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Among the many intriguing sights at EAA AirVenture last month was an array of four brightly painted little RV-3s, just off Aeroshell Square, each with the word "ethanol" on its empennage and tail feathers.
Nearby, a Mooney 201 also sported ethanol livery. The RV-3 E-Squadron has been flying for 13 years on corn-based ethanol fuel, and the Mooney is part of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council's AGE85 aviation-grade ethanol research project. That project has been working for 11 years to determine how to burn ethanol fuels in general-aviation
engines, in the event that 100LL becomes unavailable. As the market shrinks for leaded fuel, the concern is that it will become harder and harder to get, more expensive, and perhaps go away
altogether. Currently, there is only one factory that produces the additives needed in the fuel, and it's in the United Kingdom. Further, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has banned lead from
other fuels, and it could decide at some point to ban 100LL as well.
Jim Behnken, chief test pilot for AGE85, told AVweb yesterday there's no need for pilots to be anxious about that
scenario. "100 low-lead might be available for another 100 years. But if it does go away, we do have an answer." Behnken said his group's research shows that ethanol can do the job. "I can take you
flying in our test aircraft, and switch back and forth between ethanol and low-lead, and you can't tell the difference in performance," he said. The biggest drawback with ethanol is fuel economy,
which is about 20 to 30 percent less. An engine that burns 5 gallons per hour of gasoline would instead burn 6 or 7 gallons of ethanol. "But the engine wear is less," Behnken said, "so overall, on
operating costs, it's pretty much a wash." Also, engines that were optimized for ethanol fuel, as opposed to gasoline engines that are tweaked, could run more efficiently. The South Dakota project
already has qualified for an STC to run ethanol in a Cessna 180 with a Continental engine, and most GA aircraft could be converted with a few hundred dollars worth of work, Behnken said.
The main advantages of ethanol fuel, Behnken says, are, number one, it's produced
domestically, and number two, it avoids the environmental and safety issues of the toxic components of 100LL. Although it's true that the U.S. can't produce enough ethanol to fuel the entire auto
fleet, it could supply the GA fleet several times over. So if overall performance and cost is pretty much on a par, why wait for the end of 100LL? Why isn't the changeover already under way? "Because
nobody's asking for it," says Behnken. If the demand isn't there, the fuel won't be available at your local FBO, and it's too much trouble to custom-order it. He said in the last year or two, though,
with volatile gasoline prices and more concern over supplies, he's seen "significant change" in the interest level. So will ethanol soon be a viable alternative? "When people demand it to happen,
that's when it will happen," Behnken said. Every engine would have to be STC'd, but that's not impossible. If gasoline prices continue to escalate, and the market remains unstable, that demand could
build momentum quickly. Recently, oil prices spiked when an Alaskan pipeline shut down for repair, and U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman announced his department will invest as much as $250 million in alternative energy over the next five years, mainly for research into ethanol production. The U.S. Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last month called for proposals for the exploration of energy alternatives and fuel efficiency efforts for aircraft, in a bid to reduce the military's reliance on
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When the Concorde quit flying, it seemed like the end of an era for supersonic passenger aircraft -- but more likely, it
was a blip in what will be a continuing story. Working on that next chapter are several companies laboring quietly away, hoping to build the transport of the future within the next 10 years. Most are
aiming not for mass transport, but for the high-end business and fractional market, with seating for just 12 to 24 or so passengers. Aerion,
based in Reno, Nev., and backed by billionaire Robert Bass, is testing its supersonic laminar-flow wing this month in New Mexico. The company last month hired on James Stewart, formerly with
Bombardier Aerospace, as its chief financial officer. In his new position, Stewart will lead the company's effort to lure potential partners and refine its business case. Aerion said it expects to
announce one or more partners next year. Stewart previously worked at Learjet and Short Brothers.
One problem for future SSTs, though, is restrictions on supersonic flight over land. Aerion says it will comply
with the current rules by cruising at Mach 0.98 over the U.S. In other parts of the world where rules require that the boom can't reach the ground, Aerion can comply while flying as fast as Mach 1.1.
