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Audio recordings released by the FAA last week of Southwest Airlines Flight 812, a Boeing 737 with 118 passengers aboard that suffered rapid decompression in April, detail pilots and controllers
working the problem. The aircraft was at 36,000 feet flying out of Phoenix for Sacramento when a 59-inch-long gash opened nine inches wide in the top of the cabin, with a loud bang. The Southwest
pilots immediately declared an emergency and began a descent to 10,000 feet. As the pilots organized, they formulated a plan to return to Phoenix, but as the situation matured they changed plans and
sought the nearest available airport. That turned out to be Yuma, Ariz.
Click here for the MP3 file. The audio has been edited for time. What's not heard in the edited version is the controllers
working together between locations to coordinate their efforts.
The aircraft was a 15-year-old Boeing 737-300. It landed safely at Yuma with a few minor injuries incurred during the rapid descent. NTSB investigators have since determined that misaligned or
oblong rivet holes allowed stress points to develop along a bond joint in the 737's skin. It's at or near that joint that the skin ultimately failed. The jet had accumulated 48,740 hours through
39,781 cycles (a cycle is one takeoff and one landing). Inspections that were required following the accident turned up four other 737s with crack indications at a single rivet and one with cracking
at two rivets. All of those aircraft had flown between 40,000 and 45,000 cycles, according to the NTSB.
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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new algorithm that could help to prevent midair collisions between general aviation aircraft, the school announced last week. The new technique, according to lead researcher Maxime Gariel, aims to limit the number
of false alarms typically produced by collision-warning systems. "If half the time it's a false alert, [pilots] are not going to listen to it, or they'll turn it off," Gariel said. His team's research
used a two-tiered alert system -- a moderate alert to warn pilots their trajectories are converging, and a high alert to indicate a severe risk of collision. The system also takes into account the
extrapolated reaction time, depending on speed and trajectory, and adjusts the warning level accordingly. Tests confirmed that the system has a low false-alarm rate.
MIT's system depends on the implementation of NextGen, which will require small aircraft to broadcast their GPS coordinates. According to David Gray, the FAA liaison to the project, the ability to
use the NextGen system for collision avoidance should help persuade aircraft owners that it's worth the cost of adding the required equipment. "One of the key things that we want to provide as part of
this system is additional value to the general aviation pilot," Gray said. "We hope this adds value and tips the scale in the direction of saying, 'Yes, this is something that I want.'" On average
about 11 GA aircraft each year are involved in midair collisions in the U.S. The MIT researchers plan to present their research results at a conference in Seattle in October.
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The European Commission, which acts as the executive branch of the European Union, has invested $6.2 million in myCopter, a project working toward
creating a personal air vehicle (PAV) for public transport in crowded cities. MyCopter, headed by Prof. Heinrich Bulthoff of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany, plans to
test various concepts for a partially autonomous, vertical-take-off-and-landing vehicle, using computer simulations, UAVs, and a helicopter. "We aim to develop technologies that could be used to form
a new transportation system for personal travel that uses the third dimension, and which takes into account questions surrounding the expectations of potential users and how the public would react to
and interact with such a system," Bulthoff told Gizmag.
Research for the four-year project will include the development of new technologies that could be useful for obstacle avoidance, route planning and formation flying in a variety of aerospace
applications, according to the myCopter website. Bulthoff said he hopes to design small PAVs that can carry one or two people, operate as easily as a car, automatically avoid other aircraft, and run
on batteries to minimize environmental impact. There are no major technological barriers to creating the myCopter, he told New Scientist. However, "making it affordable is another question." Other
partners in the project include several universities and technological institutes across Europe.
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Students looking for an aviation career now have four more options for earning a bachelor's degree at Kansas State
University in Salina, Kans. The school announced this week that starting in the fall, four of its certificate programs -- in unmanned aircraft systems, avionics, airport management and air traffic
control -- will expand into full degree-granting programs. Avionics students get hands-on experience working on glass cockpit components. The UAS program uses several unmanned vehicles for training,
and has worked with the Kansas National Guard to develop safety procedures for incorporating the vehicles into the National Airspace System.
