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FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Thursday that U.S. airline pilots will not have to undergo psychological testing, at least not in any formal way. At a news conference Huerta said aviation medical examiners have been given extra training to spot potential mental health issues in pilots but there will be no structured testing program. Huerta said tests only capture the pilot’s mental state at the time of the examination and that’s of little value in preventing catastrophes like the mass killing of a planeload of tourists by suicidal pilot Andreas Lubitz in March of 2015. European authorities are looking at ways to beef up mental health screening for pilots.

Huerta said that beyond the AME training, the FAA is encouraging the development of programs to reduce the stigma of mental health problems and give pilots more confidence to self-report if they think their mental health is at risk. “We need to do more to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness in the aviation industry so pilots are more likely to self-report, get treated and return to work,” Huerta said. Deputy Flight Surgeon Dr. Michael Berry was also at the news conference and essentially said that pilots’ mental health was constantly being assessed through the multitude of health and currency checks they undergo to maintain their certificates.

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Two major airports suspended operations briefly over the weekend after drones were spotted flying in the area. Landings at Warsaw’s Chopin Airport were stopped for 30 minutes after two drones were seen in the area. At Dubai International Airport, 22 flights were affected by a 69-minute closure when a drone was spotted. Polish officials said the drones were deemed to be a “danger to the planes” and called the police.

Like all other aviation regulators, Poland and Dubai have banned unmanned aircraft near airports. Poland’s rules call for a 12-nautical mile buffer. The United Arab Emirates required owners to register drones and also banned equipping the aircraft with cameras or lasers. There have been drone problems at both airports in the past.

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The state of Ohio has come up with $1 million to preserve what some consider to be the crucible of aviation manufacturing. The former Wright Aircraft factory in Dayton will be preserved and perhaps rekindle aerospace industry in Dayton. “It’s here that started it all,” Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said. “No other state in the nation can claim to be the birthplace of aviation.” North Carolina disputes that claim since the Wrights’ first successful flight tests were carried out near Kitty Hawk but regardless of the interstate rivalry there seems to be agreement the factory should be saved.

The money will be used to buy three buildings in a run-down area of Dayton that housed Orville Wright’s factory (Wilbur died in 1912). Two of the buildings will get exterior facelifts while the third will be renovated to house an effort to build a replica of the Wright B Flyer, possibly by 2017. The Dayton Development Coalition hopes the project will be the catalyst for developing a neighboring property. “Aerospace started here and hopefully we will see manufacturing brought back to the west part of Dayton very soon,” said Coalition CEO Jeff Hoagland.

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The Russian air force has grounded its fleet of Su-27 fighters after an aircraft belonging to its Russian Knights air demonstration team crashed near Moscow on Thursday. Flankers make up about half of the fighter force. The crash occurred as the aircraft was returning to its base and wasn’t related to an airshow. The air force released a statement saying the aircraft was downed by an unspecified technical fault and that the pilot died in the crash because he steered the aircraft away from populated areas rather than eject. The rest of the Flankers will be grounded until the nature of the problem is determined. It was the fourth crash involving a military demo aircraft in a week.

The same day as the Flanker crash, a Patrouille Suisse F-5 went down after colliding with a team aircraft during a practice in the Netherlands. The pilot ejected safely. A week before, both the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels lost aircraft on the same day and the Angels pilot, Capt. Jeff Kuss, was killed. Although it hasn’t been confirmed by the Navy, there have been published reports that Kuss stayed with the aircraft to avoid populated areas rather than ejecting.

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A Russian-made airliner designed to compete with the top makers of mid-range passenger jets rolled out this week in Irkutsk. The MC-21 will make a first flight in 2017 and start service the following year with Russia’s largest airline, Aeroflot, according to a Seattle Times report. The manufacturer is Irkut, part of a state-supported conglomerate of aerospace firms called United Aircraft Corporation and the builder of Sukhoi Su-30 fighters.

The twin-engine MC-21 can carry up to 211 passengers and will also fly as a smaller, shorter-range version. It is composite-built and more fuel-efficient than older designs, potentially putting it in the ranks of the Boeing B737 and Airbus A320 airliners. Irkut executive Oleg Demchenko said a global market share of 5 to 10 percent by 2035 is the goal, according to the Times. Irkut is “constantly” promoting the $90 million jet to potential buyers. “I’m sure it will be in demand on the global market,” he said. So far, the company has 175 orders, according to the Times report.

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Airbus introduced the first 3D printed airplane at the recent International Aerospace Exhibition in Germany, demonstrating what the company calls the future of aerospace manufacturing. The 13-foot-long unmanned airplane, somewhat resembling a full-scale Airbus jet but with propellers, is named Thor, short for “Test of Hi-tech Objectives in Reality,” according to a report from phys.org. "This is a test of what's possible with 3D printing technology," Thor’s developer, Detlev Konigorski, said during a speech at the Schoenefeld airport. "We want to see if we can speed up the development process by using 3D printing not just for individual parts but for an entire system." 

Thor is already undergoing flight testing. The airplane first flew in November in Germany and “flies beautifully, it is very stable," chief engineer Gunnar Haase told phys.org. Airbus plans to patent its parts-printing technology and is presumed to pursue the development of full-scale airliners, as reported by 3Dprint.com. The aircraft has about 50 parts made from a 3D printer, which allows for quick reproduction of any component, according to the report.

