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Volocopter

E-volo, the German company that has been developing a two-seat VTOL for several years, has signed an agreement with the government of Dubai to test-fly autonomous air taxis in the emirate by the end of this year, the company announced on Monday at the Paris Air Show. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) said in a news release it expects the trials to continue for about five years, during which all operational aspects will be assessed, including security, safety and rulemaking. “The official operation hinges on the readiness of companies and the availability of legislations governing this type of autonomous aerial vehicle,” the RTA said. Alexander Zosel, co-founder and CEO of E-volo, said, “We are very grateful and proud that the RTA has selected us as their partner after rigorous testing.”

The Volocopter, which is now in its second iteration, has 18 rotors, fully redundant all-electric power trains and an autonomous control system. The technology now will be tested under Dubai’s extreme climatic conditions. “We see Dubai as the pioneer for a huge evolving market,” said Zosel, who added that he is convinced many other metropolitan areas will follow. “We now have a fantastic opportunity to work with the RTA on the development and testing of the entire future ecosystem for safe autonomous air transport, using Dubai as a first showcase project,” Zosel added. E-volo also said the company name will now be Volocopter.

Also at Paris, Workhorse Group, a U.S. company, unveiled a prototype of its own personal hybrid helicopter/VTOL concept aircraft, the SureFly. The SureFly design features four propeller arms, each with two fixed contra-rotating propellers; a backup battery to drive the electric motors in the event of engine failure; and a ballistic parachute. It’s driven by a 200-HP Honda gas combustion engine that generates electricity and a parallel battery pack as a redundant backup power source. SureFly is designed to be easy to pilot, the company said, and is expected to be capable of carrying pilot and passenger or cargo up to 70 miles. Early models will be pilot-operated, but the company said its goal is to introduce autonomous models. Flight testing is expected by the end of the year.

SureFly

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Airbus is developing a high-speed helicopter that will cruise at 215 knots while maximizing efficiency and minimizing cost, the company said at the Paris Air Show on Tuesday. The Racer demonstrator, now in development, will be ready to fly in 2020. “This new project, pulling together the skills and know-how of dozens of European partners through the Clean Sky 2 initiative, aims to bring increased speed and range at the right cost, thanks to a simple, safe and proven aerodynamic formula,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “It will pave the way for new time-sensitive services for 2030 and beyond, setting new benchmarks for high-speed helicopter transportation.” The Clean Sky initiative will reportedly contribute more than $200 million to the program.

The Racer demonstrator will be built around a simple architecture, the company said, with the aim to ensure safety and cost-efficiency. A “box-wing” design, optimized for aerodynamic efficiency, will provide lift in cruise mode, and also will isolate passengers during ground operations from the pusher lateral rotors that generate thrust in forward flight. The lateral and main rotors will be driven by two RTM322 engines by Safran. An “eco mode” will be tested by the engine manufacturer to demonstrate an electrically powered “start and stop” of one engine in flight, to increase range and optimize fuel efficiency. The Racer airframe will be built from a hybrid metallic-composite material designed for low weight and low recurring costs. It will also be equipped with a new high-voltage direct-current electrical system, which will significantly contribute to weight reduction, the company said.

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The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has been in the works since 1996 and first flew more than 10 years ago, made its first public flight demo on Monday afternoon, at the Paris Air Show. Lockheed Martin pilot Billie Flynn told Aviation Week, “We are going to crush years of misinformation about what this aircraft is capable of doing.” The fully acrobatic flight demo aimed to wow the critics, with a full-power takeoff, steep climbs and a squared-off loop. (You can watch the full six minutes in Lockheed’s video, posted below.)

The critics have had a lot to work with — U.S. military pilots have complained about problems with the oxygen system, fuel system and ejection seat; delays and cost overruns have plagued the program; and the complicated onboard computer systems have been unreliable. Will the flight demo change all that? According to a Reuters story on Monday, Lockheed Martin is in the final stages of negotiating a deal worth more than $37 billion to sell a record 440 of the F-35 fighter jets to the U.S. and 10 of its allies. That would be the biggest deal yet for the airplane. The jets go for about $85 million each, Reuters said.

