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After more than three years of searching and $160 million spent on the effort, the Australian government has ended the active search for Malaysian Flight 370, declaring the outcome “unacceptable.”

MH370 disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. It dropped out of radar and radio contact while transitioning into Vietnamese airspace and was never heard from again. The Boeing 777 had 239 passenger and crew aboard. The disappearance touched off the largest search effort in the history of the aviation industry, eventually covering 661 areas of interest and more than 700,000 square miles of ocean. Debris from the 777 were found in East Africa, but these didn’t reveal a plausible location of the aircraft itself. China and Australia agreed to terminate the active search for MH370 last January. Malaysia said it would continue searching on a reduced basis.

In a report released this week, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said, “It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era with 10 million passengers boarding commercial aircraft every day, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board.”

Numerous theories were offered to explain the fate of MH370. It’s generally thought that it flew on for hours, eventually crashing into the Southern Indian Ocean west of the Australian coast.

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A two-seat autonomous aircraft with 16 electric rotors flew for the first time in May, and carried passengers on board for several flights in early September, the company recently announced. The “PassengerDrone” aircraft, built in Switzerland, looks similar to a Volocopter, but with its rotors placed along two straight booms instead of Volocopter’s circular rotor array. The cockpit features just a joystick and a touch-screen graphic display with custom avionics, and can be flown either remotely or by a pilot on board. The company says the vehicle “has the potential to change the traditional means of commuter transportation.” It flies at about 40 to 45 knots, the company said, and features a “quadruple redundant stability system.”

The company said its mission is “to make self-flying manned drones available to everyone, at any time, from anywhere, and turn this new and exciting aircraft into a mainstream way of transportation.” In an email sent to AVweb, a company spokesman said the aircraft will sell for $200,000 or less. He added that the company will continue with flight testing and certification efforts. According to Engadget, the company plans to build five more prototypes for a test program and start commercial production next year. “On-demand aviation and manned drones have the potential to radically transform how we get from place to place, offering lower cost and improved flexibility,” the company said.

Volocopter, based in Germany, recently demonstrated their autonomous aircraft for officials in Dubai who are planning to develop a municipal taxi system using the vehicles. The PassengerDrone spokesman said they haven't yet shown their aircraft publicly but hope to introduce it soon in Germany, Dubai and perhaps the U.S. They plan to add a ballistic parachute, according to news reports. 

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Santa Monica Airport (KSMO) is preparing to start work next week on shortening its single runway from 4,973 feet to 3,500 feet. Authorization to shorten the runway at the airport was the result of a controversial settlement between the city government and the FAA in January. Initial work will take place in the evenings, with the airport closed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. local time, Monday through Friday, starting Monday, Oct.9 and anticipated to run through Dec. 20. The airport is scheduled to be closed continuously from Dec. 20 to Dec. 30 to finish the project. Under plans released by the city in August, the runway won’t be physically shortened, but will have portions of each end repainted as blast pad and overrun areas. Associated taxiways will also be relocated. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the city will be permitted to close the airport permanently in 2029.

With principally medium and large jet traffic impacted by the runway shortening, the National Business Aviation Association has taken a lead in fighting the settlement agreement between the FAA and the city, suing both parties to vacate the agreement. “NBAA will defend our nation’s critical aviation infrastructure and protect general aviation’s access to airports and airspace,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “By allowing ‘local control’ driven by a vocal minority, with complete disregard for system-wide impacts, the loss of this critical reliever airport shifts the burden of accommodating air traffic to other area airports and has a major negative impact on area residents, businesses, general aviation and the flying public.” 

Facing down a critical shortage of pilots, the Air Force is turning to its retirees to pick up the slack. Under the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty (VRRAD) program, the Air Force plans to put retirees back in uniform to serve in roles that require aviation experience, but don’t involve actual flying. The goal is to reduce staff demands on current aviators to keep them in the cockpit. “We will match VRRAD participants primarily to stateside rated staffs that don’t require requalification in a weapon system, with emphasis on larger organizations like major command staffs,” said VRRAD Rated Liaison Maj. Elizabeth Jarding. “They’ll fill critical billets that would otherwise remain vacant due to the shortage of active-duty officers available to move out of operational flying assignments.” The Air Force has reported that the service is 1,500 pilots short of the number of pilots they need with numbers getting worse every year. The Air Force expects to need 1,600 new pilots per year and is currently able to train only 1,100.

Pilot candidates for the VRAAD program must have retired within the last five years in the rank of captain, major or lieutenant colonel, be under 60 years old, able to pass a Class II flight medical and have either been qualified in an Air Force aircraft in the last five years or served in a rated staff position in the last ten years. Participation in the program will be limited, for now, to 25 retired pilots with an active-duty tour lengths of 12 months.

