Across the Pond #21: Report from Europe

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Across the Pond

Grob Files For Bankruptcy

One of the biggest shocks the GA community in Europe experienced last month was the surprise announcement that German aircraft manufacturer Grob Aerospace had to file for insolvency after its main investor pulled out.

Grob SPn

Flight Global reports that several customers who have ordered the Grob SPn have offered to chip in to save the company, which is struggling because of several delays to the flight-testing program of the all-composite light jet. The company filed for bankruptcy on Aug. 18.

According to chief executive Niall Olver, only one of Grob's customers has canceled and several others have offered to invest in the program. The CEO wrote to his staff and said that he is "confident" that the company would survive the crisis: "This unfortunate situation has arisen as a consequence of recent delays in the SPn program, resulting in the increased requirement for cash to see the program through to certification." However, he added, "I am sure that 37 years of pioneering composite aircraft manufacturing will survive."

Grob's largest customer for the SPn light jet, Alpha Flying, has ordered 25 aircraft and remains committed to its purchase. Bombardier, too, stands by its decision to have Grob design and build the first three prototypes of its new, all-composite, Learjet 85.

CAMO Arrives In Europe

EASA

As of Sep. 28, Europe's new Part M maintenance standards will come into force across the EC. Part M aims to create the same aircraft maintenance standards throughout all Member States. EASA will issue Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization (CAMO) certificates, allowing a company to perform annual airworthiness reviews for its clients.

All EU-registered commercial and private aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight above 5.7 tonnes must be managed by a CAMO and Certificates of Airworthiness will need to be validated by a renewable Airworthiness Review Certificate (ARC). An organization must have a CAMO approval in order to issue or renew an ARC.

Although many organizations are already well-prepared, the move will hit smaller operators across the EU, who had hoped the move would be deferred for a further year. Britain's CAA has issued a guidelines page for operators wishing to find out more.

Zephyr Flies

Zephyr

A British-built aircraft powered by the sun has set an unofficial world-endurance record for a flight by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Zephyr-6 flew for 82 hours 37 minutes -- i.e., more than three days -- using rechargeable lithium batteries energized by the sun to keep it airborne during the night. The time beats the official world record set by the Global Hawk of 30 hours, 24 minutes. However, since the Zephyr's creator, QinetiQ, did not involve the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale), the record is unofficial.

Aimed at the U.S. military, the aircraft could support ground troops as a reconnaissance platform or communications vehicle. The latest flight was conducted at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, with participation by the U.K. Ministry of Defence.

The 30-kg, 18-meter-wingspan Zephyr was flown by remote control to 18 km (60,000 feet), and then flew on autopilot and via satellite communication, carrying a communications payload of approximately 2 kg. Zephyr proved that it can cope with extremes of temperature: from the blistering 45 degrees C heat found at ground level in Arizona's Sonoran Desert to the -70 degree C chill experienced at altitude. The Farnborough-based company is now working with Boeing on a defense project codenamed Vulture, which would see the largest solar-powered aircraft ever fly, capable of carrying a 450-kg (1000-pound) payload.

Unmanned Gliders To Fly Unaided

In more UAV news, Britain's Roke Manor Research is working on "automated on-board energy-aware planning" to allow autonomous gliders to find naturally occurring lift and sustain unpowered flight or prolong powered flight. The gliders would be equipped with software and hardware capable of analyzing cloud conditions and surface data. These would merge with models assessing weather and thermals and share information with other similar aircraft in the vicinity. This would help create a real-time lift map, which a flight-management system on board the aircraft could read and help move the glider from thermal to thermal en route.

The aircraft would thus exploit the best areas of lift between the departure point and destination point. Current proposed applications for the developing technology include extending the flight range of UAVs.

