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Last week, the FAA rolled out the final rule for the long-awaited Third-Class medical exemption. We heard plenty of comments pro and con and in today's issue, we're publishing a detailed survey to find out what pilots really think.

The survey will take about five minutes to complete and in addition to multiple choice questions, you can also send us open-ended comments and suggestions. To take the survey, click here.

SpaceX celebrated its return to space Saturday with a flawless launch, satellite deployment and recovery of the first stage booster on a drone ship floating in the Pacific Ocean. The Dragon 9 spacecraft lifted off within the one-second launch window from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California just before 1 p.m. EST, about five months after a similar rocket blew up on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. The cause of the Sept. 1 failure was traced to a buckled pressure vessel on the spacecraft that failed during fueling.

On Saturday, the rocket launched in near-perfect weather conditions. The first stage separated successfully a short time later and the second stage carried on to a successful orbit, where it deployed the first 10 of 66 IridiumNext communications satellites in orbit. The whole process took less than 90 minutes. The satellites were ejected 100 seconds apart over Africa and will be moved into their correct positions by Iridium. Meanwhile, rockets fired on the first stage to turn it around and slow it down for a descent through the atmosphere. The rockets fired again to bring the 200-foot tube to a pinpoint landing in the middle of the platform on the drone ship. The rocket body will be refurbished to possibly be reused in a future launch. A recording of Saturday's live stream of the launch is available here. The onboard footage of the landing is below.

A suite of satellites that launched on Saturday are the first of 66 that will expand real-time global coverage for tracking airplanes in flight. Ten IridiumNext satellites, which weigh about 1,900 pounds each, were successfully deployed into low-Earth orbit, about 485 miles above the surface. The satellites will be the first to launch for Aireon’s global network, which will comprise be complete with six more launches by mid-2018. Each satellite is equipped with an ADS-B unit, about the size of a microwave oven. The launch, SpaceX's first since one of its rockets blew up at Cape Canaveral Sept. 1, went flawlessly.

Aireon has partnered with Iridium to create the new satellite network, which aims to provide not only aviation safety but also more efficient operations worldwide. Air traffic organizations in Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Italy, the U.K., Singapore, South Africa and Iceland, among others, have signed on to use the system, according to The Wall Street Journal. Agencies in Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Germany are assessing the system. A recent study by Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics analyzed the potential impact of space-based ADS-B and found that improved efficiency in flight routes could save up to 14.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere between 2020 and 2030.That would be equivalent to removing more than 300,000 cars from U.S. roads each of those years, according to the report. Iridium's Brian Pemberton discussed the other benefits the new satellites will bring in a podcast at NBAA 2016.

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NASA said this week they are ready to start airborne tests of new cockpit technology that aims to help air traffic controllers manage landings more efficiently. After years of research and lab tests, a full airborne demo of the system is scheduled to fly later this month over Washington state. The flight crews will be using software developed by NASA that directs pilots to fly at a certain speed and maintain a precise spacing with an aircraft flying ahead of them, all the way down to the runway. "It's a very simple ‘follow the leader’ operation that is easy to execute by the flight crew," said Sheri Brown, manager of the project at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

During the course of the flight tests, researchers hope to complete some 80 runs involving three major flight scenarios: flying at a cruise altitude of 35,000 feet, descending from cruise altitude all the way down to the airport, and making a final approach beginning about 15 minutes before touchdown. “All the pilots that are going to be flying the FIM [Flight Deck Interval Management] operations have gone through the training modules and simulations,” said Brown. “The equipment is all set and we’re ready to go.” The flight test will take place about 120 miles due east of Seattle over Grant County International Airport.

NASA will fly three aircraft in the tests, including a Boeing 737 provided by United Airlines and two airplanes provided by Honeywell — a Boeing 757 and a business jet, either a Dassault Falcon 900 or an Embraer 170. All anticipated flight operations have been fully coordinated ahead of time with all involved FAA air traffic control facilities. The plan is to fly about five and a half hours each weekday from Jan. 20 to Feb. 28, testing up to five scenarios during each daily sortie. If all goes well with the demo, the entire FIM system – including software and hardware – will be turned over to the FAA by the fall of 2017. The FAA will continue to evaluate and test it before making a decision to certify its use.