Josh Brungardt, director of the K-State UAS program, said cooperation from the military has been an important factor in growing the program. "We have access to restricted airspace, just seven miles
from here, that we can use for training," Brungardt says. Student interns have worked as field operators for several UAS companies. K-State Salina operates a fleet of more than 40 training aircraft.
The campus is sited adjacent to a 12,000-foot runway.
Monday, July 25, opening day at EAA AirVenture, is just around the corner, so flight plans are being finalized, camp sites already are
filling up, and aviators from around the world are on their way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. EAA is promising an event overflowing with "spectacular attractions," including tributes to Bob Hoover and Burt
Rutan, a celebration of naval aviation, a salute to veterans, a night airshow on Saturday with fireworks and a "wall of fire," musical performers, film nights, and of course thousands of airplanes,
exhibits, forums, and workshops to explore all week long. AVweb staffers will be there every day to provide you with daily news reports, podcasts, and videos.
Some of the showcase aircraft expected at Oshkosh include at least 100 Burt Rutan designs, including Boomerang, an asymmetrical five-place twin; a Boeing 787, on Friday only; a wide selection of electric-powered aircraft; and dozens of military aircraft celebrating the 100th
anniversary of naval aviation. The major aircraft manufacturers and all kinds of gear suppliers will be there to introduce their newest products. Teachers Day on Tuesday provides classroom teachers with ideas about how to use aviation to motivate students to learn
about science; this year's special guest is Jeff Skiles. And every afternoon, the world's best airshow performers put on their best shows, for the best crowds. AVweb's Mary Grady spoke with
aerobatic pilot Mike Goulian this week about what it's like to fly at Oshkosh, "the Super Bowl of airshows"; click here for that podcast.
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Most of us do, but it's not always clear why some pilots are accident-free while others are not. In an effort to learn more about accident-free pilot populations, researcher David Ison is
conducting a survey. It's short, and you can take it by clicking on this link:
For a follow-up article on Thielert-powered diesel airplanes, we would like to hear from owners operating these airplanes. Please e-mail us at email@example.com with contact information, and we'll get back to you.
The results will appear in a future issue of Aviation Consumer. For subscription information, click
Have an idea for a new "Question of the Week"?
Send your suggestions to
NOTE: This address is only for suggested "QOTW" questions, and not for "QOTW" answers or comments. (Use this form to send "QOTW" comments to our AVmail Editor.)
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AOPA President Craig Fuller says he thinks the anti-GA/Bizav posture in Washington will get worse in coming months but that's not necessarily all bad. "We have a rallying point," Fuller told the
Wichita Aero Club in a reportedly spirited address that focused on recent remarks by President Obama that appeared to characterize business aviation as a perk. According to the Wichita Business Journal, Fuller pointed out the remarks contrasted sharply with
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's comments to an aviation forum held in Wichita in which he appeared to affirm the administration's support for GA. "Where they stand on general aviation depends on
where they're standing," he is quoted as saying.
Obama's comments evoked a strong reaction from general aviation groups reminiscent of the battle against user fees of a few years ago. Fuller told the Aero Club that as the 2012 election campaign
gets in gear, GA might face more attacks from the administration. He said the headline-grabbing comments have hurt the industry's recovery from the recession, although there continue to be positive
signs of that recovery.
The pilot of a Pilatus PC-12 that crashed in Montana in March 2009 should have added an icing inhibitor to the fuel system before launching, the NTSB said in its final report on Tuesday. The board
said the pilot failed to take appropriate remedial actions after icing caused low fuel pressure and a lateral fuel imbalance. The pilot then lost control while maneuvering the left-wing-heavy airplane
near the approach end of the runway at Bert Mooney Airport in Butte. All 14 people on board, including 7 children, died. "The pilot's pattern of poor decision-making set in motion a series of events
that culminated in the deadly crash," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. "Humans will make mistakes, but that is why following procedures, using checklists and always ensuring that a safety
margin exists are so essential -- aviation is not forgiving when it comes to errors."
