AVwebFlash - Volume 14, Number 28a

July 7, 2008

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Top News: Emergency Craft Under Scrutiny back to top 

As Wildfires Burn, Air Tanker Fleet Updates Uncertain

Six years after the entire big air tanker fleet was grounded by the NTSB over airworthiness issues, some fear little has changed even as massive and abundant fires currently burning in northern California push the demand for the aircraft. Thursday, two Colorado congressmen pushed the Department of Agriculture for the Department's plan to modernize the fleet. Awareness was raised in 2002, when the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management permanently grounded nine air tanker firefighting aircraft and temporarily took 35 more out of service pending inspections. At that time, a panel of aviation experts concluded that the air tanker system was unsustainable and called for a system-wide overhaul. The 2002 groundings followed two 2002 air tanker crashes -- a C-130 in June, and a PB4Y-2 in July -- that killed five crewmen. Both aircraft suffered in-flight catastrophic wing failure.

By March 2003 inspected tankers began returning to service only to have the entire fleet grounded by the NTSB in May of 2004 for concerns. In 2006 Colorado congressmen Mark Udall and John Salazar were told by the undersecretary of agriculture and natural resources that the spring of 2007 would see a new plan to modernize the air tanker fleet. Thursday, Udall and Salazar were still waiting.

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This Summer's Hottest Tickets back to top 

Is Sport Pilot The Future Of GA?

If the architects of the Sport Pilot certificate are correct, there should be thousands of teens like Kris Halvorson out there. At least that's what they hope. Halvorson is a textbook case of how the simpler certificate is supposed to entice youngsters to fly. Halvorson earned his Sport Pilot certificate on June 18 at the AirLake airport (KLVN) in Minneapolis. He recieved his certificate almost exactly one year after starting his flight training. All of his training was done in a Flight Design CTsw at LSA North, Inc. "I really enjoyed the flight training," said Halvorson. "The Sport Pilot program was pretty straightforward and was what I was expecting." Halvorson chose the Sport Pilot license for its simplicity. He paid for his flight training himself by working nights and weekends at LifeTime Fitness. "My schedule was work, then fly, work, then fly," said Halvorson. "I would have been able to get my Private [Pilot Certificate], but it would have taken a lot more time."

Kris's instructor, Scott Johnson, sees many benefits to the Sport Pilot program for young people . "One benefit is that you can get your initial license in half the time and half the cost," said Johnson. Last summer Johnson had 4 or 5 sport pilot students. Currently he has over 20. "Sport Pilot is more than just ultralights. It's an easier way for people to "test the waters" to see if they like flying," said Johnson. "And if you want to go further all of your training counts toward any future ratings."

Fuel-Conscious Ways To Oshkosh

More then ever before, drivers and pilots are affected by the steeply rising fuel costs. But the folks at the EAA have a plan. Actually, they have numerous plans that can make the trip to Oshkosh for both drivers and flyers more economical. To help share travel costs to and from the show the EAA has a program called RideShare. Through the website visitors can either advertise empty seats in their car or plane, or search for local travelers who are willing to offer a lift. This five-year-old program was formed due to members request and is getting more interest than ever this year. To help further alleviate costs, many FBOs across the country are offering fuel discounts for travelers flying to Oshkosh. "We encourage pilots to support these businesses that support EAA members and EAA AirVenture," said EAA President Tom Poberezny. The exact discount varies, but can each be found by contacting the individual FBO. For those that prefer to fly in via airline, discounts are available for those flying on Midwest Airlines and Northwest Airlines. Midwest offers an 8% discount and Northwest a 5% discount to published fares.

As far as attendance figures goes, the EAA feels optimistic. "We have a higher number of exhibitors registered this year and early camping arrivals are similar to past years." said Dick Knapinski, EAA Media & Public Relations. "Most of the people we've talked with indicate that they will find ways to economize elsewhere so they can make that big trip to Oshkosh."

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'The-Jet' Goes Airborne back to top 

Cirrus' The-Jet Flies, July 3

July 3 marked the first flight, a 45-minute jaunt, of Cirrus Design's The-Jet -- the company says the five-plus-two seat aircraft "performed flawlessly." The first aircraft is dubbed "V1" for verification and validation testing. It, like other Cirrus aircraft, flies with a full-plane parachute -- unlike other Cirri, The-Jet is powered by a Williams FJ33-4A-19. Performance targets are 300 ktas at 25,000 feet, range was not specified in Cirrus' latest release. Cirrus Chairman and CEO, Alan Klapmeier set the bar for the aircraft at holding "the unique promise of redefining general aviation." Aimed at owner-pilots, if The-Jet hits the mark it will be simple to fly and wrap efficient single-jet operation in a package that offers more flexibility and "more lifestyle pursuits" than other aircraft. The-Jet recently completed wind tunnel tests at Langley and has been further tested to substantiate the structural load capacities of its sub-assemblies.

