AVwebFlash - Volume 20, Number 22a

December 1, 2013

Scorpion May Not Be Built By Cessna

There's no guarantee Cessna will build the Textron AirLand Scorpion light tactical jet over the long term if it gains the orders its backers hope for. In a weekend email exchange with AVweb, Textron spokesman David Sylvestre said that even though Cessna engineers and workers played a major role in building the prototype, the Textron-owned company is not a shoo-in to get the long-term manufacturing work. "Depending on demand and manufacturing capacity needs, the final site of Scorpion manufacturing beyond the initial low rate production (2015) is yet to be decided," Sylvestre said. "It may be bullt 'at' Cessna, but by the joint venture called Textron AirLand ... which is a legal entity of Textron Inc. and AirLand Enterprises LLC. Cessna itself is not formally a co-owner of the joint venture at this time." AirLand Enterprises LLC, Textron's partner in the project, is described by Sylvestre as "a group of outside investors who originally came to Textron with the concept of a lower cost tactical jet." 

The aircraft underwent taxi tests last week and is supposed to fly this week and Sylvestre said there is a lot of market potential for the little jet.  "USAF is one potential customer," he said. "There are many others [such as the] National Guard, other branches of U.S. armed services, and many more U.S. partner nations who all have low-threat ISR-Strike mission requirements as described on ScorpionJet.com." Textron AirLand is hoping to fly the aircraft by Dec. 5. 

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China Attempts Airspace Grab

China has declared an airspace defense zone over the East China Sea above territory claimed by South Korea and Japan, prompting criticism from Japan, the U.S., and South Korea, and some direct challenges in recent days. China declared the zone, Saturday, saying it would police the airspace. Japan, the U.S. and South Korea have refused to recognize the air zone, which covers a group of islands claimed by both China and Japan and also contains South Korean interests. The U.S.’s involvement includes obligations to Japan, which, by treaty, it must defend from attack. China’s declaration was not spontaneous and came just days after U.S. bomber activity in the disputed area.

Days prior to China’s declaration of the airspace defense zone, American B-52 bombers flew through the region in defiance of China’s posturing. Specifics regarding the number of aircraft, and the number and time of the flights, have not been released. Thursday, the Japanese government said the Chinese government had not been notified of the flights and that China had not reacted to intercept the bombers. South Korea has also announced that it operated aircraft in the zone on Wednesday, without notifying China. Chinese officials say they monitored the aircraft and have since sent fighter jets to patrol the area. But China’s apparent failure to defend the zone with force has led to speculation that the move is part of a broader agenda to appropriate the islands that lie beneath it, which have been the subject of earlier territorial disputes.

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GE Builds Engine Parts Via 3D Painting

GE is researching whether “cold-spray” technology can be deployed to build or repair aircraft engine parts and possibly extend the lifespan of those parts (and others) by years or, more optimistically, decades. GE believes that engine parts made by cold-spray processes, also known as 3D painting, will be less expensive to produce and will be lighter and more efficient. GE also sees characteristics particular to the process that show promise for restoring damaged parts to near-original condition, including blades, shafts, propellers and gear boxes. The key lies in how the process works.

Cold-spray involves blasting particles of metal through a gun-like device at speeds beyond 2,200 mph. The process involves no welding, which avoids reheating of parts (some of which can suffer lost strength through that process), and no machining (which manipulates materials in a less efficient manner). The process is automated and has been performed with nickel alloys blasted in a stream of nitrogen and helium gas. According to GE, the process blends in materials, stacking them up in such a way that they “mirror the properties of the original part.” The company has been researching cold-spray at its research center in Munich, which opened in 2004. The German Government, German technology companies and Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg have all contributed to the research.


