December 1, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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The NTSB is looking at the choice of runway and the lack of de-icing prior to the crash of a Bombardier Challenger CL-600 in Montrose, Colo., on Sunday morning that killed three of the six people on board. The jet carried NBC sports executive Dick Ebersol and members of his family, and had landed at Montrose in snowy conditions to drop off Ebersol's wife, actress Susan St. James. It stayed on the ground for about 45 minutes to an hour and was not de-iced, the NTSB said. The pilot chose not to wait for the 10,000-foot runway, 17/35, to be plowed, and instead chose 13/31, which is 7,500 feet long. The accident (so far) appears no more unusual than Sunday's -- or any day's -- other fatal accidents, but for the familiarity of those involved and the fact that it involved a business jet. Altitude at the airport is 5,759 feet. The jet ran off the departure end of the runway, impacted a fence and terrain, and caught fire. Ebersol and his son Charles survived the crash, but his 14-year-old son Edward died, along with the pilot, Luis Alberto Polanco Espaillat, and flight attendant Warren T. Richardson III. The co-pilot, Eric Wicksell, yesterday was in critical condition at a Denver hospital.
The Challenger was owned by Jet Alliance/Air Castle Corporation and operated by Global Aviation as Glow Air Flight 73, and had been built in 1985, the NTSB said. The flight's destination was South Bend, Ind. Investigators said yesterday they have recovered 31 minutes of conversation from the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder. No flight data recorder was on board. Senior Investigator Arnold Scott from the NTSB's Denver office is in charge of the investigation.
The accident prompted a rash of stories in the mainstream press questioning the safety of GA flights, citing the death of two pilots in a Gulfstream G-1159A at Houston Hobby Airport on Nov. 22 and the Oct. 24 Hendrick Motorsports accident that killed 10 in a Beech 200 King Air. The Challenger line has accumulated over 2.5 million hours of flight time in 24 years, Bombardier spokesman Leo Knappen told MSNBC, and Sunday's accident was the third fatal crash. Bombardier's stock took a hit this week, dropping 4 percent on Monday to its lowest level this year, and by yesterday had been downgraded to "junk" status as the company released its third-quarter numbers and announced 2,200 additional aerospace job cuts. One of the other three-in-2.5-million-hours crashes was Jan. 4, 2002, in the U.K., and the accident report released this August cited frost on the wings as a causal factor. Two pilots died when the aircraft began a rapid left roll and hit the ground immediately after takeoff. The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority recommended that Bombardier should include a specific limitation in its aircraft manuals: "Wings and tail surfaces must be completely clear of snow, ice and frost prior to takeoff." It was not clear yesterday if Bombardier had responded to the recommendation and it has not yet been determined that snow, ice or frost on the wings had anything to do with Sunday's accident. Two Canadair Regional Jets, built by Bombardier, have crashed in recent months -- on Nov. 21 in China, killing 54 people, and in Missouri in October, killing the two crew members.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) quickly responded to the scrutiny, sending President Ed Bolen out for interviews with the media and publishing a document on its Web site with details of "Business Aviation's Excellent Safety Record," debunking mainstream analyses, and noting that 2003 was the safest year ever for business aviation. An ABC News story on Monday reported that the fatal accident rate of "corporate aviation is 2.5 times greater than the major airlines ... [and] the fatal accident rate for charters ... is more than 50 times higher than that of the commercial airlines." The NBAA says those numbers are based on statistics that lump together many different kinds of aircraft. For aircraft flown by a professional crew, the fatal accident rate is very low, nearly the same as for the airlines, the NBAA said. And for turbine-powered charter aircraft the fatal accident rate is about one-tenth of what was reported by ABC News. "When compared with other forms of travel, charter is an exceptionally safe option," the NBAA said. In 2003, all airplanes and helicopters professionally flown for corporate/executive use under FAR Part 91 were involved in two accidents, including one fatal accident resulting in two fatalities, the NBAA said. There were no accidents involving corporate/executive-operated jets or turboprops piloted by professional crews. One may wonder how things might have been different had the names involved in Sunday's most reported accident been less familiar.
