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Photo: Duluth News Tribune

A total of 11 people in two skydive aircraft escaped relatively unscathed after a midair collision near Superior in northwestern Wisconsin on Saturday. There were four skydivers and a pilot in one aircraft and five jumpers and a pilot in the second plane when the second plane contacted the first. "We were just a few seconds away from having a normal skydive when the trail plane came over the top of the lead aircraft and came down on top of it," skydiver Mike Robinson told USA Today. "It turned into a big flash fireball and the wing separated." All the jumpers and one pilot parachuted to safety. The pilot of the second aircraft was able to land it safely. 

Only the pilot of the first plane was hurt. He was wearing an emergency parachute that he was unable to steer and he suffered minor injuries. All the other jumpers landed in the landing zone. The lead aircraft broke into three pieces and debris hit the airport and a retail area. No one on the ground was hurt. Everyone involved met with the FAA on Sunday.

The FAA is providing airlines with implementation guidance to expand passenger use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Thursday, but there will be restrictions. The FAA was advised by a committee, which determined that the effects of electronic devices not operating via WiFi or cell tower posed little threat. According to Huerta, landing systems involved in about 1 percent of all flights may not be proven to tolerate interference and in those cases passengers may be asked to turn off their portables. Airlines may now submit the results of tolerance tests to the FAA for approval, and some already have. Internet connections and cellphone calls are another matter.

Delta has submitted paperwork for approval, with a spokesman telling USA Today that all of the carrier's aircraft had been subjected to the required tolerance tests already. JetBlue, which operates fewer aircraft, is also hoping for a competitively early start. The FAA’s decision was influenced by the committee’s determination that “most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference from portable electronic devices,” Huerta said.  The FAA will request that airlines ask passengers to store heavier items during critical phases of flight. Cellular telephone use is not affected by the new rules, so consumers may see no changes there. And use of WiFi devices will remain approved only at altitudes above 10,000 feet.

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The TSA says it's unlikely security processes at U.S. airports will change much following the shooting at LAX on Friday. The agency said in a statement that "passengers may see an increased presence of local law enforcement officers throughout the country" but there are no immediate plans to arm security staff or change procedures. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia remains in hospital with four gunshot wounds he sustained after he allegedly entered Terminal 3 at LAX early Friday with an assault rifle and started shooting, killing one TSA officer and wounding three others. After moving past the screening area, Ciancia was tracked by airport police took him down in a gun fight Ciancia was taken into custody and delivered to UCLA medical center. 

Security experts are pointing out that the screening areas are designed to keep weapons and explosives off airplanes and that there is no way to guard against random violent acts like this. They point out that security is expensive and budgets are limited so preventing this kind of incident is difficult. Evidence collected from Ciancia suggests he was disgruntled with the government although it's unclear why he specifically targeted TSA screeners. One witness who spoke with reporters at NBC news stated that he attempted to hide but was found by the gunman who asked the witness if he was with the TSA. When the witness replied that he was not with the TSA, the gunman left. A ground stop was put in place at the airport until 4 p.m. local time, causing a ripple of delays for carriers throughout the country. Multiple sources have said that Ciancia has been linked to the Los Angeles area and New Jersey.

Some days it just doesn't pay to go to the airport. Canada's Transportation Safety Board is reporting that a Beech 1900D operated by Wasaya Airways was heavily damaged by a baggage cart in October at the northern Ontario village of Muskrat Dam. The aircraft was on the ramp with its engines running when Murphy took over. "A strong gust of wind blew a baggage cart into the right propeller of the aircraft, and the cart was then flung underneath the fuselage and into the path of the left propeller," the TSB said in its daily roundup of aviation incidents. 

The crew immediately shut down the engines but not before the props and engines were wrecked. Wasaya Airways is owned by a consortium of native groups in northwestern Ontario and operates 27 aircraft into remote villages throughout the sparsely populated region.

