June 13, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Pilot error has been ruled out and now the people who try to keep Washington, D.C., safe from terrorism will figure out among themselves what led them to scramble fighters and evacuate the Capitol last Wednesday for an airplane that never strayed an inch from its approved (and very well-documented) flight path. The King Air 200 carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (a former fighter pilot) had a waiver to take Fletcher into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport so the governor could attend a memorial for the airport's late namesake. But before it landed, its arrival caused panic (see AVweb's prior coverage") ... perhaps an appropriate reaction to police officers at the Capitol building shouting, "one minute to impact." The pseudo drama began with a balky transponder that quit working shortly after the King Air left Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport early Wednesday afternoon. Following the regulations for such an occurrence, the pilots of the Kentucky State Police aircraft notified air traffic control and maintained contact throughout the flight. "They followed directions from air traffic controllers explicitly," said Doug Hogan, Fletcher's communication's director.
GA flights have been banned into Reagan National since 9/11 but Fletcher's flight managed to attain a waiver. Fletcher's communication's director (Hogan) speculated that despite the special circumstances of the flight and despite the failed transponder, ATC staff simply didn't tell anyone on the ground in Washington that the governor was on his way. "It would appear the air traffic controllers did not notify any of the other agencies about the situation," Hogan told the Associated Press. FAA spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb the FAA, along with other agencies involved in the security of Washington, D.C., will meet to discuss where the system broke down. Martin stressed the pilots were in no way to blame. "The pilots on the flight were by the book," he said. "The pilots did everything they were supposed to do; they had all the proper waivers and clearances." Martin noted that when faced with what appeared to be an "unidentified aircraft," those in charge of security of the Capitol (perhaps looking at radar screens but lacking information of the faulty transponder previously reported to ATC) had "to make decisions in a very compressed time frame" and they would naturally "err on the side of caution." Although there were no reports of injuries in the evacuations, there might be some missing women's shoes. (Women dressed for the memorial, rather than a track event, were told to ditch their high heels so they could run faster.)
The positive side of all of this (depending, of course, on your viewpoint) is that Fletcher might end up with a new airplane. His King Air is a 1973 model, military surplus and the oldest of its type still flying, according to state officials who've been angling to replace it with something newer. This is the third time the transponder has failed (techs couldn't find anything wrong with it when it was previously snagged). The steering mechanism in the nose gear also failed earlier this year, causing the plane to veer off a runway. Now the Kentucky media has begun comparing their governor's ride with those of his neighboring counterparts. Apparently most nearby governors use King Airs but the oldest is Ohio's, which was built in 1980. The state police did put replacing the airplane as their tenth priority (out of 22 items) for major capital expenses in the last budget but it was never acted on. Wednesday's incident might move the replacement request up a notch or two, however. "This aircraft is safe, but the fact [is] it's old and it's time we looked more seriously at getting a more safe and reliable aircraft for our governor," Hogan said.
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Remember when a kitplane was a piece of irrigation pipe and some Dacron? Well, now you can clear out the garage and put together a race-bred airplane from the folks who brought you the Nemesis F-1 racer (47 victories in 50 starts, 16 world speed records). The crew has translated their racing design into the NXT, a two-place speedster that will have its official unveiling at EAA AirVenture in late July. Designers and builders Jon and Patricia Sharp say the first of the kit-derived aircraft is ready for flight-testing and they hope to have it flying at Oshkosh. Others hope (some with good reason) that the aircraft will eventually run better than 350 mph at 20,000 feet. With computer-finessed aerodynamics, a 2200-pound all-up gross (including 500 pounds of fuel) and a Lycoming 540 up front, the NXT may be the hottest homebuilt available. The Sharps are being coy about performance data, saying they want to state the real figures and not computer projections. They were a little less shy about such predictions a couple of years ago, however, when, according to their Web site, they figured the little composite taildragger would hit 400 mph at 20,000 feet. That was with a similarly husky Continental 550 howling under the cowl. Lycoming has since become a Nemesis sponsor. There's a price for all that quickness. The kit will sell for $129,000 and the engine, prop and electronics will put it over $200,000.
For those who want speed but would prefer others to sniff the resin fumes, Lancair Certified gained certification for its turbocharged Columbia 400 at Sun 'n Fun and customer deliveries began a short time later. The first to fly away was Paul Duckett, a Missouri resident who put his deposit down in 1998. "Paul has been an incredibly patient man waiting for his airplane," said Lancair President Bing Lantis. Now, the 400 won't likely challenge the NXT in any race but it's no slouch, either. A Lancair 400 "pilot report" has been posted to the Lancair Owners and Pilots Association Web site, here. For Duckett's part, he decided (at 202 KTAS) not to push his new baby too hard on the trip home. He settled on 17,500 feet, a conservative 25 inches of manifold pressure and 2500 rpm, which translates to economy cruise (65 percent). That still got him 202 KTAS and a ground speed of 242 knots. If he'd slapped the ponies a little harder to 85 percent, Lancair figures he would have gotten home a fair bit sooner by increasing his speed to 220 KTAS, which would have nudged 300 mph in groundspeed. Lancair insists that new owners take a three-day training session before they take the high-performance plane away.
