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NBC News reported Tuesday that Harrison Ford mistakenly landed his Husky on a taxiway at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, on Monday, after flying above an American Airlines 737 full of 110 passengers and 6 crew. The FAA told NBC that Ford was given correct landing instructions by ATC, and he read them back. But he then flew above the 737 and asked controllers, "Was that airliner meant to be underneath me?" The passenger plane, AA Flight 1546, “managed to depart safely for Dallas just minutes after the incident,” NBC News reported. 

Ford was cleared to land on Runway 20L, which NBC noted is a narrow runway, but instead he lined up on the parallel Taxiway C. The 737 was waiting for takeoff at the edge of 20L, but it's not clear how close Ford's Husky approached to the airliner. Ford’s representatives have made no comment in response to NBC's requests for more information, the network said. Ford was injured in a crash last March, when he landed his Ryan PT-22 on a Santa Monica golf course. The NTSB's final report blamed the engine failure on the main metering jet in the carburetor coming loose. Ford, 72, owns several aircraft and has been involved in several other incidents and accidents. In 1999, he made a hard landing on a riverbed, while flying a helicopter with an instructor. In 2000, Ford damaged a Beech Bonanza during a landing. Nobody was hurt in either incident. 

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Lancair International announced last summer it would sell off its older designs and focus on its newer Evolution aircraft, and recently the company, now known as Evolution Aircraft Company, said it has found a buyer. Mark Huffstutler, founder of the aircraft modification firm Sierra Industries, based in Texas, and his son Conrad Huffstutler will assume all assets, intellectual designs and ongoing support for all the older Lancair kit models, including the 320/360, IV, IV-P, ES and Legacy aircraft. Kevin Eldredge, president of Evolution Aircraft, said in a news release he spent more than eight months interviewing potential buyers for the Lancair assets. “Mark Huffstutler and his team represent our perfect vision for re-igniting the Lancair brand and supporting the thousands of kit customers we have developed over 35 years,” Eldredge said.

From its new base in Texas, the new Lancair company plans to offer aircraft owners full support, including parts, technical assistance, documentation, maintenance, repairs and inspections for Lancair and other experimental aircraft. In addition, owners and kit builders can access onsite facilities for maintenance, avionics, paint and interior completion. Future plans include the resumption of aircraft manufacturing and the introduction of new designs, according to the news release. All inventories, production fixtures and support materials from Redmond, Oregon, are presently being moved to Huffstutler’s facilities at Garner Field (KUVA) in Uvalde, Texas. The company also will bring the assets and inventory from Lancair’s facilities in the Philippines back to the United States.

The accident rate for helicopters has fallen for the third year in a row, the FAA said on Monday. In raw numbers, there were 106 helicopter accidents in 2016, including 17 fatal accidents, a 12 percent decrease compared to the previous year and a 27 percent decrease compared to 2013. “The FAA and the helicopter industry have worked together to educate the civil helicopter community about safe practices, to drive these improved results,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “The FAA and the industry also are taking an active role in advancing safety through new technology, collaborative policy changes, and proactive outreach.”

Matt Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Association International, says there is only one safety goal that he aims for — “and that is zero accidents in the helicopter industry.” In a recent blog, Zuccaro says the greatest challenge to achieving zero accidents is the industry culture. “We must change the philosophy of ‘Safety First, Above All Else’ from a slogan to a reality that is practiced every day, for every flight,” he wrote. Zuccaro says his group is promoting a program to help encourage helicopter pilots to go ahead and make a precautionary landing when safety is in question.

“When the flight isn’t going well and we should land to address deteriorating weather, low fuel, mechanical concerns, or another issue, we do not. Instead, pilots push on, with grave results,” he wrote. That decision-making habit needs to change, Zuccaro said. “One significant program that has started to move the industry culture in the right direction is the Land & Live initiative or, as I like to advise, ‘When safety is in question, land the damn helicopter!’” he wrote. The Land & Live website encourages pilots to take a pledge to make a controlled precautionary landing before an emergency landing becomes necessary.

Just over a year after EHang’s passenger-carrying autonomous drone was unveiled in Las Vegas, officials in Dubai said this week they plan to provide flights to the public in the aircraft by this summer. “The AAV [autonomous aerial vehicle] on display at the World Government Summit is not just a model but it has really flown in Dubai skies,” said Mattar Al Tayer, chairman of Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, at the summit in Dubai on Monday. “RTA will spare no effort to launch the AAV in July 2017.” The EHang, built in China, can carry one passenger for up to 30 minutes at a speed of about 62 mph. The passenger will be able to select a destination on a tablet in the cockpit, and the aircraft will autonomously fly there, while being monitored by controllers at a remote control center, the RTA said in a statement.

The EHang can carry one passenger weighing up to 220 pounds, plus a small suitcase, according to the RTA’s video (below). The vehicle was unveiled in Las Vegas early last year. Eight propellers arrayed on four arms power the aircraft. Emergency systems will direct the drone to land if there’s a malfunction, or allow the passenger to command a landing if a problem arises, the company said. The aircraft has been undergoing testing at Nevada’s Institute for Autonomous Systems, which is an FAA-designated UAS test site.

