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Terrafugia has requested an exemption from the FAA to allow its Transition roadable aircraft to weigh up to 1,800 pounds and have a stall speed of 54 knots and still be classified as an LSA. The LSA rules set the maximum weight at 1,320 pounds and a maximum stall speed of 45 knots. "I think we make a very strong argument that these changes are in the public interest," Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich told AVweb on Tuesday. The added weight is necessary to meet national highway standards, Dietrich said, and those features add safety to the airplane, not only by making it more crashworthy, but also making it more likely that pilots will land in marginal weather and choose to drive instead of pushing forward to their destination.

The higher stall speed, Dietrich said, is a function of the higher weight. He added that in practice, Transition pilots tend to fly the pattern at a speed fast enough to provide a comfortable margin above stall speed. The Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association has filed a letter (PDF) in support of the change. "We believe that granting Terrafugia's request for exemption would be a wise decision that is in line with the original intent behind the FAA's creation of LSA (see FAA-2001-11133) as helping to accommodate new concepts in light, sport aircraft," wrote LAMA President Dan Johnson. "Terrafugia's Transition certainly qualifies as a new advancement by virtue of both its road-going functionality and improved crashworthiness."

Icon won a 250-pound weight exemption from the FAA last year for its amphibious LSA, to enable the company to incorporate spin-resistant features, and Terrafugia previously was OK'd for an additional 110 pounds, in 2010. "Our engineering team made its best effort to refine the design of the safety systems to fit within the allowed extra weight, but it was not sufficient to achieve the desired level of safety," Dietrich wrote in his petition (PDF) to the FAA. Dietrich told AVweb he wasn't aware of any previous examples of the FAA granting an exemption on the LSA stall speed. The FAA is accepting comments on the petition until Jan. 20.

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A Cessna 404 Titan crashed in Centennial, Colorado, early Tuesday, killing the pilot. The wreckage stopped about 10 feet from a house in a suburban area about 4:30 a.m. The aircraft took off from Centennial Airport at 4:27 a.m., according to local media reports, and crashed five minutes later. The NTSB told a news conference the aircraft was operated by Key Lime Air and was going to Denver International on a repositioning flight. The pilot has been identified as Daniel Steitz, a retired police officer. 

The NTSB said the aircraft crashed nose first in a steep bank and cartwheeled several times before stopping in the front yard of a house. Weather was clear but cold at the time with temperatures about 0 degrees. "It is with sincere sorrow that we have confirmed a Key Lime Air aircraft, a Cessna 404, has been involved in an accident," Cliff Honeycutt, president of Key Lime Air, said in a statement.

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This is a test, notes Icon - don't try this at home.

Icon has been test-flying its ESN-1 engineering prototype extensively, the company said last week, and also has completed structural assembly of ESN-2, which will be the second aircraft in the test fleet. The staff is simultaneously assembling ASN-1, which will be the first aircraft for customer delivery. ESN-1 completed several days of on-the-water tests at Lake Isabella, California, recently, as the test crew explored the design's water-handling characteristics. The tests included landing at a range of airspeeds and attitudes, aggressive turning maneuvers on the water, stability testing, and on-the-water handling in rough water, waves and wind, in a full range of weights and CG locations.

The company also said development is underway on its training program, which it says will be "engaging and dynamic." The Icon training aims to achieve "true competency," the company said, and will be tailored to various levels of experience, for beginners, transitioning and non-current pilots. First customer delivery is expected in the spring, the company said. The company also announced recently it has reached a milestone of one million fans on Facebook. The company debuted ESN-1 at EAA AirVenture last summer.


The first flight of the KC-46 tanker test program was successfully completed on Sunday, Boeing and the U.S. Air Force have announced. The airplane, a Boeing 767-2C, took off from Paine Field, Washington, at 9:29 a.m. local time and landed three hours and 32 minutes later at Boeing Field. The jet is essentially a commercial 767 with modifications that include a 787-style cockpit and extra fuel tanks, but no military systems, according to the Seattle Times. Boeing is building four test aircraft -- two 767-2Cs and two KC-46A tankers. According to Boeing's website, the first delivery to the Air Force is expected in 2016, with 179 tankers delivered by 2027.

The contract, awarded in 2011, was reported at the time to be worth about $35 billion, and Boeing said the program would create 50,000 jobs in 40 states. The 767-2Cs enter flight test as commercial freighters prior to receiving their aerial refueling systems, while the KC-46s will fly as fully equipped tankers through the FAA and military certification process, Boeing said. The airplanes can carry cargo, passengers, and patients in addition to their role as aerial refuelers.

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The search resumed at daybreak Monday for the AirAsia Indonesia A320 that disappeared from radar above the Java Sea early Sunday morning. So far, several sightings of floating debris and oil slicks in the region have been checked out and found not to be associated with the jet. Government officials said the search will expand on Tuesday to four additional areas. "Our early conjecture is that the plane is in the bottom of the sea," said Bambang Sulistyo, the head of the search and rescue effort. That belief is based on the plane's flight track and last known coordinates, according to CNN. So far, no signals have been detected from the jet's emergency location transmitter. There were 162 people on board.

The crew had just asked for a weather diversion and a climb from 32,000 to 38,000 feet (the route change was approved, the climb was not) at 6:18 a.m. local time on Sunday, when voice, then radar, then ADS-B signals from the aircraft stopped. Cloud tops in the area at the time were higher than 40,000 feet. The captain in command of the flight, a citizen of Indonesia, had a total of 20,537 flying hours, of which 6,100 hours were with AirAsia on the A320, according to AirAsia. The first officer, who has been identified in news reports as a French citizen, had a total of 2,275 flying hours with AirAsia Indonesia. The airplane had departed from Surabaya, Indonesia, en route to Singapore. The low-cost airline is well-funded and fast-growing, and has a good safety record, according to Time. This is the airline's first loss of an aircraft.


