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The U.K. government is downplaying a widely circulated report that a British Airways A320 collided with a drone last month. Shortly after the incident hit the headlines, Robert Goodwill said the object hit by the aircraft might have been a plastic bag. Later in the month transport department officials told members of Parliament that that the mishap was "not a drone incident" but that a drone strike had not been ruled out. Even so, there's been no evidence that the aircraft actually hit a drone.

Scotland Yard officials said they've searched a "wide area" under the position of the aircraft at the time of the collision and haven't turned up a scrap of plastic that belongs to a drone. Also, initial reports that the plane was dented have been discounted. Goodwill said engineers couldn't find a scratch on the Airbus and immediately cleared it for flight. Nevertheless, there continue to be calls for more stringent laws against flying drones near airports, which Goodwill maintains are unnecessary. If it was a drone that hit the flight, there are already numerous laws that were violated and he said authorities don't need any more legal clout.

A French Jet Ski racer has claimed a new record for hoverboard endurance with a flight that covered 1.4 miles. Guinness World Records confirmed that Franky Zapata performed the flight in front of its evaluators in Sausset-les-Pins in the South of France. He officially went 2,252 meters to shatter the existing record of 275.9 meters set by Canadian Catalin Alexandru Duru last year. Zapata's creation also appears to be a technological leap ahead of Duru's invention.

A video released last month by Zapata shows a relatively compact device called the Flyboard Air that he claims can fly for 10 minutes, goes more than 90 mph and can climb to 10,000 feet. Viewers were skeptical and many thought the video was a fake but Saturday's flight confirmed it's real. Zapata told reporters the hoverboard "has really been a life's work" but it's not clear where he'll take it from here. Zapata previously invented the Flyboard, which connects to a personal watercraft turbine to propel the pilot into the air on a jet of water. There are no hoses on the new device, just an obviously powerful but unspecified "independent propulsion unit."

Gyroplane pilot Paul Salmon's flight this week from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to Longview, Texas, and back will win a new distance record for his aircraft class. Salmon completed the closed-circuit flight Thursday in his Magni M22 Voyager, making 770 nautical miles in 10 hours and 37 minutes nonstop. The National Aeronautic Association, the sanctioning body for U.S. achievements, will make it official and forward the time to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale to set the record for gyroplanes in the 500-1000 kilogram takeoff weight range (1102-2204 pounds). The previous record of 550 nautical miles has been held since 2006 by Andy Keech. In 2015, Salmon broke the transcontinental record for his three-day Magni flight from California to Florida.

For Thursday's flight, Salmon departed with 72.9 gallons of fuel, most of which sat in extra fuel bladders in the rear seat of the Magni, according to Greg Gremminger of Magni USA. He flew at airspeeds of 85 to 89 mph for most of the flight with some headwinds and landed back at Cape Girardeau with about 10 gallons remaining. He circled around the East Texas Regional control tower to verify his presence before turning back for Missouri. AVweb learned from Gremminger that Salmon is already planning his next record attempt in the Magni for this summer, the longest nonstop gyroplane flight. His route will be from Beaumont, Texas, to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. For that trip, he'll install larger wings to carry about 24 gallons of additional fuel, which will add about 4 hours of endurance. "This is not significant extra weight for this machine, and Paul expects the extra lift from the wings to partially compensate for the extra weight at cruise speed," Gremminger said.

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Alpha Systems has a new heads-up display adaptable for its Eagle and Falcon angle-of-attack systems. The company also has added new features to its product line and more are on the way, Alpha Systems' Mark Korin told AVweb at this week's Aircraft Electronics Association show in Orlando. AoA indications are now available for different flap systems, along with gear advisory and integration with cockpit primary flight displays. Future updates include a stick-shaker feature. The company sells several AoA kits for $1,995 each and the Valkyrie HUD adapter is priced at $500.

See a video demonstration of the Valkyrie HUD here.

Alpha Systems AOA is updating its angle-of-attack systems. At this week's Aircraft Electronics Association show, Alpha's Mark Korin said, "We can update any aircraft with an AOA display for safer flying, including AOA installations for pressurized aircraft."