Cirrus says the aircraft marks the first application of the v-tail on a major consumer aircraft in 60 years and touts its backpack engine mount design as a common sense solution that keeps the engine outside of the fuselage structure and though it employs vectored thrust, "makes for smooth handling and excellent engine efficiency."

Related Content (AVweb The-Jet Videos):


Exclusive Video: Cirrus The-Jet -- First Flight

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

July 3, 2008, Cirrus Design marked the first flight of its jet offering. The aircraft, currently dubbed "The-Jet" successfully flew for 45 minutes. AVweb's Glenn Pew has video of the flight.

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If that doesn't work, click here to download the video directly.

Alan Klapmeier on the First Flight of Cirrus Design's "The-Jet"

File Size 6.0 MB / Running Time 6:30

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In many ways, today was the day Alan and Dale Klapmeier have been waiting for since the 1980s when they first started thinking about building airplanes. But as Alan Klapmeier told AVweb's Russ Niles, Thursday's first flight of the verification test aircraft of Cirrus's The-Jet is actually more of a beginning as they head toward certification and production of the five-plus-two-passenger personal jet.

Click here to listen. (6.0 MB, 6:30)

Cirrus Perspective™ by Garmin: A New Beginning for General Aviation
As a pilot, you sit in a cockpit and experience the world in ways others can only imagine. As leaders in technology and innovation, Cirrus and Garmin sat in the cockpit together and imagined how to redesign the flying experience. Together they have re-imagined the pilot-airplane interface, and as a result, revolutionized general aviation. See the result at CirrusDesign.com.
A Different Kind of Balloon Flight back to top 

Kent Couch's Helium Balloon Lawn Chair Success

Kent Couch, 48, Saturday lifted off from a pasture in Bend, Ore., suspended in a green lawn chair beneath a collection of more than 150 giant helium-filled party balloons, and covered about 235 miles in about nine hours, landing in Cambridge, Idaho. Couch controlled his ascent and descent with a Red Ryder BB gun and ballast (in this case, 15-gallon barrels of cherry Kool Aid). Couch also carried two GPS units -- one for himself and one for the chair, just in case it got away again (last year, it blew away on landing). He also had with him a blowgun and steel darts ... and boiled eggs, jerky and chocolate. The balloons give about four pounds of lift, each. The chair and supporting structure weighs about 400 pounds, and one Couch plus parachute weigh in at about 200. The flight cost about $6,000 for aircraft and fuel, or in this case, the rig itself and the helium, a cost that was defrayed by "corporate sponsors," according to The Associated Press. "If I had the time and money and people, I'd do this every weekend," said Couch. "Things just look different from up there. You're moving so slowly. The best thing is the peace and serenity." His wife Susan added, "It's never been a dull moment since I married him." The flight was Couch's third.

In 2006, Couch had to parachute from his rig when overzealous balloon popping led to a too-rapid rate of descent. Last year, his flight took him 193 miles to northeastern Oregon, but his real goal remained a trip out of state. His successful trip this year was aided also by dozens of volunteers who wore fluorescent green T-shirts that read "Dream Big." It's often a dangerous mission. In this case, mission accomplished.

Helium Balloon Failure, Body Found

The body of 42-year-old priest Adelir Antonio de Carli, who April 20 attempted to raise money for a worship center and rest stop for truckers by flying below an array of helium-filled balloons, may have been found in the Atlantic. Police in Brazil are investigating the findings of a tugboat crew 60 miles off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state. The priest had departed the southern port city of Paranagua for Dourados, 465 miles away. He took with him on the trip skydiving experience, a helmet, thermal suit, a parachute and what has been described as a buoyant chair. Aside from his philanthropic intents, it was his attempt to break a record for 19 hours aloft in such a contraption. After de Carli went missing, his former paraglider instructor told the Telegraph.co.uk that he had instructed Carli but later asked him to "abandon the course" because in his estimation Carli had personality traits that were "not ideal for a paraglider." The body is wearing the clothes and shoes of de Carli, but officials will wait for DNA tests to confirm the remains are indeed those of the priest.

