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Pilots and controllers who may be obese will have an extra hoop to jump for their medical certification to ensure they don't have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton has notified (PDF) Air Medical Examiners (AMEs) that they will soon be required to measure the body mass index (BMI) of all pilots and controllers during their medicals. Anyone with a BMI of 40 or more (up to 25 is normal)  will automatically have to be evaluated for OSA by a doctor who is a "board certified sleep specialist."  Anyone who has OSA has to get it treated successfully before he or she can fly again because OSA is a disqualifying condition. And, chances are, if their BMI is that high (five feet eight inches and 260 pounds) and their neck is that thick they do have OSA, according to Tilton. "OSA is almost universal" in those individuals, Tilton tells the AMEs. OSA disrupts restorative sleep and causes daytime sleepiness, cognitive impairment and can even cause sudden cardiac death, but Tilton doesn't say in his brief note what data (how many OSA-related accidents have been recorded, for instance) his staff have used to draft the new rule. But it doesn't end with the obviously fat. 

Tilton says that while the initial action will target those with the BMIs above 40, his plan is to root out all sleep apnea victims and ensure they don't fly until they're treated. "Once we have appropriately dealt with every airman examinee who has a BMI of 40 or greater, we will gradually expand the testing pool by going to lower BMI measurements until we have identified and assured treatment for every airman with OSA," he wrote. That means even the moderately overweight (BMI of 30 or less) can likely expect the referral to a sleep specialist because Tilton says that up to 30 percent of those who carry an extra 20 or 30 pounds have OSA. For unknown reasons, pilots will be targeted first. There are "logistical details" to be dealt with before the rule is implemented for controllers but Tilton said the plan is to include them, too.  National Air Traffic Controllers Association declined comment.


This story was corrected to remove the reference to neck circumference as a trigger for referral to a sleep specialist based on a reader observation and confirmation from the FAA.


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In a public submission, the NTSB has told the FAA it does “not understand the foreseeable safety benefit of the FAA’s proposed action” regarding specific parts of the agency’s NPRM on ECi cylinder assemblies. As written, the FAA’s NRPM would require thousands of aircraft owners to inspect or replace certain ECi engine cylinders. In its four-page submission, the NTSB cites prior ADs and Mandatory Service Bulletins and suggests that the FAA exclude from the NPRM certain cylinder assemblies (identified by serial number) or take action other than that prescribed by the NPRM. In fact, the NTSB directly states that the FAA’s proposed rule “would affect many more cylinder assemblies than the NTSB included in our recommendation letter.” 

In September, six aviation groups, including AOPA, EAA and NATA, asked the FAA to publish data and analysis that drove the agency’s proposal, holding the opinion that the FAA had not substantiated support for its proposed action. The NTSB echoed that sentiment, stating that it “is not aware of any data that support including” specific ranges of serial numbers in the NPRM. Further, the NTSB states that it was involved in meetings between the NTSB, the FAA and ECi and that certain actions proposed by the FAA do not appear to be based on findings from known events or discussions between any of the parties involved. “Without visibility of the information” driving the proposal, writes the NTSB, “we cannot comment on the need” for specific actions called for in the NPRM. The NTSB concludes its comments by encouraging the FAA “to provide that data and information supporting an expanded scope and compliance time changes in this proposed action.”

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A Tatarstan Airlines Boeing 737 operated for Ak Bars Aero crashed in Kazan, the capital city of Tatarstan Sunday, killing all 44 passengers and six crew. Early reports out of Russia said the airliner, on a flight from Moscow, attempted to land two or three times and crashed on the final attempt. Weather was reported as light rain with winds about 20 mph, gusting to 30 with six miles of visibility. Russian government officials issued a statement saying the aircraft "hit the runway and burst into flames." Kazan is about 450 miles east of Moscow.

An unidentified journalist was quoted as saying she had flown on the same aircraft to Moscow earlier in the day and believed the plane had some kind of technical issue on landing in Moscow, but that report has not been confirmed. Tatarstan Airlines operates a relatively modern fleet. The aircraft involved was one of two 500-series Boeings and it also has a 400 and a 300, along with two A319s. The airline has been operating for 20 years and this was its first fatal accident. It was also the first fatal airline crash in Russia in 2013.

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Police may have solved one mystery surrounding a passenger's fall from a Piper Malibu over Miami Thursday but they're not saying much about other aspects of the strange mishap. Miami-Dade Police say they've found a body believed to be that of Gerardo Nales in a mangrove swamp in Miami's Biscayne Bay. They've been looking since early Thursday afternoon when the Malibu's pilot, identified by local media (but not the police) as Felipe Fons called a mayday to say his passenger had opened a door and jumped from about 2,000 feet. Police apparently haven't completely accepted the pilot's version of the events. 

