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The integration of drones into the National Airspace System will accelerate with a pilot program directed by the FAA, the Transportation Department announced on Wednesday. The initiative will implement a directive signed by President Donald Trump this week that aims to develop a regulatory framework to allow more complex low-altitude operations; balance local and national interests; improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions; address security and privacy risks; and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations. The potential economic benefit of integrating drones into the nation’s airspace is estimated at up to $82 billion and up to 100,000 jobs, according to the president’s directive.

The pilot program will evaluate a variety of operational concepts, including night operations, flights over people, flights beyond the pilot’s line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies, counter-UAS security operations and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft. “Stakeholders will have the opportunity through this program to demonstrate how their innovative technological and operational solutions can address complex unmanned aircraft integration challenges,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “At the same time, the program recognizes the importance of community participation in meaningful discussions about balancing local and national interests related to integrating unmanned aircraft.” The DOT is seeking proposals from private/public partnerships to participate in the program. The DOT said it will publish a notice in the Federal Register soon with more details about how proposals will be evaluated and how the program will work.

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Flight-path changes implemented due to NextGen have resulted in noise complaints in neighborhoods across the country, but due to the way the NextGen technology works, it may be difficult to address those conflicts, according to an Associated Press story published this week. David Grizzle, a former FAA chief operating officer, said it’s not possible to redesign procedures to fix the problems without losing out on NextGen’s advantages. “There is an intrinsic issue of concentrating noise in particular places that comes with precision-based navigation that is inescapable,” he told the AP. The FAA said that despite complaints from residents, “simply reverting to previous air traffic control procedures is not viable.” The new procedures are “interdependent,” and any changes would have a domino effect, the FAA said.

Airport neighbors say constant, noisy flights above their homes affect their quality of life and property values. In some cases, those flight paths previously were routed across less densely populated areas, or were switched around frequently to offer some relief. Residents have complained the FAA failed to adequately explain the planned changes in advance or provide opportunities to comment, as they were required to do. Several court cases are pending, and in August a federal court said the FAA was “arbitrary and capricious” in revising flight procedures. The FAA said in a statement it is working with residents near airports around the country through “noise roundtables” to balance community interests with needed improvements to the national airspace system, according to the AP.

NASA's X-56A

NASA researchers are testing new technologies that should lead to wing designs that are lighter, more efficient, quieter and safer than today’s wings, the agency said this week. The Passive Aeroelastic Tailored, or PAT, wing is expected to arrive later this year at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. The uniquely designed composite wing is more flexible than conventional wings, said Larry Hudson, chief test engineer at Armstrong Flight Loads Laboratory. “It’s called a passive tailored wing because the structural efficiency is contained within the construction of the wing; it’s not an active system that is controlling the structural efficiency of the wing, it’s the composite layout,” Hudson said. The uniquely instrumented wing will fly on the subscale X-56A unmanned test aircraft in November.

NASA is also working on an Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge flight-test project, or ACTE, at Armstrong, which is showing that a new flap design can reduce aircraft noise by as much as 30 percent on takeoff and landing. The next phase of the project, which will finish by the end of this year, will aim to validate the technology at higher speeds and study how the flaps affect aerodynamic forces that could improve fuel efficiency. The flaps are being flight-tested using NASA’s modified G-III Aerodynamic Research Test Bed aircraft.

Emirates Airline and a consortium of industry partners have launched an effort to build the “world’s first sector-wide [Aviation] Experimental (X) Lab to co-create the next era of human transportation,” the airline announced on Wednesday. The Aviation X-Lab, based at a Dubai think tank called Area 2071, will bring together airlines, manufacturers, engineers, academics and startups under a single roof to envision a “new transportation paradigm,” the airline said. Teams from around the world will meet in Dubai each April to pitch their concepts to address that year’s challenge. The selected teams then will spend a full year in Dubai working with industry executives and academics to develop new technologies and business theories, run experiments and design prototypes.

The first challenge will be announced in September. “With the addition of the Aviation X-Lab, Dubai is further proving itself as the largest X-Lab in the world,” said Mohammad Abdulla Al Gergawi, minister of cabinet affairs. “We are proud to share our experience with aviation, as home to the world’s international largest airline, with the aviation community.” The X-Lab is part of the United Arab Emirates Centennial Plan 2071, the naming of which signifies 100 years since the formation of the UAE. The plan seeks to invest primarily in the youth of the UAE and “to work for UAE to be the best nation in the world by 2071,” according to the Emirates news release.

