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Environmental groups have filed suit (PDF) against the EPA to try and force the agency to set emissions limits for all aircraft. The suit was filed by Earthjustice (on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity) and Friends of the Earth on Thursday, saying the EPA has "delayed unreasonably" coming up with rules for aircraft pollution. "The EPA has dawdled for almost a decade, even as airplane emissions are on track to spiral out of control," said Vera Pardee, a senior attorney with the Center's Climate Law Institute, in a statement. However, the suit might be somewhat redundant since the issue is already being addressed at the global level.

In February, the International Civil Aviation organization proposed carbon limits for commercial aircraft that would take effect on new aircraft produced after 2020 and on existing models still in production after 2023. Any aircraft that don't meet the emissions caps would end production by 2028. Details of the standards still haven't been released but since the U.S. is a charter member of ICAO it's expected to adopt the new rules. The EPA says it's also working on the issue and expects to issue an "endangerment finding" on the effects of aircraft emissions later this year. Such a declaration is a fundamental step in the process to establish limits on the emissions.

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Three aerospace teams will compete for a military contract to further develop their ideas for a reusable unmanned spaceplane that can make daily flights over a ten-day period. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced this week it will hold a public Proposers Day on April 29 to discuss the second and third phases of its XS-1 booster vehicle program, which seeks to provide a means for cheaper and faster satellite launches. DARPA's first phase included preliminary contracts to three bidders: Boeing Co. with Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems with XCOR Aerospace, and Northrop Grumman Corp. with Virgin Galactic. Each team came up with their early designs in 2014.

The spaceplane would be about the size of a business jet and fly to suborbital altitudes, deploy a satellite and return. According to DARPA, the XS-1 demonstration vehicle must be able to fly to altitude ten times in a ten-day window and use a low-cost, upper-stage expendable rocket. It also must be capable of launching payloads of 900 to 1,500 pounds. The long-term goal is to enable payloads of at least 3,000 pounds using larger rockets, for a cost of about $5 million per flight. DARPA has $140 million in funding for the XS-1's design, assembly and flight test phases.

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After a nine-month hiatus in Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 is ready to resume its around-the-world flight. The crew will look for favorable conditions this month so the single-seat aircraft can launch from Oahu for North America, where landing options include Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Phoenix. From there, the aircraft will continue eastward and cross the Atlantic on the way to Abu Dhabi, where it departed last year. The voyage was cut short last July after pilot Andre Borschberg's flight from Japan to Hawaii, where Solar Impulse 2 was grounded due to overheated batteries. 

The team decided to add a cooling system to help prevent overheating and also worked to replace the entire collection of battery cells, which took a number of months as the parts had to be manufactured in Korea, according to a report in Wired. In the meantime, Solar Impulse, a nonprofit group, raised $29 million to complete the around-the-world trip, which was designed to prove the viability and environmental benefits of solar-powered aircraft. Solar Impulse 2 has 17,000 solar cells to power its four motors and recharge lithium batteries for use at night.

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The family of a well-known movie pilot who died in a crash of a Piper Aerostar in Colombia last September is suing a movie studio. Alan Purwin, 54, was a passenger in the aircraft flown by Colombian Carlos Berl on the flight, which occurred just after production of the Tom Cruise thriller Mena wrapped up in the Andes Mountains. Berl also died but passenger Jimmy Garland, of Atlanta, survived. Purwin's widow Katherine and their children Kyle and Michaela claim Berl was unqualified to act as pilot in command of the flight and claim the movie companies involved should not have allowed him to do the flight. It's not clear why Berl commanded the flight. Purwin had flown in more than 100 movies, including Die Hard and the Fast and Furious movies.

"Defendants knew that the Accident Aircraft would be flown over rugged, mountainous terrain and in the Republic of Colombia, and yet failed to ensure that Carlos Berl was competent, qualified, rested and sufficiently informed for the flight," the suit, which was filed Friday, states. The family is also suing Berl's estate. It was reportedly foggy at the time of the crash. Cruise had left the set by helicopter about 10 minutes before the Aerostar crashed. The movie is about American pilot Barry Seal, who was co-opted into taking part in a CIA operation to capture drug lord Pablo Escobar in Colombia in the 1980s. The operation grew into the Iran Contra affair and Seal was ultimately assassinated by drug cartel conspirators.