Video Camera Sends ELT Signal

Search and rescue crews were on high alert Nov. 16 in Nova Scotia after multiple airliners overflying the Canadian province reported an ELT signal that turned out to be coming from a video camera. Royal Canadian Air Force helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft took to the air to search for what appeared to be a triggered ELT (it's not clear if it was a 406 MHz or 121.5 MHz signal) in the Annapolis Valley, about 60 miles west of Halifax. Finally, an RCAF helicopter zeroed in on the source of the signal but it wasn't what anyone was expecting, according to a Transport Canada incident report.  The signal was coming from a fruit and vegetable market in the tiny town of Berwick, Nova Scotia.

After pinpointing the source of the signal, volunteers from the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA), Canada's equivalent to the Civil Air Patrol, were dispatched and their homing equipment determined that the video surveillance system at Avery's Farm Market was emitting the distress signal. What puzzled investigators even more is that the signal continued even after the cameras were turned off. The RCAF has confirmed the unusual incident but apparently the video system is no longer emitting an ELT signal because Transport Canada has closed the file on the incident.

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Four Killed In Alaska Crash

Four people, including the pilot and an infant boy, were killed when a Hageland Aviation Cessna Caravan went down near Saint Mary's, Alaska, Friday evening. There were six survivors but their condition is not known. The aircraft was reported missing and the wreckage was found with the help of an emergency locator. Cause of the crash wasn't immediately known. Temperature was about 20 degrees and winds were light at the time of the crash.

Authorities have identified the deceased as Rose Polty, Richard Polty, Wyatt Coffee and the pilot, Terry Hansen. The aircraft was on a scheduled flight from Bethel to Mountain Village and Saint Mary's, an airline spokeswoman told The Associated Press.

African E-190 Crash Kills 33

Searchers have found the burned wreck of a Mozambique Airlines (LAM) Embraer E-190 in a remote area of Namibia and confirmed that all 33 aboard were killed in the crash. The aircraft, which was delivered in 2012 and is the newest in the airline's fleet, was on a flight from Maputo, Mozambique to Luanda, Angola. Last reported contact was about 1:30 p.m. local time, about two hours into the four-hour flight, when the crew reported they were flying in heavy rain. It was at first thought the crew might have diverted to a nearby field to wait out the weather.

The airline in question is banned from flying in European airspace but not necessarily because of its own practices and safety record. The ban applies to all Mozambique-registered airlines and reflects concern over the regulatory authorities in that country. LAM, which is the acronym normally used to identify the airline, has had two previous mishaps, neither of which involved casualties. It was only the second fatal crash for an E-series airliner. The previous one was in China in 2010. Embraer says the aircraft involved was barely a year old and it's sending technicians to the scene to help with the investigation. Continuing bad weather is hampering the recovery and investigation.

Nine Dead As Police Eurocopter Hits Glasgow Nightclub (Updated)

AFP Photo: Andy Buchanan

A Eurocopter EC135 T2 police helicopter crashed Friday night into the roof of a Glasgow pub, which at least partially collapsed. Nine people, including the pilot and two others in the helicopter, were killed and 14 others were in the hospital with injuries. Early reports say the helicopter had a crew of two police officers and one civilian pilot and first responders formed a human chain to pass injured people out of the rubble. The helicopter reportedly came to rest mostly inside the pub. There was no smoke or fire. Late Friday, emergency personnel expected to be working though the night to rescue survivors they could hear but not reach.

Soon after the accident, the editor of the Scottish Sun, Gordon Smart, tweeted “Jesus. Think I just saw a helicopter crash in Glasgow.” British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted, “My thoughts are with everyone affected by the helicopter crash in Glasgow — and the emergency services working tonight.” One local UK Parliament member was on scene shortly after the crash and said he saw at least 10 injured people, including some who appeared to be bleeding from head wounds, CNN reported. First reports did not indicate a number of fatalities.

