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NBAA has updated its guidelines for crew rest in business aviation and the new suggested limits reflect recent advances in scientific knowledge about how human beings react to and recover from fatigue. “We developed these guidelines after significant scientific review, extensive analysis of industry practices and industry feedback,” said Leigh White, president of Alertness Solutions and lead of NBAA’s Fatigue Task Force. “Our goal was to present the latest data and guidance – both rooted in science – to company and flight department management to help educate them about how to best use their crews.” The result is a 16-page report that takes into consideration the effects of working at all hours.

The recommendations boil down to a chart that say the crew duty day shouldn't exceed 14 hours and there should be no more than 10 hours of flying on what is considered a "standard" day. A standard day is one in which the duty period occurs in a section of the day that does not encroach in what is known as the "window of circadian low" where humans are supposed to be asleep, in general from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. If the duty day steers clear of that period, NBAA says it's ok to push the flight time to 12 hours but the pilots will need extra rest to compensate. For flights that include or even go through the wee hours, the duty day should be no longer than 12 hours and flight time should be no more than 10 hours and NBAA doesn't recommend pushing those limits.

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The first of six sites around the country for aerial testing of unmanned aircraft systems is now operational, the FAA said on Monday. Flight testing will begin at the North Dakota site the week of May 5. Data collected will "lay the groundwork for reducing risks and ensuring continued safe operations of UAS," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "We believe the test site programs will be extremely valuable to integrating unmanned aircraft [into the National Airspace System] and fostering America's leadership in advancing this technology." Initial flights will be conducted with a Draganflyer X4ES aircraft above North Dakota State University's Carrington Research Extension Center, in Carrington, N.D., the FAA said.

The main goal of the initial tests will be to show that UAS can check soil quality and the status of crops, the FAA said. A second set of missions, scheduled for later this summer, will fly above Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, near Devils Lake, N.D. In those tests, UAS will be used to survey the numbers of elk, bison and deer. The North Dakota testing will continue for up to two years. Five other test sites have been selected, but the FAA hasn't said how soon they will be operational.

The original owners of synthetic vision pioneer Chelton Flight Systems are now part of a group that has assumed control of the company and autopilot maker S-TEC Corporation. In what has been termed a management buyout, former Cobham Avionics President Roger Smith, Chelton co-founders Rick Price and Gordon Pratt and Director of Finance Tammy Crawford formed Genesys Aerosystems to acquire the Chelton and S-TEC units from U.K.-based Cobham. Cobham acquired Chelton in 2001 and S-TEC in 2007 and then merged the two in 2008 under the name Cobham Avionics. 

Chelton developed the first FAA-certified synthetic vision system and created the widely used "highway in the sky" method of navigation guidance. The system is certified on 700 aircraft types and the company has recently developed products for helicopters. “We are a dynamic and growing company,” said Smith. “We will continue to support our customers with state-of-the-art technology, agile development, excellent quality, and superb product support. The name is changing but the people and our commitment to our vision are not.” 

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It seems unlikely that a teenage boy could survive a flight from California to Hawaii in the wheel well of a 767, but officials say surveillance video at both airports seems to confirm his story. The 16-year-old said he was running away from home when he hopped a fence and climbed into the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines jet at San Jose International. He arrived five and a half hours later at Maui's Kahalui Airport. "How he survived I don't know," Tom Simon, an FBI spokesman based in Honolulu, told the L.A. Times. "It's a miracle."

The boy, whose name has not been released, told investigators he lost consciousness shortly after takeoff, and woke up about an hour after the airplane landed in Maui. He emerged from the wheel well to the surprise of a "dumbfounded" ground crew, according to Simon. "It makes no sense to me," Simon said. A 1996 FAA report examined 10 reported wheel-well stowaway incidents, involving 11 people. Six stowaways succumbed to the cold or fell to their deaths. Five people survived. The cold, low-oxygen conditions may put them in a virtual "hibernative" state, the report said.

A Comp Air 8 aircraft carrying skydivers crashed in Finland on Sunday afternoon, killing eight people. The pilot and two skydivers were able to parachute to safety. The airplane was at about 10,000 feet when something went wrong -- some witnesses said parts of the aircraft appeared to detach before it began to descend, other reports cited possible engine trouble. The aircraft descended in a spin, according to witnesses, and was destroyed by fire on impact. "By Finnish standards, this is the most serious flight accident in decades," Ismo Aaltonen, an investigator with Finland's Safety Investigation Authority, said in a news conference. Officials said this week they have ruled nothing out, and are investigating both pilot error and possible mechanical problems.

Investigators said the aircraft may have had problems maintaining stable flight after reaching altitude, according to the Helsinki Times. The nose of the aircraft then dived suddenly, sending the plane into an uncontrolled spin. With the main door closed, the occupants were only able to escape via the cockpit, and only three made it out in time. Video taken by bystanders at the scene shows that one of the wings broke during the descent, but it did not separate from the airframe, according to the Times. Sport aviation has been experiencing a growth spurt in Finland in recent years. The number of registered ultralight aircraft has tripled over the last decade, rising from 500 to 1,500 aircraft, and the number of skydivers has grown to about 2,500, the Times reported.

