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Volume 25, Number 14c
April 6, 2018
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FAA Says Pilots Can Conduct Piper Fuel Selector AD Inspections
Kate O'Connor

Owners of nearly 19,000 Piper PA-28s can now perform their own required AD inspections on fuel tank selector placards, the FAA announced this week. The new ADsupersedes an earlier directive issued last January that required inspection of the fuel tank selector cover by a qualified mechanic to verify the left and right tank selector placards are properly located.

According to the FAA, the ADs arose from a report it received from Piper that a “quality control issue” had resulted in the installation of fuel tank selector covers with the placement of the left and right fuel tank selector placards reversed in some PA-28 models. The concern is that the mislabeled placards could cause fuel management errors and result in fuel starvation during flight.

The new AD came about in response to comments from AOPA and others. The organization noted that they “are unaware of any accidents or incidents that have occurred as a result of improper placards.” Also, according to AOPA, allowing pilots to perform the inspection themselves could save up to $763,000 in labor costs. Once complete, the pilot-performed inspection and compliance with the AD must be documented in the airplane's records. If a problem with the placards is discovered, a temporary corrected placard must be installed immediately with a permanent replacement installed within the next 100 hours service time.

Collier Trophy Goes To Cirrus Jet
Mary Grady

The 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy, awarded annually by the National Aeronautic Association for the “greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America,” goes to Cirrus Aircraft, the association announced on Wednesday. The award recognizes the company for “designing, certifying, and entering-into-service the Vision Jet — the world’s first single-engine general aviation personal jet aircraft with a whole airframe parachute system.” Dale Klapmeier, CEO and co-founder at Cirrus, said the company is “honored and humbled” by the award. He dedicated the award to all the employees and partners who contributed to the airplane’s development, production and delivery. “We will celebrate this great honor by continuing to focus on our core mission of creating safer aircraft, safer pilots and safer skies,” he said.

The Vision Jet was certified by the FAA in 2016. The cabin accommodates five adults and two children, and the cockpit features the Cirrus Perspective Touch by Garmin flight deck. Past recipients of the Collier trophy, first awarded in 1911, include Orville Wright, Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 team, Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1, the Boeing 747, Gulfstream 650, Blue Origin and many more aviators, scientists and engineers whose work has helped aviation to progress. Other nominees for this year included the Perlan Project’s high-altitude glider, the 737 Max, and an autonomous helicopter system. The trophy will be formally presented at a dinner hosted by the NAA on June 14, at a location to be announced. AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli flew the jet last year; click here for his analysis.

Two Killed In ERAU Plane Crash
Kate O'Connor

An Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University student pilot and FAA examiner were killedWednesdaymorning when the Piper PA-28 they were flying crashed shortly after takeoff from Daytona Beach International Airport. The aircraft impacted in a pasture and some witnesses said they saw the aircraft's wing separate from the fuselage before the crash.The wing was reportedly located 150-200 yards away from the primary wreckage site. No distress call was received prior to the crash.

This is the first fatal accident involving an ERAU plane at either Embry-Riddle campus since the 2004 midair collision involving two ERAU-Prescott faculty members practicing an aerobatics routine. The last fatal accident involving an ERAU training flight occurred in 1999. “We are cooperating fully with the investigation of this tragic accident,” ERAU VP of marketing and communications Anne Botteri said in a statement to The Daytona Beach News-Journal. “We will be releasing further information as soon as it’s available.”

The victims have been identified as ERAU student and U.S. Navy veteran Zachary Capra and FAA pilot examiner John S. Azma. The FAA and NTSB will be on-site to investigate.

No, ADS-B Isn't Being Delayed
Paul Bertorelli

When I was a young newspaper reporter and just reaching into opinion and commentary writing, it was understood there were certain things you never joked about. One was religion, another was a guy’s wife or a woman’s husband and anything to do with violent crimes was similarly off-limits. I’m adding a new sacred cow: No jokes about ADS-B.

