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Image: NOAA

The National Weather Service has begun a series of major upgrades to its computing power that should provide a "quantum leap" in forecast capabilities, the agency said recently. "Whizzing through 213 trillion calculations per second, newly upgraded supercomputers Ö are now more than twice as fast in processing sophisticated computer models to provide more accurate forecasts further out in time," NWS said in a news release. "These improvements are just the beginning," said Louis Uccellini, director of the NWS. "They lay the foundation for further computing enhancements and more accurate forecast models that are within reach."

The recent upgrades boosted the weather service's supercomputers from 90 teraflops to 213 teraflops of computing speed -- each teraflop is equal to one trillion calculations per second. "These upgrades are a game-changer for the entire public and private weather industry," Uccellini said. "In addition to the benefits to our own forecasters and products, we will provide our private-sector partners with better information to empower them to enhance their services." The next upgrade, expected to be completed by summer 2015, would boost the computing power to 1,950 teraflops. "That gives us the necessary computer power to run an enhanced version of our primary forecast model, the Global Forecast System," said Uccellini. According to NBAA, aviation users will first see improvements in thunderstorm forecasts, and also in the detail and speed of weather data. "In two or three years, todayís preflight weather planning products may be remembered as inefficient or sluggish," NBAA said.

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As the ADS-B mandate draws nearer, the market for certified ADS-B equipment is heating up. This month, Texas-based NavWorx announced that it has just obtained FAA TSO approval for its ADS600-B, a Universal Access Transceiver that provides both ADS-B In and Out capability and meets the 2020 mandate. In addition to broadcasting the required Out data, the ADS600-B can also receive ADS-B In services such as ADS-R and TIS-B traffic information and FIS-B weather services. The device also has a WiFi adapter that allows wireless connectivity to tablet applications. Although the unit can accept position data from external WAAS GPS receivers, it also has its own internal WAAS GPS from Accord Technology for those aircraft that donít already have WAAS GPS in the panel. The ADS600-B product line prices start at $2595.

NavWorxís product joins a small but growing class of certified ADS-B products from Aspen, Garmin, FreeFlight System and Bendix/King, which introduced the KT74 with extended squitter at AirVenture in July.

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NASA announced Wednesday that it had teamed up with the U.S. Navy and the FAA to drop a CH-46E helicopter fuselage into the ground as part of an effort to improve the safety and performance of helicopters and construction techniques. A second test will take place next summer, subjecting to the same forces a CH-46E airframe modified with composite airframe retrofits. The test was observed by researchers, and also by 40 cameras (including some recording at 500 frames per second) and computers collecting data from 350 instrumentation points. The fuselage also carried 15 crash dummies to test improved seat belts and seats meant to improve helicopter crash survivability. But the test is also looking farther ahead in vertical flight development and included one NASA "first."

NASA incorporated a video game motion sensor into the test fuselage, "to see if it is useful as an additional way to track the movements of the dummies." Also new for the test was an external paint job of black polka dots over a white base. Each dot was used as a data point analyzed with help of the high-speed cameras. Results from the two tests will be used in NASA's rotary wing research to aid in the development of vertical takeoff and landing vehicles of all types, and applied to enable carriage of more passengers and cargo faster, and safer, while also being more efficient and quieter. The CH-46E airframe is the same model used by Marine Helicopter Squadron One to transport the president, though the unit will be phasing in MV-22 tilt-rotor Ospreys for VIP (but not presidential) transport.†NASA has made video of the test available online, here.†Skip ahead to 13:10 to see the impact.

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Aeros said this week its 266-foot-long lighter-than-air cargo aircraft will make its first flight in the "coming weeks." The company, based in Los Angeles, has been working on the Aeroscraft design since 2007, and began "float-testing" the aircraft early this year. The ship now in the works is a "proof-of-design engineering vehicle," the company said. The purpose of the flight-testing is to evaluate the pilot interface, system operation and controllability, as part of the company's program to develop the Aeroscraft model ML866, which will be about twice as big as the current aircraft. The test vehicle uses an "innovative variable buoyancy management system," the company said.

