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With drones, as with most things, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. That’s a principal finding of a report by the FAA’s Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), which involved 23 universities flinging drones at crash test dummies. The report uses a lot of academic energy to say that bigger, faster drones are more likely to hurt people than small ones and the biggest risk comes from being cut by the propellers. So, the report recommends propeller guards be installed on drones. “Not only do blade guards limit the risk of serious laceration injury, they add flat plate drag area and reduce the aircraft’s terminal velocity,” the report notes.

This is the first of many studies the FAA will lead into the risks that drones pose. In this case, the general question posed was what happens when a drone falls into a crowd. In addition to the insights gathered on the effects of rapidly spinning sharp propeller blades on human flesh, the researchers decided that a falling DJI Phantom 3 had an 11 to 13 percent chance of causing a neck injury. Next up will be a study on airborne collisions.

Cessna TTx || The Difference Is Clear

China’s long-awaited C919 single-aisle airliner flew for the first time on Friday and completed an 80-minute low-altitude and low-speed loop around the Yangtze River delta area before landing in Shanghai. The Chinese government, which built the airliner through its wholly owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), issued a statement saying the flight went well and all systems worked. The project, which is about three years behind schedule, is a marquee initiative in China’s bid to free itself from reliance on Western technology for the sophisticated products its burgeoning middle class demands, but China had plenty of help to get this aircraft into the air.

The engines are French CFM LEAP-1C high-efficiency turbofans, the avionics are from Honeywell and GE built the flight management and reporting systems. Michelin makes the tires. The airframe borrows heavily from the designs of the A320 and Boeing 737. Although it was widely portrayed as a direct challenge to Boeing and Airbus’s duopoly in that market segment, it will likely be some time before there is any tangible effect, if at all. The C919 will make a dent in the other companies’ domination of the Chinese domestic airline market but the aircraft has made virtually no inroads in other markets. The company says it has 530 orders for the twinjet but it’s apparently under no illusions about the difficulty of cracking the export market. Banners at the assembly plant urge workers to endure “hardship,” “dedication" and “struggle” to get the jet to market.

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Russian pilots have sent a petition to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) alleging that Rosaviatsiya, the government agency responsible for crew certification, is canceling the credentials of hundreds of pilots who trained at private schools rather than those run by the government department. The pilots claim the move is aimed at eliminating competition and could end up invalidating the licenses of 25 percent of the nation’s pilots. They’re asking ICAO to intervene and “stop arbitrariness on the part of Rosaviatsiya regarding aviation experts and training centers.” Rosaviatsiya spokesman Sergey Izvolsky is quoted in Russian media as essentially confirming the pilots’ complaints but said it’s anything but arbitrary and all in the name of safety. He said the 400 pilots suspended in the last five years were flying on forged credentials from the private schools. 

"The pilot profession can only be given by those educational institutions that have a commercial pilot program approved by Rosaviatsiya. Such programs exist only in flight schools and higher educational institutions of civil aviation, subordinated to Rosaviatsiya," he said. Vladimir Tyurin, head of the board of AOPA-Russia, is quoted as saying Rosaviatsiya has a clear conflict of interest. "Ulyanovsk and St. Petersburg universities of civil aviation are subordinate enterprises of the Federal Air Transport Agency. And Rosaviatsiya finances them. At the same time, it certifies [commercial] aviation training centers. A clear conflict of interest appears. Obviously, they will force these centers out of the market," he told RBC. He said that when the government schools couldn’t meet the demand for pilots, private schools were encouraged but now that demand has subsided the government is getting rid of the competition.

The SolarStratos prototype electric aircraft made its maiden voyage Friday morning with test pilot Damian Hischier at the controls. Rapahel Domjan, the project’s founder, hopes the 81-foot wide, 1,000-pound plane will ultimately climb as high as 75,000 feet with pilots wearing pressurized space suits. The cabin itself will not be pressurized. In addition to its benefit as a technology demonstration, the SolarStratos, if successful, with be used to make atmospheric measurements in regions of the atmosphere that are out of reach to all but extremely high-performance military aircraft.

