NewsWire Complete Issue

December 12, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

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T-34s Grounded

Spar Cracks Apparently Spreading...

The FAA has grounded the entire fleet (about 320 in the U.S.) of Beech A45 and T-34 aircraft after it was discovered that cracks in a location on the wing spar not covered by a previous Airworthiness Directive (AD) led to the crash of a Texas Air Aces T-34 last Tuesday. An emergency AD was issued Friday that covers all variants of the military trainer, which is used by several companies for mock combat, aerobatics and upset-recovery instruction. The aircraft can only be flown on ferry permits to their home bases or repair centers and only in VFR conditions with no forecast moderate or severe turbulence. Last Tuesday's accident killed pilot Richard Gillenwaters and customer Pietro Migliori, of Venezuela. The left wing came off the aircraft and the AD says that the center section of the wing failed four inches inboard of the attach point. FAA investigators also found evidence of fatigue at other locations, none of which were covered by the previous AD. That AD, requiring periodic inspection of various wing components, was issued after a November 2003 wing separation on a Texas Air Aces T-34 that killed owner Don Wylie and a customer.

...Crash Airplane Met AD...

The aircraft in the most recent crash was an early T-34, serial number G-13, and had seen extensive use in mock air combat operations, including a stint with Georgia-based Sky Warriors, before it was acquired by Texas Air Aces. Like virtually the entire fleet of T-34s, it had met one of the alternate means of compliance (AMOC) to the AD requiring extensive spar inspection and/or a prohibition on aerobatics. George Braly, whose company, General Aviation Modifications Inc., developed its own AMOC in concert with the T-34 Association, told AVweb that the crash aircraft had been fitted with a used Baron spar sometime in 1995. The replacement spar qualifies as one of four AMOC methods, which include replacement spars, a re-enforcing gusset in the stressed area and a hefty external steel strap bridging the wings across the belly. Sometime after G-13 had its used Baron spar installed, the aircraft suffered an in-flight canopy opening and the right rear wing spar suffered damage when the canopy departed the aircraft. It's not yet known if this was a factor in the structural failure.

...AD Didn't Cover Latest Failure Site

One question investigators are trying to answer is this: If G-13 had the required AMOC, why did the wing fail? This much is known, according to Braly: The wing on the most recent crash failed in an entirely different area of the aircraft structure than in both the Rydell, Ga., crash in 1999 and the 2003 crash near Houston. In both of the earlier crashes, the wing spar failed at a point about a foot outboard of the so-called "bathtub" fitting, an opening under the wing that allows access to the wing through bolts. In the most recent Texas crash, the failure point was in the center fuselage section, well inboard of the bathtub fitting. The recent crash highlights a certain tension between the mock air combat trade and those generally more ... subdued ... fliers of the T-34 Association. With three high-profile crashes in the combat arena, other T-34 owners who use their airplanes in far milder pursuits find themselves again dragged into what may be a protracted and expensive AD process. Braly believes T-34s can be used safely in mock air combat if they're maintained carefully and flown to a 4G limit. Recording G-meters and periodic inspections might help. Nonetheless, Braly believes T-34s not used for air combat should be spared extraordinary inspection and maintenance requirements. "We have been begging the FAA since 1999 to draw a distinction between commercial use of T-34s and any other use," Braly told us. Considering last week's emergency AD, the FAA apparently isn't yet sold on that idea.

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Going Boldly Where No Congress Has Gone

Commercial Space Bill Passes...

A stroke of the president's pen will launch the era of commercial passenger space flight. The Senate, with only minutes remaining in the legislative session that adjourned Wednesday, passed the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act. Assuming President Bush signs it, the controversial legislation will not only allow paying passengers in space, it will make it easier for companies to experiment with and test vehicles to get through what space policy consultant James Muncy calls "the 21st-century equivalent of the barnstorming era." Although the bill, on the surface, enjoyed wide public and political support, there was intense back-room politicking leading up to its final passage. Some members of Congress wanted more safety provisions for passengers built in while others thought it too restrictive on the companies trying to put a toehold in the new market. In the end, it passed unanimously in a package of unrelated legislation presented as the Senate was preparing to wrap up the session. Had it not passed, proponents would have had to reintroduce it in the next session, delaying the development of the industry, which now hopes to launch its first customers in 2007.

...FAA Butts Out, For Now...

The bill essentially sets the regulatory parameters on commercial space ventures for the FAA for the next eight years. Under the legislation, the FAA would primarily be interested in protecting the "uninvolved public" and the public interest. During the eight years, the FAA can only implement regulations designed to protect crew and passengers if there are serious accidents or close calls. After the eight years are up, the "barnstorming" will presumably be over and the FAA will be able to draw up regs that reflect the lessons learned (hopefully without a big body count) during the experimentation. During House debate last month, some Democrat members opposed what they termed a "tombstone mentality" and wanted more safety regs built into the legislation. Proponents of the bill argued that too much regulation would hamstring the development of the industry and scare away potential investors. Muncy said the FAA and the bill's congressional backers deserve credit for taking the leap of faith. "Congress is clearly saying that it doesn't want to be a barrier," he said. "It wants to open doors and fly the American public into space."

