AVweb Biz - Volume 12, Number 3

July 23, 2013

NTSB Investigating 737 Nose-Gear Failure

NTSB photo

The nose landing gear collapsed as a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 was landing at New York's LaGuardia Airport at 5:45 p.m. on Monday. The gear failed rearward and upward, the NTSB said on Tuesday afternoon, damaging the electronics bay. The exterior fuselage also was damaged from sliding 2,175 feet on its nose along Runway 4 before coming to rest off the right side of the runway. All 150 on board evacuated the airplane. Three passengers and five crew were taken to local hospitals, where they were treated and released, according to Southwest. The runway was closed for over an hour.

On Tuesday, NTSB investigators recovered the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Safety board investigators plan to interview the pilots, collect witness accounts and any video or photo evidence of the accident, and review relevant records, and may test materials in the NTSB laboratory. The video below shows that at least one wheel came off the aircraft and came to rest a few hundred yards from the damaged aircraft.

Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

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Two Avionics Companies Join Forces

Dynon Avionics, which manufacturers avionics for experimental and light sport aircraft around the world, has acquired Advanced Flight Systems, the two companies announced on Monday. AFS, located in Canby, Ore., which manufacturers avionics for the experimental market, will continue to operate as a separate company, with its own staff, headed by company founder Rob Hickman. "I am pleased to be working with a company so committed to experimental aircraft," Hickman said. "We have long been friendly competitors; their resources, infrastructure, and financial stability [will] allow me to focus on the product development that I love to do." Dynon, based in Woodinville, Wash., said in a statement it aims to use its financial resources "to keep AFS strong and vibrant in the experimental community."

AFS manufactures EFIS products, an aircraft monitoring system and angle-of-attack products that incorporate patented technology. Dynon president Robert Hamilton says he looks forward to collaborating with AFS. "The homebuilder market has always been the incubator for advanced technologies," he said. "Keeping the true innovators working in this industry is important to us, and we have the financial resources, market presence and company growth to be able to keep AFS going strong in this market for years to come." Dynon's sales and distribution network extends to more than 40 countries.

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Cirrus Sales Up, Cessna Down

A 60-percent drop in deliveries for business jets meant a $203 million decrease in revenues for Cessna in the second quarter, compared to last year, parent company Textron reported last week. Cirrus reported income growth of 36 percent so far this year. Textron said Cessna delivered 20 new Citation jets in the second quarter, compared with 49 in the same period last year. "Business jet demand continued to be soft," said Scott Donnelly, Textron CEO, "but we believe the cost, production, and pricing actions we took are the right actions to support future growth at Cessna." CAIGA, the parent company of Cirrus, said profits from aircraft sales rose 91 percent in the first half of this year, compared to the same period last year.

Cirrus will be at EAA AirVenture with a full-scale mockup of its Vision SF50 single-engine jet. The new mockup features a completely redesigned interior with materials indicative of those available in a new Vision jet in the near future, according to the Cirrus website. The company is expanding its production capacity for the jet, and its next step will be to build conforming aircraft for further certification testing. The first conforming jet will start flight testing next year. Cessna will be showcasing their wide product line, including the newest additions: the TTx, the Turbo Skylane JT-A, and the Grand Caravan EX. Cessna will also have a Citation Mustang, a CJ4 and a Bell 407 helicopter on display.

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Continental Buys Thielert Aircraft Engines

Continental Motors announced today that it has bought the bankrupt assets of Thielert Aircraft Engines for an undisclosed sum. The deal has been in the works for several months and overnight makes Continental the volume leader in aircraft diesel manufacture. Continental and its parent, the China-based AVIC International, said that the management of Thielert would be integrated into its Mobile, Ala., headquarters, but that diesel manufacturing will remain in Lichtenstein, where Thielert has been headquartered since it launched in 2002. Continental will drop the Thielert name, but retain Centurion as the model nameplate for its line of diesels. In addition to Thielert assets, Continental is ramping up production to build its own in-house diesel, the 230-hp TD300, the basic technology base it bought from the French company SMA in 2009. That engine was certified in 2012 and Continental will pursue both OEM and STC conversion markets. It has a production engine installed in a Cessna 182 and is continuing development on improved turbocharging.

