December 28, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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While millions watched on Dec. 17 as the EAA's Wright Flyer struggled along its rail and failed to get aloft, only a few people were present on Dec. 3, when the aircraft successfully left the ground and flew for more than 100 feet. "We had video of that flight, and hoped to show it at the site on Dec. 17, but it didn't work out," Ken Hyde told AVweb on Saturday. Viewers who caught the Discovery Channel's coverage saw the video, and now a QuickTime version is posted at Hyde's Wright Experience Web site so everyone can see what they didn't get to see on the 17th -- a show of powered, sustained, controlled flight, the way it was done 100 years ago.
"We knew we were pushing the envelope," Hyde said. "Everything had to be perfect [for the Flyer to lift off], and it wasn't." The dampness hurt engine efficiency, and the winds were too light and unreliable. It was frustrating, he said, that conditions were excellent on the 16th, but they didn't dare fly for fear of damaging the airplane so close to the big date, and then not having time for repairs. And in the days after the 17th, the wind was stronger and from a better direction. "Everyone got to fly the 1902 glider at Jockey's Ridge," Hyde said, referring to the sand dunes near Kitty Hawk. "It was a real busman's holiday."
Back home in Virginia after the Outer Banks trip, Hyde found some notes written by Wilbur Wright, which eerily predicted the experience of Hyde's team. On May 5, Wilbur wrote that he and Orville were working in secret, and "so far we've not been subjected to the slightest disturbance from the press." On May 23, 1904, the brothers invited reporters to Huffmann Prairie to view their progress. But the weather was uncooperative: "Light rain, wind too anemic," Wilbur wrote. "The result ... a run down the track and a flop onto the ground. Only three of the four cylinders firing properly. Many were disappointed." Hyde's team had the same troubles on Dec. 17 -- light wind and a misfiring cylinder -- and a disappointed audience. "It was spooky when I read that," Hyde said.
The flights completed this year, with a flight data recorder on board, plus the wind-tunnel tests, already have generated reams of data that will help to refine the procedures for future trials, Hyde said. "We learned a lot. ... The light bulb comes on when you start getting all this data." They learned, for example, that wind gusts can flex the surface of the canard, changing the angle of attack beyond the pilot's control. "It's like having an extra hand on the control surface there, that you don't need," Hyde said. They also found that, as Wilbur's notes had suggested, the airplane is controllable only within a very narrow range of speed. "The minimum is about 22 mph, and the maximum about 30 mph. After that, it becomes 'unmanageable,' as Wilbur put it."
The EAA's Wright Flyer -- the one that everyone saw on the 17th -- is now back in Virginia and will be heading for Dearborn, Mich., in a few weeks, to its permanent home at the Henry Ford Museum. It will never fly again. A second copy of the airplane was sponsored by the late Harry Combs, and has been donated to the National Park Service for static display. But Hyde also has a third copy in the works, and plans to use that aircraft to continue his flight-testing program. "The engines and propellers are all done, and the rest should go together pretty quickly," he said. He plans to continue working with his experienced flight-test crew, and return to the Outer Banks with the Wright Flyer, sometime soon.
"We don't have a time frame yet," he said. But he was touched by the support from the public, and even the press, after the failed flight on Dec. 17. "The people understood. They told us, now they know how difficult it really was for the Wright brothers. Don't be discouraged, they said." So for those who still hope to someday see a 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction take off and fly as they imagine it should, the effort will go on.
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With this year's busy holiday travel season coinciding with high security alerts, AOPA is reminding GA pilots to fly with extra care. "Think about how your flight looks to security officials on the ground," said AOPA's Andy Cebula. He advised pilots to avoid loitering near facilities such as powerplants and water supplies that might cause concern. "We want to avoid any more temporary flight restrictions like the one issued for Chicago," Cebula said. "Given the heightened alert status, GA must be extremely careful not to give officials any reason to clamp down."
Meanwhile, the TFR above Chicago's lakefront remains in effect, as does one above Valdez, Alaska, extending for 25 miles and up to 10,000 feet.
