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Volume 25, Number 6a
February 5, 2018
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Vahana Flies, Joby Attracts Capital
Russ Niles

Airbus has flown its A3 Vahana autonomous electric VTOL aircraft, completing two short test flights in Oregon last Wednesday and Thursday. The aircraft is the test article for what Airbus hopes will become fleets of pilotless tiltrotors carrying passengers and cargo from point to point. It wants to have a working prototype by 2020 and project leader Zach Lovering noted how far the initiative has come in a comparatively short time. “In just under two years, Vahana took a concept sketch on a napkin and built a full-scale, self-piloted aircraft that has successfully completed its first flight,” he said. Meanwhile, Joby, a much more grassroots company that hopes to compete with Airbus in that market, picked up some substantial backing this week.

Joby founder JoeBen Bevirt invited two Bloomberg reporters to his secret airfield somewhere on the California coast to see (but not describe in detail or photograph) his entry in the VTOL market. He did tell Ashley Vance and Brad Stone the aircraft was flown by a test pilot for 15 minutes, covering 15 miles and taking off vertically. The writers also reported he told them the aircraft will “fly at twice the speed of a helicopter” which suggests a tiltrotor or hybrid thrust design. The reporters said the aircraft is “exotic looking” and has “numerous propellers.” Whatever it is, it’s attracted some high-profile support worth about $100 million. The company says Intel Capital, Toyota AI Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures and Tesla/SpaceX backers Capricorn Investment Group have all thrown money into the venture capital pot to keep the project going.

JP Instruments 'Primary JPI EDM 930'
Product Minute: Big Screw EZ Tiedown
Paul Bertorelli

At the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, AVweb saw a new aircraft tiedown called theBig Screw EZ Tiedown. Greg Palmer gave us the sales pitch.


Boeing Sticks Its Foot In It
Russ Niles

Consolidation of the commercial airliner business has been happening since the first passenger-carrying biplanes rattled across the landscape. In the middle of the last century, there were dozens of viable manufacturers innovating and doing their best to cater to a rapidly evolving industry.

But being the best has never been a guarantee of business success and Douglas Aircraft was a classic example. The DC-3 was hands down the most successful design of its time but Douglas was unable to leverage that into a dominating position in the jet era. The DC-8 was a rushed response to the Boeing 707 and while it had its fans as a “pilot’s airplane” it never seriously challenged the 707. 

On the other hand, the DC-9 was a tremendously successful design that didn’t end commercial service in the U.S. until 2014 when Delta finally retired the steam-gauge workhorses after 50 years of service.

So it’s more than a little ironic that Delta’s choice for replacing the DC-9, whose derivatives ended up being built by Boeing until the middle of the last decade, is the Bombardier CSeries. It ordered 75 with an option for 50 more and nobody is denying it got a smoking deal on what current operators of the type say is a really good airplane.

That choice turned into one of the biggest shifts in dynamics in the aerospace industry in decades. It also sets the stage for a major battle of giants.

Boeing started the spat by trying to keep Bombardier’s little jets out of the U.S. It’s quickly turned into full-scale warfare with arch-enemy Airbus and the battleground will be the U.S. It also really annoyed Canada, which may not sound like a big deal but it has a role to play in all this.

Boeing convinced the Department of Commerce to slap an unprecedented 292 percent tariff on the CSeries that Delta ordered in a transparent appeal to economic nationalism.

Bombardier responded by turning the CSeries program over to Airbus with the idea of building Delta’s planes at Airbus’s Mobile, Alabama, facilities. They would be late, but Delta would eventually get them.

Then, in a decision that surprised every aviation pundit, the U.S. International Trade Commission unanimously rejected the Department of Commerce tariffs, saying since Boeing doesn’t make 100- to 150-seat airliners (since it stopped making the DC-9-derived 717), Boeing couldn’t be harmed by the CSeries sale to Delta.

The whole thing changed.

Delta can now get its aircraft on time and Bombardier has wisely committed to continuing the arrangement with Airbus because that will blunt any further challenges on U.S. deals that Boeing might mount. Cash will be flowing and the CSeries will be in service in the U.S. sooner rather than later. Airbus can be ready to crank out CSeries in Mobile as Delta's U.S. competitors, comforted by the big safety net the association with Airbus offers in the future support of the type, watch the efficient new jets start playing in their sandbox.

Boeing hasn’t commented on the trade commission decision and says it’s waiting for the full reasoning before it decides on a response. It might appeal but the decision was unanimous and the odds of success don't look good. At best it would be a delaying tactic but Airbus and Bombardier seem to have that covered.

