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Sales of aircraft avionics and related equipment were down for a second year in a row, says the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) in their annual market report. Sales totaled $2.26 billion in 2016, down 6.4% from $2.42 billion the prior year. The market for forward-fit avionics—sales of equipment destined for newly manufactured aircraft—slid 9.4%, fairing slightly better than the market for aircraft as a whole. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association reported last month that total billings for new aircraft sales were down 14.1% in 2016.

The fraction of avionics destined for existing aircraft has been on the rise since the AEA first started collecting data in 2013. Retrofit sales now account for 49.4% of all avionics sold, up from 45.9% in 2013. That trend is likely to continue, powered by the combined forces of shrinking sales of new aircraft, mandatory ADS-B compliance costs and the increasing practical necessity of Performance Based Navigation equipment.

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Senior executives from commercial-service airports large and small pleaded with the House Subcommittee on Aviation to increases the maximum authorized Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) in hearings Wednesday. “The PFC program allows the collection of fees up to $4.50 for every enplaned passenger,” says Sean Donohue, CEO of Dallas/Ft. Worth International. This maximum charge hasn’t been adjusted since it was put in place in 17 years ago. Lance Lyttle, Managing Director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, explained that “the outdated cap on the PFC prevents airports like Sea-Tac from making the capital investments required to meet the air travel needs of both our communities and the nation.” Lyttle’s comments were echoed by every airport manager in attendance including both Donohue, who runs the third-busiest airport in the world, and Todd McNamee, Director of Airports for Ventura County, whose Oxnard airport, while classified as a commercial service airport, has lost its only carrier.

Seattle-Tacoma has already pledged most of its anticipated PFC collections through 2047 to fund current projects, but the airport expects to overrun planned expansion in the next five years. “In 2021—even after adding the eight new gates—we expect that the airlines will need to load and unload some flights by transporting passengers by bus because we will not have enough gates for all the aircraft who want to come to Sea-Tac,” says Lyttle. Seattle’s 20-year master plan calculates that 35 additional gates and supporting facilities costing $10 billion will be required to service anticipated traffic in 2034.

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Several hundred pieces of software written by NASA engineers for air and spacecraft design, business optimization, systems interaction and biomedical applications have been released by the agency for free public use. The software is being made available through the NASA Technology Transfer Program (motto, “Bringing NASA Technology Down to Earth”). The available codes are listed in the NASA Software Catalog, now in its third edition, published this week. While much of the software is entirely in the public domain, some programs may only be released for use on a government project or are subject to export controls allowing use only by U.S. persons.

NASA awarded “Software of the Year” to two projects in 2016. The first, Traffic Aware Planner, is an in-cockpit tool to assist pilots in requesting the most efficient route of flight taking into consideration the position and track of nearby aircraft. Captain Scott Sander, Director of Fleet Technology at Alaska Airlines, is calling TAP “a game-changing capability.” NASA says several aerospace companies have acquired evaluation licenses to explore opportunities for commercialization. The second, Pegasus 5, is a computational fluid dynamics solver, which allows users to calculate the pressure and temperature of fluid flows to model system performance, such as lift and drag from an airframe in flight. Although likely not as popular as astronaut ice cream, the most requested piece of NASA software in 2016 was Schedule Test and Assessment Tool, a plug-in to Microsoft Project to automate reporting of project performance data.

For the full list of software available, see software.nasa.gov

Photo: Stuart Rogers, one of the inventors of Pegasus 5; Credit NASA 

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The command module Columbia from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon will leave the National Air & Space Museum, in Washington, D.C., this October, for the first time in 46 years, to tour four cities around the country. The traveling exhibit, “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission,” will visit the Space Center in Houston this October, then move on to the St. Louis Science Center in April 2018, the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh in September 2018, and the Museum of Flight in Seattle, in March 2019. In September 2019 the command module will return to Washington, where it will become part of a new exhibit, “Destination Moon,” scheduled to open in 2021. The tour will celebrate the approaching 50-year anniversary of the first manned lunar landing mission, in July 1969.

The tour will mark the first time Columbia will leave the museum since it opened to the public in 1976. Before entering the collection, the command module traveled on a 50-state tour during 1970 and 1971. It then went on display in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building until its move to the new NASM. If you can’t make it to the exhibit, you can explore the interior of the module online via NASM’s new 3-D interactive tour. The tour was created from high-resolution scans of Columbia performed at the Smithsonian in Spring 2016. The interactive graphics enable users to explore the entire craft including its intricate interior, which has been inaccessible to the public until now.

