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The Rockwell Turbo Commander 690B that crashed into two houses in New Haven, Conn., on Friday was inverted when it hit the homes, the NTSB says. But spokesman Patrick Murray told Reuters  the pilot, retired Microsoft vice president Bill Henningsgaard, did not make any distress calls as he turned the aircraft to land in rainy weather at Tweed-New Haven Airport.  "There is no evidence right now that the pilot was in distress during his last conversation with the control tower and it appears he was turning to try and land when the tower lost contact with him," Murray said. Authorities have now confirmed that four people died in the crash. A 13-year-old girl and her year-old sister in one of the houses hit by the aircraft were confirmed dead, although their mother survived. Aboard the aircraft, according to the NTSB, were Henningsgaard and his teenage son, Max. The two, from Medina, Wash., were touring colleges on the east coast.  Weather at the time of the accident was about 900 feet broken and 3,700 feet overcast in light rain, with five miles visibility. The wind was out of the south at 14 knots. 

Residents of the neighborhood where the crash occurred have been interviewed by local media in the aftermath and say that recent safety improvements at the airport have altered the flight profiles of aircraft landing at the facility. The airport has built safety areas at the ends of the runways and just completed an aggressive trimming of trees on the approach. Residents told the New Haven Register that since the trees have been trimmed they have noticed that aircraft appear to be flying lower over their homes. “You can actually wave at the pilots,” said Jean Santino, who lives on Hall Street in New Haven. “Something’s wrong when you can wave at a pilot and the pilot waves back. It was never this bad until they did the [construction of the safety areas.] They were never this low before ...” Airport officials dispute the claims, saying procedures have not changed at the airport since the safety areas were built. “Our flight patterns did not change since the safety areas and since the trees have been cut,” Airport Manager Lori Hoffman-Soares said. “Air traffic controllers have not changed their procedures.” Henningsgaard, 54,  had survived a previous aircraft accident when he ditched an Epic LT into the Columbia River near Astoria following an engine failure. Henningsgaard and his mother, the only two aboard, escaped without injury and were picked up by a boat.

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Canadian police aren't saying exactly how a young hot air balloon pilot died at a major balloon festival south of Montreal on Sunday but he wasn't in his own balloon. The QMI Agency is reporting that 26-year-old Maxime Trepanier had already landed and was helping another crew land their balloon when he was somehow launched into the air and then fell to his death. "Was (Trepanier) close to the balloon, was he inside? All that remains to be confirmed," police Sgt. Audrey-Anne Bilodeau told reporters. Trepanier was taking part in the International Balloon Festival in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. His parents are avid balloonists and Trepanier grew up helping out at the event, which draws 450,000 spectators annually.

QMI says Trepanier was "lifted into the air by a cable and fell to his death moments later." He was an experienced pilot and the father of young children. Flying was suspended for the balance of Sunday but will continue on the wishes of the family. It runs until Aug. 18.

A total of nine passengers aboard Asiana Flight 214 that crash-landed in San Francisco on July 6 are suing the airline for damages, but they're also going after Boeing, claiming the company sells aircraft with different classes of safety. As expected, the suit says Asiana's crew was negligent when the Boeing 777 they were flying got 30 knots slow on final approach and undershot the runway by more than 1,000 yards, slamming tail-first into a seawall before spinning laterally almost 360 degrees and sliding to a stop about even to where it should have touched down. But the nine suits, each identical but filed separately by lawyer Frank Pitre, also says the aircraft should have had more warning systems and Boeing should have offered better training to pilots. It also says the lap-and-shoulder harness seatbelts on business class seats should have been available to those riding farther back.

"I'm outraged that you've got safety that's dependent on the type of ticket you buy," Pitre told Bay-area media after filing the suit Thursday. Many of the more than 180 people injured suffered spinal and whiplash-type injuries from being flung into the seats ahead of them. Reports suggest those with the shoulder restraints didn't suffer the same fate. Pitre is looking for financial compensation and punitive damages in the suits. Three people died as a result of the mishap. Two were killed in the crash and one was run over by at least one fire truck.