A nine-foot statue of Korean War ace and Vietnam veteran Brig. Gen. James Robinson “Robbie” Risner still stands at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but the man himself was lost to the world with his passing at his home, Oct. 22. Throughout his career, Risner earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Silver Stars, Eight Air Medals and two Air Force Crosses among his other awards and decorations. In the history of the Air Force only three other airmen have ever received more than one Air Force Cross, which is awarded for extraordinary heroism. But, for some, Risner is best known for one particular aerial feat performed in combat in 1952. 

In September of 1952, while flying in combat along the Yalu River during the Korean War, the F-86 flown by his wingman Joe Logan was hit by flak and lost fuel. Risner asked Logan to shut down his engine and began to push Logan’s jet with his own until they were clear of enemy controlled territory. As he did so, the pairing was jostled by turbulence and Risner’s windscreen was coated in hydraulic fluid and jet fuel leaking from Logan’s crippled jet. The effort worked and Logan was able to eject near Cho Do Island, which held an Air Force rescue detachment. Unfortunately, Logan hit the water, tangled in his chutes lines and drowned. (A similar event, performed in 1967 by Bob Pardo — video here — had a better outcome.) Risner himself was forced to eject more than once, and one such incident led to is capture. He spent more than seven years in Hoa Lo prison, Vietnam, also known as the Hanoi Hilton, before finally being released in 1973. His ordeal is detailed in his book, The Passing of the Night. James Robinson “Robbie” Risner suffered complications from a recent stroke and died at his home in Bridgewater, Va. He was 88 years old.

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Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works says the replacement it's proposing for the SR-71 spy plane, the SR-72, is a Mach 6 drone that doesn't need to be stealthy because it's so fast. Aviation Week and Space Technology got an exclusive on the public unveiling of the project, which it quotes a Lockheed Martin spokesperson as saying could be operational within 10 years and since it uses some off-the-shelf technology won't break the defense budget. “The Skunk Works has been working with Aerojet Rocketdyne for the past seven years to develop a method to integrate an off-the-shelf turbine with a scramjet to power the aircraft from standstill to Mach 6 plus,”  Brad Leland, portfolio manager for air-breathing hypersonic technologies, told AW&ST.  

The drone will launch and recover from conventional runways and use jet engines to get it to Mach 4. A scramjet second stage would get the blended wing aircraft to Mach 6 with a variety of spy gear or weapons. The company said it didn't worry too much about stealth because at more than 4,000 mph the speed itself is the cover. Lockheed Martin said the key to the success of the program is the combination turbine and scramjet engine that supplies the ponies. Leland says the method of making the two vastly different engine technologies work together "is proprietary." The SR-71 Blackbird, a Mach 3 high altitude manned spy plane, was retired in 1998 after a 30-year career.

Russia’s fifth flying Sukhoi PAK FA T-50, has flown this month in Russia as part of a test program expected to include roughly 2,000 test flights culminating with the jet’s entry into service (perhaps as early as 2016), according to Russian news sources. The flight lasted 50 minutes and tested the aircraft’s engines, stability and overall performance. The jet performed well through all test regimens and all systems worked properly, Sukhoi said in a statement. The T-50 is set to become Russia’s premier fifth-generation multirole fighter and the test program has not been without its problems. At least one was quite public.

At Russia’s MAKS 2011 airshow, the second flying prototype (one aircraft is in ground testing, only) suffered a technical malfunction that dramatically shot flame from one of the aircraft’s two engines and forced its pilot to abort a takeoff. Roughly 200,000 people were estimated to be in attendance to watch the flight demonstration. Sukhoi attributed the incident to a malfunction in the engine’s full-authority digital engine control system (FADEC) and to the aircraft’s NPO Saturn 117 engine that resulted in a problem with the aircraft’s fuel supply system. It features stealth and nano-technology, supercruise, enhanced maneuverability and advanced avionics. Four other flying examples have so far conducted more than 450 flights.

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Pilot logbooks and the historical archive of the Concorde as amassed by now deceased British test pilot Brian Trubshaw will be put up for auction next week. Trubshaw was the first to fly the supersonic passenger plane, Concorde 002, in Britain in 1969. He then flew six years of test flights in the jet before it was enlisted as a commercial transport. The former RAF pilot’s history includes flying Lancaster bombers at the end of World War II, and setting a standing record for fastest civil trans-Atlantic flight — Fairford to Maine in two hours 56 minutes. His collection of records spans his 30-year career, and includes photographs like the one he shared with Neil Armstrong, signed by Neil Armstrong. 

