AVwebFlash - Volume 20, Number 16b

October 28, 2013

Beechcraft May Have Sale For Composite Business

The possible pending sale of the assets of the jet business of the former Hawker Beechcraft Corporation likely means the end of the jet line according to a published report. CEO Bill Boisture told the Wichita Eagle sale of the jet assets, which were orphaned by the bankruptcy restructuring of the previous company, is "dangerously close" but the interested party doesn't want to build airplanes. “They’re intending to go into the composite component manufacturing business,” Boisture told the Eagle. “That’s a very positive thing.” He said Wichita has a trained workforce to do the work. The deal would include the type certificates for the composite Hawker 4000 and Premier lines along with a facility known as Plant 3 and all the equipment, but it's unlikely the type certificates will be of use to this company. “That doesn’t appear to be an economic alternative, given the current market,” he said.

Boisture wouldn't comment on a series of stories published by Bloomberg that say a sale of the company as a whole is a possibility. Citing unnamed sources, the business publication has carried several stories in recent weeks suggesting the company will be snapped up by either Cessna, Embraer or Mahindra. Embraer is not in the running, however. Spokesman Bob Stangarone told the Eagle his company has no interest in Beechcraft.

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Business Aviation Development In China

NBAA President Ed Bolen and Carey Matthews, general manager of Shanghai Hawker Pacific told the NBAA convention in Las Vegas that business aviation in China is progressing but still in its infancy, and baby steps are serving as important milestones for future growth. Bolen noted that the country's roughly 180 airports are few for a country of China's size but "they've built 100 of those in the last decade and are building 12-15 [new airports] per year, now." Matthews, who operates an FBO and MRO at Shanghai, says business has increased enough to warrant the addition of a second hangar. Both men said the steps made so far by aviation authorities in China were small but important for setting a foundation for future development. The men said that while sales were slowing, other variables kept their business aviation outlook optimistic.

Bolen said the government has set aviation development as a priority and the presence of ABACE may be helping to push regulatory development, sometimes leading by example. "First we broke ground by landing a turboprop [at ABACE] and we were enormously pleased to have helicopters fly into our second exhibition," Bolen said. Matthews said that operations at Shanghai are up nearly 17 percent over last year and the overall trend was positive. The men said that the country's aviation infrastructure was still weak but that was due in part to a lack of indigenous traffic. At the same time, both men were pleased with the maturation of how the aircraft that are already there are now being used. "Operators create the industry," Matthews said, "and in that area business is doing very well." Matthews emphasized that the perception of business aircraft in China is changing. Originally purchased as items of luxury and status, the market is maturing, Matthews says, and he's seeing more use of aircraft as tools of business used to make money. And that, he believes, will put the jets that are there to use more often, expanding the market.

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Last Flights For Longest Nonstop Routes

Singapore Airlines holds the distinction of flying the world's two longest nonstop flights, but that's about to change. On Tuesday, the airline flew its last nonstop to Los Angeles, which takes about 17 hours to fly 8,800 miles across the Pacific. The longest route, 9,500 miles to Newark, a 19-hour flight via the polar regions, will end Nov. 25. The airline is selling off its fleet of five long-range Airbus A340-500 four-engine aircraft that served the routes, as it upgrades to the more fuel-efficient new A350. The older airplanes are fitted with just 100 wide, fully reclining business-class seats, a configuration that was popular with travelers, even at a cost of $8,000 and up for the round trip. The nonstop routes, which have been operating since 2004, saved about five to six hours of travel time.

Airbus has agreed to buy back the A340 airplanes as part of an order for new types from the airline, according to the CAPA Centre for Aviation. The type has not proved competitive on shorter routes with more fuel-efficient aircraft, according to CAPA. "The aircraft could end up with a government or VIP operator or be scrapped despite being less than 10 years old," CAPA said.

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AeroViroment, Eurocopter Join Forces

AeroVironment, which manufactures more unmanned aircraft systems than anyone else, has signed an agreement to work with Eurocopter, the two companies announced this week. They plan to cooperate to create new products for both military and commercial customers. "This agreement creates the opportunity for both companies to explore expanding into new markets and developing new capabilities," said Roy Minson, a spokesman for AeroVironment. Eurocopter completed its first unmanned flights with the EC145 helicopter earlier this year.

