AVwebFlash - Volume 20, Number 21b

November 27, 2013

Law To Force Certification Changes Enacted

President Obama has signed into law the Small Airplane Revitalization Act, a measure that is designed to streamline certification of new aircraft and simplify the modification of existing aircraft. The new law directs the FAA to change Part 23 by the end of 2015 to create "twice the safety at half the cost" in terms of certifying new aircraft and, just as important, adding modern avionics and other equipment to the current fleet. “Reforming the way FAA certifies aircraft can help more pilots fly more safely while lowering their costs—and that’s exactly the kind of support general aviation needs to thrive," said AOPA President Mark Baker.

Reworking the rules is still in process and there's work to do but the law to impose the deadline is a milestone. "The cost of certifying new safety equipment and new airframes has prevented many owners from upgrading their existing aircraft or from being able to even consider the purchase of a new aircraft,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. “The changes won’t happen right away, but this law emphasizes how important it is to keep reforms moving forward. We’ll keep working with Congress, the FAA, and the GA industry to make sure general aviation sees the benefits of reform.”

FAA Moves Forward With New Apnea Policy

Despite a quick and loud uproar from pilot advocacy groups about planned changes in sleep-apnea assessment by medical examiners, the FAA moved forward this week with its new policy, publishing a "Fact Sheet" online. In the new Fact Sheet, posted on Tuesday, the FAA says it is "not changing its medical standards related to OSA [obstructive sleep apnea]." However, the FAA is "considering requiring AMEs to calculate the BMI [body mass index] for each pilot and air traffic controller using a formula provided by the FAA." Applicants with a BMI of 40 or more must be evaluated for OSA. "Anyone diagnosed with OSA must be treated before they can be medically certificated, which is not new," the Fact Sheet states. However, requiring AMEs to calculate the BMI and then require a sleep assessment based on that calculation, would be new. The FAA also notes that pilots diagnosed with OSA must apply for a special issuance medical certificate.

The Fact Sheet also provides more details about the FAA's justification for its concerns. The NTSB cited OSA as a contributing factor in an incident in February 2008, when both pilots aboard a Mesa Airlines flight fell asleep in the cockpit. "The captain had undiagnosed OSA," the FAA said. The FAA said the NTSB database reveals 34 accidents, 32 of which were fatal, involving people who had sleep apnea, and 294 incidents involving some type of sleep disorder, although sleep apnea was not listed as a cause in any of these reports. The FAA said it "will continue to work with aviation stakeholder groups and the medical community to provide clear guidance on any upcoming changes to medical policies." BMI is calculated based on height and weight. A BMI of 40 for an individual 5 feet 8 inches tall would be 262 pounds, according to a table published by the National Institutes of Health.

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3rd Gen Paper Airplane: Powered And Controlled

Two years of research and 57 prototypes have led to a prototype smartphone-controllable paper airplane now seeking to become available on multiple platforms with the help of a Kickstarter.com campaign. Inventor, pilot and aviation enthusiast Shai Goitein’s third-generation product includes a tiny electric motor, a battery that lasts up to 10 minutes in flight, a control unit, and an integrated controllable rudder (the rudder is new with version 3.0). Aspiring paper airplane pilots attach the unit, called the PowerUp 3.0 Smart Module, to a paper airplane of their own design and control it via bluetooth and a smartphone app. The project’s Kickstarter campaign page includes videos that show off the aircraft’s controllability. It also shows Goitein has already well exceeded his pledge goal. 

According to the project’s Kickstarter page, design of the iOS app is complete but development of an Android app is under way and, so, that app’s performance is still an unknown. Goitein’s page states that development of the product began when he “volunteered to teach aerodynamics to underprivileged kids,” in 2008. It says the experience led him to develop a free-flight version of his product in 2009 and that he was later challenged to produce a version that would allow for more dynamic control. He claims the latest version will fly for 10 minutes on a single charge and should have a controllable range of approximately 180 feet.

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NASA Seeks To Rid Aircraft Of Bug Guts

For aircraft, increases in aerodynamic efficiency often translate to increases in economic efficiency, and NASA’s “bug team” has recently concluded tests on eight different coatings designed to reduce bug accumulation for that very purpose. The team flew NASA Langley’s HU-25C Falcon jet through low-altitude flight this past summer in Virginia. The flights included multiple departures and landings in order to subject the aircraft to maximum bug densities (generally observed below 1000 feet). And for each test, researchers affixed coated surfaces to the aircraft’s wings along with uncoated panels, allowing them to make direct comparisons regarding their efficacy.

