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SpaceX Dragon

Within a few years, U.S. astronauts will be able to launch to the International Space Station from the U.S., instead of traveling to Russia as they've been doing since the end of the space-shuttle program in 2011, NASA said on Tuesday. NASA said it has chosen Boeing and SpaceX to develop crew-carrying spacecraft by 2017. "Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission -- sending humans to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. NASA will allot $4.2 billion to Boeing's effort and $2.6 billion to SpaceX.

The contracts specify that the Commercial Crew vehicles must comprise a fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system that can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station. After each company's test program has been completed successfully and its system is certified by NASA, each contractor will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station. NASA astronauts and other staff will participate as partners in the development and testing of the new technology. The companies will own and operate the crew transportation systems and can sell their services to other customers in addition to NASA.

Boeing said it will build three CST-100 vehicles at its facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft will undergo a pad-abort test in 2016 and an uncrewed flight in early 2017, leading up to the first crewed flight to the ISS in mid-2017. The CST-100 will transport up to seven passengers in a capsule that will be blasted into space atop a rocket and return to Earth beneath a set of parachutes, similar to today's Russian Soyuz system. SpaceX says its Dragon Version 2 spacecraft, which also launches atop a rocket, will be able to land with the aid of thrusters, "with the precision of a helicopter," then refuel and fly again, "for rapid reusability." The first manned test flight is expected in two to three years, according to the SpaceX website. Sierra Nevada Space Systems also was in the running for the NASA contract, but was left out.

Boeing Video:

SpaceX Video:

The number of civil aviation accidents fell last year, from 1,539 in 2012 to 1,297 in 2013, the NTSB said on Monday. General aviation accidents showed a decrease in all categories. The total number of GA accidents was 1,222, a decrease of 249 from 2013. The number of fatal accidents (221), fatalities (387), and the accident rate per 100,000 flight hours (5.85) all declined from the previous year. Last year's statistics showed the GA accident rate as virtually flat. All other categories in this year's analysis showed increased accidents, and the statistics include the first fatal accident in three years for a scheduled Part 121 operation -- the August 2013 UPS crash that killed two pilots.

Accidents for commuter flights increased from four in 2012 to eight in 2013, with three fatal accidents. On-demand Part 135 operations, which include charter, air taxi, air tour, and air medical flights, showed increases in all categories. The number of total accidents (44), fatal accidents (10), and fatalities (27) all increased, and the accident rate per 100,000 flight hours increased to 1.24 from 0.99 in 2012. The NTSB noted that although the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash occurred in the United States, it is not reported in the NTSB statistics because it's a foreign carrier. The complete statistical tables compiled by the NTSB are posted online.

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Gulfstream is quietly making progress toward a supersonic business jet that might be able to fly above Mach 1 over the U.S. FAA regulations currently ban supersonic flight over land in the U.S. The company has earned three patents in the last few months toward that end and Business in Savannah says that's a pretty clear indication of the company's focus. It also quotes Gulfstream's Steve Cass as saying supersonic flight over land is a bottom-line requirement for any future development. "From the beginning, we've made it clear that we are not going to begin building a quiet supersonic aircraft prototype until its operation is approved by the respective aviation authorities for use over land," Cass said Monday. "Unfortunately, that's not going to happen tomorrow." Nevertheless, earning patents in this realm is a complicated and costly process and the patents awarded might describe a path toward prototype development.

Perhaps the most significant patent is 8,789.789 for a "supersonic aircraft with spike for controlling and reducing sonic boom." The company showed the idea off on NASA's F-15 test aircraft with a, well, long retractable spike protruding from the front. The spike spreads out the effect of the pressure wave that builds in front of a transonic aircraft and makes the noise heard on the ground a lot more tolerable and less destructive. The other patents cover "systems and methods for controlling magnitude of a sonic boom" and one for "a propulsion system using large-scale vortex generators for flow redistribution and supersonic aircraft equipped with the propulsion system," Business in Savannah said. Gulfstream never comments directly on development projects.

