April 7, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Tucker Loses His
Airshow legend Sean Tucker gathered a roomful of reporters at Sun n Fun yesterday morning to hear the riveting first-hand story of his harrowing emergency over Louisiana on Tuesday. An ounce of empathy turned some moments raw as Tucker described to a press corps of pilots the decision that would doom the "most magical piece of equipment that I've ever gotten to fly in my life." The equipment was the highly modified and customized Challenger Biplane that for Tucker has clearly become so much more than that, performing as his partner over many seasons. "I didn't want to give her up," Tucker said. Facing decisions sequentially, it would occur to him later that the aircraft might not be the only one taking its last flight. Tucker was at just 100 feet off the ground when he knew he had a major problem. He had just taken off for a practice session around 10:30 a.m. when he pulled back -- a 7.5-G pull at 225 mph -- and felt something snap. At first he thought the stick had just broken off. (Scroll down for press conference video. If you've ever flown an airplane, you won't want to miss it.) He was able to regain marginal control with trim, but "the trim just wouldn't keep up with it." He climbed awkwardly to 9,500 feet while troubleshooting with his team on the ground and weighing his options. "This took a long time, about 25 minutes, burning off fuel" ... "That's a long time to be thinking about an emergency situation, a little too long. It was very poignant, it really affected me spirtually."
Tucker had to weigh not only the risks to himself and his airplane, but to innocent people on the ground should he abandon the aircraft. "The last thing you want to do is save your life and kill somebody in the process." His ground crew acted quickly to direct him toward a soft plowed field nearby, and alerted emergency personnel, who shut down the freeway. He flew as high as 9,500 feet, trying to regain control, looking for options. "I was up and down and up and down and up and down," he said. Flying with air show fuel supply it wasn't long before he was down to his last gallon of gas, Tucker descended to about 8,000 feet and with what may best be described as reluctant resolve, he grabbed the red handles to set the canopy free and ducked. When it didn't fly off on its own, he gave it a quick punch and it returned the favor, giving him a bump that dented his helmet. It was almost time to jump.
One lap belt, off. The second lap belt off. He pushed himself free but a shoulder harness strap had a hard time letting him go. The drag from it twisted Sean's body as he left the cockpit and he found himself momentarily joined up with the tail section, "there are some flying wires under the tail, and I got stuck there." Describing the scene that followed, Tucker almost seemed like he was there again -- falling together with the aircraft through space. There in the press center, he reached out into the air and pushed at the space in front of him, then watched the biplane fall away. After stabilizing himself in freefall all the thinking was almost behind. "This is it!" Tucker said with a smile. It was almost over. It was time to pull the ripcord. "I didn't see the crash," he said. Somewhat constrained in the harness under canopy, he steered down to a safe landing, right near the emergency workers. Later he visited the crash site, miles from where he landed, and brought along to Lakeland a few of the parts he found there ... the shattered ends of the prop, and a ragged foot-square piece of broken airplane. The room was at times filled with laughter. It was just a room full of people, full of nervous energy. Each face filled with an "I can't believe it" awe that left them leaning toward every next word. And the joy of reality -- the good man who'd faced an event so dire is still here to tell the tale.
So what now? Tucker is here at Sun 'n Fun ready for the debut of his new tour flying the Columbia 400 in a demonstration of upset recovery techniques. Will the aircraft at any time be inverted? We put the question to Tucker's public relations man who replied "oh, yeah" which somehow sounded a lot more like, "well, of course." Tucker also will start practicing in his backup airplane and will be ready to rejoin the airshow schedule in about two months, he said. The delay, he says, will be necessary to rebuild his g-tolerance after being away from his usual mount. And he plans to work with his team to build a new "magical dream machine" that will be even better than the one he lost this week. "We're okay and we're going to keep moving on," he said.
