May 11, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Capstone, Here Then Gone
In Alaska, where the risks of flying in all that empty space and bad weather are well-known, the Capstone program has been soundly successful, reducing accidents by up to 47 percent. Yet a vital part of that program, the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) surveillance technology, has been taken offline by the FAA at the Anchorage radar center. Controllers now provide separation for IFR flights outside radar coverage zones "procedurally," meaning they have no actual blips on the screen to indicate position. The option is less efficient and less safe than ADS-B. So why was ADS-B, which is due for statewide implementation later this year, and which was recently lauded by the FAA as "the future of air traffic control," taken offline?
ADS-B transmits an aircraft's identity, position, velocity and intent to other aircraft and to ATC systems on the ground, thereby enabling pilots and controllers to have a common picture of airspace and traffic. On May 2, the FAA said in a press briefing that ADS-B provides better coverage than radar and is safer and more efficient. It also allows for increased capacity, "because the more accurate tracking means aircraft will be able to fly safely and more predictably with less distance between them." Numerous studies and reports in the past have affirmed the benefits of the system. Prior safety assessments have supported its expansion. In April, the Alaska Air Carriers Association gave an award to the FAA Alaska region to recognize employees' ingenuity and inventiveness in designing the Capstone program. "ADS-B is the backbone of the Alaska Capstone project," FAA spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb just last October. AOPA also supports the expansion of ADS-B for GA aircraft, saying it's the "smart" choice -- simpler, more precise and less expensive than radar.
Sue Gardner, manager of the FAA Capstone program in Alaska, told AVweb on Tuesday that ADS-B was removed from radar screens as of March 24, "because it appeared controllers were operating outside the scope of their authorization to separate the traffic." Why that became a concern at this point, when the system has been in operation since 1999, she wouldn't say. The decision was made after a team from Washington conducted a "safety assessement" in Alaska and "took [ADS-B] off the glass," Gardner said. Geoffrey Basye, FAA spokesman in Washington, D.C., told AVweb last night that "this is a case of growing pains." The project is continuing to expand, and has had temporary bumps in the road before, he said. "The issue remaining has to do with the provision of ATC services in a mixed environment of ADS-B and radar returns. We want to include this as part of the program's authorization but have some short-term (two months) analysis to do. In the interim, we have to limit temporarily the information available on the controllers' scopes." Other ADS-B services remain available, he said. "Users are getting traffic information services, flight following, etc." Also new ground units that are due to go online in the next month will be implemented on schedule, he said, and will provide expanded ADS-B services.
Gardner also said that some parts of the system that were taken offline at first have been restored. The tower at Bethel, for example, uses ADS-B for "situational awareness," not IFR separation, so that is back in operation. Basye said that there is not a problem with the ADS-B technology. He said there are "minor glitches" regarding the mix of ADS-B with current technology that need to be resolved.
The Alaska Aviation Coordination Council (AACC), an industry group, expressed immediate dismay to the FAA when the system went off the scopes, calling the action "a most serious threat to Alaska aviation safety." Even worse, the loss occurred just as the state was gearing up for its busiest -- and riskiest -- spring and summer season, when long hours of daylight and the tourist influx drive operations. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey responded to their concerns in a letter on Monday. She defended the suspension of ADS-B from radar scopes as "appropriate," pending a review of separation standards. Although Gardner (and the FAA Web site) said there is "no timeline" for the return of service, Blakey said she is "confident" that the issues can be resolved by July. But for Alaskan aviators, the delay has caused problems beyond the immediate operational ones. "The credibility of the Capstone program and the FAA itself has now become an issue at a crucial time when industry is actively engaged in planning for statewide deployment," the AACC wrote. Further, safety advocates in the state have been actively lobbying for private pilots to "self-equip" and invest in upgrading their cockpits to take advantage of ADS-B safety enhancements. They now are worried that their efforts are undermined by the FAA's perceived lack of commitment to the program.
