October 6, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ...
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With the X Prize in the bag, the question is, what happens next? Still to come is the official handing-over of that $10 million check, scheduled for Nov. 6 at the St. Louis Science Center. Burt Rutan told the media that he plans to use some of that cash to pay bonuses to every Scaled Composites employee. The X Prize Foundation hopes to keep the two-dozen-plus runner-up teams motivated to stay in the race by hosting an annual X Prize Cup in New Mexico, offering multimillion-dollar prizes for fast turnarounds, passenger counts, maximum altitude and fastest flight time. On Monday, organizers announced they have secured the first major sponsor for the event, International Fuel Technologies. And there's that $50 million prize in the works for the first privately funded orbital vehicle. Not to mention Richard Branson's multimillion-dollar deal with Rutan to produce spacecraft for Virgin Galactic.
That's not to say the success of space tourism is assured. From the start, the FAA has emphasized that its primary responsibility when it comes to regulating private spaceflight is to protect "the uninvolved public" on the ground and in the air. Although Rutan's system seems simple and stable enough to assure safety, the scary "rolling" moment in last week's flight reminded everyone that the endeavor remains a risky one. Fears exist that a live-on-camera accident could have a Hindenburg-like effect on the future of private spaceflight. Case in point: Of the almost 190,000 Web users who responded to a CNN online poll this week, 82 percent said space travel is not yet safe enough for the general public. See also AVweb's coverage of Monday's flight, the X Prize Cup and at least one free ticket to space (our report was published Monday afternoon). The proponents of space tours may feel that's not a problem -- let the naysayers stay home. They have more than enough willing passengers who are not afraid of the risks. Richard Branson says he already has 5,000 takers who indicate they're willing to put up the money for the ride of a lifetime.
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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) says the FAA is "stretching the margins of safety" at Chicago-area airports by implementing a controversial report on operations at the Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON). Last January, the agency sent in an investigative team in response to a major spike in operational errors at the facility (from seven to 24 in a year). The so-called Tiger Team spent a month reviewing operations and concluded that the TRACON is operating safely and is adequately staffed. What it needs, the report says, is more supervisors, which is "preposterous," according to union officials. "The (people that work there) are just looking at this thing on the bulletin board and shaking their heads," NATCA spokesman Ray Gibbons said in a teleconference attended by AVweb on Monday. Gibbons said the Chicago TRACON is supposed to have 101 controllers but there are only 85 in place and, of those, 19 are trainees. In response to the report, Gibbons said seven working controllers have been promoted to supervisory positions, cutting the pool even more. "We were flabbergasted by this report," said Gibbons. "They continue to squeeze more out of an overburdened, aging workforce."
FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said additional supervisors are needed to help rejigger shift schedules and staff deployment at the TRACON. He said the investigators found instances where there were relatively few controllers on position during very busy times and more on position during relatively slow periods (recall the recent letter sent to AVweb regarding the disposition of controllers ... and NATCA). He said it's not just a matter of drawing up a new schedule because shift starting times are part of the collective agreement with the union. "I wish we could say that we could fix these things overnight, but we can't," said Molinaro. Molinaro also said the facility has evolved its own set of operating standards over the years and the agency wants to re-establish standard procedures there. NATCA President John Carr told the teleconference the solution is to hire more controllers. Carr said a facility like Chicago should have the full complement of controllers and that 85 to 90 percent of them should be fully certified. Compounding the situation is the fact that about 70 percent of those who apply to work in Chicago can't handle the job. "It's a dreadful rotating door of failure," he said. Carr said the FAA's attitude in Chicago is representative of the national situation and he said flight delays and safety issues are inevitable as more experienced controllers retire. Molinaro said the FAA is actively recruiting for Chicago and recently attracted eight experienced controllers through new incentives, including a $27,000 moving allowance. "We truly are adding controllers," he said.