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The crew members of a FedEx A310 were surprised at a knock on the cockpit door as they prepared for arrival in Lubbock, Texas, on Friday since they were supposed to be the only ones on the plane. Flight 1459 took off from Memphis on its regular run to the Lubbock and there should have been nothing but orange and purple envelopes and boxes aboard. But an unidentified Memphis ground worker reportedly tried to take a power nap during the loading process and didn't wake up until the flight was well on its way to Lubbock. The surprised crew alerted authorities about a stowaway when the worker made contact with them but soon established his identity and instructed him to strap in for landing. The cockpit door remained locked, however.

On arrival, Lubbock police briefly detained the worker, but quickly determined there was no ill intent and released him to FedEx staff, who undoubtedly had some questions of their own. "We are aware of an incident involving FedEx Flight 1459 from Memphis to Lubbock," FedEx said in a statement. "There was never any danger to our employees or cargo. We are fully cooperating with investigating authorities."

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In his timeless classic Fate Is The Hunter, Ernest K. Gann regales readers with several tales of in-flight emergencies, hairy takeoffs and grateful landings. Perhaps the book's most memorable takeoff involves a grossly overweight C-87 departing Agra, India, on a hot day, aimed directly at the nearby Taj Mahal mausoleum. Of course, Gann didn't know the airplane was overweight before beginning the takeoff. How he and his crew flew it could be viewed as a clinic on how to handle an overweight airplane.

Gann was getting paid to fly fully loaded and minimally equipped airplanes over long distances, and his skill and experience cheated fate on numerous occasions. I'll crawl out a fairly stout limb and suggest neither you nor I will ever accumulate a similar record. So, when you find yourself forced to deal with your own Taj Mahal takeoff, it's likely you'll have no experience whatsoever in handling what suddenly is a very reluctant airplane. Let's try to at least give you some tools with which you can try to cope.

Our Advice? Don't

First, let's go on the record and state that intentionally flying—or attempting to fly—an overweight aircraft is stupid, illegal, immoral and probably fattening. No matter the reason, temptation or situation that got you to this point, it's not a good idea. Even if you manage by superior airmanship, dumb luck or some combination to achieve flight, staying airborne, getting to your destination and landing without a hiccup could be a major challenge.

Second, let's also acknowledge that 10 or so extra pounds above an airplane's maximum gross takeoff weight (MGTW) isn't going to make that much difference. In fact, unless the aircraft you're flying is brand-new or was weighed recently and its weight and balance data precisely and accurately calculated, loading it to its MGTW means it's probably overweight, anyway. That's thanks to the years of detritus, "negligible" equipment and math errors that accumulate in the average personal airplane and its logbooks. And we haven't even discussed the fact that passengers lie about their weight. So, it's probably a good bet you've flown an airplane weighing more than it legally should. But that doesn't make it right, nor does it make you ace of the base. It only makes you lucky, in the past.

Third, we should note the difference between attempting to fly an overweight aircraft versus one loaded outside its center of gravity (CG) range. The former is possible if risky; the latter is less possible, riskier and much more susceptible to mishandling. By that I mean an aircraft operated outside its CG range is much less intolerant of ham-handed skills or intentional abrupt maneuvering. Even if you get it off the ground, it may be impossible to manage or land normally, thanks to drastically altered handling characteristics.

Finally, let's also acknowledge—reluctantly—that flying an overweight aircraft is definitely possible under the right circumstances. Long runways, cool temperatures, a gentle touch on the controls and remaining within the aircraft's CG range are keys to success and minimize—but do not eliminate—the additional risk. Change any one of those variables, however, and the risk can increase dramatically.

What You Can Expect

It shouldn't come as a surprise that an overloaded aircraft won't perform as its manufacturer intended. It will demand more power to taxi, the takeoff will consume much more runway, it will climb slowly and stall at higher-than-published speeds. If you're lucky enough to get it airborne and to your desired altitude, it will fly slower, with a greater angle of attack (AoA), and consume more fuel. How much worse will its performance be? It depends.

Ferry pilots routinely operate in overgross conditions to accommodate the fuel necessary to get, say, from California to Hawaii. A 100-gallon auxiliary fuel tank mounted in the back seat area of a Piper Archer II/III, for example, can add more than 600 pounds to the airplane's 2550-lb MGTW. That makes the airplane about 24 percent heavier than its MGTW. But the performance hit will be far worse than 24 percent.

Why? Because that excess weight is actually more than 50 percent above what Piper intended the airplane to carry. The airplane's standard empty weight is 1416 pounds. Subtracting that amount from 2550 leaves you with a 1134-lb useful load. Six hundred pounds, meanwhile, is 52.9 percent of 1134 pounds. At its new 3150-lb weight, the airplane is supporting roughly 150 percent what it was designed to carry. The additional weight adversely affects the airplane's structural integrity by overloading the cabin's and baggage-area's load-bearing structure, and forces the wings, tail and related components to do more work to lift it all.

