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ATC audio of a Houston controller talking a VFR pilot through an emergency IFR approach into Houston Executive Airport included instruction on setting up a GPS, vectors, and managing the Cessna 172's engine as it descended from 8500 feet. Pilot Mark Nelson had called ATC for help when he was trapped above clouds flying his Cessna 172 over Texas on Nov. 16. According to a report from KHOU 11 News, controller Hugh McFarland -- an instrument-rated pilot -- was tapped to aid Nelson. He assessed the pilot's flight condition and pointed him towards Houston Executive on the edge of the Class B airspace. The airport was reporting 800 feet overcast. Nelson, who was solo, said he had a Garmin GNS 430 and a handheld GPS on board, but no autopilot. He said he had some IFR training. 

During the 41-minute audio, McFarland instructed Nelson to fly wings level and use standard rate turns when he needed to change his heading. He confirmed that the cockpit CDI was coupled to the 430 and told Nelson to keep it in GPS mode. Nelson followed instructions to descend at 90 knots, 500 feet per minute, as he followed vectors heading south, then east and north to line up with Runway 36. During the descent, McFarland reminded the pilot to enrichen the mixture and use carburetor heat. "You're doing great," he said. "You're tracking southbound and your airspeed seems to be under control." During the final descent and lined up with the 6,600-foot runway, Nelson had trouble finding the airport, but McFarland continued talking after he lost radar contact with the Cessna. He pointed out that Interstate 10 runs south of the field and continued talking until Nelson had the runway in sight. "I found the airport, I think I'm gonna make it, thank you," he said.

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Audio of firefighter personnel and accompanying photos show a four-minute response time to airshow performer Eddie Andreini's fatal crash at Travis Air Force Base in May, according to a video (below) released by a lawyer for the pilot's family. Mike Danko also alleged in an online statement Monday that Air Force officials were "confused" over where fire and rescue trucks could be stationed at the California base. Citing the Air Force Thunderbirds' airshow manual, he said fire and rescue trucks should have been stationed closer to the performers. "They mistakenly believed regulations prohibited them from stationing fire trucks near show center. So instead, the Air Force positioned the fire trucks more than a mile and a half away," Danko said. Andreini's modified Stearman crashed inverted on a runway during a cut-the-ribbon attempt during the Thunder Over Solano Air Show. The pilot's family is suing the Air Force, claiming slow response to the post-crash fire is to blame for his death.

The audio was released after Andreini's family filed a Freedom of Information Act request and a subsequent lawsuit. It accompanies a video showing photos of the accident sequence that begins with an image of Andreini's Stearman flying low and inverted down the runway. In the next photo, the airplane has crashed and flames are visible. A radio call reports the crash, with personnel acknowledging. The audio continues with repeated calls for trucks and replies on the status. The four-minute, 14-second point is marked with a caption on the video, showing a photo of a fire truck extinguishing the fire. Firefighting standards call for a maximum response time of three minutes, Danko said. "At air shows fire trucks need to get to crash sites even quicker – within 60 seconds or less," he said. Danko also claimed that the rules about placing rescue trucks at show center were clarified by the FAA a week before the show, but no changes occurred.

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Continental Motors Group Ltd. has expanded its Alabama-based maintenance and service operations into avionics and aircraft interiors. Continental, a subsidiary of AVIC International Holding Corp. of Beijing, China, announced on Monday it has completed acquisition of Southern Avionics and Communications of Mobile. Southern Avionics is now a division of Continental Motors Services of Fairhope, Alabama, and will continue to operate under its original name for the time being. "We are very happy that Southern Avionics is officially a part of the Continental team," said Rhett Ross, vice president of AVIC International and director, Continental Motors Group. 

Southern Avionics is a regional leader in avionics sales, installation and service and also performs upholstery repairs and upgrades. It employs 14 full-time people, CMG said. The acquisition expands Continental Motor Services' workforce of 26 full-time employees at Fairhope Regional Airport. Since 1981, Southern Avionics has serviced aircraft ranging from small personal aircraft to corporate jets. "Now that the acquisition is complete, we look forward to expanding our MRO offerings and to explore opportunities to expand our service presence at the rapidly growing Mobile Downtown Airport located at Brookley Field," Ross said.

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Image: KHOU

A corporate jet skidded off a wet runway and into a creek at Sugar Land Regional Airport in Texas Friday, Houston-area media reported. Two pilots on board were uninjured, and the Embraer Phenom ended up tail-first in Oyster Creek. After touchdown, the pilot tried to make a U-turn to avoid going off the end of the runway, said Patricia Pollicoff, a spokeswoman for the city of Sugar Land, which owns the airport. The FAA and NTSB are investigating. Meanwhile, area pilots speculated in the KHOU 11 News report that the wet runway and a tailwind were factors in the overrun.

