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Third-class medical reform is on its way to becoming law after the Senate voted this afternoon to approve the measure as part of a short-term funding bill for the FAA. The legislation, which won House approval on Monday, is expected to be signed by President Obama before the FAA’s current authorization expires on Friday. Many pilots who have had third-class medicals issued within the past 10 years of the bill's signing will not need another exam by an aviation medical examiner. However, the FAA will have up to a year to develop and finalize the new regulations, which will require at least a valid driver's license and a doctor's checkup every 48 months for eligible pilots.

Another requirement in lieu of a third-class medical is completing an aeromedical education course every two years. The reforms are for pilots who have never had their medicals denied or revoked. Those eligible to be exempt from future medical certification will be able to fly privately in aircraft with up to six seats and a maximum takeoff weight of 6,000 pounds. Flights can be VFR or IFR, but must be no higher than 18,000 feet with maximum indicated airspeeds of 250 knots. Pilots flying with third-class medicals with special issuances also would not have to be re-certified, unless they develop a medical condition requiring a new special issuance. Those who have never had a medical must still get one-time certification from an AME to fly under the specified conditions. 

“This is the most significant legislative victory for general aviation in decades,” AOPA President Mark Baker said. “These reforms will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of pilots from an outdated, costly, and unnecessarily burdensome system. This legislation will strengthen the private pilot-private physician relationship and improve awareness of medical issues throughout our community.  It will help pilots save time, money, and frustration.” AOPA explains some details of the reforms on its website.

The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which funds the agency through September 2017, also includes a variety of safety measures including tighter enforcement of unmanned aerial systems and tougher penalties for laser-pointing at aircraft. The FAA also must develop regulations for marking stand-alone towers between 50 and 200 feet tall located in rural or agricultural areas. The regulations would target meteorological evaluation towers, which can be marked voluntarily, under current FAA policy.

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Following on its successful effort to encourage the use of angle-of-attack indicators in general aviation aircraft by simplifying the approval procedure, the FAA says it will expand its expedited process to include more safety gear. The policy will reduce costs and streamline installation for “non-required safety-enhancing equipment” (NORSEE) in the GA fleet, the FAA said. Examples of NORSEE equipment include traffic advisory systems, terrain awareness and warning systems, attitude indicators, fire-extinguishing systems and autopilot or stability augmentation systems. Gear approved for installation under the NORSEE rules will be listed online at the FAA website.

NORSEE approval under this policy is not an approval for installation on the aircraft, the FAA said — it just makes the equipment eligible for installation on the aircraft. There may be a situation in which installation of the equipment on the aircraft requires modifications that are considered a major change to type design, or major alteration to the aircraft. In these cases, the applicant is required to pursue the appropriate certification path (such as a supplemental type certificate), or field approval process, regardless of the “non-required” designation. More details are posted online in the FAA’s policy statement (PDF).

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Diamond Aircraft’s DART-450 made its public debut this week at the U.K.’s Farnborough International Airshow. The single-engine turboprop first flew in May at Diamond’s facility in Austria, less than a year after initial design work began. Like Diamond’s other aircraft, such as the DA42, the DART (Diamond Aircraft Reconnaissance Trainer) will offer versatility, with potential uses including training and surveillance operations, and efficiency with a fuel burn of about 90 liters (24 gallons) per hour.

The airplane is built from carbon fiber in a low-wing, tandem two-seat configuration. It is fully aerobatic up to +7/-4Gs and has maximum takeoff power of 495 horsepower with a Ukrainian Ivchenko-Progress Motor Sich AI-450S turboprop and a five-blade MT propeller. It’s also equipped with ejection seats, Garmin avionics and a fuselage that is ready-to-mount for a retractable surveillance camera and other equipment. Diamond first announced the new model at the 2014 show, saying it planned to fly a prototype at this year’s event. 