Avionics sales might have had a slow start to the year with a drop in first-quarter numbers reported, but companies attending this week's Aircraft Electronics Association show in Orlando have been optimistic about diversifying their offerings of cockpit systems and improvements on existing products. While last year's wave of new ADS-B products seems to have tapered off, a walk through AEA's exhibit hall shows that manufacturers have been ramping up the competition by upgrading avionics capabilities, beefing up digital units such as transponders, flight instruments and angle-of-attack indicators, and promoting cabin-connectivity systems to meet the growing demand for in-flight Internet and route planning tools.

First-time exhibitors were among those appearing in the sold-out trade show. Mark Korin of Alpha Systems, who has been in the industry for 20 years, brought his display to AEA for the first time. Korin said his expansion into larger passenger aircraft makes the show a good venue to connect with companies that would be interested in installing Alpha Systems' angle-of-attack displays. Astronautics Corp., which has traditionally specialized in instrumentation for military rotorcraft and transport-category aircraft, recently joined AEA to connect with dealers to help the company expand into the commercial market, including retrofits for legacy business jets. The company's new offerings include its RoadRunner system, a slide-in digital replacement for its mechanical attitude and directional gyros. "We've had some interest already," Astronautics' Dan Barks said in the opening hours of the trade show. It would be surprising to see industry sales continue to drop this year, he said. "I don't see the market softening at all," he said. "The economy is still moving along."

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The U.S. Air Force is complaining about showboating Russian fighter pilots who have done barrel rolls over its pricey reconnaissance planes twice in the last couple of weeks. The most recent incident was Friday when an SU-27 flew within 25 feet of an RC-135 sensor platform and turned inverted over the top of the converted Boeing 707 before lining up on the other side. "The SU-27 intercepted the U.S. aircraft flying a routine route at high rate of speed from the side then proceeded to perform an aggressive maneuver that posed a threat to the safety of the U.S. aircrew in the RC-135," Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza told CNN.

On April 14, another SU-27 rolled from the left to the right of an RC-135, coming within 50 feet of the spy plane. What's not clear is whether the pilots are being ordered to rattle the U.S. crews or whether they're doing it for fun. However, Russian officials defended the earlier incident and there does seem to be a pattern developing. There were a couple of buzzing incidents on a U.S. warship earlier this month. In one case a Russian plane is thought to have come within 75 feet of an American missile destroyer.

Aviation authorities have grounded Airbus EC225 Super Puma helicopters after the crash of a Canadian aircraft off the coast of Norway Friday. The helicopter, operated by CHC Helicopter, went down a few hundred yards from shore near Bergen. All 11 passengers and two crew died. Witnesses told various news sources that they saw rotor blades separate from the aircraft before it dropped into the ocean and exploded. A rotor blade was recovered on shore about 300 yards from the rest of the wreckage, which was under water. The cockpit voice and flight data recorders have been recovered.

The helicopter was working under contract to Norwegian oil company Statoil but only one of the passengers worked for the firm. The others worked for various oil industry companies that were doing work for Statoil. Norway immediately grounded Super Pumas but other authorities followed suit quickly. "Following the accident, the UK CAA has issued an instruction to stop any commercial passenger flights by UK operators flying the Airbus EC225LP helicopter," said a spokesman for the British Civil Aviation Authority. This is the second worldwide grounding of the Super Puma. The helicopters were taken out of service to fix gearbox problems in 2012 after the ditching of a CHC aircraft off Scotland.

If the increasingly strident messages from the FAA about ADS-B equipage have you feeling the slightest pangs of guilt that you haven't written the check yet, take heart. The agency doesn't seem to be in too much of a hurry to get its own aircraft in compliance and it's shopping around. As every aircraft owner should know, the FAA has set Jan. 1, 2020, as the firm deadline for aircraft using most controlled airspace to be equipped with ADS-B Out. But the agency has been urging owners to get the gear sooner rather than later to avoid a logjam of last-minute installations. For nine of its King Air C90TI aircraft, the FAA is taking a leisurely approach to equipage with a plan to bring that part of the fleet into compliance a year before it's mandatory.