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News Briefs back to top 

More Small Turbines For GA? GE Buys Walter Engines

GE Aviation has acquired assets of Walter Engines, the Czech turboprop manufacturer, for an undisclosed sum of less than $70 million, GE spokeswoman Deborah Case told the International Herald Tribune. The move affords GE a stake in the small turboprop aircraft market, where it previously had none, and the ability do battle for business with Pratt & Whitney Canada -- taking aim specifically on the PT6 engine. Walter is currently nearly one percent the size of Pratt & Whitney but "whatever win we can get from the market ... it's more than we have now," said Case. GE plans to make substantial investments in Walter and this July is expected to introduce an improved version of Walter's most popular engine, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. A spokesman for Pratt & Whitney Canada told The Associated Press that the company takes all competition "very seriously," but "I don't see where there's much competition from someone one percent [our] size..."

With fuel costs rising, the speed, efficiency and reliability offered by turboprop aircraft led to a slight rise in shipments in Q1 of 2008, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, while the piston engine segment suffered a year-over-year drop of 28 percent.

In Destin, Lest Parasailers And Airplanes Meet...

Parasailing near the Gulf Coast city of Destin, Fla., is becoming a public-relations problem and potential danger for tourists, local business and local pilots. Destin airport is close enough to the ocean to pose concern, and operations at Eglin Air Force Base add to it. But add banner planes "that come two or three an hour" and aircraft that "like to do stunt flying" up and down the beach and you've got a problem, parasailing business owner John Cooper told local news. To complicate matters, a recent visit with Destin's code enforcement department by an FAA inspector prompted disagreement over what entity should handle violations of parasailing proximity and altitude by what Cooper calls "newer operators." Pilots and regulators aren't the only ones upset -- parasail operators who say they're already dodging low-flying aircraft flying outside of any restricted or controlled airspace would like to see a resolution, too.

Toward that end, parasail operators are willing to seek compromise provided regulators and the FAA move forward the understanding that the future of parasail businesses depends on a reasonable outcome.

New Financing Terms for Light Sport Aircraft *
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The Top Reporter on Our Crack Staff ... Is You! back to top 

AVmail: July 7, 2008

Reader mail this week about avgas, electric planes, pilot shortages (or overages) and more.

Click here to read this week's letters to the editor.

Survey: How Is Flight Service Doing Now That They Suposedly Have the Bugs Worked Out?

Our sister magazine, IFR, is asking pilots nationwide how their experience with Lockheed Martin Flight Service has affected the way they do their preflight prep. We'd love to hear your thoughts on how LockMart is doing these days.

The survey takes just a few minutes. Click here to take part.

(The results will appear in a future issue of IFR magazine. For subscription information, click here.)

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 200,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

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New on AVweb back to top 

Probable Cause #61: Illegal IFR Flight

The time and effort spent earning an instrument rating offers a pilot more than just added flexibility. It could save your life.

Click here for the full story.

Another pilot once told me he had been caught on top of cloud layers several times during his flying career but always escaped safely by simply calling ATC for an IFR clearance to get below the cloud decks and fly on VFR to his destinations. What was so unusual was that this pilot had never earned an instrument rating.

What bothered me most was this pilot's obvious disregard for the regulations, not once but several times. In fact, he made this all sound like "I'm going to get there no matter what" was a normal procedure for him. He thought ATC would prefer to know he was there to begin with. He assumed that what he did was better than just shutting off his transponder and descending through the clouds on his own. Apparently, it never occurred to him that these trips were all illegal.

Perhaps that same attitude was present when a pilot crashed a Mooney near the Van Nuys, Calif., airport in June 2005. He also did not have an instrument rating and crashed while executing the ILS approach to Runway 16 through the clouds at Van Nuys one night after the control tower had closed. The pilot was the sole occupant of the aircraft. He was killed when the aircraft impacted the south slope of a shallow ravine approximately five miles north of the VNY airport.

The Facts

According to the NTSB report of this accident, the pilot of the Mooney called the aircraft's owner at approximately 1622 PDT to say he was preparing to depart San Jose for John Wayne Airport at Santa Ana. The aircraft owner told investigators that they spoke about the weather and that he (the pilot) said he would check it regularly since the forecast did not look good. His plan was to fly to John Wayne Airport for dinner and then on to the Whiteman Airport located four miles northeast of VNY Airport.

The NTSB does not mention the conditions under which the pilot compensated the Mooney's owner for the flight time, nor why the owner seemed to exercise little control over his own asset.

