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The first all-new Eclipse 550 twin-engine jet to roll off the production line in Albuquerque will be on display at the 2013 NBAA convention in Las Vegas next month, Eclipse Aerospace announced on Tuesday. CEO Mason Holland said the jet represents an "amazing accomplishment" for the company, which bought up the remnants of the original Eclipse just four years ago. The jet is based on the original Eclipse design, but with updated features such as dual WAAS (LPV) GPS receivers, XM weather, and a dual and redundant channel FMS. Available options include synthetic vision and auto-throttles.

The 550 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada P610F jet engines that enable it to fly up to 41,000 feet at a max cruise of 430 mph, while consuming 59 gallons of fuel per hour. The jet is designed to be flown by a single pilot, and can seat up to six. It sells for about $2.9 million, and deliveries are expected to begin before the end of this year. The NBAA event is set for Oct. 22 to 24. In May, AVweb editorial director Paul Bertorelli went flying in one of the refurbished Eclipse jets from the original fleet; click here for his video report.

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With a new federal fiscal year about to launch on Oct. 1, FAA officials are facing a $700 million budget gap, according to Bloomberg News. A new round of automatic cuts will take effect in the new budget year and may have more impact than they did this year, sources told Bloomberg, citing briefings with FAA officials. The FAA also may revisit its proposal to close many contract towers, which was shelved last year, Bloomberg said. Bell Helicopter also blamed the federal budget cuts this week in announcing it cut 290 jobs in Fort Worth, Texas. "Sequestration is having an adverse impact on our industry, making the future for defense spending more uncertain than ever," Bell CEO Jim Garrison said on Monday. The recurring budget issues also have revived discussion about privatizing the air-traffic-control system.

"There are conversations taking place among the stakeholders [about privatizing ATC]," Gerald Dillingham, civil aviation director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, told Bloomberg. Paul Rinaldi, president of NATCA, said he would be open to such a discussion. "I don't have the answers, but I do know the current system is broken," he said. Legislation now under consideration in Washington, however, could extend the current government budget levels through mid-December, delaying any new cuts until next year.

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Boeing flew an F-16 without a pilot for the first time last week, the company said on Tuesday. The Air Force plans to use the modified aircraft as a target drone for weapons testing and other aerial training. So far, six of the retired airplanes have been modified into the Full Scale Aerial Target, or QF-16, mode, and another 120 from the fleet are expected to follow. "Now we have a 9G-capable, highly sustainable aerial target," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, commander of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron. The aircraft provides "a replication of current, real-world situations and aircraft platforms," Inman said.

The initial test flights took place at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. The aircraft flew maneuvers up to 40,000 feet, at speeds up to Mach 1.47, and pulled up to 7 Gs. The modified airplanes now will be moved to New Mexico for live-fire testing. Two ground-based pilots will operate each aircraft.

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Former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has been awarded one of aviation's most prestigious prizes. Blakey is the 2013 Wright Trophy winner, bestowed annually by the National Aeronautic Association to a living American who has given “…significant public service of enduring value to aviation in the United States.”  Since ending her five-year term as FAA administrator in 2007, Blakey has been the president of the Aerospace Industries Association, a Washington group that represents defense and aerospace industry companies. NAA cites her push to bring satellite navigation to the air traffic control system through Next Gen as one of her principal contributions. Her career, particularly at the FAA, saw its share of controversy, however.

Blakey will be remembered in GA circles for her attempts to introduce user fees, an issue that persists for GA advocates today. Blakey was also at odds with the FAA's air traffic controllers for much of her time there. Prior to her appointment as FAA administrator, Blakey was chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. She had six presidential appointments, four of which required Senate confirmation. “The long list of recipients of this most historic award reflects the diversity of leadership of our nation’s aviation and aerospace industry,” said Jonathan Gaffney, president and CEO of NAA and chairman of the selection committee.

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Many round-the-world pilots are in a hurry to get the trip done, but Calle Hedberg of Capetown, South Africa is taking a different route.  He has eight months to do the trip in his kit-built Ravin 500, and he plans to savor every moment.  AVweb's Russ Niles flew with him after he got a float endorsement in Kelowna, British Columbia.

