May 26, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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The FAA appears to be challenging an NTSB report that points the finger at air traffic control for a fatal accident in California two weeks ago. The NTSB findings on the crash of a Piper PA-44-180 near Julian, Calif., read: "The airplane descended to 5,200 feet in response to an ATC instruction. The airplane impacted trees on a 5,500-foot ridgeline ..." Two private pilots died. FAA spokesman Greg Martin declined detailed comment on the report but noted the investigation is still underway and the FAA is helping. "I wouldn't reach any conclusions until the report is complete," he said. That could take about two months. The plane left Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix about 6:30 p.m. on what the NTSB calls "a routine IFR flight" to McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. The plane was cruising at 8,000 feet as it approached the Julian VOR, well above the terrain, when, allegedly at ATC's request, it descended to the impact altitude. As always, the NTSB's preliminary reports come with the qualifying statement that the report is "subject to change and may contain errors." And our comments that lives in this case could have been spared with the help of any modern GPS with topographic moving-map capability (like that provided by MountainScope software, or the Garmin 296) ... or old fashioned chart-reading plus situational awareness ... or MVAs published on instrument charts ... come with 20/20 hindsight. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, the life expectancy of some Alaska bush pilots is increasing thanks to a technological battle against the high accident rate there (2.5 times higher than the lower 48). The Capstone Project -- which has fitted aircraft operating in the mountainous, weather-ravaged and isolated area of southeast Alaska known as the YK Delta with GPS, the latest in weather-radar technologies and Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) systems -- is credited with a whopping 40-percent reduction in plane crashes over the past three years, according to a report released last week. In fact, for the first time, the accident rate of the area covered by Capstone was below that of the rest of the state. Also, the lower rates are being observed in all classification of accidents, the first time there's been statistical backing for that type of claim.
While safety was the prime motivation of Capstone, it has had some operational benefits as well. For instance, the use of GPS instrument approaches at remote airfields has greatly improved the reliability of air service to those communities. "At villages where Capstone has created instrument approaches, the fraction of time weather makes air travel unavailable has been reduced by 50 percent," the report says. Company managers can also keep track of their aircraft in real time over the Internet by using a flight-monitoring function added in 2002. Likely one of the reasons Capstone has been such a success is that pilots seem to like using it. The study indicates that pilots frequently use most of the functions available and rate them highly. The only major disappointment has been the Flight Information System Broadcast intended to beam weather graphics and text to the cockpit. It wasn't available everywhere and couldn't be overlaid with traffic on cockpit displays, so it's hardly ever used. However, Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS) were available at many remote fields.
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So, what would you do if the turbo-intercooled Rotax 914 engine powering your Pegasus Quantum trike, flying under a Pegasus XL wing, was so hard to start that it flattened two batteries before finally catching? Perhaps they were mildly hypoxic, but Angelo D'Arrigo and Richard Meredith-Hardy chose to fly that engine (typically capable of 115 hp) over the world's highest mountain -- towing a hang glider (a rigid-wing ATOS 2 from ICARO 2000) for good measure. In Tibet on Sunday, microlight pilot Meredith-Hardy hauled hang glider pilot D'Arrigo to the rarified air of Mount Everest and put on what must have appeared to be the world's highest air show for a group of climbers tackling the peak through the more conventional method -- on foot. But it's a show that almost didn't get off the ground, according to Meredith-Hardy's account of the adventure. Weather is almost always the limiting factor on Everest but on Sunday the conditions were as good as they ever get: clear skies and almost no wind. Meredith-Hardy said the engine on the aircraft always starts on the first try but it wouldn't catch on Sunday. It wasn't until repeated attempts almost killed the on-board battery that they remembered that a plastic bag had been put over the air cleaner to keep dust out. All those air-less aspirations had flooded the engine and it took a second battery to get the engine going.