The aircraft departed San Jose between 1630 and 1700 for John Wayne some 375 miles to the southeast and was expected to arrive between 1900 and 1930 and did, in fact, land at 1915 local. The female witness who met the pilot upon landing said he was in a good mood, did not seem tired and did not mention weather concerns before she returned him to the airport at around 2115. The witness noticed clouds and asked the pilot if he was sure he wanted to fly. The pilot replied that the weather was 100-percent fine. She did not see the pilot officially check the weather reports before departure.

The aircraft departed John Wayne at 2145 for Whiteman under VFR. The pilot was in contact with the ATC during most of the flight and the topic of weather did emerge early on. On initial contact, ATC asked the Mooney pilot if he could climb to a higher altitude to clear airspace ahead, to which the pilot said "No" due to cloud cover. The controller asked if the pilot was IFR qualified. When the Mooney pilot answered yes, the controller queried him about why he had not departed John Wayne IFR, since clouds extended all the way to Van Nuys.

The Mooney pilot responded by asking the controller for an IFR clearance. When the controller said he was unable, the pilot said he would continue VFR and return to John Wayne and land if he was unable to proceed.

The Approach

At 2256 the aircraft was over Santa Clarita, about 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles, at 4500 feet when the pilot contacted SOCAL (Southern California Combined Approach Control) and requested an ILS approach into Van Nuys. The controller suggested the pilot fly towards the final approach course VFR, but issued a transponder squawk.

SOCAL verified that the pilot had the Van Nuys weather, radar identified the Mooney and told the pilot to expect an IFR clearance once the aircraft was on the localizer. At 2258 the controller suggested a VFR heading of 130 to intercept the localizer and issued the IFR clearance when the aircraft was four miles from the marker.

A few minutes later, ATC told the Mooney pilot he was slightly left of the centerline and asked if he was turning back. The pilot responded he was trying and ATC seemed to confirm the correction a minute later when they also announced that the aircraft was over the marker.

ATC told the pilot about some local VNY traffic before instructing him to change to advisory frequency and report his time on the ground. A moment later, the Mooney pilot announced on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) that he was on a six-mile final for Runway 16. Shortly thereafter, the Mooney pilot called SOCAL again reporting an undefined problem and announced he was "climbing out." Radar history showed the aircraft made a sudden turn to the right that took the aircraft off the localizer just before he made that transmission. The pilot did not acknowledge ATC's first call to proceed southbound and climb to 5000 feet. He did acknowledge SOCAL's second call with an affirmative. It was also the last transmission received from the aircraft.

Radar data revealed that the aircraft's track along the localizer was not straight and had overshot the course initially to the east and then corrected back on to the centerline at the outer marker. It then deviated to the east again and corrected back to the final approach course before making an abrupt 90-degree turn away from the final approach course to the west.

At first, the Mooney headed west, climbing from 2100 feet to 2500 feet, before descending back down to 2400 feet. It then turned south for half a minute before again climbing from 2400 feet to 3000 feet. The last ground track showed the aircraft headed northwesterly with altitude changes from 3000 feet to 2400 feet, and then down to the accident elevation of 1253 feet.

The Pilot

FAA records revealed that the pilot held a private certificate with a single-engine-land rating, but did not possess an instrument rating. His third-class medical certificate was valid.

Officials at the site recovered the pilot's logbook. It revealed that the pilot had a total of 205.6 flight hours as of the last entry, on Jan. 30, 2005, nearly six months prior to the accident. He had logged 11.5 hours of simulated instrument time, but no actual. The last instrument training flight recorded was 13 months before the accident flight. There was also no record of the pilot ever having taken so much as a single lesson related to instrument flying.

A relative of the pilot, who happened to be instrument rated, said he had flown safety pilot for the victim five or 10 times, all on practice ILS approaches to VNY. The relative said he was not aware of the pilot's total instrument time, or whether he had ever actually flown in the clouds.

The Weather

The surface analysis chart for the evening of the accident showed a weak, onshore flow with high relative humidity along the central California coast. At 2251 the wind recorded by the Van Nuys Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) was 150 degrees at 6 miles, with a 1400 feet overcast and six miles visibility with haze added to a temperature of 16-degrees Celsius and a 13-degree dewpoint. Reported weather an hour later was virtually the same.

There is no record of the pilot receiving a weather update before the flight. The area forecast that night called for broken clouds between 1000 and 2000 feet MSL with tops at 4000 feet for the coastal areas and an outlook for marginal VFR conditions. Inland areas were to be clear of clouds until 2300 local time when it was expected that clouds would fill in the area with bases at 1000 feet and tops at 3000 feet. The outlook for southern coastal waters was for IFR due to ceilings and mist.