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One Aviation has confirmed that it has laid off an undisclosed number of staff at its Eclipse Aerospace production facility in Albuquerque. In a statement released Thursday, the company said the move was in response to market forces and preparation of a major new development. "We are undergoing a corporate restructuring, including a personnel reduction, to align production output with our current and anticipated orders over the coming months and to prepare for the future Project Canada development and launch,” the statement read. Project Canada is the code name for a new aircraft that was announced at Air Venture 2016.

The Canada version of the existing Eclipse 550 will have a bigger wing, more powerful engines and pack more fuel than the current aircraft, giving it a 1400-NM range, shorter takeoff distance and twice the climb rate to cruising altitude. It will fly in 2018 and deliveries will start in 2019. It will also have the option of a Garmin 3000 panel. Eclipse sold five aircraft in the first three quarters of 2016, the same number as in that time period in 2015. It sold a total of seven airplanes in 2015 but the final tally for 2016 won’t be released until next month at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association annual State of the Industry press conference in Washington.

The FAA’s drone registry appears to have helped authorities in Seattle identify the owner of an aircraft that clipped the iconic Space Needle on New Year’s Eve. The drone had its camera rolling as it approached the 605-foot tower as workers prepared for a New Year’s light display on the very top of the structure. The aircraft clipped a guard rail before coming to rest what appears to be a few feet away from the workers. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged on the Space Needle but the drone owner may be facing charges.

Assuming he doesn’t have an exemption, the flight busted the FAA’s 400-foot maximum altitude by hundreds of feet and the presence of the workers means it was in violation of rules on overflying people. Seattle Police officials told local media they are considering charges of reckless endangerment against the pilot. It’s not clear whether the aircraft was being flown recreationally or for a commercial purpose. It’s also not the first time it’s happened. “It looks like the drone tractor beam we installed on the Space Needle is working,” Space Needle CEO Ron Sevart sarcastically told CNN in a statement. “This is the third time we’ve recovered a drone on our property.”

Sun ’n Fun will have an international flavor again this year as the French air force demonstration team the Patrouille de France has confirmed it will perform at the fly-in, which runs from April 4-7. The Blue Angels are also performing at Lakeland. For the past two years, the Breitling Jet Team has performed at SNF. It will actually be the French team’s second U.S. stop. The colorful squad will start its North American tour at the Melbourne Air and Space Show on April 1-2. After SNF, the troupe heads to an airshow at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 8. No further U.S. dates have been announced but the team will appear at Wings Over Gatineau, just outside Ottawa, Ontario, on April 30 and there will likely be shows in the U.S. in the interim.

This is the first time in 31 years that the French team has appeared in North America. The full formation of the team is eight Dassault Dornier Alpha Jets, which they’ve used since 1981. The Patrouille de France is the world’s oldest military air demonstration team and was formed in 1931 using Stampe biplanes. The last time the team was in the U.S. was in 1986 where it marked the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty with a flypast. They're celebrating their U.S. dates with new livery that is emblematic of the Stars and Stripes.

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Flying a seaplane off of the water is well up there on the list of the most purely fun things to do in aviation. When you take one of the most enjoyable of human endeavors—flying—and combine it with zipping across the water, you get a rush that’s tough to beat when engaged in doing anything that’s legal.

The great news is that you can alight on public waters (with some conditions) in a seaplane in 49 states. The Seaplane Pilots Association publishes a list of seaplane flight schools and state-by-state water flying information.

The bad news is that one state, Colorado, bans seaplanes from all public waters. This is the story of one person’s efforts to reverse that ban and again allow access. While it’s a work in progress, in my opinion, it’s a textbook guide for anyone seeking to expand aviation access or fight against limitations.

I Just Want to Fly a Seaplane in My State

Ray Hawkins was a CFI before he even graduated from high school—and no, he did not spend three of the happiest years of his life in ninth grade—he's that kind of overachiever.He went on to spend 20 years in the Air Force and is now employed by a federal agency with an aviation connection. When it came time for his flight review a few years back, Hawkins decided that adding a seaplane rating would be an enjoyable way to meet his recurrent training requirement. What he thought was going to be just a matter of calling to schedule dual with a local operator turned into a task that has been going on for some six years. Not only could he not find seaplane instruction within his home state, he discovered that seaplanes had been banned from the public waters somewhere during the arm-waving, sky-is-falling fear of airplanes engendered by the attacks of 9/11.

Hawkins contacted the state agency responsible for the ban, Parks and Recreation, to discuss it, its basis and to see what would be involved in getting it overturned. As he worked his way up the chain of command, he repeatedly met with flat refusals to reconsider the prohibition. In the meantime, Ray started reaching out to Colorado pilots who had seaplane ratings, seeking support in his pursuit of water access for seaplanes. He established the Colorado Seaplane Initiative.