Over the oceans, the ship can max out at Mach 1.6. Another contender, Supersonic Aerospace International, has a different plan, apparently hoping
that the rules will evolve as technology improves. The company says its design, which it's working on together with Lockheed Martin's "Skunk Works," will be quiet enough to fly at Mach 1.6 and up
anywhere in the world. The patented aerodynamic shape of the aircraft, including an inverted V-tail, will act to dampen the sonic wave. SAI's Quiet Supersonic Transport, or QSST, is projected to be
ready for flight in 2011, with customer deliveries in 2013. The 12-passenger jet will cost $80 million.
A federation of French and Japanese aerospace companies agreed in Paris last month to begin research on the development of a civilian supersonic transport airplane.
The French group includes Airbus, EADS and Dassault Aviation, and the Japanese group comprises 98 companies, including Honda, Mitsubishi and Kawasaki. In Russia, Sukhoi has been working since the 1980s on SST technology, while keeping a low profile. Gulfstream is reportedly working
with NASA to test a patented telescopic nose spike that would reduce the sonic boom of a supersonic business jet. The spike extends from 14 feet to 24 feet to reduce the shockwave intensity, Flight International reported last month. It
has been installed on NASA's Boeing F-15 for flight tests.
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(AVweb's sister publication) named Diamond Aircraft's DA42 Twin Star as its "Airplane of the Year" in the August 2006 issue. The
magazine was impressed with Diamond's use of Theilert aerodiesel engines, especially with the price of 100LL reportedly peaking above $7 per gallon in some areas. According to Aviation Consumer, the
aircraft addresses the "head-in-the-sand blind hope that fuel prices will somehow decline again." The Twin Star "has decent cruise speed [172 knots], a comfortable cabin and exceptional economy [12.5
gph of Jet A]. If the future of GA lies in more efficient airplanes and powerplants, Diamond is leading the way." Product of the Year was the Garmin GPSMAP396, and other favorites were chosen from
airport bikes, EFIS displays and more. The 396 was chosen as the "most capable portable GPS ever marketed," with a note to watch out for its successor, the 496, which was unveiled at EAA AirVenture last month. Other favorites were the Dahon Helios bike, Chelton's Flight Logic and more.
The tax dollars that fund the U.S. Air Force and DARPA (Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency) are not for nothing ... the brains there are hard at work finding ways to deflect threats most of us didn't even know existed. The trouble is, according to some New Zealand researchers, their fix might cause problems of its own, disrupting GPS signals
and aircraft radios worldwide for up to a week. DARPA says it could protect Earth-orbiting satellites from nasty charged particles by clearing them out with very-low-frequency radio waves. But
according to researcher Craig Rodger, "Earth's upper atmosphere would be dramatically affected by such a system, causing unusually intense [radio] blackouts around most of the world." The bad
particles can intensify during solar storms, or in the event of high-altitude nuclear explosions, causing extensive damage. DARPA's remediation method would use very-low-frequency radio waves to flush
the particles from the radiation belts and dump them into the upper atmosphere over several days. But, Rodger says, "Airplane pilots and ships would lose radio contact and some Pacific Island nations
could be isolated for as long as six to seven days, depending on the system's design and how it was operated." GPS would likely also suffer large-scale disruptions, as signals between ground users and
satellites were scrambled by the ionosphere, he added. The full report by Rodger and his group was published in the August issue of the international journal Annales Geophysicae and can be read online.
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No, not Mr. Spock's home planet, but the giant Avro
Vulcan delta-winged bomber, formerly of Britain's Royal Air Force. Despite widespread support and some £2.75 million already spent, the restoration of the retired airplane is "on the brink
of failure," Robert Pleming wrote to AVweb on Monday. The impressive-looking aircraft was one of three British V-Bombers designed to drop nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The fleet fought
in the Falklands War and was retired in 1993 -- none have flown since. After more than seven years of work, Vulcan XH558 is almost ready to be rolled out of its hangar, with the goal to return to the
air next year. But the project has run out of funds, and now is trying to raise a million pounds by the end of August. The professional engineering staff on the project have already been told they
will be laid off at the end of the month. Rising costs and funding delays have caused the money crunch, Pleming said. "To have come so far in the pursuit of getting her airborne again, only to fail at
this late stage, would be a tragedy," he wrote. "It really is now or never." Supporters hope to see the Vulcan airborne for the 25th anniversary commemorations of the Falklands War (aka Guerra de las
Malvinas) coming up in June 2007. The Vulcan to the Sky Club is gathering pledges, and says it will collect from donors only if there is
a certainty of success.
