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The FAA wants to fine the now-shuttered NavWorx $3.7 million for allegedly altering its ADS-B transmitters to hide the fact that they used a non-compliant GPS chip. The agency says in a news release that NavWorx knew the chip didn’t meet standards tightened in 2015 for system integrity level (SIL) and rather than use a conforming chip the company changed some software in the ADS-600B units to emit a code that falsely indicated the chip met the standard. The FAA says the company advertised and sold the devices as being compliant with the 2020 ADS-B mandate when the substandard chip made the transmitters ineligible. Last week the company abruptly closed its doors and seemed to try to shift responsibility to the company that makes the GPS chip.

“Although the vendor represented their GPS module met 14 CFR 91.227, the FAA recently determined the GPS module does not meet 14 CFR 91.227,” NavWorx says on a single placeholder page put up in place of its website. All former contact emails and phone numbers AVweb has used in its extensive coverage of the NavWorx issues are now out of service and we were unable to reach anyone at the company. The FAA says it has been in contact with NavWorx since proposing the fine. In the news release, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency must vigorously enforce its technical standards for crucial equipment like ADS-B. “The FAA has strict requirements for navigation units to ensure the reliability of the information they provide both to pilots and to air traffic controllers,” said Huerta. “Customers of these products must be able to trust that their equipment meets our safety standards."

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The airspeed indicator in the P-51D flown by former Sikorsky president Jeff Pino was frozen at 530 knots when investigators examined the wreckage from the crash that killed Pino and his friend Nicholas Tramontano near Maricopa, Arizona, in February of 2016. The full narrative report from the National Transportation Safety Board said the aircraft hit the ground vertically and part of it was underground. Witnesses reported the aircraft performing aerobatics before the crash. “One witness described the maneuver as a ‘regular loop,’" the report says. “The witness stated that, during the last half of the maneuver, the airplane never pulled up.”

Pino, 61 at the time of the crash, was on a special-issuance medical for his history of cardiac problems that included atrial fibrillation and a stroke but recent medical tests were normal and he had a current medical. Pino, who led Sikorsky from 2006 to 2012, briefly worked for an aircraft management company before joining XTI Aircraft, designer of a ducted-fan VTOL business aircraft called the Tri-Fan 600. Tramontano, 72, was a vintage aircraft collector who had a residence in Arizona but worked mainly from Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Connecticut, where he was known as the “Mayor of Oxford Airport.”

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Transport Canada might leave all pilot proficiency checks on airline pilots up to the airlines themselves, according to documents obtained by the union representing government inspection pilots. The Canadian Federal Pilots Association, which represents mostly federal government pilots, says its reading of the documents suggests airline check pilots will no longer be evaluated on their competence to assess the skills of line pilots as of next spring. The change is scheduled for April 1, 2018, for aircraft carrying 50 or more passengers. "I think it's very, very important that people understand we are getting closer to self-regulation all the time," said union president Greg McConnell. "It's just more cutting, more dismantling of the safety net.” It’s also a shift away from international standards but the documents, obtained under a freedom of information request, appear to suggest that Canada will get away with it.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, which is based in Montreal, mandates regular pilot evaluations by the 190 member states’ regulatory agencies. But in their risk assessment document accompanying the proposal, Transport Canada staff say check pilots almost never fail their evaluations and inspection staff time would be better spent on higher risk areas of aviation. "It could be argued that Canada's experience and relative maturity with systems-based surveillance will adequately complement this shift of responsibilities ... and therefore mitigate any concerns other states or trade associations may have with response to such a departure from globally accepted practices," the risk-assessment document says. The documents also say that Transport Canada is having trouble hiring qualified inspector pilots.

While accustomed to runway incursions by the local fauna, the bearded seal seeking a moment of repose on Runway 7/25 at Utqiagvik’s Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport was a first for airport personnel. Meadow Bailey, communications director for the Alaska Department of Transportation, says heavy storms had recently come through the area, which perhaps drove the marine mammal to the relative warmth of the asphalt runway. Bailey says, “The workers have seen birds, caribou, polar bears and musk ox on the runway, but the seal sighting was a first.”

While airport personnel are authorized to escort most wildlife off the runways, they are not permitted to handle marine mammals, says Bailey, so North Slope Animal Control was called to relocate the estimated 450-pound seal with a sled to a safer area—off the runway. Photos and videos of the seal shared on Facebook by Anchorage resident Scott Babcock thrust the Alaskan airport intruder to fame this week.

