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ICON Aircraft CEO Kirk Hawkins says the company is open to changing its controversial buyer's agreement based on the feedback it's receiving on the document and "doing what is ultimately right for our owners, the industry and the company." What exactly that means isn't clear in the open letter (PDF) sent to aviation media on Friday night that seemed to defend the need for the document but also acknowledge that it was "uncomfortable for some." Hawkins also said there was some "misinformation and misinterpretation regarding our Purchase Agreement and the motivation behind its terms." AVweb and other aviation media repeatedly invited Hawkins to speak to us on the record about the controversial document but AVweb was not granted an interview. The 40-page contract limits buyers' ability to sue, invokes training, flight envelope and even behavioral standards on buyers and requires the contract to be binding on future owners of the aircraft.

In the letter, Hawkins said the company addressed the technical issue of stall/spin resistance but other serious problems threaten the future of general aviation and the contract attempts to fix those. "The purchase agreement has two fundamental objectives: (1) vigorously promote safety and responsible flying and (2) directly address the GA product liability crisis," he wrote. "The problem of safety-related product liability is massive, lurks well below the surface and must be addressed." He said ICON is committed to that goal and received support from "owners, enthusiasts and GA influencers." He also seemed to allow that its first attempt might need tweaking. "If we need to improve our contract to help safely grow our industry we will," he wrote.

SpaceX landed its unmanned rocket on a seaborne platform Friday, the first success after four failed attempts to get the rocket launched and then returned, unscathed, to a floating landing pad. The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral at 4:43 p.m. with the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship, bound for the International Space Station. After the booster descended toward the platform floating in the Atlantic, it corrected its position and touched down on the pad, where it remained standing as crews headed to the platform to secure it, the Washington Post reported.

The touchdown came after months of setbacks for SpaceX, including last June's explosion of the rocket shortly after launch. In January, the rocket landed on the floating platform but fell over and exploded. By then the company had pretty much proven its concept of a reusable rocket to keep launch costs down, and had successful touchdowns on land-based pads. Friday's landing, the first of its kind, allows SpaceX to continue toward its goal of manned spaceflights for NASA by 2017. "It's another step toward the stars. In order for us to really open up access to space we have to have full and rapid reusability," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in the Post report.

In a first for the Sun 'n Fun show, two Red Bull air-race pilots flew a demo today, complete with two of the race's signature 80-foot-tall inflated pylons, to give the crowds a taste of what the races are like. Pilots Michael Goulian and Kirby Chambliss, both longtime competitors in the global races, flew at top speed around the course, as announcers explained to the crowds how the races operate, with regard to scoring, rules and timing. The demo was the first ever at a U.S. airshow.

images: Sun 'n Fun

"We are excited to be a part of Sun 'n Fun for the first time," said Erich Wolf, general manager of the air races. "We have a fast-growing fan base in the U.S. and our American pilots will certainly showcase our world championship series at its best." Sun 'n Fun visitors can also visit a Red Bull exhibit on site, with a full-scale pylon, virtual reality simulators, merchandise, and ticket sales for this year's two U.S. races — October 1-2 in Indianapolis and October 15-16 in Las Vegas. Goulian and Chambliss will fly again in the afternoon show on Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting.

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As the FAA slowly plies through the process of approving an unleaded replacement for 100LL, Swift says it believes its 100-octane unleaded fuel will have a comparable cost to current avgas. Swift was one of two fuels to emerge from the first phase of the FAA's Piston Alternative Fuel Initiative testing late last month. A second entrant from Shell also made the first cut.

In an interview with AVweb at Sun 'n Fun on Wednesday, Swift's Chris D'Acosta said the next step is a nearly three-year-long second phase of trials that will involve test cell runs in 18 to 20 engines, plus flight trials in about 10 aircraft. Swift expects to deliver its first volume batch of fuel to the FAA early in the summer.

When testing is complete in 2018, the FAA will decide on fleetwide approval, or perhaps qualified fleet approval, and the fuel will be cleared to enter into the market. It's likely to be refined under license since Swift doesn't intend to invest in refining capacity itself. "Our plan would be have to refiners involved in enough volume to make it make sense," D'Acosta said. Ideally, that would include licensing refiners in various geographic regions to keep distribution costs down. The fuel will be similar in performance to the ASTM D910 spec applies to avgas, but Swift already has its own manufacturing spec its fuel. As for cost, D'Acosta believes Swift's UL 102 will be comparable to 100LL.   

