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The FAA has committed $40 million to support research into alternative jet fuels and new aircraft technology at 14 universities around the country, from Boston to Honolulu, the agency announced on Friday. Research and development efforts will focus on NextGen environmental goals for noise, air quality and fuel savings. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency wants to increase energy efficiency in the National Airspace System by at least 2 percent per year, with a target of 1 billion gallons of alternate jet fuel in use by 2018. The research support, which will be provided over 10 years, "is a valuable tool to provide the critical data we need to reach these goals," Huerta said.

Partners in the project include Boston University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, the University of Dayton, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, the University of Hawaii, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Tennessee. The project also includes industry partners, including Airbus, Boeing, several airlines, and engine manufacturers.

First reports regarding the fatal crash of a Lancair 320 piloted by U.S. pilot David Riggs while flying in northeastern China for a movie state that he was attempting to "waterski" the aircraft across the surface of a lake, on its wheels, in bad weather. Chinese officials said Wednesday that a substantial portion of the aircraft had been recovered from the lake, as was the body of his 18-year-old translator, but Riggs' body was not immediately found. The flight departed a local airport at approximately 1:40 p.m. local time and the weather at the time "was bad," according to Chinese official Xu Jiuquing, who did not elaborate extensively on weather conditions. The official said only that it was raining and Riggs rejected advice to cancel the flight and instead "insisted on flying."

Riggs had reportedly worked on a movie titled "Top Gun" that may have involved performance of the stunt and was re-creating it for another audience. He had intended to attend the AOPA-China Fly-In 2013, scheduled for Sept. 20-22. The accident is not expected to interrupt the show. A search team sent to the lake where the aircraft crashed was said to have been greeted by poor underwater visibility and low water temperatures that limited the amount of time divers could spend in the water. One early report stated that two seat backs had been found but a seat bottom was missing, leading to speculation that Riggs remained fastened to the seat and was trapped with the wreckage. The accident aircraft was locally built and had been flight tested. At least one report states that Riggs himself had "affirmed that the aircraft was in good condition." At nightfall, Wednesday in China, the search for Riggs's body was expected to continue at daybreak, weather permitting.

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The stretched version of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, the 787-9, can carry 290 passengers (40 more than the 787-8) over a greater distance and took its first flight, Tuesday, at Boeing's Paine Field in Everett, Wash. The jet landed with no significant squawks and is ready to continue flight testing this week without the need to address outstanding issues, according to the company. The first flight included several test scenarios, including a check of the stick shaker system. Roughly 40 percent (almost 390) of the more than 930 Dreamliners ordered are represented by the 787-9 version. But some 50 orders are for an even larger version.

Even larger than the 787-9, Boeing has developed the 787-10, and began taking orders for that jet in June. Boeing says the jet "seats 250-290 passengers with a range of 8,000 to 8,500 nautical miles while using 20 percent less fuel and with 20 percent fewer emissions than any other airplane of its size." The 787-9 will carry 290 passengers 300 nautical miles farther than the 787-8. On its first flight, it maintained speeds below 366 knots and flew to 20,000 feet, as reported by FlightAware.com. The flight took place over Puget Sound and eastern Washington State. The test program is expected to continue for nine months. After completion, the test jet is scheduled to enter service in mid-2014 with Air New Zealand. A second flight of the jet is expected to take place today.

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Photo courtesy of Paul S. Stumpf

Despite two years of planning, when balloon pilot Jonathan Trappe approached the rugged coast of Newfoundland 12 hours after launching his cluster-balloon system from Caribou, Maine, last Thursday, he said it was clear that he had no choice but to land -- his weather forecast promised a landfall in Europe in less than 100 hours, but he was unable to stabilize the aircraft's altitude. "Tremendous, Beautiful, Magnificent Failure!" he wrote in an email to his crew and supporters, from Newfoundland, on Sunday. The system rose as high as 23,000 feet, and descended almost to the surface of the sea, and he was using too much ballast in fruitless efforts to establish control. "I can't make it to Europe," he wrote. Approaching the coast, shortly after sunset, he saw mountains ahead in the dark, descended into treetops, cut away his balloons, and landed safely in a bog.

