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In our never-ending quest to serve our readers and advertisers better, we sometimes hit a technological brick wall and this is one of those times. We're trying to improve the user experience for the thousands of subscribers who view AVweb on smartphones but we can't get it to work the way we want it to so we've gone back to our long-serving and extremely stable format. A new improved AVwebFlash is on the way. Just not today and maybe not for the next few issues. Thanks for your patience and your comments on the efforts so far.

Cellphone video shot by the boaters who were first on the scene at retired Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay's plane crash showed him doing a low-level steep turn and flying just above the Gulf of Mexico off Florida before he crashed. The video, obtained by TMZ, accompanied a story in which other witnesses said they had seen him flying that way, also. "He was flying like that all week. Aggressively," TMZ quoted an unidentified witness as saying. Halladay, 40, was killed moments after the video was shot on Tuesday when his Icon A5 crashed northwest of Tampa. TMZ said the boaters rushed to the crash scene but it was clear the pilot didn't survive. The NTSB is investigating.

This is the second fatal Icon crash of 2017. In March of this year, renowned Icon test pilot John Karkow and a new Icon employee, Cagri Sever, were killed after evidently making a wrong turn into a box canyon while flying low over Lake Berryessa, according to the NTSB report. No information has yet been made available about the nature or possible cause of Halladay's accident.

Halladay tweeted regularly about his affection for the plane. “I keep telling my dad flying the Icon A5 low over the water is like flying a fighter jet,” said one tweet by the baseball star. Although Halladay had been a regular renter of A5s from the training fleet, his aircraft was only delivered in early October. At the time, Icon said, “Roy's A5 is a significant airplane: not only is it the first Founders Edition A5 and the first Model Year 2018 A5, it's also the first aircraft whose airframe was made in-house at ICON's new composites manufacturing facility.” The Icon press release continued: “Its delivery is an important milestone as we ramp up production and deliveries. Halladay lives in Florida and has been using his A5 to explore the waterways near his house with this wife, Brandy, who has previously been an uncomfortable passenger in light aircraft but was won over by the A5.”

Icon released a statement on the crash late Tuesday afternoon: “We were devastated to learn that former MLB pitcher Roy Halladay died today in an accident involving an Icon A5 in the Gulf of Mexico. We have gotten to know Roy and his family in recent months, and he was a great advocate and friend of ours. The entire Icon community would like to pass on our deepest condolences to Roy’s family and friends. Icon will do everything it can to support the accident investigation going forward and we will comment further when more information is available.” Video is below and there is rough language in it.

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Uber has signed a deal with NASA to develop software for the air taxi it plans to have in service within five years. At a web conference in Lisbon on Wednesday, Uber’s Jeff Holden said the company is teaming with NASA to develop a range of technologies designed to track and de-conflict its human-carrying quadcopters from each other and from other manned aircraft.

Earlier this year, Uber announced plans to develop an on-demand air-taxi system that will initially test in Dallas, followed by Los Angeles by 2020. The company said it hopes to launch UberAir before the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. “Technology will allow LA residents to literally fly over the city’s historically bad traffic, giving them time back to use in far more productive ways,” Holden said, according to a report in USA Today. “At scale, we expect UberAir will perform tens of thousands of flights each day across the city,” he added. Uber hired NASA veterans Mark Moore and Tom Prevot to run the program. Moore, an electric aircraft expert, will oversee aircraft vehicle design and Prevot will handle air traffic management.

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The Air Force, in a press release, says it has deployed drone defenses at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. “Our mission is to ensure the safety and security of resources and personnel on base and this is just one method of keeping pace with an ever-evolving threat,” says Lt. Col. William Smith, commander of Offutt’s 55th Security Forces Squadron. That one method isn’t exactly clear. The Air Force isn’t saying what technology or technologies it’s using to keep the drones out—whether it’s a kinetic or energy weapon or signal jamming technique. In its press release, the Air Force simply says, “The 55th SFS now has the ability to stop any unauthorized sUAS that cross Offutt's airspace or boundaries through a number of unique defense systems.”

The announcement follows an announcement by the Pentagon in August, where Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters that a classified policy regarding the defense of U.S. military installations from light drones had been approved. Offutt is the home of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Command headquarters. Drones are prohibited in Offutt’s Class C surface area, but requests for waivers may be approved by the Air Force between three and five miles from the center of the airfield.

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After stopping production more than 20 years ago, Aero Vodochody is preparing to bring an updated version of the L-39 Albatros jet trainer back to the market. In the L-39NG, a William FJ44-4M will replace the Ivchenko AI-25 found in the original. The new model will also come with a lighter airframe, wet wings and modern avionics. Aero Vodochody has selected Evektor-Aerotechnik, another Czech aircraft manufacturer, best known to U.S. pilots for its light-sport aircraft, to build the nose and tail assembly. “L-39 has built a great reputation on the market of jet training aircraft and the new L-39NG with the modern systems and technologies brings further benefits to air forces,” says Vladimír Matela, managing director of Evektor-Aerotechnik.

Almost 3,000 of the single-engine, two-seat jets were made from 1971 to 1996, mostly serving as primary trainers for Soviet-affiliated air forces. Some were also used in ground attack roles. The relatively low-cost jet has been popular with private jet demonstration teams. The Breitling, Black Diamond and Patriots jet teams all fly the L-39. Breitling and Black Diamond have reportedly contracted to have their L-39s upgraded to the NG spec. Aero expects to make its first customer deliveries in 2019. More than 200 of the Soviet-era jets are registered in the United States, mostly in the experimental category.

Photo Credit: CS92

Update: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that the original L-39 was powered by a Garrett turbofan.