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Ever since the Wrights, one of the vexing problems of aircraft maintenance has been access to the nooks and crannies of the machine. Maintenance technicians have spent major portions of their lives with flashlights and mirrors peering through inspection ports trying to assure that all is well within; at significant expense, major assemblies have been unbolted and removed to allow visual inspection of their insides because of a symptom of illness—often to find that they are healthy—while the act of removal and replacement itself caused damage.

The first borescope—a skinny tube with an objective lens on one end and eyepiece on the other with a relay optical system in between—was developed shortly after the first World War. It proved effective; although the miniaturized optics meant it wasn’t cheap and getting effective illumination to the area of interest was a challenge.

The aviation applications proved self-evident. Engine manufacturers begin recommending their use in the piston world and mandating it in turbine applications. Because they were expensive and not absolutely required for piston engine aircraft, it was rare to find a borescope in a shop that didn’t cater to the turbine set. (There is now at least one AD that requires borescope use in a piston engine cylinder inspection.)

Another problem was that the original, rigid tube borescopes were limited to straight line applications. One could be inserted through a spark plug hole of a cylinder and get an excellent view of the top of the piston and a little of the cylinder walls. Even with a mirror or prism arrangement, it could be tough to see what was most often the area of concern, the valves.

The advent of fiber optics allowed flexible borescopes to become a reality—suddenly it was possible to snake the tip into more locations and find corrosion that had been hiding. Articulated tips were developed so that they could be turned to look back in the direction from which the scope had arrived—getting an excellent view of valves and their seats. Still, cost stayed high as it took a lot of fibers in the fiber optic relay to give acceptable image quality.

Miniature Cameras

The borescope world changed with the advent of the inexpensive, high-resolution miniature video camera and LED lighting. Now, what is technically referred to as a videoscope—a tiny camera mounted on a flexible or rigid tube—has become ubiquitous. We are of the opinion that a videoscope with image quality suitable to be a useful tool in a maintenance technician’s arsenal to help make an informed decision about the health of a cylinder and find corrosion in hidden areas of an airframe can be purchased for under $1000.

We think that there is no longer an excuse for a shop not to own one. We also recommend that any owner who has been advised of low compression on a cylinder not agree to pulling that cylinder until it’s been inspected with a some type of borescope—even if that means going to another shop to have it done.

When we surveyed the market for videoscopes, we found some for under $50 that may well be just the thing for looking into the tight places in the airframe. However, without an articulating head, we don’t think they’re adequate for getting a good view of all of the inside of a cylinder. As with much in aviation, you get what you pay for with a borescope or videoscope and image quality is everything. When it comes to assessing the condition of the inside of a cylinder, we think that it’s possible to buy an adequate unit for under $500.

When it comes to inspecting turbine wheels and blades for fod and cracking, the need for precise imaging and significant magnification as well as being able to take and record measurements means going to a much higher quality, precision videoscope. Our market survey indicated that a shop should be prepared to spend on the order of $10,000 to $25,000 and work with vendors to get a scope that is right for the inspections the shop does.

Another factor to consider in selecting a scope is the risk of damage to the head should it be dropped or jammed against something during an inspection in a tight area. The less expensive scopes are not particularly damage tolerant, so what might be considered a low-speed impact may mean it becomes junk. The high-end scopes have camera housings made of tungsten or titanium.

Some videoscopes have displays included with the kit, others must link to a computer, smart phone or tablet to display the image.

Demonstration

We were given a demonstration of a GE Measurement and Control XL Vu Videoprobe, a $17,000 precision instrument, by Scott Utz, principal of Arapahoe Aero Aircraft Maintenance at Denver’s Centennial Airport. The unit included a display that was far clearer than our iPad, with better contrast.

Utz told us that it’s a regular practice to connect the videoscope to a large computer monitor when showing a customer the condition of his or her engine. He told us that while the display on the GE unit is excellent, the resolution of the optics can be best appreciated on a computer monitor. When a customer can clearly see an area that a maintenance tech is concerned about, it helps the decision process.

As with other videoscopes, still images and video from the GE unit can be emailed or streamed in real time to allow a customer to see them from anywhere in the world or a maintenance tech to get a second opinion on an issue.