Following the Thielert acquisition, Continental Motors will be divided into five operating units including Continental Motors Inc., AVIC Continental Motors China, Mattituck Services, its Fairhope, Ala., engine services shop, and Technify Motors GmbH, the new operating name for the Thielert assets.

The Thielert purchase gives Continental four engines across of a spectrum of horsepower. At the low end are the Centurion 135-hp 2.0 and 155-hp 2.0S, the mid-range 230-hp TD300 and the 350-hp Centurion 4.0, which was certified by Thielert but never fielded. European STCs exist for installations of the Centurion 4.0 in the Cirrus SR22 and the Cessna 206.

Continental CEO Rhett Ross told AVweb that once the purchase is complete, the company's major emphasis will be to integrate—and improve—customer service and support and increase gearbox inspection intervals and engine TBRs or time between replacement on the Centurion core engines.

Thielert originally promised that the engines would reach a 2400-hour TBR by 2006, but the best the company ever managed was 1500 hours for the Centurion 2.0. Moreover, both of the four-cylinder Centurions were hobbled by 300-hour gearbox inspections that many owners considered to be an expensive nuisance.

Ross said Continental's due diligence of the company revealed sufficient data to support longer TBRs and Thielert had already developed but never fielded a 600-hour gearbox. Although the Centurions ran into significant maintenance issues by 2007, what forced Thielert into bankruptcy was overbroad warranty protection that the company simply couldn't sustain.

"When we looked at their data from their current experience and their life experience, it's not bad. For what it is as a product and where it is in its cycle, it doesn't scare me as a business leader," Ross said of the Centurion line of engines. But he conceded Thielert had a deservedly poor reputation for customer service and customers have complained to AVweb that Thielert never built the service centers it promised. Continental will address this, said Ross, by bringing support for all of its engines into a common entity, so when a customer calls for support on any engine, the process will be transparent. Ross said that Continental once had its own customer service problems but invested time and money to improve. It intends to apply the same formula to its diesel line.

"We're opening a company in China to provide service, sales and support. We've got people in training to start that right now," Ross said.

Continental is clearly bullish on the market potential for diesel engines. Johnny Doo, Continental's VP for business development, thinks that in five years, diesels will represent about 25 percent of the entire light aircraft market, and much of that demand may come from China. "That market may not be tomorrow, but it may not be far away," Doo said. Because it believes time to market is critical, Continental bought mature diesel technology from other companies rather than developing its own clean sheet designs, said Doo. AVweb will have more coverage on the Thielert purchase later this week.

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FAA To Issue 787 ELT Inspection Order

BBC

The FAA says it will issue an Airworthiness Directive this week to operators of the Boeing 787, requiring an inspection of the airplane's emergency locator transmitters. "These inspections would ask operators to inspect for proper wire routing and any signs of wire damage or pinching, as well as inspect the battery compartment for unusual signs of heating or moisture," the FAA said in a statement over the weekend. The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch has recommended that operators disable the ELT systems "until appropriate airworthiness actions can be completed." Boeing said it supports that recommendation, and called it a "reasonable precautionary measure." The ELTs are not required on the airplanes in the U.S., but some countries do require them. 

The AAIB also said the FAA should conduct a safety review of lithium-powered ELT systems in other aircraft types. About 6,000 ELTs with the same design as the one in the 787 are installed in aircraft around the world, but no other "significant thermal event" has been reported, the AAIB said. Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel told Reuters that all 68 of the airplanes in operation have the ELT installed because all the airline customers chose that option. Boeing installs the beacons in various places in the aircraft, depending on the airline's preference and the home country's regulations, according to Reuters. A fire in the ELT compartment damaged an unoccupied Ethiopian Airlines 787 while it was parked at Heathrow Airport in London on July 12.