Once the Rotax was running, it pulled the two aircraft up at a rate of about 450 fpm from the 12,000-foot-high base camp. There was a lot of circling involved in getting up to the height of Everest and enjoy the minus 40-degrees Centigrade temperatures. At times, Meredith-Hardy noticed that D'Arrigo was being "bounced around" by turbulence. As they approached the peak, the tow line broke and D'Arrigo was on his own. Without the hang glider in tow, Meredith Hardy said the aircraft "shot up" and he did three fly-bys of the peak, before an audience of about six climbers standing on the peak and four or five others inching up the final few feet. Meanwhile, D'Arrigo was on an adventure of his own. He was supposed to make it back to the base camp but instead ended up at a remote high-altitude scientific research station. He was bruised from a rough landing (those higher high-altitude groundspeeds can be rough on the legs) but was otherwise safe and awaiting a helicopter ride to the base camp as of the last Web site posting.
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Is it Adam Aircraft's foothold in the potentially lucrative mini-jet market or just another one of those on-again, off-again deals that have seemingly marked the (so far) speculative and seemingly illusory air-taxi industry? Whatever it is, the Colorado-based plane-maker is crowing about a $150 million order for 75 of its A700 jets, which it claims it can start delivering in less than a year. The buyer is iFly, a Connecticut company put together by Donald Burr and Robert Crandall. But as AVweb's business publication BizAv notes, there could be some significant details to overcome before the deal, the air-taxi company and the industry can launch with Adam jets. Although Adam has the undisputed lead in the mini-jet race by virtue of the fact that it actually has one in the air, the plane paraded at air shows and on a publicity tour earlier this year is not a production model. In fact, certification is in its infancy for the aircraft, which has about 150 hours on it. Adam has said the fact that the A700 is based on the A500 piston twin should speed certification, but the A500 isn't certified yet and, regardless of the shared fuselage and other components, there are some major differences between a push/pull prop aircraft and a twinjet.
The fix identified in two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking would have required the $70,000-plus addition of a spar strap to all affected Cessna 400-series twin aircraft. Now, the potential ADs that might have resulted in the grounding of a lot of aircraft have been withdrawn -- but that doesn't mean they've been cancelled. Bob Vila, president of the Cessna Twins Spar Corporation (no, the company name is not a coincidence) told AVweb the FAA, perhaps under the pressure of public outcry, is simply looking at other (hopefully less-expensive) options to fix the pesky problem affecting the main spars on the twins. The NPRMs put a lot of owners in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether their planes were worth that kind of investment. Although it's not clear where the process will go from here, a meeting tentatively planned for sometime in August is still slated to go ahead. That meeting (the exact time and place are not finalized) is a follow-up to a meeting held in Washington earlier this year between owners and the FAA.
DIAMOND AIRCRAFT ANNOUNCES DIAMONDFEST 2004
It's (almost) being used as one anyway, but the Mojave Airport in California is close to getting government approval to become the first private spaceport. SPACE.com reports that the Mojave Airport Civilian Flight Test Center will be certified as a non-federal spaceport to handle horizontal launches of reusable spacecraft -- specifically, like Scaled Composites' hen-and-chick creation that reached an altitude of 40 miles after taking off from Mojave about 10 days ago. SpaceShipOne (the aforementioned "chick"), which launches from the mother ship White Knight (the hen), is the odds-on favorite to win the $10 million X-PRIZE for development of a reusable spacecraft without government funding, but Scaled's team isn't Mojave's only tenant harboring celestial ambitions. XCOR Aerospace is also working on a space program (and has publicly demonstrated its rocket engine on a Long EZ fuselage), as are Orbital Sciences Corporation and Interorbital Systems. Mojave Airport Manager Stuart Witt said there are no issues to be settled in the licensing process and he expects the certificate soon. What happens after that has him even more excited. "I think it's going to be a wild ride the next 20 years as this industry emerges," he told SPACE.com.
There's big trouble ahead for the FAA if it doesn't get a handle on its out-of-control budgets and terrible record on technology acquisition, and time is running out, according to a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO). But even the GAO is apparently out of ideas on how the agency should reinvent itself, because it made no recommendations in the scathing indictment of the FAA's looming crisis. Rather, it urges the FAA to become a "high performing organization" to address the increased demands on its services and the funding crunch that affects all arms of government. The GAO does, however, list four fundamental qualities of such organizations. According to the GAO, a high-performing organization has "a clear, well articulated and compelling mission, strategic use of partnerships, focus on the needs of clients and customers and strategic management of people." It notes that the FAA appears to be moving in these directions through the creation of its Air Traffic Organization (ATO), which is supposed to be more performance-based and results-oriented. However, it also remarks that the ATO process is just underway and there is already mounting pressure on the system as the aviation industry rebounds from a three-year slump.