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Quest Aircraft, of Sandpoint, Idaho, is unveiling its new single-engine, turboprop, 10-place utility aircraft this week. The new airplane, called the Kodiak, will feature Pratt & Whitney's PT6 turbine engine, landing gear designed for unimproved airstrips, 19-inch propeller ground clearance, 29-inch main tires, and short-take-off-and-landing (STOL) performance that beats any aircraft currently in its class, spokeswoman Julie Stone told AVweb yesterday. The company operates with a staff of 40 in a 27,000-square-foot facility built in October 2002. Stone said the first flight of the Kodiak will occur later this month. Tom Hamilton, formerly of Stoddard-Hamilton Aircraft, is Quest's CEO, and Bruce Kennedy, former CEO of Alaska Airlines, is chairman of the board. In a news release, the company said it has "chosen to remain out of the public eye. ... In an industry where aircraft start-ups are watched closely, and often with skepticism, we at Quest have approached both the design and the marketing of the Kodiak with an eye toward delivering a proven product, not hopeful promises."
According to a story posted by the University Presbyterian Church of Seattle, Wash., the Kodiak was originally designed as a missionary aircraft, and more than $7 million has been raised to help produce it. Stone said that the aircraft is "of interest to the mission field," but has also attracted interest from many backcountry operators in Alaska. Quest is structured as a for-profit company, Stone said. The Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) of Redlands, Calif., has raised about $5.5 million for Quest -- which is to be repaid by the delivery of aircraft. In a September 2003 financial statement, the MAF's auditor says an additional $20 million would be needed to produce the aircraft, but the MAF has not committed to provide those funds. "All donors that have contributed to this project are aware of the risks involved," the report states. "The principals of Quest are individuals who formerly served as board members or have been donors to the ministry of MAF," according to the report. Other aircraft already in the single-engine turboprop field include Cessna's popular Caravans, the Pilatus PC-12, the 750XL from Pacific Aerospace, as well as the TBM 700 and Piper Meridian. Several more are in development. A market report by McNeal & Associates Consultants, conducted for Beaver Aircraft Canada in March 2003, concluded: "These are difficult economic times, but there is a demonstrated need for a new utility aircraft to serve a variety of individual operator needs."
In Olympia, Wash., on Tuesday, Aviation Technology Group (ATG) for the first time opened the hangar doors to show the press the prototype-in-progress of its two-seat Javelin Jet. "The wings are on, and the engines are in," ATG spokeswoman Sara Newton told AVweb yesterday. "The landing gear is just about ready. First flight is expected by the end of the year." The company held the unveiling in an effort to stave off building skepticism, sending the message that, "yes, since we are a new company, here's something we can show you just to give you what it looks like in its raw state," Newton told The Albuquerque Tribune. The company, based at Colorado's Centennial Airport, is planning to manufacture the jet in Albuquerque. About 80 orders are already on the books for the $2.5 million jet, Newton said. ATG will be exhibiting a full-scale mockup at NBAA next week in Las Vegas and at the AOPA Expo in Long Beach later this month, she said. First deliveries are expected in 2007.
A First Look at the Javelin
Click for Larger Images
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A working group that has been studying FAA standards for airport fire departments has found they are inadequate to save lives and to deal with the searing flames that occur in plane crashes, USA Today reported yesterday. The FAA working group, formed three years ago, says many airports need more fire trucks and more flame-retardant foam. The fire departments also should improve their response times in reaching downed aircraft and train firefighters to go into burning jets to get passengers out, the group says, according to USA Today. The NTSB has cited poor fire response as factors in contributing to deaths in several accidents, the newspaper said, including the American Airlines crash at Little Rock in 1999.