Investigators determined that the pilot didn't add a fuel-system icing inhibitor, commonly referenced by the brand name "Prist," when the airplane was fueled on the day of the accident. The
Pilatus flight manual states the inhibitor must be used for all flight operations in ambient temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius. The NTSB concluded that icing in the fuel system caused a
left-wing-heavy fuel imbalance. The increasing fuel level in the left tank and the depletion of the fuel from the right tank should have been apparent to the pilot because that information was
presented on the fuel quantity indicator. This should have prompted the pilot to divert the airplane to an airport earlier in the flight, as specified by the airplane manufacturer.
Early in its investigation, the board said it had "no working theories" about the crash, but that changed
when an investigator found a small set of microchips from the PC-12's safety warning system that revealed the fuel-icing problem. The NTSB issued recommendations to the FAA and EASA, asking both
agencies to make it mandatory for all aircraft that require fuel additives to place a placard near the fuel filler that notes the limitation. Earlier in its investigation, the board asked the FAA to
require all children over age 2 to have their own seat and an appropriate child restraint system during takeoff, landing, and turbulence. The board's synopsis has been posted online, and a full report will be posted in a few weeks.
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Not a thing, unless you screw up the landing, hit something or otherwise turn what should be uneventful into easy pickings for an enforcement case. On the AVweb Insider blog, Paul
Bertorelli reviews two closed runway takeoff examples, and you can take your pick of what's wrong. Or add your own example in the comments.
I'm somehow not, says Paul Bertorelli on the AVweb Insider blog. On the other hand, perhaps we're supposed to be grateful that something positive came out of Inhofe's inept, embarrassing
display of poor airmanship at Port Isabel, Texas that merited him a peck on the cheek from the FAA after he scattered workers on a closed runway.
In the third chapter of his aviation memoir, Richard Taylor begins flight training in a Piper PA-18 Cub -- including being "kicked out of the nest" for his first solo before he had
10 hours of flight time -- and then moving on to the (comparatively) massive T-6 Texan.
The Piper PA-18 was our introduction to flight training. It was not only a rag-wing airplane, it was a rag-everything airplane: Fabric
stretched over steel tubing on all the surfaces except the engine cowling. (One of the wags at Hondo called it the "Paper Cub.") A descendant of Mr. Piper's famous Super Cub, the Air Force version was
a no-frills screening device used for the express purpose of determining which students would not be able to meet flight-training standards. It was powered by a Lycoming O-235 engine that produced 105
horsepower, hence the official designation PA-18-105. The airplane had no flaps, no radios, no navigation equipment except a magnetic compass. It had one questionable quality: According to a
professional test pilot, "The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world; it can just barely kill you."
Students who were unable to solo after ten hours of instruction in the Cub were considered unsatisfactory for further flight training and were released from the program. This seemed a rather brutal
way to do business because some students who couldn't solo in the allotted time might have succeeded with a few more hours of instruction. For example, one of our classmates who didn't qualify was
dismissed from flight training, served his three years of active duty in a non-flying capacity, and then entered an aviation career through the civilian door. He retired years later as a captain for a
major airline and I'm sure he has thumbed his nose at the "10 hours and out" policy more than once. Nevertheless, economic considerations prevailed; the cost of training an Air Force pilot was high
enough to justify early screening.
The first lesson in the PA-18 was known as "the dollar ride," in which the instructors took each of us aloft to demonstrate the capabilities of the airplane and get a handle on our reactions. At about
the midpoint of my ride, Mr. Petty asked if I had ever experienced a spin. Totally unaware of what was going to happen, I answered in the negative, and a second later the nose popped up, the world
turned upside down and the plane made a couple of rapid rotations before the horizon settled down to its normal level self. I can't say I really enjoyed the experience, but if it was part of the
program, so be it.