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On Tower frequency at a rural class Delta:

 Cessna: Uh, tower caution some sort of otter or marmot just went right in front of my plane.

 Tower: It was a groundhog. That is our airport groundhog.

 Cessna: Ok regardless of type he just crossed Alpha without clearance tell him to check his frequency.

 Tower: We'll have a talk with him.  Cleared for takeoff 23.


George Mendenhall

 

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The other night, I was watching one of the Bond films, The Spy Who Loved Me, and, true to form, fell into my usual annoying habit of obtuseness. How do the bad guys get all the money to pay for their fabulous technological infrastructure? I mean, they’re spending millions on color-coordinated jump suits alone.

I have the same reaction whenever I see one of Elon Musk’s revised plans to colonize Mars. Surveying the general press reports, I am somewhat surprised at the somber, serious tone of the reporting, as if these correspondents take it all seriously. Perhaps I should regroup here. Maybe I’m the outlier for being too skeptical. This is an occupational risk of being an aviation journalist, a field whose practitioners seem to sort into binary cohorts. You’re either a sunshine-spewing-puff-piece acolyte or a hard-bitten misanthrope who tells Young Eagles they’d be better off going into finance or robotics. And while we’re talking, get off the airport lawn. You can guess which one I am.

So, from the sunny side of the street, it looks like Musk has refined his plans to fly to Mars with a more realistically sized booster, but still one capable of lofting 100 people at a time to the red planet. Technical challenges remain, like how to get from Mars orbit to the surface with that many people and how to sustain them in surface habitats. Stipulate that these seem addressable by current technology or at least technology that’s in view. No one should underestimate what SpaceX has already achieved as a private launch company. No other startup comes even close.

Also, as an additional application not discussed before, Musk says the new reusable booster—which he calls the Big F^&ing Rocket—will also usher in an era of hypersonic travel between cities on earth. You could get anywhere in under 30 minutes all for the price of a full-fare airline ticket. Stipulate that full-fare is first class from New York to Tokyo at $15,000 and further stipulate that Musk has figured out a way to rewrite the conventional physics and economics that mean that traveling twice as fast requires four times the money and traveling eight times faster requires more money than ever existed. (Traveling hypersonically is roughly 25 times faster than today’s kerosene chuffing airliners.) I will concede all this, grasp the hem of Musk’s robes and declare with enthusiasm, “I believe!”   

But, if I may, there’s just one teensy flaw I see in the business plan for Mars. Back when the English, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese were blasting each other’s ships to bits in the far east, there was an accepted principle of colonization. You more or less subdued the local population and plundered the colony for whatever riches it could produce—gold, silver, rubber, oil, silk, tea, tobacco. You tried not to have to send too much treasure out to the colony you were plundering because it dented the P & L. I mean, this is Plunder 101.

What the hell are we sending back from Mars? Magnesium and iron, maybe? The shipping costs might be a little high on that trade. No, the real reason we need a Mars colony, Musk figures, is to assure continuation of the species, the assumption being that we’re soon to render Earth uninhabitable.

I’m slipping here … back into the shadows. I’m not buying that we'll trash the Earth within 100 years. And not within 300, either. Whether you accept the theory of anthropogenic warming or not, the planet is warming and that will have consequences. Sea levels will rise and maybe the weather will get wilder. But not unlivable. Homo the sap is nothing if not a resilient species. We’ll figure out ways to cope with it and the smart kids will actually start businesses to make money doing this. They already are.

It strikes me that this will be a lot easier than trying to loft the population onto a planet that’s 33 million miles away (at best), has a bare wisp of an atmosphere and an average temperature of -67 degrees F. Plus there are no beaches because there are no oceans. Or fish. Or cattle. Or Starbucks. We’ll have to fly all that stuff up there from earth. (See above, Plunder 101.)

Not that I wouldn’t personally go to Mars nor that we shouldn’t send people there to establish a scientific outpost. But Club Med it ain’t. I’m actually warming to the idea of a hypersonic flight to Tokyo. The sushi is better.

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

Cirrus has begun shipping its long-awaited SF50 VisionJet and as part of a two-video series, AVweb recently flew the jet from the company's Duluth, Minnesota, factory to the East Coast. In this long-form video, AVweb takes a deep dive into how the airplane performs and how it compares to other small jets.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

The classic lines of the Nanchang CJ-6 and the beautiful background sold us on this lovely image. Colin McGeachy is the windblown pilot and John Weir took the photo near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

That distant cry you hear is airlines pleading for pilots, so it's time to turn dreams of flight into cash by displaying that aeronautical grit needed to live above it all and simultaneously ace this quiz.

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