"The fact that he landed with the wind, you need much more braking distance because you're coming in much hotter, much faster, so I'm sure that had something to do with it," pilot Mark Lasch told KHOU. "Usually on a wet runway we like to multiply the distance by two to make sure we have enough runway to land," Eric Newman, a local CFI, told the station. "If the book says it's going to take 2500 feet to stop we'll say we're going to need 5,000 feet to stop on a wet runway."  A similar incident occurred in the region in September, when the station reported that an Embraer jet skidded off-runway at Lone Star Executive Airport in Conroe, Texas. After the incident at Sugar Land, investigators will look into the jets' braking abilities, the station reported.


Rotax is well known for its line of aircraft engines, but these are just a small part of the company's engine-manufacturing business.  Last summer, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli visited the factory and produced this engaging video of how the company builds its aircraft engines.


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I'm quite certain my first encounter with the word "disruptive" was when Sister Claire used it in a note to my parents to describe my behavior in second grade phonics class. If only she knew the depth of her prescience, she could have made a killing in the stock market. Now, the word has taken on an entirely new meaning, attached as it usually is to another word: technology.

Disruptive technology has become a business buzzword and really is little more than two words replacing one: progress. It's overused, often wrong and merely another means of priming the hyperbole pump when the word "exciting" seems too tame. The accepted definition of disruptive technology is that which is so revolutionary as to displace or disrupt the existing order of things. Digital cameras disrupted film, cheap electronic calculators disrupted the wooden slide rule, the jet engine disrupted piston engines, or at least the high-power versions used in airliners. Vern Raburn thought the Eclipse would disrupt the light jet market, but all it really disrupted was the fortunes of those who invested in it.

So against this backdrop, I'm more than a little wary of a flurry of press releases we got last week about a gadget called the Martin Jetpack. The company is about to go public with an IPO, hence the news releases.  You may recall we've reported on this as a revisitation of the Hiller 1031-A-1 Flying Platform developed for the U.S. Army in 1957. The concept was actually originated with the Navy, but became the VZ-1 Pawnee for the Army.

The Jetpack really has nothing to do with jets or rockets, but features a pair of ducted fans that allow the single operator to impressively loft vertically and to fly laterally at up to 30 knots for 30 minutes. It's powered by a 200-hp two-stroke V4 motor of the company's own design.

While I'd love to fly this thing—well, maybe—I'm not feeling the buzz that it's disruptive, as the company claims on its website. As it seeks investor dollars, Martin has partnered with Avwatch, a company that specializes in integrating technology into the first responder market—fire and rescue, medical, homeland security, that sort of thing. So presumably, the Jetpack would be disruptive of the helicopters now used for such operations.

I'm unconvinced. Although helicopters are painfully expensive to buy and operate, they do some things quite well. They can land vertically in small spaces, carry first responders in and patients out, not to mention hauling equipment and supplies. Hard to see how the Jetpack, with a full-fuel payload of 220 pounds (with pilot aboard) will displace helos in sufficient numbers to be disruptive and tank Bell's business. (A new Bell 206, by the way, retails for about $2.3 million while the Jetpack is tentatively priced at $200,000.)

With that price Delta, it's easy to see some applications for the Jetpack, including some recreational potential for people with pots of money who like to buy exotic toys. But I doubt these things are going to darken the skies. The Jetpack has some limitations. Its wind limitation is 15 knots with gust limits of plus or minus 5 knots and the website gives the engine TBO as only 100 hours. They'll need to improve that, I suspect. Anticipating what definitely is a disruptive technology—unmanned systems—Martin envisions a pilot-optional version of the Jetpack. But does the world need a very loud, heavy lift UAS with a 30-minute duration? I dunno—maybe for installing air conditioners atop apartment roofs.  

The Jetpack looks to have improved upon at least one of the Hiller Platform's shortcomings. The ducted fan technology of the day couldn't be steered very well, so the 10310-A-1 operator had to shift body weight to control the thing. That's reminiscent of another technology that promised to be disruptive but wasn't: the Segway. It too is controlled kinesthetically. But the Jetpack has steerable vanes on the ducts, so it should be far more controllable and rather than learning its flight characteristics in situ, Martin says there will be a simulator. And for slow learners or engine failures, a ballistic parachute.

The army declined to pursue the Flying Platform, probably for a number of reasons related to it being simply impractical and unworkable. And by the late 1950s, helicopters were coming into their own as practical aircraft for the military. It will take a big dog indeed to dislodge that primacy. My educated guess is that the Martin Jetpack won't be it. But that's not the same as Martin finding no buyers for this idea. Stranger things have happened.

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Boots and weeping wings are fine as far as they go, but it's also nice to have some means of automatically detecting and alarming the presence of ice in flight.  A company called SafeFlight is out with a new device that does just that.

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Picture of the Week

Jeff Rockwood of Bee Cave, TX kicks off this edition of "PotW" with a celebration of pilot ingenuity. Click through for more reader-submitted pictures.