The ML866 will be a rigid, variable-buoyancy airship, the company says, designed to lift up to 66 tons of cargo for military and commercial operators. The company also plans to build a larger version, the ML868, capable of lifting up to 250 tons. Both aircraft will cruise at about 100 knots and burn about one-third as much as fuel as comparable fixed-wing aircraft, the company said, with a range up to 3,100 nm. The ship's variable-buoyancy system makes it possible to land vertically and offload cargo without the need to exchange ballast, minimizing the need for ground crew and ground facilities. The U.S. Department of Defense, DARPA and NASA have partnered with Aeros in the aircraft development. The video shows the aircraft in recent taxi tests.

photo credit: www.duler.ru

Loosely based on comments made by the former commander-in-chief of the Russian air force, Army General Pyotr Deynekin, rumors have emerged that Russia's next long-range assault jet will likely be unmanned, but it's not coming very soon. The General said that a sixth-generation program is in the works and told RIA news agency it "most probably" will be unmanned. Currently, the Russian military is awaiting its fifth-generation heavy attack jet, the PAK-FA, which is not expected to enter service before 2016. Russia hopes that jet will be virtually undetectable by enemy radar and extremely maneuverable if engaged in a traditional dogfight. The laundry list of capabilities that loosely defines a sixth-generation fighter jet is long and out of the range of current technology and Russian test pilot Sergey Bodgan does not expect to see one within the next decade.†

Early in August, Bodgan publicly said that a new-generation fighter might not evolve for another 15 years, for now, leaving pilots as essential components of the system. But a sixth-generation fighter may be more capable without a biological entity onboard. Some U.S. experts define a sixth-generation jet as one with extreme stealth, capable not only of flying at subsonic speeds but also up to 5 Mach while retaining the ability to engage and destroy targets. Structural developments may include next-generation materials capable of changing shape in flight with some self-healing capability. The aircraft are expected to employ a vast array of sensors and networking capabilities, allowing them to function as a larger network of information gathering and weapons delivery. If Russia is on pace for a roughly 2028 introduction of a sixth-generation military jet, that puts it on pace with U.S. estimates for its next generation tactical aircraft, currently expected before 2030.

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Recent tests using two U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft showed that flying in formation could potentially save the Air Force up to $10 million per year in fuel costs. The test flights, conducted in July, departed from Edwards AFB in California and flew to Hawaii and back. The trailing aircraft's autopilot software was tweaked to enable it to maintain the optimum fuel-saving position, about 3,000 to 6,000 feet behind the lead aircraft. "Maintaining position in the [fuel-saving] formation is no more task-saturating for the aircrew than flying at cruise," said Maj. Kyle Clinton, one of the pilots who flew the trailing C-17. The tests demonstrated in-flight rendezvous, day and night operations, and several hours of flight on autopilot, the Air Force officials said.

Donald Erbschloe, chief scientist for the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command, said the drafting concept has been tested before, but those tests involved fighter aircraft. Those airplanes had to fly closely at "fingertip" intervals for any benefit, requiring a lot of pilot effort for what Erbschloe described as "white-knuckle" flying. Erbschloe said in addition to confirming the fuel savings, assessing how the formation flying affected the aircrew was an important part of these latest tests. Research will continue next year with a two- to three-year project to test the fuel-saving practice with other aircraft and develop Air Force procedures for its implementation.

Pan Am International Flight Academy, based in Miami, Fla., has been bought by ANA Holdings, the parent company of All Nippon Airways, the companies announced last week. All Nippon Airways said it plans to expand Pan Am into Asia, providing training to other Asian airlines, partner firms and subsidiaries. "With air travel expected to double within the next 30 years, with much of the growth occurring in Asia, the company is poised to capture opportunities and create an additional source of steady revenue for the airline," according to Pan Am's news release. The purchase price was $139.5 million.

The Pan Am flight academy began in 1980 as the training division for Pan American World Airways. The company operates nine training facilities in the U.S. and Japan, offering more than 200 aviation training programs. ANA said it will operate Pan Am as a wholly owned subsidiary. The purchase will provide diversified and steady income for ANA, while reducing risk in the volatile and growing Asian aviation sector, according to an analysis in Nikkei Business. ANA also plans to expand into maintenance, airport management and aircraft leasing, according to Nikkei. The acquisition makes ANA the largest aviation training provider in Asia.

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Image: MIT

If you're interested in airplanes and wish you knew more about aerodynamics -- or air traffic control, space policy, satellite engineering or airline management -- you can study all of those topics and more, for free, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via their OpenCourseware website. Each course features a syllabus, readings, video lectures, and projects that you can complete at your own pace. The courses don't include any instructor support, classroom interaction or certification, so learners must be self-motivated. If you prefer more structure, MIT also offers MOOCs, or massive online open courses, together with Harvard, at the EdX website. These courses run on a schedule and offer active discussion forums, and students can receive a certificate when they complete all the coursework.

Upcoming aviation-related courses at EdX include Introduction to Aerodynamics, starting in September, and Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics, starting in January. Students can choose to simply audit the courses, or complete all the homework assignments and exams to earn a Certificate of Mastery. The prerequisites for Intro Aerodynamics include a familiarity with vector calculus, differential equations and control volume analysis, so if you're starting from familiarity with the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, it may be tough going -- but there's nothing to lose if you fail, and no limit on how many times you can re-take the course.