The police have confirmed that there is an active homicide investigation and declined to comment on reports that Nales killed himself. They also haven't filed any charges. “There are still some questions that need to be asked about the circumstances,” police spokesman Lt. John Jenkins told the Miami Herald. The police have also declined to discuss why the two men were flying on Thursday and how or whether they knew each other. The flight originated at Tamiami Airport and Nales departed the airplane about eight miles southeast of the field.

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A crowd-funded campaign for the not-for-profit Perlan Project aims to raise more than $2 million to build the Perlan II sailplane and send it to a near-space altitude of more than 90,000 feet. The project hopes to use “stratospheric mountain waves and the polar vortex” to reach the target altitudes and to collect atmospheric data along the way. Flying in near-vacuum conditions, the aircraft will need to reach near-transonic speeds to create enough lift for flight. The project predicts building costs to exceed $1.4 million with equipment and flight testing to add an additional $800,000. Perlan II is meant to extend the efforts of the NASA Dryden Perlan Project, which included Steve Fossett and in 2006 set a record for altitude in an unpowered aircraft.

The Perlan project began in 1992 and attracted the attention and funding of Steve Fossett in 1999. Fossett then served as the mission pilot along with Einar Enevoldson in a modified DG-505M sailplane. The men became the first pilots to soar to 50,671 feet in an unpowered aircraft. Perlan II aims to smash that record, sending an unpowered aircraft higher than the 85,069 feet altitude record set in 1976 by the SR-71 Blackbird. The mission expects to apply collected data to climatic research and short-term weather predictions “by measuring the 3D wind speed and turbulence.” Flying at the edge of space will require an aircraft with complete life support systems and advanced aerodynamics that foil flutter and manage shock wave formation. The proposed design spans 84 feet with a projected weight of 1800 pounds, gross. Its Vne of 56 knots will equate to roughly 377 KTAS at 90,000 feet. The project will begin seeking crowd-funding this Nov. 18.

An Air Force mission will on November 19 deliver into orbit a small satellite, dubbed TJCubeSat, which will be the first orbiting satellite designed and built by high school students. The launch will take place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport operated at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. Students from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., have worked on the project for several years, mentored by staff from Orbital Sciences Corporation, which provided financial support for the project and made its own testing facilities available for the project. Students around the world will be able to interact with the satellite once it is successfully placed in orbit. 

The cube-shaped satellite is less than 5 inches in length along any side and weighs about two pounds. It is carrying a device that converts strings of text to voice, which will then be transmitted by radio to Earth. Students will be able to submit text strings to the satellite and then listen for the transmissions. Delivery of the satellite will be accomplished with a Minotaur I rocket, which is specifically designed for use at U.S. spaceports. The Air Force’s involvement allows demonstration of launch and range improvements that include automated trajectory targeting. According to Orbital, the primary mission of the TJCubeSat program “is to provide educational resources” to “K-12 education institutions and foster interest in aerospace through the successful design and flight of CubeSat.” Only approved text strings will be transmitted to the satellite. Learn more about the project online, here.

Wind tunnel testing conducted earlier this month at Moffett Field, Calif., has shown promising results for active flow control technology and its potential for reducing the size of vertical tail structures for a whole family of aircraft. NASA, in partnership with Boeing, equipped a full-scale Boeing 757 vertical fin with active flow control technology that involved “sweeping jet actuators,” which blow air along the span of the tail. NASA hopes similar systems will lead to simpler, smaller, more efficient structures that will reduce the weight, drag and fuel consumption of aircraft. The test results were “promising,” according to NASA, which hopes to follow the ground tests with flight demonstrations in 2015. 

The airflow manipulation adds energy to the flow field, according to NASA, effectively improving the aerodynamic performance of the design, meaning that less surface area (and drag) may be made as effective as larger designs. NASA hopes that development of such technologies will lead to improved fuel efficiency, lower noise levels and reduced emissions. NASA tested “a wide array of flow control configurations” in the wind tunnel, “across the whole low-speed flight envelop of the vertical tail.” The team will now go over data and pick the most effective system for testing in flight using the Boeing ecoDemonstrator 757 flight test aircraft.

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Responding to the growing demand for ADS-B-capable equipment, BendixKing is rolling out a new Mode-S transponder called the KT-74.  AVweb got a tour of it at AirVenture last July.

Letter of the Week:
Investing in GA

Regarding the "Question of the Week": I'm not a person equipped to make financial investments in projects.  But I believe in investing in GA and can do that with time and information.  I have been going into the local schools to give talks about my 13 years as a local (female) banner tow pilot.  The kids are wide-eyed, and it really instills interest in GA.  With all the opportunities for kids to seek interests these days, there is nothing like sharing a passion to get them thinking about flying instead of video games!


