January 7, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by
Airliners could soon be packing heat, the missile-confusing type, that is. The Bush administration is pressing ahead with studies to see if commercial airliners can be economically and effectively fitted with anti-missile defenses. The White House announced Tuesday that two airplane companies and an airline will be paid $2 million each over six months to assess the viability of such a plan. BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and United Air Lines were selected from a total of 24 submissions. They will focus their work on adapting existing military systems to airliners, said Charles McQueary, the Homeland Security Department's undersecretary for science and technology. There's already an example for companies to study. The Boeing 747 that usually serves as Air Force One is equipped with a military-style laser system that blinds incoming missiles. Last month a civilian cargo plane carrying mail to U.S. troops was hit by a missile as it took off from Baghdad Airport. It was able to make a safe emergency landing after reportedly losing all hydraulic power. Last Thanksgiving two missiles narrowly missed an Israeli airliner taking off in Kenya.
Northrop Grumman and BAE both supply military aircraft with laser systems that blind the heat-seeking sensor in the small shoulder-fired missiles that worry security officials the most. The United Air Lines bid would employ a missile-detection system and expendable decoys to divert the missiles. There are about 10 companies collaborating on the United bid. The initial $6 million in contracts is described as seed money by one military analyst but if the government decides to go ahead with the systems, the value could be staggering. In the U.S. alone, there are about 6,800 commercial airliners and it's estimated that each one would cost about $1 million to fit with a missile-defense system. The Israeli state airline El Al has reportedly already installed systems on some of its planes.
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A Canadian pilot will be spending a lot of time in the cockpit this coming year if his plans (and dreams) come true. Hans Hofmaier, of Qualicum Beach, on British Columbia's Vancouver Island, left Nov. 6 on his Spirit On A Shoestring round-the-world flight in a 1946 Taylorcraft with a 65-horsepower engine. He's not exactly taking the most direct route, either. After a few months in South America, Hofmaier will head north through Canada to Alaska and then work his way south through the Orient to Australia before heading west through Asia, Europe and finally the North Atlantic hopscotch to Canada again. He expects to finish about 18 months from now, but the journey was almost over before it really started. Hofmaier was on the very first leg of his trip from Vancouver Island to Kelso, Wash., when he heard a funny noise coming from his (formerly) trusty old Continental. Further inspection revealed a hole in one of the mags and in the engine case. About a week later, with a freshly overhauled engine installed, he resumed the journey and has flown through Oregon and California and partway down the Mexican Pacific coast. His last entry on the Web site was Dec. 26 in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Escondido. On his Web site, Hofmaier says he's always had wanderlust and the flight is for pure pleasure. "This trip will not be for record breaking, it will be my adventure and my joy and fun."
A Houston pilot has the same sort of goal in mind as Hofmaier but his trip will only take a couple of months and will, we wager, be substantially more comfortable. John Coale left Houston Southwest Airport last Sunday in his modified Cessna 210 Centurion. Coale has spent three years planning the trip but he too is doing it for the experience and nothing else. "No sponsors, no records ... he's just doing it because he wants to," said Coale's friend Greg Moredock. To make the trip, Coale took out all five passenger seats to make room for fuel and other gear. He has the Centurion rigged for more than 20 hours of endurance, which will give him a maximum nonstop distance of more than 3,000 nm. His longest required leg is the last one, from Hilo, Hawaii, to Baja but he's considering trying to go nonstop from Hawaii to Houston. Coale's route will take him to South America, Africa, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and Australia. Most of the route is over water and he estimates the 26,100-nm flight will take him 172 hours.
And while Hofmaier and Coale confront the various challenges that await them, a Maryland pilot has decided discretion is the better part of valor in his attempt to circumnavigate via the poles. Gus McLeod turned back because the new engine in his South Korean-built Firefly, a new homebuilt design that was created in partnership with the creators of the Velocity homebuilt, is burning too much oil. "If the oil consumption is not right, I'm going to run out of oil before I run out of gas," McLeod told the Associated Press. If any of the three complete their trip, they'll join a relatively elite group. If you're interested in joining the ranks, the Web site Earthrounders exists to help pilots plan the trip and list their achievement. Of course there's more to flying around the world than choosing a comfortable seat cushion. Modern avionics have made navigation a lot easier and all the other technologies that go into making today's aircraft safer and more reliable undoubtedly account for the fact that almost half of the successful flights have taken place in the last 10 years. But there are some challenges that mere technology can't overcome. Most earthrounders will touch down in or cross dozens of countries on their way and they each have different rules and attitudes toward such adventurers. Earthrounders publishes an online guide to what to expect along the way.