AVweb has video of Sean Tucker's Challenger Biplane crash press conference available, now. You will want to see it for yourself. Please be patient. The file sizes are very large and combined with the volume of AVweb subscribers seeking to view the video, it is possible the AVweb.com web site could become slow to respond at various times throughout the day. It is possible you will have difficulty viewing the video at various times throughout the day. If you encounter any problems, please read the story, above, and try again, later ... in the afternoon. You may need to pause the player and wait for the file to load before attempting to play it. The video is listed below in two segments. We join Tucker's story soon after he's left the runway and has realized he is flying a broken airplane...
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Subaru-Based Mills Would Offer 180 to 350 hp
A tiny Canadian company is trying to do something a giant Canadian company apparently couldn't. Ontario-based Crossflow Aero Corp. has begun the process of certifying the first new design of gasoline-powered piston engines for the mainstream GA market since Rotax came out with its four-strokes more than a decade ago. "We applied for certification last October," Crossflow CEO Jorge Alonzo told AVweb in an interview at Sun'n Fun on Wednesday. The high-revving four and six-cylinder engines are liquid cooled, run on car gas and use a gear reduction to bring prop speed to normal parameters. If that sounds familiar, there are some operational (but not design) similarities between Crossflow and the highly anticipated Bombardier engines that were introduced with lots of fanfare three years ago. Crossflow has been modifying Subaru engines for the experimental market for years and they're installed in many high performance kit planes. While the kit engines started out as automotive motors, over the years Crossflow has literally reconstructed them and now makes, or has made, almost all the parts. The certified engines will use only the block and crankshaft from automotive origins, the same companies that Subaru uses to provide the parts.
Bombardier Engines Still On Horizon?
While Bombardier's efforts are all but forgotten, they are apparently not gone. After a series of corporate structural changes, the reins for the project were turned over to a Florida company called Aircraft Engine Services (AES). Luc Gaspe de Beaubien, who was in charge of the project at Bombardier, is the CEO of AES and, according to the company Web site, he'll be back at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh in July with the V-6 engines. The company stopped attending Sun 'n Fun in 2004. According to the Web site, the company was hoping to have at least one of the engines (there's a 220 hp normally aspirated and a 300 hp turbo model) certified by the end of 2005 with deliveries to OEMs sometime this year. OEMs get first crack at the engines, followed by the experimental market and, in the distant future, STCed versions for swapping out in existing aircraft. AES won't say what the engines will cost.
Automotive TechnologyThe Masters Of Disaster
Subaru engines were spotted by kitbuilders 20 years ago when the Japanese automaker came out with a boxer (horizontally opposed) design similar to that of Continental and Lycoming. That's where the similarity ends, however. The four-cylinder Crossflow models range in horsepower from 180 to 250 hp and the six-cylinders are rated at 250 to 350 hp (larger engines are turbocharged). The fours are 2,000 cc and the sixes 3,300 and there's only one way to squeeze all those ponies from that little displacement and that's to crank up the compression ratio and to run the engines at close to 5,000 rpm at full power. Of course, fundamental to the successful delivery of power to the prop is a Crossflow-designed gear reduction unit set at 2.34:1. Bore (92 mm) and stroke (75 mm) are the same for both engines and there's an ignition coil for each jug. Both use multi-port fuel injection to get the premium grade autogas into the chambers.
Younkin-Franklin Crash -- Canadian Authorities Issue Findings
A complex maneuver that required accurate timing and at least some visual contact between the pilots for safe execution lacked both and resulted in the deaths of two of the air show world's most respected pilots last July. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board says that Jimmy Franklin and Bobby Younkin didn't have a clear idea of where each other was right up until the moment their two biplanes collided belly first at an air show in Moose Jaw, Sask. The board's final report says the Masters of Disaster aerobatic team, which also included Jim LeRoy, executed a modified version of a maneuver called the Dairy Turn, which not only introduced two potential points of collision, it also made it possible for them to lose visual contact just before the cross was to occur. Franklin's jet-powered Waco and Younkin's Wolf-Samson collided in a ball of fire near show center near the end of the Saskatchewan Air Show. Because the maneuver was designed so that the aircraft's energy was directed away from the crowd, there were no injuries on the ground. The debris fields stretched 1,200 feet.