In the meantime, Boeing is talking to Embraer about taking over its airliner business in a Hail Mary rearguard action. While Embraer has a solid track record in the small airliner business, any deal with the Brazilian company will not include any defense work because the government of Brazil, which holds a veto vote on the Embraer board of directors, is not about to give up those capabilities to a foreign power.

There are no such constraints on the Bombardier/Airbus deal and that may be a factor in Canada’s long-overdue purchase of $20 billion worth of fighters. 

Until the CSeries fracas, Boeing was considered the odds-on favorite to win that contract with the last production run of its Super Hornet but the trade dispute has all but ruled that out according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

So, in its attempt to swat a fly, Boeing has inadvertently stuck its hand down the throat of a lion. Time will tell how many fingers it loses.

I wonder what Donald Douglas would think.

Video: Dramatic Near Miss Between Drone And Airliner
Paul Bertorelli

The FAA is investigating a near-miss incident between a drone and a Frontier Airlines Airbus dramatically captured in a 27-second video that went viral late last week. The Airbus was inbound to Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport, but it’s unclear when it occurred and the authenticity of the video has yet to be confirmed.  “We became aware of this incident this afternoon and we are investigating,” the FAA’s Ian Gregor told Las Vegas Now on Friday.

The drone’s video is detailed enough to show the footage was shot over Whitney Ranch Recreational Center in Henderson, about seven miles east of McCarran Aiport and off the approach end of Runway 26R, the airport’s longest runway.

The flying shown in the video was widely condemned by drone trade and user organizations. “This video is not the first drone incident we report on but it sure is the most reckless video we have seen,” said Haye Kesteloo of DroneDJ. The Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) also condemned the close call: “All UAS operators need to understand their aircraft [and] stay well clear of manned aircraft and adhere to the law. AUVSI supports strict enforcement against careless and reckless operators who endanger the safety of the airspace and violate the law,” the association said.

Flying under guidelines established by the Academy of Model Aeronautics and codified in FAR Part 107, operators of drones under 55 pounds are prohibited from flying above 400 feet unless within a 400-foot radius of buildings or structures. Section 107.43 of the regulation prohibits operation in such a way to interfere with traffic patterns of any airports, heliports or seaplane bases. Fines for violation can reach $250,000 and can include jail sentences under civil penalties.

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Boeing, Embraer Eye Airliner Venture
Russ Niles

Boeing is reportedly considering creating a new company with Embraer to produce small airliners. The proposed deal would exclude Embraer’s defense business, which Brazil considers an essential element of its national sovereignty. It's not clear if Embraer's business aircraft business would be part of the deal with Boeing. Embraer confirmed the talks in a securities filing and it also said there had been no formal proposal from Boeing. News of a proposed arrangement between Boeing and Embraer emerged shortly after Airbus and Bombardier announced their partnership on the CSeries airliner. 

The dynamics of the Airbus/Bombardier deal changed when Bombardier unexpectedly won its International Trade Commission case against punishing tariffs imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department. The CSeries partnership was seen as a way to circumvent the tariffs by building CSeries for the U.S. market at Airbus’s Mobile, Alabama, plant. Boeing’s overtures to Embraer are now seen as a means of rejoining the bottom end of the airliner market, which Embraer currently dominates.

Air Force Narrows Light Attack Field
Russ Niles

The U.S. Air Force has narrowed the field in the competition for its new light attack aircraft to just two, the AT-6 Wolverine and A-29 Super Tucano, eliminating the Textron Scorpion and L-3 Longsword, a militarized Air Tractor 802 aerial application aircraft. It’s also canceled plans to test the aircraft in combat. “Rather than do a combat demonstration, we have decided to work closely with industry to experiment with maintenance, data networking and sensors with the two most promising light attack aircraft — the AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said. “This will let us gather the data needed for a rapid procurement.”

The Air Force hopes the winner of the competition will be able to help out in close support roles in anti-terrorism and counter-insurgent roles now undertaken by much more expensive platforms like the A-10 and F-16. The new aircraft will also make it easier to cooperate with allies in the fight against terrorism because many of the countries on the front lines can’t afford the jets the U.S. flies.