Boom Supersonic, which has been working for a few years to develop its ideas for a supersonic airliner, unveiled its final design for a subscale prototype on Tuesday at the Paris Air Show. The company said it will fly the demonstrator next year. “We now have everything required to build history’s first independently developed supersonic aircraft — the funding, technical design and manufacturing partners,” said Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic. The XB-1 Demonstrator will fly with three GE engines and Honeywell avionics, the company said. Final assembly is underway at Boom’s facility at Centennial Airport, near Denver. The company said it has orders in hand for 76 aircraft, from five airlines.

The demonstrator will be 68 feet long, with a 17-foot delta wingspan, the company said. It will have seats for two, a single pilot and an optional flight-test engineer or passenger. It will be capable of cruise speeds up to Mach 2.2 and a range of 1,000 NM. The full-size 170-foot-long airliner will require a crew of two, and will carry 55 passengers for up to 9,000 NM at cruise speeds up Mach 2.2. Subsonic flight testing will be conducted from Centennial, the company said; supersonic test flights will launch from Edwards Air Force Base, in Southern California.

On Monday, on opening day at the Paris Air Show, Airbus revealed some new design features for the A380plus, now in development, while Boeing debuted its larger-capacity 737 Max 10. The “enhanced” A380plus will provide airlines with better economics and improved operational performance, Airbus officials said. New winglets and other aerodynamic refinements to the wing are expected to result in up to 4 percent reduction in fuel burn. These new winglets – shown for the first time on an A380 at the Paris Air Show – will be larger than the wingtips used today, but are designed to fit within existing airport structures worldwide.

An increase in takeoff weight of about 3 tons plus tweaks to the cabin design make it possible to add up 80 more seats, to 575 total, while maintaining the current range of 8,200 NM. In the cockpit, a new flight management system is offered. A modified maintenance calendar provides six extra days per year when the airplane can fly, producing about $27 million in added revenue, according to Airbus. The A380 is the world’s largest, most spacious airliner, Airbus says, with two full widebody decks. Every two minutes, on average -- or 720 times a day -- an A380 takes off or lands somewhere in the world.

Boeing announced the launch of the 737 Max 10 as the newest member of the 737 Max family. The 737 Max 10 will have the lowest seat-mile cost of any single-aisle airplane ever produced, Boeing said, delivering 5 percent lower trip costs and 5 percent lower seat-mile costs. Design changes for the 737 Max 10 include a fuselage stretch of 66 inches compared to the 737 Max 9, levered main landing gear and a modified wing to reduce low-speed drag. The airplane has the capacity to carry up to 230 passengers. The 737 Max continues to be the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history, the company said, with more than 240 orders and commitments secured from more than 10 customers worldwide.

Boeing Max 10

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Last month, on a calm day, we were number two for takeoff on 27R in ATL. Delta was holding short number one. 

Delta: Delta 123 requests wind check.

Tower: No answer

Delta: Delta 123 requests wind check.

Tower: No answer.

After a few seconds Delta cleared line up and wait. 

Delta: Delta 123 wants a wind check 

Tower (slowly with emphasis): Delta 123 wind is 250 at 2 gusting to 3!

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“Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob.” – Oscar Wilde

I can’t think of a better lead in for the latest round of polling that indicates—surprise—the general public opposes the idea of privatizing air traffic control. The latest run at plumbing public sentiment on this topic was done by the polling firm Hart Research Associates and the most predictable thing about the results is the round of press releases from the alphabets citing the findings.

But the data isn’t so categorical that it can’t be spun. While NBAA’s headline said, “CNBC Poll Reaffirms Americans' Opposition to Privatizing ATC,” The Morning Consult ‘s own survey found a “plurality” of voters favored privatization. While Consult bills itself as a non-partisan digital polling firm, we politicize everything from the color of our socks to the vegetables in school lunches. So, sure enough, the cross tabs show that Republicans favor privatization, Democrats oppose it.

But what do these poll respondents even know about this topic to have an informed opinion? Squat. Zero. Nada. Zip. I’m in the industry and consider myself fairly well informed and I can just muster an opinion based on probable fact. I say “probable” because by the time the airline lobbyists get done distorting whatever bill comes out of Congress, who knows what the terms of engagement will be? Further, the topic itself is a natural for ill-informed innuendo such as President Trump’s claim that the current ATC system is “horrible.” If we thought about it for a nanosecond longer, maybe we could explain that the FAA is hobbled by funding issues that keep it from meeting its infrastructure goals and might there be a better way? I know. That would require a level of cognition that seems to have gone out of fashion with the rise of the internet.   