Modified Maneuver More Dangerous
As with NTSB reports, the Canadian authorities don't determine fault in these reports so there's no indication why the maneuver wasn't carried out the way it had been originally conceived. As originally scripted, the maneuver looked like a near collision from the ground but both pilots were able to control separation safely. As performed that day, the maneuver took on new elements of risk, the report says. "This is a significant difference from the original maneuver, and the risk of collision was no longer just an illusion," the report says. Anyone who saw the Masters of Disaster show likely considered it one of the most thrilling and technically demanding of any on the air show circuit. To add to crowd appeal, the jet-powered truck Shockwave was also thrown into the mix. The Masters team took the show to the major air shows in North America and were scheduled for a return performance at EAA AirVenture a couple of weeks later. There were reports later in the summer of 2005 that the team would be reformed but the Web site is now under construction and visitors are invited to keep checking back.
Pilots Both Took Evasive ActionLycoming Forges Ahead
The maneuver began with Franklin's Waco "chasing" LeRoy parallel with the crowd before climbing and turning toward Younkin, who was in a descending turn. But the report says Younkin was a few seconds late with his part of the maneuver and that eliminated visual contact between the two. Both pilots realized the maneuver had gone sour and broke off, trying to avoid the crash. The report says that if either pilot had continued the maneuver and the other took evasive action, the collision would have been avoided. "The actions of each performer negated the actions of the other, and neither pilot took positive action to regain visual contact," the report says. The report also says that air show pilots involved in maneuvers such as this establish "contracts" with one another to determine which pilot was responsible for ensuring visual contact was maintained. It also sets the prescribed actions to disengage from a maneuver that isn't going as scripted. "The maneuvers immediately before the collision indicated that the performers had not established a clearly understood contract for the revised maneuver," the report says.
Lycoming Opens Custom Engine Division
Lycoming announced this week that a new division called Thunderbolt Engines will offer custom-built products at its Williamsport, Pa., facility. Customers can choose horsepower, fuel and ignition systems, plus performance enhancments such as tuned induction and turbocharging. The customer can even specify engine color. The factory-built custom, non-certified engines are aimed at specialty markets such as Reno-style racing and competitive aerobatics, Lycoming Vice President Ian Walsh said at Wednesday's news conference. The work at Thunderbolt Engines will feed back into the company's research and development efforts and help to develop new product lines, Walsh said. The company also is interested in diesel technology and should have something new to show at Oshkosh, Walsh said.
A Chat With Lycoming About CrankshaftsNews Briefs
Recently released Service Bulletin 569 calls for the retirement (within the next three years) of some 5100 crankshafts born of a suspect hammer forging process performed by a specific (former) Lycoming supplier in the years 1997 through 2002. According to Lycoming's Ian Walsh, who spoke with AVweb yesterday, Lycoming "knows they're OK" (the crankshafts) and knows of no incidents related to the batch cited in SB 569, but doesn't want to wait for long-term data that may prove the suspect crankshafts are not up to Lycoming's own lasts-for-decades (if properly maintained) standards. Greatly reduced by Lycoming, the cost borne by engine owners conforming to the SB will yet amount to more than several thousand dollars per engine. We learned yesterday that Lycoming seems to believe owners will, for the most part, be understanding of these complications. It's the idea that owners may have had good reason to expect more from their crankshafts that could bring complications back to Lycoming. We found Walsh's reaction to that notion ... unexpected. "They've got three years to plan for it," said Walsh.
We were nonetheless left with the impression that Lycoming is aware of the impact of public perception and, toward that end, is sensitive to history's role in shaping the company's future. We're also aware that Lycoming has carried Service Bulletin-associated costs in the past and has been careful to not paint solutions to problems with too broad a brush. In other words, very frustrated owners may ultimately find Lycoming eager to move firmly forward from this chapter ... and more flexible than it appears.
