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Responding to rumors circulating in the aviation press, Cessna confirmed on Thursday that the last Citation Mustang has rolled off the production line. In 12 years, Cessna has produced over 470 copies of the light twin-jet, marketed as the entry-level aircraft for the owner-operator transitioning to multi-engine jets. “The Mustang proved to be an incredible success for our company and our customers, and we’re thrilled to celebrate the ingenuity and pride that went in to creating the world’s most popular entry-level light jet,” said Rob Scholl, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Cessna. “Mustang customers can continue to expect the highest level of service through maintenance, parts and support solutions from our Customer Service organization,” said Kriya Shortt, Cessna's senior vice president of customer service.

Since its introduction in 2013, the Cessna M2 had cut deeply into sales of the Mustang, which went from selling around 40 copies to year to selling only 24 units in the previous three years combined. The M2 is also certified for single-pilot operations, but is faster and larger than the Mustang, while operating out of nearly the same sized runways. The M2 can also be flown with the much more common C/E-525 type rating, which covers the Cessna jets all the way up to the 10-passenger CJ4+.

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State and local governments continue to struggle with sensible, much less consistent, regulation of unmanned aircraft systems, according to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Speaking at the AUVSI Xponential 2017 conference in Dallas this week, Huerta said the FAA is has made understanding what state and local governments want and need to regulate drone operations a priority.

Although the FAA put in place FAR 107 last year for small drone guidance, local communities continue to impose a patchwork of regulations and requirements that are sometimes at odds with the FAA’s claim to oversee everything that flies. But Huerta said that’s only one key area the FAA is examining in overseeing UAS ops. It just released preliminary data on the risk of operating drones over people and crowds and next month, it plans to begin initial testing that will eventually lead to certification rules for over-crowd flight by drones. Another worry the FAA is addressing, Huerta said, is on the mind of many pilots: “What happens when an unmanned aircraft collides with a manned aircraft?” He said the FAA has research projects underway on this issue, too.

That there’s cause for concern is proven by some remarkable numbers Huerta quoted. More than 820,000 drones have been registered by the FAA, about 60,000 of which he said are drones intended for commercial use.

And just since Part 107 went effect less than a year ago, some 43,000 remote pilot certificates have been issued. It’s unclear how much actual flight activity these numbers represent, however. But Huerta left no doubt that operators of drones are pilots. “You may be standing on the ground,” he told several thousand attendees at Exponential, “but you are still an aviator.”

Wednesday’s address marked Huerta’s swan song speech to AUVSI; his term ends in January 2018. He commended the industry for its commitment to safety and noted that aviation in general is safer than it has ever been. “New technologies continue to drive down risk,” he said, adding that unmanned technology is “poised to make the world a better place.”

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While drones can’t get spatial disorientation and don’t have to worry about seeing a runway in low visibility, weather could still be a significant problem for them in the delivery business. That was at least one sentiment expressed at a technical panel on the technology of drone delivery at AUVSI Xponential in Dallas this week. Xponential is the major U.S. drone and vehicle autonomy exposition.

Four industry experts addressed the various challenges facing drone delivery operations and while these problems appear solvable, that won’t happen overnight. Sean Cassidy, a representative from Amazon, said the company is on its 20th prototype drone and is actively testing in the U.K. (The FAA doesn’t allow such testing in the U.S., except on purpose-reserved limited ranges.)

Keenan Wyrobek, whose Zipline organization has been making regular deliveries of critical medical supplies in Africa, cited weather as the thing the company is focusing most of its research on. “No company needs to be thinking about beyond visual line of sight until we have improved weather forecasting,” Wyrobek said. “That’s the shorter term gap that needs to be filled,” he added. Amazon’s Cassidy agreed, but said his company is also focused on establishing performance-based limits for drones in order to understand when they can fly and when they shouldn’t for reasons that include weather.

