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Volume 25, Number 10c
March 9, 2018
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Allen: Stratolaunch Could Carry A Shuttle
Mary Grady

As the huge Stratolaunch aircraft prepares for its first flight at Mojave, company founder Paul Allen is thinking about using it not just to deliver satellites to space, but perhaps also to carry an all-new space shuttle. “I would love to see us have a full reusable system and have weekly, if not more often, airport-style, repeatable operations going,” Allen told The Washington Post, in an exclusive interview last summer. The shuttle, which would be called Black Ice, would be similar in size to NASA’s shuttle, according to the Post. It could be launched from anywhere there’s a runway long enough for the Stratolaunch, and would be capable of flying to the International Space Station and completing missions at least three days long.

There are no near-term plans to use Black Ice to transport astronauts, according to the Post, though that could be possible in the future. It could carry supplies to the ISS and also could deliver satellites to orbit. Using the Stratolaunch as a delivery vehicle would eliminate the need for rocket launches, Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch Systems CEO, told the Post. “You make your rocket a plane,” Floyd said. “So you have an airplane carrying a plane that’s fully reusable. You don’t throw anything away ever. Only fuel.” Washington Post reporter Christian Davenport, who conducted the interviews, is working on a book about the “new space race.”

New GE Turboprop Gets a Name: Catalyst
Paul Bertorelli

Aircraft engines are normally designated by obscure numbers only an engineer could love but as a clear expression of market intent, GE is giving its new turboprop engine a name: the GE Catalyst Advanced Turboprop engine. (Heretofore, it was simply the ATP engine.)

GE announced the new engine in 2015 and last fall, it reported at NBAA BACE in Las Vegas that it had a conforming prototype running with an aggressive certification program planned. The engine will be available in power ranges from 1000 to 1600 horsepower with specific fuel consumption claimed to be 20 percent less than competitive engines. It will also have a 4000-hour TBO and won’t require the hot section inspections that operators of Pratt & Whitney’s engines love to hate. Cessna's new Denali single-engine turboprop is a launch customer.

“The GE Catalyst engine is redefining what a turboprop can do for pilots, airframers and operators in business and general aviation,” said Paul Corkery, general manager for GE Aviation Turboprops. “It acts as a catalyst in an industry segment that has seen very little technology infusion in decades,” he added at an announcement in Prague, where GE has developed and will manufacture the new engine.  You can see a video interview with Corkery on the Catalyst engine here.

GE has committed more than $400 million in development costs and will employ 500 additional workers at a refurbished factory in the Czech Republic. GE acquired the former Walter Engines in the Czech Republic in 2008 and has been leveraging the investment to expand into the turboprop market.

White House Wants Drone Shoot-Down Authority For Law Enforcement
Paul Bertorelli

The White House plans to request that law enforcement and security agencies be permitted to track and shoot down civilian drones, according to Endgadget, a technology site. The proposal thus far lacks specifics, but would reportedly apply to multiple U.S. government agencies charged with security responsibilities.

The report surfaced at the FAA’s third annual Unmanned Aircraft Symposium held in Baltimore this week, even as the FAA itself pushes to expand the airspace to which unmanned aircraft have access. While it’s possible to track and defeat drones by hacking or jamming their radio control links, federal wiretapping and aviation regulations prohibit law enforcement from doing this, according to a Bloomberg report.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that the FAA is considering regulations to require some small consumer drones to broadcast an identity tag and real-time location for law enforcement purposes. It’s unclear when such a regulation would be put into effect.

Sun ’n Fun Starts April 10
Mary Grady

It’s March already, so for many pilots that means it’s time to make plans to go to Lakeland, Florida, for Sun ’n Fun. This year’s event is set for April 10 to 15, with a full slate of airshows, workshops, forums, events and shopping opportunities designed to attract pilots. A new event this year is a 5K run on the field at 7 a.m. on Saturday, concurrent with the hot-air balloon launch. The Commemorative Air Force will bring its “Tora! Tora! Tora!” spectacle to Sun ’n Fun for the first time, on Saturday and Sunday, offering a pyrotechnic re-creation of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Also on the weekend, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will fly, and a night airshow is scheduled for both Wednesday and Saturday.

