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A busy traffic pattern and a controller’s mistaken identity of an aircraft led to the midair collision of a Sabreliner jet and a Cessna 172 near San Diego in 2015, the NTSB found. All four on board the Sabreliner twin-engine aircraft and the solo pilot in a Cessna 172 were killed on Aug. 16 during landing approaches at Brown Field Municipal Airport. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported this week the Cessna 172 pilot was Michael A. Copeland, an executive at the San Diego-based tech company Qualcomm. The Sabreliner, called Eagle1, was registered to military contractor BAE Systems, with company employees on board. The NTSB’s probable cause was a controller’s “failure to properly identify the aircraft in the pattern and to ensure control instructions provided to the intended Cessna on downwind were being performed before turning Eagle1 into its path for landing.”  

Contributing factors were the controller’s high workload when taking over the radios from a trainee and what the board called “inherent limitations of the see-and-avoid concept” for the two pilots. The controller, who had 37 years of experience, told investigators his “personal limit” for workload was seven aircraft between the airport’s two parallel runways, but at the time of the collision there were nine under his control. He appeared to have confused the accident Cessna, N1285U, with another 172 while trying to resolve potential traffic conflicts in the pattern. The collision occurred as the controller “tried to verify N1285U's position,” according to the report. The NTSB also noted that the cockpit views and surrounding environment made it difficult for the pilots to spot each other until it was too late to avoid a collision, and neither aircraft had traffic detection equipment. The board recently issued recommendations for additional training for controllers based on the accident and a safety alert for pilots to promote the use of traffic displays.

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The cause of the deadly crash of an Eastern Air Lines Boeing 727 into one of Bolivia’s highest mountains nearly 32 years ago remains a mystery. But the investigation appears to have been revived with the recent retrieval of flight data recorders from the wreckage. ABC News reported Wednesday that the National Transportation Safety Board and the Bolivian government have arranged to examine pieces of a recorder found earlier this year by two American mountain climbers. 

The two men from Boston, who have been interested in exploring the fate of missing aircraft, climbed Mount Illimani, Bolivia’s second highest, in the spring and found what turned out to be pieces of voice and flight data recorders. The devices had remained missing, along with other evidence, amid the sprawling wreckage of the jet due to the elevation of the terrain, which peaks at more than 21,000 feet. Eastern Air Lines Flight 980, flying a multi-leg route from Paraguay to Miami with a stop in Bolivia, crashed into Mount Illimani at about 19,600 feet on New Year’s Day 1985. All 29 people on board were killed. The aircraft had been on an initial descent into La Paz but left its route and flew into the mountain. The NTSB and other investigators were at the site following the crash but were unable to retrieve human remains or much by way of evidence due to the harsh conditions and deep snow.

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Five out of six crew members on board an Aerosucre cargo jet are dead after the Boeing 727 crashed Tuesday night in Colombia. A flight technician was the lone survivor and is in a Bogota hospital, according to news reports. The crash followed what appeared to be a problem on takeoff at 5:23 p.m. UPI and other news outlets posted cellphone videos from bystanders on a dirt road by a fence, showing the 727 zooming past them with its nose off the ground as if rotating.

Other news photos show burning wreckage about 10 miles from the departure point at Germán Olano Airport near Puerto Carreno in northeast Colombia. The jet was bound for Bogota. The captain, copilot, flight engineer, dispatcher and a forklift operator were killed, UPI reported. The airport is less than 200 feet above sea level and has one runway, 7-25, about 5,900 feet long. The accident is the second in recent weeks in Colombia, where a chartered Avro RJ85 crashed near Rionegro on Nov. 28, killing 71 people. 

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A Boeing 777 turned the wrong way after departing from Los Angeles in a rainstorm on Friday morning, shortly after 1 a.m., and flew into an area of mountainous terrain before correcting course and safely reaching its destination in Taiwan. The incident, which was first reported Monday by local media, began when a controller told the flight crew to turn left instead of right after takeoff. The controller quickly corrected the instruction, and called repeatedly to the flight crew for more than a minute before getting a response. "EVA 015 Heavy, what are you doing? Turn southbound now, southbound now," the controller says after the plane apparently does not heed her initial instruction.