As the FAA struggles with the technology of the present, there is no shortage of ideas for the future of aviation. NASA recently has been testing its latest version of the X-48B, an advanced-concept, fuel-efficient blended-wing body, in the Langley wind tunnel in Hampton, Va. The 21-foot-wide prototype is scheduled to begin flight testing later this year. "The biggest difference between this aircraft and the traditional tube-and-wing aircraft is that this does not have a tail," said Dan Vicroy, a Langley research engineer. The wind-tunnel tests will help determine how to assure three-axis control. Two X-48B prototypes have been built, made primarily of advanced lightweight composite materials. Powered by three turbojet engines, the 400-pound aircraft will be capable of flying up to 120 knots and 10,000 feet, Boeing says. The prototypes will be unmanned and flown from a remote ground-control station. They are built to 8.5-percent scale, NASA said. The Air Force has expressed interest in the design's potential as a multi-role, long-range high-capacity military aircraft that could be used for tanking, weapons carriage and command-and-control missions. The technology could be ready in 10 to 15 years. Boeing is also investigating many other ideas, The Seattle Times reported on Monday. Advanced-concept researchers are envisioning jets of the future that will be quieter, more fuel-efficient, faster and easier to fly. To achieve those ends, strategies include forward-swept wings, canard configurations and unducted fans. Of course, good ideas are only half the battle. Even some tested technologies stall when faced with money problems. A runway-light experiment in Dallas, for example, has proven successful but is not being implemented elsewhere due to a lack of funding, consumeraffairs.com reported last week.
The Solar Impulse project, which aims to build a solar-powered aircraft that can fly around the world, has begun to attract attention from the mainstream press, as a perceived "race" with another solar-powered craft heats up (pun intended). The Solar Impulse group, based in Switzerland and headed by Bertrand Piccard, plans to build a single-seat, solar-powered long-distance aircraft. The design phase is already well underway and first flights are expected as soon as 2008. The Planet Solar project, also based in Switzerland, now has expressed the goal to be the first to get round the planet in a solar-powered craft -- although it would go by water instead of by air. The strange-looking three-hulled 90-foot-long ship would be covered in photovoltaic cells that would drive it across the waves at about 10 knots. So far, the plan is in the computer-modeling phase. The Solar Impulse Web site says the project has acquired over 80 percent of the financing needed to start construction.
Meanwhile, the Japanese effort to design a next-generation supersonic transport is struggling with setbacks and looking for international partners, The Associated Press reported on Monday. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will enter talks next month with NASA to discuss cooperative efforts. Japan is working to develop a scramjet engine that would be 99 percent quieter than the Concorde, and Boeing would build the airframe, The Associated Press said, though those reports were deemed "premature" by JAXA. Japan does aim to have an experimental hypersonic transport flying by 2025. That aircraft would fly at Mach 5 and cross the Pacific within two hours, according to JAXA's online vision statement. Using liquid hydrogen as fuel, it would be efficient and environmentally friendly, JAXA says. The technology would also be useful for the first stage of space-transportation systems.
The FAA has backed off (in record time, it appears) on a proposal to charge a Michigan fly-in $3,200 for a temporary tower. As AVweb reported last Monday morning, organizers of the West Michigan Fly-In, at Alleghan Airport, near Grand Rapids, were scraping together donations to cover the charge. However, hours after the story appeared, and after some strategically placed phone calls from an EAA official, the agency withdrew the proposal and agreed to provide ATC services for free. "We're very relieved," said Andy Millin, an organizer whose job it is to arrange for the tower. Millin said the organizing committee was prepared to pay the fee from community sponsorships (Millin's business pledged $500) even though they were convinced it was wrong. "This turned out to be a whole lot more about pilots, the FAA, and user fees than it was about a regional airport holding a fly-in and wanting a temporary control tower," Millen told EAA's online news service. At AVweb's suggestion, Millen contacted EAA, and Government Relations Director Randy Hansen wasted no time. He talked with the senior managers who came up with the proposal and the issue was resolved quickly. "The FAA fully realizes that the fly-in is a non-profit event designed to promote the airport and its activities to the local community, and that they don't charge community members a fee to enter the airport grounds for the fly-in," Hansen said. While fly-in officials got the reaction they were looking for from the FAA, they were bewildered by some of the responses they received from pilots and organizers of other aviation events. While many offered support and suggestions on how to beat the charge, others were angry that the committee was considering paying the charge, thus potentially opening the door to similar fees being levied on other events. "They were mad because we wouldn't stand up to the FAA," said Jason Gilbert, one of the fly-in organizers. It wasn't the reaction I was expecting."
