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The F-35 has been approved for flight but the Pentagon apparently doesn't want it flying over any oceans for now. The aircraft was due to make its international debut at the Farnborough Airshow this week but the trip has been officially cancelled. The aircraft was grounded after a June 23 engine fire that was traced to "excessive" fan blade rubbing inside the engine. The problem was apparently isolated to one aircraft but Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said they're not ready to risk a trip across the pond. The appearance fell under flight restrictions "that will remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23 engine mishap is identified and corrected," Kirby said. The absence of the elaborately expensive showstopper has vaulted the only other all-new military design debuting at Farnborough, Textron's Scorpion, to bask in some unexpected attention.

The $20 million light attack aircraft has been featured in all the major mainstream media outlets covering the big show. The media spotlight hasn't yet turned into any orders but Textron CEO Scott Donnelly told the Wichita Eagle that's to be expected. "There are lots of customer conversations going on," Textron CEO Scott Donnelly told the Eagle, adding that military procurements have to go through a long process of approval and budgeting in the home countries of the military agencies. The Scorpion is designed as a low-cost light attack and surveillance aircraft for low-risk environments and it went from clean sheet to first flight in 23 months. The fact that it made the trip to Farnborough while the F-35 stayed home was not lost on some of the commentators at the show. "OK, making comparisons is unfair," opined BBC reporter Russell Hotten. "The Scorpion and F-35 are light years apart in specification and functionality. But it is still slightly ironic."

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A fire in an F-35 engine was caused by "excessive" rubbing of fan blades in the engine, Pentagon official Frank Kendall said this week, adding that the cause doesn't appear to be a fundamental design flaw. The fleet of 97 new Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, operated by the Navy and Air Force, has been grounded since early this month, after the fire occurred on June 23 as a pilot was preparing for takeoff. The aircraft, powered by a single Pratt & Whitney engine, was scheduled to fly at the Farnborough Airshow this week, but won't be making the trip. "If the F-35 doesn't make it to the show, it's quite embarrassing," Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group, said recently. "It will jeopardize the timing of export orders. But assuming there's no major problems here, we aren't expecting a serious blow to the program."

Earlier this week, the Pentagon didn't rule out flying the aircraft to England. Kendall said detailed inspections of the fleet hadn't shown signs of excessive rubbing on the fan blades, although several engines did show signs of milder rubbing. "The design allows for a limited degree of rubbing, but it was enough in this case to cause a structural reaction that ultimately led to failure," he said. The jet was expected to be a main attraction at the Farnborough show. The $400 billion program is still in the developmental testing phase of deployment. The UK has committed to buying about four dozen of the jets.

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Sonex Aircraft flew its JSX-2 single-seat single-engine jet for the first time, last Thursday, the company announced on Monday. The jet was subsequently flown several more times and proved "fast and smooth," according to test pilot Bob Carlton. Carlton said he practiced stalls in the jet and flew at speeds above 200 mph. The company plans to exhibit the airplane, with afternoon flight demos, at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, coming up the end of this month. Production will start this year, the company said, with deliveries to start next year, at a price of $135,000. The airplane will be sold as quick-build kit.

The JSX-2 is powered by the PBS TJ-100 engine, which produces about 250 pounds of thrust, the company said. The aircraft features retractable landing gear, a BRS full-aircraft parachute, and removable wings. It has a range of about 400 miles.


Airbus flew its E-Fan 2.0 technology demonstrator at the opening day of the Farnborough Airshow on Monday, and said it plans to have a certified version on the market by late 2017. The two-seat aircraft, aimed at the general aviation training market, would be the first certified all-electric aircraft in the world, the company said. It will have a flight duration of up to two hours. The company plans to follow that about two years later with the E-Fan 4.0, a four-seat hybrid aircraft for training and personal flying. The airplanes will be built in France by Voltair, an Airbus-owned company that will develop, build and service the airplanes.

Although the 2.0 demonstrator now flying has tandem seats, the production version will feature side-by-side seating, the company said, to appeal to the training market, and will have fixed tricycle gear. It will have two ducted-fan propellers driven by two electric motors fueled by battery packs. The 4.0 will be a hybrid with a "range-extender" internal combustion engine that can recharge the batteries on longer flights. Other companies involved as partners in the project include Diamond Aircraft and Daher-Socata. The E-Fan demonstrator flew in public for the first time in April.

The E-Fan 2.0 flies at about four minutes in.

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A new company,, said this week it will debut a "radical" new amphibian LSA design at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, later this month. According to the company, the amphib will be "the world's most versatile plane." The design is by Mike van Staagen, who worked with Cirrus Aircraft for more than 20 years, where he was lead designer for the Vision Jet. The MVP represents "the aircraft of my dreams," van Staagen said. The new start-up company is headed by CEO Steve Pugh, and based in Minneapolis. Few details have been released in advance of the Oshkosh press event, which Pugh said will feature "a detailed tour of our mock-up."

