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Volume 24, Number 50b
December 13, 2017
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Pilot Pleads Guilty To Intentional Ditching
Russ Niles

A Texas pilot has admitted to intentionally ditching his recently purchased Beech Baron in the Gulf of Mexico for the insurance money. Theodore Robert Wright pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud and conspiring to commit arson as a result of a federal investigation that looked at a series of expensive insurance claims that included a yacht, a Cessna Citation, a Lamborghini and the Baron. He almost certainly faces time in prison since the maximum sentence is 40 years. Three other accomplices have also pleaded guilty but most of the attention is on Wright because of his brief brush with celebrity after the ditching.

Wright shot cellphone video of himself bobbing around in the Gulf waiting for rescue and the remarkable footage earned him a day or two of news cycle notoriety. It also resulted in a promo video for the company that made the waterproof case protecting his phone. But while Wright was basking in the limelight, investigators found the pattern of claims that culminated with his swim in the Gulf. He bought the Baron for a little more than half the insurance payout of $85,000.

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Dumb And Dumber
Russ Niles

So how much would you have to be paid to intentionally ditch a perfectly serviceable airplane in the open ocean? Enough to buy a used SUV? We didn’t think so but Theodore Robert Wright III apparently thought it was worth the gamble and what makes his reckless behavior even more despicable is that he had a passenger aboard.

Granted, most ditchings, like his well-publicized event in 2012 off the coast of Texas, don’t have the benefit of a couple of healthy Continentals giving you every option possible to ace the landing, but putting about 5,000 pounds of aluminum arranged at right angles into even the mildest chop is a chancy thing.

Wright pulled it off and he and his accomplice bobbed around in the warm water for a few hours waiting for rescue while his $45,000 Baron settled to the bottom and transformed into a double-your-money bonanza thanks to the $85,000 insurance policy. Wright and his buddy in this incident, plus two others who helped torch a Citation, wreck a Lamborghini and sink a boat, have all pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and all are most likely headed for jail. 

All of the other incidents just killed objects but the ditching raises so many questions that only Wright could answer. It also illustrates a strange chain of events that show a remarkable capability in the systems that keep us safe.

Wright and his unbelievably trusting passenger not only survived the ditching unscathed, due in no small part to standards that regulate the robustness of airframes, they were rescued by a comprehensive network of federal, state and local assets who, at times, seem to exist purely for the purpose of saving idiots from themselves.

Then, an investigative and prosecution process brought those idiots to justice in a pretty satisfying way.

The system doesn’t always work but it mostly does and Theodore Wright will likely have a lot of idle time to consider the ways in which this could have gone a lot worse for him and the guy dumb enough to fly with him.

Trifan 600 VTOL
Russ Niles

There are plenty of contenders for the point-to-point personal aircraft market but XTI is aiming its Trifan 600 at business aviation. VTOL with a 300-knot cruise at $350 an hour is the projection.

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FAA Addresses FBO Concerns
Mary Grady

The FAA has responded to recent complaints from AOPA and others about rising costs and limited access at some FBOs at public-use airports, issuing a document that aims to clarify the issues. The six-page Q&A (PDF) spells out the various obligations of the FAA, the airport sponsors, the FBO and aeronautical users. “This is an important, welcome and significant first step,” AOPA general counsel Ken Mead told AVweb on Tuesday. Most of the complaints about high fuel prices, and parking fees up to $200 or $300, focus on a small number of airports, about 30 to 50 across the U.S., Mead said. He added that many FBOs refuse to publish their fees, or even to quote them in advance over the phone. “There is a still a lot of work to be done,” Mead said.

AOPA has been working for more than a year to address complaints from pilots about “egregious” fuel prices and parking fees at GA airports. The FAA said these pricing practices could, in some cases, preclude reasonable access to public-use airports. The practices stem from “the continuing consolidation of the FBO industry, the post-9/11 security demands placed on the airport and FBO, the lack of traffic volume to support FBOs, and airport sponsors’ need to operate self-sustaining enterprises,” according to the FAA, plus other factors that have put the FBO business under stress. Airport sponsors have no control over industry consolidation or local market forces, the FAA notes, and the federal government does not regulate the pricing of FBOs.

Mead said that early next year, AOPA plans to start working with NATA to further address some of the issues. And he noted that while the FAA’s Q&A is not direct action, it does leave open the possibility the FAA could intervene if the complaints are not resolved. “We all have to work through this together,” Mead said. “What matters to us is the affordability of flying.”

