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Volume 25, Number 51a
December 17, 2018
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737 May Have Hit Drone
Russ Niles

Mexican authorities are trying to determine if a drone collision smashed the radome and damaged some aluminum on the nose of an Aeromexico Boeing 737-800 landing at Tijuana Dec. 12. Whatever the airliner, which was on its way from Guadalajara, hit, it crumpled the fiberglass and left scratches farther back on the nose and didn’t appear to have left any telltale gore and feathers. Authorities said cockpit recordings captured crew members saying they heard a “pretty loud bang” according to Bloomberg.

The airline said the crew reported the noise to air traffic controllers and asked staff in the tower if they could see any damage to the aircraft. “The exact cause is still being investigated,” Aeromexico said in a statement. “The aircraft landed normally and the passengers’ safety was never compromised.” Confirmed drone collisions remain relatively rare. Canadian authorities determined a drone dented the wing of a King Air near Quebec City in 2017 and a Marine Corps helicopter suffered some rotor damage when it hit a drone over New York also in 2017.

Should Boeing Sell Airplanes To All Comers?
Paul Bertorelli

For today’s preposterous aviation idea, think of something an aircraft salesman would never, ever say: “We’re sorry, although we would like to sell you one of our airplanes, we just don’t think you’re qualified to fly it.”  

OK, maybe a sales force somewhere, somehow has actually said that to a would-be customer, but I’ll bet the thought has crossed the minds of a few people at Boeing recently. If you’ve been following our coverage of the October Lion Air crash, you will have noticed that the airline has gotten into a bit of a one-way pissing contest with Boeing because it claims Boeing was remiss in not informing customers about technical changes in the new 737 MAX series. Specifically, Boeing appears not to have documented an automatic trim and stall-protection system called Maneuvering Augmentation Characteristics System or MCAS.

A preliminary report based on flight data recorder traces confirmed that MCAS was active during the final minutes before JT610 plunged into the Java Sea off Jakarta on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people aboard. No one has directly said MCAS is implicated or even a factor, but the airline’s announced plans to cancel remaining orders for the MAX—$22 billion worth—puts the two companies on a legal collision course and invites news consumers to assume the worst about the accident cause. Lion Air’s owner and co-founder, Rusdi Kirana, has said publicly that Boeing has treated the airline unfairly in the wake of the crash. If that’s so, it might be because Boeing said if MCAS malfunctioned, standard runaway trim procedures would handle the anomaly. And that's exactly what happened on the flight before the accident flight when the crew confronted the same abnormal.

Boeing has declined to comment publicly. At stake is the company’s third largest customer for the MAX, behind Southwest and Flydubai, with some 200 MAX aircraft on order, according to Bloomberg. In the cutthroat competitive world of the single-aisle airline business, the 737 is a cash cow for Boeing and Airbus is ever in the wings to take disaffected customers into its fly-by-wire arms. And there’s nothing like a crash with a subtext of something wrong with the airplane to give a competitor a sales cudgel.  

Consider what we know, without even speculating about the accident cause. Lion Air has a reputation for go-go growth and an accident and safety record so dismal that in 2009, insurance underwriters sent in a consultant to overhaul the company’s safety and training culture. “Buying all the latest-generation, state-of-the-art engineering will be in vain if you don’t have the systems in place to prioritize safety,” the consultant said. In one incident, an inspector grounded an airplane, only to have the airline go over his head to government authorities, who approved the airplane for flight, despite the squawked defect.  

Boeing can read accident-rate numbers as well as the rest of us, so I have to think when they sell airplanes into a safety culture known to be less than the equivalent of developed-world standards, there’s a certain betting on the come to it. An aircraft manufacturer can have only so much influence over how its customers use the airplanes. If the pilot training and maintenance standards are slipshod and government oversight doesn’t step into the breach, the combination is likely to—sooner or later—result in an accident.

And for those who think regulators have little or minimal role, you’re simply flat out wrong. The extraordinary safety record U.S. airlines have achieved is the result of manufacturers’ and airlines’ self interest, advancing technology and prodding by regulators to toe the agreed-to line, despite the expense and bother. Part of that regulation is an independent accident investigatory body—the NTSB in the U.S.—with sufficient resources to conduct accident probes free of meddling. That’s not to say no meddling is attempted, but in the U.S, the flying public can be reasonably certain an investigation is free of taint.