No, not seriously, but after Sunday’s April Fools gag piece about the FAA slipping the ADS-B mandate 20 years, some ‘splaining is due. April Fools jokes sort into three broad categories: the patently silly, the semi-plausible and the deviously deceptive. Judging by the steady patter of email, readers slotted the spoof story into all three categories dependent upon personal predilection. I thought it to be semi-plausible.

“What a hoot. I had to click just to see what was at the end of the line of the April Fools' joke. Orson Wells ... remember the ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast of Oct 30th, 1938? ... has nothing on you,” wrote Jim Holdeman. But others were clearly unamused. “Hey idiot!” wrote one ticked-off reader, “I really thought AVweb was a good thing until the sick joke about the ADS-B extension. Bye and good riddance!” One sharp-eyed reader noted that the wrong picture was used in the story, an illustration of the SDI system, with missiles sailing through space from the USSR. I thought that a good clue that the story was a spoof, but it looked too much like a real ADS-B graphic to be noticeable. An FAA staffer wrote me to say he found the story hilarious, but could I please sorta publish a follow-up to tamp things down? Their phones were getting a little busy.

Bottom line, if you were taken in by the gag and chuckled or you weren’t taken in and chuckled, I’m glad you enjoyed it. If you were or weren’t taken in and you’re steamed about it, please accept my humble apologies. A fool is the editor who intentionally riles up his readers and I certainly didn’t intend to do that. My only weak defense is that if it weren’t for black humor, I’d have no humor at all.

Inadvertently, in publishing the story, I discovered something interesting. All of us who cover this field know there’s a pool of frustration and anger over ADS-B. Some view it as an existential threat to their personal freedom to fly, while others see the entire program as a multibillion-dollar boondoggle wasting their personal and tax dollars. The revelation for me is that I’ve always figured it takes a certain grim humor to willingly own an airplane but not everyone shares the view that laughing about it occasionally eases the pain.

I have been informed by management that I will have more time to become circumspect. The vacation schedules have been amended and it looks like I have the first week of April off through the year 2040.

Thunderbird Pilot Killed In Crash
Kate O'Connor

An Air Force Thunderbird pilot was killed on Wednesday morning when his F-16 crashed during a routine aerial demonstration training flight near Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas. He has been identified as Major Stephen Del Bagno, 34, a 3,500-hour pilot in his first season with the Thunderbirds. According to a U.S. Air Force statement, the cause of the crash, which occurred at the Nevada Test and Training Range, is under investigation.

Due to the accident, the Thunderbirds’ performance at March Air Reserve Base’s “The March Field Air and Space Expo” has been canceled. The Air Force says it doesn’t yet know how the crash will impact the rest of the squadron’s show season. The last aerial accident involving the Thunderbirds occurred in June 2016 when one of its F-16s crashed after doing a flyover of the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. The pilot was able to safely eject in that incident.

This is the second fatal crash of a U.S. military aircraft this week. On Tuesday, a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed near El Centro, California, during a routine training mission, with four crew members presumed dead.

Microburst Destroys Hangar At Houston Hobby
Joy Finnegan

A wet microburst with wind gusts up to 60 mph destroyed a hangar at Houston’s Hobby Airport Tuesday April 3. According to news reports no one was inside the hangar when the microburst occurred and no one was injured. The hangar, owned by Jet Aviation, had four aircraft inside that were damaged. An additional four aircraft outside of the hangar were also damaged. The public information officer at Hobby Airport said, “There's millions of dollars in damage.”

The airport authorities and Jet Aviation are working to remove the debris and prevent FOD from getting to the nearby runway. There were no reported flight delays and operations were moved to the other side of the airport for the time being.

The National Weather Service defines microbursts as a localized column of sinking air (downdraft) within a thunderstorm andis usually less than or equal to 2.5 miles in diameter. Microbursts can cause extensive damage at the surface, and in some instances, can be life-threatening. There are two primary types of microbursts: a wet microburst, which is accompanied by significant precipitation, and dry microbursts, which are not associated with precipitation.

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Engine Theory: Oil
Tom Wilson

(This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue ofKitplanesmagazine. Ed.)This month our ongoing introduction to engine technology begins an examination of the lubrication system by considering the stuff it pumps: oil. Lubrication is a background concern to the average pilot, but it is a must-have because without it, metal-to-metal wear soon reduces any engine to a useless mess of melted bearings and ugly metal shavings. In practice, maintaining correct oil temperature is the direct challenge to most Experimental aircraft builders and pilots.