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Australia Liberalizing Medical Certification
Geoff Rapoport

Following a path similar to the FAA’s BasicMed, Australian pilots without paying passengers will now have the option of a Basic Class 2 medical, which can be issued by a general practitioner. “In the interests of public safety, it is important that pilots meet relevant medical standards, but the system must not make unnecessary demands and should meet the needs of the aviation community,” says Shane Carmody, CEO and Director of Aviation Safety for the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Unlike the FAA and BasicMed, CASA didn’t create their own checklist for doctors. Australian doctors will certify pilots for a Basic Class 2 medical under the existing Austroads commercial vehicle driver standards. The Basic Class 2 will be valid for five years up to age 40, and two years above age 40. Pilots will be limited to day VFR conditions, in piston airplanes, with up to five non-fare-paying passengers. Like the FAA, CASA does not consider a student to be a passenger, so flight instructing is permitted with a Basic Class 2.

Carmody hints at more medical certification improvements in Australia’s future. “CASA will now continue to review the aviation medical system to identify possible improvements in areas such as using medical data more effectively, further streamlining processes, further reducing CASA involvement in medicals and harmonizing with global best practices. It is CASA’s role to maintain appropriate aviation safety standards but the requirements must not unnecessarily burden Australian aviation and hinder development and growth.”

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Air Force Shuts Down Talk Of Enlisted Aviators
Geoff Rapoport

The aviation world was atwitter last week with the news that the U.S. Air Force had selected five recent enlistees to participate in a study on alternative pilot training techniques. The Air Force, however, confirms that they have no plans to put enlisted personnel in the pilot’s seat. "Selecting enlisted members to fill the non-college student role is not intended to develop enlisted aviators. In this selection model, we can pool the data to determine what qualities, habits of mind and patterns of thought equal success in the flying training environment,” says Lt. Col. Robert Vicars, director of the Pilot Training Next (PTN) program. At the completion of the program, the officer participants will join traditional undergraduate pilot training courses and the enlisted participants will attend technical training programs.

The Air Force is battling a critical shortage of pilots, particularly fighter pilots, reporting that they are short 2,000 pilots—1,200 of the in the fighter community. However, Air Force officials report no problem with recruitment of would-be pilots. The shortage is a combination of the rate at which new pilots can be trained coupled with challenges in retaining experienced pilots. PTN is aimed at accelerating that training process. Lt. Col. Vicars said, “This is student-centric learning. We are going to use immersive technology to see how we can help people learn more effectively. This is an initiative to explore whether or not these technologies can help us learn deeper and faster.”

In a press release, the Air Force says, “PTN will lean on a variety of technological platforms to include virtual and augmented reality, advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence and data analytics, all of which can be tailored to the training environment and individual student. That knowledge will be used to refine scientific measuring capabilities and teaching techniques in order to produce the world’s greatest military aviators.”

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FlightSafety’s PC-24 Simulator Approved
Geoff Rapoport

Only a week after the FAA and EASA issued type certificate approvals for the Pilatus PC-24, FlightSafety has received FAA interim approval for its FS1000 Level C simulator for the new “super versatile jet.” Andre Zimmerman, VP for the PC-24 program at Pilatus, said, “We are excited to see the training device getting ready on time for the first customer training. Both teams at FlightSafety and Pilatus have worked hard to achieve this important milestone. Our partnership with FlightSafety will provide state of the art – Crystal Class – training to our customers.”

PlaneSense, the New Hampshire based fractional operator, will be the launch customer for the first PC-24, and likely first to send pilots through the new type rating course at FlightSafety’s Dallas facility in early 2018. A Level C Full Flight Simulator is considered close enough to the actual aircraft to be used for all required tasks for the ATP certificate or aircraft type rating. Level D adds more realistic vibration, sound effects and aerodynamic modelling.

FlightSafety has prepared a parallel suite of lower-level simulation products so pilots don’t need to spend all their instructional time in the costly full flight simulator. “The pilot and maintenance technician training programs will also utilize MATRIX, FlightSafety’s Integrated Training System. It offers Graphical Flight Deck Simulators for instructor-led and self-paced learning, Desk Top simulators used in classroom instruction, and the SimVu simulator flight de-briefing system,” said the company in a press release.

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Picture of the Week
We say it every time we get a batch of photos of airplanes sitting on the ground: airplanes were meant to fly. Having said that, there are some nice ramp pix here but even though it's low resolution (we like 1-3 meg files) the Stearman and smoke was the best of the batch this week. Rod Hoctor contributed the winner.

See all submissions

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Short Final

We were in a long holding pattern at STL on a typical bad day there. Approach Control gave a direct clearance to another aircraft and canceled his hold.

Pilot: "Roger, cleared direct; you read my mind."

Anonymous voice: "It was a short book."  

Tom Wilson


Brainteasers Quiz #238: Cool Graphics, But Will It Fly?

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Meet the AVweb Team

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

Tom Bliss

Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Geoff Rapoport

Rick Durden
Kevin Lane-Cummings
Paul Berge
Larry Anglisano

Ad Coordinator
Karen Lund

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