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Volume 26, Number 19c
May 10, 2019
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Dornier Introduces New Amphibian
Kate O'Connor

Dornier Seawings has announced the introduction of the Orca, a multi-engine amphibious aircraft based on the company’s Seastar CD2 design. According to Dornier, the Orca is intended for government operations and can be outfitted for security, search and rescue, and environmental monitoring missions. Features include an all-composite airframe and optional internal and external mission equipment stations.

“The main concept of the Orca is to enhance typical maritime security missions, while merging seaborne and airborne operations, making it a more superior alternative to rotor wings,” said Dornier. “The Orca can be highly customized and ideally suited to the current operational profile and demand.” The company says it is “in negotiation with several governmental marine departments” regarding use of the Orca for maritime security missions.

The Orca is expected to have a 720-NM maximum range, top cruise speed of 180 knots and payload of 2953 pounds. It will be powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT6A-135A engines. Dornier says it plans to have the aircraft ready to enter service in 2022.

As previously reported by AVweb, Dornier received approximately $170 million in funding from its Chinese shareholders to further development of the 12-passenger Seastar CD2 in November 2018. The Seastar first flew in 1984 and received European and U.S. certification in the early 1990s. However, no aircraft have yet been delivered and only two prototypes have been built.

XTI TriFan Prototype Makes First Flight
Kate O'Connor

XTI Aircraft Company has successfully completed the first test flights of its TriFan 600 hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft proof of concept prototype. While the initial hover testing was conducted at California’s Placerville Airport (PVF) where the aircraft was constructed, XTI says that future test flights will take place at an authorized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) testing facility in Utah. As shown in the video below, the aircraft was tethered and unmanned for its first forays off the ground. The proof of concept prototype is a 65% scale version of the TriFan 600.

“This is the moment the entire XTI team, our investors, customers, and many others have been waiting for and working toward. In one year, we have progressed from conceptual design to a flying prototype,” said XTI CEO Robert LaBelle. “The aircraft proved to be stable in hover and had no problems throughout several runs.”

According to XTI, ground tests were conducted to validate the aircraft’s electric motors, battery system, ducts, propellers, flight controls, electrical systems and instrumentation from January through April 2019. The full-sized TriFan 600 will seat a pilot and five passengers and is expected to have a top cruise speed of 300 knots, maximum cruising altitude of 29,000 feet and range of up to 1,400 NM. The company reports that it currently has 77 orders on the books for the aircraft.

Documentary: The Early Days of Air Combat
Kate O'Connor

Aviation, at least in terms of controlled, heavier-than-air flight, does not have a terribly long history as these things go. In spite of its relative youth, that history is full of stories worth remembering; stories that brought us to where we are today and continue to provide valuable lessons, insight and inspiration for current and future aviators. One of the organizations working to preserve these stories is the Humanus Documentary Films Foundation, which recently premiered the museum cut of their World War I aviation film, The Millionaires’ Unit, at the New-York Historical Society in New York City.

The First Yale Unit

Based on Marc Wortman’s book of the same name, The Millionaires’ Unit tells the story of a group of Yale undergraduates who formed a privately funded air militia in preparation for WWI, joined the United States Navy, and became, in many ways, the foundation of U.S. naval aviation. The documentary follows the First Yale Unit, known in the press as the Millionaires’ Unit, from how they came together to learn to fly in a Curtis Model F flying boat, through their efforts during the war, and on to the significant impact many of them had on the early days of aviation. Many went on to take leadership roles that influenced the course of American history.

“I wrote about the young men of the First Yale Unit because I was swept up by their idealism, passion for this new frontier of aviation, and the untold stories of their risk-filled, sometimes humorous, sometimes heroic, sometimes deadly adventures,” said Wortman. “They came from such a different age and had such different expectations for themselves than most of today's privileged youth. I wanted to understand better the sources of their sense of duty.”

Finding Family

The story of making The Millionaires’ Unit into a documentary began with a chance encounter in a bookstore. According to filmmaker Ron King, “I walked over to this new stack of books and noticed that … there was a picture of my grandfather on the cover of the book that I had never seen before, but I recognized him right away. My mother had told me that my grandfather had flown in World War I and was one of the first U.S. naval aviators, but … I didn’t know what the story was about his service in World War I.” King contacted Wortman and, upon discovering that no one had yet looked into putting the story on screen, got in touch with college friend and professional documentarian Darroch Greer. Together, they decided to put together a film.

