AVwebBiz - Volume 13, Number 4

January 21, 2014

Federal Budget Funds Contract Towers

A new $1.1 trillion federal budget bill passed last week includes $140 million to ensure all 252 contract towers will stay open -- at least through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The tower staffing became uncertain during last year's budget battles, but a planned shutdown of 149 of the towers was averted when the FAA was allowed to shift funds from other programs. The funding for next year remains uncertain. "Some people may say it's case closed, but in the back of our minds, we're always thinking ahead," said Peter Moll, director of the Wittman Regional Airport, in Oshkosh, Wis. "We're excited there's funding included, but this could be coming back up again next year."

The budget also contained good news for Sikorsky Aircraft. Connecticut will get $3.3 billion for defense spending, including funds to continue development of a new Sikorsky rescue helicopter for the U.S. Air Force. "This will preserve the workforce we now have," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. "It will keep the workforce here at Sikorsky on the†job." Sikorsky employs 6,566 workers in Connecticut.

Rockwell Collins Predicts Prolonged BizAv Recovery

Rockwell Collins says it doesn't expect significant recovery in the business jet sector until 2016 and it has scaled its operations to reflect that. Rockwell Collins CEO Kelly Ortberg told Bloomberg that aircraft sales won't rebound until companies start making more money. The current recovery is driven by cost reduction rather than sales growth, he said. On the other hand, he said, the bizjet market has only one way to go.

ďI donít think it can go down any further,Ē Ortberg told Bloomberg. ďWeíre at a low level of sustained production. I think weíll stay at that low level.Ē The company makes much of the avionics gear that goes into business jets. It's gaining some sales in the retrofit market, particularly with its cabin management systems, as companies hang on to their existing aircraft and modernize them.

Bombardier Lays Off 1,700 Aerospace Workers

Bombardier is laying off 1,700 aerospace workers, 1,100 in Montreal and 600 in Wichita, because of slow sales and delays in the CSeries airliner and Learjet 85 programs. Last week, the Canadian planemaker announced the CSeries wouldn't be ready for its first deliveries until the last half of 2015, and a few days later it said the schedule for the 85 was being pushed back too. The Learjet 85's first flight was supposed to happen in 2013 and Bombardier is hoping it will occur "in the coming weeks," according to a report in the Montreal Gazette.

Meanwhile, Bombardier reported it took 19 percent fewer orders for business and commercial aircraft in 2013 compared to 2012. In announcing the layoffs, officials told staff the company has to conserve cash while it gets a handle on the new programs and the market improves. Temporary and permanent staff in manufacturing, assembly, engineering and sales will get the pink slips.

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Video Released Of Aspen Challenger Crash

Infrared security camera video obtained by Aspen Journalism, a non-profit citizen journalism group in Aspen, Colo., shows the crash of a Challenger 601 business jet at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport on Jan. 5 that killed the co-pilot and sent the other two pilots aboard to hospital in critical condition. The video shows the aircraft, on a flight from Tucson to pick up passengers, on its second landing attempt after the pilot aborted the first try due to a 33-knot tailwind. Based on the images of the snow moving across the ramp area, the howling wind had not abated as the big bizjet hit the runway hard, with sparks flying, bounced 50 feet or more and crashed on the runway in a fireball.

Late last week the NTSB released a preliminary report (PDF) on the crash saying the bounce preceded the crash. "On the second landing attempt (the aircraft) briefly touched down on the runway, then bounced into the air and descended rapidly impacting with the ground at midfield," the report says. Sometime after that the plane flipped on its back and was mostly consumed by the fire.

Canadian Airport Projects Threatened: COPA

The Canadian government is considering law changes that could give local and provincial jurisdictions a say in airport construction or expansion projects, according to the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association President Kevin Psutka. In a letter to members, Psutka said the proposed changes to the Aeronautics Act are so far ambiguous but could chip away at the federal government's sole jurisdiction over aviation infrastructure. He said the feds want to move to "participatory decision making" involving local consultation on airport development. That already happens in the case of certified public use airports but the government wants to extend the process to non-certified airport projects, including strips on private land.

Psutka said local politicians rarely consider the national interest and will bow to local pressure if given the chance to influence the airport approval process. He said local governments have lobbied the federal government for the changes after conflict over some private airstrips and the development of airstrips serving Alberta's oil industry. There have been many attempts by local and provincial governments to block airport projects but the federal government has sole jurisdiction and has enforced it repeatedly. Psutka said the rulemaking process will take three years and COPA will be keeping close tabs on it.