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Russian balloonist Fedor Konyukhov took off early this morning from western Australia, near Perth, on a quest to fly around the world nonstop and solo. Konyukhov, 64, an artist, author and adventurer, hopes to beat Steve Fossett’s record, set in 2002, of 13.5 days to complete the journey. He’s flying a Roziere-style balloon, which is a hybrid that uses both hot air, heated by propane tanks, and helium to provide lift. If he succeeds, he’ll be only the second person to complete the solo circumnavigation. As of Tuesday morning, he was flying eastward above the Australian continent.

The planned route for the journey will cover more than 20,000 miles, crossing the southern Pacific Ocean to the tip of South America, then crossing the southern Atlantic to South Africa, and finally flying above the Indian Ocean to land in Australia. Konyukhov’s resume includes climbing Mount Everest, sailing around the world, completing the Iditarod dogsled race and rowing solo across the Atlantic. He and his team have been preparing for the flight for about a year. The 180-foot-tall balloon was manufactured in England by Cameron Balloons.

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AVweb’s search of aviation news around the globe found announcements from Guardian Avionics, Airbus Group, Jeppesen and TECAT Performance Systems. In response to growing demand for USB power in general aviation cockpits as the use of tablets and smartphones becomes more common, Guardian Avionics announced a new line of USB power solutions for both panel-mounted and remote-mounted applications. Airbus Group announced new members of the Airbus Group University Partner Programme at the 2016 Farnborough Airshow. Imperial College London, the Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore) and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm) are joining the Programme, which brings the total number of members to 16 universities based around the world.

Peach, a leading Japanese airline based in Osaka, recently received authorization from the Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau to initiate electronic flight bag (EFB) services. Using Jeppesen FliteDeck Pro on iPad as its EFB solution, Peach now enters into an operational trial period, to streamline the delivery of flight information and establish paperless flight deck operations. At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh later this month, TECAT Performance Systems will demonstrate the first commercially available wireless sensor capable of measuring in-flight torque data on experimental aircraft with real-time results. TECAT will show the WISER 4000 wireless torque measurement system used to gather this data, and demonstrate the system's installation and operation. 

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The Weekender is packing for a campout weekend out west, with fly-in options around the country found on SocialFlight. The Aviation Museum of New Hampshire will host its second annual Homebuilt Aircraft Fly-In on Saturday. Arrive in your homebuilt aircraft to the museum at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, and enter judging for a People's Choice Award and Kid's Choice Award. Activities for all ages include aircraft covering and riveting demonstrations, paper airplane and wing rib building.

The New Mexico Pilots Association and Timberon Airfield Co-op invite all to fly in Saturday to visit scenic Timberon. Fly into the rustic airstrip (open to the public), elevation 6,954 feet, and camp on the field. Weekend outings include fishing, golf, horseback riding, hiking and touring the historic Circle Cross Ranch.

The Ennis Air Fair at Ennis-Big Sky Airport in Montana takes place Saturday. Arrive early for breakfast and the Iron Pilot Competition, an entertaining event that features pilots showing off their skills with flour bombing and spot landing competitions. A Montana Air Guard’s C130 flyover will kick off the event’s first airshow. 

The Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington, will host a Battle of Britain Day with demonstrations of historic aircraft on Saturday, including a Hawker Hurricane, Spitfire and Messerschmitt Bf 109. Museum admission includes special events and lectures, and a free pilots’ autograph signing session.

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The takeoff might better have been described as a launch. With the new 150-HP Lycoming engine in my 700-pound RV-3, it was off in no more than half the 650-foot runway length and climbing aggressively at my normal 80-mph climb speed. At an altitude of perhaps 150 feet, the engine quit abruptly (whammy #2). The prop was windmilling, but the fire had gone out. First reaction: Fly the airplane! Second reaction: Where can I land? Straight ahead was a grain field with a sloping swale through it; not promising. Ahead and to my right was a flying farmer's airstrip, but it was out of reach from my low altitude. However, there was a narrow headland/driveway at the end of the rows of nursery plants on that farm, and I had enough height to glide there. I made an approximate 90-degree right turn, a forward slip to pay off a bit of surplus altitude and speed, a drop-in over the 8-foot high fence row, and my wheels rolled on the acceptably smooth grass surface. Not a very long one, but smooth enough to apply even braking. Unfortunately, the left brake failed immediately and completely (whammy #3), raising doubt about being able to stop before running into some substantial nursery plantings (bushes) past the end of this headland. I applied full left rudder/tailwheel steering and balanced that with as much right brake as possible, and was just able to stop by swinging a bit to the right as I hit the narrow cross runway. Whew! That happened fast. Now, I noticed that the engine was still running at an idle. So, why did it quit so abruptly, and why did the brake fail?

