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Two New York men have been arrested after the quadcopter they were flying allegedly almost collided with a police helicopter over the George Washington Bridge. NYPD sources told the New York Daily News that officers on the helicopter followed the drone to its landing zone and that Wilkins Mendoza, 34, and Remy Castro, 23, were arrested at the scene. Another drone was also recovered. The two men were charged with Class D reckless endangerment because the helicopter pilot believed the drone was a threat to his aircraft.

The newspaper said the officers on the helicopter spotted the drone flying at about 800 feet AGL near the iconic bridge just after midnight Monday. The paper says it was told the helicopter pilot had to take evasive action to avoid a collision with the UAV. The court was told the police observed the drone flying as high as 2,000 feet.


Aviation sunglasses manufacturer Summer Hawk Optics is using crowdsourcing to help bring its latest line of headset-friendly sunglasses to market sooner rather than later. CEO Dean Siracusa said in a news release that the new glasses feature extremely thin temples (the part that goes over the ear) making them comfortable to wear under a variety of headgear. The company, which sells the glasses under the Flying Eyes brand, launched its Indiegogo campaign recently and is offering a variety of incentives for investment in the launch of the new line of sunglasses.

The sunglasses were launched with interchangeable strap and temples. The strap is used when headgear, such as a headset, is worn and provides minimal interference with the headgear. The temples are snapped in place for everyday use. The new thin temples target an expanded market. "With the new super thin temples, Flying Eyes has reached new markets including aviation ground crew, motorcyclists, EMT and firefighters, equestrian show jumpers, racing pit crews and even surgeons in the operating room with their new clear bifocal lens option," the news release said.

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AirFleet Capital says it marked a significant milestone in its business that bodes well for the future of GA. The lender, which only operates in the GA market, wrote its 5,000th aircraft loan in June. The company has been in business for 20 years so it's averaging 250 loans a year covering the GA gamut from turbine business aircraft to light singles and experimentals, and demand is steady. "This milestone speaks to a long-term resilience in the GA market and, nearer term, the strengthening market and rebounding bank appetite for GA loans," the company said in a news release.

Steve Smestad, founder and CEO of the company, said because the company deals only in GA and all its staff are involved in GA AirFleet Capital has a unique window on the GA world. "They note that an increase in retail demand is well matched with bank appetites that continue to rebound," he said.


A graduate student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is looking for employees of Part 121 air carriers to take an anonymous online survey. Steve Roe said he hopes to gather opinions about participation in the Advanced Qualification Program, a voluntary program for pilot training and checking overseen by the FAA. The study is designed to reveal any barriers that may be preventing air carriers from fully participating in the AQP. "Documenting the viewpoints of both sides of AQP participation might facilitate enhancements to air carrier training programs, their use of educational technology and curriculum development methodologies," Roe said.

"Under the AQP the FAA is authorized to approve significant departures from traditional requirements, subject to justification of an equivalent or better level of safety," according to the FAA. "The program entails a systematic front-end analysis of training requirements from which explicit proficiency objectives for all facets of pilot training are derived." To participate in the survey, download this PDF document, then click on the link at the bottom. Roe said the survey might take up to 15 minutes, but there are only 14 questions, and some may be able to complete it more quickly.


image: aerobarcelona

A new YouTube video shows a Russian 767 on final pulling up to go around at Barcelona's busy airport on Saturday, as an Airbus A340 taxis across the runway -- and the video had 2 million hits by Saturday and more than 4 million by midday today. (Update: By Tuesday afternoon, the count was close to 12 million.) The encounter may look closer than it was -- an airport official told CNN there had been no danger of impact and the angle of the video didn't make clear there was plenty of space between the two airplanes.  

The official told CNN the Russian UTair crew had been cleared to land but chose to abort on their own authority. The Aerolineas Argentinas crew also had been cleared to taxi across the runway. A spokesperson told The Irish Times there was plenty of room between the two aircraft for a safe landing.  It was "not about a collision or a possible collision," according to CNN's source, who added that the 767 landed safely on the second attempt and neither airline had submitted a complaint over the incident. Spain's aviation authority, AENA, said the government's Committee on Civil Aviation Incidents and Accidents will look into the incident. Miguel Angel, an aviation enthusiast, posted the video.

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The Thai Air Force extended the life of its fleet of DC-3s by decades with their conversion to Basler BT-67s.  They're used for everything from troop transport to making it rain.


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With the explosions from the 4th of July celebration finally subsiding, this video has gone viral on YouTube and I wonder if it’s going to ignite some post holiday explosions of its own. (Thanks to Edd Weninger for sending the link; the video popped up on numerous sites over the weekend.)