DAD COULD BE THE WINNER OF A NEW PIPER FOR A TWO-WEEK GREEK ISLES TOUR
While one arm of the government worries about how the FAA will cope with the existing air traffic load, another is spending $360 million to figure out how to squeeze scores of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the mix. NASA, along with five companies that make remotely piloted and robotic aircraft, are undertaking a five-year study aimed at putting unmanned aircraft on the same airways and at the same altitudes as conventional planes so they can take on jobs like forest-fire surveillance, relaying communications and keeping watch on hurricanes. "The fundamental tenet is to preserve the safety of the airspace," said NASA project manager Jeff Bauer. Although unmanned aerial vehicles have flown outside of military and other restricted airspace, they've always been tightly controlled. Integration into regular airspace will be gradual, focusing first on flights above 40,000 feet but eventually involving operations as low as 18,000 feet. The ultimate goal is the kind of "file and fly" flexibility now enjoyed by planes with people on board. The study findings will be turned over the FAA, which has the final say on who or what flies where.
For those who missed its first run, Charlie Victor Romeo is returning to off-Broadway. The controversial and compelling play, which uses the final few minutes of cockpit voice recorder (CVR) conversations from crashing airplanes as its dialogue, has been revived and it may be even more poignant now. The show's initial run in New York ended before 9/11; it toured thereafter and served up some stark reality for the audiences, including AVweb's Pete Yost , who saw it in the tiny Collective Unconscious theater on New York's Lower East Side. The show, which resumed Wednesday at P.S. 122 in New York, begins with actors dressed as flight attendants going through the familiar safety and security routines on board airliners. What follows is a progression of in-flight emergencies in which transcripts from the CVR tapes tell the stories of horror, bravery and death in airplanes. Realistic sound and lighting complete the stories. Playbill says audiences usually left the play "shaken and silent."
OREGON AERO PRODUCTS PERFECT FOR FATHER'S DAY
French authorities may demolish the new terminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport after a portion of the futuristic structure collapsed, killing four people. A 100-foot section of the roof fell in Sunday and more cracking noises were heard on Monday...
The new Eurofighter Typhoon is riddled with problems and should only be flown by two pilots in nothing but ideal conditions, says a British military report. Many of the on-board systems are prone to failure and some could cause loss of the aircraft...
Global warming could make for an interesting flight to some islands. According to some sources, as the polar ice caps melt, the ocean level is rising and it's been enough to flood runways on at least one island. Check NOTAMs...
Seattle-Tacoma's new $60 million tower might be too tall and too close to a runway according to a report on a local TV station. However, the FAA says it can fix the problems by modifying the approaches to the airport...
Air New Zealand and Qantas want answers from Indonesia after two planes almost collided over the Pacific country. The airliners' on-board collision avoidance gear prevented a crash but not until they came within 2500 feet horizontally and 400 feet vertically of each other.
Say Again? #37: VFR In A Vacuum
Have you been turned down lately when you asked ATC for VFR advisories? Expect it to happen more and more often, especially when you and other pilots don't file a correct flight plan or use the proper phraseology. AVweb's Don Brown points out how the impending controller shortage will reduce the additional services ATC can provide.
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Last week, AVweb asked readers what will happen when (and if) we finally run out of 100LL. As you might guess, our readership isn't exactly hoarding avgas 155 of you (36% of respondents) say that, with over a quarter million engines depending on it, 100LL isn't going away anytime soon. Another 144 of you (34%) are ready to switch to a Jet A engine or other alternative. "No big deal," you tell us. 64 of you said that the Honda engine would surely rise to prominence in a World Without 100LL, and 18 resourceful participants (4%) said AOPA should think about opening a refinery ... .
In July of 2001, the words of a controller may have directed a Russian passenger jet into the path of a DHL 757. The results were fatal. Two weeks ago, a PA-44-180 impacted ridge after complying with an ATC instruction to descend to an altitude below the ridgeline, according to an NTSB report.
