AVwebFlash - Volume 13, Number 38a

September 17, 2007

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Top News back to top 

NTSB Decision On Crossfield Crash Expected Wednesday

An air traffic controller didn’t tell Scott Crossfield he was headed for a storm, but then Crossfield didn’t ask, either. That’s the conundrum the NTSB will face when it votes Wednesday on the probable cause of the April 2006 crash that killed the legendary test pilot and goodwill ambassador for aviation. A report in the Washington Post on Sunday quotes NTSB investigation documents as saying the Atlanta controller working Crossfield’s Cessna 210 flight as it crossed through northern Georgia could see significant weather in Crossfield’s path but didn’t warn him because he thought the data was outdated. But even though the weather was obviously deteriorating, Crossfield hadn’t asked for regular weather updates and just after 11 a.m. he issued his final radio call. "Atlanta, this is Seven Nine X-ray. I'd like to deviate south. Weather."

A minute later, his aircraft dropped 6,000 feet to 4,000 feet where the turbulence from a nearby cell tore it into two pieces, which landed in a rugged area of northern Georgia. Bruce Landsberg, director of AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation, told the Post that if Crossfield had asked for weather updates, he might have “sensitized the controller” to his concern about the deteriorating conditions. "It is a shared responsibility between pilot and controller . . . You have to make sure a message is sent and a message is received," he said.

Rare Bear Charges to Victory at Reno

The highly modified F-8F-2 Bearcat Rare Bear, flown by John Penney, blew away the competition in the Gold final of the National Championship Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport on Sunday. The exotic machine finished the final with an average speed of 478 mph, 44 mph faster than second place Sherman Smoot flying Czech Mate, a Yak 11. Third spot went to Stewart Dawson in the Spirit of Texas Hawker Sea Fury. Dawson was less than two mph slower than Smoot. The final day of the event went off without tragedy as the crowd paused to pay their respects to the three pilots who died at this year's meet.

Three pilots were killed over four days at the races but organizers said they were all very different accidents with no common safety thread. Steve Dari died Tuesday during practice when his biplane stalled on takeoff, Gary Hubler was killed when his Cassutt brushed wings with another aircraft during the Formula One competition and Brad Morehouse's L-39 crashed in the jet races. A formation of five aircraft performed the missing man formation for the three pilots after a minute of silence at the races.

Click here for complete 2007 results.

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News Briefs back to top 

VLJ Market Looking Brighter, According to Analyst

A European company that has studied the emerging very light jet market says it's painting a rosier outlook for the sector than it has in the past but there are more caveats than a law library in his assessment. Phillip Butterworth-Hayes, of PMI Media, told AVweb Sunday in a podcast interview to be released on Friday that interest in VLJs seems to be sustained and new market possibilities are opening up but (and there are several of them) the next 12 months will likely be the harbinger of things to come, especially in the air taxi business." A lot will depend on just how robust the aircraft are," Butterworth-Hayes, author of the report, said. He said they're going to be called upon to fly far more hours in more rugged conditions than business jets are normally flown and many are far less expensive than the low-end business jets.

He said the other significant factor will be the world economy. Traditionally, companies buy jets when times are good. He said all indicators point to a downturn and that will likely mean the red-hot market for jets will soften. Butterworth-Hayes maintains that the models most likely to fly out of the uncertainty and market saturation that's looming will come from companies that already build, certify and support fleets of jets.

Fossett "Freelancers" Spark TFR

The FAA has imposed a temporary flight restriction over the area being searched for Steve Fossett after a the pilot of a privately owned aircraft not formally engaged in the search began an impromptu sweep of the area on Friday. According to an Associated Press report, the pilot was contacted (by radio, we assume) and told whoever contacted him that he was trying to claim a $10,000 reward offered on the social networking Web site YouChoose.net for information leading to the discovery of Fossett. However, getting some stick time over the Nevada wilderness wasn’t what YouChoose.net had in mind, nor did it please searchers. [more] "This freelance searching is not only dangerous, but will potentially result in the delay or cancellation of all air search missions for Mr. Fossett," search organizers said in a written statement The Web site is indeed offering a $10,000 reward but it’s asking people to use their computers to access satellite imagery to help in the search, just like AVweb has been asking for a week now. And, like AVweb readers, YouChoose.net participants are finding things they think should be investigated. In the meantime, hope has faded that Fossett will be found alive, although the official word from the search coordinators is that this is still a “rescue” mission.

