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Volume 25, Number 43c
October 26, 2018
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ERAU Study Finds Drone Collision Risks Near Airports
Kate O'Connor

An Embry-Riddle research study found that remotely operated consumer drones exceeded 400 feet AGL in 6.8 percent of flights tracked and that one flew as close as 0.25 NM from Daytona Beach International’s approach path. The study sought to evaluate “potential aviation interference and safety hazards” caused by small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS/drone) flights. To accomplish that task, researchers used a DJI AeroScope—a passive radio-frequency sensor that can detect, identify and track DJI-manufactured drones—mounted to a building close to Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB) in Daytona Beach, Florida.

According to the study, a total of 192 flights by 73 separate DJI platforms were detected during a 13-day period in May 2018. It was found that drones operated as close as 0.50 NM to public airports and 0.35 NM to heliports. Researchers used the FAA’s UAS Facility Map (UASFM), which shows maximum altitudes for authorized Part 107 operations, to gauge the potential detected sUAS flights had for interference with manned aircraft. They also used ADS-B data to compare times, locations and altitudes of manned aircraft with detected sUAS flights.

“In [one] case, the sUAS was detected at 90 feet (MSL) within 0.25 NM from the approach path of Daytona Beach International Airport, Runway 7L,” the study said. “Just seconds before this detection, an aircraft was on approach to Runway 7L. Assuming the pilot was performing the published ILS approach, the aircraft would have crossed the Runway 7L threshold crossing at a height of 58 feet AGL (88 feet MSL). It is highly probable that the aircraft descended through the UAS altitude while on approach.” The study noted that the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) had not yet been implemented in the area and compliance with UASFM altitudes was not mandatory at the time the data was collected.

The study also compared its data with geofencing zones, looking for indicators of the effectiveness of the geofencing infrastructure. According to the data collected, the researchers determined that “geofencing zones are relatively ineffective at preventing or deterring operators from flying unless they impose operational restrictions.” Geofencing that only provided warning messages or could be easily overridden by the operator did not seem to provide a significant deterrent to sUAS operations.

DJI announced on Wednesday that it “is improving its geofencing technology to refine the airspace limitations for drone flights near airports, in order to provide smarter protection for airplanes in critical areas.” The company says the upgrades take into account standards laid out in the new FAA Reauthorization Act and will be phased in starting in November. It is estimated that DJI holds a market share of 72 percent and its products account for the majority of sUAS operations in the U.S.

Based on its findings, the ERAU research team recommended integrating manufacturer-imposed geofencing protections with the FAA LAANC UASFM grid system with unlock codes issued for authorized flights. They also recommended improvements be made in sharing information about sUAS activity with pilots of manned aircraft. The team has said it intends to repeat the study at additional airports.

The Future Starts Today
Mary Grady

It’s easy to forget, as we move along through our busy lives day to day, that things used to be different. We didn’t always carry computers in our pockets, we didn’t always have seat belts in our cars, and flight planning once involved paper charts and rulers and E6-Bs. It makes me feel pretty old to remember these things, but then age itself has changed—60 is the new 40, they say.

For folks just starting out in aviation, these are the good old days. We’ve reported plenty on the pilot shortage, and now more and more industry players are stepping up to recruit and encourage the next generation—EAA and FedEx are offering millions in scholarship money, and colleges are revamping their programs to provide an on-ramp directly into cockpits. Here in Rhode Island, my local newspaper had a story this week about a new aviation program at the city’s technical school, where students practice on a flight simulator and spend time at the state airport, learning about all the career tracks there. “They are going to find a good ticket to the future,” teacher William McCaffrey told the Warwick Beacon. I presume local papers across the country are likely covering similar developments, which would have been unheard-of not long ago.

More scholarships, more opportunities, more jobs for more people are all good things. It’s tempting to take today’s trends and project them into the future, and see blue skies ahead. But how good are we, really, at predicting the future? How likely is it that today’s projections, over the next four to five decades of a young person’s career, will run afoul of unexpected events, disruptive technologies and unknown unknowns? It’s not realistic to recruit young adults into aviation careers with a promise of assured success. They should also expect struggle, uncertainty, unforeseeable upsets, failures, dead ends and tragedy.

That’s not just aviation, of course—that’s life on Earth. And those of us who have been here a while, I’m guessing, have found it more than worthwhile to take the hard road. Our next generation will go to places we haven’t even imagined yet. Their future may be bright and full of promise—but it won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be predictable. Thankfully.

