April 27, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Burt Rutan may have conquered space but he's not so sure he can crack space bureaucracy. The iconic aviation innovator gave legislators an earful last week when he testified before the House Science Committee's space subcommittee. If the government lets him, Rutan envisions a franchise-like system for operators who want to get into the "personal spaceflight" business, with strict controls over equipment, operations and standards emanating from a head office. Such a system could fill a surprisingly large "need" and put up to 100,000 people into suborbital weightlessness within 12 years. Virgin Galactic, which is getting Rutan's Scaled Composites to build spacecraft for its commercial operation, claims 29,000 people have already offered to put up $20,000 deposits on $200,000 flights. This kind of system would be built around reusable space planes, like Rutan's prototype SpaceShipOne, that use already-available runways and other infrastructure. The use of more "conventional" booster rockets and capsules would drastically reduce the potential numbers of participants -- Rutan estimates no more than 500 people a year could make the trip -- and he also believes that one in 25 of them would be killed in the attempt. Ironically, he said, the regulatory system favors the booster/payload method, a system geared to coping with disaster rather than trying to prevent it.
Rutan told the hearing that the regulatory process almost scuttled his Paul Allen-financed bid to win the Ansari X Prize, which his team accomplished last October. Although SpaceShipOne and White Knight bear little resemblance to the classic booster/payload arrangement that has typified space flight to date, under the FAA's new Office of Commercial Space Transportation, according to Rutan, they get the same treatment. Under those regs, the protection of the "non-involved public" in the event of disaster is paramount. "It resulted in cost overruns, increased risk for my test pilots, [and] did not reduce risk to the non-involved public," he said. Rutan offered a solution. He would rather his airplane-like systems be treated by the FAA as airplanes, with the emphasis on innovation to prevent problems from occurring -- but he's not optimistic. For one thing, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation is enshrined in law as the regulatory body. Assuming Rutan and his crew get to develop the personal spaceflight industry, he told the committee it will be a relatively accessible and comfortable experience for customers. He said customers won't accept being jammed into a tiny spacecraft, and that the next generation will have comfortable accommodations, large windows and room for them to float almost weightless for the five to six minutes they spend in space.
Of course, the spinoff from such an industry could be huge and the maneuvering to capitalize on it has begun. According to the South Florida Business Journal, at least 10 states, including Florida, are trying to convince the new space tourism companies to choose them as bases for their operations. The paper says the research firm of Futron/Zogby surveyed 450 millionaires in 2003 and projected that private space flight would become a $1 billion annual business, with 15,000 people seeing the black sky in 2021. But it's not just launch sites and other infrastructure that will create wealth. After all, what's the point of taking the most high-tech adventure available without bringing home the most high-tech souvenir? Space Adventures, which has already put the first space tourists aboard the International Space Station, is now planning a suborbital program, and participants in either adventure will be able to beam home sophisticated real-time video of the experience. Ecliptic Enterprises Corp., of Pasadena, has been selected by Space Adventures to provide the imaging service on its flights via the RocketCam system. The system provides internal and external real-time video of the flight and was used by Rutan's team to document the flights of SpaceShipOne.
IN PRINT AND ONLINE, TRADE-A-PLANE GIVES YOU THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Visitors to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh (July 25-31) may be able to compare firsthand the frontrunners in the very light jet (VLJ) competition. Eclipse plans to make a big entrance with a fully finished type-conforming version of its long-awaited 500 and Cessna is considering flying the prototype of its Mustang to the big show. Adam Aircraft will also undoubtedly have its A700 proof-of-concept plane there. The AdamJet made a big splash two years ago when it became the first of any version of a VLJ to fly to Oshkosh, but the A700 program has not yet produced a conforming airframe. EAA is, of course, delighted to provide the backdrop for Eclipse's big entrance (and potentially the Mustang's). Although Eclipse flew a 500 to Sun 'n Fun and displayed it for a couple of days, the Oshkosh event is being billed as the "first public flight" of the plane. EAA President Tom Poberezny told reporters via teleconference on Wednesday that the Eclipse's arrival at 3 p.m. on July 27 would start the day's air show.
