September 21, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by
What happens when you close perfectly good GA airports that serve hundreds of pilots and planes in a metropolitan area? Chances are you'll have to spend tens of millions on a new one. Flying folks in Austin, Texas, were horrified when both Austin Executive and Robert Mueller Municipal Airport were closed in 1999 after the new Austin Bergstrom International Airport opened. It didn't take state officials long to realize they'd carved a big hole in their transportation infrastructure by closing them and enacted a law requiring a new one be built. Well, even in Texas, 700 acres near good highways and away from people who don't want an airport near them isn't that easy to find. State officials have identified 15 potential sites, including some existing airports, to put the 7,000-foot runway and attendant facilities. The cost? About $55 to $65 million. Although 15 sites are listed, there are really only a few that are suitable. AOPA says they're most likely located in Williamson County to the east of Interstate Highway 35. More detailed study will nail down the top three and then full airport master planning can begin. It's hoped that will happen by the end of October. "We continue to move closer to providing critically needed general aviation capacity in the Austin area," said Bill Dunn, AOPA VP of airports.
Although far more airports close every year than are opened, there are jurisdictions that see the wisdom in keeping the flying fraternity safe and happy. But as St. Augustine, Fla., officials found out last week, expanding an airport into an existing neighborhood is about as popular as expanding a landfill in the same direction. The St. Augustine-St. Johns County Airport Authority is borrowing $5 million to expand the airport into a residential area called Araquay Park. The authority already owns 75 percent of the land there and hopes to pick up the rest but about half of the remaining owners don't want to sell. "I've enjoyed living here ... and I don't want to leave," Mary McElroy told The St. Augustine Record. Over in Birmingham, Ala., the city council sees airport expansion coming and is taking steps to make sure it doesn't end up where it's not wanted. The council voted to dedicate an area eyed for airport expansion as a park. "What we have done is drawn a line in the sand and said we don't want you coming in this direction any time," Councilman Joel Montgomery, who wrote the resolution, said at the meeting. The Birmingham Airport Authority will be able to work around the park and still keep up with expansion demands. "We will plan accordingly as the demand for growth of the airport continues," airport authority spokeswoman Patty Howell told The Birmingham News. Area residents are hopeful but skeptical the city's tack will work. "The dedication of the park will at least make things more difficult," Richard Rutledge, a neighborhood group leader, told the News.
If there is any politician who knows how to close an airport, it's Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Now proponents of a privately funded field in suburban Peotone are wondering if the mastermind of the destruction of Meigs Field can stop their project before it's started. Daley doesn't want Chicago's third regional airport in Peotone but those behind the plan are trying to structure it so the powerful mayor can't scuttle it. They plan to raise private money to build the airport, and Daley has no official say in whether the state or federal authorities approve it. However, Chicago Business says backers are anxiously awaiting the wily mayor's move. Pushing the proposal is Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago), who has facilitated formation of a coalition of suburban communities to back the airport plan. The resulting intergovernmental agency will, after it's formalized next month, solicit private-sector partners to design, fund, build and operate the airport. Meanwhile, support continues to be shown for reopening Meigs Field but that doesn't seem likely. Earlier this month, the National Air Tour flew over the ripped-up runway in a show of solidarity. The 25 antique aircraft were supposed to stop at Meigs but had to go to Lansing instead.
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For now, the closest "new" technology that means anything to power GA is an idea that's been kicking around for decades and with companies like Boeing getting serious about it, an electric airplane, powered by a fuel cell, is not only feasible, it might even be desirable for some applications. As we've reported previously, Worcester, Mass.-based Advanced Technology Products (ATP) is at the forefront of this technology. We've tweaked, we've tuned and we've wrung just about everything we can from the two basic engine designs that power today's airplanes, but is electric power poised to replace the pistons and turbines that now make us go? The short answer is no, but ATP, along with its non-profit research partner, the Foundation for Advancing Science and Technology Education (FASTec), had already almost completed their own E-plane when Boeing asked them to put together the power package for its plane. Boeing chose the Diamond Katana Extreme motorglider airframe as its platform and ATP picked the UQM Technologies electric motor, similar to the one in its own aircraft, to power the Boeing project. ATP will also fit the controllers and backup batteries into the aircraft. A flight test is anticipated in the next year or two. Using a fuel cell, ATP has predicted 100-knot cruise speeds and a range of about 150 miles in early versions of its electric planes and since many of us don't demand much more from our airplanes, there could be some appeal to the simple, smooth, and virtually silent (save the propeller) propulsion system.
