November 30, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by
So how do you fly a Boeing 747-200B, over five stories high and more than 200 feet long, carrying a gaggle of reporters and the U.S. president and his staff, halfway across the world's airspace, without anybody noticing? Well, it isn't easy. First, you hustle the press pool off, hush-hush, without any explanation, to the secluded, secure ramp at Texas State Technical College in Waco, Texas. It's Wednesday evening, the sun has set, Air Force One is dark, and the reporters surrender their cellphones. The flight crew had prepared for what they believed was a milk run to Washington for maintenance. President Bush arrived and climbed up the rear stairs instead of the front gangway as usual, so airport workers wouldn't notice him. The plane took off at 7:25 p.m. local time, without running lights and with all the window shades pulled down. As with all Air Force One flights, this one was conducted as a military mission, under military flight rules.
Two hours later, the airplane touched down and rolled into a hangar at the 140,000-square-foot maintenance and support complex at Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington, D.C., where the 747's sister ship awaited. The other 747 was all fueled and catered and ready for the 10 1/2 hour flight to Baghdad. Inside the hangar, the passengers were debarked and reboarded, and a few more journalists arrived, for a total of 13 reporters and photographers. They took off again, in the dark and in secret. At one point during the flight, the pilot of a British Airways jet spotted the plane with its distinctive blue-and-gold livery, and asked over the radio, "Did I just see Air Force One?" After a pause, the president's pilot, Col. Mark Tillman, responded, "Gulfstream five." The British Airways pilot seemed to sense that he was in on a secret, The New York Times reported, and replied simply, "Oh." The plane landed without lights in the darkness, at about 5:30 p.m. local time, with the cabin lights turned off and the shades drawn.
Why didn't the president fly in a fighter or some kind of burly attack aircraft? Probably because Air Force One is safer, and better-equipped, than any other airplane out there. "Air Force One has a wide array of countermeasure capabilities for foiling surface-to-air missiles, some of which have never been disclosed to the public," defense analyst Loren Thompson told The Washington Post. "It is the closest thing we have to an invulnerable aircraft in terms of dealing with surface-to-air threats." Air Force One also is heavily shielded to protect the onboard electronics from the electromagnetic pulse associated with a nuclear blast. And it is equipped for in-flight refueling, so it can stay aloft in an emergency indefinitely ... so long as air tankers can reach it. Other defensive systems and avionics are classified.
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Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who in 1999 was the first to fly nonstop around the world in a balloon, announced Friday he has set his sights on a new project -- to develop an airplane both powered by the sun and capable of circling the earth. Piccard's co-pilot on the 1999 flight, British balloonist Brian Jones, will join the effort, dubbed Solar Impulse. Piccard expects first flight of his prototype in 2006, and solar flights of several days' duration by 2009. The plane (depicted thus far to look very much like a high-performance sailplane) will be very light, with a wingspan of about 197 feet, and will be capable of flying at around 30,000 feet. "We hope to change the mentality of those who too often ignore the difficult questions of our future energy needs," Piccard said, adding that the project aims to increase public interest in sustainable development and renewable resources. "To be able to build and fly an aircraft that uses no fossil fuels and emits no pollutants is a powerful symbol for today's ecology. We envision that Solar Impulse will serve as a communication platform to promote sustainable development and demonstrate the fundamental role of high technology in the protection of the environment." The Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne will act as scientific partner.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the intrepid folks at the FASTec project, based in Worcester, Mass., are working away on their hydrogen-powered electric airplane. "We expect our first flight sometime in late December or maybe early January," Jim Dunn, director of the project, told AVweb on Saturday. Advanced high-energy, lithium-ion batteries will power the first flight as the first step in the long process of developing a flight-ready system that will work on hydrogen-powered fuel cells. The E-Plane is scheduled to start ground testing around the 13th of December, Dunn said. Battery testing is progressing, and the team is working on the motor mount and is finishing the avionics package. The second phase will fly with a combination of the batteries and a 10- to 15-kW fuel cell. In its final form, the E-Plane will fly solely on the power of a fuel cell and have a 500-mile range, with emergency assist from reserve lithium ion batteries. Fuel cells, unlike batteries, generate electricity rather than just store it. They are fueled by hydrogen and oxygen gases, and can operate as long as they are fed the gas, which can be produced by solar power. FASTec foresees wide use of electric planes in the future because they are simpler to build and maintain, produce zero emissions, and are inherently quiet.
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The soft sands of Kill Devil Hill can be cruel and hard, as Ken Hyde's Wright Experience team discovered last week when their Wright Flyer reproduction was damaged in a crash. "I think the repairs will be done by Monday morning," pilot Kevin Kochersberger told AVweb on Saturday, but he couldn't be certain. The propellers were damaged, but backup spares are available, he said. The engine and the drive train were okay. The repairs require "nothing too out of the ordinary," he said -- fixing some damage to the structure and the rigging. Kochersberger had free-flown the airplane successfully prior to the crash, completing a hop of about 100 feet and four seconds, at just a few feet off the ground. "That doesn't sound like much," he said, "but it was enough to prove what we needed to prove, and showed that all the controls were working. It was a totally controlled flight, with a good landing." Kochersberger said they are continuing to learn a lot about the aircraft by studying videotapes of the flights and information from the flight data recorder carried on board. "It measures about 18 parameters -- acceleration, airspeed, angles of attack -- all the data you would need for a flight evaluation program," he said.