First, I need to back up a month or so and fill in many details that caused this incident and lead to its successful outcome. It all started with whammy #1, when my prototype RV-3 was damaged by "Lefty," my only employee at the then fledgling Van's Aircraft Company. It was the summer of 1976 and my one and only (prototype) RV-3 had suffered significant damage when the engine faltered during a touch-and-go landing on the 650-foot airstrip on my parents' farm where it was based. It had impacted tall grain when it failed to become airborne at the end of the strip, coming to rest inverted about 150 feet farther on in a neighbor's wheat field. Fortunately, Lefty's injuries were minor, but this was the beginning of the fly-in and airshow season. I needed to get that plane back in the air ASAP. Fortunately, I was able to borrow my brother Jerry's RV-3 to use in the interim and fly it in a couple of nearby airshows that I had scheduled. This was one of only a handful of RV-3s that were then completed and flying.

Unfortunately, because my RV-3 had a metal prop, the prop strike had bent the crankshaft flange beyond repairable limits. Fortunately, I had a brand new Lycoming O-320-E1F lying in wait for my slowly gestating RV-4 prototype. So, along with repairing the motor mount, damaged wing, vertical stabilizer, new canopy, etc., I was able to install this spare engine in less time than required to locate a replacement crankshaft and overhaul the original O-290-G (125 HP) engine.

Since I had a hangar and shop available on the farm strip, I naturally elected to re-assemble the repaired RV-3 there and, of course, perform the post-repair flight testing there.

On the day of my intended test flight, my brother Jerry happened to be in town visiting and helped me with the final inspection and preparation. He inquired as to my intentions regarding taking off either to the north or south. My plan was north because of a very light breeze blowing from that direction. He rationalized that the breeze was insignificant and that the forced landing opportunities were better with a south departure. At that time of year, all of the surrounding farm fields were covered with crop growth that would preclude an uneventful emergency landing in them. He noted that about a half mile away and off to the right there was a clear headland/driveway area in a nursery farm field. That driveway had a fence row on one end and abutted a N-S airstrip that the farmer used when commuting from his other farms. I noted this, but not too seriously because I figured that, as an airline pilot, Jerry was just being overly cautious. Plus, you never take an older brother too seriously; they're always trying to tell you what to do! After all, I was about to fly with a pristine new engine far superior to the self-overhauled engines I had been flying before. What could possibly go wrong?

I've already answered that question. Now, why did it go wrong?

The failed brake was easy to diagnose. There was red brake fluid running down the landing gear leg. The leak occurred at an AN tube fitting where the brake line transitioned from the fuselage brake line hose to the ¼-inch aluminum tube line running down the landing gear leg to the wheel brake slave cylinder. The brake line had essentially sheared off its flared end where it had been attached with the B-nut. It was obvious that the flared end of the ¼-inch aluminum tube had been poorly formed. Fabricating a new brake line would be cheap and easy.

Ascertaining the cause of the disrupted fuel flow was more difficult. Disconnecting the fuel line revealed a healthy flow rate, and there wasn't any foreign material or water found in the sediment bowl. The fuel lines were not blocked. All obvious indicators pointed to fuel starvation; but why?

