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Canadian authorities are investigating the case of n teenager who was apparently allowed to board a flight even after security found a pipe bomb in his carry-on. Using gunpowder obtained from an undisclosed source, 18-year-old Skylar Murphy of Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada, and a buddy made two pipe bombs. Boys being boys with explosives, they detonated one in a field. Saving the other for later, Murphy stuffed the 15-centimeter by five-centimeter tube, with its three-meter fuse, into a camera bag and ostensibly forgot about it until he was carrying the camera bag and bomb through security at the Edmonton, Alberta Airport. An alert Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) guard found the bomb. Being polite, he tried to return the explosive device to Murphy. According to CBC News Edmonton, Murphy declined the offer and told the guard to keep it. Murphy then joined his family on their flight to Mexico for a vacation.

CATSA personnel waited four days after Murphy’s excursion through security to disclose it to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Things then figuratively blew up for all concerned. Upon his return to Edmonton, Murphy was greeted by a “large number of uniformed troops, a SWAT team and bomb-sniffing dogs.” He was eventually convicted of possessing an explosive device and fined $100. Criticism was directed at CATSA from virtually anyone who could find a microphone or computer, including Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who said that the individual should not have been allowed to board his flight. CATSA spokesperson Mathieu Larocque said that the officers involved were suspended and given additional training before returning to work. He also said that training materials and procedures have been updated. When contacted by CBC News, Mr. Murphy replied that “what has been published is not at all an accurate portrayal of what happened.”

On Jan. 16 the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its annual “Most Wanted” list of needed improvements in transportation safety. The aviation-related items are a need to identify and communicate hazardous weather conditions to pilots, address the unique characteristics of helicopter operations, strengthen occupant protection, improve fire safety and eliminate pilot distractions. At a press conference Thursday, Board Chair Deborah Hersman pointed out that overall transportation safety in the U.S. is at the highest level it has been in history, but improvements are still needed.

In providing details on items on the “Most Wanted” list, the NTSB stated that 2/3 of general aviation accidents in IMC resulted in fatalities and called for improvements in both dissemination of weather information to pilots as well as education for pilots as to the capabilities and limitations of weather information presented. To reduce what it called unacceptable numbers of helicopter accidents, the NTSB said there was a need for manufacturers, operators, training organizations and regulatory agencies to address the unique characteristics of helicopter operations. The Board said that the failure to use occupant restraint systems continues to be a major concern and urged operators and regulators to require the use of child seats in aircraft for all children, not just those over the age of two. A need for better fire detection and suppression for aircraft carrying cargo made the list as did a recognition of and concern for the proliferation of portable electronic devices (PEDs) and the accompanying increase in the risk of an accident when the pilot is using a PED. Referencing a fatal helicopter accident due to fuel exhaustion that occurred while the pilot was texting, the NTSB called for the elimination of pilot distractions from PED use.

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Boeing is working with the FAA to gain approval to blend a renewable form of "green diesel" derived from oils and fats with traditional jet fuel, the company said this week. Sources already available could provide nearly 1 percent of the global jet fuel demand, about 600 million gallons. "Green diesel approval would be a major breakthrough in the availability of competitively priced, sustainable aviation fuel," said James Kinder, a Boeing fuels specialist. "We are collaborating with our industry partners and the aviation community to move this innovative solution forward and reduce the industry's reliance on fossil fuel." Green diesel, also known as "renewable diesel," is chemically different from the fuel known as "biodiesel" and is produced by a different process, Boeing said.

The green fuel is price-competitive with other fuels, Boeing said, and can be used in any diesel engine. "Boeing wants to establish new pathways for sustainable jet fuel, and this green diesel initiative is a groundbreaking step in that long journey," said Julie Felgar, manager of environmental strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "To support our customers, industry and communities, Boeing will continue to look for opportunities to reduce aviation's environmental footprint." U.S. airlines have been flying with various types of biofuel for several years.

As the FAA is creating new rules to govern unmanned aircraft systems, questions have arisen about the proliferation of model aircraft, which can have wingspans up to 20 feet and run on multiple small jet engines. Inexpensive, ready-to-fly toy UASs, many controlled by smartphone apps or tablets, have expanded the attraction of the hobby. The FAA has no jurisdiction over these aircraft. In the 2012 FAA reauthorization act, Congress stipulated that model aircraft can be operated according to "community-based standards." This week, the FAA said it will work together with the Academy for Model Aeronautics, a 77-year-old nonprofit, to ensure that hobby aircraft are operated safely.