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Goulian Wins Abu Dhabi Red Bull
Russ Niles

U.S. Red Bull race pilot Mike Goulian won his first event in nine years winning the season opener in Abu Dhabi in convincing fashion. Goulian, who is sponsored by Cirrus, ran the pylons in 53.695 seconds, a third of a second faster than 2017 overall champion Yoshi Muroya, of Japan. Martin Sonka, of the Czech Republic, was third and American Kirby Chambliss was fourth. "It’s been a long time coming to get to the second win and my whole team is over the moon,” said Goulian. “Now we need consistency. There are 13 other great pilots in the Red Bull Air Race, and I feel nothing but excitement for the rest of the year." 

Canadian Pete McLeod, who was third overall last year, finished last in Abu Dhabi after being disqualified for exceeding the 10-G limit. The next race is in Cannes, France April 21-22. The only U.S race will be held in Indianapolis Oct. 6-7.

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Aircraft Insurer Offers Breakdown Assistance
Larry Anglisano

Perhaps another sign that it's a buyer's market for aircraft insurance, New Jersey-based insurer Global Aerospace is offering policyholders a breakdown assistance program as standard for piston-powered singles and twins. It's called the Global Aircraft Breakdown Assistance program, partnering with Savvy Aircraft Maintenance. According to Global Aerospace, the program is the same one offered by Sporty's, which charges $149 to $249 per year for the service.

It's a simple concept that initially works like AAA and other breakdown assistance programs offered by some automotive and motorcycle insurers. Instead of getting towed, you get maintenance coordination. For example, if you find yourself grounded halfway across the country because the starter in your Mooney crumped, pull out your membership card and phone the program's 24/7 hotline. Enter your information and within 15 minutes you’ll get a call from an A&P and IA who is looking at the file on your airplane and will start the process of troubleshooting the problem. 

Owned by Mike Busch, Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Management Inc. (SAMM) has been providing professional aircraft maintenance management for owner-flown piston singles, twins and single-engine turboprops for nearly 10 years. Savvy has built up a database of reputable shops around the country and uses an approach to AOG situations that focuses on troubleshooting the situation carefully before putting a wrench on the airplane. 

Troubleshooting is at the heart of the program because Savvy's experience is that over 50 percent of the time the problem is something that can be solved without opening up the airplane. Moreover, Savvy says it can help make a determination of whether the problem is not a safety-of-flight issue and recommend that the pilot fly the aircraft back to its home base for repairs or to another location where there are better services. However, in our view the best case scenario is to still have a qualified tech eyeball the aircraft before you fly it.

If the problem requires getting a hands-on mechanic, Savvy will contact a shop—even if there’s not one on the field—and get help on the way. It will also brief the mechanic on the results of troubleshooting to date and suggest what part the mechanic bring to the airplane. Savvy stays in touch with the shop/mechanic to manage the needed repairs until they are complete.

We asked Global Aerospace if there are hidden charges tacked on to a policy, but it said that qualified Global policyholders enroll for free. Eligible aircraft include certified piston singles and twins, as well as Van's RV-series homebuilts currently insured through Global Aerospace, with a policy inception date on or after Jan. 1, 2018. For more details, contact Global Aerospace and Savvy Aviation.

Picture of the Week
Winter flying has its charms and Robbie Wannenburg and his friends know how to have fun at any time of the year. Nice shot, Robbie.

See all submissions

Brainteasers Quiz #240: Make Informed Go/No-Go Calls

If you cancel a flight because weather is forecast to deteriorate, it will improve. But if you ignore warnings and go, weather will turn stinko. In either case, your best call is to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

Short Final

Flying back from St. Augustine Fl (SGJ) to Stennis International (KHSA) just before Christmas, my destination was very low IFR.  The whole region and surrounding airports were either very low IFR or Zero Zero.  Planes were going missed at Gulfport (KGPT) and surrounding airports and tensions were high with the controllers.  I was cleared for the ILS 18 into Stennis and he advised he did not have radar this way.

Tower: “…and I can’t see you” 

Comanche XXXX: “I can’t see you either!”  

We both laughed and it changed his stressed tone, and I did make the landing.

Charlie Horton


General Aviation Accident Bulletin

AVweb’s General Aviation Accident Bulletin is taken from the pages of our sister publication, Aviation Safety magazine and is published twice a month. All the reports listed here are preliminary and include only initial factual findings about crashes. You can learn more about the final probable cause in the NTSB’s web site at Final reports appear about a year after the accident, although some take longer. Find out more about Aviation Safety at

November 2, 2017, Las Vegas, Nev.

Beechcraft Model B95 Travel Air

At about 1735 Pacific time, the airplane sustained substantial damage during a forced landing after a reported loss of engine power. The flight instructor and commercial pilot sustained minor injuries. Visual conditions prevailed.