During a meeting of the Parks and Recreation commissioners, Hawkins proposed a minimal demonstration of seaplane operations—one airplane, one hour. The commissioners directed a subcommittee to come up with procedures for the demonstration. After some delay, the committee reported that it would be impossible and hypothesized a parade of horrible things that would happen should seaplanes be allowed on lakes in the state, claiming that the lakes were overcrowded with boats already, that seaplanes would bring invasive species into the state’s lakes and that seaplanes could not mix safely with boats (despite them doing so for generations on much more crowded lakes in other states).

At a subsequent meeting, Hawkins sought to speak in response to the reasons that employees Parks and Recreation had used to justify a seaplane ban. He brought Steve McCaughey, executive director of the Seaplane Pilots Association to give a presentation on safety and how seaplane pilots protect against transportation of invasive species. Hawkins was given a full three minutes to present his facts; McCaughey was not even allowed to speak. Hawkins realized that he was up against closed minds.

Colorado is known for its outdoor recreation. Its citizens engage in it at a level nearly unmatched in any other state—its regularly ranked as one of the two or three least obese states in the nation because of that fact. Seaplane flying is incredibly attractive to outdoor sport enthusiasts—outdoor recreation types are the target market for the new Icon A5 amphibian. While the altitude of some of the state’s lakes have to be considered for seaplane operations, the scenery and availability of outdoor recreation in the mountains make seaplane operations an excellent match.

Legislation

The next step for Ray Hawkins was to seek legislation to allow seaplanes on public waters in the state. He did his homework and found that Texas had passed what he considered to be common sense regulations for seaplanes on public waters in the state. He used it as a model for legislation for Colorado. With limited knowledge of state legislators, Hawkins recognized that for his proposed legislation to even get introduced, much less go anywhere, he would have to retain a lobbyist who was respected on both sides of the political aisle. He also recognized that a bill identified with one or the other political parties would stand little chance of passage in today’s polarized atmosphere, so he would do his best to get bipartisan support for seaplane access legislation. Hawkins found Kelly Sloan, a lobbyist with a political consulting firm who had access to and could speak with legislators for both political parties.

Lobbyists don’t work for free. Hawkins began fundraising to pay Sloan’s fees. At the same time, he found a privately owned lake whose owners liked the idea of seaplanes on their lake and would work with Hawkins to make it happen. He organized a seaplane splash in on Lake Meredith in southeastern Colorado to take place in the summer of 2016.

Hawkins and Sloan found legislators who wanted to expand recreational activities for their citizens to include seaplane access to public waters. A bill was introduced in early 2016. It was assigned to the Transportation committee and came up for hearing in June—about the same time as the splash in was to happen, so there was increasing public interest in the bill and a good turn out of supporters for the committee hearing.

The committee hearing did not go well. The opposition to the bill—personnel from Parks and Recreation—came in with overwhelming force, primarily citing the concerns with invasive species. It is a very real concern—Colorado has very strict inspection laws for recreational boating to protect against invasive species that have done serious damage to lakes in other states. While several states have inspection requirements for seaplanes to protect against invasive species and Hawkins’ bill addressed the issue, supporters were unable to overcome some of the legislator’s reliance on the opinions of Parks and Recreation. The committee voted the bill down 8-5. The good news was that the vote did not go along party lines.

The seaplane splash in at Lake Meredith proved to be a big success. The invasive species inspection was conducted at a nearby airport (limiting access to amphibians) with a senator who supported the access bill doing the first inspection. Four seaplanes were in attendance—not bad for a first of its kind event in a state that bans water access.

In the wake (sorry) of the event, Lake Meredith became the first seaplane base in Colorado since 9/11. It is privately owned, so a pilot seeking to land on it must get permission and sign a waiver of liability.

With the dawning of the new legislative session in 2017, Ray Hawkins and seaplane access supporters are continuing fundraising to help push the access bill toward passage and have gathered additional supporters—the bill is expected to be introduced soon.

