September 29, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
AIRCRAFT SPRUCE PUTS THEIR NAME ON TWO NEW AVIATION HEADSETS
The Paul Allen funded, Burt Rutan designed Ansari X Prize inspired SpaceShipOne burned rubber (quite literally -- as a major component of its fuel) and scrolled through mach numbers most of the way toward an apogee of roughly 337,500 feet over Mojave, CA -- the altitude yesterday quoted by on-location X Prize judge Gregg Maryniak. As with June's public launch, the flight might not be described by anyone as passenger-soothing smooth, and again, both pilot and craft returned safely and with questions to answer. Mike Melvill (plus ballast equivalent to two passengers) piloted yesterday's flight and set the clock running on the launch window for a second -- to be flown no later than Wednesday, October 13, at 8:34:04 a.m. in order to win the X Prize payoff of $10 million. Yesterday's privately funded jaunt into space wasn't without drama. While flying straight up and reaching the end of the rocket's burn, Melvill (and craft) entered a series of oscillating rolls that peaked near 180-degrees per second (and had nothing to do with the earthquake felt on the ground during the flight). The motion itself may have seemed to many incongruous with Melvill's post-landing comment, "I was very pleased with how the vehicle behaved." Rutan indicated that his team would provide notification of intent regarding a subsequent flight by afternoon, today (Thursday).
Shortly after witnessing the rolls via video feed, AVweb asked Dick Rutan (Burt's brother) for his thoughts. "Well, his trajectory was 'up' so he made the altitude," Rutan said. Then he paused, looked away, looked back, said, "OK," and left. As he did, another member of the press offered, "it looked like a missile out of control." And while that perception may or may not prove positive among potential patrons of space tourism, SpaceShipOne is a technology demonstrator, not a production prototype. The cause of the roll anomaly was not readily apparent to Scaled Composite's crew upon inspection of the aircraft, but "when we know what it is we'll tell everyone," said designer, Burt Rutan. Structurally, the aircraft itself was said to be an engine change short of ready to fly, which is "normal."
Note: AVweb's coverage includes an image gallery.
Without an early explanation for the roll during yesterday's flight, the general message offered by the team was that Melvill felt he had the control authority necessary to counter the movement. Data showed the roll had dampened itself from 180 to 140-degrees per second prior to Melvill's application of corrective control inputs. Tonight the team will look at wind shear, thrust, pilot inputs and other factors in search of a causal factor or chain. A roll suffered during the team's very public June flight was traced to wind shear and pilot induced oscilations. But Rutan yesterday told media that the roll phenomenon has been consistent in the simulator, too. He also said the aircraft's performance has revealed at least one trait worthy of correction -- too much dihedral effect. Side loads, Rutan said, (such as those imposed by wind shear) cause the aircraft to roll. The problem may be built out of future craft, but has proven difficult to correct in the already-built SpaceShipOne.
Still, Rutan stated that preliminary inspection of the data from yesterday's flight did not suggest wind shear components would have induced loads likely to produce the aircraft's observed behavior during Wednesday's flight. Melvill was quick to suggest that an errant foot to rudder could have been the cause, but was similarly not convinced he was the culprit. "Probably, I stepped on something ... I don't think so, but I've been wrong before." Whatever the cause, the roll did provoke mission control to recommend that Melvill shut down the rocket, which he did seconds later. "I could have gone to 360,000 feet today," said Melvill. Burt Rutan added, "We had performance to beat the X-15's altitude record today, but we recommended Mike shut down due to the excessive roll rates."
Wednesday's flight was used as the launch pad for an even more ambitious private space race. Hotel chain owner Robert Bigelow is sponsoring a $50 million prize to the first team to put into orbit a private spacecraft carrying five to seven people. Published reports say Bigelow will put up at least half the money himself in an attempt to develop vehicles that can dock with a new inflatable space station he's developing near Las Vegas. NASA is reportedly helping out in the development of the space station. Bigelow's announcement ran along side news of a collaboration between Virgin Airways founder Sir Richard Branson and the SpaceShipOne creators for a new commercial space venture. Two days before yesterday's launch, Branson announced the creation of Virgin Galactic, a company that plans to build five SpaceShipOne-inspired ships to start routine space tourism flights. Branson said he's been thinking about the concept for 10 years but the Paul Allen/Scaled Concepts project cracked the technological barriers. American Mojave Aerospace Ventures ships would carry up to five passengers on suborbital flights, but Branson said orbital flights and establishing a space hotel are also on his mind. He hopes to have the first paying customers (at about $200,000 each ... start you bake sales, now) on suborbital flights within three years. Rutan said the first two commercial passengers would be himself and Branson. Also in the works is an annual X Prize Cup event and ... a reality television show.