Wyrobek said Zipline’s experience has shown that winds at low altitude are a particular problem and can overwhelm the performance of drones. “It’s a big challenge and a poorly understood challenge,” he said. “You can get winds that are 10X from what you expected and you get broad patterns that you’re not able to predict at all,” he added. That means drones may simply lack the power or endurance to fly the delivery missions assigned to them. Precipitation and icing are also issues. “Will we fly in in the rain at some point? Yes. Can I tell you when? No,” Amazon’s Cassidy said. He said it’s unlikely that drones will ever fly deliveries in known icing conditions, just as most helicopters can’t operate in icing, either.

Visibility may be an issue, too. “Are you going to send a drone to someone’s backyard without their being able to see it? It’s a provocative question,” Cassidy said. Wyrobek added that the data these drones will soon collect on routine flights will help. “Right now, no one really understands how to fly this low,” he added.

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The fourth Cessna Citation Longitude jet flew for the first time last Saturday and joined the test fleet, Textron Aviation said this week. The jet has a fully configured interior, which will be used to evaluate fit and finish as well as environmental controls, pressurization and other cabin technologies. “In addition to further systems testing, this fourth aircraft allows us to evaluate the overall passenger experience in the cabin, which is just as vital as the performance and technology in the cockpit,” said Brad Thress, senior vice president of engineering. The jet took off from the company’s Beech Field in east Wichita for a flight of 3 hours and 20 minutes. The aircraft achieved all of its performance targets, the company said, and is on track to be type-certified later this year.

The first Citation Longitude flew in October 2016, and to date the flight-test program has completed more than 200 flights, accumulating nearly 400 hours. The super-midsize Longitude, which seats up to 12, will be the biggest business jet in the Cessna fleet, with a 6-foot-tall stand-up cabin. The clean-sheet design features a range of up to 3,500 NM, a Garmin G5000 flight deck and FADEC-equipped Honeywell HTF7700L turbofan engines with fully integrated autothrottles.

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Spirit Airlines has had to cancel or delay 15% of flights in the last month due to a lack of pilots, according to the airline. Cancellations this week thrust the years-long contract negotiation between the ultra-low-cost carrier and the pilots union into the public eye when a small number of angry passengers started a brawl after threatening Spirit employees. The airline asserts the lack of aircrews is due to organized action by pilots to not pick up voluntary overtime assignments. Spirit in a public statement: “We believe this is the result of intimidation tactics by a limited number of our pilots affecting the behavior of the larger group.” U.S. labor laws do not permit employees in critical service public functions, such as airline pilots, to go on strike or participate in work slowdowns.

The U.S. District Court believed Spirit’s story enough to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Monday enjoining the union and its members from any heel-dragging on picking up open flights. This morning, the union agreed to indefinitely extend the enforceability of the TRO, while simultaneously denying that any concerted effort ever existed. In a statement given to AVweb this morning, the union said, “The Air Line Pilots Association Int’l and the Spirit pilot group it represents are not engaged in a job action. Rather, ALPA and the Spirit pilots are continuing to do everything possible to help restore the company’s operations, which have experienced significant problems over the past several days.”

Spirit pilots have complained of pay far below market levels. A 10th year captain flying for Spirit Airlines on any of their A319/320/321 aircraft earns $160 per hour. A 10th year captain flying for JetBlue flying the A320/321 earns $213 per hour.

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If you’re doing it right, and everything works as advertised, that takeoff you just made eventually must be followed by a landing. While takeoffs pose their own challenges, landings can be problematic for many pilots. You might have a problem with airspeed, or with when and how to flare. You might have a problem with picking an aiming point, or what to do when pointing the airplane at it becomes elusive. But thousands of pilots make thousands of successful, we-can-use-the-airplane-again landings each day, and none of them are super-pilots. You can, too.

