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Volume 25, Number 8c
February 23, 2018
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Suspected Drone Collision Causes $4,000 In Damage
Russ Niles

Canadian authorities are investigating after a Cessna 172 on a training flight suffered about $4,000 (USD) in damage when it collided with an airborne object near a British Columbia Airport. The aircraft, owned by Abbotsford-based Chinook Helicopters, was turning final to land at nearby Chilliwack Airport when its left wing struck the object, which “left blue bits on the wing,” according to flight school owner Cathy Press. “It was definitely manmade,” she said. “We’re just lucky it didn’t go through the windshield.” Her company offers both fixed-wing and rotary training and the plane was being flown by a student and instructor when the collision occurred at about 500 feet AGL. “They heard it but they didn’t see it,” she said. 

The instructor took over, aborted the landing and the duo returned to Abbotsford. Maintenance personnel examined the wing and found the plastic wingtip fairing destroyed, a significant dent in the sheet metal and enough damage to the outer rib that it had to be replaced. “By the time it’s painted and all finished I wouldn’t be surprised if [the bill] is $5,000 (CAD),” she said. Press will have to foot the bill herself because it’s less than her insurance deductible. She said it’s impossible to know if the object was a drone but she doesn’t think it was an RC aircraft because those hobbyists normally know they can’t fly near airports. The incident was reported to Transport Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. If the culprit was a drone, it would be one of a handful of airborne collisions between aircraft and drones and the only one that has so far been reported to have caused significant damage.

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Video: Reliefband 2.0
Larry Anglisano

On the market since the mid-1990s, the FDA-cleared Reliefband wearable therapeutic neuromodulation device may be worth a try for motion-sick-prone passengers, and the company recently released the next-gen device called the Reliefband 2.0. Aviation Consumer Editor Larry Anglisano took it flying.

The TTx's Demise
Paul Bertorelli

If there were ever a need for corporate obfuscation and MBA-speak, I hereby nominate Textron to teach the master class. Herewith is how they replied to this simple, direct question: Have you canceled the TTx aircraft? “At Textron Aviation, we continuously monitor the market as it fluctuates and adjust our product offerings accordingly. Our strategy continues to focus on bringing new products to market and aligning business priorities with market demand. We remain dedicated to offering a modern product portfolio, ensuring our customers have access to the latest technology and supporting our existing customer base across all platforms.”

Having labored in the Bletchley Park of marcomm—journalism—for several decades, no one is better equipped than I to translate this. “Focus on bringing new products to market and aligning business priorities with market demand” means that the TTx was a poor seller, we didn’t market it well and buyers aren’t interested in it. “…supporting our existing customer base across all platforms” is a signal to the market that Textron will continue to support the 320 or so stranded airplanes still out there, plus, one assumes, however many Columbia examples are extant.

This they are likely to do, based on Cessna’s corporate history. Owners, understandably, won’t be happy with the depreciation hit their airplanes will take and parts may be expensive, but I have little doubt they’ll be available. Our reader surveys reveal no complaints about support, even for the Columbia airplanes. By the way, if you read the statement above, it doesn’t mention the word airplane. It could just as easily apply to smartphones or snowblowers. Sometime in the hazy past, airplanes became “platforms.”

Why did the TTx tank? Before venturing an answer, another question: Is anyone surprised? Cessna acquired the assets of the bankrupt Columbia Aircraft (previously Lancair) in the fall of 2007. It was either perfect timing or disastrous timing, for in less than a year, aircraft sales followed the general economy over a cliff. The chart shows how the basic Columbia airframe idea sold against Cirrus. It’s not a pretty picture. During 10 years of parallel production, Cessna sold 321 airplanes to Cirrus’ 2564. (That total is both versions of the SR22, exclusive of the SR20.)

To its credit, Cessna bought the Columbia factory in Bend, Oregon, invested in it and made improvements to what eventually became a single model in 2013, the turbocharged TTx. When sales tumbled, Cessna closed the factory and moved production to Independence.

Why the TTx sold so poorly is not plainly obvious, in my view. It is a perfectly competent airplane. It’s faster than the SR22T, carries a little less and has similar cabin size. It handles well, with a sidearm controller that offers a different feel than the Cirrus. The TTx jumped ahead of Cirrus with the Garmin G2000, but Cirrus has since caught up with the G1000 NXi. That made the TTx as much as $60,000 more than the Cirrus, but then you got more for the money, so I’m not sure if it was a factor.