The EVA Air 777 flew as close as 500 feet above Mount Wilson, according to ABC News. The wrong turn also brought the 777 close to an Air Canada jet flying behind it. The entire exchange can be heard on audio from The FAA is investigating the incident.


AVweb’s search of aviation news around the world found announcements from Bell Helicopter, Airbus Helicopters, Cutter Aviation and Austro Engine. Bell Helicopter announced its Bell 505 Jet Ranger X has been certified by the Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA). Unveiled in 2013, the new, five-seat helicopter went from concept to a successful first flight in 20 months. Since then, the aircraft has flown more than 1,000 flight hours. Airbus Helicopters Inc. has been awarded a Contractor Logistics Support contract by the U.S. Army to provide spare parts, material and engineering support for the Army’s UH-72A Lakota fleet of utility and training helicopters.  Airbus Helicopters Inc. will provide the support at Army and National Guard bases in 43 states as well as in Kwajalein, Guam, Puerto Rico and Germany.  The U.S. bases include Fort Rucker in Alabama.

Cutter Aviation announced it has completed the necessary requirements to begin operating the revolutionary new HondaJet on its FAA Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate. Two new HondaJet Aircraft have begun operations from Cutter Aviation and the first ever FAA Part 135 charter flight in a HondaJet will depart this week from Cutter Aviation Phoenix Sky Harbor. Austro Engine, a company of the Diamond Aircraft Group, is celebrating 1 million flight hours of the AE300 jet-fuel aviation engine. Since the start of serial production in 2008, more than 1,500 engines have been delivered into operation. Very popular with pilots is the easy engine management by an electronic controlled system (ECU) with integrated single power lever design, as this allows them to focus on the actual flying.

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Most pilots are content do drone along in the straight-and-level, rarely banking beyond 30 degrees or pitching up and down beyond 10. Meanwhile, aerobatic pilots enthuse in their ability to fly upside down, vertically and in all combinations. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes are what the FAA calls “performance maneuvers,” generally thought of as those required on the commercial airplane pilot’s practical test.

Chandelles, steep turns and steep spirals all are part of that curriculum, and most pilots who go on to professional careers rarely, if ever, perform them again. Thanks to their lack of application in the kind of everyday flying most of us do, many pilots believe these maneuvers exist only to have something to do on the commercial checkride. Maybe. But as we’ll see, they can have practical applications. The catch? You generally have to be in some kind of a predicament to need them.

What They’re For

The FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook (AFH), FAA-H-8083-3B, pretty much ignores any of this “controversy” when describing performance maneuvers. Instead, it says they are “used to develop a high degree of pilot skill. They aid the pilot in analyzing the forces acting on the airplane and in developing a fine control touch, coordination, timing and division of attention for precise maneuvering of the airplane.” The AFH goes on to note, “An important benefit of performance maneuvers is the sharpening of fundamental skills to the degree that the pilot can cope with unusual or unforeseen circumstances occasionally encountered in normal flight.”

What kinds of “unforeseen circumstances” are we talking about here? Well, pretty much anything out of the ordinary that might be encountered by a pilot flying an airplane: weather, traffic, obstructions, mechanical difficulty...or the need to reverse course quickly, or descend steeply over the same spot. The point isn’t that private pilots should be examined on their ability to perform a steep spiral. The point is even pilots who never aspire to fly for money can get into a jam; knowing from experience how the airplane handles at high power and angles of attack and low airspeed in a shallow bank might be useful in getting out of it.

In fact, I can think of specific predicaments several of these maneuvers can be used to get out of: It shouldn’t require a rocket surgeon to figure out a steep spiral can come in handy when descending through a hole in an overcast, or that something approaching a Chandelle can help escape a box canyon. And despite their having specific names and way different descriptions, they all need to be flown the same way: By using all the airplane’s primary controls simultaneously, and in a coordinated fashion.


In addition to being in the commercial practical test standards, these maneuvers all share some basic characteristics. These include:

Maximum Performance. They each are designed to eke out of an airplane its best rate of climb or descent in a confined space, or execute a rapid heading change. Because the bank angles are in the region where load factors rise, and because substantial control inputs may be required to initiate or perfect them, they should be entered at the manufacturer’s recommended speeds, or at VA, whichever is least.

