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Volume 24, Number 50c
December 15, 2017
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NTSB Blames Drone Operator In Collision
Mary Grady

The operator of a drone that collided with a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter in September didn’t see the aircraft because he was flying the drone beyond visual range, the NTSB said on Thursday. The operator also lacked adequate knowledge of the regulations and safe operating practices for drone flying, the safety board said. The incident occurred in New York, at an altitude of about 300 feet. The helicopter crew landed safely. Parts of the drone were lodged in the helicopter’s engine-oil cooler fan, and a 1.5-inch dent was found on the leading edge of one of the four main rotor blades. The drone operator was flying for fun, the NTSB said, and was unaware of the TFR in place at the time. He did not hold an FAA remote pilot certificate. Also this week, the FAA’s rule requiring owners to register small drones was reinstated.

The rule, which had required drone operators to register online, display a registration number on their drone and pay a $5 fee, was tossed out by a D.C. court in May. The new rule was attached to a defense policy bill that was signed into law this week. Also this week, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University said it will offer a free, two-week online course for drone operators. The course, “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Key Concepts for New Users,” will run from Jan. 22 to Feb. 4. Participants will learn about equipment, airspace, legal requirements and flight planning, as well as how to become commercial drone operators. “We have had consistently great feedback about this course,” said Prof. Kristy Kiernan, lead educator for the class, which has been offered annually since 2015. “We are especially excited about the updates and changes we have made to reflect the most up-to-the-minute information in this rapidly changing part of aviation.” The instructors for the class include full-time ERAU faculty and experts from the unmanned aircraft systems industry. Registration is now open.

JP Instruments 'Primary JPI EDM 930'
Friday Foibles: It's the Fuel Stupid
Paul Berge

Ed. Note: Each Friday we will be offering glimpses from the training world. CFIs are welcome to add their stories to the never-ending lexicon of student miscues. Send to

Mismanaging fuel—as in managing to miss fueling—is a perennial favorite as pilots try to go the extra mile without the extra juice. Consider a California pilot who stretched the first mile with the left tank showing 1/4 full (3/4 empty?) and nothing—zero, zed, nada—in the right tank. He started, taxied and did the runup on the least empty tank before switching to the other tank for takeoff. For those taking notes, that would be the air-filled right tank. He survived the unplanned glider practice. 

Not to be outdone, an Alaska pilot launched in a Maule but, skipping the checklist, didn’t set the fuel selector to the Oscar-November mode. Without fuel being ON, the engine transitioned to OFF shortly after rotation, bringing the Maule DOWN, damaging both fuel-filled wings. Inside a darkened NTSB confessional the pilot later opined that this “could have been prevented if he had used a preflight checklist.” Ya think? 

Luckily a fuel-challenged pilot in a Beech Skipper in South Dakota had a non-pilot passenger who could interpret a low-fuel warning light. Averting a post-crash fire, the pilot circled the airport until every milliliter of usable fuel was gone. The NTSB got statements from the passenger plus a witness on the ground, but the pilot declined to file a report, perhaps assuming the passenger would handle that, too.

It’s a grand feeling to take delivery of a brand new King Air C90GTx at the factory in Wichita and fly it to the Caribbean. Even grander with enough fuel for the trip, which the pilots—yes, there were two—did. Almost. Stopping in Fort Lauderdale they headed for a night in a hotel after giving their fuel order to the FBO. As dawn broke over the misty Florida fjords, the two pilots returned. They split their duties, with one filing IFR while the other performed the preflight inspection.

Apparently it’s OK not to look into the fuel tanks if you have a fuel receipt. So off they flew, enjoying that new airplane smell. Leveling at FL270, someone noticed that the brand new fuel gauges read low. A quick check of the fuel receipt confirmed 134, which was plenty for the flight. This must’ve been vexing to the pilots as both engines quit for reasons unknown. The brand new King Air glided to a safe ditching, where it and its resale value sank into the tropical waters. 

But they had 134 gallons. Upon closer inspection, the receipt showed that they requested only the nacelle tanks be topped off, which took just 25 gallons. The mysterious 134 turned out to be the fueler’s employee number, and, as we know, fuelers are servants blindly complying with customer requests.

Further north, a Wisconsin pilot made certain he was tanked up for an early morning departure in a Cessna 150. He’d wisely landed after cockpit lighting failed near sunset and chose to await dawn while refueling himself with a 12-pack of beer. This being Wisconsin that wasn’t a flag as a witness verified: “The pilot explained that he was going to drink beer and sleep until morning in the airplane.” Even a dozen beers only goes so far coaxing sleep inside a Cessna 150, so the pilot departed before dawn, unconcerned about the lack of cockpit or cerebral illumination. Neither improved, and the Cessna crashed to no one’s surprise.

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.

Dassault Cancels 5X Program
Mary Grady

Faced with continuing delays in the development of the new Silvercrest jet engine from Safran, Dassault Aviation said on Wednesday the Falcon 5X program is cancelled. It will be replaced by a new Falcon jet with the same cross section, powered by engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada, with first deliveries in 2022. “There is still a strong market need for a brand-new long-range aircraft with a very large cabin,” said Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation. Deliveries of the 5X had already been delayed from 2017 to 2020, because of the engine issues, “causing customer concerns and order cancellations (12 in 2016),” the company said. The engines were originally scheduled to be delivered in 2013. “Considering the magnitude of the risks involved both on the technical and schedule aspects of the Silvercrest program, Dassault Aviation initiates the termination process of the Silvercrest contract leading to the end of the Falcon 5X program and plans to start negotiations with Safran,” the company said.