The Flight of Discovery will go on, its organizers
say, despite the loss of three members of the expedition on Sunday morning, when their Robinson R44 helicopter went down off the foggy Oregon coast. Two helicopters were flying together from
Washington state, with 100-foot ceilings and about a half-mile visibility reported. The pilot of the other helicopter called the Coast Guard after losing contact with the R44. The crash site was
found about a mile offshore. The Flight of Discovery is a team of general-aviation pilots and scientists who will fly the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition during the 200th anniversary of their
trek, in an effort to inspire an interest in history and science. The expedition members plan to document and evaluate environmental changes along the route, with reference to the 200-year old
historical record kept by Lewis and Clark. Those who were killed were pilot Peter Simson, photographer Tod Lilburn, and Carol Forrest, the wife of the leader of the Flight of Discovery. All were from
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The powers that be in Nacogdoches, Texas, have decided to look a gift parachute in the mouth, and told the
local sheriff to keep his Buckeye Dream Machine on the ground, at least for now. The sheriff got the powered 'chute for free
last month from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, funded by a federal grant to test the usefulness of the craft in crime fighting. But when three deputies started practicing in the aircraft, working
toward a Sport Pilot certificate from the FAA, questions arose about liability and insurance. "I haven't really achieved a high level of comfort with this," said County Judge Sue Kennedy, quoted in The Daily Sentinel. "I have some concerns that we are being rushed into something we haven't
had time to look at." For now, the Dream Machine is grounded till at least next week, when the county will decide whether to accept the aircraft as county property, according to the Sentinel.
We've written before about snakes on a plane,
and bees, too, but with this week's recall of 4.1 million Dell
laptop batteries because they might suddenly burst into flame -- the biggest such recall ever -- pilots may be wondering if it's a good idea to allow laptops on a plane. Last month, an NTSB hearing about the onboard fire that destroyed a UPS DC-8 in Philadelphia in February focused on lithium-ion
batteries. And a Wall Street Journal story earlier this week, prior to the Dell recall, explored concerns about the
batteries, citing 60 incidents since 1991 logged by the FAA. In the last two years, five known battery fires have occurred on aircraft, the Journal reported. So should you leave your laptop out of the
We asked AOPA for an opinion on that, and spokesman Chris Dancy said they don't have one yet. "Obviously, the owner of a Dell laptop who is also a pilot needs to be aware of the situation, but at this
point AOPA is not offering an opinion or advice either way," he wrote to AVweb in an e-mail. The Department of Transportation did issue a rule in December 2004 stating that certain types of large lithium batteries
could not be carried on passenger aircraft. The FAA and NTSB so far have not issued any advisories on the matter of laptops, though, so it's up to you. It was unclear at press time if the faulty
batteries, which are made by Sony, are also found in other computer brands, including some Apple
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In the span of just a few years, NEXRAD weather datalinked to the cockpit has become all but
standard equipment. But has it displaced the previous standard in storm avoidance, spherics devices such as Stormscope and Strike Finder? For an upcoming issue, our sister publication, Aviation
Consumer, is preparing an article comparing the two technologies. If you've been using both systems and you have an opinion on the topic, the editors would like to hear from you. Contact email@example.com for a survey form. The editors would also like your views comparing onboard weather radar with datalinked NEXRAD.
The FAA needs to address problems with its infrastructure, frustrated officials at Los Angeles International Airport said on Monday, after more delays due to problems with the ILS. The FAA says the
system is fine, just a few unrelated glitches, but added it will ramp up
efforts to fix the equipment...
The NTSB's factual report on the crash that killed Wal-Mart heir John Walton details
the findings of modifications to the aircraft and possible loose parts...
Online Now: Listen to, or take AVweb's no-iPod-requiredaudio news with you. We post fresh audio news issues each Monday and
Find exclusive interviews featuring Cessna's Jack Pelton on his company's LSA, TCM president Bryan Lewis, NATCA president John Carr, New Piper CEO Jim Bass, Hal Shevers for Sporty's Pilot Shop, Light
Sport guru Dan Johnson, Excel Jet's Bob Bornhofen, Adam Aircraft's Joe Walker, FAA administrator Marion Blakey, Cirrus Design's Alan Klapmeier and more. AVweb's Podcast index, is online, now. You'll hear things you won't find anywhere else.