A couple of months ago, the agency sent a "market survey" to avionics shops to see what's out there in terms of ADS-B gear for the King Airs, which have Rockwell Collins ProLine panels. The agency made it clear that it was just fishing for information with the survey to determine how it would go about tendering the project. Once it figures that out, the winning bidder will have a month to get going and the installations have to be finished by Dec. 31, 2018. It's also worth noting that while the FAA is actively encouraging other owners to get ADS-B In for their aircraft, the King Air installation is a bare-bones affair that will bring the aircraft into compliance without the weather, traffic and in-flight data transfer capability that come with ADS-B In. The airplanes are used for currency and proficiency checks on FAA inspectors.

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If the lure of adventure and faraway places isn't enough to attract women to the cockpit, at least one airline is hoping that appealing to their fashion sense will. Qantas Airlines has introduced its newly designed pilot uniforms and for the first time there are designs specifically tailored for women. Oh, they still have to wear ties (they're female-only ties, though) and military-style hats, but the new uniforms are a big improvement over the truncated men's wear that have hung in female pilots' closets for decades. "It is a really big change," A330 Capt. Debbie Slade told the Sydney Morning Herald. "Especially for the females, it has got a little bit of shape and it is made to fit girls rather than girls wearing a boy's uniform."

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the female uniforms were specifically created as part of the airline's attempt to bring more diversity to the cockpit. "It was also extremely important for us was that we had a female-designed uniform," Joyce told the Herald. "I hope one day we get to 50 percent of our pilots being female so we will have a lot more of them. We are still waiting on that but I think it is a great start." The new uniforms are lighter in weight, more tailored and have a "streamlined cut," according to the newspaper. The biggest change is the hat, however. Qantas has gone to a white navy style topper that's a nod to its heritage. "The hat is what makes a pilot so recognizable," said fashion designer Martin Grant. "I wanted to go back to the essence of the naval uniform and bring back the white top."

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Dave strolls into the FBO carrying a travel bag and a pizza box. I let out a sigh. "Well, look who showed up. Dave, you're 45 minutes late."

 "Well, I needed gas, and there was a pizza place next door and, well, that smell hit me. I got some for everybody."

"We're already late and we need to get going. Let's eat in the air."

You, Dave and I head outside into the muggy Florida air to our Mooney. We stow our bags and I begin the preflight. Dave piles into the back. After the preflight you follow me in and close the door as I grab the checklist.

"Do you mind calling for our clearance?" I ask, reaching for the master.

"You got it," you reply. You have our XM Weather system set up. We'll need it today. You grab our paperwork and get our clearance. We'll be flying from Orlando Executive up to the Panhandle, then west across Pensacola to the New Orleans area. We'll land at Slidell—we heard good things about the FBO and the fuel is cheap. We'll also get the scenic half-hour drive to New Orleans.

The engine roars to life and we're soon headed to the runup area. Since about 40 miles of our flight is over the ocean, I'm careful with the runup.

We call the tower for takeoff clearance, amble into position and open the throttle. The takeoff is smooth and we climb westward into a hazy sky. Orlando Departure turns us toward the Florida Panhandle. The smell of pizza is tantalizing and I'm looking forward to cruise.

Weather Ahead

During our weather briefing, we saw an area of showers and thunderstorms in the western Panhandle. It extends north into Alabama and Georgia, so we can't really go around it. The freezing level (top photo) is quite high, at about 12,000 feet. Ice shouldn't be a factor at our 6000-foot cruise. We're most concerned about the storms and widespread IMC. Plus, it's February, so the atmosphere might have a few surprises we'll watch for.

Though looking at SIGMETs and getting a weather briefing gives us the basics information we need, there's not a lot of deptch. What if the forecast is wrong? We can get an extra safety margin by taking in the big picture. By understanding the underlying workings of the atmosphere today, we'll have a comprehensive picture of the patterns.

The surface map (right) shows observed conditions over the Gulf Coast. The pressure field is too weak for a meaningful isobar chart, but observing the temperature field and hand-drawing the front (as shown) reveals the definite presence of a quasi-stationary front extending from northern Florida to Louisiana.

What does this front mean? If we look at conditions in the warm sector to the south, we see there is a component that crosses the front from south to north. Forecasters will conclude that the isentropic (potential temperature) surface distorts upward in the cold air mass and parcels must ascend along these surfaces since potential temperature is a conserved property. But it's simpler to think that this air tends to rise as it "overruns" a warm front toward cooler air.

