August 17, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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On the day of its final flight last week, the pilots of a Helios Boeing 737-300 that crashed near Athens, killing all 121 aboard, reportedly contacted air traffic control to say that a problem with the aircraft's air conditioning system would keep them at 16,000 feet. The aircraft later climbed to 32,000 after the crew radioed its last transmission -- that the problem was solved, according to the New York Times. Last December, three aboard the same aircraft suffered injury when a pressurization problem at altitude (due to an improperly sealed door) led to an emergency descent to 11,000. Last week, passengers on the flight's previous leg reportedly complained of an air conditioning problem -- the cabin was unusually cold. Speculation that the aircraft again suffered depressurization on its final flight have been followed by coroner's reports that some passengers and crew (co-pilot and one other crew member) were still breathing (though perhaps unconscious) upon impact. However, the supposed text message sent from the aircraft indicating "The pilots have turned blue. Farewell cousin, we're frozen" has been revealed an admitted hoax. Note that while altitude-acclimated individuals have fought to and championed Mount Everest's 29,000-foot peak without oxygen, the less physically elite passengers on this flight may have faced a 32,000-foot altitude, unprotected.
The British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) has called on the Greek government to quickly release a report on the crash in hopes of clearing up conflicting stories and exposing evidence on what downed the airliner. BALPA Chairman Mervyn Granshaw said a lot of what has been publicized about the crash doesn't add up. However, some of the original information is now thought to be bogus. Although some sort of decompression problem is generally accepted as the overriding issue on the flight, there have been numerous conflicting stories about how that affected those on board. The Greek air force pilots who intercepted the plane said the co-pilot was slumped over the controls but there were also reports of people moving about the cabin.
Among the most important pieces of evidence missing is the body of the aircraft's captain -- his is one of three bodies missing. Meanwhile, a Macedonian news service is reporting that at least two flight attendants remained conscious and one, who had some private pilot training, tried to land the plane. Greek air force pilots sent to intercept the flight reportedly noted movement in the cockpit, while the co-pilot was slumped over the controls and the captain wasn't visible. And the coroner reports thus far that at least 20 of the 121 people aboard were alive when the plane went down. Hampering the investigation is severe damage to the already-retrieved cockpit voice recorder (the flight data recorder is apparently in better shape) sent to France for evaluation.
The airline is now defending its safety record in spite of the co-pilot's son who said in a television interview that his father told him that "if his diary was published, then the company (Helios) would close." The alleged "diary" is believed lost in the wreckage. The airline's former chief mechanic, Kyriakos Pilavakis, said a simple decompression couldn't have caused the crash. He told the Independent that there must have been other system failures and/or errors compounding the decompression to cause the crash. A final note: air force pilots could see clearly into the 737 and reported what they saw inside the aircraft, but a variety of experts interviewed by various news sources insist the windows would be frosted over if a sudden decompression was to blame.
So, what's all this mean to GA pilots? If nothing else it serves as a good excuse to remind ourselves about the potential dangers of hypoxia and realize that it doesn't just happen at the flight levels. AOPA has a comprehensive list of references on the insidious condition and its prevention, along with the reminder that it's something we have to plan around if we fly above 10,000 feet during the day or above 5,000 feet at night. But it's not just altitude that can induce hypoxia, as a quiz on AOPA's safety site reveals.
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With the bizjet focus squarely on the emerging very light jet VLJ (or entry-level, as Cessna prefers) market, a San Antonio company has been working in its shadow for about five years. But Sino Swearingen burst into the spotlight earlier this week with the announcement that its SJ30-2 light jet (13,500 pounds) is essentially one step away from FAA certification. In a news release, company President Gene Comfort said the plane was issued final Type Inspection Authorizations (TIA) and that means type certification is virtually guaranteed by the end of the year. A total of 13 blocks of testing were required to get through the TIA stage. The issuance of the TIAs signifies that the aircraft meets FAA standards. "The SJ30-2 has consistently shown complete adherence and total compliance to all FAA regulations," Comfort said in the release.