Investigators with the FAA's Southwest Region this week found that officials at Addison Airport, in Texas, didn't violate any federal rules when they spent airport-improvement funds to build a concrete plant and give a half-million-dollar incentive to a corporate tenant to build a new hangar, The Dallas Morning News reported on Tuesday. Pilots at the airport have complained that their hangar-rental fees have increased while grants intended for airport improvements were misspent. In May, AOPA joined their side and pressed for the FAA audit. But the FAA this week said the airport was within its rights to spend the money as it did. "We don't agree," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president. "The money is coming from other tenants on the airport and then being put into private development. That's inappropriate." AOPA has asked that the Washington FAA office conduct a new audit. "AOPA expects that, based on the findings, FAA headquarters will review and most likely reverse those findings," AOPA spokesman Chris Dancy told AVweb yesterday.
LONG FLIGHTS FEEL SHORTER WITH A COMFORTABLE SEAT
Complaints about noisy overflights above Muir Woods National Monument, just north of San Francisco, are on the rise, the Marin Independent Journal reported on Monday. Visitors and workers at the park say seaplanes and helicopters flown on aerial tours are increasingly disrupting the serenity of the redwood forest. "It seems like people are getting wealthy with these tours, but it's ruining the experience for those who come to Muir Woods for solace," Thomas Martell told the Independent Journal. Local operators said there have no been no recent changes in routes or the number of flights, so they couldn't explain the uptick in complaints. "We try to be a good neighbor," said tour owner John McLelland. Another operator speculated that maybe a change in air currents is affecting the perception of noise. To address the issue, the park has asked the FAA to investigate noise issues at Muir Woods and Alcatraz.
The FAA's Air Tour Management Program is working to create noise-abatement plans for 107 park units. The FAA and the National Park Service so far have started work on plans for six parks in Hawaii, and seven in the continental U.S. (Yellowstone, Badlands, and Petrified Forest National Parks; Lake Mead National Recreation Area; Navajo and Canyon de Chelly National Monuments; and Mount Rushmore National Memorial). This summer, acoustic data was collected at Navajo National Monument, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Petrified Forest National Park and Glacier National Park. At a congressional hearing this summer, officials reported they were in the initial stages of identifying potential impacts and developing alternatives to mitigate or prevent significant adverse effects on the parks.
On Monday, astronaut Gordon Cooper Jr., 77, died at his home in Ventura, Calif. He was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts. "He truly portrayed the right stuff, and he helped gain the backing and enthusiasm of the American public, so critical for the spirit of exploration," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "Gordo was one of the most straightforward people I have ever known," recalled fellow astronaut John Glenn. "What you saw was what you got." Another of the "Original Seven," Wally Schirra, added, "We seven were bonded like brothers, maybe even closer if that's possible." The youngest of the original seven astronauts, Cooper's Mercury flight set a U.S. endurance record at the time, and he became the first astronaut to sleep in space during his 34-hour, 22-orbit mission. In 1965, Cooper commanded the Gemini 5 mission alongside Pete Conrad, establishing a new space endurance record at the time, travelling 3,312,993 miles in 190 hours and 56 minutes. Cooper was backup command pilot of Gemini 12, launched in November 1965. He also served as backup command pilot for Apollo 10, which flew in May 1969. Cooper left NASA and retired from the Air Force as a colonel on July 31, 1970. In 1983, the movie "The Right Stuff," based on Tom Wolfe's novel, reintroduced the seven Mercury astronauts to a new generation. Cooper was played by Dennis Quaid.
PROTECT & SHINE YOUR AIRCRAFT WITH A NAME YOU KNOW & TRUST AEROSHELL
For $50, you can take a chance on winning your very own brand-new American Champion Scout, and at the same time support the Alaska Airmen's Association. The group will sell only 5,500 tickets, so you can calculate the odds you get for your investment. The 180-hp 2005 Scout comes complete with a 70-gallon long-range fuel system, a metal belly, GPS, a cabin heater, deep pile carpet, and even a Velcro map pocket. Not to mention 31-inch tundra tires, for those gravel-bar landings. Tickets went on sale Oct. 1, and will be sold until they run out. The drawing is set for May 15, 2005. Tickets can be ordered online at the Alaska Airmen's Web site, or call 1-800-464-7030. The Alaska Airmen is a nonprofit group established in 1951, and started the annual aircraft raffles five years ago.