A fully funded and fleshed out accident investigation process is simply the expectation for an air transport system aiming for world-class performance. Here, Indonesia appears not to be ready for prime time. Last week, a National Transportation Safety Committee source said that it didn’t have the money to search and recover the cockpit voice recorder, which certainly contains information vital to a complete accident investigation. As wreck recovery sites go, the Java Sea is relatively shallow and recorders have been recovered in far more challenging locales. Giving up on it is like declaring the jigsaw puzzle complete with half the pieces missing.

I’ve read suggestions that Boeing will end up funding the recovery. I’m sure it could write a check out of the coffee fund. And Boeing may have more of a vested interest than any other entity since how the pilots reacted to whatever emergency they confronted is a critical part of the story if Boeing wants to imply—and let’s be harshly honest about this—that the pilots still had a flyable airplane they should have been able to recover.

Then it will have to begin the delicate business of trying to preserve those 200 MAX orders that Lion Air placed or, at the least, keep the airplane from being tarnished enough to erode further sales. When it sent out emissaries to U.S. pilot unions to explain the mysteries of MCAS last month, it got a start on the latter. Boeing clearly has fence mending to do and part of that process is to learn what really happened to JT610. 

Additional info: Click here for the preliminary accident report on JT610.

Meet Piper the Badass Airport Dog
Great Big Story

Bird strikes cause damage in the millions to aircraft every year and shooing them away is a difficult task. Airport operators use everything from propane cannons to rubber owls and, in the case of Cherry Capital Airport in Michigan, a smart-as-whip Border Collie. In this exclusive video from Great Big Story productions, see how a dog named Piper gets it done. See more here.

Flying Car Prototype Crashes
Russ Niles

A pilot was injured in the runway crash of a prototype flying car at Willow Run Airport near Detroit on Friday. WDIV TV reported the crash happened about 1 p.m. while the Detroit Flying Cars WD-1 was undergoing taxi tests. The station said it was told by Wayne County Airport Authority officials that the WD-1 “unexpectedly went airborne” and crashed on the runway. Images from the scene show the vehicle was heavily damaged. The pilot was taken to the University of Michigan Hospital by paramedics but the nature of his injuries was not detailed.

The WD-1 looks something like the better known Terrafugia Transition but has some different design features. For instance, instead of folding the wings against the fuselage for driving on the road, the wings and canards telescope into and out of storage bays in the fuselage. The flying surfaces are vertically offset so they stow stacked one on the other in the fuselage. The wheels are independently driven by electric motors on the road. In the air, an Airmomentum 100-horspower four-cylinder engine powers the rear propeller. The FAA granted the company a special airworthiness certificate for flight testing in July of 2018.

De-Icing Deficiencies In Canada
Russ Niles

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is calling on Transport Canada to tighten up enforcement of de-icing requirements after it discovered that pilots in the far-flung northern areas routinely take off with contaminated lift and control surfaces. “Our questionnaire results are clear: The lack of adequate de-icing equipment at remote northern Canadian airports and the frequency of flights taking off with contaminated critical surfaces constitute a widespread, recurrent issue that exposes passengers and flight crews to unnecessary risk,” said Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB, in a news release. “It is time that Transport Canada and the aviation industry give people the tools they need to adequately de-ice aircraft. There also needs to be better compliance with the regulations prohibiting takeoffs with ice, snow and frost contamination.”

The TSB is investigating last December’s crash of a West Wind Aviation ATR 42 in northern Saskatchewan in which icing could be a cause. Nine passengers were seriously injured and one passenger died two weeks after the crash. As part of its research the TSB polled pilots working for 83 carriers in remote areas about their de-icing habits and got 650 responses. The investigators were concerned enough about the survey results that they took the unusual step of reporting evidence in advance of the report. “Preliminary analysis of the data shows that pilots frequently take off with contaminated critical surfaces. Responses also indicate that aircraft de-icing equipment is often inadequate at remote northern airports,” the TSB press release said.

