AVwebFlash - Volume 18, Number 19a

May 7, 2012

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
 
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AVflash! Re-Evaluating the Raptor back to top 
 

F-22 Pilots Go On TV To Highlight Aircraft's Problems

Two Air Force F-22 Raptor pilots have taken the unprecedented action of explaining thier refusal to fly the aircraft to a national television audience. Appearing in uniform and without the permission of their superiors, Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Joshua Wilson told 60 Minutes interviewer Lesley Stahl they've invoked federal military whistleblower protection in their open defiance of an Air Force decision to keep flying the aircraft even though they say the majority of pilots are suffering health problems because of something wrong with the oxygen system. As AVweb has extensively reported, some, including both Wilson and Gordon, have become disoriented in flight, something that happens at a rate that far exceeds the norm for military aircraft. The officers say pilots have been issued oxymeters and the Air Force briefly equipped the Raptors with charcoal filters in the oxygen system to remove contaminants (the filters themselves caused some pilots to cough up black mucus and have since been removed) but nothing has been done to solve the actual problem.

The F-22 was grounded for months while engineers looked for that root cause but when they didn't the aircraft was returned to service. After their inflight incidents, Wilson and Gordon said they wouldn't fly the aircraft anymore and have been threatened with dismissal. They also said that while not all pilots have experienced the hypoxia-like symptoms in flight, most complain of the "Raptor cough," a chronic hacking that is common thread among these elite pilots. They said other pilots likened themselves to laboratory animals because the Air Force is using them to gather data on potential sources of the problem. Senior Air Force officials interviewed by the program said they intend to keep the aircraft flying. "Ideally I want the risk as low as possible. I'm not able to drive it as low in this airplane as I am with others because of this unknown circumstance, but I have driven it down to a level where we believe we can safely operate the airplane," said Gen. Michael Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command. Both pilots said they'd like nothing better than for the aircraft to be fixed so they can fly it again, calling it "invincible" as a fighting platform but Wilson said it shouldn't be flown until it's fixed. "I think we grounded it for a reason, you know, back a year ago. We haven't done a single thing to fix it. So I think we need to reassess why we got back in the air in the first place."

F-22 Passes Milestone, Critics Debate Which One

The last of 187 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jets was delivered to the U.S. Air Force, Wednesday, provoking new debate about the jet's usefulness, cost and ongoing safety concerns. Since listed as combat-ready in 2005, not a single $420 million F-22 has flown a combat mission in any U.S. military engagement, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. They have spent nearly five months of their service grounded due to yet unresolved concerns surrounding the system that delivers oxygen to the jets' pilots. And a few pilots now say they'd prefer not to fly the jet for that reason. In exercises, the F-22 consistently records lopsided wins when pitted against America's best jet fighters. But that hasn't silenced the jet's critics, which include Senator John McCain.

"I don't think the F-22 will ever be seen in the combat it was designed to encounter, because that threat is no longer in existence," McCain told ABC News, Wednesday. "Facts are stubborn things," McCain said, referring to the jet's lack of use in conflict. He added, separately, "There is no purpose, no mission in Afghanistan or Iraq, unless you believe that al Qaeda is going to have a fleet of aircraft." Supporters say the air superiority fighter simply has no credible threat to counter and that does not mean it's a useless tool. Thee vice president of Lockheed Martin's F-22 program told ABC, "The best weapon is the one that's never used." The total fleet cost ranges somewhere near $79 billion with a roughly $45,000 per hour operational cost, and the GAO says the fleet may require $9.7 billion in upgrades. And some pilots are going public with their concern over the jet's reported condition of causing pilots to experience potentially dangerous hypoxia-like symptoms. Two pilots shared their concerns with the broadcast audience of 60 Minutes in an episode scheduled to air Sunday, May 6.

 
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Following Up on Last Week's Big Stories back to top 
 

Boettger Short Of Glider Goal

Gordon Boettger, who was hoping to fly more than 900 miles in a downwind glider dash from Minden, Nev., to Rapid City, S.D., was forced to land about halfway to his record-setting goal. Deteriorating weather prompted him to land in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Boettger was trying to ride a mountain wave, the high-altitude winds that ricochet off the western mountain ranges of North America and persist for hundreds of miles. Boettger set a record last year by surfing a mountain wave for 1,321 miles.