Comfort said the accomplishment is particularly noteworthy because Sino Swearingen is a new company and, as such, is the first to bring a clean-slate design through the certification process in 35 years. The company claims the six-passenger (single-pilot) aircraft has a range of 2,500 nm at 447 KTAS (514 mph). It has a high-speed cruise of 486 KTAS (560 mph.) It also has a 12-psi cabin pressurization system that will maintain sea-level air pressure up to 41,000 feet. Comfort said the company's certification efforts accelerated dramatically with the involvement, 30 months ago, of new CEO Dr. Carl Chen and Alfred Baumbusch, senior VP of operations. The company has had its share of challenges along the way, including the loss of a test aircraft in 2003 that killed chief test pilot Carroll Beeler. And while the celebration over the TIAs continues, so does the company's effort to extract even more concessions from West Virginia to prop up its facility there. Sino Swearingen is having trouble retaining employees because of the hot real-estate market in the Martinsburg, W. Va. area. The company wants the state to pick up half of the first six months of wages and $15,000 in moving expenses for new employees at the Martinsburg plant, which makes wings and fuselages. A spokesman for West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin told the Charleston Gazette that the state is interested in talking to the company about the wage and expense subsidies.
THE SJ30-2 IS THE WORLD'S FASTEST LIGHT BUSINESS JET
The fourth fatal plane crash in eight months at Denver's Centennial Airport is prompting calls for an investigation into the safety of the field and has spurred politicians to address the safety of the MU-2 (involved in two of the four accidents). But while politicians and aviation officials concede that the facility has had a run of bad luck, they insist there is nothing inherently unsafe. "Nothing we have indicates it is a dangerous airfield," said NTSB investigator Aaron Sauer. "It is a busy airfield with a lot of aircraft coming in and out." Sauer was at Centennial to investigate the crash of a Cessna 425 that was on an instrument approach when it went down last Saturday, killing all four aboard. The pilot, Stephan Gavit, was described by friends as an expert pilot who was very familiar with the airport. He was returning from a fishing trip in Idaho. The crash came barely a week after an MU-2 cargo plane went down, killing the pilot. Another MU-2 crashed last Dec. 10 and a Cessna 421 was lost on Dec. 17. "It does seem like we're having a spate of crashes," said Lone Tree Mayor Jack O'Boyle. He's asked for more information on the crashes to see if there's a pattern to them. The plane in Saturday's crash came down in a field that will soon be the site of a major housing development.
China's main flying school has ordered 42 Cessna 172s as part of a major expansion. The Civil Aviation Flying University of China (CAFUC) wants to increase the number of students trained from 600 to 1,000 a year. The CAFUC is the primary training facility for airline pilots in China and the country's burgeoning civil aviation industry has resulted in a shortage of pilots. The private sector is also becoming involved, with PanAm Flight Academy setting up a school in Beijing. As we reported two weeks ago, Diamond Aircraft will soon start building DA40 light singles in China to service a predicted boom in general aviation. Half of the Skyhawks headed to the CAFUC will have Garmin G1000 glass cockpits and the others will be conventionally equipped. After primary training on the Skyhawk, students at the CAFUC move to jet training on CJ1s. The Skyhawk deal is worth about $9 million.
LEARN TO FLY INSIDE! THIS WEEK ON WINGS TO ADVENTURE TELEVISION
A Virginia company is pinning its future on an out-of-this-world airplane. Aurora Flight Systems recently started building a plant at Manassas Regional Airport to build aircraft designed to fly over Mars. The hang-glider-like aircraft is the first intended to fly in the atmosphere of another planet and its mission is to take photos that have been hitherto unavailable to scientists studying the red planet. All of the photos of Mars to date have either been low-resolution images taken from an orbiter or high-resolution images from a vehicle on the surface. Only an airplane can take the kind of high-resolution aerial photos that fill in the scientific gap and Aurora intends to fill the void. The glider will be carried to Mars by rocket, folded up in a pod. It would be dropped from the space capsule, unfold itself and fly around taking photos. "You're getting the best of both worlds, from the rover perspective and the orbiter perspective."
