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A midair collision of two GA airplanes in Alaska killed all five people in flight Wednesday. A Piper PA-18 Super Cub with two people on board and a Cessna 208 Caravan carrying three collided about 11 a.m. near a village about 375 miles west of Anchorage, The Associated Press reported. The NTSB was called to the scene, which can only be reached by helicopter.  The Alaska National Guard had responded to a call about a PA-18 crash near the village of Russian Mission, then received a report of an overdue aircraft, according to the AP report. "And then subsequently, shortly after that, is when we started putting two and two together as far as a possible midair," a Guard official said. 

Both aircraft were on for-hire flights, according to news reports. The Caravan was a commuter-service aircraft operated by Hageland Aviation, with a 48-year-old pilot and two passengers, the Alaska Dispatch News reported. The Super Cub was flying for Renfro's Alaskan Adventures and was heading to a hunting camp with a 44-year-old pilot and one passenger on board.

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Explosions this morning at Cape Canaveral, where SpaceX is testing an unmanned rocket to prepare for a satellite launch, were due to "an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload," SpaceX said following the incident, which shook buildings in the area. "Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.” SpaceX, which has been launching unmanned rockets and transporting cargo in collaboration with NASA, was conducting static tests to prepare for an early Saturday launch to take an Israeli communications satellite into orbit, according to Florida Today. It's unclear what issues were detected on the launch pad, but SpaceX operations will be delayed as the incident is investigated.

News reports after 9 a.m. described multiple explosions felt in the area for several miles and photos show smoke billowing from the launch site. Emergency responders tweeted that the incident was a "catastrophic abort" of the rocket firing and "there is no threat to the general public." SpaceX, which has been working with NASA to developed reusable rockets that can land on seaborne platforms, has seen explosions in past launches due to malfunctions and has deliberately destroyed a rocket after problems were detected.

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All Nippon Airways is modifying or replacing all 100 engines on its fleet of 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliners because the turbine blades are corroding and cracking. ANA, the launch customer for the 787, chose Rolls Royce engines and as the engines accumulate hours the blade problems have been getting worse. CNN reported the issue has caused ANA Dreamliners to return to their departure airports at least twice and 18 flights have been cancelled. The airline says chemicals in the atmosphere are causing the blade deterioration and it’s taking some immediate interim action until the engine replacement program is complete in about three years.

To date, five engines have been fitted with new blades to extend their lives and it’s not clear who is paying for the sure-to-be-expensive retrofit, but it doesn’t appear ANA will foot the whole bill. "We are working very closely with ANA to minimize the impact on their airline operation," Rolls-Royce said in a statement. If it chooses to, ANA could replace the RR engines with GE GEnx engines that are also used on the 787 with relatively little trouble. The electrical and other systems are designed to accommodate both without modification and the GE engines could simply replace the Rolls Royce models.

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AVweb’s search of aviation news worldwide found announcements from Textron Aviation’s Cessna, Advent Aircraft Systems, NATA and AOPA. Textron Aviation is offering a "Three For Free" program for new Cessna TTx deliveries. For a limited time, get free extended warranties and a free Bose A20 headset with the purchase and delivery of a new Cessna TTx by Sept. 30, 2016. Advent Aircraft Systems, during meetings with the FAA, launched certification on the Pilatus PC-12 of its proven, advanced technology, lightweight anti-skid braking system (Advent eABS). Once certification is complete, the PC-12 would be added as an additional model to Advent’s existing STC for the system on the Eclipse EA500/550 and the King Air B300/300C series aircraft.

The National Air Transportation Association announced a brand-new Loss of Medical License Disability Insurance Program — a product previously only available to airline pilots through their employer. The NATA Loss of Medical License Disability Insurance Program is available through Harvey Watt & Co. and is intended for Part 135, Part 125, Part 91K and Part 91 operators. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association announced that 15 individuals have been selected as winners of the 2016 AOPA Flight Training Scholarships, a program designed to help aviation trainees of all ages earn a pilot certificate. The scholarships are funded by donations to the AOPA Foundation. 

The Weekender is looking forward to long Labor Day getaways, plus breakfast destinations found on SocialFlight.com. The Arizona Pilots Association invites all for a long backcountry weekend in Young, starting with dinner Friday, followed by breakfast Saturday, an evening Corn-Fest and a chili cook-off. Camping and other accommodations are available for the weekend. 

EAA Chapter 1365 will host a breakfast fly-in/drive-in at the Mauston-New Lisbon, Wisconsin, airport on Saturday. The event kicks off with breakfast served by the Mauston Lions, followed by an FAA Safety Team seminar, judging for RV best of show and an antique auto and farm equipment display.