Earlier this year, the TSB issued a preliminary report in which it revealed that the only de-icing equipment available to the crew of the crash airplane at the departure airport of Fond-du-Lac, Saskatchewan, was a two-gallon hand pump garden sprayer. “The unavailability of adequate equipment increases the likelihood that pilots will conduct a takeoff in an aircraft that has ice, snow or frost adhering to any of its critical surfaces,” the news release says. “Additionally, the questionnaire responses indicate that, in the absence of adverse consequences, taking off with contamination on critical surfaces is a deviation that has become normalized.” The TSB is calling on Transport Canada to inventory de-icing equipment at airports across northern Canada and ensure compliance with regulations and industry standards. It notes that some federally regulated airports in northern Canada have a 10-month icing season.

16-Day Presidential TFR Starts Dec. 21
Russ Niles

The longest-ever presidential TFR in South Florida goes into effect on Dec. 21 as President Donald Trump heads to his West Palm Beach resort for up to 16 days. The FAA issued the alert earlier this week. Trump’s last Christmas and New Year’s vacation went from Dec. 22 to Jan.1. It’s also not clear if he’ll spend the whole time there as there are some important dates in Washington right after the New Year.

The alert seems to predict a standard VIP TFR for the Palm Beach area, including the 10 nautical mile no-fly zone around the resort and 30 nautical mile restricted zone with its transponder and communications requirements. Anyone planning to fly in the area should be aware of the potential for Notams that might include gateway operations.

Chinese Fighter Mystery Solved
Russ Niles

The Air Force has ended speculation about the nature of an aircraft that looked a lot like China’s latest J-20 stealth fighter at a Savannah air base so conspiracy theorists will have to move on to the next one. In early December a fuzzy photo of an object with some of the characteristics of the relatively new front-line fighter sitting in broad daylight on the ramp on the military side of Savannah-Hilton Head Airport in Georgia was published by Theories ranged from a defection to a movie prop to the more mundane and accurate origin of the object. “It is a full scale replica and remained at the Air Dominance Center for a short period during the week of 4-6 Dec. The USMC is funding and directing the training objectives of this device," Col. Emmanuel Haldopoulos, Commander of the Savannah Air Dominance Center, said in an email to the website.

What Haldopoulos didn’t say is how they use the seemingly elaborate replica, and for what purpose(s). Engine plugs are in place but could be just for show and the workmanship doesn’t seem to be up to high-performance military aircraft standards. The website’s thorough research and consultation with Chinese military observers had pretty much debunked any notion of the aircraft being real by the time the Air Force got back to them. The comparison photos prepared by the website, showing the incorrect position of the vertical stabilizer, wrong engine nozzles and landing gear above, make it pretty obvious.

Lycoming 'When can an engine give you 200 extra flying hours?'
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Cutter Aviation Patriarch Dies
Russ Niles

Bill Cutter, a well-known figure in business aviation died Tuesday at the age of 86. Cutter led Cutter Aviation, taking over from his father William P. Cutter, who founded the business in 1928. Cutter spent his life in aviation and in the Cutter family business, personally interacting with staff and taking a hands-on role in running it. He and his son Will built the Phoenix-based company into one of the largest chains of FBOs in the Southwest with locations from California to Texas. He held an ATP and numerous type ratings and flew his beloved Beech Staggerwing in his later years. 

Tributes poured in from colleagues and dignitaries in the business aviation industry. “Bill Cutter will be remembered as a successful industry pioneer and affectionately as a patriarch in the aviation business community,” said National Air Transportation Association President Gary Dempsey. "He and his company developed a higher standard in aircraft sales, service and support for Beechcraft Aircraft Sales and many other OEMs.” Cutter won numerous honours during his long career, including Beechcraft’s Man of the Year and being inducted into the Pima Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame.

Boeing Charters Antonov For Engine Shuttle
Russ Niles

Boeing is looking to Russia to help keep the production schedule for its 787 Dreamliner assembly lines in January. The company needs to airlift engines from the General Electric plant in Columbus, Ohio, to its factories in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Everett, Washington, to prevent falling behind in orders. There’s only one aircraft in regular service that can handle the engines, which weigh as much as 36,000 pounds. Russian Airline Volga-Dnepr operates An-124 transports and takes outsized loads all over the world but it can’t legally do the engine shuttle.