Although solar powered, the tandem two-seater is not designed to fly indefinitely. The photovoltaic cells on the horizontal surfaces of the aircraft will provide power to run the single electric motor, but carrying large enough batteries to fly overnight would make the plane too heavy to achieve the project’s lofty service ceiling ambitions. At peak motor output, the small 20-kWh lithium-ion battery pack would be discharged in less than an hour.

The team’s next goal is to get Domjan and his copilot, Thierry Plojoux, checked out on the plane so they can take it on the road for a public demonstration in Quebec next month.

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Boeing is looking at offering derivatives of the 737 MAX to replace NATO militaries’ fleets of aging and thirsty Boeing 707s, according to a report by Aviation Week. The Boeing 707 was the starting airframe for 140 special observation aircraft still in use around the world (including the E-6, E-3, E-8, RC-135, OC-135 and WC-135). The most produced military variant of the 707, the KC-135 Stratotanker, is being replaced by the Boeing KC-46A, which is derived from the Boeing 767 platform. Many of the Boeing 707 variants entered service in early 1960s.

Boeing currently makes the P-8 Poseidon, a 737-based system, for the U.S. Navy as a Multimission Maritime Aircraft—in addition to observation roles, it can drop sonar buoys, depth charges, torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. Boeing’s next target is the contract to replace the E-8 J-Stars, after which they hope savings in maintenance infrastructure, pilot training and purchasing volume discounts will begin to cascade. Jim Eisenhart, a Boeing Defense, Space, and Security executive, told Aviation Week, “Starting with J-Stars, because that’s the oldest and probably most crippled, we devised a strategy where the savings from one platform would flow into the acquisition of the next. These savings would then flow into the next, and so on.”

Northrop-Grumman and Lockheed-Martin also intend to compete for the J-Stars replacement contact using commercially available airframes, but those companies have based their solutions on much smaller business jets—the Gulfstream G550 and the Bombardier Global 6000. Boeing says the reduced fuel costs of the smaller aircraft won’t add up to the savings generated by 737-sized production volume. “A replacement windscreen for a 737 costs around $5,000, versus around $70,000 for a Gulfstream—it’s just a matter of economy of scale.”

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AVweb’s General Aviation Accident Bulletin is taken from the pages of our sister publication, Aviation Safety magazine and is published twice a month. All the reports listed here are preliminary and include only initial factual findings about crashes. You can learn more about the final probable cause in the NTSB’s web site at www.ntsb.gov. Final reports appear about a year after the accident, although some take longer. Find out more about Aviation Safety at www.aviationsafetymagazine.com.

February 1, 2017, Cameron Park, Calif.

Beechcraft 95-B55 (T42A) Baron

At about 1410 Pacific time, the airplane experienced a landing gear failure shortly after takeoff. The solo pilot was not injured while the airplane sustained substantial damage to its fuselage. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot reported that when he raised the landing gear shortly after takeoff, he heard a loud crunch as the gear entered the wells. The pilot climbed the airplane to about 3000 feet and observed the landing gear circuit breaker was popped and the alternator was off. The pilot attempted to extend the landing gear normally several times, however, the circuit breaker popped each time and the gear remained retracted. The pilot also attempted to use the emergency gear extension, to no avail. The airplane was landed with the landing gear retracted.

February 5, 2017, Loveland, Colo.

Cessna T210 Turbo Centurion

The pilot later reported the airplane was low and he felt “rushed” during final approach. During the landing roll, the airplane “started to veer off the runway,” so he applied power to abort the landing. During the aborted landing, the pilot reported that he “pulled back” on the yoke and the airplane aerodynamically stalled, impacting a grassy area to the left of the runway and nosing over.

February 6, 2017, Friendly, Md.

