AVwebFlash - Volume 20, Number 19a

November 7, 2013

Portable Traffic System Maker Zaon Ceases Operation

Zaon Flight Systems, the maker of the popular PCAS portable traffic alerting system, has ceased operation according to Sporty's Pilot Shop and Aircraft Spruce and Specialty, two of the company's largest distributors. Both distributors told AVweb that Zaon "is out of business" and couldn't offer any suggestions for obtaining support for existing Zaon products. Zaon introduced the first portable collision avoidance solution—the TPAS—nearly a decade ago, selling over 3000 units in just a few years. The follow-on product was the TrafficScope, introduced in 2003. It too was a huge success, with over 4000 units sold. Finally, the PCAS line, which included the XRX and MRX portable traffic alerters, were the current generation models. The PCAS-XRX was a popular traffic solution because of its 3-D view Quadrant Direction function, audio voice alerts, built-in altimeter and the ability to interface with third-party displays, to include Garmin portable GPS and experimental EFIS systems.

Most recently, Zaon introduced an add-on ADS-B interface to the XRX with the MX1090-series ADS-B traffic receiver. The MX1090 could receive TIS-B messages, bringing the portable traffic solution to a higher level. Zaon could not be reached for comment because the company's phone numbers don't work. The company website, Zaon.aero, is still in service, and the online store appears to work.

FAA Sets Stage For Drones In Airspace

The FAA Thursday released its “UAS Roadmap” and Comprehensive Plan to integrate unmanned aerial systems, or UAS (also known as UAVs or drones) in the national airspace. The release addresses current and future policies, regulations, technologies and procedures that will allow operation of unmanned aerial vehicles in the nation’s airspace with emphasis on “extensive integration.” Six yet to be designated test sites will be required to maintain a written plan for using and retaining data. The FAA says it intends to establish regulations over the next five to 10 years, attempting to integrate with changes that will arrive as part of NextGen air traffic control. Congress had previously set an earlier deadline. 

The FAA intends to use special procedures to accommodate limited use of unmanned aerial vehicles over the next several years. Congress previously ordered the FAA to develop a comprehensive plan near 2015. The FAA, through Administrator Michael Huerta, said, “We are dedicated to moving this exciting new technology along as quickly and safely as possible.” For now, that method will integrate systems on a case-by-case basis in the near future. The FAA emphasized that changes are coming to the airspace system “over the next 15 years” and new certification standards for aircraft and drones as well as new training approaches for pilots and controllers will be put in place along with new navigation requirements. As integration of these components expands, approvals for drone operation will change. The FAA also addressed privacy protections by saying that it is not offering “specific views” on how the federal government regulates privacy. Find the FAA’s document, “Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap” available as a PDF, online.

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Midair Pilot Describes Escape From Burning Plane

Pilot Matt Fandler, who escaped under canopy from an airborne, broken and burning Cessna 182 after a midair with a Cessna 185 prior to a planned formation skydive, has spoken with NBC News in an exclusive interview recorded for Dateline. All 11 participants and one of two aircraft survived the event. Fandler, who flew the 182, suffered the most extensive physical injuries but came down safely under his own emergency parachute. He received 25 stitches that attend to cuts on his body resulting from his airplane’s windshield shattering into the cockpit after the two aircraft made contact at roughly 12,000 feet. “I didn’t see anything … I just heard a bang and the windshield immediately shattered,” Fandler told NBC. Unbeknownst to the pilot, his aircraft had also lost a wing to the impact. As the aircraft rolled and nosed over Fandler soon learned he had no control and “thought it was in my best interest to not be in this aircraft.”

Fandler said before he even turned his head, he’d “pulled the yoke back to my chest” and “there was no reaction from the plane.” He unclipped his lap belt and looked right toward the 182’s door, which is when he learned it was gone — along with the airplane’s right wing. Fandler says he reached out and grabbed the doorframe and “jumped head first.” As he fell, he saw his airplane falling toward the ground with one wing missing. The skydivers, who were equipped with helmet cameras to record what was supposed to be a formation jump, also witnessed the aircraft falling. At least one of them, Daniel Chandler, told interviewers that he did not know if Fandler was still inside of the airplane and attempted to catch up with the falling fuselage in an attempt to free the pilot. Chandler says he was unable to catch up with the falling wreck as it sped earthward. “It was gone and there was nothing I could do. I had to accept that there was nothing I could do,” he told NBC. Meanwhile, Fandler was in free fall, trying to remember what he’d learned during two tandem practice jumps. The pilot says his landing was “decently hard” but he was able to watch as the pilot of the 185 that survived the impact landed safely on the airfield. Fandler said he plans to fly again and hopes to move on to bigger and faster aircraft.