Whether regulatory agencies can keep up to the light-speed pace of commercial space development is another question. In a statement that may have the Wright Brothers rolling over in their graves, FAA spokesman Hank Price told AVweb that his agency needs Congress to give it the authority to regulate passenger flights to space but that appropriate legislation doesn't exist yet. A bill to regulate passenger flights has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is before the Senate but there's no word on how long it might take to become law. Price said the intent of the proposed law is to ensure that those taking the flights assume all the risk themselves. Price likened space flight to other hazardous activities like mountain-climbing, where individuals are permitted to pursue their passion in the face of recognized danger as long as they are fully aware of the risks and accept them. He said the test flights currently underway are within the FAA's existing mandate because functioning crew members are considered a "critical flight safety system." No word was available on how the FAA may view passengers.
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If they handed out awards for sheer resilience in the face of adversity, The New Piper Aircraft Inc. would have to be considered a leading candidate. After weathering all sorts of business challenges (some not of its own making, i.e., the Lycoming crankshaft debacle) the company now finds itself in a pitched battle with Mother Nature. Sixteen days after Hurricane Frances damaged production facilities and effectively shut the company down, Hurricane Jeanne scored a direct hit on the Vero Beach company last weekend, likely postponing the planned resumption of production by another two weeks. "We're continuing to deliver airplanes and ship parts," said spokesman Mark Miller. The company had just recalled about half of its 1,000 workers on Friday to get ready to start building airplanes again when Jeanne slammed in. "Jeanne hit pretty much where Frances hit," Miller said. He said it's the first time he's aware of that any aircraft company has been hit by two hurricanes in the same year and said support from suppliers, customers, dealers and governments has been terrific.
The two-week postponement on the resumption of production has more to do with cleaning up than it does with any actual damage to the facilities. Miller said that in the aftermath of Frances, production facilities were being moved out of damaged buildings and into those that had survived the first hurricane. Turns out they stood up to Jeanne just as well and not a single airplane or component was damaged. "We're clearing up lots of debris, though," said Miller. At least the recent hurricanes do not appear to have had the kind of impact the company's predecessor suffered in 1972, when floodwaters invaded Piper's Lock Haven, Penn., plant. Miller said there are now about 150 Piper employees back on the job cleaning up the mess and getting ready for production. "We continue to recover and rebuild as quickly as we can," he said. And they'll have help: The Cherokee Pilots Association has started a grass-roots effort to assist Piper employees. The group told AVweb this week that it had collected more than $2,500 in less than 72 hours. The association's plan is to cap its efforts with a benefit fly-in BBQ at the Vero Beach plant on Nov. 14, 2004, when it plans to present the funds to New Piper President Chuck Suma for distribution to the employees.
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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is accusing the FAA of forcing potentially medically unfit controllers to work traffic at the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center. But the FAA says the charge is nonsense and typical of the union's over-the-top indictment of normal procedures at the agency. Pat Forrey, NATCA's vice president for the Great Lakes Region, said in a news release that three controllers flunked hearing tests and were told they needed to be retested (at their own expense) by an independent audiologist to maintain their medical certification. In the meantime, they were to keep working because, the union says, staffing levels are so low that the agency couldn't afford to lose them. "In this case, the FAA dropped the ball, put safety at risk and exposed itself as an agency in utter disarray," said Forrey. FAA chief spokesman Greg Martin said the union is misrepresenting the situation and noted the current collective agreement addresses this sort of scenario. Martin added that it's relatively common "to get some variations on the hearing test" and that's why the agency allows for retesting. Although Forrey said in his news release that requiring controllers to pay for the second test themselves was "an unprecedented move," Martin said it's actually part of the current contract. Martin said it's also normal to allow controllers to keep working while the second test is being arranged. "There's no reason to put their medical certification at risk when (the test results) can be easily explained," he said. In the NATCA news release, Forrey said he expects the controllers' medical fitness to be restored with the second set of hearing tests.