Supersonic X-Plane Testing Explores New Territory
Kate O'Connor

Wind tunnel testing of NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft is breaking new ground, according to NASA aeronautics researcher Corey Diebler. The X-59 QueSST is part of NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstration mission and is one of the first aircraft specifically shaped to prevent shockwaves from creating sonic booms when it exceeds the speed of sound. The goal of the program is to develop aircraft that can travel at supersonic speeds while remaining quiet enough to overfly populated areas.

“Being a flight test project, it’s always good to know what lies out there beyond the edges of our planned flight envelope and understand how the airplane will behave when it gets in those regions … should we find ourselves there,” said Diebler. “We’re going into a region where we don’t have any other data to guide us.” According to NASA, the recent low-speed wind tunnel test series included static stability and control tests, dynamic forced oscillation tests and flow visualization tests using smoke and laser techniques, some of which can be seen in the video below.

The tests were conducted on a subscale model of the supersonic X-plane and were designed to collect low-speed aerodynamic stability and control data. NASA says the data will be used to develop simulation models and refine flight controls for the X-59. The agency awarded a $247.5 million contract to Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works to build the supersonic X-plane last April. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019, with supersonic test flights over selected communities to gauge reactions to the noise on the calendar for 2023.

So You Want to Be An Airshow Pilot
Jeff Parnau

What on earth (or above it) is the mental state of an airshow pilot? What drives a tiny handful of civilian aviators to spend their every spare moment and dollar in order to earn the badge to fly at "unrestricted" altitudes during a public aerial performance? And does unrestricted mean they can perform as high as they choose? No. It's just the opposite. It means they can fly as low as they choose, right down to the surface. Surface-level waivers are a requirement for such things as inverted ribbon cuts. Going below that level is generally fatal, but against the rules nonetheless.

I've had the opportunity to ride with more than 40 airshow performers over the past 14 years. These are generally called "media" or "VIP" rides, and don't take place during a live airshow. (It's not legal to carry passengers during a performance.)

My first ride, in 2004, was with the former four-ship Red Baron Pizza Squadron, sponsored then by the Schwann Foods Company. They flew 450-HP modified Stearmans. My pilot was Bill Stein, who currently mentors aspiring aerobatic competitors and performers. Bill is also an avid airshow pilot, has a surface level waiver and flies in both solo and formation acts.

But he is also a member of an even smaller club: a tiny subset of the 270 or so U.S. and Canadian pilots with an aerobatic waiver of any sort. (Fewer than half of those waivers are surface-level.) He's an ACE—an Aerobatic Competency Evaluator. An ACE mentors pilots not only in how to execute maneuvers, and how to entertain, but more so on how to stay alive. The process usually takes years, starting with practice at high altitude, and eventually transitioning to actually flying in a real airshow, doing aerobatic maneuvers no lower than 800 or 500 feet. Over time, that floor can be lowered to 250 feet, and if the aspiring performer is capable and committed, they can work on getting qualified down to the surface.

They might also spend nearly a half-million dollars on a custom-built "competition class" aerobatic airplane, designed to do nothing but aerobatics. Or they could work toward building an airshow act with a decent Piper Cub, in the $25- to $50-thousand dollar range. Or a $2-million-dollar-plus restored P-51 Mustang.

The surface-level waiver is not without controversy. Some of the airshow old-timers insist that it's unnecessary and not entertaining. Their arguments include the opinion that at a crowded airshow, only those at the crowd-line (or the fence) can see what's going on. But the more persuasive argument is their belief that low-altitude aerobatic flying is simply dangerous. They want the floor raised to at least 250 feet.

Waiver or not, why don't all pilots just fly higher? My guess: They want to entertain the crowd. They want to present the illusion of danger.

John Mohr. Image: Michael J. Gallagher

One of the masters of illusion was John Mohr, who spent years perfecting his act in a stock 220-HP no-electrical-system Stearman. When John flew, pilots rushed to the fence. Regardless of how many times they had already seen his routine, they stared in awe at how this guy flew. While the average observer thought his flying seemed dangerous, pilots thought it was impossible. They wanted him to finish the flight and taxi in, and were never sure it was going to happen.