Under the agreement, AMA will serve as a focal point for the aero-modeling community, the hobby industry and the FAA to communicate relevant and timely safety information. AMA will establish and maintain a comprehensive safety program for its members, including guidelines for emerging technologies. The group also agreed to foster a "positive and cooperative environment" with modelers toward the FAA and any applicable regulations. The FAA will review and advise on the AMA safety program, working via the UAS Integration Office to address any mutual issues or concerns. The FAA said it also will educate its field employees about the latest aero-modeling technologies and operating standards to foster a reciprocal cooperative attitude toward the AMA.

The FAA reauthorization act (PDF) defined model aircraft as "an unmanned aircraft that is (1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes." Model aircraft are limited to 55 pounds unless they are certified by a flight test and inspection program, and all models must always give way to manned aircraft. The act also establishes protocols for operating within 5 miles of an airport. An Advisory Circular issued by the FAA in 1981 (PDF) limits model aircraft to operating within 400 feet AGL.

Even as the number of laser attacks on aircraft has shot up, convictions of the accused have been difficult to achieve. Now, as reported by Phys.org, new, reasonably priced technology may help. In 2006, 384 laser attacks on flight crews were reported—that number shot up to 3482 in 2012 and, while all data has not collected for 2013, the number is expected to be above 4000. Supervisory Air Marshall George Johnson, currently seconded to the FBI, stated that a lack of basic knowledge regarding the nature and level of danger of lasers to flight crews has made it difficult for prosecutors to succeed in criminal actions. The tide may be turning as a result of a request by attorneys with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California to Joshua Hadler of the Physical Measures Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology for help in prosecuting two defendants in a laser attack on a police helicopter in Fresno, Calif.

Hadler put together a team that researched the intensity and effect of laser pointer devices. They randomly purchased 112 laser pointers. In tests, the team found that 90 percent of green and 44 percent of red laser pointers exceeded the maximum energy output of five milliwatts allowed by federal regulations—some by as much as ten times. The team also developed a testing device that can be built with off-the-shelf parts for under $2000 and can measure the properties of a handheld laser and allow a calculation of the exposure to an aircraft at the time of the attack. For example, 100 microwatts per square centimeter can result in flash blindness that will probably last for minutes. The hard data helps prosecutors understand and then explain to a judge and jury the intensity and danger of a laser attack on an aircraft. In the Fresno case, the research by Hadler and his team and the device it developed helped convict the defendants.

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World Aircraft Company, of Paris, Tenn., has been laying low for a couple of years but 2014 will be the year to formally launch its line of American-built Light Sport aircraft. President Eric Giles told AVweb the Vision and its dressed-up stablemate the Spirit were originally designed in South America for the European market but they will be made in the U.S. and marketed globally. The Vision, a basic S-LSA with a Dynon panel and Rotax 912, hits the market at $89,500 while the deluxe Spirit Grand Edition has a Garmin panel, autopilot, ADS-B and finished interior for an extra $40,000.

Giles stressed the aircraft are not assembled from parts built elsewhere. "They are 100 percent built in the U.S.A.," he said. There's some irony in the fact that Giles is a Canadian who moved his business from Alberta to Tennessee because of the indifferent attitude of government agencies toward his expansion plans in Alberta. He said state and local governments in Tennessee are providing plenty of incentive for him to build aircraft there and production in the 23,000-square-foot facility at Henry County Airport in Paris is already under way. More designs are already being tested, he said.

World Aircraft is starting production of two light sport aircraft at its base in Paris, Tennessee.  The company exhibited at U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida.

If Vans is the most prolific of experimental aircraft vendors, RANS Designs is right behind them with more than a half dozen airplanes in the line. At the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring this week, RANS is adding yet another model, the S20 Raven, an evolution of its popular Coyote model.

The S20 will debut as an experimental amateur-built kit, but RANS’ Randy Schlitter told AVweb on Thursday that a ready-to-fly SLSA version will eventually be available, selling fully equipped for prices in the mid-$120,000 range. The S20 shares some components with the S-6 Coyote series but rather than having a steel tube cage around only the forward section of the fuselage, the Raven’s welded tube structure extends the full length of the fuselage.

