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The FAA will get a 14-month funding extension that includes third-class medical reform as part of joint approvals announced Wednesday by House and Senate transportation committees. The extension (PDF) would take effect when the FAA’s current authorization expires on July 15 and continue through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2017. Medical reform, which would permanently remove the private-pilot medical for those flying light aircraft, has been passed multiple times by the Senate as part of other legislation. The announcement indicates there will be bicameral support for the funding extension, giving GA organizations confidence that the change will make it to President Obama’s desk for signing before Congress adjourns next week. As worded, the FAA will be given one year to put the third-class medical changes into effect. 

“Medical reform is long overdue and we look forward to seeing the House and Senate pass this legislation in the coming days,” AOPA President Mark Baker said. “Including third class medical reform in this package is great news for general aviation and we’re very pleased to see it moving forward as part of the FAA extension.” Jack Pelton, CEO and chairman of EAA, said, "This has been slow, painstaking work, but important work, as EAA members have told us this is the top legislative priority. As we mentioned often since the beginning of this effort, bringing change through legislation is not quick or easy. EAA and AOPA have fought every day to overcome significant hurdles in Congress and will continue to do so until aeromedical reform is signed into law."

Other regulations in the bill call for the FAA to develop tighter monitoring of unmanned aircraft systems breaching airspace and other safety-sensitive sites, as well as up to $20,000 in penalties for drone users who interfere with emergency response operations such as wildfire fighting. There also are provisions addressing issues arising from two high-profile airline crashes. The FAA would enhance mental health screening for pilots undergoing first- and second-class medical exams, as had been discussed following the 2015 Germanwings Flight 9525 crash in France. The agency also would be required to review its guidance on flight crew training for cockpit automation and manual flying skills, following the 2013 crash of an Asiana Boeing 777 in San Francisco.

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Two Bell Helicopter employees were killed Wednesday when the twin-engine rotorcraft they were test flying crashed near the company’s facility in eastern Texas. Debris from the 525 model helicopter was concentrated at the crash site in Ellis County, but pieces of the aircraft were discovered farther away, including a part of the boom found about 1,500 feet away, according to an NBC report. The helicopter was thought to have struck a utility pole in the area, but authorities confirmed the pole was not hit, the station reported. 

The FAA and NTSB sent investigators to the scene. The crash occurred about 11:45 a.m. The helicopter was one of two that had departed Bell’s facility at Arlington Airport for flight testing, NBC reported. The Bell 525 Relentless, designed for commercial utility missions with up to 20 seats, made its public debut in March at the Helicopter Association International’s annual expo.

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Comments filed by the NTSB in reaction to the FAA’s proposal to overhaul Part 23 aircraft certification were not wholly supportive of the changes, and now AOPA, EAA and the Aircraft Electronics Association have weighed in with a response. The three groups sent a joint letter to NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart noting that they share his goal for enhancing aviation safety, but “we are respectfully concerned with several of the NTSB’s comments.” The letter cites the NTSB’s comments regarding whether the use of industry-consensus standards, as proposed in the new rules, will make general aviation safer. “We strongly believe Part 23 reform promises many economic and safety benefits for the GA community,” the letter says.

After the NTSB comments were filed, John DeLisi, director of the NTSB Office of Aviation Safety, weighed in about the proposal on the NTSB Safety Compass blog. “We see great potential for the proposed rule to allow manufacturers to more rapidly introduce safety improvements into the fleet,” he wrote. “The NPRM proposes to make the introduction and certification of new safety technologies quicker and less burdensome for manufacturers.” He added that the comments submitted by the board “highlight areas in which safety improvements recommended by the NTSB can help further enhance the streamlining of Part 23,” and added, “We are optimistic that the proposed process will address many of our outstanding safety recommendations.” The proposal and the comments are now under review by government entities, and industry advocates hope to see the new Part 23 enacted by early next year.

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AVweb’s search of aviation news around the world found announcements from Appereo, Capital Air Ambulance, Air Capital Interiors and Enviro Systems. Appareo announced that its Stratus ESG transponder has received Technical Standard Order (TSO) authorization from the FAA. Stratus ESG is a panel-mounted 1090 ES transponder that helps aircraft owners meet the 2020 mandate by providing ADS-B Out and built-in WAAS GPS all in one box. Capital Air Ambulance of the U.K. has unveiled an ambitious strategy for expansion across the European market. Capital has in recent months taken advantage of marketplace changes to establish itself as Britain’s largest Air Ambulance operator and is operating from a second UK base in the Midlands, with an enlarged fleet and crew offering an expanded range of services.

