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Volume 26, Number 14d
April 4, 2019
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Ethiopian MAX Crash: Pilots Followed Boeing Recommendations
Paul Bertorelli

The pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 that crashed on March 10 appear to have inconsistently applied Boeing recommendations to disable the MCAS stall-protection system. But they failed to recover the aircraft for reasons still unclear.

The Wall Street Journal, relying on sources who have seen the flight data recorder readout, reported that the pilots, upon experiencing uncommanded nose-down trim, used the 737’s stabilizer trim cutout switches. And while the 737 MAX 8 retains the manual trim wheels it has had from day one, it’s not known if they used these to re-trim the aircraft. The sources told the Journal that the pilots appeared to have reengaged the stabilizer trim cutout switches, which would have re-enabled the MCAS stall protection system.

The airline and Boeing insisted that the pilots of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 had been briefed on MCAS and potential abnormals after the Oct. 29, 2018, crash of a Lion Air MAX 8 in Indonesia. Investigators are focusing on the potential failure of the single angle-of-attack sensor that fed the MAX’s MCAS—Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System—an automatic background subsystem that feeds in nose-down trim when the aircraft is hand flown with flaps up at high angles of attack or high load factors. Both aircraft flew cyclic altitude and vertical speed excursions before crashing at high speed.

Boeing was widely criticized for delivering the MAX series without a specific recommendation for training or documentation on the MCAS system. The airplane maker is developing new software for MCAS, but it’s not expected to be available for several months.

Piper's Dej� Vu
Paul Bertorelli

Piper opened up Sun ‘n Fun with a bang this week when it announced two new aircraft models, the Piper Pilot 100 and 100i. See the details in Kate O’Connor’s news story and video. These are essentially retools to the venerable Piper PA-28 platform, of which Piper has sold about a gazillion.

It’s also a retooled idea. Industry veterans will recall that Piper tried this very same idea in 1988 with a variant of the Warrior called the Cadet. At the time, M. Stuart Millar, a wealthy businessman who was also a World War II fighter pilot, had leveraged a buyout of the then-struggling Piper. Appalled at the sorry state of general aviation—sound familiar?—Millar’s idea was to gin up demand by slashing prices.

And boy, did he. The Piper Warrior then popular among flight schools sold for $115,000 in 1990, while the Cadet was offered for $60,000, in a VFR version—almost half the price. Piper’s price Delta on the new VFR-only Pilot 100 isn’t quite that large, but at $259,000 ($285,000 for an IFR version), it’s a huge discount over the typical nearly $400,000 glass-equipped trainer.

And at the lower prices in 1988, Piper did stimulate its sales volume—for a time. But the airplanes were being manufactured at unit losses that no amount of volume could recover and by 1991, the company filed for Chapter 11 protection. The Cadet probably wasn’t the sole cause of Piper’s demise, but it was a contributor.

So how is the Pilot 100 to be any different? Good question. In 1990, Piper had two big-ticket rainmakers to sustain it, the Malibu and Cheyenne, although the latter was always low volume. It was also still building Arrows, Archers, Dakotas, Saratogas and a couple of piston twins. Even the Cub made a brief comeback. Now it has high-margin turbines in the M500 and M600 and the piston M350, plus the usual smattering of Senecas and Seminoles. It’s axiomatic in aircraft manufacturing that the higher the price, the higher the margin. Loss leading may work in retail, but it’s a loser in aviation.

And therein lies an important difference. Piper said a “limited number” of Pilot 100s would be available in 2020. That sounds like production allocation to me, meaning only a measured portion of Piper’s limited industrial capacity will be given over to low-margin, entry-level trainers—perhaps just enough to test the marketing water and refine the production economics. With the Cadet, Piper did the reverse. It pumped the numbers up on a money-losing model and if it found ways to take cost out of the build, it obviously wasn’t enough.

In the video, Piper’s Simon Caldecott said Piper has found ways to reduce the build cost, including additive manufacturing for interior parts, technology I’ve seen cropping up elsewhere in aviation. I suspect they’re using more CNC in the factory, too, as is everyone else in the industry.

Then there’s the question of volume. In 1988, Piper tried to force it and the market uptake just wasn’t there. The market is stronger now, by degree, because of demand for professional pilots. In the Pilot 100, Piper appears to be nibbling at the margins to expand it with a price-driven offering, without swinging for the fences. But the reality is, the trainer market is just not huge. Piper said it had an order from L-3 for 240 aircraft of mixed models, representing the largest civil order in the company’s history.