To provide more interior shoulder room, the S20’s top-hinged doors have an outward curve and a noticeable downline. Schlitter says three engines will be available for the S20: the 100-hp Rotax 912 AVweb flew on Thursday, the UL Power 130-hp offering and eventually a 160-hp powerplant. Given the airplane’s exceptionally light weight—about 735 pounds empty—the higher-power engines promise impressive short field performance. The initial kit will cost $25,500, less engine, and Schlitter said kits are expected to be shipping in February.

RANS Designs is out with a model called the S-20 Raven, an evolution of its popular Coyote series.  At the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring on Thursday, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli took the Raven for a demo flight, and here's his report on the airplane.

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After testing the market for a year with a limited offering of ready-to-fly Light Sport aircraft, Vans Aircraft is taking the plunge into full production of its popular RV-12. In a podcast interview with AVweb at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Fla., on Thursday, Adam Smith, a business development consultant for Vans, said the RV-12 production has moved into a new and much larger facility in Oregon to accommodate the continuous production of the plane. He said the earliest production slots available are in April.

Vans is showing off an RV-12 in a factory paint scheme at Sebring. The decision to move into building ready-to-fly aircraft was announced at AOPA Summit in 2012 and two "experimental" lots of factory aircraft totaling more than 20 airplanes sold out quickly. Smith said there will be no more batch production of airplanes and the new factory is designed for continuous production. Vans is the largest producer of kit aircraft in the world.

After a couple of "experimental" runs of ready-to-fly RV-12s last year, Van's Aircraft is taking the plunge and going into full production of the popular design.  Adam Smith spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles about the process at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida.

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With all the literal and figurative bells and whistles in today’s cockpits, something as mundane as losing communications with ATC is rare. One reason is the stuff we have in the panel these days is a couple of light years ahead of even two decades ago in reliability. But loss of communications—going “no radio,” or Nordo— thanks to our installed avionics isn’t the only failure mode we might encounter. In fact, your airplane and its equipment may not even be the problem.

Two recent events highlighted by NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) in its monthly Safety Bulletin cover a wide range of possible communication failures, and include excellent reminders of how to apply the lost-comm requirements found in FAR 91.185 and explained in paragraph 6-4-1 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM).

Scenario one

The pilot of a Cirrus SR22 experienced failure of the airplane’s #1 alternator and “tried to bring it back online without success.”

The aircraft was on an IFR flight plan. After running through the appropriate checklist and shutting down specified equipment, the pilot elected to continue the flight, using the #2, backup alternator. It’s not known if the pilot informed ATC of the failure, or of the equipment shutdowns, nor if any such notification was required under FAR 91.187. The flight’s entire route was VMC.

Soon, the SR22 was cleared direct to its destination and to descend from 9000 to 5000 feet MSL. “At approximately 7500 feet, ATC asked us to confirm our altitude,” the pilot wrote. “They were showing 10,800 feet [and] asked us to shut off the transponder altitude encoding at that time.” A few minutes later, the pilot noticed electrical power was down to 24 volts from 28 and that the #2 alternator appeared not to be charging the battery any longer. “A few minutes later ATC instructions became unclear and unreadable. We realized what was happening and at that time the battery failed completely.” Cockpit indications did not include notification that the #2 alternator had failed. “We squawked 7600 and, due to the time of day and anticipated congestion into [the destination],” the pilot decided to remain in VMC conditions and divert west to a non- towered airport. The flight safely concluded at that facility, where the pilot landed without electrical power for flaps or other equipment. The pilot then advised ATC by tele- phone of the flight’s outcome.

Scenario two

The air carrier flight was in a normal descent, cleared to 7000 feet MSL. Upon reaching 7000, its crew asked for lower, but there was no answer. Troubleshooting the radios did not resolve the problem and the flight remained unable to communicate with the Center. The aircraft was 22 miles from its destination and needed further descent to make the approach. It was early in the morning—the destination airport’s tower hadn’t opened yet—and there was weather north of the field the crew didn’t want to enter.

“We squawked 7600 and complied with lost communication procedures,” the reporting crewmember wrote. The flight continued to the initial approach fix, descended, switched to the destination’s CTAF frequency and made normal radio calls. Approximately two miles out on the ILS, a controller in the tower responded to the flight’s position reports, even though they weren’t technically open.

The tower controller reported Center’s radio was inoperative and asked if the 7600 squawk approaching the field was the crew’s flight. The flight continued the approach and landed uneventfully. “I asked if there were any problems with what we did and tower said that center told him that we did exactly what they expected,” the crewmember told ASRS.

