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A Navy Blue Angels pilot was killed Thursday when his jet crashed in Smyrna, Tennessee. Meanwhile, a USAF Thunderbirds pilot ejected safely from his F-16 after a flyover performance at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. NewsChannel 5 in Nashville identified the Blue Angels pilot as Captain Jeff Kuss, a member of the team since 2014 and a decorated serviceman. The Navy said all six F-18s were practicing for an upcoming airshow at Smyrna's airport when Kuss' jet crashed soon after takeoff about 3 p.m. The other aircraft landed immediately, the station reported. Witnesses in the area captured images of a fireball and black smoke billowing from the ground.

The Thunderbird crashed in an open area near the Air Force academy after the annual graduation ceremony, which was attended by President Barack Obama. The Thunderbirds are saying their pilot, who was flying the No. 6 jet, was unhurt. The mishap occurred around midday Colorado time. The Thunderbirds Web site identifies the No. 6 pilot as Maj. Alex Turner, of Chelmsford, MA. The No. 6 jet is the opposing solo. Turner is an F-16 instructor with more than 270 hours of combat experience in Libya and Iraq. Twitter images show the aircraft lying intact in an open area, reported to be south of the Colorado Springs Airport. Obama, who delivered the commencement address to the Academy graduates, is said to be planning to meet with the pilot. The pilot was taken to hospital for evaluation but early reports said he was seen "walking around unhurt" after his parachute landing.

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Searchers aboard a French naval vessel said this morning they believe they have found a signal from one of the data recorders aboard EgyptAir Flight 804, which crashed into the Mediterranean on May 19. The Airbus A320 vanished from radar during a flight from Paris to Cairo, with 66 people on board. Recovery teams have found some floating debris from the aircraft, but the search is made difficult by the depth of the sea in the area — averaging nearly 12,000 feet — strong currents, and the ruggedness of the sea floor. Another research vessel, the John Lethbridge, based in Mauritius, is expected to join the search team in the next week or so, and it will be able to retrieve the recorders if they are found, officials said. The recorders are designed to emit signals for 30 days after a crash.

An Airbus engineer told Reuters the company is working to develop ejectable or "deployable" recorders that would separate from the tail during a crash and float, emitting a distress signal. Similar technology already is used in some military aircraft, but some in the industry have expressed doubts about their safe use on civil airliners, according to Reuters, saying they could be deployed accidentally and introduce new risks. Airbus said last year it was talking to regulators about adding deployable devices to some of its jets. New European rules set to take effect in 2018 will extend the duration of the pingers in the data recorders to 90 days. Airlines also will be required to track flight positions during ocean crossings.

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Pilot weather reports will be the focus of an upcoming public forum announced this week by the National Transportation Safety Board. The event is slated for June 21-22 at NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C. and will include representatives of GA, airlines and academic groups. “PIREPs: Pay it Forward … Because Weather for One is Weather for None” will include discussions on how pilots, controllers, researchers and weather service providers use pilot reports, as well as how the system can be improved using technology.

Citing weather as a major factor in GA accidents, the NTSB has called for improving the PIREP system in recent years, increasing outreach efforts to encourage more pilots to file PIREPs regardless of whether conditions are better, worse or the same as forecasted. The board also has worked with the FAA and National Weather Service to improve their timeliness and dissemination. “For PIREPs to be most effective they must be accurate and made quickly available in the National Airspace System,” said NTSB Member Robert Sumwalt, who will preside over the forum. “There are several problems degrading the effectiveness of PIREPs and it is our intent to use information gathered during our forum – from across the broad spectrum of the aviation community – to find ways to best improve PIREP handling and use.” The forum will be broadcast online.

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SocialFlight has a busy Weekender schedule lined up with airplane and helicopter rides, cars and bikes, and a two-day airshow. Bakersfield Municipal Airport in California will host an Open House & Fly-In on Saturday, featuring Harmon Rocket kit creator John Harmon, Young Eagles airplane rides and plenty of airplanes to view. Fly in and tie down behind the Rocket Shop Cafe and stop in for breakfast or lunch.

Also Saturday, Wakefield Municipal in Virginia will host a fly-in, car and bike show. More than 20 vendors will offer food and more; airplanes, cars and bikes will be on display and there will be live music and door prizes.