The performance hit you'll encounter in such a situation depends on a variety of factors, including the engine's relative health, atmospheric conditions and airport elevation. On a standard day at sea level, we would expect to see our available performance decline by at least the 52.9 percent increase in useful load. In fact, a pilot ferrying an Archer II/III across the Atlantic Ocean with a 100-gallon tank in the back seat recently reported a 300-fpm climb rate. That's less than half the Archer's published value of 667 fpm. Your mileage may vary, and each airplane will be different. 

Structural Integrity

Another concern about overweight operations involves the airplane's structural integrity: How much additional weight can it carry before it either bends or breaks? Some basic math can help us answer the question.

Let's presume we're flying the aforementioned Piper Archer II/III, with a 2550-lb MGTW. Let's further presume we're trying to take off 450 pounds over that MGTW, at a total weight of 3000 pounds. The airplane is certificated in the Normal category, meaning its basic structure is designed and tested to a +3.8/-1.5 G load factor. That also means the airframe won't break until loading exceeds 9690 pounds.

Using that same 9690 pounds of load limit but at the new, 3000-lb weight, our Archer can muster a designed-in load factor limit of only 3.23 positive G. That's still a lot of G loading for average flight conditions, but it also highlights why the FAA and aftermarket modifiers include additional operating restrictions when legally operating above an aircraft's original MGTW.

Throughout this discussion of how to handle flying an aircraft weighing more than its MGTW, we've presumed the pilot is doing this without approval. In fact, there are several ways to legally operate an aircraft above the MGTW found in its original paperwork. One of them is a Special Airworthiness Certificate for overweight operation on FAA Form 8130-7. The FAA routinely grants these permits for operations up to 10 percent above the aircraft's MGTW for a set period of time, usually 30 days.

Another way is to add equipment that includes a gross weight increase. Examples can include auxiliary fuel tanks mounted at the wingtips, a turbocharger or simply heavy-duty tires. Such modifications usually are performed under a supplemental type certificate (STC). Some airplanes, like the Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, can realize a 400-lb MGTW increase from adding such equipment.

There's no free lunch, however. For example, the manufacturer of one popular STC allowing a MGTW increase for modified aircraft specifically states, "The performance listed in the basic 'Pilot Operating Handbook and FAA Approved Airplane Flight Manual' is generally applicable to this airplane with the tip tank installation at the gross weight listed in the basic manual. Since the certification basis of the tip tank installation does not include a requirement that the performance be made available, and since the modifier did not choose to supply this information, no performance is listed at gross weights above that of the basic airplane." In other words, you're on your own at weights above those in excess of the airplane's original MGTW.

Additionally, an STC may impose changes in the airplane's operating limitations, like removing a Bonanza from its Utility category certification and placing it in the Normal category, mandating a certain amount of fuel be in the tip tanks for operations above the airplane's original MGTW, lowering the speed for turbulence penetration, VA, or some combination. The point is that operation above the airplane's original MGTW is a serious deal, and must be treated as such.

Some Final Words

There's a reason the airplanes we fly come with a weight limit. It's there to ensure we can meet expectations for performance and structural integrity, among other reasons.

Meanwhile, readers may not agree with the extrapolating math and assumptions used in this article, but there is no guidance on these topics from the FAA or manufacturers, understandably. If we find ourselves operating outside the airplane's limitations, we choose to do it conservatively.

Finally, in no way do we endorse operations above an aircraft's MGTW. But we've been tempted, and we know you have or will be, too. At least if you find yourself in such a predicament, you'll have a few more arrows in your quiver.

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

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While landing in BOI last week, we overheard this great question from a pilot:

"Cessna 123, turn left, heading 210, runway 28L; cleared for takeoff."

"Cleared for takeoff, Cessna 123."

"Cessna 123, also: Turn left, heading 210."

"You want that after we takeoff, right?"

"Yes, that would be best."

I could barely read back our taxi-off clearance. We and tower were laughing too hard.

Jay G.


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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I have always been baffled by the psychology of paying a company a tidy of sum of money to assure that I get one of the first new-and-improved widgets it proposes to make: the pre-production deposit or, as it's popularly known, a "position." This is quite common in the aircraft business as most recently demonstrated by Icon. But others have done it, too, including Cirrus and Cessna.

