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A pilot died when his Sonex airplane crashed into the roof of a condo complex near Lawrence Municipal Airport in Massachusetts on Tuesday afternoon. The pilot, identified by local media as Alan Lavender, 73, a sport pilot from nearby Newburyport, had taken off from the airport and was planning to stay in the pattern to practice takeoffs and landings. His last transmission was about three minutes later, while he was in the pattern to land, but it was a routine call with no report of any problem. Two condo apartments were damaged by the crash and a small fire that broke out, but nobody was home in either one, and no one on the ground was hurt. Sprinklers in the building helped contain the fire, officials said.

Lavender, a former Newburyport city councilman and mayor, held a sport pilot certificate issued in May 2014, according to local news reports. The airplane involved in the crash flew for the first time in May 2016. The condo complex was hit once before in a plane crash, in 1999; four people in the airplane were seriously hurt.

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Three people are dead and at least two were injured in a crash that also destroyed two houses in Riverside, California, on Monday. A Cessna 310 took off from Riverside Municipal Airport around 5 p.m. headed for San Jose and crashed about a half mile from the airport. The aircraft reportedly had five occupants, a man, a woman and three teenagers. The woman was thrown from the airplane on impact and suffered only minor injuries. A second survivor was taken to a hospital and is in surgery, according to the local Mercury News.

Witnesses told local reporters the woman crawled from the home asking for help, and she was able to talk to firefighters about what had happened. She was taken to Riverside Community Hospital. The ensuing fire burned two houses to the ground and damaged some other nearby houses. The group was heading home after a weekend cheerleading competition at Disney California Adventure Park.

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The pilot of a drone that hit a building, then fell into a crowd watching a parade and hit a 25-year-old woman, knocking her unconscious, has been sentenced to 30 days in jail by a Seattle municipal court. Paul Skinner, 38, of Washington, who owns an aerial photography company, was convicted of reckless endangerment, which carries a penalty of up to a year in jail. Seattle Municipal Court Willie Gregory told Skinner last week that he knew the crash was an accident, but he had “engaged in conduct that put people in danger of being injured, which is what happened.” Skinner also was fined $500. Skinner’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kradel, said the punishment was “too severe,” and his client will appeal.

Kradel said his client was singled out for harsh treatment to scare other drone users, and that was an improper use of prosecutorial authority. The drone measured about 18 inches square and weighed about two pounds, according to police reports. The woman who was hit suffered a concussion. Her boyfriend caught her before she hit the ground, and suffered a minor bruise in the incident. A hearing has been set for May 25 to determine the restitution Skinner owes the woman for her medical treatment. Skinner remains free pending an appeal of the jail sentence.

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SpaceX will send two people on a trip around the Moon next year in a Falcon Heavy rocket, the company announced on Monday. The two private citizens, whose names have not yet been released, have already paid “a significant deposit,” SpaceX said. “Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration,” says a statement posted at the SpaceX website. The private astronauts will first need to pass a battery of SpaceX health and fitness tests. Initial training will begin later this year. 

Falcon Heavy is due to launch its first test flight this summer and, once successful, it will be the most powerful vehicle to reach orbit since the Saturn V moon rocket. At 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, Falcon Heavy is two-thirds the thrust of Saturn V and more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying, SpaceX said. Later this year, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX plans to launch a Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the International Space Station. This first demonstration mission will be in automatic mode, without people on board. A subsequent mission with crew is expected to fly in the second quarter of 2018.

Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX says it will launch the private Falcon Heavy mission on a journey to circumnavigate the moon and return to Earth in about a week. Liftoff will be from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Pad 39A near Cape Canaveral – the same launch pad used by the Apollo program for its lunar missions. The vehicle will operate autonomously. “This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years, and they will travel faster and further into the Solar System than any before them,” the company said. Musk said the crew will be identified, upon their approval, after they pass health and fitness screening, but he did say "it's nobody from Hollywood."

NASA also is reportedly considering adding a crew to a planned circumlunar flight in 2018.

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Australia’s biggest airshow, the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition, runs all this week at Avalon Airport, with about 350 civil and military aircraft on display and nearly 700 exhibitors. The event operates as a trade show Tuesday through Thursday and opens to the public Friday through Sunday, with a range of airshow events. This year’s expo features a drone showcase for the first time, 44 conferences and seminars and a record number of displays from the general aviation sector. A rare, newly restored WWII-era Curtiss P-40N Warhawk will fly for the first time at the airshow, along with the last flying WWII-era Hudson A16-112. 