Enviro Systems Inc., a Zodiac Aerospace Company, announced it has been selected by Textron Aviation Inc., a Textron Inc. company, to be the Environmental Control System supplier of choice for Textron Aviation’s new revolutionary single-engine turboprop aircraft. Enviro Systems will design, certify and manufacture the vapor cycle air conditioning system, cabin pressure control system and various other components. Air Capital Interiors Inc. received FAA approval for Bombardier Challenger and Embraer Phenom aircraft to be covered under their Repair Station certificate, for maintenance, repair and refurbishment of interior panels, cabinets, seats, floor coverings and interior-related components.

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SocialFlight has a busy schedule for The Weekender, with plenty of events to choose from. EAA Chapter 611 will host the 47th Annual Cracker Fly-In on Saturday in Gainesville, Georgia, at the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport. Warbird rides will be on hand, along with more than 150 aircraft expected to fly in, with judging in several categories. 

Washington’s Arlington Fly-In starts Thursday and will continue through Saturday with daily airshows, hot air balloon glows, airplane rides, live music, camping fun and more. Drive-in camping and under-wing camping for those flying in are available. 

The National Warplane Museum's 2016 Geneseo Airshow in New York will take place on Saturday. If flying in, please arrive before 9 a.m. and plan on departing after 4 p.m. after the airshow, which will include a Curtiss C-46 Commando and F4U4 Corsair.

On Saturday in Indiana, the first 100 pilots and passengers eat free at the Shelbyville Municipal Airport Fly-In and Breakfast, where the local Lions club will serve all-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage, and the Air National Guard will show off a Blackhawk helicopter.

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something the flying world might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via e-mail here. (Or send them direct to Newstips at AVweb.com.)

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Many of our ranks are professional pilots because they simply love to fly. They find a way to fly no matter what. For them, retiring from a career in aviation simply means they no longer get paid to fly, but they’ll find a new ride. These are usually superb pilots—pilot’s pilots—but they can sometimes struggle when transitioning from a magic carpet with dual FMS, dual radar, dual engines, surplus power, autothrottles…and redundant redundancy. Of course, there are also many owner-operator pilots who fly sophisticated aircraft ranging from bizjets to piston twins who similarly find themselves looking for a new way to sustain that aviation fix as they retire.

That new way often requires relearning single-engine piston airplanes with yourself as a crew of one. In some aspects, you’ll be overqualified for your new duties; in others, well, perhaps not so much. Whether it’s a legacy model or a newer glass-and-composite airplane, you’ll want a transition program that fits your needs, fills the gaps, and leverages your years of experience.

Getting Started

So you picked out your personal travel machine and now a piston airplane with six or fewer seats will be a member of the family. Don’t be complacent about the apparent simplicity of the new aircraft. Just because you flew heavies—or King Airs—yesterday doesn’t mean you know what you need to know about your new single-engine piston. As with any aircraft transition, it’s to your benefit to study and get some training. Find an instructor who has some instrument time in your make and model. If your instructor has experience with the kind of flying you were doing before, even better. It’ll give you a common reference and you can even swap war stories.

If you’re still searching for your new ride, the choices are broader than ever. You’ve seen that modern personal aircraft can go faster and higher than ever, plus they come with good automation and are more efficient. I’ve worked with private pilots who’ve owned twins for years and are now moving into newer singles because they can get similar performance for less fuel, with less to manage in flight. Many legacy models have received avionics upgrades and so they offer even greater instrument-flying capabilities.

When you make your choice, get to know the POH. Moving from Jet-A to avgas? Engine management is an entirely different game. You’ll find that the handbook is a fraction of the size of the manuals you had to know in your job, which is good and bad. The procedures are simple, there’s less equipment to troubleshoot and it’s way easier to memorize flows.

On the downside, there’s not much detail. A typical light-aircraft POH has brief checklists for inspections, pre-takeoff and each phase of flight. Same with the emergency chapter. There are instructions for items like engine failure in flight, gear malfunctions, voltage overload and even “inadvertent IMC encounter.” However, there is little or no guidance on flight control failures, for example. Here’s where you’ll want to look to other resources, like instructors and pilots who are familiar with the aircraft. Oh, and practice. A lot.

Panel Gotchas

The avionics you’ll be flying with could very well be newer than what you’ve been using, or at least quite different. In either case, your system will probably be surprisingly capable, but in some ways not as much as what you’re used to. There are plenty of discussions about pilots taking on too much airplane or automation for their experience, but the safety considerations are just as relevant when downsizing. The equipment could be unfamiliar, and the lack of automation and redundancy can bite you just as badly.

For example, unless you’ll be flying an airplane made in this century, your personal craft will likely have one avionics bus, one alternator, one battery. So a power failure in solid IMC could be catastrophic. Make your plans B and C with comfortable weather minimums, backup devices and careful contingency planning. The same goes for instruments. If you have legacy steam gauges, you get one vacuum pump and one of each gyro. For peace of mind, you may wish to install a battery-powered backup attitude indicator. (The digital versions are great.)