Supporters have also gathered facts in anticipation of what will be a fight with Parks and Recreation at the legislative committee level. They have experts on invasive species risks and how those are dealt with for seaplanes in other states. The will be showing the training courseput together by the Seaplane Pilots Association and AOPA for seaplane pilots on inspecting their airplanes for invasive species and preventing their transportation. They will be pointing out that pilots, unlike boaters, are used to inspecting their craft before each operation—that there’s nothing magic about adding an invasive species inspection to the preflight—so a pilots can complete training to conduct such inspections and do so before landing on Colorado waters. They will be seeking testimony or affidavits from regulatory officials in other states as to how they have successfully prevented transportation of invasive species by seaplanes and how pilots self-certify such inspections.

Parks and Recreation officials have argued that pilots simply won’t obey the law regarding invasive species inspection. However, as Hawkins has pointed out, pilots are currently obeying the law not to land on Colorado waters. They’re demonstrating that they are law-abiding, so what evidence is there that they won’t obey the law to inspect their aircraft for invasive species as part of their preflight?

Evidence

Hawkins and supporters are also prepared to address safety concerns by pointing out the extent of training and testing required to obtain the necessary certification to operate a seaplane versus the lack of training to operate a boat. They have obtained data on the concentration of boats on Colorado lakes and will be able to provide evidence, not supposition, that the addition of seaplane operations will not overcrowd the lakes. They will also be able to provide evidence of the rate of drunk boating compared with the nearly infinitesimal rate of pilots operating impaired.

I’ve been involved with several matters in which pilots have sought to expand airports or protect airports from having operations limited or shut down. I’ve seen all sorts of approaches to those issues—from pilots showing up at town hall meetings and saying that anyone who is against the airport is an idiot (not particularly effective), to well-organized, fact-based presentations that recognize the concerns of the “antis.” I think Ray Hawkins’ initial, individual action on a step-by-step basis with the agency responsible for the ban and then moving to a professional approach to creating legislation to overturn the ban while simultaneously fundraising aggressively to support seaplane access and holding events to increase public awareness and support for seaplane access is the way someone who wants to accomplish something in support of aviation is most likely to be effective.

Ray Hawkins and his supporters have a lot of work ahead of them during the legislative session. I wish them great success.

By the way, this year the number of Colorado seaplane splash ins has been doubled this year: there will be one on May 20th at Lake Meredith Seaplane Base (Ordway, CO) and one on July 15 at Kenney Reservoir, Rangely, CO.

Rick Durden holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation, is a CFII and seaplane instructor and the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols. 1 & 2.

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The good thing about having advanced ADD is that the distractions can you lead you on some fascinating forays into the obscure, the esoteric and the downright bizarre.The other day, I was paging through our archives looking for something—I can’t even remember what—and I found an article published in a 1992 issue of Aviation Consumer scoring various predictions that the magazine had made.

“Move Over, Jean Dixon,” blared the headline in the inimitable style of my predecessor, the late Dick Weeghman, one of the cleverest and most talented aviation writers ever, who oversaw the magazine at the time. He had a lot more fun then than we do now, I think. With tongue poked in cheek, the magazine boldly made a couple of dozen predictions which, a quarter century later, are interesting to reconsider. Shout out to then associate editor Andy Douglas, too.

Among the predictions graded were these: A mint-condition Piper Cub would bring $50,000. That didn’t quite happen by 1992, but the half megaton price has since easily been exceeded. Fully restored show-grade Cubs are out there for $70,000. Even an average pristine restoration pushes $50,000.

In the midst of what was then a booming ultralight market, the magazine predicted that these Part 103 airplanes would outsell certified aircraft. And indeed, they probably did 25 years ago. These days, it’s experimental amateur-built airplanes that rival production aircraft. We didn’t see that coming in 1992, although there was plenty of EAB activity.

Another prediction foretold the demise of the magneto, replaced entirely by reliable electronic ignition. “Keep dreaming,” read the score sheet. “The only people using electronic ignitions are homebuilders.” A quarter century later, that’s still largely true. Spanking new Cirri emerging from the factory still have magnetos, as does the entire piston line from Cessna. In 1992, I would have thought that by now, as Weeghman did then, that magnetos would have been consigned to aviation history. It’s true that Rotax has electronic ignition in its engines and Lycoming and Continental have both developed and certified these systems. But for the latter two, magnetos are still mainstream.

Further on the topic of engines, the magazine playfully predicted that by 1992, only one company would manufacture aircraft engines: Kawasaki. Clearly, our ability to understand the staying power of legacy technology lacked anything approaching prescience. Despite Toyota’s dabbling in engines and airframes, the Japanese have no major presence in general aviation and if I can add a prediction of my own, they’re unlikely to. From the never-saw-it-coming file was the Thielert, then Austro and now Continental diesel engines.