On Oil

Oil—the stuff of life in internal combustion engines—very much leads a double existence in our air-cooled aircraft powerplants. It’s the obvious working fluid in the lubrication system, while at the same time is a major, if often overlooked, player in the cooling system. It even moonlights occasionally as a substitute hydraulic fluid in controllable-pitch propeller systems.

As a lubricant, oil is mainly responsible for reducing friction among the engine’s moving parts, but it also floats away impurities, provides corrosion protection to the engine’s otherwise un-plated, un-painted metal, and aids sealing the piston rings to the cylinder.

As a coolant, oil transfers combustion heat from the vulnerable, hellishly hot piston and piston pin to the oil cooler where it is shed to the atmosphere. It’s also the main source of cooling for the entire bottom end of the engine, that is, the crankshaft, connecting rods and, most notably, the main, rod, and thrust bearings, plus it is also the main coolant for the valve train where the valve springs are especially needy. In fact, while typical aircraft engines are labeled air-cooled, the only parts mainly air-cooled are the cylinder heads. It would be more proper, if laborious, to say these are air- and oil-cooled engines. The same is similarly true for water-cooled engines, although water’s greater density typically handles a greater percentage of the engine’s waste heat.

Oil the Lubricant

For our purposes let’s note mineral oil (the traditional stuff) is refined from crude petroleum and synthetic oil is the same stuff more highly refined, or a totally different material synthesized from non-crude-oil beginnings. Synthetic oil is more uniform in its molecular structure and contains much less of the extraneous stuff found in mineral oil (waxes and such) that have nothing to do with lubricating engines. Synthetic oil has several desirable qualities to offset its greater cost, most notably it remains stable—does not break down into gummy residues—at high temperatures. Mineral oil begins breaking down noticeably around 240F, while synthetic oil often withstands temperatures hundreds of degrees higher. In fact, high oil temperatures are first a threat to mineral oil, but with some synthetics, the first thing to give is the bearing material in the engine.

One downside to synthetic oil as first sold to aviators was its minimal ability to carry extraneous lead from 100LL gasoline in solution. Said to have been an additive issue, sludge formation has purportedly been a problem with 100% synthetics, and synthetic oil is now offered mainly as a 30% synthetic/70% mineral blend to form semi-synthetic oil. It has no issues with sludge formation.

Oil is also categorized by viscosity, which is the liquid’s thickness, measured by its resistance to pouring at a given temperature. Viscosity is important as it provides the “body” to cushion against metal-to-metal contact. Around cars, oil viscosity is called “weight,” as in “30 weight” and is established in accordance with standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). In aviation this property is formally known as “grade,” and the numbers come out roughly double that of SAE weight. So 100 grade corresponds to 50 weight, for example. Naturally, around the airport “weight” is more often heard then “grade” these days.

Oil weight or grade is matched mainly to the oil’s operating temperature range, although internal engine gaps (between the crankshaft journals and their bearings, or between the piston rings and cylinder walls) play a major role as well. Thus, the light duty cycle of automotive engines means relatively low oil temps, plus these tightly-built engines feature small oil clearances so they employ 20 to 30 weight oils at most. Our oil/air-cooled aircraft engines run hard, long, and put generous heat into the oil, so thick, 50 weight is typical, with some legacy radials running 60 weight, thanks to their cavernous oil clearances.

Single weight or grade oil is just what it sounds like, an oil with a specific viscosity at operating temperature (212F). It is much thicker at cold temperatures. Multi-weight or multi-grade oil, say 15W-50, is a thin 15 weight oil with viscosity improvers added to it. The VI compounds literally coil into tiny balls at low temperature and uncoil into longer strands at high temperature. When balled, the VI compounds don’t impede the oil’s pourability, but when strung out they make the oil thicker.