While bug splatter can be an aesthetic concern for some pilots, the researchers’ focus was on drag reduction. Large amounts of bug carcasses stuck to aircraft disrupt airflow and add drag. Cumulatively across a fleet of aircraft, that drag adds up to increases in fuel burn and decreases in speed for a given power setting. NASA’s team is, in effect, seeking the ultimate no-stick surface when it comes to aircraft and bug guts for the purpose of lowering flight costs for airlines, but their findings may also benefit aesthetically minded aircraft owner/operators, too. To be cost-effective for airlines, NASA hopes to create coatings that will survive for years through the extreme environmental conditions experienced daily by the skin of an airliner. The agency is currently testing the most promising coatings to determine if any will live up to the challenges of the airliner environment while remaining accessible at low cost.

Nature Suggests Different Ways To Fly

A jellyfish and an owl have inspired researchers recently with new insights about how to fly more efficiently and with less noise. The oscillating movement used by jellyfish underwater can translate into aerial capabilities, as proven by a tiny hovercraft built by Leif Ristroph, a mathematician at New York University. The tiny 3-inch-wide prototype, which he demonstrated at the recent meeting of the American Physical Society, in Pittsburgh, hovers using four small petal-like wings that open and close. The machine "achieves self-righting flight using flapping wings alone, without relying on additional aerodynamic surfaces and without feedback control," Jaworski said. At the same meeting, engineer Justin Jaworski of Lehigh University said the mechanics of owl wings may help design quieter airplanes.

Jaworski's research is exploring how the structure of the various parts of an owl's wings helps it to fly so quietly. "Owls possess no fewer than three distinct physical attributes that are thought to contribute to their silent flight capability: a comb of stiff feathers along the leading edge of the wing; a flexible fringe at the trailing edge of the wing; and a soft, downy material distributed on the top of the wing," he said. Jaworski said the velvety down may have an unusual sound-absorbing mechanism that hasn't been studied before. The research could help determine how the use of flexible fibers could help eliminate noise from airplane surfaces and wind turbines.

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Video: How Sensenich Wooden Props Are Made

Composite props may be the latest shiny object to make airplanes go, but most of them have wood cores, and the basic wooden prop is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli took a tour of Sensenich's prop factory in Plant City, Florida to see how these products are made.

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Podcast: Opening China's Airspace

This week, China moved forward with expanding access to their air space for general aviation operations.  Ed Smith, vice president of international affairs for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, chats with AVweb contributing editor Mary Grady about what that news means for the industry.

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China Eases GA Restrictions

China has taken a major step toward opening its airspace for general aviation operations, Reuters has reported. The government said that effective Dec. 1, companies and individuals flying in a private jet or helicopter no longer need to have their flight plans pre-approved by the military. Flights will still need to be OK'd by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, and civilian aircraft must stay out of designated no-fly zones. The change should make it much easier for U.S. companies like Cessna and Bombardier to sell jets in China, Reuters noted. On Tuesday, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association welcomed the news. "This change is in keeping with China’s plans to develop the general aviation industry, as outlined in the 12th Five Year Plan," GAMA said in a news release.

Under the new procedures, GA operations in nine categories -- including border areas, prohibited zones, and aerial photography over sensitive areas -- will continue to require prior flight mission approval and the use of transponders, GAMA said. "General aviation airplanes and helicopters are uniquely suited to bring the benefits of rapid access to medical care as well as economic growth and prosperity to more people," said GAMA President Pete Bunce. "But they need accessible airspace and sufficient infrastructure to do this effectively." He said GAMA looks forward to "further liberalization of altitude restrictions to accommodate growing demand."

Scorpion First Flight Planned For Next Week

Textron, the parent company of Cessna, is getting ready to fly the prototype of the Scorpion light attack jet it's developing with a company called AirLand Enterprises LLC. The joint venture hopes to have the Scorpion flying by Dec. 5. AirLand has no operating website that we can find but LinkedIn names its CEO as Clay Prince and says he founded the company six years ago. The partnership is called Textron AirLand LLC. The flight will take place at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, not far from the Cessna-owned "Pawnee plant" at which it is being built. Systems tests are under way this week. 

Media will not be invited to witness the first flight but Textron AirLand public relations officials are lining up interviews with aviation media to mark the event. Although Cessna CEO Scott Ernest has claimed the little fighter is essentially a Cessna project, Textron says it's not part of Cessna''s business but has been developed in conjunction with Cessna. Regardless of its lineage, the aircraft is mostly built from composites and project manager Ed Hackett told the Wichita Eagle in September that lessons learned in the Scorpion's development will be applied to Cessna projects in the future.

This story has been corrected to clarify Cessna's involvement in the project.

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Are You a Deadbeat Owner?

In the admittedly dwindling universe of aircraft owners, there is some small percentage of people who are not ethically or morally qualified to own airplanes. I’m probably deluding myself by saying it is a tiny fraction of owners, but it may very well be growing.

