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The FAA is proposing banning passengers from flights in electric-powered aircraft and ready-to-fly light sport aircraft (SLSA) that have been converted to experimental light sport (ELSA) aircraft and stopping the aircraft from flying over built-up areas or at night. The LSA industry is responding with a call for those who might be affected to comment on the document and to email to let their feelings be known on the subject. The Light Aircraft Manufacturers' Association (LAMA) says the few lines buried in a 322-page document known as FAA Draft Policy 8130(H) (PDF) have "the potential to severely curtail the degree to which you and your fellow pilots and aviation enthusiasts are able to exercise the important freedoms of flight that have been won over many years."

LAMA says there is no safety argument to support the moves by the FAA, which are part of a general tweaking of aircraft certification regulations. LAMA says the impact on the burgeoning electric aircraft sector would be particularly hard-hit by the regulations if adopted. "[T]he action, if enforced, could sharply curtai[l] development of electric-powered aircraft," LAMA said in a news release. "The most promising sector of aviation to be early adopters of electric power includes LSA, light kits, and ultralight aircraft." The draft policy is sure to be a topic of conversation at Sun 'n Fun next week and at the CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium later in April.

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The race is now on to find the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 after an analysis of satellite data determined the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 "ended in the southern Indian Ocean," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Monday. Bad weather is hampering the search for the wreckage of the aircraft but the U.S. has sent specialized gear to hunt for the signals that should still be emanating from the devices, which will hold the key to why the aircraft went down. The batteries that supply power to the transmitters will likely only last another week or so. So far, it's anyone's guess why the Boeing 777 went dark, did a U-turn and flew seven hours before it's now presumed to have gone down far from any sort of landing opportunity. The U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch and Inmarsat, the satellite company, used a type of analysis never used before to perform further calculations on the available data and concluded that the airplane flew the southern route, ending in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth, and not along the northern path that was earlier considered to be equally viable. "This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites," Razak said. "It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean."

Razak said more details will be released at a news conference on Tuesday. Meanwhile, aircraft and ships have continued to search the southern ocean region to investigate various reports of floating debris based on satellite imagery, but so far no debris has been positively identified. The U.S. Pacific Command said on Monday it would move a Towed Pinger Locator System into the region. The system can detect the ping from an aircraft's data recorders down to a depth of 20,000 feet. "This movement is simply a prudent effort to pre-position equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area, so that if debris is found, we will be able to respond as quickly as possible, since the battery life of the black box’s pinger is limited," Cmdr. Chris Budde, a Seventh Fleet operations officer, said in an email statement to The New York Times. The pinging is expected to continue for another two weeks or so.


Cirrus has been flying a Vision jet since 2008, but the latest version, which flew for the first time on Monday afternoon, is the first of three conforming flight-test aircraft for the final production jet, which is expected to start deliveries late next year. Cirrus Aircraft's chief test pilot Mike Stevens flew the jet for an hour after takeoff from Duluth (Minn.) International Airport, and said it "handled and performed very well and all systems functioned properly, just what you want in a first flight." The flight included systems checks of controllability, maneuverability and flight envelope testing, and speed performance at an intermediate altitude, the company said. The SF50 is a seven-seat, pressurized, single-engine jet, with a price of $1.96 million. 

"Today's successful test flight marks another significant step toward our goal of elevating the personal flying experience with a clean sheet airplane design," said Dale Klapmeier, CEO and co-founder of Cirrus Aircraft. "In the last 12 months we have made such great progress in all areas of the program and we anticipate fulfilling the first of our 500-plus customer reservations late next year." AVweb's Paul Bertorelli took a look at the Vision jet last October at AOPA Summit; here is that video report.

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Veteran airshow performer Jim "Fang" Maroney died Sunday when his Super Chipmunk show plane crashed in Monroe County in Tennessee. Maroney was on his way from Illinois to the Beach Balloon and Sky Fest in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., when the aircraft went down. Circumstances of the crash are not clear but the aircraft hit the side of a mountain in the Cherokee National Forest. Winds were light and there was no precipitation recorded in the area on Sunday. Maroney, 59, was a long-time fighter pilot who was the former commander of the North Dakota Air National Guard. 

He was also the principal adviser to actor Tom Cruise during the shooting of Top Gun. His low and slow routine in the Chipmunk was popular at airshows and he was well-respected in the airshow industry. “He was very safety-conscious,” FargoAirSho past chairman Darrol Schroeder told Fargo's “I mean, he gave the safety briefings at all of our recent airshows. … He was always so concerned about aviation safety.”