The Witnesses

The aircraft owner showed investigators an invoice for the overhaul of the Mooney's attitude indicator six weeks before the crash. The owner indicated that the pilot might have installed it himself. There were no entries in the aircraft logs indicating that any work had been completed by a licensed mechanic. Again, why the aircraft owner seemed to exercise so little control over his own aircraft is unknown. A series of photos recovered from the pilot's digital camera -- dated May 19, 2005 -- seemed to confirm the indicator problem.

This pilot seemed to believe that landing where he wanted, when he wanted, was the most important issue that night. No one knows why the aircraft never arrived at nearby Whiteman that evening. What went wrong?

There is no record of the pilot ever having checked weather, although that doesn't necessarily mean he didn't. He seemed to be aware of the weather conditions when he spoke to SOCAL controllers, and claimed he was aware of the VNY weather when ATC cleared him for the approach.

No pun intended, but the pilot had clearly stacked the deck against himself from the very beginning. A quick, after-dinner check of weather would have revealed deteriorating conditions. Did the pilot simply plan to file an IFR flight plan if he got himself in a corner? While there is no way to know for certain, every indication is that he felt capable of flying in the clouds though he did not possess an instrument rating.

Did this pilot perhaps climb through the clouds without a clearance to get on top so that he would be high enough to pick up an IFR clearance over Santa Clarita? Most likely, since the cloud deck was pretty solid from Santa Ana to Van Nuys and beyond.

Perhaps climbing and descending through the clouds gave him the confidence that he could fly the ILS approach into Van Nuys. After all, he had tried that approach many times before, even if it was under VFR with a safety pilot.

What role did the aircraft's equipment issues pose? The pilot was obviously aware there was a potential instrument problem that should have precluded him from flying that night.

The NTSB determined that the cause of the accident was the pilot's decision to attempt flight into instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in loss of control due to spatial disorientation.

Factors that contributed to the accident included restricted visibility, low ceilings, night lighting condition, an undetermined attitude-gyro problem, and -- most of all -- the pilot's lack of qualification/experience for flight in instrument conditions.

Ironically, a flight like this would have been an easy and quick one for a proficient instrument pilot.

More accident analyses are available in AVweb's Probable Cause Index. And for monthly articles about IFR flying including accident reports like this one, subscribe to AVweb's sister publication, IFR Refresher.

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Ragwing Repair Choices

Each system has its pros and cons, but our top pick is Poly Fiber. However, the shop's skills may matter more than the material itself.

Click here for the full story.

The emerging Light Sport Aircraft market has ignited new interest in airplanes at the $100,000 price point and below. Most of these airplanes are composites, but buyers not interested in spending that much are looking hard at older LSA-compliant taildraggers -- Cubs and Champs, for instance. That means renewed interest in a technology as old as aviation itself: fabric covering.

So let's say you've found your dream ragwing and you want to buy it and fly it. You probably know all about aluminum spam cans, but what about that fabric covering? Cloth is World War I stuff, isn't it? Should you even consider buying a fabric-covered airplane and, if so, how do you assess the condition of the skin or anticipate problems you'll have to pay for later? You need to know what to look for in evaluating a fabric-covered airplane, what it takes to fix problems and the choices available when deciding on a complete recover job. In this article, we'll address those very questions.

Wayback Machines

Beginning with da Vinci's gliders, fabric has covered our flying machines. In the early days, cotton or linen was sewn to the airframe, shrunk somewhat with water, then painted with a cellulose-based coating called dope to further tighten and protect the porous fabric. That protection wasn't complete, however, as organic fabrics are subject to rot from fungi that eat the fiber. Nitrate dope was initially used, but its disadvantage was that it burned ferociously when ignited. An early cover job might last for only a handful of years, if it didn't catch fire first.

During World War II, butyrate dope -- sometimes referred to as CAB for cellulose acetate butyrate -- was found to be less flammable, so it replaced nitrate and continued to be used over cotton and linen for years. But fungus could still be a problem. The typical lifespan of a butyrate-dope covering was seven to 15 years, although a few well-preserved airplanes still carry their decades-old cotton/dope skins. A friend of mine has a 48-year-old Tri-Pacer wearing its original cotton fuselage fabric. (It's scheduled for recover this year.)