First, the particulars. The video was filmed by Jos Stiglingh in May over Palm Beach, Florida. The fireworks were part of a local event called Sunfest and weren’t related to the 4th of July. Stiglingh flew a DJ1 Phantom 2 quadcopter not just near the aerial fireworks display, but into the explosions. He edited the footage to an aria, Con Te Partiro, by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. The footage is quite spectacular; the music motivates me to return to my Italian lessons.

Now for the fall out, which such high-profle things have a way of causing. As we all know, the UAV industry and the FAA are struggling and tussling over how to regulate the great profusion of unmanned and remotely piloted vehicles being flown to every purpose imaginable. The FAA seems paralyzed as the industry swirls with new developments and aircraft while practical regulation drags. Then something like this comes along.

Judging by the YouTube comments, people who view the video like it, but many aren’t sensitive to the risks. The small percentage of viewers who are seem to be somewhat appalled. Reluctantly, I have to side with them, even though I take a generally laissez-faire attitude toward drone flying in U.S. airspace. Ignore, for a moment, the FAA’s inadequate and arbitrary prohibition against drones being flown for commercial use at any altitude—this doesn't appear to be commercial use—or above 400 feet without a specific authorization. I don’t know if this flight exceeded that, but that doesn’t matter.

The FAA has basically decreed that below 400 feet, UAV—RC if you preferpilots are on their own and should follow the safety guidelines (PDFestablished by Academy of Model Aeronautics. Judging by the footage, it’s doubtful that Stiglingh’s flight conformed to the letter of the AMA guidelines, much less the spirit. Forbes author Gregory S. McNeal worked himself into an absolute lather over the legalities involved, but that misses the larger point: never mind abritrary rules, what are the actual risks?

In my view, the risk is real enough, but not large. The AMA guidelines require a safety line to separate spectators from the aircraft and at night, the aircraft is supposed to be illuminated. It’s not clear if it was. Further, in this case, the drone was essentially intentionally flown into the equivalent of small-scale AAA. As a callow youth, I had a summer job setting up professional-grade fireworks for the local town’s 4th of July display. These ain’t bottlerockets. There’s a reason they call them mortars and they need to be handled carefully and isolated from external influences. The thought of a damaged drone pitching into a mortar rack is none too comforting. Maybe it wouldn't cause much trouble, but you'd want to avoid it if you could.

As is often the case, the display was fired from a barge offshore. Did the crew on or near the pyrotechnic barge know that a drone would be dodging their shots? Did the spectators sign up for the small risk of a damaged and/or out of control quad coming their way? I doubt it. I am just philosophically opposed to exposing unawares people to risk when the reward for doing so is minimal. 

Maybe it’s a little soon to say that drones filming fireworks is a trend, but there was another example in Nashville over the weekend, albeit not as spectacular as Stiglingh’s work. While I admire the brass and creativity that went into this filming—not to mention the spectacular results—I just don’t think the risk of an equally spectacular disaster is a worthy tradeoff. Even if the risk is minimal, the optics are lousy. The UAV community is struggling against what I view as the FAA's overstatement of risks this technology represents, but we shouldn't give the FAA ammunition by doing stuff that's really stupid. I'm not sure Stiglingh's flight qualifies as that, but it strikes me as ill advised. I can just imagine the headlines if it had gone wrong. By the time the FAA got done, you'd need an ATP just to buy a quad.

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Given that aviation isn’t the broadest topic in the world, publications that cover it have to repeat certain topics from time to time. These articles are sometimes called “evergreens,” because they can be revisited with a fresh perspective.

One of these is the notion of personal minimums for aeronautical decision making. The theory is that one way the airlines have achieved such remarkably low accident rates is that they have adopted defined procedures which provide a robust framework to make go/no-go decisions. These procedures have been refined over the years and, inarguably, they have worked. So why not apply Part 135 or Part 121 standards to private, non-hire flying?

As an editor, I have published my share of these articles, but I’ve never written one because I think they’re generally feel-good pieces that describe an idea that has little safety impact for people disciplined enough to actually commit personal minimums to some kind of formal document or structure. And not many are willing to even try.

My countervailing theory is that anyone who’s aware enough to seek this kind of disciplined, procedural approach to personal flying is probably sharp enough to avoid the really stupid stuff which keeps the accident rate as high as it is. Someone who routinely stretches fuel or payload margins or who views approach minimums as mere advisories is unlikely to resonate with the idea of having a three-ring binder (or an iPad file) with a list of thou-shalt-nots. Even if we led those horses to the trough, I doubt they would drink.