Substantial Control Deflection. If you’re doing these right, you may need inputs approaching the specific control’s mechanical limit. This is especially true for rudder, at the Chandelle’s completion. Of course, if we’re going to perform these maneuvers correctly, we’re going to need to coordinate aileron and rudder, which can demand relative control inputs—opposite aileron to correct any overbanking tendency, for example—to which we’re not accustomed.

Changing Attitudes. In the Chandelle and Lazy 8 especially, control pressures are constantly changing when the maneuver is being flown correctly. Learning how these changes affect the airplane’s aerodynamics and the controls’ effectiveness, and how to correct for those effects is one of the stated reasons for learning and practicing them.

Power Management. Many pilots don’t normally think of the throttle as a primary flight control, but it is when considering these maneuvers. For example, it would be exciting to perform a steep spiral at cruise power, and fairly useless to try a Chandelle without it.

Beyond The Commercial PTS

While learning and perfecting these maneuvers will get you through the commercial checkride, they also will instill the skills and understanding necessary to control the airplane in extreme situations. You’ll learn, for example, how much opposite aileron might be required to counter an airplane’s overbanking tendency, or how much rudder is required with cruise power at minimum controllable airspeed, and how to recover from them without losing altitude.

Can this come in handy? Of course. The classic application of a steep spiral—for instance, maneuvering over a landing area for an emergency landing—is diagrammed below. Some of this is learned in primary training, but it’s perfected and practiced later. Likewise, learning what it takes to maintain heading at high power settings and angles of attack, as performed in a Chandelle, has applications in banner and glider towing, short-field operations and many others.

But the most critical and important applications of these skills and knowledge come when the chips are down.

A classic example might be in the traffic pattern, where an abrupt avoidance maneuver is necessary to avoid colliding with an airplane whose pilot prefers a straight-in approach to the pattern you’re flying. An abrupt, full-power, climbing turn, starting from an already-slow speed and banked attitude, for example, can be just the thing to get out of his way. Meanwhile, we’ve already touched on the steep spiral as a tool for positioning the airplane for an emergency landing, or to descend through a hole in the clouds to VMC below. The same maneuver can be used to establish a get-down-now emergency descent: Pull the power to idle, roll into a 45-degree bank, drop the gear and flaps, adjust pitch to fly at the top of the white arc and you’re spiraling down like an express train, under control and remaining over roughly the same location throughout.

Handle With Care

One thing these maneuvers may not teach adequately is how to manage control inputs when applying increased loading to the airplane. The central problem to avoid is the so-called rolling G, where a simultaneous application of roll and pitch combine to impose additional loads on the airframe. While a certificated airplane is supposed to withstand up to 3.8 G without breaking or bending, that value presumes its G loading is applied to one axis at a time, not more than one simultaneously.

Ever watched an aerobatic display, or video of a maneuvering fighter airplane? If the maneuver being performed will exert more than, say, 2 G, its pilot will apply aileron first or pitch first, never both at the same time. Rolling and pitching at the same time, for example, exerts a twisting moment on the airframe, imposing uneven loads on the wings or horizontal stabilizer. Instead, we want to uniformly and smoothly load up the airplane to the desired G level in one axis or another, then apply loading to the other axis. For example, roll into a steep bank, then apply nose-up pitch to counter the reduction in the vertical lift component. (Yes, an exception is the Lazy 8, but the G-loading applied in a well-executed example shouldn’t approach 2 G, much less the airframe’s load limit.) All of these maneuvers, of course, are entered at appropriate airspeeds, to minimize G loading.

The Punchline

What’s the point? Just this: Recovering from unusual attitudes, or the need for abrupt maneuvering to avoid an obstacle or another airplane, can require a well-developed feel for the airplane, what it’s doing and how much further you can push it. One way to gain this kind of understanding is to learn and practice these and other “performance” maneuvers, regardless of whether you plan to add a commercial certificate to your wallet.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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As 2016 stumbles to the finish line, it will close with one dubious achievement: A record number of U.S. companies have been bought by foreign investors and leading the charge is China. According to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., just three years ago, Chinese interests acquired 43 companies. In 2015, the total was 103, according to the Rhodium Group, which tracks such things.