The south-to-north component will also cause the front to drift northward as a warm front, but this is often offset if there is an opposing north-to-south component in the cold air mass or extensive cold outflow from thunderstorms. There are widespread storms all along the front, so we can't really be sure which way the front is moving. It will be difficult to know what changes will be occurring at a terminal near the front, so we have to depend entirely on the TAF.

The air mass in the Gulf Coast region is unstable and it doesn't take much lift to produce showers and thunderstorms. Frontal lift is significant, yielding widespread IFR conditions and an outbreak of showers and thunderstorms. We can expect conditions south of the front to remain good if it is a stagnant tropical air mass with VMC and cumulus at 2000 to 4000 feet. If this air mass is modifying, shallow stratus and fog might develop.

SIGMET and AIRMET products (right) are definitive for weather hazards of concern to pilots. These are produced by the Aviation Weather Center. The only downside is that they don't provide any indication of severity. The Severe product (lower right) is a nice supplement that gives an accurate overview of the hazards. This data originates directly from the Storm Prediction Center convective outlooks. Although the SIGMETs and AIRMETs are already part of your preflight planning, checking all these products during a cross-country flight will help alert you to any changes in forecast thinking.

Cruising Along

I engage the autopilot as we level off at cruise. The view is occasionally obscured by clouds, but I can see Lake Apopka off to our left and endless subdivisions, probably Orlando's bedroom communities. I strain to look toward the southwest, but Disneyworld is too far away and there are too many clouds. It's a little bumpy.

The smell of pizza is overwhelming. I turn back to Dave. "Let's open that pizza."

"Yeah," Dave says. "It's right here."

He opens the box. Something isn't right. I take a close look at the pizza.

"Anchovies? Pineapple? Daaaave?"

"Hey man, don't knock it. I like anchovies with pineapple."

This must be payback for last week when I actually got him with the old prop wash prank.

I grab a shop towel and take a slice of the pizza. I pick off the anchovies. The pineapple I can deal with.

You pass on the pizza and settle back into the seat, watching for traffic and enjoying the view. You notice that things are getting a bit dark up ahead. "I think I'd like to take a look at the weather."

"I was thinking the same thing."

You select the METAR, Radar, and Strike products (lower right). We see an area of showers ahead. The Strike product shows no lightning activity ahead. The image is built from a radio sferics network, covering the United States and reaching far offshore, and it accurately detects cloud-to-ground lightning.

The bad stuff is well off the coast, where the Strike product shows clusters of lightning. Radar doesn't reach that far. This shows the value of the Strike product deep into the Gulf of Mexico or off the Pacific or Atlantic coasts. The U.S. has four other areas out of radar range: central Nevada, the Four Corners, southeast Montana, and south-central Oregon where the Strike product proves invaluable, especially during the summer.

As we hit the showers we get bounced around a bit. A few small areas show red, and we deviate well around them. Over Apalachee Bay I open the vent window and pitch the anchovies. While I'm at it, a little rain blows in and hits Dave. I smile.

We bounce in and out of showers, break into VMC and enter another mass of clouds and showers. We reach land and count down the miles to Pensacola.

"How is the weather looking at Slidell?" You switch back to the Metar display and pull up Slidell METAR and TAF reports (bottom right).

"Still IFR," you say. "It's 1100 broken, but 10 miles, not bad. Looks like 500 broken and 6 miles forecast. We'll be getting there after that TEMPO group."

Gentleman's IMC

The rain clears up but it remains cloudy. Daylight fades and the overcast darkens into night. Starting down past Gulfport, we descend through several cloud layers created by the gentle lift over the frontal surface, condensing humid air from the Gulf waters and producing extensive stratus. We fly the GPS Runway 36 approach and break out of the clouds at 800 feet. We have the runway in sight almost immediately. We land in light winds.

We park, close our flight plan and shut everything down. I notice the sweep of the airport beacon against the clouds. That's the tropical air mass just overhead. The temperature is a mild 67 degrees with a light north wind; down here we are in a shallow, stagnant polar air mass.

