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Volume 25, Number 18c
May 4, 2018
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Parachutes For Drones: People Protectors
Paul Bertorelli

While drones are increasingly used near crowds, the FAA still prohibits their flight directly over people. As a means of gaining FAA approval to fly drones over crowds, a company called Indemnis has developed a fast-deploying ballistic parachute that’s designed to resist entanglement if the aircraft is tumbling or spinning, thus making crowd flights safer.

Parachutes for drones aren’t a new idea, but heretofore the focus hasn’t been protecting people or property on the ground, nor, claims Indemnis, have these parachutes been able to reliably resist fouling following the violent tumbles multi-rotor drones suffer when rotors fail or the operator loses control. In this podcast recorded at AUVSI XPONENTIAL in Denver, Indemnis CEO Amber McDonald said the company’s parachute system anticipates FAA requirements for recovery systems that will make flying over crowds acceptably safe.

The Nexus parachute system deploys a round canopy within 30 milliseconds of a deployment command using compressed air in current models but a pyrotechnic in future iterations. The canopy is shot through a stiff fabric tube that extends clear of the drone’s rotors, thus allowing inflation outside the drone’s roll radius, thus eliminating or at least reducing the probability of entanglement.

The Indemnis system attaches to the drone as a small tube pointed downward. It has its own controller and can be deployed manually or automatically if the aircraft exceeds normal flight parameters. Nexus is mostly self-powered but draws a small amount of power from the drone to keep onboard capacitors charged up. Indemnis hopes to offer the system by the end of 2018.

One Aviation Facing Further Evictions
Kate O'Connor

One Aviation is on the brink of eviction from its facilities at Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), according to AIN. The company allegedly owes the City of Albuquerque more than $895,000 in back rent. This development is the latest in a series of struggles for One Aviation, including two rounds of layoffs in 2017, eviction from its Brunswick, Maine, hangar facility for failing to pay rent last October, and potential legal action from the state of Wisconsin for failure to keep up with payments on more than $3.5 million in loans.

The City of Albuquerque issued a Notice to Surrender Property or Cure Default on April 26, giving One Aviation until May 8 to either pay or leave. In terms of what the city has planned for the facilities, the Albuquerque Journal reports that $250,000 in economic development incentives are under consideration for charter company CSI Aviation to “renovate the former headquarters of Eclipse Aerospace.” The project is expected to go before the Albuquerque City Council in May.

One Aviation was formed by a merger of Eclipse Aerospace and Kestrel Aircraft in 2015. The company has been developing the Kestrel 350 single-engine turboprop and the Eclipse EA700 (Project Canada) twinjet. The Kestrel 350 first flew in 2006, but the project has taken a backseat to the EA700. So far, only the EA700’s wing—attached to a modified Eclipse 500—has undergone flight testing.

XCOR Assets Sold To Build A Plane
Mary Grady

Build A Plane, the nonprofit that offers kids a chance to restore an airplane using donated aircraft, now is expanding into rocketry, and with help from a major unnamed donor, recently bought up the assets of XCOR, the bankrupt company that had been working to build the Lynx spaceplane, for $1.1 million. “Our donor heard about this XCOR sale,” Build A Plane President Lyn Freeman told AVweb this week. “We were the top bidder, and now we own all these assets—rocket motors, test equipment, machining equipment, two rocket-powered airplanes, the Lynx prototype and lots more—at their two sites in California and Texas.” Freeman is now sorting through all the materials to see what will best support Build A Plane’s two newest projects — Build A Rocket, and a plan to build a school to train students for aerospace careers.

The Build A Rocket program already is well underway, Freeman said. “We’ve developed 50 rocket kits, and we are going to give them away to 50 schools this fall,” Freeman said. Teams will compete to qualify for the free kits, which can be assembled into 18-foot-high rockets capable of reaching 30,000 feet. “It takes a team of high school or college kids just a couple of days to assemble these … and they are pretty sophisticated,” he said. “We are also working with several colleges to build the first student-built rocket to reach space, 60 miles high, next year sometime.” Freeman said Build A Plane also is working on a project with Sage-Cheshire Aerospace to open a high school in southern California that will provide technology-focused, hands-on aerospace education.

