November 17, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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At 110,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday afternoon, NASA's scramjet-powered X-43A unmanned research vehicle flew at close to Mach 9.8, nearly 7,000 miles per hour, breaking its own previous record of Mach 7, set in March, for air-breathing engines. The flight is a "key milestone," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, that will help to advance commercial aviation technology. Supersonic combustion ramjets (scramjets) promise to make ultra-high-speed flights within the atmosphere cheaper and safer, NASA said Tuesday in a news release, and provide an alternative to rockets. The technology can also be used in the first stage to Earth orbit.
The 12-foot long, 5-foot-wide lifting-body scramjet vehicle, mated to a modified Pegasus booster rocket, was launched from NASA's B-52B at about 47,000 feet, in restricted airspace northwest of Los Angeles. The booster carried it up to 110,000 feet, where the X-43A separated and ignited its scramjet engine for about 10 seconds. After burnout, the vehicle descended and splashed into the ocean, as planned, and will not be recovered (fishing trip, anyone?). The flight is the third and last of three unpiloted tests in NASA's Hyper-X Program. The eight-year, $230-million program got off to a rough start in June 2001 when the first X-43A and its booster rocket had to be destroyed in mid-air. The second attempt, in March of this year, successfully reached a speed of Mach 7. Reinforced carbon-carbon composite material was added to the leading edges of the vehicle's vertical fins for this week's flight, to handle the higher temperatures generated by the higher speeds. The flight was originally scheduled for Monday but was delayed due to electronics problems.
The scramjet engine design has no moving parts. The forward speed of the aircraft itself, enhanced by the shape of the nose, compresses a stream of air that is channeled into the engine, where it mixes with gaseous hydrogen fuel -- there are no fan blades that compress the air, as in a normal jet engine. In a scramjet engine, the airflow through the whole engine remains supersonic. NASA says such a design may be capable of flying at Mach 15 or more. Scramjets have an advantage over rockets in that they use oxygen from the atmosphere, so no heavy liquid-oxygen tanks are required. Also, scramjets can be throttled back and flown more like an airplane, unlike rockets, which tend to produce nearly or full thrust all the time.
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When pilots worry about losing access to airspace, too often they worry alone. But in southern Indiana, where the Air Force is proposing to create two large Military Operations Areas that would impact traffic between Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis, some city officials are concerned about the economic impact. Mayor Jim Bullard, of Seymour, said his city has invested millions of dollars into navigational equipment to update Freeman Municipal Airport, and is concerned about anything that might impact its use, the Associated Press reported on Monday. Columbus Municipal Airport Director Rod Blasdell also raised concerns, saying that commercial tenants that wanted to locate at his airport might take into consideration the restricted access caused by the new MOAs, and go someplace else. AOPA is, of course, also engaged in the fight. AOPA said it is asking for mitigation procedures to allow for instrument approaches during the times the MOAs are active and for charted radio frequencies so pilots can contact the military to obtain real-time MOA activity information. AOPA said it would also seek a reduction in the active times of the MOAs, since the Air Force actually plans to use the airspace less than an hour a day. The FAA is accepting comments on the MOA proposals until Dec. 6.
Meanwhile, in Poplar Grove, Ill., a small privately-owned airport is growing steadily, by working to create a neighborhood of people who love airplanes. Since 1996, more than 100 homes have been built and 400 residents, many of them pilots or airline workers, have moved to the airpark community, the Rockford Register Star reported on Sunday. Hangar space has quadrupled from 10 years ago, and the airport is home to 366 airplanes. "We made a conscious decision to develop a lifestyle airport, rather than a commercially intensive airport," owner Steve Thomas told the Register Star. It's also open for public use. And in New York, Albany International Airport is working (as its "mission") to become more user-friendly to small airplanes. While private pilots don't bring in the jobs or cash of corporate jets and airlines, "They are proponents and promoters of aviation, and that is within our mission statement," airport Chief Executive John O'Donnell told the Times Union. The airport is considering various ways to attract more pilots, but local pilot Craig Dalto said there is a long way to go: fuel prices at the airport are high, and transient aircraft are charged multiple fees for landing and parking. O'Donnell said he knows there is work to do, but "It's our mission to grow the airport, bring more business here, and build more corporate and general aviation traffic."
