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If you’re planning to fly toward the path of totality to view Monday’s coming solar eclipse, you won’t be alone. The FAA says several airports located in the path said they are expecting “a significant increase” in traffic before and during the eclipse. Many of these airports are non-towered and have limited capacity to accommodate an increase in traffic, the FAA says. The FAA offers some tips to fly safe in the path of the eclipse. Their suggestions copied below include: "Use US Chart Supplements (formerly AFD). Check NOTAMs for your departing and arriving airports, including airports along the route of your flight. Some airports may already be at capacity. Call your destination airport, and respect the runway closures and safety information they provide. Expect Unicom congestion, and check for additional instructions on ASOS/AWOS voice over.

Also, See and Avoid is a high priority. Watch out for possible drone activity. Utilize Air Traffic Services when available. Use IFR operations when appropriate, and file VFR flight plans, the FAA says — let Air Traffic assist you! If you have specific questions about an area or airport, the FAASTeam is willing to help. Local FAASTeam Program Managers (FPM) are available to help with local knowledge."  For a refresher on non-towered airport communications, click here. Also, ATC will be monitoring the launch of about 100 science balloons along the path of totality that will carry cameras aloft to record the eclipse.

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Doc, the beautifully restored B-29 based in Wichita, made a lot of new friends last month with a full week of appearances and flights at EAA AirVenture — so Doc’s Friends, the nonprofit group that supports the project, is making the most of that, with the launch this week of a new Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the airplane’s permanent hangar, which will also serve as an exhibition and education space. The team has about 30 days to raise $100,000. Like most such efforts, the Kickstarter page tells the story behind the airplane and lays out all the reasons the team feels it is worthy of so much effort and investment. Doc’s mission: to travel as a flying tribute to the men and women who designed, built, maintained and flew the B-29 to protect America’s freedom during World War II. 

The 32,000-square foot facility will be located in Wichita, Kansas. Construction is expected to begin in September and will be completed in September 2018. Rewards to Kickstarter donors include an 8 by10 photo of the airplane for those who give $25, on up to a brick or tile engraved with your name at the site, for those who can give $5,000 or $10,000. The Kickstarter program is only part of the fundraising effort. Doc’s Friends already has raised more than $4.5 million to finance the project and plans to raise $2 million more. AVweb staffers Paul Bertorelli and Russ Niles shot video of the bomber at Oshkosh. You can see their work here (at show central) and here (in the air).

The FAA has made operational changes at San Francisco International Airport in response to last month’s aborted landing by an Air Canada A320, the Bay Area News Group reported on Tuesday. The FAA no longer allows visual approaches for aircraft approaching SFO at night with an adjacent parallel runway closed, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told the News Group. “When these conditions prevail, our controllers issue pilots Instrument Landing System approaches or satellite-based approaches, which help pilots line up for the correct runway,” Gregor said. Additionally, SFO is requiring two controllers to remain on position working traffic until the late-night arrival rush is over.

On the night of July 7, Air Canada Flight 759 flew as low as 59 feet off the ground above the taxiway, where four airliners were waiting to fly, before aborting the landing. Two controllers were working at the time, but only one was in the tower, and he was busy talking to another facility during Flight 759’s approach. “Following the event, SFO tower management adopted a policy requiring two controllers to be on position working traffic until the late-night arrival rush is over,” Gregor said. The Air Canada pilots were cleared to land on Runway 28 Right. A parallel runway, 28 Left, was closed and its lights were turned off, adding to the flight crew’s confusion. The ATC audio from the approach can be heard here.

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The San Jose Mercury News, one of the first news outlets to report on the story of the Air Canada near-miss in San Francisco last month, said in an editorial this week that the FAA has “hindered the investigation” of the event by “dragging their feet in the aftermath.” As a result, “key evidence from the cockpit voice recorder was erased and the pilots were never tested for drugs or alcohol,” wrote the newspaper’s editorial board. The FAA didn’t notify the NTSB about the incident until more than 24 hours had gone by, the News says, and as a result the CVR was taped over multiple times. However, officials from both agencies said the FARs don’t require the NTSB to be notified at all, since there was no accident. “The FAA has followed all appropriate protocols and procedures since the investigation began and will continue to do so throughout its course,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said in an emailed statement sent to AVweb on Wednesday.

