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A pilot on a Swiss Air Force aerobatic team ejected from his jet after an apparent midair collision Thursday. News outlets including swissinfo posted Twitter photos of an F-5 with a piece of its tail breaking off. That jet landed safely at the local air force base. The aircraft from which the pilot ejected crashed in a pond and caught fire, as seen on witness videos.

A local fire department spokeswoman said the pilot was taken to the hospital and is “doing well,” swissinfo reported. The Patrouille Suisse, which performs with six Northrop F-5 fighters, were in formation practicing for an upcoming airshow near the Dutch city of Leeuwarden, according to media reports.

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A Cirrus SR20 crashed Thursday near Hobby Airport in Texas, killing all three on board. The aircraft was on a third attempt to land at Hobby when it crashed into a car in the parking lot of a hardware store about 1:12 p.m., according to ABC13 in Houston. The Cirrus was high on its first approach, and went around while communicating with the tower. The second approach also was too high. During the third landing attempt, the aircraft hit the ground nose-down as the tower controller repeated an urgent warning to “straighten up,” according to the station.

No one was in the vehicle when the airplane struck it and no other injuries were reported. A Houston Chronicle report quoted an NTSB investigator saying that “after exiting the go-around maneuver, the aircraft was seen to descend suddenly, nose first into the parking lot of the Ace Hardware.” The three on board were from Oklahoma and included the pilot, her husband and brother-in-law, according to ABC13.

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The first Ovation Ultra completed its first flight on Saturday, Mooney announced this week. Chief test pilot Mike Miles flew for about an hour after launching from Kerrville, Texas. The four-seat retractable-gear airplane is a fully FAA-conforming aircraft and will be the first FAA-certified copy of the design, the company said. Miles said performance and handling of the airplane were excellent. The Ovation Ultra, along with the new Acclaim Ultra, will be the first Mooney aircraft to incorporate composite cabin shells and a pilot's-side door. The new shell eliminates several riveted metal panels, allows for tighter tolerances for doors and larger windows, and results in a quieter cabin, Mooney says. Both new Ultra versions of the Acclaim and the Ovation will be on display at EAA AirVenture, coming up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 25 to 31.

New features in the naturally-aspirated Ovation Ultra cabin include a new center-console keypad flight management system and a steel-tube roll cage surrounding the cabin. Doors are now four inches wider. The Ovation Ultra's cabin was "reimagined," the company says, with the design of every switch, jack, and control optimized. Powered by a Continental IO-550G and a Hartzell Scimitar three-bladed prop, the aircraft can cruise up to 1,080 nm at speeds up to 197 knots. AVweb’s editorial director Paul Bertorelli toured Mooney’s revamped factory in February and filed this video report. 

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EHang, a Chinese company developing a passenger-carrying drone, plans to conduct flight tests in Nevada in hopes of certifying its 184 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle. EHang, which has set up branch offices in Asia, Europe and the U.S., won the attention of Nevada officials in January with its test drone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The new agreement with Nevada’s Institute for Autonomous Systems and the state’s economic development arm will allow the company to conduct testing, training and research in the state, which is an FAA-designated UAS Test Site. EHang's founder and CEO, Huazhi Hu, said on the company’s website the collaboration in developing his vehicle “will lay the foundation for its commercialization and building up the aerial transportation ecosystem in the future.”

The battery-powered drone, which has undergone some flight testing in China, is designed to carry one person on a typical city commute, controlled by a remote online system. “I personally look forward to the day when drone taxis are part of Nevada’s transportation system,” state aerospace and defense industry specialist Tom Wilczek said in the company’s announcement. “EHang’s selection of Nevada to test its people-carrying drone marks a thrilling addition to the innovative companies testing throughout our state to advance the commercial drone industry.” Preparations for EHang are underway with testing to begin some time this year. EHang, founded in 2014, has already seen international success in the consumer-use market with its series of Ghostdrone quadcopters.

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The engine that powers Cirrus Aircraft’s jet received its FAA certification this week. Williams International announced its FJ33-5A Turbofan now has an FAA Part 33 type certificate, building on the company’s previously certificated FJ44-3AP and FJ44-4A models. The FJ33-5A engine offers more than 2000 pounds of thrust along with Williams-designed technology for fuel efficiency, low emissions and full authority digital engine controls. “I want to thank the FAA for their strong support in achieving this milestone,” said Gregg Williams, the company’s chairman, president and CEO. “I am also very proud of our team for developing an engine that is making jet travel more affordable.” Cirrus selected Williams International in the nascent stages of its jet program, starting with the FJ33-4A-19 turbofan about ten years go. Now, the Vision SF50 jet’s first production aircraft is flying, and Cirrus expects to receive FAA type certification this summer.