Utz went through a routine cylinder exam, first looking at the top of the piston for evidence of overheating, burning or detonation. The resolution of the image on the attached display was such that it almost seemed to be in 3-D.

Using one hand on the controls just below the display, Utz articulated the camera head slowly, allowing a close-up view of the cylinder walls. They were smooth and shiny through much of their length until some small corrosion pits became visible near the very top. Utz said that for the calendar age of the engine and the number of hours on it, such pitting is not unusual on a Continental engine—or of concern.

Exhaust Valve

With the camera head articulated nearly 180 degrees, Utz focused on the exhaust valve. It displayed a symmetrical, circular color pattern on its face, with no indications of burning, cracking or uneven deposits. Utz explained that with a little maneuvering it is possible to see much of the valve seat.

Utz then used the videoscope to look over the inside of the cylinder head, the spark plug that was still in the cylinder and the intake valve. All areas looked normal and healthy with no indications of distress.

As we discussed the capability of the borescope, Utz said that for piston-engine airplanes, “We don’t want to pull a cylinder unless we absolutely have to. The borescope is a powerful tool, one of many that we use to make a decision about pulling a cylinder. The others are a compression check, regular oil sampling, the history of the engine and the time on the engine.”

We commented on how smoothly the scope articulated, but that it sometimes took a few moments to get oriented when looking at the display. Utz said that the technicians in his shop had gone through the training provided by the manufacturer when they bought the videoscope. As with any sophisticated tool, there’s a learning curve involved with making effective use of it. The literature on borescope use and human factors in borescope inspections refers to the situational awareness needed in using a borescope much as a pilot needs it when flying an airplane.

Utz told us that the controls on the GE scope were easy to use and became easier with experience. As a tech used the videoscope more and more, he or she rapidly developed a feel for where it was pointed when being articulated.

Our research found that one common complaint among borescope users was non-intuitive articulation movement. Many of the systems use a small joystick, so movement can be described as akin to flying an airplane in three dimensions. If the design is such that the camera head doesn’t go where the user anticipates when moving the stick, the learning curve for the user is going to be steep.

Utz told us that it was common for techs to involve other techs during borescope exams, both to get the thoughts of those had more experience and help educate those with less experience.

In researching this article, we found that there were a number of organizations that offered training for borescope use in turbine applications, but a dearth of training information for piston engine aircraft. We also received word from aircraft owners of mechanics who didn’t understand what they were seeing through a borescope—notably two that were convinced that an exhaust valve that had red deposits was distressed and about to fail. That’s not the case, red on an exhaust valve is not a bad thing, green is—see the sidebar below.

We think that a shop that is buying a borescope for the first time should explore what sort of training materials are included with the scope.

Finally, we were told to make sure to clean the borescope after use following the manufacturer’s instructions. The chances are high that the head will have come into contact with fluids or debris that can degrade viewing clarity or damage the unit if not removed.

Conclusion

With the radical leap in capabilities and concurrent drop in prices, we are of the opinion that every aircraft maintenance shop should have and use a borescope at least capable of doing a full cylinder examination in conjunction with every compression check performed. We think the ability to look into otherwise inaccessible areas of our aircraft is essential.

Sidebar: Is an Exhaust Valve Really Failing?

Twelve years after Continental issued service bulletin SB03-3 directing maintenance technicians to use a borescope to inspect each cylinder every time a compression test is performed, its instructions are being routinely ignored—at a high cost to aircraft owners.

A compression test is one of the valuable tools available to a mechanic to diagnose cylinder health, yet it requires a degree of skill to perform accurately and even the best techs admit that they may not get the same results twice in a row. Above all, it is only one tool in the tech’s arsenal and should never be used by itself to make the decision to pull a cylinder off an engine. Too often low compression accompanied by a leaking exhaust valve has resulted in a yanked cylinder only to find that the valve and its seat are perfectly healthy.

Continental makes it clear, and we think it’s applicable for Lycomings, that a borescope must be used to check on exhaust valve condition. If it’s in good shape—AOPA’s poster shown here and linked here is a great reference for what it should look like—there is no reason to pull the cylinder.

If the borescope discloses signs of valve distress, pull the cylinder—if not, that borescope exam just saved you significant money.