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Instructor Pilot Recognized For One-Wing Landing

Major Douglas Witmer, flying on exchange with the Argentine air force, was recognized at the Pentagon this month for safely returning to the ground an AT-63 Pampa II aircraft (and his student) after losing “80 percent of his left wing” to a midair. Witmer was flying as part of a six-plane demonstration formation on Aug. 10, 2012, at the Centennial Celebration of Argentine School of Aviation, Cordoba, when another aircraft turned aggressively, making contact with Witmer’s aircraft as the formation flew near a large crowd. For his actions that followed, the Air Force has awarded Witmer its 2013 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy. The citation for the award may better describe Witmer’s work in the cockpit that day.

The impact removed a large portion of his Pampa’s left wing and rendered useless “several key controls,” according to the Air Force. According to the citation, “Major Witmer’s quick thinking under extreme duress and his successful management of an unfamiliar language, aircraft and field, saved a valuable aircraft, two pilots and potentially hundreds of spectators.” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, who spoke at the presentation ceremony, said of Witmer, “He has 3,000 flying hours — one of them is in an aircraft with one wing.” The Koren Kooligian Jr. Trophy has been awarded annually for the past 55 years. It is presented to an airman who exhibits outstanding airmanship through extraordinary skill, alertness, ingenuity or proficiency in averting or minimizing the seriousness of a flight mishap, according to Air Force News. Witmer is credited with keeping calm, ascertaining that the aircraft was damaged but airworthy, avoiding ejection, diverting away from spectators and negotiating a safe landing at a nearby airport with a longer runway and greater rescue facilities.

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Short Final

Choppy conditions prevailed one recent evening along the Florida coast as we progressed toward Miami.  We were behind several aircraft headed in the same direction when Miami Center told a Delta flight to slow to 260 knots in the descent.  The exchange went something like this:

"260 knots?"

Miami Center:
"Yes.  The regional jet ahead of you has slowed."

"Is he towing a banner?"

Todd Mitton
via e-mail

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Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

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Is Rotax Planning a New Engine?

Does general aviation need new piston engines? Well, sure, it always does, but that’s not the same as saying it can sustain new engine designs. Nor does it stop companies from telling the R&D department to push around some ideas. In business in general, we call this progress, while in general aviation, it’s known as hallucination. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

One rumor that’s sort of circulating is that Rotax is about to release a new engine to compete with Lycoming’s mid-horsepower line. If you break this down a little, it makes sense that the rumor is true. After all, Rotax is a big player in the engine business and no company can stand still and expect to survive, much less thrive. So I’m sure Rotax is always considering new ideas. Now whether they’re on the cusp of announcing something soon is another matter. But the pieces align for Rotax in interesting ways.

The 100-HP 912 iS they announced 20 months ago has been well received and it’s finding its way onto a lot of LSAs; the experimental market will come along eventually. We’re not talking large volumes here, but Rotax never figured on that. It will build into a sound business. Consider that the 912 iS gives Rotax a strong basic platform in certifiable electronic engine control and fuel injection applied to a light, reliable engine with a good reputation. For cert purposes, they’ve done the hard part in the electronics package. The engine rotating stock is simply a matter of scaling what they already understand.

What horsepower? How about the basic 912 iS—with its new crankcase—inched up 125 to 130 HP to compete with Continental’s IO-240 in a lighter, more sophisticated package? One source I know in the LSA business says that’s what he’s heard. The 240 doesn’t have much market penetration because it’s too heavy for LSAs and airplanes like the DA20 aren’t selling well. But you can see how an up-powered 912 platform would be a nice addition to a next-generation LSA. Buyers will pay for higher horsepower and performance.

The sweet part of the market is 150 to 180 HP where the Skyhawks and Archers live. And I’m not thinking of those airplanes specifically, but airplanes like them that appeal to that market slice. The Tecnam P2010 is one. It’s a 172-like platform, but more modern, with better useful load and performance. The airplane is equipped with a Lycoming IO-360 that’s relatively efficient, but still old school. If a Rotax four- or six-cylinder engine in the same power range delivered numbers similar to the 912 iS, it would be 15 to 20 percent more efficient for the same or perhaps less weight. There’s no reason Rotax couldn’t get there; all it takes is the will and sufficient investment capital. The cold dash of reality might be that the market just isn’t robust enough to support such an investment, so it might be perfectly rational to give it a pass. It’s technically doable in some form, if economically risky.