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey testified before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation last week, to justify her FAA fiscal year 2007 budget. Blakey reiterated her request for a change in FAA funding practices, saying the agency needs "a stable and predictable funding system that provides appropriate incentives to users and to the FAA to operate more efficiently." The future presents many challenges, she said, requiring an upgraded airspace system that can handle the giant Airbus A380, fleets of microjets and everything in between. Blakey asked overall for a lower budget than last year, but would add $8 million for 101 new aviation safety inspectors and 32 new staffers for the Air Traffic Safety Oversight office. She told the Senate panel that the FAA has not yet decided on an official position regarding user fees, according to Helicopter Association International.
The FAA has issued a Notice Of Proposed Rule Making to address concerns about brake fires in some Cirrus SR20 and SR22 aircraft. Four brake fires and two reports of airplanes losing directional control have been recorded, the FAA said. Cirrus issued Service Bulletins in December and January to address the problem. The bulletins required owners to upgrade the brakes and modify the fairings to make it easier to monitor brake temperatures. The proposed AD would also require the replacement of brake calipers or piston O-ring seals. The cost of compliance, the FAA estimates, could be up to about $2,700 if brake calipers need to be replaced. Comments are invited and must be received by the FAA by July 10.
The Adam A700 jet is on track to be certified by the FAA by the end of this year, Adam Aircraft President Joe Walker told AVweb on Tuesday. Customer deliveries would start early in 2007. Certification is proceeding swiftly thanks to the commonality with the A500 twin and the well-established working relationship between the company and the FAA. Close to 300 orders have been received, he said, most of them from fleet operators. The jet recently flew to 41,000 feet and achieved a true airspeed of 340 knots, reaching its target. Two more test aircraft will be flying soon, Walker said. For more about the A700 progress from Joe Walker and news about the A500 twin certification as well, tune in tomorrow to AVweb's Friday podcast.
As China's commercial aviation sector continues to grow at an ever-accelerating pace, the future of private general aviation is less clear. This week, a senior official told China Daily that the commercial fleet would double by 2010, growing to 1,580 aircraft, and reach 4,000 by 2020. Plus, 42 airports will be built in the next four years, and another 30 in the 10 years after that. Yet also this week, China Daily reported that two people were killed and a third critically hurt when their airplane crashed just 10 minutes after takeoff on an "illegal" flight. Since all airspace is controlled and supervised by military authorities, private flying requires a complicated application procedure. "Unremitting efforts lobbying for the opening of airspace have been made for years, but there is still a long way to go," Hu Dalin, spokesman for the Aero Sports Federation of China, told China Daily on Monday.
News in Brief
If there are unidentified objects flitting around in the airspace, lots of pilots would certainly like to know about it -- and so would the military. In the United Kingdom, a secret government report from six years ago was recently released to a professor who requested it under a freedom-of-information law. The report concludes that UFOs are mainly non-threatening aircraft or unusual weather phenomena. High-altitude plasma clouds, which glow and flit about, were one likely cause of many otherwise unexplained sightings. The report apparently has done little to convince believers. Even neutral skeptics have said the report is flawed. No scientists were directly consulted, and the author, who was not identified, relied on secondhand information with no follow-up, according to David Clarke, the journalism professor who unearthed the report. And despite a Daily Mail story that said the report's findings are conclusive, UFO believers were quick to scoff. Commenters at the newspaper's Web site labeled the conclusions "disinformation" and "propaganda," and cited their own experiences with objects that don't fit plasma clouds' appearance or behavior. And some just want to believe: "So what you're telling me is that humans are the most intelligent life form on the earth?" wrote one commenter. "God help us all then."