Hang Gliding Camera Card Retrieved

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police say they're now trying to get the video off a memory card that was allegedly swallowed by a hang gliding pilot after his tandem passenger fell from the aircraft to her death a week ago. William Jon Orders was kept in jail until police had their hands on card, which they knew would emerge sooner or later because it showed up on a court-ordered X-ray. Orders was released on bail on Friday and the hearing heard what reporters said was "dramatic" evidence about the circumstances of the death of 27-year-old Lenami Godinez-Avila, a Mexican living in Vancouver. They couldn't relate details of the evidence because the Canadian judicial system bans the publication of evidence entered in preliminary proceedings like bail hearings.

However, eyewitness accounts suggest Godinez-Avila's harness was not attached to the frame of the hang glider when she slipped from Orders' back, slid down his legs and then finally fell 1,000 feet to a recently logged section of forest on Mount Woodside, about 80 miles east of Vancouver. The police allege that Orders had a camera attached to the hang glider that would have recorded all or parts of the tragedy and that sometime after landing he took out the memory card and swallowed it. He will be back in court in Chilliwack, B.C., for a first appearance on the formal charge of obstruction. In most circumstances, any testimony heard at that stage would be public but Orders can request, and the judge can grant, another publication ban.

 
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Meanwhile, at the Manufacturers ... back to top 
 

Bankruptcy For Hawker Beechcraft

Hawker Beechcraft Thursday announced that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, having entered agreements to eliminate $2.5 billion in debt and securing financing that will allow it to pay its employees, for now. Last year, Hawker lost over $600 million, but company officials remain publicly optimistic about the viability of the company. "Restructuring our balance sheet and recapitalizing the company in partnership with our debt holders will dramatically improve Hawker Beechcraft's ability to compete in a rapidly changing environment," CEO Robert Miller said in a statement. Restructuring won't just impact Hawker, which last week announced 350 layoffs, but will also impact suppliers. The company says it will continue to operate "in the normal course of business" and fill all orders for available products.

The company will now work to restructure its balance sheet and recapitalize. It will continue with its bid to win a Light Air Support contract from the U.S. Air Force for its AT-6. Hawker says that more than two-thirds of its bank and senior bond debt holders have given support to its prearranged restructuring plan. If the court confirms the company's reorganization and consummates the plan, equity ownership in Hawker will be transferred to the company's debt holders. The company is currently headquartered in Wichita, with operations in Arkansas, England, and Mexico. It owns 100 authorized service centers worldwide.

Cessna Caravans Final Assembly In China

A "strategic agreement" between Cessna and the China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Company Ltd. (CAIGA) will see Caravans completed in China for sale to the Chinese market, Cessna announced Thursday. Cessna says the agreement advances a framework set in March that opens markets to the manufacturer that otherwise would remain out of reach. Under the agreement, Cessna Caravans will be built in Kansas and sent to Shijiazhuang, China, for final assembly and sale in China. Cessna expects China "to be one of the largest general aviation markets in ten year's time," and that "the versatility of the Caravan makes it a great fit" for the Chinese market.

According to Cessna, CAIGA "has demonstrated great capabilities with general aviation production, and this made the choice of the Shijiazhuang facility a simple one." Cessna hopes the Caravan will cater to commuter fleets, tourist operations and sightseeing businesses in China. CAIGA's parent company is AVIC, which signed a deal with Cessna in March. CAIGA's facility will conduct finally assembly, painting, testing, interior installation, customization, flight testing and delivery for in-country customers. The relationship between CAIGA and Cessna is meant to create the foundation of a larger venture that will include not just final assembly but also "sales and customer support for the Caravan in China, for the Chinese market."

 
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Next Phase for IAOPA's Secretary General back to top 
 

Sheehan Retires At IAOPA

Pilots the world over share common concerns about the future of general aviation, and the International Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is ensuring GA's interests are heard when decisions are made that might affect private aviation, says the outgoing chief administrator of IAOPA. Secretary-General John Sheehan retired from the post April 30 and said his 15 years there revealed two common threats to GA everywhere: airspace allocation and the future demise of avgas. Sheehan told AVweb in a podcast interview that GA almost always takes a back seat to commercial interests when airspace decisions are made and IAOPA has been able to mitigate the threat to the freedom to fly many times. He also noted that avgas availability is a universal concern as is the patchwork of regulation between jurisdictions, particularly regarding the certification of small aircraft. "Where are our affordable light aircraft going to come from?" he said.

Sheehan said universal acceptance of the U.S. model for light sport aircraft is gaining traction at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on which IAOPA has a permanent but non-voting seat. He said the goal is to have worldwide acceptance of the ASTM standard process for certifying little airplanes so they can be sold and used for flight training and promoting GA in all countries under the same rules. Sheehan will continue to work in aviation as auditor manager for the International Business Aviation Council.