Hanging On by a Wing and a Prayer

A retired German couple was lucky to be alive after their Europa light aircraft hit a 380,000-volt power line last month. The airplane's right main gear wheel got caught in the power line as they approached to land at a nearby field. The crash rolled the plane onto its back, and left it suspended 80 feet in the air. The pair of pensioners then hung upside down by the wheel for nearly three hours in Durach, southern Germany.

"They had a very, very lucky accident," said police officer Edmund Martin, part of the rescue team at the scene. Emergency services freed the pair with a hydraulic lift after a helicopter rescue was deemed too dangerous, because a downdraft would potentially throw the Europa onto the ground. The couple was also covered in avgas from the leaking fuel tank, which heightened the drama further. There were also fears that increasingly gusty winds would throw the plane to the ground.

The pilot and passenger stayed in radio contact with the ground throughout. They were treated at a local hospital for shock, but fortunately suffered only minor injuries.

A video of the rescue is available on YouTube.


Regulatory Affairs

There are some important GA conferences coming up this month organized by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS).

A workshop of paramount importance to maintenance bodies and personnel is taking place on Sep. 16 at No.4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ, UK. Sessions in the Airworthiness & Maintenance Conference include:

  • The way maintenance personnel are educated and trained;
  • How the repair of new materials will be developed;
  • What sort of problems innovations such as alternative fuels present;
  • What effect will all these changes have on the environment; and
  • What will we need to change in the current system of management to meet these challenges.

The conference promises to examine particularly the role of the maintenance engineer in the future and the extent to which he or she can be expected to act alongside the aircrew as the final airworthiness safeguard.

Liverpool, England, plays host Sep. 16-18, to the 34th European Rotorcraft Forum at the Arena & Convention Centre. The ERF will be the 34th in a series of meetings, which take place annually across Europe, rotating around the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia. The first ERF was held in Southampton, England, in 1975 and the most recent in Kazan, Russia in 2007.

Finally, the society is holding its annual international Flight Crew Training Conference on Sep. 25-26 at its Hamilton Place HQ. The third conference will address the important issues that advanced-technology aircraft pose for flight crew training. Subjects tackled will include: aircraft design and certification; pilot selection; training technology, strategies and systems; the user interface and aircraft checklists; human factors; the effectiveness of flight simulators; and flight-crew licensing requirements.

Sadly the planned EASA FORUM on General Aviation issues scheduled for Sep. 17 has now been cancelled.

Register online at the RAeS Conference site.

The High Spot Of Their Lives

An adventurous couple made their wedding vows 1000 feet in the air on top of the wings of three Boeing Stearman biplanes in Cirencester, U.K., last month. The couple borrowed aircraft normally seen carrying Team Guinot wingwalkers.

Groom Darren McWalters, 24, and his bride Katie Hodgson, 23 -- dressed in a full bridal gown -- flew in formation with the vicar, Rev. George Bringham. Bringham flew ahead of the couple and brought the Lancashire couple together in holy matrimony, broadcast over the radio.

The congregation on the ground witnessed the touching ceremony via loudspeakers dotted around RFC Rendcomb Airfield. Doubtless groom, bride and vicar were in tears afterwards.


FusionMan Jets Into The Ether

FusionMan

Proving that you don't have to be in the military to build a strange plane, last month a magnificent man flew more than 35 kilometers wearing his four-engine jet "wing" flying machine. Yves Rossy jumped out of an aircraft above the town of Bex in Switzerland. He flew to Villeneuve and then turned back to Bex airfield. Managing this distance means he has the range to fly over the English Channel, which he intends to do Sep. 24 if the weather holds. "If there are no technical problems, it's OK for the English Channel," he said. "I can't wait for this next challenge." The event will be broadcast live by National Geographic Channel in 165 countries, as well as online.


Airshow

Finally, there is at least one more airshow around the region. JetExpo, the Russian International Business Aviation Exhibition, is back for the third time, bigger and better than before, in Moscow Sep. 17-19.



For more aviation news and information from Europe, read the rest of Liz Moscrop's columns.