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As expected, Robert Sumwalt has been confirmed as the 14th chair of the National Transportation Safety Board and he brings a wealth of aviation experience to the job. Sumwalt was a pilot for Piedmont Airlines and US Airways for 24 years and his appointment is being met with enthusiasm from aviation groups. "Robert is committed to safety, not only for business aviation, but for all of aviation,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “His solid leadership and the resulting increase in implementation of safety programs benefits aircraft operators, travelers and the greater transportation industry. We look forward to working with him in his capacity as chair of the NTSB.”

He joined the NTSB in 2006 and served a two-year term as vice chair. He's led numerous aviation investigations and is committed to fostering a safety culture within aviation, according to NBAA. "His focus on safety leadership has helped promote the importance of proactive safety management," NBAA said in its statement. "Further, his diligent work on safety awareness and leadership has greatly influenced business aviation, guiding the industry’s voluntary adoption of safety programs that have demonstrated real value in helping improve business aviation safety."

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The total solar eclipse that will take place across the U.S. on August 21 is having a significant impact on general aviation. In Oregon, GA airports in the path of totality already are reporting that they are fully booked up for the event. Pilots will be camping out with their airplanes, beer gardens are planned and car rentals are hard to find and expensive. “We actually are getting requests from people down in California, Idaho, Washington, people flying in to go see the eclipse here,” Ron Peters, who manages the fuel facility at Salem Airport, in Oregon, told KHOU News. “We're the first major airport in the line of totality.” One San Francisco area flying club told AVweb that more than half of their 50 airplanes already are scheduled to be in Oregon or Idaho for the celestial event.

In Nebraska, Diana Smith, manager of the Beatrice Municipal Airport, told the Nebraska Radio Network she’s heard from pilots across the country who want to fly in for the eclipse. “I would say it will probably be the [most traffic] that we’ve seen at one time, especially since everybody will be coming in all at once,” she said. The airport will close its diagonal runway to park the overflow of aircraft. The airlines also are making the most of the rare event. Southwest is promoting its five scheduled flights that will cross the path of totality, and promises special viewing glasses and “cosmic cocktails” to passengers. Alaska Airlines is planning an invitation-only flight that will cruise off the coast of Oregon, to catch the first glimpse of the eclipse as it approaches the U.S. The flight is not commercially bookable, but Alaska Airlines is giving away two seats in an online contest.

Airplanes also will be used to study the rare event for science. NASA will launch two retrofitted WB-57F jets from Boulder, Colorado, to chase the eclipse across the country. Taking observations from twin telescopes mounted on the noses of the planes, the pilots will ­­­­­capture the clearest images of the Sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona — to date, and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury. NASA also is coordinating the launch of 57 high-altitude balloons by students across the country. The balloons will ascend to 100,000 feet within the path of totality and stream live video of the eclipse to anyone on the internet.

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In an effort to cut some cost off the next presidential transport, the Air Force is reportedly in talks with Boeing to buy two 747s that had been produced for the now-bankrupt Russian airline, Transaero. The two jumbo jets were ordered by the airline in 2013, but Transaero went bankrupt in 2015, before it could pay for and take delivery of the airplanes, which are now sitting in the Mojave Desert awaiting a bargain shopper. Each 747 has a nominal new sale price of around $390 million, on which the Air Force is presumably getting some discount. The Air Force has estimated the total cost for two completed presidential transports at $3.2 billion.

While Boeing is likely eager to sell these airplanes, it unclear how much cost savings can be reaped in the transaction. While many of the details of how a 747-8 is turned into Air Force One are classified, the estimated contract cost gives a rough sense of the work to be done ripping the aircraft apart and putting it back together. When Boeing hands over the heavy jets to the Air Force, they will need secure in-flight communications for dozens of staff, hardening against the electromagnetic blast of a nuclear detonation, in-flight refueling capability and a suite of surface-to-air missile detection and countermeasure systems—none of which come standard on 747s built for Russian airlines.

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The Perlan II glider reached its own best altitude of 32,500 feet this week as the team plans to soar well past the existing sailplane record of 50,727 feet, set by Einar Enevoldson and Steve Fossett in Perlan I in 2006. To get the pressured, two-seat glider to the target altitude of 90,000 feet, Perlan Project CEO Ed Warnock has taken his team to El Calafate, Argentina, where a strong jet stream near the south pole combines with the massive terrain of the Andes to create the world’s strongest mountain waves.