Here’s one we got right: “Certain aircraft will be equipped with parachutes that allow them to drop straight down from the sky if the pilot gets caught in bad weather.” Drum roll, please. Even then, BRS had sold some 7000 systems, mostly for ultralights. But it would be another five years before Cirrus came out of the ground with the SR20 which, at the time, many of thought was nuts. (Really.)

In 1992, the BendixKing Silver Crown package was ruler of the avionics roost. GPS was emerging, but Garmin was still a garage operation and no way did we foresee glass panels. We should have, because glass was well established in the newest transport airplanes. We did predict that “Collins, King and Narco will market an all-embracing satellite-directed navigation set.” That foretold GPS mapcomms from Garmin and BendixKing. Narco stumbled across the finish line with the StarNav NS9000, but it had no market penetration.

Garmin’s GNS430 appeared in 1998 and just ahead of that, I got very specific with my own prediction on what was coming. I even drew a graphic of it and published it in Aviation Consumer 18 months before the GNS430 appeared. (I spent an hour looking for the damn graphic and here it is.) At the time, this got Tim Casey, then handling press relations for Garmin, in big trouble because the company assumed he leaked it to me. He didn’t. Anyone could have figured it out, based on what technology we had seen up to that point. It was less predicting the future than connecting some visible dots.

Another thing we got wrong was our prediction that the Navstar GPS program would turn out to be a scandalous boondoggle that would be obsolete by the time it was completed. While the system had some delays, especially the WAAS system later on, it has proven a technological mainstay nearly as important as the very transportation systems it guides 24/7/365. Think about that next time you thunder about how bad ADS-B is.

Perhaps the most fascinating prediction we made involved fuel prices. We said avgas would reach $5 by 1992. It didn’t. Not even close. The highest price we could find that year was $3.32, at JFK airport in New York.

But let's crunch some numbers here. That $3.32 was the top-scale high price then. Now, according to airnav.com, 100LL costs $7.10 at JFK, although the site lists $9.99 as the highest in the U.S. I’m not sure where that is. In 1992, regular car gas cost $1.13, which is the equivalent of about $1.96 today. As 2017 rolls in, we're not paying much more than that. A couple of months ago, regular gas was floating around $2 in Florida.Avgas in 1992 was about $1.25 or about $2.17 in today’s dollars.

Oil prices are boom and bust, typically, and in 1992, West Texas Intermediate was at about $33 in today’s bucks. Today, it’s just over $52, proving that what we’ve always known is still true. Avgas pricing is only loosely linked to crude oil prices and the cost of producing it. It’s even less linked to inflation. It’s driven mostly by declining demand and market-will-bear psychology. That’s the only thing that explains why it’s $2 higher than underlying inflation suggests it should be. And, of course, we are talking about aviation, where supply and demand works by the laws of a parallel universe many light years distant.

One other pie in the sky predication related to fuel that we got wrong was this: Automotive premium gas would form the base stock for a new aviation gasoline. Ah, so plausible. And so nave. But then that’s an occupational hazard for a futurist.

Body Flying in the Tunnel

Reader Steve Evans sent a note asking for fuller detail on my mention of body flying and indoor skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel in last week's blog. It's a bit off the center lane for AVweb, but I repurposed this Facebook video for the AVweb channel. It provides some additional detail.

With action cams becoming more available, shooting aviation videos is easier than ever. In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli offers some tips on recording audio while you're at it.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

The holiday lights of San Diego spin by as Dusty Fainer does a tight turn with his Go Pro set for a time exposure. Nice shot, Dusty.

EAA Chairman Jack Pelton and his staff, along with advocates from AOPA and other general aviation groups, were prominent players in getting the new FAA medical rule pushed through. AVweb's Mary Grady finds out more about how the new rule will be implemented and how it will affect CFIs, LSA pilots and others in the GA world.

While we were preparing to shut down at a tie down spot at Henderson Airport, Las Vegas, ground control was directing a taxiing Piper.

Ground: ”Cherokee Nxxxx, say your destination."

Cherokee:"Uhh, we're not sure where we're going. We're just following the van in front of us (the "follow-me" van).

Ground (chuckling):“I mean when you depart the airport."

Cherokee: "Oh, we'll be returning to Long Beach in about an hour."

Ground: "Roger."


Dan Jay

Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

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