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Forget the six-month-old movies and TV reruns, you'll soon be able to surf the Internet on some airlines and we have to wonder if GA applications (especially the experimental kind) can be far behind. Connexion by Boeing announced this week that at least five airlines (none of them American) have confirmed plans to install high-speed wireless internet service on planes used for long-haul flights. The systems allow laptop users to access Internet, intranet and e-mail in the air. They'll even allow e-mail exchanges between computers on different aircraft. "History will record 2004 as the year when air travelers for the first time could choose to be connected while in flight to family, colleagues and friends," said Connexion President Scott Carson. The system uses satellite signals to relay the data between ground-based Internet service providers and the aircraft. Last year, the World Radiocommunication Conference approved a range of radio frequencies for this type of use. Lufthansa will be the first to launch the service and Singapore, All-Nippon, Scandinavian and Japan Airlines have all said they'll be plugging in, too. Bizjet companies are also naturally embracing the technology. Kingdom Holding of Saudi Arabia will be the first and will equip a Boeing 747 with the system.
Southwest Airlines is taking a leap of promotional faith. For those who need reassurance that other people miss flights, get seated next to people who apparently don't bathe and suffer various other indignities during air travel, A&E presents Airline, its foray into reality television. The often high-brow network now offers Southwest Airlines, its employees and passengers as subjects for your enjoyment. The show follows day-in-the-life encounters with weather delays, drunks, blackouts, and one scene highlighting the airline's well-publicized policy of making very fat passengers pay for two seats and can't be much worse than watching people eat mealworms or cheat on each other ... or can it? "Everyone ... wants to share their travel stories," Nancy Dubuc, A&E's VP for documentary programming, told the Associated Press. It's probably just that kind of potentially negative PR that sent all the big airlines diving for cover when A&E pitched them. Southwest COO Colleen Barrett said she agreed to allow the cameras in after talking to officials at easyJet in Britain, which is in its sixth year as the focus of a reality show there and claims it has been a boon to their business. "I started thinking ... it's basically 18 hours of free publicity. You can't buy that kind of PR," said Barrett. According to the Associated Press report, Southwest generally comes off well in the show but air travel in general takes some knocks.
Something that will almost surely land you in jail almost anywhere else can win you prizes and glory in Malaysia. The country has created a travel niche for itself by permitting tourists to leap from tall buildings in competition. Kuala Lumpur hosted the Malaysia International Championship Extreme Skydive and World Base Cup last week. A total of 54 competitors from all over the world leapt from the Petronas Twin Towers and Menara Kuala Lumpur. The results of Monday's finals still haven't been posted. The contestants were judged on their short freefalls and descents to the streets below over a series of 10 rounds. Base jumpers occasionally hit the headlines in other parts of the world and are generally seen being carted off by the local police but the Malaysians, home to some of the world's tallest buildings, decided to capitalize on the trend instead. Base jumping is considered more hazardous than regular skydiving because there's no time to deploy a backup chute if the main canopy fails.
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For someone who has everything, how about an aircraft carrier? The bidding was hot for a decommissioned carrier offered on eBay last week. It went to at least $90 million for the "demilitarized" vessel, which may have been a former British carrier also used by Australia. The ship was valued at $2 million in scrap value when ship broker Renming Cheng decided to see what the market would bear. He suggested to potential buyers that it might make a good tourist attraction, hotel, amusement park or museum. More than 350,000 people checked out the offer. It was not immediately known who bought the ship, which is now moored in Ski, Norway.
Pilots and flight attendants want a central repository for reports about people who ask too many questions, follow them in airports and take pictures on their airplanes just in case those involved aren't merely curious, going the same way or have a few extra frames of film to use. Some suspicious employees tell their union, others their employer and some of the reports do reach the Transportation Security Administration's Terrorist Threat Integration Center. But a recent report by an independent group claims the center doesn't have the staff or resources to make use of the data. "We'd like all reports of unusual events to be going directly to the government for analysis," Chris Witkowski, a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants, told the Associated Press. In the security-oriented environment in which flight and cabin crews work these days, many notice things that don't seem right. "Right now, we are sitting on piles of information and creating this database and we're fearful it's going nowhere," said Paul Rancatore, deputy chairman of the Allied Pilots Association's security committee.