But those are options over 10 years, probably representing two or three aircraft per month. That’s a better place to be than Piper was in 1990, when it was building like mad and pushing airplanes into a lukewarm market and losing on every sale.

Just because history repeats itself, doesn’t mean mistakes have to.

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CubCrafters Double Certifies XCub
Russ Niles

CubCrafters has taken the unusual step of certifying its X-Cub in the primary category, even though it’s already certified under Part 23. The primary category is a more restrictive regime that requires most of the Part 23 testing and engineering but limits engine type, weight and performance. CubCrafters officials attending Sun ’n Fun declined to comment on the new certification, saying it was still an internal discussion. The new certification was approved March 26 and appeared on the FAA website earlier this week.

The primary category was created in the late 1990s to capture simpler, smaller and lower performance aircraft. For conventional aircraft, only four-place or smaller singles with normally aspirated engines weighing less than 2,700 pounds and a stall speed of no more than 61 knots are permitted. Gliders and small helicopters are also eligible. Only a handful of aircraft are registered in the primary category because the certification requirements virtually mirror those for Part 23 and manufacturers almost always use that process.

Video: Autothrottle On Daher TBM940
Larry Anglisano

At Sun 'n Fun 2019, Daher Aircraft introduced a first for turboprop singles: autothrottles. The system is integrated within the TBM940's Garmin G3000 integrated flight deck, providing an additional layer of envelope protection, including automatic descent mode. The company also introduced a new automatic deicing system for the TBM910 and TBM940 models. Larry Anglisano took a look at the new features with Daher CEO Nicolas Chabbert and prepared this video summary.

Lightspeed Donates Headsets To EAA Scholars
Kate O'Connor

The Lightspeed Aviation Foundation announced at Sun ‘n Fun 2019 that it will be providing Lightspeed Zulu 3 headsets to the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) Ray Aviation Scholarship recipients. According to EAA, the headsets will be awarded to each scholar upon completion of their first solo flight and ground school requirements.

“The Lightspeed Aviation Foundation, through its 2019 Growth Initiative, wants to empower great programs, such as this one from EAA, to make them even more effective in expanding and promoting a vibrant pilot community,” said Lightspeed Aviation founder and president Allan Schrader. “As tools for enhanced flight training, we’re thrilled our headsets will help these scholars earn their wings and facilitate clear growth for aviation.”

The first two Ray Aviation Scholarship recipients were announced in February. Scholarships will be available to as many as 100 students funded by $1 million provided by the Ray Foundation. The scholarship program is administered through EAA’s chapter network and EAA reports that more than 200 chapters have applied to participate. As part of the initiative, scholarship students will be tracking their flight training progress on social media.

Video: AirCam Gen-3 Triple Seater
Marc Cook

Phil Lockwood explains the differences in the new Gen-3 AirCam first shown at Sun 'n Fun 2019. More powerful engines allow for a gross-weight increase and the possibility of a third seat. Sorry, back-seat drivers; there are only controls in the front two seats!

Lycoming 'When can an engine give you 200 extra flying hours?'
Sling TSi Makes 13.5-hour, Nonstop Flight from California to Florida
Marc Cook

Sling Aircraft's Jean d'Assonville and Wayne Toddun successfully completed a nonstop trip from Torrance, California, to the Lakeland area for Sun 'n Fun 2019 in 13.5 hours. Benefiting from early tailwinds and an additional 30 gallons of fuel (over the normal 45-gallon long-range tanks), the Sling TSi made the trip with ease, landing with 1.5 hours of fuel, despite the crew having to maneuver around spring weather.

According to d’Assonville, the idea started with the usual need to get aircraft from the company’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance to Sun 'n Fun. “It’s a bit of a flying circus,” he says. “We make many stops because we’re limited by the slowest airplanes with the smallest fuel tanks.” But now that the company has had some success and the two-seat LSAs are available locally, there was only the need to bring the new TSi eastward. So they hatched the plan to fly nonstop.