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Virgin Atlantic's GlobalFlyer, the latest brainchild of the brainiacs at Scaled Composites, is just about ready for its round-the-world nonstop flight, with record-setter Steve Fossett in the pilot's seat. The aircraft is powered by a Williams International FJ44 engine and the 23,000-mile flight (give or take) is expected to last 70 hours (-ish) at about 52,000 feet (the math says an average of 285 knots). It will feed from 13 fuel tanks and use 18,000 pounds (give or take) of fuel. Takeoff (when the aircraft will weigh about 22,006 pounds -- including pilot) is set for Jan. 4 or soon thereafter, weather permitting. The craft will launch from a 12,300-foot runway at Salina, Kan., with Mission Control based at Kansas State University's College of Aviation, adjacent to the airport. Fossett said that launching from a central location rather than Mojave offers him a bit of extra safety margin. "If I run out of fuel in the last thousand miles, I will be able to glide to a safe landing in any airport in the Western USA," he said. "If I had chosen a West Coast airport, I would risk ditching in the Pacific if I run out of fuel near the end of the round-the-world flight." The Voyager aircraft, designed by Scaled CEO Burt Rutan, was the first to fly around the world without refueling in 1986, with a crew of two. That flight lasted nine days.
Just when you think there's nothing new left in the world of flight, another inventor turns up out of nowhere with a plan to go where few have ventured before. This time it's manned flight via flapping wings, an idea that's been around since at least 500 years ago, when Leonardo da Vinci experimented with the concept. A team at the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies says its prototype manned, powered ornithopter will be ready for its first flight within a few weeks. Prof. James DeLaurier, leader of the project, was inspired by da Vinci as a child, and hopes to fly the next version of his aircraft at the Olympic Games in Italy, in February 2006, in his honor. The wings provide both lift and thrust, but the power comes from the same place as for every aircraft -- cash. DeLaurier is working to raise $5 million to get his dream to fly at the Olympics off the ground. To see how the wings work, check out this video of a 1999 taxi test ... if you've ever watched an overfed goose struggling to get airborne, you've got the idea. If the flight is successful, it may become the first manned, sustained, powered, flapping flight, but Vladimir Toporov reportedly flew a human-powered ornithopter, Giordano, in Russia in 1995.
OK, there is nothing new about the flying-wing concept, but a project working on what is now called a "blended-wing-body" aircraft just got a major boost, in the form of a 2.5 million-Euro grant from the U.K. government. The project is also gaining momentum by forming a consortium of Britain's Cranfield and Cambridge Universities with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. Investment is driven by a search for a quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft for the future. Cranfield also is investigating using hydrogen instead of kerosene as a fuel source. The aircraft have the potential to fly nearly silently and carry up to 800 people, though regulations that govern evacuation procedures could limit that number. The project is due to report in 2006, and its scientists say the first passenger flights on a blended-wing aircraft could take place within 15 years. Boeing and Rolls Royce also are contributing to the effort.
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The FAA needs to "move forward expeditiously" to replace aging air traffic control systems, especially at major sites where aging displays are "experiencing significant reliability problems," a report by the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General said this week. The report reviews the FAA's Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) program. The condition of aging displays at Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and St. Louis "has become critical," the report says. The aging displays limit any further software enhancements to controller workstations, including safety improvements recommended by the NTSB during its investigation of a midair collision in October 2000, the report said. Controller displays at Denver are locking up randomly, at a rate of a little over once a week. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that the FAA's troubles with getting STARS online were a result of its own failures in management of the project.
While many segments of general aviation are just creeping back into positive territory from the recent slump, and the airlines are drowning in red ink, the sunny side of aviation these days could be the vertical folks. Helicopter companies are "thriving," The New York Times reported Monday, and that goes for small operators right on up to manufacturers. New models that are quiet and comfortable are attracting corporate customers, the Times said, and flight schools report a surge of new recruits hoping to take the place of Vietnam-era pilots who are reaching retirement age. Medevac business is up more than 8 percent this year. Industry-wide sales of helicopters for commercial use are expected to hit $1.5 billion this year, in addition to another $5 billion or so for military contracts.
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Australia's aviation agency has grounded helicopters for use in locust-control work after a fatal accident last week, The Australian reported. Pilot Ross Mill, 36, and passenger Ben McDonnell, 33, were killed when their helicopter hit power lines while surveying for locusts. A second passenger, Lucinda Mordue, was seriously injured in the crash, which was the third in a month involving helicopters on locust patrol running into power lines. After the first two crashes, pilots had called for better marking of the lines. Locusts are now hatching across the New South Wales region, with reports of swarming and crop damage. All insect-control aerial operations were banned after the crash, but fixed-wing flights resumed work after several days. The use of helicopters is suspended pending a review to determine if extra safety measures are needed.