In spite of having almost no funding, the project began to take shape. In addition to research already compiled for the book, they uncovered information about the unit and its involvement in the war through public and private archives. Furthermore, King wasn’t the only descendent of the First Yale Unit pilots to get involved with the project. Film narrator Bruce Dern’s great-uncle was also a member. Other families, some of whom were in contact with Wortman for his book, and others who found the documentary project along the way, provided a wealth of letters, sketches, documents and remembrances. Greer and King say they are still being contacted by relatives of First Yale Unit pilots.

Documentary funding came through donations. Using small crews and filming piece by piece as money became available, Greer and King were able to stretch their resources even as the film’s scope expanded beyond their original plan. The Humanus Documentary Films Foundation was formed up to support the fundraising efforts for The Millionaires’ Unit. All told, the two-hour version of the documentary was seven years in the making and cost approximately $1 million.

Sights and Sounds Of Historic Flight

Greer and King didn’t want to use actors to re-create the lives of the unit pilots. Instead, they let the letters, diaries and photographs from the time speak for themselves. Similarly, when filming aircraft for the documentary, they traveled around the world to film restored or replica planes that were as close to those flown by the men of the Millionaires’ Unit as possible. Significantly, the filmmakers found a flying full-scale replica of a Curtiss Model E flying boat at the Curtiss Museum of Local History at the south end of Lake Keuka where Curtiss developed the original seaplane. The airplane was built and flown by local volunteers led by engineer/craftsman Art Wilder.

Realizing that aesthetic also included a trip down to New Zealand to get aerial footage of one of the very few Sopwith Camels still flying powered by an original engine. “It’s a rotary engine with nine cylinders that barks and bangs and sounds very distinctive,” said Greer. “I really fell in love with this plane.” Other aircraft that appear in the documentary came from The Aeroplane Collection (Paso Robles, California), and The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome (Rhinebeck, New York).

Documentary and Future Projects

Even after the initial release of the film in 2014, the project has continued to evolve. The museum cut of The Millionaires’ Unit premiered this April, condensing the two-hour documentary into a one-hour version meant for museum shows and television. Humanus also maintains an online archive of historic material related to the unit including additional information about unit members, an illustrated timeline of the unit’s foundation and service, and a photo gallery.

Humanus is currently working on a second aviation documentary that follows the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of mostly American volunteer pilots who fought for France in WWI. A 20-minute version of The Lafayette Escadrille documentary was produced for the WWI Centennial Commission education initiative and is scheduled to be distributed to approximately 600,000 classrooms. A longer version, slated to run about an hour and a half, is in production.

To learn more about the Millionaires’ Unit, the making of the documentary and other aviation projects from the Humanus Documentary Films Foundation, listen to our podcast or visit and The two-hour version of The Millionaires’ Unit can be streamed via Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and more.

Saab Selects New U.S. Manufacturing Site
Kate O'Connor

Swedish aerospace and defense company Saab has announced that it has entered into a partnership with Purdue University to build a new site for advanced manufacturing and production in West Lafayette, Indiana. According to the company, the site’s initial focus will be producing major structural sections and final assembly of the Saab parts for the T-X advanced jet trainer, which was jointly developed by Boeing and Saab for the United States Air Force. Saab has also said it is looking at expanding its U.S.-based research and development in areas such as sensor systems, artificial intelligence and autonomous systems through the partnership with Purdue.

“This is a historic moment for Saab. After careful consideration, we have chosen West Lafayette, thanks to the visionary leadership of both the State of Indiana and the world-leading Purdue University,” said Saab CEO H�kan Buskhe. “Today’s announcement is a part of our growth strategy in the United States, and deepens our relationship with the U.S. customer. We see great possibilities here for this facility and our partnerships.”

The facility will be located at the Purdue University-affiliated Discovery Park District. Saab say it intends to invest approximately $37 million and create up to 300 full-time positions at the new site beginning in 2020. Construction is scheduled to start next year.

John Wayne Airport to Get Improved GA Facilities
Marc Cook

Although local residents continue to object, officials at John Wayne-Orange County Airport in Southern California have recommended a project to add a third FBO to the facility as well as upgrade its decades-old GA infrastructure. County officials heard local feedback on May 7 and agreed to return “in two weeks” to vote on a final set of proposals to update KSNA’s GA infrastructure.