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News Briefs back to top 

Google Founders Get Prime Parking for Their Boeing and Gulfstreams

Pity the lower-class Silicon Valley billionaires. While their drivers have to battle traffic for an hour to get them to their private jets at public-use airports, The New York Times is reporting that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have exclusive access to a NASA airport that is seven minutes from their offices. While Google isn't saying anything about the $1.3 million annual rent deal, which allows Page and Brin to land and park their Boeing 767-200 and two Gulfstream Vs at Moffet Field, NASA is claiming it's being done in the name of science, not convenience. "It was an opportunity for us to defray some of the fixed costs we have to maintain the airfield as well as to have flights of opportunity for our science missions," Steven Zornetzer, associate director for institutions and research at NASA's Ames Center, told the Times. "It seemed like a win-win situation."

In addition to paying the significant rent, Page and Brin let NASA put scientific hardware on the jets for special flights. The most recent was the use of the Gulfstreams to allow scientists to observe the Aurigid meteor shower on Aug. 31. AVweb and other outlets reported the flight but NASA only referred to the jet as being owned by "Silicon Valley entrepreneurs" and didn't mention the parking arrangement. The Silicon Valley gossip mill is working overtime with a lot of Google's neighbors apparently skeptical of the rationale for the deal. That's expected to put pressure on NASA to open up the base for other private jets.

Antique Aircraft Owners Urged to Comment on FAA Draft Order

Those who own and fly old, rare and discontinued aircraft are being urged to comment on a draft order (MS Word document) under consideration by the FAA that would determine how the agency handles what it calls "abandoned" and "orphaned" type certificates and supplementary type certificates. The agency's preamble makes the point that it needs to be in reliable contact with the custodians of TCs and STCs for all certified aircraft still flying and the proposed national policy is aimed at that. That naturally has the owners of historic airplanes nervous about their future flying and they're hoping everyone with an interest in the issue will comment by the deadline on Oct. 5.

In an earlier letter to members, Antique Aircraft Association Executive Director Brent Taylor said it's crucial that those voices be heard. "This is a very important piece of legislation that will directly effect the owners and restorers of a large portion of the antique airplane fleet in this country and we need let the FAA know both what is good about this draft as well as what is not so good before it is enacted into the FARs." The association was successful in getting the comment period extended from Sept. 3 to Oct. 5.

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News Briefs back to top 

Crash Pilot Allegedly Attacked by Angry Commuters

The South African media is sorting out the facts after at least one news outlet reported that the occupants of a vehicle hit by a Tiger Moth in an accident on a road south of Johannesburg Wednesday attacked the injured pilot while he was still strapped into his seat. The pilot, Glen Simpson, is reportedly doing well in hospital but the crash killed his passenger and the driver of a bus that was struck by the plane. One other vehicle was also hit and a total of 23 people were injured, most of them on the bus, which carried 40 people. There's some question whether the attack actually took place, however.

The Independent said Simpson's parents were unaware that any beating took place but quoted 702 Eyewitness News as saying: "His father Mike told 702 Eyewitness News that angry commuters started kicking Simpson after the accident, while he was still strapped to his seat. A witness confirmed that commuters had attacked the injured pilot." The spectacular accident is naturally being investigated by a long list of authorities.

Cliff Robertson Is NAA's Elder Statesman

An actor who's won wide acclaim for that talent (including an Oscar) has been recognized for his lifelong devotion to aviation. Cliff Robertson will be awarded the Wesley L. MacDonald Elder Statesman of Aviation Award at NAA's annual awards night Oct. 29. Throughout his acting career, Robertson has made numerous aviation-related shows but his list of accomplishments in the real world of aviation is every bit as long. He's on EAA's President's Council and was the founding chairman of the Young Eagles program. He rarely misses Oshkosh or the opportunity to promote aviation and that, in part, is why AVweb's Ann Devers has been tireless in her promotion of Robertson for this award.

Devers said she's nominated him 11 times and she's happy that the selection committee agreed this year. "He is such a sweet man and he's done so much for aviation," she said. Robertson said he was honored but also surprised. "If you've been flying long enough and been around the poke a few times, well, I guess pretty soon they run out of people," Robertson said in NAA's news release. "It's hardly deserved, but I'm highly flattered and very touched by the sentiment, and very honored to be recognized among such distinguished past winners." Among previous winners are Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle and Scott Crossfield.

