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Forbes blogger Gregory S. McNeal is reporting that the FAA will make a major announcement on the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) Thursday when it gives the movie industry permission to legally use remotely piloted aircraft in production. What Forbes also says is that the deal with Hollywood will set the basic standards, including pilot certification, for anyone else that wants to use aircraft without an onboard pilot for commercial use. In his blog, McNeal says the movie deal will mark the first approval of "drone-specific rules and standards that will enable Hollywood to be exempt from existing aviation regulations."

As might be expected, the approval, assuming it happens, didn't come easily. Seven companies that are already doing UAS cinematography, currently in other countries, filed specific exemption requests to the FAA in May, but about four years of prep work went into presenting those requests. The toll of the process was evident in McNeal's discussion with an unnamed representative of one of Vortex Aerial, one of the companies involved. "We are very proud to be a part of this monumentally historical event. Being the result of over four years of industry leader collaboration we can only hope that this most daunting and financially taxing of tasks will finally come to fruition and not be yet another false start for our industry," McNeal reported the spokesman as saying. As we reported earlier this month, the FAA has received dozens of similar exemption requests and McNeal quotes an FAA official as saying that number has reached 45.


A small humanoid robot about 6 inches tall successfully flew a flight simulator at a conference in Chicago last week. Professor David Hyunchul Shim and his students from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, KAIST, in Korea, presented a research paper entitled "A Robot-machine Interface for Full-functionality Automation Using a Humanoid." The robot operated a panel of buttons and switches and a control stick, demonstrating a smooth takeoff and landing in a simulated single-engine airplane. "'Pibot' will help us have a fully automated flight experience, eventually replacing human pilots," said Prof. Shim. The pibot has also flown a model biplane, and the team has said they plan to teach it to fly a real GA aircraft.

The robot was modified from an off-the-shelf product called Bioloid, built by Robotis. It manipulated a simulated throttle, switches, and control stick. It has a video camera that it uses to detect the edge of the runway. According to the researchers, the robot is able to "satisfy the various requirements specified in the flying handbook by the Federal Aviation Administration." The technology could presumably provide a step between today's aircraft that are designed to be operated by human pilots, and the autonomous airplanes of the future.

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Airbus has agreed to collaborate on technology development with Aerion Corporation, the Reno, Nevada, company that has been working over the last decade to develop a supersonic business jet. "To further their mutual objectives, both companies will exchange knowledge and capabilities in design, manufacturing and certification," Aerion announced on Monday. Airbus will provide technical and certification support, including the assignment of senior engineering staff to the Aerion program. "This is a major step forward for Aerion," said chairman Robert Bass. "It puts us solidly on track toward our objective of certifying the world's first supersonic business jet in 2021. Needless to say, we are thrilled with the resources Airbus Group will bring to the program."

Under the current timeline, Aerion is targeting first flight of the AS2 supersonic jet in the 2019 timeframe. "This agreement accomplishes two major objectives," said Aerion CEO Doug Nichols. "It provides validation from the industry leader in aerospace innovation, and it decisively kicks the program into high gear." Initial collaboration activities have commenced between engineering teams from Aerion and Airbus Defence and Space, which is Airbus Group's principal liaison organization for AS2 development. The AS2 would carry 8 to 12 passengers at speeds up to Mach 1.6, with a range of about 5,000 nm. It comes with a price tag of about $100 million; the company says it has letters of intent for 50 aircraft. AVweb's editorial director Paul Bertorelli recently took a look at the Aerion program; click here for his video update and here for his analysis.


Aireon LLC, a private company based in McLean, Virginia, announced a plan over the weekend to offer global emergency tracking as a public service to the aviation community, free of charge, by 2017. The Aireon Alert service will allow rescue agencies to request the location and last flight track of any 1090 MHz ADS-B equipped aircraft flying in airspace currently without surveillance, the company said in a news release. "A comprehensive, global aircraft tracking solution is essential in emergency situations, as evidenced by MH370 earlier this year and Air France 447 in 2009," said Aireon CEO Don Thoma. The company is currently deploying a global space-based ADS-B surveillance capability that will provide direct air traffic controller visibility of flights operating in oceanic or remote airspace.