According to the pilot, on final approach, one of the airplane’s two engines began to surge and lost power. Unable to make the airport, he decided to land on a nearby field located on a golf course. During the landing, the airplane’s right wing struck an obstacle, resulting in substantial damage to the wing. The airplane came to rest in a pond, submerged in water.

November 2, 2017, Redding, Calif.

Cessna Model 172R Skyhawk

The airplane was substantially damaged at about 0930 Pacific time during an off-airport landing after losing engine power shortly after takeoff. The flight instructor and two students were not injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The flight departed to the southeast and about three miles from the airport, the pilot reported an engine failure with sparks coming from the engine. The controller cleared the flight to land on Runway 34 but the airplane was too high, and the pilot elected to go around. The pilot turned back toward Runway 16, crossed it and landed in a field.

November 3, 2017, Erwinna, Penn.

SA-900 V-Star Experimental

At about 1400 Eastern time, the airplane collided with terrain during landing. The solo private pilot was seriously injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

A witness observed the accident airplane depart. About 30 minutes later, he saw it approach the airport from the east. Initially, it was in a normal flight attitude over the runway. It disappeared briefly behind rolling terrain, He next saw the left wing, then the right wing, followed by the tail, in what he described as a “cartwheeling” motion. He did not report any strange sounds, smoke or objects falling from the airplane.

November 3, 2017, Murphy, Idaho

Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub

The airplane impacted mountainous terrain at about 0900 Mountain time. The pilot/owner was fatally injured, and the passenger received serious injuries. The airplane was substantially damaged. Visual conditions prevailed.

After a 1.5-hour flight, the airplane landed at the dirt strip due to the passenger getting airsick. The airplane was on the ground for about 20 minutes, and was departing at the time of the accident. A witness watched the accident airplane take off and establish a positive rate of climb. When the accident airplane was about 150 feet agl, he saw the right wing drop with the pilot simultaneously keying the mike and saying “Whoa.” The airplane’s nose continued to drop, and the airplane impacted the ground in a nose-low, near-vertical attitude.

November 4, 2017, Alva, Okla.

Beechcraft Model V35B Bonanza

At 1728 Central time, the airplane impacted terrain while conducting a visual approach. The airplane was destroyed; the flight instructor and pilot were fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

According to a state trooper who spoke with the pilot in an emergency room, he and the flight instructor noticed the left engine cowling pop up during flight. According to the pilot, the flight instructor assumed control of the airplane. The airplane continued its descent until striking trees and a power line, which were about 40 feet higher than the airport’s elevation and 3000 feet north of the Runway 18 threshold. The airplane came to rest on its left side and a post-crash fire ensued.

November 4, 2017, Hatch, N.M.

Cessna Model 172N Skyhawk

The airplane sustained substantial damage at about 1630 Mountain time when it impacted terrain. The pilot and three passengers received fatal injuries. Visual conditions prevailed.

After lunch, the pilot and passengers were driven back to the local airport for their flight home around 1600 local time. Their exact departure time is unknown and there were no witnesses to the accident. The airplane impacted rugged desert terrain located about 0.56 nm west of the departure end of Runway 29 and was not located until 1700 the next day.

November 5, 2017, Las Vegas, N.M.

Daher/Socata TBM 850

The pilot later reported that, while landing in a gusting crosswind, it was “obvious” the wind had changed directions. He performed a go-around, but “the wind slammed [the airplane] to the ground extremely hard.” Subsequently, the airplane veered to the right off the runway and then back to the left before coming to rest. The airplane sustained substantial damage to its fuselage.

The pilot reported there were no pre-accident mechanical failures or malfunctions with the airplane precluding normal operation. The automated weather observation at the accident airport reported the wind was from 270 degrees at 19 knots, gusting to 25 knots, at the time of the accident. The pilot was landing on Runway 20.

November 5, 2017, Batavia, Ohio

Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee 140

The pilot reported that shortly before flying over the airport perimeter fence, “either wind shear or [a] sudden downdraft dropped the plane.” The nose landing gear struck the fence and the airplane impacted the ground short of the intended runway. The airplane sustained substantial damage to its fuselage and horizontal stabilator.

According to the pilot, the engine was running the entire time without issues. He added that once he encountered the downdraft, he applied full power, but the airplane continued descending with “no appreciable response.” He reported that he did not use carburetor heat during the approach.

A review of recorded data from the automated weather observation station located included temperature of 68 degrees F and a dew point of 63 degrees F. The FAA’s Carburetor Icing Chart indicates conditions were conducive to “serious icing (glide power).”

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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