Aerion is making a multi-million dollar bet that the world needs a supersonic business jet, and it's developing one for delivery in 2021.  AVweb's editorial team shot this update on the project.

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image: NCAR

The National Championship Air Races wrapped up at Reno on Sunday, with Steven Hinton Jr., of Chino, California, taking the Breitling Unlimited Gold championship in his P-51 Mustang, Voodoo. It was the sixth win in a row for 27-year-old Hinton, who reached a top speed of 493 mph in Sunday's race. Close competitor Rare Bear, a 10-time winner, flown by Stewart Dawson, dropped out of the race after the first lap with mechanical problems. The event also hosted a drone race for the first time, with a field of 20 small unmanned aircraft systems in a competition organized by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. And on Saturday, the NTSB said in a preliminary report that the race plane that crashed last Monday during a qualifying heat broke up in flight before impacting the ground.

"Witnesses reported that the accident airplane departed runway 26, turned south and maneuvered to enter the race course," according to the NTSB. "As the airplane was observed passing outer pylon 5, portions of the right wing separated from the wing structure. Subsequently, the airplane began to roll to the right and impacted terrain. … [W]reckage debris was scattered between race pylons 5 and 6 of the outer race course… [within an] approximate 4,000 foot long debris path." Pilot Lee Behel was killed. On Sunday afternoon, pilot Bob Wolstenholme made an emergency landing as his airplane reportedly emitted fire and smoke, but he wasn't hurt. No other incidents occurred at the races.

If you missed the Red Bull Air Races in Texas earlier this month, you have one more chance to catch them in the U.S.A. -- next stop in the global series will be Las Vegas, Oct. 11 and 12. After that, the racers will wrap up this year's season with the final race, in Austria. So far, veteran flyer Paul Bonhomme, of Great Britain, is in the lead for the series, followed by Austria's Hannes Arch. Canada's Pete McLeod is in sixth place, with Kirby Chambliss and Michael Goulian, from the USA, finishing up the field at 11 and 12. Those rankings are volatile, though, and can change at any time as the competition continues.

The upcoming race will be held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with grandstand seating starting at $39 and on up to $950 per day for Sky Lounge access. The races returned this year after a three-year hiatus, with new pylons and new rules. In previous years, the race teams were allowed to modify their aircraft, but now the engines and propellers have been standardized for all teams. Each racing plane is equipped with a Lycoming Thunderbolt AEIO-540-EXP engine and the Hartzell 3-bladed 7690 structural composite propeller. "Both the pilots and their teams have instead dedicated their efforts to perfecting airframe aerodynamics, as well as pilot skill and ability," according to Red Bull.

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Lockheed Martin Flight Services is introducing a variety of new features that make use of satellite datalink, including a new electronic PIREP and search-and-rescue capability that uses the Iridium communications network.  In this video, Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano gets a tour of the new features from Lockheed's Jim Derr while at AirVenture 2014 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Two former DC-3 captains were reunited with the aircraft they both flew over "the Hump" in Asia's Himalayan mountains during World War II, more than 70 years ago, in a special event held last week at the SFO Museum, at the San Francisco International Airport. The Historic Flight Foundation, which owns and operates the airplane, flew it in to celebrate the opening of a new exhibit, "The Legend of CNAC: China National Aviation Corporation, 1929-1949." Former CNAC Captain Peter Goutiere, age 99, rode in to the event aboard the DC-3, from Washington's Paine Field, and Captain Moon F. Chin, 101, was on hand to greet his friend upon landing. The airplane flew for Pan Am and Johnson & Johnson before the Foundation bought it, in 2006, and spent six years restoring it.

images: SFO Museum

The pilots of CNAC "blazed a trail unlike any other in the history of commercial air transport," according to the museum website. Operating in harsh weather at extreme altitudes above challenging terrain, the pilots established a route system across the Himalayas between India and China. "CNAC's personnel continuously operated and adapted its air services during civil war, invasion, occupation, world war, and revolution," says the museum. "In opening the skies over China and beyond as a carrier of passengers, airmail, and cargo, CNAC became an important strategic asset during a time of great conflict." The exhibit will be open until Feb. 6, 2015.