The Great Tennessee Air Show will take place all weekend at Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport, featuring the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, Breitling Jet team, an F-22 demonstration, Sean Tucker and many more performers. 

The Save Our Flying Heritage organization will sponsor a fly-in and display day in Meridianville, Alabama, on Saturday. See static displays of a UH-1 Gunship and other military aircraft, and meet Army astronaut Brigadier General Robert Stewart, who will be signing autographs. Free airplane rides will be on hand, along with military helicopter rides for purchase.

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AVweb’s weekly review of aviation news found announcements from Embraer, the Aviators Model Code of Conduct Initiative, the Coast Guard Foundation and EAA. Embraer Executive Jets began the production of its Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 in Melbourne, Florida, and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its recently expanded facility, where the Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 are already in production. Flight Safety in the Drone Age was released by the AMCC Initiative’s Permanent Editorial Board. FSDA offers voluntary guidance to advance the safety of flight when operating near unmanned aircraft, or drones. 

The Coast Guard Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the education and welfare of all Coast Guard members and their families, announced that its 12th Annual Tribute to the United States Coast Guard in Our Nation's Capital will take place on Wednesday, June 8, 2016, at the National Building Museum, Washington, D.C. The event will celebrate 100 years of Coast Guard aviation. Voyageur Press has published a new book drawing on the EAA's photo archive dating back to 1953. EAA Oshkosh: The Best AirVenture Photography brims with fascinating stories, history, and photography covering the annual convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

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Standing to get a closer view of my tower’s radar display, I said, “That doesn’t look right.”

Somewhere in the dense, ragged and choppy 300-foot overcast outside the tower windows, there was a Piper Matrix inbound on the ILS. Well, supposedly on the ILS. His target was crossing the final approach fix several hundred feet lower than published and a half mile to the right.

The minimum safe altitude alarm started chirping ominously as I keyed my mic to let him know. “Piper Six Eight Papa,” I said. “Low altitude alert. Check altitude immediately. Altimeter three-zero-zero-one. Final approach fix altitude was two thousand. Verify you’re established on the approach. It appears you’re right of course.”

“Roger.” There was no tone of alarm in his voice. And, there was no change in his course either. In fact, he continued his descent, sinking lower into the muck and continuing well below glideslope.

My gut was telling me to keep a close eye on this guy. This situation was quickly highlighting the conundrum we air traffic controllers face: among all the services we provide for a pilot, flying their plane isn’t one of them. Nonetheless, our training, experience, and resources make us far more than just passive observers.

Raising the Alarm

The first thing we can do? Communicate that something appears wrong, either to the pilot or possibly to other controllers. Timely, accurate safety information is central to our business.

If a plane reports a flock of birds persistently flitting around on short final, we’ll pass that on to subsequent aircraft and put bird advisories on the ATIS.

Does an IFR airplane have an unidentified VFR target bearing down on him? We’ll issue traffic calls, safety alerts or even vectors to the IFR aircraft. Is a student pilot flying erratically on his first solo? We’ll warn subsequent controllers to keep an especially close eye on the struggling newbie.

I’d already voiced my concerns about the deteriorating approach to the Matrix pilot. Now my buddy down in radar called me on the landline. He had given the Matrix good vectors to the ILS, but he was also watching the developing problem and wanted to ensure I was aware of it. “Man, are you watching—?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m watching. I even called him about it.” I’d seen plenty of botched approaches before, but never had a pilot persisted this long into one in IMC conditions. The Matrix was approaching two miles from the field, still descending well off to the right and somewhat below the glideslope.

I again advised the pilot of my observations. My concern was again rewarded with a nonchalant, “Roger.”

Making the Call

Dispensing information does nothing if the person receiving it can’t—or won’t—act on it. I’m sorry to disappoint the conspiracy theorists out there, but ATC can’t just remotely commandeer a civilian aircraft from the ground and steer it out of danger, much as we might occasionally want to.

Imagine yourself and a friend standing on a city sidewalk. He bends down to tie his shoe. Suddenly a car loses control and careens towards you both. You see it, but your friend still has his head down. Do you tap your friend on the shoulder and calmly tell him about it, or do you grab him and pull him out of the way? Actions matter more than words when things go critical.