I’m referring to the deadbeats, the hustlers, the malcontents and those extra special people who consume aviation services but don’t feel they have to pay for them in a timely fashion. I hang around the airport enough to see this sort of thing as I did this week. I’ve been working on getting the engine back into the Cub after an overhaul, wrenching alongside our regular IA, Danny. While we were working, an airplane sped by on the taxiway and Danny happened to mention that the owner had a weeks-old unpaid annual invoice. You wonder why shops want to be paid before they release the airplane? That’s why.

Personally, I can’t stand this kind of behavior. It’s wrong at so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. I’m sure the owner of that airplane would be justifiably pissed if his paycheck was two weeks late but he’s perfectly okay jerking around his maintenance shop on an invoice delayed for a month. When I see this, I can’t help but want to sit the owner down in front of the ledger and show him how much money the shop has to front—in parts and labor—just to get even basic work done, much less an annual involving major repairs and alterations. For shops that have to make payroll, this can be a cash flow nightmare and it’s little better for a one-man shop.

I would just as soon eat cold beans from a can and become a crack addict than I would have someone chasing me for money I owe them. So when I get the invoice, I write the check and drive to the airport and hand it to the mechanic or shop supervisor that very day. If an invoice is late coming, I usually hector the shop to get it done. I don’t like throwing money around promiscuously, but I don’t like hanging invoices, either. Long delays make it impossible to manage the expenses of owning an airplane with anything approaching clarity and organization. If I’m going broke owning the damn thing, I at least want to know the dimensions of the disaster in real time.

And that gets me to owner-assisted work, which I do a lot of on the Cub. This is a bit of a gray area when it comes to shop billable hours. But the way I look at it, if I’m standing there scratching my ass over some particular problem and the mechanic diverts from other work to bail me out, that’s billable time. Similarly, if we’re working side-by-side, that’s billable time. And there needs to be some basic contribution to overhead. I don't work this out ahead of time, I just pay what I think is fair.

When I was removing the engine, I needed a little help with a couple of components and borrowed a hoist, cylinder wrenches and a thin-walled socket to loosen the exhaust manifold nuts. All that took Danny 30 minutes, maybe, but by my standards, it’s a billable hour, at least, accounting for tools. I log that time and even though he doesn’t invoice me for it, I make sure I pay him anyway. As for the tools, I try to bring my own, but borrowing some is unavoidable. I make sure they get back where they came from.

Does any of this mean we, as aircraft owners, shouldn’t expect anything for free from service shops? That’s not an easy question to answer, but I tilt toward saying no, we shouldn’t expect free things. Two examples: I was having trouble with a VOR indicator in our Mooney and stopped by Sarasota Avionics for a quick look. The tech crawled under the panel, found a loose connector and snapped it home. Total time: five minutes. As a regular customer of the shop, I asked what I owed and they quite naturally waived it off. Fair enough.

A year later, I had a similar problem with the autopilot that the tech sweated over in 92-degree heat for just under an hour. It was a broken wire. Once again, the shop waived off an invoice, so I paid the tech $100 directly. Call it a tip. It struck me as fair and kept me as far away from the deadbeat column as is possible. Regular customer or not, I believe that when a shop or mechanic does work on the owner’s behalf, payment of some kind is due, unless it’s agreed-upon warranty or goodwill work. I’m not really interested in working for free, why should I expect others to be?

Now I’m sure none of the readers of this blog would remotely qualify as deadbeats, but I’m equally sure you know people who do. I doubt if they can be shamed into mending their skinflint ways, but hey, it never hurts to at least bring up the subject. Anyway, if you happen to have a shop invoice there on your desk you meant to pay last week, well, you know what to do.

You can wish the shop a happy Thanksgiving when you drop the check off. And same to you, my friends.

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

Video: Garmin's Factory Avionics Pilot Training

Owners who are new to Garmin's GTN750/GTN650 and G500/G600 avionics systems may not realize that the company offers a training course at their Olathe, Kansas factory support center.  Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano recently took the class and reports on it in this AVweb video.

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Video: BendixKing's KT74 Mode S Transponder

Responding to the growing demand for ADS-B-capable equipment, BendixKing is rolling out a new Mode-S transponder called the KT-74.  AVweb got a tour of it at AirVenture last July.

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Video: Pilatus PC-12NG Flight Review

With a cruise speed of around 270 knots and a price tag of nearly $5 million, the 2013 Pilatus PC-12NG isn't the fastest or the least expensive single-engine turboprop on the market.  It is, however, arguably in a class of its own.  That's because it has a cabin that can carry 1,200 lbs. of payload while carrying over 400 gallons of fuel, the ability to operate from unpaved runways, and a huge 53x52-inch cargo door.  In this video, Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano takes a look at the airplane.

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