How often do you invoke your discretion to defer the suggestion of a controller in the interest of your own safety? Click here to share your opinion.
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NEW BACKCOUNTRY REPORT ON AVIAT'S NEW PUP & WHERE IT CAN TAKE YOU
Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions
Current POTW Winner | Past POTW Winners
All right, we confess: We were beginning to worry about the slowdown in reader-submitted "Picture of the Week" entries. But, thankfully, our worries were unfounded AVweb readers turned out in force this week, with dozens of great new "POTW" contenders. The Golden Age of Reader-Submitted Photos is back! Don Laffranchi Jr. leads the pack this week, with a WWII-era winning photo that's sure to bring a tear to your eye. We won't be sending Don a recommissioned P-38 but we do have the next best thing, an official AVweb logo baseball cap. To add one of these spiffy hats to your wardrobe, make with the clicky and send us your "POTW" contenders!
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"What a Waste"
Don Laffranchi Jr. of McKinleyville, California sends us this week's winning photo,
brought out of Europe by his grandfather at the end of WWII, showing "at least 13 brand-new
P-38s ... that were 'de-milled.' ... Brand new!," laments Laffranchi. "I think I'm going to throw up!"
(Ahem. National governments should note that AVweb is always open to receiving P-38 donations.)
here to view a large version of this image
Click here for a medium-sized version
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 larger versions.
"Ready for Take-Off from Tampa General Hospital"
Nancy Lessard of Orlando, Florida sends us this dyamic
shot of a hospital helicopter taken earlier this week
"CH46 Hover Barge Tow"
Bradley Calhoun of Anchorage, Alaska sends us this photo from the '70s,
taken during the construction of the TransAlaska oil pipeline
To enter next week's contest, click here.
A Reminder About Copyrights: Please take a moment to consider the source of your image before submitting to our "Picture of the Week" contest. If you did not take the photo yourself, ask yourself if you are indeed authorized to release publication rights to AVweb. If you're uncertain, consult the POTW Rules or send us an e-mail.
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Terrific Ideas for Father's Day at
AVWEB'S SHOPPING GUIDE
WINGX FOR THE POCKET PC NOW HAS OVER 270 AIRCRAFT MODELS!
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CALCULATE OPERATING COSTS WITH THE INTERACTIVE AIRCRAFT BUDGET ANALYZER
AirPower Software offers multiple software editions that create instant budgets by manipulating your preloaded information to address particular usage amounts and/or costs. In addition to preloaded aircraft databases, the Budget Analyzer lets you create individualized budgets via the "My Aircraft" selection, allowing you to input operating numbers for any type of aircraft. There are six editions: Lite (no databases); Piston; Turbo Prop; Helicopter; Jet; and Full (includes all four databases). Instant downloads are available on all software products. For complete information, go to http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/airpower/avflash.
LET YOUR FAMILY KNOW WHEN YOU'LL BE LANDING
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SOFT LEATHER HOLDS YOUR IDENTIFICATION IN STYLE!
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FLYING CARPET: THE SOUL OF AN AIRPLANE BY NOTED AUTHOR GREG BROWN
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FLYING MAGAZINE'S JUNE ISSUE IS TYPICAL "FLYING"
Starting with the new Cessna Citation XLS on the cover, Flying magazine's June issue covers articles on: That approach to landing; a look at Piper's new 6X and Saratoga with Avidyne's FlightMax Entegra glass cockpit; fractional ownership; and columns written by aviation's top journalists. Order your personal subscription (with AVweb special prices!) at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/flying/avflash.
REMINDER ... Specials Ending May 31
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GIVE DAD SOMETHING TO TICKLE HIS FUNNY BONE & SHOW HIS LOVE OF FLYING
For Father's Day, the Carprop is perfect! The Carprop is a free-spinning propeller mounted on the front of a vehicle to indicate the driver's enthusiasm for flying. As the vehicle moves, the propeller spins but when parked, the propeller goes horizontal so it doesn't interfere with the license plate numbers. For the pilot or enthusiast who has everything, the Carprop is perfect! MAY SPECIAL: Complimentary sunglasses with any order placed online at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/carprop/avflash.
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