Arlene Myers

When to Squawk

During an air traffic controller-pilot interactive meeting, an emergency descent scenario was discussed.  It was apparent that ATC expected the pilots to squawk 7700 as soon as possible to alert all controllers in the descent path to clear the way for the emergency aircraft.

The memory/immediate actions on most emergency checklists do not include "Squawk 7700," and the crew may only change the TCAS squawk when they have time to read and do the checklist.  The pilots in the group did mention that it was a good practice to change to emergency squawk 7700 at the earliest.

Is it possible for manufacturers to include TCAS squawk 7700 in case of emergency descent as a memory item?  In case of engine failure, TCAS is used in TA ONLY mode.  Perhaps emergency descent checklist should also direct pilots to change to TA ONLY mode.

Rohinton Darukhanawala

How Many Engines Do You Need?

Regarding the story on the A380 crew that continued the flight after the failure of one engine, the writer of your article reveals a twin-engine bias/mentality in basically condemning the crew for pressing on.  They have four engines -- not three, or two -- and that is part of the advantages of having a reasonable number of engines for crossing an ocean.  I condemn the airlines and the regulatory agencies for allowing oceanic airline operations on only two engines.  The Emirates crew still had more engines than than most airlines take off with.

Gregory Myers

Periodically, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership).

Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.

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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

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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That faint humming sound you hear is the media-industrial complex gearing up for the first commercial space tourism flights, which Virgin Galactic seems likely to pull off next year, if not sooner. On NBC news Friday, I saw an advance story on Virgin Galactic with an interview with Richard Branson. It’s pre-promo; NBC has signed a deal to broadcast the first flight live on the Today show. It promises to be quite the spectacle.

Right behind Virgin is another company, XCOR, which also intends to compete in the space tourism business, but its longer term goal is a reusable orbital vehicle. The two companies are offering very different rides indeed. XCOR, you might remember, is the company that developed the engines for the Rocket Racing League, one of those terrific, holy-cow-cool ideas that just never seemed to jell, although they did some spectacular demo flights at AirVenture.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say Virgin Galactic is offering the Space Shuttle to XCOR’s Gemini. Virgin’s space craft is a Burt Rutan-conceived eight-person design—six passengers and two pilots—that’s air launched from 50,000 feet from a purpose-built aircraft. XCOR has the Lynx, a two-person spacecraft that’s not much larger than a Cirrus SR22. It’s uncompromisingly optimized for altitude, not payload, and it’s ground launched from a runway, not an aircraft in flight. Virgin’s Space Ship Two has a hybrid solid-fuel/oxidizer engine while the Lynx uses four liquid fuel rockets.

Quite a difference in ticket prices, too. Virgin Galactic, which claims to have 600 passengers signed up, is charging $250,000 compared to $95,000 for the XCOR ride, at least as of now. The Lynx hasn’t flown yet, while Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two is well into testing.

Reading about these two approaches to space rides—Michael Belfiore wrote an insightful article on Lynx in the November Air&Space magazine—got me to thinking which one I’d pick if I had that kind of money to toss away on an afternoon joyride. A quarter of a million bucks is a lot of money, but you and I both know people who can afford it. Question is, would they decide to?

Money aside, the Virgin ride sounds more bus like, promising the group dynamic of training together for a couple of days, a longer overall flight because of the air launch phase and, best of all, the opportunity to unstrap and float around the cabin for a bit in zero G. That sounds like fun, but you could do it for a lot less through Zero G Corporation’s parabolic flights. Of course, the view’s not nearly as spectacular.

In the Lynx, it’s just you and the pilot. No air launch claw for altitude and maybe not the same anticipation of what’s about to happen, either. The thing is towed out to the runway, cleared for takeoff and it’s one eyeball-squashing, ears-pinned-back grand swoop from rotation to the top of the arc at 330,000 feet. You get the zero G, but you have to stay strapped in the seat. Like Virgin’s Space Ship, Lynx returns to the departure runway as a glider.

So which would it be? Tough call. Since I’m basically an anti-social grump, I have no overwhelming desire to “share” this experience with five other people. I’d just as soon sit next to Rick Searfoss and beg for some Lynx stick time. I’d exchange floating off the seat in zero G for the raw sensation of pointing straight up and reaching Mach 1 and 2.5 Gs in about a minute, all from the front seat. Not bad. You could do two of those flights and have change left over for a small yacht.

Either way, it’ll be great to have a choice in space thrill rides, even if I never get to make one. How about you? Shuttle or Gemini?

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

PS Engineering Flight Trial Challenge || Take Your Audio to New Heights

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.


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.