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Since this seems to be the season for discussing hypoxia and the threat it presents to GA pilots, I was reminded that we published this dramatic audio on AVweb five years ago. I had forgotten about it, which isn't a good thing given what an incredible lesson it is.

The incident occurred in July 2008 and in addition to the podcast, there's a video with better audio here. I'm not clear on the exact date because the incident doesn't seem to appear in the NTSB records. We published it as a consequence of the National Air Traffic Controller's Association awarding the controllers involved an Archie League award for a flight save. 

When I blogged about the recent TBM accident on Monday, I posed the somewhat rhetorical question of why didn't the pilot declare an emergency and not just ask for lower, but proceed rapidly lower on his own. The answer may be evident in this tape. The aircraft is a Kalitta Flying Service Lear 25 enroute from Manassas, Virginia to Ypsilanti, Michigan. When the pilot checks in on the frequency, he's already deeply hypoxic and slurring his words, but he declares an emergency then, oddly, doesn't ask for or descend to a lower altitude on his own. This is a stunning example of how tunnel-visioned hypoxia can render you. Salvation is 20,000 feet lower, but the pilot is focused on getting vectors to his destination. Although he's declared an emergency, he declines vectors to a closer airport. Interestingly, there are at least four people involved in some way on the frequency, yet despite the pilot's obvious incapacitation, the word hypoxia isn't heard until 3:24. That's a long time to be oxygen deprived.

The controllers deserved the Archie for this incident. Although they did well, they didn't do as well as they might have had they been trained to quickly recognize a hypoxic pilot, who might not be capable of even formulating intentions, much less saying them. But they figured it out soon enough to make the save and that's what counts. The tape is now used as a classroom training aid in Oklahoma City and I daresay it's an effective one.

In its citation for the award, NATCA said the First Officer's arm was moving violently and contacting the controls, keeping the autopilot offline. Convulsions are the truly dark side of hypoxia and aren't always listed in the garden variety symptoms. When I did my first chamber ride around 1992, one of the participants convulsed and it was terrifying. As per the training doctrine, at 25,000 feet, half the students remove their masks, the other half keep them on. You're invited to stay off oxygen as long as you can stand it.

I was in the group with masks on when I noticed another guy in my row going into the funky chicken. I thought he was clowning around but the instructor got a mask on him fast and turned it to emergency flow. He came back around in a few seconds and the dance stopped, although he was still twitching for a few minutes afterward. After the fact, he was completely unaware of what had happened. When we finished our training, I asked the instructor how often that happens. Kinda rare, he said, but it does happen.

Which reminds me to mention another kind of hypoxia training that Flight Safety does. I went through that course a few years ago. Rather than a chamber ride, they have a system that mimics high altitude by having the pilot breath through a mask in which the oxygen partial pressure is reduced. It's called ROB, for  reduced oxygen breathing. The gist of the training is to teach you to recognize your own hypoxic symptoms while you're still able to make judgments and act. It's all done in the simulator, with actual emergency descents from high altitude. I learned, for instance, that my early onset symptoms are lightheadedness and sweating. Other people may react differently. But better to find that out down here than up there.

Monday A.M. addition: The FSI course seems to have been dropped, which is too bad. It's another way to train hypoxia awareness without going to the chamber. This company, however, does offer the equipment for ROB training.

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In Melbourne, Florida, Embraer opened a new engineering and technology center, the first outside of Brazil.  AVweb attended the grand opening and interviewed the company's Mauro Kern about Embraer's plans.