During the Cub phase, we rode Air Force buses back and forth to Jackson Field, a grass airport several miles away that served as an auxiliary field for Stallings. (See "Jackson Field" at right.) The
emphasis was on basic flying skills -- takeoffs, landings, stalls, engine-out procedures -- and the objective was the all-important solo at or before the 10-hour point. The grass runways were
well-suited to Cub training; a crosswind during takeoffs and landings tends to move taildraggers sideways while embryo pilots are learning what the rudder pedals are for -- and grass is a lot more
forgiving than asphalt.
The Cub training went well and when Mr. Petty decided I could handle the airplane by myself, he climbed out of the back seat and turned me loose for the traditional three first-solo landings. Like all
students, I was impressed with the change in performance absent 180 pounds or so of instructor in the back seat -- the Cub used a lot less runway on takeoff and floated like a feather on landing.
Three rewards accompanied the first solo: We were permitted to paint a thunderbolt on the visors of our ball caps (thunderbolts were added as we moved through the several stages of training); we were
now permitted to carry our seat-pack parachutes tucked up behind our backs like real pilots instead of being slung over our shoulders; and the instructors presented us with certificates documenting a
momentous event: The day we were kicked out of the nest.
The ink has faded, but the certificate reads:
This is to certify that on this, the fourteenth day of March 1955,
Richard L. Taylor in a PA-18 did, alone and unassisted take off from and return to Jackson Field, Stallings Air Base,
thereby successfully completing his First Solo Flight. (signed) Raymond A. Petty, Most Worthy and Gray Haired Flight Instructor.
Patience is one of the hallmarks of a good flight instructor and Ray Petty had that quality in spades. But just a few days into the primary program, his forbearance wore a bit thin. A quick lesson in
the Cub's architecture is in order to understand what happened.
Entry to the cabin was accomplished through a two-piece door on the right side, hinged at the top and bottom and locked into the closed position with the half-turn of a handle. The door is normally
closed and locked in flight, but when it's unlocked, the top half flies up, the bottom half falls down and the student is suddenly and completely exposed to thin air.
One of my original tablemates was out of his depth from the very first day; he was nearly incapacitated by his fear of flying and became ill every time he left the ground. After trying everything he
knew to resolve the problem, Ray lost his cool and took a draconian step: As he related to us later, at 2000 feet or so he rolled the Cub on its beam ends with the right wing pointing straight down,
unlocked the door and shouted "Jones [not his real name], why don't you just jump out now and get it over with!" When they got back, Jones -- white as a sheet -- disappeared, never to be seen again in
Having broken through the solo barrier, the balance of our time in the PA-18 was spent practicing takeoffs and landings. Learning to fly a taildragger is no more difficult than learning to fly any
other airplane -- except for taxiing, takeoff and landing, when the main wheels are in contact with the ground and providing a point around which the airplane can rotate. All taildraggers try to swap
ends on the ground because the center of gravity is behind the main wheels. Given this characteristic, taildragger pilots become very adept on the rudder pedals.
The problem is exacerbated when you're flying any light airplane in strong winds; keep in mind a PA-18 with one occupant weighed only about 1500 pounds and 20-knot surface winds were common conditions
on the North Carolina coastal plain. There were days when we probably shouldn't have been flying but we flew anyway; the school contractor had a limited number of Cubs so we had to press on to get
finished and out of the way for the next class. Several times during our initial training the wind was so strong the non-flying students were detailed to the far end of the runway where three of them
would walk a just-landed Cub back to the ramp, one holding down the tail, the other two at the wing struts to keep the airplane from blowing over.
Near the end of the PA-18 phase, one of the instructors flew a T-6 to Jackson Field so we could get a close look at our airborne classroom for the next 120 hours of training.
In general, the T-6 is not considered a big airplane ... but for student pilots with only 20 hours total flying time and faced with the imminent transition from the Piper Cub to an all-metal,
600-horsepower airplane with retractable landing gear, wing flaps, constant-speed propeller and a top speed of 200 miles per hour, the T-6 loomed large.