The US-built F-35A Joint Strike Fighter also will fly, making its Australian debut, along with the RAAF’s new EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. Textron is there with a range of aircraft from a Citation Latitude to a Skylane 182. “Asia-Pacific is an ideal fit for the extensive mission and performance capabilities our product portfolio offers,” said Chris Bogaars, regional vice president of sales. Perfect weather on opening day brought extra-large crowds, according to local news reports. If the weather holds, more than 200,000 visitors are expected. The show also attracted 250 media representatives from 14 countries.

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It’s getting so a poor blogger can’t catch a breath around here. No sooner do I write about NASA considering sending the first Orion mission around the moon than along comes Elon Musk to say, never mind, we’re going next year. While fellow billionaire Richard Branson struggles to shoot a few tourists on a crummy sub-orbital toss, Musk’s SpaceX is going straight for lunar orbit with a couple of paying passengers. This guy is giving ambition a bad name. We can only hope he’s able to keep hubris at bay.

The SpaceX press release said the two passengers—the word “astronaut” was pointedly not used—“will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration.” Please. They’re a couple of profoundly rich people who paid SpaceX a huge undisclosed sum to fund the thrill ride of a lifetime.

And also, as I said, what, just yesterday, it’s a very risky trip indeed. It was risky when Apollo 8 flew it in 1968, it will be risky if NASA attempts it with relatively unproven hardware next year and it will be just as risky for SpaceX with equally unproven hardware. The fact that the system comes out of Silicon Valley magic thinking doesn’t lower that risk, although recent history has shown that the private sector launch industry has lowered the cost to orbit—or is at least on the way to doing that. But launching people into space is less about cheap and more about not killing them in the process.

NASA funding was used to develop the Dragon 2 capsule that SpaceX will use, while the Falcon Heavy booster was developed with SpaceX internal funding, or whatever outside capital the company obtained. Apollo astronauts used to joke that the system that got them to the moon was built by the lowest bidder and that is exactly the opposite side of the same coin SpaceX is flipping. Ultimately, because they’re a for-profit company, what SpaceX builds has to make money—there has to be margin. Profit margin and ultimate safety are antagonists. That doesn’t mean you can’t have both, but this isn’t a Beta rollout. If you don’t get it right the first time, you might not get a second.

In aviation, we understand that risks must be taken to achieve any kind of progress. Sometimes people die in the process and those of us in the industry accept that outcome. We understood it following the Apollo 1 fire and were reminded of it again with the loss of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles, both of which were lack-of-imagination catastrophes. Everyone knew the risks, they just couldn’t imagine that they would actually come together into one vehicle loss, much less two.

Moving as quickly as it is and with impressive successes behind it, I wonder if SpaceX might be falling into that same mindset that caused NASA to reject good technical advice in launching in cold weather and downplaying potential damage caused by loose insulation FOD. Inspirational as SpaceX is with its ambitious lunar announcement, I’m not so sure how I’d feel if it went wrong. Losing a crew in the name of science and exploration is one thing, but it’s quite another if a couple of mega-rich tourists buy it. The cable channels could make a great spectacle of it, but it will still be just that: a spectacle.


With flying activity declining, many aircraft sit idle for months at a time. This causes serious corrosion issues inside the engines and in this AVweb video, RAM Aircraft of Waco, Texas, tells us how to avoid these problems.


John King, of King Schools, has been without a medical for two years since he had a seizure and he's now fighting to get it back. Like many other pilots who have appealed disqualifications, he's finding it a frustrating experience that he says is ultimately hurting the FAA itself.

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Picture of the Week

Some airplanes look fast standing still and when you put them against a pure blue South Dakota sky they seem to race across your screen. Geoff Sobering nabs this week's honors with this AirVenture Cup challenger flown by Wes and Alex Parker. They came third in their class. Nice work, Geoff.


While flying from the northeast to south Florida last week it was bumpy at all altitudes and everyone was trying to find a better ride. I overheard this conversation with ATC.

United XYZ: Jax Center, were getting a rough ride here at 360. Do you have anything smoother?

Jax Center: Yes, I-95

United XYZ (after much laughter): "Can we have that?"

Jax Center: Sure, let me know when you see asphalt.

Frank McKee



Before beginning a flight, FAR 91.103 commands that each pilot in command shall become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. Tall order that, but you're halfway to compliance when you ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.


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