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Where Pilot Training Costs Are Steady And Pay Is Down

Economic conditions in Europe are creating a challenge for some prospective professional pilots as the costs of their training has not declined, but pilot pay in many cases has, according to Bloomberg News. In Germany, pilots paying their own way through training can spend nearly $100,000 on that process, Bloomberg said, while the unemployment rate for pilots in Germany has risen to twice the country’s average. The overall effect is that some pilots are paying the same (or higher) rates than their predecessors for training that will put them in a longer queue of applicants for a pool of lower-paying jobs. 

The source of the change in pay rates might draw back to major carriers. In Germany, like those in some other parts of Europe, major carriers have cut back on their least profitable routes. And smaller and discount carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet — that generally pay less — have risen to fill the gaps. Moreover, the tightening at major carriers has released experienced pilots into the marketplace, further complicating job prospects for some less experienced pilots. To bridge the gap, some lower-time pilots are adding aviation degrees. The Bloomberg report touches on some concepts raised by regional pilot Brant Harrison in the AVweb feature article, "The Pilot Shortage Crisis Is Nigh! … Or Not." Harrison suggested that the pilot market may soon see changes that make the initial training investment more palatable (if not less expensive) for new pilots.

China Unveils New AWACS

The Chinese military has offered a glimpse of its new airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft. The KJ-500 is an adaptation of the Shanxi Y-9 cargo plane, a four-engine turboprop with a configuration similar to that of the C-130 Hercules. The speculation in the Chinese media is that the KJ-500 is the next generation early warning aircraft for the People's Liberation Army Air Force and will replace the KJ-2000 Balance Beam. 

The KJ-500 features a fixed radome with three radar antennas that provide full radar coverage in flight. The radar system is called an Active Phased Array Radar and is the same system used on the Balance Beam. Before it developed the KJ-500, the Chinese manufacturers used a Y-9 as the basis of an early warning aircraft for sale to Pakistan but it used an older style radar system on the export aircraft.

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Wolf Aviation Grant Proposals Due

The annual Wolf Aviation Fund grant, provided to individuals and organizations doing great work in general aviation, has announced its final call for applications, accepted this year until Dec. 15. The grant award program has over the years offered financial support to a total of more than 350 programs that meet the fund’s criteria in seven program areas. Applicants may seek funding for plans in: development and alternative resources; communications, media, and community relations; general aviation technology, safety, and noise; improving public understanding and perception; and aviation and space education. Proposals often receive partial funding and that can work to their advantage, according to the fund's operators.

Partial funding allows more projects to receive grants, the fund's operators said through a news release, and recipients often use the honor and recognition of a Wolf Aviation Fund grant to seek additional financial support from other sources. The organization encourages aviation supporters to look for Wolf Aviation Fund award winners and provide them with additional support. The organization is also seeking to increase its own resources to make more funds available for projects. The Wolf Aviation Fund is a nonprofit foundation that seeks to “promote and support eh advancement of personal air transportation by seeking and funding the most promising individuals and worthy projects which advance the field of general aviation.” Learn more or apply online, here.

A380 Flies 5,000 Miles On Three Engines

Canada's Transportation Safety Board says Emirates Airlines elected to fly an A380 more than 5,000 miles across the Atlantic, southern Europe and the Mediterranean to Kuwait on three engines after the number four engine flamed out about an hour after takeoff from JFK. The original destination was Dubai for Flight 202 on Oct 26. "The crew consulted with the company and decided to divert to Kuwait International Airport (OKBK) on the remaining three engines where an uneventful landing took place," the TSB reported. The engine quit when the aircraft was 200 nm ESE of St. John's, Newfoundland/Labrador.

Flying on three engines uses more fuel because the aircraft must fly at a lower altitude and lower speed, hence the diversion to Kuwait City. It's not clear why the crew and the company decided to press on rather than call it a day and either return to JFK or divert to several other North American airports within a few hundred miles. Maintenance personnel discovered that two fuel pumps in the Engine Alliance GP7000 engine had failed and the aircraft was signed off after they were replaced. It's not known how many people were on the aircraft.