I know your fingers are itching to type a comment that the Cirrus has the parachute and the TTx doesn’t. Could that be a factor in the sales gap? Probably some, but at best, the TTx sold only 29 percent of Cirrus’ volume and the average over a decade was 11 percent. That’s not very good for a company as sales oriented as Cessna has traditionally been.

My view is that the Columbia/Corvallis/TTx idea was never fully embraced by Cessna. In a company dominated by legacy riveted aluminum airplanes, I always felt they didn’t quite know what to do with a slick composite design. In one memorably tense interview at Aero a few years ago, I asked a couple of Textron executives about sales points and volume for the TTx and got an answer similar to the one above. “We’re committed to selling airplanes and you can look up the production figures with GAMA.”

Our attempts to fly the TTx for editorial review were fraught. We scheduled twice and were summarily canceled twice before finally succeeding. No one seemed to want to own the idea of getting journalists to write about what is, in the end, a great airplane. At Sun ‘n Fun last year, Textron said they would have airplanes available for photography, but no would be available for interviews. In days of yore, a straw-hatted salesman would have been on you like white on rice and you’d be hard-pressed to get out of the booth without buying at least two.

That, I think, more than anything explains the demise of the TTx. That’s “aligning business priorities with market demand” in action. Too bad, really. The TTx coulda been a contender.

Friday Foibles: Tail Wind Tales

An amazing number of pilots got predictable results from attempted landings or departures in tailwinds. One South Carolina pilot, wanting to make our cut simulated a tailwind by departing uphill from a grass strip in poor visibility. The NTSB tells it best: “Upon reaching the crest of the hill, the pilot realized that the runway doglegged about 40 degrees to the left, but the airplane was traveling too fast at that point to be able to make the turn. The airplane left the runway and continued down an adjacent road before veering into [Yup!] a ditch.” 

Then there’s the Wyoming wannabe ’copter pilot, who “neither held a pilot certificate nor had any documented experience flying helicopters,” yet borrowed his employer’s Bell 407 to give friends a low-level “joy ride.” Unbound joy included buzzing one of the passengers’ homes when they entered “an uncontrolled descent and collided with the ground.” Injuries were minor, so the non-certificated pilot “departed the scene,” only to be apprehended later in another state. The post-stupid investigation revealed that the non-pilot had given “joy rides” on several other occasions. 



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GAMA: Airplane, Helicopter Shipments Up In 2017
Mary Grady

GAMA released their year-end shipment and billings data on Wednesday, along with a “State of the Industry” news conference that was streamed live online. Their data shows that airplane shipments globally increased 2.5 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, and rotorcraft shipments rose 7.5 percent, from 861 units in 2016 to 926 in 2017. “Notable from these numbers is that the rotorcraft segment stabilized after several years of declining deliveries,” GAMA said in a news release. Business jet deliveries grew slightly, by 1.3 percent, rising from 667 to 676 units, driven mainly by new models that entered service last year. Piston airplane shipments grew by 6.5 percent, to 1,085 units, but turboprop deliveries slowed to 563 airplanes, compared to 582 deliveries in 2016, a 3.3 percent decline.

The industry panel expressed optimism about the future of the industry, citing new FAA regulations for Part 23 certification that they hope will encourage innovation by simplifying the certification process. They also cited new technologies they are excited about, such as simplified aircraft operations and safety enhancements such as envelope protection, as well as new forms of propulsion such as electric and hybrid powerplants. Simon Caldecott, CEO of Piper Aircraft, noted that his grandchildren often fly with him, but he expects they will get interested in flying themselves when they can do it using an iPad. GAMA President Pete Bunce said his organization is optimistic about the future of general aviation. He cited “some very positive economic indicators,” including stabilization in the used business aircraft market, new manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing, and innovative technologies that are driving urban air mobility vehicles, electric and hybrid propulsion, unmanned aerial vehicles and commercial space.

Textron Confirms TTx Discontinued (Updated)
Russ Niles

Textron Aviation has now confirmed that it has discontinued the TTx, the often renamed high-performance single it acquired 10 years ago. The company removed the sporty and well-equipped aircraft from the product line on its website a week ago and confirmed the end of the program Wednesday. "At Textron Aviation, we continuously monitor the market as it fluctuates and adjust our product offerings accordingly," the company said in a statement. "Our strategy continues to focus on bringing new products to market and aligning business priorities with market demand. We remain dedicated to offering a modern product portfolio, ensuring our customers have access to the latest technology and supporting our existing customer base across all platforms." 

