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The avionics industry will rise to the challenge of equipping the U.S. aircraft fleet with ADS-B Out by the Jan. 1, 2020, deadline says an industry leader. Ric Peri, the VP of government and industry affairs for the Aircraft Electronics Association, told AVweb in a podcast interview that as demand warrants, the industry will respond by working overtime, weekends and holidays to get the job done. “Why does everyone keep asking this industry if the fundamentals of business apply to us as they do everyone else,” he said. While many shops have one or two month backlogs at the moment, supply is essentially meeting demand. He said human nature dictates that most aircraft owners and operators won’t spend the money until they have to and he expects activity to increase as the deadline approaches. “This industry, like any other business, will ramp up as the demand warrants,” he said.

Meanwhile Peri said he believes the FAA’s $500 payment to 20,000 early adopters of the gear is working but not necessarily the way some might have expected. He said the vast majority of the 4,000 people who have applied for the money are doing avionics upgrades of which ADS-B is just a part because it makes sense to do it while the panel is apart. He said those planning to install the minimum to stay legal will inevitably wait until the last minute, including those planning to take the government incentive money. He said there will also be those who miss the deadline and will get caught up in the months after the deadline passes, likely when their next annual is due.

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Aerial photography company SkyPan International has reached a settlement with the FAA over charges of violating airspace and other rules with its drones. “While neither admitting nor contesting the allegations that these commercial operations were contrary to FAA regulations, SkyPan wishes to resolve this matter without any further expense or delay of business,” the company said in a statement this week. The FAA hit SkyPan with a $1.9 million fine in 2015, charging that the company flew dozens of unauthorized commercial drone flights between March 2012 and December 2014 in New York and Chicago. Under the three-year agreement with the FAA, SkyPan will pay a $200,000 civil fine, according to news reports. The company also will be subject to additional fines if it violates FAA regulations. 

The Chicago-based company, founded in 1988, specializes in panoramic aerial photography using single-rotor drones, maintaining that it flies in private airspace, avoiding people and public areas. It obtained an FAA exemption in 2015 for its flights while the FAA was developing rules for commercial drone operations. The new regulations that took effect in 2016 allow operators to obtain FAA training regarding airspace and operating limitations and obtain pilot certificates to fly unmanned aerial systems.

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Pilots who fly in Southern California’s busy airspace will soon be expected to follow new procedures, so the FAA has planned a series of public meetings and webinars to bring everyone up to speed. The live webinars will include time for Q&A with FAA representatives. The sessions, set for this month and next, will focus on changes that will be enacted in March and April. The airports involved include many popular GA fields, including Santa Monica (SMO) and Van Nuys (VNY), as well as Los Angeles International (LAX) and other airports in Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, San Diego and more.

Four webinars are scheduled for this week, Wednesday Jan. 18 and Thursday Jan. 19. Ten public workshops will be held between Jan. 23 and Feb. 8. The workshops will be an open-house format with no formal presentation, where the public can attend anytime during the posted times to learn about the project. FAA representatives will provide information and will be available to answer questions. The public is welcome to attend anytime during the posted times. Free public parking is available at the briefing locations, and Spanish interpreters will be available.

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A Canadian company is expanding its unmanned test flights with plans to be the country’s first commercial drone-delivery operation by next year. Drone Delivery Canada of Ontario will soon begin flight trials at the Foremost Aerodrome in Alberta, headquarters of the Foremost Centre for Unmanned Systems -- Canada’s first government-approved drone test site. DDC, which has been developing drones at a site in Waterloo, Ontario, now wants to test flights beyond line of sight. The Foremost Centre’s recent approval for flights beyond line of sight opens up its restricted airspace for full-blown drone tests with 700 square nautical miles available up to 18,000 feet over a sparsely populated, open landscape with just two charted towers.  

Big retailers including Staples and NAPA Auto Parts have agreements with DDC to develop drone-delivery capabilities similar to what Amazon recently began on a small scale in the U.K. “Our clients foresee using this technology as part of their business logistics moving forward into the future," CEO Tony Di Benedetto told the Calgary Sun. "Initially, we want to launch in rural Canada and then, over time, bring the technology closer to an urbanized area." An Ubergizmo report this week notes that the company’s experiments so far have included 10-pound parcels and flights lasting up to an hour.

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The Russian government is looking into the source of a military-grade drone discovered in the sand along the Black Sea. Media outlets in the region near the town of Anapa published photos this week of the mysterious 6-foot, black unmanned aircraft, which is missing part of its right wingtip but otherwise appears undamaged. Lettering on the fuselage, “Direct Targets,” and some numbers on the tail indicate it’s an DO-DT 25 drone made by Airbus Defence, but officials are awaiting confirmation of the model and are investigating its origin. Based on this model number, the drone appears to have been developed by Airbus’ defense arm for military target training. According to information on the Airbus Group website, it was first used by the German air force in 2003 for training exercises at a firing range adjacent to the Baltic Sea. It is equipped with jet propulsion and can fly up to speeds of about 240 knots. 