Only an American carrier is allowed to fly point-to-point within the U.S. and Volga-Dnepr has to apply for an “emergency exemption” from the Department of Transportation to do the work and has asked for up to 10 flights. “Failure to deliver the engines by air could delay production and subsequent delivery of Boeing airplanes, which would cause financial harm to GE Aviation, Boeing and their customers,” Volga-Dnepr said in its application. The aircraft, which has payload of 330,000 pounds, and the airline were granted approval to do eight engine flights in December.

Take the Guesswork Out of Your Aviation-Related Purchases with 'Aviation Consumer' Magazine
Top Letters And Comments, December 14, 2018

Fuel Strainer Lottery

A significant omission from Jeff Parnau's very interesting article is the Decathlon's fourth fuel drain point under the rear fuselage aft of the rear seat that is easily overlooked. It is there because the gascolator is not the lowest point in the fuel system when the aircraft is parked.

The plumbing to this drain can hold a lot of water and this moves forward to the gascolator when the tail is raised on takeoff.

This all fits with the description of this accident.

Australian regulations require sump drains before the first flight of the day and after refueling.

Dick Gower

Autonomous Anything

My answer to your question is all of the above:

  • Yes, autonomous cars would be a sensible alternative for a short hop.
  • But realistically they are a long way off before we see WALL-E like performance.
  • For now, they are a promoters/hedge fund manager's pipe dream. It will take a trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure alteration to make this into something other than a wet dream.
  • Until that happens, they'll have to rip the stick/wheel out of my cold dead hands.

Jack Aubrey

Sleep is Underrated

Thanks for the 'ode to the freightdogs' in Paul Berge's "Sleep is Underrated" article. It's nice to hear it from the other side. The feeling is mutual.

I'm sure I speak for the majority (of freightdogs) when I say 'thanks' for all the great treatment by nighttime ATC-ers around the country. We could always tell when a dayshift-regular was working graveyard. No self-respecting nighttime controller would ever put an airliner in front of a check hauling MU2 on approach! 250 to the marker was never a problem.

Reading the article brought back many great memories. Do I miss it? What the author said.

Paul J.

I do miss the night flying I used to do. I never worked a job with rotating shifts but did work 6 years on 3rd shift at my precious career so my first flying job flying on demand night freight was not a problem for me. Sometimes it hits you around 5:30 am but for the most part I did not have problems staying awake or sleeping during the day. I have to credit ATC for being helpful when flying in middle of the night dodging thunderstorms or setting me up to dive bomb a glide slope avoiding ice buildups or that short vector to join the localizer at the FAF on the ILS. Most night flying avoids a lot of the traffic issues that are common during the day (except the New York area). And no turbulence due to thermals. And when you are a medavac flight you get even more help. When I started to fly passengers during the day on my then fractional job it was a struggle to get used to what most people call normal daytime shift. I still have no trouble staying up late but about 3am is my limit now. And I still hate those 6am departures!

Matthew Wagner

Killer Gas

Please convey my heartfelt thanks to Rick Durden for penning "The Pilot's Lounge #141: Killer Gas." I've been flying with what I consider the best passive "dark spot" CO detector available. Immediately after reading Rick's column, I ordered a small, light, easy to use active detector from Sporty's. On behalf of myself and my family, thank you for sharing, Rick. Much obliged.

Joe Corrao

Nice article on CO detects, Rick! I have subscribed to AVIATION CONSUMER and generally followed its guidance for 15 years now. I installed in my Bonanza the CO detector you recommended well over a decade ago. It finally "died" - "After 10 years this unit will self-destruct!" But then I thought, I climb LOP and cruise LOP, with no CO produced, so I didn't bother replacing my CO unit. So two points to be made.

There is minimal risk of CO if you fly LOP exclusively.

Surely the proactive pilot will heavily insist on his/her mechanic thoroughly inspecting the exhaust, heater box, and cabin heat source (in a twin) at least at every Annual Inspection. Heck, why not be present during that inspection? Further, Shouldn't every pilot learn to do the inspection him/herself, in order to be confident throughout the year and be sure any unfamiliar plane (rental?) is not ingesting CO in the first place?

Attacking the root cause is usually better than addressing symptoms. And "belt & suspenders" might be the best of all worlds in this case!

