NewsWire Complete Issue

December 22, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by …

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Welcome Back To Level "Orange"

Washington, D.C.-area pilots can expect a return to using gateway airports for security checks prior to entering the ADIZ thanks to the increased terrorism alert announced Sunday. The FAA's Greg Martin told AVweb he doesn't anticipate any increased security measures outside the Washington area. Regardless, check the FAA's TFR Web site and call 1-800-WX-BRIEF prior to flight -- be sure to request all TFR/NOTAM information pertaining to or in the vicinity of your intended route.

Future (Pilotless) Flight

U.S. Navy To Test Flying Saucer...

It may sound like something from Mars, but this pilotless flying saucer is actually Russian and it has caught the eye of the U.S. Navy. The pita-shaped Ekip drone could be flitting around the Navy's Patuxent River test facility by 2007 thanks to a congressman who saw a prototype on a tour of Russian aviation facilities last year. Developed by Saratov Aviation, the craft takes off and lands on a cushion of air, like a hovercraft, and needs less than 500 feet of runway. The wheel-less drone would be propelled by "high-economy bypass turbojet engines" and use "auxiliary high-economy dual generator turboshaft engines ... for operation of air-cushion landing gear and boundary layer control." The shape lends itself to lower structural weight and loading while offering higher load-carrying capability. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Penn.) was sufficiently impressed that he passed the information along to the military, and the Navy's Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has agreed to help develop the flying prototype and test it at Pax River. Of course, non-alien attempts at flying saucers have been tried before, with limited success, because the odd shape creates aerodynamic headaches. Saratov engineers have reportedly solved that by generating a particular sort of vacuum around the craft that keeps air moving in the right directions. Although the initial prototype will weigh only 500 pounds, Saratov claims to have built a 12-ton model that flew well. (Feel free to send pictures.) "But if we can make it work, it'll allow for new, radical concepts in aircraft design," said NAVAIR's director of research and engineering, Dr. John Fischer. Because of the commodious dimensions of the saucer shape, Fischer sees full-scale models being used as heavy cargo carriers, airlifting tanks and other bulky objects to the battlefield where the long flat runways needed by cargo planes can be in short supply.

...As Truly Autonomous Helicopter Flies In Oz

Meanwhile, down under, an Australian company says it has created the first true flying robot helicopter, one that doesn't need any help from the ground or space to find its way around. The five-foot-long Mantis uses a robot brain linked to sensors that enable it to "see" its surroundings and fly without a remote-control pilot and without reference to GPS for navigation. "This is the first UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to use computerized vision with all its equipment on board," Dr. Peter Corke, of CSIRO Complex System Integration, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Corke said GPS can be distorted or reflected in urban areas so Mantis sees and thinks for itself. And the hardware is very, very light. "The major task in developing Mantis was to produce an inertial sensing system and a computer vision system to control and provide flight stability and to guide the aircraft," Corke said. Two cameras provide Mantis' eyes, and software determines where objects are and how fast the aircraft is moving relative to those objects. According to CSIRO, all this wizardry comes in a package weighing less than three ounces, so it can be used on UAVs much smaller than those currently deployed. He envisions fleets of Mantis-like UAVs doing patrol and surveillance work and flying into places too hazardous to risk human pilots.

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Making Happy Holidays

Pilots' Good Deeds...

Year after year, a squadron of fellow volunteer pilots join with Santa to deliver the goods. While few of the aerial efforts have reached the sort of legendary status reserved for the Jolly Old Elf himself, maybe some are similarly deserving. One of the longest-running Yuletide aviation benefit programs is Flying Santa of the Lighthouses, now run by Flying Santa Inc. Since 1929, Santa pilots have been delivering gifts to children of families manning lighthouses on the northeast coast and boxes of goodies to lighthouse keepers and Coast Guard personnel. This year, three helicopters, one piloted by Flying Santa Inc. organizer George Morgan and two by Coast Guard pilots, landed at 30 lighthouses from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound. When William Wincapaw started the service in 1929 to bring some cheer to the lonely outposts, he used amphibious planes and sometimes dropped gift packages by parachute. For 22 years, Morgan has run the huge fundraising effort needed to keep the program flying. After making deliveries to 11 lighthouses this year, he retired. He told the Mariner News it was a tossup as to who actually benefited the most from the yearly flights, the giver or the many receivers. "All in all it was a great experience," he said. "And I just hope that anybody [who] stays with it from here on out has as much fun and loves every minute just as much as I did."

...And Charity Efforts...