The company will be exhibiting at the EAA Innovation Center during the show, in the new EAA College Park, just northwest of the control tower. EAA reached out to nearly 40 innovators and emerging companies, inviting them to send ideas for what they'd like to showcase at Oshkosh, said EAA Chairman Jack Pelton. MVP was one of seven selected as among "the best and most intriguing of the hundreds of concepts that come from bright minds in the aviation community each year," Pelton said. A full-size mock-up of the airplane also will be on display at a special EAA exhibit near Boeing Plaza, at the heart of the show, according to LSA blogger Dan Johnson.


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Standards must be slipping at CNN. Early Saturday morning, they didn’t have the United 777 diversion to Midway story. I expected the network to have summoned their stadium full of talking heads to connect that incident to--what else?--Malaysian 370. I figured they could spin a couple of days of 24/7 speculation out of the Midway incident…you know, smoke in the cockpit, power failing. But not so far. Maybe I shouldn’t give them any ideas. We’ll see what develops.

Meanwhile, my attention was focused on another 777, the Asiana Airlines flight that crashed in San Francisco last July. To no one’s particular surprise, at least in the aviation community, the crew took the hit for mismanaging the airplane's vertical profile during the approach and for ignoring or not having a good understanding of the automation, especially the autothrottle modes. The full report will shed detail on other factors and it’s due for publication later this month.

My longtime friend Bill English was the NTSB investigator in charge on Asiana 214 and he stopped by the other day. We both agreed that this accident was really a GA-like accident. Break it down and it’s not much different than a Cirrus being flown into terrain on autopilot or a Cessna 210 driver getting low on the PAPI, cratering the airspeed and mushing it in. I suspect something will be made about this being another “automation accident” and while there’s some merit to that, it’s really all about consistent, basic airmanship, or lack thereof. Three qualified and trained pilots saw the PAPI going red, saw the airspeed decaying and simply rode through it. As such, I find that aspect of the accident … uninteresting. It’s a human factors fail. What else is new?

What’s more interesting, at least to me, are the survival factors related to the airplane itself. This is only the second in-flight hull loss for the 777, of about 1200 flying since the airplane entered service in 1995, almost 20 years ago. The first hull loss, recall, was at London’s Heathrow in 2008, when both engines reverted to idle power because of ice crystals in the fuel system. There were injuries, but no fatalities and no fire, despite significant damage to the aircraft. An EgyptAir Triple Seven burned at the gate in 2011 and was written off and, of course, there’s MH370, which seems less and less likely to be considered an accident. It’s unlikely to mar the type’s insurance record.

Because all but three people survived the Asiana 214 crash, it’s quite natural to think of it as just a skid down the runway, sans gear and engines. But that it definitely was not. Bill told me that when he got the go call, he was told only that a mass casualty event had occurred at SFO and an airplane had cartwheeled. He hadn’t seen any news coverage and hadn’t seen the video.

“Then I saw the photo from above. It looked like an airplane…it was canted off one side of the runway. How can it be together like that? So we were not believing the cartwheel story. In fact, I don’t think I saw the video until later the next day,” Bill told me.

The video in question came from a security camera. It yielded footage reminiscent of the United 232 crash in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989, which also looked like a cartwheel, or close. But subsequent investigation of 214 revealed what was more likely a turning pirouette of sorts. The left wing tip scrapped, but the radome never touched pavement. Bill thinks the fact that the tail departed while the engines were spooling up in a last ditch effort to save the approach may have accounted for that. It probably had a significant upward moment at the point of impact and with the tail gone, the CG shifted rapidly forward.

Whatever the reason, the impact forces were enormous, well exceeding the 16Gs the cabin floor rails are rated to carry.  “We can certainly see that the airplane survived the impact and the slide down the runway pretty much intact. The center section was completely intact, the forward section had essentially no damage. In the aft part of the airplane, the floorboards gave way, but you could certainly see why because of the enormous forces. But there was survivable space,” Bill says. The impact was violent enough to produce head injuries to people striking either adjacent seats or seat arms across the aisle

Two of the three passengers who didn’t survive appeared not to have been belted in and were ejected. It’s speculation to say they would have survived if they had been belted, but it’s hardly unreasonable speculation. One passenger was struck by a door that came off its hinges during the impact sequence and likely would not have survived. Of 307 aboard, 182 were injured, 12 critically.

Post-crash photos revealed that the hull burned, but it wasn’t a fuel-fed fire. The right engine got trapped under the wreckage and a punctured oil tank leaking onto hot components appears to have started a small fire that transferred heat into the cabin. But the fire itself didn’t penetrate the cabin and wasn’t a survival or evacuation factor. Neither were the evacuation slides, two of which inflated inside the cabin. Most passengers self-exited, but some had to be helped by rescue personnel. Despite the slowly advancing fire, they had sufficient time to rescue everyone. The failed slides had been subjected to g-forces far beyond their design loads.