The EC145 was tested on missions including deployment of an external sling load and general observation. AeroVironment developed the first hand-launched unmanned aircraft for military surveillance in 1987. The company has delivered more than 20,000 small unmanned air vehicles to customers around the world. Eurocopter supports nearly 12,000 civil and military helicopters in 148 countries.

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New Space Tourism Option -- High-Altitude Balloons

A new company this week announced its plans to offer high-altitude rides to about 98,425 feet in a pressurized capsule suspended beneath a helium balloon, for $75,000 per seat. The company, World View Experience, is based in Tucson, Ariz., and plans to launch the flights from Spaceport America, in New Mexico, no sooner than 2016. The capsule would carry up to six passengers and two pilots high enough to view the curvature of the Earth and the black sky of space. The ascent will take about two hours, and the travelers can then spend about two hours at altitude. To return to Earth, the capsule separates from the balloon and lands a half-hour later beneath a steerable parafoil.

In its proposal to the FAA, Paragon Space Development Corp. says it has two decades of experience building life support and other systems for manned space missions, including the International Space Station. Occupants of the capsule won't need spacesuits, and can "sip a beverage of [their] choice" while enjoying "the luxurious comfort and gentle glide" of the space vessel, according to the company's website. Component testing is already in progress, the company said, and flight testing of subscale components will begin soon. The system can also be used for research and education.

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NOAA (Mostly) Ends Paper Nautical Chart Production

The office that creates over a thousand nautical charts turned some heads in aviation when it announced on Oct. 22 that the end will come for paper nautical charts on April 13 and thereafter nautical charts will only be available through various methods of electronic distribution and print on demand. In response to the announcement, Tyson Weihs, co-founder and CEO of ForeFlight, LLC, tweeted, “The future is electronic. NOAA to discontinue paper charts.” And if what is happening to nautical charts is a glimpse into the future of aeronautical charts, that may be true. As recently as September the FAA said there are no plans to stop printing paper charts. That doesn’t mean changes won’t come. Some already have.

The FAA announced the end of direct sales of paper charts on Oct. 1, after which paper charts could only be obtained from authorized sellers. According to AOPA, pilots could obtain paper charts from other sources at lower prices than was offered by the FAA. If nautical charts are the example, then at some date in the future, the government might follow the same path they have outlined for nautical charts — they will simply stop printing traditional paper aeronautical charts. According to the director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, “We know that changing chart formats and availability will be a difficult change for some mariners,” but, he said, the office will continue to offer print on demand charts for users who prefer paper products. The office will also provide other versions for electronic charting systems.

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'Gravity': It Definitely Delivers

I went off to the multiplex over the weekend to see Gravity, fully expecting to be underwhelmed by a film that’s been exceptionally hyped. I walked out of the theatre dumbstruck, wondering how director Alfonso Cuarón pulled this thing off and impressed with how, a day later, I was still in its grip. If no double meaning of the word gravity was intended, it certainly works out that way. I’m thinking of seeing it again.

In some films with aviation or space themes, an aviation-savvy viewer has to suspend disbelief—if not switch off critical thought entirely—to accept the storyline. Gravity should require that, because it takes such liberties with the laws of physics as to merit howls from even those of us supremely tolerant of Hollywood excess. But, oddly, it doesn’t. I think that’s because in exchange for such a masterful job of putting the viewer in space, ignoring the physical impossibilities is a willingly small price to pay. I’m not even going to mention them.

Why does this film work so well? Part of it relates to the sheer, jaw-dropping majesty of the photography. I hesitate to use the phrase special effects because Gravity goes so far beyond that, it’s really in its own realm. Gravity is but 90 minutes long, which, by modern standards is short. The story line is taut and unlayered; pure man against nature or man against machine. Actually, woman against both, since Sandra Bullock carries Gravity almost solo, with little spoken dialog other than early scenes with George Clooney and verbalized thoughts after Clooney’s character drifts off, literally. Cuarón had to resist entreaties from the studio to lard up the story with a love interest or more interaction with mission control.  With no plot sidings or outside communication, Bullock’s character is ever more isolated, intensifying the emotional impact on the viewer. She's alone and facing the almost impossible challenge of returning to planet Earth hovering just outside the spacecraft window. She may be playing an astronaut, but she's really a metaphor for any person under extreme duress.