An instructor and his student were hurt on a tandem skydiving jump in Cottonwood, Ariz., on Sunday afternoon when the main chute failed to deploy, and the reserve chute didn't open completely before the pair hit the ground...
A helicopter pilot flying for a Florida sheriff's department was temporarily blinded when a green laser was aimed into the cockpit last Friday night...
Anousheh Ansari (of Ansari X-Prize) has been accepted by Russia's Space Agency as the first female space tourist. She will fly to the International Space Station in spring 2007.
Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to email@example.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.
Coming, Friday: AVweb speaks with the president of Adam Aircraft -- the company with the first VLJ to fly with its production engines. Check AVweb.com Friday to listen.
Online Now: Find exclusive interviews featuring Cirrus Design's Alan Klapmeier, FAA administrator Marion Blakey, and more. AVweb's Podcast index, is available online -- pick and choose your particular interets, or subscribe free to AVweb's podcasts and receive them automatically for listening on your computer, iPod, or while traveling with any MP3 player. You'll hear things you won't find anywhere else.
The Savvy Aviator #31: Know Your Oleo
Oleopneumatic shock struts -- commonly known as "oleos" -- use hydraulic fluid, compressed gas and clever engineering to absorb the impact of those occasional less-than-grease-job landings. If your airplane uses one (or three), you need to understand how they work and what maintenance they require.
Your Favorite FBOs
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Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs
AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to AIRFLITE at KLGB, Long Beach, Calif.
TED MONCURE wrote in to say, "AIRFLITE HAS THE HIGHEST STANDARDS OF CUSOTOMER SERVICE. THEY LITERALLY ROLL OUT THE RED CARPET WHEN YOU ARRIVE, WHETHER YOU ARE IN A GV OR A 172. THEIR FACILITY IS TOP NOTCH, AND EVERYONE HAS A SMILE ON THEIR FACE."
Keep those nominations coming.
Click here to nominate your favorite FBO and here for complete contest rules
AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBO's in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!
Attention, Piper Owners and Pilots!
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb asked how rising fuel costs are affecting your flying.
The question came to us from reader Richard Herbst (of Control Vision Corp), and it sparked a few letters of comment. (Whenever we mention the rising cost of avgas here in the U.S., we always here from pilots in the U.K. among other spots whose fuel prices make us blanch.)
Based on our informal survey, it seems AVweb readers aren't pushing any panic buttons yet. About half of those who responded to our question (55% of you, to be exact) say that rising fuel costs have had no particular effect on your flying or that you're merely taking a more active interest in price-shopping for fuel as part of your preflight planning.
A good 23% of you, though, said you're already flying considerably less, and 9% of you are trying (when possible) to avoid high-profile FBOs in the hunt for cheaper fuel.
4% of you are considering a more fuel-efficient bird to replace your current ride.
And a pretty significant 9% of you told us that, if prices keep rising, you'll be forced to give up flying altogether.
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
Another topic that always generates reader mail: UFOs.
Do you buy the "secret" report out of the U.K. that UFOs are mainly non-threatening aircraft or unusual weather phenomena? (Read more here.)
Click here to answer
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Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions | Past POTW Winners
Welcome back to "Picture of the Week," a regular feature wherein we select the best and brightest reader-submitted photos and share them with all of you. This week's winning photo is from James Wreyford of Marble Falls, Texas, who kicks things off with a few well-placed explosions. Grab your popcorn and let's check out the rest of this week's runners-up!
(Remember: When you submit your photos here, you're automatically considered in our weekly "POTW" contest and the top winner each week receives an official AVweb baseball cap.)
*** THIS WEEK'S WINNERS ***
"OV-2 Near Miss"
"Move! Move!" should be the caption on this photo from James Wreyford of Marble Falls, Texas. (We confess: One of us actually ducked for cover when we saw this photo.) Naturally, this is an air show photo from last month's CAF air show at Burnet Municipal Airport in Burnet, Texas.
|AVweb continues to receive a large number of excellent images for our POTW contest. Here are some of the runners-up. Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.|
"I Too Was Once Indestructible"
Continuing with this week's unofficial Mission: Impossible theme, William F. Tinsley of Santa Paula, California has a harrowing adventure story:
"Growing up on a small airport makes for some interesting times. After taking my girlfriend to her senior prom, I still had the tux. Well, what do you do with a tux before you return it? You do a little wing-walking, of course."