Job hunters can check out the fifth annual Career Fair, scheduled for Wednesday, April 11, at the Aerospace Center for Excellence. Fourteen exhibitors will be there, ready to hire, including United, UPS and Go Jet. Jobs to be filled include not just pilots but also maintenance professionals, college interns, dispatchers and engineers. Admission to the fair is free with a day ticket to the Fly-In, but job seekers must register in advance. More than 500 aviation vendors and exhibitors are expected at the show. Arrival procedures are posted online.

Air Force Faces Pilot Retention Troubles
Mary Grady

The U.S. Air Force is losing its pilots to lucrative airline jobs, according to a report in this week’s Air Force Times, and that’s likely to continue if the military pilots don’t get more flight time and upgraded airplanes. “We are seeing an Air Force that is back on its heels,” John Venable, a former F-16 pilot, told the Times. “They’re all on the back side of the power curve.” Part of the problem is that the “mission-capable” status of aircraft is deteriorating, with fewer than half of the F-22 Raptor fleet ready to fly. Maintenance workers are scarce, with a shortfall of about 200 positions, and many of the workers now on staff have minimal experience. Top-ranked maintainers, who can supervise and sign off on work, are in “alarmingly” short supply, according to the Times.

The Air Force is currently about 2,000 pilots short, and many pilots are getting fewer flying hours than they should to maintain their skills. “Flying hours is the big one. That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Venable said. “They fly four times a month, or five times a month, and that’s what you’re going to give them? Why would anybody want to stay in that force?” To fix the situation, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, former head of Air Combat Command, told the Times: “We need to buy more airplanes, we need to increase our end strength, and we need to modernize and recapitalize our fleet.”

Fly SAM STC Approved
Embrace Safe Practices
Douglas Boyd

At first glance, many readers might think general aviation is as far removed from helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operations as east is from west. However, there are more similarities than meets the eye, especially when it comes to safety.

Let’s have a look at what we, as general aviation IFR pilots, have in common with the HEMS branch of aviation and, more importantly, what we can learn from them. They had a rocky start (the first HEMS operation was in 1972) in terms of safety, but have made remarkable gains over time.

What We Share

Like general aviation, HEMS historically had a poor safety record with a comparable accident rate. In fact, one Johns Hopkins researcher calculated that a HEMS pilot flying 20 hours per week, over the course of 20 years, had a 37-percent chance of being involved in a fatal accident—not something that their family would want to know.

Perhaps this is not surprising considering the hazardous off-airport environment (perhaps a car accident on a freeway encumbered with surrounding obstacles) that these aircraft have to negotiate, not to mention the lack of instrument approaches. Moreover, many operations are often during periods of inclement weather—historically a leading cause of HEMS accidents.

A second similarity shared by both groups of aviators was that (at least until last year with the advent of modified FARs) HEMS pilots could (if not carrying a patient) depart under Part 91 rules, much as we do for a general aviation IFR flight.

A third commonality is the real potential for get-there-itis—with a twist. For the general aviation IFR pilot it might be a business meeting, or a long-planned family reunion, whereas a HEMS pilot, knowing of a trauma case involving a child, might feel a compelling pressure to complete the flight. The perception to accomplish the mission is there for both groups.

Finally, fatigue has been a big problem for both the HEMS industry and general aviation. IFR flight can be demanding—add in a missed approach, a change in runway necessitating reprogramming the avionics and/or digging around for a different chart, and things can get out-of-hand. We need our mental awareness performing at peak efficiency. Until last year, like general aviation, there were no rest requirements imposed on HEMS operators.

Improved Safety For HEMS

There does happen to be one big difference between general aviation and HEMS safety. While the accident rate for the former has stubbornly remained unchanged, the HEMS industry has seen a 70-percent decrease in accidents over the last 15 years—that’s impressive.

Remarkably, this dramatic improvement in safety has come in the absence of new regulations (the updated FARs for HEMS were only implemented in 2014) and therefore reflects effective self-policing by the industry. Those pilots are doing something right for sure. What can we learn as instrument pilots?

What has changed in the industry that might have contributed to their reduced accident rate? For starters, one of their frequent cause of accidents was inadvertent flight into IMC—77-percent of which were fatal. This should sound familiar, as the same problem continues to plague general aviation—including instrument-rated pilots. Just because a pilot holds an IFR-ticket doesn’t mean they are current and/or proficient. All too often instrument rated pilots fly into unexpected IMC. However, these types of accidents have decreased over time for HEMS pilots.