Rick Durden is the senior editor of Aviation Consumer magazine, 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.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

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“Charm” or “character” are words sometimes used to describe old airplanes and maybe not even airplanes that old. A drafty cabin in an old Tri-Pacer is an example of character and the fact that a pre-war J-3 has but a passing nod to pitch stability is charming until you fly the thing on a 100-mile cross country and then it’s just a pain in the ass. Charm has its limits.

That’s another way of saying that airplanes of the 1920s and 1930s were built at a time when aeronautical design and manufacturing were emerging arts and just as much was unknown as was known. An airplane was just as likely to be significantly compromised across a range of design considerations as it was to be completely sorted. The Waco line may be an exception to this and I was reminded of it yesterday when I met Waco’s Peter Bowers to fly the company’s new amphibious version of the hulking YMF-5D, which they call the YMF-5F, for floats.

As you probably know, these are new production airplanes, essentially resurrected from the original designs produced during the golden age of biplanes in the 1930s. In the mid-1980s, the YMF got a makeover, but it’s essentially the same airplane designed and certified even before CAR 3, which didn’t appear until after World War II.

I’d flown the land version of the YMF a few years ago and my impression of it must have been dulled by time. For what it is, the Waco is a surprisingly nice flying airplane. It’s not too heavy in roll or pitch and although it has adverse yaw and you need to use the rudder, it’s not so bad as to bounce your noggin off the cockpit combing if you get lazy of foot. When Bowers threw me into the rear hole, I was a little apprehensive about what those two big Aerocet tubs were going to do to performance and handling. At 3200 pounds, this ain’t no LSA.

Cruise speed does take a 10 MPH or so hit and power off, the airplane is between an anvil and a brick. But trimmed up with power—the trim is one of the 1930s window cranks like we have in the Cub—the airplane is stunningly stable in pitch and roll. I’d say fingertip control, but it almost doesn’t need even that in cruise flight. (That’s about 100 MPH on 14 GPH.) For a water landing, I set the power and trimmed it to 75 MPH and essentially did nothing else. It alights gracefully and without drama. The same was true on a hard runway landing with the floats. It does require a power-on approach, but without even looking at the MP gauge, you can just feel through the airframe when the power setting is exactly right and you’ll have to work to screw up the landing. I’m not so sure a student couldn’t solo in the YMF-5. (At nearly $600,000, the lessons would be a tad expensive.)

The point is, before wind tunnels for every little design tweak and computational fluid dynamics became a thing, those old guys with slide rules and lofting sticks were capable of producing remarkably nice flying airplanes. Maybe not all of them, but some of them. The YMF-5, even on floats, is one.

I originally posted this blog on Friday afternoon because Waco is showing the airplane this weekend at AOPA’s regional fly-in in Tampa.  I’ll have a video on it later in the week. I think you’ll be impressed with the execution. Of course, the market for this type of airplane is almost nil. It's but a unique toy for the very rich or collectors, maybe. But that doesn't make it any less cool.

And here's a shout out for Peter O. Knight Airport, where the fly-in was held. This is one of country’s remarkable airports and set in what I find to be the most interesting neighborhood. It was built by the Works Progress Administration in the same era that Wacos were to aviation what Cirruses are today. At one time, Peter O, as everyone calls it, was Tampa’s main airport. And short of landing on the city’s streets, the location couldn’t be any closer. It’s hard by the Port of Tampa and there’s a nice little yacht basin opposite the port. Nothing like sitting on the airport veranda watching airplanes, ships and sloops come and go, as Peter Bowers and I did on Thursday in perfect weather. 

The market may be flooded with ADS-B weather receivers, but the market is also seeing a new generation of subscription-based portable SiriusXM weather receivers. The latest one comes from Garmin—the GDL51—which finally completes the weather interface on the company's aera660 portable GPS, plus it works with the Garmin Pilot tablet app. In this video, Aviation Consumer magazine Editor Larry Anglisano takes a close look at the new receiver on the bench and in the air.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

'Tis the season for fall colors photos and this is the best we got this week. Thanks to Eric Swanberg for a really good one.

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As I approached Sarasota Airport on the downwind there was a Cessna 172 ahead of me who asked the tower clearance for landing. 

Tower: "State your intentions." 

The pilot said that he planned to have dinner with his brother-in-law that evening. 

Tower: "Roger, cleared to land."


Tom Wilson

 

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