"We've told the FAA repeatedly that we believe this fuel will be commercially viable at low lead prices, D'Acosta said.

Last summer, Swift began distribution of a 94-octane unleaded fuel and D'Acosta said it will continue growing that distribution. "There's a lot of unmet need for unleaded fuel. Training schools have a lot of high-use airplanes and this fuel dramatically reduces maintenance costs," he said.

A viable replacement for 100LL seems closer than ever — and with the announcement that Swift Fuel can compete at low-lead's price point, it's looking more and more likely to end up in your tank before the decade is out. We spoke with Swift's Chris D'Acosta at Sun 'n Fun.

 

Luminati Aerospace, a technology company based on Long Island, New York, brought a new solar-electric-powered single-seat airplane to Sun 'n Fun this week. CEO Daniel Preston told AVweb the V-Zero Substrata airplane will fly at the show on Saturday in the Experimental Showcase. It has a four-hour endurance with the motor running, he said, and a 200-nm range. Preston said he plans to next produce six twin-seat versions of the airplane, starting later this summer. Four of those will go to research institutions.

Preston said the company has been working on the airplane for about four months, and it's derived from a much larger UAV version that he's building for a client. "It's a wonderful airplane to fly," he said. "The technology has matured to the point where you can have a viable solar-electric aircraft. It has pretty respectable performance." The airplane has a top speed of about 70 knots and can fly up to 28,000 feet. "It has a 200-nm range. And you can park it in the sun, and four hours later it's ready to go again," Preston said.

Daniel Preston and his crew turned up at Sun 'n Fun this week with a pretty little one-seat airplane, its long wings covered in solar cells. He talks with AVweb's Mary Grady about the airplane's genesis, its performance and his future plans for the design.

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At Sun 'n Fun 2016, Lancair flew in both versions of its flagship Evolution, one turbine and one piston. The piston version has the Lycoming IE2 electronic engine. AVweb interviewed Kevin Eldredge and prepared this video report as part of our Sun 'n Fun coverage.

Garmin's new GTX 335/345-series ADS-B transponders serve a broad market — from basic aircraft with stark panels to all-glass G1000 models. That's because the transponders are available with an internal ADS-B mandate-approved WAAS GPS receiver, wireless Bluetooth transmitters for overlaying traffic and weather on tablet computers, Garmin's portable GPS systems, and internal AHRS. They come in a remote LRU version for finally bringing ADS-B weather and traffic data to many G1000 screens.

In this video shot at Garmin's headquarters in Olathe, Kansas, Aviation Consumer editor Larry Anglisano and Jessica Koss from Garmin go flying with the new system in the company's G1000-equipped Diamond DA40 for an in-depth look.

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Daily news comes fast and furious in the aviation world, but some stories deserve a second chance to reach your eyeballs. Below are stories you may have missed recently.

At Sun 'n Fun 2016, Garmin introduced a new portable GPS called the area 660. Here's AVweb's first look at the new product, which will be on display at the show.

At Sun 'n Fun 2016, Just Aircraft is showing off its new Titan-powered SuperSTOL XL. Harrison Smith took AVweb's Paul Bertorelli for a half-day demo flight in the new airplane, and here's AVweb's video report.

At Sun 'n Fun 2016, ForeFlight is introducing some new features for its popular iOS application. Here's a review of what's new.

The Commemorative Air Force is at Sun 'n Fun with one of airplanes it's been flying the longest. The B-17 Texas Raiders is a must for warbird buffs who want to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of a true-to-life war machine.

At Sun 'n Fun 2016, Dynon continued to push into the world of non-certified avionics with its Skyview SE, a less expensive version of its popular Skyview EFIS system. For Kitplanes magazine, Paul Bertorelli prepared this video report.

Avidyne showed up at Sun n' Fun 2016 with a handful of new products and enhancements to its IFD-series navigators. This included synthetic vision, the IFD550 navigator, and an iPad app that wirelessly connects the IFD products for redundant display. In this video, Aviation Consumer magazine editor Larry Anglisano takes a look at the products with Avidyne's Tom Harper.

Retirement means different things to different people, and to Jeanne and Dave Allen it means rebuilding vintage biplanes and keeping the spirit of barnstorming alive. They showed us their beautiful Waco at Sun 'n Fun.

