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“Several failures in close succession” by a jet’s flight crew were the probable cause of a runway excursion at LaGuardia Airport last October, according to the NTSB’s final report, issued Thursday. The Eastern Air Lines Boeing 737-700, a chartered flight carrying then-vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence and campaign staff, overran Runway 22 during landing. The airplane departed the runway and partially transited an arrester bed of crushable concrete before coming to a stop about 170 feet past the end of the runway. None of the 11 crewmembers or 37 passengers were hurt in the incident. The plane sustained minor damage. The NTSB said when the first officer, who was at the controls, failed to get the jet’s wheels on the ground within the first third of the runway, or 2,300 feet, he should have executed a go-around instead of continuing the landing attempt. 

Then, during the landing roll, contrary to procedures, the captain didn’t announce he was assuming control of the airplane, which resulted in each pilot attempting directional inputs that were at odds with the other. This breakdown of basic crew resource management, along with the captain’s failure to call for a go-around, demonstrated “a lack of command authority,” the NTSB said. Other pilot actions, including starting the flare at an altitude almost twice as high as Boeing recommends, delays in reducing throttles and manually deploying the speed brakes, also contributed to the excursion, the NTSB said. Eastern Air Lines management told the NTSB it has developed specific flight crew training to address the safety issues identified during the investigation.

Stratolaunch, the massive airplane that is being built by Scaled Composites to deliver satellites to low Earth orbit, successfully ran all six of its Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines for the first time this week, the company has announced. The PW4056 engines, which previously powered a Boeing 747, support a payload capacity of more than 150,000 pounds and an operational range of about 2,000 nautical miles. At 385 feet from wingtip to wingtip, Stratolaunch is the largest airplane, by wingspan, ever built. It’s also the first aircraft to fly with six 747 engines. It’s under construction at the Mojave Air & Space Port, in California. The company, which is funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, says the airplane will be fully operational by 2020.

The engine tests consisted of three phases, the company said. The first test was as a “dry motor,” using an auxiliary power unit to charge the engine. Next was a “wet motor” test, using fuel. Finally, each engine was started, one at a time, and allowed to idle. In these initial tests, each of the six engines operated as expected, the company said. A number of failure-mode conditions also were tested. The team also completed fuel testing. Each of the six fuel tanks was filled independently to ensure proper operations of fuel mechanisms and to validate the tanks were properly sealed.

Prerequisite testing of the electrical, pneumatic and fire detection systems also were completed successfully. Tests also have begun on the flight control system. So far, the company said, they have exercised the full limits of motion and rate of deflection of control surfaces on the wing and stabilizers. “Follow-up testing this fall will exercise the unique avionics, hydraulics, electrical and fuel systems,” said Joe Ruddy, director of the Stratolaunch project. “This will advance the aircraft one step closer to taxi testing – one of the final test series prior to flight.”

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Spike Aerospace, one of a handful of companies working to bring back supersonic civilian flight, said on Wednesday they will fly their first SX-1.2 demonstrator aircraft by the end of this month. The scaled, proof-of-concept unmanned aircraft will help validate the aerodynamics of the planned S-512 supersonic jet, the company said. "We're very excited to be crossing this milestone and going from conceptual design and pretty pictures to an actual flying aircraft,” said Vik Kachoria, CEO of Spike Aerospace. The company says they plan to fly crewed supersonic flights by the end of 2019, then fly the full-scale supersonic S-512 airplane by 2021 and start deliveries in 2023.

The test flights on the SX-1.2 will aim to validate stability and control at low speeds, which is critical for takeoff and landings, the company said. The SX-1.2 will be followed by a series of successively larger and faster aircraft, leading ultimately to the supersonic demonstrator. Each time, the flight envelope will be expanded. Spike says they are already building the third generation of demonstrators. "As we gather the low- and high-speed data, Spike Aerospace continues to refine the designs of our crewed supersonic demonstrators,” Kachoria said.

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Two brothers in Seattle, working as Egan Airships, have built a drone that combines features from both fixed-wing aircraft and blimps to create an aircraft that can hover, take off and land vertically, and fly at up to 40 mph. The 28-foot-long aircraft weighs less than 55 pounds and uses a patented streamlined envelope design, rotational wings and an extended tail. It’s powered on both the wings and the tail. It offers smooth flight and acceleration for nearly stable platform filming, the company says, and an unpowered descent speed of 9.5 mph should engines fail. The Plimp aircraft is expected to be commercially available by early next year, the company said.

