November 7, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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On Saturday, the Ansari X Prize was handed over to the Mojave Aerospace Ventures team, in a field adjacent to the St. Louis Science Center, as a chase plane flew overhead. SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan accepted the $10 million check, along with a five-foot-tall, 200-pound trophy. Also present for the event were financial backer Paul Allen and astronauts Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, and hundreds of people hoping for autographs. "How can a day like today be anything but wonderful when you get a $10 million check?" Rutan said, MSNBC reported. "I feel particularly proud that what we did in winning this prize was not just to build an airplane to fly high enough, but to address the safety issues and the affordability issues for space tourism." After SpaceShipOne's last flight, Rutan said he'd share his portion of the check with Scaled Composites' employees. With orders in the works to develop passenger-carrying spacecraft, Rutan has a lot more work to do. "We've always known that our prize is just a start," said Gregg Maryniak, the X Prize's executive director. "The real prize is the business, opening the frontiers of space for everyone." And maybe the view from space: "It will make a believer out of you that this is a very special place, and we need to take care of it," Melvill said.
Although Rutan's team held a clear lead over the competition, more than two dozen teams tried for the X Prize, and many are still pursuing their ideas. Some are branching out in new directions or seeking new prizes. Interorbital Systems, a Mojave company that plans to launch from ocean spaceports, is working on two new rockets -- the Nano, for sending tiny satellites into orbit, and the Neptune, a rocket it hopes will ferry up to eight people into orbit, in pursuit of the $50 million America's Space Prize. The Space Transport Corp., in Washington state, says it plans to launch its Rubicon 2 rocket "probably" in mid-November, but won't announce the launch till after it's done. Pablo de Leon and Associates, the X Prize competitor from Argentina, announced that it will continue work toward the development of a suborbital transport. "We are seriously committed to this project," said team leader Pablo de Leon, "and we already spent enough time and effort in our development, so our goal is to continue until we see it finished no matter how long it will take. We believe there is a future in suborbital transportation." PanAero, based in Virginia, is adapting its Condor-X very-large-wing concept to a scaled-down aircraft with an extremely low wing loading. Their goals for this new aircraft are to set a new rocket-propelled altitude record, put a satellite into low Earth orbit at low cost, and complete high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft missions at competitively low costs. Canada's da Vinci project last summer found a major sponsor and set a launch date but then had to postpone. On Oct. 1 the project received full authorization from the Canadian government to launch its manned flights to space. No word yet on when that launch might take place.
NASA on Friday issued the first official details about its new Centennial Challenges program, a prize competition that NASA says "seeks novel solutions to NASA's mission challenges from nontraditional sources of innovation in academia, industry and the public." Listed among the missions the program hopes to advance is general aviation technology, along with a soft robotic lunar landing, a micro re-entry vehicle and a station-keeping solar sail. Two Requests for Information solicit input from potential support contractors, and one Announcement of Partnership Opportunity seeks organizations wishing to contribute cash or services to Centennial Challenges activities. "Centennial Challenges will use prizes to help make the nation's Vision for Space Exploration a reality," said Craig Steidle, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems, in a news release. A Centennial Challenges Day will be held from 10 a.m. to noon, Monday, Nov. 15, in the NASA headquarters auditorium, 300 E Street SW, Washington, D.C., to describe the program and answer questions about it. "We hope to receive ideas from potential support contractors and identify prospective partners who will make this program as successful as possible," said Centennial Challenges manager Brant Sponberg.
JA AIR CENTER YOUR GARMIN SOURCE PRE-HOLIDAY SPECIAL!
The numbers are showing that the long-hoped-for GA recovery is underway, with industry billings up almost 16 percent in the first nine months of this year, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) reported recently. "Recovery of the U.S. economy and accelerated depreciation enacted by Congress for operators of new airplanes stimulated every segment of our industry," said Ron Swanda, interim president of GAMA. "But the growing, worldwide attraction of using general aviation airplanes for safe and efficient air travel is a fundamental growth factor that should not be overlooked." Shipments of piston-powered airplanes manufactured worldwide in the first nine months of 2004 were up 70 units, 1,342 from last year's 1,272. Turboprop shipments increased from 163 airplanes in the first nine months of 2003 to 194 this year. Business jets were also up with the first nine months' shipments increasing 10.4 percent, from 355 units last year to 392 units this year.
Thirty-nine people died in general aviation aircraft in October, EAA reported last week. That's the second-deadliest October in over six years, and should be a "wake-up call" for aviators, EAA said. With winter ahead, and the extra challenges of icing, darkness and marginal weather, pilots need to be extra-vigilant to bring the accident rate down. All pilots should take advantage of the available safety initiatives such as EAA's Technical Counselor and Flight Advisor programs for homebuilders, and safety programs offered by the FAA, AOPA and other organizations. "Fly in good weather, and practice superior airmanship," EAA says, and that's a good start for advice on how to avoid becoming a statistic.
WHAT DO APPLYING FOR LIFE INSURANCE & A RAMP CHECK HAVE IN COMMON?