In the 1950s, heat-shrinkable polyester fabrics were introduced, reducing the time required for installation because the fabric could be glued rather than sewn to the airplane. Other than the rare museum restoration that uses organic fiber for authenticity, polyester fabrics are used almost exclusively these days. Polyester is stronger than natural fiber, easier to work with and not susceptible to fungal rot, although sunlight will deteriorate the unprotected fiber.

A small problem is that butyrate won't stick to the slick synthetic fibers, so the old nitrate dope is used for the first coat, then butyrate is applied thereafter. Increasingly though, more modern vinyl- and polyester-based coating systems are replacing traditional dope. But with any of the systems available today, a properly executed cover job should last 30 years or more.

Buy or Not?

Should you be afraid of a fabric-covered airplane? Not necessarily. In fact, in many cases, the airframe of a fabric airplane is in better shape than its metal-skinned contemporaries. Most older fabric airplanes have been re-skinned at some time in their past, along with inspection and refurbishing of the inner workings at the same time. When was the last time you heard of someone pulling the skins off an aluminum-covered airplane to see what's underneath?

An added benefit: Fabric skin isn't structural. If a bear bites a hole in your metal moose-hauler, you may not get home, but a few claw marks won't weaken the structure of your rag wing. In fact, many airplanes (notably the Stinson 108 series) underwent "metalizing" about 40 years ago, back when a fabric recover job was viewed as temporary. Today, with the advent of better materials and coatings, many of those same airplanes are being "de-metalized" and returned to their original, lighter, fabric coverings. There's a reason why many hard-working bush airplanes and ag aircraft have fabric coverings, which are tough, durable and easy to repair.


But nobody alive knows how to repair these old crates, right? Truth is, fabric-covered airplanes are more numerous than ever -- more than 34,000 are registered with the FAA, a number that grows daily. Some 3000 airplanes are recovered each year, so there are plenty of shops practicing this dying art that isn't dying at all.

As with anything in aviation, money may be the deciding factor in whether to purchase a new or older ragwing. Are you looking at a brand-new Husky or Top Cub? Expect to pay $130,000 to $200,000 and enjoy a flawless, I-can't-believe-that's-fabric finish. Is your budget geared more toward a 60-year-old Champ or Tri-Pacer? It's possible to get in the air for $15,000, but you'll probably have existing patches, cracks in the finish and the prospect of a recover.

How can you judge an airplane by its cover? First, determine the type of fabric. Most airplanes covered in the past 30 or 40 years will have a polyester fabric coated with various finishes. There were some holdouts who used cotton or linen until supplies became almost nonexistent, but polyester (commonly known by the names Dacron, Ceconite, or Stits) is the material of choice today. If you want to buy an airplane wearing outdated cotton or linen, assume it will need a complete recover job along with repairs to the structure hiding under that old skin. Price it accordingly.

How do you know what's hiding under that pretty paint? If the fabric is not factory original, the airframe logbook entries are the first place to look, although many lack detail. It's nice to open a logbook and find an entry like this: "Recovered complete airframe with Ceconite 101 fabric, one brush coat and two spray coats of Randolph Rand-O-Proof, four spray coats of clear CAB dope, three spray coats of silver CAB dope, four spray coats of colored CAB dope, Insignia White."

More likely the logbook will read something like, "Recovered aircraft this date, see 337." Your hike down the paper trail begins. If any major component of an airplane is stripped and recovered, or any fabric repair is larger than 16 inches, it's considered a major repair and requires the filing of an FAA Form 337 with the FAA. If that form is not included with the rest of the airplane's paperwork, you need to know about the greatest bargain in FAA land: The $10 disk. Go to this FAA Web page to request a CD-ROM containing a picture of every record filed for that airplane; registration forms, airworthiness forms and every Form 337 ever sent in to Oklahoma City. With that information, you can determine what process was used to cover the airplane and what materials were used for repair.

If no Form 337 was filed or it doesn't go into much detail, each system has a color code in its base coat, so an experienced fabric guru can take a look inside a wing or fuselage and discern one system from another. That's handy to know, but if there's no Form 337 for a recover job, it's indicative of sloppy maintenance practices and you need to have a talk with an A&P before proceeding. The airplane is technically not airworthy and you have some paperwork issues to clear up before you take ownership.

After determining that the fabric is a modern polyester, take a look at the coatings. First, understand that sunlight is polyester fabric's worst enemy and exposure to UV rays must be avoided. Left outdoors in the sun, unprotected polyester fabric will lose about 75 percent of its strength within a year. I have poked a finger through five-year-old fabric that looked great, but didn't have enough UV barrier.