Piper PA-32R-301 Saratoga

At about 1145 Eastern time, the airplane was substantially damaged during a forced landing during initial climb. The solo private pilot was seriously injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

After preflighting the airplane and topping off the fuel tanks, the pilot sampled the fuel and confirmed it was blue color and free of contaminates. Shortly after takeoff, at about 1000 feet agl, the pilot reported the engine suddenly lost power. His attempts to restart the engine failed, and he subsequently performed a forced landing.

February 8, 2017, Sterling, Alaska

Piper PA-18-125 Super Cub

The ski-equipped airplane sustained substantial damage at about 1456 Alaska time after a loss of control while maneuvering. The solo private pilot sustained serious injuries. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot later stated the airplane became uncontrollable when its aileron control system locked in place as she turned the airplane to the right. Unable to roll the wings level, the airplane subsequently descended nose low and struck the surface of a frozen river.

February 11, 2017, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Aerotek Pitts S2A

After maneuvering in the local area for about 45 minutes, the pilot returned to his home airport for landing. During the final approach, the airplane sank below the proper glidepath. The pilot increased engine power three separate times, but the airplane continued to sink. Subsequently, the airplane struck a seawall about 380 feet from the runway threshold, resulting in propeller separation and landing gear collapse.

February 12, 2017, Ramona, Calif.

Cessna 172S Skyhawk

At about 1430 Pacific time, the airplane impacted terrain while maneuvering. The flight instructor (CFI) and student pilot had minor injuries; the rear-seat passenger was fatally injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage. Visual conditions prevailed for the local instructional flight.

After approaching the practice area and conducting training near a dirt strip, two consecutive simulated engine failure procedures were accomplished. While climbing out on the last simulated engine failure, the CFI instructed the student pilot to turn left in the direction of east. While in the turn with full power, the student pilot recognized rising terrain and the CFI took over control of the airplane. Subsequently, the airplane impacted a large tree in steep terrain. The tree penetrated through the main cabin floor and roof.

February 12, 2017, Cedar Key, Fla.

Piper PA-28R-200

The airplane was destroyed at about 1106 Eastern time when it impacted the Gulf of Mexico. The private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. Instrument conditions prevailed in the area of the accident site.

According to preliminary radar data provided by the FAA, the airplane flew a northwesterly track over the Florida peninsula, its western coastal key islands and the Gulf of Mexico. The radar data ended over the water at an altitude of about 1100 feet msl.

The 1055 weather observed about 36 miles north of the accident site included an overcast ceiling at 400 feet agl with 10 statute miles of visibility. An Airmet warning of ceilings lower than 500 feet agl and/or visibility less than one statute mile had been issued for the accident area. The pilot did not have an instrument rating.

February 14, 2017, Rattan, Okla.

Beechcraft C90A King Air

At about 1145 Central time, the airplane was substantially damaged during a forced landing following loss of engine power during cruise flight. The pilot and two medical crew members aboard were uninjured. Instrument conditions prevailed for the FAR Part 135 aeromedical flight, which operated on an IFR clearance.

While in cruise flight at 7000 feet msl, the airplane experienced two electrical power fluctuations and subsequently lost all electrical power. Due to the associated loss of navigation capability while operating in instrument meteorological conditions, the pilot set a general course for better weather conditions as noted in the preflight weather briefing. During the effort to find a suitable hole in the clouds to descend through, the left engine lost power. The pilot ultimately located a field through the cloud cover and executed a single-engine precautionary landing.

February 14, 2017, Columbus, Ohio

Beechcraft D55 Baron

The airplane impacted the runway at about 1326 Eastern time following a loss of left engine power during takeoff. The pilot and pilot-rated passenger were uninjured, but the airplane sustained substantial fuselage and wing damage when the left main landing gear collapsed. Visual conditions prevailed.