Not all erstwhile Santas descend from the heavens and dress in red. For 20 years, Pilots For Kids, a group founded by airline pilots, has been visiting hospitalized children, bringing them toys and other items to cheer them up while they're ill. The pilots and cabin crew taking part in the visits wear full uniform, to the delight of the kids. "The delight in the children's eyes cannot be explained in words ..." reads the group's Web site. The efforts come into sharp focus at Christmas for Memphis-area FedEx pilots, who touched down recently at Hope House, delivering good and gifts to the day care center for children affected by HIV/AIDS. There's no shortage of grassroots efforts by pilots to help out their neighbors, either. Every year, the 75 members of the Vernon (British Columbia) Flying Club hold a silent auction to raise money for the local food bank and in Graniteville, S.C., pilots from throughout the region flock to Gerald Ballard's hangar to donate gifts for the U.S. Marines' Toys For Tots program. Ballard throws a big dinner for the pilots and they enjoy an afternoon of camaraderie. More than 100 pilots and their families attended the Dec. 13 bash.

...While The FAA Plays Grinch

The FAA, according to some, is not above stepping into the season's most despised role. The agency has some strict guidelines in the use of aircraft for charitable purposes and pilots, who have spent their own money using their airplanes for the good of others, have found themselves under investigation and even facing sanctions. Those taking part in charity fundraisers or humanitarian projects should have a look at FAR 61.113 to make sure they comply. There could also be some changes to those rules via a controversial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that is stirring up aviation backers in Washington. The new rules would require pilots taking part in charity events to have a minimum of 500 hours (up from 200) and would limit them to four such flights a year. A pile of paperwork also comes with the new restrictions. AOPA has asked for public meetings on the rule and is gathering congressional support for a review of the proposed regulations. "The FAA is also getting an earful from the public," said AOPA VP Andy Cebula. "The agency has received more than 300 formal comments from individuals ... Officials need to re-evaluate this rule and they need to hear from pilots to do that effectively." Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) have each written FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, urging that public meetings be held.

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Granny Helicopter Pilot Plucked From Ice

A 63-year-old English grandmother and her 53-year-old male co-pilot are recovering in a Chilean hospital after the helicopter they were trying to fly around the world via the polar route crashed in Antarctica Saturday. Officials credit Polar First Challenge co-pilot Colin Bodill with saving Jenny Murray's life after the chopper went down in bad weather about 120 miles from the Patriot Hills base on the frozen continent. Despite serious chest injuries, Bodill was able to pull Murray, who dislocated an elbow, from the wreckage and prepare for their survival in minus-40-degree temperatures, before he collapsed from his injuries. Battling high winds, Bodill wrapped Murray in a sleeping bag and set up a tent. He also lit a stove for warmth before he lapsed into unconsciousness. The chopper's ELT signal was picked up, via satellite, by an air force base in England and the pair was rescued a few hours later by a Twin Otter from Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions. The pilots were treated by a doctor at the Patriot Hills base before being flown to a hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile. Murray's husband, Simon (himself on an Antarctic expedition) praised Bodill's actions. "Colin behaved heroically in the face of extreme adversity, displaying quick thinking, thoughtful care and consideration," he told The Scotsman. Murray also got a word of encouragement from her friend and patroness of the expedition, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. "I know this won't deter [Murray] from trying again and it certainly won't be her last adventure, although both of them will be more than aware that nature always has the last word," she said

Protester Dings Enola Gay

Protesters made a dent in security measures, not to mention the Enola Gay, in an apparently well-planned but poorly executed attempt to make their mark on the controversy that has followed the restored B-29 to its new resting place. After reportedly assuring staff at the newly opened Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center that they wouldn't cause any trouble, one of the protesters tossed a jar of red paint at the bomber, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. The aluminum yielded, however, and instead of smashing on the plane, the jar left a dent and shattered on the floor below. The protesters were kicked out of the museum immediately for causing a disturbance and two have been charged. The unidentified man who allegedly threw the paint faces charges of destruction of property and loitering. Another man was charged with loitering ... an offense perhaps forgiven of less antagonistic museum loiterers. The area around the Enola Gay was roped off while the paint was cleaned up but the museum remained open.

Politicians Say No To Runways

Trees, and a local council's unwillingness to pay to have them removed, are threatening Danbury Municipal Airport in Connecticut. The FAA and the state are willing to pay 97 percent of the $4.5 million cost. But Mayor Mark Boughton said the airport is a drain on civic coffers and he's reluctant to spend any more money on it. The FAA has warned the city it will displace the thresholds of the airport's two runways if the trees aren't cut down soon and until the trees are gone, the FAA won't contribute to any maintenance and repair costs at the airport. "The net effect of this could be shutting the airport," said Boughton. Said airport administrator Paul Estefan, "We're going to lose our runway and there's almost no money involved." If the runways are shortened enough, that could mean jets and larger aircraft now based there will move. Also, "It's a joke, an embarrassment," said Estefan. The FAA and state funds already offered would buy easements to control the trees; Danbury politicians have so far refused to pay their $110,000 share.