This next part gets tricky. With dope, Poly Fiber or Stewart systems (see "Recovering Systems," above right), the UV barrier is a physical one: It's powdered aluminum or carbon mixed with some of the coatings, which forms a light-proof barrier against sunlight penetration. If you look inside the wings or fuselage, it should be dark as a cave. If you can see light, so can the fabric.

By contrast, the all-polyurethane systems (Superflight, Air-Tech) put UV barriers in the coatings that block the bad rays yet let some light through, so the fabric sees light but not UV. Know which system you're inspecting and what to expect. The airplane with my finger holes in it lived outside in Colorado, whereas most airplanes spend most of their lives in dark hangars. It's fabric and it's paint ... this ain't rocket surgery.

A 20-year-old finish is bound to have some blemishes. A few cracks in the paint will be evident, usually at a sharp radius or someplace that gets a lot of wear, such as a door or lift/push handle. If you can see fabric through cracks in the paint, plan to repair those areas to preserve the fiber. It's not hard to dab on a bit of dope with a brush -- you can sand it smooth and spray it pretty if you need a higher level of aesthetics. The tops of wings get the most sun, rain and other abuse so look there for lifting finishing tapes -- the two-inch-wide strips of fabric that cover ribs -- nicks and rips near fuel caps and around the wingtips. These seem to attract hangar rash. Sticks and rocks can damage fuselage and tail undersides. A few repairs on an older airplane are common -- that's one of the beauties of fabric. A ding or tear may require a bit of glue, a fabric patch and some paint, whereas aluminum damage means riveting in a replacement piece. Did you bang up a wingtip or tear up a tail? Cut away the fabric, repair the damage underneath and splice in a new piece of skin.

A five-year-old cover should be in almost new shape, other than minor repairs. On older skin, you might find "ringworm," a spiral crack in the paint that has nothing to do with worms or fungus. It's caused by hail or some other impact and is indicative of brittle paint. The cracks usually expose the fabric to the elements. Dab on some paint and fly. Porcelain-like cracks in old dope and Poly-Tone can be rejuvenated by spraying solvents containing plasticizers that soften the topcoat and melt the hairline cracks together, followed by a new topcoat.

On the other hand, if large chunks of the coating are peeling off right down to the fabric, there's a problem with adhesion of the base coat and the work and expense required to repair it rivals a complete recover job.

Punches in the Green

Paint is mostly cosmetic, so the real concern is how strong the fabric itself is underneath that paint. The seller says, "Don't worry, it comes with a fresh annual, a new paint job and the fabric punches in the green!" He's referring to the mysterious Maule Tester, a good tool in the right hands, but one of the most misunderstood in the box. It's a device that looks like a stick-type tire gauge, where a spring-loaded tip is pushed against the fabric. If the scale reaches some magic value without punching through the skin, your airplane passes the test. One problem: The FAA doesn't recognize this test. Their official position is that it can be used "at the discretion of the mechanic to base an opinion on the general fabric condition" (AC 43.13-1B, para 2-34). A second problem is that, to be accurate, the tip must be pressed against bare fabric, otherwise you're testing the punch strength of the paint. Another variable is the discretion involved. Is it your mechanic or the seller's mechanic? A push on the top of the wing might yield a hole, but the bottom of the wing has never seen sun and tests fine. Strong, fresh paint can mask weak fabric.

The test the FAA does recognize is to cut a one-inch wide strip of fabric off your airplane, take off all the coatings, and hang 56 pounds on it to see if it breaks. Time for a reality dose: Nobody cuts up their airplane to do this test. My friend with the old Tri-Pacer was told six years ago by one IA that the fabric wouldn't pass inspection. Another IA with a Maule Tester and better judgment has allowed a perfectly safe airplane to continue flying.

In real life, the mechanic looks for rips, lifting tapes and poor glue joints, checks the coatings for obvious cracks and missing chunks that would let UV in, peers inside to see if light passes through and checks paint flexibility by pushing with a knuckle -- the same things you'll do when you inspect your potential purchase.

Bottom line: You will see some cracks and there will have been some repairs. If polyester fabric is protected from the sun, it should last many years. Pretty is nice, but airworthiness isn't based on aesthetics. Look at the total airplane, not just the surface paint. Not all shops are equipped to handle repairs, but it isn't witchcraft -- most mechanics have simply never dealt with it.

Minor repairs are allowed to be owner-performed and can save you money if you learn some simple techniques. Fabric airplanes are old, modern, beautiful, durable and not nearly as mysterious as their reputation would suggest. It's a proven technology that's enjoying a resurgence in the light-airplane market. So don't shy away from a ragwing.