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photo credit: The Canadian Press

Public comments from each agency suggest that Canada's Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada may be divided regarding how each would prefer to address the issue of post-crash fires, and those differences have sparked some finger pointing. The Safety Board recently released a report probing an October 2011 crash in which the two pilots of a Beechcraft King Air 100 suffered fatal burns. In that report, the safety board suggested the pilots might have survived the crash had regulators (Transport Canada) not ignored recommendations to reduce the probability of post-crash fires. Transport Canada has now responded saying that its not clear the recommendations would work, that it would take significant research to find out, and that a different approach may be more effective.

Transport Canada's director general of civil aviation, Martin Eley, told TheProvince.com that other regulators, like the FAA, focus instead on preventing the crashes that may lead to post-crash fires. He said that approach puts a focus on areas of flight that contribute to the largest number of accidents and he characterized post-crash fire prevention as "focusing on a particular piece that is not going to create the same impact in terms of the overall fatality numbers." The Safety Board's own conclusions regarding the King Air crash were that a series of problems, including maintenance failures and pilot performance, contributed to the crash. It also stated that the pilots could have survived if arcing wires had not ignited a fire in the cockpit after the crash. They recommended that technology to disconnect wiring from aircraft batteries upon impact could reduce or prevent post-crash fires.

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Sometimes it's better to be lucky than it is to be good but the pilot of an aircraft that ditched off Key Largo, Fla., on Thursday seemed to have everything working in his favor. According to a news release, the unidentified pilot's distress calls were heard by Key West Seaplanes pilots Julie Ann Floyd and Nikali Pontecorvo as they ferried one of the company's floatplanes from Key West to Miami. They offered to help and diverted to the location of the other aircraft, whose pilot was reporting engine trouble. The seaplane pilots followed the other aircraft, which also hasn't been identified, in hopes it would make it to a runway. The engine quit, however, and that's when the unusual rescue sequence unfolded.

"We watched while the pilot made a textbook, perfect emergency water landing and we then landed our seaplane beyond his touchdown point on the water," said Floyd. I was really impressed with the pilot's skill to do everything just as all pilots are trained." The pilot got out of the floating aircraft and swam over to the floatplane as it taxied toward him. "He had no signs of any injury ... no cuts, no scratches, no bruises. He was in good spirits and complained of no pain. He really did everything right," Floyd said. They gave him a lift to Miami and parted ways.

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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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German researchers have developed a system that uses lasers mounted on aircraft to "see" clear air turbulence ahead of the plane. At the German Aerospace Center DLR Institute of Atmospheric physics, researchers have designed a light detection and ranging (LIDAR) instrument for that purpose. It sends a beam of short-wave ultraviolet laser radiation into the air and measures backscatter from air molecules to determine air density.  And, from density differentials, it can provide information regarding the state of turbulence in the air ahead of the aircraft. The technology is being tested in Germany, through August. Use of the LIDAR technology is part of a larger clear air turbulence detection project.

Use of LIDAR to detect or predict clear air turbulence was developed as part of the European project Demonstration of LIDAR based Clear Air Turbulence detection (DELICAT). The test aircraft is a Cessna Citation, modified under the program and operated by the project's Dutch partner, National Aerospace Laboratory. The team's long-term goal is to create a turbulence detection system that can be integrated into aircraft, allowing future pilots to predict turbulence with greater accuracy and to warn passengers, or divert around areas of intense disturbances.

Sikorsky hopes its newly unveiled Matrix technology suite can bring higher autonomy to unmanned aviation missions, actively guiding aircraft through dynamically evolving situations that could be dangerous for pilots or impossible for a normal UAV to negotiate. The company describes Matrix as advanced algorithms that collect situational data and effectively make decisions, literally on the fly, on how to guide an aircraft in an active environment -- safely landing a helicopter on a rocking ship, for example. The company believes the system could make possible the option of removing human controllers from the equation altogether. "We're aiming for much higher levels of intelligence when you can say 'go get this cargo' and it does," Sikorsky chief engineer Igor Cherepinsky told DefenseNews.com.