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The Shroud Of Kitty Hawk

As autographs go, this one could be one of the most historic aviation artifacts around. Scientists at the National Center for Forensic Science will examine a swatch of cloth that may be from the original Wright Flyer and signed by Orville Wright. Jack and Sandy Schweinsberg, of Eustis, Fla., bought the framed piece of cloth from a family member in the 1980s. It's inscribed: "This is a piece of the original wing covering of the Kitty Hawk plane flown December 17, 1903." It is signed, "Orville Wright." The Schweinsbergs have no doubt about its authenticity and there might even be a romantic twist to the story. Jack Schweinberg told the Orlando Sentinel that a distant relative named Lois Haller was given the cloth by Orville when she was a nurse at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and there has been plenty of speculation the relationship was more than cloth deep. "She was single, he was single. Who knows?" said Schweinsberg. Sandy Schweinsberg said the frame has never been opened and she's hoping there's a love letter tucked inside. The Schweinsbergs say they wouldn't mind selling the cloth but would want it displayed in a museum. Meanwhile, bidding opens today on eBay on Wright Flyer artifacts the owner, early flight researcher Jack Carpenter, says are "arguably the rarest of Wright brothers memorabilia." Carpenter is selling what he says are a piece of spruce that may have busted off the front elevator assembly and a piece of wing fabric. Opening bid is $5,000 and $35,000 is the "buy it now" price.

Commercial Service Welcomed ... And Banished

It's a tale of two cities, aviation style. As Naples, Fla., celebrates the resumption of commercial air service to its municipal airport, New Jersey congressman Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) is trumpeting a new provision that has banished scheduled charter service from Teterboro (known to some as the busiest GA airport in the country). Reporters and TV crews greeted the arrival of a Cape Air flight from Key West to Naples that marked a new beginning for scheduled service. The airline left Naples last June because business was too slow. Now it's operating two daily round trips to the Keys and serving as a Continental Connection to Miami International. At Teterboro, it's federal legislation that will limit commercial operations. Language inserted as part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill now makes Teterboro off-limits to charter carriers that were running up to five scheduled flights a day into the airport, which is close to Manhattan. The measure will keep major tourist areas from using charters as a way of funneling their customers through Teterboro instead of the area's major airports. A separate bill to bar large jets from Teterboro has passed the House and will go before the Senate in the New Year.

Pilots Help Pets Cheat Death

It's as good a reason to fly as any and sometimes the reward is a big, wet kiss. Flying Paws, a non-profit group of Arizona pilots, fatten their logbooks by getting abandoned pets away from shelters, where they may face euthanasia, and into new, loving homes. Marilyn Butler Subach founded the program a year ago after rescuing an abandoned and abused golden retriever from a remote Indian Reservation. That got her thinking that maybe there was a need to provide emergency flights for animals. "It's been a godsend," Casey Kent, who runs the Chesapeake Bay Retriever Rescue, told The Arizona Republic. Subach and her fellow volunteers have flown 77 cats and dogs on 55 flights, all of them to new homes. Ken McLeod donated his company plane to the effort. "It's a good thing to do, the right thing to do," he said. McLeod said some people think the Flying Paws volunteers are foolish to spend their time and money flying animals but he said it's worth it to him to see the look on the faces of owners when they get their new pets. And it's not only the animals and their owners that benefit, said pilot Mike Fadely. "Today, I flew over the Grand Canyon and was able to deliver a dog to a new home," he said. "Hard to beat that."

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On The Fly...

A Virgin Atlantic pilot faces alcohol-related charges after he was prevented from flying a Boeing 747 and 383 passengers from Washington to London on Friday. Capt. Richard Harwell, 55, a U.S. citizen living in Britain, has been charged with attempting to operate an aircraft under the influence of alcohol. TSA screeners allegedly smelled booze on his breath during a security check...

They'll be a little blip on radar but an awesome sight for Rose Bowl Parade spectators. For the first time, the U.S. Air Force's three stealth aircraft, the B-2, F-117A and F/A-22, will fly in formation in public over the California spectacle...

An English town has banned flying model aircraft following the death of a 13-year-old girl struck by one. Tara Lipscombe died of head injuries after being hit last April 15. The Dartford Heath council imposed the ban pending the approval of new bylaws...

The College of the Ozarks is closing its aviation maintenance program due to lack of enrollment. Only a fraction of the available seats have been filled in recent years and costs are rising. Flight training will continue. The college is also under investigation by the FAA for allegedly falsifying maintenance records on an aircraft...

U.S.-bound flights from Vancouver International Airport were halted for seven hours Friday after a package containing white powder and a note was sent to U.S. Customs at the airport. The unidentified powder was later determined to be harmless and officials will only say the note was "lengthy and descriptive" and that some kind of criminal intent was suggested. Terrorism has been ruled out.

Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles

Reader mail this week about the First Flight celebration, CFI price fixing, airline maintenance (or lack thereof) and more.

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New Articles and Features on AVweb

CEO of the Cockpit #27: Be It Further Resolved ...
Even grumpy old airline pilots know that change is necessary, and sometimes change begins at home. There are a few things AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit wants to be different in the new year, and he's even going to try and change some things about himself.

Business AVflash

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Short Final...

Overheard December 18, 2003, at a local gliderport...

"A moment of silence everyone, for today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the tow plane."

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Let's all be careful out there, okay?

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