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Capt. McWherter at a Blue Angels air show in 2010, U.S. Navy photo

Capt. Gregory McWherter, who served as Blue Angels commanding officer for two tours from 2008-10 and 2011-12, has been relieved of his duties due to "initial findings of an ongoing investigation into recent allegations of misconduct and an inappropriate command climate" at the Blue Angels during his command, the Navy said on Friday. McWherter had been serving as the executive officer of Naval Base Coronado in San Diego since last November. He has been temporarily reassigned to Naval Air Forces in San Diego, the Navy said. A complaint was filed with the Navy's Inspector General last month. McWherter has declined to comment.

It's unusual for a Blue Angels commander to serve more than two years, but McWherter was brought back to run the team after an incident at an airshow in Lynchburg, Va., in May 2011. During that event, the Blues flew their F/A-18 Hornets within a reported 130 feet of the ground, exceeding the team's 500-foot standard. Afterward, Cmdr. Dave Koss requested to be relieved of duty, and McWherter was brought back to take his place. The investigation is not expected to affect the team's current flying schedule.

Finding a reliable and skilled paint shop is a daunting challenge for many aircraft owners.  If you've had your aircraft painted within the past few years, the editors at Aviation Consumer magazine want to know about your experience.  Please take this brief survey, and the staff will report on the results in an upcoming issue of Aviation Consumer.

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In Monday’s blog, I dissected the impact of the under-dressed sim instructor CNN used for its round-the-clock MH370 coverage, but what of the simulator itself? Like many, I assumed the simulator, which looked impressive on camera, was the sort of machine used to train and type rate pilots looking to find a 777 seat. Not quite. As described on its web site, UFly’s B-777 sim is a highly detailed reproduction of the cockpit and systems, but since the 777 is fly-by-wire, how accurate does it replicate the real airplane’s control laws? 

Maybe not so much. I mentioned that one of the interesting things CNN did toward the end of its intense coverage was to replicate what the airplane would do if both engines ran to fuel exhaustion. They even flew the airplane briefly on asymmetric thrust, since one engine would inevitably quit before the other. This was an attempt to illuminate what would happen if the airplane ran out of gas somewhere over the Indian Ocean, with pilots dead or incapacitated.

While Boeing has, understandably, tried to suppress speculation about the MH370 disappearance, sim operators—real, level D sims—all over the world have been experimenting with what-ifs in their multi-million dollar motion boxes. I’ve been corresponding via e-mail with a couple of 777 professionals, one of whom is a training captain for a major airline. This week, he sent me a summary of experiments done by one operator and reproduced by others. Bottom line: “You can throw any straight ahead flight path/impact calculations out the window.”

What this is, really, is not so much a test of the airplane, but of the software that runs it. No one was quite certain how the 777’s control laws would degrade and adjust to the loss of engine thrust and, briefly, electric power, with no human intervention. The results are eye opening.

The basic setup involved programming the sim with MH370s fuel, weight and CG conditions and letting it run out of fuel in track hold and altitude capture. Predictably, one engine flamed out before the other and a feature called TAC for thrust asymmetry compensation automatically applied rudder.

The speed decayed from 325 knots indicated to 245 knots. When the second engine failed, TAC returned the rudder trim to zero. Then the fun started. The autopilot dropped out and the flight controls reverted to direct mode. In the 777, Boeing designed three modes, normal, secondary and direct. Direct can be thought of as the modern equivalent of manual reversion; it gives the pilots direct control authority and strips away any envelope protection.

The sim experiment revealed that after autopilot drop out, the speed came back to 230 knots, but the nose slowly pitched down, eventually reaching 340 knots indicated and a descent rate of 7500 FPM. The bank angle got to 25 degrees.

At that point, the airplane’s ram air turbine, an emergency backup generator, automatically deployed and the copilot’s PFD came back, plus other displays. But the aircraft remained in direct control mode. The 777’s EICAS was peppered with alerts, including one that the APU had failed to start, which it would automatically do after the engine failure. But with no fuel, no APU start.

The airplane then essentially entered a stable, evidently non-damping phugoid with a maxium descent rate of 8000 feet and a pitch excursion range of 9 degrees down to 6 degree up and bank angles between 5 and 25 degrees.  The speed fluctuated between 220 and 340 knots indicated.

The exercise was terminated at 10,000 feet, but there was no reason to believe the phugoid wouldn’t have continued until surface impact. Although these findings are largely academic, I found them interesting nonetheless, especially the autopilot drop out. In the CNN sim clip, the airplane simply picked up a wings-level glide, suggesting to me that either the flight dynamics aren’t well modeled or they didn’t allow the experiment to continue long enough. Either way, it’s inconceivable that the impact would have been survivable, if indeed anyone was still alive to survive it. Whether the type and violence of the impact would have had an effect on surface debris field distribution and thus probability of detection is similarly academic. One theory held that a survivable impact might leave the airplane largely intact and thus less or no surface debris. All we know for sure is that not a trace of the airplane has been found.

And that leads to this disturbing thought. My correspondent has mentioned to me a couple of times of having nightmares about what transpired in that cabin, never mind the cockpit. I’m quite certain he’s not alone and I’m equally certain your imagination is vivid enough to construct a palette of scenarios, so I won’t catalog my own. There’s not much comfort in knowing that we can at least ponder how the airplane might have behaved, but at the moment, with precious little else known, it’s at least something.

Wednesday a.m. addition: CNN shot this background video that offers more information on the simulator.

 

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