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AVweb Audio News — Are You Listening? back to top 

AVweb's Monday Podcast: Pilot's Pilot Cliff Robertson (And Soon-to-Be NAA Elder Statesman of Aviation)

File Size 9.4 MB / Running Time 10:18

Podcast Index | How to Listen | Subscribe Via RSS

To the rest of the world, he's known as the ruggedly handsome actor who won an Academy Award for the 1968 classic Charly — but to the flying fraternity, Cliff Robertson is a respected pilot, tireless volunteer, and collector of precious warbirds. On Oct. 29, he'll be presented with the National Aeronautic Association's Wesley L. MacDonald Elder Statesman Award. AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with Robertson about his life in airplanes and about the search for his friend, Steve Fossett.

Click here to listen. (9.4 MB, 10:18)

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New on AVweb back to top 

What's New for September 2007

This month, AVweb's survey of the latest products and services for pilots, mechanics and aircraft owners brings you life vests, videos, window tints, engine management systems and much more.

Click here for the full story.

Leading Edge #9: Unusable Fuel

It's one thing to run out of fuel before your destination; it's another to have fuel on board that you can't get to -- or you forget to get it.

Click here to read.

Look at the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) or installed placards on most airplanes and you'll find a notation about "unusable fuel." Unusable fuel is that fuel in the tank(s) that is not considered to be accessible for running the engine(s). Fuel tank design philosophy provides a sump area into which heavier-than-fuel water or other contamination will settle that is below the point where fuel flows from the tanks. That way, unless there is a great deal of contamination (that occupies more space than the sump), only "good" fuel will make it to the engine and combustion will continue unabated. The fuel quick-drains you check as part of your preflight inspection are drawing fuel from the bottom of these sumps.

In many airplanes one to three gallons of fuel or more per tank occupies this unusable fuel sump. That fuel itself is then considered "unusable" for flight. It may be that siphoning action from gravity feed or the engine's fuel pump can draw some of the fuel out of this sump, making it usable despite the unusable designation. Extensive and very careful testing of individual airplanes may be able to determine the actual amount of usable fuel in a specific tank when completely filled. In virtually all airplanes, however, there will be some amount of fuel in each tank that is inaccessible to the engine(s). The amount of unusable fuel in an individual tank is so small that it should not make any difference in your range or endurance planning. So it's best to consider POH values for unusable fuel to be accurate, and not to count on it to help you make it to destination.

Fuel Starvation

There are other situations when fuel in the tanks, even above the sump level, become unusable in flight. Before you scoff, consider that fuel starvation -- an engine failure resulting when fuel is available somewhere on board the airplane but for some reason does not make it to the engine -- is responsible for as much as 40% of all engine failures according to some researchers. Removing cases when the pilot selects an empty fuel tank and does not restore fuel flow before an unscheduled landing, there are other scenarios that can lead to an "unusable fuel" state and engine failure:

  • Slips With Low Fuel Levels: As long as the airplane is in coordinated flight, fuel will flow normally from the tanks into the fuel delivery system. In other than straight-and-level attitudes, centripetal force will replace gravity to force fuel "down" relative to the airplane. But if aileron and rudder are not coordinated, forces acting on the airplane may pull fuel away from the fuel lines. This unporting of fuel can cause fuel starvation and engine stoppage. Obviously the risk is greatest when fuel levels are low. Fuel unporting is most commonly seen in a slip when landing into a crosswind when the pilot has inadvertently selected the "downhill" fuel tank (see figure below), or -- if turning steeply immediately after takeoff or in a go-around -- the pilot is not careful to maintain rudder coordination. The "fix" is to keep the ball centered with coordinated use of aileron and rudder, so that "down" for the fuel is toward the bottom of the tanks and the fuel lines, and to select the "uphill" tank when planning a slip to landing.
  • Turning-Type Takeoffs: Another low-fuel unporting "gotcha" happens if you make a fast turn onto the runway for takeoff and fuel sloshes toward the outboard end of the tank (see figure). A fast turn on the ground will naturally be uncoordinated (you're moving in two, not three, dimensions before takeoff), and again the risk is greater with less fuel in the tanks. Some airplanes have baffles in the tanks to inhibit "sloshing," but it's still a good idea to get aligned with the runway completely before adding power for takeoff. Not only does this avoid the fuel unporting issue, it also puts much less side-load on your landing gear.