The FJ33-5A also powers another single-engine light jet under development in Poland, the Flaris LAR 1. Flaris announced this week it’s beginning engine tests on the prototype, which features composite construction, five seats and an airframe parachute. The company announced a year ago it chose the Williams engine for the new aircraft. Flaris plans to sell the jet first as an experimental airplane while it moves toward European certification, with hopes of bringing it to the U.S. as an experimental, then achieving FAA certification in future years.

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AVweb’s search of aviation news worldwide found announcements from the Farnborough International Airshow, the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, Nextant Aerospace/Constant Aviation and AOPA. Nearly 45 years since his flight to the Moon, and more than half a century since graduating from the U.K.’s esteemed Empire Test Pilot School, the Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot, Al Worden, will return to Farnborough this July, in partnership with Kallman Worldwide, to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and USA-OK are sponsoring an evening dinner and presentation that addresses legal and public policy issues regarding Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The event will be on Aug. 8, a day before the main 2016 USA-OK Summit at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma on Aug. 9.

Nextant Aerospace, which produces the 400XTi, the world’s only remanufactured business jet, and Constant Aviation, a company offering full-service maintenance, repair, and overhaul with a nationwide network, announced that they are extending an open invitation to the 2016 Beechjet Operator’s Conference, June 14-15. AOPA announced applications are open for three different flight training scholarship programs that will award more than $156,000: the AOPA Foundation Scholarship, You Can Fly High School Flight Training Scholarship and AV8R Scholarship.

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Contests, fly-bys and helicopter rides are in store on The Weekender’s SocialFlight calendar. Join fellow pilots for a spot landing contest Saturday in Augusta, Kansas, hosted by Great Planes Aero Club. The $10 entry fee will benefit the local Civil Air Patrol cadets. Prizes will go to the top three spots. 

The Lincoln Regional AirFest in California will kick off Friday with a hangar dinner and big-band dance. Saturday morning begins with a 7 a.m. breakfast and auto and aircraft display arrivals. The airshow will feature various demonstrations including Beale AFB’s T-38 and other military aircraft.

The Brainerd 2016 Grass is a Grass Poker Run and opens Saturday morning in Minnesota. Depart KBRD, fly to four grass strips and return to Brainerd. Prizes go to the top hands along with door prizes. Rain date is Sunday.

Lt. Warren E. Eaton Airport in Norwich, New York, will host its Chenango County Airport Day Saturday, featuring a fly-in breakfast, EAA Young Eagles rides and the Commemorative Air Force Buffalo Heritage Squadron’s SNJ-4 with rides available for purchase.

Without nearly enough fanfare, some excellent guidance on a subject that is becoming increasingly critical for pilots was released two weeks ago. Entitled Flight Safety in the Drone Age (FSDA), it is a three-page document that should be read and digested by every pilot. While the FAA has enacted regulations concerning drone operations and the respected Academy of Model Aeronautics has long provided best operating practices and training programs for unmanned aircraft, until now there has been little in the way of educational material for pilots when it comes to protecting themselves in a world where the number of registered drone operators exceeds the number of manned aircraft pilots and the danger of unmanned—manned inflight collision is steadily increasing.

Flight Safety in the Drone Age was developed by the Permanent Editorial Board of the Aviator’s Model Code of Conduct (AMCC) initiative, an organization dedicated to providing tools for pilots that advance aviation safety and citizenship. It admits an unpleasant fact right up front—we’ve relied on “see and avoid” for aircraft separation in VFR flight operations since Orville and Wilbur built their second airplane, and with the small size of many drones and their ability to change direction very rapidly, “see and avoid” has to be augmented with piloting techniques and potentially, technology, to reduce the risk of mid-air collisions.

While drones do fall under the definition of “aircraft,” the level of knowledge about, and willingness to comply with, aviation safety requirements on the part of their operators varies greatly. FSDA recognizes the potential problem with human nature and drones—just as there are pilots that are stupid enough to fly low over a crowded beach because they think it’s cool, there are drone operators who will try to see how close they can fly their drone to an aircraft in flight. FSDA also mentioned something that was more than a little chilling to me: drone operators may decide to fly their drones at night (unlighted) and in IMC in controlled airspace.