Analysis

The AIM is careful to note the basic lost-comm regulation can’t consider and provide an answer for all situations. But it does provide clear guidance in most of them. If that’s not enough, your emergency authority as pilot in command, granted under FAR 91.3, and some imagination—tempered with a realistic understanding of what ATC can and cannot do—will come in handy.

Just don’t expect anyone to welcome you with open arms when you shoot the ILS Runway 10L into O’Hare on a Friday evening. Thankfully, the pilots in neither of the examples above needed to go beyond the lost-comm FAR when dealing with their situations.

The Cirrus pilot, since he was in VMC, did exactly what the regulation states: “If the failure occurs in VFR conditions, or if VFR conditions are encountered after the failure, each pilot shall continue the flight under VFR and land as soon as practicable.” But what the heck does “practicable” mean, and must we land at the first available airport? In this instance, read “practicable” as “capable of being put into practice.” In other words, you shouldn’t try to divert to an airport with an unsuitable runway, one beyond your range, to the primary airport inside Class B airspace or to one in IMC. The Cirrus pilot chose one based on the aircraft he was flying, which was enjoying VMC and which lacked a tower; helpful, since he was dealing with a complete electrical failure.

The air carrier crew’s actions are the more interesting, however, mainly because they implemented FAR 91.185’s more complicated provisions quickly and without hesitation. The crew’s decisive, deliberate actions (if the ASRS submitter’s report is taken at face value) likely were a product of their training plus the benefit of having two sets of eyes, hands and brains. For those of us flying single-pilot IFR, it should be as simple, also.

For example, the crew correctly determined a comm failure in the first place, after their request for a lower altitude went unanswered (whether other aircraft on the frequency noted the same problem is unknown—apparently, it was early in the morning, when traffic counts are low). It’s likely they had been cleared direct to their destination. Needing an approach to get in, they set up for and executed the destination’s ILS approach, using the CTAF to broadcast their position and intentions. Ideally, the rest of us, flying single-pilot, would be as decisive, deliberate and correct.

Someone’s Watching

There’s one action both the Cirrus pilot and the air carrier crew performed: They both squawked 7600, the code reserved to signal lost communications. In the Cirrus pilot’s case, doing so was of limited value, since his problems stemmed from a general electrical failure. Still, he did the right thing, at the right time, even if no one saw it.

One of the things about lost-comm procedures that may unnerve instrument pilots with relatively little experience is how to decide whether they’re doing the right thing, at the right time and along the right route. The good news is they probably are. In any event, it’s ATC’s job to ensure no traffic conflicts with your Nordo flight. It says so, right in the AIM: “ATC service will be provided on the basis that the pilot is operating in accordance with” FAR 91.185.

In the Cirrus pilot’s case, even without an operating transponder, it’s likely ATC was able to track the aircraft using its primary radar return in lieu of the secondary target lost when the electrical system failed. In the air carrier’s case, radar services apparently were provided throughout the event, even in the still-technically closed control tower.

The point is pilots coping with a lost-comm situation shouldn’t worry too much about whether ATC knows what’s going on, where you are and where you’re going. Whether or not your transponder is working, there’s always primary radar. But you still have to follow the procedure.

All Together

At the end of the day, there’s really not that much to implementing lost-comm procedures. Unless the weather is down the tubes and you’ve been told to expect a hold, or if you’re already in a hold, it’s not that complicated: You’re probably going to find some decent VFR weather allowing a diversion and relatively simple arrival. If you’re not holding, continue motoring on to your destination. If you are, you’ve got an EFC. Use it, with the understanding ATC will get traffic out of your way.

Run the checklists when you have time, maybe give your cellphone a try—if you have a satphone, use it— and remember to stay at the highest of the cleared, expected or MEA. Don’t forget to share the outcome with us via the ASRS system.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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Although I’m afraid to add up the actual number of years, I sometimes feel like I have spent most of my journalism career—at least the aviation portion of it—writing about economic downturns. An occupational hazard of that is inflating every little clue, no matter how silly, inconsequential or comically irrelevant as evidence of the r-word—recovery. But even people willing to beat the hammer of repetitiveness on the anvil of cliché eventually reach their limits, even me.  