Toward the end of the performance, John would do an inverted pass—in an airplane without an inverted fuel system. As he neared the end of the showline, the engine sputtered and became quiet. Fire came out of the exhaust pipes, and anyone who had not seen this before was horrified. What they would not have known was this: John waited for the sputter, introduced some primer, and the hot fuel lit up as it exited the pipes. He then rolled level, the engine came alive, he did a cropduster-style hammerhead, and ultimately finished the performance with a spectacular series of sideslips. The audience was blown away. The pilots in attendance walked away wondering whether the laws of aerodynamics had just been rewritten by John Mohr.

So how dangerous is this business? During the five years ending with the 2017 season, I counted 21 deaths of active U.S. performers who came to their demise either during practice or during an airshow. That's an average of four fatalities per year. That five-year total would represent about 8 percent of all current waiver-holders of any altitude (.077 x 270). If licensed drivers in the U.S. died at the same rate, we would have had nearly 15 million deaths on the road in 2016. In fact there were about 37,000 (.00017 x 221 million).

Image: Michael J. Gallagher

The good news is that there were no U.S. airshow-related fatalities in 2017.

Regardless, we all know that driving is simply not as statistically dangerous as aerobatics, or for that matter, flying a small airplane. But airshow aerobatics? It is in an unenviable class of its own. The kill rate is too high. Yet the adrenaline rush continues to keep this hobby alive. It continues to attract new blood.

Yet there are pilots (including John Mohr) who survived 30 or more consecutive years of airshow aerobatics. Are they just lucky? No way. They are the masters of illusion. Still, they do understand and accept the associated risks.

So do you want to become an airshow pilot? You'll need to get a Statement of Aerobatic Competency card (a SAC card). However, that's a bit more complicated than just an altitude waiver. You will need to demonstrate mastery of the maneuvers or activities you will include in your airshow performance at your waiver level. Here are the categories:

  • High performance sport aerobatics
  • Night performances
  • Pyro
  • Low performance sport aerobatics
  • Gyroplane
  • Wingwalking
  • Car-top landing
  • Car-to-airplane transfer
  • Aerial transfer
  • Formation aerobatics
  • Non-aerobatic formation
  • Inverted ribbon cut
  • Circle the jumper(s)
  • Dog fight
  • Agility maneuvers
  • Piston-powered warbird aerobatics
  • Jet warbird aerobatics
  • Sailplane aerobatics
  • Comedy

Image: Michael J. Gallagher

Comedy? I wonder how they judge that. Hilarious, Funny, Somewhat Funny, Not Funny Enough, Not Funny at All?

Anyhow, what you need to do is hook up with an ACE who can mentor you in one or more of the abovementioned skills, and eventually he or she will hand you off to another ACE for a second opinion, and then you might get a waiver to perform those maneuvers at a certain number of airshows at 800 or 500 feet, and later at more airshows at 250 feet, and ultimately as low as the surface. Anything lower and you're a statistic.

Jeff Parnau is a multi-thousand hour CFII and was the original editor of AVweb sister publication IFR, the magazine for the accomplished pilot. He is currently the editor-at-large at World Airshow News, a six-times annual full-color publication that celebrates the planes and performers in airshows across the globe. Learn more at

Jump Practice For Normandy Begins
Mary Grady

As if it wasn’t enough to be planning to fly a fleet of vintage C-47s above Normandy next June, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the project also includes about 300 parachute jumpers from a variety of historic-recreation groups who aim to honor the veterans of WWII. This week, they flew their first practice jumps, in their WWII-era gear, departing from five C-47s as they practiced formation flying above Oklahoma. “I’m guessing this is the first time That’s All Brother, since it returned from Europe in 1945, has had people jump out,” Joe Enzminger, wing leader with the Commemorative Air Force, told AVweb on Wednesday. The teams flew three times on Tuesday, with about six to 10 jumpers per flight, and will fly again for a public demonstration this weekend at the Wings Over Dallas airshow.

The jumpers aim to “faithfully re-create the historical aspects of their gear and equipment, subject to safety and operational limitations,” Enzminger said, and certain other liberties are also allowed—Tuesday’s jumpers included a woman, who is probably the first of her gender to jump from the plane. “This was an honor and a privilege,” Kathleen Healey wrote on Facebook. “Wearing my old style Quick Release Box (Dial-of-death) Harness ... and having a beautiful view standing in the door.” The Europe flight departs in May, from Connecticut. The organizers expect to fly about 15 jump sorties in Normandy and Berlin. “I have a feeling we’ll be pretty busy dropping jumpers,” Enzminger said.

