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Among the things passengers don’t want to hear over the PA is the pilot asking them to pray but it reportedly happened twice on the shaky return of an AirAsia X A330 to Perth, Australia, early Sunday. Something happened to one of the engines about 75 minutes into the flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur and the plane headed back. But even though the crew almost certainly shut down the aggrieved turbine, the shaking continued. There were some reports the Rolls-Royce engine shipped a main turbine blade so it’s possible the windmilling engine transmitted its displeasure to the rest of the airframe for the two-hour flight back to Perth. Video from the incident shows the cabin shaking rhythmically like what one passenger described as an off-balance washing machine.

Multiple sources said passengers reported the captain came over the PA twice asking the unspecified number of people in the back to join him in a word to their favorite deity but the aircraft held together, as it is designed to do, and landed safely, albeit with the passengers ordered to brace. The captain shook hands with everyone as they deplaned. Some passengers took the incident in stride and praised the crew but others had a harder time with the incident. "I was crying a lot, a lot of people were crying, trying to call their mums and stuff but we couldn't really do anything just wait and trust the captain," Sophie Nicolas told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Everybody burst into applause when we landed."

SpaceX launched two rockets in three days and brought both back to barges on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  On Friday, company CEO Elon Musk wasn’t sure he’d get his rocket back because it was going to endure the hottest and fastest re-entry to date. “Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” he tweeted. On Sunday, bad weather caused more angst but the company was able to reposition the barge and stick the landing. 

The launch on Friday sent Bulgaria’s first communications satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral and on Sunday, SpaceX took 10 more Iridium satellites to space. That’s 20 of 75 that will be launched to form a high-powered constellation that will have a significant impact on aviation. One of the big clients for those satellites is Aireon, a global flight tracking and air traffic control system that is expected to revolutionize the way air traffic is managed. Nav Canada is the managing partner of that system. The FAA has continued to deploy and mandate compliance with its NextGen system but it’s sniffing around Aireon and taking part in tests with the first satellites that were deployed in January. “We’ve conducted flight tests with the FAA and Nav Canada, which were designed to really push our system’s limits, while also helping to fine-tune its capabilities,” said Aireon CEO Don Thoma. "We’re on a path to revolutionizing how the world sees the skies, and with each launch come one step closer to making it a global reality.”

Continental 'Factory new CM Magnetos at near-rebuilt pricing'

They’re said to be the Air Force’s indestructible last line of defense but two of four E-4B airborne command post aircraft have been taken out by the Nebraska weather. The two aircraft, based on Boeing 747-200B civilian airliners, were damaged by a tornado that hit Offutt Air Force Base on June 16. Seven RC-145 reconnaissance planes, which are Boeing 707 derivates, suffered minor damage but six were quickly returned to service. The Air Force did not detail the damage to the big planes, officially designated as the National Airborne Operations Center when they're airborne, but did confirm they have been taken off the flight line.

Neither of the affected aircraft was the “alert” aircraft at the time and the Air Force told Air Force Times that the mission can still be carried out with the two airworthy aircraft. No timeline for repair of the pricey aircraft, sometimes referred to as “doomsday planes” for their central role in the event of a nuclear attack or major disaster. The aircraft are the preferred mount for the Secretary of Defense when he travels and an E-4B shadows the president when he goes out of the country, landing at a neighboring airport as a backup to Air Force One.

Can wi-fi make you a smarter pilot?

Boeing told attendees at the Paris Air Show that it doesn’t expect to sell any more 747s for commercial air travel. Although the aircraft continues to sell slowly as a freighter and VIP transport, Boeing has only two remaining orders for the passenger version 747-8—not counting those sold to the bankrupt Russian carrier Transero, which surely will not be taking delivery of its jets. “We don’t see much demand for really big airplanes,” says Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s vice president of marketing. “We find it hard to believe Airbus will be able to deliver the rest of their A380s in backlog.” Boeing has produced over 1,500 of the distinctive jets since its introduction in 1968.