“We took off at 4:00 a.m., just a bit over gross,” d’Assonville recalls. “We cruise climbed to 17,500 feet at 120 KIAS and 300 FPM or so. For the first bit of the trip we had nice tailwinds and fine weather. But then around New Orleans, we hit a line of rain we couldn’t cross.” Eventually, the crew descended in VFR conditions to within 1000 feet of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Of course, now we’d lost our tailwind and, in fact, picked up a headwind,” says d’Assonville. “We decided that we could continue by throttling back, so we did. We were able to go 100 KTAS on between 4.2 and 4.6 gallons per hour. By comparison, at 17,500 feet, we were going 155 KTAS on 6.8 GPH. Even though we had a 37-knot headwind, we still had the fuel reserves.”

The Sling TSi actually landed at Tampa Executive because Lakeland was closed for the night. After 13.5 hours in the airplane, “which was actually very comfortable,” they said, the next day, they brought the TSi into Lakeland.

The TSi is a heavily updated version of the Sling 4 four-seat experimental. Myriad aerodynamic refinements have upped its performance, as has the 141-HP Rotax 915IS. Built of conventional aluminum, the TSi kits will be available this summer. Estimated finished cost is just over $141,000 (including engine, prop and avionics) but a quick-build option is available, bringing the total to just more than $164,000.

Podcast: EAA Offers Ray Aviation Scholarship
Kate O'Connor

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has begun offering new chapter-run flight training scholarships funded by the Ray Foundation. EAA's Rick Larsen and David Leiting shared the details with AVweb at Sun 'n Fun 2019.

India Blows Up Satellite And NASA's Fuming
AVweb Staff

NASA says the space debris released by India’s destruction of one of its own satellites threatens the International Space Station. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called the action unacceptable and a “terrible, terrible thing.”

India destroyed the satellite intentionally last week in a test of anti-satellite technology it has developed. NASA said the satellite shattered into thousands of pieces, many large enough to damage the ISS, but not large enough to track.

G. Satheesh Reddy, the chief of India's Defense Research and Development Organization, said a low-altitude military satellite was targeted with the goal of reducing the risk of debris. “That's why we did it at lower altitude—it will vanish in no time," Reddy told Reuters. "The debris is moving right now. How much debris, we are trying to work out, but our calculations are it should be dying down within 45 days."

NASA wasn’t buying it, however. It said it tracked debris above the ISS orbit. A software company called Analytical Graphics modeled the debris from the test and found 6500 fragments larger than half a centimeter. Given the increasing amount of junk in space and the high speeds involved, spacecraft and the ISS are under growing threat from debris damage.

Podcast: SocialFlight Adds Meal-Finding Feature
Kate O'Connor

The SocialFlight mobile app has recently been expanded to include a feature that adds thousands of airport restaurants to the SocialFlight interactive map. Founder Jeff Simon sat down with AVweb at Sun 'n Fun 2019 to discuss how it works.

Paine Field Cancels Aviation Day
AVweb Staff

A popular aviation event at storied Paine Field in Everett, Washington won’t be held this year, Snohomish County officials said this week. The officials offered no specifics other than to say holding Aviation Day wasn’t possible.

The event has been a tradition at Paine Field for about two decades. Paine Field is best known as the assembly site for the Boeing 747. During the 1970s, as Boeing expanded, the airport also became a hub for general aviation and light manufacturing. It was built in 1936 as one of many airports established by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration.

Aviation Day has been a popular tradition at Paine. The 2018 event saw about 400 visitors who enjoyed free entry to aircraft museums, a youth program and a chance to fly in light aircraft.

Crash Plane Flown With Known Fuel Leak
Russ Niles

The pilot who died in the crash of a Piper Navajo in Madeira, Ohio, had previously snagged a persistent fuel leak in the aircraft but flew it again a week later before the leak had been diagnosed and repaired. It’s not clear from the report whether pilot David Sapp was aware the aircraft had not been repaired. According to the NTSB, Sapp, 62, took off from Cincinnati Municipal Airport-Lunken Field on a survey flight on March 12 and reported fuel problems when he was about seven miles out. He was returning to Lunken when the aircraft disappeared from radar about five miles from the field.

A relative told the NTSB that Sapp had complained the aircraft "had a fuel leak and it was killing his sinuses.” An employee of the company that owned the plane told the NTSB the aircraft sat on the ground for about a week at Lunken and was supposed to be exchanged for another. The employee said the aircraft was not switched out and the Sapp was called in to fly it. He flew some survey patterns near Cincinnati before heading north to work near Dayton when he reported the problems. The twin hit a tree and house but no one on the ground was injured. There was little fuel in the left engine fuel system but fuel was found in right engine system.

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