Drone Capabilities

FSDA encourages pilots to get to know drone regulations and the capabilities of drones that are on the market to develop a feel for what drones can do and how they can potentially affect the airplanes a pilot flies during various phases of the flights a pilot plans to make. It particularly warns helicopter pilots about the risk of colliding with a drone because the majority of drones do stay below 400 feet AGL and a significant proportion of helo flights are at low altitude.

There are restrictions on drone operation within certain distances from towered and non-towered airports, however, in many cases, the airport operator can waive those restrictions. Right now there is not a lot of information available on where drones are operating and there is not yet a standardized reporting procedure or method of transmitting information to pilots. That means asking airport management if drone operation is permitted near your airport and aggressively seeking drone operation information during preflight planning. If there is going to be drone operation in an area you are planning to fly, also find out the “loiter” points for the operation(s) as that is where the drone is programmed to go and loiter if it loses it link with its operator.

In flight, Flight Safety in the Drone Age states that your risk is highest below 500 feet AGL and makes recommendations as to what to do during the phases of flight when you are at lower altitudes. Putting it bluntly, don’t mess around down low if you can avoid it—make your initial climb aggressively, then transition to a cruise climb so you can see what’s in front of you and delay descending to pattern altitude so that you won’t get there well before arriving at the airport. Some years ago I quit scud running because of the proliferation of towers just waiting to snatch airplanes out of the sky when the weather gets murky. I wrote a column for AVweb about it, because I think that pilots have to make decisions for themselves and so should understand what’s involved with scud running. To me, the proliferation of drones has added a large, heavy brick on the it’s better to fly high side of the fly low versus fly high balance scale.

If there’s a forest fire, there’s usually a TFR to protect the fire bombers, but not always. Even if there isn’t it’s a good idea not to fly over events that attract the attention of the public such as disasters and crime scenes because they not only attract news helos, they attract drone operators like politicians to microphones. Areas of great natural beauty are also drone magnets.

The Drone Operator's Focus

Keep in mind that the drone operator is probably concentrating on operating the drone and collecting images/video rather than paying attention to whether there are other aircraft in the sky, even if you have taken the sensible precaution of turning on every light on the aircraft. Do you still want to fly low?

If you are going to fly low, be intensely vigilant—it’s not the time to be head-down in the cockpit. Make a decision now, right now, as to what part of the aircraft you prefer to be hit by a drone, because you may only have enough time to maneuver to avoid impact at a very vulnerable spot such as the windshield.

As to impact, you can’t intentionally hit a drone or shoot one down. They are aircraft—and disabling an aircraft, any type of aircraft, is a federal offense, a felony.

The editors of FSDA recommend reporting hazardous drone operations to the FAA as it does a number of positive things—it may result in a drone operator being heavily fined (and if a pilot, having his certificate suspended), support education efforts about drone operations, get media attention that gets the word out to drone operators that there are sanctions acting like a knucklehead and adds to a database on drone operations that may help the development of sensible regulations and repeal of ones that don’t work. Also—file a NASA (ASRS) report of the hazard you observe; the database it builds is of great value. If you have a near miss with a drone, ask ATC to file a Near Mid-Air Collision report.

I applaud the editorial staff of the Aviator’s Model Cod of Conduct initiative, especially Principal Michael Baum, for the work they put into creation of FSDA and that it will be updated as more is learned about drone operations and their interaction with piloted aircraft. They make it clear in FSDA that this is an emerging field and that people plots often rely on for safety information, such as controllers and airport management, may not yet have in-depth knowledge about drones. They encourage pilots to inform themselves and act as ambassadors to inform others in the aviation and local communities about drone safety.

There are already many statutes and ordinances regarding drone operation around the county. While those that attempt to regulate flight operations are probably void due to complete preemption of regulation of the national airspace system by Congress and the FAA, localities do have the authority to regulate the location of airports and landing fields. FSDA recommends that pilots stay involved locally with issues of drone operational safety, especially near airports.

Conclusion

We’re going to learn a great deal about the interaction of drones with the piloted aircraft world rapidly. I’m hoping that it’s a long time until the first mid-air occurs and that the accident rate stays below that of aircraft/deer collisions (about one percent of aircraft accidents). Thank you to the editorial board of the AMCC for the work they did in getting Flight Safety in the Drone Age out to pilots and their willingness to update the document as more is learned.

