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Airbus has started final assembly of the first A320neo in Toulouse, France, and says the airplane is on schedule for its first flight in the fourth quarter of this year and first deliveries by the end of 2015. The new jet comes with new-generation engines and large winglets, which Airbus says will deliver 15 percent in fuel savings and more than two tons of additional payload. More than 50 customers have ordered more than 2,600 airplanes since the launch in 2010, Airbus said.

The 320neo is competing with Boeing's 737MAX. The competition led to a price war, with both competitors knocking up to 15 percent off their list price. Airbus said this week it is ahead, with its orders representing 60 percent of the market.

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Photo: KOMO News

A news helicopter used by television station KOMO crashed in downtown Seattle early Tuesday and initial reports said at least two people died. The aircraft had just taken off from the rooftop helipad of KOMO's building on Broad Street, a main downtown street, when it apparently hit the side of the building and fell in flames to the street below. At least three cars were set on fire and early reports said one man crawled from a burning car and was rescued by paramedics. He suffered severe burns but is improving in hospital. 

The crash occurred about 7:40 during the morning rush and happened next to the landmark Space Needle in the heart of the city. The helicopter was an Airbus AS350 owned by Helicopters Inc. of Illinois and leased jointly by KOMO and KING5, another Seattle TV station. It was being used temporarily by the stations while their own helicopter, a Bell 206, was being upgraded. The pilot, Gary Pfitzner of Issaquah, Wash., and former longtime KOMO photographer Bill Strothman were killed in the crash. Airbus Helicopters issued a statement Wednesday saying it was cooperating with the investigation.




US Navy photo

With still no trace of the 777 more than 10 days after it took off, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has now been missing longer than any other commercial airplane in the modern era. New theories about its disappearance continue to arise -- toxic fumes from the cargo hold, a cyber-hacking crime, a smoldering onboard fire -- to join the prior theories of pilot suicide, piracy or some unspecified mechanical malfunction, but facts are scarce. In recent days, news analysts have begun to speculate that the true story may never be known, or perhaps months or years from now, wreckage will be found on a remote beach somewhere. Questions have arisen about the cost of deploying the search indefinitely across huge stretches of the Indian Ocean, and U.S. officials said a Navy ship that has been searching near the Strait of Malacca will soon be redeployed to other duties.

"This is in no way a degradation of the mission," a defense department official told ABC News. “We're fully committed to the search operation and the fixed-wing aircraft remains and is being shifted to a search area that's more conducive to aerial reconnaissance as opposed to surface searching." If no clear evidence is found soon, however, others say the costly search may have to scale back. "As time goes by, I would say it would become more and more difficult to find the 777, and at some point the cost of the search will reach a point that it will be abandoned and the possibility of it never being found obviously goes way up," Ron Carr, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, told the Washington Post.

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Officials at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., are hoping a crowdsourced funding effort through Indiegogo will raise $70,000 to provide a proper home for a specialized relic of the Space Shuttle era. The museum has already acquired the Gulfstream II shuttle training aircraft but it's on the ramp at Birmingham Shuttlesworth Airport rather than at the Huntsville Shuttle Park where people can appreciate its unique role in the shuttle program. About $20,000 has been raised for the exhibit, which includes static supports for the aircraft and a simulated shuttle runway leading to it. The GII was one of four used to train shuttle pilots how to land the massive spacecraft and both the design and flight profile of the business jet were radical departures from the Gulfstream POH.

The left side of the cockpit was altered to mimic the head-up display, center joystick arrangement and primitive glass panel layout of the Shuttle. The right side instructor/safety pilot seat had the head-up display but conventional controls. Each Shuttle pilot and commander made about 1,000 practice approaches in the Gulfstream and the "flight" characteristics of the Shuttle were mimicked with some pretty extreme mods and flight profiles. The Gulfstream dove for the ground from 37,000 feet at 300 knots and a 20-degree pitch angle with the main gear down, the thrust reversers on and the modified flaps possibly deflected upwards to become large spoilers. The pilot would start the flare at about 300 feet, dropping the nose gear at 150 feet in case of an inadvertent touchdown and the approach continued until the cockpit was at 32 feet above the runway, the same height it would be in the Shuttle. If all the speeds, position and elevation matched the correct profile, the future shuttle pilot would be rewarded with a green light on the panel before the instructor stowed the reversers and gear and did a go-around.


The Endeavor Awards will launch for the first time in May, with a black-tie event held at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, to honor and support those who provide free aviation services to meet humanitarian needs. Angel Flight West has organized the gala and they plan to make it an annual fundraising event. The dinner and ceremonies will take place at the Endeavour space shuttle exhibit. Mark Wolper, a film-industry executive and chair of the host committee, is planning an audio-visual production for the event, showcasing aviation throughout the history of film, and spotlighting the heroes of public benefit aviation.

Others involved in the planning and support for the event include pilots Clay Lacy, Chuck Aaron, Bob Hoover, and Sean D. Tucker, X-Prize chairman Peter Diamandis, film director Robert Zemeckis, former EAA president Tom Poberezny, and Alan Dias, executive director of Angel Flight West. Several astronauts also will be on hand to talk about their experience on the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Tickets are on sale now for the May 4 event at $1,000 each.

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As if pilots didn't have enough hazards to think about -- bird strikes, other airplanes and random laser pointers, to name a few -- now some pilots have complained that a sprawling new solar-energy plant in California, near the Nevada border, is blindingly bright. "From the pilot's seat of my aircraft the brightness was like looking into the sun," one pilot wrote in a report filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System. Another complaint, filed by an air traffic controller, describes the site as "nearly blinding" and "extremely bright and distracting." The site uses mirrors spread over five square miles of desert to focus sunlight on water towers that then produce steam to generate power.

