June 19, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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... Along with the prototype. The staff at CarterCopter, in Olney, Texas, was busy on Friday afternoon preparing a press release about that morning's success -- they had finally achieved an aerodynamic breakthrough they'd been working on for years -- when news came in that the one-of-a-kind prototype gyrocopter had been destroyed in a crash. Pilots Larry Neal and Brad King were out on a test flight when something went wrong. "We don't know what it was," CEO Jay Carter Jr. told AVweb on Saturday. "Things happened really fast. It was like somebody slammed on the brakes. The nose pitched down and it started rolling to the left. Larry thought it was going inverted." The aircraft righted itself, and Neal and King were able to regain some pitch control just before they hit mesquite trees. The rotor provided enough lift in the descent that it essentially acted as a built-in parachute, Carter said.
The aircraft plowed through the trees at about 70 mph, Carter said, and hit the ground. The landing gear absorbed much of the impact. The cockpit remained intact, but everything else was torn apart. The pilots walked out of the woods to a nearby road, where they were found by CarterCopter staff about 20 minutes later. "That pressurized fuselage is so super-strong, it saved their lives," Carter said. The fuel tank is in the cockpit, a design that some were uncomfortable with, but Carter said this accident proved the wisdom of it. That was the best-protected place, and there was no fuel spill and no fire. The aircraft is not repairable, Carter said.
Despite his disappointment over the loss, Carter said he was "ecstatic" over the success of Friday morning's flight. "We exceeded a Mu of 1 for the first time in history. This has been our goal ever since we started flight-testing in 1998. ... History will prove out the significance of this." The "Mu-1 barrier" is an aerodynamic limit defined by a forward speed and rotor rpm combination that results in advancing (moving into the relative wind) blade tips reaching speeds of twice that of the aircraft. At the same time, the retreating blade tips experience zero airspeed (as they rotate away from the relative wind) on the opposite side -- the entire inboard portion of the blade sees "reverse" air flow. The predicament prevents rotorcraft from achieving high forward speeds (CarterCopter sports small wings). According to the company, the barrier was breached during normal flight-testing Friday morning, while collecting data on a newly developed speed controller for the rotor. Initial data from Friday's flight shows that the airspeed was 170 mph and the rotor was slowed to 107 rpm, for a Mu value of 1.02. A Mu of 1 would enable a gyrocopter to fly up to 300 mph, Carter said.
The milestone attempt wasn't planned but evolved as the rotor proved to be stable as the rpm was decreased. Carter said he believes the breakthrough paves the way for rotorcraft to reach up to Mu-5 and fly up to 500 mph. With vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and the safety of a lifting rotor that acts as "built-in parachute" -- "That's pretty darn good. We hope we'll get the opportunity to build another one," he said. It was a combination of patented technologies that led to the breakthrough. "It's about eight things combined, but the key things that made this possible are the rotor-blade design and the computer-automated controls," Carter said. The data and video from the morning's breakthrough flight are being analyzed. As an element of a current U.S. Army contract the Army is scheduled to verify the calibration and accuracy of the data in the next few weeks.
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Some folks in Fort Payne, Ala., learned a hard lesson last week -- if you surround your airport with a security fence but then leave the gate unlocked, well, you have not secured the field. A 14-year-old boy, driving a van he allegedly stole from his grandmother, arrived at the airport late last Wednesday night, apparently found the gate open, and went looking around. He came across a Cessna 152 unlocked with the key inside, and started it up. He told police later that he had no prior flight experience but was "driving around" in the airplane when he inadvertently found himself airborne. He landed once and took off again, this time flying a bit farther from the airport.
On his second landing, he landed hard, gave it some throttle to avoid the fence, then came down on the road outside the airport. The aircraft was damaged and the boy suffered minor cuts and bruises. Altogether his flight lasted less than half an hour. "It's a miracle the boy wasn't killed or someone else wasn't hurt or killed or that we didn't have significant property damage from the plane crashing somewhere else," Fort Payne Mayor Bill Jordan told the Times-Journal. "The last thing you think about is a 14-year-old stealing a plane from the airport." Airport manager Larry Noble Cowart told The Associated Press, "We've never had a problem before with planes being stolen, so I guess we have been a little lax in our security." The boy was taken to a juvenile detention facility by authorities, charged with stealing the Cessna.