...Passengers Accept The Risk

Now, what's all this mean to you, the well-heeled adventurer type? Essentially, if you decide to invest $200,000 or more in the ultimate adventure ride, you accept the possibility that it might be your last thrill and there will be no legal recourse for those you left on the ground (theoretically). Even multi-billionaire Richard Branson, who is hoping to inaugurate commercial space flight using Burt Rutan-designed equipment in 2007, doesn't have the money to defend lawsuits that would arise from the first ... private ... space crash. Eliminating liability for passenger safety was considered an essential element of the legislation. Less obvious, but just as important, is a section on experimentation. Under current rules, someone trying to break into the space business must meet virtually all the licensing and permit requirements of a fully functional spaceship before it can launch any experimental flights. Under the bill, as long as there are no paying customers aboard, the pre-launch criteria are significantly relaxed, saving time and money for would-be space racers. "This one element is the major cost-saving aspect of the proposed legislation, and it is hugely significant for many small businesses that want to test new vehicle concepts," Nathan Horsely, an attorney specializing in space law, wrote in The Space Review. There's also no limit on the number of experimental flights permitted under the new rules.

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Certificates To Become Photo ID

Starting with your next rating or certificate, your pilot's certificate will sport a new feature. You. In living color. Buried deep in a contentious bill that revamps the U.S.'s intelligence and anti-terrorism posture is a provision requiring pilot certificates to carry the photo of the license holder. The new certificates will also be tamper- and counterfeit-resistant and may have the ability to store biometric information. The FAA has a year to start issuing the new documents but you likely won't have to say "cheese" right away. The bill doesn't require pilots to get the new license unless they get a new rating or certificate. AOPA says it's been working with the FAA to minimize the "burden" of implementing the rule. For instance, the rule allows designees (like air medical examiners) to take the photos and send them electronically to the FAA, rather than making pilots travel to the nearest FSDO or regional office to have them taken. AOPA says it successfully lobbied against a provision that would have required those renting aircraft to be checked against a terrorist watch list.

Snowbirds Grounded After Midair Kills Pilot

The Canadian Armed Forces has temporarily grounded the Snowbirds air demonstration team after a midair collision killed a pilot and slightly injured another. Capt. Miles Selby died when his CT-114 Tutor jet crashed in a field near Mossbank, Saskatchewan. The other pilot, Capt. Chuck Mallet, was able to eject and is being treated for minor injuries. The two were on a routine training mission. They were the solo pilots and may have been practicing opposing maneuvers when the accident occurred. Mossbank is about 40 miles from the Snowbirds' home base and winter-training headquarters at Canadian Forces Base Moose Jaw. Selby, 31, of Tsawassen, B.C. (a suburb of Vancouver), was an F-18 pilot before joining the Snowbirds in 2003. Mallett, 35, of Edmonton, was in his third year with the team. Witness Jackie Geis said she heard a loud "boom" while feeding cattle on her Mossbank ranch. "I looked up and there were two big puffs of smoke ... and I watched the stuff fall to the ground," she told CTV News. In 35 years and 1,800 shows, the team has had about 20 accidents, five of them fatal. The last fatality was exactly six years before Friday's crash, when Capt. Michael VandenBos was killed.

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Bus Debate Grounds Drunk-Flying Law

Pennsylvania still doesn't have a law against flying while drunk because Gov. Ed Rendell doesn't want to spend $6 million on rural transit. Huh? you ask. Well, that's politics as usual in Harrisburg, where getting things done is apparently an exercise in trickery and one-upmanship. As AVweb told you last month, both state houses had approved the Flying While Impaired bill in an attempt to plug an embarrassing loophole. After John Salamone's allegedly drunken aerial tour of Pennsylvania and New Jersey last January, in which he buzzed Philadelphia Airport and got in the way of airliners on his way to a close encounter with a nuclear power plant, prosecutors discovered there was no law against flying drunk. There is still no law against it because opportunistic legislators tried to piggyback a controversial measure on the bill. Rendell vetoed the bill when he saw the rider attached that would funnel $6 million to a couple of money-losing transit operators. Now, drunk-flying incidents are not exactly an epidemic in Pennsylvania or anywhere else, so Rendell possibly believed sacrificing the bill to prevent the "stopgap" payment to the bus companies was the wisest course. And it's not like Salamone isn't paying for his crimes. Earlier this month he was sentenced to between six and 23 months in jail for reckless endangerment and risking a catastrophe, proving, if nothing else, that amid chaos justice can prevail.