The first jumpers to depart That's All Brother since WWII.

Airbus Joins Sailing Team
Kate O'Connor

American Magic, the U.S. challenger for the 36th America’s Cup sailing competition, named Airbus its official innovation partner on Tuesday. Together, they will design, build and test a cutting-edge AC75 Class monohull sailboat in time for the Cup races in 2021. As shown in the AC75 concept video below, the 75-foot boat will incorporate hydrofoil technology, allowing its hull to lift fully out of the water and making Airbus’ aerodynamics expertise particularly useful.

“This is a true challenge for the team to see how they can optimize technological innovation under tight time and resource constraints,” said Airbus Executive Vice President Engineering Jean Brice Dumont. “We love good, clean competition. That’s what pushes us to continually improve at innovating, solve challenges, learn from experience and, ultimately, win.” According to Airbus, the company will provide engineering support for the project, including simulation capabilities development, systems architecture design and testing, hydrodynamic calculation and optimization, boat control and instrumentation.

Airbus also partnered with Oracle Team USA for the 35th America’s Cup, which was held in June 2017. Given shared and parallel technologies in sailing and flying, Airbus says the Oracle partnership resulted in an improved wingtip design for the A350 and instrumentation the company now uses on all aircraft development.

The America’s Cup was first awarded in 1851. The competition is considered one of sailing’s oldest and best-known racing events.

Volocopter Expanding Air Taxi Testing
Kate O'Connor

Volocopter announced that it will be performing urban flight tests with its Volocopter 2X eVTOL in Singapore in the second half of 2019. The company says the tests are designed to validate the aircraft’s ability to operate in an urban environment and that it is looking to enable air taxi service in Singapore. Volocopter will be working with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to establish safety requirements and scope for the test flights.

“We are getting ready to start implementing the first fixed routes in cities,” said Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter. “Singapore is a logical partner: The city is a true pioneer in technology and city development. We are confident this is another exciting step to make air taxi services a reality.” The two-seat Volocopter 2X is fully-electric with a 17-mile (27 km) range, 353-pound (160 kg) payload, and a maximum speed of 62 MPH (100 km/h). It is capable of piloted, remote-controlled and fully autonomous flight.

Germany-based Volocopter was granted provisional licensing for the 2X by the German aviation authorities in 2016 and says it is “cooperating with the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) to receive a full commercial license.” The company completed its first public unmanned test flight in Dubai in September 2017. The aircraft flew for the first time in the U.S. during a brief demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2018.

APG's Flight Planning For Jets
Larry Anglisano

In the jet world, it's all about crunching runway performance numbers and the logical way to do it is with a capable tablet app. Aircraft Performance Group (APG) has been offering just that with its iPreflight performance app. Equipped with over 350 aircraft models and 9000 airfields, the new Genesis app goes deep into runway performance calculations, and now a new flight planning utility could make it one of the most capable programs available for jet cockpits.

Aviation Consumer Editor Larry Anglisano got a demo of the app on the floor of the NBAA-BACE conference in Orlando, Florida, and prepared this video report.

Study: ‘Looming Eyes’ Deflect Birds From Planes
Mary Grady

Researchers in France have found that birds display an aversion to “large looming eyespots,” and will avoid locations where they can see the eyespot display. The results were “significant,” the researchers said, and “suggest a high potential for application.” The eyespots are projected on a screen and animated to grow larger, as if approaching the viewer. Birds were tested both in the lab and at an airport, and most responded by turning away or flying away from the screen. The researchers completed more than 8,800 tests with a variety of bird species over five weeks.

In the field tests, the researchers found a few birds would remain in the “zones of visibility.” Some birds may be resistant to the stimulus either because they are particularly fearless, cannot see well or have developed other avoidance strategies, they said. Most of those birds would turn away from the stimulus, “constructing their own visual obstacle.” Bird strikes cost aviation operators about $1.2 billion annually, according to the study. The research was funded in part by Airbus and is published online at Plos One.

Picture of the Week, October 25, 2018
Upsidedown east of Lake Winnebago, Oshkosh, WI. My 38 year dream to fly in a Pitts S2B realized. Taken with an iPhone 5. Photo by Paul Spanbauer.

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Brainteasers Quiz #248: Love Is In The Air

Airline passengers may not feel the love that the carriers seem to be showing for just about anyone with a Commercial certificate, a pulse and, of course, the ability to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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