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The aviation world may have adapted to the FAA's glacial pace of rulemaking, but commercial operators who see profit potential in drones are looking for ways to move things along. This week, seven aerial photo and video production companies asked the FAA to grant exemptions that would let them get to work. The Motion Picture Association of America facilitated the exemption requests from independent aerial cinematography professionals. The operators have asked the FAA to grant exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates, and airworthiness certification requirements. The FAA said "all the associated safety issues must be carefully considered … [and] the petitioner must still obtain operational approval from the FAA."

Companies also are eager to use unmanned aerial systems for agriculture, powerline and pipeline inspection, and oil and gas flare stack inspection, the FAA said. Representatives from those industries have approached the FAA and are considering filing exemption requests. To receive the exemptions, the firms must show that their UAS operations will not adversely affect safety, or provide at least an equal level of safety to the rules from which they seek exemption. They would also need to show why granting the exemption would be in the public interest. The FAA is working toward proposing rules for UAS operations by next year.


Diamond Aircraft has slowly been recovering from some tough economic times, and last week the company took another step forward, announcing a new collaboration with Northrop Grumman. The two companies will work together to build new intelligence-gathering aircraft in Ottawa, Ontario, starting with manned models by the end of this year, and then collaborating on unmanned aerial systems. "Diamond Aircraft has a long history of superior design and manufacturing processes for propeller-driven general aviation aircraft," said George Vardoulakis, vice president of medium-range tactical systems for Northrop Grumman. "Combined with Northrop Grumman's leadership in manned and unmanned systems, we can pool our expertise to explore new opportunities for our customers worldwide."

As part of this effort, Northrop Grumman will establish a presence in Ontario, near Diamond Aircraft's production facility at London International Airport. Diamond has been working on surveillance-equipped models of its DA42 light twin for several years, flying it in both manned and unmanned versions. "Diamond makes a very stable aircraft," Northrop Grumman spokesman Warren Cromer told the London Free Press. "It is proven and mature and it fits our capabilities." Diamond also recently announced a new $7.8 million contract to sell a fleet of 22 training aircraft to CTI Professional Flight Training, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The flight school chose the DA20-C1 as its primary trainer and the DA42 as its complex, multi-engine trainer.


Solar Impulse 2, the solar-electric aircraft designed to fly around the world, flew more than two hours on Monday, for a successful maiden flight. The single-seat aircraft launched from the Payerne aerodrome in Switzerland, with test pilot Marcus Scherdel in command. "Si2 incorporates a vast amount of new technology to render it more efficient, reliable and in particular better adapted to long-haul flights," said André Borschberg, Solar Impulse CEO. "It is the first aircraft which will have almost unlimited endurance." The aircraft's wings, 236 feet across, carry 17,000 solar cells that supply four electric motors. During the day, the solar cells recharge lithium batteries that power the aircraft at night. On Monday's first flight, the aircraft reached altitudes up to 5,500 feet. The ground speed averaged 30 knots.

An earlier version of the aircraft, Solar Impulse I, flew across the U.S. last year. The project aims to "contribute to the cause of renewable energies, to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development, and to place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure," according to The team plans to fly the new aircraft around the world next year.

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After a successful trial program aimed at deterring people from pointing lasers at aircraft, the FBI announced on Tuesday it is expanding the campaign nationwide. "Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious matter and a violation of federal law," said Joe Campbell, assistant director of the FBI Criminal Investigative Division. "The public awareness campaign we launched in February has been effective in reducing the number of incidents, and our hope in expanding the program is that people will think twice about illegally using these devices." A key part of the campaign is reward money. The FBI is offering up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft. Twelve FBI field offices took part in the trial program, which started about four months ago, and they reported a total 19 percent decrease in the number of reported laser incidents in those regions.

When aimed at an aircraft, the powerful beam of light from a handheld laser can travel more than a mile and illuminate a cockpit, disorienting and temporarily blinding pilots, the FBI said. As of last December, the FAA had documented at least 35 incidents where pilots required medical attention after a laser strike. Last year, 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft were reported. In 2012, a new law made it a felony to knowingly point the beam of a laser at an aircraft. The law lowered the threshold for prosecution, Johnson said, "and the trend is on the rise for jail time in these cases."


Pilot Juergen Drucker, 52, was approaching to land his Piper Archer at a seaside runway on an island off the German coast, when he got a little too low and was caught on video with his gear apparently skimming just inches above a man lying in the sand. "It was me that was flying and I am really sorry," said Drucker. "I have to say, as the pictures show, that it wasn't one of my greatest achievements in the cockpit." Rainer Schmidt, 52, who shot the video, told The Telegraph that he was watching the planes come in and had seen five others land before this one. "I instantly realized that this one was coming in to land far too low," he said. "The others were at least six meters high. It was so close to the man on the beach. The man was very lucky."

Drucker's airplane hit a fence and a sand dune on its way to a bumpy but safe landing on the runway. He was able to repair the airplane and fly home later in the day. The video footage was published by the German tabloid news site Bild.