A 55-foot pleasure yacht became a rescue ship off Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., last Saturday when a Piper Navajo was successfully ditched in the Atlantic about six miles from shore. The Spindrift was able to rescue all six people aboard, including an eight-month-old baby. The plane was on a flight from the Bahamas to Ft. Lauderdale when the pilot radioed a distress call, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen told The Associated Press. Walter Long, a captain on the yacht, said the unidentified pilot did "a great job" on the ditching. "He made a perfect water landing," said Long. "If it wasn't for him, they'd all be dead." The extent of any injuries to the aircraft occupants wasn't known. The yacht delivered them to a Coast Guard station. The plane sank in about 1,000 feet of water.
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Aircraft owners at a Pittsburgh-area airport say they're being forced out of their hangars by a tripling of rents. The rent for hangar space for small planes at Allegheny County Airport is going from about $550 a month to almost $1,600 a month in a move that pilots claim is an attempt to force them off the field. "I think, in summary, they're trying to push us out," Mooney owner Harry Neel told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It's a massive increase." But county officials say FAA policy is behind the rent hikes, which take effect Oct. 8. Allegheny Airport Authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said the FAA requires airports to charge fair market value for services they deliver and the airport hasn't been keeping up with the times. She said it may be as long as 50 years that the current rental rates have been in place. "It is not our goal to evict people," she said. A total of 53 aircraft are affected. Another 90 are kept outside.
Russ Chew went from the left seat of an airliner to the hot seat as the FAA's new chief operating officer but AOPA hopes a little time in a Cessna 172 last week will help him make the massive decisions that will shape the future of airspace management in the U.S. over the next couple of decades. Chew flew a GPS-WAAS approach in AOPA President Phil Boyer's 172 during a visit to AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Md. "I think he was amazed at how much more stable the WAAS needle is compared to an ILS," Boyer said. "A WAAS approach is even easier to fly than an ILS." Chew also got a firsthand look at the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system, which uses the on-board GPS to transmit the aircraft's precise location to ground stations and other ADS-B-equipped aircraft. Boyer said ADS-B may play a significant role in aircraft surveillance systems as the FAA moves to modernize its aging radar system. But Boyer said pilots needn't fear that they will have to go out and buy a lot of expensive equipment anytime soon. He said Chew is sensitive to the cost concerns of GA pilots. "The technology will evolve but you won't be forced to buy new equipment tomorrow," Boyer said.
MANY NO-COST ASF AVIATION SAFETY COURSES ONLINE!
Opponents of the O'Hare expansion plan want another 45 days to review documents. The communities that will be paved over by the expansion say the FAA is slow to come up with material gathered under freedom of information provisions and they need more time to assess it...
The U.S. Postal Service has issued 10 stamps featuring significant aircraft. The stamps, which went on sale last week, depict a B-24, Beech Bonanza, Grumman F6F Hellcat, B-29, Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing, Catalina, Ercoupe, P-47, Lockheed P-80 and Boeing 247...
Nepal is determined to have Eurocopter's claim of a record-setting flight to Everest stricken. Nepalese authorities say the company lied about one of its helicopters landing and taking off from the summit of the mountain. They also say Eurocopter has refused to talk about the issue with them...
A medevac pilot who crash-landed his mechanically challenged chopper next to a highway in Jacksonville, Fla., is being praised for getting the aircraft back on the ground without seriously hurting any of the three people aboard. One of the chopper's engines failed and the pilot, Charles Huggett, put the aircraft down in a vacant lot.
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. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.
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Say Again? #53: Radio Realities
Radio communication was invented over 100 years ago. You'd think we'd be able to do it better by now, but people tend to get sloppy. And sometimes the "professional" pilots are the worst. Until we get more controllers or fewer aircraft, AVweb's Don Brown says we have to start talking better.
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*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb asked readers if they were concerned about having a mid-air collision.
By and large, our readers feel that mid-air collisions are just one of many dangers they must guard against. 57% of our readership were happy to lump this danger in with all the other potential hazards of flying a plane.
28% of respondents, however, were willing to rank a mid-air collision as one of their "top five" concerns. And another 7% went as far as saying it's their greatest flying fear.
Only 1% of readers confessed that mid-air collisions are something they never think about. And another 1% subscribe to the notion that a mid-air collision is more a matter of fate than pilot control and preparation.