The T-6 "Texan" has a long and illustrious history, beginning with the North American Aviation NA-26, a design that won the U.S. Army competition for a basic combat (BC) aircraft in 1937. The airplane
went into production soon thereafter and 180 airplanes known as BC-1s were delivered to the Army. Somewhere along the line the airplane became an advanced trainer, resulting in the AT-6 designation,
later shortened to T-6; it was the only single-engine advanced trainer for the Army Air Corps during WW II. Thousands of U.S. Naval aviators earned their wings in the SNJ (a T-6 with a tail hook) and
almost every foreign nation that could muster enough pilots to call it an air force used the T-6 in various roles. The Texan was deployed early in the Korean War as a forward air control platform and
continued to train Air Force pilots until 1957, when the T-34/T-28 program was implemented in all the civilian contract schools.
The T-6 went through a number of modifications over the years. The final version in the series was the "G" model (ca. early 1950s), equipped with a more powerful engine, a steerable tailwheel and a
full-time hydraulic system. The T-6G became the standard for the rest of the production run that ended in the 1950s; all variants considered, a total of 15,495 Texans were built.
Our upgrade from the Cub to the T-6 included the use of crash helmets ("brain buckets" in the often-morbid vocabulary of aviators) and throat microphones. The helmets made us feel more like military
pilots and the throat mike (an elastic "choker" necklace with two button microphones that picked up sound waves from one's larynx) were indispensable. I can't imagine all those hours of flight
instruction in a really noisy airplane using hand-held microphones ... or worse, shouting back and forth.
The T-6 was powered by an R-1340, nine-cylinder, radial engine introduced by Pratt and Whitney in 1925. It was the first engine built by P&W and the design proved to be a good one; when production
ceased in the 1950s, nearly 35,000 of these engines had gone out the door. Unlike most turbine engines that require only the press of a button to light the fire, starting the R-1340 (or any radial
engine for that matter) required the pilot to orchestrate fuel, air and ignition to arrive at a combustible mixture. The cylinders would belch and cough and blow smoke and occasionally backfire until
all nine jugs were happy ... and then the sound became a pleasant rumble, something like the exhaust of a big Harley.
Once you are strapped into the front seat of a T-6 you have a clear picture of ... well, you don't have a clear view of anything straight ahead except the aluminum that wraps around the engine. You
can see directly ahead only from the time you raise the tail on takeoff until the time you lower the tail on landing, and not at all while you're taxiing. This problem -- common to all round-engined
taildraggers and even worse in the back seat -- leads to a lot of neck-craning and S-turning on the ground. It also led to some consternation for my father, who had come to Kinston for a visit. He was
not at all familiar with airplanes and seemed a bit confused as he watched a group of T-6s S-turning along the taxiway. He wondered, "For all the money they're spending on your flight training, why
can't they teach you to drive these airplanes in a straight line?"
No matter how you slice it, the transition from Piper Cub to T-6 was a giant leap in complexity and pilot technique; the Texan was six times as powerful, two tons heavier and carried enough fuel to
keep a Cub in the air all day. Student pilots in primary flight training were required to develop a working knowledge of the engine and propeller combination, the operation of the retractable landing
gear and the wing flaps, fuel, oil and electrical systems. With regard to pilot technique, 20 hours in the Cub gave us a leg up on flying the airplane "from chock to chock" ... an absolute necessity
in the T-6 and one of the most valuable lessons any pilot can learn.
An airplane this complex came equipped with a dazzling (for us) array of flight and engine instruments. The front cockpit panel contained the usual primary flight instruments as well as gauges to
monitor engine operation and all the other onboard systems. Radio navigation equipment was limited to a low-frequency receiver; the VHF transmitter and receiver controls were located below the canopy
sill on the right side of the cockpit. The rear cockpit was much less adorned but had enough gauges to get us through the basic instrument-flying part of the program.