The command module, manufactured by North American Rockwell, was one of three parts of the complete Apollo spacecraft. It provided the living quarters for the three-man crew during most of the lunar-landing mission. The other two parts were the Service Module, which contained the main spacecraft propulsion system and consumables, and the Lunar Module, nicknamed “Eagle,” which was used by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to descend to the moon’s surface. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, remained aloft. The Command Module is the only part of the spacecraft that returned to Earth.

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The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the EU equivalent of the US FAA, published today long-awaited rules broadening the permitted use of single-engine turbine (SET) aircraft in commercial operations. Previously, commercial operators, both charter and cargo, were not permitted to operate any single-engine aircraft at night or in instrument meteorological conditions. Today’s rule lifts those restrictions for turbine-powered aircraft. The General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA) has long pushed for liberalization on commercial SET operations in Europe. GAMA CEO Pete Bunce said of the new rules, “We applaud the leadership shown by the European Aviation Safety Agency in guiding this important safety framework forward, along with many dedicated individuals who helped forge this rule over many years. It will be a welcome development for those underserved by commercial routes to date.” GAMA European member companies Daher and Pilatus will undoubtedly be celebrating the loosened restrictions. Those popular airframers currently only offer single-engine turboprop airplanes, though Pilatus is developing a twin-engine jet.

Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/363 can be found here.

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We often wonder why there are so many rules governing everyday life but some British Airways ramp attendants have provided an example. The airline had to remind workers at London Heathrow to please not urinate in the cargo holds of its aircraft rather than hike back into the building to a washroom. “Basically the guys were taking a leak in the hold when they were caught short,” the Sun quoted its anonymous source at the airline as saying. “You can understand it.” Apparently only the airline’s Boeing 747s were the target of the wee transgressions, presumably because there is standing room in those holds.

Sanitary concerns and eeewww factor notwithstanding, the primary worry of the BA bosses was the discovery of corrosion inside the aircraft attributed to the practice. The evidence was described by the newspaper as “flaking metal” but it assured its readers the aircraft were not structurally damaged. It’s not clear how the supervisors sleuthed out the cause of the corrosion but the solution is a new rule. 

There I was, sliding down from my cruising altitude toward my VFR destination, still 30 or so miles out. It had been a smooth ride, and Otto was following a heading and descending at the selected 400 fpm. I had let the power come up during the descent, along with airspeed. The big Continental in front of me was rumbling along at about 25 squared, still leaned for cruise altitude, and airspeed was well into the indicator’s yellow arc, That’s when it got bumpy. Too bumpy.

The sunny Florida winter day—not unlike spring elsewhere in North America—was great for warming my bones, but also was heating the air and producing updrafts. Looking outside, there was no real clue as to where the bumps would be—in every direction was clear blue sky. I punched off the autopilot, gently added back pressure to level the nose and pulled off several inches of manifold pressure, letting airspeed drop well below the airplane’s published design maneuvering speed, or VA, because I was light. I would be home a few minutes later, thanks to my slower groundspeed, but I’d get home. And I’d be able to use the airplane again.

It’s Everywhere

Although we usually prefer smooth air, turbulence is everywhere, and often unavoidable. It’s present in the usual places: downwind of mountain ranges or obstructions near a runway, when following a large airplane, in and near thunderstorms, where two competing airmasses collide and, as I found out that day over Florida, in clear air at any altitude. Although it can be easy to predict where turbulence can be found, it’s almost impossible to predict its absence.

Turbulence can mean a rough, uncomfortable ride for all aircraft occupants, of course, and injuries in severe cases (usually involving airliners with people up and walking around). While en route, it can translate into greater fatigue for the crew, and creates operational considerations—like gusty, unpredictable conditions for landings and takeoffs—when encountered close to the ground. For a variety of reasons—safety, comfort, efficiency—it should be avoided. Except we usually can’t avoid turbulence. I say “usually,” because there are times and places we can avoid it.

Just east of Albuquerque, N.M., is a well-defined mountain ridge running north/south. If the winds are blowing across that ridge and you cross them within a few thousand feet of their peaks, there will be some enthusiastic bumps, their energy depending on the wind’s strength and your altitude. Meanwhile, those white puffies dotting the flatlands in summer point out two things: Underneath them is rising air, which forms the clouds as it cools and moisture condenses. Fly through or underneath one of them and it’ll be bumpy. Climb above their bases, however, and you’ll usually get a smooth ride for your trouble. Meanwhile, large bodies of water tend to absorb heat energy during the day, by contrast to the land surrounding them. In summer, the land tends to reflect the sun’s energy, creating updrafts. Over the water, however, you might see a downdraft, or simply encounter fewer updrafts during the day. At night, the warmer water can produce its own turbulence.