NATCA, FAA Negotiations Reach Impasse
Finally, there's something the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the FAA agree on: The contract negotiations between them have officially stalled. As AVweb told you Monday, the two have been locked in a bitter battle over a number of issues, the most divisive being controller pay. After rejecting NATCA's "best and final" proposal on Wednesday -- and according to NATCA, rejecting the union's request to continue talks under mediation -- the FAA ended the negotiations. Now, the FAA will submit its final proposal to Congress, which has 60 days to review the FAA proposal and NATCA's objections. By statute, the FAA is authorized to implement its own proposal if Congress does not otherwise act within the 60 days.
Where's My Flying Car?News Briefs
The car's not here yet, but a flying motorcycle has arrived... complete with its own headlight and license plate. And if you too are completely insane, you can have one! That may be a common reaction, but it may also be not all that fair. The facts are that Larry Neal, president of Butterfly LLC, says his patented fly-drive vehicle is fully tested and ready for sale as a Super Sky Cycle kit for $24,995. The single-seat gyroplane meets all FAA criteria as an Experimental aircraft and can also be licensed to travel the roads as a homebuilt motorcycle, Neal said. The rotor is easy to fold and secure for driving, and the lanky landing gear -- to absorb the momentum of near-vertical landings -- even crouches down so you can fit the thing in your garage. "After 12 years of development, we're seeing our dreams come true," Neal said at a news conference on Wednesday. Before casting judgement, you may want to wait on an independent flight review ... look for it somewhere else. "It takes less than five minutes to change from fly to drive or back. It goes 60 miles per hour on the road and about 70 in the air, lands in less than 30 feet, and can fit into your garage. You don't need a hangar and you don't need an airport." It's safe, stable, fun to fly, and affordable, Neal said. Coming next, he says, is a fully enclosed two-seater. The current model is not propelled on the road with a moving propeller. A belt drive system is incorporated to engage the wheels with the same engine used to drive the prop, while a single bolt removed from the prop attachment allows the crankshaft to move freely inside the prop hub, which then rides on bearings and remains fixed.
Symphony Tooling Up Production
Symphony Aircraft, based in Quebec, is gearing up to increase production from the current rate of about one airplane per month to four per month by the end of this year, CEO Paul Costanzo said at a Sun n Fun news conference yesterday. "We're investing in new tooling and processes to increase effieciency," Costanzo said, with the aim of bringing down the cost per unit to keep the price of the two-seat 160 competitive. Costanzo said the company has 17 orders in hand and this week entered into agreement with Spartan College of Aeronautics to supply 160s for their training fleet. The school currently flies 30 152s and 10 172s. Bill Wyman, Spartan's chief flight instructor, said in a news release that the school chose the 160 because of its "superior workmanship, performance, and appearance." Costanzo also said two new factory-installed options now are available for the airplane -- BRS parachutes and PowerFlow exhaust systems. The 160 is available with either a conventional or glass panel. Symphony delivered its first Canadian-built aircraft in May 2005, after taking over the company from its original German owners.
CarterCopter Back In The AirNews Briefs
The CarterCopter folks, who have been grounded since their one-and-only flying technology demonstrator crashed last June, were back at the show yesterday with some new ideas. They showed off a new design for a smaller version of the gyroplane, which they hope will fulfill the dream of a Personal Air Vehicle. "This aircraft will allow true point-to-point travel," said company president Jay Carter Jr. It will have four seats and cruise at about 200 mph, and pilots can land in hotel parking lots and fuel up at automotive gas stations. To test their theories, the company flew to the show in a small one-seat gyroplane, stopping at several parking lots along the way. That aircraft was built from a stock gyroplane with Carter's own prop and landing gear added. The new four-seat PAV design is already under construction and should be flying within the year, and ready to show about a year after that. The company plans to build three copies at once to avoid the lengthy delays that plagued their prior research anytime their one and only demonstrator was down for repair or refit.
Towering Black Smoke At Sun 'n Fun -- Not What You Fear
Early yesterday afternoon, a thick black smoke plume arose behind the trees just off the main show area at Sun 'n Fun... not far from the flight pattern. Heads turned, and worried showgoers asked passing aviation reporters who had crashed. The good news was, nobody had crashed. The bad news was, 24 cars in the parking lot had burned down to twisted black hunks of charred wreckage. It all started with heat generated from the catalytic converter beneath a low-slung Masserati, parked in one of the many grass lots. There's been a dry spell here in central Florida, and that grass is about as dry and ready to burn as it can get. With thousands of cars parked door to door, gasoline and even propane everywhere, it was a challenge for firefighters to contain the blaze. Nobody was hurt.