"Time for some real food," you say.

"Yeah." I look at Dave. "We're going to the Crescent Pie. We shall crack open some Sessions and feast on jambalaya, reveling in New Orleans. Maybe we'll hit the French Quarter later. Anchovies and pineapple will not be part of this night."

Dave sheepishly nods. "You think they have any hot wings there?"

We laugh as we get our rental car and pitch the remaining pizza.

Tim Vasquez is a professional meteorologist in Norman, Oklahoma. XMWX satellite weather is available on many devices and apps, and each adds their own interpretation. For this series, Tim uses WxWorx on Wings, a PC application from the data provider for XMWX. See his website at WeatherGraphics.com.

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

For more great content like this, subscribe to IFR!

Recently, on flight following above Santa Barbara on a beautifully clear afternoon, approach was uncomfortably quiet. After several minutes of silence I called:

Mooney 1234:
"Approach, Mooney 1234. Is there anybody there to talk to?"

Approach:
"Mooney 1234, say request."

Mooney 1234:
"Just checking to see if it really is this quiet."

Approach:
"Yes, it really is."

[Pause.]

Approach:
"Mooney 1234, contact L.A. Center on 135.5. You'll find somebody to talk to there."

I took the hint.

Mooney 1234:
"135.5.  Thanks."


Ron Shave

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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This week, it's off to the drone aircraft show—AUVSI or the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International. They really need a better name for that. It doesn't exactly slide off the tongue. The association is calling the show Exponential this year, clearly suggesting they think that's the growth curve they expect drones will or already are experiencing. Who am I to argue?

Two broad things interest me about this show. One is that FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will be there and although he rarely says much of substance, I'm always interested in the words he uses to avoid the impolitic while also conveying something to keep the audience from rioting. (Oh, wait, that's only at AirVenture.) The FAA is not a favorite agency among the drone crowd. Two years ago in Orlando, you could feel the tension in the room when the then head of the UAS integration program tried to sell drone operators on the idea that their systems represented high risk to aircraft and unsuspecting pedestrians. It wasn't warmly received.

Now that we've had one genuine drone collision—with a balloon—perhaps the administrator will have a comment. As today's news feed reveals, those hopeful that the incident in the UK was a second drone/airliner incident must be bitterly disappointed. Maybe it was a plastic bag. Well, there's always next week.

The second thing I want to explore is applications for these aircraft. Will there really be as many as the companies manufacturing them hope? I remain skeptical and expect to see a shakeout at some point after final rules are published. The number of companies building these things is just staggering. Does the economy need that many eyes in the sky? I can't help but feel it does not. I'll also be watching for more aviation companies sniffing around to hedge against losing business to the unmanned side, especially the helicopter industry. Interesting times.

Just a word about the marketing and communications people in the drone business. They put the typical practitioner of this work in the general aviation segment to shame. Having registered for this show, I've been inundated with invitations to see demonstrations, interview CEOs and generally learn about the products at hand. This rarely happens in GA. In fact, before Sun 'n Fun, only two companies made an effort. Just Aircraft was one and Diamond was the other. I flew both of their airplanes before or during the show and generated coverage I'm sure they will find useful. It doesn't take much effort to make things like this happen. I wish more general aviation companies would exert it.   

Winkle's Book

Back in February, when famed British test pilot Eric Winkle Brown died at the age of 97, I wrote this brief blog in tribute to him. Since then, on the flight to and from Europe last month, I finally had a chance to read his book, Wings On My Sleeve: The World's Greatest Test Pilot Tells His Story. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is exceptional. Brown's experiences through World War II and immediately after it were even more amazing than I could have imagined. Find the book on Amazon and grab it. You won't be disappointed.

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At this week's Aircraft Electronics Association show in Orlando, L-3 Avionics showcased its recent advancements in certified products that pack multiple functions into lighter, smaller boxes. The recently released ESI-500 standby instrument offers what amounts to a primary flight display backup with instrument data as well as navigation and synthetic vision. The unit, when packaged with a data configuration module and installation kit, retails for about $6,100. L-3 also announced two new features to its ADS-B-compliant NGT-9000 transponder — full traffic and terrain awareness systems rolled into the touchscreen unit.

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