Podcast: John Sheehan 'Retires' from IAOPA

File Size 8.2 MB / Running Time 9:00

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For 15 years, John Sheehan has marshaled the combined might of 69 national pilot organizations as the secretary general of the International Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. On May 1, he retired and spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles about the successes in those 15 years and the challenges ahead.

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Click here to listen. (8.2 MB, 9:00)

 
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News Briefs back to top 
 

Dying Veteran, Public Pressure Move Spirit

Spirit Airlines Friday reversed an April decision to not refund a ticket after word spread that the ticket-holder was a Vietnam War veteran who says he decided not to take his flight after learning he was terminally ill. Jerry Meekins says he bought the ticket two weeks before doctors told him his condition was terminal and advised him not to fly. He says he contacted the airline for a refund and was turned away. At the time, a local news station (WFLA-TV) sought comment from Spirit and said the reply included, "Our reservations are non-refundable, which means we don't do refunds and we are not going to issue Mr. Meekins a refund." Facing public calls for a Spirit Airlines boycott, the airline has now changed its tune, sending a personal message.

A statement released Friday by Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza says in part, "Every day we seek to balance customer service with customers' demands for the lowest airfare possible. But sometimes we make mistakes." The statement goes on to say, "I did not demonstrate the respect or the compassion that I should have, given his medical condition and his service to our country. Therefore I have decided to personally refund Mr. Meekins' airfare, and Spirit Airlines will make a $5,000 contribution, in his name, to the charity of his choice, Wounded Warriors." Amid those comments, the statement notes the airline's goal of keeping airfares low and that its refund policy is "a very important part" of that agenda. The statement concludes, "We have worked hard to build a great company that makes air travel affordable while making our employees proud and customers satisfied. All of us at Spirit Airlines extend our prayers and best wishes to Mr. Meekins."

Senator Wants Law Against Geese

A New York senator wants the federal government to pass a law that would force the killing of Canada Geese that now use a wildlife preserve near JFK Airport and sometimes get in the way of the airport's aluminum and composite occupants. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., says her bill will end the turf wars between the Department of Agriculture, which would do the killing, and the National Parks Service, which has jurisdiction over the preserve. The law would require the killing to be done by Aug. 1. "We cannot sit back and wait for a catastrophe to occur before cutting though bureaucratic red tape between agencies," Gillibrand said. "We cannot and should not wait another day to act while public safety is at risk." There have been two recent bird strikes, one at JFK and another at Westchester County Airport, more than 30 miles away from the wildlife preserve.

Although there has been some expression of support for Gillibrand's bill, the consensus among wildlife experts appears to be that a goose cull won't really do much to reduce the likelihood of bird strikes, especially since there are dozens of species of birds that use the preserve. Don Riepe, who serves as the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge guardian and also sits on JFK's bird hazard task force, told the Queens Chronicle they already shoot birds and have also eliminated habitat and employed other means to mitigate the bird threat. "But you are not going to reduce the threat to zero," he said. Gillibrand's bill is buried in a farm bill that will be in front of Congress later this month.

 
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The Top Reporter on Our Crack Staff ... Is You! back to top 
 

AVmail: May 7, 2012

Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.

Letter of the Week: The Third Class Medical Question

Regarding your "Question of the Week": Perhaps the reason that more have not commented in favor is that not as many people agree that it is necessarily a good idea. The cost of a medical is peanuts compared to the cost of actually flying an airplane. So what does extending the exemption accomplish? It allows people with medical issues to fly larger aircraft and carry more passengers. Getting a medical exam every two years is a small price to pay for the privilege of flying. It may also just save your life, or that of your passengers.

If you really want to increase the pilot population, increase the maximum gross weight limit for LSAs to allow the use of legacy aircraft such as the Cessna 150/152. An outright increase would be great, but even an exemption for flight training and the check ride would help. Potential LSA customers could learn to fly more inexpensively, as well as increasing the availability of training aircraft for them.

LSA manufacturers may not like competing with legacy aircraft for sales, but in the long run, more pilots means more potential customers. I'm sure the 150/152 cannibalized some sales of the 172, but in the long run, it probably helped by getting more people into aviation.

John McNerney

I would support your first option, complete removal of the third class medical. As the 64-year-old pilot of a Cherokee 6, given the way these things usually go, I will most likely be dead or too old to fly by the time that step gets taken. The current proposal doesn't help me any.

John Worsley

I read AVweb and AOPA almost every day, and I had no clue we could be commenting on the proposal. I think it is a giant step in the right direction.