Nobody likes it when an airport's Instrument Landing System (ILS) goes down, but it's happened twice recently at Reno, Nev., and airport officials are fuming. Last weekend, 2,000 travelers were stranded during a snowstorm when the ILS was offline for seven hours, canceling 41 departures and 21 arrivals, the Associated Press reported. Many had to wait two days to find a flight out, on the busy post-Thanksgiving weekend. "Why wasn't this piece of equipment fixed?" airport spokesman Brian Kulpin wants to know, since it had recently failed, on Nov. 3. "That is a question we'll be seeking an answer to all the way through to Washington." Kulpin plans to take his complaint straight to the FAA, saying he never heard of any other airport that had to close down for lack of an ILS. "We'll do an exhaustive investigation," FAA spokesman Greg Martin told the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday.
A STOCKING STUFFER THAT MAKES WALKING PAINLESS?
If you've been flinching lately at fuel bills from your FBO or for your SUV, imagine how the airlines must feel, with that big fleet of thirsty gas-guzzlers and a big empty wallet. United Air Lines, which is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy, has started fuel-efficiency classes for its flight crew. Pilots -- all 7,200 of them -- and 300 dispatchers are required to attend a one-day class that shows how to cut back on refueling to lower the weight of the airplane, thereby burning less fuel. United spokesman Joseph Burns told the Billings Gazette that safety is the "No. 1 issue," so presumably they are not planning to coast in for landings. The program is expected to save the company $50 million a year. Fuel is the airline's second-highest cost after labor.
At least 31 died in Indonesia on Tuesday when a Lion Air MD-82 skidded off the runway while trying to land in heavy rain...
Seven soldiers died in the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter near Fort Hood, Texas, on Monday. The helicopter hit wires supporting a television transmission tower, which was unlit, in foggy conditions...
A Pennsylvania pilot will get six months in jail for flying drunk, on a reckless endangerment charge. New legislation now pending would make drunken flying a crime...
A federal report this week critiqued the FAA's enforcement of hazardous-materials handling on airlines...
A new Harris poll says 77 percent of the U.S. public thinks the FAA is doing a good job, the FAA said Tuesday.
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*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
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Welcome to another edition of "Picture of the Week," where we rifle through dozens of reader-submitted photos, spend hours making "ooh" and "ahh" sounds, and share the top three pictures with our entire readership. There are plenty of oohs and ahhs to go around, with beautiful landscapes and giant explosions (!) dominating this week's "POTW" entries.
When all is said and done, Dan Linebarger of Texas walks away with this week's winning baseball cap. Congratulations, Dan!
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
copyright © CAF /
Blastards and Dan Linebarger
"Airshow 'A Bomb' Detonation"
The CAF pyro unit "Blastards" initiate a simulated A-bomb explosion
following a B-29 fly-over at the October 2003 CAF-FINA Airshow.
Dan Linebarger of Midland, Texas took the photo; shot built
by David Linebarger, Randy Skinner, and Frank McBride
with Jeremy Linebarger on the plunger.
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.
Thor Emilsson of Hafnarfjordur, Iceland
captured this moment as his friend made a low pass
in a Firestar II over the home airport of their UL club.
(For more of Thor's airplane photos, visit http://that.is/slettan.)
copyright © Kathy
"Actors in Nature's Theater"
Kathy Moulton of Sedro-Woolley, Washington
sends us this photo of Mt. St. Helens from 7500 feet.
A friend snapped the picture of her and her 65C a couple of weeks
ago, and Kathy added the background taken on November 11.
Not to worry Kathy assures us that "the picture, while a compilation,
is essentially a valid representation of [her] flight" over Mt. St. Helens.
Submitters: Take a page from Kathy's book, and
tell us if your "POTW" entries have been digitally altered!
Reader submissions continue to arrive
in tremendous numbers and as long
as they do, we'll occasionally slip a
couple of bonus pictures into the mix:
Used with permission of Royal V. Sefton
"Nooksack Valley Twilight"
Royal V. Sefton of Everson, Washington
shares a quiet moment. That's Royal in his 1960 Colt flying
over the photographer's house, with Mt. Baker in the background.
copyright © Laurence
"Cirrus SR20 over Molokai, Hawaii"
Lorne Direnfeld of Kahului, Hawaii says "aloha"
with a beautiful landscape shot from the north shore
of Molokai Island. According to Lorne, he and Laurence Balter
(the photographer) are the entire Cirrus-flying population
of Hawaii at the moment!
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.
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