First PWC-Powered Eclipse Rolls Out

The first Eclipse 500 certification test airplane -- complete with new Pratt & Whitney Canada engines -- rolled out of the company's Albuquerque assembly plant on Saturday. The airplane is the first of five flying test beds that will go through the certification process. Other airframes will be used for static and fatigue testing. First flight of the test aircraft will occur sometime in the next couple of weeks, according to an Eclipse statement. "Roll out of (the test plane) is an important symbol of the real progress made in the Eclipse 500 program," said CEO Vern Raburn. Certification is still planned for May of 2006, more than a year later than originally planned by the company. The program was stalled in 2003 when Eclipse fired Williams as its engine contractor after problems with the engine. Pratt & Whitney Canada developed a new engine for the Eclipse, the PW610F. While Eclipse waited for the engine, it completed aerodynamic and systems validation testing on an airframe powered by drone engines.

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GPS Safe Gliding Feature Patented

Any GPS can tell you where you are but Control Vision's Anywhere Map system tells you where you should be in case your engine quits. Anywhere Map's "cones of safety" feature has now been patented and it falls under the category of "why didn't I think of that?" As part of the moving map's "personal digital co-pilot" system, the display shows an inverted cone around all airports in the vicinity within which the aircraft can glide safely to a landing. "Being within gliding range of an airport is one of the best pieces of information available to the pilot of an aircraft in distress," said Control Vision CEO Jay Humbard. The pilot plugs in the aircraft's performance data, including glide ratio, and the GPS continuously adjusts the gliding distance according to altitude. The display takes the shape of an inverted cone, hence the name. The GPS can also be used during flight planning to ensure the course keeps the aircraft within gliding distance of an airport for as much of the flight as possible. During the flight, if the engine quits, the pilot can highlight an airport within the cone, hit the emergency mode function, and the GPS will draw a direct flight plan to that airport. Neat.

Screens (Briefly) Go Blank At California TRACON

Another major technical foul-up briefly snarled California airspace on Thursday. After suffering a power failure last April and the failure of a radio system (in which the backups failed, too) earlier this year, controllers' screens went blank at the major Terminal Radar Approach Control center watching over the comings and goings at dozens of airports in Southern California and as far east as Las Vegas. This time the backup system worked and the screens were back on within five minutes. But even that little blip affected dozens of flights, causing delays (albeit short ones) in the air and on the ground. "It's very serious when one of your radar systems goes out -- even if you have two," FAA spokesman Donn Walker told the Los Angeles Times. "We're working very aggressively to find out why it went down and make sure it doesn't happen again." Controllers stayed in radio contact with all the affected flights within the control zone and those waiting to enter were put in holding patterns until the screens came back on.

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Mooney Lands On Truck

While we can't believe it was his intended target, the pilot of a Mooney M20F can add the dubious distinction of using a moving highway truck's trailer as a landing strip -- and living to tell the tale. Mark Taylor Davis was trying to get to the airport at Fabens, Texas (near El Paso) after the Mooney's engine quit but he didn't quite make it. The plane left a couple of skid marks on top of the trailer before falling onto the highway upside down. Neither Taylor nor his wife Mercedes were hurt. Truck driver Raymond Bennett White Jr. said he didn't hear a thing when the plane touched down.

On The Fly...

The Federal Communications Commission may study allowing cellphone use on airliners. A vote next week among FCC officials will determine whether the issue comes up for discussion. Whether passengers uncomfortable at the thought of sitting next to a cell yeller will get a vote is not known...

The owner of a Washington State charter company could be going to jail for lying about his past on FAA certificate applications. Clif Dyer didn't tell the FAA about his previous conviction for second-degree rape of a child or that he was undergoing treatment...

Actor Bruce Willis has offered to donate land for a new Idaho airport. Willis owns a tract of flat land near Sun Valley and appeared at a public meeting on future sites to make the offer. But before you start writing fan mail, understand that Willis is planning a ski-resort development near the site he's offering...

Cessna apparently has confidence in its single-engine business. The company is planning a $20 million expansion to its Independence, Kan., high-wing plant. It includes a couple of acres of new buildings and might result in the hiring of 500 more workers over the next few years...

Steve Fossett has lots of aviation records but perhaps not the latest attributed to him by some sources (including AVweb). The Federation Aeronautique International says Fossett's sailplane partner Terry Delore was actually PIC when the duo flew a Schleicher ASH 25 Mi 2193.4 kilometers in a straight line over Argentina a couple of weeks ago. Delore was, however, listed as the co-pilot on a couple of other record flights over a triangular course.

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New Articles and Features on AVweb

As the Beacon Turns #84: Let's Get Wet!
What better way to spend a long weekend in the Northwest than to get reaquainted with planes on floats. AVweb's Michael Maya Charles shows that skill with seaplane techniques can help when you're on dry land, in this month's As The Beacon Turns.

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Reader mail this week about outsourcing Flight Service Stations, flying with polished ice, cell phone interference and much more.

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Short Final...

Tower: How was the ride down the ILS?

Airliner 123: Pretty good actually.....

Tower: When did you break out?

Airliner 123: (pause) 1996

Airliner 123: (even longer pause) OH!! You mean out of the clouds??

Airliner 123: ...About 1000 feet.

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