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Boeing’s 747, the iconic humped two-decker jet, flew its last flight for United Airlines on Tuesday. The four-engine widebody has lost ground to more-efficient modern aircraft. A United Airlines crew flew the final trip, from San Francisco to Honolulu, tracing the same route as the first United 747 flight in 1970. “From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, passengers will help send the Queen of the Skies off in true style,” United said in a news release. The 747 will remain in Honolulu, United said, and passengers on the final flight were booked to go home on a different airplane. 

British Airways, Korean Air and a few other international airlines still fly the jets on passenger trips. Boeing will continue to produce the 747-8F, exclusively for freight operators. The freighter can carry up to 224,900 pounds, with a range of 4,120 NM, and the ability to open up the whole nose of the airplane is a key feature when loading large items.

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Sooner or later, Icon was going to get tested and the test came this week, probably sooner than any of us might have expected. The fatal crash of an Icon A5 owned by retired baseball star Roy Halladay dwelled above the fold on some newscasts and websites. It’s a big deal in the sports world because of Halladay’s exceptional pitching career. It’s a big deal in aviation because yet another celebrity has died in the crash of a GA airplane.

And it’s an even bigger deal for Icon, both because it’s just ramping up production to deliver the much-buzzed-about A5 and because, as is its wont, it promoted Halladay’s purchase with a slick, expensively produced marketing video. I’ve never been impressed with celebrities promoting or being involved in aviation, but the attraction persists. 

Ignoring for the moment the cause of the Halladay crash—we don’t have enough detail yet—I think the tests facing Icon are multifold. First, how will it respond to the immediate bad press? Will it look inward and examine its training program for potential oversights? Just as the company announced large price increases on the A5 (now $389,000 fully loaded), will sales be affected? The really interesting test will be how Icon’s iron-clad sales agreement that’s supposed to protect it against litigation holds up against a legal challenge. And I’m betting it will be challenged, just as Cirrus was after the Corey Lidle crash in New York in 2006.

Recalling how Icon responded to the furor over the sales contract two years ago, I don’t expect a circle-the-wagons mentality. The company has too much at stake. I’ll be surprised if they don’t figure out a way to thread the PR thicket. The A5s are equipped with cameras and data recorders so it won’t be long before the cause of the crash is known. The first fatal crash of an A5 occurred only last May, and by August, the NTSB determined the cause to be pilot error. So give it a few weeks.

I encounter a lot of negativity about Icon in the “established” aviation community. Much of this relates to Icon being a self-declared change agent intent on “democratizing” aviation. To be fair, Icon has been long on promotion and short on delivery. It seems to be getting there, albeit slowly. As I’ve said before, I don’t share the negativity because I like the concept of drawing new participants into aviation through non-traditional channels, specifically high-dollar motorsports and extreme sports players.

I’m not skeptical of the business thrust, but I’m also mindful of the fact that human factors complicate it. Is it realistic to train people from zero time, give them low-altitude hazard awareness doctrine and turn them loose? Is the Halladay crash a leading indicator that this is iffy, or just an unfortunate one-off? No one knows.

The closest paradigm I can imagine is a look at the Searey, lately an LSA amphibian but a kit built before that. I can see no reason to believe the A5 shouldn’t have a similar accident pattern as the Searey because they are similar aircraft. The A5 has the benefit of a stall-resistant design.

I swept 17 years' worth of Searey accidents and found 46, only five of which were fatal. That’s about 11 percent, which is well below the GA average of about 21 percent. Based on these numbers, my impression is that the Searey is quite crashworthy and I have no reason to believe the A5 would be any less so.

Common patterns? You can guess. Pilots land in the water with the gear down. The airplanes generally don’t flip and the occupants are rarely injured. But they always get wet because the airplanes sink as result of structural damage. Next up, pilots submarine the things by landing in seaways the airplanes can’t handle. Same results: a swim to shore or a boat ride. The rest of the accidents are a mixed bag of hitting things in the water, loss of control or engine failures.

What may separate the Searey accidents from the A5 future accident pattern is low-flying incidents, or lack thereof. I only found a handful of Searey accidents in which low flying was implicated, and one of those was a wire strike on landing, another a tree strike on takeoff. Those sorta don’t count, right? So if Icon really encourages low flying by giving low-time pilots enough training to think they understand it, will that result in a different accident pattern? Dunno. Check back in five years.

For the time being, Icon’s two fatal crashes are too few to support any judgments. Recall that Cirrus had a similar rocky start and although it took the company more than a decade to figure out training, it eventually did and now Cirrus has a remarkably good safety record. Icon may get there, too. We just have to give them the chance to prove it.

Almost forgot. For 837 days, I have not been allowed to fly an Icon A5. 

Texting is the preferred method of communication for many so David Gray decided to bring it to the cockpit with a low-cost satellite system that uses the Iridium constellation that will offer worldwide coverage. It's called AirText.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

We had a few to choose from this week so we were able to restrict the images we displayed to aircraft in the air, which is our favorite subject matter. There were some nice airplane portraits and detail shots and they may show up late but for this week we celebrate the beauty of flight. Regular entrant Daniel Valovich caught this T-6 at the right moment for this week's winner.

Determining who and what is worthy of the miracle of flight is determined by the Universe's highest authority ... yes, the FAA. And to prove your airworthiness, simply unmask these universal secrets and ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

On final approach to Runway 23 in a D-18 Beech at Mansfield Lama Airport, Ohio, we received this inquiry from the control tower: 

Tower:  Beech XXXXX please confirm nose wheel extension?

Beech 18: After looking at each other in surprise and much laughing, we responded: "Mansfield Tower, N8504, we don't have one!"


 

Sue Packer

 

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