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If the world is full of oppositesóand I think it isóthe opposite of critical thought is group think or herd mentality. Group think is the tendency to go along with whatever new idea or trend comes along because, well, everyone else thinks itís a good thing. Itís just laziness by another name and weíre all susceptible to some degree. When a journalist succumbsóand we all doóthe righteous indignation that follows takes the form of an acidic letter to the editor or, in this venue, point-and-shoot in the comments section. (Feel free.)

The latest wave of group think in aviation is washing over angle of attack indicators. Several companies are producing them and Bendix/King introduced their own at AirVenture. OK, so theyíre† a great thing. They work. Iíve long thought that delinking our understanding of stalls from airspeed and tying it directly to angle of attack might reduce the pathetic stall/spin accident record that plagues general aviation. In 20 years of writing about these things, Iíve published gushing reviews about their efficacy and maybe even suggested that they ought to be required equipment. But I am herewith stepping off that bandwagon, at least conditionally.

Hereís why: When a sensible safety product is introduced, itís quite natural to laud its benefits and, for journalists, to cheerfully recommend it. Whatís not to like about a thing that could save your life? But we often offer these endorsements without any meaningful data about how such a thing will be integrated into the way pilots actual fly and use gadgets and airplanes. What Iím getting at here is training or lack thereof. The industry is big on introducing gadgets of all kinds, but fairly awful at developing the training pilots need to make them effective. And they do need training.

The best example I can cite is the Cirrus BRS. When the airplane was being developed, I visited the factory early in the program and distinctly remember agreeing with the notion that here was a safety device so simple even a passenger could use it. What training could possibly be required? What followed, of course, was a dope slap from reality. With the BRS and other features, the Cirrus line is, arguably, one of the safest GA airplanes ever conceived. But its safety record is just average and its fatal rate a little worse than average. The Cirrus accident record is replete with fatal accidents in which BRS could have saved lives but was, inexplicably, left unused. To its credit, Cirrus has developed much improved training in BRS use but it may be a number of years before its effect drives the fatal accident rate where it should be: better than average. The obvious unanswerable question is this: would the Cirrus rate be better or worse if it didnít have BRS at all? Maybe some statistical sharpie can prove or disprove this. Iím sure I canít.

It may be quite natural to look at an AoA indicator as being as simple as a fork or a hammer. What training could you possibly need? I suspect after the first AoA-indicator-equipped airplane spins in, weíll have our answer. When I was researching Cirrus accidents, Rick Beach, who has done his own exhaustive investigation into Cirrus crashes, reminded me that GA aviation is built on a freedom that allows any pilot with minimal training and perhaps less proficiency to go flying anytime he likes. Thatís the way we want it. Thatís probably why we have an unmovable accident rate. And letís not forget that the Asiana accident showed us that homo the sap is more than capable of defeating the most sophisticated safety interlocks supported by the disciplined training of the airline industry.

So while Iíll join the herd in cheering the emergence of affordable angle of attack indicators, Iíll also point out that it isnít enough to just float another gadget out there. These things need to be widely integrated into training aggressively from day one, even to the extent that pilots who may never see one for years (or at all) know all about them. That means questions on the FAA written, line items in basic syllabi, PTS references and more than just a lukewarm nod to training from the manufacturers. Knowing what we know, we have a rare opportunity to do this right and to make a new product category really make a difference.

Then, maybe, just maybe weíll be able to measurably reduce the stall accident rate. Otherwise, we risk just introducing another thing for pilots to look at, another set of distracting flashing lights and blaring horns to serve as grim accompaniment for a pilot headed to the bottom of a smoking hole.

Join the conversation. †Read others' comments and add your own.

While old airframes may keep soldiering on, the instruments and radios in the panels usually don't. †At AirVenture this year, Electronics International rolled out a new instrument designed to replace older instruments, including tachometers, engines instruments, and other indicators. †In this video, EI's Tyler Speed gives us a quick product tour of the new CGR-30P.

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Boston area NexAir Avionics offers partial and complete refurbishment and customization programs for Piper Saratoga aircraft, including the retrofit of Avidyne's R9 integrated avionics suite. †Pricing starts at roughly $90,000 for the R9 alone and can top nearly $500,000 for a complete refurbishment. †Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano took a look at the NX aircraft at AirVenture 2013.

There's a need for affordable audio system upgrades for basic aircraft. †PS Engineering attempts to answer the call with the PAR200 -- a three-in-one system that combines an advanced audio panel, a stereo intercom, and a remote comm radio. †In this video, Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano takes a look at the unit during it's introduction at AirVenture 2013 at Oshkosh.