The inflated portion of the Plimp aircraft is filled with helium, which is not flammable, and provides part of the lift, which is supplemented by lift created by the rotational wings. Due to its buoyancy, the company says, the Plimp is more efficient than helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft for surveillance and inspection operations. The aircraft is highly visible for miles, so line-of-sight rules can be adhered to for much greater distances than conventional drones, the company said. Its size and visibility also enhance collision avoidance. The aircraft can be operated remotely by a pilot and flight technician, and does not require a runway or launch/recovery system to operate. “Technology advancements in carbon-fiber composites, ultra-thin bladder materials and battery technologies have allowed Plimp aircraft to meet drone performance objectives today,” said Egan Airships co-founder James Egan.

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The danger of carbon monoxide poisoning in aviation was the subject of two safety alerts released by the NTSB on Wednesday, one for pilots (PDF) and one for mechanics (PDF). The risk of CO poisoning is “generally overlooked and underestimated” by both pilots and mechanics, the safety board said. A defect or leak in the exhaust pipes or muffler can introduce CO into the cockpit, and exposure to the gas can lead to oxygen starvation and the onset of symptoms (headache, drowsiness, nausea or shortness of breath). Fatal accidents have resulted when the pilot is incapacitated by the exposure.

To avoid these dangers, the NTSB says pilots should install a carbon monoxide detector on the instrument panel of their aircraft. Detectors with aural alerts and a flash notification are more likely to draw a pilot’s attention to the potentially lethal condition, the NTSB says. During preflight inspections, pilots should check the security and condition of the exhaust system, the NTSB says. During flight, if you believe you have been exposed to CO, don’t hesitate to act. Open the windows, turn off the heat, land as soon as practical and seek emergency medical attention.

Pilots often overlook or dismiss the onset of symptoms and don’t connect them with the possibility of exposure to CO, the NTSB said. Continued exposure increases the risks, including impaired judgment and decreased ability to control the airplane and, eventually, incapacitation and death. The safety board also encourages aircraft mechanics to inspect exhaust systems, air ducting, firewalls, and door and window seals thoroughly at every 100-hour or annual inspection.

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The idea of stuffing more air into an engine to increase its power output is anything but new. Mechanically driven superchargers have been compressing ambient air and feeding it to engines since at least 1885, with their exhaust gas-driven offspring, turbosuperchargers (often shortened to turbocharger or turbo), since 1905. The first turbos were installed in combat airplanes in World War I to increase their performance at altitude.

While feeding compressed air to an engine means it can burn more fuel and develop more power, there are, of course, limits to this good thing. When a gas is compressed, it gets hotter. Hotter air coming into the engine means the fuel/air mixture is hotter and the heat increase during combustion means that the engine will be running closer to its detonation limits and cylinder head temperatures and pressures will be higher, potentially reducing cylinder life if CHTs cannot be kept in line.

Naturally, someone realized that if the hot air coming out of the compressor could be cooled before going into the engine, there would be a quadruple benefit—the engine would still put out more power than it could breathing ambient air, the detonation margin would increase, engine life would increase and the engine would put out even more power because it was inhaling cooler air (remember what happens when you pull the carb heat knob).

In 1926, 23-year old Indy racer Frank Lockhart developed and patented an intercooler for his supercharged Miller racer. Even though it added some 55 pounds to the weight of the car, the added power allowed him to smoke his competition.

By World War II, intercoolers were found on most supercharged and turbocharged airplanes. After turbocharging came to general aviation in the 1960s, intercoolers, as aftermarket mods and standard equipment soon followed. We like them.

What It Is

An intercooler is nothing more than an air-to-air heat exchanger or radiator. The design goal is to keep the weight to a minimum while making it big enough and efficient enough to reduce the temperature of the compressed air coming out of the compressor side of the turbo to something approaching what the engine would be breathing on a standard day at sea level.

As was explained to us by George Braly of Tornado Alley Turbo, a company that makes turbo-normalizing mods that include intercoolers for the Beech Bonanza, Cirrus SR22 and Cessna 177RG and 185, there’s no free lunch. When an intercooler is doing its thing, it creates back pressure for the turbo compressor, forcing the turbo to work harder, which means the waste gate has to close a little bit more. That increases exhaust back pressure and that reduces the volumetric efficiency of each engine cylinder. The result is that the improved number of molecules that go into the cylinder with the denser air is offset by the reduced volumetric efficiency.