If you think of Citations, Hawkers and Challengers when you think of fractional ownership, it's time to think again. A fractional ownership program is coming to the far opposite end of the aviation spectrum as LetsFly.org puts together quarter-share ownership arrangements for three types of Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA): the Zenith 601, Zenith 701 and the Zephyr. "There is no other way someone can fly less expensively than this," said LetsFly.org CEO Eldon Corry. For as little as $900 up front, one can be in the pilot's seat of an airplane he or she could eventually own. LetsFly.org offers two basic programs. Under the $900 plan, the up-front contribution mainly covers insurance and allows the pilot to access the aircraft at a dry rental rate of up to $50 an hour depending on the type of aircraft flown. Half of that rental fee goes into a purchase account to start paying off the cost of the quarter share. For $2,900, the pilot takes ownership of the quarter share and pays off the balance through a private loan. The full quarter-share price is expected to be less than $25,000. The company already runs similar programs using Tiger and Alarus certified aircraft through 60 flight center distributors and expects a lot of interest in the LSA option.
LOOK TO THE PIEDMONT HAWTHORNE AIRCRAFT SALES TEAM WHEN YOURE BUYING or SELLING YOUR NEXT AIRCRAFT
Four people were injured in the crash of a Ford Tri-Motor replica at an air show in Fullerton, Calif., last Saturday. The Bushmaster 2000, a replica of the famed 1920s airliner, had just lifted off from the Fullerton Municipal Airport when it began an apparently uncontrollable left turn. Published images show it arcing over the crowd before barely missing the ATC tower and crashing onto a street. The pilot, Jay Yoshinaga, 45, of Gardena, Calif., was in fair condition and passenger Anthony Albanese, 46, of Brea, was in critical condition at last report. Reportedly, the plane was being flown on a post-maintenance test flight. Two women in a car hit by the plane suffered only minor injuries. Rebecca Perez, 56, was driving her 32-year-old daughter Valerie Perez to a doctor's appointment when the plane sideswiped their Hyundai. "There was this real loud bang and air bag going off, crashing noise and ... it stopped my car," Rebecca Perez told the Monterey Herald. The NTSB is investigating.
The Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) is coming to even the farthest-flung (and most difficult to navigate) reaches of Canada, thanks to a deal between the FAA and Nav Canada, the private company that runs Canada's civil air navigation system. Nav Canada will build four ground stations (Winnipeg, Goose Bay, Gander and Iqualuit) to refine GPS signals and give a seven-foot lateral and vertical error margin on GPS approaches to airports without standard ILS systems. The greater accuracy WAAS provides will reduce the current GPS approach minimums from up to 165 meters to 75 meters. Minimums for standard ILS systems remain at 60 meters. "We welcome this new collaborative agreement with the FAA, which promises to deliver significant benefits to our customers through increased accessibility to many airports," said John Crichton, Nav Canada's CEO.
IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SURF THE NET, IT CAN RECEIVE AVIATION WEATHER
General aviation's contribution to the effort to ease congestion at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is, as was feared, the reinstatement of slot limitations and reservations. Although a new rule has not been published (we couldn't find it as of Wednesday), the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) says that as of Nov. 1 only four GA operations per hour will be permitted at O'Hare between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The NBAA says the decision was reached at a meeting last Friday between the FAA and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. In an earlier press release, NBAA President Ed Bolen tied the decision directly to the sudden closure of Meigs Field 18 months ago. "Since the overnight destruction of Chicago's Meigs Field (CGX) in 2003, more than 20,000 annual aircraft operations were forced to utilize Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) and O'Hare, the two next closest airports to downtown Chicago," the NBAA said. "This is a classic example of where local decisions at one airport affect other airports in the system," added Bolen. "This should be a wake-up call -- the aviation industry and government entities must look at airport access on a regional and national level, not just on an individual airport level. One obvious solution is to invest more heavily in the reliever airport system." The NBAA expects only a brief comment period after the rule is published and is urging members to comment. It claims GA interests were not consulted in the decision to reinstate the reservation system.