Cessna acquired the Columbia 400 program from Columbia Aircraft in 2007 as a foil for the rapidly expanding Cirrus Design. It renamed the aircraft the Cessna 400 and continued to build the aircraft in Bend, Oregon. In 2009, it closed the Bend plant but named the aircraft the Corvalis, after the neighboring town of Corvallis. The aircraft remained in limited production at Cessna’s Independence, Kansas, factory, but sales of the well-reviewed model have been weak. It sold 23 TTx models in 2017.

GoFly Prize Draws 2,000 Competitors
Mary Grady

So far more than 2,000 people have signed up to be part of Boeing’s GoFly challenge, which offers $2 million in prizes to inspire the creation of a “safe and easy-to-use near-VTOL personal flying device.” Already Boeing has hosted six online “Master Lectures” covering diverse topics such as safety, how to find funding, rotary-wing flight controls and more, all hosted by experts in their field. The lectures all are posted online. The competition is open to individuals over age 18 and to teams. The first deadline is April 18, when a written report and preliminary drawing must be submitted, along with a fee of $250 for individuals and $500 for teams.

The challenge will take place over three phases — Phase I will award up to 10 prizes of $20,000 each, based on a written report. Phase II will award up to four $50,000 prizes, based on demonstrated progress to date. In Phase III, a grand prize of $1 million will go to the competitor with the best overall score in the October 2019 fly-off, with smaller prizes for the quietest, smallest and most original entries. “The GoFly Prize is designed to capture our imagination,” Boeing says at the project’s website. “Our goal is the same as [Leonardo] Da Vinci’s and children of wonder throughout the ages: Make people fly – safely and effortlessly.” For detailed information about the competition and how to compete, see the project’s website.

“Aeronautics” In The Olympics?
Mary Grady

If you’ve been watching any of the winter Olympics events recently, you might have wondered, why are there no gold medals for Aeronautics? According to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, there used to be. In 1936, at the Berlin Olympics, no contests took place, but Switzerland was awarded a gold medal in Aeronautics in recognition of Hermann Schreiber’s glider flight over the Alps. During the games, the Hindenburg hovered above the Olympic stadium, painted with Olympic rings. The first public flight of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 prototype also took place there. Fourteen pilots from seven countries took part in demonstration flights at a nearby airfield.

Preparations were underway to continue and expand Aeronautics as an Olympic event, according to the Smithsonian, but then the 1940 Olympics were cancelled due to the breakout of war in Europe. The medal for Switzerland in 1936 remains the only one ever awarded for Aeronautics.

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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.

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Short Final

ATC: Squawk 0007 maintain 4500 direct to XXXX 

Me: Maintain 4500 direct XXXX, squawk licensed to kill 

ATC: Only if your name is Bond, James Bond 

Me: Since my name is Dave I guess I will just squawk 0007

Dave Gagliardi



Weather Multitasking
Tarrance Kramer

The morning fog rolled across the airport like a vast cotton blanket, smothering runways, parked airplanes and the airport terminal. Within minutes, it pushed up against the tower windows, trying to seal us inside like something out of Stephen King’s The Mist. We quickly flipped on the airport beacon and cut a new ATIS reflecting the obvious: The airport had gone IMC.

With our VFR traffic stuck on the ground or going elsewhere, the tower frequencies fell strangely silent. Soon, however, we started getting other calls. An inbound Delta airliner reached out from 100 miles away. “Hey, Tower. How’s it lookin’?” The landline phone rang. “This is American Airlines dispatch. We’ve got two flights inbound right now. What’s the latest?” A Gulfstream IV on the GA ramp reached out to Ground. “We’re just firing up. Any improvement?”

Each of these folks had one basic purpose—find out if they could safely and legally operate under the current weather conditions. Providing that information quickly and accurately is a significant part of our job as air traffic controllers. The answer comes from a variety of sources, both technological and human.

The Weather Web

For the moment, we’ll begin with a nickel tour of both the ATC and the national aviation weather systems. Naturally, there’s some overlap between them.