Three types of low-fuel fuel-starvation events: (Top) Slipping on the downhill tank; (Middle) "Turning-type" takeoff; and (Bottom) Unusable fuel.

The ultimate fix for these fuel-unporting scenarios is a fuel system that draws fuel from both tanks simultaneously. For some reason this design philosophy is almost completely limited to Cessna single-engine airplanes. The rest of us need to remember the threat of unusable fuel from unporting.

Vent Action

All fuel tank systems may potentially develop unusable fuel if there are problems with fuel vents. Fuel tanks are vented to the atmosphere so that, as fuel is drawn out, air is drawn in. This keeps the tank pressurized and provides a positive force to permit fuel to flow. If a fuel vent is plugged with dirt, bugs, airplane wax, ice or other obstructions, it may not be possible to draw fuel from that tank, even if it is full of fuel. Rubber bladder-type fuel tanks (as opposed to fiberglass or metal tanks) may bunch up and trap large amounts of fuel away from the engine; even fiberglass or metal tanks may deform and collapse under the suction of fuel and make remaining fuel unusable.

Some models of airplane have a fuel vent in the form of a stick or probe that extends beneath or above the wing and into the slipstream. If these types of vents are broken off or spun around so that the opening is anything other than straight into the relative wind, air flow may create suction instead of pressure in the vent lines. This suction can resist fuel draw and make some or all of the fuel in that tank unusable, or it may actually pull fuel out of the tank through the vent and dump it overboard.

To avoid fuel venting problems, check all fuel vents for obstructions and vent orientation before flight.

Fuel Caps

Loose or leaky fuel caps can create suction that, like a misaligned vent, can create pockets of unusable fuel in bladder-type tanks or inhibit fuel flow from the tank. Suction created in the low-pressure area atop the wing can even draw fuel through the filler port, draining the tank in flight. Avoid fuel cap-related unusable fuel by personally ensuring fuel caps are secure before every flight, even if you've not fueled on this landing or it was serviced by a trusted fueler or mechanic.

Auxiliary Fuel

Many airplane types have main and auxiliary fuel tanks. In every model I'm familiar with, the POH calls for fuel selectors to be moved to the fullest main tank position for everything but straight-and-level flight. Auxiliary fuel tanks often are located, plumbed or vented such that fuel flow may become interrupted in high angles of attack. To avoid making all your fuel "unusable" for takeoff or landing, following the POH's guidance and double-check positions before takeoff, climbs, descents, and when entering the approach or traffic pattern.

Vapor Lock

Vapor lock, or an interruption in fuel flow caused by air in the fuel lines, often results when a fuel tank is drained completely and the fuel pump is allowed to draw air into the lines. In some cases fixing a vapor lock is easy (switching to a fuel-filled tank and running a boost pump), but in others it make take a complicated purging process and may not even be possible until you're on the ground. To avoid the dangerous potential for vapor lock, avoid running a fuel tank completely dry in flight.


A fuel starvation event fairly common in multiengine airplanes occurs when one engine is run in crossfeed. Most twin-engine airplanes normally run the left engine with fuel from the left wing, and the right engine from fuel in the right wing. As a means of balancing the aircraft on extended single-engine operation (in the event of an in-flight engine failure), twin-engine airplanes usually have crossfeed lines so the left engine can run from right-wing fuel and vice versa.

If both engines are running, it's possible to be running them both from the same tank, one engine feeding normally and the other running in crossfeed. This is not a routine configuration, but every now and then the NTSB publishes an accident report where this has created unusable fuel (in that configuration) and both engines quit, usually at some critical point such as takeoff or landing. To avoid this type of mishap, ensure that fuel selectors are set properly for takeoff, cruise and landing.

Unusable Fuel

Make sure all the fuel you have on board is usable to your engine(s):

  • Observe all fuel system limitations.
  • Maintain rudder coordination in flight.
  • If you must fly uncoordinated (such as a slip to landing), do so with plenty of fuel in the tanks, and select the uphill tank unless your fuel selector has a "both" position.
  • Check vents for obstructions and orientation before flight.
  • Check fuel caps for security and leaks before flight.
  • Avoid running a fuel tank completely dry to avoid vapor lock.

Fly safe, and have fun!

