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In case you haven't noticed, computer chipmaker Intel is big on drones and automation in general because it wants to sell the chips that will power those devices. But according to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, it's not so much the gadgets themselves that are important, but the data that they'll generate and how it will be used in the future. Speaking at a dazzling opening day keynote presentation at the AUVSI Xponential show in Dallas, Krzanich said that "data is the new oil" and will shape the century ahead.

"A data explosion like this we have never seen. There will be more data than you can possibly imagine," Krzanich told the convention in a presentation that opened with him rolling onto the stage on an autonomous Segway robot named Loomo. He said that today, humans in their various interactions with technology generate 650 MB of data a day, typically. By 2020, thanks to the widespread use of autonomous systems including cars, drones and eventually aircraft, the data load will be gigabytes per person. Even your kitchen refrigerator will get into the act, with smart sensing and machine learning technology that will order fresh milk before you even know you need it. As Intel sees it, machines will exchange and analyze data constantly, learning how to improve everything from manufacturing efficiency to medical diagnosis. Krzanich believes the data explosion will produce millions of new related jobs and businesses.

Intel has invested heavily in aviation drone technology and showed it off in its new Falcon 8+ inspection drone, which is targeted at the construction and civil maintenance industries. The Falcon conducted a demo bridge inspection on a giant plastic bridge Intel provided just for the purpose. (See AVweb's video on the drone here.) Krzanich said drones will penetrate aviation at many levels, including an application to inspect jet aircraft, which Airbus has already developed. "We believe the future will be defined by intelligence and machine learning. The vehicle itself is less important," Krzanich said.

All of Krzanich's tech gadgets performed flawlessly, with the exception of the drone that flew in his slide clicker from offstage. He missed the catch and wryly commented that when a human is in the loop, sometimes things don't work as planned.

While autonomous vehicles of all kinds, but especially cars, seem to be just around the corner, they won’t see wide acceptance unless they’re perceived to be at least as safe as airplanes. That’s the thinking in the budding autonomy industry, according to Chip Downing of Wind River, an Intel subsidiary that specializes in embedded software for automated and other industrial systems.

Speaking at the AUVSI Xponential conference in Dallas this week, Downing said it won’t be technical barriers that discourage acceptance of autonomous vehicles, but lack of will to make buyers believe they’re both safe and secure. Downing said the aviation industry summoned this will years ago and now has a safety record to prove it, at least in the airline industry. He said autonomous vehicle manufacturers will have to do the same by accepting stringent, commonly accepted standards for certifying vehicles, just as the world aerospace industry has done with air transport aircraft.

Downing uses what he calls Mad Cow syndrome to explain the problem. So-called Mad Cow disease sickened hundreds of people because a few packing houses couldn’t resist including 50 cents worth of contaminated brain material in meat products. “That cost the industry $11 billion to clean up,” Downing says. Beef sales took years to recover and may not have recovered yet. If autonomous vehicle manufacturers follow the same kind of short-sightedness in designing and building autonomous vehicles of all kinds—including aircraft—they’ll suffer similar rejection in the market. Downing adds that it will take an overarching belief and safety and security for autonomy to find market acceptance.

In the world of drones, BLOS—for beyond line of sight—is a Holy Grail of sorts because it can untether unmanned aircraft from ground stations and remote operation, paving the way for true autonomous flight. However, thus far, aircraft manufacturers haven’t developed robust detect-and-avoid technology to allow drones to see other aircraft, including other drones.

A Washington-state startup called Echodyne thinks it has developed a new solution in the form of a small, lightweight and relatively inexpensive phased-array K-band radar that depends on software scanning and aiming rather than a mechanical antenna sweep. Echodyne CEO Tom Driscoll explained the system at the pre-opening day of the AUVSI Xponential conference in Dallas. (AUVSI is the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.) Phased array radar is nothing new and has been used on naval ships and military aircraft for years. “Phased arrays have been entirely out of reach for commercial operations,” Driscoll said in a presentation at the show. Using what he described as “the weird new physics of metamaterials,” Driscoll said Echodyne’s radar is both light and affordable, at 1.5 pounds and about $10,000. He said the price would decrease substantially if the system were produced in volume and could be used on small, autonomous drones. Tests indicate the radar, which is about the size of large smartphone, can track targets as small as birds.

While autonomous ground vehicles have used LIDAR—a laser-based accurate sensing and mapping technology—it lacks the range and is too heavy for small drones. It’s also unsuitable for use in poor weather. Echodyne’s system, according to Driscoll, has a reliable range of 2 to 3 km and requires much less power to operate than traditional radars. He said the technology is “absolutely enabling” and the company hopes to produce marketable products within a few years.

The FAA funding bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last week is good news for general aviation, according to analyses of the plan by several GA advocacy groups. “We appreciate the strong support shown by Congress in this omnibus measure for general aviation, especially in the critical areas of safety, certification and the transition to an unleaded avgas,” said GAMA President Pete Bunce. He added that the bill also raises “strong concerns about the attempt to remove the U.S. air traffic control system from the FAA,” which is in sync with GAMA’s view that ATC privatization would be a bad idea. The bill provides $1.29 billion for aviation safety activities, including $1.5 million to hire six new FAA staffers to support the certification of new technologies. Contract towers are fully funded, at $159 million.

The measure also directs the FAA to work with industry to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of product certification, including fuller utilization of organization designation authorization, something for which GAMA strongly advocated. AOPA also was pleased with the bill. “Congress has clearly spoken in support of general aviation in the omnibus spending bill, which fully funds the programs that matter to pilots, including air traffic control, contract towers and NextGen implementation,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. The bill allots more than $1 billion to NextGen, to “help ease future congestion and reduce delays for travelers,” and directs $7 million to research on alternative fuels for GA.

