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The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo opens in Sebring, Florida, this Thursday, with a full schedule of workshops, forums and events through Saturday. Exhibitors will have all their latest airplanes and accessories on display, and the show offers a chance for serious buyers to check out and even test-fly their favorite light-sport designs. New this year, show organizer Beverly Glarner told AVweb in a podcast interview this week, visitors will enter through the airport Galleria, where exhibits and vendors will be housed, and the airport’s unique art collection will be on display. Also, exams will be offered on-site for 2nd- and 3rd-class medicals. Pilots can reserve a slot in advance at the Expo website.

Forums are offered on a wide range of topics, from how to fabric-cover an aircraft, to tips on buying the right LSA for you, to how to maintain your engine. Presenters include aerobatics champion Patty Wagstaff, aviation humorist and author Rod Machado, Peggy Chabrian of Women in Aviation and many more. A drone race will be held, with observers offered a unique viewing platform, beneath a huge net set in the middle of the track. “Racing drones will fly all around and directly over the spectators' heads with this original and unique track design,” said Rhett Jarrett, Drone Zone chairman. “At the same time, live camera views will be displayed on monitors for the spectators, along with scoring and a professionally produced live broadcast.” A display area for homebuilt aircraft also is available, with advance registration. And as always, pilots who fly in are welcome to camp out under the wing. AVweb staffers will be on-site to cover the show from start to finish, so watch this space for news.

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Textron Aviation reported record growth in 2016 for their network of Cessna Pilot Center-affiliated flight schools. The program added 24 new flight schools last year for a total of 163 Cessna Pilot Center affiliates. Through the Cessna Pilot Center program, Textron Aviation partners with independent Part 61 and Part 141 flight schools around the world to provide flight training on modern Textron training aircraft in conjunction with a standardized King School-based training program, which is accessible to students online or through mobile devices. Some Cessna Pilot Centers maintain a minority of non-Textron aircraft in their fleets—either legacy aircraft or to address sectors of the flight training market not served by Textron. Textron also organizes seminars and resources for Cessna Pilot Center operators.  

Cessna Pilot Centers recorded over 7,000 new student pilots last year—up 10% from 2015. For reference, the FAA reported no change in the number of student pilot certificates issued from 2014 to 2015, suggesting significant market share growth for Cessna Pilot Centers. 

Trade Winds Aviation, based at Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose, California, has been affiliated with Cessna for over 20 years as a Cessna Pilot Center and Cessna Service Station. They operate a Cessna 182Q Skylane, seven modern Cessna 172SP Skyhawks and one light sport Remos GX. Walter Gyger, owner of Trade Winds, is bullish on Cessna Pilot Centers: “Cessna has been a reliable partner in many ways. Cessna’s focus on pilot training and the support from Cessna and King Schools to assist us with using the [Cessna Pilot Center] tools has been invaluable.”

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Both people on board were killed when a Beechcraft 300 King Air crashed and burned at Tucson International Airport, shortly after noon on Monday. The aircraft had just taken off for Mexico, and crashed on the ramp between the terminal and a cargo area. No one on the ground was hurt. The heavy smoke and fire were quickly dealt with by fire crews, and commercial flights were not affected by the accident. The NTSB will investigate.

Local media said the crash is the first fatal accident at the airport since 1993. Audio from the tower records a quick response to the fire, but reveals no pertinent discussion from the King Air crew about problems with the takeoff. No information about the two people who died has yet been released.

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The AOPA Air Safety Institute has launched a new initiative, the Safety Alliance, which brings together safety-related resources from across the industry in one location online. The content, all of which is free to all pilots, is organized by topic on its own Safety Alliance webpage. “ASI is proud to provide a common platform for anyone who is passionate about aviation safety education,” said Katie Pribyl, a spokesperson for AOPA. “Further improvements to GA safety requires a team effort and isn’t something we can do alone. We know that many other organizations provide high-quality safety-focused content and we want to make it easy for pilots to find that information.”

The content covers a wide variety of topics, including aerodynamics, aircraft ownership and maintenance, emergency procedures, flight planning, thunderstorm avoidance and more. Most links at the site lead to free instructional videos and webinars. New links will be added regularly, AOPA said. AOPA’s Air Safety Institute, which was established in 1950, provides pilot education and safety programs for all of general aviation, at no cost to users.

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Spike Aerospace, a startup company based in Boston, Massachusetts, that aims to develop a quiet supersonic 18-passenger jet, said this week it will be ready to fly a technology demonstrator by late this summer. The subsonic test vehicle will be flown to verify the design’s low-speed aerodynamic stall recovery characteristics, the company said. "We made a lot of progress in 2016 in engineering, and [added] a number of engineers and partners,” said CEO Via Kachoria, in a news release. AVweb reached out to the company for more details about the planned test vehicle — how big will it be? piloted or autonomous? Kachoria responded that more details will be forthcoming in mid-February. The company also said a series of larger, supersonic demonstrators are expected to fly by the end of next year.