Also Saturday, the first Portage Wings and Wheels Fly-in/Cruise-in will take place in Ohio. Everything with an engine -- especially airplanes, helicopters, antique cars and tractors and motorcycles -- is welcome, with judging in each category.

EAA Chapter 1466 in Prosser, Washington, will host a Saturday fly-in with contests for the entire family, kicking off with a “greaser landing” contest for early arrivals. Come Friday night for a barbecue and on-field camping, and stay for the long weekend to see the locally famous parade on Labor Day.

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The pilot of a Beech A36 Bonanza was killed at the Bentonville, Arkansas, airport Wednesday when his aircraft crashed on takeoff. The Bonanza smashed into a hangar about 9:30 a.m., KFSM reported. The 70-year-old Bentonville resident was the only one on board. The FAA is investigating and the airport was closed, according to news reports.

Fire crews responded to the scene and there was a post-crash fire. A witness video from behind the hangar shows a hole ripped open in one side wall and black smoke billowing from the front of the building. KFSM news photos show that the aircraft crashed into the top of the hangar and burned, with pieces of the wreckage on the ground outside. 

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When JetBlue’s Flight 387 took off this morning from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, headed for Cuba, it was the first commercial airline to fly that route since 1961. For First Officer Frank Barreras, the trip held an extra level of poignancy — his father, Frank Sr., fled Cuba 55 years ago, aboard one of the last commercial flights to the U.S. “I never thought this day would come in my lifetime,” Barreras told CBS News. “It’s an amazing, amazing time.” JetBlue is the first U.S. airline to resume service, but it’s expected that 10 airlines will soon be offering more than 100 flights per day to nine Cuban cities.

Private pilots flying to Cuba still must cope with a morass of regulations, restrictions, fees and limited facilities. Private jets and charter operators will now have to compete with the airlines. For now, the airlines may have to fly at a loss, according to Reuters, because the country’s infrastructure isn’t ready to cope with an influx of U.S. visitors. And U.S rules still prohibit citizens from visiting Cuba as tourists — travelers must cite a reason to visit such as an educational interest, or a visit with relatives. “While all of the flights are unlikely to operate at capacity, the airlines want to plant their respective flags," said John Kavulich, head of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc. It will take several years, at least, Kavulich told Reuters, before those flights are full.

An environmental group that has been urging the EPA to regulate avgas in piston-powered aircraft released a new report this week on lead emissions in its ongoing campaign to remove 100LL from airport pumps. Friends of the Earth says that EPA data shows that piston-engine aircraft using leaded avgas account for about 50 percent of lead emissions in the U.S., with 34,000 tons of lead emitted between 1970 and 2007. The emissions have affected millions of people who live near airports, including children whose schools are within a kilometer of an airport, the report says. They “have demonstrably higher blood lead levels than those further from airports,” FOE says, citing a 2011 Duke University study.

Alternates to 100LL, including unleaded replacement fuels, diesel and hybrid electric, are under development in with the support of engine and aircraft makers. Meanwhile, the FAA is supporting alternate fuel development under its Piston Aviation Fuel Initiative, which has resulted in fuels from Shell and Swift Fuel that began further testing this year, with a new fuel expected to be ready for approval by 2018. Other companies, such as GAMI, also are testing unleaded fuels and their success in the market would depend in part on future regulations on lead, availability and approvals for aircraft use. The FOE report discusses these efforts and argues that along with EPA regulation, alternative fuels, along with mogas, can replace 100LL in the nation’s GA fleet. FOE and other organizations want the government to issue an official “endangerment finding” for 100LL, which would start a process to draft regulations on lead emissions.

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The late and much-celebrated fighter pilot General Robin Olds delighted in telling the story of sitting in the front seat of an F-4 headed into visual-range combat in Vietnam and telling his younger backseater that he had it on good authority that what they were seeing wasn’t actually happening. That is, the F-4 design brief called for a fighter with sophisticated radar and missiles, but no gun since dogfights were thought to be a thing of the past after the Korean war.

The MiG-17 begged to differ and it took the Air Force and Navy several years of painful losses to understand the defense planners had been wrong. The same argument is going on yet today as the latest generation of planners try to divine when the manned fighter or military aircraft of any kind will be displaced by either robotic or remotely piloted aircraft or some combination. This relates to the blog my colleague Jeff Van West wrote this week describing his son Baxter’s passion for airplanes and flying. I’ve flown with Bax in the J-3 and he’s a good stick and scary smart. He would like to someday fly in the military, but at age 13, he’s a decade away from the start of a military flying career. Will there even be military cockpits to fly in a decade from now?