NBAA also supported the bill. “This bill recognizes the importance of making a continued investment to ensure America retains its global leadership position in aviation,” said NBAA President Ed Bolen. “NBAA was proud to advocate for the language giving the FAA increased flexibility in the use of resources, thereby providing the agency with more tools in its toolbox to help ensure that its programs have stable, predictable funding.” The bill provides $16.4 billion in total budgetary resources to the FAA, $127 million above the level in fiscal 2016, and $508 million above the amount requested for fiscal year 2017, according to AOPA. The bill funds the FAA through Sept. 30. 

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image: KTVU

An Icon A5 amphibious light sport aircraft crashed about 9:20 a.m. on Monday along the shore of Lake Berryessa in Napa County, California, and two Icon employees were killed -- Jon Karkow, 55, the pilot in command of the aircraft, and Cagri Sever, 41, who was a passenger. It’s the first fatal crash for the design. The site, which is close to the company's training facility in Vacaville, is inaccessible by land, but authorities reached the wreckage via boat. The FAA and NTSB are investigating. 

Icon has not yet begun customer deliveries but has been offering flight training and demo flights from its flight centers. “It is with great sadness that I write this," Hawkins wrote by email on Monday afternoon. "Earlier today, two Icon employees were killed in an A5 accident while flying at Lake Berryessa, CA. We have no details on the cause of the accident right now ... The NTSB and FAA have been notified and Icon will be working closely with them to fully support their investigation." 

Karkow was well known in the industry and had come to Icon in 2007 after 21 years at Scaled Composites. At Scaled, he led more than 20 aircraft programs and five complete airplanes including the record-breaking, around-the-world Virgin GlobalFlyer, which won him a 2006 Aeronautics Laureate Award from Aviation Week & Space Technology. He also served as the technical program manager for SpaceShipTwo. A licensed airframe and powerplant mechanic, Karkow received a BS in Physics at Kenyon College and a BS in Aeronautical Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He was test pilot for the first flight of the Icon A5. He was an active pilot and experimental test pilot with instrument, multi-engine, seaplane, helicopter and glider ratings.

Sever had been with Icon only a couple of weeks, and until recently had been a manager of product design and development at Ford Motor Company. "This was a devastating personal loss for many of us," Hawkins continued. "The thoughts and prayers of our entire organization are with the families of both people onboard, they were both truly amazing individuals.” Officials said the two had been flying for only about 20 minutes before the crash.

Last month, an A5 aircraft was damaged in a hard landing, but the pilot and passenger escaped unharmed. AVweb will continue to update this story as more information is made available.

image: KRON-4

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The restored B-29 Doc made its airshow debut on Saturday, in the Defenders of Liberty Airshow at Barksdale Air Force Base, in Louisiana. “What was really special for us, we were able to meet up with a B-52 in flight, over Oklahoma,” Josh Wells, spokesman for Doc’s Friends, told AVweb this week. “That was majestic. Doc’s first assignment, in 1945, was Barksdale, so to come screaming down across the airfield with those bombers, that was special. We got a hero’s welcome.” The air show was sold out both days, with record crowds, Wells said, drawing more than 170,000 people each day. “People were just amazed to see the airplane, the sheer beauty of the airplane, and amazed by the story of how it was restored by thousands of volunteers over 15 years. People were just thrilled to see it.” Wells said the airplane flew and operated beautifully, with no problems.

The B-29 will next fly June 10 and 11 at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, in the Wings Over Whiteman airshow. Wells said they are also working to schedule a public event in Wichita sometime in June, to make up for an April open house that had to be canceled due to weather. Later this summer, the B-29 will fly at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 24 to 30. More events are in the works and will be announced as plans are finalized, Wells said.

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The X-37B, an orbital unmanned spacecraft developed by the U.S. Air Force, has landed safely in Florida after completing its fourth mission, spending nearly two years (718 days) in space, the Air Force said on Sunday. "This mission once again set an on-orbit endurance record and marks the vehicle's first landing in the state of Florida,” said Lt. Col. Ron Fehlen, X-37B program manager. Previously, it landed in California. “We are incredibly pleased with the performance of the space vehicle and are excited about the data gathered to support the scientific and space communities.” The Air Force has released little information about what the X-37B has been doing during its time in space, saying only that it “performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies." On its approach to land just before 8 a.m. Sunday morning, the plane generated a sonic boom that startled locals, CNN reported.

Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said the X-37B has demonstrated “the ability to land, refurbish, and launch from the same location, [which] further enhances the [Orbital Test Vehicle]’s ability to rapidly integrate and qualify new space technologies." The Air Force is preparing to launch the fifth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, later this year. The OTV has spent a total of 2,085 days in space. It’s about 29 feet from nose to tail, about one-quarter the size of the Space Shuttle. The OTV is built by Boeing and uses Atlas V rockets.

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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.

Electronics International 'Aviation Alert! Short video on how EI saved this pilot's life
Most people think of drones as annoying little buzzing quadcopters. Don't say that to the Griff Aviation Guardian, a 160-pound working drone that can lift its own weight and then some. At the AUVSI Xponential show in Dallas, Griff was showing a prototype and AVweb's Paul Bertorelli shot a video describing it.
You may not have noticed, but computer chip maker Intel is big on drones. In this AVWeb video shot at the AUVSI show in Dallas, Paul Bertorelli took a close look at Intel's Falcon 8+ inspection drone. It's selling to the North American market.
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.

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