Pilot Bill Cowden, 47, died on Sunday while performing in an airshow at Steven's Point, Wisc. It was the second fatal accident involving an airshow performer in North America this year, according to the International Council of Air Shows. Cowden was flying a 1993 Yakovlev YAK-55M, which he owned. After executing several maneuvers, the airplane spiraled to the ground and crashed into trees about 1,000 feet from the airport runway. Cowden had flown F-16s in the U.S. Air Force, and later flew for Delta Air Lines. He had been a pilot for 25 years. The cause of the crash is under investigation by the NTSB.

There was no fire, officials said. John Cudahy, president of ICAS, told the Stevens Point Journal there have been fewer than three airshow fatalities in most years since the council began a safety initiative in 2008. The exception was 2011, when five pilots died, Cudahy said. Aerobatic pilots must be evaluated for competency annually by ICAS, and they must document their certification and medical clearance within 45 days of performing in an airshow. According to ICAS statistics, 115 people have died while performing in North American airshows since 1988.

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In Slovenia, Pipistrel is well into certification testing of its exotic Panthera four-place retractable aircraft.  AVweb recently visited the factory and prepared this test flight report on the new aircraft.  Although it hasn't hit its speed numbers yet, Pipistrel thinks further drag clean-up will take care of that.


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One of the occupational hazards of being a video editor is becoming an inevitable victim of the genius of YouTube code writers. They have absolutely figured out the art of click bait and if you’re able to resist falling into the black hole of wasting hours watching pointless videos one day, you won’t the next. The other day when I finished loading an AVweb report, this link popped up in the sidebar.   

There are a dozen others like it, but this series of extreme crosswind takeoffs and landings was shot entirely at Birmingham, England last winter. Evidently, BHX had a record year for storms and winds because the very able photographer who shot these, identified as flugsnug, got lots of interesting examples of the genre: airliner makes harrowing landing. Included in this is what may be the most spectacular example of edge-of-control crosswind skidding I’ve ever seen.

Scroll the video to about 7:40 and sit back and enjoy the action. I’m not sure what that airplane is. Could it be an MD-80 or -90? An S-80? I can’t tell. Upon observing what happens after touchdown, I’m not so much impressed with the piloting skill—or lack thereof, if that’s the case—but with how well the structures guys did their work to design landing gear that can survive that kind of abuse. Perhaps the entire weight of the aircraft isn’t on the mains when it slides left from right of the centerline to far left of the centerline, but the weight is somewhere. Maybe on the nosegear. (It’s not all sliding; the long lens distorts the motion, so part of it—maybe even most—may be a forward lunge to the downwind side. Still impressive, though.)

I’ve experienced minor excursions/slides like this in light aircraft and they’re quite sickening because there aren’t any control inputs you can use to immediately correct the problem. Too bad airplanes aren’t equipped with thrusters, like ships have. Of course, airliners are almost designed to make ugly crosswind landings. Because of low-slug engines, they can’t sideslip into the wind, as we do in light aircraft. There’s a high likelihood of scraping an engine nacelle or catching a wingtip. I think that’s probably true of aircraft with rear-mounted engines, too.

So the operative crosswind technique is what some light aircraft pilots use, which is to hold the centerline with a crab into the flare, then align the airplane at the last minute with rudder. (Or just let the gear and tires do it…) In a strong crosswind, this still sideloads the gear, because once that crab comes out, the sidewise drift—or least the moment—starts. See an example of that at 3:50. Note, too, how the nosegear just slams down into full compression. Ouch. More kudos to the engineers; condolences to the maintainers.

Scroll the video back to 2:03 and you’ll see how takeoffs in extreme crosswinds are just as hard on the airframe. As the airplane is accelerating, you can see it trying to weathervane and the only thing preventing that is tire friction and a dab of rudder. Look at the sliding and drift as the airplane gets light on the wheels and rotates. Airliners don’t have the option of starting the takeoff roll at the far downwind corner the runway and taking off diagonally down the runway. That technique can at least remove some of the crosswind component and reduce the weathervaning and tendency to skid sideways. Even 15 degrees of component relief can help.

I think many of us believe that a squeaker in a crosswind is the mark of true piloting skill. I’m not so sure; I think it might just as well be luck. In an extreme crosswind, the safest thing—other than landing somewhere else where the wind is down the runway—is to get the tires planted with the least amount of drama. The friction they provide on the runway surface imparts far more control than the control surfaces ever will. The touchdown doesn’t have to be pretty; just controlled.

As an aside, I’ve seen runways with some grade and undulations, but nothing quite like Birmingham. Look at the long shot at 10:10. That pavement has more dips than the Cyclone at Coney Island. If the first hill doesn’t launch you, don’t worry, there are four more.

Now that you’ve burned 11 minutes watching this, take some comfort in knowing that the world as a whole has wasted nearly 120 man years looking at what the videographer, in typical Brit understatement, calls “crosswind difficulties.”

Well, hell, it beats a cat video.

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Picture of the Week

Kurt Thorup of Boca Raton, Florida, goes to the boneyard for our latest lead photo. Click through for more reader-submitted images.