At Sun 'n Fun, EAA announced its partnership with Dynon Avionics to STC experimental avionics for certified airplanes, including Cessna 172s and Piper PA-28s.

At Sun 'n Fun 2016, David Clark introduced a new mid-priced headset, the One-X. Here's a video review of the new product with Clark's Mark Gardell.

The F-35 fighter made its Sun 'n Fun debut Thursday. Capt. Daniel Haley describes what it's like to fly the stealth fighter.

At Sun 'n Fun 2016, Guardian Avionics showed a line of new hardware that allows panel mounting of the entire iPad line, including the large-screen Pro models. Guardian's Ash Vig walked AVweb's video reporter through the product line.

It had been a fun morning. The heater had broken in the TRACON radar room. It was 20 degrees outside, not much better inside, and the hot chocolate I was drinking was losing its steam—literally. On top of that, busy last-minute holiday traffic had been giving our morning skeleton crew a kick in the teeth. 

A Beechcraft King Air checked in. He'd just departed a local uncontrolled field VFR and was requesting a pop-up IFR clearance to New Orleans at FL180. Since he had nothing on file, it was up to me to punch his info into the computer and assign him a routing.

The situation brought to mind a question an IFR reader had asked recently. He'd read my previous article on how ATC handles pop-ups, and had wondered: when the pilot doesn't have a filed route, how do controllers determine the routing to issue when the flight will cross various facilities' airspace?

I was tired and cold. Would I make the King Air bear the brunt of my misery and get a long routing for my own amusement, as punishment for not filing? Would I toss a few darts at an IFR chart on the wall and just clear him via wherever they stuck? In a few discussions I've shared with pilots over the years, several have half-jokingly (half?) suggested that's exactly how we come up with our route assignments.

Routes can vary from the ridiculously simple to the downright convoluted. Given that there aren't actually any personal vendettas or sharp pointy things involved in their selection, just how do controllers conjure them up?

Get In, Get Out

ATC's routing philosophy is simple: issue the shortest safe and legal route available. We examine each flight's route on a case-by-case basis. If we're able to clear an aircraft from point A to B "via direct" without needing to assign additional fixes, navaids, arrival procedures, or airways, then we do. This economy of routing is mutually beneficial.

Chances are, unless a pilot's on a sightseeing flight or doing instrument navigation training, he wants to get to his destination as quickly as possible. Controllers aren't in the business of intentionally making pilots jump through unnecessary hoops. We know shorter routes equal less time and money spent, reduce navigational complexity, and minimize wear on the airplane and pilot.

Time-saving routes are self-serving for ATC as well. It's in our best interest to get the airplane out of our airspace as fast as possible. The less time you're in our airspace, the less time we have to be responsible for your safety. Does that sound like we're dodging responsibility? It's actually quite the opposite.

Our controller mandate is to provide for the "safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of aircraft." By ensuring an aircraft doesn't hit anything, falls in line with other airplanes—who are also not hitting things—and continues to its destination with minimal delay, we've accomplished our job.

We also take workload into account. If you're one of a dozen airplanes on my frequency, you're getting a twelfth of my attention. The sooner you fly out of my airspace, the more attention I have left to give my remaining traffic. If I give you a roundabout routing and force you to linger in my airspace, inevitably airplanes 13 and 14 will show up. I'll have to divide my attention even further, reducing my safety margins.

My coworkers and I don't issue longer routings just for kicks. They're only used when necessary to comply with known restrictions—emphasis on the "known" part.

A Need To Know

The complexity of the route you get is largely determined by how much a controller knows about the airspace between you and your destination. The further the destination from the controller who's issuing you the route, the more likely you're going to get some reroutes later. There's no way for every controller to know every aspect of every ATC facility, so we focus on what affects our own facilities directly.

Imagine a neighborhood where every homeowner is a controller. Stan, a fictional controller at facility "AAA," knows his house's operation intimately, such as where the laundry detergent is, what cable channels he gets, and when he's running low on frosty beverages. It's his responsibility to know all this.

Stan knows his neighbors' names, what cars they drive, and when they usually head to work. He's learned that from observation or from conversations with them. However, Stan has no idea if their fridge is stocked or if they've paid their power bill or what breakfast cereal they eat. None of it is his business, so he doesn't concern himself with those details.