In our 15W-50 example the oil pours like 15 weight oil at 0F and 50 weight oil at 212F. This helps because, like everything else, oil has an operating temperature range. The thick 50 weight oil in aircraft engines is barely a lubricant at low temperatures—think 45F or colder cold starts—because it doesn’t flow. The oil can be so difficult to pump through the engine’s smaller passages that it momentarily doesn’t flow at all. Engine preheating is a great answer, but a multi-viscosity oil with greatly improved flow at low temperatures is a big, very convenient help, too.

Cold oil, no matter what type, is a real concern. Besides flowing poorly until it gets a bit of heat into it, thick oil causes meaningful drag on engine internals. This makes life difficult for the starter motor and drags down the battery. It also robs engine power and wastes gasoline overcoming the excess drag. But the worst issue is rapid metal-to-metal engine wear due to no or low oil flow. Short of preheating, a multi-viscosity oil and warming the engine in the run-up area until movement is seen on the oil temperature instrument are the practical answers.

At the other end of the thermometer, excessive heat is fatal to mineral oil. As temperature ramps up, mineral oil breaks down, cooks, burns, call it what you will, but it permanently turns into a non-lubricating goo. This process is beginning at 225F, but gets meaningful around 240F, and when conventional motor oil exceeds 260F, it’s rapidly becoming something other than motor oil. That’s why overheated mineral oil must be changed. It’s also a big synthetic advantage; hot oil temps are not much worry to it.

Clearly Goldilocks oil temps are the goal: 185F to 215F. Given an hour of flight time, this is warm enough to burn off the copious water contamination formed by combustion, but not so hot as to break down the oil.


All motor oils are augmented by additives chosen by the oil manufacturer. These differ widely by the oil’s intended use, but what you need to know is most additives are sacrificial. They get used up by engine operation, and either more additives must be poured into the crankcase (not unknown in over-the-road trucking or industrial engines, but not done in aviation or automotive applications), or the oil must be replaced.

Typical motor oil additives address high-pressure lubricity (the camshaft-lifter interface is the big player here), but aircraft engines are also heavy on anti-sludge additives to combat the gray goo formed when leaded gasoline, water, and loose engine tolerances get together, along with acid neutralizers.

Then there are the well-known ashless dispersant additives. Ash is a combustion byproduct formed in the combustion chamber when engines burn oil there. The big players in ash formation are detergent additives, so unlike automotive engines with their essentially oil-tight combustion chambers, aircraft oils avoid detergents. Air-cooled aircraft engines burn oil, thanks to their necessarily loose piston, piston ring, and cylinder wall tolerances, so ash-forming detergent additives are an aviation no-no (and why you don’t run auto oil in airplane engines). Ashless dispersant additives hold what ash that does form in solution so it can be scrubbed out by the oil filter, or (amazingly) failing an oil filter, until the oil is replaced.

Controlling Oil Temperature

Lycoming and Continental provide for both too-cold and too-hot oil temperatures. A thermostat, called the vernatherm (on Lycoming engines), is set to open at 185F. It shuttles cold oil directly through the engine and hot oil through an oil-to-air oil cooler before letting it go through the engine. Thus, oil temperature on these engines is a minimum of 185F, except from between a cold engine start and when the oil warms to 185F. That’s a big “except,” and it’s up to the pilot to avoid high engine loads (such as taking off) when the oil is too cold (below 100F). Few pilots seem to have the discipline to avoid cold-oil engine operation, and low-performance standard category applications and their Experimental equivalents seem to survive such barbarity. But as engine performance goes up, avoiding high-load, cold-oil operation makes a difference in engine longevity.

Maximum oil temperature is controlled by an oil cooler, and on aircraft, these are inevitably oil-to-air radiators. Water-cooled engines mean oil heat can be shed to the water coolant via an oil-to-water heat exchanger; it’s likely the superior strategy, but obviously impractical on air-cooled engines.

Similarly to exhaust systems, the remotely-mounted Lycoming oil cooler lives in the gray boundary between the engine maker’s and the airframe manufacturer’s responsibilities, and therefore many applications leave much to be desired. As Experimental aircraft builders, we are responsible for everything, and dealing with the many variables in constructing an efficient oil cooling system is a major creative area for us.