The Oshkosh announcement comes a couple of days after Eclipse released details of an order for up to 300 VLJs to DayJet, a company that hopes to start an on-demand charter service on the eastern seaboard. Eclipse says it has more than 2,000 orders for the 500, which was originally slated to begin delivery this year but was delayed due to a change in engine supplier. Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn told reporters on Wednesday the Pratt & Whitney Canada 610F-equipped 500 is a pleasure to fly, although there are still a few developmental bugs to work out, including improved longitudinal stability and better brakes. The first production version 500 flew on Dec. 31 (fulfilling, by a few hours, a commitment by Raburn to make the first flight by the end of 2004) and there are now three in the air. Two more will be flying within the next couple of months. Raburn said weather problems (it's been raining a lot in Albuquerque) and the normal engineering hitches to be expected in a development program have put the company 45 days behind in its "transparent" certification schedule. However, Raburn said they expect to make up for lost time by using all five test aircraft in certification flights. The original plan had been to use three planes for certification and to "fly the pants off" the other two to rack up the hours and check reliability in real-world conditions.
Although it started three years after Eclipse went public with its VLJ program, long-established Cessna appears to be catching up to start-up Eclipse with the development of the Mustang. The prototype flew for the first time on April 23 and by Wednesday it had flown at least twice more, said Cessna spokeswoman Jessica Myers. Myers said the company hasn't decided to fly the prototype to Oshkosh but it hasn't ruled it out, either. "It will depend on where we are with the flight test program," she said. The prototype will be used for aerodynamic and systems tests. Later this year, two production Mustangs are scheduled to fly and they'll form the backbone of the FAA certification test program. Last week's maiden flight was said to be successful, with pilots Scotty Jergenson and Dave Bonifield taking off at McConnell Air Force Base at 10:26 a.m. and landing at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport at 12:47 p.m. The plane climbed to 11,000 feet, the gear and flaps were cycled and various stability tests were carried out. "Everything went just as planned," said Project Manager Russ Meyer III.
RECONDITIONED 25XLs AVAILABLE FROM LIGHTSPEED AVIATION
After nearly five months on the ground, the T-34 Mentor fleet is slowly finding its way back into the air. Thanks to a Herculean effort by the T-34 Association Inc., the FAA last week quietly granted owners a one-time 60-hour period to fly their Mentors, pending a permanent fix for the latest bout of spar cracking. Recall that a T-34 crashed in Texas on Dec. 7 after a center section spar gave way. Both occupants were killed. The FAA immediately grounded the fleet and the T-34 group went to work on a fix. To qualify for flight, each owner was required to compile a detailed history of the airplane and to inspect the center spar section for cracks around certain fasteners. Once approved, the flight envelope will be restricted to zero through 2.5 Gs and 152 knots. Only a handful had gotten airborne by late April but the return-to-flight pace was quickening. One of the first to fly was N34SY, a T-34 owned by General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI), in Ada, Okla. GAMI is helping the T-34 Association engineer a long-term fix and this week's flight was to collect strain-gauge data. For a detailed report on the association's efforts, see the June issue of AVweb's sister publication, Aviation Consumer.
The world's largest passenger plane lifted smoothly from Toulouse Airport in France Wednesday, officially launching the highly polarized battle between Airbus and Boeing over the future of air travel. Airbus is gambling its massive A380, which flew for four hours on its maiden flight, is the shape of things to come, promising greater comfort, efficiency and lower fares. However, company officials weren't taking any chances with safety on the first flight. Crew members all wore parachutes and fire trucks lined the runway for the event, which drew 30,000 spectators. But while Airbus is claiming the PR high ground for now, Boeing's vision of future flight, the 787 Dreamliner, earned some pretty substantial votes of confidence on the order book earlier this week. On Monday, long-time Airbus customer Air Canada announced that Boeing models, including up to 60 787s, would form the core of its future long-haul fleet. The airline announced 14 firm orders for Dreamliners with options for 46 more, and 18 orders for 777s with options for 18 more. CEO Robert Milton also said Air Canada would be phasing out the A340 and A330 jets that now do the bulk of the overseas flying. The short-haul market will continue to be based around Air Canada's fleet of more than 100 single-aisle Airbuses. On Tuesday, Air India announced it would buy 27 Dreamliners. That brings the total number of firm orders for the Dreamliner to 244.
PILOT GETAWAYS MAGAZINE YOUR FLIGHT PLAN FOR ADVENTURE
A North Dakota aircraft maintenance company is reportedly still in business even though it lost its FAA certification in 2004 and its senior mechanic lost his A&P certificate earlier this year. In both cases, according to multiple Associated Press stories published in the Fargo Forum newspaper, the FAA determined that faulty maintenance, compounded by falsified maintenance records on the part of Fargo Aero Tech, led to potentially disastrous failures on two aircraft. In the May 2004 incident, the tail rotor cable on a private helicopter failed just after the pilot had landed. Inspection of the cable was to have been part of the 100-hour inspection, which had been performed by the company four hours previously. Last Feb. 26, the pilot and passenger of a Cessna aircraft were seriously hurt after the engine seized shortly after takeoff. Investigators found the oil filter had been improperly installed and all the oil leaked out of the engine. The helicopter incident resulted in the FAA's revoking Fargo Aero Tech's certification, but it could remain in business as long as A&Ps signed off on work. In the Cessna mishap, the FAA revoked the A&P certificate of manager Emory A. Brabolian after determining that he installed the oil filter incorrectly and then falsified the log to indicate that he'd run-tested the engine to check for leaks. The Forum reports that Brabolian has dropped his appeal of the certificate revocation and accepted the FAA's six-month suspension of his certificate. He will have to requalify for the certificate at the end of six months. The owner of the company was not available to the Forum for comment.