STAY AHEAD OF THE "PLAIN" FOR FATHER'S DAY
It took New Piper about two weeks to find and repair a total of 49 aircraft that contained parts made from a faulty lot of heat-treated steel. Spokesman Mark Miller told AVweb on Thursday that the last of the bad parts had been replaced earlier that day and the entire fleet was again fit to fly. Meanwhile, there's no evidence the steel, which came from Certified Steel Treating in Los Angeles, made it into any other aircraft. Raytheon spokesman Tim Travis told AVweb it doesn't use the LA company and Cessna spokeswoman Jessica Myers said her company didn't use any of the steel, either. The steel in question was "normalized" a heat-treating process that makes the steel resistant to cracking from vibration. It was ordered from Wilco Inc. in Wichita but the heat treating was contracted to the LA company. The FAA continues to investigate the source and distribution of the material.
The FAA took a step in the direction of satellite-based navigation last week when it allowed some airliners to use their GPSs to find their way across the country instead of flying routes defined by ground-based radio aids. Seven air route traffic control centers began accepting point-to-point air navigation flight plans for airliners using the high-level airways. By getting the high-level traffic off the increasingly crowded airways, the new system will allow pilots a lot more flexibility in avoiding weather and resolving potential conflicts and will also open up more potential routes. According to Government Computer News, the new system lays out a grid of waypoints that pilots can use to plan a route. "By laying out a grid and providing way points, you're essentially freeing the pilot to fly satellite-based area navigation or RNAV," FAA spokesman John Timmerman said in a report for the FAA's Web site. At first, only the highest flight levels will be used for the airspace reorganization but it will gradually migrate to the lower altitudes "as technology allows."
FLIGHT INTERNATIONAL DIGITAL IT'S NEW, AND IT'S AVAILABLE NOW!
If, like many pilots, you use a cellphone for FSS briefings when you do any cross-country flying, you should download this list and put it in your flight bag. As handy as they are, cellphones have some unique limitations that make them a pain to use with telephone features that were originally designed for the landline system. The universal FSS 800 number (1-800-WX-BRIEF) is one of those anomalies and may land you in the hands of a briefer in New York when you're calling from San Diego. (Not that we'd know anything about that.) The problem is that when you call 800-WX-BRIEF from a landline, the area code of the phone you're using automatically routes the call to the nearest FSS. So, if you're in South Dakota, you'll get Grand Forks FSS. But your cellphone emits your "home" area code no matter where you're calling from so you'll always get the FSS nearest your home airport when you use the universal number. Each FSS has its own toll-free number and you can always phone the correct one for your circumstances by using the aforementioned list (or by using a land line).
The NTSB is suggesting the FAA review its standards for color blindness in light of its investigation into the crash of a FedEx Boeing 727 in Florida in 2002. The NTSB found that the flying pilot, the first officer, had a color-vision deficiency that made it hard for him to tell the difference between the red and white lights on the Precision Approach Pathway Indicator (PAPI) system at Tallahassee Airport. The plane ended up clipping trees on approach. The first officer had an FAA waiver for his color blindness and now the NTSB wants the agency to revisit its policy on such waivers. The NTSB is recommending the FAA conduct research into the effectiveness of its current color-vision tests to see if they do the job of keeping people out of the cockpit who might not be able to discern the color cues that convey sometimes-vital flight information. The board also suggests the research look into the effects of mild hypoxia and the time it takes to react to color cues during emergency situations. Once the results of the research are in, the NTSB wants the FAA to test all first- and second-class medical applicants at least once to ensure that those with color-related impairment that could cause problems during flight don't get certificated without limitations.
CPA MEMBERSHIP IS THE BEST $45 YOU CAN SPEND ON YOUR CESSNA!
Flying to EAA AirVenture is always an interesting experience but it's more fun with friends. The "mass arrival" pioneered by Bonanza owners in 1990 has now spread to (at least) three other type clubs. About 80 Bonanzas are expected to arrive about 3 p.m. on July 25, while 42 Mooneys will land at 4:40 p.m. Up to 30 Piper Comanches are scheduled for 11 a.m. on the 25th and a similar contingent of Stinsons will come in on Monday the 26th at 11 a.m. The mass landings have been in the planning works for months now but it might still be possible join in. All of the groups meet the day before their flight at an airport close to Oshkosh and enjoy a social evening. The Mooney group has limited participation to 42 aircraft for safety reasons. The FAA has also published mass-arrival procedures for the Bonanza group.
