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President Obama will issue an executive order regarding drones and privacy issues "any day now," according to a report in The Hill on Monday. Michael Drobac, the organizer of the Small UAV Coalition, which launched last week, said the executive order would aim to satisfy privacy advocates by requiring federal drone operators to make public the size and purpose of their fleets and reveal how they will use any information they collect. The coalition hopes that step will help the FAA to move more quickly toward issuing guidelines for the commercial use of UAVs. Members of the coalition include Amazon Prime Air, Google[x]'s Project Wing, GoPro, and Parrot. Politico also reported in July that the executive order was in the works.

"The Small UAV Coalition believes safe commercial, philanthropic, and civil use of small UAVs will benefit the lives of consumers and promote U.S. competitiveness," said Drobac. "We look forward to working with the FAA, FCC, the Administration and Congress to ensure this industry can flourish." In the group's definition, small UAVs weigh under 55 pounds and typically fly at an altitude of less than 400 feet AGL. They can be flown by a remote operator or by an automated program in the UAV. The coalition is lobbying for rules that will permit the operation of small UAVs beyond the line of sight, "with varying degrees of autonomy."

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Satellite communications company Inmarsat has written a "clear language" analysis in the Royal Institute of Navigation's peer-reviewed journal on the high-tech detective work that went into establishing the current search area for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. The Boeing 777 disappeared in early March on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and as new information became available the search areas shifted from an area off the coast of Vietnam to the southern Indian Ocean. A major reason for that shift was data crunched by Inmarsat that tracked a breadcrumb trail of satellite signal returns and pointed to a long flight across one of the most remote stretches of ocean in the world. 

The paper will be available for free download by the Institute on Oct. 8. It normally charges hefty fees for access to its material but decided to offer free access to this information. "We feel this paper and subject are too important and that it should be shared with the world," the Institute said in a news release. The free download will be available at journals.cambridge.org/nav/mh370.

A Cal Fire air tanker crashed in Yosemite National Park in California Tuesday afternoon, killing the unidentified pilot. The S-2T aircraft was fighting the Dog Rock Fire near Arch Rock and hit the wall of a canyon. The circumstances of the crash were not clear in early reports. The fire started about 2:45 p.m. and had grown to 130 acres within a couple of hours. The crash occurred about 4:30 p.m. More than 60 homes in the area have been evacuated.

The aircraft was a former S-2EG Tracker used as a carrier-based anti-submarine aircraft and has two turboprop engines. It can carry 1200 gallons of fire retardant. California has 23 of them.

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Airbus often celebrates milestones with media events and the recent EASA certification of its A350 XWB airliner resulted in a pretty impressive formation act. Airbus launched its five flight test A350s and flew a formation routine that resulted in a neat video. The big airliners were shot in a variety of relatively intricate maneuvers, sometimes at low altitudes, that must have been quite a sight from the ground, too. Reuters reported Tuesday that the FAA expects to certify the aircraft by the end of October.

While the video was clearly a lot of fun for all involved, the hard work of competing against Boeing's 777 and 787 now gets its practical test. Airbus has been left behind in the lucrative 200-400-seat long range market but it also had the chance to learn from the troubled launch of the Dreamliner. It announced that the first A350s will be delivered with nickel-cadmium batteries instead of more energy-dense lithium ion but will switch to the lithium cells in 2016. Meanwhile the company is getting ready to deliver the first A350-900 to Qatar Airways by the end of the year.

4x4 concept

A VTOL aircraft designed to pick up and carry a standard 20-foot cargo container -- like the ones carried by trucks and ships -- is in the works at a start-up company in the UK. Thorsten Reinhardt, founder and managing director of 4X4 Aviation, based at London Ashford Airport, flew a small scale model of his design briefly last week and said a full-size prototype with a 50-foot wingspan could be completed in the next few years. Reinhardt said the company is developing an electric-gas hybrid powerplant that will be a "multi-stage turbine with a very high power-to-weight ratio."

The VTOL is meant to provide cargo service in parts of the world with limited infrastructure for trucks. The belly of the aircraft would contain an open hold sized to fit the standard containers, for easy loading and off-loading. Reinhardt said he'd like to produce about 30 aircraft per month starting in about three years, and sell them for about $611,000 each. He's currently seeking funding to continue the project, with an estimated budget of $5.6 million.

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It's been in the works for many years -- AVweb shot video of it in flying at EAA AirVenture in 2008 -- but now the makers of the Martin Jetpack say they're ready to sell shares in their company, in an initial public offering, to raise cash for production, sometime before the end of this year. "We have done the majority of the research development to get to this point; now it's ready to commercialize," company director John Diddams told The Australian this week. The New Zealand-based company has said they hope to raise $20 million from the IPO. Last month, the company raised $6.5 million in a private offering, attracting investors mainly from Australia and Asia. About 40 orders reportedly are in hand for the jetpacks, which go for about $150,000 each. Most buyers intend to use the jetpacks for first response, border patrol and rescue missions. 