Although my plane was only a half mile from home, there was no open pathway to taxi or tow it back home. Dismantling for trailer transport was not an appealing prospect. The farm strip was about 1400 ft. long, more than big enough by my standards at the time. After performing full-power ground run-ups, I chose to make a cautious takeoff and shallow climb to altitude for further in-flight testing before returning home. I found that if I maintained a shallow climb angle, the engine ran fine. After climbing to several thousand feet, I gradually increased the climb angle, and sure enough, the engine quit, but fired up again after lowering the nose to a glide angle and waiting a short while. Several repetitions of this convinced me that my carburetor wasn't getting fuel, or passing fuel, at steep climb angles. After landing back at my home strip, I installed a fuel pump before again attempting flight.

How Many Mistakes Caused or Compounded This Problem?

1. Test flying from an airport with no runway length margin. I knew that the aircraft's takeoff and landing performance was more than adequate for this short runway. I knew that my piloting skills and proficiency were up to the task. However, runways that short don't offer any margin for error or irregularity. The wise option would have been that of erring on the side of caution and doing testing at an airport with a long runway, although not as convenient or economical.

2. Failure to perform a simulated (tail-in-a-hole) climb angle, full power, fuel flow test. New airplanes, or airplanes with new engine/fuel system installations, need to have a fuel flow test done while positioned at an angle simulating that of a full-power, high-angle climb. Either running the engine at full power and/or measuring a timed fuel flow through an open fuel line should verify adequate fuel flow for this flight condition.

3. Assuming that all similar carburetor and engine combinations function alike. I had installed the new O-320 engine without a fuel pump. This was based on the successful operating experience of Jerry's RV-3 which had an O-320 engine without a fuel pump. It relied strictly on gravity feed from its single fuselage fuel tank. It functioned well in full power climbs, which are pretty steep in an airplane as light and powerful as the RV-3. So I had installed my O-320 without a fuel pump, reasoning that I would see the same results. The results were obviously different. Why? Without elaborating on technical details which I no longer have available, and perhaps never had completely understood, there were differences in the carburetors on these otherwise same basic engines. Even though the carbs were the same basic model, Marvel-Schebler MA-4SPA, they were of different serial number series and had different fuel jets and/or float levels. The engine that had operated successful without a fuel pump, on Jerry's RV-3, had been configured for use on a high-wing airplane with a gravity feed fuel system (before it had been transplanted into his RV-3). It had been set up to operate with the relatively low fuel pressure provided by the "gravity head" of the high fuel tank. The carburetor on my RV-3 engine had been configured for the Bölkow-Messerschmidt 209, which is a low-wing airplane with fuel tanks in its wings. It required a fuel pump in its fuel system. Fuel pumps for a system of this type usually provide about 4-5 psi. Even that relatively low pressure is far more than the approximate 0.5 psi head pressure available in a gravity feed system. In a steep climb, the fuel pressure is lower still because of the relative heights of the engine and the tank, plus the fact that at full power, the engine required a high fuel flow rate. The low gravity-head pressure of my RV-3's fuel system was insufficient in a steep climb condition. One size does not fit all!

4. Assuming that Lefty knew how to properly flare an aluminum brake line end. Because of the damage caused by the prior accident, the brake lines needed to be replaced. This relatively simple task had been assigned to Lefty. The brake lines were made of ¼-inch diameter soft aluminum tubing, a commonly used material for this purpose. Standard 37-degree-flare AN tube fittings were used. The problem was that Lefty either didn't know the proper way to flare the tubing ends, or just wasn't paying attention that day. Once the brake line had been installed, the inadequately flared end was not visible at the time of final inspection. The marginally flared tube end was apparently sufficient to hold the brake fluid pressure during initial taxi and engine check, but failed upon the more aggressive panic braking that accompanied the emergency landing.

The single most important factor in the successful outcome of this emergency landing was the preflight advice given by brother Jerry. His professional approach toward analyzing the situation and planning for contingencies had mentally prepared me for locating the best emergency landing option available. Without this pre-planning, it is improbable that I would have been able to scan and assess this landing option in the few seconds available. Have a plan, fly the plan!