Meanwhile, the much-castigated Pennsylvania pilot who violated the Washington, D.C., ADIZ on May 11 and caused panic in the Capital has been cut a break by the FAA. Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer will be allowed to reapply for his pilot's certificate in 10 months, instead of the one-year restriction that was originally imposed, on the condition that he drop his appeal to the NTSB. In addition, "They asked me not to go out, in essence, and badmouth them," Sheaffer told LancasterOnline. Sheaffer, through his attorney, has said that he had tried repeatedly to make radio contact with authorities that day, but was unsuccessful, contrary to the FAA's initial report. Sheaffer will have to re-take his knowledge and practical tests in order to get his certificate back. The FAA took no action against student pilot Troy Martin, who was at the controls at times during the flight, since he was never pilot in command. "I think it's a fair settlement," Sheaffer's lawyer, Mark McDermott, told The Washington Post. "My client is interested in promoting safety, so he has elected not to fight it and go through retraining. He'll get back to flying as soon as possible."
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After much back and forth between the FAA and owners of affected Cessna twins, two final Airworthiness Directives about wing spars were issued last week. The final ADs require a spar-strap modification, but allow most owners up to 800 flight hours to comply -- that's four to eight years of flying for most owner-operators. The modification then is good for another 5,500 to 12,000 hours, with no further inspections required. The initial cost to comply is still high -- aviation columnist Mike Busch told AVweb he estimates it will cost $40,000 to $60,000 per airplane, and up to two months of downtime. However, he said, the market value of Cessna 300/400 twins should start increasing now that the AD is on the streets. "It has long been my feeling that the uncertainty of the impending rulemaking was depressing the market more than the certainty of a known AD," Busch said. "Furthermore, the spar-strap mod will instantly increase the market value of the aircraft by very nearly 100 percent of the cost of the modification, so the modification cost will largely be recaptured if and when the aircraft is sold."
Busch and AOPA both said that the AD process worked as it should have. "The FAA worked with the industry to ultimately come up with a solution that addressed the safety concerns while maintaining the utility of these aircraft," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. Busch agreed: "This effort included two major public meetings during which the FAA and industry groups exchanged views with far greater openness than has ever before occurred in such a rulemaking effort. Hopefully this will set a precedent for how the FAA 'does business' in dealing with high-impact rulemaking activities in the future." AD 2005-12-12 affects all tip-tank 401, 402 and 411 models, and AD 2005-12-13 affects all wet-wing 402C and 414A models. Both take effect this Wednesday, but the FAA will accept comments on them until Aug. 3.
A pilot in Alaska got into trouble last week when sheets of plywood strapped beneath the belly of his Cessna 206 caught fire, apparently due to heat from the exhaust. The pilot landed on a sandbar in the Skwentna River and escaped with minor injuries. Alaska is the only state where the FAA allows small planes to carry external loads. Meanwhile, a Marine Corps Harrier AV8-B jet crashed last week in a backyard in Yuma, Ariz., while carrying two tons of live bombs and ammunition. Nobody was seriously hurt, and the pilot ejected safely, but hundreds of residents were evacuated due to the jet's payload. Some of the residents were surprised to learn that the local military exercises included flying near their urban neighborhoods fully armed, but military and civilian officials told The Arizona Republic there is nothing unusual about it. "It allows pilots to experience the effect of live munitions when used against a target," said Air National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Carlos Roque. "There's no surprise. They know what it's going to do, how it's going to perform." None of the bombs exploded despite the crash and ensuing fire, which officials said proves that they are safe. It was the fourth crash of a Harrier from the Yuma air base in 18 months.
THE BOSE AVIATION HEADSET X DELIVERS AN UNMATCHED COMBINATION
A Goodyear blimp crashed about 12 miles west of its base at Pompano Beach Airpark in Florida at about 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. Thunderstorms were reported in the area, and witnesses said heavy rains and wind buffeted the airship as it descended to the ground. The blimp knocked down some electrical wires, and about 1,400 people nearby lost power. The two crew members were unhurt and waited in the gondola briefly until rescue crews had secured the site. One witness reported hearing loud noises from the blimp before it went down. Other witnesses were eating dinner in a Red Lobster restaurant when the blimp sailed by. "It looked like it was trying to land in our parking lot," manager Maryann Clark told The Miami Herald. All of the Goodyear blimps have weather radar on board. Over the weekend, crews were dismantling the ship with box-cutters, and packing it for a return to the company's hangar at Pompano.