The Senate Finance Committee has fixed a legislative error and a sunset clause on the tax on jet fuel has been reinstated. According to the National Business Aviation Association, the taxation of jet fuel was moved from one legislative section to another. During the move, the clause ending the 21.8 cent-per-gallon tax on Sept. 30, 2007, was inadvertently omitted. The sunset clause is now back on the books, leaving only a 4.3 cent-per-gallon tax as permanent. Some operators can also expect some small tax breaks thanks to amendments approved by the committee. Crop-dusters can now claim tax rebates on fuel used to travel from farm to farm and they don't have to get a letter from each farmer proving the work was done. Seaplane operators won't have to pay commercial cargo and passenger tax as long as they take off and land on waterways that don't get aid from the airport and airway trust fund. Also, the committee overturned an IRS ruling that forced small sightseeing operators to collect a ticket tax.
IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SURF THE NET, IT CAN RECEIVE AVIATION WEATHER
While the certification race for the very light jet market heats up, there continues to be interest in homebuilt jets. Aerocomp showed off its (six-foot-tall cabin) kit jet at Sun 'n Fun recently and now the people behind ViperJet claim to be within days of the first flight of their new offering. The ViperJet Mark II has four times the power of the original ViperJet and Viper Aircraft spokesman Dan Hanchette says the 3,000 pounds of thrust now available (from GE J-85/CJ610 engines) should push the two-place plane to 500 mph with a climb rate of 10,000 feet per minute. Test pilot Len Fox will apparently find out for sure in the next week or so. Hanchette said 20 kits have been sold and five are almost finished. The basic kit cost is $183,000 plus engine. The military surplus J-85s cost $25,000 to $45,000 depending on age and condition and the civilian version, the CJ610, costs more because it's certified. Build time is estimated at 2,500 to 3,500 hours.
We may never know exactly how commercial student Zayad Hajaig became a fugitive terrorist suspect but the British national, with the help of friends in the U.S., is now trying to assure American authorities that he has no links to terrorist groups. "I am not a bloody terrorist," Hajaig is quoted in The Atlanta Constitution Journal as writing in an e-mail to his friend Leonard Harris, who owns an Atlanta pilot shop. Hajaig fled to London after federal authorities sought to question him over allegations that he "became aggressive" with a flight instructor in a bid to gain a commercial certificate. Authorities later found a handgun and two rifles that he allegedly possessed illegally. Hajaig and his U.S. friends claim it's a misunderstanding that went wildly out of control. "This is stupid," said Harris. "He is no terrorist." However, U.S. authorities do look dimly on the Nigerian-born Hajaig's sudden flight home. "He is a fugitive," said U.S. attorney's office spokesman Patrick Crosby. Meanwhile, the flight instructor, Jim Archer, is denying claims by Hajaig and his friends that he called federal authorities. He said Hajaig tried to get him to sign off on his commercial certificate without flying with him and he refused. Harris said Hajaig was close to getting his commercial ticket when his visa expired. When federal authorities contacted him, Harris said Hajaig panicked and fled to England. Soon afterward, the Atlanta Joint Terrorism Task Force issued an alert. "All I am guilty of is overstaying my visa and that has mushroomed into something that is frankly quite embarrassing," Hajaig wrote in an e-mail to Harris.
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Some Greek flight safety inspectors are being asked to return about $500,000 in salaries because they were not qualified for the job and they already had full-time work in other areas of Greece's Civil Aviation Authority. In fact, a study by the State Audit Council found that the majority of flight safety inspectors were unqualified for the job, which included random safety inspections of aircraft. Not surprisingly, the report raised doubts about the safety of Greek-based aircraft. The report confirms earlier findings by the FAA that Greece did not comply with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The secret report, obtained by a Greek newspaper, said proper hiring practices for safety inspectors were not followed beginning in 2002, when vacant positions stopped being posted.