According to the FAA, the left-seated pilot wanted to get current on his takeoffs and landings. He performed the taxi and takeoff procedure. At about 50 feet agl, the left engine began losing power, dropping to around 1700 rpm. The pilot flying then told the non-flying pilot he was giving him control of the airplane. As the right-seated pilot tried to land on the remaining runway, the left main landing gear struck hard and collapsed, but the airplane came to a stop on the prepared runway surface.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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At Sun ‘n Fun, after I’d interviewed the soon-to-depart Mooney CEO Vivek Saxena, I found myself fairly perplexed about his comment on seeking the “next-generation piston aircraft.” As he was telling me about that, of course, Diamond was busily introducing it 5000 miles away at Aero. (Reason number 237 why I should have gone to Aero instead.)

As is obvious by now, Diamond’s idea of the next generation goes in perhaps the only direction it can go: bigger, faster, more luxurious and yes, more expensive. And let’s be honest girls, at $900,000-plus, the core of the market represented by the Cirrus SR22 is a million-dollar airplane. I could suck in my editorial breath about this, but I no longer get my pants snagged on the high price of airplanes, for nothing I can possibly say here will change it in the slightest. New certified airplanes are for the wealthy among us and that’s just the way it is.

Mooney came to the realization that the millions it was sinking into new singles for the training market probably would not pay off in high-volume sales. The reason trainers aren’t selling isn’t because there aren’t any good ones, it’s because the world just doesn’t need that many of them. Cessna has been selling a hundred Skyhawks a year, plus or minus, and Piper does about half that many Archers. Throw in a few Diamond DA20s and that’s the sum of it. Well, Cirrus puts SR20s into the training field, too. Still, add it all up and trainers are and always have been low-margin products. The money is made at the upper end of the price tier.

Diamond’s big-cabin DA50s are really a reheated idea. Recall that the idea was trialed at Oshkosh in 2007, but Diamond’s travails with the Thielert diesel fiasco and the world economic meltdown tanked it. While other companies have been satisfied with incremental model changes that are little more than cosmetic redos, Diamond is coming at it with a vengeance, offering three models—one a retract—with three different engines in the mix. By any standard, it’s as gutsy a move as was the diesel-powered DA40 twin introduction in 2002.

They’re going after Cirrus, of course. And Cirrus is probably vulnerable because it has been selling about 300 or so SR-series aircraft a year, but hasn’t introduced anything really new, the attention being siphoned off to complete the SF 50 Vision jet. But is what Diamond has in mind new enough to stimulate the market? Nobody I talk to these days thinks anything will expand the pie by enticing people who otherwise wouldn’t buy an airplane to do so by offering something utterly irresistible. We’ve been in the cannibalistic phase of new aircraft marketing for a while now. Cirrus is probably overdue for its own new model and I suspect it will be one with Continental's improved FADEC engine, plus a diesel option.

With the right sales apparatus, I think Diamond can find 50 to 100 sales a year for a near-million-dollar single in the world market, if not the rich vein of the North American market. But they will need to invest in sales and marketing because Cirrus is a lot better at it than Diamond, in my opinion. About three times a year, I get an expensive direct-mail piece from Cirrus imploring me to come for an SR22 demo. If Diamond does that, I’m not on the list. The product is important, but sales is just as critical. Clearly, Cirrus is finding several hundred wealthy GA buyers a year and anyone who hopes to succeed will have to do the same.

When I talked to Diamond’s Christian Dries about the new singles last week, he conceded as much and also said something interesting: “What’s the American saying, if you can’t beat them, join them?” That prefaced his explanation of why the DA50-VII will have a Lycoming TEO-540, the iE2 FADEC engine. Dries said he’s sure it will compete better in North America because gas is cheap here compared to the rest of the world and, as Cirrus owners have shown, buyers will pay eye-watering sticker prices if the performance is there. Having said that, Diamond will still offer an as-yet-uncertified 370-HP diesel from Safran/SMA in lieu of the Lycoming, but I’d be surprised if that found much traction in the U.S.

