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Cirrus announced Sunday that its Cirrus SF50 personal jet has been type certified and that deliveries will begin in December. The company made the announcement at a hastily arranged function two days after it received the FAA paperwork and two days before the National Business Aviation Association Convention in Orlando, Florida. CEO Dale Klapmeier told AVweb that the certification of the aircraft is the culmination of a huge effort that General Aviation Manufacturers Association CEO Pete Bunce called "impossible." 

"Well luckily we never believed it was impossible," said Klapmeier. "It was just a lot of work." The project was first announced in 2006 and was suspended for a time while the company dealt with financial and internal issues, but it resumed with an injection of cash from the China Aviation Industry General Aircraft (CAIGA), a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). Among the issues Cirrus dealt with was the installation of a full-plane parachute. The FAA determined testing of the parachute system was not necessary for certification, but a video shown at the announcement shows the parachute being deployed from a Cirrus jet in an unmanned test. Expect more details and a video during our coverage of NBAA. In the meantime, here's a video on the jet's production from last year.

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The Canadian government has begun laboratory testing of two unleaded aviation fuels that the FAA is also testing as possible replacements for 100LL. Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) is using its altitude chamber at its Ottawa research complex to put Swift 102 and Shell’s candidate fuel through its paces. Pervez Canteenwalla, the researcher heading up the project, said the NRC has already finished benchmark testing of 100LL in the chamber and preliminary comparative testing of one of the other fuels (he wouldn’t say which). Swift and Shell were chosen as finalists in the FAA’s Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative to assess their potential as a drop-in replacement for 100LL. The Canadian research is independent from the FAA’s program and Canteenwalla said the issue is important to Canadian aviation since piston aircraft make up a large segment of the country’s personal and commercial aircraft fleet and are particularly important to serve far-flung northern communities. Although the NRC and the FAA are testing the same things, Canteenwalla said the use of the altitude chamber in Ottawa gives the NRC some advantages.

Canteenwalla said the altitude chamber is able to duplicate all of the conditions to which an engine and its fuel will be exposed in the controlled environment of the lab. The air pressure can be adjusted to duplicate altitudes from sea level to beyond the 30,000-foot ceiling of most piston engines. Temperature can be set anywhere between -40 to +40 degrees Celsius and humidity can also be adjusted. That ensures the entire system is subject to conditions that will be encountered during normal operations, said Canteenwalla. FAA testing is limited to varying the density of the combustion air fed to the engine. The NRC tests are being done on a Continental TSIO 520 engine, which is turbocharged but doesn’t have an intercooler. That means it normally operates near its upper temperature limits so it represents the extreme performance required of fuels in nasty environments. In real life, the engine is used mostly on Cessna 402C aircraft that toil as light freight haulers and commuter aircraft. Canteenwalla said results from the preliminary tests will be released by the end of the year and the full test program will be completed by next summer.

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Slovenia-based Pipistrel has signed a $550 million deal with Sino GA Group Co. of China to build its Alpha Electro electric trainer and hybrid-powered Pantera high-performance aircraft in China. And while that’s significant in itself, it’s Pipistrel’s plans for the money it will earn in the project that is bound to raise eyebrows. “Pipistrel will use a part of the mentioned amount also for the development of a new, very innovative zero emission 19-seat aircraft, powered by hybrid electric technology and hydrogen low temperature PEM fuel cells, planned for public transport between the cities in China and all over the world,” Pipistrel CEO Ivo Boscarol said in a news release.

In a statement ahead of the International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Boscarol said the seven-year deal involves construction of an airport and factories capable of building 500 aircraft a year. The project will include technology transfer and the granting of exclusive rights to Sino GA to build the aircraft in China. Pipistrel will get things started by building 50 each of the aircraft for Sino GA to sell while the factories are being built. At the same time it will train production staff at its facilities in Slovenia and supervise the Chinese production to ensure quality standards are maintained. The value to Pipistrel is about $385 million and it will draw its investment money for the commuter plane from there. AVweb's Paul Bertorelli flew the electric airplane in Slovenia in 2014 and prepared the video below.

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The Boeing 747 assembly line has been thrown a substantial lifeline with a major order from UPS. The freight service has ordered 14 new 747-8 freighters and taken options for 14 more as part of its international fleet modernization. It’s the biggest 747 order since Lufthansa bought 20 in 2006. There have been steady predictions from analysts about the end of the line for the first jumbo jet and the UPS order is considered a respite rather than a rescue, especially for passenger versions of the aircraft. Airlines are flocking to new twin-aisle, twin engine aircraft for their long-haul operations and retiring their 400 series and older 747s.