Jim Herd

Bernoulli Had It All Wrong

Yes, when I was a kid, the first explanation I read for lift used exactly the "straw man" explanation: the camber of the wing means the air going over the top has to take a longer path, so it has to move faster, and then Bernoulli says the pressure drops and holds the wing up. In fact, some versions of the "explanation" went so far as to say that since the bottom of most wings is fairly flat, the pressure there didn't change much, so "most" of the lift was from the "top of the wing". This "explanation" was bunk. But, Bernoulli was entirely right. Starting with the Newtonian explanation, we observe that the wing does, in fact, deflect air downward. Now, for the air to be deflected downward as it passes the wing, the pressure above the wing has to be lower than atmospheric pressure, so that air going over the top is deflected downward, toward the lower pressure. And, below the wing, the pressure has to be higher than atmospheric pressure, so that air going below the wing is deflected downward, away from the higher pressure. But, this means the pressure above the wing (lower than atmospheric) is lower than the pressure below the wing (higher than atmospheric), so air approaching the space above the wing will accelerate toward it, while air approaching the space below the wing will slow down - exactly consistent with Bernoulli's rules. And, the velocity difference is often much bigger than could be explained by the wing camber. Everyone is right, and everyone gets a medal - like Physics Theory Self Esteem Week!

Thomas Boyle

Water. Boats. Wakes. Air. Wings. Wakes. If, through forward motion through the fluid, you evacuate a fraction of the air that occupies the space ABOVE a wing (as occurs with any POSITIVE angle of attack, right out to 90 degrees), the evacuated ("wake") area will exhibit a lower pressure than exists elsewhere locally - as in the space BELOW the wing, for example. Higher pressure below; lower pressure above; wing in between. In which direction will the wing want to migrate? "Lift." Satisfies most pilots; works for all airfoil cross-sections. Compatible with drag, acceleration/stagnation, laminar-flow/separation, Coanda, etc. This reminds me of the sections that I taught at a local community college, where the most common question was: "why should we care?" The dominant attitude was: "I don't need to know how an automobile engine works, in order to drive a car. Why should I NEED to know how an airplane engine works, in order to fly a plane?" Good question.

Tom Yarsley

New Members Join EAA Board
Kate O'Connor

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has announced that Heather Penney and Ben Diachun will be joining its board of directors. Penney, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, flew F-16s for 10 years, has directed U.S. Air Force programs for Lockheed Martin and is now a senior resident fellow for the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies at the Air Force Association. On the civilian side, she has flown a Taylorcraft BC-12 coast-to-coast and raced jets at the Reno National Championship Air Races. Penney is best known for her mission to intercept United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.

Diachun is president of Scaled Composites and part of the team that received the Collier trophy for the development of SpaceShipOne in 2005. He has a Master of Science in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University and a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. Diachun joined Scaled Composites in 2003. Before taking on his current role as president, he served as a design engineer, project engineer, flight test engineer, chase pilot, business development manager and vice president of engineering for the company. He has participated in projects including SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo, GlobalFlyer and the Model 401 advanced research aircraft. Diachun is a commercial pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings.

“We are grateful that Heather and Ben have accepted our invitations to join EAA’s board, whose members volunteer their time and expertise to lead our association as we pursue our mission of growing participation by sharing the spirit of aviation,” said EAA CEO Jack J. Pelton. “Their passion for flight and experience in the aviation community will help represent the wide spectrum of interests among the entire EAA membership.” Penney and Diachun were approved as Class III directors for EAA and will serve one-year renewable terms on the EAA board.

Short Final: Class C Workout

One morning on departure from Peoria International Airport:

Peoria Approach: “I bet you didn’t think you were going to get this type of workout when you asked for the clearance into the Class Charlie, did you?”

Cessna: “Peoria Approach, student pilot here. I enjoy the workout.”

Peoria Approach: “Roger that.”

Unknown aircraft: “If he’s a student pilot, he’s doing great!”

Robert Schapiro
Tampa, FL
Picture of the Week, December 13, 2018
Morning after first snowfall on the Tehachapi mountains. Taken with GoPro underwing mount on Beechcraft Musketeer at 8,500 feet. Photo by Cliff Lowerre.

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