The high-altitude explorers plan to do some science on their way to setting the new glider altitude record. Perlan II will be fitted with air sampling equipment for environmental research, and Warnock says the lack of an engine will allow for collection of uncontaminated air at altitudes beyond the reach of most aircraft. “Airbus Perlan Mission II will allow us to study a range of atmospheric phenomenon that ultimately will give us more accurate models of our upper atmosphere and the climatic changes that matter to every world citizen,” says Warnock.

“As demand for air travel rises, and we are faced with questions about how to safely and more efficiently transport a growing population, the insights that Airbus Perlan Mission II will be collecting are invaluable,” said Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas and sponsor of the project. “Perlan’s discoveries will help us shape the future of aerospace with innovations related to design and engineering, more efficient air travel and even aviation science related to travel on Mars.”

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Maximum endurance test flights on highly polished commercial aircraft can be boring—taking the phrase “drilling holes in the sky” to the new flight levels—but Boeing’s flight test team has been making an effort to add some levity to the ordeal. The new Boeing 787-800 needed an 18-hour test flight as part of its ETOPS certification, so the flight planners turned the long-range twin-jet into the world’s most expensive Etch-A-Sketch, tracing an outline of the airplane across the entire country—wings spanning from the southern tip of Texas to the northern reaches of Michigan.

This is not Boeing’s first radar track drawing, but it is the most artistic and the company’s first foray into self-portraiture. Past efforts include spelling out the word “MAX” for the new 737 and an interstate-sized “12” in homage to the Seattle Seahawks. Boeing spokesman Doug Adler Jr. in a statement to the media said, “The nose of the Dreamliner is pointing at the Puget Sound region, home to Boeing Commercial Airplanes.”

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When you've been flying an individual homebuilt airplane as long as we have (22 years, to be exact), you encounter a lot of opportunities for improving on your product. Occasionally these "improvements" come because of malfunctioning equipment. That's certainly happened to me. Yet every now and then, you just want a little change. Either way, the retrofit process is an opportunity to get to know your machine a little better and possibly uncover issues you didn't even know you had. And, if you picked the right mod, you just may make your days flying more rewarding.

Our Little Bird, an early Kitfox IV with Sportster wings, was always just a wee bit different than the other Kitfoxes on the display line at any fly-in we attended. Its short wings, lacking droop tips (a hallmark of the line at the time), set it off.

We could not afford a Rotax 912 powerplant back then, so it was originally engined with a Rotax 582. That was swapped out for an engine that was fairly ubiquitous in Australia way back in 2000, the Jabiru 2200. I think we swapped props a half-dozen times too (well, it feels like that) until we found one that turned up that engine just right.

Somewhere around then, we pulled out the flaky analog engine instrumentation we'd tinkered with for years. These round dials suffered in the Kitfox instrument panel because the instruments were so close together that their individual magnetic fields conflicted with each other, resulting in odd indications. They interfered with the compass, too. (These older Kitfoxes are known for their lack of panel real estate.) We upgraded to a GRT Avionics electronic engine instrumentation system (EIS), which was a pretty fancy box for a plain-vanilla Kitfox such as ours. It turned out to be a great investment—that original solid-state box is still cranking away in the panel today, providing EGT/CHT information, oil temperature/pressure, electrical system information, and more. About the only function we don't have it hooked up for is fuel. Why? Well, in our plane, you only need to look up and you can see the fuel sloshing in the tanks. Calibrated lines made with a Sharpie indicate how much fuel is actually left in either wing-mounted tank. As you might have guessed by now, the airplane's interior is barebones—not so pretty. But pretty simple and functional. That's basically how my builder rolls.

About five years ago, he changed out the original bungee landing gear for the new Grove spring aluminum legs when one of the kids wanted to learn to fly. Why bother? Well, we decided that the airplane's gear needed a little more durability. After 25 hours the kid was finally touching down straight and sweet, without lurching across the runway in imitation of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I'm pretty sure the bungee gear would not have dealt with those sideloads with the same resilience as the more modern spring aluminum.

Rotec to the Rescue

Most recently our upgrades have been less visible, but true to form, they are all the more functional. Last year we took advantage of Australia-based Rotec Aerosport's alternator upgrade for our Jabiru engine. 