For UPS, the order is strategic. The gas-guzzling older models are still cost effective on high-volume short routes but the numbers start to fall apart on long-distance flights. All of the new aircraft will be put on international routes and the older jumbos will be shifted to shorter trips. Not only do the new jumbos use less fuel, they carry 16 percent more freight and make less noise. The order brings Boeing’s confirmed backlog for 747s to 29 and UPS won’t get its first new airplane until the end of 2017.

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The two pilots of the business jet that crashed at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2014, killing one, appeared to have lost control during an attempted landing in gusty, variable tailwinds as the tower implored the crew to go around. The NTSB’s factual report from the Jan. 5, 2014, crash, released this week, said the Bombardier CL-600-2B16 initially flew a missed approach. When asked for intentions, one of the pilots said, “we turn back and do another approach. We got a tailwind of 30 knots.” Surveillance video shows the jet, with one passenger, was in its second landing attempt when it touched down briefly, bounced and then smashed into the runway, flipping over and catching on fire. The copilot was killed while the pilot and passenger were seriously injured.

The jet, which arrived from Tucson, was cleared to land on Runway 15 for its first attempt as ATC reported winds from 290 degrees at 19 knots, with a one-minute average wind from 320 at 12 knots gusting to 25, according to transcripts. At 12:20 p.m. local time, after the missed approach and two minutes before the crash, the cockpit recorder indicated a strained dialogue between the pilots. There seemed to be concern from at least one about the second approach, with remarks about tailwinds exceeding 30 knots and one pilot saying, “careful, careful” after the ground proximity warning sounded. After the second landing clearance and what appears to be a continued discussion about the approach, the controller transmitted, “go around” four times before one of the pilots said, “let’s go, let’s go,” followed by screams and yells just before impact. 

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At least eight people suffered minor injuries when a Boeing 767 caught fire during takeoff roll at Chicago O'Hare Friday afternoon. A couple of hours later, a FedEx MD-11 also caught fire at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida after its left gear collapsed. The two pilots escaped unharmed. The jet had just flown from Memphis, WSVN reported. In Chicago, the American Airlines crew aborted takeoff from O'Hare's Runway 28R about 2:35 p.m., according to a Chicago Tribune report. Flight 383 was headed for Miami with 161 passengers and nine crew members, who were seen on video as they escaped via emergency slides on the left side of the jet as the right wing burned. 

One flight attendant and seven passengers were injured and were taken to local hospitals, the airline said in the Tribune report, although news outlets were reporting that EMS crews assisted as many as 20 people who were hurt. An engine problem was blamed for the incident, the airline said. Preliminary investigation points to an uncontained engine failure but the cause of the failure has not been determined. A piece of the engine reportedly hit the roof of a building. The Tribune reported that controllers immediately spotted the aborted takeoff and fire as the pilot said "we're evacuating." Fire and rescue crews were called and quickly contained the fire. The incident closed at least three runways at O'Hare.

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With a few weeks having passed since my ditching on the way to Catalina (KAVX), I finally had time to calm down and reflect on what happened. It all began with our typical debate about where to fly for Saturday lunch. Someone suggested Big Bear Lake, a nearby resort nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains. It is a pretty spot with a good restaurant and low fuel prices, but at 6700 feet it can be a bit chilly in the winter and sometimes windy in the surrounding mountains. I suggested Catalina as an alternative. It is closer and warmer and scenic in its own way, although the landing fee usually keeps us from flying there more than once or twice a year. It had been a long time since we had dined on buffalo burgers, a Catalina specialty, so we decided to go there.

We grabbed the life vests, at least those of us who had them, made the usual jokes about going swimming, pre-flighted our planes, and off we went, never suspecting how prophetic our little jokes would turn out to be. It was a beautiful Southern California day with perfect temperature and only high scattered clouds. We climbed around the east side of John Wayne's Class C airspace and turned towards Catalina when we reached the shoreline.

There were four planes that day. Some of us decided that 6500 feet was high enough for the crossing, others went up to 8500 feet. Neither altitude will guarantee a safe glide back to land for the entire trip, but obviously, 2000 extra feet of altitude makes the wet zone smaller, the wet zone being that portion of the trip where a water landing is inevitable if the engine were to quit. In the Cub, the kit version of the Legend Cub that a good friend and I had built some four years ago, we decided on 6500 feet. The total crossing distance is about 30 nm, with a wet zone of about seven miles skewed towards Catalina because the airport there is at 1600 feet, and the terrain between there and the ocean is unusable as a landing spot.