Procedures work in the airline and military world because they rely not just on the discipline of a single pilot, but on a system of monitoring and a culture that not only requires oversight but accepts it. The pilot’s judgment is consistently informed by formal procedures that allow room for some deviation and judgment, but less than in GA. The world of private flying is almost the diametric opposite. Despite the regulations we like to carp about, our behavior as pilots is almost unfettered and there’s certainly no oversight against a checklist of approved procedures. That’s part of the attraction of flying your own airplane and with it comes risk.

In safety, monitoring counts for a lot. Earlier this week, I wrote about the Harrier that landed on the U.S.S. Bataan with a crumped nosegear. We got great video of that not just because some sailor had his iPhone out but because for years, the Navy has obsessively filmed everything as part of its overlapping safety procedures. I once spent some time on the LSO platform of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt during carrier workups for deployment in what the Navy calls Case 1 ops—basically day VFR.

In one corner of that platform was an enlisted—the hook talker--with a pair of binoculars, whose sole job was to call “hook down, gear down” for the LSOs when the airplane was on the downwind. The pilot certainly knows to do that and probably has a checklist, but he has someone checking him anyway and the checkers are supervised, too.

Another observer on deck informs additional watchers in the four arresting engine rooms via intercom when the airplane is in the groove, short and over the carrier’s ramp so those crews will know to keep their bodies clear of the arresting gear. That way, when the wire engages and gets snatched out, they won’t get snatched with it. The crews know to avoid these hazards, but they have someone watching to make sure they do avoid them. In other words, it’s a lot of human effort and resources to achieve remarkable safety in a high risk flight environment. Everyone accepts and expects to be monitored in some way.

In light aircraft general aviation, we’re on our own. We have the barest statistical understanding of accidents by which to estimate risk other than by gut feel. It’s just the nature of the activity. For many—if not most of us—risk mitigation falls into the personal demons method. If we’re scared of the dark, we don’t fly at night. If ice terrifies, we ground it during the winter. And so forth. And that’s where the personal minimums idea falls apart for me. Because of my personal risk profile—I’m not risk averse—sticking to artificial rules chaffs if there are mitigating circumstances to the contrary.

When I lived in the northeast, we would get those sodden stationary fronts that would hang around for days, dropping the ceilings to 200 or 300 feet in a mile or so. I reveled in that stuff; great fun to go out and get in a half-dozen approaches. In a single-engine airplane, that’s a real risk that some aren’t willing to take—a perfectly rational decision, just not one I would always make. So the hard personal rules, for me, were just too limiting to make much sense.

Many of our readers are conflicted about icing. During the winter, it’s often in the forecast but not always in the clouds. You can construct a personal minimum that makes all kinds of exceptions for PIREPS and freezing levels and tops, but the only minimums that really work are the hard ones you adhere to no matter what. And that would be if ice is in the forecast, don’t go.

Then there’s the zero-zero takeoff, a topic that’s almost as good at igniting hangar shouting matches as say, pattern entries. I have never done a zero-zero takeoff because I have never seen zero-zero. If I had, how would I have even found the airplane on the ramp? But I have done plenty of takeoffs in 1/8th mile. Again, this entails risk, even high risk. But if you’re current and proficient on attitude flying and you can see the centerline for 100 feet, how much more risky is it than taking off into a 100- or 200-foot ceiling? Can you put a number on it? Where to draw the line? (Some pilots won’t depart an airport in IMC they can’t immediately get back into. I preferred to have a plausible takeoff alternate, and usually did.)

So I remain ambivalent about structured personal minimums, preferring to measure each situation sui generis and decide accordingly, considering all the variables. Sometimes your gut is a good guide, sometimes not. Personal minimums and ops specs certainly can’t hurt. I just wonder if the pilots disciplined enough to use them really benefit much.

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Mike Slack founded the law firm of Slack and Davis, headquartered in Austin with offices in Dallas and Fort Worth, which provided much of the background information for the controversial USA Today story that examined general aviation safety a couple of weeks ago.  Slack, an IFR-rated pilot and owner of a turbo 182 and a T-6, told AVweb's Russ Niles that rather than shoot the messenger, GA should be looking at meaningful changes to the way airplanes are built and accidents investigated.

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An extensive report on general aviation safety in USA Today this week doesn't convey the whole story, says GAMA President Pete Bunce.  He took a break from his work in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to talk with AVweb's Mary Grady about ongoing efforts to build safer airplanes.

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