Not liking the Matrix situation so far, I grabbed my handset to instruct him to execute a missed approach. However, as I did so, I noticed his target begin correcting back towards the localizer. His altitude was now reasonably well aligned with the published glideslope. Had he salvaged the approach? It appeared so. I lowered my handset and gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“Here he comes,” I said to my ground controller. We scanned the ragged clouds above the runway threshold. I glanced at the radar target’s location. The aircraft should be visible at his current distance and altitude. We waited anxiously.

The Matrix burst out of the cloud deck, not lined up with the runway, but instead lined up perfectly with our crowded general aviation ramp. He swooped three hundred feet above parked airplanes. His nose was pointed right at our tower, less than a half mile away, clocking 120 knots. You do that math. My ground controller took two big steps back from the suddenly fragile windows.

This had gone on long enough. “Piper Six Eight Papa, go around. Maintain two thousand. Fly heading one-eight-zero.” In the back of my mind, I hoped even that simple instruction wouldn’t upset his apparently tenuous balance, and that it might even give him a little relief.

“Roger. Two thousand. One eighty.” The Matrix faded back up into the clouds over the tower. I switched him back to approach for another attempt. The ground controller and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised, listening to the all-to-close sound of the Piper’s engine.

Dodging the Cells

Every day working as a controller brings its own unique challenges. As the Matrix was demonstrating, weather days in particular usually involve some degree of squirrely flying as pilots and ATC contend with storms and low ceilings.

A controller’s priority is separating and sequencing air traffic, but directly in trail of that primary responsibility are “additional services,” the first of which is disseminating weather information to pilots.

Cockpit access to weather is light years ahead of what it was even just a few years ago. Much can be gleaned from NEXRAD feeds on cockpit glass, ever-advancing mobile device applications, ATIS broadcasts, ADS-B receivers, and even onboard weather radar. Sometimes, though, it takes a pair of trained eyes on the ground to fill in the last pieces of the meteorological puzzle. 

Controllers poll multiple resources to sketch a complete weather picture. Approach control facilities and towers typically see real-time precipitation intensity returns on their radar displays. Centers see modified NEXRAD precipitation radar feeds that can be five minutes old. This is overlaid onto the traffic display. Gaps in the data can be addressed through pilot reports and the METAR and SPECI data from local airports.

While we’re working with a big-picture perspective, we can’t see the most important detail—the immediate weather right outside your own windshield. If I’m vectoring you between thunderstorms, it’s up to you to tell me if you need further deviations left or right, or even a 180-degree retreat if things are getting too hairy up ahead.

Is your destination’s weather below minimums? If so, do you press on and give it a shot? Do you divert to an alternate? That’s not our call. It’s yours. But we can help you make it by giving you the information you need.

While it’s your decision, it’s our job to ensure it can be executed safely. Let’s say you decide to divert to your alternate. Your request sets us into a flurry of activity to get you on your way. We’ll issue you a new clearance, verify there are no airspace, obstacle, or traffic conflicts, provide relevant route weather information, and get you headed in the right direction. You take care of the flying. We’ll watch the big picture.

Pattern Recognition

In a single eight-hour shift, a controller can work hundreds of airplanes. Multiply that by five days a week, 50 or so weeks a year. That’s a whole lot of time spent overseeing the comings and goings of aircraft. When one starts to act a little funky, it sticks out from the normal flow like the proverbial squeaker in church.

If something appears amiss, we’re trained to speak up about it. Maybe it’s something mechanical. A coworker saved a Bonanza from a gear up landing the other day. “Verify gear down,” he said, and the potentially expensive landing suddenly became an impromptu low approach. Another friend noticed a departing King Air was streaming fuel as it lifted off. He cleared it back in to land and had airport operations find its missing $700 fuel cap after a brief search around the fuel island. It’s all in a day’s work.

Perhaps there’s something strange in the movement of an aircraft, like a gradual altitude change or an unexpected heading change. Its cause might be a major issue like a failing vacuum pump leading an unaware pilot astray in IMC without reliable attitude or heading indicators. Alternately, it could be an improperly programmed navigator or autopilot. (Ever misspelled a fix on your navigator and gone heading to another country? Yeah, like that.) Of course, it could be that the pilot is simply behind the curve and just needs a gentle prodding.

Speaking of the latter, the Matrix came back around for another ILS. This time he nailed the approach and gently rolled it on, directly on the 1000-foot marks on the runway.