A longtime volunteer at a New York flight museum has been charged after trying to sell what the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome claims is one of its artifacts on eBay. But Christopher Rogine, 48, of Red Hook, told the Poughkeepsie Journal that the huge parachute that helped lower an Apollo spacecraft to Earth was his to sell. He was asking $9,500. Rogine was arrested after an employee at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington spotted the eBay posting. The Smithsonian had originally given the chute to Old Rhinebeck after astronauts Charles Conrad, Joseph Kerwin and Paul Weitz were finished using it on a return trip from the Skylab space station in 1973. Rogine said the chute has been in his home workshop for 20 years since a former employee of Old Rhinebeck founder Cole Palen gave it to him, complete with paperwork certifying its authenticity. Rogine said he finally decided to sell the chute, which is more than 50 feet in diameter and weighs hundreds of pounds, to finance an aircraft restoration project. Tom Daly, director of the aerodrome, called the parachute a "national treasure" and thanked police for its return, although he didn't explain why it hadn't been missed in the last 20 years. Rogine has been charged with felony possession of stolen property.
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Charges have been dropped against a medevac pilot ticketed last week in Stamford, Conn. William Pope was cited by police for contravening a local ordinance banning helicopters from landing in the city. He was picking up a premature baby for transport to an intensive care unit in New York...
A fund created to help the daughter of a famous pilot has reached $11,000. Retired United Air Lines Capt. Al Haynes, the pilot who flew a DC-10 with no hydraulics to a crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989, started the fund to help pay for bone marrow transplants for daughter Laurie Haynes Arguello, who has aplastic anemia...
Nominations for the 2004 EAA Homebuilders Hall of Fame close Feb. 1. Homebuilders can be nominated as designers, builders, educators, innovators, award winners or other distinctions and can be made for living people or made posthumously. Nomination forms are available from firstname.lastname@example.org...
Answers to why an Egyptian airliner crashed last week are temporarily out of reach. Crews don't have the equipment to retrieve the plane's data recorder from 2,620 feet under the Red Sea. The recorder's signal was detected by French rescue officials. Most of the 148 people who died were French tourists...
Scientists are thrilled with color photos sent from Mars by the robot Spirit. The high-resolution pictures show a rock-strewn surface with plenty of geological variations...
Balloons from a college football game in Texas traveled 900 miles in less than a day to a soybean field in Nebraska thanks to the jet stream. Farmer Dean Wittstruck found the mylar balloons, a couple of them still inflated, 22 hours after Minnesota beat Oregon in the Sun Bowl in El Paso...
AOPA says its top priority for 2004 is to protect airports. In a release, the association also pledged to fight user fees in the airspace system, work to remove so-called "permanent TFRs" and fight rising insurance costs.
Say Again? #32: Another Year
While other pundits are making New Years' resolutions, AVweb's Don Brown is looking back -- back to when he first became a safety representative for NATCA - the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Sadly, the safety problems he noticed then still haven't gotten better.
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We received over 100 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, Eric Hutchins, of Grand Rapids, Minn. While you might initially think there's something wrong with it,
Erics photo shows the classic lines of an Aeronca Champ visible through the frozen window of a fish house. Ice fishing is popular in the Upper Midwest and frozen lakes offer new freedoms to
these stick and rudder aircraft. Great picture, Eric! Your AVweb hat is on its way.
To check out the winning picture, or to enter next week's contest, click here.
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
To check out the winning picture, or to enter next week's contest, click here.
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
"New Years Day Champ"
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AVweb continues to receive a large number of excellent images for our POTW contest. Here are some of the runners-up. Click on the links below to view a larger version.
"Past and Present"
"A Sentimental View"
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GAMIJECTORS CAN CUT AIRCRAFT FUEL BILLS BY 20 PERCENT! Don't be grounded by sky-high gas prices, install GAMIjectors. Balanced fuel/air ratios make your engine run smoother, cooler, and more efficiently. Order a kit online for your Continental or Lycoming engine at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/gami
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NIGHT IFR OPS, ICE, STABLIZING AN APPROACH AND TALKING WITH GEORGE Are including in the February issue of IFR Magazine. Plus, editor Paul Berge battles FAA windmills in his "Remarks" column. And, the "Briefing" page discusses who's making airplanes and who's making excuses. And, the "Killer Quiz" could make you feel good about your IFR-self. Subscribe to IFR Magazine at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/belvoir/ifrmag
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STUDY SHOWS DEHYDRATION CONTRIBUTES TO DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS (DVT) The Journal of the American Medical Association reports Japan Airlines Medical Services advise taking electrolytes, instead of water alone, during flights to reduce dehydration and the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the legs hindering blood flow. Researchers reported those who drank the electroyte solution had a greater net fluid balance after the flight and were less likely to show increased thickness of blood, concluding that electrolytes re-hydrate the body better. Safe Goods offers electroBlast designed as an electrolyte rehydration aid. electroBlast is a convenient, tasty way to guard against dehydration and DVT. For more information and to order go to http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/safegoods
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