Nav Canada has signed on as a partner in the effort. "We anticipate support from the world's airlines for the approach taken by Aireon for emergency tracking," said John Crichton, Nav Canada CEO, in a news release. "Airlines already stand to gain over $125 million per year in fuel savings in the North Atlantic alone by using Aireon's space-based surveillance service. The Aireon Alert public service offers an additional benefit, free of charge, ensuring that ADS-B equipped aircraft can be tracked anywhere in the world, even in airspace managed by [air navigation service providers] that have not subscribed to the Aireon service." Aiereon's competitor, Immarsat, is developing a similar service. The FAA has not signed on to either system.

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Aviation Consumer's Rick Durden teamed with Kasey Lindsay and Bob Hannah of Northwest Backcountry Aircraft to do a flight review of the American Champion 210-hp Denali Scout that included operations in the Idaho wilderness and a stop at the Sulfur Creek Ranch.


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When I saw these photos--kindly sent to me by long-time reader Art Friedman--I immediately thought what a great real-world example they would be to illustrate Charles Law for a high school physics class. Or is it Boyle's Law? Maybe both.

It's also a grim reminder of the value of always having a knife near at hand in the airplane, especially if you're carrying a life raft. They've been known to go awry from time to time. After Art sent the photos, I tracked down the owner of the airplane, David Pflum of Roscommon, Michigan. The incident occurred on Labor Day, when Pflum, who's in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, was asked to transport a raft back from Waukegan, Illinois to the Traverse City, Michigan CG station because one of the helos didn't need it.

"Just as we were about ready to close the door, we had it all loaded, it went off. It inflated and it had no place to go so it was out the side of my airplane," Pflum told me. And that's no little four-man raft, either. Pflum said he wasn't certain of the size, but it's the sort of raft tossed out by the Coasties when a ship or ferry is in extremis. He thought bigger than a 20-man, but less than a 50-man. The inflation cylinder is a little smaller than a scuba tank. That's a lot of volume.

And obviously, all that CO2 did a lot of damage in its quest for equilibrium. It took the Cherokee's baggage door right off its hinges and peeled back a section of the cabin roof like a sardine can. It did not, however, impinge into the cockpit area leading Pflum and I to wonder if the airplane would have been flyable if this had occurred in flight. My guess is it would have been, although it would have been no fun trying to land it. The larger danger is a raft on the backseat or co-pilot seat impinging on the controls during an unintended inflation, forcing an uncommanded and maybe unrecoverable pitch down. Thus the advisability of having a knife handy. In a pinch, a suitably adrenalized pilot could probably use a pen to deflate a raft, but a knife is preferable.

Spontaneous inflations of rafts aren't everyday events, but they're far from unknown, either. Pflum told me the Coast Guard has had these rafts self-inflate before and their new policy is that they can't be shipped without the inflation mechanism being removed. Many inflations are due to an accidental snag of the lanyard, but that wasn't the case here. The lanyard was stowed and the inflator appeared intact, not intentionally pierced.

As I've probably mentioned before, when I carry a raft, I wear my helicopter lifevest with a strobe, radio, dye and a knife in one of the pockets, with just this eventuality in mind. Compressed gas is nothing to trifle with. I once armed myself with two knives, one in the vest and one in my pants pocket. That's was because I was carrying 14 rafts, I think, ferrying them between Grand Cayman and Key West when we were organizing the Cayman Caravan. I don't think rafts are subject to chain reaction, but I figured even if spontaneous inflation is a long shot, I was tempting fate. (Fate actually bit. South of Havana in a convective rain shower, the Mooney's door popped open in turbulence and I couldn't get it shut on account of rafts being in the way. I landed in Havana to sort that out, much to the consternation of pre-911 U.S. Customs.)

Pflum had a happier experience with the government. Because he was on a USCG mission, the government's insurance will pay for the repairs. So this turns out to be a relatively cheap lesson from which we can all benefit.

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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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