Before full real-world implementation, however, Sikorsky hopes to hit a target of one failure per 100,000 hours. The company is using an S-76 helicopter as the Matrix testbed, but fixed-wing implementation is not off the table. The S-76 first flew with Matrix on July 26 and Sikorsky hopes to up the test schedule to "at least" one flight per day.  The tests are being flown with a pilot onboard to monitor the aircraft and its systems and to step in if needed. If successful, Sikorsky sees the software making flight in sandstorms and landing on moving ships in high seas relatively routine. If successful, the company expects to see Matrix applied first in military applications, particularly by automating cargo movement.

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The town of Deer Trail, Colo., Tuesday held a vote on a local ordinance that could financially encourage residents to shoot down UAVs operated over their land by the federal government, but the vote was inconclusive in spite of warnings from the FAA. The ordinance was drafted by a town resident and it would offer $25 licenses for local permission to shoot at drones. Anyone who could shoot down a drone and produce parts that confirmed it was owned or operated by the United States federal government would earn $100 from the town. However, prior to the vote, the FAA made clear in a letter that shooting such an aircraft would result in criminal or civil liability. And the result of the vote split Deer Trail's town board right down the middle, which means this story isn't yet over.

The town now intends to put the ordinance up for a vote that will involve town residents. That vote is expected later this year. It is illegal under federal law to destroy federal property, regardless of the town's ordinances. That aside, anyone flying a drone that was shot down over Deer Trail would likely be able to seek reparations from the city or the individual who shot it down. Complicating matters further is the fact that at least one Colorado sheriff operates drones that have been used in search operations, for land surveys and emergency services. The town of Deer Trail had a population of less than 600 people, according to the 2010 census. And the drone ordinance issue may have brought it a new avenue of attention apart from Deer Trail's other claim to fame, "home of the world's first rodeo."

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A notebook dating back to roughly 1505, filled by Leonardo da Vinci, with his ideas and sketches regarding bird and mechanical flight, will be on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum next month. The book is called the "Codex on the Flight of Birds" and it will be digitized, allowing visitors to flip its pages on monitors at the museum for the duration of its Sept. 13 to Oct. 22 stay. The showing will mark the (more than) 500-year-old book's second appearance in America. It is recognized as one of the only books that da Vinci focused on a single subject. 

The book will be placed in the same exhibition space as the Wright brothers' 1903 Flyer, which is regarded as the first successful aircraft to incorporate principles and systems that followed through to modern planes. Air and Space Museum curator Peter Jakab told the Washington Post that da Vinci items rarely travel -- even within Europe -- making public display of the Codex in the U.S. "extraordinary." The book covers da Vinci's explorations into aerodynamics, structures and even where a pilot would need to be positioned to fly an aircraft. According to Jakab, "When you look at what the Wright brothers did, you see these concepts that da Vinci had identified in rudimentary form" more than 300 years before Orville and Wilbur were born.

Overheard one evening as a Fayetteville, North Carolina controller was working with a Cessna that was requesting flight following. The Cessna had problems with a fussy transponder and the controller was attempting to help. After several exchanges:

Tower:
"N1234, I'm still getting an inconsistent transponder return. Confirm squawking 4567."

Cessna:
"N1234 squawking 4567."

Tower:
"N1234, transponder return is still inconsistent. Try squawking 5678."

Cessna:
"N1234 squawking 5678."

Tower:
"N1234, I have a good return now. Could you say the type?"

Cessna:
"N1234. It's a piece-of-crap [redacted] transponder. Don't ever buy one."

... long pause ...

Cessna:
"Oh, you meant the aircraft. Skyhawk."

Tower keyed the microphone, but only laughter came through.


Glenn Holden
via e-mail


Editor's Note:
Yes, we know there's no "8" to squawk.  The error crept in when we genericized the numbers for publication, and we've left it here in the archive.  If nothing else, it generated some great e-mail — this one being our favorite.

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