Back to Whammy #1

Why had the RV-3 suffered its upside-down indignity in the wheat field at the beginning of this tale of woe? My memory is a bit vague, and I no longer have the engine logs to reference for verification. I believe that the O-290-G engine in the RV-3 at the time was equipped with a Lake Throttle Body Injector, rather than a Marvel MA-3SPA carb that is normally used on the Lycoming O-290 engine. The Lake TBI was an inexpensive aftermarket product that I had installed as an affordable alternative to a conventional fuel injection system that would support inverted flight operation. The Lake Injector worked OK but, at least in my application, had a non-linear fuel/air mixture at different power settings. I had learned to automatically reset the mixture along with power changes. Being less experienced, Lefty apparently wasn't able to react as quickly, thus causing a power disruption and the unsuccessful touch-and-go. He had only recently been checked out (single seat check-out?) in the RV-3, and in retrospect, was underqualified to fly from such a short airstrip. I shouldn't have assumed that he would be able to master the unique airplane and airstrip that had become second nature to me.

From my current vantage point, I can see that during that period, I was pushing the limits of time and finances to move as quickly as possible, and was probably not as careful as I should have been. But what might you expect from someone with the audacity to start a kit company with such limited talent and finances? The subsequent decades have in some ways been less exciting, but I can live without the need to create material for more stories like this. Uneventful test flights, of which I have done many since, are the best kind.

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

Read More from Kitplanes, and learn how to receive your FREE copy of The Annual Homebuilt Buyers Guide.


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Third class medical reform finally staggers across the finish line and now what? I find myself in a binary state of mind. On the bright side, I’m enthusiastic and grateful for the work that went into getting this legislation passed—by Senator Jim Inhofe and co-sponsors and by the advocacy groups. They deserve recognition for the effort. I wish all had done more, but I can’t describe what “more” is, other than eliminating the medical requirement entirely which, while supportable and logical, is a political non-starter. Yes, the results of this long process reek of political compromise, but let’s just get over that. Everything does. The new reality is less intrusive than the old reality. It’s that simple.

On the dark side, I’ve had just enough conversations with just enough people to have heard that pilots are confused about what this reform will do for them, aren’t sure if it applies to them or worry that the FAA won’t implement it in anything remotely resembling a timely fashion in a way that matches the intent of the bill. That last bit worries me, for the FAA has a history of dragging its feet on congressional mandates with no particular accountability for anyone in the agency. The bill gives the agency a year to put the new rules in place, but puts it on a six-month timeline to produce the actual governing rules. The good thing is that if the FAA demurs on delivering, the provisions of the law automatically go into effect anyway, a year after enactment. Enactment should be Friday.

Mustering all the blind enthusiasm I can while conceding I can’t believe I’m typing this, maybe this time will be different in terms of reduced regulation actually getting a grip. While this is definitely a rollback of onerous regulation and a step in the right direction, it’s a measure of our desperation that the celebratory gunfire is already getting a little intense here. But save a few rounds for next summer, when the rule actually goes into effect and we see who it benefits and how. I’m hoping it’s not fewer than any of us imagined.

And as with any regulatory turbulence, there will be consequences. Will this absolutely gut the struggling light sport industry? Will it ignite the long awaited shakeout? I wouldn’t expect to see much impact on the rarified world of new aircraft sales, but what about used sales? Will used aircraft prices, long in the doldrums, get hot again? (That’s actually a good thing.) And what about the insurance markets? Insurers tend to be conservative and slow-moving and may not even notice the changes in actuarial terms worthy of noting. I’ll be researching this a little more next week.

So what’s this gonna be? A 20-knot headwind shearing to a 15-knot tailwind? Or a 15-knot quartering headwind dropping to calm? I’m guessing the latter, based on what others have told me, but I’ll be happy to be wrong. Either way, it’s a positive step in the right direction after a seemingly endless season of bad news, sour sales trends and overbearing, pointless regulation.

Feel free to comment below and to take part in the new poll we’ve just put up.

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At Super Bowl 50 in February, the Blue Angels made the briefest of appearances with a fast flyby with smoke. The team shot some terrific cockpit footage and we're featuring it as this week's AVweb featured video.

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