If you came from heavy iron, you almost certainly had two or more of everything, even the stuff behind the stuff on the panel. In your typical GA flivver, even one built yesterday, you’ve got one. When it breaks, you do without. Learn how and why it might break and what you can do about it.

I don’t know of any experienced pilots who downsized their IFR flying into something without a decent autopilot. Nonetheless, GA autopilots are a world apart from those in heavy iron. And never skimp on training for autopilot malfunctions, hand-flying and partial-panel approaches.

Every button, knob and switch is important, even the small or hidden ones. One commonly overlooked detail is knowing how to turn individual devices on and off, which can really come in handy for troubleshooting. For example, some navcoms have one on/off switch that controls both radios; some have a switch for each. Power switches on mounted portable GPS units can be difficult to find. The Garmin 696 comes to mind; you need to feel behind the rear corner of the unit and depress a switch that’s flush with the rear casing.

Lower and Slower

You’ll enjoy the charms of flying lighter, lower, and slower, but know what you’re getting into. When you’re ready to do some serious training, do the drills on crosswind takeoffs and landings, go-arounds, missed approaches and manuevering flight. Slow flight, stalls, engine-out simulations, and steep turns will help you get used to control and maneuverability characteristics and serve you well when flying on your own. Then, move into emergency scenarios such as autopilot and trim stalls, control failures and instrument breakdowns. By then, you should be having enough fun to move on to IMC unusual attitude recoveries and approaches.

Beware the performance tradeoffs. Now you can take off and land comfortably on a runway that’s not even a half-mile long. You’ll be able to circle to land in a tighter space using “normal maneuvers” per the regs. However, you won’t be able to go as fast, far or high. A typical single-engine airplane will fly for three to four hours before hitting the one-hour fuel reserve most of us like to have. A 30-knot headwind will greatly reduce the miles covered in that time. Get used to it.

There are plenty of considerations that don’t show up in the book numbers. You know you’ll be climbing at slower rates and slower speeds, but even more so when density altitudes get high. Hot, sticky summer days in the Midwest result in DAs of 3000 feet; you’ll see 8000 feet-plus in the mountainous states. And there’s no precise way to predict the performance, so don’t get caught in a corner when you launch at gross weight in your Archer and see a mere 300 feet per minute on the VSI. It happens, so build experience under suitable conditions and plan accordingly for when you could have an Obstacle Departure Procedure or missed approach to fly. Don’t forget that light airplanes come with light wing loading, so your tolerances for wind gusts and turbulence will come down considerably based on pilot and aircraft capabilities, as well as your passengers’ comfort.

Beware the Weather

You won’t reach the flight levels too often, if at all. So unless you have a pressurized cabin or an oxygen system, most cross-country flights will be below 12,000 feet, which means looking at weather differently. Climbing above bad weather will usually be impossible.

Same with ice. Getting above the tops isn’t always an option, so be familiar with your climb performance and service ceiling. The freezing level will gain a whole new importance to you as it’ll often be your savior. Avoidance followed by escape will be your only tools if your new ride came with nothing more than a window defroster and heated pitot tube.

If you have an ice-escape airplane like a second-generation Cirrus, you might buy a bit more time, but keep in mind that you get only 30 minutes of fluid. Plus, those composite wings don’t care for ice a bit. How about one of the new FIKI-certified models? You get well over an hour of time in the ice and more airframe coverage, but there are limits to what it can handle. “Moderate” icing reports mean “severe” to light airplanes, even those with FIKI. (When you’re on the ground removing ice mixed with anti-ice goo off the wings, you’ll remember that.)

Completing the Checkout

Use the instrument proficiency check as a transition training checklist so you cover the bases in departures, approaches, partial-panel exercises, straight-in and circling operations. Speaking of checklists, you might want to make one tailored for IFR flights in your airplane by blending it into the regular checklist. As a career pilot you’re already a pro at checklists, so have at it. Items like setting up departures, arrivals and approaches in your avionics might need cheat sheets, along with speed and configuration callouts that you like to use.

Run through the normal, abnormal and emergency procedures for an IFR trip before you do it for real. And you’re now on your own, so rehearse procedures in single-pilot mode until you know you can manage whatever comes your way. Picture hand-flying to an alternate in turbulence and shooting an ILS approach to minimums after your only static port just iced up. Seriously!

Take what you just did and make it your recurrent training program. If you were accustomed to checkrides every six months, keep up the routine with your new airplane. It’s no exaggeration that pilots who fly for a living and undergo frequent recurrency training have far better safety records than their GA brethren, who might get a little bit of real training every two years. Use that to your advantage as you move into your new pilot duties and strive to maintain a high level of proficiency. Then go out and have fun.