The jetpack's two ducted fans are powered by the company's own V4 200hp engine, which weighs 132 pounds. The jetpack frame is built of composite materials. Safety features include computer-aided stability, a pilot-protection cage, and a ballistic parachute. A jetpack display team is in development for airshow appearances and should be ready by mid-2015, according to the company website. The jetpack can reportedly fly for up to 30 minutes at about 45 mph. Also in the works are an unmanned version, a simulator, and a "jetpack experience" that would allow the public to safely fly the aircraft under the control of an experienced pilot.

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I've been doing some instrument instruction with a young pilot who's set on working his way through the ratings to an eventual professional flying career, probably in the airlines. I'm occasionally asked what's the best way to do this, but if I'm honest, I have to admit the real question I weigh is whether to do it. That doesn't necessarily relate to the nature of the job itself.

Not that long ago, maybe 20 years, the usual path was to earn the private, instrument and commercial, build some time by instructing and then move on to a charter or freight job. Or do a stint in the military. From there, the choices bifurcate again, offering the world of corporate flying or the scheduled carriers. It still works that way, but there's less flight training going on and thus fewer opportunities in that field. In the military, the demand is for drone pilots, not butts in cockpits.

We keep reading about an impending pilot shortage and while I think there's truth to that, what I'm not sure of is how deep the demand will be and if it will be sufficient to put upward pressure on salaries, at least at the regional level where I couldn't, in good conscience, advise anyone to seek employment.

But there's a longer term trend I think anyone contemplating a flying career has to consider: the inevitable impact of automation and autonomous flight. A young person starting a flying career today at, say, 24 years old, will have a 40-year haul in the workforce. Four decades takes us to 2054, by which time the state of automated flight won't look anything like it does now. There's a veritable tsunami of demand coupled with rapidly advancing technology that promises a rapid evolution if not a revolution in autonomous or remote-controlled flight. Last year, in the U.K., BAE conducted its first conceptually unmanned flight of a Jetstream 31 from Britain to Scotland. It's experimental, of course, but the project continues.

Think where it's likely to be in 10 or 20 years and ask yourself if you think autonomous passenger flights will never happen. I think those who are skeptical tend to judge the question emotionally through the prism of current passengers born in an age where pilots were vested with almost God-like skills and authority. The next generation of ticket buyers might not feel that way. In fact, even as one of those dinosaurs brought up to believe aviation meant pilots in the cockpit, I'm not certain where I stand. I can't say I wouldn't get on a pilotless airliner tomorrow, if one taxied up to the jetway.

So, not to be a buzz kill about the thrill and romance of being a steely-eyed aviator, but anyone looking into the distance should think about this. However much you'll invest in obtaining the training and ratings--$50,000 or $100,000, or whatever—what's the shelf life of the skill likely to be? Pilots won't get booted from the cockpit overnight or even over a decade, probably. But just as the military has replaced piloted flight with remote flight faster than many anticipated, so might commercial flight go the same way, spirited along by advances in processor power and remote datalinking, further fueled by economics that will make that technology cheaper. First, it will be with freight, but inevitably, passengers will be flown in remotely piloted or autonomous aircraft. 

After I wrote this initially, I found this interesting site that features open-ended bets on the future of technology. The bet--which is a pro and con about pilotless airliners--has then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt putting a longer-than-50-years timeline on pilotless commercial flight, while Microsoft's Craig Mundie sees it happening by 2030. That's just 16 years away and a bit too soon, I think. Part of Schmidt's argument for more than 50 years--after 2064--is that it will take the FAA that long to certify such technology. That's an interesting and insightful comment with some merit coming from a commerical pilot who flies his own Gulfstream V. But it also ignores this fact: In the face of overwhelming economic and political pressure, the FAA caves. It happened with GPS and you're seeing it happen with UAS regulation. The likes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin bring big guns to the political table, as do their customers. The FAA will resist, to a point. 

I wouldn't say any of this argues against a professional pilot career. There are still interesting times ahead for pilots sitting in cockpits. But if I were in it for the long haul, I'd have a backup in mind—either allied skills related to autonomous flight or a degree in something that isn't aviation. This is nothing new. I know airline pilots who are engineers, accountants, business administrators, IT experts or marketers. The standing theory was that this provided a safety net against the unavoidable ups and downs of the airline biz. That part hasn't changed. Autonomous technology might make it a little more volatile, a little more unpredictable and maybe a little scarier. It only makes sense to have a way to join 'em, rather than trying to beat 'em, which may be futile.

Someday soon, we'll all be reading a news story that will provoke this reaction: "Hey, you mean they're already flying these things without pilots?"

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A handful of biplanes were household names during the 1930s, and two survive yet today — the Waco and the Great Lakes.  In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli takes a look at the Great Lakes 2T, which is back in production with a new Lycoming AEIO-360.

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At Jacksonville, Florida, this week, Sierra Nevada and Embraer took the wraps off the first A29 Tucano to be made in the U.S.  It's the first of 20 airplanes on their way to Afghanistan for that country's rebuilding air force.

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Like many aviation companies, Lycoming is involved in the world of unmanned systems, and as part of that program, it recently unveiled its smallest engine, the EL-005.  AVweb recently visited the factory and got a tour of this interesting little engine.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

"POTW" veteran Daniel Valovich of Hot Springs, AR calls down the lightning to lead off another showcase of reader photography. Click through for more pictures.