The FAA air traffic control system is one big ol’ network. The chain of command begins with the ATC System Command Center in Virginia, which provides oversight and coordination between the biggest ATC facilities, the Air Route Traffic Control Centers. The major airports under each Center have their own Terminal Radar Approach Controls (TRACONs), a.k.a. “Approach” or “Departure” to pilots. Finally, we have the individual airport control towers that operate beneath parent TRACONs or directly with Centers.

The aviation weather reporting system has a similar structure. The mother facility is the Aviation Weather Center (AWC), operated by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Kansas City, Missouri. Its mission is to provide “consistent, timely and accurate weather information for the world airspace system.” They generate the Area Forecasts, SIGMETs, Convective SIGMETs, AIRMETs, and other products that feature in your pre-flight briefings. The AWC is complemented by Weather Forecast Offices (WFO) providing local Terminal Area Forecasts and hazardous weather alerts from over 120 locations nationwide. All of their information is available at

ATC Centers have their own Center Weather Service Units (CWSU) located on-site. The hundreds of controllers within each Center oversee a vast amount of airspace and aircraft. CWSU staff craft a localized weather picture for these controllers and pilots via a variety of weather products, conveying not just the AWC’s SIGMETs and AIRMETs, but generating their own localized Center Weather Advisories (CWA) and Meteorological Impact Statements (MIS). To view each active CWA and MIS, visit

And last, we arrive again at the control towers. While some WFOs are co-located with airports, many ATC facilities don’t have dedicated weather personnel. The Limited Aviation Weather Reporting Station (LAWRS) program steps in by certifying tower controllers at some facilities as weather observers. No, we’re not full-fledged meteorologists. However, along with working our air traffic, we’re trained to operate weather equipment and make judgment calls based on what we see out the window. We then generate or modify METARs and SPECIs appropriately to ensure our traffic gets the latest info.

Makin’ METARs

Adam Wright

The cornerstone of our everyday weather reporting is our on-site ASOS, or Automated Surface Observation System. There are over 900 systems installed nationwide, working 24 hours a day to generate the METAR and SPECI (Aviation Special Weather Report) reports you get during preflight briefings and—if you stay connected in the cockpit—in flight. Of course tower controllers use that same data to record their ATIS broadcasts. Along with the hourly METAR, each system can spit out 11 additional SPECI observations per hour to keep up with rapidly changing weather.

The sensor package located out on the airport grounds covers a broad scope. Its core metrics are the usual wind, visibility, cloud coverage, temp/dew point, and altimeter readings present in every METAR/SPECI. It can also report thunderstorms, obstructions to visibility (fog/mist/haze), wind shifts, and precipitation type and intensity (rain/snow/freezing rain). We monitor and control the system from a keyboard-equipped display up in the tower.

Like all equipment, ASOS has its limits. It can only see straight up and in its general vicinity, so if there’s rain far off-axis, the ASOS won’t detect it. On the flipside, if there’s a single large cloud directly over it, it’ll call the whole sky overcast. That’s where LAWRS-certified tower controllers take over and adjust the data.

The procedures for generating a routine METAR broadcast are straightforward. At 47 minutes past each hour, the ASOS display in the tower starts beeping to let us know it’s preparing a METAR. From that moment, we have five minutes to look out the windows, compare reality to the machine’s readings, and edit the data if needed. At 52 minutes past, it’ll start beeping again to warn us it’s “Transmitting Report,” giving us one final chance to make changes. If we leave it alone, it’ll automatically transmit the METAR at 53, kicking it out into the world’s lap with one final loud beep. We’ll then use that data to cut an ATIS.

SPECIs must be generated whenever we or the system observe a weather change that meets a certain criteria and happens outside of the 47-52 minute METAR time frame. Most commonly, they occur when the visibility or ceiling drops below or climbs above certain values: one, two or three statute miles visibility, ceilings of 3000, 1500, 1000, or 500 feet, or if either go below the lowest instrument approach minimums for our airport. No minimums published? We’ll use 1/2 mile or 200 feet as the criteria. Significant weather events—including thunderstorms, hail/ice pellets, tornadoes/funnel clouds, squalls, previously unreported low clouds, and wind shifts—also require SPECIs, as do aircraft mishaps.