But while ATP grapples with the problem of heavy batteries and developing fuel-cell technology, NASA researchers have successfully tested a model electric plane that leaves all that bulky stuff behind. Staff at the Marshall Space Flight Center kept the 11-ounce balsa-and-Mylar contraption flying by pointing an invisible laser beam at it. The Laser Beaming Project, a joint effort of NASA's Marshall and Dryden centers and the University of Alabama, aims the laser at a photovoltaic cell that converts it to the juice the electric motor needs. In last week's test, the plane was dropped from an elevated platform and the light beam kept it circling 60 feet above. It was the first time an "aircraft" had ever flown with laser energy from the ground, although researchers did manage a similar feat using a searchlight last year. Now, depending on someone on the ground to keep power flowing in your airplane isn't likely to appeal to most pilots but the researchers do have some potential applications in mind. For instance, high-altitude and long-endurance missions for remote sensing and atmospheric monitoring could use the practically limitless power to keep unmanned aircraft in the air for extended periods. Commercial uses might include unmanned aircraft cellphone, television or internet signal relay. And since a laser will shine almost limitlessly into space, beams could power space tugs or even an airplane to fly around Mars.
There's nothing new about rockets but when Burt Rutan starts looking spaceward, you can bet there'll be something unconventional supplying the kick. As AVweb reported last week, two companies, eAc and SpaceDev, were in line to build the hybrid rocket that will push Rutan's SpaceShipOne to 62 miles high in the race for the $10 million XPrize. Rutan's Scaled Composites announced Friday that SpaceDev won the contract. Both companies developed a rocket that combines the function of liquid- and solid-fueled engines with safety and reliability. The engines burn rubber, which is oxidized by nitrous oxide, both of which are safe and easy to handle and won't react spontaneously. And as we relentlessly seek new technologies to power our passion, last week, some well-heeled travelers were undoubtedly wishing the tried and true were just a bit more reliable when their Concorde trip got complicated. As the last of the British Airways supersonic airliners creak toward retirement at the end of next month (Air France's are already in museums), passengers aboard the New York-to-London flight must have wondered what their $6,600 fare was really worth. After an hour's delay on the ground at Kennedy to fix a faulty light, the plane was at supersonic cruise over the North Atlantic when an engine "backfired," as written by The Associated Press. "Glass and plates were flying and people were screaming. It was very scary," passenger Danny Ferris told the AP. With one engine out, the plane dropped to a lower altitude and to subsonic speeds, which caused it to burn more fuel. It limped into Cardiff, Wales, forcing the rich, famous and adventurous to take a bus to London. British Airways says it will compensate the passengers with frequent-flyer points.
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The Wright Brothers went to Kitty Hawk for the wind but they would have been blown away by conditions last week. The historic site of the first powered, sustained flight escaped undamaged when Hurricane Isabel made landfall on the Outer Banks. "There's a little bit of standing water. We fared well," National Parks Service spokeswoman Mary Doll told AVweb. "Wright Brothers (Memorial) really sustained no damage." She said a couple of nearby airport runways were covered in sand washed in by the storm surge but they were quickly cleared. There was also some building damage in nearby communities. Of course, the hurricane played havoc with air travel on the east coast. Thousands of flights were cancelled, control towers were abandoned and some airports, including all the major facilities around Washington, D.C., closed as the storm bore down. Just to add to the chaos, a major storm front stretching from Minneapolis to Houston also caused weather delays across the middle part of the country. With power out in many locations and flood waters affecting many others, the Civil Air Patrol was helping the Air Force with its storm-management operations. The CAP volunteers were to be sent out to take aerial photos of damaged areas using new digital satellite imaging equipment recently installed on some of their planes.
Some Air Force fighters that might have been fleeing Hurricane Isabel apparently narrowly missed a disaster of a different sort last Wednesday. An American Airlines airliner on its way to St. Louis from Oklahoma City dove to avoid a flight of three or four military aircraft near Tulsa, according to airline spokeswoman Julia Bishop-Cross. "The pilot took the plane off autopilot, the system went off again and ordered a descent," she told The Associated Press. "He descended 50 to 100 feet, then saw three or four jet fighters, military aircraft." Three flight attendants and two passengers were slightly injured. The plane flew on to St. Louis. FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said he had heard that F-15s were involved but he couldn't confirm that. There were also reports that about 70 military aircraft, including F-15s, were moved from Seymour Johnson AFG in North Carolina to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma on the same day but it's not known if any of those aircraft were involved. Some passengers were shaken up by the sudden maneuvering of the airliner. Billy Jack Charrick said the sudden dive felt like turbulence at first, then suddenly, "I got coffee on me and I am on the roof of the airplane." The FAA is still investigating.
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It's been 18 years since Executive Jet revolutionized business-jet ownership and now the FAA has caught up to the fractional ownership industry with a set of regulations. The agency published a final rule for the Regulation of Fractional Aircraft Ownership Programs and On-Demand Operations last Wednesday in the Federal Register. The new rule recognizes the enviable safety and maintenance record that has evolved in the fractional ownership industry. "By this rulemaking, the FAA establishes safety standards to maintain the safety record of current fractional ownership programs and to ensure that new fractional ownership programs will also meet a high level of safety," the rule reads. The rule, which is section K of Part 91, codifies the basic structure of the industry as it has evolved by establishing criteria for fractional ownership companies and laying out the rights and responsibilities of the owners and the companies. It also establishes safety standards, including maintenance, training and crew flight and duty requirements. The rule also allows the application of fractional ownership standards to Part 135 on-demand operations under specific circumstances. The rule has been in the works for about five years and more than 200 comments were received on it. About 60 of those, however, dealt with noise and environmental concerns at Santa Monica Airport.