At work, Stan has a similar perspective. He knows everything about his own airspace. He knows the fixes, frequencies, airways, airports, approaches, traffic types and patterns—all of it. He has it on instant recall. He works his traffic well because he knows the daily flow and procedures. He's also got a good grasp of overall geography; New York is that way, Los Angeles is this way, and so on.

Now, ask him about the facilities next door, and his knowledge gets a little fuzzy. He knows their major navaids and airports because those affect his own traffic flow. His facility's letters of agreement with its neighbors specify that traffic passing back and forth through the facility boundaries need to be routed over certain fixes at certain altitudes, so he knows those fixes. But, instrument approaches, airport runway configurations, or their tower frequencies—he's got no idea. That data is useless to him. He'll never clear someone for an approach at one of their airports.

What about the facilities two doors down? Or three down? The further from Stan's backyard, the fewer details he knows and the fewer he needs.

Passing Through

Every controller's knowledge has these logical boundaries. When we're not sure what lies down the road for you, we just have to resort to educated guesses.

So let's imagine an aircraft is currently flying through facility AAA's airspace and is on Stan's frequency. The pilot requests a pop-up IFR clearance to airport FFF. Leaving AAA's airspace on course to FFF would take him through BBB's airspace. The letter of agreement between AAA and BBB says all traffic going from AAA to BBB must be cleared via VOR1. That's all Stan knows, so he clears the airplane to VOR1 and then direct FFF. He hands the airplane off to the BBB controller.

Well, leaving VOR1 direct to FFF has the plane going through the imaginatively named facilities BBB, CCC, DDD, EEE and (ready?) FFF. The airplane continues into BBB and CCC, but when he reaches DDD, there's an issue. A restricted area went active between DDD and EEE. Now, instead of going direct to FFF, the DDD controller has to reroute the plane DDD–FIX1–FIX2–FIX3–EEE–FFF around it, per a letter of agreement between DDD and EEE.

Stan, back in facility AAA, didn't know that restricted area exists. BBB, CCC, and FFF controllers probably don't either. It's well outside their jurisdictions and doesn't affect their traffic flow at all. However, it does affect DDD and EEE, so it's on them to adjust their traffic flow to accommodate it.

Every day I work, I'm doing the same thing: filling in the blanks in other controllers' knowledge. They don't know my house, I don't know theirs. They point traffic in my general direction. Once the airplane is in my yard, I can mold its route to our local flow procedures. That's how it works.

Other controllers across the country will be doing the same for me. I know that if I clear an airplane direct to Los Angeles International or New York's John F. Kennedy, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell they're actually going to go into that complicated airspace without some reroutes. However, I'm sitting several states away and simply don't know about those airports' local procedures. I just need to have faith that another controller down the line will have the appropriate knowledge and fix things.

Technical Support

Where human knowledge ends, sometimes computers can fill in the gaps. 
Remember that King Air wanting to go to New Orleans? I may love New Orleans' food and music, but I don't know a thing about their airspace. Not knowing any better, I generated a flight plan for him direct to New Orleans' Louis Armstrong Airport (KMSY) at FL180, just as requested.

But, when the flight plan printed out, I got a surprise. The routing wasn't just direct to KMSY. The computer had automatically added in a preferred routing: "+ SJI SLIDD2 + KMSY". SJI is the Semmes VOR in southern Alabama, and the SLIDD2 is the SLIDD TWO Standard Terminal Arrival into KMSY. That STAR's initial transition point is—naturally—the SJI VOR.

Previously, the controllers and staff from New Orleans Approach and Houston Center—the facilities responsible for New Orleans—developed a preferred routing to reduce workload and provide more predictable traffic flow. The SLIDD TWO arrival would be inserted into flight plans that met certain requirements. They passed it on to the technical guys, who then programmed it into the various computers that drive each of Air Route Traffic Control Centers around the country.

The computers check all New Orleans-bound flight plan filings and automatically add the SLIDD arrival if it fits certain parameters. For instance, if the King Air was arriving into the KMSY from the west, he may get another preferred routing with another STAR, since the SLIDD2 only applies to arrivals from the east.

Now, when I clear the King Air from his present position to KMSY, he'll already know what to expect down the road and fall into the New Orleans traffic flow. It's even more convenient for traffic departing towered airports. The clearance delivery controller can issue them the preferred routing before the airplane even starts taxiing. A reroute while the airplane is still on the ground is a heck of a lot better than a last-minute one.