The complaints were filed last August, but the energy company was just notified about them recently. The energy developer is required under its operating permit to address such complaints, according to the local Press-Enterprise news. Chad Davies, an FBO operator at the Riverside (Calif.) Municipal Airport, told the Press-Enterprise he experienced the glare on an early afternoon last summer. "At the right angle, you will get the intensity, which is similar to looking at a car headlight at night," he said. "If you were to look away you'd still have that shape in your vision."


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At least week’s Aircraft Electronics Association show, famed aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker was the keynote speaker. The connection? He’s head of the EAA’s Young Eagles program and a perfect choice for recruiting pilots. He’s enthusiastic, animated and knowledgeable. I’m not sure AEA was the right audience for the pitch, but it was interesting to see what he brought.

Frankly, I was drifting a couple of dots left of course when my 10-second mental playback recorder said “lost the propeller.” Did I really hear that? Up, on the giant screen, popped a video, shot point-of-view so you had a good view of the front seat passenger in his Pitts S-2 and glimpses of Tucker in the rear. As far as I can tell, this video isn’t posted online anywhere, although I’m sure others have seen it in his presentations. It’s also not a recent event, but that didn’t make it any less riveting.

The basic set-up was this: Tucker was giving his niece a ride in the S-2, with some basic aerobatics. People who teach aerobatics have to become sensitive to how their charges are doing after a few minutes of pulling Gs. Tucker has an interesting way of doing it. “Are you okay?” he asked? “Really okay, or just medium okay?” He had a couple of other phases he used to cleverly probe the limits of encroaching nausea. He was persistent about it, too. This is something I don’t think I’ve ever done to that extent and probably haven’t thought of, either. Nice little lesson.

It got better. The prop loss part occurred later in the video when, in the midst of an inverted spin, the prop departed the airplane along with the crank flange and spinner. Someone told me you could see it corkscrewing off in the background, but I missed that. Now Tucker had a real problem. For a solo pilot, that would be a no-brainer bailout, since the aft shift in CG might make the airplane uncontrollable or at least unlandable. But Tucker figured he didn’t have that option with an inexperienced, young passenger and with weight in the front seat, the CG shift was evidently manageable.

He was over a short crop dusting strip, so he set himself up for an engine-out landing to a very short runway. But that didn’t look like the hard part, actually. His young passenger wasn’t exactly freaking out, but you could sense through the audio link the potential for rising panic. Yet while he was setting up the landing, Tucker kept up a steady patter of confident assurances that this was going to come out just fine. Happens all the time. (Well, not quite.) If you’ve ever flown a Pitts, you’re probably familiar with the hair-on-fire approach speeds and this looked faster than that, viewed through the camera toward the rear. It looked the Millennium Falcon in reverse. As his niece cooled below melting temperature, Tucker allowed himself a relieved laugh and both emerged unharmed. For as impressed as I was with the landing, the passenger care part was even more impressive.

I can’t really remember why Tucker showed this video in service of his efforts as a pilot recruiter. I’m not sure I heard what lesson was intended. But I know what I took away from it. As most of us do, I pay lip service to reassuring nervous passengers, but I’ve never been any good at it. I’ll confess to a certain lack of commitment. With this exceptional example of how it ought to be done, I hope to do better next time.

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David Clark DC PRO-X

The 8th annual CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium is coming up April 25 and 26 in Santa Rosa, California, bringing together a roster of experts and experimenters to share technology and ideas for the next generation of personal flying.  Dr. Brien Seeley, president of the CAFE Foundation and organizer of the event, spoke with AVweb's Mary Grady about some of the highlights on this year's agenda.

BendixKing KLR 10 Lift Reserve Indicator || Now Available for Certified Aircraft

The Aircraft Electronics Association opened in 57th annual convention in Nashville this week with good news:  Avionics sales for 2013 were up 6.9% in 2013 over the previous year.  In this video interview, AEA's Paula Derks says about 23 new products will be introduced in Nashville.

Evolution 3000 for Class III Aircraft || $3,000 in Consumer Savings

Drones are coming to an air space near you -- but who's going to service and maintain those fleets of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)?  There's a good chance it will be Brad Hayden's company, Robotic Skies.

BendixKing Is Looking for a Vice President of Marketing & Product Management || Click to Get in Touch

At AEA in Nashville, Aspen introduced its new VFR EFIS, an entry-level, affordable glass suite for owners who don't need full IFR capability.  AVweb takes a video tour of the new product.


At the Aircraft Electronics Association convention in Nashville, BendixKing tossed its hat into the airborne connectivity ring with a new internet access product called the AeroWave.  In this video, Avweb gets a look at the new box.

The Great Alaska Aviation Gathering || May 3-4, 2014 at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

With the ADS-B mandate looming five years ahead, we're seeing more products that address this requirement, including this one shown at AEA in Nashville.  FreeFlight's wireless Rangr all-in-one box provides ADS-B In and Out and has a wireless adapter to put the weather and other data on a tablet.  Price is $5,495.


In glass cockpits and even in those where the pilots suffer through the tragedy of flying behind steam gauges, a back-up gryo is a good idea.  Increasingly, these are solid-state gyros with their own self-contained ADAHRS and batteries.  At AEA in Nashville, AVweb shot this brief product tour of the Sandia Aerospace SAI gyro.  Retail price is $3,595.