Navy Christens New Carrier

The Navy christened its first new-design aircraft carrier Nov. 8 but it will be at least two years before the USS Gerald R. Ford is delivered to the Navy. The ship, which is the first of a series of Ford Class carriers, got the traditional wine bottle across the bow from the late president's daughter Susan Ford Bales as it got ready for its formal launch and a short trip to the fitting out berth in the Newport News shipyard. Planning for the carrier began more than a decade ago and it has been under construction for four years. The drydock was flooded Oct. 11. The carrier will hold more aircraft, including drones, and be able to launch and recover them up to 25 percent faster than the Nimitz class carriers that were launched in the 1970s.

The ship is 1,092 feet long and will use electromagnet launch catapults along with redesigned jet blast deflectors that will make the faster turnarounds possible. A more efficient aircraft fueling system will also add to the efficiency. It will, of course, have state-of-the-art radar and control systems in the redesigned island, which is set farther back than earlier designs. Powering all this will be two nuclear reactors that will generate 250 percent more power than the Nimitz ships. The ship is expected to cost about $12.8 billion.

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Video: Pilatus PC-12NG Flight Review

With a cruise speed of around 270 knots and a price tag of nearly $5 million, the 2013 Pilatus PC-12NG isn't the fastest or the least expensive single-engine turboprop on the market.  It is, however, arguably in a class of its own.  That's because it has a cabin that can carry 1,200 lbs. of payload while carrying over 400 gallons of fuel, the ability to operate from unpaved runways, and a huge 53x52-inch cargo door.  In this video, Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano takes a look at the airplane.


AVmail: November 11, 2013

Letter of the Week:
Airline Pilot Training

Regarding the new flight training regulations:  I flew for the airlines most of my life (retired now) have more than 23,000 hours and several type ratings.  When an airline I worked for first got the Canadair CL-65 regional jet, the failure rate for upgrade was more than 70 percent.

These were talented and experienced pilots, so why the high failure rate?  As with most things, it boiled down to money.  The airline wouldn't spend the money on sim training.  At that time, applicants were given four simulator training sessions and were expected to pass a type ride in the sim.

The policy was then -- and I believe is still -- that unless the applicant is already a type-rated captain in another of the airline's planes, he was immediately terminated if he failed the sim check in the CL-65.  The pressure on the applicants was off the chart.  It was not unusual to see applicants with diarrhea and vomiting before the check ride.

Maybe the new FAA ruling will allow for more sim time.

Gary Jones

Precise Terminology

I would think an august aviation publication such as AVweb would more properly state the changes issued by the FAA for pilot training.  Unlike the statement in the first sentence of the article, this rule does not affect the training of commercial pilots, and not even airline transport pilots, seeking a certificate.

This rule creates requirements for Part 121 operators in training air crews and, as such, is addressed specifically to air transport operators.  Use of correct terminology is considered important in aviation and is something to which most pilots are sensitive.  I expect more precise phraseology in AVweb in the future.

David Dodson

AVweb responds:

Good point, and thanks for the note.  The term "flying commercial," meaning the airlines, has become so common that it slipped by us, but you're right, a "commercial pilot" has a more specific meaning in the regs.

Insurance Is the Big Cost

Regarding the cost of flying, I own a single-engine, two-place, VFR, amateur-built and fly about 10 hours a year.  Thus, my costs are about $300 an hour!

The largest expense is insurance, not fuel or landing fees (so far).  I think I should pay a base fee, and then by the hour, as I'm not exposing anyone to any risk while the plane is parked!

And, yes, I'd be "safer" (or less of a risk) if I flew 50 or 100 hours a year, but that's what the base fee and deductibles are for.  Seems to work for the automotive insurers!

Perry Yaremchuk

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Short Final

I was flying from EWR-DFW the week after the Texas-Oklahoma University football game (won by Texas this year).

On the center frequency, an aircraft with the call sign "Oklahoma One" checked in, and after each conversation with center, they responded "Oklahoma One."

Finally, someone keyed the mic and said, "No, Texas won." The silence was deafening!

Mark Castellani
via e-mail

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Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

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Skydiving Midair: What a Tale the Video Tells

Last weekend’s midair collision between two Cessnas carrying skydivers wasn’t the first midair caught on camera, but it may be the first impact filmed by a passenger from five feet away. Google gives the accident an entire page of search hits.