Thomas P. Turner's Leading Edge columns are collected here.


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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: Lancaster Aviation (KLKR, McWhirter Field, Lancaster, SC)

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

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Lancaster Aviation at McWhirter Field (KLKR) in Lancaster, South Carolina.

AVweb reader Alex McDowell recommended Lancaster for the usual reasons — "down-home hospitality, excellent service, and very reasonable rates" — but like many pilots, Alex discovered the true value of good service during an unscheduled stop for emergency maintenance. Alex writes:

Suffering complete electrical failure upon takeoff from a military base, I diverted 95 miles out of my way because I knew I could count on them really taking care of me. I wasn't disappointed. Gary's team jumped right in, troubleshooting my problem while I enjoyed reading all the heartfelt notes to parts manager Carrie from deployed service men and women in appreciation for the many care packages she has sent to these overseas troops. Sandy loaned me the crew car overnight, and the gang had a fix in the works by the time I arrived back at the airport. Fred the pooch was even keeping my parking spot on the ramp warm! Neil, Mark and Justin had me repaired, refueled, and ready to go before lunch, but I couldn't pass up the invitation to stay for the barbecue chicken and fixin's Mike had been grilling up all morning. I had been anxious to get back home for meetings the next day, and the gang made sure I made it on time, but I sure hated to leave the wonderful family atmosphere.

Alex will definitely return to Lancaster Aviation and recommends any other pilots in the area check them out.

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

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Viral Video back to top 

Video of the Week: How to Crash a Boeing 720

Recommend a Video | VOTW Archive

This week's "Video of the Week" comes to us from Spike/iFilm and goes all the way back to 1984, when NASA and the FAA worked together to crash a Boeing 720. Their intent was to study the influence of a fuel additive designed to suppress fire, but ours in the year 2007 is — well, honestly, to watch a very expensive aircraft go down in the name of research.

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News in Brief back to top 

On the Fly ...

Organizers of a "strand-in" to be held at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Sept. 19 to protest incidents where airline passengers have been stuck on the ground inside aircraft for up to 10 hours say someone has hacked their information site, shutting it down. A temporary site has been set up ... .

The pilot of a rare Hawker Hurricane died at an air show in Sussex, England Saturday. The aircraft crashed while taking part in a mock dogfight to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Britain ... .

Diamond D-Jet serial number 002 had its first flight last Friday and everything went well according to Diamond. A third type conforming aircraft is under construction and certification flight tests will start soon.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something that 130,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

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AVweb Needs Your Help back to top 

AVmail: Sep. 17, 2007

Reader mail this week about Marion Blakey's legacy, ELTs, and lots of comments about the search for Steve Fossett.

Click here to read this week's letters to the editor.

AVwebBiz (AVweb's Business Aviation Newsletter) Reports from NBAA

AVweb's award-winning editors will be at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention and Trade Show September 25-27 to cover all the business and commercial aviation news. Enjoy daily show news, podcasts and videos delivered to your inbox in the AVwebBiz newsletter. If you don't already get our AVwebBiz newsletter, click here to subscribe at no cost.

The AVweb Bookstore, The Most Complete Aviation Bookstore Anywhere
Over 400 titles representing 52 publishers are in stock and ready for immediate delivery — as books, videos, or CDs. 100+ titles available instantly as fully searchable e-Book downloads. Whether you are a pilot, an A&P technician, or a kit airplane builder, if it's worth reading, it's available from the AVweb Bookstore. Click here to visit online.
The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 

Short Final

Overheard in IFR Magazine's 'On the Air' Section
Overheard in IFR Magazine's "On the Air"

While flying through Joshua Approach airspace in Southern California:

Joshua Approach:
"Bonanza Five Victor X-Ray, be advised you have traffic at your 12 o'clock 10 miles, an F-15."

Bonanza 5VX:
"Roger, we'll be looking, no contact."

"Bonanza Five Victor X-Ray, traffic should be no factor but should be fun to watch."

Cessna 123:
"Not in this wild machine."

"That's OK, I fly a Skyhawk, too."

Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

Comments or questions about the news should be sent here.

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? A question on marketing? Send it to AVweb's sales team.

If you're having trouble reading this newsletter in its HTML-rich format (or if you'd prefer a lighter, simpler format for your PDA or handheld device), there's also a text-only version of AVwebFlash. For complete instructions on making the switch, click here.

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