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After nearly three years of work searching the ocean floor with deep-sea submersibles for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 that went missing with 239 people on board in March 2014, officials on Tuesday said they are suspending the effort. “Today the last search vessel has left the underwater search area,” said a joint statement from the governments of Australia, China and Malaysia. “Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has not been located in the 120,000-square-kilometer [46,000-square-mile] underwater search area in the southern Indian Ocean.” Debris from the jet has been found off the southern coast of Africa, but the mystery of why the jet crashed remains unsolved.

Officials said the search already has cost $150 million, and the crews have no credible evidence to help extend the search area. “The decision to suspend the underwater search has not been taken lightly nor without sadness,” the joint statement read. “We remain hopeful that new information will come to light and that at some point in the future the aircraft will be located.” Some relatives of those missing protested the end of the search, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Commercial planes cannot just be allowed to disappear without a trace,” said Voice 370, a group representing relatives of those lost. “In our view, extending the search to the new area defined by the experts is an inescapable duty owed to the flying public in the interest of aviation safety.” The group said officials last year had identified a 9,653-square-mile zone north of the area already searched as the most likely site for locating the wreckage of the plane.

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The FBI officially closed the book last year on the unsolved case of a 1971 hijacking by the man known as D.B. Cooper, but now a team of amateur investigators say they have a new lead in the case. The amateurs, who call themselves Citizen Sleuths, were allowed access to the FBI’s files and evidence. The Sleuths teamed up with the TV show “Expedition Unknown,” which funded an extensive particle analysis by a professional lab to examine a clip-on necktie found on the airplane, which may have belonged to the hijacker. The results, say the Sleuths, reveal that the person wearing the tie was exposed to a wide range of elements and chemicals that would have been consistent with work then being done at the Boeing plant in Washington.

Most of the chemicals found on the tie were consistent with book matches, the researchers said. Cooper is known to have smoked eight cigarettes while on the airplane. Other chemicals found, such as pure titanium and 5000 series aluminum, are known to have high anti-corrosive properties, the amateurs said. “In 1971 the most common place these two metals were found together would be chemical plants or the metal fabrication facility that built the components for the plant,” according to the group’s website. “Secondarily would be the companies who recovered scrap metal from these types of factories.” Cooper vanished after he jumped from the Northwest Orient 727 with a parachute and $200,000 in ransom money. The only certain physical evidence ever found in the case was a packet of money with serial numbers matching the ransom money, unearthed by an 8-year-old boy playing near the Columbia River. The three bundles of cash totaled $5,800. The researchers said anyone who has information or analysis relevant to their effort is welcome to contact them via their website.

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Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died Monday at the age of 82. Cernan has been suffering from a “long illness” when he died surrounded by family. “Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation’s leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the moon,” his family said in a statement. Cernan was the last commander of an Apollo moon mission and left his mark on the dusty surface in December of 1972 on Apollo 17.

He went through ROTC and earned his wings with the Navy in 1956, logging 5,000 hours in jets and accumulating 200 carrier landings. He was selected in the third group of astronauts in 1963 and first went to space as pilot of Gemini 9 in 1966. He was the lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 and descended to within 50,000 feet of the surface, a dress rehearsal for the July 1969 Apollo 11 mission that fulfilled a promise made by President John F. Kennedy a scant six years earlier. He retired from NASA in 1976 but stayed active in the space program as a news commentator and as a tireless proponent of continued space exploration. “The U.S. desperately needs to do something to recapture the pioneering spirit that allowed it go to the Moon,” he wrote on his webpage, which he updated until recently. Below is an excerpt from his acclaimed documentary Last Man on the Moon.

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image: NBC News

A Boeing 747-400 cargo plane en route from Hong Kong to Istanbul crashed early Monday morning, about 7:30 local time, while trying to make a scheduled stop in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. The flight crew of four and about 38 people on the ground were killed in the crash and its aftermath. At least a dozen buildings were destroyed by the impact and fire, and at least a dozen people were taken to the hospital with injuries. The flight was operated by ACT Airlines, based in Istanbul, Turkey. There was thick fog in the area at the time of the crash. Local authorities noted that despite the fog, several other airplanes had landed safely shortly before the ACT flight, according to NBC News.

ACT Airlines operates a fleet of seven 747 aircraft for cargo and charter flights. In a statement posted online, the operators said their team, which included the captain, first officer, load master and flight technician, were all well-qualified and experienced. The crew had rested for 69 hours in Hong Kong before taking off on what was planned to be a six-hour flight. “The flight with the cargo from Hong Kong to Bishkek-Istanbul was airborne as planned, after all the checks were carried out, and was on her way approaching Bishkek Airport without encountering any setback or problems during the flight,” according to the statement.

The crashed aircraft was manufactured in 2003, the company said, and had been in the ACT fleet since December 2015. “Maintenance of the related aircraft was carried on in timely manner and according to the aviation standards like the other aircrafts in our fleet,” the company said. “According to the first findings, it is understood that the reason of the related accident is not caused by technical reasons or loading related factors.” News reports have stated that pilot error is the suspected cause of the accident.

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Swiss Rotor Solutions has developed a retrofit “bubble” window set for Airbus H125/AS350 helicopters, and recently announced it has achieved EASA certification. FAA certification is in the works and is expected soon, the company said. The kit consists of a new door with the bubble window, a new bow-shaped floor structure that the door conforms to and a floor viewing aperture outboard of the right-hand pilot’s seat. The floor window increases a pilot’s field of view on the ground by about 10 times, from 1300 square feet for the standard floor window, to 13,000 square feet with the bubble set.

The system provides an extra 6 inches of floor space plus more headroom for the pilot, and enlarges the cabin-floor window by 350 percent. The changes also enhance safety, according to Swiss Rotor, providing possible reduced insurance rates for some customers. The company says it worked closely with Airbus Helicopters to develop and certify the system, which can be installed at the customer’s site by a mobile team. Installation takes about 70 to 120 man-hours, the company said.

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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

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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.

New Year $pecials! from Aspen Avionics

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 Duffy Fainer does a tight turn with his Go Pro set for a time exposure. Nice shot, Duffy.

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