The industry has undertaken several steps that may have resulted in fewer of these kinds of mishaps. In the early days of the service, most HEMS pilots were IFR-rated, but there was little requirement for those flyers to be current/proficient—as a result, scud-running was popular.

This point was emphasized to the industry early on in a compelling study using a full-motion helicopter simulator that demonstrated the obvious—rusty instrument pilots lost control more often in unplanned IMC than their proficient counterparts.

In addition, the non-current pilots entered these weather conditions at lower altitudes than their more proficient brethren—running the risk of impact with ground obstacles. Sound familiar? The industry took heed and many an operator, on their own initiative, required their pilots undertake regular training on getting out of inadvertent IMC.

Risk Assessment

Along similar lines across the industry, preflight risk assessment matrices were implemented. Depending on the level of risk, mission authorization required approval by a senior pilot, the chief pilot, or director of operations.

Sure, the general aviation IFR pilot has access to something similar—the AOPA Flight Risk Evaluator and a comparable (albeit more perfunctory) construct by the FAA (see the FAA Risk Management Handbook FAA-H-8083-2). There’s also the PAVE/IMSAFE advocated by the FAA.

But, how many pilots use these tools? Perhaps not as many as should. There’s no one checking as to whether a pilot has done a self-assessment. As an alternative, consider discussing an upcoming flight with a senior flight instructor or perhaps a FAAST team member. It’s even more relevant if that person is familiar with your flight history and perhaps has even flown with you recently.

Fatigue Assessment

Current self-evaluation tools for the general aviation pilot are still deficient in fatigue assessment. One of the questions posed is the amount of sleep that the pilot had the prior night—using a cut-off of eight hours. That’s a good start, but for the pilot who has built up a sleep-deficit over the period leading up to the flight, one night of restful sleep is unlikely to do the trick. The fatigue issue has been addressed across the HEMS industry via mandating rest periods for their pilots.

As there’s no such comparable rule for general aviation pilots, one option for us is the use of personal sleep monitors (collectively known as actigraphs), which a pilot could use in the days leading up to a flight.

There’s a range of commercially available products out there with odd-sounding names presumably generated by imaginative marketing departments—PEAK, The Fitbit Surge, Jawbone Up, Misfit Shine, and ActiGraph—to name a few. The peculiar names might reflect the fact that these devices are primarily for exercise—sleep assessment is ancillary.

There are numerous products that can be viewed on the web to help you track your sleep. Personal sleep monitors represent less expensive alternatives than the gold standard for sleep assessment—a “polysomnograph” conducted in a sleep clinic. Actigraphs, which contain accelerometers, are typically worn on the wrist and function by monitoring arm movement. Note that these devices define sleep based on lack of movement. Therein lies a potential problem—a person lying motionless will be tracked as sleeping so the length of sleep given by the device could represent an over-estimate.


The pressure to complete a flight that sometimes ends in an accident is nothing new to general aviation. The same applies to the HEMS industry where pilots in the past could push themselves, resulting the same effect in degraded weather.

In addition to implementing the risk assessment matrix described above, the HEMS industry now typically does not reveal the criticality of the mission to the crew. Because there is no equivalent for the general aviation IFR pilot, there needs to be some way of addressing this problem.

If the trip is that urgent, consider forgoing the use of general aviation. Remember you aren’t flying a transport-category aircraft with the corresponding level of redundancy, and more than likely there’s only one, not two, persons up front. Alternatively, have a rental car or an airline ticket as backup. A rental car can be cancelled and some airlines will allow you to “bank your air fare” should you determine that conditions allow for your personal air transportation.

Wrapping It Up

The improvement in HEMS safety, especially in the realm of operation in IMC, has been remarkable. Even more impressive is that these changes were brought about in the absence of federal regulations.

As IFR rated pilots, it would serve us well to learn from an industry that, by its own design, has made dramatic inroads in their operational safety. Examine your thought process in light of these examples.  