I'll be the first to admit, as both a pilot and controller, that certain, circuitous preferred routes can make one's head and wallet hurt. I've come across some really outrageous examples that add a lot of miles and complexity to a route. I'm not sure who prefers those, but it's certainly not pilots.

Remember, controllers are just working with the best tools and knowledge available to them at that moment. It's nothing personal. No matter the routing we give you—whether it's a direct shot or something more involved—ATC's intention is simply to get you safely out of their airspace and on to your destination. Well, maybe unless they're cold and tired.

Tarrance Kramer likes to use the words "cleared direct" as often as possible while working traffic somewhere in the South.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of IFR magazine.

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I think if you explained to someone outside of aviation that, by the time we're all done, it will have taken 10 years to develop a new, unleaded, high-octane aviation gasoline, they'd believe you to be making it all up. And that doesn't count 30 years of half-serious research on the topic hardly worthy of the label "research."

I am occasionally asked by worried owners if I really think there will be an unleaded alternative or if the EPA will relent on lead or that the unthinkable will occur: No fuel will emerge. No, the EPA is not going to relent and yes, there will be a fuel. Getting the final approvals and getting it to market won't be pretty, however.

At Sun 'n Fun this week, Swift's Chris D'Acosta briefed us on the company's progress toward its alternative fuel and tomorrow, we'll have a report from GAMI on its G-100, which is percolating along outside the FAA's formal Piston Alternative Fuels Initiative process, a cumbersome cert project that seems, in my estimation, to have overcomplicated and extended the time necessary to vet and field a fuel. For instance, the initial phase of FAA qualification yielded two fuels, one from Swift and one from Shell. These will still need nearly another three years of testing before receiving fleetwide approval. Just for comparison, back the clock up from when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and three years gets you to the first docked spacecraft, a modest achievement indeed. Some people in the industry say, well, this is complicated. I guess. I prefer to think it's the sum of ambiguous government regulation and lack of industry-wide commitment. Welcome to the GA Village of the Zombies.

Still, in our own bumbling, half-serious way, we'll get to a new fuel. I was discussing this at Sun 'n Fun with my friend Paul Millner, who recently retired from the Big Oil refining business. Both of us noted that several of the big players, including Chevron, Phillips and Exxon, seemed to think avgas wasn't a good enough business to bother offering their own products for the FAA's approval process. And probably isn't a great business. Millner figures there's $150 million in total margin in the avgas trade and, as it has been for the past 40 years, the business declines nearly every year. Not exactly a Wharton School case study for the next big thing.

That means we can be certain of one thing: The new fuel will be refined under some kind of license arrangement. Shell and Swift survived the PAFI Phase I trials, but either Shell nor Swift has leaded avgas refining capacity in the U.S. In Shell's (and Swift's) case, the new fuel may be refinable in a larger number of refineries that can't now handle lead and/or by small chemical refiners who might be able to reconfigure to make a few million bucks building unleaded fuel not constrained by the need to handle lead. If the majors stay in, they'll probably have to refine under license and getting there will likely involve some legal scuffling on patent claims and claimed prior art. That's just how Big Oil operates, having as it does armies of highly paid lawyers and tossing out legal briefs as just another thing in the hydrocarbon stream. And although my bet is that Phillips stays in, Exxon, Chevron and BP might not necessarily. For such a piddling amount of declining margin, they may decide the liability just isn't worth it. Can't blame them, either. The end of the age of oil as a primary fuel is not upon us, but you can see it from here. The age of oil as a chemical cornocupia may never end.

In the U.S., there are about 140 refineries, only about a half-dozen of which can handle lead and produce 100LL. Remove lead from the equation and many more might have the capability to produce high-octane unleaded aviation fuel, which bodes well for distribution. Maybe. If they can make a few bucks at it, they will. If not, they'll refine something else. But I'm pretty certain at least someone will push the button on that $150 million in margin. If not, can I interest you in a nice diesel?

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Continental's six-cylinder engines are among the smoothest and most economical aircraft engines in the industry.  Now Vitiatoe Aviation is offering improvements for the Cessna 206/207 series engines that include crossflow induction for even smoother and more economical operation.  Here's an AVweb profile of the company.

See the AV100 at Sun 'n Fun

While symbolism alone might win in the presidential-campaign circus, pilots who understand what's behind aeronautical iconography will impress hangar neighbors and have no trouble acing this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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