 

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I was listening to Unicom at my local airport in Northwest Ohio when I heard the following exchange between two jets on the ramp.

Citation 1234: Taxiing to runway 18 for departure.

Lear 5678: You going to Columbus?

Citation: Yeah

Lear: Wanna Race?

Citation: That's not fair, you're in a Lear!


 

Ben Stevens 

 

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General aviation pilots have several auto-fume modes. One of them is ADS-B and anything to do with medicals is a good way to get people spun up. So is the argument that the administrator of the FAA should be a pilot.

This is a perennial and it came up last week when President Donald Trump met with airline executives. What we should really be freaked about is that he met with a transportation sector all but dedicated to the demise of general aviation with no one else at the table. The side discussion revolved around Trump’s surprise that FAA Administrator Michael Huerta is not a pilot. Trump’s view is that he should be because the ATC system is so complex that actually having flown in it would be helpful.

But is it really? I think the answer is an inarguable yes. But does a pilot certificate trump (sorry) the must-have skills as, you know, an administrator? My view has always been no. I’d rather have a strong administrator with political connections and inside knowledge of how modern government works—or doesn’t work—than a hot stick who has to learn that stuff on the job in the snake pit of D.C. politics. If complexity were reduced to a scale of 10, understanding ATC would be about a six; understanding the machinations of federal agencies and the internecine politics would be a 19.

Until not that long ago, FAA administrators had always been pilots. Including Michael Huerta, there have been 19 FAA administrators. Fifteen of these have been pilots, four have been drawn from the professional career government management corps. The FAA top job isn’t a cabinet position—that belongs to SecDot—but it’s a presidential-level appointment requiring Senate approval that’s not given to political hacks in the way ambassadorships are. When drawn from inside government, administrators have typically had high-level government managerial experience. Jane Garvey, for instance, was both the first woman and the first non-pilot to hold the job. She had been administrator of the Federal Highway Administration and a transportation official in Massachusetts. (Boston residents may not recall her warmly if the Big Dig is mentioned.) She served under President Bill Clinton and was later criticized for negotiating too-expensive contracts with air traffic controllers.

Did it make a difference that she wasn’t a pilot? Hard to say. We cover the administrator from 10,000 feet and aren’t privy to the day to day. At AirVenture, we practically get into fistfights over who will be forced to do the administrator interview because they’re so boring. With Michael Huerta, we simply politely decline the FAA’s offer for press availability because we know the answers will be so banal and I grew weary of explaining why we did the interview in the first place. But that has nothing to do with effectiveness as an administrator. I’ve been told by a couple of sources that Huerta is quite effective inside the agency and in working with small groups.

On paper, Randy Babbitt was the ideal administrator. He came from an airline aviation background, had experience running an airline union so he understood organizational politics and he was just a decent guy. Like all government agencies, the FAA is run by the equivalent of NCOs—the mid-level bureaucrats—who grind out the meetings, churn the data and write the regs and they can sure enough use that stuff to roll the boss.

I saw it happen in real time at AirVenture in 2011. At the time, General Aviation Modifications had stirred up interest in an unleaded avgas replacement by pursuing an STC for approvals. When asked about this, Babbitt parroted exactly what the mid-level FAA staff had been saying to complicate and stall GAMI’s STC at every step. He said STCs had never been done for aviation fuel and doing it that way would create a cumbersome and complex standard, requiring duplicative work by the FAA.

But the FAA had approved several fuel STCs and could have readily approved GAMI’s filing for further testing. Once approved, it could have lived or died in the market. That would have been proper public policy. Instead, six years later, it’s still not done. Babbitt being a pilot didn’t help him look down into the problem and twist the staff levers to do the right thing. I suspect President Trump is learning this lesson several times a day. Compared to the federal bureaucracy, an oil tanker turns on a dime.

So given my druthers, unless the pilot is a skilled administrator and political infighter—not to mention survivor—I’d just as soon put a professional manager in the chair. He or she can always take flying lessons, provided of course the waiting line isn’t too long due thanks to the vast influx of BasicMed returnees soon to choke the flight schools.

Doc Shopping

And speaking of BasicMed, I spent the morning shopping for a doctor to sign the checklist. Encouragingly, I found two—both AMEs, one of whom works in a Doc-in-the-Box. I have several other calls out that haven’t been returned yet.

As I reported, my regular doc declined to sign the checklist and my regular AME demurred, too. The fact that 30 minutes of doc shopping revealed two possibilities makes me believe others will have similar experiences. Of course, they haven’t seen the checklist yet, but an agreement in principle is better than a flat no.

Brent Blue, an AME himself, told me doctors working in urgent care facilities routinely sign such affirmation for DOT-regulated truckers, so they are likely to do the same for BasicMed. Hell, maybe I’ll stay in this flying game a little longer after all.        

Blackhawk Modifications is well known for its carefully focused engines upgrades for Pratt & Whitney PT6-A-powered airplanes. In this video, AVweb looks at their latest mod for the Cessna Caravan, the XP140.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

A pretty airplane with a pretty backdrop makes for a pretty nice Picture of the Week. Air to air is always the result of teamwork and the chase plane team of pilot Tom Mitchell, photographer Jay Beckman and Bonanza pilot Tom Rippinger combined for a winner

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