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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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Textron, the parent company of Cessna and Bell Helicopter, announced on Friday that it has agreed to buy two flight simulation and aircraft training companies -- Mechtronix, based in Montreal, and Opinicus Corp., based in Lutz, Fla. The two companies will be combined with Textron's existing training and simulation business for military pilots in South Carolina to form a new unit, Textron Simulation & Training Systems. The new business is expected to generate annual revenues over $100 million, Textron said.

"Mechtronix and Opinicus each have a strong record of delivering advanced flight simulation technologies and services," said Textron CEO Scott Donnelly, in a news release. "Today's pilots face an ever-expanding range of systems and controls within the cockpit, making realistic simulation essential for commercial and military flight training. By adding these businesses, we deepen Textron's ability to fully serve the military, business and civil aviation industries." Both transactions are expected to close by the end of the year.

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Travel bookings for November and December are up nearly 70 percent compared to the same period last year for Sentient Jet, the company announced recently. The change reflects "the continued resurgence in private aviation," according to the company news release. The Sentient Jet fleet accumulated more hours over the summer than it has in the last five summers, the company said. Also, Wheels Up, a new company selling membership-based travel in a fleet of King Air turboprops, said this week it has a new "Uber-like" mobile app in the works that will launch next month. The app will make it easy for travelers to book flights and to share rides, the company said.

Wheels Up is on track to raise nearly $58 million by the end of the year, according to the Boston Business Journal. The new app will allow members to reserve a flight, hitch rides to destinations with other members, partner with other members to share flight costs, and access member-only "shuttle" flights to sports and entertainment events. "Nobody's ever really married private aviation and technology in a way that's going to be sticky, long-term and built to last," Wheels Up founder and CEO Kenny Dichter told the Journal. "That's what we are going to be able to do."

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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."

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In 1844, Samuel F.B. Morse famously tapped out the first telegraph message, “what hath God wrought?” Were he an airline passenger today ruminating on the FCC’s likely decision to lift the ban on cell phone use in airliners, he would text something along the lines of “what fresh hell is this?”

None of this is finalized yet, but the FCC appears poised to allow cell phone usage in aircraft above 10,000 feet. It’s not clear to me why they have jurisdiction on altitude limits, but that’s a niggle. The ball will now sail across the net into the airlines’ court to decide when or even if passengers will be allowed to use phones in flight.

This makes me nervous. Very nervous. According to Marketplace Business, American and United will wait for the FCC’s decision, but Southwest and Delta say they would consider allowing calls, depending on customer attitudes. The flight attendants union is opposed to the idea and so, evidently, are a majority of consumers. “We’re pretty cramped on planes, “ says Curtis Grimm of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. He told Marketplace that polls show customers don’t want to see cell phone usage on aircraft in flight.

And therein lies potential gold for the airlines. Customers don’t want baggage fees, long security lines, pecking-order boarding or $15 snacks, but that’s exactly what they’re getting. That’s because the airlines have perversely figured out that passengers, having little choice, will pay to be less miserable. They’ll pay for more legroom, to board the aircraft earlier, for expedited security and, I’m sure eventually, access to the lav. Add cell phone use to the list.

But rather than charge to make calls, what if the airlines hew to recent trends and charge extra for seats where cell phone usage isn’t allowed? You can see the up sell checkbox: $25 to sit in a cell phone-free seating row. Will the revenue opportunity be just too irresistible? I won’t be the slightest bit surprised. I also won’t be surprised if fist fights break out in first class.

Cell phone rudeness is a unique scourge of the modern age. Fortunately, I sense that the world may be realizing this for it’s my distinct impression that I’m encountering less of it than I used to. The last obnoxious experience was sitting on the bus from the NBAA static display last month next to a woman who prattled on for 20 minutes, completely oblivious to the rising ire of everyone within five feet of her. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I think in general, more people are more courteous than they used to be because everyone is so utterly irritated by a loud, long cell phone conversation.

The FAA and FCC are right to lift outdated and pointless rules restricting use of personal electronic devices, including cell phones. From the technical and safety standpoint, there’s no good argument not to do this. But here’s hoping that the airlines do the right thing and prohibit or sharply restrict voice calls. Is that too much to ask to retain a shard of civility in the airline traveling experience?\

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

David Clark DC PRO-X

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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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.

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.