Part of the agreement with local residents is to retain the current cap on jet aircraft at 65. According to the Orange County Register, an initial proposal outlined that “minor changes to building locations and roads would be made to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards. Also proposed are replacing and upgrading aging facilities that provide fueling, hangar space, maintenance and other services, and building a new terminal for private planes and a customs and Homeland Security screening facility for international general aviation flights.” However, the current plan does not include a new terminal for GA and, instead, focuses on improving the FBOs and surrounding facilities.

John Wayne is in a notoriously sensitive noise environment, with the wealthy cities of Costa Mesa, Irvine and Laguna Beach beneath the departure path of the most commonly used runways. (Takeoffs and landings to the north are a relatively rarity at SNA.) Those residents have banded together to object to an increase in flights, noise and, they say, pollution. Currently, Orange County has a strict set of noise limits and an overnight curfew on airline flights.

According to the Orange County Register, “Members of the Southern California Pilots Association, many of whom fly recreationally, had worried that they’d get squeezed out to make room for bigger and more lucrative jets, but the plan that will come back to supervisors May 21 would call for more hangar space for them.”

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AirVenture 2019 NOTAM Posted
Kate O'Connor

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has announced that the AirVenture Oshkosh Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for the organization’s annual fly-in convention taking place July 22-28 at Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is now available. This year’s edition institutes several changes to past practices including new procedures for aircraft diversions to Fond du Lac airport (KFDL) if KOSH closes, removal of restrictions on transponder use, IFR routing changes, and multiple changes to ultralight and homebuilt rotorcraft arrival and departure procedures.

“EAA and pilots offered numerous recommendations for the AirVenture arrival procedures, some of which were approved by FAA for 2019. It’s especially important all pilots flying to Oshkosh read and understand this year’s NOTAM,” said EAA Vice President of Advocacy and Safety Sean Elliott. “In addition, the FAA is establishing a safety risk management panel to review the other recommendations, in which EAA will participate. EAA wishes to see an expedient process to update the Oshkosh NOTAM, but understands FAA’s mandate to prevent unintended negative consequences that may come as part of any change.”

Also new for 2019 are changes to Oshkosh arrival “best practices,“ such as procedures to limit the impact of VFR mass arrivals, development of a text message system to keep pilots informed of KOSH current status for arrivals, and ATC utilization of a ground stop/delay system out to 150 miles. The NOTAM will be in effect from 6 a.m. CDT on Friday, July 19, until noon CDT on July 29. Digital and print versions of the NOTAM are available at or Other logistical updates at AirVenture this year include an expansion of the South 40 area, which adds 17 acres of space for aircraft parking and camping.

Garmin Autopilot Approved For Mooney, Bonanza Models
Kate O'Connor

Garmin has announced that it has received FAA Supplemental Type Certification for its GFC 500 autopilot for several Mooney M20 and 36/A36 Bonanza models. Specific aircraft approved include Mooney M20 J, K, M, R and S models and Bonanza models 36, A36 and A36TC. The GFC 500 integrates with the G5 electronic flight instrument or a combination of both the G5 and G500 TXi flight display.

Along with altitude hold, vertical speed and heading modes, the GFC 500 features include under- and overspeed protection, altitude pre-select and indicated airspeed hold mode, built-in GPS roll steering capability and the ability to select and couple instrument approaches. The GFC 500 is intended for single-engine piston aircraft while the GFC 600 version is available for high-performance, multi-engine and turbine aircraft. Retail price for the GFC 500 2-axis autopilot is $6,995 if the aircraft already has a G5 installed.

As previously reported by AVweb, Garmin introduced the GFC 500 and 600 in July 2017 and has continued to expand the approved model list since. Certification programs are slated to begin in the next twelve months for aircraft including the Cessna 172RG, 177 and 206, Piper PA-32R/RT, and additional Mooney M20, Piper PA-28 and Cessna 210 models. Garmin is also gathering data on interest in the GFC 500 and 600 to guide its planning for which approvals to seek in the future.

Picture of the Week, May 9, 2019
We departed Augusta, Kansas (3AU) on an early morning departure to spend the weekend with our granddaughter in Iowa City, Iowa. Having a 1947 Bonanza and a great copilot (my wife Cheryl) makes the 2.7 hour flight easy. Taken with an iPhone 6. Photo by Gerald Sheehy.

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