The steerable tailwheel was perhaps the most practical modification to the basic T-6, especially at low taxi speeds; trying to maintain a straight line without positive steering would be nothing short
of artistry in braking. With the tailwheel locked -- accomplished by holding the stick all the way back and centering the tailwheel so a locking pin could fall into place -- 17 degrees of steering was
available with the rudder pedals. With the tailwheel unlocked and in the full-castering mode, you could use the brakes (gently, gently) to turn the airplane at will.
T-6 transition began with several dual rides that emphasized takeoffs and landings, stalls and simulated engine failures. Ray Petty was big on engine-failure procedures and I came to expect he would
close the throttle at some point on virtually every takeoff and ask, "Now what are you going to do?" He emphasized the folly of trying to get back to the runway unless there was a lot of air
(at least a thousand feet) between the airplane and the ground.
My first solo in the T-6 was a memorable event. It took place on a beautiful spring morning, warm enough to have the canopy rolled back, and for the first time I realized the airplane was responding
properly even though I was not consciously moving the controls. It was that magic moment when an airplane seems to become an extension of the pilot's thinking ... I have experienced the same feeling
sooner or later with every aircraft I have flown since.
The training curriculum included a series of stalls, the nastiest of which was the "top rudder" stall. This pilot-tester began from straight and level flight, then we would roll into a steep bank to
the left, holding the bank with aileron and adding right rudder until the airplane stalled. Of course everything was working against us; we had essentially set up the airplane for a cross-control
stall (a truly wicked thing) in an already steep bank, and when the wings quit flying it was nearly impossible to recover without going inverted.
We were also required to complete a series of landing "stages," in which we flew (solo) six repetitions of the several types of landings we had been taught -- three-point, wheelies, flaps and no
flaps, crosswind, etc. -- with instructors posted near the end of the runway grading our performance. At the completion of each landing we exited the runway and taxied back for another repetition;
this required taxiing via two legs of the runway triangle, something many of us considered a waste of time ... we were there to fly, not drive. In order to get back into the air ASAP, we resorted to
taxiing faster than normal with the tailwheel off the ground. It was also a great way to develop a fine touch on the rudder during takeoff and landing.
At this point you need to know the infield had been leased to a local farmer whose corn crop had grown higher than an elephant's eye, high enough to hide us from the observers -- we thought. What we
failed to consider was the height of the vertical stabilizer with the tail off the ground; it was just high enough for an instructor to see it, whereupon the fast-taxi procedure was declared
verboten ... oh well, back to the S-turns.
Despite its size, weight and reputation (some pilots called it the "Terrible Texan," or the "torque tube," both unwarranted slurs) the T-6 was a bit of a pussycat in a spin; the first turn put the
nose down to nearly vertical, but during the second turn the nose came up to perhaps 30 or 40 degrees below the horizon, where it stayed until recovery. As spin training progressed we were required to
make a complete recovery at a predetermined point such as after two turns, or aimed at a specific target on the ground.
[Continued next month.]
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More articles, stories and fiction about the joy of aviation are found in AVweb's Skywritings section.
If that tornado at Sun 'n Fun in April didn't get your attention, it should have. With EAA AirVenture looming and storms hammering the midwest, it's time to think about portable
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AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Bismarck Aero Center at Bismarck Municipal Airport (KBIS) in Bismarck, North
AVweb reader David Yost brought BAC to our attention:
On June 23-24, I was part of a team in the Bismarck-Minot (North Dakota) area doing aerial imaging of the flooding. We operated from Bismarck Aero Center and KBIS. Upon arrival, we were promptly met
by a lineman who showed us where to park and supervised our refueling. The plane was hangared for us overnight and promptly brought out for us the following morning. There were even red carpets by
both doors! This facility is clean, modern, and well-equiped, and the staff quickly took care of all our needs. But what impressed me the most was that every employee I encounted was friendly
and seemed genuinely happy to be there. When in Bismarck, go to Bismarck Aero Center!
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