Trubshaw was a national hero by the 1960s. He flew maiden test flights of the Valiant V-bomber, the Vanguard, VC-10, and BAC-111, along with the April 9, 1969, first flight of Concorde B-BSST 002. He died at the age of 77 in the year 2001. His wife is putting the collection of logbooks, medals, images — even Trubshaw’s Concorde flight case, hat and passport — up for auction as she downsizes her home. The archive is being sold by Dominic Winter Auctions of Cirencester, Glocestershire, on Nov. 7. According to the auction house, “There can’t be another set of logbooks post-war, 20th century, that are more important.” For more information, click here.

A California skydiver has become a YouTube sensation by sticking a landing in a moving convertible. Katie Hansen actually pulled off the stunt in June at an extreme sports event in Norway but one of her friends posted the video last week. It shows GoPro footage from the jumper's point of view and from the hood of the car that make the jump look easy. Hansen, who is from northern California, told Good Morning America she nailed the landing on her first attempt.

"I'm not going to lie, I was pretty nervous but I was definitely very focused," Hansen said. It's not the first time someone has parachuted into a moving convertible but the crew from Top Gear had a much more difficult time achieving it. The popular BBC car show spent most of a day and burned a lot of avgas trying to get their skydiver into the back seat of a Mercedes convertible. They were ultimately successful but not before the skydiver bounced off the car and ended up landing on all sides of it on the previous attempts.

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Brainteasers Quiz #189: Know What's Up There

Whether IFR in a 50-year-old Cessna or dodging sparrows down low in your quarter-million-dollar LSA, take some advice from Meredith Willson's The Music Man: "Ya gotta know the territory." Conquer the atmosphere by acing this quiz. Includes results from last month's reader survey.

Take the quiz.

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While flying in the "northwest practice area" about 10 miles northwest of Columbus, Georgia listening to Atlanta Approach, I heard this exchange:

ATL:
"Piper 123, we have you as a PA-28, but your airspeed suggests otherwise."

Piper 123:
"No, we are a PA-34."

ATL:
"O.K. I'll update your plan to show you have an extra engine today."


Chris Cook
via e-mail

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At last week’s Redbird training conference, I wouldn’t say the attitude toward using LSAs in training was exactly hostile, but it wasn’t warm and fuzzy, either. During his talk on the Redhawk diesel, Redbird’s Roger Sharp said that LSA resale values are a relative unknown and, at least in Redbird’s view, LSAs haven’t yet demonstrated they’re up to the rigors of the daily training regime. Several of the attendees I spoke to shared this view, without flat out ruling out LSAs as a training option for them.

To be fair, I think this was a biased crowd. While they’re receptive to new initiatives in the training process, they also seemed more inclined to favor traditional piston trainers—Cessna 172s and the Piper PA-28 line. At the opening night reception, Piper’s Simon Caldecott won props merely for recommitting Piper to building training aircraft and recognizing that flight training is the door into future GA growth. This is, I’m afraid, preaching to the choir. It’s fine to verbalize this commitment, but it does nothing to address the exorbitant cost of new aircraft. Yes, the FAR Part 23 revision coming in 2015 may help, but even if it reduces the cost of new aircraft by a third—and I think that’s doubtful—it’s not going to help much. I’ll believe the effect of this promised cost reduction when I see it. Meanwhile, Redbird’s Redhawk is both more immediate and economically more potent. Compared to the regulatory revision, it’s moving at the speed of heat.

So if LSAs are deemed too expensive and not durable enough and new trainers like the soon-to-be $415,000 2014 Skyhawk are too expensive, where does this leave us? It leaves us just past the starting line on a growing industry to remanufacture existing airframes. I’ve reported on this before, but one aspect of it that hasn’t emerged yet but I think should is a focus on the low end of the training market, specifically the Cessna 152.