For 2016, China interests invested $40 billion by the first quarter alone, more than twice the total for all of 2015. This week's announcement that China’s Wanfeng Auto Holding Group bought a controlling share in Diamond Aircraft Industries in London, Ontario, makes us recall that the U.S. general aviation industry is dominated by Chinese holdings.

Let’s review: In 2010, China’s AVIC International bought Continental Motors for $186 million; Superior Airparts, a major PMA supplier, was bought later that same year by a Chinese technology group; Cirrus was bought by China’s Aviation Industry General Aircraft in 2011 for $210 million; a private investment consortium including the Meijing Group bought Mooney in 2013 for an undisclosed amount; the bankrupt Thielert Aircraft Engines was bought by Continental Motors and became Chinese-owned in 2013; in May of 2015, Continental scooped up Danbury Aerospace, the parent of Engine Components International, a major PMA house; in 2012, Glasair Aviation was bought by Fang Tieji, chairman of Hanxing Group Ltd.

This doesn’t count Chinese investment in U.S. aviation companies that aren’t admitting it, nor does it include the major joint ventures such as GE’s partnering with AVIC and Airbus’ manufacturing position in China. Diamond manufactures in China, too. Some deals have gotten away for security and regulatory reasons. China sniffed around Hawker Beechcraft, for example, but that deal collapsed. So, I’m sure, have lesser deals we haven’t heard about.

What’s one to think of all this? The first thought is this: The Chinese have drawn a bright line between what industries they think represent the future and what U.S. investors believe in. China’s economyis centrally planned and the last five-year plan, the 12th, emphasized infrastructure, including aviation. China’s Xi Jinping has been quoted as saying certain industries—technology, information systems, aviation, alternative energy—represent the high ground of the 21st century.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anyone who’s saying general aviation is a high-ground industry in the U.S. It’s closer to a sunset than a green shoot. It’s different in China. Aviation at all levels there is emerging and even if it’s not growing as fast as many in the U.S. hoped it would when they developed their “China plans” a decade ago, the potential remains. Westerners working in the Chinese-acquired companies have told me the Chinese have a long view and realize that building a general aviation infrastructure will take years and billions of yuan. And if they buy it at fire sale prices from a country--that would be us-- more interested in short-term gains from credit default swaps and securitized mortgages, why wouldn’t they? To me, it’s just about that simple. I don’t have much animus for the companies that sell because I know most have tried other options to raise capital.

Even ahead of the recently concluded election, the political class has expressed some alarm at the level of Chinese investment. Once 2016’s numbers are tallied, expect to hear a sustained howl. The incoming administration has made a campaign touchpoint of both containing China and tilting toward protectionist economic and industrial policy. That means the next year four years are going to get interesting.

Recall that Cirrus shopped the company for several years before the Chinese stepped up. Western and even Middle Eastern investors were evidently looking for a bigger return than Cirrus could ever deliver. Same applies to Mooney. If the Chinese ATM hadn’t disgorged, do you think Cirrus could have completed its jet project or Mooney would have embarked on a factory remodel and the new M10 trainers? Both of those projects, I’ll point out, created jobs in the U.S., even if there’s no guarantee they’ll stay here. Also, note that Diamond says it will review its suspended D-jet program following the new investment.

We’ll now see if new U.S. economic policy can entice onshore capital to invest in industrial expansion more widely, including aviation. I’m all for limiting foreign investment in sensitive areas of the economy where it could erode key U.S. strengths and competitiveness, but if protectionist policy squeezes investment dollars, where’s the money going to come from? I doubt if the government will be investing, so that leaves commercial and private capital which, heretofore, has viewed little airplane projects as the cute money pits they often are. It’s no stretch to say Chinese investment, palatable or not, has been instrumental in keeping GA manufacturing alive in the U.S. On the commerical side, in September, Boeing said China will buy more than 6800 aircraft during the next 20 years. That's more than $1 trillion in business. 

And that leads to the full-circle portion of today’s commentary. Remember the mid-1980s when we were all freaking out because the Japanese were buying U.S. real estate? It was quite the panic. Then the bubble burst and the Japanese lost their kimonos. That’s another way of saying just because certain investors see GA as a poor risk, doesn’t mean they’re wrong. The Chinese are buying airplane companies for reasons other than handsome P&Ls. Our kids will get to see if the long game pays off, if they even care enough about airplanes by then to notice.


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