The final 5% of our readership reminded us that they sky is a big place and that we're all playing a numbers game (that thankfully skews in our favor) when we share it with other planes.
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
This week, AVweb wants to know how much attention to pay to hypoxia in the cockpit. Sure, it depends a lot on the performance of the aircraft but it depends just as much on the performance of the pilot. And some of the contributing factors are well out of your control.
How much concern do you grant hypoxia when you fly?
Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to email@example.com.
This address is only for suggested QOTW questions, and not for QOTW answers or comments.
Use this form to send QOTW comments to our AVmail Editor.
ATTENTION, CESSNA OWNERS AND PILOTS
Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions
Current POTW Winner | Past POTW Winners
AirVenture 2005 is behind us, and the photos are starting to roll in. Whether you attended Oshkosh or not, we've got thrilling air show photos, beautiful paint jobs, a couple of serene moments, and even an exciting crash that you can walk away from.
This week's winner (among stiff competition, we might add) is Dick Lemons of Kansas City. Dick submitted several great photos, but we're sending him an Official AVweb Baseball cap for his shot of the Kansas City Dawn Patrol. (Remember: Everyone who submits a photo gets a shot at one of these nifty hats!)
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
Used with permission of Dick Lemons
"Liberty Landing Dawn Patrol"
Dick Lemons of Kansas City, Missouri starts us off
this week with a photo of the Liberty Landing Airport's
"Dawn Patrol" Mark Pierce, Tom Gleaser,
and Dick Starks (among others). For another
great shot of the Dawn Patrol, click here.
Click here to view a large version of this image
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.
copyright © Mathew Kenner
"Touring Oshkosh by Air"
Matthew Kenner of Aurora, Illinois
sent us several great photos from this
year's AirVenture air shows. This one,
of a wingwalker who transfers from a
Stearman to a helicopter, was our favorite.
(We've combined two of Matthew's photos,
but you can view the original full-size
image here and the full-size inset here.)
copyright © Greg Marshall
"A Fitting End to the Pilgrimage"
Greg Marshall of Ottawa, Ontario (Canada)
made a pilgrimage (his very word) to the Udvar-Hazy
Center at Dulles International Airport and spent some time
at the National Aeronautic and Space Museum in the National Mall.
His next U.S. tourist destination: The Air Force Museum in Dayton,
Ohio or maybe Cape Canaveral in Florida ... .
Because you flooded our submission page
with well over 100 photos this week!
copyright © Robert Burns
Used with permission
"Scenes from AirVenture 2005"
Robert ("Bob") Burns of Mauckport, Indiana also contributed
several great photos from Oshkosh. In this quick sampling, we see
Cook Cleland in his FG-2 Corsair (a popular photo subject at Oshkosh)
on the left and the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team on the right. Thanks
for the great images, Bob we hope you'll snap some more
of 'em at next year's AirVenture show ... .
|Medium (Cook Cleland)|||||Medium (Aeroshell)|
|Large (Cook Cleland)|||||Large (Aeroshell)|
Used with permission of Ron Dale
"Airport or Bust"
Ron Dale of Redding, California tells a harrowing
tale with his "POTW" submission. As an off-duty volunteer
firefighter, Ron was sitting at home when he got a call about
an experimental airplane having engine problems in the area.
When the plane went down, Ron got the call, suited up, and
headed out to the crash site where he found the 70-year-pilot
leaning against a shade tree and the experimental plane nestled
between a grove of trees and a gas station.
For more photos,
(Change the photo number in the address to view other photos.)
Used with permission of Rick Fiery
"All Dressed Up and Ready to Fly"
Rick Fiery of Chester Springs, Pennsylvania
took this photo after a harrowing four-week annual inspection
on his 1999 Piper Arrow 720MA. He writes, "Many owners who
have been grounded for a while may identify with the them of the photo.
(And maybe not I just liked the lighting.)"
It certainly made us want to take a trip out to the hangar.
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
Letters to the editor intended for publication in AVmail should be sent to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a comment or question? Send it to mailto:email@example.com.
Today's issue written by News Writer Russ Niles:
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