That film will give the FAA and NTSB plenty to chew on in determining the cause of this accident, but my guess is the investigators may have some rather more piercing questions for the pilot flying the number two airplane than Matt Lauer did on the Today show last week. We ran NBC's version of one skydiver’s footage here, but in this slow-motion cut, the actual collision dynamic is  more discernible. It appears to be shot from inside the number two aircraft which is positioned exactly where you wouldn’t want it to be: above and to the left of the lead ship. One of the reports said it got there because of prop wash from the lead.

Once the skydivers climb onto the step, the aircraft—looks like a Cessna 185 from the ground photos-- appears to settle from the top onto the other aircraft. You can clearly see the skydivers exit the lead ship and, post impact, the 182’s right wing departs with a visible spew of fuel, which then ignited. The pilot of that airplane exited and successfully landed under an emergency parachute. The trail aircraft, damaged, landed safely. What I couldn’t see from the film is what mechanism caused the 182’s wing to depart. Did the 185’s wheel just crush the spar or did its prop slice through the structure? That the skydivers on the step survived uninjured what must have been a good wallop strikes me as unusually good luck.

Normally, skydiving aircraft formations are set up with the trail airplanes positioned so the skydivers in trail can see the lead aircraft jumpers exit and thus time their own exits. That can put the aircraft level with or slightly below the lead, but usually behind, too. And, of course, a cardinal rule of formation flying is that no matter where the trail is positioned, the pilot should never lose sight of the lead and have an agreed upon lost wingman procedure if visual is lost. 

Then there’s the unique problem of skydiving formation flight. Close formation flight normally involves deft control inputs and sometimes large power changes to hold station accurately. That’s hard enough with a clean airplane, but with two or three 200-pound skydivers hanging off the strut or step and a piston engine huffing to maintain altitude, control margins can be substantially eroded, even in a powerful airplane like the Twin Otter favored by skydiving operations. I've seen lead airplanes--a 206, actually--get on a pretty good sink rate when jumpers crowded the step.

Although the inherent risk seems high, the actual risk probably is not, because hundreds of skydiving formation flights occur every year without significant incident. But this does remind me that about seven years ago I was invited to particiate in a 100-way skydive using 182s; kind of a nostalgia jump for those of us who grew up before the arrival of turbine aircraft. But about the same time the organizers realized they couldn't afford to move that many 182s to Florida, about half of us snapped to our senses and realized that jumping from a 25-plane Cessna formation sounded like practicing bleeding.

When I saw this film for the first time, I wondered if any other skydivers had the same initial reaction I did: Oooof! A sunset load. For some reason, I have experienced more bizarre incidents on sunset loads than in any other aspect of skydiving. I think there are definite reasons for this, the major one being that the last load of the day is sometimes hurried to beat the fading light and everyone—including pilots—is tired from a day of jumping and flying.

Little things get overlooked. I was once in the third row in from the door of a Twin Otter admiring the setting sun on jump run; a minute later, I wasn’t admiring getting someone’s reserve pilot chute in my face from a handle that snagged on the door during exit. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened at 10 a.m., but I’ve seen more of it happen late in the day. Winds aloft often shift at sunset, too, meaning an exit spot that worked fine all day, suddenly doesn’t. At one dropzone, I once landed so far out—and across a river—that it took two hours, a boat ride and a truck to get back home. It happens. Just seems to happen more near dark.

If there's anything cool about this accident—other than that everyone survived—it's that the pilot of the 182 appears eligible to join the Caterpillar Club, the informal group of people who have saved their lives by parachuting from a disabled airplane. While skydivers and skydiving operations obviously don’t qualify, I think a burning 182 missing a wing meets the definition of disabled. A photo of the pilot after his emergency rig landing revealed a face badly bloodied, possibly by shards from a shattered windshield. He ought to at least get a pin for his trouble--a Purple Heart for jump pilots.

At least the jumpers and pilots got a nice payday out of the deal. According to the Washington Post, NBC news paid them more than $100,000 for exclusive use of their footage. Not a bad return on a $300 GoPro, but something reviled in the media as checkbook journalism. These days, networks do what it takes to remain competitive and that includes about anything.

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

Video: Experimental Lighter-Than-Aircraft Rally (XLTA) 2013

At an annual fly-in in Connecticut, pilots who design and build their own hot-air balloons gather to fly their aircraft, learn from each other, and try out new ideas.