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A four-seat airplane powered by hydrogen fuel cells completed a first test flight this week in Germany, reaching milestones in both size and emissions-free technology. Researchers at the German aerospace center, the DLR, have been developing the HY4 model with a mission to prove that hydrogen can be a viable aviation fuel. The flight from Stuttgart Airport lasted for 10 minutes, with two pilots and two dummies on board, according to an Associated Press report. The 80-kilowatt motor allows for flight at a maximum speed of about 200 kilometers per hour and a range of up to 1500 kilometers, according to the HY4 website. 

Slovenian aircraft maker Pipistrel, hydrogen systems company Hydrogenics and other researchers have partnered to develop the airplane, which features a hydrogen fuel cell, battery and electric motor. The battery powers takeoffs and climb, while the hydrogen cells provide efficient in-flight power. “With the HY4, we now have an optimal platform to continue developing the use of fuel cells on aircraft. Small passenger aircraft, such as the HY4, could soon be used in regional transport as electric air taxis and offer a flexible and rapid alternative to existing means of transport,” the DLR said in a statement.

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When a family survived a wilderness crash in California in 1967 in their Cessna 195, only to die while waiting for rescue that never came, their story brought home the need for general aviation aircraft to carry ELTs, says Alaska author Ross Nixon. In his book, “Finding Carla,” now in bookstores, Nixon details what went wrong, how the survivors coped with being lost and alone, and the impact of their fate. The story reveals “the blood behind the regulations for ELTs,” says Nixon. The pilot, Alvin Oien Sr., died while trying to find his way to help, and his wife, Phyllis, and step-daughter Carla Corbus perished at the crash site. They left behind letters and diaries that were found six months later, and surviving members of the family spoke to Nixon as he completed his research.

This is the first book for Nixon, who makes his living as a commercial pilot in Alaska. “The story is a chilling story,” Nixon told AVweb in an interview. He remembers his father talking about the crash when it happened. “It’s a story that bothered me and haunted me all my life, but I could never find out much about it.” During his research, he visited the crash site, interviewed surviving family members and read through all the preserved documents. The book is for sale on Amazon and will be featured at Barnes & Noble in October, Nixon said. It will soon be available as an e-book. “Hopefully people will love it,” said Nixon. “It’s really a good story. It’s not just about flying, it’s got some interesting human elements.”

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They say aviation regulations are written in blood, and Alaska pilot Ross Nixon tells a story that makes that clear -- when a family was lost in a California crash in 1957, it was ultimately determined they might have survived if only they'd been found in time. Thanks to that somber event, says Nixon, general aviation aircraft now carry ELTs.


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AVweb's search of news in aviation found announcements from the National Aviation Heritage Invitational, EAA Museum, Guardian Avionics and Pilot Partner. The National Aviation Heritage Invitational (NAHI) is teaming up with the California Capital Airshow at Mather Airport, Sacramento, Calif., to host this prestigious restored aircraft competition, showcasing testaments to our rich aviation history. Frank Borman, who as commander of the Apollo 8 mission in 1968 led the first humans to orbit the moon, will be the featured guest at the EAA AirVenture Museum’s Space Day on Saturday, Oct. 8. He will highlight his experiences in space that include a flight aboard Gemini 7 in 1965 and the famed Apollo 8 flight with James Lovell and William Anders.  

Guardian Avionics announced that it has received the first ever FAA approval to install manufactured products into certified aircraft as “Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment” (NORSEE) under the requirements outlined in PS-AIR-21.8-1602. Pilot Partner introduced its latest release of the Pilot Partner CFI Dashboard, the Aviation Training Dashboard. The Pilot Partner Private Pilot & Instrument Rating Progress Report can be used to track the other requirements for a checkride. This makes Pilot Partner a true comprehensive Flight Training Tracking Tool. Also new is an extended 6-month free trial for CFIs.

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The Weekender will kick off October with some scenic fly-in destinations on On Saturday in Greenville, Illinois, see a special appearance by a TBM Avenger at the 50th anniversary of the Greenville Airport Fly-In/Cruise-In. Also on display will be a Stearman and Waco biplanes, T-34s, a T-6, vintage cars and more. Rain date is Sunday.

Also Saturday in Prospect, Oregon, pilots are invited to take part in spot landing and flour drop contests, a poker run and a variety of family-friendly games on the ground during the Prospect Fly-In and drive-in.

The first of what will be an annual Oktoberfest Fly-In/Drive-In at Ogden, Utah’s airport kicks off Saturday with pilot-made pancakes, followed by kids’ photos in an airplane cockpit, a paper airplane flying contest and other activities.