And to think: Our "POTW" Editor was too squeamish to go swimming in his tux. Pfah.
We're quite fond of the little historical gems that show up in our submission box from time to time. And while we can't date this photo exactly, we can tell you what submitter James Rix (of Wichita, Kansas) told us:
"My grandfather worked with DeBothezat on the first helicopter to fly. It flew in 1922 for one minute and 42 seconds at McCook airfield. We found this autographed picture after my grandfather's death, along with other early airplane memorabilia."
Thanks for scanning and sharing the photo, James. (We love this kind of stuff!)
"How Many Can You Identify?"
Dirk Tanis of Rock Hill, South Carolina brought this photo home from the aviation museum at Le Bourget in Paris, France. Engraved on the prop are the signatures of many French WWI pilots.
"Waiting for VMC"
Rain was a common element in many of this week's photo submissions, including this one from Ioan Suciu of Bucharest (Romania). We found Ioan's photo simple and to the point nothing says "waiting" like a wet windshield and a lonely headset.
We'll see you off this week with a photo from Joe Horenkamp of Novi, Michigan.
For those who don't immediately recognize it, that's the Collings Foundation B-17 Nine-O-Nine under the U.S. flag sporting a nice color touch-up from Joe. (We know it's a digitally-altered photo but ain't it purty?)
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.
Avidyne Introduces Large-Format Version of MHAS6000
Avidyne has a large-format version of the MHAS6000 Multi-Hazard Avoidance System featuring the Avidyne FlightMax® EX5000 Multi-Function Display (MFD) and TAS600 Series active surveillance traffic system. It joins the FlightMax EX500 version as a comprehensive situational awareness package available immediately for retrofit installation in most general aviation aircraft with savings of up to $3,000 over individual system purchases. For complete details, go online.
ASO -- A Better Way to Sell Your Aircraft Share
Finding aircraft share buyers can be almost impossible. FBO bulletin board flyers are too limited, and ads in national publications are too broad. There's a better way with ASO's Partnership Ads. List your share on ASO, the most trusted place for aircraft sales, where interested buyers have the ability to search geographically to easily find your partnership listing. For a limited time, select Partnership Ads are complimentary. To get your share in front of potential buyers tomorrow, call (888) 992-9276 today or visit online.
See What ATC Sees & Then See What They Do with the Information
The AVweb Edition of Flight Explorer is the PC-based graphical aircraft situation display that gives you a real-time picture of all IFR aircraft in-flight over the U.S. and Canada. Whether you're tracking a friend or want to learn more about the system in action, Flight Explorer has the information you want for just $9.95 a month. Subscribe now.
Discover Why Homebuilders Are the Hottest Segment in General Aviation Today
Subscribe to Kitplanes magazine and catch the building excitement. Each issue is packed with flight reviews; building, buying, and flying guidance; and more. And each subscription includes the Kitplanes hands-on, three-issue directory listing over 100 of the latest kits and plans. Order now.
Flying Magazine's May Issue Flys the Liberty XL2 & King Air
Plus: "Real Hypoxia Training at FSI"; "Have Technically Advanced Aircraft Delivered as Promised?"; and "How to Prevent Runway Overrun Accidents." Order Flying at special rates online.
Gas Prices Keeping You Grounded? Share Expenses on Your Next Flight!
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IFR Refresher's June Issue Highlights:
"Flying with George" -- are you PIC in IMC with your autopilot?; "One Approach Too Many" -- a Cherokee pilot learns the third time is not charmed in a front; "Armchair Flying" -- make a dry run from home; "More to the Missed" -- GPS is easy, don't learn how to figure it out in the middle of a missed approach; "Degrees of Separation" -- make sure your VOR checks are current; and a thunderstorm avoidance quiz. Order IFR Refresher online.
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Today's issue was written by news writer Mary Grady (bio).
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