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Volume 25, Number 52c
December 28, 2018
 
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Autoland Runway Excursion Blamed On Pilots
 
Russ Niles
 
 

German investigators say a runway excursion by Boeing 777 that was on autoland was the fault of the pilots. The unusual incident happened in November of 2011 at Munich Airport but the report from the German BRU was just released this week. The BRU found the Singapore Airlines crew initiated the chain of events that led to the autopilot putting the aircraft on the grass. It was reported by Aerossurance on Monday. The flight was arriving from Manchester in the U.K. and was just about to touch down when an RJ85 taking off farther down the runway momentarily blocked the signal from the localizer at the opposite end. For a few seconds, nothing and no one was in control of the aircraft, which was less than 50 feet above the runway.†

The widebody banked left before landing on the left main gear and veering left off the runway, even though the captain hit the go-around button on the throttle lever. The pilots were only able to gain manual control when they kicked right rudder, sending the big jet back across the runway where it finally stopped in the grass on the right side. There were no injuries and the plane wasn’t damaged. The investigation concluded the aircraft performed as designed and blamed the pilots.

The crew’s mistake occurred when they got their final weather report for the destination airport. As per their company’s procedures, the captain took over from the first officer as pilot flying because of the low visibility (1.25 NM) and ceiling (300 feet). Even though the conditions didn’t require it (they were CAT I), the captain decided to let the plane autoland but he didn’t tell controllers. The controllers were operating under CAT I procedures, which allowed them to clear the regional for takeoff ahead of the approaching 777. Had the controllers known the 777 was autolanding, the investigators said the controllers would have held the RJ85.†

The timing of the events proved critical to the eventual outcome. The localizer signal was interrupted just as the 777 was about to touch down. When it banked left, the captain hit the automatic go around but not before the gear touched and caused the aircraft to reject that command. It instead went into the roll-out mode. The pilots were, however, able to manually retract the spoilers in anticipation of the go around and that likely contributed to their wild ride on the ground. The BRU recommended that flight crews be brushed up on the regs and do more sim training for localizer deviations. The mishap was caught on video.

Kitty Hawk: Spanning Time And Distance
 
Paul Bertorelli
 

When, in 1927, it was decided to erect a monument to commemorate the first controlled powered flight of an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the place was considered so remote that Congress figured no one would ever deliberately visit such a fly- and mosquito-infested sand spit. So isolated was Kitty Hawk, that the planners assigned to the memorial task required a five-day round trip from Washington just to survey the site.

Clearly, there was to be no aeronautical Lincoln Memorial in such a wasteland and Congress instead settled on what’s there now: a simple, albeit impressive, stone monument rendered in the Art Deco style that reads as fresh to the eye now as it did when it was dedicated in 1932, attended by Orville Wright, who was then 61. (Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912.) To justify the project, Congress ordered a light placed atop the monument and anointed it as a Coast Guard coastal navigation aid.

The monument now commands the center of the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk and it alone is worth both the visit and the semi-arduous trek to the top of Kill Devil Hill. The Wrights did that climb many hundreds of times, dragging gliders upslope, teaching themselves the rudiments of aeronautics a handful of seconds at a time, between crashes, skids through the sand and uncommanded turns they called “well digging.”

The monument was restored in 2008 and recently, in time for this year’s First Flight Day on Dec. 17, the museum/visitor center got a facelift, too, as I reported in this video. Some 88 years after the fact, the park service seems to have similarly assumed that Kitty Hawk is still too far off the main bus line to warrant a more ambitious facility than the one originally erected there in 1960.

That’s perhaps one reason to explain declaring the original building architecturally important enough to preserve and restore. It was built under a program called Mission 66, in which the Park Service planned to—and did—dramatically expand facilities by 1966. As such, the design is efficient and spare—in other words, cheap. It was the first structure of its kind on a national park, so that's another reason the Park Service restored it, I suppose. It’s basically slab-sided concrete reminiscent of a 1960s elementary school with a splash of Eero Saarinen. There’s room on the site for a larger museum and that may yet happen. But not this time.

It’s a minor complaint, because the exhibit designers did a terrific job of reworking the interior with new displays that tell the Wrights’ story in satisfyingly rich detail. The museum’s main arena, called the Flight Room, has a replica 1903 Flyer and one wall dedicated to an all-encompassing technical evolution of the Wrights’ journey from kites to controlled powered flight. Give it 10 minutes and you’ll have a grasp of the Wright genius. One intent is to ignite youthful interest in STEM pursuits and that it ought to do.

I’ve been visiting the Outer Banks and Wright Memorial since the early 1970s, yet in all that time I’ve never been unaffected by the place. The impact of the Wrights’ achievement in such a remote place has always struck me as a tableau of time and distance. The inscription wraps the monument with these words: “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived by genius. Achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”

It’s a nice 25 words and what a speech writer might call reaching for the marble or, in this case, granite. When you consider the distance the Wrights had to travel just to reach Kitty Hawk, dauntless resolution seems an understatement. From Dayton, it was a four- or five-day trip that entailed a sometimes precarious boat trip across Albemarle Sound. Crates were necessary to bring all the materials and supplies: ash and spruce for the structure; muslin fabric; needles, scissors and knives; wire; steel fasteners; wrenches and sockets; nails, screws; planes and spokeshaves; handsaws; chisels; screwdrivers; hammers; glue; clamps; weather instruments; camping gear and provisions. And a camera. Wilbur’s expensive Korona-V view camera was the Hasselblad of its day whose use was well in keeping with the brothers’ scientifically rigorous approach to flight test. It also cemented for posterity that only the Wrights had incontrovertible documentation that they were the first to achieve powered controlled flight. The Wrights made four trips to Kitty Hawk, culminating in the 1903 powered flight. Orville returned in 1911 to conduct extensive glider experiments.