Douglas Boyd, Ph.D. is a Professor at The University of Texas, and a Commercial, SMEL and instrument rated pilot.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

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Do Pilots Need College?
Mary Grady

In my recent wanderings in the online aviation world, I came across this question in a few different places … if pilots are so scarce, why do airlines still require pilot applicants to have a four-year college degree? Especially since they often don’t seem to care what the degree is in … forestry or engineering or English lit all seem to equally make the cut. Getting that degree requires a substantial investment in time, energy and money. Wouldn’t those resources be better spent on building hours and adding certificates? I asked a few professional pilots for their take on this, and came up with some surprising responses.

A corporate jet pilot told me that in fact, many of the airlines don’t expressly require a degree, though it may be listed as a “preference.” Applicants with military backgrounds or extensive corporate experience or outstanding personal references might wrangle an interview. But having the degree is still considered an asset. If nothing else, it shows that you’ve had the skills and fortitude to set a goal and achieve it, and that you’ve probably learned some important life lessons along the way — how to work well with others, demonstrate leadership and all that stuff. In practice, all other things being equal, an applicant without a degree is going to be less competitive.

An RJ pilot told me another consideration for young folks seeking an aviation career is that it never hurts to have a Plan B. You might find out along the way that a pilot career is not that appealing for you, or that jobs disappear because of changes in the industry. Or you could run into a disqualifying medical issue at some point. You can imagine plenty of scenarios where it might not be a bad idea to have another option. In that case, having some kind of useful college degree in your back pocket is not a bad thing.

A charter pilot and former FAA staffer with a varied career flying all sorts of civilian planes told me even if some of the airlines don’t expressly require a degree, not having one “is just a way to get yourself eliminated.” He agreed with the consensus from my small, casual sample, that if an airline career is your goal, skipping the degree is not a good strategy.

Of course, if four years of school means decades of debt, that’s a tougher equation than if your parents are paying the bill for you. If the airline career works out, it should still prove to be a good investment over time. But is the requirement kind of unfair and unnecessary and maybe even discriminatory? I tend to think it is. But as long as the airlines have enough applicants, they can impose any criteria they like.

In any case, I suspect this current pilot crunch is not going to last too long. Older pilots flying today in two-crew cockpits remember when there was a third chair there, for the flight engineer. Younger pilots flying now are likely going to see the day when there’s just one seat in the cockpit. You won’t need a dog for company — a remotely based second officer will be filling that second slot. As soon as the airlines can show that the remote pilot can safely land a jet if the single pilot on board is incapacitated, we’ll be on the road to single-pilot cockpits. And you know what’s next.

Tecnam Astore Flight Trial
Paul Bertorelli

Tecnam has enjoyed brisk sales with its new Astore LSA. AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently took the airplane for a flight trial and shot this detailed video report.

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Short Final

Santa Barbara Municipal Airport has intersecting runways. Runway 7/25 handles all of the airlines and most private jets while the parallel 15/33 pair is for private piston aircraft—long as the normal westerly winds cooperate.

Juggling the vast differences in approach speeds and timing on the intersecting runways requires a lot of skill and experience on the part of the tower controllers; some call it almost an art. However, we are fortunate that the tower crew is almost always on their A game, even when training the rare “newbie.”

Most local pilots help the tower’s coordination on a busy day when on final to Runway 15 L or R, to plan to land long, crossing the intersection with 25 before touchdown. This allows a fast approaching commercial airliner a little more breathing room. This is especially helpful when training aircraft, mostly 152/172’s and the like, are doing repeated pattern work. The local CFIs and the tower staff have a familiar and great working relationship and it pays dividends to both.

Several years ago, as I was on approach to 15 in my Baron and as my approach speed was faster than normal, tower told me to slow down and square my base turn to final due to a 172 landing on Runway 15. I confirmed the instructions and before I could do anything, a familiar instructor voice called the tower saying, “Cessna XYZ will be making a poetic landing to help the Baron.”

Tower’s response, of course was, “What is a poetic landing?”

“A Longfellow,” the instructor replied.

Everybody on frequency gave a mic-click laugh at that one.

Ronald Hays

Santa Barbara, CA

This originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of IFR Magazine, The magazine for the accomplished pilot


Brainteasers Quiz #241: Now What?

In the fast-moving world of flight, the pilot needs to think ahead, anticipate ATC's next transmission and what might happen if you lose, say, an engine. Do that, and you'll fly smart and ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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