“Safety is the FAA's highest priority and guides us in all we do, including our investigations into incidents such as the one involving Air Canada,” Gregor said. “One reason the U.S. is experiencing the safest period in commercial aviation history is because the FAA, NTSB and airlines are committed to working closely and openly together. We conduct timely investigations into the root causes of events and we implement measures to prevent them from happening again. Our approach is no different in this case, and the FAA continues to work closely with the NTSB on the investigation into the July 7 Air Canada go-around at San Francisco International Airport. As the NTSB notes, the investigation involves a wide variety of resources including interviews with the flight crew, interviews with air traffic personnel, an examination of the aircraft flight data recorder, and reviews of radar data, airport video and airline records. The FAA has followed all appropriate protocols and procedures since the investigation began and will continue to do so throughout its course.”

The Mercury News goes on to say the investigation should have started “immediately.” The editorial also reports that according to the newspaper’s sources, the pilots spent the night in the Bay Area and flew out the next morning on their normally scheduled flight. The NTSB did issue a report on the incident earlier this month, noting that its analysis of the data shows that the Air Canada Airbus A320 descended as low as 59 feet AGL, just above the 55-foot-high tail of a 787 on Taxiway C, before beginning to climb out on its go-around.

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August is traditionally vacation month for many U.S. families, so in case you find yourself with some extra time or maybe a rainy day at the beach, you can be prepared by downloading a broad selection of aviation-themed e-books for free, courtesy of NASA. The books include historical accounts of the development of unique aircraft like the U-2 spy plane and the F-16XL fighter jet; a comprehensive history of NASA research planes; the X-31 experimental aircraft; or the F-18, which was flown to test “aeroelastic” wings. Other selections feature sonic-boom experiments, the X-15, the development of aviation pressure suits and lots more.

All of the books can be downloaded free at the NASA website for use on Kindle or other e-book readers. If you don’t use an e-book device, the books also can be downloaded and printed out as PDF files.

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Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something the flying world might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via e-mail here. (Or send them direct to Newstips at AVweb.com.)

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About a year ago I began working for a company that does aerial survey (patrol) of pipelines. My job is to fly a Cessna 172 parallel to petroleum-carrying underground pipes while looking for what is euphemistically referred to as conflicts. Conflicts can be a wide variety of issues—leaks, damaged pipe above ground, equipment on top of or near the pipeline, fire (I haven’t seen that yet and the very idea of a burning pipe leak or a fire near a pipeline is enough to make the toughest person cringe) and anything else that looks abnormal or out of place—you get a feel for that sort of thing.  As it turns out, equipment is the most common issue. It could be the client—the pipeline operator for whom we are flying—doing repairs on a section of pipe, a contractor doing work for the client, a road crew or a farmer working in a field or his back yard.

I took this job thinking it would be an easy way to slide back into professional aviation. I had been away from it for a few years. How hard could it be? I was going to be flying a Skyhawk in day, VFR conditions and I used to fly a Swearingen Metro—the San Antonio sewer pipe—single-pilot in hard IFR. This will be a piece of cake—I’ll get back to flying for a living without breaking a sweat.

Task Saturation

Was I ever wrong. I learned about task saturation all over again, and in new ways I’d never experienced—especially when I fly in the Class B airspace of the Detroit area. The job involves flying a precise track over the ground regardless of wind and turbulence, at exacting—and low—altitudes, while watching for other aircraft, birds and obstructions—not all of the towers are charted, coordinate with my observer and position the airplane so he can clearly see and photograph conflicts and—in Class B, C and D airspace—negotiate with ATC to get the clearances I need to fly those precise ground tracks—it’s not like I can divert and still do my job. Suddenly, my old job of hand-flying a Metro at altitude for an hour or so between approaches seems like a paid vacation.

Training was, shall we say, informal. I rode in the backseat for two weeks, then had one day as an observer and it was left seat time.