TSA chief David Stone, freshly back in D.C. after a big dose of GA reality from the crowds at AOPA Expo last month, got a bit more of it last Wednesday in the form of a personal visit from AOPA prez Phil Boyer. Boyer and senior AOPA staffers sat down with Stone, and together they hashed out plans to address three priority issues regarding the TSA's alien flight-training rules: defining flight training, streamlining the TSA's citizenship-validation process and simplifying the requirements for flight instructors. "Let me caution those immediately affected by the Oct. 20 rule," Boyer said. "This is not going to happen overnight." Boyer said there is not going to be any quick fix because the TSA needs to comply with the congressional mandate that drove the rulemaking in the first place. AOPA said it may need to go back to Congress in January to obtain relief from the restrictive language.
For the nation's 88,728 flight instructors, AOPA said it is nevertheless seeking immediate relief from the confusion and burdensome requirements of the existing rule. "There are more than 3,400 flight schools in the United States," Boyer said in a news release. "Concern and confusion currently reign. Our recent survey indicated only one in 10 schools was aware of the rule. We cannot expect these people to abandon their businesses to become agents of the government by certifying applications and photographing alien students." Stone summed up the TSA's mandate as making sure "we never have a repeat of 9/11." His main concern: "How can we stop people from using flight training they receive in the U.S. as a weapon against us? We need to make sure it doesn't happen again."
DON'T BUY A NEW AIRCRAFT WITHOUT CHECKING WITH CS&A INSURANCE PROS!
What happened to just handing out a couple detentions? Luckily, school was not in session Wednesday night when a National Guard F-16 fired on Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School, in the vicinity of (globally speaking) Atlantic City, with 25 rounds from a wing-mounted cannon. The F-16, flying at 7,000 feet, was headed for a target on a practice range 3 1/2 miles away. A custodian in the building was unhurt, but at least eight of the three-inch-long bullets penetrated classrooms. Operations at the firing range have been halted while the incident is investigated. Previously, wayward bombs have ignited forest fires near the range, but this is the first time a building was hit. The jet is based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and belongs to the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia National Guard. The gunnery range is used for about 3,700 sorties a year by fighter jets and helicopters. When the practice range first opened after World War II, there were 5,000 residents in Little Egg Harbor. Now there are 25,000, the Newark Star-Ledger reported yesterday, along with more developments and more congestion. The 2,400-acre range site is deep within the Pine Barrens, a million-acre stretch of undeveloped coastal land.
The Transportation Security Administration issued an advisory on Friday that a Piper PA 25 Pawnee crop-dusting aircraft was stolen from Ejido Queretaro, near Mexicali, Mexico, on Nov. 1. "Although there is currently no indication that this has any connection to terrorist activity," the TSA said, "the theft is cause for concern. Past information indicates that members of al-Qa'ida may have planned -- or may still be planning -- to disperse biological or chemical agents from cropdusting aircraft." The stolen aircraft is registered in Mexico and bears the tail number XBCYP. If you see the aircraft, the TSA says you should immediately contact the TSA General Aviation Hotline at (866) 427-3287. The TSA encouraged aerial-application operators and airport operators to take security measures such as storing aircraft in locked hangars with electronic security systems, parking airport heavy equipment such as trucks and forklifts where it would block aircraft access, use propeller locks and chains or tie-downs to secure aircraft stored outdoors, and more. Additional security guidelines are available from the TSA and the National Agricultural Aviation Association. The TSA added that any suspicious activity should be reported immediately to local law enforcement as well as to the TSA General Aviation Hotline at 866-GASECUR (866-427-3287).
AIRCRAFT PARTNERSHIPS NOW ON ASO!
Every crisis is an opportunity, the old saying goes, and some businesses in the border states are finding that the flu-vaccine shortage means more cash flow for them. Kenmore Air, a seaplane outfit near Seattle, Wash., is promoting "Flu Flights" to Canada, where flu shots are available. Kenmore says it will be "the most memorable, enjoyable flu shot" ever, including the 45-minute seaplane ride across the border to Victoria, a quick inoculation, then time for sightseeing and a free lunch before the afternoon flight home, all for $205. Last flu flight is Wednesday, so it's a short window. The influx of Americans, by air and land and sea, is causing some consternation among Canadians. "I don't want to sound like I'm negative towards Americans," Dr. George Forster told Victoria's Times Colonist newspaper. "But we owe it to our own population to immunize them first. ... They shouldn't have to wait in line with Americans." Canadian health authorities have expressed concern about the drain on their vaccine, but note that there is both a public and a private supply. The public supply is purchased by governments for distribution according to various priorities. The private supply is acquired by private organizations that purchase their vaccine directly from the manufacturer. Anyone can access this private vaccine supply, Canada's Public Health Agency said on Friday.