Somewhere near the midpoint of the crossing the engine simply quit, for what reason we will never know. What an odd and uncomfortable feeling. This is something you read about, talk about, and practice every now and then, but you never really believe that your engine is going to quit. Initially there is that period of shock. How the hell could this be happening to me, and here of all places? I am pretty good at math, but it didn't take too much fancy calculating to figure that we were not going to make it to anyplace that included dry land. We were in exactly the wrong place to glide anywhere but the Pacific Ocean.

At this point that old admonition, "Fly the plane!" came to mind. I set up a glide at 50 knots and started going through the drill. Check fuel valve, apply carburetor heat, check ignition, check circuit breakers, attempt restart, try it again. Darn! (Or something like that.) This thing isn't going to run. Get on the radio and squawk 7700. We were already on Catalina CTAF, so I called them first. "Mayday, mayday, mayday. Cub 114DE is 15 northeast on a heading of 240 degrees towards you. We have had a complete engine failure and will not make it to the airport."

What a strange feeling it is to make such a call. I had this odd sense of detachment from the situation, calmly going through the steps I knew I had to perform, yet somehow not really ready to embrace the concept that I was going to land in the ocean soon. Catalina gave me the frequency for SoCal ATC, so I switched over to them and gave them the same call. I suppose they were glad to talk to that guy who had just lit up their radar screens with the emergency squawk. They calmly asked that most appropriate but somehow never welcomed question, "What are your intentions?"

The answer you would love to blurt out is, "I don't know. Just make it go away!" But, of course, that is not one of the available choices. "We will continue our glide on this heading and look for a boat. We will not make it to the airport. Please notify the Coast Guard and let us know where they are," I said, not realizing that the Coast Guard really doesn't handle such emergencies in the Catalina Channel. Los Angeles County Baywatch does. (Yes, just like the cheesy television show.) In any case they weren't close enough to meet us upon our "arrival." We spotted two private pleasure boats. One was closer and perhaps bigger, so we headed towards it. The plan was to circle them once and land right in front of them, so they would be sure to see us, which is exactly what we did.

As we approached I did a quick briefing with my back seat passenger, himself a pilot. One last attempt to restart. Nothing. We gave SoCal one last call, opened the doors on both sides to give us the best egress possibilities, tightened out belts and turned into the wind. Mercifully the sea was pretty calm, so swells were not a big concern. All I could think about was slow it down and keep the nose up. I just didn't want to flip over. The rest I wasn't all that worried about. Airspeed was down to about 30 knots after the final turn. Slow enough, even in the Cub. Hold that attitude and just wait for it.

The things that struck me about the touchdown were the pitch down of the nose, which I expected, and the sudden rush of water that somehow I didn't really expect, at least not with that intensity. The Good Lord being with us, we stayed right-side-up, but the cabin was completely full of water in an instant. My back seat passenger Bill was out the door in a flash, as we had briefed, a feat he could never have performed on dry land with such speed and grace. I was a bit disoriented by the sudden onrush of water but regained my composure after only a few seconds. Bill said it took me about ten seconds to come up after he had surfaced, but time is hard to judge in such tense situations. I never had the thought that I wouldn't make it, but I was sure glad to take a breath of air again.

We could see the boat heading towards us, a most welcome sight, because the water was cold. I think we were on board within five minutes of ditching, but Bill estimated it to be more like ten. I think it just felt like ten to him because the cold water was really getting to him very quickly. He was otherwise in good shape with no apparent injuries, but the onset of hypothermia so quickly had me very concerned. Luckily we were out of the water and wrapped in blankets in short order. The Baywatch boat arrived within minutes to take us to Avalon, where we could get some dry clothes and get checked out at the local clinic. Everything worked about as smoothly as it possibly could. Well, except for the plane being at the bottom of the ocean.

As this drama unfolded, our friends were circling above us to make sure we got help. Once we had been picked up they flew to the airport and took the shuttle bus to town. We were sure glad to see them in Avalon. Unfortunately they all missed out on lunch that day, but they now have a pretty good story to tell as compensation.

The professionalism and thoughtful consideration of everyone we encountered that day was heartwarming and impressive. I can't say enough good things about the L.A. County Baywatch crew, the firefighters, and deputy sheriff in Avalon. What a great bunch of people. It is nice to know that when you really get in trouble, there are some great people around to help you out.