Airbus, for its part, remains bullish on the very large aircraft market, but has been dragging its heels on committing to plans for an upgraded A380 without purchase commitments from airlines to buy new airplanes. Emirates, the largest operator of the A380, has been lukewarm on the proposed upgrades. The Middle Eastern carrier operates almost half of the world’s A380 superjumbos, and is very interested in ensuring Airbus can support a robust global resale market for the used market for the double-deckers in the Emirates fleet before committing to buying more. Tim Clark, Emirates president, was unequivocal about what he wants to see: “They need to put the A380s into other airlines.”

No news here: just test pilots getting the keys to the most advanced airliners from Boeing and told to go out and make a great video. Actually, we're sure a lot more went into it than that but it sure looks like fun. Enjoy.

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Wind and rain were possible factors in the overturning of the Air Force's Thunderbird two-seater at Dayton International Airport on Friday. The Air Force now says the aircraft departed the runway and flipped over on the grass but does not offer an explanation. Earlier reports suggested a gust of wind was to blame..  “Oftentimes if you speculate you will miss what the actual root cause is,” Thunderbirds Commander Col. Jason Heard told a news conference. “We land in rain all the time. His approach and landing met all of those legal requirements,” Heard said. The pilot, Capt. Kenneth Gonsalves, and Sgt. Kenneth Cordova, a maintenance tech, suffered minor injuries. Earlier reports had suggested the backseater was a local media representative.

The incident resulted in the cancellation of the Thunderbirds' Saturday performance at the Dayton Airshow and the Sunday show is tentative. The aircraft involved is not a show plane and Gonsalves is the narrator and not one of the show pilots. The team had canceled a scheduled practice because of the weather and it's not clear why Gonsalves and Cordova went flying.  Weather at the time of the incident was reported as winds light with visibility at 3/4 of a mile and rain, but thunderstorms were reported in the area as a cold front collides with the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy.

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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.

March 8, 2017, Apex, N.C.

Pitts S2E Experimental

The airplane was substantially damaged at about 1535 Eastern time when it impacted trees and terrain while on approach. The solo commercial pilot was fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

Witnesses saw the airplane descending on approach to land. The engine “revved up,” and “sounded like it was running perfectly.” One witness reported seeing the airplane go out of her line of sight. Then, several witnesses reported that they heard two “booms.” The airplane impacted a pine tree, then the ground, and came to rest partially inverted on its left wing about 300 feet from the runway threshold. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to all the respective flight control surfaces. Both propeller blades exhibited chordwise scratching. One blade displayed leading-edge gouging; the other blade exhibited tip tearing and blade curling. Weather observed about nine miles north of the accident site included wind from 300 degrees at seven knots, visibility 10 miles and few clouds at 25,000 feet agl.

March 11, 2017, Reno, Nev.

Piper Aerostar 602P

At about 1515 Pacific time, the airplane landed with a retracted left main landing gear. The solo pilot was not injured; the airplane sustained substantial damage. Visual conditions prevailed for the cross-country flight.

The pilot reported the left main landing gear did not extend as he attempted to land; the nose and right main landing gear extended, however. Upon touchdown, the left main landing gear was still retracted. The airplane slid down the runway, resulting in substantial damage to the left wing.

March 12, 2017, Tampa, Fla.

Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee 140

The airplane impacted water during a forced landing shortly after takeoff. The solo private pilot was not injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot stated that prior to takeoff, the preflight inspection was normal and no anomalies were noted. The engine run-up and magneto checks also were normal. After liftoff, at about 100 feet agl, he noticed a loss of engine power and rpm. He verified fuel and oil pressure were good and started looking for a place to land. He decided to turn back to the airport and try landing on the cross runway. During the turn, he realized he would not make it back to the airport and ditched the airplane into the surrounding water. A local boater picked him up and took him to shore.