While that sounds like a zero-sum game, Braly pointed out that there is published research going back decades showing huge improvements in detonation tolerance, and thus more available power at higher altitudes, from the use of even a modestly efficient intercooler.

The detonation margin improvements mean that a pilot is less likely to damage the engine because of momentary inattention to power settings during climb. That’s a big deal for turbo systems that require that the pilot keep close track of manifold pressure and mixture during climb.

Beyond better detonation margins, an intercooler means lower cylinder peak pressure during combustion, reduced exhaust valve temperatures and greater valve and cylinder longevity. Denser air coming into the cylinder means a denser fuel/air charge, more horsepower and a cooler initiation of the combustion event, which means a cooler overall combustion event.

The graph on the right depicts data obtained by Tornado Alley Turbo and Advanced Pilot Seminars showing the available horsepower, with adequate detonation margins, at different induction air temperatures. For an engine that can develop 330 HP with an induction air temperature of 100 degrees F—a hot day at sea level, its power output drops to 212 HP when the induction air temperature is 250 degrees F. That 250 F temperature is not unusual when flying a turbocharged engine without an intercooler in the high teens on a hot day.

A good intercooler should be able to reduce the induction air temperature significantly. We’ve seen claims of 160 degrees F across the intercooler, but any such claim has to be taken with caution. The back pressure from the intercooler itself causes the turbo to work harder, which increases the temperature of the air coming out of the compressor into the intercooler, so the real measurement of intercooler efficiency is the amount the intercooler can reduce the temperature of the air coming out of the compressor had there been no intercooler in the first place.

To our knowledge, all of the factory-installed and aftermarket intercoolers give more than they take—they reduce the temperature of the air coming out of the compressor more than they increase it due to the back pressure they generate.

In researching this article, we learned that companies are steadily developing more effective intercoolers. We also learned that bigger is better—more cooling can be obtained with minimal weight gain. A number of aftermarket mod companies have progressively developed more efficient and effective intercoolers over the years, so an owner seeking to replace an existing intercooler may find that the new one is measurably better than the existing one.

We recognize that there is a school of thought that intercooling is not of value for non-pressurized airplanes because it doesn’t really make a difference until the airplane is operated at an altitude of 18,000 feet or higher. For older-generation intercoolers, that may be true. With the efficiencies of newer ones, we believe the detonation margin improvement and ability to keep the engine cooler on hot day mean that they are valuable at all altitudes.

What’s Available

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the September issue of Aviation Consuer, the prices listed below were correct at the time. For current pricing, please contact the manufacturer. 

American Aviation. By the 1980s, many of the manufacturers of turbocharged airplanes were installing intercoolers as standard equipment. Their efficiency was very good for the technology available. Nevertheless, technology marched on and American Aviation (www.americanaviationinc.com) developed more efficient replacement intercooling—which it calls Ultracooling—for the Cessna 340 414 series, placing the intercooler in the nose bowl of the nacelle. Price for the kit is $15,000 and installation requires 45 hours.

American Aviation also offers a kit to add intercoolers to a Piper Navajo. Price is $18,500 and American’s Jim Christy said installation is 45 hours.

Merlyn Products. The turbocharging system in the Bonanza A and B36TC has been the subject of some criticism. Merlyn Products (www.merlynproducts.com) offers a bolt-on, intercooler that Merlyn’s Hugh Evans described as more efficient. The price is $12,000 and installation takes eight hours, although five hours of that is for required painting.

Turboplus. Offering a wide range of intercooler and induction system ram air NACA ducting kits, Turboplus (www.turboplus.com) says installation ranges from 20-30 hours. For the Piper Turbo Arrow, kit price is $5150; Seneca II and III, it’s $11,335.00; Turbo Lance and Saratoga, $11,335; Bonanza A and B36TC, $7211.00; Cessna T206, T207 and T210, $7211 and Mooney M20K, $5150. Turboplus also offers an STC engine power upgrade to 220 HP, with installation of a KB fuel system and its intercooler kit, for the Turbo Arrow and Seneca II and III for $1640 and $2060, respectively.

Tornado Alley Turbo. Going beyond just adding an intercooler, Tornado Alley Turbo (www.taturbo.com) will install a full turbonormalizing system on a line of normally aspirated airplanes.

The systems include the most current version of the line of intercoolers Tornado Alley has developed. Kits are not offered; installation and testing of the full system is carried out at Tornado Alley’s facility in Ada, Oklahoma.

