AVwebFlash - Volume 12, Number 33b

August 17, 2006

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Ethanol Aircraft Ready To Fly

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.

Performance, Cost, And Engine Wear

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.

Why Wait For Alternative Fuel?

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 traditional fuel.

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Supersonic Bizjets -- Why Wait In Line?

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.

Low Noise, Vibration

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.

SST Research Continues, Worldwide

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.

Ask About Aircraft Spruce 
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"Gear Of The Year": Twin Star, Garmin GPS

Aviation Consumer (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.

Planned "Fix" A Threat To GPS, Scientists Say

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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Vulcan Needs A Million Pounds, Now

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.

Aerial Expedition's Tragedy

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 California.

Noise Reduction from LightSPEED Fly in Ultra-Comfort with LightSPEED Headsets
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Texas Town Not Ready For Powered Parachute

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.

Your Laptop's Terrorism Plot?

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 cockpit?

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 laptops.

Introducing New AeroShell® Oil W 80 Plus
The newest member of the AeroShell® family, AeroShell® Oil W 80 Plus is designed to provide excellent protection for pilots who fly in colder weather or less frequently. With the same anti-wear and anti-corrosion additives found in AeroShell® W 100 PLUS, new AeroShell® W 80 Plus provides pilots with a lighter single-grade oil they can trust. Learn more online.

Datalink Or Stormscope?

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 aviationeditorial@comcast.net for a survey form. The editors would also like your views comparing onboard weather radar with datalinked NEXRAD.

Correction -- AD For Seat Backs

A short item in Monday's AVweb news about a proposed Airworthiness Directive affecting some Cessna aircraft should have referred to seat backs, not seat tracks.

On The Fly...

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...

Another all-business airline, British start-up Silverjet, is getting ready to join Eos and MaxJet in scooping up the high-end trans-Atlantic airline passengers...

Flight Aware's archive now totals more than 25 million flights. The free site offers live, free flight tracking for private and commercial air traffic in the United States...

Ever wonder what happens when a plane is struck by lightning? Scientific American offers an explanation.

Garmin 396 vs. Flight Cheetah with XM Weather Comparison
How does the Garmin 396 really compare to the Flight Cheetah with XM Weather?  Check out this link to find out.
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Audio News

Online Now: Listen to, or take AVweb's no-iPod-required audio news with you. We post fresh audio news issues each Monday and Friday.

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.

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Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

Find all of today's stories in AVweb's: NewsWire

Join AOPA: The Real-Time Flight Planner Is Worth the Dues Alone!
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New Articles and Features on AVweb


Say Again? #66: Common Phraseology
Back to basics this month. AVweb's Don Brown has some reminders on how (and why) common phraseology is not as good as clear phraseology.

AVweb's Business AVflash

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVweb’s 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/ .

If You Think "Bargains" Are Something Alien to Aviation — Think Again!
Spending hard-earned money on your aircraft and its avionics can be expensive. But don't think good deals aren't available in today's marketplace. Bennett Avionics provides pilots with quality avionics to meet their needs and maintain their budget. Before you buy anywhere else, check out Bennett Avionics at (860) 653-7295 or online. You'll be glad you did!

FBO of the Week: Pegasus Aviation, Raton, NM

For local prices, enter your U.S. ZIP Code or Airport Identifier:
Fuel prices provided weekly by AirNav,
based on prices from the past 2 weeks.
Changes are relative to last week.

Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Pegasus Aviation at KRTN, Raton, NM.

Offering up Pegasus, Peter Hochla told us, "The friendliest, most helpful FBO within 500 miles. Competitive fuel prices, consciencious service, clean and neat facilities, GREAT food."

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!

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 enthusiast! Members receive the Smithsonian's Air & Space and NAA's Aero magazines, plus access to aviation records, product discounts, and much more. Call (703) 527-0226 to become an NAA member, or sign up online.

Question of the Week: Of Alternative Fuels and Alternative Engines ...

This Week's Question | Last Week's Results


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, click here.


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?

Click here to chime in

Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to qotw@avweb.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.

Safety Equipment ... Add Aviation Safety to Your MEL
A Minimum Equipment List is not complete without a subscription to Aviation Safety. Discover this informative, instructive monthly publication that sharpens your air readiness. Order your subscription online for savings from the regular rate.

Picture of the Week

Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions | Past POTW Winners

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 — submit your photo here!


medium | large

Used with permission of Mike Pastore

Knife Edge

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.

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Used with permission of John P. Stewart

Picture Perfect

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 John.


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copyright © Outwardbound Photography
Used with permission of Donald Neuberg

Cub in Your Face!

Donald Neuberg of LaGrange, Georgia didn't tell us much about this Cub or its owner — but who are we to complain?

The photo does speak pretty well for itself, in our humble opinion ... .


click for a larger version

Used with permission of Gary L. Jones


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.



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copyright © Robbie Culver
Used with permission

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 runway."

(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?)


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copyright © Jerry Milek
Used with permission

In sharp contrast to the past few weeks, this batch of "POTW" entries came up a little short in the "Nature's Majesty" category.  So to make up for it, here's a one-two punch of sunsets —

Malibu Sunset

First, from the inside, courtesy of Illinois's Curt Smith ...


medium | large

copyright © Jason Hartwig
Used with permission

Sunset Flight

... and then from a little ... breezier perspective, thanks to Jason Hartwig of the U.S. Marine Corps.

That's it for this week!  Stay safe out there, and send us pictures!

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.



Award-Winning VFLITE™ Computer-Based GPS Training Just FAA-Adopted
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Attention, Cessna Owners
Do you need to modernize your old, tired RT359A or RT459A transponder? Narco Avionics proudly announces the availability of their all-new AT165/C and AT165/C Value Series digital display transponders. The AT165/C and AT165/C Value Series are designed as direct slide-in plug & play replacement transponders for the old ARC units. Both units feature instant VFR recall with quick and easy one-knob code entry. The AT165/C also features pressure altitude display with hold alert, along with three independent timers with audible alert. For more information, visit Narco Avionics online.

AVweb's Flight Explorer 5.0 Available at Same Low Price!
Version 5.0 is now available at the same low price! New features include FAA Airport delays; enhanced terrain/elevation map depictions; updated Airways, NAVAIDs, Fixes, Special Use Airspace, and Flight Service Stations; and more. Click here for more information and to subscribe.

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; Richard Collins is impressed with Columbia's 400 with G1000 autopilot; and much more. Don't miss an issue. Special subscription rates online.

Ensure Yourself and Your Passengers' Safety for Under $149!
CO Guardian has reliable and proven CO detectors in both portable and panel-mount models starting at $149. You can't afford not to purchase from CO Guardian. Order online.

Have You Seen Aviation Consumer's "Gear of the Year" List?
Check out the "Gear of the Year" along with Aviation Consumer's no-nonsense reviews and more. Subscribe today!
Aviation Consumer — 36 years and still no advertising!


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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