March 13, 2017, Skiatook, Okla.

Cessna 182 Skylane

At about 1530 Central time, the airplane impacted terrain following a loss of control while taxiing for departure. The solo commercial pilot was not injured; the airplane sustained substantial damage to its left horizontal stabilizer. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot stated he was taxiing the airplane for departure when it suddenly veered to the right. He attempted to correct the right turn by applying the left brake, but the attempt was unsuccessful and the airplane entered a drainage ditch. The airplane came to rest upright off the taxiway surface in the drainage ditch.

March 16, 2017, Opal, S.D.

Cessna 210B Centurion

The airplane impacted terrain at about 1640 Mountain time. The pilot was fatally injured and the airplane was destroyed. Visual conditions prevailed for the flight.

Following an annual inspection, the pilot was returning it to its base airport. While en route, he flew to a third airport, which was adjacent to his ranch home. The airplane impacted a hill 275 yards off the runway’s departure end and came to rest 175 feet beyond the initial impact crater. No witnesses observed the accident.

March 18, 2017, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Cessna R182 Skylane RG

The pilot reported he was performing a simulated 180-degree power-off landing, but he became fixated on his touchdown point and did not complete the landing checklist. He also did not look outside to confirm the main landing gear was down or “confirm a green [landing gear position indicator] light.” The airplane landed with the gear retracted, sustaining substantial damage. The pilot also reported he was using an active noise reduction headset during the accident flight. Although the gear warning horn was audible, “it did not translate in his brain as a landing gear retracted warning.”

March 20, 2017, Greeley, Colo.

Cessna 172RG Cutlass RG

The airplane landed gear up at about 1646 Mountain time. The pilot was not injured; the airplane suffered minor damage. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot reported the left landing gear would not extend. Following unsuccessful attempts to resolve the problem, the pilot elected to land gear up. Examination revealed the left main landing gear actuator had failed.

March 20, 2017, Boise, Idaho

Swearingen SA226TC Merlin II

At about 0400 Mountain time, the airplane was substantially damaged when a foreign object struck its propeller during initial takeoff/climb. The solo airline transport pilot was not injured. Visual conditions prevailed for the FAR Part 135 cargo flight.

About the time the airplane rotated during takeoff, the pilot experienced a vibration; he subsequently returned and landed without incident. Examination revealed a portion of the outboard section of a blade mounted to the left propeller was missing. The blade itself had fragmented into two pieces. A four-inch-square hole was observed in the left forward side of the fuselage aft of the main airstair door and a piece of the propeller blade was found in the cabin. A runway sweep for foreign objects was conducted shortly after the occurrence. A screwdriver used earlier during maintenance on the airplane and the second piece of the propeller blade tip were recovered from the departure runway approximately where the airplane would have rotated.

March 24, 2017, Marietta, Ga.

Cessna 500 Citation I

The airplane collided with terrain in a residential neighborhood at about 1925 Eastern time. The solo private pilot was fatally injured while the airplane was destroyed by impact and post-impact fire. Visual conditions prevailed.

Nearing his destination, the pilot requested direct routing because his autopilot was not working and he was having steering problems. Radio and radar contact with the flight were lost about 15 miles north of the destination. A pilot-rated witness observed the airplane flying level on a southerly heading about 1000 feet below the overcast. The witness said there was nothing unusual about the airplane until it made a complete 360-degree roll to the left before entering a steep 90-degree bank to the left. The airplane then rolled inverted and entered a slow counterclockwise nose-down spiral before it disappeared behind trees. Weather observed about three miles west of the accident site included wind from 160 degrees at eight knots, visibility 10 statute miles and an overcast 5500 feet.

March 25, 2017, Hayden, Ala.

Cessna T210L Turbo Centurion

At about 1425 Central time, the airplane was destroyed during an uncontrolled descent and subsequent in-flight breakup. The pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. Instrument conditions prevailed; the flight was operating under IFR.