Rotec Aerosport came onto my radar when company founders Paul and Matthew Chernikeeff produced a beautiful little radial engine, the R2800, back in 2001. I saw it first on a classic gyroplane, but it was meant for the Kitfox (and eventually a rendition of that engine found its way onto one—not mine, sadly).

Around 2010 the company began to produce upgrades and fixes for Jabiru engines, including liquid-cooled cylinder heads and real alternators, such as the one we ordered. The alternator we received was for the larger, six-cylinder Jabiru engine; but with careful research and creative application, my builder was able to adapt the alternator to the Jabiru 2200, and it works great, offering us plenty of power for the radios and lights in the aircraft.

This past winter he added a new starter to the list of upgrades. And it helped kick over the peppy little engine most of the time. Except for cool days. On cool days it felt as if nothing would turn the engine fast enough to get a good start except the start-cart. It finally sent us back to the drawing board, where we discovered we were not alone. Other operators of the Jabiru felt that the standard Jabiru ignition was the problem. It works fine for most of its chores, except during start. There its magneto coil just could not keep up and generate enough spark to kick over the engine.

It turns out that Rotec has a solution for that problem, as well. The company makes an electronic ignition it calls E-Ignition that turns the Jabiru engine over nearly instantaneously. You don't even need a fully charged battery or high cranking speeds to generate sufficient spark for an engine start, according to Rotec.

It sounded so good that we thought, heck, should we just get two and toss the old magnetos? Turns out Rotec doesn't want its customers to do that. While it is possible to run dual E-Ignitions, the company recommends just one of its E-Ignition systems alongside one original magneto. The combination offers both the performance of electronic ignition and the redundancy of an old-fashioned magneto. That seemed like wise advice when we thought about it (and more economical, too).

Our order went in, and we waited for the box to come from Australia. No, it did not come on a boat. Good thing, with the state of West Coast U.S. dock labor relations earlier this year!

What's In the Kit?

A high-energy ignition coil, an ignition coil lead, a Hall effect sensor (a transducer that varies its output voltage in response to a magnetic field) and mounting plate, an ignition module, a wiring harness with ignition module plug, a heat sink compound, and the installation and wiring instructions. For weight and balance, the only additional component is the ignition coil, and the redundant magneto coil is removed from the installation; so weight change on the upgrade is negligible.

Installation was booked at three hours, but give yourself longer. The job requires removal of one magneto; we chose the right-hand magneto; and then installation of the new Hall effect sensor that replaces it. When the Hall effect sensor is mounted, it is 1 to 4 mm from the magnets, where the magneto was considerably closer, at approximately 0.3 mm. Don't worry, though. The Hall effect sensor is extremely sensitive—it works. The removed magneto coil can be kept as a spare. We mounted the coil and wiring harness to the motor mount and modified the wiring per the instruction manual.

For most installations the ignition modules are mounted directly to the firewall, as ours is. That said, a few installations are plagued with excessive heat from the engine that carries to the firewall. Not good for electronics. The ignition module must use a conductive source other than itself as a heat sink in that case. We fabricated a heat sink out of aluminum with at least a 10-inch2 (64 cm2) single-side surface area. Setting up airflow across the area isn't a bad idea, either. Your other alternative is to find some place other than the firewall to install the module.

On a typical Jabiru there are two separate ignition switches used to ground the "P" leads of the two magneto coils. The magnetos are live when the contacts are open, and are off when closed when the "P" leads are grounded. One of those switches can serve as the electronic ignition switch by rotating it 180 degrees and changing the wires from switching ground to switching 12-volt positive potential.

Of course, ours is different. We had a typical rotary switch, with positions for R, L, and Both. We tied the R position on the rotary switch into the L position; essentially this means the only position on the switch in which the magneto is ungrounded is Both. Then we added the 12-volt power switch to control the E-Ignition. A 15-amp fuse, at minimum, is recommended by the company. The Jabiru electronic ignition upgrade draws approximately 1.8 amps at cruise.

How does it work? While the engine is cranking, you engage the ignition through the panel-mounted switch. You have to wait for the prop to turn one or two blades before you engage it to prevent kickback (this is because the product produces a very hot spark and has fixed timing at 25 degrees before top-dead-center [TDC]).