In the third instance of its type so far this year (just off the top of our heads), a man has committed suicide by jumping out of an aircraft. Last Thursday, an unidentified man leapt out of a sightseeing helicopter in the Grand Canyon. The pilot tried to stop him but the determined man got out of the chopper and fell to his death in rugged terrain near White's Butte, about 90 miles northwest of Flagstaff, Ariz. There were four other passengers on board the Papillon Airways helicopter. No names were released. Last March 25, near Manhattan, Kan., a man jumped out of a Cessna 172. A few weeks later, in San Diego, a man who had been recently diagnosed with brain cancer jumped from a Stearman biplane that was on final approach.
LONGER DAYS AND WARMER WEATHER MEAN IT'S TIME TO GO FLYING!
The NTSB says it's analyzing the composition of red smears found on the fuselage of a Cessna Caravan that crashed mysteriously in Alabama in 2002. The red marks have become the focus of urban legend-type speculation on the cause of the crash. Some think the Mid Atlantic Freight plane hit a drug runner, others say a military drone was to blame and the theories escalate to meteor strikes, aliens and beyond. The NTSB is, however, conducting a more down-to-earth examination of about 20 items in the wreckage that might have caused the mysterious red marks. The NTSB reopened the investigation earlier this year and has done a substantial reconstruction of the aircraft from the wreckage. It found 34 red "transfer marks" but it also noted that the marks "exhibited a random, smearing or rubbing pattern, rather than a unidirectional and/or penetrating pattern" that would indicate a collision. It also found the source of a mysterious piece of black debris imbedded in a wing that set the rumor mill abuzz. It came from an electrical dimmer light assembly on the aircraft.
If this keeps up, the float planes will be front and center at this year's Air Venture. A spell of heavy rain at Wittman Regional Airport has flooded runways and inundated the show grounds that will teem with people and airplanes in about six weeks. AVweb reader Eric Whyte reports that flooding closed the runways late last week. Come have a look at the nice photos he took of "Whitewater Road" and "Lake Pioneer." Should be nice and green for the big show...
PILOT GETAWAYS & KCAL 9 SHARE THE THRILL OF FLYING
What's the difference between an F-14 and a paraglider? We came across a flight comparison with some illuminating and amusing observations from someone who flies both...
Robb Report has named the Diamond DA42 TwinStar the "best of the best" personal aircraft for this year. The TwinStar, which boasts some pretty impressive fuel economy and performance figures thanks to its two Thielert diesel engines, was certified in Europe a couple of months ago...
We hadn't heard that Cirrus had entered the personal jet market but the people of Shanghai, China, either don't know or don't care about the difference between an SR22 and a jet. The Shanghai Daily reports that a local citizen is taking delivery of his second "private jet" but identifies it as the piston single from Duluth...
If your next airline flight seems just a little more interminable than usual it might be because the pilot is trying to save gas. United Air Lines has discovered that backing off on the throttle a little (from 530 mph to 516 mph) saves fuel and doesn't screw up the schedule...
A Canadian bush pilot is credited with saving the life of a passenger after the plane flipped on a river near Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories. Pilot Phil Dorais dove into the icy water to free passenger Frank Holman. Two other passengers died.
If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Drop us a line. Submit news tips via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOIN PLANE & PILOT MAGAZINE FOR A WEEKEND OF FLYING FUN & EDUCATION!
The Pilot's Lounge #75: Preflight? Who Cares?
Recent AVweb columns have brought the question to the fore: Should a pilot perform a detailed preflight inspection, or is there such a thing as too much information? AVweb's Rick Durden has a thorough conversation about it this month in The Pilot's Lounge.
Reader mail this week about shooting down drug smugglers, scrambling fighters for a governor, fire-fighting tankers, a pilot's dog and much more.
LET YOUR FAMILY KNOW WHEN YOU'LL BE HOME
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Pilatus: Tower, we think we just hit Rocky the Squirrel half way down the runway.
Tower: I thought I saw a pink mist down there. Is your plane OK?
Pilatus: Seems we're fine, but its not been a good day for Rocky.
Tower: Let's just hope Bullwinkle doesn't come looking...
(10 minutes later)
Airport 1: Taxi 31 for squirrel removal.
Unknown voice: Do you have an approved squirrel cage for that squirrel?
Airport 1: Uh... I'm afraid this is more of a shovel operation.
Tower: Cherokee ###, extend downwind. We're scraping up the squirrel.
AVflash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest aviation news, articles, products, features and events featured on AVweb, the Internet's Aviation Magazine and News Service. http://www.avweb.com
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