It seems like every time I report on LSAs used in the training market, I’ll hear from several operators who say they either tried to use LSAs as trainers or considered it, only to return to using clapped out 152s because they’re cheaper, more durable and easier to service. These operators seem mixed on whether it matters that the airframes just look like crap. Some say they desperately need more presentable aircraft, others say they’re willing to tolerate rattiness just to remain competitive. I’m not going to pulp the dead horse by again doing the airplane/Lexus comparison.

This suggests to me that there is or there’s going to be a Redhawk version of the Cessna 152. The airframes are out there, because flight school operators are telling me they’re finding them. I can imagine a refurb that includes a fresh engine—the O-235 is very competitive and its overhaul costs a third what the Centurion diesel does--new paint and an upgraded interior. For now, they can do with steam gauges and digital navcomms, which are easy to teach and more than capable enough for a trainer. If the FAA and the industry aren’t just floating BS about the Part 23 revision, it should eventually be possible to install in them equipment like Garmin’s G3X or the Dynon line. The FAA has publically stated that this is part of the goal of the revision. Just because I don’t believe the bureaucracy will ever allow this to happen in a timely fashion if at all, I’m willing to pretend for the sake of argument that it will happen.

So if it does happen, three to five years from now, could a lively business in 152 refurbishment be part of the training mix and what would such an airplane cost? My guess is it could be done and done well for between $70,000 and $90,000. That would bring refurbed 152s into the market slightly under the price of new LSAs and slightly higher than decent used 172s, but less than half of the Redhawk’s cost. If the industry ever shakes off its irrational bias against mogas, fuel operating costs would be comparable to but probably a bit less than diesel operating costs. And this is exactly why Airworthy Autogas is aiming its efforts at the training market initially. The economics aren’t as attractive with $7 avgas.

Increasingly, then, schools could have more choices. For many, new 172s aren’t ever going to be an option unless Cessna stops dissing the light aircraft segment, in my opinion, and gets its prices under control. New management could address the former, but I don’t see how they’re going to reduce prices much. So I can foresee a market where the Redhawk would be a good choice for some schools, a freshened up 152 for others, LSAs for yet others and ratty old, cheap whatevers for those who think they can sell those to customers. The fact is, some are doing that already. And with the exception of the refurbs, the market already looks like what I’ve described above.

In an airplane-selling market that’s seeing decline across the board, I can see some opportunities here. There are probably some STC and PMA targets for the 152 that could be viable. If the numbers can be made to work, there could be a market here worth seizing by a company or two with a little capital and business savvy. Redbird’s sim-centric training seems to be built around airplanes like the 172, but why can’t it be adapted to the 152? And even if it can’t be or it’s not economically practical to do that, motion-based sim-centric training doesn’t have to be the only game in town. And what the heck, in a hopelessly hallucionogenic moment, I can even imagine Cessna offering genuine factory remanufactured Cessna 152s. Who better to do it? Competition is all about having choices. So let’s have some.

Increasingly, when I attend industry events where speakers say things like “we’ve got to find a way to make flying more affordable” or “we’ve got find ways to attract people to flying,” I have the uneasy feeling I’m amidst a conclave of dinosaurs after the comet has already exploded. We are less angling for a return to GA growth here than we are trying to find brief level outs in the industry’s decline until it regains footing in the future.

The growth is far ahead. To me, this whole refurb idea is lot less of a leaky lifeboat than a promised revision of the FARs. But then nobody ever accused me of owning a pair of rose-colored glasses.

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

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Brainteaser 188's Question 11 was a bonus survey poll that asked if flying was a right or a privilege. Reader responses played out this way: More than half said that flying was a privilege, while less than half felt it was a right. A third-party minority rambled on about unrelated topics, including one reader who tried to sell us an Ercoupe, and one who refused to participate in online surveys, because the NSA was monitoring the results. That reader is right: It's all a plot.

Shades of Gray

Opinions ran strong in both camps, and the line between right or privilege blurred into 50 or so shades of gray by the time the results were analyzed. This reader's statement typifies that sentiment: "The freedom to move about by the populace (whether by air, land or sea) is a right." Seemed like one for the right-to-fly column, until the reader added, "Since we share the airspace with one another, our individual exercise of that right is a privilege. In other words: GA [general aviation flying] is a right, obtaining your ticket (pilot certificate) is a privilege." Man, I wish I'd sat next to this dude in debate class. In fact, I wish I'd taken debate class ... or paid attention to any classes in high school.