The fog put us at a quarter mile visibility. Since that’s clearly below one mile, it triggered a SPECI. As with a METAR, the system will start beeping when it’s prepping the report and give us the same five minute editing window. After a SPECI is transmitted, controllers must record an accompanying ATIS and verify aircraft on frequency have the current info.

Going Down Range

Remember all of those aircraft and airline staff calling us earlier? They don’t need us to get them the latest METAR or SPECI. That’s easily available via our ATIS broadcast, FSS, connected avionics, or company in-house weather resources. So, why are they really calling? Three words: Runway Visual Range (RVR).

RVR is an estimation of how far a pilot can see down a runway centerline. It used to be determined by someone driving out to the runway threshold and counting how many runway lights in a row could be seen. Today, automated sensors located alongside the runway do all the work, calculating the visual range in hundreds of feet. The most basic RVR systems gauge visibility only at the touchdown end of the runway. More complex setups increase the detail, adding sensors for the rollout (i.e. departure end) and midpoint runway sections. The longest runways even have a far-end sensor.

Once the prevailing visibility drops to a mile or less, or the RVR displays a value at or below 6000 feet, controllers must issue current RVR to each aircraft using the relevant runway. Example: “Runway 27 RVR one thousand six hundred, mid one thousand eight hundred, rollout one thousand four hundred.” We don’t have to say “touchdown” for the first value, since it’s implied.

Our ILS approaches are CAT I, requiring a minimum RVR of 1800 feet to be flown legally at most airports. CAT II and CAT III ILS category minimums are lower: 1200 for II and 700/150/0 for IIIa/IIIb/IIIc). Airlines and other operators require the RVR to be a legal value before their pilots can even attempt an approach. The RVR readings update frequently, leading everyone and their mother to call the tower for the latest. We advise them of the trends and try to be realistic about their chances.

Today, the RVR wasn’t looking good for our customers. Touchdown was reading 1600 and 1400 for our runways. The Delta and American flights arrived in the vicinity of the airport. Soon they were joined by other airliners, for a total of seven, all holding at various fixes. Unfortunately, the RVR kept dropping, bottoming out at 800. They waited as long as they could, and all of them diverted. Other airline dispatchers called. When told the RVR, they said they were just going to hold their planes on the ground. The Gulfstream IV remained parked. It was quite the bummer for everyone.

The Human Touch

While weather equipment varies from tower to tower, one key component doesn’t: the human element. Even the best equipment can sometimes be fooled. When something doesn’t feel right, we use simple, manual methods to verify what’s really out there.

Let’s take visibility. When it changes rapidly, our ASOS system tends to lag behind current conditions. As the fog built up, the ASOS was still showing two miles of visibility when it was actually a lot less. With the entire airport swallowed up, I needed to report the actual conditions.

I picked up our airport visibility chart. Control towers have these National Weather Service-certified maps depicting numerous landmarks on and around an airport, and their distances from the tower. They have an anachronistic look, but get the job done. I simply looked outside the window for the furthest visible landmark that was depicted on our chart. In this case, it was the southern tip of our terminal building, 1/4 mile away. I edited the ASOS with 1/4 SM and, boom, the SPECI I mentioned earlier was born. Eventually the ASOS caught up and showed the same value.

The human element includes pilots just as much as controllers, which leads me to the next simple method. If we’re not certain about the weather’s details, why not ask someone who’s in the thick of it? It’s very common for us to solicit pilot reports on cloud bases, cloud tops, turbulence, or any number of other weather factors. These benefit all pilots and controllers in the area.

You can make a real difference with your observations. Let’s say we ask you for a base report on final. Our ASOS is showing 700 overcast. You report breaking out at 400, tops at 1200. We’ll call and advise Approach of the actual ceiling, so they can pass it on to trailing aircraft. Then we’ll edit the ASOS to show “OVC004”. Since that’s now below 500 feet, it’ll generate a SPECI, and we’ll cut a new ATIS based off that transmission. Last, we file the PIREP with Flight Service.

When the weather’s IMC, the traffic tends to slow down, but our weather duties pick up. While the fog’s keeping us snug in our tower, we know you and the other pilots out in the soup need timely data. Employing our equipment, our training and our experience, we try to paint a clear picture of bad conditions so you can make good decisions.

On IMC days out in the Midwest, Tarrance Kramer may or may not answer the tower phone with “RVR’s still below 1800. How can I help you today?"

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of IFR magazine.

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