Trappe's gondola was a sturdy lifeboat built in Maine, called a Portland Pudgy, and he spent the night in the boat, rigging an exposure canopy and donning his cold-weather gear. Authorities were notified that he was safe and not in need of rescue. He posted a wry note to his Facebook followers: "Hmm, this doesn't look like France." The next day, a local TV news crew reached him via helicopter, and gave him a lift out. "The destination was always unknown, and it's pretty grand where we've come in to," he told CBC News. "It's not the destination I set out for, but it's kind of the way with real adventure -- adventure isn't what you planned on, it's what you find." Trappe said he would hire a helicopter to recover the gondola and his gear. "So perfect, this great failure that was achieved on this flight," he wrote. "I land a much richer man than I launched," he wrote, though the expedition, and the expensive helium supply, were funded mainly from his own savings. "I leave Canada even richer still. I return to Caribou for my friends."

On the morning of September 12, 2013, Jonathan Trappe ascended from a field in Caribou, Maine, in an attempt to be the first pilot to fly a cluster balloon system across the Atlantic.  Twelve hours later, he landed in Newfoundland.

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The FAA on Wednesday issued an Airworthiness Directive that requires airlines to inspect Honeywell ELTs by January 14, "to prevent an electrical short and possible ignition source." The AD is "identical" to one issued last month by Transport Canada, the FAA said. Canada issued the order in response to the fire on board a Boeing 787 at London's Heathrow airport in July. The FAA already had required inspections of the ELTs on 787s, but the new AD extends the inspections to all aircraft operated by U.S. airlines. Europe's aviation agency, EASA, also has adopted Canada's directive.

The FAA estimates the AD will affect 3,832 airplanes at a total cost of approximately $325,720. The directive requires "various one-time general visual inspections of the ELT transmitter units (TUs), and corrective actions if necessary." The AD was published as a "Final Rule," but the FAA said it will accept comments until November 4. The investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 fire at Heathrow Airport continues under the leadership of the U.K. Air Accident Investigation Branch, the FAA said.

The Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) and LAMA Europe are recommending Light Sport aircraft manufacturers think long and hard before they apply to the FAA for a weight exemption for their products. The agency allowed Icon a 250-pound weight increase for its A5 amphibian to allow it to incorporate structures Icon says will make the resulting aircraft spin resistant. Icon says it only plans to use 80 pounds of the exemption cushion. The rare exemption naturally led other manufacturers to wonder whether they might be able to get one but FAA Small Aircraft Directorate director Earl Lawrence told LAMA's meeting at AirVenture the decision was made to address the carnage from spin/stall accidents and really nothing else.  “Any company that addresses this may also be eligible for an exemption, but must meet all the exemption requirements, and still meet all current rules," Lawrence told the meeting. “All companies who can prove SRA by a production flight test may be eligible for an exemption and FAA would be pleased for spin resistant airframes (SRA) to become a standard feature of SLSA.” Although the comments were made in July, the LAMA advisory was not sent out until weeks later after all the agencies involved agreed to the wording. 

In the advisory, LAMA said that companies thinking of applying for the exemption should take the FAA's position to heart and decide if it's worth their while to pursue the application. The groups noted Icon spent a lot of money getting the exemption and that the process is a difficult one. Fully documented test results will be required. There are a lot of safety features that add weight to aircraft (parachutes, inflatable seatbelts) but LAMA doesn't recommend companies try to make a case for an exemption for any of them. Lawrence said the FAA already considered the addition of those features in the original Light Sport rule and the current weight limit of 1320 pounds (for land aircraft) already includes an allowance for those sorts of items.

Students and faculty at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have developed a robotic vehicle that can take care of the monotonous task of airport security patrols. The Ford Escape Hybrid has been equipped with an autonomous control system that allows it to scoot around the airport to detect any kind of security or safety breach. It's being tested at Daytona Beach International Airport. "The technology being developed by Embry-Riddle and tested here at Daytona Beach International Airport represents the leading edge of airport safety and security advancements,” said Airport Director Rick Karl. “We’re pleased to continue to support and partner with Embry-Riddle to encourage such important research and development efforts.”

The vehicle uses the GrayMatter Autonomous Vehicle System that includes GPS and an array of 64 lasers to allow it to assess its position and what is going on around it. As it tracks a programmed route around the airport, it takes high-resolution photos of the route and compares them to photos stored in its database. If it detects something out of the ordinary, from security breaches to wildlife, it alerts human security personnel. The university says the system could be employed at thousands of airports and there are numerous other applications for it.