My bet is yes, despite the rapidly developing technology of unmanned flight. But that's not the salient point. Even though the military and commerical world will still have piloting jobs, it's the directionality that will be the problem.  I think it will be a very different world in which the growth curve for unmanned flight will be near vertical while that for manned flight will be flat or in decline for much of military aviation. We’ve discussed this before in the context of what us geezers nearing the end of our flying careers should advise a young person wanting to go into professional aviation—as opposed to vocational general aviation. When I’m asked, my advice has been and continues to be to tread cautiously if you expect to commence a career in an actual military flying cockpit 10 years or more from now. They’ll be there all right, but my guess is the demand will be slowly declining and thus the real action will be somewhere else. In-cockpit skills could be less relevant, or at least not much valued, in both military and commercial segments.

In this Air Force report, which gamely predicts a future dominated by unmanned aircraft, the service lays out the timeline. If you scroll down to page 48, you see that by 2025, the Air Force expects to have UAS completely integrated into worldwide airspace systems and that these systems will “enhance combat capability.” Beyond that, it gets interesting. There’s a tick mark for autonomous flight and something I hear about at every UAS event I attend: swarming. Use a little imagination and you realize this consists of AI-driven swarms of drones used tactically, either for defense or offense. Toward mid-century, there’s a milestone labeled “auto target engage,” whose meaning should be self-evident. As we reported last month, this technology may be further along than many of us imagine. AI has already demonstrated it can be a formidable ACM opponent.

But what’s most illuminating about the Air Force’s view of the future is in personnel requirements: “Personnel costs will shift from operations, maintenance, and training to design and development.” In other words, the services will need fewer pilots, operators and maintainers in favor of more machine creators. “Fewer operators will be ‘flying’ the sorties but directing swarms of aircraft.”

If that sounds like a creepy vision of the future, it probably is, but it’s interesting nonetheless and the would-be pilot romantic better be aware of it and seek the appropriate education and training. Sadly, that may not be traditional flight training, but computer science, robotics and artificial intelligence development. Even the cockpit of the future with a person in the loop will surely be more automated than mainstream aircraft are now. These are probably just beyond the 10-year time frame, but not too far beyond. The question isn't whether there will be manned cockpits, but that there will be ever fewer of them. As an aside, irony suffered a brutal death this week when the FAA opined that as many as 600,000 drone pilots will enter the registry and the Air Line Pilots Association, like a lonely beacon anchored in the 1930s, insisted these drone pilots should have flight tests, too. Sigh.

The Navy may have a particularly difficult nut to crack. During World War II, despite Billy Mitchell’s best efforts, the Navy clung stubbornly to battleships as the core of the fleet, even after Pearl Harbor. Now the core is aircraft carriers, but are these already obsolete in the face of swarms of drones that may be deployed to attack them? Or the new carrier-killing missle the Chinese are supposedly developing? We may find out only after the first one is sunk, just as the battleship admirals contemplated the oily horror of Pearl Harbor on December 8th. Either way, it seems dubious to believe manned aircraft will have a broad role into, say, the 2030s. (That’s not to say no role.)

Drawing these things to the attention of a young person interested in aviation may sound like burning dreams, but to do anything else is simply delusional, in my view. Give the kids the best information available and they’ll figure it out. Ah, what am I saying? They've already figured it out. It's the parents who probably need the advice most, since they'll play a pivotal role in guiding the kids' education.

Oddly, in this context, general aviation may be the shimmering oasis, the last enclave of futile hand-eye coordination resistance in a world driven by robots. People come to GA because they like to fly, like to push and pull sticks and throttles and fool around with gadgets. New airplanes are increasingly more automated and perhaps some may become fully autonomous. But for the recreational flyer, where’s the fun in that? Even if regulation wasn’t easing—and there are definite signs that it is—general aviation will always have appeal, in my view. It may be much smaller and have fewer participants than it does now, but it’ll be there. Isn’t that at least a warm and cheering thought as a swarm of drones with a bad line of code deliver to your front yard 29 things you didn’t order from Amazon Prime Air?    

AirVenture is about airplanes, but it's also about people and in this video commentary, AVweb's Jeff Van West reveals that to attract young people to aviation, we need to show them what they're interested in.