Elaine Kauh is a contributing editor of AVweb and a CFII in eastern Wisconsin. She loves flying with airline pilots when they hop into anything under 6000 pounds.

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

For more great content like this, subscribe to IFR!

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Somewhere in the considerable reading I’ve done on the Apollo program, a comment from William Anders stuck with me. Anders was the lunar module pilot on the historic Apollo 8 mission in 1968. It marked the first time a manned spacecraft had departed earth orbit to journey to another body in the solar system.

Anders would have known all about the trajectory calculations and the burns necessary to complete the trip, but still, he said, when Apollo 8 approached the moon in shadow, all he could see was a giant, moon-shaped hole in the star field. That gave him cause to worry about someone misplacing a decimal point, turning what was supposed to be a close flyby into a direct hit.

Didn’t happen, of course. Apollo 8 grazed by 70 miles above the lunar surface, injected itself into orbit and made history. I thought about this story when looking over the coverage of NASA’s latest triumphal mission, the Juno Jupiter exploration project. There are some interesting parallels. Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to go to and orbit the moon; Juno is the most sophisticated spacecraft of any kind to orbit Jupiter, although it’s not the first. Jupiter is, in fact, the most visited of the outer planets, with eight other missions aimed at the gas giant, the first all the way back in 1973, with Pioneer 10, which whizzed within 82,000 miles of Jupiter. (Pioneer 10 plugged away until 2003, when it finally ran out of power. At that point, it was more than 7 billion miles from earth.)

Juno’s orbital insertion was more of the Apollo 8 variety. It approached to about 3000 miles of the surface, a mere 3 percent of the planet’s diameter. Apollo 8 similarly flew about 3 percent of the moon’s diameter above the lunar surface. But Apollo’s trajectory calculations were quite a bit simpler. It had a 70-hour trip of 240,000 miles. Juno’s trajectory design was shaped by the available launch energy and consisted of a heliocentric orbit, followed by an earth gravity assist flyby: five years and 1.7 billion miles.

The calcs on both missions were obviously pretty impressive. Apollo 8 required one mid-course corrective burn, Juno needed two, despite flying nearly 7000 times farther. It hit its insertion window within one second and a handful of kilometers. Although Juno got a little help from the ground, it may be the most autonomous—there’s that word again—spacecraft ever simply because it has to be. Jupiter’s distance from earth varies widely from a minimum of 365 million miles to more than 600 million miles. Currently, it’s about 550 million miles, meaning round-trip radio signals take about 90 minutes; far too sluggish for meaningful ground command. Apollo, of course, had guys onboard to monitor the relatively crude computer overseeing the orbital insertion.

And speaking of computers, you’d think that 45 years after Apollo Juno would have one of supreme sophistication in order to fly through deep space autonomously for so many years and miles. But, not exactly. Or at least sophisticated in a different way. The spacecraft’s main computer is a flight-proven system called a RAD750, built by BAE Systems. It’s a single-board affair with a whopping 256 megabytes of flash memory and 128 megabytes of DRAM. If that sounds like a fraction of the power of the computer you’re reading this on, it is. The design trades sophistication and power for something more important: reliability. The system is capable of enduring radiation a million times higher than what a human could survive. We’ve been getting spacecraft out to Jupiter for nearly a half century in one form or another on computing power far less impressive than Juno’s.

Juno’s instrument package didn’t require any new technology, but it’s got a lot of sensors aboard, including a radiometer for atmospheric sounding, instruments for magnetic field studies and a UV imager/spectrometer system. Interestingly, it has a camera, but it was added for PR purposes, simply to show the paying public some nice shots of Jupiter for its $1.1 billion price tag. That’s less than the Mars rover missions cost, but more than simple orbiter projects to other planets.

Is it worth it? I’m the wrong guy to ask, frankly. My kneejerk answer is of course it’s worth it. This is basic exploration of the sort man has been doing since he figured out how to bang rocks together to make tools. It’s nothing more or nothing less than pure inquiry for the sake of inquiry. Run the clock back to the turn of the last century and two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, were doing the same thing on a beach in North Carolina, albeit with their own money. I’m sure they couldn’t have imagined we would be flying to Jupiter barely 70 years later.

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The L-3 ESI-500 Genesis retrofit flight display has synthetic vision, can display GPS and ILS data, has an integral backup battery and has an AML-STC for retrofit in a wide variety of aircraft. In this video, Aviation Consumer magazine Editor Larry Anglisano takes a close look at the instrument with L-3's Todd Scholten in a Beech Baron.

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