The procedure is to fly less than a quarter of a mile—realistically the length of two to four football fields—to the right of the pipeline, at 700 to 1000 feet AGL.  If I fly any higher it’s hard to identify objects on the ground accurately. Any lower and the ground looks mighty close and it’s difficult to focus on items of interest, plus if I have a problem with the plane, there is not much time or space to deal with it or make it to a decent forced landing spot. We have authorization to fly as low 200 feet AGL, but that is only in times of specific need—I’d better have a good reason.

The legs are long—the folks who set them up obviously wanted the most bang for their pilot and observer dollars. Some of them leave me with a fuel reserve of only four to six gallons. I learned right away to lean the mixture as soon as I get the engine stabilized at cruise power. The nonsense you’ve heard about not leaning below 3000 feet MSL is just that, nonsense. If I listened to that old wives’ tale my fuel margin would be way too slim for my liking. The engine likes the procedure as well—as of this writing it has 2600 hours since major and running just fine. I also learned to make sure the fuel tanks are completely full when I refuel. For some reason, some line personnel have a habit of not topping off the tanks when they are asked to top off the tanks.

Flying low means dealing with things people built for the purpose of reaching up into the air to snatch airplanes out of the sky—although they may have other functions. These include antennas, windmills, powerlines and—I haven’t had to worry about this, yet—tethered balloons.  Those windmills you see increasingly across the landscape stick up about 500 feet. That means I can’t afford to let my attention get distracted and let my altitude slip a couple of hundred feet. On the routes I fly, I encounter more than 50 antennas that come within 200 feet of my altitude under normal conditions and at least 12 monsters that I look up at as I fly by. Two of those are within 100 feet of the pipeline. That means guy wires stabilizing the thing that stick out at least half as far as it is tall. They are virtually invisible unless the weather is perfect. Snagging one of those is every pilot’s nightmare. (Editor's note: For some plain talk about scudrunning, click here.)

Down low, birds are an issue. When they are flocking, they are easy to see, when they are alone, often the only time you see one is as it whizzes by within 100 feet and gets your adrenaline pumping. Early on, I learned about target fixation—the danger of focusing your attention on the pipeline or an object on the ground and allowing the airplane to get to an altitude or into an attitude from which recovery could be impossible.  

Until now, I never thought of an airport as an obstacle. With airports come airplanes. I’ve had a couple of near misses; now I’m more aggressive about making sure I listen to CTAF in the vicinity of an airport.

When I first started the job, it could take two hours to do the seven segments within the Class B airspace around Detroit Metro Airport. One segment runs along the east side of the airport, another runs between the approach end of the four main parallel runways and an interstate highway. Flying them required significant negotiation with tower every time. Over a period of six months I made phone calls and visits on my own time to Detroit ATC and worked out a letter of agreement (LOA) with the tower that has made life easier for everyone concerned.

Adding to the challenge of operating down low in Class B airspace and all of the ATC coordination is that it's a metropolitan area, which means there’s a lot of stuff on the ground near the pipelines that has to be observed, evaluated and determined whether it's a conflict—as I’m talking with ATC and watching for towers and airplanes. That’s where pulling the power back and slowing the Skyhawk down can help with the workload.

Weather

To do the job, I need day, VFR conditions.  The working minimum is three miles visibility and a 1000-foot ceiling. In reality, I rarely start a day with less than five miles and 1500-foot cloud bases because I’ve got to maintain cloud clearances in all of the types of airspace I fly through and low visibility means difficulty in clearly seeing objects in the area of the pipeline. There are days that I fly in four different states in the Great Lakes area. That makes weather a serious issue—and the Great Lakes has a reputation for lousy weather. I deal with localized fog, rain and snow showers. I either go around them, circle for a while or land and wait for the weather to improve. The weather can vary wildly in the course of a 400-mile leg; I’ve had a .40-inch change in the altimeter setting on one trip. 

Turbulence is another issue. Sunny days means convective turbulence. For most pilots that means just climbing to find smooth air—something I can’t do. I get to stay low and take the pounding. During winter the winds tend to be stronger and gusty, generating mechanical turbulence down low. Frankly, dealing with turbulence for five to eight hours of flying in one day will wear you out. The best description I have is to ride a kiddie roller coaster all day with one 45-minute break. Oh, and it’s all hand flown, there’s no autopilot. There’s also no lunch break, except maybe, when you stop for fuel. I’ve learned to bring food I can eat inflight without spilling. Sitting in your food for several hours is not a lot of fun.