Maybe it's a unique Southern California perspective, born of living in an area prone to earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides, but neighbors near Torrance Airport -- who are not otherwise affiliated with aviation -- nonetheless seem unfazed by two recent airplane crashes that hit homes and yards. "Even the 89-year-old woman, [Margie Somers], whose house was torn in half by a crashing plane this month says she doesn't give much thought to living in the flight path," the local Daily Breeze reported on Tuesday. "It's safer living under this landing pattern than on Pacific Coast Highway," said Somers' son Mark. "It's more likely that you're going to get hit by a car than by an airplane." Others interviewed by the newspaper reported similarly lofty views. "So few of them fall out of the sky," said Donna Martinez, who lives about a block from Somers' house. "I didn't put a for-sale sign up." Nonetheless, local officials have called for a meeting with airport authorities to review safety at the field, and some residents have complained about the noise. In July 2003, a Piper Warrior lost power while climbing out of Torrance and crashed into a front yard. The airplane was destroyed but the pilot walked away. Somers' house was hit by a Cessna 210 on Nov. 4. The airplane caught fire on impact, and the pilot remains in critical condition.
LOOK TO THE PIEDMONT HAWTHORNE AIRCRAFT SALES TEAM WHEN YOURE BUYING or SELLING YOUR NEXT AIRCRAFT
The FAA should do a better job monitoring designated flight-test examiners, inspectors, and doctors who give FAA medical exams to pilots, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released Tuesday. The GAO, displaying a remarkable grasp of the obvious, said the FAA is inconsistent in the way it oversees the 13,400 individuals and 180 organizations who perform crucial safety functions, but found no systematic safety problems. Incomplete databases, heavy workloads and inadequate training for FAA staff who monitor the designees were blamed for the inadequacies. One way for the FAA to improve would be for the agency to charge application and renewal fees to designees to help offset the cost of administering these programs, the GAO said, however, FAA is prohibited from imposing new user fees unless they are specifically authorized by law.
Designees perform a valuable function for FAA and the aviation industry, the GAO said, enabling FAA to leverage its staff resources and helping industry obtain FAA-issued certificates in a timely manner. By using designees, however, FAA places great trust in their integrity and honesty; therefore, periodic validation and consistent oversight is needed, the GAO said. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking Democrat on the House Aviation Subcommittee, requested the study last year. He said on Tuesday the report shows that oversight of the designee program is "toothless and ineffective." FAA spokesman Greg Martin told the Associated Press the agency is considering the GAO's recommendations, which "will make a strong program stronger."
Representatives from GA's alphabet groups met with Department of Homeland Security honchos this week to discuss various security regulations and their impact on GA flyers. Adm. James Loy, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Rear Adm. David Stone, head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), attended the meeting. AOPA sent President Phil Boyer, who told the security team, "We need to work together to be sure that regulations make sense. It's pointless to have regulators making rules that can't reasonably be implemented in the real world." Loy pledged to create "engagement opportunities" for GA and DHS to work in concert, AOPA said. Loy described his agency's efforts as a three-legged stool that must balance the need for security with the interests of commerce and the preservation of civil liberties. He added that there's no going back to a pre-9/11 world. "We understand that we're living under a new definition of what's 'normal,'" Boyer said, "but we also understand that we can enhance security while preserving the freedom and functionality that have made GA a critical part of our national transportation infrastructure."