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Beechcraft Celebrates 50 Years Of King Airs

Beechcraft has been through a lot in the last few years, emerging from bankruptcy and now under new ownership, but its long heritage remains intact -- a fact that was celebrated this week, when the company marked the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the King Air Model 90. Several three-ship passes of the companyís current production King Air models flew above Beech Field, in Wichita, Kan., on Monday afternoon, before an audience of employees and guests. Nearly 7,200 King Airs have been delivered around the world, accruing more than 60 million flight hours. "Todayís celebration launches a year-long commemoration of the King Air legacy," said Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture in a news release on Monday.

On Jan. 20, 1964, company pilots flew the first official flight of the conforming prototype of the King Air Model 90, with thousands of spectators on hand, including employees, Wichita residents, and local and state dignitaries. With five aircraft in the test program, the King Air received type certification from the FAA four months later, on May 27. Customer deliveries began in July. Mondayís anniversary flight featured the King Air C90GTx, based on the original Model 90 design, as well as the King Air 250 and the flagship King Air 350i. Compared to the original Model 90, todayís King Air C90GTx cruises 60 knots faster and lifts 1,485 pounds more payload.

MIT Advances HUD Technology

A new system to project images through glass using nanotechnology could lead to inexpensive, effective head-up displays for aircraft, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said this week. The new approach combines a wide viewing angle, simplicity of manufacture, potentially low cost, and scalability. The system uses nanoparticles embedded in a thin transparent plastic coating that can be applied to glass, much as tinting is applied to car windows. The particles are designed to scatter light at precise wavelengths, so the projected image is seen in much the same way that smoke in the air can reveal the presence of a laser beam passing through it. The image can be seen from a wide array of angles, unlike some current systems, which are limited in their angle of view.

Even with the nanoparticle film installed, "the glass will look almost perfectly transparent," said MIT professor Marin Soljacic. The research team recently demonstrated a prototype of the technology, using just one color. Soljacic said the demonstration was just a proof-of-concept, and much work remains to be done to optimize the performance of the system. The team's research was supported by the Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

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Garmin Adds Attitude To iPad Display

Garmin has added attitude display to a portable ADS-B in receiver that works with its Garmin Pilot application for iOS and Android portable device applications. The GDL 39 3D is, according to Garmin, "a portable†ADS-B and GPS receiver which adds simultaneous display of aircraft attitude information (pitch and roll),†alongside rich, interactive mapping, traffic, and weather ...." It's an upgrade of the GDL 39 and gives a full moving map display along with all the basic flight instruments on a split screen display on the portable device.

The device sells for $849 ($899 with a battery) and is available now. Garmin CEO Carl Wolf said the device is part of its plan to help pilots transition to the ADS-B environment that will be mandatory in most controlled airspace in six years. "...†Weíre devoted to educating the pilot community. Our full line-up of portable and certified ADS-B products, along with our comprehensive ADS-B Academy website, support†Garminís commitment to making the ADS-B transition easy and affordable for all aircraft owners.Ē

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RANS S-20: The Cub Archetype Done Better

One of my many character flaws is a complete disinterest in filling out forms of any kind including, Iím sorry to say, logbooks. I scribble down the legal requirements for currency, but thatís about it. As a result, Iím not quite sure when I last flew an airplane that wasnít an LSA. Might have been an Eclipse demo or perhaps Diamondís DA-40 diesel when I was in Austria last spring. Sadly, Iíll never be able to boast of the impressive number of types Iíve flown, but then if I donít care, why should anyone else?

Flying new LSAs is all but unavoidable because there are so many of them. Just at the Sport Aviation Expo over the weekend, there were three new ones and a couple of variants on existing designs. We try to fly as many as we can because readers and viewers are interested in these new designs. And frankly, I prefer flying simple little airplanes over squiring around a collection of aluminum or composite whose purpose seems to be moving a sophisticated avionics package and an iPad from A to B.

This has caused me to reset my thinking about light sport airplanes. Itís all but an article of faith that LSAs are overpriced and undervalued, a discussion weíve had in this forum ad nauseam.† Not wishing to have it again, I will say this about most of the light sport airplanes Iíve been flying: high priced or not, many are definitely better airplanes than what went before them. While some are reheats of traditional Cub-type designs, they simply fly and perform better. Whether that better is commensurate with the higher price is a buyer-beholder thing.

While at the Sport Expo show, I had a generous amount of flight time to compare RANS new S-20 Raven to my own J-3 Cub. RANS is a prolific designer of mostly experimental amateur-built airplanes, but theyíve got a fly away LSA model in the S-7LS and the S-20 will eventually be the same, although itís an EAB kit for now. The S-20 is a side-by-side taildragger with a 100-hp Rotax 912. So six decades after the J-3, why is the S-20 so much better?

Although itís about the same size as a Cubóitís actually a foot-and-half shorter with a five-foot less wingspanóitís vastly more commodious inside. With its tandem seating, the J-3 is tight and there is absolutely no convenient place to put stuff like a tablet or a kneeboard, while the S-20 has a large, easy-to-reach baggage compartment. And for a small airplane, the S-20 has so much cabin width that thereís no risk of shoulder rubbing.