While the flight was en route, ATC advised it of moderate to extreme precipitation and allowed the pilot to deviate as necessary. Shortly thereafter, the airplane began to descend, with the pilot reporting to ATC he was doing the best he could to maintain altitude. The controller suggested a turn, but the pilot did not respond. A witness reported hearing an airplane flying above him making a “weird” sound. He heard a loud “boom” and saw pieces of the airplane falling out of the sky, but did not see it break apart. He then saw the fuselage of the airplane, which was spinning through the air heading toward the ground. The debris field was about one mile in length.

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

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Last February, when I was planning a visit to Daher’s factory in Tarbes, France, I was surfing the web looking for airline fares when I saw one from Miami to Madrid for $640; outbound on Iberia, return on American. I see this sort of thing often enough to know that it’s not an everyday thing, but it’s no fluke, either. Typically, trans-Atlantic fares are twice that, if not a little more.

From what research I can gather, Iberia’s seat-mile costs are on the low end of the international carriers, but not low enough to fly me to Madrid for $320. For some interesting context, when I was a college student in 1972, I flew to Europe a couple of times on Pan Am’s then youth fares; $199 round trip. In 2017 dollars, that’s $1167 or just about what the average trans-Atlantic coach airfare is today. The $640 I paid for the Madrid fare would have been $109 in 1972. These are, of course, the sort of ridiculous economics only the airline industry can summon. But don’t worry, my seatmate probably paid $1300 and all those folks up in business and first class are producing the profit. I’m not weeping for Iberia.

Now let’s exit the cheap seats and consider the opposite end of what some companies seem to think is an extension of the current spectrum: supersonic travel for the moneyed masses, not just the few. At the Paris Air Show this week, a Colorado company called Boom was flogging a three-engine, single-aisle airliner which, it says, will be capable of Mach 2.2, a bit faster than the Concorde was. Claimed range is a little fuzzy. Boom says any stage lengths longer than 4500 miles assume a “tech stop,” their version of a fuel stop. Trips of up to 9000 miles are possible with the tech stop. The unrefueled range is marginally better than Concorde’s legs, which pushed to make 4000 miles.

Boom claims that to reset the supersonic market, the airplane needs to be only about 30 percent more efficient than Concorde, which it says it will achieve with technologies like composite fuselages, high-temperature materials and improved engines. It’s a popular misconception, however, that Concorde’s economics never worked and that it wasn’t profitable. Once the airlines operating it figured out how to charge passengers what they thought the service was actually worth, the airplanes were quite profitable. Concorde’s demise was due to a combination of declining load factors, a soft economy after the 9/11 attacks and Concorde’s looming end of life. There was never a follow-on product. Concorde had no resilience to resist market swings.

Boom’s seating capacity of only 55 addresses this, the logic being that airlines operating it can probably fill 55 seats at $5000 a pop easier than Concorde could fill 100 at $12,000 to $16,000 each. Boom claims it will have the same seat-mile costs as subsonic airliners flying business-class passengers. I’m sure this will provoke some eye rolling in Seattle and Toulouse. (Or Chicago and Paris.)

Says Boom’s optimistic promo copy: “The first airlines to adopt supersonic jets will enjoy a significant competitive advantage. The advantage of 2.6x faster flight will allow them to win competitors' most profitable premium passengers. Further, a halo effect increases share even on subsonic routes, as customers prefer to earn loyalty points with carriers who offer supersonic.” Evidently Richard Branson is convinced. He signed up Virgin for options on 10 airplanes. I wonder if he thought to ask if there will be gates for all those airplanes because really, Boom is proposing an RJ-sized airplane, meaning more airplanes to move the same number of people across the pond. Theoretically, new airplanes can open new city pairs to solve this problem. That's what discounter Norwegian Airlines is doing with the 737 MAX.