Is this more complicated than the starting procedure we had before? Yeah, it is. And how do I feel about adding complexity to an otherwise simple airplane? Honestly my feelings are a little mixed, because I am the one who has spent far too much time on the ramp at out-stations trying to get the stinker to fire up (waiting until the thermometer climbed north of 70º F most of the time for success). Now the engine starts every time after two blades turning. So, is it better? Um, yes. Definitely. Enough said.

Amy Laboda has taught students how to fly in California, Texas, New York and Florida. She’s towed gliders, flown ultralights, wrestled with aerobatics and even dabbled in skydiving. She holds an Airline Transport Pilot rating, multi-engine and single-engine flight instructor ratings, as well as glider and rotorcraft (gyroplane) ratings. She’s helped with the build up of her Kitfox IV and RV-10.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Kitplanes.

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An expert is a person who knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing. By that definition, I am an expert. As an expert, I am hereby declaring that this blog is absolutely the last thing I will ever write about ADS-B. As God is my witness, I will never put those letters together again unless I am describing an AD that morphed into an SB or I’m referring to the ads to be found in column B.

It’s not because I’m so sick of the subject that I’m contemplating drinking myself into a weeklong stupor, although I am. Nor is it because I think you probably already know all you will ever need to know about ADS-B, although you probably do. And it’s not because I think the whole idea has a pretty good shot of collapsing in scandal in 2019, although I think that it does. It’s because as an expert, I realize that any advice I could possibly convey to you on this subject has the equivalent value of Cactus Jack Garner’s opinion of the vice presidency.  

A mere month ago, I allowed as how people complaining about the ADS-B mandate should just suck it up and put the equipment in, enjoying both the benefits of ADS-B In and the pleasure of not worrying about it anymore. After I clapped eyes on uAvionix’s SkyBeacon at AirVenture, I instantly realized how … ummm …. hollow that advice was. I knew uAvionix had something in the works but (a) I didn’t think it would mature enough technically to make a difference and (b) I thought it would still require a couple of grand to install it. Wrong on both counts, at least if the company gains approvals to get this thing on the fast track. And with the FAA desperate to get ADS-B equipage going, can we all hope that someone in the bureaucracy will see a winner in this product and champion its slither through the regulatory maze?

The instant I saw the SkyBeacon, I couldn’t help but think two things: Some people who have just installed what they thought was the lowest-priced ADS-B are going to be a little pissed and now I think anyone shopping on price—and I realize that’s not everyone—might rationally wait to see where this product is going. Not to mention others in the pipeline that we don’t know about. I’ve been told that the $500 ADS-B transceiver is a pipe dream, but as an expert, I also thought $3000 installed was about the floor. Well, things change; stuff happens. I’m not so sure more stuff isn’t going to happen so if I was a skinflint owner, I think I’d be waiting around to see if it does.

It also occurs to me that the entire ADS-B fiasco was almost designed to irritate aircraft owners, especially early adopters. The initial hardware was expensive to buy and install and it wasn’t obvious that it would evolve to more common-man prices. Avionics companies saw a bonanza and planned accordingly, only to be struck by the reality that owners were unimpressed with a government edict requiring them to buy these products. The evolution toward less expensive equipment wasn’t visible, least of all by the FAA and perhaps not even within the avionics industry because no one was pulling us aside to say, off the record, that cheaper stuff is on the way, don’t buy yet. Why would they? Discouraging sales of high-margin products in anticipation of cheaper ones would be irrational for a seller.     

The above advice probably has the heft of a fart in a whirlwind, but I feel it my duty to reel in the dead fish I’ve personally hooked before they rot too badly. I’m sure at some point, I’ll be delivered to the NextGen Gulag and reeducated so I can resume a career of prattling on about ADS-B, as though this shattering realization never happened and I always had that glazed, empty look in my eyes.

But for a few glittery moments, I’m going clear.


AVweb reports on a simulator that lets you see the latency in NEXRAD weather data as you fly a scenario in deteriorating weather. The WILD sim was open for anyone to fly at AirVenture 2017.


Mooney’s Chino, California-based design center, which did much of the work on the emerging M10 line, will move its operations to the Kerrville, Texas, factory headquarters. “We’re going to be consolidating efforts,” says Mooney’s Lance Phillips.


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