Because of the long hours of hand flying, I now wear a bicycling glove. It makes things easier in two ways: it makes the yoke feel a little larger which is easier on my hand and it absorbs sweat from so the yoke doesn’t get slippery. While that has helped with the discomfort in my hand, I’ve not solved the chronic problem of a sore neck that comes from my head moving around all the time looking at the panel, the tablet computers with data about the pipeline, objects on the ground and spotting other aircraft. I guess it’s just a part of the job.  

Conflict

When I spot a potential conflict, I maneuver so my observer can get a photograph and send a report. Normal turns to position the airplane to look at conflicts mean banks of 45 degrees or greater because we don’t have time to mess around getting the airplane to the spot where the observer can see what needs to be seen. Yes, we’re still at 700 feet AGL and will probably be doing a little slow flight once we’ve got the right perspective. This is true stick and rudder flying—often with skids and slips to get the strut out of the way for a picture. At the same time, I’m still looking out for other aircraft. Even with a rudimentary TCAS in the plane my head is on a swivel all the time trying to keep this all together. This has turned out to be some of the most challenging, and enjoyable, flying I’ve ever done.

Pipelines are transportation—of liquids rather than people—so they fall under the regulations established by the Department of Transportation. They require that the lines be inspected 26 times a year, no more than 21 days apart, and no less than four days apart. We plan on flying the lines every week, so that if something stops us from flying, we are likely to be able to make a flight over the section within the time prescribed by the rules. Nevertheless, sometimes weather or maintenance issues conspire against us and someone has to “walk”—it’s really drive—the line to assure it has been inspected within the required time.

The week before I wrote this, I had to make a special flight. A contractor laying drainage tile in a field didn’t bother to comply with the law requiring calling 811 before beginning a digging project. His crew hit a six-inch diameter blended gas line with a trencher. Fortunately, all they did was seriously dent and gouge the pipe, they didn’t break it. The pipeline was immediately shut down. Repairs took several days and involved digging a long, deep hole to replace the section of pipe. Then, once the repairs were completed, my observer and I had to fly over and inspect the entire line before the client could put product back in it. 

My observer had been doing the job for two years before I started with the company. I’ve been impressed with his professionalism and willingness to be a passenger through some very unpleasant turbulence as well as the maneuvering needed as part of the job. As we were talking one day I discovered that my headset is older than he is yet even with our age difference, we work as a well-drilled team.

Peter Mulliner holds an ATP with type rating in the Swearingen Metro III, is a CFII and has more than 9400 hours of flying time. 

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Think how boring life would be without the starry-eyed dreamers, the unshakeable optimists and the grand visionaries who are utterly incapable of allowing even the slightest harsh reality to tarnish that bright future just over the hill.

That would pretty much describe the people ushering in the next big thing in aviation: the on-demand urban air taxi. Specifically, Uber’s ambitious plan to launch Uber Elevate. See our news story on the rollout of this idea at a Dallas conference last April. 

What Uber Elevate has in mind is a sizeable fleet of pure-electric VTOL aircraft—not necessarily multi-rotors, by the way—shuttling passengers around urban areas through a node-based system with launch facilities they call Vertiports. (New word for you.) They expect to have demonstration vehicles flying by 2020 and actual operation at low-scale by 2023. You can hear more details on this in a podcast I recorded with Uber Elevate’s Nikhil Goel and Wyatt Smith. You can then decide if you think any of this is remotely possible or likely. As they explain, the vehicles will eventually be autonomous. 

Personally, I place myself in the it’s-possible-but-highly-unlikely camp. Just to be clear, Uber’s concept isn’t rooted in the totally daft idea of flying cars which, despite my personal crusade to render the idea ridiculous beyond all rational thought, continues to gain yet more coverage in the daily press. One reason for that is that tech billionaires are getting interested in it and those guys didn’t get those billions by embracing stupid ideas, right? Right?

What Uber has in mind is dedicated aircraft propelled by distributed electric power—basically motors attached wherever thrust is deemed to be needed. This offers genuine technical advantages, not the least of which is that it can be employed in tilt-rotor designs for fixed wing aircraft that would be more efficient than helicopters. So far, so good. On paper, it’s at least plausible, if not entirely realistic.