So. That leaves pollsters to massage the prose in a way that distracted survey takers can parse and answer. Can’t make it too complicated. And the question shouldn’t have innate bias. Here’s how Hart did it:

“There is a proposal to shift control of the U.S. air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, to a private, non-profit entity that would be governed by representatives of the major U.S. airlines and others. The FAA would have some oversight of this new entity, but would no longer manage the air traffic control system. Which of the following statements about this possible shift in control do you agree with more?”

Then it followed with the usual strongly favor, somewhat favor and so forth. To summarize, 53 percent responded that it was a bad idea, 33 percent said it was good. The rest said neither or not sure.

Morning Consult framed it this way: “As you may know, the U.S. air traffic control system is currently run by the federal government, through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Knowing this, do you support or oppose a plan that would establish an independent, not-for-profit corporation to run U.S. air traffic control, instead of the FAA?”

I don’t know about you, but I consider that prose intentionally anodyne. For a broadly uninformed reader—and on this subject, that’s probably most—it leaves out the potential bitter pill of the airlines running the thing. Even before United started beating its passengers, airlines weren’t especially warmly thought of. So no surprise the survey nets different results. Consult’s survey found 42 percent supported privatization, 32 percent opposed it and 27 percent had no opinion. I’m not suggesting Consult was fishing for a result, by the way, but merely dumbed down the question to make it more readable.

Previous polls on this topic have found opinions more in line with the Hart survey. Just over 50 percent to as high as 60 percent of respondents oppose privatization if they have some inkling that fees will be involved. But this goes to how poorly qualified people are to have an opinion on this topic. No one really knows if the airlines would pay more or less under a privatization program and how passengers would share these costs through fees of some kind. When fees are mentioned, opinions change.

One reason for this is something ingrained in the American character: We like services government provides, especially infrastructure, but we don’t like paying for these. One related question in the Hart survey revealed that this sentiment lives on.

“Many governments are partnering with private companies to pay for, build, and expand highways, airports, and other infrastructure projects. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose these public-private partnerships?”

Interestingly, this question, which neatly left out the part about fees, netted the identical percentages found the ATC privatization question, but flipped: 53 percent favored privatization, 33 percent opposed it. I’m quite certain it’s because people think these public private partnerships will magically provide them new roads and bridges, with no tax increases and no tolls. But all of the PPP projects envision tolls or fees of some kind, just as ATC privatization does. We just call them user fees. How else would you attract the "private" in PPP without the profit motive?

In the U.S., voters tend to think they’re taxed to death and they—or so politicians seem to think—won’t tolerate tax increases of any kind. According to the Tax Policy Center, the U.S. ranks near the bottom for total tax load as a percentage of GDP among OECD countries. In the aggregate, the U.S. is 33rd among 37 countries, according to World Bank data. Other data places it a little higher, but usually in the lowest quintile for taxes as a percentage of GDP. Taxes from individuals are about at the OECD average. I have to wonder if voters who complain about taxes are perfectly OK with the tolls—user fees—they’ll see under PPPs. Do they draw a distinction? Do pilots? It's often said that tolls are taxes you aren't forced to pay and that's true. Unless you want to get to the other side of the river.

Having written about this several times, I now realize my opposition to privatization relates less to paying the money in fees than it does to potential denial of access to airspace and airports by an entity controlled by airline interests. While fees of any kind will likely worsen the downward spiral, lack of access would really tank activity.

I’m trying to approach privatization with an open mind, but I just can’t see the potential benefits. And neither, apparently, does an ill-informed public.

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This week marks the 73rd anniversary of D-Day landings at Normandy. Paul Bertorelli visited St. Mere Eglise and shot this fascinating history of one of the most unusual airplanes in aviation history: the combat glider.

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

We have a soft spot for DC-3s and this beautiful example was the subject of an AVweb video a few years ago. It hasn't been restored. It's a corporate aircraft that's always been maintained in pristine condition. It attended the Gathering of DC-3s at Flabob Airport and David Dickins got a nice shot.

On a successful checkride, the well-prepared candidate regurgitates gallons of aviation regulation and insight onto the examiner's laptop ... and, then, quickly forgets everything. Time, now, to recall what others may have lost and ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

Can wi-fi make you a smarter pilot?

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