The Dynalifter, a hybrid airship that combines aerodynamic lift -- wings and body lift -- with aerostatic lift -- helium -- is under construction in Alliance, Ohio, and is expected to be finished later this summer, according to its builder, Ohio Airships. The 120-foot prototype is about 75 percent assembled and the company says it has funding for completion. The prototype is designed to carry a 1,000-pound payload, including a two-person crew, and will take off and land from a runway. No ground crew is required, as for a blimp. The Dynalifter could stay airborne for up to 10 hours, carry bulky payloads, and is cheap to build, the company says. The aircraft could be used for airborne advertising, border patrols and freight. The Dynalifter prototype has a rigid airframe, with internal cells to hold the helium. Even if all the helium was lost in flight, the aircraft could land safely and under control, the company says. Cockpit controls are similar to those in an airplane.
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Legislation now in Congress would help protect volunteer pilots from liability concerns, and the folks at the Air Care Alliance (ACA), who are lobbying for the bill, are asking pilots and aviation organizations to write to their representatives in support. "It is also extremely important that actual volunteer pilots and leaders from these groups write their own letters explaining their personal reasons for supporting the legislation," the ACA says at its Web site, where more details and information about how to best support the effort are posted. The liability protection would also help make it easier for much-needed larger aircraft to participate in public-benefit flight missions. "We believe we would be better able to serve the needy and our communities if these larger aircraft were available," the ACA said. AOPA, EAA and the National Air Transportation Association have been strongly supporting the bill. Last year, the legislation passed the House 385-12 but stalled in the Senate. It has now been reintroduced in both houses. The bills have been referred to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
The methodology used by the FAA to estimate hours flown each year by the GA fleet is inadequate, the NTSB said in a report released last week. As a result, the true accident risk for domestic general aviation operations has likely changed less during the years since 1985 than FAA data would suggest. An accurate and stable activity measure is needed to portray the accident rate accurately, which is critical to formulating and evaluating general aviation safety initiatives, the NTSB said. In its study, the board found that the number of active pilots and the amount of aviation fuel consumed may provide a truer picture of GA activity than the FAA's method of surveying a sample of registered aircraft owners. "In order to ensure the long-term usefulness of the data, the process of collecting and reporting general aviation activity must be well documented, performed in a timely manner, and allocated the resources necessary to maintain consistency year after year," the report concludes.
FOR AVIATION PROFESSIONALS WHO WORK
Air Canada pilots rejected a deal that would have enabled the carrier to purchase 32 Boeing jets -- including 14 composite 787 Dreamliners -- after reviewing costs related to the $6 billion purchase and use of the jets. The deal had relied on the union ratifying an agreement struck April 25. The union balked and (for now) the deal is off...
Cirrus Design's 2000th airplane rolled out of the factory in Duluth, Minn., during a ceremony on Friday...
Two America West pilots convicted of flying drunk were denied bail and jailed pending sentencing...
Bombardier Global 5000 set intercontinental speed record from Chicago to Paris at Mach 0.88...
Four new RNAV transition routes charted in Charlotte, N.C., area, AOPA says...
Vickers Vimy has delayed its departure from Newfoundland to Ireland until at least Wednesday...
Former Boeing President Malcolm Stamper, 80, who led the development of the 747, died Tuesday in Seattle...
The U.S. Postal Service will issue a set of 10 stamps honoring classic American aircraft from the 1930's, '40s and '50s, with a first-day-of-issue ceremony July 29 at Oshkosh...
Daniel Webster College is introducing an online MBA for Aviation Professionals, starting in January 2006. More details will be available online this August. For more information, call 603-577-6615.
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Motor Head 7: Are We Making It Harder Than It Needs To Be?
For many years, FADEC electronic engine systems have been like glass cockpits in the low end of GA: just over the horizon. Well, glass is here, but FADEC is still not available in mainstream, certified aircraft. AVweb's Marc Cook has some thoughts about why that is, and why he still hasn't tried it, in this month's Motor Head column.
No matter what you say about politicians, you have to admit they can make live really tough on pilots and airports when they only listen to the voices of the anti-airplane and anti-airport crowd. A city councilman and pilot from Arizona offers suggestions on how to work with the people who make local decisions about your airport.
AVmail: June 20, 2005
Reader mail this week about the New York TRACON, airliner safety, volunteers to protect planes at EAA AirVenture and more.
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Overheard this Fathers' Day...
A friend and local pilot thought his father (a years-ago pilot) would enjoy a chance again at the controls. So he arranged on Fathers' Day for his Dad to go up with an instructor. The "old man" brought it in for a squeaker. Here's what I heard on tower frequency:
Tower: Understand that was 'Senior' at the controls?
Tower: Well we certainly don't see them that nice very often. Thank you, sir, for showing us all how it's done.
Senior: Well, I may not be as good as I once was. But I'm as good once as I ever was.
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Dirty side down for landing.
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