The point is many turbulence encounters shouldn’t come as a surprise. Terrain and weather often conspire to create bumps; where and when you’ll encounter them can be obvious, if you know what to look for. All that’s well and good, but how to handle turbulence when it can’t be avoided?

Speed To Fly

The main thing about dealing with turbulence usually is slowing down. Letting down into my Florida destination, I wasn’t thinking about bumps in the clear skies that time of year, and let the speed creep up into the yellow arc. That’s a big no-no when flying turbulence: You never want to be in the airspeed indicator’s yellow arc—if you even have one—in anything except smooth air.

Most airframe manufacturers publish speeds to use in turbulence or rough air. You’ll usually find them in the POH/AFM’s front portion, perhaps in a section dedicated to and defining the aircraft’s various recommended speeds. There usually is a placard on or near the instrument panel listing this airspeed. Typically, the speed given will be VA, design maneuvering speed, at gross weight, which the FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-3B, defines as “the maximum speed where full, abrupt control movement can be used without overstressing the airframe.”

A subsequent definition, courtesy of FAA Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) CE-11-17, published in 2011, states, “design maneuvering speed (VA) is the speed below which you can move a single flight control, one time, to its full deflection, for one axis of airplane rotation only (pitch, roll or yaw), in smooth air, without risk of damage to the airplane.” (emphasis in the original) 

Another speed is VO, operating maneuvering speed. It’s similar to VA, in that it’s also weight-dependent, but the FAA defines VO as “the maximum speed where, at any given weight, the pilot may apply full control excursion without exceeding the design limit load factor.” “Operating” is used to maintain a distinction from the “design maneuvering speed,” VA. It’s published for newer Part 23 airplanes, like the Cirrus SR 20, and some Cessnas, including the 162 Skycatcher. Cirrus defines it as “the maximum speed at which application of full control movement will not overstress the airplane.”

Maintaining Control

Okay, so there’s no choice: You’re about to penetrate an area of turbulence, perhaps downwind of a mountain peak, or in or near convective activity. What to do? What are the targets you should aim for? 

Make sure wing flaps are retracted and remain that way. Extending landing gear may or may not be an option; if you have the choice, putting it down likely will increase drag and limit any tendency to build speed. Of course, we need to set power to what little is necessary to maintain at or below our targeted turbulence penetration speed, VA, VO, or V-whatever-the-manufacturer-recommends, corrected for weight, in level flight. That helps solve the speed issue.

The main things we want to accomplish here is keep the wings level at or below our target airspeed. Happily, nailing one can help maintain the other: If we keep the wings level, the airplane can’t tuck into a steep spiral and build speed. The wings-level task can be assisted by a compliant autopilot, but many are clearly placarded against use in severe or extreme turbulence. Yes, there’s an official definition of that kind of turbulence, but only the pilot can decide if conditions meet it.

Pitch control is the remaining big challenge in turbulence. The natural instinct is to chase the airplane’s turbulence-induced altitude excursions—pull off power in climbs, and add it in descents—but that’s a bad idea. Do your best to maintain a constant attitude, not altitude, perhaps around five degrees nose-up. Accept altitude excursions. If you’re IFR, tell ATC you need a block altitude. If they don’t give it to you, tell them you’re off your altitude anyway. They’ll move people around, even though if it’s that rough, all the smart ones are somewhere else. We would tend to stay off the rudder pedals, using our feet to correct gross excursions, but our primary concern is keeping the rudder centered.

The Softer Kind

Those are some of the keys to dealing with severe and extreme turbulence. But the moderate and light chop kinds deserve some attention, too. Keep in mind, however, that the average run-of-the-mill light chop isn’t that much of a deal, structurally. One of my “normal” landings can produce more G-force than the average summer-afternoon turbulence, but the latter is much less comfortable.

In other words, it’s usually a good idea to get out of light or moderate chop for comfort reasons, but not for structural ones. Yes, repeated exposure to turbulence—hundreds or thousands of hours—can fatigue an airframe, but 30 minutes of light chop won’t hurt anything as long as airspeed is kept under control. Flying in this kind of turbulence can mean a slow slog. So don’t.

Find a different altitude, with smoother air. Get above those white puffies, or top the haze layer. The only time you’ll regret climbing to a smoother altitude is coming back down through the bumps at the destination, when you’ll be tempted to keep your speed up. Bad idea. Pick a different time of day—mornings can be smooth as glass; so can evening and night flying. You also can choose a different route: you don’t always have to go through Albuquerque.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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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.

Bose has had good sales success with its A20 noise canceling headset with Bluetooth. In this short video, AVweb conducts a quick tour of the headset's operational features. You can demo them directly at AirVenture 2016 in booth 283.

Picture of the Week
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.

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.

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

 

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