The future of a Fort Wayne, Ind., airport seems a little brighter after the local airport authority voted to keep the facility open "indefinitely." Still, anti-airport forces found encouragement in the descriptions noting that indefinitely doesn't mean "in perpetuity"
One of the world's best hang gliding competitors died in a competition in Florida last week. Chris Muller, of Cochrane, Alberta, Canada, was crossing the finish line of a race in the U.S. Nationals meet in Groveland. Muller's father Willi was killed in a paragliding accident seven years ago...
EAA AirVenture will experience a little French flair this year as more than 20 French aircraft and pilots plan to fly to the event. Included in the French fleet will be two restored Dassault MD312 Flamant ("Flamingo") twin-engine military liaison aircraft.
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.
DA40 DIAMOND STAR A FLEET FAVORITE
Say Again? #49: Come Up a Bad Cloud
A storm is brewing: Warm, wet air (increasing airline traffic) is about to collide with cold, dry air (decreasing air traffic controllers and FAA budget cutting) ... and the lightning spark will be all the new GPS approaches. "Storm-Tracker" (and AVweb columnist) Don Brown gives the forecast in this month's Say Again column.
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*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb checked in with supporters of Meigs Field, asking if anyone is still actively boycotting Chicago.
Most of our respondents (42%) said they still try to boycott "anything 'Chicago,'" regardless of whether or not their efforts have had an effect on the city. Another 24% of respondents were more optimistic about the boycott, saying they believed their actions had had some effect, even if it wasn't enough to save Meigs Field.
30% of our respondents admitted defeat on the Meigs Field issue, while only 3% (30 readers total) are looking forward to seeing the park that will replace Meigs.
By their own admission, 10 readers hadn't even heard of Meigs Field. (!)
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
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It's been a couple of weeks since Sun 'n Fun just enough time for reader photos to start trickling in. You've seen our galleries; now let's see what AVweb readers who were lucky enough to attend the show sent us!
(Of course, this week's winner Harry Silcox of Sun City, Florida will be getting an official AVweb baseball cap in the mail for his contribution.)
Have your own pictures from Sun 'n Fun? Want to win one of those spiffy hats? Submit your amateur aviation photos here.
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
Used with permission of Harry Silcox
Harry Silcox of Sun City, Florida
demonstrates how to travel to an airshow in style.
And a big "happy birthday" to Jacob, who turned three
at Sun 'n Fun. Eyes on the skies, young master Jake!
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.
Used with permission of Dave Curran
"We Have Come a Long Way ..."
Dave Curran of Stafford, Virginia
snapped this shot of two L-39s at the show.
"The caption is just a suggestion," writes Dave.
"Change it as you wish." Actually, Dave, we thought
you nailed it on this one, so we left the caption as-is.
Used with permission of Al Hallonquist
"You Never Know Who's in the Crowd!"
Al Hallonquist of Hobe Sound, Florida
caught an interesting moment on film
that didn't involve in aircraft. Al explains:
"A picture of X-15 mothership and first-flight-of-the-B-1 pilot
Charlie Bock (blue shirt) and X-15 pilot and major record
holder Bob White at Sun 'n Fun on April 14. While [I was] taking
the picture, someone stopped and asked if they were famous
and should he take a picture but walked away before I could answer.
Shoulda stuck around."
Sun 'n Fun wasn't the only place
with aviation action that's been
caught on film by our readers.
Stick around for this week's bonus pictures!
with permission of
"Wing Walker at NAS Corpus Christi"
Amanda Carter of Corpus Christi, Texas
drags us away from Sun 'n Fun for a brief glimpse of
air show action at the NAS Corpus Christi Air Show.
Amanda got this terrific shot with a Canon Digital Rebel 9.
Used with permission of John G. Crusco
"Duggy Enjoying the Sun"
John Crusco of Dover, Delaware
takes us back to Sun 'n Fun, where he
snapped this cheery photo of air-show
favorite Duggy, "the smile in the sky."
Used with permission of Gary L. Evans
Gary Evans of the Woodlands, Texas
took this photo during a "spot landing event"
at the Lawyer-Pilot's Bar Association Meeting
in Tucson, Arizona. (Gary's plane took first place.)
Hmmm we know a few pilot jokes, and everyone
knows a dozen or so lawyer jokes but are there any
good lawyer-pilot jokes out there? Gary? Anyone?
Used with permission of Timothy O'Connor
"Open Cockpit Profile"
Timothy O'Connor of Cincinnati, Ohio writes,
"This photo caught my gyroplane's rotor ... at the
instant it was passing overhead." Timothy pegs
the craft as an Air Command 447 gyroplane, but
the identity of the Man in Black remains a mystery.
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 till every part stops.
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