The UK’s Mirror, quoting Russian media outlets, reported on Thursday that rumors are circulating that the lost drone came from NATO training activities, but a source at the organization told the Mirror that it “doesn’t own any drones – yet” but it will soon have a few drones of a different model. “If our allies have lost any kit on a national flight – you would have to ask them,” the official said. When shown a photo of the found drone, a German air force official told the Mirror: "The flying object in the picture is definitely not in usage of the German Air Force."

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It’s probably a journalistic pretense to imply that there’s anything practical about light sport airplanes. Few of them are used for travel and even fewer are flown in the kind of weather that a utilitarian airplane like a Bonanza or Cirrus has to tackle to earn its keep. So in reviewing LSAs, we’re talking about big, expensive toys and that certainly applies to the Searey Elite.

If ever there were a pure sport airplane, the Searey amphibian ought to qualify. It’s slow, doesn’t carry much, isn’t exceptionally comfortable and won’t fly far. But it offsets all that with hell-for-leather fun that buyers looking for something different might find appealing.

The Searey began life as an amphibian kit aircraft, evolved to an ELSA and is now selling as a full-up SLSA as the Searey Elite, an upscale, glass cockpit version of what was once a bone-basic airplane.

At a $158,000 base price (this article originally appeared in January 2015, Ed.), the Searey’s sticker is about $25,000 higher than a typical land light sport, but less than the soon-to-be Icon A5 ($189,000) and way less than the $370,000 Lisa AKOYA. Since we last examined the Searey in 2009, the company has received an infusion of investment, built a new factory and evolved a new model, the Elite.

Long History

As LSA companies go, Progressive Aerodyne has been around a while, having been formed by Kerry Richter and partners in 1992. Its experimental kits soon became dominant in the amphibian field simply because there weren’t that many EAB flying boats. The company’s Kevin Oaks told us Progressive Aerodyne has about 600 aircraft flying, most of them kits. But when we visited the company in November 2014, some six LSA versions of the Elite were on the assembly line and more are on the order books. Progressive Aerodyne is looking east for more growth, having established a sales office in Shanghai, through the efforts of Adam Yang, a Searey owner who became the CEO in 2011.

The company offers three models: The basic Searey Sport LSA, the Searey LSX kit airplane and the Searey Elite. Oaks told us the Elite is the top seller, confirming what’s proven true in the LSA market: Buyers want top of the line.

And for a modest flying boat, the Elite certainly is that. As an upgrade from the Sport, the Elite has a turbocharged Rotax 914 at 115 horsepower in place of the 100-HP 912 used in the Sport. The additional horsepower provides a performance punch mostly in takeoff and climb, but it also improves the airplane’s high elevation performance. No surprise that owners take these things into mountain lakes for an afternoon of fishing. The 914 makes that doable and probably with some reserve performance margin.

The cockpit and panel are what we have come to expect of high-end LSAs, which is to say a lot of glass and comfortable leather seats. Except they’re not leather, but a marine-grade faux leather, since (a) they’re inevitably going to get soaked and (b) you have to put your likely wet feet on them when boarding. But the material is designed to absorb the punishment and in the demo we flew, the upholstery looked luxe enough to cause second thoughts about stepping on them. No worries, said demo pilot Daniel Nickens, so we planted both Nikes smack on the seat to ingress.

Construction

To understand the Searey’s construction, think of a small open boat a little broader than a canoe, then close in the bow section with a cover. Then drop into the boat what sort of looks like a Hughes 300 helicopter, but with wings attached rather than rotors. That’s a stretch, but it gives the idea.

The hull of the Elite is of carbon fiber and weighs about 85 pounds. The Sport’s hull is fiberglass and is 25 pounds heavier. The Elite has a useful load of 445 pounds. The only through-hull fittings are for the landing gear and these are usually above the waterline.

The longitudinal structure of the airplane consists of a heavy-walled aluminum pipe—hence the Hughes reference—which runs from the back of the cabin to the rearmost end of the aircraft, where it provides structure for the retractable tailwheel and the empennage. The pipe terminates immediately behind the pilots’ seats and ties into a structure that supports the wing’s main spar.

Consistent with its kit antecedents, Progressive Aerodyne makes generous use of aluminum tubing throughout the structure. It’s mostly bolted together with few rivets and no weldments and it’s treated with linseed oil for corrosion resistance.