Although it has kept its development out of the public eye, Lycoming appears to be much further along in aircraft diesel engine development than many in the industry realize. Using the booming unmanned aircraft sector as a launching pad, Lycoming told us that it has leveraged automotive technology to develop what’s essentially a diesel near-equivalent of its popular IO-360 gasoline engine.

The DEL-120—with 120 representing the displacement—is a 200-HP, four-cylinder turbocharged water-cooled diesel of the same general class as the Thielert-developed Centurion engines, albeit with higher power output and claimed greater durability. We weren’t able to get weight specifics, but Lycoming’s Michael Kraft told us these are comparable to the Centurion. Like the Centurion engine, the DEL-120 has electronic engine controls and common rail, high-pressure fuel injection. Its primary material is cast aluminum, with four valves per cylinder and a clutchless geared reduction unit that doesn’t require pre-TBO replacement.

Kraft told us Tuesday that the DEL-120’s antecedents extend to before Thielert got into financial straits in 2008 and declared bankruptcy. At the time, the emerging UAS entry—specifically the General Atomics Predator—drove much of Thielert’s business. But General Atomics was aware of Thielert’s financial troubles and was looking for a U.S. engine supplier with a healthy balance sheet and entered into a supply agreement with Lycoming. Thielert was purchased by the Chinese-owned AVIC International last year and is now a unit of Continental Motors. Political and security sensitivities meant that Continental would no longer supply engines to General Atomics.

The DEL-120 is used in a follow-on model of the Predator called the Improved Gray Eagle, as well as an earlier version of same aircraft as a replacement for the Centurion. The Improved Gray Eagle is in a class of UASs called MALEs or medium altitude, long endurance. They are in growing use by the U.S. military.

Although Kraft declined to say if the DEL-120 was a clean sheet Lycoming project, he did say it was developed using state-the-art automotive technology and based on years of diesel research Lycoming has had underway since the 1980s.

Lycoming has had heavy fuel engine development agreements with John Deere and Detroit Diesel, to name two. “We had a stratified charge project with John Deere and there was a project with an undisclosed partner that post-dates both of those. Everyone of those was a technology development platform and in every one we learned a little more as to what the technology was about,” Kraft said. Whatever the engine base is, Kraft said “there’s not a lot of the automotive engine left” in the DEL-120.

Based on interviews with other sources and U.S. Customs shipping data, it appears that Lycoming has worked in part with an Italian company called DieselJet, which has successfully repurposed automotive engines from FIAT for use in the UAS market. One of those engines, the TDA CR series, is actually certified by JetDiesel under EASA regs, but not, as far as we know, in production for civil use. It’s only distantly related to the DEL-120, Kraft said.  

Speaking of civil use, would Lycoming consider certifying the DEL-120 for civilian use? Yes, it would, Kraft says, but the decision will be driven by OEM interest, which has thus far been lukewarm. But Kraft said Lycoming would move forward with certification if the market looks promising. He declined to say what kind of volume the company is capable of producing, but it is configured for serial production. Design TBO for the engine—not TBR—is 2000 hours, although an initial version might be limited to 1800 hours. As rough cost predictor, Kraft says a certified civil diesel engine would cost more than twice as much as an equivalent gasoline engine, which more or less mirrors Centurion pricing. Lycoming expects to release more information on the DEL-120 and other engines later in the year.

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Garmin has had great success with a G1000 retrofit program for the King Air series.  In this video, we take a look at the details of the program.


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Curiosity may have killed the cat, but at the very least, it can create some vivid nightmares and I had one last night. Like everyone else, I’ve been following the sputtering investigation of Malaysian Flight MH 370, especially the fire-in-flight theories. So I spent the day reading fire-in-flight accident reports and woke up in a cold sweat last night, imagining myself choking on some smoky, non-descript flight deck. Awful.

But not nearly so awful as the real thing as described in five accidents I researched. Watching the cable channels and following news reports, it seems like the MH 370 theories are going through a bizarre cycling loop as factual leads become ever harder to come by. Now, the talking heads have latched onto the presence of lithium-ion batteries in the cargo hold as a likely fire source and two plus two naturally equals five. If this turns out to be true—and we may never know—MH 370 will be a bit of a black swan, a unique case in which fire disabled the crew and partially disabled the airplane, which then continued to fly for seven hours.