Three German siblings said last week that DNA tests have proved what they long suspected: Charles Lindbergh was their father. The three, Dyrk Hesshaimer, Astrid Bouteuil and David Hesshaimer, were born in 1958, 1960 and 1967. They are not seeking money from the Lindbergh family -- their father visited them once or twice a year during their childhood and took care of them financially. But their mother hid his true identity from the children, a ruse that was made easier by the language barrier. Last summer, a grandson of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Morgan Lindbergh, traveled to Europe to meet the Hesshaimers and agreed to take a DNA test, which proved their lineage. The rest of the U.S. family has had no public comment but reportedly has met amiably with their newly discovered relatives and exchanged friendly letters and phone calls. The German siblings have over 100 letters Lindbergh wrote to their mother, and plan to publish a book about their parents' secret affair. Lindbergh married Anne Morrow in 1929, and remained married until his death in 1974. They had six children together, but during the last decades of his life he traveled widely and only rarely visited the Connecticut home they shared.
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The NTSB released its final report last week on the October 2002 midair crash of two Cessna 172s in Coral Springs, Fla., in which two people died. The probable cause of the crash, according to the safety board, was "the failure of the dual students and flight instructors on both [aircraft ] to see and avoid each other, which resulted in a midair collision." Both were training flights that originated from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, and each had a private-rated student and an instructor aboard. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plans were filed for either flight. One student was practicing commercial maneuvers in a practice area at about 2,000 feet when "all of a sudden, an airplane appeared very close, in the right corner of their airplane's windshield, having come from behind the blind spot created by their airplane's right wing," according to the report. Both pilots took evasive action, but both apparently turned to the right. The airplanes collided. The commercial student and his instructor entered a spin, but were able to recover and make a safe emergency landing. The other airplane was destroyed on impact, killing the instructor and the student, who was practicing for his instrument rating.
It's not only small airplanes that run into trouble with neighbors over noise -- plenty of folks in crowded cities around the world live beneath the approach paths of passenger jets, and the noise is a major bone of contention. In a new research project launched in Britain this month, scientists are examining a number of solutions, from jiggering the approach paths to allow for quieter descents, to designing new jets that will be capable of "silent" takeoffs and landings. The researchers will analyze options such as mounting the engines above the wing or eliminating the tail surfaces, as well as looking at operational changes such as holding off on lowering landing gear till later in the descent and stabilizing the approach at higher altitudes. Experts from British Airways, Rolls Royce, Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will participate in the study. "We are aiming for a radical change in noise levels -- so that beyond the perimeter of the airport, the noise of aircraft flying would imperceptible to the public," said Prof. Ann Dowling, of the engineering department at Cambridge. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the majority of funds spent to reduce noise problems at airports large and small has gone to acquiring nearby land and soundproofing buildings. From 1982 to 1999, the FAA spent at least $4.3 billion on noise mitigation. In September, the FAA also established a research program with eight universities and 18 industry partners to investigate noise-mitigation solutions.
A recent draft report released by the Southern California Association of Governments predicted that air traffic in the region will double by 2030, and smaller airports will need to expand facilities to accommodate that growth. Nearly 23 million residents are expected to inhabit the area by then. The region includes 57 public-use airports: six commercial airports, 45 general aviation airports, two recently closed military air bases (one certified as a commercial airport), two commuter airports, and two joint-use facilities, serving about 78 million passengers per year. The region's airports taken together make Southern California the busiest of all regions in the country. The plan calls for maximizing the use of excess capacity at outlying airports rather than expanding urban hubs.
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The very last Concorde ever to defy gravity touched down Wednesday at the airport where it was built, carrying 100 British Airways crew members on its final flight. But in true British fashion (remember Churchill?) the fans of the craft aren't ready to settle for defeat. Promising to "fight to the end" -- and apparently, beyond the end -- a group called Save Concorde is pleading for airplane aficionados everywhere to join their cause. "With your help this will NOT be the end," the group's Web site exhorts, and asks supporters to take action. Some suggestions: "Write to your local MP, write to your local paper, write to your local radio station, write to any celebrities you may know." If you don't know what to write, the group suggests this: "We represent a growing number of people who feel saddened and cheated by the decision to retire Concorde early, and there is a lot of bitterness over the lack of Government intervention and the dismissal of Richard Branson's and other proposals." And when you are done writing, the site offers downloadable petitions and flyers you can print out and post. "Never give in ... never yield. ... We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire," said Churchill -- apparently his countrymen take it to heart.
Australian air traffic controllers say small airplanes with inadequate transponders have repeatedly strayed into commercial-jet airspace since new rules took effect Thursday. The government says safety has not been compromised...
An Antonov 26 crashed shortly after takeoff in central Congo on Saturday, killing all 22 people aboard...
Boeing announced last week that it had fired CFO Mike Sears and Darleen Druyun, a vice president in the missile unit. Druyun had been a negotiator for the Air Force dealing with Boeing contracts before she retired in January. Boeing says the two improperly discussed Druyun's future at Boeing while she was still involved in decision-making that affected the company, and both then tried to conceal their misconduct...
The FAA told relatives it will name an intersection in the New York area KWLTY in honor of Michael Quilty, a firefighter and private pilot who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
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TPL #68: Of Good, Evil And Little Airplanes
We don't often speak of evil in regards to anything that happens in aviation. But after dealing with people who seem to be intentionally malicious, it takes a strong dose of medicine -- hanging out with joyous pilots -- to get back in balance. AVweb's Rick Durden spent time with both kinds of people this month.
Reader mail this week about the air tour NPRM, misuse of radios, Wright pilot qualifications and more.
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Over Philly on a gorgeous CAVU Sunday...
Cessna XXX: Philly approach, Cessna XXX with you at 4,500.
Philly Approach: Cessna XXX, Roger, Altimeter 30.69 and numerous targets in your vicinity.
Cessna XXX: Could you be more specific about the targets?
Philly Approach: OK, 12 o'clock, 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock - would you like me to continue?
Cessna XXX: Negative, we get the picture...
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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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