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Airlander, the British company that has been test-flying a hybrid lighter-than-air ship intended for remote cargo operations, said this week they are now working to develop a tourism version of the unique aircraft. The company said they have partnered with Henry Cookson Adventures to launch a trial “expeditionary journey” next year as a sort of shakedown cruise to try the airship out in the luxury and adventure-travel market. “I have flown Airlander a number of times now,” said Dave Burns, chief test pilot for the company, “and I am really excited about the possibility of taking the first passengers on board. I can imagine the awe and excitement of seeing the world in luxury, with amazing views, quietly and whilst respecting the environment.” Also, the boutique studio Design Q has been awarded a grant from the UK government to develop an interior suited for tourism.

The government grant for Design Q totals about $80,000 in U.S. dollars, and will be used to develop a “unique and original” luxury tourism design for the aircraft interior. Design Q has previously worked with aviation clients, including BAE Systems, Bombardier and Virgin Atlantic. “We are excited with the prospect of working on such a unique project,” said CEO Howard Guy. “Not only is it the largest flying aircraft in the world, but it demands an interior that truly breaks new ground and provides an experience that will be unlike anything seen before. This will be something that passengers will treasure all their lives.” The Airlander has the ability to stay aloft for days at a time, in virtual silence, the company says, with floor-to-ceiling windows and fresh air that are ideal for cruising in exceptional locations.

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This week, we’re launching a new periodic column called Healthy Pilot. While BasicMed has simplified the medical authorization needed to fly, it introduces its own challenges in that now you have to self-certify for fitness to fly for much longer periods. It’s unrealistic to believe there aren’t legitimate health concerns related to flight safety and your health in general, so we’re making available to AVweb readers the vast online medical resources of one of AVweb’s sister websites, University Health News to help understand health issues that might impact your status as PIC.

First, don’t think complying with Basic Med is like falling off a log. If you want to be legal, you have to take an online course, pass it with better than an 80-percent grade, then persuade your doctor to examine you in relation to a 22-point checklist.

The purpose of Healthy Pilot is to serve as a periodic assessment of some of the items on that checklist, so you can boost your self-awareness.

Right at the very top of BasicMed Section 2 is a Yes-No question regarding frequent or severe headaches. Later posts will get into things like dizziness, eye or vision trouble, or asthma/lung conditions, etc. etc.…but for now let’s dwell a minute on headaches. BasicMed Section 2 wants to know if yours are “frequent or severe.”

According to University Health News, headaches come in all sorts of shades and varieties. So when your physician asks you if you’ve had any headaches lately, this simple query could open up a wide range of potential responses. Knowing which type of headache you are experiencing could speed treatment.

According to UHN, “A cluster headache is the most severe form of primary headache.” They usually come at the same time of day or night, and typically affect one side of the head or the other. They’re also sneaky, lasting from six to 12 weeks before entering into remission and then returning. Red wine, smoking, and being male seem to trigger attacks, which resemble migraines in character and severity.

As the name implies, sinus headache involves the sinus cavities and is normally accompanied by a dripping nose and infection. A sinus headache when you’re about to go IMC is bad enough, but nasal spray remedies like Afrin are also problematic, with the potential of inducing drowsiness that could interfere with flying skills.

That brings us to your garden-variety, skull-splitting migraine. If you are a migraineur, you know the symptoms at onset—pain, queasiness, and often a visual “aura” that, needless to say, makes flying a no-go.

Perhaps the easiest headache to contend with comes from dehydration, and the solution there is to simply note symptoms – thirst, dry skin, muscle cramps, infrequent urination, dizziness—and hydrate accordingly.

There are other types of headaches (tension, exertion, behind the eye, and the aptly named “icepick headache,” so knowing which type you are experiencing will go a long way toward resolving it so you can “taxi into position” without much fanfare.

Next up from Avweb’s Healthy Pilot: Episodes of dizziness and fainting.

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In May of this year, two Icon company employees flying an A5 made the error that has been the final mistake for too many seaplane, bush, backcountry and mountain pilots. They entered a canyon from the downhill end, starting below the surrounding ridges. By the time they discovered they were in the wrong canyon they didn’t have room to either climb over the ridges or make a 180-degree turn. They tried to reverse course, hit a canyon wall and were killed.

Icon’s response to the accident was a breath of fresh air. In an open letter from company CEO Kirk Hawkins last week, Icon reiterated that its A5 is built for fun flying and pilots like the thrill of flying low. The letter provided a link to Icon’s new Low Altitude Flying Guidelines. Those guidelines speak frankly about the risks of low-altitude flight, give guidance for flights in the “low-altitude” environment—which it defines as below 300 feet AGL—and recommends a “soft deck” of 300 feet AGL as the minimum altitude at which Icon pilots should operate their amphibians. Icon ground and flight training will include instruction in operations down to that altitude. For those pilots who wish to whistle around below 300 feet AGL, Icon is now requiring completion of its advanced “lowalt” training and a check ride. Because the purchase agreement for an Icon A5 requires that each owner and pilot who flies one agree, in writing, to comply with Icon’s operational guidelines for the A5 and each airplane has a flight data recorder installed, Icon is in a position to enforce its low-altitude operational guidelines and requirements.