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Parimal Kopardekar, principal investigator for NASA's Unmanned Aerial Systems Traffic Management (UTM) project, is working to create a system that would help make it possible for UAS to operate in specified low-altitude zones within the national airspace.  He talked with AVweb's Mary Grady about the technology and its timeline.

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There's nothing quite like the Grumman Tiger. On not much gas, the airplane is moderately fast, fun to fly and has that sporty canopy, which can be opened in flight. Our Refurb of the Month is Paul Curs' 1977 AA5B. Here's his report.

"She started out in 1977 as N81169 and had three previous owners — the last of which just let her sit forlorn on a tie down for many years. She now wears her refurb N-number: N7LZ.

The restoration was done by the professionals at FletchAir Fleet Support, with parts support from Fletchair, Inc.,  decades-old partner-companies with experts dedicated to the Grumman line.

The before picture is in the original paint scheme, as we first saw the airplane the day we decided to have it restored. The airplane was disassembled, restored, then reassembled. 

Here is a general run-down of what was done to the airplane: The low-time engine was overhauled with LyCon and CamLube performance improvements; a new MT constant speed composite three-blade prop, a new PowerFlow exhaust, and a new LoPresti cowl. 

The custom instrument panel has a new Garmin SL30 navcomm, a GNS530 upgraded to WAAS and a new smaller Mid-Continent MD222 CDI (to the SL30).  A new STEC 30 autopilot, with altitude hold, that tracks either the GNS530W or the SL30, was also installed.

The six-pack flight instruments were inspected, reconditioned, and recertified and new Electronics International MVP-50P engine analyzer, with individual tank digital fuel quantity, replaced the old analog engine and fuel quantity instruments.  

It has a new custom exterior paint scheme, a new interior, new windshields and windows and new seat belts and shoulder harnesses.  Updated exterior lighting includes a red strobe-beacon in addition to white wing and tail strobes. 

We've flown it about 170 hours, over the last 28 months, since we picked up the airplane from FletchAir Fleet Support." 

Paul Curs
Canyon Lake, Texas

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These days, there are dozens of POV or action cams to challenge the market-leading GoPro, including Garmin's VIRB.  AVweb did an extensive comparison of both of those cameras and prepared this video report.

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When I was at the Pipistrel factory in Slovenia last April, the techs were patiently amused while I wrapped a wing-mounted GoPro camera with a safety layer of duct tape. I'd stuck the thing under the wing with the standard GoPro 3M pressure sensitive base. "You know," one of them said, "we never do that. The adhesive holds them fine. They never come off." They were right, but when it comes to crap falling off airplanes, I go the belt-and-suspenders route.

This came to mind recently when we published an action cam review in Aviation Consumer and a couple of readers asked about the legalities of externally mounted cameras. It surfaced again this week when our video comparing cameras appeared. I figured that when I revealed how I mount these cameras, it would stir up some trouble. I was right.

I'll get to the legalities in a moment; first the mechanics. Action cams like the GoPro and Garmin's VIRB are usually equipped with footpads that will attach in various ways, including 3M pressure adhesive, suction cups and clamps. If you want it attached to the outside of the airplane, there's always a way. My way, as shown in the video, is to use the pressure-sensitive adhesive. When possible, clean the area first with alcohol, set the pad, and let it cure overnight. Then it's ready for the camera.

To the amusement of my Solvenian friends, I backstop the pad with tape. First, I lay down a layer of painter's tape to protect the paint. Then I wrap the duct tape entirely around the surface and join it to itself, top end facing downstream. I fashion a small tether out of tape and wrap it around the base of the camera mount. The end of the tether's flat section of tape goes under the wrapped layer. This lash-up is hell for strong. It's simply not going to break under the normal loads conceivably imposed on the camera. It's also overkill. But I don't want to lose a $300 camera or dent someone's noggin or windshield.