Art Woods

I did comment, but I said it was too restrictive. I have a wife and one son at home. Why restrict to one pax? Doesn't help me.

Tommy Brazie

The arbitrary limits are ridiculuous. I have two Bellancas, one with a 180-horsepower engine and the other with 230. They both fly exactly the same. How stupid is the idea that I could fly one but not the other?

Kent Tarver

Haven't commented because I don't know where/how to, and haven't investigated because I know there's no way in hell the FAA is going to give in on this. The public wants us regulated. There's no upside for the government in eliminating it.

David Chulijian

We have until the last week of May to comment. There's still time.

Yvonne Guerra

Tell me how, and I will. I think it's a good idea.

Mike Russell

AVweb Replies:

Go to Regulations.gov and put FAA-2012-0350 in the search bar.

Thanks to everyone who wrote us about this. We couldn't run all the letters.

Russ Niles
Editor-in-Chief


Read AVmail from other weeks here, and submit your own Letter to the Editor with this form.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 255,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

 
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Opinion & Commentary back to top 
 

AVweb Insider Blog: Bin Laden Raid -- Why Did the Blackhawk Crash?

A year on, we've learned more about the special ops raid that killed Osama bin Laden. What we don't know — and may never know — is why that MH-60 crashed in the compound. In his latest post to the AVweb Insider blog, Paul Bertorelli wades into the speculation.

Read more and join the conversation.

AVweb Insider Blog: Regulation as a Field Leveler

If regulations can't spark innovation, is it just as good that they can spread the misery around? Paul Bertorelli contemplates that uncomfortable consolation prize in his latest post to the AVweb Insider blog.

Read more and join the conversation.

 
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The first step is to gain a better understanding of current business aviation pilot training practices and issues. If you would like to share your comments on this topic, please add them to the following discussion:

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New on AVweb.com back to top 
 

Brainteasers Quiz #171: Take a Flying Vacation

Brainteasers

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More Brainteasers

 
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AVweb Media: Look, Listen, Laugh and Learn back to top 
 

Video: William Rankin, the Man Who Rode the Thunder

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

The story of William Rankin's ejection at 47,000 feet and 500 knots is legendary, not only because the fall took him 40 minutes, but also because he lived to talk about it. There are other and more recent cases of people who have been drawn into thunderstorms under canopy and not every one ends in survival.

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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 
 

FBO of the Week: Jet West (SNS, Salinas, California)

Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs

AVweb reader Jack Addison discovered our latest "FBO of the Week" -- Jet West at Salinas Municipal Airport (SNS) in Salinas, California:

We had landed at Monterey, California and found [another venue] wanted $25 per night to stay for my wife's race at Big Sur. Their fuel was expensive, and there were no tie-down ropes or chains with the in-concrete loops. We ferried over to Jet West at Salinas, were greeted, tied down with three chains provided, and fueled up at $5.99 and no more charge for four nights. When we returned, the ground crew had put orange cones 3' high at each wing tip for protection. As a bonus, my wife walked over to Sean Tucker and got his autograph! Jet West, SNS likes general aviation!

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

 
The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 
 

Short Final

I heard this while returning from Texas:

Piper Pilot (with a thick southern drawl) :
"Sahv, Centah, Ah believe Ah'm a-fixin' to cancel mah IFR flaght plannn."

Center:
"Are you just 'fixin' to,' or are you going to cancel it?"

Piper Pilot:
"Ah believe Ah'm a-goin' to cancel it about now."

Center:
"Roger. Squawk VFR."


Ron Cizek
Omaha, Nebraska

Heard Anything Funny on the Radio?

Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

 
Names Behind the News back to top 
 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the world's premier independent aviation news resource.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Publisher
Tom Bliss

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Editor-in-Chief
Russ Niles

Webmaster
Scott Simmons

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Contributors
Kevin Lane-Cummings
Jeff Van West

Ad Coordinator
Karen Lund

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? Your advertising can reach over 225,000 loyal AVwebFlash, AVwebBiz, and AVweb home page readers every week. Over 80% of our readers are active pilots and aircraft owners. That's why our advertisers grow with us, year after year. For ad rates and scheduling, click here or contact Tom Bliss, via e-mail or via telephone [(480) 525-7481].

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

Comments or questions about the news should be sent here.

If you're having trouble reading this newsletter in its HTML-rich format (or if you'd prefer a lighter, simpler format for your phone or handheld device), there's also a text-only version of AVwebFlash. For complete instructions on making the switch, click here.

Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.