The truth is no two landings are precisely the same. The trick is making them seem that way to observers. And make no mistake: landings often are the only part of the flight on which you’ll be judged. You can shoot a one-engine-inoperative approach to circling minimums, in snow, at night, smoothly maneuver to final approach on the opposite runway and manage a 30-knot crosswind while doing it, but if you bounce the landing, you’ll never hear the end of it. If you’re having trouble with landings—or if you just want to get better at them—there are some basic things you should consider.

AIRSPEED, AIRSPEED, AIRSPEED

When making suggestions about how to improve landings, airspeed is on everyone’s list, and we’re not going to break with that tradition. There’s a reason manufacturers publish recommended speeds for various maneuvers, and landings definitely make that cut. One of the “secrets” about good landings is they result from placing the airplane over the runway at a speed and altitude from which two simple actions—reducing power and pitching the nose up—mean the airplane has no choice but to land. Your job is to manage the airplane’s energy to get it over the runway at the necessary speed and altitude. Simple, right?

Well, maybe. Conveniently getting a couple of tons of airplane to fall gently out of the sky when and where you want does take some planning, which we’ll get to in a moment. But Job One of any landing is nailing the appropriate airspeeds, not just into the flare, but over the “fence,” down final and even on downwind. Again, we’re trying to manage energy, and starting out with too much of it—or too little—means we have to compensate.

If we bring too much energy into the flare over the runway, a couple of things can happen. One, we float in ground effect until dissipating our excess energy and speed so the airplane finally descends to the runway, hopefully with room to stop. The other thing that can happen is ballooning—instead of maintaining our altitude above the runway, we climb slightly. Ballooning puts us in a worse situation than before: We’re higher above the runway than desired, and the brief climb dissipates even more of our energy. Too often the result is a stall/mush above the runway, but high enough that touchdown is firmer than we would like.

Carrying too little energy into the flare is equally bad. The good news is this situation can be remedied by adding a touch of power, or simply carrying it a little longer into the flare than you might otherwise. Preventing the airplane from approaching too fast or to slowly is what airspeed control is all about.

Aiming Point

The energy we need to manage is required to get us to our aiming point. At smaller airports, it’s common to use the runway number as the aiming point. Instrument runways have distance markers on them, and the idea is to touch down at least 500 feet beyond the threshold.

When we’re flying a standard pattern to the runway, whatever we use for an aiming point needs to be readily identifiable on downwind. Whatever you use, it’s common to reduce power and dirty up the airplane abeam it. From there to the runway, we need to keep the aiming point in sight as much as possible. Any pitch, drag or power changes we make from there on in should be based on our position relative to the aiming point. You should know by now that if the aiming point appears to trend upward in the window, you’re descending below the glidepath you’ve chosen, and you’re too high if it starts sliding downward.

To manage our energy along the way, we should know in advance what airspeeds and power settings to aim for at various points along the approach, along with how the airplane is configured. Many of us have been trained to change things in stages during an approach—a notch of flaps here, another 100 rpm there—and it’s usually not a good idea to do things quickly in an airplane. The graphic below summarizes and expands on these ideas.

Sight Picture

Once we get to the runway threshold, we’ll likely lose sight of our aiming point unless it’s a long runway and we want to touch down closer to the other end. By then, our energy should be such that we’re on-speed and 50 or so feet above the runway, descending. As we raise the nose to flare, our view of the aiming point likely will be hidden by the airplane’s rising nose. Of course, we built that into our aiming point selection, approach planning and energy management, so our aiming point still is in front of us. What to use for visual cues during the flare and touchdown since we can’t see the aiming point any more?

We’re basically “forced” to use airplane attitude to perform the flare, just as we do when flying with a visible horizon. By focusing on the nose and its relationship to the apparent horizon—or distant trees—we gauge how far and how quickly to pitch up the nose in the flare. Of course, at this point in the landing approach, we’re certainly flying visually, no matter how we got there, so there shouldn’t be any need to transition from one method of establishing the airplane’s attitude to another. In other words, the main tool you need to estimate how high you’re pitched the nose is right there in front of you, where it’s always been. What about directional control? Peripheral vision, which is surprisingly good in this instance, and we use it to help with directional control.