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What You Missed in AVwebBiz This Week

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Cessna unveiled a twin-engine military interceptor/utility jet that CEO Scott Ernest told his local Rotary Club will diversify the company's product line and provide a relatively inexpensive alternative to traditional fighter aircraft in some roles. The Scorpion was built in secret over the last 18 months by Cessna engineers at a facility in Wichita. It has a composite airframe and the engines were run for the first time last weekend. “It’s basically built ... and we are hopefully going to fly it here in the next two to three weeks," Ernest is quoted by the Wichita Journal as telling the Rotarians. "It’ll be good. It’s just another opportunity for us to invest in the future.” 

Ernest told the gathering the aircraft will cost about $3,000 an hour to fly, about 10 percent of the cost of an F-35, and it will carry a big payload of military hardware. He did not specify what armament it might carry and instead stressed its potential role carrying sensors for data collection. Besides the Air Force, Ernest said the aircraft might appeal to the National Guard. "It can be very effective within their stable of planes if they allow it to be, and very reliable. ... It’s a cheap alternative to flying some of the other product, so we’ll see,” Ernest was quoted as saying. A purchase price wasn't mentioned.

Bombardier launched its CSeries flight-test vehicle on its first flight Monday morning in Montreal. The all-new narrow-body jet is designed to carry up to 149 passengers. The airplane already has proved disruptive in the airline industry, according to analyst Michael Boyd. "That's what caused Boeing and Airbus to redesign their airplanes," Boyd told Reuters. "The CSeries, on paper, was so superior in terms of economics that you have two global companies that had to jump from what Bombardier did." The flight had been delayed several times, but on Monday morning the weather cleared to provide a clear blue sky for the ceremonial event.

Bombardier has said it hopes to log 300 orders for the jet, but so far has only 177, according to Reuters. The company has said it is hopeful Monday's flight will inspire more buyers to commit. The first flight was expected by the end of last year, but Bombardier cited supplier problems and software issues for the delays.

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The moment I saw the conceptual art on Cessna’s new proposed twin-engine jet tactical aircraft—the Scorpion--three questions came immediately to mind. Is that thing stealthy? Can it be pilot optional? And last, huh? The answer to the first two questions might be mooted by the answer to the third: Since the Pentagon biting on this idea is a long shot, foreign sales may be what Cessna has in mind, along with its partner developmental company, AirLand Enterprises.

This is the sort of project you don’t see much anymore, given the cost escalation and vast profit margins in modern weapons systems and the R&D dollars it takes to create them. The Pentagon has not asked for such an airplane, so if Cessna wants U.S. sales, it will be cold calling. Sales in the emerging world may be a different matter, however. The defense export business has proven profitable for many U.S. manufacturers. Still, things are a little different now. The countries with money—Brazil, Russia, India and China—have their own emerging domestic aircraft industries and if light, cheap and unsophisticated is the selling point, couldn’t those countries roll their own and export the results? Cessna may be aiming to find out.

What the Scorpion is supposed to be is a cheap-to-operate, built-from-the-parts-bin reconnaissance and surveillance platform with some strike capability. But doesn’t that describe the $4-million-a-pop Predator UAV, not to mention the next generation of drones we don’t even know about? Is there really a need for a five-hour endurance jet to fly missions that UAVs are already doing? 

With budget cuts looming, perhaps Cessna and AirLand are counting on the Pentagon getting religion on less expensive—that’s not the same as cheap—weapons systems. Then again, when has it ever, at least recently? I suspect Cessna will need lots of friends in Congress to overcome the legions of supporters that Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have cultivated over the years. Although it’s sometimes forgotten, Cessna is no stranger to military aircraft. But its experience with the venerable A-37 Dragonfly, a Vietnam workhorse, is decades old. Textron (partnered with Boeing) does have military contracts in the V-22 Osprey and various subsystems. But Cessna was never in the league of a Lockheed, Grumman or McDonnell Douglas in the military realm. Perhaps that's a market advantage. Plying the competitive civil market for so many years, Cessna has had to be efficient and fast moving, bringing products to market on time and on budget, something not normally associated with military contractors. The F-35 comes to mind. In stepping out of the civil jet realm, Cessna is stretching. I hope it doesn’t distract it further from interest in the lowly piston airplane, something that’s fallen to a record low ebb.

But there’s one good reason to cheer for the success of this project. If it puts more of Wichita back to work, that’s a good thing.

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

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Many round-the-world pilots are in a hurry to get the trip done, but Calle Hedberg of Capetown, South Africa is taking a different route.  He has eight months to do the trip in his kit-built Ravin 500, and he plans to savor every moment.  AVweb's Russ Niles flew with him after he got a float endorsement in Kelowna, British Columbia.