A report yesterday in London's The Mail on Sunday newspaper -- that two light planes loaded with explosives had been seized by authorities at a Saudi Arabian airport -- was later denied by authorities. According to The Mail, the aircraft were discovered near Riyadh's King Khalid airport, and were intended to be used in a suicide plot to ram a Western airliner, most likely from British Airways, and blow it up as it taxied. "A Saudi security official confirmed that the story ... was not true," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported yesterday, according to Reuters. "The official said neither the British Foreign Office nor British Airways are able to confirm such information," the SPA said.
The Mail quoted a U.K. government spokesman, Patrick Mercer, as its source. Mercer reportedly also said the Saudi Arabian government had tried to cover up the incident. It was unclear from the published reports when the alleged incident took place.
Sixteen people died last week in four GA accidents in the West. Tuesday evening, a medical helicopter from Santa Rosa, Calif., hit a mountain in bad weather, killing the pilot and two nurses on board. Also on Tuesday, a Lear 24B bizjet flying from California to Idaho crashed in the Mojave Desert, killing both pilots. On Wednesday, a Piper Seneca hit a mountain while trying to land near Avalon, on California's Santa Catalina Island. All three adults and two children on board died. On Thursday afternoon, a Beechcraft Bonanza crashed shortly after takeoff from a North Las Vegas airport, killing all those on board, four adults and two children. The pilot had declared an emergency and said he would try to return to the airport, according to news reports.
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Ballistic Recovery Systems, of South St. Paul, Minn., said last week it has set a new company record for revenues. Sales totaled $6.5 million in 2003, up 29 percent from the year before. The company attributed the increase to its new general aviation products and to a growth in sales of parachute systems for recreational aircraft (up 36 percent). BRS delivered 466 parachutes to Cirrus Design, and expects to sell even more to the company next year. "We also believe that research and development is an integral part of the growth strategy for BRS and will continue to play an important role in the company's success," said CEO Mark Thomas, in a news release. BRS is proceeding with its fourth NASA contract. The company has delivered over 18,000 parachute systems around the world, including over 1,200 systems for certified aircraft, and says the systems so far have saved 159 lives. The 159th save took place earlier this month, when the pilot of a Hurricane ultralight deployed the chute at 200 feet after an engine failure, landed in trees, and walked away unscathed.
On Saturday, both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder were recovered from the 727 that crashed into a building and then plunged into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff on Thursday from the tiny West African country of Benin. The airliner, operated by the Lebanese-owned Union des Transports Africains (UTA), was carrying 151 passengers and 10 crew bound for Beirut. Twenty-two people, including at least one of the pilots, survived. Early reports suggested that the airplane may have been overloaded, and it seemed to be unable to retract its landing gear. Passengers included many Lebanese expatriates going home for the holidays, as well as people from Benin, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Also among the missing were 15 Bangladeshi army officers returning from UN peacekeeping duty in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Steve Holzinger, a 19-year-old from Marlton, N.J., says it was "a dream come true" when he was named the youngest-ever Airshow Fan of the Year at the annual convention of the International Council of Air Shows, held earlier this month in Dallas, Texas. Holzinger drives up to nine hours in a day in his 1986 Chevy Blazer to visit air shows, in between his college classes and his job at KMart. Armed with a camcorder, he's collected hundreds of hours of video, and uploaded thousands of clips to his four-year-old Web site, "Steve's Airshow World." At the convention, Holzinger shared a table with the Thunderbirds team, and was invited to fly in the back seat of a CF-18 Hornet by the Canadian Armed Forces. The invitation "came out of nowhere!" Holzinger wrote in his online report about the convention. "I didn't know how to react, other than trying to keep tears of happiness from showing. 'I'm going up in a CF-18 ...,' I kept that thought going through my mind for a good 10 minutes, making sure I wasn't dreaming this, and I wasn't."