In what appears to be some backyard tinkering gone mad, a New Zealander who claims to have designed a workable cruise missile for $5,000 (about $3,500 U.S.) is now offering his services to the highest bidder. Bruce Simpson attracted a lot of attention last year when he said he could build a jet-powered, stealthy cruise missile that could carry a 22-pound payload 100 miles to within 100 meters of its target. What's more, it would be built out of off-the-shelf items and "using techniques that can be used in any suburban garage without raising suspicion or curiosity of neighbors," according to his Web site. Well, his tinkering caught the attention of the New Zealand government, who put him out of the cruise missile business and forced him underground. The embittered Simpson, who claims to have lost his home and livelihood to the government's actions, is offering to design a cruise missile, unmanned aerial vehicle or rocket-propelled vehicle for anyone outside New Zealand who's willing to pay him a decent wage and give him and his family a place to live. "Whether you're a very small nation looking to extend its military capabilities while perhaps creating a highly profitable export industry, or an entrepreneur seeking to enter the massive market low-cost UAVs, RPVs and other pilotless vehicles, or whether you just want a single missile to mount on your SUV as a roof ornament -- I'm your man," he writes. However, he claims he won't knowingly build the hardware for anyone planning a terrorist act.
ATTENTION, RENTER PILOTS! DON'T BE MISLEAD BY COMPETITORS' ADVERTISING!
AOPA has asked the TSA to suspend the Oct. 20 compliance date of its new rule regarding background checks on foreign student pilots. AOPA says it's too much to ask for pilots and businesses to adapt to the new rule, particularly since there are questions about its impact on U.S. citizens...
Cape Girardeau Airport in Missouri will be closed from Oct. 31 to Nov. 10 to allow for construction work. Local officials had hoped to keep 2,400 feet of one runway open for small aircraft but it would have added $100,000 to the cost of the FAA-funded project and the agency said it couldn't be justified...
The Southwest Regional Fly-In will expand to three days in 2005. Organizers have also added an air show on Sunday to the growing event. The fly-in will be held May 13-15 but a site hasn't been announced yet.
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The Savvy Aviator #10: Mechanicals On The Road
Nothing is more exasperating to an aircraft owner than encountering a mechanical problem while far from home base. AVweb's Mike Busch offers some tips for dealing with such problems, and preparing for them ahead of time.
Why We Fly
A few weeks ago, AVweb asked (as our Question of the Week), "Why Do You Fly?" One reader chose to respond by sending the following extended answer, and we thought it was too good to keep to ourselves.
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*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne made another successful launch into the upper atmosphere on Wednesday morning the first of three attempts at winning the Ansari X-Prize. Does SpaceShipOne have the competition sewn up, or is there still a chance for a dramatic turn of events? Click here to register your opinion.
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PILOT GETAWAYS IS JUST WHAT THE NAME SAYS ...
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Current POTW Winner | Past POTW Winners
Hey, is everyone feeling all right? Is there a pilot's flu going around? Did you all skip work this week to drive out to the Mojave and watch SpaceShipOne make its X-Prize run? We have to ask because well, frankly, you didn't send us many pictures this week. And we like pictures! Lucky for us, the ones you did send in like this week's winning photo from Robert Bismuth of Seattle are pretty eye-catching. See for yourself. Hopefully you'll be inspired to send us a giant batch of photos next week!*
* We'll even promise not to complain if you deluge us with more pictures than we can handle!
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
copyright © Robert
"Yak-55 Skirts the Weather to Compete"
Robert Bismuth of Seattle, Washington writes,
"John Coffey flew his Yak-55 around a very inconvenient
thunderstorm on his way ... to compete in the IAC Chapter 67 Apple Cup.
Tricky as the storm made the flying, it was the perfect,
dramatic backdrop for his very muscular 360hp Yak!"
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.
"Through the Tail of a Tomcat"
We love seeing new perspectives on our favorite
flying machines, and Travis Whittier of Glendale, Arizona
delivers in this creative photo although we admit, we do
expect James Bond to step into frame any second ... .
Used with permission of Ryan Pemberton
"The Storm Has Passed"
It's tough to make the "POTW" finals with a
plane-and-rainbow shot these days, but the natural
beauty captured by Ryan Pemberton of
Spokane, Washington won us over.
And a special bonus:
Used with permission of Chris Schwartz
"Vandenburg Missile Launch"
Chris Schwartz of Newport Beach, California writes:
"While flying home one evening at FL290 near Fresno,
I saw this streak of white heading upward. It was obviously
a missile launch from Vandenburg AFB and caused quite
a bit of chatter of L.A. Center as a result.
The center controller gave his e-mail address (over the frequency),
and I e-mailed him this photo also. Enjoy!"
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.
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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