One reader went all classical with this response: "Voltaire said (in French) that, 'With great power comes great responsibility' in 1882." (Because the philosopher Voltaire, a.k.a., François-Marie Arouet, died in 1778, the reader's quote takes on special enlightenment.) "In the August 1962 issue of Amazing Comics, creator of Spider-Man, Stan Lee, said the same thing in English, thus popularizing the phrase."

Intrigued by the reader's obfuscation, and pleased I could use the word obfuscation, I read on: "Having a 'right' to fly implies great power and thus great responsibility. The 'privilege' to fly implies that you have taken upon oneself and earned the responsibility to do so in accordance to the rules and regulations governing aviation." Wow, this guy -- no doubt writing from his fortress of solitude -- was good, so I continued reading, even though I wasn't sure where it was leading: "Thus, flying is both a right and a privilege." Both! And he used the word "thus," again, fortified by a dollop of responsibility to make some of us feel guilty. I loved it and was ready to declare my allegiance to the right-and-privilege grand bargain, when the reader squandered credibility with a string of puns: "But, I'm putting Descartes before the horse. One has to first Kafka up a lot of money before earning a pilot's license. It's enough to send you into a real tailSpinoza."

Drop your Kierkegaard for one second, and you get sucker-punched by someone who -- like me -- made it thorough college on Cliffs Notes.

"Operating in the U.S. airspace is definitely a privilege that must be earned!" another reader exclaimed, using one of the many exclamations points found in the survey results. "Demonstration of competence through knowledge and practical tests is how that's done. Re-demonstration through flight reviews or other checkrides is also required. Despite all this, we still get a certain percentage of blithering idiots who go out and bend lots of aluminum ... We should absolutely have the right to go earn the privilege to go fly. That statue that sits on a little island in New York harbor?" (Ooo, wait! Being from New Jersey I should know this ...) "It's the statue of Liberty ..." (Yes, that's the one.) "... not the statue of Equality. We have the liberty to earn the privilege!" (The Statue of Equality is located in Santa Cruz harbor, Calif.)

The Right-to-Flyers

Here, now, in no particular order, is a sampling of comments by those who view flying as an inherent right:

"It's a right! Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- it qualifies under all three!" To the barricades! Liberté, égalité, avionité!

"I understand how the Interstate Commerce clause gives the federal government the power to regulate commercial aviation ... " (Good, because I don't. Please elaborate.) "But I don't see how it covers recreational aviation. Still, the Bill of Rights says that anything not covered specifically in the Constitution remains with the 'people and the states,' so if there wasn't federal preemption, we would have to deal with the nightmare of each state having its own laws. Just thinking about questions like this makes me glad I'm an engineer and not a lawyer." Ahhh ... what say we tally that as a right-to-fly vote?

"A well-regulated FAA, being necessary to the security of your pilot certificate, the right of the aviators to keep and fly aircraft, shall not be infringed, except in case of federal panic?" You mean, its business-as-normal mode?

"I keep getting told by the CAP that it's a privilege, but I believe, overall, that it is as much a right as it is to breath!"

And Now, The Privileged Ones

"Piloting, like driving a car, barbering, practicing medicine and other activities, requires a degree of demonstrated proficiency and knowledge, if for no other reason than to protect the public from 'cowboys' and idiots. Piloting should be a privilege." And beware of cowboys and, worse, cowboy barbers.

"Flying is a privilege, but the regulation of it should not be left in the hands of a bureaucratic government agency, which has demonstrated its inability to function rationally and in a timely manner." No mention of what that agency might be. So many qualify, but I'm guessing FAA?

"If it was a right, we would spend less time improving ourselves as pilots. In not wanting to lose our privilege to fly, we keep self-improving."

And, in closing, one reader summed up the right v. privilege debate by stating, "Brainteaser 188 question #3 sucks!" 


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