Price for the Beechcraft Bonanza S model and later with IO-520 and IO-550 engines—is $46,950, installed; for the Cessna A185E and F models, $44,950; for the Cessna Cardinal RG, $42,950 and for the Cirrus SR22, $44,950.

Conclusion

Having flown intercooled and non-intercooled turbocharged airplanes and fought heat issues on the non-intercooled machines, we are bullish on intercoolers, both factory-installed and aftermarket. Nevertheless, use caution when looking at a purchase of an airplane with an aftermarket unit—if any of the STC paperwork is missing, it’s probably best to walk away.

Rick Durden is the senior editor of Aviation Consumer magazine. He holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation and is the author of The Thinking Pilot's Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols. 1 & 2. 

This article originally appreared in the September 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

For more great content like this, subscribe to Aviation Consumer!

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I got an email this week from a reader on the cusp of making a small fleet purchase for a few flight schools. I was asked for an opinion on the various choices in the training market. The more you think about this, the more difficult the decision actually is. There’s simply no perfect airplane for the task. Each choice is compromised in some way that favors another choice that’s compromised in another way.

So what’s the most important aspect of this decision? It’s not how the airplane flies. You can teach someone to fly in a broken-down Tri-Pacer with a tired engine, raggedy fabric and mold-stained seats. Flying is flying. What’s most important is dispatch reliability: keeping the airplane available on the ramp so it’s always ready for students to fly and constantly producing revenue for the school. Nothing is a bigger drag on the P&L than a broken airplane baking in the sun. Two broken airplanes at a school with only six is a disaster.

Dispatch reliability is defined by the design itself but more importantly by how easy the airplane is to fix and service with available parts. With that in mind, you can easily see why the Cessna 172 remains the gold standard for flight schools. Despite the airplane’s various warts, anyone can fix it, Cessna can supply the parts or they can be found in the aftermarket or salvage market. I’ve heard complaints about prices getting higher on Cessna parts and some cases harder to find, but I suspect the Skyhawk remains the most supportable airplane out there.

These days, few schools but the major institutions buy new trainers. We are well and truly into the age of the $400,000-plus new training airplane. Plug the debt load on that kind of purchase into your spreadsheet and the monthly nut is eye-watering. In addition to good dispatch reliability, you’d better have a steady stream of students and a second shift of instructors.

With that in mind, my correspondent asked about two new entries: Tecnam’s P2010 and the new VulcanAir 1.0. These two airplanes are essentially Skyhawk knockoffs—both highwings with struts, both equipped with Lycoming engines. While I like the P2010, bought new, it’s just as expensive as the Skyhawk, although it’s faster and has three entry doors. Those are nice-to-haves, but are they useful improvements in a trainer? Doubtful. Tecnam is a well-established global aircraft company, but if you bought a couple of million dollars' worth of new trainers from them, could they match Cessna’s supportability for the Skyhawk? Possibly, but for Cessna, it’s a known. (And even some owners complain about parts prices and availability for Skyhawk support.) That’s a big investment on faith in support.

The new VulcanAir 1.0 will sell for substantially less than a new Skyhawk or P2010 at about $260,000. Like the P2010, it has a third door. It’s not certified in the U.S. yet and even when it is later this year or early next, VulcanAir will face the challenge of building the same supply chain depth that Cessna (and Piper) already has. While it’s true that the AOG worry can be overstated—after all, any capable A&P can repair such an airplane—it’s also true that this is aviation. The unexpected lack of some approved part or shipping delays can keep airplanes grounded for a few days or a week or longer, with owners fuming. Just recall the fiasco Diamond and the then-Thielert visited on the training business with the early DA42s. So buying a new model at any price is measuring unknown reliability against performance or other features. The balance will be determined empirically by actual field experience, not by someone like me bloviating about it.

These aren’t the only choices, of course. Piper is still selling the Archer TX into the training market and just sold a small fleet to the University of North Dakota. We never know what these schools actually pay for the airplanes they buy, but the Archer’s posted base price is in the $370,000 range. Piper may have a deal-making edge in that it can do what Cessna can’t: offer some kind of package that includes twins like the Seminole or Seneca. A great deal of the flight training today is preparing professional pilots and they all require multi-engine ratings. Diamond has the same advantage with the DA40/42 combination but probably due to higher base prices, Diamond doesn’t have the same penetration in the single-engine training market as do Cessna and Piper. But Diamond dominates piston twin sales, with more than 50 percent penetration.