The channel aluminum wing rib trusses are riveted together and fastened to tubular aluminum spars. The gear legs? Steel tubes, with an aluminum fairing to give them more streamlining in both the water and the air.

With respect to the landing gear, the FAA had to relent on amphibious LSAs, allowing retractable gear. Progressive does this by a motor for each gear leg. Through a jackscrew, the motor simply raises the gear up in plane, sort of like a half jumping jack. The gear stows against the wing struts, well clear of the waterline. Through a cable arrangement, the left gear motor also raises the tailwheel, which is attached to the aforementioned tube, but is outside the watertight hull. To keep the hull interior dry, the hollow gear legs are plugged and the through-hull passage has a flexible boot. The wings have all-aluminum ribs and spars, with a metal leading edge and Polyfiber cover. There are no fuel tanks in the wings, however, so fuel is stored just behind the pilot seats in a heavy-walled, trapezoidal plastic tank with a 22-gallon usable capacity. Because the tank is below the engine, the fuel system is equipped with two electric pumps, which run continuously. The switches for them are placed prominently on the panel, along with the airplane’s bilge pump switch.

Custom Glass

The Elite’s main panel display is an Advanced Flight Systems 5500 which is programmed to remind the pilot he’s in an amphib. Audible warnings nag to remind the gear must be up for a water landing and these force an intentional acknowledgement that the gear is down for a planned land landing.

These warnings are so incessant, in fact, that it’s a minor annoyance. Better that, we suppose, than the indignity of turning turtle by landing in water with the gear down. At least four owners have done that and flipped. A fifth avoided that, but the hull was damaged enough to sink the airplane. When we flew with Daniel Nickens, he said pilots need to be obsessive about gear position and it’s hard to argue the point. The center portion of the panel is occupied by a Garmin aera 696 or 796 and below that is a Garmin GTR 200 comm and a GTX 327 transponder.

The gear switch, with two prominent green down lights, the flap control, brakes and throttle are on the lower portion of the console between the two seats. The brakes are hand operated and control both wheels together, which takes some getting used to. The center sticks poke up from an indent in the lip of the seat and the stick itself has a PTT and a coolie hat trim button.

Creature comforts are adequate, but not luxurious. The airplane has a pair of sliding canopies, one for each side, and these don’t latch but merely slide forward.

Progressive makes the point that this design is a surer bet for egress in the event of a nose over than a conventional canopy would be and we agree. As noted above, a flip over in an amphibian is far from a remote possibility, which is also the reason standard procedure includes donning personal flotation devices. A paddle is helpful too, to maneuver near docks, obstructions or in shallow water.

Floating It

Taxiing a flying boat down a ramp and into the water requires a certain faith in the physics of buoyancy. The Searey sits low in the water, so much so that there’s only about a foot of freeboard to the cockpit combing. A bit of a list and a boat wake could ship water into the cabin. Closing the sliding canopy will prevent that.

For water taxiing, Nickens told me it’s common to leave the gear down so it acts as a sort of stabilizing keel, keeping the turns from becoming skid fests. With the pusher engine blasting air over the large rudder, the Searey can turn aggressively on the water and will go where you aim it. Just for fun, it can also do high-speed Jet Ski-style fast-taxi turns at 30 to 40 MPH. Sitting so low in the water, the speed in these turns seems much higher than it is and to keep the wing floats from digging in, you use opposite aileron against the turn. But if one does catch, the floats are protected by a breakaway plastic fitting that allows them to swing free, avoiding wing damage. The part is easily replaceable.

Water takeoffs require raising the gear after checking that the bilge is dry. Full back stick gets the hull on the step quickly and then you can all but release the back pressure, nudging the airplane off the water when it’s ready. Although the Searey Elite isn’t a fast airplane—figure cruise speed around 95 MPH—it does climb well and holds at least 800 to 900 FPM to medium altitudes, thanks to the 914’s turbocharging.

The Elite has typical control forces—not as light as the Sport Cruiser or Remos, but lighter than the Groppo Trail we recently flew. Like other amphibs with high-mounted pusher engines, changing power yields a big pitch moment; down when power is added, up when it’s reduced. But once that transitional thrust vector is gone, so is the pitch moment. It returns to the trimmed airspeed. We noticed that the Searey doesn’t have a lot of up pitch authority, so it takes exertion to get it to stall. That nets a little bobble and a stable parachute mode if the pitch isn’t relaxed.

Water landings require more of that taxi-down-the-ramp faith we mentioned. Because the airplane is so low in the water, the flare—what little is required—happens about two feet lower than you might expect. The airplane touches down almost flat and settles into the water off the step when the power is reduced. Or it can be speed taxied on the step. To shorten the roll out, yawing from side to side ramps up the drag, as does lowering the landing gear.