Join AOPA: The Real-Time Flight Planner Is Worth the Dues Alone! AOPA membership can be an invaluable resource at an incredible value. Join AOPA for $39 a year and take advantage of the benefits exclusive to members, including: a year subscription to
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HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVwebs NO-COST twice monthly Business AVflash? Reporting on breaking news, Business AVflash also
focuses on the companies, the products and the industry leaders that make headlines in the Business of Aviation. Business AVflash is a must read. Watch for a Business AVflash regular feature, TSA
WATCH: GA IN THE "SPOTLIGHT". Sign up today at http://www.avweb.com/profile/ .
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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!
Join NAA and Help Shape the Next Century of Flight
It's a great time to join the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), the nation's oldest aviation organization. At $39 a year, NAA membership is a terrific value for any aviation
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It's been a while since our readers were so firmly united in their
answers to an AVweb "Question of the Week" but when we asked What
do you think is the biggest cause of aviation accidents? last week,
a full 83% of those who responded said pilots making mistakes.
Human error aside, the ever-deadly vagaries of weather came in
second on our list of culprits. It wasn't a "close second," though
only 11% of you fingered weather as the number one cause of accidents.
For real-time results of last week's question,
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
Is 100LL nearly extinct? Some would argue gasoline is almost
extinct! How do you feel about being stuck burning 100LL and what
about the alternatives that still lurk tantalizingly over the horizon?
Those back-to-school specials must really be hot this week.
It's the only thing we can think of to explain why "POTW" submission
have dropped a mere sixty-odd photos. (Heck, we had almost that
many in the running for "top ten" status last week!) Not to worry.
We won't take it personally. No, instead we'll soldier on bravely
and entertain ourselves with the top-notch photos that did roll
in over the past few days.
At the very top of our pile is an eye-catching paint job from
Mike Pastore of Illinois.
Congratulations to Mike, who'll receive an official AVweb baseball hat
in the mail next week. For a chance to win an AVweb hat of your
own and, more importantly perhaps, the chance to ooh and ahh
a hundred thousand of your fellow aviation enthusiasts
your photo here!
Mike Pastore of Wheaton, Illinois
takes home this week's top honors.
And although his photo took our breath away, we're not sure if that's
Mike in the pilot's seat, Mike taking the photo, or maybe Mike who did
the detailing. Whichever turns out to be the case, it looks like
Mr. Pastore did a fine job!
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.
While we were shopping for three-ring binders and girls' socks,
John Stewart of Ypsilanti, Michigan
snuck down to the Thunder Over Michigan air show last weekend. (At
least he brought back some cool photos.)
According to John, "[T]hese beauties were ... cranking around to make another
'strafing' run as part of what was billed as the largest WW2 reenactment in North America.
"Fantastic formation work by these guys!" adds
Gary L. Jones of Clovis, New Mexico
kept us busy with a batch of nifty vintage aircraft photos this week.
We passed a few around before finally deciding to share this one with
everyone: A B-58 taking off from Carswell Air Force Base (Texas)
"in the early 1960s," according to Gary.
Napper Airfield Gate in Wedderburn, NSW, Australia
Remember when your dad said you shouldn't throw away anything
that was well-made, because you might find a use for it later? The
folks who put up the gate at Napper Airfield in Wedderburn, New South
Wales (Australia) must have known your dad.
Robbie Culver of Waukegan, Illinois
brought back the photo from a recent trip to NSW. He writes, "Napper
Airfield is literally in the bush and has a half-dirt/half-asphalt
(Oops. We almost forgot to mention Robbie's friend Matthew Gray
and the New South Wales Flying Club, both of whom contributed to the
trip. NSW Flying Club, eh? Haven't we seen some photos of
you guys in AVweb before?)
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,
send us an e-mail.
AVWEB APPRECIATES YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT OF OUR SPONSORS,
WHO BRING YOU TODAY'S NEWS AND FEATURES AT NO COST TO YOU
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Flying Magazine's August Issue Reviews the Mooney's Acclaim Flying finds the Acclaim quick, solid, and smooth. Plus: Expert advice on pre-take-off strategy and in-flight avoidance tactics for thunderstorms;
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AVwebFlash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.
Today's issue was written by news writer Mary Grady (bio).
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