The investigation revealed a powerful lateral movement to the left during the impact sequence and a high number of thoracic spinal injuries. Although the mechanism isn’t understood or at least documented, it sounds likely that passengers were simply wrenched violently to the left in their seats. Subsequent investigation may reveal more about this and perhaps inform how seats and seatbelts can be improved. Would shoulder harnesses have helped?

In the meantime, it’s fair to conclude that Boeing applied what it learned from building airplanes and investigating crashes to make a safer, stronger airliner. Crash and impact forces that were barely understood during the 1970s and 1980s were yielding to the computer-aided design used to build the 777. It hung together through a horrific impact sequence. And it hung together after that, too.

“Weeks after we had done the investigation on the airplane, the wreckage had to be moved off the airport. There’s not that much room at San Francisco,” Bill told me.  “So we had to break it down into smaller pieces. It was an enormous effort. It’s not easy to break apart a Triple Seven. It looked like something out of the movie Transformers to get that center wing box apart.”

After I talked to Bill, I got wondering whether the Triple Seven has the best accident record of any transport category aircraft. It doesn’t quite, but close. According to Boeing’s own numbers (PDF) the Airbus A380, the 747-8 and the 787 have better safety records than the 777 among wide bodies, but none have close to the fleet experience, having accumulated fewer than a million departures, at least through 2012. Surprisingly, despite flying in higher risk operations—more weather, more takeoffs and landings—the CRJ-series regional jets and Boeing's own 737-800-900 series have a little better numbers than the Triple. So does the 717, but only about 150 of those are flying. The Airbus 320-class is comparable to the 777, albeit with many more hull losses.

But it’s a quibble hardly worth the pixels to describe. Modern airliners, wide bodies like the 777 included, have become exceptionally reliable and safe thanks to lessons written in flesh and blood during the 1960s and 1970s. It’s hard to imagine them improving much, but they’re very likely to do just that.

So much so, in fact, that if Bill retires from the NTSB in five years, which he might do, Asiana 214 could easily be his last major U.S. accident investigation. That notion would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. But it isn’t now.

Bill will be AirVenture with a presentation on Asiana 214 survival aspects. See him in the Federal Building on Saturday, August 2 at 11:45 a.m. and catch him on EAA Radio on Thursday, July 31 at 12:15 p.m.

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Our annual AirVenture pre-show press pump priming has revealed something interesting. I count at least 50 press announcements of some kind and since there are always last-minute additions, there’s likely to be more than that. (There are 20 on Monday alone.)

As far as I know, this is a record number by a significant margin. The last such deluge I can remember occurred in 2007 or 2008, when there might have been 25 total. Most companies try to do their unveilings on Monday, reasoning that this will get them the most attention. I’ll tell you why that’s wrong in a minute, but first, what’s going on here?

Does this number of announcements represent a breaking tsunami of new products and a soon-to-come unleashing of bottomless demand in general aviation? I doubt if anyone is naïve enough to believe that, so I’m not going to even flesh out the theory with any unsupported opinions. More likely, in my view, is that it’s a combination of a baby bull and companies putting more of their marketing eggs in the AirVenture basket. Now that AOPA has yanked Summit and reverted to regional shows, more companies are doing just two exhibitions, AirVenture and Sun ‘n Fun or Aero. With sales soft and marketing budgets shrunken, I get it.

Unfortunately, with everyone vying for reader eyeballs on the first day of the show, with some simultaneous announcements, some of this news will get coverage, some will get late coverage and some will get none at all. So the on-site press conference is like shouting down the proverbial hollow pipe. Well, with one difference: at least the pipe echoes back.

But there is a better way. Many of the eyeballs companies want to reach subscribe to AVweb and go to the show just to see certain products or services that they’ve read about before they get there. Those same eyeballs may have only a couple of days to spend in Oshkosh and lately, they’re spending ever fewer days. So if your press announcement doesn’t get seen until the third day because of the high ambient noise, you can see the problem. The vast majority of buyers find out about things online, via news feeds, but more likely through search engines. The sooner it’s in search, the better.

So my suggestion is this: If you’re a savvy marketing person with little time or budget to do anything but a press conference only a handful will attend, do yourself—and us and our readers—a favor by contacting us well ahead of the show. That way, we can prepare a more indepth report, possibly including video, that will tell the story better and get it out there sooner. Readers headed for the show will know about whatever you have to introduce and you’ll get them where you want them: in your booth, not the press tent.

I understand the reluctance to let go of 1999 and allow the press conference to slip beneath the waves, but it may be time. If this makes sense to you, contact us and we'll take it from there.

Oh, and if you have donuts at your press conference, we’ll still come anyway.

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At Sun 'n Fun in April 2014, Rotax announced the new 912iS Sport, which has more mid-range torque for aircraft without constant speed props.  In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli flew the engine with Rotax's Alexander Mitter.

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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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Picture of the Week

Pete Lossner of Lake Oswego, OR leads off an incredible assortment of photos this week. Click through for more from AVweb readers.