More aircraft repair and prevention articles are available in AVweb's Maintenance Index. And for monthly articles and reviews of aviation products and services, subscribe to AVweb's sister publication, Aviation Consumer magazine.

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Diamond DA40 XL Demonstrator Sale
For a limited time only, while quantities last, Diamond DA40 XL Demonstrator models are available at a special price of $299,950. The aircraft also qualify for special 2008 tax incentives. You can enjoy owning a Diamond DA40 and write off up to 93% of the purchase price. Visit Diamond Aircraft now for more information.
Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: FlightLine First (KNEW, New Orleans, LA)

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AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to FlightLine First at Lakefront Airport (KNEW) in New Orleans, Louisiana.

AVweb reader Ian Cairns called the airport to our attention this week, calling the staff at FlightLine "good folks trying to make a go of it and up against two national chains." Ian went on to explain that the main office is still located in a trailer while they finish post-Katrina renovations, "but it has everything — widescreen TV, computer access for briefings, comfortable sofas ... [and the] courtesy car is a new Mercedes." Ian does warn us against higher fuel prices throughout the area, but he says FlightLine is very competitive in that context and should have self-serve options in the very near future.

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

Choose the Flight Explorer Edition Right for You
Flight Explorer is an information system tracking commercial and general aviation flights. With the Flight Explorer Personal Edition, view air traffic for the U.S., Canada, or New Zealand and monitor and display real-time delay information, TFRs, SUAs, and more. With the Flight Explorer Pilot Edition, view weather along a route, receive alerts with your preliminary flight plan, and have an e-mail sent to someone on departure or arrival. Click here for more information and to subscribe.
AVweb Media: Look, Listen, Laugh and Learn back to top 

Chris Eastlee of AAMS Addresses Medevac Safety Concerns

File Size 7.8 MB / Running Time 8:31

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It's been a rough year for those who fly medevac aircraft, and the Association of Air Medical Services is hoping a series of initiatives will refocus operators on safety. AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with Chris Eastlee of AAMS about what can be done to improve safety in one of the most challenging flying environments.

Click here to listen. (7.8 MB, 8:31)

Exclusive Video: Inside Diamond's D-Jet Personal Jet Aircraft

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

With new personal jets popping up all the time, AVweb takes a look at what may very well be the next certified single-engine very light or personal jet to enter the market. Diamond's D-Jet is expected next year to earn its type certificate, and that's when the company hopes to make first deliveries. Diamond recently announced plans to upgrade the aircraft with Garmin's G1000 Synthetic Vision package and the Williams FJ33-19 powerplant — offering 20 percent more thrust and a 4,000-hour TBO. AVweb's Glenn Pew offers this look inside.

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If that doesn't work, click here to download the video directly.

Video of the Week: Tiger Moth Aerobatics Over Australia

Recommend a Video | VOTW Archive

AVweb reader Michele Travierso recently spent some time playing passenger during aerobatic passes — but unlike many of us who get the opportunity, he (a) had his videocamera handy, (b) was in what he describes as a "beautifully restored Tiger Moth" (what we can see in the video bears out his assessment), and (c) zoomed and flipped over some gorgeous Australian countryside.

See for yourself:

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Don't forget to send us links to any interesting videos you find out there. If you're impressed by it, there's a good chance other AVweb readers will be too. And if we use a video you recommend on AVweb, we'll send out an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you."

The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 

Short Final

Overheard in IFR Magazine's 'On the Air' Section
Overheard in IFR Magazine's "On the Air"

I was departing Terre Haute, Indiana. The ATIS said clear below 12,000, but I could see a scattered layer of clouds to the south with tops around 4,500 feet. After tower switched me to departure, there was this exchange:

Cessna 123 (me):
"Approach, Cessna 123. Request VFR-on-top 5,500."

Controller (sarcastically):
"Cessna 123, it's called 'clear.'"

Cessna 123 (me):
"Then I'd like to report strange puffy white things with tops around 4,500, 12 o'clock, 10 miles."

The controller must not have understood that VFR-on-Top does not require clouds.

John Rudolph
Evansville, Indiana

More AVweb for Your Inbox back to top 

AVwebBiz: AVweb's Business Aviation Newsletter

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVweb's NO-COST weekly business aviation newsletter, AVwebBiz? Reporting on breaking news, Business AVflash focuses on the companies, the products and the industry leaders that make headlines in the business aviation industry. Business AVflash is a must read. Sign up today at http://www.avweb.com/profile/.

Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

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