Don’t forget Cirrus. The SR20 really hasn’t been a first-choice trainer, probably because of its high price. But lately, Cirrus has been making inroads.  

It sold 25 to the Air Force for training at the service’s academy a few years ago and recently Lufthansa, Vincennes University and Parks College have bought Cirrus aircraft for trainers. Cirrus has the advantage of being the highest-volume piston aircraft company and has a healthy growth curve. If it can’t beat Cessna or Piper strictly on price, it can sweeten the pot with support programs and training materials. I’ve been told that institutional buyers are less concerned about price than they are dispatch reliability and post-sale support.

I’ve heard arguments that the SR20 isn’t as suitable a trainer as the Skyhawk because it’s hard to fly and it’s faster. Seriously? It may be different, but not hard and certainly not something you couldn’t do primary training in. I’ve always maintained you can do primary training in any single, as long as it’s the student’s first exposure to an airplane.

For someone buying a fleet of training airplanes—say a half dozen or more—the decision matrix gets complicated. What’s the demand for training? What can you charge for it? How much will you do? What kind of students? Do you envision new airplanes or older models refurbished? How does debt load figure into all of this? I sure can’t answer any of this in a vacuum.

Irrespective of cost, viewed from the vantage of a flight instructor, my first choice would be Diamond’s DA40. It’s easy and fun to fly and has a center stick, which all airplanes should have, in my view. From the flyability and performance perch, everything else is about even. None of the airplanes on the list above are particular standouts. Nor do I think there’s a substantial enough difference in long-term operating costs among the flock to justify selecting one over another.

But reality intrudes in the form of hard-nosed investment considerations. Not many schools can afford new so they’re left with some combination of new and used aircraft. Absent tax write-down considerations, used aircraft are always a better value. And that seems to inevitably point back to the Skyhawk, which explains why so many of them are in flight school service. They’re good teaching platforms, have predictable maintenance costs and reasonable dispatch reliability. Piper’s PA-28 line is a close second, in my view.

Because operating costs are always a consideration, I’d really consider one of the Skyhawk diesel conversions, say the Redhawk that Redbird has been promoting. From the reporting I’ve done, these have good reliability, good flyability and performance not substantially less than the gasoline version when considered against the operational savings. What gives me pause is that I can’t judge how successful this program has been. Redbird declines to say how many of these airplanes they’ve sold. Last time I checked, it was a little over a dozen. Has the fleet expanded beyond that? Redbird won’t say. But even a refurbished avgas Skyhawk can be a money maker and at less than a quarter the cost of a new model, it remains a good value.  

Which leads to the inevitable question: Why doesn’t someone build a new, inexpensive trainer? That’s what VulcanAir  is attempting with the 1.0. But it’s not that simple. The airplane business doesn’t thrive on build-it-and-they-will come psychology. Airplanes have to be sold aggressively; they don’t fly off the shelves, so to speak. Given the size of the investments, buyers are sensitive and perhaps skeptical of the ability of small companies to support their airplanes with parts and service. That’s the nut VulcanAir has to crack.

When it announced the new M10 series two years ago, Mooney was clearly making a run at the trainer market, too. It has since pulled back and is being cagey about what will happen to the project. But I suspect it realized for the investment required and the price it would have to charge, the trainer sales just aren’t there in a market that’s quite—and expensively—saturated.

Like I said, it’s complicated.

Steve Hinton Jr. set a record for the fastest speed recorded by a piston-powered aircraft over four 3-kilometer runs in early September and he spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles at the National Championship Air Races about how that kind of flying compares to pylon racing at Reno.

Danny Clisham has been calling the World Championship Air Races in Reno for more than 35 years and he's as excited about them now as he was when he started. Clisham says a new generation of race pilots will continue the tradition of using the latest technology to squeeze ever more speed out of machines that were conceived decades before they were born. He spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles at Reno.

When it looked like his airport might be hit by Hurricane Irma, Sebring Airport Executive Director Mike Willingham said he and his staff put into action a long-established emergency plan that he credits with preventing injuries and speeding recovery efforts. To be sure, there is plenty of damage, but Sebring will be ready to host the Sport Aviation Expo in January.

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

We didn't have enough submissions for a Photo of the Week so we had some spare images from the National Championship Air Races in Reno to substitute. Such a cool place.

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