Flying Cam's Remarkable Camera Drones
Paul Bertorelli

You may never have heard of a company called Flying-Cam, but you've seen its work in films like the James Bond series and the Harry Potter films. In this video shot at AUVSI's XPONENTIAL 2018, the company's Emmanuel Previnaire gives us a tour of the company's entire history of helicopter-mounted cameras.

Drones For Storm Recovery: Useful, But Challenging
Paul Bertorelli

Following a major natural disaster, there’s no better way to quickly assess damage than by aerial survey. But companies doing that work following 2017’s intense hurricane season found that while flying the drones is easy, preparing the operation and sorting the data is anything but.

At a panel program on drone use during last season’s hurricanes, three experts in the field told a uniform story: Logistics and planning take far more effort than launching and flying a drone. “If you think you’re going to show up with a drone under your arm and be a superhero, it doesn’t work that way,” said Chris Todd, who owns Miami-based Airborne Response, a UAS company. Other drone companies ran into similar problems.

“The challenge we ran into in Texas is that we don’t have an airspace plan. Florida has an airspace plan,” said Justin Adams, president of the Center for Robotic Search and Rescue. He said damage assessment flights were frequently delayed while operators worked out access to the airspace, a process complicated by the lack of internet access and reliable communications. Adams, Todd and Jarrett Broder of Florida State University all agreed that logistics worked out ahead of time are essential if drones are to be useful in post-storm work.

So is understanding how to process and distribute the massive amount of imagery drones are capable of collecting on even a short flight. Who gets the data? How is it indexed and geo-referenced? “Data processing is just as important as the flying. If an operator flies for hours, all he wants to do is eat and go to bed,” said Broder. But once the flying is done, the critical job is to get the imagery to the state and local agencies that can use it.

All three said flying is the least challenging part of the post-storm response. Positioning supplies, finding fuel and housing and coordinating flight assignments to best effect is far more difficult. For more information, listen to this podcast  recorded with Chris Todd at AUVSI this week.

NTSB Releases Video Of 2017 Air Canada Incident
Kate O'Connor

The NTSB has opened the docket on Air Canada Flight 759, which mistakenly overflew a taxiway at San Francisco International Airport, barely missing four other airplanes. Information released by the NTSB included the video below, showing Flight 759 in the upper left, and more than 500 pages of reports, interviews, documents and data on the incident. The event occurred on the night of July 7, 2017.

According to the NTSB, the A320 was cleared to land on runway 28R at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) but lined up for parallel taxiway C instead. Four other airliners awaiting takeoff clearance were on taxiway C. Flight 759 initiated a go-around after overflying the first airplane on the taxiway.

From statements made in an interview with investigators, it appears as though the captain mistook the lights on runway 28R for those on 28L and taxiway C lights for 28R runway lights. Runway 28L was closed at the time of the incident and its lights were off. The flight data recorder shows that the go-around was initiated at 84 feet AGL and the aircraft descended to an altitude of 59 feet AGL before it began to climb. The captain had approximately 20,000 hours flight time, more than 4,500 of which was in the A320.

The docket only contains the information collected by investigators. The NTSB will release its analysis, recommendations and probable cause at a later time.

UPDATED: Nine Killed In C-130 Crash
Kate O'Connor

UPDATED: An Air National Guard WC-130 Hercules crashed near the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) in Savannah, Georgia, on Wednesday. It has been confirmed that there were nine people onboard, all of whom were killed in the accident. A press release from the National Guard 165th Airlift Wing stated that the aircraft was on training mission and it is also being reported that this was mission was scheduled to be the aircraft's last military flight. The names of the victims have not yet been released.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defense said the aircraft, which was used for weather reconnaissance, was part of the 156th Airlift Wing based in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The plane was reportedly enroute to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona when it went down at the intersection of Highway 21 and Crossgate Road. The Savannah Professional Firefighters Association said there was a significant post-crash fire, causing road closures that are expected to last for several weeks. According to SAV, some commercial flights at the airport were also affected. The Air Force and the National Guard Bureau are investigating the accident.

The crash is the latest in series of fatal military accidents this year. In a single week this April, five military crashes killed seven service members.

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