Essentially, without using the same words, Boom is laying claim to disruptive technology in the same way Eclipse did and for the same reasons: technological leveraging. Stipulating that this time it will really work, an airline operating a Boom or an airplane like it should have no trouble selling tickets if, indeed, they actually do sell for the same price as current business or first-class seats, which Boom insists they will.

Every day, about 2500 flights cross the Atlantic, carrying about 50,000 premium passengers—business or first. Those seats sell for as little as $2100, but more like $2500 to $10,000 or a lot more, depending on the route. If supersonic travel penetrated half that—and why wouldn’t it, because if the price is the same, why not go more than twice as fast?—that’s a market for 500 airplanes. Whoa. How will they ever count the profits?

But, as we all know, aviation has a way of dope slapping the unwary, the over optimistic, the bright-eyed and he who can’t resist plugging garbage into a spreadsheet, thinking all the while that the numbers are “conservative.” Aircraft development programs often take longer, cost more and miss their performance promises, sometimes by margins wide enough to tank the whole thing, if not the entire idea, which was the case with the very light jet. (Cirrus excepted.)

To get to the point of disrupting anything other than the investors' wallets, Boom, or a company like it, first has to design the airplane and survive the money burn while it certifies it. Then the biggie: Figure out how to build the damn thing efficiently in sufficient numbers to precipitate a business plan. (Fascinating side fact: Boeing has announced it’s working on the NMA—New Midsize Airplane—and although it hasn’t even committed to the program, it has already built 200 aircraft—in a computer simulation.)

A new entrant into the airliner market faces almost impossible challenges. But let's indulge ourselves and ask if Boom could be a nimble David to the sclerotic twin Goliaths of Boeing and Airbus? Anything is possible, but those two aerospace giants didn’t get to be giants by failing to understand the airline transportation market. Boeing demurred on the supersonic idea in 1971, when it abandoned the 2707. Aerospatiale/BAC forged ahead with the Concorde, built only 20 and saw them retired 27 years later. Was that a success or a failure? I’d call it both a success and a marvel, if not a long-lived one. That tiny production run worked for a government consortium, but wouldn't for a public company.

Worth noting, however, is that the Concorde may have been done in partially because of powerful world market forces that expanded airline travel through deregulation and substantial reduction of seat-mile costs, a trend that continues yet today. Boeing’s NMA will be the most efficient two-aisle airliner ever. This has expanded the affordability of airline travel globally. That $199 fare I paid in 1972 was a direct result of the 747's market entrance.

What makes me think supersonic transport flight will come back is timing. The essence of good transportation is speed; there’s no percentage in going slow unless you’re sailing, and maybe not even then. With Concorde’s brief exception, the speed of air transport has been stuck between Mach 0.75 and 0.86 for 60 years. In the grand sweep of technological progress, I can’t imagine that rut is going to last forever.

Whether Boom or someone else breaks out of it, the quest for higher, farther and faster seems inevitable to me. It’s just going to take the right combination of technology, market interest and wealth willing to be consumed in the name of getting there quicker. The critical mass will be enough demand for a manufacturer to launch a program with reasonable volume and long production legs. Twenty airplanes won't do that. Several hundred or a thousand looks better. This might come out of the business aircraft segment in the Aerion SBJ, the HyperMach SonicStar or the Spike S-512 to name just three, but they confront the same market demand of finding enough volume to justify the investment.

One downside of Boom’s projection is that if small supersonic jets siphon off sufficient numbers of premium travelers, the cheap seats may go the way of piston airliners. With no upper-class subsidy, they’d have to cost more. Pity. I like flying to Madrid for $320. 

With its TBM series of turboprops, Daher owns a unique niche as the fastest airplane in its class. AVweb recently visited the factory in Tarbes, France, and shot this video on how the aircraft are manufactured. 

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Note the tiedowns. It's that time of year again across all of North America and Daniel Tharp showed us why we need to be careful. Dramatic shot, Daniel.

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