A Cessna 210 piloted by a CFI who reported a low fuel condition while on approach to the Torrance Airport, near Los Angeles, crashed into a house on Thursday. A 90-year-old woman who lived in the house was "stunned," but unhurt. Local residents pulled the burning pilot from the wreck, reports said. An entire country away, three skydivers were in a Cessna 180 when it clipped a tree and crashed shortly after takeoff from a grass strip in Pennsylvania last week -- one of the skydivers died and the others were hurt. It turns out that the 81-year-old pilot had been denied an FAA medical, but won't face any criminal charges, authorities said last week. (It seems that in this case illegally piloting an aircraft, without a medical, does not constitute reckless endangerment). Local authorities said there was no evidence of criminal recklessness, so no charges would be brought. The pilot's daughter told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he had failed his FAA physical after having double-bypass surgery two years ago.
MODERNIZING YOUR TRANSPONDER DOESN'T GET ANY EASIER!
With the end of the U.S. election campaign, the ubiquitous VIP TFRs are expected to slow down for a while, but TFRs in their various forms certainly seem to be here to stay. What isn't here, at least not yet, is any systematic or standardized format to help pilots navigate these restricted areas. While many of the restrictions share a two-ring structure, the rules for flying within each ring are not always the same, and the widths of the rings vary. A "typical" structure that is followed in most cases seems to be evolving, but so far the only way to really know how to deal with each TFR is to study the appropriate NOTAM for that particular site. And don't think that just because you are on a flight plan and talking to ATC that it's OK to follow an ATC vector into the TFR -- sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn't. "A pilot who's cited for violating a TFR may have some defense if he can prove he was indeed vectored or authorized by ATC, but that doesn't say much for his situational awareness," FAA spokesman William Shumann told AVweb. Some TFR NOTAMs specify that transits "authorized by ATC" are OK, but perhaps only in the "outer ring," while the "inner ring" will have stricter rules. "We at the FAA are still frustrated at the violations of TFRs and the DC ADIZ that occur after our educational efforts and the cooperation from AOPA and other GA groups in trying to alert pilots," Shumann said. However, he added, "my unscientific impression is that most TFR violations are by pilots who weren't aware of the TFR and weren't 'squawking and talking.' Often they're not talking at all. All we can say, as we have many times, is that each violation is treated individually."
Imagine if you could talk to your airplane, issuing commands like "find the airport" or "fly the approach," and it would obey? Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on teaching an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to respond to English commands. "The system allows the pilot [who flies nearby in an F-15] to interface with the UAV at a high level -- not just 'turn right, turn left,' but 'fly to this region and perform this task,'" said Mario Valenti, a Boeing engineer who is on leave at MIT. "The pilot essentially treats the UAV as a wingman," said Valenti, comparing the UAV to a companion pilot in a fighter-plane squadron. While the UAV carries out dangerous missions at low altitudes, the F-15 pilot can maintain a safe altitude. In a flight test last summer, the UAV responded to sudden changes in plan and avoided unexpected threats en route to its destination, in real time, MIT said last week.
The new guidance system is designed for volatile combat situations. For instance, a pilot might be commanded to gather images of an enemy site located in unknown territory. Rather than flying into danger, the pilot could assign a nearby UAV to the task. The UAV moves toward the enemy site, avoiding known threats (no-fly zones) and the unexpected (radar emanating from a missile site), all the while communicating its actions to the pilot in the other aircraft, who follows behind at a higher altitude and a safe distance. The technology also could have applications in the coordination of multiple air or space vehicles, such as in air traffic control or the reconfiguration of distributed satellite systems, MIT said.
LOOK, UP IN THE AIR! IT'S A PLANE! IT'S A FLYING DOG!
The FAA has OK'd Power Flow's tuned-exhaust system for 200-hp Mooneys. The system will make some of those aircraft both faster and more efficient...
The federally run airport at Midway Atoll is scheduled to close Nov. 20, saving the U.S. government up to $6 million a year, but angering airlines that may have to adopt longer Pacific routes, thus burning more fuel...
The airport in Thermal, Calif., was rededicated as Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport on Saturday...
Air Transat has offered $12,500 to each of 293 passengers on a trans-Atlantic flight that ran out of fuel; about 90 have reportedly accepted the deal...
The Hendrick King Air that crashed last month, killing 10, descended after a missed approach although the procedure required a climb-out, according to the NTSB preliminary report...
Sixty hang-glider pilots gathered at Cape Cod last week for an annual Halloween flying off the dunes...
GA pilots are invited to fly by the Wright Brothers National Memorial during the annual First Flight celebration on Dec. 17. Contact George Speake, airport manager at Dare County Airport, 252-475-5571, to register.
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NO-COST SHIPPING UPGRADE FOR USED AVIONICS FROM BENNETT
Motor Head #3: Hanging Out At the Six-Bar Ranch
AVweb's engine fanatic Marc Cook has been flying a lot lately and depending, even more than usual, on engine monitors for peace of mind.
Reader mail this week about VFR on top, golf course prices, new airport beacons and more.
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Another Airbus story...
There is a certain airline that flies Airbus A319s out of Lindberg. The following was overheard there recently...
Controller: Roger [A319], turn left heading 140.
A319: (No answer)
Controller: [A319], Left turn, please. Now make the heading 120. Good rate, please.
A319: Ah, Departure, the airplane won't let us do that.
Controller: Would you mind putting the airplane on the radio, then?
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 all the parts stop moving.
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