So, what's the takeaway from all of this drama? One, never get complacent about a water crossing, or any other flight over potentially hostile terrain, for that matter. No matter how many times you have made a trip, the next one could be the one where your engine quits. It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen. Two, wear a life jacket when you fly over water. I had one on, but Bill had to make do with a cushion. I felt bad about that and will not let it happen again. Three, when you do have to cross a place where landing is not a good option, take the shortest route and fly high. We could have done better in both respects on this trip. There is no way to know if it would have made a difference to us, but it might have. Four, make sure someone knows where you are going and/or use flight following. We were flying with three other planes, but didn't use flight following until we were in trouble. In this case it worked out well enough, but if we had been alone and somewhere else, it might not have. And five, be sure to do a careful preflight. I did that, but I will never know if there was some little thing that I missed that made all the difference. I don't think so, but I think there will always be that little bit of nagging doubt.

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

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There are two ways to look at the ongoing FAA fuels testing project called the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative. One is that no news is good news and things must be perking along as planned. The other is that no news is bad news and that things aren’t going as planned or else we would have heard progress reports.

The rational among us would assume the former, realizing as we do that the federal rules on which the PAFI program is based require confidentiality to protect the proprietary interests of the companies doing the work. That’s not an unreasonable requirement given that the FAA is intimately involved in this process and necessarily intersects with the secrets companies doing the work would just as well keep secret until these fuels are finally approved.

But we live in a leaky world and what’s leaking out is not encouraging, especially with regard to Shell’s proposed unleaded replacement for 100LL. Recall that PAFI started in 2013 with 17 potential fuels from six entities. As PAFI has proceeded through its planned phases, that has been winnowed to two fuels for final testing, one from Shell and one from Swift. Both are now undergoing advanced testing, including flight trials toward a 2018 certification date.

The last official update from the FAA was in July at AirVenture, which delivered bland assurances that everything is just fine. From what I’m hearing, it may not be. Over the weekend, we heard from the fourth source who told us that the Shell fuel may have high toxicity and significant materials compatibility issues. One source told us the fuel is capable of stripping paint off wing surfaces and did. Two others told us the fuel has compatibility issues with seals and O-rings, a key element in the ability to drop into the existing fuel infrastructure, not the least of which is the fuel system in individual aircraft. We’re also hearing that it requires respirators and protective gear to handle, at least in the version being tested now.

Whenever a planned product overhangs the market with distant promises, whisper campaigns are inevitable. I’d say this is another one of those, except the sources I spoke to about it are highly reliable. No one wants to or can go on the record because of non-disclosure agreements and the aforementioned federal rules. However necessary such secrecy may be, it begets certain people lifting up the corner of the tent and that’s where we are.

I reached out to Shell about this and got what I expected: an assurance that Shell will deliver a fieldable fuel by the agreed-upon date in 2018. But a polite refusal to answer detailed questions about results of materials compatibility or toxicity testing. Both of these are critical because if the fuel that emerges requires HAZMAT handling at the dispensing point, that’s not just a non-drop-in, it’s worse than 100LL and of doubtful appeal in the market. For what it’s worth, we haven’t heard these complaints about Swift’s candidate fuel.

So what does all this mean? Ever the sunny optimist, I still believe there will be a viable replacement for 100LL and by 2018. The volume of business, although in graceful decline, still represents too much money to just walk away from. Something will emerge. I do have concerns that the materials compatibility will be devised in a way intelligent enough to represent every airplane, including my 78-year-old Cub.

And for the record, I’m not the only guy who has heard about this. I’m told by firsthand sources that the alphabets are well aware of it and so are people in the fuel community. (AOPA declined comment.) What I’d wish for is an honest, detailed update from the FAA and from Shell. If these problems have been addressed, say. Otherwise, if we’re headed for a train wreck here, better to find out sooner than later.  

The foregoing blog is opinion and commentary based on disclosed fact. AVweb welcomes alternate points of view, including guest blogs. 

Canada's National Research Council is doing independent ground testing of two alternatives to 100LL avgas that are undergoing tests by the FAA. The Canadian organization is comparing the performance of Swift Fuels' and Shell's lead-free aviation fuels to regular avgas in an altitude chamber that allows it to replicate flight conditions in the controlled environment of the lab. AVweb's Russ Niles was recently given a tour.

After 10 years of development, Cirrus Aircraft has announced certification of its SF50 Vision jet. AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with CEO Dale Klapmeier about the challenge, the process and the reward.

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Don Thun shot Skip Stewart and airshow partner making a crossover pass during their routine at AirVenture. Dramatic shot, Don.

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During helicopter primary flight training at Fort Wolters, TX in 1970 a long, loose line of TH-55 helicopters, some with solo students, some with instructors,  were returning from afternoon training. 

Student: (In broken Vietnamese) Wolthers Tower, Osage 1234 entering extended down wind for landing. 

Wolthers Tower: Osage 1234, negative entry, you are entering traffic from wrong direction. 

Student : Thats OK tower, I solo. 


 

Bob Page