggonfabrik. While we can't cite a proper source (there's only so much you can glean from Wikipedia on a deadline), apparently the last operational Gotha G.V bomber appeared in the 1956 Japanese monster film, Gotha v. Mothra!
"Who would name an airplane a 'Goose'?" another reader wrote, clinging to the aircraft/animorph theme. Well, Howard Hughes had his Spruce Goose, and Grumman introduced its Goose before WWII. This amphibious, twin-engine, eight-seater was envisioned for Long Island commuters. The aerial commuter theme never really caught on, although the Goose enjoyed a long career in both civilian and military colors. Not so much the Hughes Goose. Cessna gleaned the Commuter theme for its 150 line, but it lays a little flat, too suburban, a little like Stinson's Flying Station Wagon. Good airplanes but uninspiring names.
The 1973 180-hp Piper Challenger came with its own marketing challenge. Not everyone wants an airplane that's a challenge to fly. It's a good airplane that saw its challenging name changed the following year to Archer, in keeping with Piper's recurring American Indian name themes, which some people find silly.
Some pilots do enjoy a challenge, and one North American T-28 "Trojan" owner said he found it amusing, if not entirely silly, that his 1950s military trainer was named after a condom.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon name brought more disdain than mirth from a lone observer, who said it sounded too similar to a "poorly performing missile" called the Falcon. To which I say that nothing performed more poorly then the 1962 Ford Falcon I drove in college.
Another name that's always good for a laugh around the military historical-aircraft crowd is the Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender. This WWII experiment, which resembled a bloated Rutan VariEze, was nicknamed the "Ass-ender." Admit it, you giggled. The Ascender didn't see much military service, unlike the less-than-svelte Grumman E-1 Tracer airborne early warning twin, which served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to the 1970s, and in that time earned the affectionate -- and silly -- nickname Willy Fudd.
Try this one: Tilbury-Fundy Flash. A stubby racer that competed in the 1934 National Air Races, Tilbury-Fundy Flash easily makes the corners of the speaker's mouth curl upward. And, while we're cruising off the beam, why hasn't anyone made a movie about the National Air Races? Can't you picture Harrison Ford as the Tilbury-Fundy Flash team owner? I'd go see a movie called Tilbury-Fundy Flash. OK, I'll work on the script while your people call my people.
Homebuilt and Aerobatic Sillies
Mentioning Burt Rutan opens up a new field of experimental homebuilts with silly names. This placard was reportedly spotted on a two-seat, tandem VariEze: "Fun but not easy." It is assumed the commentator meant, "Fun to fly but not fun to build." The side-by-side cousin to the VariEze is the Cozy, which prompted someone to remark, "It should've been named the Cramped instead. Bloody uncomfortable aeroplane." Rutan's single-seat, the Quickie, made one reader allude to the gawdaful 1970s song, "Afternoon Delight," which will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Sorry.
Here, now, are a pair of names that aren't so delightful: Pipistrel might offer a sleek line of LSAs, but naming one Virus (tri-gear) and the other Sinus (tailwheel) just makes you want to cover your nose before flight.
You can't swing a CAP cadet at Oshkosh without hitting the ubiquitous WWII trainer, the Boeing Kaydet. The what? An offended reader writes, "Virtually nobody, from WWII 'til present day, called 'em Kaydets. They were -- and always will be -- Stearmans, named after the man who designed them, Lloyd Stearman."
Thinking smaller than Stearman biplanes, Curtis Pitts designed some of the hottest aerobatic airplanes ever, and while the name "Pitts" might invoke a few smirks from middle schoolers on an Air & Space Museum tour, Betty Skelton's 85-hp Pitts S-1, nicknamed "Little (Lil) Stinker," stifled any snickers when she took the 1949 and 1950 International Feminine Aerobatic Championships in the pocket-sized bipe.
Further unraveling the aerobatic thread, several readers cringed at the name Citabria, which when held up to a mirror while flying inverted spells the purpose of the popular aerobatic airplane: Airbatic. Yeah, airbatic isn't exactly a word, but neither is Dreamliner, which claimed our survey's silliest name award, as well as a snappy salute to Boeing execs as they tenaciously pursue the dream of getting this PR nightmare off the front page and into a Brainteaser quiz where the non-pilot community will never see it.
Those are the survey results. Silly, perhaps, but if it weren't for the silly notion that humans can fly, some of us would be forced to find real work.
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For the past five years, as general aviation has drifted through weak sales and anemic development, the pace of new product rollouts has been similarly flat. This year, as I mentioned in my opening day blog, the industry seems to be stirring, reflecting optimism, if not confidence in full flight.