Apollo 13 was the last great space movie and its weightless scenes were convincing because they were actually weightless. They were shot in short takes in an aircraft flying parabolic arcs, which must have been exhausting. That wouldn’t work in Gravity because Cuarón pre-visualized long, continuous tracking shots that give the film its expansive depth. Moreover, Bullock has a fear of flying, ruling out in-aircraft shooting.

For principle photography, Cuarón and his technical team devised a giant light box structure—essentially a small house lined with flat-screen LED TVs—into which the actors were suspended on 12-wire harnesses. Like human puppets, the actors were manipulated by crews and robotically controlled cameras got the shots from multiple angles. Both cameras and actors moved. The harness wires were removed digitally during editing. Some of the segments were also filmed underwater in deep pools. In this interview, George Clooney described the acting challenge as being able to remain non-plussed and in character as a camera the size of a small truck approaches at 35 mph and stops six inches from your face.  Viewers who don’t know this may not fully appreciate the quality of acting this film required. Bullock nails it in what she has described as one of the most physically difficult roles of her career.

The space-knowledgeable viewer, understanding the relentless harshness of low earth orbit, will appreciate the raw challenge the astronauts face when their ride to earth—the Space Shuttle—is destroyed by satellite debris. While that’s the underlying plot conflict, Cuarón’s skilled manipulation of the light to match what we think it would be like in orbit and the convincing movements of weightlessness make Gravity the visual gobsmacker it really is. He bothered to tend to details, too. There's one brief throw-away shot in which a fire develops in a space station electrical panel, appearing as small globules of flame, just as you imagine it would.

We saw Gravity in 3D, but as I noted in reviewing Planes, I’d like to see it in standard view, too. The 3D isn’t that spectacular and it reduces the film’s luminescence, giving it a darker tone. I wonder if some of the detail is lost in exchange for the 3D.

Cuarón spent more than five years on the project and was so consumed by it that he says he’s done with space movies. Maybe so. But I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the innovative technology he pioneered in making Gravity. At least I sure hope not. The technical creativity is simply stunning.

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

Video: Dassault's New Falcon 5X Long-Range Business Jet

New range, new power, new jet with more room -- from Dassault.  Unveiled at the National Business Aviation Association exhibition held in Las Vegas in October 2013, the Dassault Falcon 5X is the company's latest offering.

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Video: Beechcraft King Air 350i

Beechcraft's King lives on with new upgrades in the 350i model.

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Video: Pilatus PC-24 Business Jet Debut at NBAA

Pilatus Aircraft has seen great success with their PC-12 single-engine turboprop.  The manufacturer is now venturing into the jet market with the PC-24 twin jet -- a corporate comfort aircraft capable of flight in and out of unimproved airstrips.

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Video: Eclipse 550 First Delivery at NBAA 2013 in Las Vegas

Eclipse Aerospace president Mason Holland delivered the first Eclipse 550, boasting new upgrades to a customer at the National Business Aviation Association exhibition in Las Vegas, October 22, 2013.  The aircraft hosts avionics upgrades and enhanced and synthetic vision systems.

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Video: Nextant's King Air G90XT Powered by GE

Nextant Aerospace has hade a business of "remanufacturing" the Hawker Beechjet 400A/Hawker 400XP -- offering a new aircraft experience at a used aircraft price.  Now it's expanding that business model to the King Air, refitting the aircraft with GE engines.

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Video: Rockwell Collins Enhanced Vision Systems for Light Jets

Rockwell Collins brings enhanced vision to light jets with the EVS-3000 vision system and HGS-3500 display, which employs a new space-saving design.  The company will bring the products to market with Embraer in 2015 aboard the Legacy 450 and, later, Legacy 500 business jets.

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