In the real world of transport aircraft fires, it hasn’t worked that way. Just the reverse. In the five in-flight fires I looked at, none flew longer than 30 minutes after smoke or fire was detected and two flew barely 20 minutes and two were fully involved in five minutes or less.

Remember ValuJet 592 (PDF)? It crashed in the Florida Everglades in May 1996 after a shipment of improperly packed oxygen generators ignited. Time from report of first fire detection to the crash: Three minutes and 32 seconds. Swissair 111, an MD-11, crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia in September 1998 after overhead wiring in the entertainment system ignited. Time from report of first fire detection to the crash: just under 21 minutes. In February 2006, a UPS DC-8 freighter (PDF) was fortuitously on approach to Philadelphia International when the engineer confirmed a cabin smoke indication. Five minutes later, the flight landed and the crew evacuated in dense, billowing smoke. The aircraft burned to destruction on the ground. The ignition source wasn’t determined, but lithium-ion batteries, which the airplane was carrying, were mentioned.

More recently, in September 2010, UPS 6 (PDF), a 747 freighter, crashed in Dubai following a cargo hold fire believed to have probably been caused by a shipment of lithium ion batteries. Time from report of first fire detection to the crash: 27 minutes.

Then there was FedEx 1466 (PDF) in September 1996—September seems to be a bad month for fires. It flew for 18 minutes from the time of first smoke detection until the end. But it didn’t crash. It made an emergency landing at Newburgh, New York and was destroyed by fire on the ground. The crew and two passengers escaped with minor injuries. In some ways, it’s the most interesting of the four because it vividly illustrates how quickly fires propagate and how survival can turn on timely decision making and discipline.

The airplane was a DC-10 enroute from Memphis to Boston when, at FL330, the flight engineer reported a cabin smoke indication. Although the NTSB would later ding the Captain for poor crew resource management, it didn’t give him much credit for rapid decision making that probably saved the crew and passengers’ lives. As more smoke alarms appeared, just 3:30 into the incident he acted: “We’ve definitely got smoke guys. We need to get down, right now, let’s go.”

On approach to Newburgh, he coached the First Officer to ignore the 10,000-foot 250-knot speed restriction and get the airplane on the deck. He did, just in time. As the crew was exiting, they were propped in windows venting dense smoke like chimneys. Another minute or two might have made the situation unsurvivable. As it was, the NSTB criticized the Captain for interrupting or failing to supervise the Flight Engineer who neglected to close a cabin vent and to depressurize the airplane after landing, momentarily delaying egress.  

As with other hull-loss fires, the source of ignition in FedEx 1466 was never determined, but lithium-ion wasn’t suspect as it was in the two UPS incidents. And, adhering to guilt by association, in MH 370, too, at least by some willing to weave a theory without confirming data. Malaysia Airlines confirmed that the flight was carrying more than 400 pounds of lithium-ion batteries. To be fair, it’s not unreasonable to think these could have been a fire source. There are various ways to explain how this could have selectively disabled certain systems—the comms and ACARs—while leaving the fly-by-wire control system functional. And the 777 does have sophisticated fire detection and suppression systems in its cargo compartments. While this turn of events might not be a high probability, it’s not zero probability either.

But I keep coming back to those other accidents in which fire rapidly propagated and destroyed aircraft, even as two of which were being attacked by airport fire crews. If speculation is a mold, lack of information is its Petri dish, so I remain skeptical of all the theories thus far. But with regard to the fire postulation, I’ll concede the logical fallacy of believing something can’t happen because it never has—the black swan.

One thing is certain, however. As the accidents above describe, a fire in any aircraft rarely leaves other than one option: get it on the deck right now. It’s not arbitrary that the very first line in the 777 Smoke, Fire or Fumes checklist, even ahead of the mask and goggles, is to consider a diversion. It’s clearly meant to be a negative option. In other words, divert now, unless you have a really good reason not to.

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Tempest Plus || Don't Miss Our Latest Tech Tips

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.

Focus on What Matters. Flying. || Bose A20 Aviation Headset

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.

Kansas Aircraft Corporation || Extraordinary Service, Exceptional Aircraft

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.

FAR/AIM 2014 || ASA - Training Starts Here

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.


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.

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Picture of the Week <="221652">
Picture of the Week

Alex Esguerra of San Mateo, CA kicks off a new (long-overdue) batch of "PotW" submissions. Click through for more reader-submitted photos.