The boilerplate reason for pre-production deposits is to validate the very idea of the product and generate excitement around its impending release. It's also a tidy way for the company to get an interest-free loan from its customers who then take on a share of the business risk of bringing the new product to market. In aviation, it's technically not always interest-free, since companies sometimes offer a discount to deposit holders. But the risk of losing the deposit, even if escrowed, is always real, which is why I've never been impressed with the idea. I don't think it's a great business practice.

For big-ticket items, I thought this practice was limited to airplane companies but now Tesla, the electric carmaker, has adopted it as well. In late March, it starting taking orders for its new Model 3 electric vehicle, the $35,000 sedan priced to be the mass-market game changer. By contemporary standards, that's not an expensive car, but it's not particularly cheap, either. A 35K car wouldn't be on my shopping list because I am unapologetically cheap and a car costing that much doesn't meet my occasional need to drive 750-mile trips. The Model 3 will have a projected range of just over 200 miles.

As an illustration of the lure of pre-deposits, nearly 400,000 buyers have written Tesla a check for $1000 to reserve a slot. The deposit is refundable, but buyers get no promise of delivery date nor even a fixed price for the new vehicle. Meanwhile, Tesla scoops up an interest-free $400 million to fund the industrial effort to make that many electric cars. To date, they've built a little over 100,000 vehicles, while losing more than $700 million doing it. Quadrupling that output, as any manufacturing engineer will tell you, is a challenge every bit as enormous as Eclipse faced with its jet and Icon is now facing with its A5 LSA, a vehicle that's far less complex and sophisticated than an electric car.  

You don't have to be clairvoyant to posit that we'll be reading stories about how the Model 3 will be delayed because production challenges were underestimated. I'd never assume that buyers who place pre-production deposits don't understand this. Probably they do and are willing to accept the risk, delay and uncertainty. I'm just not one of them, which is why I'm never one of the cool kids on my block to have the first anything. I'll buy it later. Probably used.

Does Icon Need Us?

Following last week's discussions about Icon, I found myself wondering why the company showed up at Sun 'n Fun. Icon has made it quite clear through its marketing materials and company philosophy that it's not aiming for sales to the traditional aviation markets; that is, people who like airplanes and flying. The A5 is incidental to flying; the appeal is to the motorsport, extreme sport and lifestyle crowd. And that's not who comes to Sun 'n Fun, or at least not in great numbers.  

Icon has implied that the traditional general aviation industry has been doing things all wrong and it intends to disrupt it with a new way of doing business and with products with fresh market appeal and manufacturing methods. And, well, bully for them. General aviation is long past due for new ideas on fundamental market direction. As indicated by its eye-watering buyer agreement which, in my view, attempts to insulate the company from the slightest liability or responsibility for its products, Icon wants to instantly reset the toxic aviation tort environment. Again, cheers for them. Everyone in aviation decries the destructive impact of large-dollar lawsuits that threaten the industry's vitality. It's time to do something about it.

I think most of us agree that Icon just went about this in the wrong way, proposing an onerous agreement that appears to strip the customer of even basic rights under accepted commercial practices. But its idea to build in limited liability for the manufacturer has merit and if they tried, they'd find broad support among both buyers and manufacturers for some form of it. As far as I can tell, they didn't try, preferring instead to present the buyer agreement as a diktat.

In round two of its arm's-length relationship with the rest of general aviation, I'd propose Icon enlist the support of other companies to help advance the desirable underlying intent of their liability limitation. One way of doing this is by exploring buyer agreements that split the difference, offering some protection for companies while still preserving basic customer rights, such as unencumbered resale. A second way, as one lawyer I spoke to recommended, is to approach Congress with Icon's original agreement as a cudgel, showing how desperate one company is to limit its exposure and how badly tort reform aimed specifically at aviation is needed. I asked AOPA's Mark Baker about this and he said the association is examining the idea. They need to do more than examine, however. While this kind of fundamental reform is a tall order, GA currently enjoys a historically large caucus in congress and there may be no better time to try such a thing. 

In the meantime, this thought occurred to me: If Icon wants to reset the industry on its own terms, it will in fact need the support of the rest of the industry. Is that another way of saying they need us more than we need them? Read it any way you like. 

Aero Next Week

Fresh from Sun 'n Fun, I'll be attending Aero in Friedrichshafen, Germany, next week. Look for regular reports on what's happening across the pond. After that, it's on to the drone show in New Orleans and the electric aircraft symposium in California.

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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.

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At Sun 'n Fun 2016, NavWorx was showing off its new, low-cost ADS-B system.

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