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Every year the National Transportation Safety Board allows organizations outside the federal government to enroll students in aircraft accident investigation school.  This is not a watered-down version; rather, it’s the same course provided to new investigators.  The vast majority of students are representatives of entities whose employees, products, or services are likely to be involved if an aircraft accident occurs.  Examples include airframe, engine, and avionics manufacturers.  Airlines, unions, and training providers are also represented.  Those with technical expertise that may aid the investigative process are allowed to become an interested party.  This has innumerable benefits including the ability to see evidence, submit comments, and make arguments for or against a hypothesis.  The training is an important prerequisite of what to expect if the bad day ever happens.  As an instructor pilot and CRM/Human Factors program manager for a large part 142 school, I was allowed to participate in March of 2013.

Although digital voice recorders, flight data recorders, and radar analysis plots are great technological advancements, there’s still a lot of info gleaned from paint transfers, frayed cables, and compressed metal.  Sometimes those are the only things available.  The fundamental underpinnings that evolved from the first official investigation in 1908--the one that killed Lt. Thomas Selfridge and injured Orville Wright--are applicable today.  An investigator’s job is to identify the origin of the failure and place it within the sequence of the overall event.  Ultimately the probable cause has to be determined.  It’s often a matter of good old-fashioned detective work.  Becoming an expert requires a great deal of hands-on experience. Knowing what to look for is critical. 

To facilitate learning, many aviation investigation schools use wreckage from actual accidents.  Parts of the aircraft are arranged similar to how they were discovered the day of the event.  A mock investigation takes place and students hypothesize what happened. One of the best training tools at the NTSB’s disposal is located at the academy in Ashburn, Va.  Painstakingly reconstructed in a position of prominence in the hangar sits a 96-foot section of a severely damaged aircraft.  Faint paint markings and a partially scorched logo reveal the origin of the 60,000 pound behemoth: this is the center fuselage section of TWA 800.

Being far removed from where the event occurred does not minimize the experience.  Although the tail section, wings, and engines are not present, a very large section of the fuselage still remains.  What’s left is a mosaic of nearly 1600 parts reassembled on a steel scaffold. The center fuel tank area is exposed and predictably, draws a lot of attention.  Structural failure is clearly evident and the right side exhibits more damage than the left – a telltale sign of initial impact with the ocean.

What sets this reconstruction apart from similar mock-ups is the ability to enter the cabin.  Parts of the airplane have been attached to the scaffolding in way that provides a three dimensional perspective.  Upon climbing a set of stairs representative of the height of the boarding doors, a sea of passenger seats comes into view.  Nearly all the seats in this section of the aircraft were recovered and each has been returned to the original location.  The NTSB is sure of this because seats at the time were manufactured with the row number and position on the armrests.   I’ve had the opportunity to examine the wreckage three times now, including as a student in the 10-day accident investigation course taught at the academy. 

Objectivity is a required trait, but I can’t help but get a little pensive each time I see it.  It’s evident that others feel the same.  The emotional impact doesn’t fade over time.  Walking down the reconstructed aisles of the 747, I visualize the occupants as the aircraft taxied out on a hot summer day in 1996.  I’m always mesmerized by the cockpit center console and the positions of the thrust levers.  As a pilot, I think about how hard the crew worked to regain control.  Given the controversy surrounding the probable cause of the crash, it might have been easier to tuck the remains in a secret location far from view.  Instead, the NTSB and the families of the victims decided on a more noble purpose for TWA 800 – to aid in future investigations and develop recommendations to prevent a reoccurrence.  

Regardless of one’s personal convictions about the veracity of the origin of the breakup, there’s irrefutable value in the aftermath.  Every accident evokes important lessons.  Listening and learning is up to us.

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

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On the morning of September 12, 2013, Jonathan Trappe ascended from a field in Caribou, Maine, in an attempt to be the first pilot to fly a cluster balloon system across the Atlantic.  Twelve hours later, he landed in Newfoundland.

Bendix/King designed the hardware and Aspen Avionics completed the user interface for the KSN770 FMS. The end result is a powerful retrofit GPS navigator that has a sharp screen, liberal interface potential and a $13,995 price tag. Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano flew with the system to have a look.