We apparently misunderstood the intent of a gathering of female helicopter pilots in Washington, D.C., next April 28-30. The pilots are there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Whirly-Girls. We called it a convention but that takes place in conjunction with HeliExpo each February.
THE NEW ASA AIRCRAFT FLIGHT LOG IS EASY AND COMPLETE
Pilots are warned to beware of volcanic ash and possible eruptions in the vicinity of Mount St. Helens in Washington. AVweb is aware of a volcano cam (that was not showing a picture Tuesday)
Black Sky: Reaching for the X Prize, an update on the space race, airs tonight at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Channel...
Mike Melvill, the first U.S. civilian astronaut, will speak at AOPA Expo's opening luncheon, Oct. 21 in Long Beach.
Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to email@example.com.
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Quiz #86 -- Restrictions and Procedures
There are three reasons for getting the instrument rating: safer flying, lower insurance rates, and swaggering rights in the pilot's lounge. To retain the right to preen, you need to review a few IFR procedures.
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ATTENTION CESSNA OWNERS & PILOTS
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb asked readers to go out an a limb and predict the results of the X Prize race. At that time, SpaceShipOne had one successful launch in the bag but had only 10 days to accomplish a second launch. One week later, we know how the X Prize turned out -- and 70% of you guessed right! A more cautious 12% of readers thought that 10 days was a short turnaround time for a successful launch. 15% of respondents expressed some concern about last Wednesday's roll. Only 3% of readers held out hope that one of the other X Prize competitors might steal the $10 million Ansari prize at the last minute.
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
Controllers. If you've been reading AVweb recently, then you've seen that there are some differences of opinion regarding what controllers do all day and whether or not a shortage is imminent. Were you appalled by Jane Doe's letter to AVweb? Were you appalled by NATCA President John Carr's public response?
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Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions
Current POTW Winner | Past POTW Winners
What does it take to beat seven gorgeous sunsets, six Red Knights, four adorable kids, three beautiful girls, two P-38s, and one natural wonder? This week, it took a stunning in-cockpit photo from John Rippinger and Scott Sayre of the Lima Lima Flight Team. Despite some stiff competition (see above), John scored an official AVweb baseball cap for his winning contribution. The next time you see Lima Lima in action, break out those ultra-zoom lenses and tell us if he's wearing it in the cockpit!
Last week, our "POTW" submissions were down, and we asked you to help us have a banner week. We even promised not to complain if you deluged us with photos good thing, too, since you put us back over a hundred submissions this week! While we can't run all of them, we sure do enjoy looking at them! So keep sending your photos. (But, um "Beautiful Girls" Guys? Try sneaking an airplane in there once in a while, willya?)
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
copyright © John
"Top Cover for Chicago"
John Rippinger of Schaumburg, Illinois beat out
some tough acts to win top honors this week. The photo,
John writes, was taken by Scott Sayre "from the back seat of the
lead T-34 on the Lima Lima Flight Team just before the start of our act."
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.
"Flying High Over South Dakota!"
Jim Haseltine of Omaha, Nebraska contributes
this image from a photo shoot he did with the
South Dakota Air National Guard a few weeks back. Jim identifies the jet
as an "F-16C Block 30 going almost vertical and popping out flares."
Used with permission of Dave Oberg
"Expensive Chew Toy"
Dave Oberg of Anchorage, Alaska hit the
nail on the head with his caption for this photo,
taken this summer at Brooks Camp on Lake Iliamna.
And because well, because it's upside-down:
Used with permission of Ray Mansfield
"And Then There Was Ivan"
Ray Mansfield of Ft. Walton Beach, Florida
sends us another insurance horror-story in the making from
Hurricane Ivan. Perhaps we should have warned
sensitive readers to avert their eyes ... .
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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Fly it until every part stops moving.
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