Meanwhile, depth perception is an integral part of our sight picture when nearing the runway, and helps us determine when to begin the flare itself. Put another way, we must be able to gauge how high we are above the runway when deciding to begin arresting the descent.

When it comes to beginning the flare—or round-out as some prefer—a lot of effort has been made over the years trying to explain how we know when we’re too high, when we’re too low, and when we’re Mama Bear spot-on. The answer to this dilemma has two parts. The first depends on the airplane; how high or low our chair is relative to the runway and the landing gear. The second part involves our rate of descent—a higher descent rate means we need to start the flare earlier.

The easiest way to teach or learn this skill is flying multiple low approaches down the runway, establishing the airplane a few feet above the runway and keeping it there, not touching down, until it’s time to go around. Do it at around 1.2 VSO (1.3 VSO at gross weight is a typical manufacturer-specified approach speed), which usually provides at least an eight or 10-knot margin between the speed flown and the stall.

Performing this exercise can have three benefits. First is the obvious: learning to gauge how high we are above the runway and what it takes in pitch and power to stay there. Second is a better understanding of the sight picture we should expect. Third is how we use peripheral vision and the sight picture out the windscreen to manage the flare and directional control.

Understanding Wind

It’s understandable to want to practice landings on a calm-wind day, and that’s not a bad way to start. But consistently nailing landings means understanding the wind and to do so you have to fly in it.

Basically, the wind’s strength determines how much time you’ll spend on the downwind, when (not where!) you’ll turn final and how much time it’ll take to reach the runway from there. Crosswinds make things more interesting, and if you’ve got to turn away from the runway on downwind to maintain an appropriate distance from the runway, you’ll have a tailwind on base. This is a setup for a cross-controlled stall when turning final.

Each approach and landing—even to the same runway—is different, and you need to learn how to compensate for the wind. This is another reason establishing and maintaining awareness of your aiming point is critical to managing your energy all the way to the runway. In fact, you may not have time for a base leg, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

Ballooning

If you’re prone to flaring too high, too quickly or in some combination, you know what “ballooning” is. Some combination of the two has resulted in the airplane climbing instead of leveling off or slowing its descent. Preventing the “too-quick” or “too-high” flare also prevents ballooning.

Once you’ve done the deed, there are two fixes: Go around, or add a touch of power, slightly relax the nose-up attitude and arrest the descent. Remember, you are (or should be) right above the runway, where small corrections in both pitch and power can mean the difference between a greaser of a landing or a firm arrival. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the ballooning: the resulting hard landing could damage the airplane.

Ballooning is easy to encounter on the first landing of the day (when you don’t understand how the plane will react), when fuel burn results in an aft center of gravity or when you simply apply too much nose-up input to the pitch control. If you’re consistently ballooning, we’d suggest paying closer attention to how swiftly you apply that nose-up pitch and/or ensuring you have the correct sight picture. Maybe the runway is sloping away from the airplane, and you’re really pitching up normally.

The basic cure is to slow things down, perhaps adding nose-up pitch incrementally. Either way, wait for the airplane to react, then add more nose-up input as necessary. It’s a rare pilot who hasn’t ballooned, or who developed his or her flaring skills to the point it’s one smooth, continuous motion. Applying an input and waiting to see its effect is perfectly acceptable in the flare.

Adding it All Up

Landings are something we all have to do, but they can give some people fits. It can help to break down the maneuver into its various elements, and ensure we’re both understanding them and doing the best we can with each one. Looking out the window is key, as is understanding your position and trend relative to your aiming point.

There’s an old saying: “Flying is the second greatest thing known. Landing is the first.” It’s always good to be back on terra firma, but the outcome should never be in doubt.