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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.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

We were inbound to Auckland after a long 12-hour Pacific sector through the night. It was around 5:00 a.m., and there were four other wide-body inbounds (787s, 767s, and 777s) arriving about the same time. Auckland Control was doing a no-nonsense job, without any chit-chat, when the terminal information changed due to a pressure difference (hectopascals down here, not inches).

She read it out as:
"All stations inbound Auckland, new information: Charlie, QNH niner, niner, niner. And nobody better say 'Batman.'"

The four of us sat there on our flight deck for what seemed like ages, all thinking:
"What? 'Batman'?"

... when one of the second officers suddenly called out:
"Oh! Niner, niner, niner, niner — Batman!"

We all laughed so loud the cabin crew said they heard us down the back!

No one said "Batman" on the radio, either.


Callum T.

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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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Perhaps because many of the new airplane introductions these days are in the LSA segment and Cub-type airplanes remain popular, I find myself flying a lot of these aircraft. And before I slither into one for the demo, someone will remark, “Well, you’re a Cub guy, so it’ll be familiar.”

There are two things wrong with that statement. First, even though I own a portion of one, I don’t consider myself a “Cub guy.” Nor necessarily even a taildragger guy and definitely not an adherent to the real-men-fly-taildraggers meme. I just happen to be in a Cub because it was available, relatively cheap and I could afford it. Could just as well be an Interstate Cadet or a Funk or a Champ.

The second wrong part, or at least sort of wrong, is that if you can fly one taildragger, the experience will transfer to another. Not quite. When I was out in Yakima, Washington, flying Cub Crafter’s new XCub last month for this video, Randy Lervold and I had a discussion about this. He observed that when he flies a new tailwheel airplane, it takes 10 or a dozen landings to sort it out and get the feel of it so that three-points and wheelies are reliably bounce free and the casual observer would conclude the pilot knows what he’s doing.

That would be my experience, too. Every time I get into a new one, I try to tell myself that this time, I’ll try the direct transference trick from the J-3, as far as sight picture, speeds and so forth. It never works, nor should I expect it to. There are enough minor differences between airplanes to require learning specific quirks in the only way possible: trial and error and often more of the latter than I’d like.

The XCub has a particular quirk I’ll get to in a minute, but first, if you scrub the video to about 7:50, you’ll see a wheelie with a bounce. I had bounced the previous one, but a lot less. On the approach, I was telling myself, “yeah, I’ve got this zero’d now and won’t bounce it.” Despite all the concentration to achieve that, it didn’t work. After another five or six landings, it would. That’s just what it takes in a taildragger. In a nosegear airplane, it doesn’t matter. Even less-than-perfect touchdowns usually stay glued to the surface because in a nosegear airplane, what passes for an acceptable landing exists in a far wider band than it does in a taildragger. If there’s an attraction to flying a taildragger, perhaps that’s it.

Now the XCub’s quirk. That’s probably the wrong word, because it’s actually a feature. The XCub has aluminum rather than steel or the Cub’s traditional bungee gear. This was a revelation for me because aluminum does a nice job of absorbing surplus touchdown energy; it’s far less energetic than steel or those blasted bungees in returning misdirected touchdown energy. This results in a unique feeling on touchdown. If you know you’re a little fast and you know you’re going to bounce, it’s just a small one and not the sharp-edged twang of steel or the slingshot of the bungees, but rather a firm pushback with no lateral wiggles at all.

It’s quite confidence inducing because those small bounces don’t require the massive control inputs to arrest that a really bad spring-steel bounce would. You just ride it out with a little more back pressure rather than sucking the stick rapidly into your gut and sweating out the lateral control. Or just surrendering right away and pouring on the power for a go around. That last choice is never wrong, but it’s better to have other options. It just makes for a safer landing so in that sense, the XCub is a sophisticated refinement of the taildragger idea.

And what of the taildragger or the Cub idea? Why does it endure? Dan Johnson tracks LSA sales and some recent data he collected shows that two companies—Cub Crafters and American Legend—account for 30 percent of the 1956 light sports sold up through last year. I think it’s a combination of the Cub mystique, a design planform that’s just as practical now as it was in 1938 and that attraction to airplanes that don’t have nosewheels. And more people than some of us realize like to land on grass runways, fly floats and skis or head to outback locations. To my eye, with few exceptions, a taildragger just looks right as an airplane and while some nosegear airplanes do, too, many others don’t. If you’ve ever seen a Tri-Pacer or a nosegear Maule, you know what I mean. (Yeah, that’s not fair, I know. Those airplanes were designed as taildraggers. The Cirrus wasn’t.)

My guess is that the XCub will make the same kind of dent in the market that the Carbon Cub did simply because Cub Crafters has skillfully latched onto the upper tier in both price and quality. The company has never so much as nodded to the budget airplane idea. Despite being priced $50,000 higher than the average LSA, the Carbon Cub outsells everything but the Flight Design CTLS series. To me, it represents another datapoint in the argument that price and money aren’t the sole drivers of interest in general aviation.

The XCub will initially sell for about $300,000, provoking the usual reflexive complaints about high aircraft prices. So go ahead and complain. But having a good sense of what it takes to certify a new Part 23 airplane and what Cub Crafters spent to do it, I’m not sure how it could conceivably cost any less and still have any margin worth considering. The Aviat Husky, which competes in the same space, is priced in the same general range.

Of course, there are a lot of used Huskies out there, not to mention used Super Cubs, all selling for a fraction of the XCub’s price. Cub Crafters is hoping the XCub’s additional capabilities will draw in buyers who will find new a better value than vintage. Of such stuff are business plans made. Check out the XCub yourself at AirVenture in five weeks and decide for yourself.

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