So in 2010, from my lofty perch as editorial director, I decreed that there would be no more stories about pending recoveries. And the use of the word “upbeat” in stories, being nothing but a journalist’s lazy description for news sources slapping smiley faces on blazing train wrecks, was similarly prohibited. And this is not because I’m basically a pessimistic person, but more related to hearing the same old tune whistled past the graveyard once too many times.

Since those decrees are still in effect, the following comments will be carefully measured. Walking the midway at the Sport Aviation Expo at Sebring on Thursday, I detected a noticeable trend of … ummm … improved economic conditions. While we all agree that the light sport segment will never explode with uncontained demand, several of the companies I spoke to reported improved sales. At American Legend, Darin Hart told me he’s got enough Super Legends on order that he can’t find enough qualified employees to build them. Lockwood Aviation, which markets and services the Rotax line in the U.S., is slammed with work and orders, says the company’s Dean Vogel. He says there’s clearly more flying and building activity going on. CubCrafters, whose upscale Carbon Cub has proven wildly popular despite its high price tag, has the order book full until the end of the year.

But the blade cuts both ways. Kitfox’s John McBean took the unusual step of sending a press release explaining why Kitfox isn’t at the show. He said the company lacked the resources to both mount a show display and fill airplane orders, so this year, it picked the latter. Reading between the lines and from my talks with other vendors, I think some can’t justify the expense of Sport Expo every year and will alternate attending it. I know this conflicts many of them, because they want to support this venue while realizing that doing so entails significant expense and time.

Another thing I’ve given up on is trying to divine the vitality of the GA economy by how crowded the booths at a show are or aren’t. At Sebring, we saw a nice slug of people shortly after opening, but it petered out later in the day. I didn’t hear any of the vendors complaining about this because even though the bodies may be fewer, the fingers on those bodies are often connected to checkbooks. I’ll canvass the crowd later in the show for a second read on that. I wish I could say warming weather will lube the crowds, but the forecast calls for cold—for Florida—throughout the weekend.

All of these shows have their own personality and Sport Expo’s is definitely small-town friendly. The volunteer corps at this show is exceptionally helpful. Quite unsolicited, I was offered three golf cart rides and two point outs for vendors—before noon. And I swear the lady handling press creds was waiting for me because when I checked in, she handed me the envelope in under 10 seconds. Perhaps I’m too easily impressed, but the small victories are often the sweetest.

I’m not quite as favorably disposed to the air traffic set up, however. Given the volume—we’re not talking Oshkosh here—it’s maybe a little high falutin'. Randy Schlitter and I were out flying his new S20 south of the field and despite no other airplanes on the frequency, the controller insisted on us flying seven or eight miles to enter the Lake Jackson visual procedure they’ve got set up. I’d maybe wish for a little more flexibility and perhaps simplify that procedure. I’m actually not convinced a tower is even necessary, much less an arrival procedure. There was, shall we say, evidence of pilot irritation on the frequency. I suspect it’s a demographic thing. One reason pilots pursue light sport is because they don’t want to play serious ATC. That’s something to think about.

All new shows, even those as small as Expo, serve as rollouts for new products. Thus far, I’ve seen three I like. RANS aforementioned S20, a new iteration from Progressive Aerodyne called the Searey Elite and yet another entrant from the Czech Republic called the Skyleader 600, which struck me as sort of an Escalade approach to light sport, if such a thing is even possible. All three are worth checking out and in today’s video, we’ve got a brief flight report on the S20. And the Skyleader isn't the only new-to-us LSA company. In this story, Russ Niles profiles a new company in Tennessee called World Aircraft that's just launching with a pair of models. I'm not going to pretend the world needs more choices in light sport, but if you believe that it does, they're out there.

While all of us should be pleased about these reports of increased sales, I’m not quite willing to say the GA economy is heading back to the salad days of 2006. I’m pretty sure that the 2008 downturn ignited a sea change in light aircraft manufacturing and we’re just too close to it to see where it will take us. But the trends appear to be going in the right direction and that looks a hell of better than 2010. But in my estimation, the word "recovery" no longer applies because it suggests a return to normalcy. Frankly, I don't think anyone knows what that is. I sure don't. 

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Photo Gallery: Sunny But Cool at Sebring

Faced with steady north winds and a cool airmass, those who attended the first day of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida were bundled up but engaged in the various displays and forums. The show continues through Sunday at the central Florida airport, next to the famed Sebring car-racing track.

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