When it comes to low flying, pilot flight training has almost exclusively consisted of telling pilots not to do it. Historically, that approach has been about as effective as telling teenagers not to have sex. Each month I research and write up the accident history of a specific model airplane for the Used Aircraft Guide in our sister publication, Aviation Consumer. Each month I average reading between four and 10 accident reports involving pilots who tied the record for low flying—few survive. I think that yanking the subject out into the open for discussion and formally teaching pilots how to fly low without killing themselves should have been done long ago.

As a side note, I think Icon’s low-altitude guidelines need more information on avoiding power lines because they are only visible to a pilot if the light is just right—most of the time it’s not—and they are often routed where least expected. They can be just above the trees right along lakeshores (in the glide path for landing on the lake) and over the water between the shore and an island. As a seaplane instructor, I teach my students to be suspicious of the airspace between an island and the shore of a lake. Often, the only way to spot power lines is to find the supporting poles, but even with that aid, the lines themselves may be invisible until you’re within 100 feet of them.

Power lines get strung across river valleys—with no supporting poles in the valleys themselves. When I was in Civil Air Patrol in high school our Wing Commander decided to take the Wing’s T-34 out to do vertical banks along the cliffs of the local river. He hit power lines and removed one wing.

Every summer in high school I worked ground crew for a crop duster. More than once I watched those professional pilots hit power lines they didn’t see when going into or coming out of a pass across a field. I kept track of the aerial application pilots I worked with. Every single one crashed. Most of the accidents were due to hitting an obstruction.

When I look at seaplane or amphibian accidents, there are always some due to hitting the water unexpectedly—usually in conditions of flat light (overcast skies and lack of color contrast over the ground or water) or glassy water. Often those accidents involve a pilot who was intentionally flying low over a lake and hit the water in level flight (usually just a lot of damage to the aircraft, but sometimes fatal) or stuck a wing into the water (almost always resulting in a fatal cartwheel). In my experience, until a pilot actually experiences flat light and glassy water conditions she or he simply cannot believe that it is absolutely impossible to tell how high the airplane is above the water within several feet. The first glassy water landing for a seaplane student is almost always a revelation—the airplane never touches the water when the pilot expects it. In my opinion, a pilot who has been trained in low flying and the nature of glassy water and flat light conditions is going to tack on some extra altitude because he or she is aware of the powerful visual illusions involved.

Bush and backcountry pilots know never to enter a canyon or fjord from the bottom because the differences between the entrances of the safe one and a box canyon are often too subtle to distinguish. They know that if they desire to fly between the walls of a canyon to first fly to the uphill end, staying above the ridges, and only descend into the canyon going downhill.

I’m also glad to see that Icon is addressing the FARs applicable to low flying as they have a serious gotcha for pilots. The FAA does not publish its definition of a “congested area” in the FARs. You have to read the cases where the FAA has gone after pilots for illegal low flying over a congested area to get a feel for its definition. For example, it’s been defined as four houses within a quarter of a mile, a small group of people standing on the ramp in front of an FBO and a busy interstate highway—much smaller assemblages of people than most pilots would expect. The rule of thumb for seaplane pilots is that if you see four or five boats in proximity to each other, consider them to constitute a “congested area” and stay 1000 feet above them and/or 2000 feet away horizontally. Icon encourages pilots to be courteous to people they are flying near. That’s wise. After all, not everyone on the ground or in a boat likes little airplanes and those folks have cellphone cameras that can be used to take photos for evidence against low-flying pilots. Plus, the FAA can subpoena the flight data recorder from the A5 to help make its case against a low-flying pilot.

I suspect Icon is going to be tweaking its low-altitude guidelines and training. It appears a bit weak on power lines and tower guy wires. However, I think it’s great that Icon has stepped up to squarely face the issue of protecting pilots who want to have fun flying low. I think the other manufacturers should consider doing the same thing because pilots are using their airplanes for that purpose. Flying low is a blast. The way to stay alive doing it is to receive formal training in how to do it right; not rely on information whispered in the back alleys.

Rick Durden is the Features editor of AVweb. He is a CFII, 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. 

You don't expect to see Stinsons and WACOs at an NBAA-BACE, but they were there last week in Las Vegas. In this AVweb video, Ben Redman of RARE tells us why the bizjet crowd is a target-rich environment for selling restored vintage aircraft.

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

Full disclosure: The editor has a Cessna 140 and is a sucker for images of this family but this really was the best of the bunch this week. Thanks to Andy Zink for a nice shot.

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Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

AVweb is the world's premier independent aviation news resource, online since 1995. Our reporting, features, and newsletters are brought to you by:

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Paul Berge
Larry Anglisano

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