The ninth annual Southwest Ohio Regional Fly In, hosted by EAA Chapter 174, takes place Sunday at the scenic grass strip of Winemiller Farms, just a few miles from Clermont County Airport. Arrive Saturday and join fellow pilots for camping on field.

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Our body is traditionally said to have five senses—all of which, it can be argued, are involved in piloting an airplane. The problem occurs when the inputs from two or more contradict each other thereby causing an erroneous mental picture.

During instrument training most of us have experienced “the leans” where our eyes convey one message (attitude indicator showing wings level) while the inner ear tells us we are in a left turn—to name one example. All the while, the sense of touch (literally the “seat of your pants”) may say you’re tipping to the right. A more scientific word is kinesthetic—the sense that detects body position.

This can be an intensely disconcerting and confusing feeling, not to mention potentially dangerous. The good news here is that these feelings will gradually be overcome the more you are exposed to the instrument flight environment. The bad news is that this process seems to be highly individual with some pilots never being fully and truly at ease and confident on the gauges.

An old timer I knew was of the firm opinion that your abilities as an instrument pilot to overcome various sensory illusions are inversely related to your sense of balance—the worse balance you have the better you do on instruments. This applies to me but for the theory in general I cannot vouch.

Minimizing The Risk

Instrument flight is largely a mental exercise founded in knowledge. Leaving the familiar visual surroundings is a leap of faith that requires implicit trust in your equipment. It is therefore vitally important that the qualified aviator has an intimate knowledge of how the flight instruments and navigation systems work as well as standby and backup equipment and procedures.

Many practical things can be done to make for an uneventful IFR experience. First, don’t neglect your own personal physical condition. Even the affects of a simple cold, often feels multiplied when flying and may increase your susceptibility to illusions. Second, try to set up a comfortable work environment in your cockpit. This will help avoid sudden head or body movements such as picking up a chart from the floor or turning to reach a Jepp binder on the right seat. And third, make sure your body is properly anchored to the airframe. There is no worse feeling than flailing on top of your seat, instead of in it, when encountering turbulence. Make sure your lap belt is snugged-down tight and keep the shoulder harness on even in cruising flight to provide a more physical connection to the airplane. Any of these three aspects can induce vertigo.

Somewhat within our control is of course also the type of equipment we fly. The philosophically inclined may wonder why we so easily suffer vertigo when in IMC, but rarely (except maybe for the first few exhilarating experiences of flight) when in the clear?

Part of the answer simply lies in the size of the horizon, be it displayed outside by nature or inside the cocoon of the cockpit in the form of an attitude indicator. It is said that normally 90 percent of the input to our senses is visual information—much of it no doubt is peripheral vision.

In flight, our life long ingrained familiar sense of gravity can be compromised. We need to rely exclusively on our eyes for orientation while suppressing other senses. Anyone flying a modern large screen Primary Flight Display (PFD) with the prominent representation of aircraft attitude is at a clear advantage over those with the traditional small diameter Attitude Indicator (AI).

The Gravity Of The Situation

Every pilot should be familiar with somatogravic experiences caused by gravity as well as various visual illusions that occur in, for instance, low visibility conditions. While extensive flying experience helps acclimate us, there is no way that the comparatively short time we enjoy piloting our aircraft (and the relatively brief periods of IMC) can ever overcome those mental patterns to which we have been conditioned during our lifetime.

Consequently the best way of dealing with much of what we are discussing, is to avoid it.

An important part of learning to fly aerobatics, for example, is forcing yourself to look in the right place for the proper cue during maneuvers. You look up and behind you to catch the horizon coming over the top during a loop, or out at the wingtip to establish a vertical line. Instrument pilots too must often consciously force themselves to look at the right flight instrument for the maneuver being performed and at those that provide supporting information with purposeful glances.

Where Not To Look

While flying with many pilots, ranging from students to qualified airline crew members, I have often observed the natural tendency to want to search for the ground. Glimpsing a bit of farmland or some stray lights below on final approach. It may be psychologically and subconsciously rewarding, seemingly increasing the chances of a successful conclusion to your flight. However, unless you are in a helicopter, it does no such thing; on the contrary it may distract your concentration and increases the risk of illusions.

So when should you look for the runway environment in low IMC? The answer is simple—at the approach minima and no higher. One may feel that visually acquiring the lights as early as possible would be safer, but that is not so. Poor visibility will often produce a tendency to “duck under” the glideslope, obviously a dangerous place to be. Some types of restrictions to visibility, such as radiation fog, tend to be layered with different visibility at different altitudes. Descending through this may cause you to go high. Add to the equation, rain on the windshield, and it is clear that the visual cues presented to the eyes may be undependable.