Although the Searey is a taildragger, the tail angle is so low that it doesn’t really land like one on a hard runway. Visibility over the nose is good, so the landing sight picture is about the same as you’d expect in a nosegear airplane landing on the mains. Ground handling takes a touch. With just a single hand lever for both brakes, steering is via rudder and it requires aggressive inputs and maybe a blast of power to get turning after the tailwheel breaks loose to swivel. Practicing helps.

Conclusion

The Searey Elite is a competent, fun flying machine and there’s no point in suggesting it’s anything other than that. If you have a lake house, you could commute with it or do light camping and fishing at a secluded mountain lake. But otherwise, we’re talking about as pure a recreational aircraft we can imagine.

Most of these airplanes—predominantly kits—live in hangars and are flown on water for sport. Although Progressive Aerodyne offers a wing-fold option, it’s not meant to be a quick fold to trailer the airplane back and forth to the lake as Icon intends for the A5. The market for such a thing remains unproven. But the Searey’s credible aircraft population certainly proves the appeal of the concept for those who can afford it.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

For more great content like this, subscribe to Aviation Consumer!

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If you were busy last week, you may not have noticed the story about Flytenow scrolling by on AVweb. In a nutshell, the brief described how the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to hear the company’s challenge of a ruling upholding a lower court finding that Flytenow was engaged in improper common carriage.

Flytenow, you may or may not recall, proposed to be a ride finding/sharing service for general aviation. It has been compared to Uber and Lyft, but it is—or was—definitely not that. Those taxi services are staffed by paid drivers and the company organizing it provides a service for which a profit is earned. They definitely meet the “holding out” standard of common carriage because they’re an on-demand service that takes all comers.

Flytenow simply proposed to help passengers or fellow pilots find rides on an expense-sharing basis. It’s the difference between a taxi company and a carpool, where everybody chips in for gas and tolls. I’ll get to how this could be—and probably would be—abused in a minute, but for now, just understand the concept.

In a webpage it maintains on the subject, Flytenow included recordings of the actual oral arguments of the case and they make interesting listening. The FAA’s case turned on what represents common carriage and holding out to the public to offer a transportation service. The FAA insisted that Flytenow’s electronic pairing of riders and pilots constituted holding out while Flytenow argued that its service was merely the electronic equivalent of a bulletin board notice, which the FAA long ago determined did not represent holding out.

So what we have here is what we’re seeing more and more of: inflexible government rules and interpretations that can’t keep up with the speed of modern life, especially modern technology. Still, a lower court agreed that the FAA had it right and denied Flytenow’s petition for relief. SCOTUS declined to weigh in and there the issue ended, at least judicially. Legislation may be introduced in Congress making such arrangement legal by statutory fiat.  

The question du jour is this: Is this a righteous thing to do? Does the unsuspecting and dull-witted public need to be protected from sharing expenses with a pilot who hasn’t been vetted by the FAA’s vaunted medical and fly-for-hire oversight? In a word, no. It’s 2017 for Pete’s sake; we need flexible regulation that accommodates the fact that the dorm-hall cork board has been displaced by Facebook and focused websites. In all of its regulation, the FAA needs to recognize this, just as it needed to understand that it was finally time to trash the Third Class medical. (It’s debatable if we’ve actually done that. I haven’t seen any dancing in the streets.)

So what’s the worst that can happen in this scenario? I’m sure some sharpies would game the cost-sharing system in such a way so that the sharing would benefit them to the extent of paying for airplanes and/or gas. Some might even be running a little underground airline of sorts. So? I can’t get my ethical pants snagged on this because I just don’t see much of a downside. I doubt if it would be widespread enough to represent a clear and present danger to the public. Or at least one that the FAA could justify stepping in to stifle things like Flytenow and others that might follow. Sure, passengers would be boarding little airplanes  completely unvetted by the government. They could be killed in a crash as a result or robbed at gunpoint. Yup, for sure. It’s a dangerous world and people ought to be allowed to live it and make their own risk/benefit decisions following informed consent.

I know one argument I’ll hear is that one of these crashes would get on the evening news and that would harm GA even more. I tire of this kind of defeatism. We all should. Flytenow had an interesting concept that could have benefitted aviation. It should have been allowed to plant the seed.   

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.

Although only a fraction of the aircraft that will need it have been equipped with ADS-B Out, the Aircraft Electronics Association is confident those who really need and want the upgrade will be ready for the FAA deadline of Jan. 1, 2020. Ric Peri, AEA's VP of government and industry affairs, spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles about how he thinks it will play out.

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