I didn’t answer the question asking if the DA50 is new enough. Perhaps no one can, but looking back at the success of Cirrus, it was only incrementally new when it appeared in 1999. Yes, it was composite, it had the spin-resistant wing and the BRS system, but it—the SR22, that is, which emerged in 2001—wasn’t any faster than a Mooney Ovation, carried less than a Piper Saratoga or a B36TC Bonanza and had range and endurance with its peers. Yet, its combination of qualities evidently gave buyers the feeling that it was something new and the parachute appealed to spouses who might have been otherwise reluctant to pull the purchase trigger. Indeed, the same sentiment applied to many pilot-buyers themselves.

So the DA50—the top-of-line –VIII model—may have a combination of things to entice buyers. A 200-knot-plus cruise speed, a sophisticated electronically controlled engine, five seats with an option for two more and advanced avionics that will likely include an autoland function, what Dries has called an “electronic parachute.” That gives an aggressive sales force something to work with, I’d wager.

A word here about diesel. My most recent survey of the market indicates that diesel is showing glacial growth in market share. The last time I looked, it was about 10 percent of all new piston aircraft. Since 2010, diesel-powered airplanes have averaged about 14 percent, with a high of 18 percent. This number is rubbery because GAMA includes some (but not all) ASTM-approved aircraft in its piston totals and I haven’t had time to extract the noise from the data. But this much is certain: With its diesel-powered twins, Diamond owns the multi-engine space because the aircraft are so popular as trainers. Diamond has a Lycoming-powered version of the DA42; it hasn’t built one in eight years.

When it introduced the $1.3 million DA62 not quite two years ago, I figured Diamond could sell a few dozen a year. They’re approaching 100 orders. That tells me that like Cirrus, Diamond’s combination of good performance, payload and smooth-running, economical diesels found a niche no one else could. We’ll see if they do the same with the big singles, regardless of what kind of engines they have.   

Oooh, That's Gonna Leave a Mark

I'm on my way to Dallas for the AUVSI Xponential 2017 show this week. Watch for coverage starting tomorrow. On the flight in, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant brought the cabin to an uproarious standing ovation with this crack: "Thanks for flying Southwest Airlines, where we try to beat prices, not our passengers."

So much for the friendly skies.

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There's a parts kit that allows you to build your own ADS-B In receiver to get weather information from the FAA system. It gets traffic, too, but there is a disclaimer.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

It looks like an air force from another era but these Agcats are a modern tool in the quest to feed the planet. The aircraft are ready to tackle pest control for the rice growing season in California and Chris Haile shot this great picture. Nice one, Chris.

Subscribe to 'Aviation Safety' Magazine || The Active Pilot's Guide to What Really Matters in the World of Flying - Your Safety

Back before Houston's Hobby airport was given a Class B veil, I had my single engine Beechcraft based there.  It was a busy mix of private planes and Southwest Airlines jets.  One afternoon, as I was returning to the airport, I was directed to overfly the field and turn final to runway 17.  At Hobby, runways 17 and 13 join at the northwest corner, so an aircraft could use either one from the starting point.  As I crossed over, I heard the following communications between the control tower and a Piper twin obviously unfamiliar with the airport.   

Tower:  Piper 123, cleared for takeoff runway 17, right turn out approved.

The Piper acknowledged the clearance but started toward runway 13 instead.  

Tower:  Piper 123, you were cleared to 17, but you are using 13. (brief pause) But, that's okay, continue on 13.

The pause was just long enough for the Piper to make a hard right turn toward 17 before hearing the revised clearance.

Tower:  Piper 123, okay, now you are using 17.  Go ahead and continue.

Too late, the Piper swung into a left turn back to 13.

Tower:  Ah, Piper 123 now you are back to 13, okay, cleared for takeoff.

 Again, the confused Piper pilot swung back toward 17.

 Tower (in exasperation):  Uh sir, Piper 123, pick a runway, either runway and just take off!

 

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