Sun 'n Fun Image Gallery, "Live" From LakelandAVweb Audio
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Online Now: Marion Blakey, in her own words.
Preview: While FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has this week been preoccupied with contract negotiations (or lack of same) with air traffic controllers, all that wrangling is unlikely to have any practical impact on pilots (at least for now). The impasse, as it is now designated, is part of a larger picture that will change the way the FAA does business. We talked with the administrator recently and, if you listen carefully, you'll see where she's headed.
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AVweb's Business AVflashBring Digital Audio Technology to Your Aircraft
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With the flying season just around the corner, owners of retractable-gear aircraft can add an extra margin of safety by installing a P2 Audio Advisory System. Just like the new jets, the system combines audio and visual advisories for landing gear position, Vne overspeed, stall warning, and output for a Hobbs meter. Digital voice technology actually speaks to the pilot via headset and/or speaker: "GEAR IS DOWN FOR LANDING"; "OVERSPEED"; "CHECK GEAR"; and "STALL." Regularly priced at $1,795, these systems are now available for $1,295. Learn more online. BRING DIGITAL AUDIO TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR AIRCRAFT With the flying season just around the corner, owners of retractable-gear aircraft can add an extra margin of safety by installing a P2 Audio Advisory System. Just like the new jets, the system combines audio and visual advisories for landing gear position, Vne overspeed, stall warning, and output for a Hobbs meter. Digital voice technology actually speaks to the pilot via headset and/or speaker: "GEAR IS DOWN FOR LANDING"; "OVERSPEED"; "CHECK GEAR"; and "STALL." Regularly priced at $1,795, these systems are now available for $1,295. Learn more online: http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/p2inc/audio/flashYour Favorite FBO's
FBO of the Week: Banyan Air Service, Fort LauderdaleDon't Wish Your Airplane Had All the Bells and Whistles
AVweb's "FBO of the Week" contest is sponsored by Aviation Safety magazine, the monthly journal of risk management and accident prevention.
Thanks to all the pilots and AVweb readers who took time to nominate their favorite FBOs in our "FBO of the Week" contest. Today's ribbon finds its target in Florida.
AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to BANYAN AIR SERVICE at FXE in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Jim Alkire wrote us to say, "WE FLY OUR CESSNA 180 INTO FXE FOR OUR ANNUAL CRUISE VACATION AND HAVE REPEATEDLY RECIEVED OUTSTANDING SERVICE AND PROFESSIONALISM FROM BANYAN. OUR RENTAL CAR IS PULLED UP TO THE PLANE AS THE PROP STOPS. THEIR LINEMEN SEEM GENUINELY HAPPY THAT WE ARE THERE..."
Nominate Your Favorite FBOKeep those nominations coming. AVweb is actively seeking the best FBO's in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!
Bennett Avionics makes that wish affordable! Used avionics is Bennett Avionics' only business. Bennett stocks a complete line of used avionics that will add tremendous capability to your aircraft at a price that makes sense. Bennett also purchases used avionics equipment and will work out an exchange for newer electronics. Bennett Avionics is your one-stop used avionics specialist. Call the Bennett Avionics specialists at (860) 653-7295, or go online. DON'T JUST WISH YOUR AIRPLANE HAD ALL THE BELLS AND WHISTLES Bennett Avionics makes that wish affordable! Used avionics is Bennett Avionics' only business. Bennett stocks a complete line of used avionics that will add tremendous capability to your aircraft at a price that makes sense. Bennett also purchases used avionics equipment and will work out an exchange for newer electronics. Bennett Avionics is your one-stop used avionics specialist. Call the Bennett Avionics specialists at (860) 653-7295, or go online: http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/bennett/flashNewsTips
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