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

Mike Busch, the Savvy Aviator and one of the U.S.'s best known aircraft technicians, has been fighting the FAA on what he terms an unnecessary and seriously flawed airworthiness directive regarding barrel-head separations on ECi cylinders for big-bore Continental engines. We've given you two options to learn more from Busch about this controversial move by the FAA. We edited a short-form podcast of the basics of the history and impact of the AD. We've also included an essentially unedited version of the interview where Busch gives the history and context of what he says is a terrible example of rulemaking.

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Chris Haile of Marysville, CA flies off into the dawn, kicking off our latest installment of reader-submitted photos. Click through to see more images from AVweb readers.

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Economists have a name for things that are in daily use despite having been designed multiple decades ago: persistent technology. Biplanes fit the definition, although pilots don’t call them that; they call them fun, an even mix of nostalgia and unique performance characteristics. That more than anything explains why biplanes have been in and out of production since the 1930s and the latest one to go into production is the Great Lakes 2T-1A-2, a modern revision of the classic biplane made famous by barnstormer Tex Rankin.

Waco Classic Aircraft, which builds the hulking Waco YMF-5, is pitching the Great Lakes as the perfect combination of sport aerobat and a trainer for upset recovery, which some pilot courses now require. At $245,250 complete, it’s not cheap, but as new airplanes go, it’s also hardly out of reach for buyers who can afford new and want something that’s more unique than practical, the market niche that Waco plies to sell up to eight YMF-5s a year at a price north of $400,000.

The word “classic” is often applied to anything with two sets of wings, but it’s one that the Great Lakes has fairly earned. Interestingly, from day one, the original 2T was sold as a sport trainer for the discerning pilot who wanted something smaller than the massive Waco and who fancied occasionally tossing the airplane around in aerobatics. It found use as a basic trainer from the early 1930s onward. The original airplane was no slouch structurally, claiming plus 9G and negative 6G capability; the new 2T is built for plus 5.4 and negative 4.0.

In its various vintages, the 2T has had several engines, including the original’s Cirrus, a four-cylinder inline engine, another inline called the Menasco and later a Warner radial. The Lycoming O-360 came along during the 1970s. Well into the 1960s, the Great Lakes was the aircraft of choice for a number of aerobatic champions and airshow pilots, including Betty Skelton and Charlie Hillard. It was eventually displaced by the Pitts, a smaller bipe yet, and later by various monoplanes such as the Extra line.

Compared to the Waco, the Great Lakes was—and is—relatively diminutive, with a wingspan of 26 feet 8 inches and a maximum takeoff weight of 1800 pounds. The YMF-5, by comparison, has a 30-foot wingspan (top wings) and a gross weight of 2950 pounds. It’s also a three-place airplane, with a spacious bench seat in the front hole. Not the Great Lakes, though. It’s a snug fit front and back.

Thanks to its good manners and reasonable acquisition and operating costs, the 2T lived on through the 1960s as a homebuilt. During the 1970s, a few were built in Eastman, Georgia, but right up into the 1990s, the plans-built airplanes were still seeing some action. In 1973, Doug Champlin had the airplane in production briefly in Oklahoma and in 2000, John Duncan bought the type certificate and tooling and announced, once again, a plan to return the 2T to production under the flag of the Great Lakes Aircraft Company. And that’s where Peter Bowers of Waco Classics comes in.

WACO Synergy

Bowers learned of the Great Lakes 2T by chance from one of his Waco customers who had one of the older airplanes. He took a ride in it around San Francisco Bay and was hooked.

“But there were some things I didn’t like about it. The fabric was old and had holes kicked in it through the cockpit sides. The windscreen cut me right in the forehead and the backseat was cramped. The fact that you were sitting in an all-fabric structure…it felt like you were in a glass bowl and you were going to break something,” Bowers says.

Although Duncan had planned to resume production of the airplane, with a production setup already in place in Lansing, Michigan, Bowers made an arrangement with Great Lakes Aircraft Co. to build the 2T in Lansing, improving it considerably in the process.

“We were looking for a new project. We were thinking of maybe a legacy LSA. But I couldn’t figure out how you could possibly make money at selling an LSA. I just couldn’t make it work.Developing a new type was out of the question,” Bowers says.

So Waco Classics took on the project and began improving the airframe. While the 2T retains the same basic planform and dimensions of the original, it looks different enough that people who see it on the ramp might ask, “That’s not a Pitts, is it?” Perhaps the biggest cosmetic change is the cowling and nosebowl, which is tapered and more aerodynamic than the squared- off original cowling, especially models that had the Warner radial.