As for the ergos and ventilation, the S-20 is quiet and warm compared to the J-3ís drafty and cold. Itís been 40 degrees here in Florida this week and those drafts that seep through the Cubís door and window chill the charm. Iím reptilian in my choice of temperature range. Iíd rather sweat than shiver.

As for handling, the difference between the two is stark. The old Cub has a ton of adverse yaw and while that makes it a good teacher for rudder use, itís not necessarily a desirable aerodynamic characteristic. The S-20 isnít quite feet on the floor, but it has little adverse yaw. One thing I donít like about many of the LSAs coming out of Europe is too-light control forcesóthis is definitely not desirable in any airplane. A couple of years ago, I slapped my fish scale on the stick of a Remos and found that the control forces were too light to measure and there was zero breakout force from a centered stick. The J-3 is quite heavy in roll and predictably, a little lighter in pitch. The S-20 splits the difference; itís light in roll, but thereís measureable force there. It feels like it ought to feel.

Just to show how the limitations of design ingrain habits, when I was taxiing the S-20, I was S-turning, this despite the fact that you can see almost as well over the nose as you can in a Cessna 150. While having the forward view blocked during taxi is part of the J-3ís old-world charm and accurately represents the pungent experience of 1930s flying, I wouldnít order that feature in a new airplane. Ditto for the brakes. Itís true that if youíre doing things right, you donít really need brakes in a taildragger, but thatís not the same as having BINOSóbrakes in name only. I donít mind being able to stop vigorously when necessary. Iím pretty sure I can avoid the noseover.

With 25 more horsepower than our Cub, the S-20 is a better climber and faster than the J-3. Part of that is due to lower drag. I notice this when flying any of the Cub-type LSAs. Despite being very current in the Cubólike 15-landings-a-week currentóIím always too fast and too high in the newer airplanes. By habit, I tend not to use the airspeed indicator as a reference, since I donít do that in the Cub. And that means until Iíve done a few landings, I tilt toward the fast and floaty instead of the slow and certain. Taildragger skills are only so transferable, at least for me.

This is especially noticeable in the pattern, where I like to fly a tight turn-in thatís perfect for the J-3, but will yield a too-high approach in something like the S-20 or the Legend Cubs. Since I seem to have trouble curing myself of that tight pattern, I do a lot of slipping to short final. Nothing wrong with that; itís a skill that needs to be kept alive.

As I mentioned in Fridayís blog, the arrival procedure into Sebring was a bit of a goat rope and rather than stooge around in circles over Lake Jackson, Randy Schlitter and I flew over to nearby Avon Park for some touch and goes, where we found a gusty crosswind up to about 15 knots. Iíll tackle that in the Cub, but the S-20 feels significantly more sure footed in such conditions, suggesting to me that the center of gravity is probably closer to the gear than it is in the Cub. When the S-20 plants, it doesnít have that Iím-about-to-break-loose-for-the-tulies feel that the Cub sometimes does.

Unforgiving ground handling will teach you the all-important lesson of staying on your game until the airplane is back in the hangar, but again, I wouldnít specify that in a new airplane. The Cub just happens to be that way.

In its fly-away LSA form, the S-20 will be in the mid $120,000s fully equipped, which is typical of what LSAs in the class cost. Iíve already explained in detail why I think these prices are about what they should be, given the cost of building new airplanes in a market that canít sustain volume. If you want to rage about how outrageous that price is, be my guest. But by now, itís a lost cause, Iím afraid.

For a third as much, you can find a nice, restored Cub that will be a terrific fun flyer. But in the end, the S-20 is just a faster, more comfortable and more sophisticated airplane. Itís not just incrementally better, itís a lot better. And seriously, if 75 years of progress didnít make it so, it would be scandalous indeed.†

Click here for a video report on the RANS S-20.

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Read others' comments and add your own.

Video: World Aircraft Starts Up in Tennessee

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.

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Video: RANS' New S-20 Raven Debuts at Sport Expo

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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Video: Flying Platform

In the 1950s there were various designs for flying platforms, but the technology wasn't quite good enough for a practical design. †Flying Platform, LLC displayed the beginnings of an updated version of the Hiller Flying Platform at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida and hope to have it flying by June. †After that, they'll be offering kits for sale.

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Video: Skyleader 600 Makes U.S. Debut

Before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the former Eastern Bloc countries supplied the Soviets with sophisticated aerospace products and services. †Now those industries have turned to civil aircraft manufacture. †One of those companies, Skyleader, showed off a new LSA at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring this week. †Here's a brief video report on the new Skyleader 600.

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Photo Gallery: Sunny But Cool at Sebring

Photo Gallery: Sebring Draws Weekend Crowds