The Spike S-512 will be the first supersonic jet designed with “Quiet Supersonic Flight” technology, the company says. The proprietary technology, developed by Spike, aims to minimize the sonic boom by optimizing the aerodynamic design, making it possible that the jet could fly over lands where booms are forbidden. Flying at supersonic cruising speed, the S-512 will cut flight time by half between many city pairs, at a cost equivalent to a business-class seat, according to the company. For example, Spike says its jet will fly from New York to Dubai in six hours. The aircraft is expected to reach the market by 2023.

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For the past week, we’ve been running a survey on what readers think about the just-announced BasicMed program from the FAA. I’m gonna guess here, but maybe I shouldn’t have dived into the data so soon because doing so caused me to have several revelations. One is what a largish crapshoot this whole thing is, the second is that many pilots are, how to put it, not impressed and the last is how much this entire thing will turn on how doctors many of us don’t even know will react. I’m just hoping whether intended or not, the FAA hasn’t stuck a poison bill in this thing.

First the survey. I’ll get into a more detailed analysis of it next week, but for now, I was most interested in learning how confident readers are that their doctors will sign the FAA’s checklist—the one that we haven’t even seen yet. As of Sunday, 1946 people had responded to the survey which is, as these things go, a lot of interest.

This was the survey question on finding a doctor: “In your opinion, how difficult will it be to find a non-AME doctor to complete and sign the required BasicMed checklist?” Twenty eight percent said they thought it would be easy, 36 percent said it will be a little difficult, 14 percent said it would be impossible and another 14 percent had no opinion. You can interpret this as you will.

The sunny day view would be that 63 percent of the respondents think it will be easy or just a little difficult to find a doc. The cynic’s view would be that half think it will be difficult to impossible to get a doc to sign. Reading the comments kind of tilted me toward the cynic’s view. Rather than being happy about this, many pilots are really quite angry about it, not seeing much benefit and predicting difficulty in getting other than AME doctors to go along. Personally, I’m neutral on this because no one has seen the checklist. That led to revelation one: If that checklist is too detailed or demanding or gives the doctor the impression he’s taking on more responsibility than he (or she) otherwise might, there will be pushback, in my view. How much of that we see could make or break the whole idea.

Pilots live in a world of liability and lawsuits and, judging by the comments, they believe doctors do, too. “Why would a doctor or medical group expose themselves to this kind of litigation? If one does, I expect it will not be for long,” wrote one commenter. But to be fair, many respondents don’t see a problem at all. “I think my personal physician will be glad to do it,” wrote commenter Joe G. Many respondents said they want to see the actual checklist before opining on this topic.

I asked AOPA and EAA about this, and both said they’re providing information and guidance for docs and members to deal with the BasicMed checklist. EAA has a board of AMEs working up a new medical policy. Several people in the survey said docs should be given a hold-harmless or waiver agreement to encourage them to approve the checklist. “A hold harmless document may or may not have any great standing, if you talk with attorneys about those. So those people who leap to that as a solution may be premature,” says EAA's Dick Knapinksi.

Perhaps. But that led to revelation two. Why would I depend on the alphabets to see this through? Guidance is appreciated, but ultimately, I’m more inclined toward self help. While a waiver may or may not hold up in court, that’s less the point than giving a reluctant doctor a way to sign the checklist. It’s possible that it won’t be the problem we think it could be and a waiver won’t be necessary. On the other hand, it could just as easily go the other way. For what it’s worth, we sign these waivers all the time in skydiving and they almost universally withstand challenges.

Regardless of how the checklist is viewed by the non-AME medical community, one thing is certain from the survey thus far: Readers view it is one massive and irritating charade. “The BasicMed is such a compromise I do not think it will help me as much as it could have had AOPA and EAA done more to stay closer to the original plan. My doctor filling out a form is very governmental and unnecessary. I believe I will still mostly do what I have been doing under my AME-assisted special issuance; just will not have to send it in to the FAA,” wrote one commenter.

On the face of it, not having to deal with the FAA is a plus and an improvement. It’s just not the one we were all hoping for.

Tuesday addition: Several readers chided me for saying the checklist isn't available. It is available in AC 68-1. However, this is clearly labeled a draft and may or may not resemble the final version. Here's a clickable link.

 

With roll rates of more than 400 degrees a second and generous power-to-weight ratios, modern aerobatic aircraft make today's spectacular performances possible. But there's a school of thought that suggests training in old, slow aircraft actually produces better pilots. Aerobatics instructor Kevin Maher shares his theories on the topic.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Nice airplane but the scenery and composition is what makes this a winner. Sean Wu had his GoPro on the wing of a Schweizer 1-26 when he flew over Byron, California. Beautiful, Sean.

The Sport Aviation Expo runs from Thursday to Sunday this week, and one of the show organizers, Beverly Glarner, gives us an update on what’s new at the show, some of the highlights, and some of the nuts and bolts that visitors need to know.

EAA and the FAA are building on the STC awarded to EAA allowing installation of experimental Dynon avionics in certified aircraft. EAA's Sean Elliott spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles on a Jan. 17 meeting that could set the course for more affordable access to new technology by certified aircraft owners.

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