Even after having acquired the required references in the runway environment at the minimums, do not abandon your instruments altogether. The PAPI or VASI is often bright enough to provide vertical guidance even in dense fog, however there is always a tendency to fly towards what we’re looking at. This can cause the pilot to drift off the centerline since the light projectors are mounted some distance off to the side of the runway. On an ILS you can verify your position with a quick glance at the Nav head for both the Localizer and Glide Slope until over the threshold—50 feet is the lowest altitude at which the ILS glide slope is available.

Dealing with and overcoming illusions in instrument flight is the successful result of knowledge, training and discipline.

Bo Henriksson is a captain with a regional carrier and has more than 15,000 flight hours.

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

Read more from IFR Refresher, and learn how you can receive a free book!

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Last week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk promised that his plan to colonize Mars would be, if nothing else, entertaining. The man has a flair for understatement.

As our news story reports today, Musk unveiled his Mars ambitions at the Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico. Ambitious hardly does it justice for if anyone other than Musk had announced this plan, they would likely have been removed in a straightjacket.

Musk thinks earthlings need to be a multi-planetary species because sooner or later, we’ll trash the home world beyond redemption or some natural calamity will do it for us. If you’ve read Jared Diamond’s Collapse, you’ll get the picture. What’s startling about Musk’s proposal is that he’s not thinking about, oh, say, a century from now, but closer to next week. He wants to start sending humans to Mars in about 10 years.

Ultimately, he envisions massive booster systems—reusable, of course—carrying 100 to 200 people on Martian journeys for a cost of about $200,000 or about what Virgin Galactic proposes to charge passengers for a short sub-orbital lob. If that doesn’t send your eyes into gimbal lock, this will: He imagines an entire Martian economy composed of millions of inhabitants, sustained by a regular shuttle service from Earth.

The urge to lampoon this as a dingbat project is almost irresistible, but I’ll restrain myself. Rare is the visionary who hasn’t been seen as a crackpot at some point. I do have one overarching question: What propels it? The great explorations of the past have generally been animated for three reasons, or a combination: attempts to expand commercial markets beyond the horizon, political and military expansionism and, occasionally, pure science. The Apollo program put bootprints in the moon’s regolith as a version of political expansionism. It was a PR race with the Soviets. When the race was won, Apollo dried up like a plum in the desert. The U.S. space program never really recovered.

SpaceX’s remarkable success as an upstart launch provider has been driven by commercial imperatives, mainly the commercial satellite market and ISS contract business from NASA. At its peak in 1966, NASA’s budget was 4.4 percent of the total federal budget. Now it struggles to remain at 0.5 percent, the point being there’s not much money there and certainly not enough to fund a Mars program that envisions colonization.

Musk said as much in Guadalajara and was vague about where the money will come from. If Mars has commercially viable resources to exploit, it’s not clear to me they would return on the staggering investment it would take to just get there, much less establish vibrant, sustainable industry. Or are we talking about an interplanetary Club Med here? Remember Elton John’s Rocket Man? “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kid. In fact, it’s cold as hell.”

If a Mars project is pitched as a sort of celestial lifeboat, a place to run when the Earth is totally spent, well good luck with that. The Earth’s current population can’t even make meaningful agreements about the real environmental threats it faces. Planning far enough ahead and spending vast resources for a contingency is not our forte.

So, maybe Musk will figure this out. But the more interesting question is this: If that $200,000 flight to Mars were available, would you buy a seat? I put up a rare midweek poll so you can tell us what you think.   

The foregoing is opinion and commentary based on disclosed facts. AVweb welcomes other points of view, including guest blogs.


Triton AeroMarine is on the brink of getting FAA approval for its Chinese-built SkyTrek light sport airplane. The company’s president and chief engineer, Thomas Hsueh, hopes the aircraft will not only help GA grow in China, but become an affordable training and personal aircraft in the U.S. He told AVweb at AirVenture 2016 that he’ll want U.S. dealers who will offer strong product support for the SkyTrek, which features a patented nosewheel assembly and an extra-strong composite airframe that can withstand 7.5 Gs.


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Picture of the Week

Michael Kussatz, of Olathe, KS, captures the essence of grass roots aviation with this image of a Luscombe just waiting to go flying at a grass strip in Kansas. Click through to see our other submissions.


While you vacationed on remote mountain airstrips, aero-administrators were hard at work making more work for instructors and examiners. But despite enhanced e-paperwork shuffles, pilots can preserve basic aerodynamic sense by acing this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.


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