As he taxied off the runway, I was surprised when he thanked us for looking out for him. Apparently he was very rusty, hadn’t set up his instruments right, and fell behind the airplane. “No worries,” I told him. I was simply relieved he was safe on deck. The next time a controller warns him about a problem, I just hope he listens.

If ATC advises you that something seems off, give it a careful and thorough look on your end to understand the cause of what the controller is worried about. It could be the first indication of a failing airplane, a dangerous situation or simply a mistake. If it is indeed a problem, tell us what’s going on, what you need, and we’ll use our resources to help you however we can. You may be the only one in the plane, but when it comes to your safety, you’re certainly not alone.

A Helping Headset

Over the years, I’ve heard several pilots dismiss ATC’s ability to help them in an emergency and even just in a difficult situation. “If my plane’s on fire, what the hell is a some controller in an air-conditioned building miles away going to do to help me?” Well, if you don’t tell us about your emergency situation and if it’s not something we can see on radar or with our own eyes, or hear with our ears, the answer is simple: There’s nothing we can do to help and you’re on your own. Hopefully, your luck didn’t get left back on the ramp.

The entire chapter 10 of our operations rulebook, FAA Order 7110.65, is dedicated to emergencies. Section 10-1-2 instructs controllers to,“Obtain enough information to handle the emergency intelligently. Base your decision as to what type of assistance is needed on information and requests received from the pilot because he/she is authorized by 14 CFR Part 91 to determine a course of action.”

The 7110.65 is quite clear. By the regulations we are to defer to you, the pilot, and accept but facilitate your choices whenever possible. If we’re kept in the dark, it makes it all the more difficult to provide assistance. Talk to us. We’re coordinators and communicators who have a vast arsenal of resources at our disposal, and we’ll gladly bring any of them to bear to help you out of a jam.

The next paragraph is equally unequivocal: “Provide maximum assistance to aircraft in distress. Enlist the services of available radar facilities operated by the FAA, the military services, and the Federal Communications Commission, as well as their emergency services and facilities, when the pilot requests or when you deem necessary.” We can point you to the nearest usable airport, provide all applicable approach information, have rescue vehicles waiting if necessary, and clear other traffic out of your way. In other words, we’ll do everything within our power to help you achieve a safe outcome.

Our resources even include other aircraft. One cold winter day, a civilian helicopter I was working had an engine failure. He reported he was autorotating into a field. I informed my supervisor and he notified the local fire and rescue services of the location. Soon enough, the helo dropped below radar and radio coverage.

I had a military UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter on frequency a few miles away. I asked him if he could overfly the field. He gladly did so. Not only did he spot the helo surrounded by its occupants, but it turned out the UH-60 was from a medevac search and rescue unit. He landed, offered medical aid to the downed helo’s crew, and waited until the local authorities arrived.

You never know what resources ATC has on hand until you ask. If you’re in trouble, get us involved as soon you can.

Tarrance Kramer is a detail-oriented big-picture fellow working traffic somewhere in the southern U.S.

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

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Last week, when AVweb Editor-in-Chief Russ Niles phoned me about Icon’s breaking announcement of its retrenchment, he happened to mention he had been reading Walter Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs and … ”Stop right there,” I said, “I know where you’re going and I already have that blog written." And so I did, displaced by a few days by Icon’s newsier announcement.

The connection here will be obvious; the parallels are unmistakable. In our own little backwater of an industry, Icon’s audacious A5 has much in common, at least on the surface, with the launch of the iPad six years ago. Steve Jobs had a vision few could see and it was to produce this handheld tablet thingie running simple, specialized apps to do things none of us realized needed doing. It wasn’t, by any means, the first tablet computer and maybe not even the best one. Anyone with passing knowledge of tech will recall that Microsoft introduced one in 2000 and who could forget Apple’s own Newton, the Palm Pilot and the HP iPAQ to name a few of what became known as PDAs or personal digital assistants, a term now banished to the etymological scrap heap right next to VLJ. The iPad soared because of a potent combination of a competent, if not revolutionary, product, masterful promotion and perfect timing. It happened to work well, too.