At this year’s First Flight ceremony, Darrell Collins, a now-retired park ranger well known for his interpretive talks on the Wrights, invited the audience to once again consider both distance and time. The Wrights ignited an astonishing chain of events that, within the typical lifespan of a human, led from footprints in the sand of Kitty Hawk to bootprints in the regolith of the Sea of Tranquility. Slicing those years into subsets reveals more progress to ponder. The press was blasť about the 1903 flight and while the Wrights weren’t secretive, they continued work in Ohio toward practical aircraft. Five years later, Wilbur’s flight demonstrations in France electrified Europe and the world.

Wilbur didn’t live long enough to see the era of rapid aeronautical advancement, but Orville did. He died in 1948 at the age of 77, long enough to see his work result in all of the world’s oceans being spanned by the airplane, the jet engine, supersonic flight and routine airline travel to compile the shortest list. When I was interviewing Wright historian and author Tom Crouch for the video, he said he’s sometimes asked if the Wrights hadn’t come along at the opportune moment, would these things have happened anyway.

“That question is almost impossible to answer, because the people who came behind the Wright brothers were all inspired by the Wright brothers,” Crouch says.

If that was true 15 years after the Wrights flew, it’s still true 115 years after December 17th, 1903.

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Experimental Aircraft Accident Rate Falls
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

The number of fatal accidents in experimental aircraft has declined for the fourth year running, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Just 44 fatal accidents were recorded for the period between Oct. 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2018, for experimental category aircraft including amateur-built, racing, exhibit-only, research and development and some types of light-sport aircraft.

“These are historic lows for fatal accident in amateur-built and experimental category aircraft,” said EAA Vice President of Advocacy and Safety Sean Elliott. “In addition, the FAA in 2010 challenged the aviation community to reduce the accident rate by 10 percent over the next decade. We are proud to say through a focus on safety, that goal was reached in just eight years, two years earlier than anticipated.”

The “not-to-exceed” goal set for the experimental category by the FAA for its 2018 fiscal year was 51 accidents. The “not-to-exceed” goal has been lowered—and successfully met—each year since 2015, when it was set at 64 accidents in the category. EAA says it has worked closely with the FAA and NTSB on recommendations to reduce fatal accidents.

Boeing, Sikorsky Debut New Army Helicopter
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

Sikorsky and Boeing offered the first look at their new military utility helicopter this week. According to Boeing, the SB>1 Defiant was designed to “fly at twice the speed and range of today’s conventional helicopters” as well as offering “advanced agility and maneuverability.” The Defiant was developed for the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program, where it will be competing with Bell’s V-280 Valor tilt-rotor.

The Defiant design uses technology developed from Sikorsky’s X2 Technology Demonstrator, which won the Collier Trophy in 2010. Boeing and Sikorsky say the Defiant will “help inform the next generation of military helicopters.” Features include active vibration control, a rigid rotor system, pusher prop, fly-by-wire flight controls and composite fuselage. The helicopter will fall in the 30,000-pound weight class, and have room for a four-person crew and a cabin capable of carrying 12 combat-equipped troops. The SB>1 Defiant demonstrator is expected to fly for the first time in 2019.

Innovation Forum To Be Held At AIAA SciTech
 
Kate O'Connor
 
 

The Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation is partnering with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) to present a two-hour Innovation Forum at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition. Representatives from companies and organizations such as NASA, Aerion, Aurora Flight Services and GoFly will give short presentations on concepts including unmanned air traffic management, commercial supersonic flight, high-performance electric aircraft and personal flying devices.

"The Lindbergh Innovation Forum is a platform to showcase innovation in aviation, from a name that is synonymous with aviation transformation," said Executive Director of the Lindbergh Foundation Arvind Iyer. "We are honored to partner with AIAA to feature some truly breakthrough work at the 2019 AIAA SciTech Forum." The first Lindbergh Innovation Forum was held at AirVenture 2018.

The Innovation Forum at AIAA SciTech will be moderated by Erik Lindbergh, president of VerdeGo Aero and grandson of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. It will take place on Jan. 9, 2019, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, California. The forum is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. PST and will be streamed online on the Lindbergh Foundation website. The recording will also be archived on the site for later viewing.

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Picture of the Week, December 27, 2018
 
 
Santa flies into Bowman Field, Louisville, KY, in a Waco loaded with gifts for approximately 100 disadvantaged children. Photo taken with a Garmin Virb XE remote operated from iPhone app. Photo by Steve Koch.

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Christmas Day Crash Kills Two
 
Russ Niles
 
 

Two people aboard a pressurized Beech Baron were killed but there were no injuries on the ground when the twin crashed into a residential area of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, late in the afternoon of Christmas Day. The Baron, which is registered to retired plastic surgeon Dr. Vaughan Meyer, was on final for the Sioux Falls Airport when it crashed about three miles southeast of the airport. At least two houses were damaged and four more were evacuated when the aircraft went down just after 5 p.m. Neighbors grabbed fire extinguishers and were able to get the fire under control as first responders dispatched. The body of the pilot was found immediately but it took several hours to find the body of the passenger, which was trapped in the wreckage.

The plane was on a flight from Grand Rapids, Michigan, had been cleared for landing and was on final. The tower controller noticed the aircraft was low and ordered the pilot to break off the approach and to climb and maintain 3,000 feet. There was no response and the controller asked other aircraft to monitor 121.5. The NTSB has dispatched investigators to the scene.

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