Even in slow years, I’ve always seen a few products or ideas that leave an impression indelible enough for me make mental notes to follow them over the horizon. This year, my radar pinged three things: LightSpeed’s new headset, a wearable HUD from a company called Aerocross Systems and the Adept Airmotive engine, which I’ve been watching for three years.
First, the headset. Headset intros are a little like street trolleys; if you wait long enough, another one will trundle along claiming to have the best comfort, the best ANR and maybe a revolutionary leap in performance. Meh. The reality often falls short of the marketing claims. But this year, one of the indelibles for me was trying out LightSpeed’s new PDX. (Full disclosure here: LightSpeed is an AVweb sponsor.) Allan Shrader corralled me into the booth to try this thing and when he said the company is doing ANR differently, he wasn’t kidding.
As explained in this podcast, the PDX uses something called “feed forward” technology to sample the noise environment many times a second and perform what Shrader describes as “search and destroy” on the changing ambient noise. The earcups have an external mic to pick up ambient noise and throw it into the ANR solution mix.
Unfortunately, the podcast doesn’t do the effect justice. I think the mics we use for recording podcasts just aren’t good enough to keep up with the ANR performance and I suspect the mic’s presence in the earcup queers the mapping that LightSpeed has devised. Without the mic inserted for the podcast, the noise cancellation was extraordinary. I can only describe it as almost having a density you can feel. I’ll reserve more detailed judgment on the PDX until I’ve flown it in a noisy cockpit, but it sure looks intriguing. And here I thought ANR performance had peaked.
AirVenture often serves as a trial balloon launch pad for dingbat technologies that you know aren’t going anywhere, but which are, at the least, creative entertainment. At first I thought that about Aerocross Systems wearable HUD glasses. Think Google Glass, with the viewer on the right side of a pair of glasses that projects a mini-PFD in front of your right eye, though I suppose it could be on the other eye, too. The display is tiny; no bigger than a quarter. But because it’s designed for infinity focus, it’s quite readable. HUDs haven’t made much of a dent in general aviation, probably because the market is limited and they’ve been ruinously expensive. But at an estimated price of $2000 or so, the Aerocross device, if it makes it to market, might be a winner. Says Aerocross’s Tam Pho, the finished product would likely be a battery operated wireless device that wouldn’t require certification. If the idea of HUDS is a good one—and I think it might be—this gadget could finally make them practical and affordable. Let’s see what Aerocross has in a year or 18 months.
Last, engines. Continental’s burst of diesel activity seems to have placed gasoline engines into the shadows, but they’re still out there. In fact, if diesel engine market penetration quadruples in five years, gasoline engines will still own 90 percent of the installed GA piston market. But gasoline technology is so mature as to be static developmentally. Lycoming has the IE2 engine underway and Continental is expanding its Powerlink FADEC certs, but these aren’t seeing much traction yet.
Against the anemic backdrop is Adept Airmotive’s V-6, which displayed at AirVenture. Here’s a video. What’s good about this engine is that is has terrific power specifics, is relatively efficient with BSFCs in the lower 0.4s and is light enough to fit a range of airplanes. A 300-hp plus option expands the airframe menu further. But nothing is for free. It’s relatively complex compared to the typical Lycoming and watercooled, which complicates conversions, although that wouldn’t necessarily be a factor for OEM installations.
Recall that in 2004, BRP/Rotax offered a similar engine and got the project well along before cancelling it. The engine had significant developmental problems and I suspect Rotax realized, among other things, that it didn’t have the service infrastructure to support such a complex engine. The return on 10 years worth of investment wouldn’t have been too attractive, either.
Adept will have that challenge in the global market but also one advantage that I can see. It’s based in South Africa, a country with an active local market that might give Adept a foothold in fielding and supporting a new engine line before trying to export it elsewhere. It may initially find a good enough conversion market to at least prove the concept.
But no one should have any illusions. Marketing a new engine, much less a gasoline engine, in a universe dominated by Lycoming and Continental engines whose economics and service history have been long since proven, will be a challenge. Were it not for the ongoing extinction of 100LL, even diesel engines would have an uphill fight. Rotax claimed to have had an OEM for its V-6, which was most likely Cirrus. But in the end, for technical and economic reasons, it canned the project. It was probably a wise decision.
But it’s 2013 and the demise of 100LL draws ever closer, so perhaps there’s a tiny wedge of just-right timing for a new, efficient gasoline engine that doesn’t require high-octane fuel. On paper, the Adept engine appears to have the numbers to deliver. Still, it faces long-shot odds in a world where the China-based AVIC International is putting its money on diesel and the inertia of 250,000 or more gasoline engines carries the rest of the market.