Big Brother is watching us, but JetBlue? The discount airline admitted last week that it turned over personal information on a million of its passengers to an Army contractor that used the information to find out their Social Security numbers, financial histories and occupations. The airline violated its own privacy code in doing so and officials apologized Friday. "This was a mistake on our part and I know you and many of our customers feel betrayed by it," CEO David Neeleman said in an e-mail to the 150 customers who complained. The data was turned over to Torch Concepts, which said it was doing research on "airline passenger risk assessment." Certainly not all risk comes from within the plane and the Bush administration has recognized that to the tune of $100 million. The White House has decided to spend the money to research missile defense systems for airliners. The commitment is a lot more money than ever discussed previously and, according to The New York Times, reflects government fears that Al Qaeda plans to try again to down an airliner with shoulder-launched missiles. The terrorist group is believed to be behind the failed missile attack on an Israeli airliner last year in Africa. A proposal was released to defense contractors last week asking them to base civilian systems on existing military jamming technology.
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As the new Light-Sport category gets closer to reality, U.S. manufacturers are bracing for an influx of aircraft from Europe and Australia but there's also a new player in that market. A Vietnamese company has built the prototype of what it calls a "superlight" aircraft. The Voice of Vietnam news service reports a two-place version of the VAM 1 has been built by the Hoa Binh company and a four-place model is in the works. The company claims it can match the quality of foreign-built aircraft at 40 percent of the price The plane has a 30-foot wingspan and weighs 330 pounds. It is predicted to fly as high as 10,000 feet and as fast as 90 mph. There appear to be some regulatory advantages in Vietnam. Rather than go through any sort of aviation bureaucracy to win approval for the airplane, the manufacturer just goes straight to the top. The prime minister will be asked for permission to test fly the plane. The company predicts a big domestic market in tourism, agriculture, law enforcement and other applications but it also targets exports to developing countries as a major goal.
Aircraft Spruce and Specialty has bought the design rights to the Cozy III and Mark IV. Aircraft Spruce has supplied materials, kits and avionics for the popular experimentals since 1982 and will take over the design rights on Jan. 1, 2004...
Raytheon Aircraft Services (RAS) has added two executives. Harold (Skip) Madsen is the new VP/General Manager of the company and Chuck Curry will manage the San Antonio operation. RAS operates FBOs all over the U.S. and one in England...
The Wright Family Fund has donated $37,000 to EAA's AirVenture Museum. The money will be used to further the museum's education and distance-learning programs...
Six people have been honored as Elder Statesmen of Aviation by the National Aeronautic Association. All are older than 60 and have made significant contributions to aviation. They are: Carol B. Hallett, David R. Hinson, Martin A. Knutson, Joan R. Mace, Frank G. Mitchell and Paul W. Tibbets...
Four crew died and the Russian air force lost one of its most expensive assets when a Tu-160 supersonic bomber crashed on a test flight Thursday. The crew reported a fire on board the $1 billion aircraft just before it went down. Russia only has 15 of the nuclear bomb- and missile-carrying aircraft, which resembles a B-1...
Some of the U.S.'s busiest GA airspace is expected to be under a TFR Tuesday and Wednesday. President Bush is expected to be in New York for the UN General Assembly and that means all the normal Presidential TFR rules will likely apply. Watch for a NOTAM today.
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As the Beacon Turns #68: Under the Wire
Dealing with an engine failure in a helicopter includes the same rule as in an airplane: Pitch for proper airspeed. However, the margin for failure is much tighter in whirly-birds, and even simulated engine failure can cause a real emergency landing. AVweb's Michael Maya Charles just had one.
Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles:
Reader mail this week about the National Air Tour and the FAA Reauthorization Bill.
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Back in the 70's, BOAC (British Airways) flew into O'Hare Chicago and their call sign was "Speedbird"...
O'Hare: Speedbird xxx slow to 200 kts.
Speedbird xxx: Sorry, running late, need to keep the speed up.
O'Hare: Ok, turn right 90 degrees and keep your speed up.
Speedbird xxx: Errr, how long would we be on that heading?
O'Hare: Till you slow to 200.
Speedbird xxx: Roger, slowing to 200
AVweb's AVscoop Award...
Congratulations and an AVweb hat go out to Kevin Sykes, this week's AVscoop winner. Submit news tips via email to email@example.com. Rules and information are at http://www.avweb.com/contact/newstips.html.
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AVflash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest aviation news, articles, products, features and events featured on AVweb, the Internet's Aviation Magazine and News Service. http://www.avweb.com
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Let's all be careful out there, okay?
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