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You have to wait until Dec. 1 to take an actual FAA Sport Pilot "knowledge test" (what used to be known as the "written" in the pre-computer age), but you can start studying now, because the FAA has posted its test-question bank online. Questions are posted for sport pilots and for sport-pilot flight instructors/examiners. The FAA has also added questions to the private-pilot test for weight-shift-control aircraft and powered parachutes. On Tuesday, the FAA also released its Sport Pilot Examiner's Handbook, a 78-page PDF document. It delineates privileges and procedures, responsibilities, and limitations of examiner designations and authorizations. Applicants who want to become designated sport pilot examiners or sport pilot flight instructor examiners must submit an application to the Light-Sport Aviation Branch office in Oklahoma City by Nov. 23 if they want to be considered for selection at the first Light-Sport Standardization Selection Board meeting, on Nov. 29, EAA said on Tuesday. Later applicants will be considered at subsequent board meetings.
The practical-test standards aren't out yet but are expected to be ready by Dec. 1, according to EAA. Time to bone up on density altitude, wake turbulence, bad decision-making, and lots more, if you want a passing grade on that knowledge test.
Bruce Bohannon broke two of his own world records on the way up -- he hit 12,000 meters in 20 minutes, 36 seconds, to establish new time-to-climb standards in the Unlimited and C-1.b classes (the old record was 22:29), but the one he really wanted Saturday proved elusive once again, EAA reported on Monday. Bohannon has made several attempts to reach 50,000 feet in his modified RV-4, Exxon Flyin' Tiger. On Saturday, flying out of his home airport in Angleton, Texas, he flew the Tiger to its highest altitude yet -- 47,530 feet, about 1,800 feet shy of what's required to gain the all-time piston altitude record. "Everything went perfect," Bohannon said after the flight. "We flew right on the numbers." But the airplane wouldn't climb any higher. Having tweaked every bit of the engine already, Bohannon said the prop will be looked at next. "We're not giving up," Bohannon told EAA. "Everything worked as well as we had hoped. If this were easy, we'd have done it a long time ago. But it's so close now we can almost touch it."
UPGRADE YOUR HOLIDAY GIFT-GIVING WITH AN OREGON AERO GIFT CERTIFICATE
A corrugated iron roof hardly seems like a soft place to fall, but it helped slow down Lt. Charlie Williams enough that he survived with minor injuries after his parachute failed to open during a training exercise in Kenya. Williams, 25, of the British Army, was on his third jump two weeks ago when he clipped the side of the door while exiting the aircraft and began to spin as he fell and became entangled in the parachute rigging. "I was completely helpless," he told reporters as he recovered at his parents' home. "There was nothing I could do. I said to myself 'this is it' and I prepared to die." He crashed through the roof and was surprised to find himself alive on the floor of someone's home with "a crowd of puzzled Kenyans" looking at him. He said he was skydiving in an effort to overcome his fear of heights. "I'm still scared of heights, but I certainly haven't been put off parachuting," he said. "I don't know if I'm lucky or unlucky. I'm alive and frankly that's all that matters," he added. Williams suffered three cracked vertebrae and a dislocated finger.
Bill Bennett, an Australian hang-gliding pioneer who helped popularize the sport in the U.S., died on Oct. 7 in Arizona at age 73, it was reported this week. Bennett was taking off with an instructor in a trike -- a powered ultralight with a hang-glider-like wing and weight-shift control -- at Lake Havasu Airport when the power failed and the aircraft crashed. The instructor, Drew Reeves, was also hurt. Bennet's company, Delta Wing Kites and Gliders, was among the first hang glider manufacturers in the U.S. The company helped develop the basic design of modern hang-gliders, added features such as emergency chutes and Mylar-coated sail cloth, and improved handling and performance. Bennett captured attention for his sport by breaking various records, launching from a hot-air balloon, and flying around the Statue of Liberty on Independence Day in 1969.
PROTECT & SHINE YOUR AIRCRAFT WITH A NAME YOU KNOW & TRUST AEROSHELL
All five people on board died Sunday when a Piper Navajo crashed near an apartment complex in San Antonio, Texas. An investigator said Monday the pilot told controllers he was climbing, but radar showed the airplane in a steep descent...