Uber shrewdly organized the high-profile conference in Dallas last spring and recruited some heavy hitters to at least endorse it, thus allowing the on-the-fence-doubters to think, hey, this thing is real. It’s here or soon will be. Whether it achieved that goal or not, it did get a lot of press so the promotional mission was at least accomplished. They name checked a few companies: Embraer, Bell, Mooney, Aurora, Pipistrel.

Uber described these as “partners” but it’s more accurate to think of them as interested parties in the way that a chicken is involved with a bacon and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved, the pig is committed. (Pipistrel has its own demonstrated electric aircraft program, but uptake is proving slow.) Worth noting is that Airbus said it would, by 2020, certify a four-place hybrid electric aircraft for the U.S. market. It has since withdrawn that plan, although it has an aspirational electric aircraft program on simmer.

But for Uber, no sale for this customer. I could list a lot of niggly reasons for skepticism, but two stand out: a delusional view of certification and a business plan, if there is one, that’s too dependent on scales not likely to be achieved. In other words, instead of a stand-up double, Uber is swinging for the fences.

As soon as I heard Uber Elevate’s Nikhil Goel say the Part 23 revision is a path paved with gold bricks making certification of electric airplanes a lead-pipe cinch, I knew I was listening to someone whose skin hasn’t been scabbed over by actually completing a cert project. No, no, I occasionally hear, this time the FAA is really sincere about efficient certification. I’m not buying it. Show me an example or two and I’ll relent. We are, after all, not talking about just another new airplane, but an entire class of new commercial aircraft with no certification history, no operational experience and no risk model. Quick and easy to certify? I’m gonna go with no. Certifiable eventually, for sure. Just not quickly.

Second, scale. Uber Elevate says its pricing models are based on a level of aircraft manufacturing we haven’t seen since World War II. What might that be? As late as 1978, the general aviation industry was producing nearly 18,000 airframes a year. So Uber is talking about volume even greater than that.

Business plans—especially aviation business plans—that do-or-die on high volume have a high likelihood of failure because there’s a high likelihood that those millions of customers you were sure would heave baskets of cash at you won’t share your vision. This is exactly what happened to the very light jet concept. We used to throw around VLJ like periods and commas, but now it’s as forgotten as SST, AAS and a million other acronyms. (Can we only hope the ADS-B will soon share the same fate?)

Twenty years ago, then NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin told an Oshkosh audience that a revolution in design, materials and manufacturing efficiency would result in a new golden (sorry) age of GA, with 20,000 airframes a year spilling out of the factories, dominated by the now-banished VLJ. The manufacturing revolution happened, the airplanes didn’t. It’s too simplistic to say that demand never materialized because the prices weren’t as low as promised, but it’s denial to say that wasn’t a big reason.

People coming new into aviation bring fresh eyes, new ideas and innovation. All good. We need a dose of new thinking to offset the hidebounded cynicism of people like me. What they lack is knowledge of the basic laws: gravity, weight, schedules, the grinding pace of certification and an understanding of the Aviation Dollar. The Aviation Dollar, depending on the exchange rate, is equivalent to between five and 100 regular dollars. Even aviation-experienced innovators sometimes lose sight of this.

That’s probably a good thing, though. If they didn’t, they’d hole up in their windowless offices writing the next big social media app and thank the baby Jesus, we sure need that.   

JP International 'Checklist for JPI

AVweb's Geoff Rapoport spoke with founder Xylon Saltzman about One-G Simulation's first foray into virtual reality with their simulator for the Robinson R44.

Uber showed up at AirVenture this year, but it wasn't toting hardware. Instead, the company was touting its new Uber Elevate proposal that will do for on-demand air taxi what its networking service has done for ride sharing and on-demand transportation. In this podcast, Wyatt Smith and Nikhil Goel explain the details.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

AirVenture was such a spectacle this year that the flood of really good photos from the event have overwhelmed us a bit. But Randy Dufault's image of the B-1 sums up the theme of the air show pretty perfectly. Very nice, Randy.

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