Similarly, the A5 is not a reinvention of the airplane, but a blending of (apparently) uncompromised technical development and relentless promotion centered not just on the airplane nor even on flying, but the “experience” of the machine and the activity in a narrow recreational setting: flying off lakes and rivers and perhaps towing the thing back to your garage or camping on a beach somewhere. Icon shrewdly focused its early promotion on the large-circulation general press, not the potentially critical aviation press. Not that it need have worried, given the favorable reports the A5 has enjoyed.

The iPad comparison frays when you examine Icon’s expectations in the hard light of a few numbers. Icon’s Kirk Hawkins has said the company intends to “democratize” aviation and while I’m not certain I can explain what that means, I think it means—as he has said in other words—that the airplane and the company’s sales efforts will reset GA, stimulating anemic sales and expanding the industry.

It's possible to examine the claim if you make some reasonable assumptions based on what we think we know about how airplane manufacturing works. Icon says it has 1850 A5s in the order book and said last week that despite that, it’s not ready for high-volume serial production. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, Cirrus found itself in the same place around 1999. It took the company four years to reach production of 400 airplanes a year. It eventually reached a peak of 721 in 2006. The A5 is a simpler airplane, so let’s assume it reaches 400 units a year in three years time. By then—say 2020 or 2021—it will have manufactured about 700 airplanes and if some sort of frenzied critical mass is thus reached and the world hungers for light sport amphibians, you can imagine, say, 2500 A5s—or its follow-on variant—by 2025.

Does that qualify as a market reset? Does it reach disruptive levels? That depends on how you define those terms, but applying the iPad metric, I’d say probably not. Three years after its introduction, Apple sold 22 million iPads in a single quarter and it owned more than 60 percent of a market it almost invented. If Icon delivers 300 to 400 airplanes a year into a market that’s currently building about 1000 piston aircraft a year, that’s a 40 percent market expansion, assuming the A5 does indeed bring in new participants and doesn’t cannibalize sales from other channels. I’d call that impressive growth. In fact, if Icon sells just a third of what it’s claiming, I wouldn’t quibble about calling it a reset, but I’d say by any measure, that’s still resounding growth in an industry that’s been flat or declining slightly quarter after quarter. Never say never.

But first, it has to get through the rocky patch it admitted to last week. It has to figure out efficient serial production and convince both buyer/depositors and investors to stay the course while it does this. That’s no mean feat and, as I’ve said before, it puts depositors in the unique position of sharing the risk just for the privilege of owning a cool airplane. Call me crazy, but I’ve never seen the sense of this.

As far as market sustainability, I doubt if anyone really knows this. The A5 is still a $250,000 recreational toy and while there’s real wealth in this country and throughout the world, that price tag is still $70,000 more than the median price of a house in the U.S.

What made the iPad such a profit machine was that it was a device that had improved performance over the competition in a precious, pretty package and Apple was able to charge usurious prices for it because enough people believed it was better enough to justify the price, Android users excepted.

Will the A5 be perceived similarly? Since I haven’t flown it, I can’t comment directly but I phoned a fellow journalist friend whom I trust and who has flown it and asked him directly if it’s really that good. He assured me that it was and there flowed forth a five-minute soliloquy of superlatives that ended with me surrendering that the defense so stipulates. Then I asked if he thought it was enough better than competing airplanes to sustain the kind of market expansion I’ve described above. In other words, even if it’s good, is it potentially disruptively good? Once the glow of initial promotion wears off, will buyers sense in the A5 something they’ve never seen before and lust for it? He had no opinion and, actually, neither do I, immersed as I am in writing the obits of so many failed airplane projects.

Is it possible to cheer for such a project to succeed while still maintaining clear-eyed, non-emotional neutrality? I think it is. It’s in everyone’s interest for Icon to have 2500 new airplanes out there that don’t exist now. You can’t help but admire the cheekiness of the entire enterprise. All we can do is watch and wait to see if it happens.

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As important as batteries are, the brushless DC motors that power electric airplanes are just as critical. In this brief AVweb video, Siemen's Frank Anton explains how they work.

What Everybody Ought to Know About the CGR-30P from Electronics International


Autonomy, electric engines and distributed powerplants will drive the design of a new generation of general aviation airplanes, says NASA researcher Mark Moore. AVweb’s Mary Grady talked with Moore about the possibilities, which he reported on at last week's CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium.

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Tom Ciura of Lancaster, NY kicks off our latest batch of reader-submitted photos. Click through for more shots from AVweb readers.

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