There are all kinds of commercial mounts for GoPros. Sporty's has one that attaches anywhere there's a number 6, 8 or 10 screw on the airframe. They say it's for experimental aircraft only signaling, at least for public consumption, that they believe such mounts are of questionable legality on certified aircraft. Here's another mount for a strutted aircraft. I haven't tried it, but it looks well designed for a reasonable price.

Among the many mounts used for action cams are suction cups. Lots of people use these on the outside of the airplane, but I wouldn't consider it. A slight leak in the seal or a good shake or oil-caning and the cup can part company with the surface. In that case, a strong, but short tether of some kind is a must. The tether shouldn't allow the camera to flop around, but merely to tip over.

When I use a suction cup inside the airplane, usually stuck to the glass, I try to tether it even then. I've had them pop loose more than once. I made myself a selection of bungee tethers with snaps on both ends, so I can wrap them around available attachment points. GoPro sells its own small adhesive tethers, but I haven't found a use for them yet. I also tether the cameras when I use them on motorcycles.

Now the legalities. My general response to this has been don't ask, don't tell. But our hand got forced when a couple of readers asked about the legalities. The operator of a skydiving aircraft was about to be violated for some claimed infraction related to an external camera mount. So we asked the FAA at the local and national level. My colleague Larry Anglisano, editor of Aviation Consumer, got this internal guidance memo from the FAA: Here's the PDF. It's short and to the point, so I suggest reading it.

Basically, the memo says camera mounts aren't major alterations since they don't appreciably change flight characteristics, performance, weight and balance or basic airworthiness. They also don't represent changes to the aircraft's basic type certification, so no STC is necessary. The memo suggests reviewing them on a "case-by-case" basis. In the reality of the modern regulatory world, that means one FSDO inspector might have no problem with a temporary camera mount installed using no tools, while another may clearly see a violation of some FAR he would have to cite. Which inspector you get is the luck of the draw, but I think the FAA's memo gets it right: case by case and use common sense.

The memo further says the FAA doesn't support such attachments and should one come loose, the ever-present FAR 91.13 cudgel—careless or reckless operation—is available for use. And that's as it should be. The act of mounting the camera is not, of itself, careless or reckless; losing it because you didn't do it right might be. Again, case by case.

Without looking too hard, you can find language in the regulations that might define one of these mounts as illegal on a certified airplane. If that's your wont, have at it. But my view is just the reverse; I'm looking for a way to get it done with reasonable safety and practicality without spending a fortune to film a lousy three-minute video. I think it's a paranoid absurdity to argue that a GoPro taped to a strut will alter the flight characteristics of an airplane in any way, much less meaningfully. (Then again, that's not true of everywhere you could put a camera. See this discussion.)

On the other hand, if you mount the camera to a control surface or where a detachment could jam a control or damage the aircraft, you're not using good judgment. Anyone who's really nervous about this either shouldn't do it or should take the trouble to have an A&P do an inspection and a logbook entry. Otherwise, just mount the camera, do your flight, and remove it when you land. Keep it simple. This is supposed to be fun and recreational, remember? And be mindful of speed. Strut mounts on a 172 are one thing, the top of a turboprop wing something else. (Pipistrel had cameras all over the Panthera, which cruises at 180 knots.)

If you're anticipating doing a lot of video work or doing it professionally, check out this product, the Eagle 360. It's a nicely made camera belly pod and is fully STCd and approved for at least 50 airplanes and will accommodate up to five cameras. If you want to do serious aerial video right, that's how.

Wednesday P.M. update: I've been getting calls and emails on this subject in the background. One reader, with extensive experience in mounting GoPros on wings and other structures, had two suggestions I hadn't considered. One, the 3M patch will degrade with time. So it shouldn't be left to weather on the wing for more than a few days. Just use a fresh one. They're cheap. But do let it cure overnight. 

Second, use so-called high speed tape--this stuff--to protect the paint under the 3M pad. You can use another wrap across the top of the camera for extra security. Polyken tape is actually intended as an aviation product, albeit no specifically for this purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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