But Rotax surely isn’t risk averse. While the 912 iS is a careful, incremental improvement on the 912, recall that in 2003, Rotax, under different management, stunned everyone by announcing a pair of V-6 engines in the 220- to 300-HP range. On paper, these engines were what buyers claimed they wanted: cutting edge technology, powerful, smooth and, well, just different. The company, then owned by Bombardier, which championed the project, found OEM takers in Cirrus and in Piper. Alan Klapmeier once told me Cirrus was ready to go forward with the V-6.

But for various reasons, not the least of which may have been management change and technical issues with the engine, the project was dropped in 2006. It was probably just as well. Compared to traditional aircraft engines, the V-6s were complex and heavy and not that fuel efficient. They also weren’t intended for 100LL, but mogas or a mogas-like fuel. In 2005, with legacy aircraft as a base, I doubt if Rotax would have found sufficient volume to justify the investment and if they had complaints from customers and OEMs about finding service shops for the smaller engines, the larger ones could have been a nightmare, especially for an overhaul network.

But things change. Even though we hear occasional complaints that mechanics can’t fix Rotax engines, we hear fewer of them because, well, mechanics have learned to fix Rotax engines. While light sport hasn’t turned the sky dark with aircraft, Rotax 912s aren’t exactly seldom-seen exotica anymore. If you think of them as motorcycle engines, they’re not difficult to maintain. Moreover, the lock Lycoming and Continental have on the market with traditional aircraft engines is compelling, but it can’t last forever. Sooner or later, the worm will turn toward a new niche. New airframes, designed and built under the revised Part 23 initiative, will come along.

Diesels have been getting all the ink lately, but it’s a mistake to assume that this will stunt gasoline engine development entirely. It hasn’t done that in automotive and it won’t in aviation, either. Rotax’s expertise is in sophisticated, economical recreational gasoline engines. I wouldn’t expect them to venture into heavy fuel design, although the larger horsepower definitely takes them out of their recreational-engine comfort zone. But not much, given that airplanes that require that horsepower are just recreational vehicles by another name. A company that makes snowmobile and motorcycle engines doesn’t have the same aviation chops as Continental or Lycoming. But there’s no reason it can’t develop this expertise.

One area in which Rotax has a leg up on other manufacturers is environmental sensitivity. When we were at the Rotax factory in 2011, conversations were peppered with discussion about noise, fuel efficiency and emissions. It’s clear that Rotax senses its recreational engines will be targets as world concerns about greenhouse gas emissions intensify. Rather than denying that reality, Rotax wants to be ready with products that are at least perceived as being greener. Not for nothing does the 912 iS have an “eco” mode.

It’s anybody’s guess what’s going on inside the warrens at Rotax’s Gunskirchen skunkworks, but it seems to me the company is well positioned to announce something surprising. It’s not a question of if, but when.

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

Podcast: Opening China's Airspace

This week, China moved forward with expanding access to their air space for general aviation operations.  Ed Smith, vice president of international affairs for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, chats with AVweb contributing editor Mary Grady about what that news means for the industry.

Video: How Sensenich Wooden Props Are Made

Composite props may be the latest shiny object to make airplanes go, but most of them have wood cores, and the basic wooden prop is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli took a tour of Sensenich's prop factory in Plant City, Florida to see how these products are made.


Video: Garmin's Factory Avionics Pilot Training

Owners who are new to Garmin's GTN750/GTN650 and G500/G600 avionics systems may not realize that the company offers a training course at their Olathe, Kansas factory support center.  Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano recently took the class and reports on it in this AVweb video.