Safran faced “recurrent technical issues,” according to Dassault, and in 2015 and 2016, those issues led Safran to announce a new schedule, with engines expected to be delivered in time for the Falcon 5X flight tests this year. But the engines weren’t ready, and Dassault flew the jet  in July with a preliminary version of the engine, not compliant with the specifications, and started a preliminary flight-test campaign, limited by the engines’ capacity. “The Falcon 5X flight behavior met all the expectations,” the company said. Several months ago, Safran experienced issues with the high-pressure compressor and told Dassault of an “additional delay and new performance shortfall, making the 2020 entry into service of the aircraft impossible,” Dassault says. The Silvercrest engine also is Textron's choice for the Citation Hemisphere, but that airplane is not scheduled to fly for the first time until 2019.

No Fatalities In Canadian Airliner Crash
Russ Niles

There have been no reported fatalities in the crash of a regional airliner in northern Saskatchewan in Canada on Wednesday. The West Wind Aviation ATR 42 was carrying a total of 25 people when it went down just after takeoff from Fond du Lac, on a scheduled flight to Stony Rapids, also a remote northern community. The aircraft crashed less than a mile from the airport and remained largely intact.

Fond du Lac is on the east side of Lake Athabasca, about 1,000 miles north of the U.S. border, and is a Dene First Nations community. Rick Philipenko, a spokesman for the Saskatoon-based carrier, confirmed the mishap to the National Post. “The primary concern for us right now is making sure that the passengers and crew are looked after,” he said.

NASA X-Plane Battery Passes Tests
Mary Grady

NASA says its engineers reached a major milestone this week, successfully testing the battery system that will power the all-electric X-plane expected to take flight next year. “This was an extremely critical milestone for the overall project,” said Tom Rigney, project manager for the X-57 Maxwell. “Without a safe battery system, we wouldn’t be able to execute our objectives. This test truly ensures a safe environment for the pilot and the test program.” The testing validated that the battery system can safely power the X-57 for an entire flight profile. The team is working toward a flight duration of at least 45 minutes to an hour, NASA spokesman Matt Kamlet told AVweb.

“We exposed the battery to the conditions of an X-57 flight, based on current expected flight profiles, to make sure the capacity and thermal conditions stayed within safe limits,” said NASA Glenn’s Dionne Hernandez-Lugo, battery development lead for the project. “We were able to see how the battery behaves throughout the flight, as well as the overall capacity. The battery passed.” The test also confirmed the battery design’s ability to isolate potential overheating issues to single battery cells, preventing unsafe conditions from spreading to the rest of the battery system. The X-57 project aims to demonstrate a significant increase in efficiency at high-speed cruise compared to aircraft propelled by traditional systems, NASA says. The technology would result in lower operating costs, as well as lower carbon emissions.

NASA's X-plane battery

DC One-X from David Clark - lightest full-featured ANR headset
Blue Origin Test-Flies Crew Capsule
Mary Grady

Blue Origin, the company funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos that’s working to develop sub-orbital space tourism, successfully launched a rocket from a west Texas site on Tuesday. The 60-foot-tall rocket carried crew capsule 2.0 on its first flight, to an altitude of about 322,000 feet, or 61 miles, in about two and a half minutes. The capsule then separated from the rocket for a few minutes of free fall, and then returned to the surface under three canopies. The rocket returned to its launch pad in a controlled vertical landing. The pressurized crew capsule, which features several large windows (about 2.4 by 3.6 feet), was occupied by a test dummy and a dozen payloads containing commercial, research and education projects.

The capsule can accommodate six astronauts in comfortable seats, and is roomy enough for tourists to experience weightless floating and even turn somersaults, the company says. The altitude of 61 miles, or about 100 km, is generally considered the boundary between the atmosphere and the edge of space. During the parachute landing, a retro-thrust system adds extra cushioning, for a contact speed of about 1 mph. The entire system is fully reusable, the company says.

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


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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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Icom's New Handheld Radio Technology
Larry Anglisano

It used to be that portable comm transceivers were bare-boned utilitarian units that served a single purpose: to talk your way down to an uneventful landing when the primary comm or electrical system failed. But there’s also an expanded role. For aircraft without electrical systems in the first place, the portable transceiver has to be reliable and rugged enough to serve as a primary radio. This means it has to have good battery endurance, enough transmit power output to talk a sizable distance (to do that, an external antenna is generally a gotta-have accessory), plus have inputs for plugging in an aviation headset so you can actually hear the receiver.

When pilots were still navigating primarily with VORs, manufacturers —including Icom with its venerable A22 portable—added VHF navigation functions to the transceiver. Sporty’s even took the interface one step further and brought the $329 SP400 to market. In addition to its full-up comm functionality, the radio has a LOC and ILS receiver for shooting an instrument approach. Awkward, compared to panel-mounted gear, but when it’s all you have, who wouldn’t use it? The way we see it, the SP400 offers just enough well-executed utility packaged around a simple user feature set. We think the price is fair, although perhaps at the threshold of many budgets.

But a new wave of modern portable transceivers takes the belt-and-suspended interface to an even higher level with built-in GPS navigation, flight plan and leg storage and wireless Bluetooth capability for connecting the radio to a smartphone app. Sounds good in theory, but it also raises a valid question: Are all these features too much for a device that needs to be simple to use in a pinch and when the workload gets high? The way we see it, you shouldn't have to deal with a deep and complicated menu structure when the main objective is to communicate. Moreover, do all these bells and whistles even belong in a device that needs to be stone simple to use? 

In the upcoming January 2018 issue of sister publication Aviation Consumer magazine, Editor Larry Anglisano set out to answer these questions and prepared a critical, detailed field report on the latest ultra-modern portable transceiver—the Icom A25N. How does the feature set compare to the bulletproof and simpler Icom A22 it replaces, and are all the additional functions worth the $550 street price? Does it make better sense to spend less and buy the comm-only A25C? Read the full report at Aviation Consumer magazine.

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