Bowers says he considered upgrading the engine from the IO-360 to the 200-HP variant or perhaps the 210-HP IO-390, but in addition to the weight hit, the project would have been prohibitively expensive for the small volume the 2T is likely to generate. So the new 2T has a 180-HP AEIO-360-B1G6 with full inverted systems.

In addition to the incremental engine improvement, the airframe also has some upgrades. Before it undertook restarting manufacturing, Waco Classics sent an engineer to study four Great Lakes in regular use by a flight school in Arizona for introductory aerobatics and upset training.

“That gave us a litany of things to fix,” Bowers said. The only significant structural fix was the horizontal stabilizer spar, which showed a propensity to crack. It was replaced by a steel part that’s a bit heavier but also much stronger. The airframe structure is conventional rag and tube, with German- or U.S.-made chromoly 4130 tubing internally treated with linseed oil and coated with an epoxy paint for what Bowers calls a lifetime airframe. The cover is Ceconite with PPG polyurethane paint.

To improve durability around the cockpit, the side skins are metalized and removable for maintenance access. In place of the original heel brakes, the new 2T has toebrakes.

“Owners hate heel brakes,” Bowers told us, “They’re difficult to modulate when you’re operating the rudder.” The airplane has a new Hartzell two-blade metal prop or the option of a three-blade MT. The induction system has also been redesigned to correct a potential safety issue with SCAT tubing that could collapse with age. Chronic high oil temperature in the old airplanes has been addressed with a larger oil cooler and lighting has been upgraded to LEDs all around.

Better Ergos

The cockpit has also been improved, with a slight recline to seat. “Frankly, the original was very uncomfortable. It was built for pilots of the 1930s so it was upright and cramped,” Bowers says.

The marketing brochure advertises 1275 pounds empty, but the first two built were heavier, at 1298 pounds for a useful load of 502 pounds. With full fuel (26.7 gallons in a single tank in the center wing), that leaves room for two standard FAA humans—just. Bowers says the finished airplanes might make the advertised weight with lighter paint jobs, but we’re not sure another 25 pounds would make much difference. Two people and full fuel is about all this airplane needs to do and it remains in the aerobatic category at that weight.

Since we first looked at the 2T three years ago, the panel has been upgraded with new avionics and Waco has added ADS-B capability. Spacious new cockpit or not, there’s not much room in the panel for major avionics. The panel in the demonstrator we flew was dominated by a JPI 930 large-screen engine monitor and had a Garmin aera GPS for navigation. For a combination comm and intercom, the 2T has the miniature TRIG TY91 and an ADS-B Out-capable TRIG TT22 transponder.

Flight Trial

Flying an open-cockpit biplane requires a resetting of expectations. For one, ground and flight visibility is compromised by being hemmed in by two wings and having the forward view blocked during taxi. Still, from the rear hole, visibility in the 2T is quite good because its deck angle is modest compared to other taildraggers and it’s relatively narrow. S-turns on taxi are needed, but just barely.

But the 2T’s slim waist yields a snug cockpit and the only place to store things like charts or an iPad is in a small mailbox-type metal box on the center console. If you don’t have what you need before you get in, there’s no fishing around for it in flight. There’s a small turtle-deck compartment behind the pilot’s head, but it’s not even a baggage compartment in name. If you’re traveling in this machine, it’s a one-person airplane, with baggage strapped in the front seat.

During run-up, Bowers explained—and the POH reiterates—to hold the stick full back and limit the RPM to 2300. Otherwise, you risk a noseover and indeed, during runup, the tail feels light. Moreover, the toebrakes are powerful enough to lock the wheels and cause a noseover during landing or fast taxi. The brakes aren’t touchy, but they won’t tolerate abusive inputs.

With its light weight, the 2T is easy to taxi and accelerates quickly on the runway. The tail comes up with no undue effort and the airplane is ready to fly at 55 or 60 MPH indicated. Best rate is 76 MPH, which will yield about 1200 FPM with two aboard, but better than that solo.

It’s easy to see why the Great Lakes remains such a well-liked aerobat. Its handling seems to hide no surprises and it’s comfortably responsive without having the excessively light stick forces that hamper some LSAs. Roll rate is brisk, but not head snapping. We did notice a sharp left wing drop during a stall series, but Bowers insists this isn’t normal for the airplane. He said his own stall tests didn’t reveal this behavior. A quick stab on the rudder brings the wings easily to level. With all that wing area—187 square feet for a wing loading of 9.6 pounds per square foot—the 2T is happy in slow flight right through the stall burble, retaining some roll control to the bitter end. In cruise, it has little noticeable adverse yaw, but more in slow flight, as to be expected.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

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