Jeb Burnside is Aviation Safety magazine’s Editor-In-Chief. He’s a 3100-hour instrument-rated ASEL/ASES/AMEL commercial pilot and aircraft owner.

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

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At last year’s Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International show in New Orleans, the association announced, with flourish, that this year’s convention would be called Xponential 2017. And so it is. The sentiment is obvious and justified, given the apparent growth and potential for unmanned systems. AUVSI’s current catch phrase is: All Things Unmanned. I’d add this parenthetical: Yeah, but most of them fly.

I’d say the plurality if not the majority of technical sessions dealt with unmanned aircraft systems and so do the largest number of vendor displays. So many, in fact, that it takes a leap of imagination to believe that all of those systems are going to find applications and business to sustain them. More on that later.

At the opening day keynote on Tuesday, Intel’s Brian Krzanich lived up to his reputation as a dazzling wizard of technology by weaving gadget demos into his presentation. When commanded, the Loomo Segway robot he had ridden onto the stage duly went to fetch the water he asked for. Krzanich showed videos highlighting the autonomy tech Intel has already produced or is working on. As I mentioned in the news coverage, the only hitch was that he dropped the slide clicker delivered to him by a drone eight feet above the stage. I can’t be certain, but it looked to me like he sandbagged the catch just to make the point that the only weak link in autonomous systems is at the human interface.

Humans like me will need to make certain accommodations in the language. For example, Krzanich said he has been driving an autonomous car for several years and that once people drive such cars, they'll never want to go back to the way things were. Wait a minute. How can you drive an autonomous car? You ride in it, but don't drive it and you barely operate it. Clearly, some rethinking will be necessary.

As would be expected, Krzanich is a high priest of the benefits of advancing technology. At the end of his talk, he briefly addressed the grand societal benefits of automation, such as drones that can survey a disaster area after a flood and quickly locate surviving victims so they can be rescued in time. When he was demonstrating the impressively capable Falcon 8+ drone inspecting a bridge Intel erected in the hall just for the purpose, I couldn’t help but wonder about both the wonder of the technology and the human displacements it will cause.

Consider this: That little drone, for $40,000, will inspect a bridge faster, cheaper and more effectively than then, say, the six people who are doing the job now. The software will automatically find faults and flaws they might miss during a routine visual inspection. One or two of those guys will be trained to operate the drone, but what about the other four or five? Krzanich’s view is that the river of data advancing autonomy will create will also spin off new businesses and jobs we can’t even imagine now. Maybe. Maybe not. I doubt if anyone can even hazard a reliable guess. I certainly can’t. But I would say this: the kids in class who aren’t paying attention stand a good chance of being left for dead in the emerging autonomy economy. (Yeah, it rhymes. More adjustments.)

I wouldn’t expect Krzanich to pause the creative process to consider this, for inventors and visionaries have rarely done that. I’ve been reading a biography of Thomas Edison (The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Edison Invented the Modern World, by Alexander Kennedy) that, coincidentally, is the perfect backgrounder for covering this show. As Edison completed his epic struggle to commercialize electric lighting, he gave not a thought to the gas lighting workers whose jobs his invention would eliminate. Well, actually he did. He hated the gas companies because he thought them arrogant in a way that only monopolies can be. If Brian Krzanich has similar sentiments about bridge inspectors, he kept them to himself.  

BVLOS or beyond visual line of sight is a desperate goal for the drone industry. But LiPo batteries and tiny electric motors aren't going to do that. But there are plenty of engine makers out there working on hybrid and heavy fuel solutions. At AUVSI Exponential, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli looked at four examples.

 

Scaring birds away from airports is a huge challenge. A Canadian company is doing it with a robotic Peregrine Falcon called the Robird. They showed the drone at AUVSI Xponential in Dallas. AVweb shot this video on the new product.

Electronics International 'Aviation Alert! Short video on how EI saved this pilot's life
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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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