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A passenger-carrying drone being tested in Israel could be on its way to becoming the first multi-use flying vehicle on the market. As reported this week by Reuters, the Israeli tech firm Urban Aeronautics completed early test flights of what the company calls an unmanned “flying car,” which could be in service by 2020. The Cormorant, one model in what the developers envision to be a series of vehicles called Fancraft, has internal rotors for vertical takeoff and landing. The four-wheeled Cormorant, which flies with twin ducted fans, weighs about 3307 pounds – similar to GA light twin airplanes – and will be able to carry about 1,000 pounds and fly at 100 knots. According to the company’s website, the aircraft will use various sensors to navigate and maneuver as well as avoid terrain and obstacles for “operating safely in complex urban and natural environments.” 

With an estimated price of $14 million, though, this model isn’t likely to be used in consumer markets, but for commercial, search-and-rescue or military purposes. "Just imagine a dirty bomb in a city and chemical substance of something else and this vehicle can come in robotically, remotely piloted, come into a street and decontaminate an area," Urban Aeronautics founder Rafi Yoeli told Reuters. The company has indicated it’s engineering the drone with FAA certification standards in mind and has obtained dozens of patents for its proprietary technology, including composite construction and fly-by-wire systems.

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Local and federal agencies have teamed up to provide extra equipment to search Lake Erie for the Citation jet that has been missing for nearly a week. A 75-foot U.S. Geological Survey research ship with sonar systems has arrived in Cleveland to help detect the cockpit voice recorder of the 2012 CJ4, according to local news reports Thursday. The privately owned jet, which disappeared minutes after departing Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront field late Dec. 30, remains missing along with all six occupants. Cleveland officials said investigators continue to collect debris found along the lakeshore, but are not disclosing details. The NTSB, FAA and other agencies are helping local law enforcement in the effort, and teams of experts are using survey data to build 3D models of the search area, the city said this week.  City police helicopters have been scanning the waters for signs of the aircraft. 

Meanwhile, another water recovery took place Thursday off the shoreline of Los Angeles where a Robinson R-22 helicopter crashed Wednesday evening, killing the pilot and a professional photographer on board. After Coast Guard crews searched the port waters by aircraft and boats on the water, the bodies of two men were found Thursday morning, The Associated Press reported. The helicopter had departed Zamperini Field in Torrance on a photo tour. Local news reports say witnesses on a cruise ship leaving the Port of Los Angeles area saw the rotorcraft descending towards the water about 5:45 p.m.

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The newest iteration of the Cirrus SR22 model, the G6, is now launched, Cirrus Aircraft announced on Wednesday. The 2017 G6 offers an updated Garmin flight deck — the Cirrus Perspective-Plus — with a times-10 boost in processing speed, plus new wingtip lighting that incorporates ultra-high-performance LEDs. “Perspective-Plus instantly adds game-changing capabilities to G6 – from connectivity to safety to navigation,” said Todd Simmons, president of customer experience for Cirrus. The new features include animated datalink weather, SurfaceWatch safety protection, payload management, visual approach capabilities and wireless database uploads.

The Cirrus SR20 also got an upgrade for 2017, adding the new Perspective-Plus flight deck, plus a Lycoming IO-390 four-cylinder powerplant with 215 horsepower. The new engine power plus additional enhancements add up to a useful load increase of 150 pounds, Cirrus said. The G6 SR20 also includes the new LED wingtip lights.

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AVweb's search of news in aviation found announcements from the Living Legends of Aviation awards, the Upwind Foundation, Pilatus Aircraft and Sporty's. Bob Hoover, Arnold Palmer and David Thatcher will be among those remembered at the 14th Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards, which will take place Jan. 20 in Beverly Hills. Awards recipients will include the Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award, to be presented to Kenn Ricci, principal of Directional Capital. The Bob Hoover Freedom of Flight Award was chosen by Bob Hoover himself, before his final flight west, as he wanted his good friend Clay Lacy to be honored. The Upwind Foundation, now in its fifth year of operation, has released the 2017 scholarship applications and program dates. Upwind selects high school students and awards them a scholarship for an intensive, nine-week flight and ground training program provided by expert instructors. Applications are now being accepted and the deadline to apply is Feb. 17, 2017. 

Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. announced the signing of three PC-21 fleet orders by end of December 2016, for a total of 21 PC-21s, of which 17 are for the French air force and two each for the Royal Jordanian air force and QinetiQ, a British company that operates the "Empire Test Pilots' School." Together, these orders are worth over 300 million Swiss francs and will help to ensure jobs at Stans. Much more than just the "latest version," Sporty's 2017 Learn to Fly Course is packed with more than five hours of all-new HD video and animations to show realistic inflight maneuvers, plus added benefits offered for the first time. Enhanced segments cover essential topics like engine operating techniques, weather theory, thunderstorm development, max performance takeoff and landings and the latest regulations. 