Cessna's huge new Wichita Service Center is preparing for its grand opening next month. The center will be the world's largest general aviation maintenance facility, with five hangars, four fuel farms, 443,000 square feet of space, and room for over 100 Citations...
Gliders in the U.K. were involved in 10 near-midairs in the second half of last year, safety investigators said recently, noting that newer models fly at high altitudes without transponders and are hard to see, both visually and on radar...
Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ATTENTION, PIPER OWNERS & PILOTS
The Cessna, The Sky ... and the Cartoonist: Chapters Six and Seven
Stalls -- a word (and sound) that strikes fear in the hearts of student pilots. And professionals, for that matter. But our bold aviator and cartoonist knows it is a required part of pilot training, and he's ready to take his partner, C152 Charlie, into the air again.
What's New -- Products and Services
This month AVweb's survey of the latest products and services for pilots, mechanics and aircraft owners brings you a dual fuel tank indicator, Citation single-pilot training, fine-wire spark plugs, Power Flow for Mooneys and much more.
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ATTENTION, PROSPECTIVE OR CURRENT STUDENT PILOTS!
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb asked how far you trust the FAA in its role as protector and police for the commercial aviation industry.
You know what we discovered? That AVweb readers are a self-reliant group who (as a general rule) don't put much faith in outside agencies.
Only 17% of readers answered with an unqualified "yes." An even smaller number (14% of respondents) chose the simple answer "no." The most popular answer (with 33% of this week's vote) was this one:
It's a mistake to ever trust the FAA with anything but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As users of the system, we're just as much responsible to protect ourselves from ill-advised changes to the system as the FAA is to manage that system and adapt it to changing times. The relationship may at times seem adversarial, but we're all on the same team.
11% of respondents wanted to know exactly when the FAA had been declared "protector and police," and the remaining 25% of respondents answered, "If we're on the same team, someone should really tell the FAA."
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
This week, we want to know if you (or anyone you know) will be taking advantage of the new Sport Pilot rules.
Click here to answer.
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SORT THROUGH THE THICKET OF HIGH-DOLLAR AVIONICS UPGRADES
Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions
Current POTW Winner | Past POTW Winners
Truly, the golden age of "Picture of the Week" has returned! Of almost five dozen submissions, nearly a third made it into our "personal desktop wallpaper" file. But one photo called out to us to be proclaimed the undisputed "Picture of the Week" Bud Granley's. We think you'll agree when you see it.
Interesting note: This week's top three photos were all taken in Canada!
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
Used with permission of Bud Granley
"Remembrance Day Fly-Past"
Bud Granley of Bellevue, Washington sends us this winning
photo of three T-6s from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Shown here: Mike Langford (lead), Keith McMann (l.w.),
John Mrazek (slot), and Bud himself (r.w.).
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.
"Canadian Traffic Jam"
Ron Harway of Windsor, Ontario continues this week's
Canadian "POTW" theme with a photo of part of the
Canadian Warplane Museum's Canadian aircraft collection.
Used with permission of Peter Killin
"We Give a Hoot"
"At Flying Tankers, we give a hoot," writes
Peter Killin of Campbell River, B.C.
(If you don't get the pun, click through to the full-size image.)
You're starting to expect a bonus picture, aren't you?
Well, why not? AVweb readers came through for us once
again with a terrific batch of photos, so you deserve a reward.
Here's two more for your collection:
Used with permission of Javier Arraiza
"Two of a Kind"
We leave Canada behind for the sunnier climes of Madrid, Spain,
and Javier Arraiza's eye-catching aerial photography. For all
you cameraphiles, Javier provides the following details:
Nikon D100 28-200 mm (120mm) 1/800 Seg +0.7 ISO 320
Used with permission of Colby Morgan
"Balloons at Petit Jean Mountain"
Colby Morgan of Greenwood, Arkansas
slows down the pace with this lovely balloon
launch at Arkansas's Petit Jean State Park.
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 all the parts stop moving.
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