Rotax engines are supplied and typically run without a thermostat (vernatherm). But the popular Rotax four-strokes are also dry sumped. Dry sumping means there is a larger oil supply, so the oil spends relatively more time outside of the engine in a tank and therefore naturally sheds more heat than a conventional wet sump Continental or Lycoming. Rotax’s are also water-cooled, meaning less cylinder head heat ends up in the oil in the first place.

Continentals mount their coolers directly to the engine. They also use the more heat-transfer efficient, more physically durable bar-and-plate style cooler construction. Integrating the engine to the airframe is therefore simplified; an adequate inlet and cowl flaps are typically sufficient.

Oil Analysis

Critically examining drain oil gives an excellent window into what’s going on inside the engine. Specialized labs offer such services; they use spectroscopy and other advanced methods to accurately detail in minute quantities what’s in the oil, and thus the engine.

Excessive amounts of steel could foretell cam and lifter failure for example. High aluminum counts might be piston or piston plug wear, iron is likely from piston rings, tin is normally from bearings, and so on. The oil’s composition is also easily tracked, so additive depletion or contaminations are easily spotted.

Oil analysis is a powerful tool, especially when used regularly so changes can be quickly and accurately identified. Of course, it’s also an added expense, so most private operators use it occasionally or when problems are suspected. At the least it’s another tool to be aware of, at best it’s a regular part of a thorough engine operation program that gives peace of mind, looks good at resale, and just might catch impending disaster.

Sidebar: Why So Much?

Filling the typical airplane engine during an oil change feels like topping off a super tanker—why do they hold so much oil anyway?

There are several reasons. Firstly, the more oil available, the fewer trips through the engine any given amount of oil makes per unit of time. So, more oil means less contamination, less rapid oil heating, and maybe a touch less total oil temperature. But mainly our good old, loose-tolerance, air-cooled aircraft engines draw oil past the piston rings and burn it in the combustion chamber, sometimes dramatically.

When the regulations were written decades ago, massive oil consumption was fairly normal because cylinder sealing wasn’t as good as today. Thus, typical 6-cylinders are allowed nearly a quart of oil an hour(!) consumption, so a seven-hour leg with long-range fuel tanks means it’s possible to consume five quarts during such a trip.

In the modern world, oil consumption should be more like a quart every 10 hours, and you’ll also find putting 12 quarts in a 540 Lycoming or eight quarts in a 360 results in one quart blown out the engine breather and down the aircraft’s belly in about an hour. This is why the old hands always run a quart lower than the placarded maximum.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue ofKitplanesmagazine.

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Verizon Testing Drones For Cell Service
Paul Bertorelli

As airborne drones find ever more applications, Verizon is testing unmanned aircraft to provide cellphone service after a natural disaster. The 200-pound drones are being used in the latest in a series of tests Verizon has been conducting since 2016, according to USA Today.

The aircraft, which carry equipment called a femtocell, can be deployed quickly to provide focused cell coverage to an area that has lost terrestrial coverage because of storms, fires or other damage. The drones are capable of flight times between 12 and 16 hours and are powered by a 3 -HP gasoline engine driving a tractor prop. They’re designed to fly at 3000 feet and below.

Verizon has been testing the latest version of this technology at Cape May, New Jersey. The drone was escorted by a manned aircraft to assure separation from other aircraft.

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NASA Super Computers Aim At Aircraft Noise
Paul Bertorelli

On an airliner, engines are a source of noise heard on the ground, but so is airflow over landing gear, flaps and slats. Using massive supercomputers to model airflow, NASA is seeking ways to reduce such noise. This AVweb video explains the project.

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Winnie the Hangar Dog
Winnie the hangar dog keeps careful watch over all the happenings at Santa Paula Airport (KSZP) in Santa Paula, California. Here, Winnie supervises the reassembly of Tim Just's beautiful, recently acquired Wolf Pitts biplane, "Samson," at Ray's Aviation. This photo was sent to us by Allie Hoyt, a private pilot and A&P mechanic. You can follow Allie on Instagram @thatladylindy.

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