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On a news sensationalism scale of one to 10, stories about drunken airline pilots are about an 11. These seem to pop up in the news cycle about once a month and occasionally, just to really turbocharge them, we even get video of the pilot stumbling through security and falling down %^$faced into the cockpit as a mortified flight attendant looks on.

Diligent readers will recall that over the weekend, we hit the lottery with not just one drunken pilot story, but two, plus a bonus video of a juiced captain wobbling through security, then slurring his way through a PA announcement.

What to think of all this? As a pilot, I suspect you assume what I assume. Even though they appear on the evening news with concerning regularity, they’re such isolated incidents as to hardly merit mention, much less worry. But is something that occurs once a month isolated? A solar eclipse is a rare event; 12 times a year is not.

But I suspect you understand that these incidents are flyspecks among millions of flight operations each year. Statistically, they’re indistinguishable from the background noise. And they’re not increasing, so why worry about it? But how do you know they’re not increasing? Like me, you probably just assume it. But you could be wrong for all the contextual information news stories—including ours—give.

We have in place a reasonably tight net of random testing to snare drunks and druggies from entering the cockpit and what data is available suggests that the problem, if it even is one, is infinitesimally small and not trending in either direction. But to inform your thinking on this, it helps to know the actual numbers.

The FAA requires companies to have in place a random alcohol and drug testing program. It used to require 50 percent of all safety-related employees to be tested, but that was reduced when it was surmised that the tack was too small to hit with such a large hammer. Now it’s 25 percent.

The FAA told me this week that for 2015, 56,327 random alcohol screening tests were given, which yielded 119 people having 0.04 blood alcohol level or higher. Ten of these were pilots for a percentage of 0.017. Keep that number in mind next time you see a drunken pilot story. Since 1995, when the random testing program started, an average of 11 pilots have failed the alcohol screening. There is no trend, just a spikey graph from year to year. (High 22 in 2002; low three in 1995.)

The screening program also hunts for illicit drug use, including marijuana, opiates, cocaine, amphetamines and phencyclidine. Here, the raw numbers are a little higher for positives on random tests, but for 2015, the percentage of positives was identical to alcohol: 0.017 percent positive.

So with these low numbers, where’s the problem? There isn’t one, unless you consider 0.017 percent a valid risk. Triple it and you‘re still not up to a full point. And as far as I know, there is no recent alcohol-involved accident history related to airline flying. (GA is another story. I’ll examine it in a future blog.)

So why are we running these stories? Two reasons: One is that the flying public has a compelling reason to know if the airline pilots flying the airplanes they’re riding on are likely to be sober. With vanishingly small exceptions, they are and the stories should say this each time we run them. Ours did not (although we have in the past) and many other outlets don’t either. Next time, we will include that, probably providing a link to this blog just to put things in statistical perspective.

The second reason we run these stories is the same reason the evening news gives them 12 seconds: click bait. Readers like reading them for the same reason we used to put bad car wrecks above the fold in newspapers. Just to lend detail to this, I put on my Internal Affairs Division hat and emailed my colleague Russ Niles to ask about his decision-making on the weekend story. Here’s his reply:

“The decision to run the story was based on two factors: hard news value and the availability of the video for the guy in Indonesia. The Indonesian story came in first and I was on the fence about running it until I saw the video. It was still not a firm choice for the Monday flash until the story from Calgary came in.

These were two examples of extreme pilot behavior in a short period of time that are similar to those we occasionally run on other types of safety violations by pilots. Simply put, pilots are interested in this stuff and, yes, I believe that our audience understands that egregious safety violations, regardless of their nature, are rare among pilots. 

There is also the fact that there is pressure from you [me being editorial director] and Tim Cole [Belvoir editorial VP] to ensure that aviation-related stories that hit your CNN and ABC news alert boxes get covered in AVweb and both of these qualified under that protocol.”

As I apply ointment to the burns from my own petard, there in a nutshell you see how spectacle and competitive pressure combine to push news judgment in a direction our instincts, on further reflection, might cause us to reconsider. Had I been on the news desk over the weekend, I’d have made the same decision. And if you clicked on the Monday newsfeed and didn’t see the drunk pilots story you knew you saw over the weekend, you’d have thought we missed it.

Next time, as is my wont, I’ll make sure we include the rest of the story. Meanwhile, I can't resist leaving you with Dean Martin's and Foster Brooks' hilarious shtick on the drunk airline pilot. I dare you not to laugh.


AVweb readers send us hundreds of aviation photos each year. Here's a compilation of the best for 2016. Best wishes to all who view our channel for a happy and prosperous 2017.


AVweb is the world's premier independent aviation news resource, online since 1995. Our reporting, features, and newsletters are brought to you by:

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