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Harry Combs, who was honored earlier this month in North Carolina as one of aviation's top 100 pioneers, died Tuesday in Phoenix, Ariz. Combs, 90, was a former president of Gates Learjet and founder of AMR Combs, a national chain of corporate aircraft service centers. "He was a very dynamic individual -- a perfectionist, really, in everything he did," Jim Greenwood, a former Wichita, Kan., aviation public relations executive and a friend of Combs, told the Associated Press. When the president of Gates Learjet was killed in a car accident in 1971, Combs stepped in to rebuild the failing company, leading one of the most dramatic corporate turnarounds in U.S. history. When Combs assumed command, the company was $13 million in the hole. Within a year, he had pulled Gates LearJet from the brink of bankruptcy and its net worth had risen to $3.7 million. When he stepped down as president in 1982, the company was worth $200 million. Combs was also the author of a history of the Wright brothers and several books about the American West. In 1929, at the age of 16, he built and flight-tested a sport biplane named "Vamp Bat." At age 25, after graduating from Yale and flying two years for Pan Am, he and a partner formed Mountain States Aviation in Colorado, an FBO and flight school that later became Combs Aircraft. In 1939, he designed, built and tested the Combscraft, a low-wing, retractable-gear monoplane. During World War II, Combs joined the Army Air Forces and flew C-54 transports across the North Atlantic, Africa and India, while at home, Mountain States Aviation trained 9,000 military pilots. In 1996, Combs was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He had recently sponsored a reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer, built by The Wright Experience, which he donated to the National Park Service in honor of this year's Centennial of Flight. Combs wrote this poem in admiration of a flock of Arctic terns: "Like free spirits / From the polar snows / They soar on shining wings / And climb to dizzy heights above / And lose the little sordid earthly things / Up where there is wind, and space, / And stars, and time to love."
Qantas will begin carrying up to six armed air marshals on flights between Australia and Singapore, the Australian government said on Friday. The deal had stalled over who would pay for the seats, and was settled when the government agreed to pay corporate rates. The program will cost the government about $7.5 million (U.S.) per year. The United Kingdom also said on Saturday that armed marshals will begin to be deployed on some flights, and will be dressed as ordinary passengers. Qantas began to carry armed air marshals on domestic flights in December 2001, but these will be the first on international flights. Armed marshals also may be added to overseas flights to the United States by early next year.
On Friday, a ferry pilot en route from Hawaii to California ditched in the mid-Pacific after reporting a fuel problem, and was killed. Kelvin Stark, 58, of Tauranga, was ferrying a brand-new Pacific Aerospace Corporation PAC 750XL plane to Oakland. It was the first of the $1.7 million aircraft to be sold overseas, according to Saturday's New Zealand Herald. Stark radioed for help, and Coast Guard rescuers were sent to the scene, but he never emerged from the cockpit after the ditching. The aircraft was intended to be used as a demonstration plane, and then be delivered to a customer who planned to use it for skydiving. The company says it is the first passenger plane designed and made in New Zealand, according to the Herald. It can lift 17 skydivers to 11,811 feet in 12 minutes. It is also marketed for cargo, sightseeing, medical and military uses.
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As of Saturday, the Beagle lander on Mars had not yet sent a signal, but efforts are continuing...
The body of a man in his mid-20s was found inside the wheel well of an American Airlines flight from Jamaica that arrived at New York's JFK Airport on Christmas Eve...
Al Haynes, the captain who flew a crippled DC-10 to a landing in Iowa in 1989 after losing all hydraulics, is now working to raise money to help his daughter Laurie, 39, who needs a bone-marrow transplant.
The Pilot's Lounge #69: In 2004, We Resolve
2003 was, in some ways, a great year for aviation; and in other ways, it was pretty sad. But we're already thinking about 2004. AVweb's Rick Durden has assembled his quick list of things his fellow pilots in The Pilot's Lounge have resolved to accomplish in the next year.
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AVmail: December 29, 2003
Reader mail this week about security level Orange, the attempted replication of the Wright Brother's flight, Enola Gay protestors and more.
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Let's all be careful out there, okay?
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