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What drives a person to attempt something no-one has done before, something that maybe is not even do-able, risking your life and your time and your money, for an uncertain end? It takes a romantic disposition, for sure, to even imagine that it would be a good idea to fly across the ocean in a lighter-than-aircraft of any kind. There is no practical reason to do it, it's not the kind of adventure that opens new frontiers, in the way that Charles Lindbergh's trip revealed aviation's possibilities. To fly across the ocean beneath a cluster of colorful helium balloons, simply to experience it, simply to prove that you can dream such a thing and then make it happen and share it with the world, is perhaps as much a kind of exploration-artwork as it is a kind of aviation-technology experiment.

I was glad to spend a mostly-sleepless night in Caribou, Maine, last week for the experience of helping to assemble Jonathan Trappe's one-of-a-kind aerostat. Dozens of other sleepless souls were equally glad to be there, having traveled from around the country and across the county, with their boots and raincoats. It seemed highly improbable that any of us should be there at all, given that just hours earlier the town was inundated by thunderstorms and hail. When Noah and I arrived at 9 p.m., having dodged the weather systems between Providence and Caribou in his trusty RV-7, the brightly-lit soccer field was soaking wet, and a cool fog hung just above our heads. The air was still, though, and that's always a good thing when handling balloons.

Hundreds of helium canisters were laid out in a grid across the field, each one holding just enough gas to fill one balloon. Trappe demonstrated the filling procedure, explaining a very simple set of steps, then set us loose to get the work done. The field sprouted a ghostly forest of round balloons, each one standing gracefully at the top of its eight-foot tether, reflecting the lights into the mist and casting circular shadows onto the green grass. It was a sight unlike any seen before, I suppose, and there was something serene and primal about it.

There's something primal too in the impulses that drive people to attempt such things. Col. Joe Kittinger, certainly an expert in trying things that nobody else has done, occupied a bench with a view of the activities, just about all night long. I was glad to sit by him for a bit, since I had spoken with him on the phone but never met him in person before. He told me he'd been helping out with advice during the project, and had encouraged Trappe to launch from Caribou. That's where he launched from, in 1984, he said, and the people there are special -- they can be counted on to come out at night on short notice and lend a hand. 

At 85, Col. Kittinger said he still goes flying often, in airplanes and balloons, and still lives in Orlando, where for many years he and his wife, Sherry, ran a balloon business. He sat there with Sherry through most of the night, till dawn approached and Trappe was in the gondola making his final preparations, then Col. Kittinger was there by his side, calm and quiet. He was the last one to shake Trappe's hand just before he launched into the morning sky. Col. Kittinger later would tell an Associated Press reporter that he and Trappe were inspired by the same thing -- adventure. He also said he had no qualms about the unusual balloon system, and if Trappe hadn't gone, "I would've flown it." 

Trappe's adventure, despite two years of planning, ended far too soon. Only 12 hours aloft! And during that time, he was unable to maintain a steady altitude -- the aircraft would climb, then descend almost to the ocean, then rise again, and he was using too much ballast in trying to control it. The weather window looked good, Trappe said, all the way to Europe, but the sun was setting and Newfoundland was his last chance to land. All the balloons were cut away, their expensive helium lost, unrecoverable. The flight didn't reach its destination, geography-wise, but adventure-wise, it delivered. And Trappe walked away, safe to dream again.

Others have tried before to cross oceans or reach new altitudes or break all kinds of records in aircraft of all sorts, and many have failed and learned and tried again. Many of those have reached their goals on their second, or third, or fifth or sixth try. Will Trappe keep trying? He hasn't said, but the itch to do something that's never been done before, the creative urge to expand our experience, can be hard to resist. 

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

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Bendix/King designed the hardware and Aspen Avionics completed the user interface for the KSN770 FMS. The end result is a powerful retrofit GPS navigator that has a sharp screen, liberal interface potential and a $13,995 price tag. Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano flew with the system to have a look.

At AirVenture, the really cool airplane wasn't from an airplane manufacturer but from Redbird, the guys who build motion simulators.  They showed off a nicely refurb'd Cessna 172 with a diesel engine from Continental, and they invited us to come fly it at their San Marcos, Texas Skyport.  So we did.  In this video, we offer a detailed analysis of the Redhawk, along with a closer look at the airplane's performance and cost figures.