Oh, and since you’ve read this far, take a look at the Aviator’s Model Code of Conduct website—it has a lot of good, thoughtful stuff.

Rick Durden is an aviation attorney, a CFII, holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols 1 & 2.

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Flying cars are a staple for futuristic magazine covers—mostly Popular Mechanics—because even though the idea is unlikely to ever work, writing about lost causes just has an irresistible entertainment value. Now, as the exciting world of electric airplanes emerges, we have a new opportunity: just change the definition of flying cars.

That’s what seems to be going on in the daily press and today’s example of it comes from Bloomberg News, which reports that Google billionaire Larry Page has invested in a company called Zee.Aero, which is developing what Bloomberg described as “a small, all-electric plane that could take off and land vertically—a flying car.”

Earlier, Bloomberg, impressed with the Icon A5, declared it to be “the closest thing to a flying car yet.” Well, yeah, if an LSA amphib you tow to the lake on its trailer behind another car qualifies as a flying car, then sure, it’s a flying car. While we’re stretching definitions to make a VTOL a flying car, well, isn’t a Harrier a flying car? Or is it disqualified for having guns and ordnance aboard? And how about an R-22? It’s a VTOL and can land in a parking lot?

I’m not sure where this urge to stretch comes from, but I think its recent surfacing may be a result of genuine technological innovations in distributed electric power. These are real and on the cusp of commercialization. More on that in a moment, but first, the standard boilerplate explaining why flying cars have never worked. In aviation, we know it’s primarily because of antagonistic engineering requirements and I think these are actually diverging, not converging. Because of structural weight limitations and power considerations, you end up with a design that’s both a lousy car and a lousy airplane, with the performance of each mode so compromised against even average performance of a dedicated machine for either purpose that it’s just technically and commercially unattractive.

Let’s unpack the Zee.Aero. Nothing in the patent summary suggests it’s a flying car or intended as one. It’s yet another variation of what we’re seeing a lot of—and will see a lot more of—in the electric airplane world: a multi-rotor with distributed power and sophisticated automatic flight stability. This technology is well advanced and widely in use. What’s happening now is that it’s being adapted to carry humans.

Evidently, the Bloomberg writers assumed that since the Zee.Aero has wheels and appears to be parked between two cars, it’s a flying car. The reality is that a VTOL-capable multi-rotor can easily land between two cars. It doesn’t have to be driven into the parking slot, although doing so is actually more efficient than flying it there. Perhaps the most daunting barrier to making the Zee.Aero a car anyone would want to drive is giving it sufficient performance and meeting increasingly stringent crashworthiness requirements while still keeping it light enough to fly. Or to fly far enough to be useful. You can throw all the carbon fiber and titanium you want at the problem, but at some point, you’re going to need mass for protective structure, crush zones and stuff like airbags. In a VTOL, all of that ramps up the battery energy requirement or the energy budget from wherever it comes.

In this reporting and others like it, I keep seeing acolytes getting reporters to nibble on the idea that big things are going to happen within the next five years. Excuse me, but I don’t think so, at least not in the commercial sense. The time frame is longer than that, like closer to a decade. Battery energy density remains a show-stopping reality and there’s nothing on the horizon in the next decade that will change that, so a device like the Zee.Aero concept has endurance similar to the VoloCopter we’ve reported on several times. Right now, that’s about 20 minutes. Three years from now, it might be 35 minutes, although better with hybrid solutions that are just now coming into view. Other technologies will also boost endurance, but not within the decade.

At the Sustainable Aviation Foundation conference in Redwood City last month, I reported on one presenter who said his project autonomous electric airplane project could work with current battery densities. Perhaps, but when he said “work” he meant technically; marketability is something else entirely and the technical guys tend to make assumptions that people who are expected to buy these things simply reject.

Increasingly, the concept for these things is shifting away from discrete modes of transportation and toward on-demand mobility provided by whatever works. This makes much more sense to me than clinging to flying car idea as an enduring idea. Did I just type that? It is an enduring idea. It’s just one we’re never likely to see happen. But what the hell, flying car is a way juicier search term than on-demand mobility.

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Cub Crafters this week rolled out a new airplane. It's a Part 23 certified aircraft called the XCub, which the company says takes the Cub idea to the ultra level, with fast cruising speed and luxury interior. AVweb traveled to Yakima, Washington, to fly the new entry.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Daniel Valovich of Hot Springs, AR kicks off this installment of reader-submitted photos.

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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