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Levil Technology's New AW ADAHRS

Levil Technology is out with a new portable ADS-B unit that included air data input, making it the industry's first portable ADAHRS unit.  It sell for $1,395.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently flew it in his Cub.

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Running Out of Gas: It Takes Focus

While it might be true that fear is just fear, the kind that comes in knowing you’re running out of gas has a particular texture that seems uniquely capable of turning your brain to mush. I know this because like many pilots, I’ve had the experience of nearly running an engine on air. I could dance around it and say this “happened” to me, but that’s a level of denial I just can’t stomach. Like nearly everyone who runs out of gas or nearly does, I did it to myself.

I thought of this last week when reading about that Virgin-operated 737 that landed on a fogbound runway in Australia with just 15 minutes of fuel remaining. Ignoring the legalities and the reasons why that happened, I can tell you this: it takes no small degree of focus and deliberation to make things come out alright or at least survive it. The 737 crew had to land with near-zero visibility in an airplane and on a runway not equipped for that. Nothing quite centers the mind like having no choice.

It my case, I landed with about the same amount of time in the tanks—around 15 minutes. I had taken our Mooney 231 up to central Georgia to cover Maule’s then-new diesel project. That 231 was relatively new to me and we were still wringing out the instrumentation, including a fuel totalizer. For the return trip, the totalizer indicated I could fly the leg with a little over an hour in reserve. Other than a forecast for scattered thunderstorm, the weather was good VFR and I got done late, so I just launched for Venice. I had a tailwind for part of it, a slight headwind for the rest.

Mooneys of that vintage are equipped with low-fuel warning lights which come on when the tank has about three gallons remaining. My habit was to run one tank about 10 minutes into the light then switch to the other tank. I like to have at least a dribble of gas in the empty tank in case the other tank won’t feed. About 40 miles out, the left light came on and 10 minutes later, I switched to the right tank and no sooner was my hand off the valve than the right light came on. What the hell? The totalizer said there should be almost 10 gallons in that tank. I thought to blame a fault in the low-fuel sensor, knowing full well the fault was probably between my ears.

By then, I was passing Sarasota, which was buried in a line of thunderstorms that ruled it out as a bolt hole. I was diverting over the gulf to get around them, adding yet more miles between me and homebase which was, fortunately, clear of weather. I throttled the engine back, leaned it as far as I could and pressed on. With the gauges on E and the bingo lights on, to say I was distracted during approach and landing is to abuse the meaning of the word. Mooneys have an Olympic-class ability to crow hop if landed too flat and too fast. I'm pretty sure I did both. But there was no way I was going around. It took most of the runway, but I got the airplane settled down and stopped. I wasn’t exactly so much scared as feeling galactically stupid. This is where the focus and discipline comes in: the more important it is to get something right with only once chance to do it, the harder you try and the less likely you'll succeed. 

The harsh truth emerged at the fuel pit. As near as I could tell, the airplane had about 3.5 gallons remaining. What I discovered was in fueling this particular K model, full was not full. When the fuel was at the bottom of the filler neck, shaking the wings and letting the fuel settle would make room for another three-plus gallons per side. That accounted for about seven missing gallons the totalizer said I should have had. I’d never run this airplane to its range limits and although I’d flown plenty of 231s, I just never noticed this peculiarity, if indeed any had it. When I have a totalizer available, I like to run a tank dry and refill it to see what it actually holds, compared to what the instrument says the airplane is burning. But I just hadn’t gotten around to that in this Mooney.

If I would have run it out of gas, it would have absolutely been fatal. I have multiple interlocking agreements with several friends that stipulate that if I ever run an airplane out of gas, they are to shoot me. Fortunately, the contracts didn’t have to be executed and I’m trying real hard to make sure they never are.

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