Indonesian authorities reported Tuesday that a warship had recovered several bodies in the Java Sea confirmed to have been victims of AirAsia Flight 8501, which vanished on a flight from Surbaya to Singapore on Sunday. Indonesia's Strait Times said late Tuesday local time that the corvette Bung Tomo reported that more bodies are expected to be recovered. In addition, wreckage believed to be from the aircraft was also spotted, including what may be a large fuselage section.   

"We've confirmed the wreckage was from the body of the plane," Djoko Murjatmodjo, a senior government transportation official, told The New York Times on Tuesday. In addition to bodies and wreckage, the searchers also found suitcases and life vests and at least one recovered body that was not wearing a life vest, according to local media reports.

AirAsia Flight 8501, an Airbus 320-200, was carrying 162 passengers and crew. It dropped out of radar coverage early Sunday morning about 40 minutes after departing Surabaya, on the island of Java. When it disappeared, the aircraft was over the Java Sea, southeast of Belitung Island, off the southwest coast of Borneo. The debris and bodies were found southeast of the last known position of the aircraft. The debris field appears to be about 66 miles from the last radar position.

"My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501," Tony Fernandes, the founder of AirAsia, wrote in a Twitter message after the debris sightings were confirmed. "On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am," he added.

The U.S. has dispatched a destroyer to assist in recovery operations and the Indonesian government has accepted similar offers from South Korea and China. Finding the main wreckage is expected to be more straightforward than most sea searches because the Java Sea is relatively shallow, at about 160 feet at its deepest point. However, monsoon conditions, with low cloud and heavy rain, exist over the Java Strait this time of year. Flight 8501 was believed to have been deviating to avoid an area of weather when it went down.

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Back in the dark ages when j-school looked like it might lead to a sort of career, I was asked on a fall registration form to "state minor course of study, if any." With all the thoughtful consideration a 21-year-old could muster, I checked the box next to Asian history. Somehow, sociology seemed boring and my math skills were too poor to go for nuclear engineering.

That led me to the classroom of Kenneth Folsom, a then well-known scholar of Chinese history. He introduced me to the word xenophobic and it came up often in the study of Chinese and Japanese history, for both cultures recoiled from fear of the corrosive effects of Western influence. That's where the treaty ports you may have heard about came from.

Forty years later, I wonder if the shoe is on the other foot. As our Question of the Week revealed, U.S. owners and pilots take a dim view of Chinese investment in our aircraft industries and if xenophobic is too strong, wariness certainly is not.

The global economy being what it is, the China problem—if it is a problem—is encompassing. Surveying my desk, I find a USB headset, a pocket flashlight, an iMac and Microsoft mouse, an HP monitor, three external drives, a printer and a bucketful of thumb drives, all made in China. A helmet intercom whose battery I happen to be charging is the exception; it was made in Korea, as was the helmet it's attached to.

The point is that you can't engage in daily life or commerce without buying, owning or using something made in China. Aircraft and components have been and remain one exception to this rule. Even if some aviation companies are owned by Chinese interests, the manufacturing is done here or in Europe. But still, 38 percent of the readers who responded to our poll said Chinese investment in Western companies will result in the theft of technology and ought to be stopped.

This is an understandable sentiment, albeit one that's utterly impractical and potentially self-defeating if you set aside the patriotic in favor of the economic. In case you haven't noticed, the world has grown complicated since a bright line existed between us and them. Now, us is them and vice versa. I'll give you but a small example.

When I was at Lycoming two weeks ago, I was peering through the lens shooting the DEL 120, the company's diesel offering. I punched the pause button and asked myself: how did this thing get here? Why is it here? It's a long journey, but two reasons are that 10 years ago, the then-Thielert Aircraft Engines was the principal engine provider to General Atomics that makes … the Predator drone, now evolved into the Gray Eagle. Drone technology was really blooming back then, but it was mostly in the shadows.

General Atomics sniffed out that Thielert was about to go on the rocks and started looking for another engine supplier. That eventually led them to an Italian company called DieselJet, which aviationized a Fiat car diesel similar to the Mercedes Benz model Thielert used as it aerodiesel basis. They wanted plausible U.S. sourcing and that's where Lycoming came in. Enter the DEL 120.

When Continental bought Thielert in 2013, invested and turned it around, General Atomics should have had another capable engine supplier. But Continental is a Chinese-owned company and programs as sensitive as cutting-edge drones aren't going to buy engines from Chinese companies. It's not like the engines are dropped off at a blind post office box. Engineers go back and forth from the airframer to the engine maker and they unavoidably learn things about each others' systems. You can see the problem.

Now, of course, in Thielert-cum-Continental, the Chinese have their own highly developed diesel engine and U.S. and German talent to help them figure out how to put it into their own drones. I thought of this when I read James Fallows' recent long-form article in The Atlantic about how the U.S. public has become disconnected from its own highly evolved military.

In it, he said this: "During the years in which the United States has enjoyed a near-monopoly on weaponized drones … they have killed individuals or small groups at the price of antagonizing whole societies. When the monopoly ends, which is inevitable, the very openness of the United States will make it uniquely vulnerable to the cheap, swarming weapons others will deploy."

Do hoists and petards come to mind? They should. But as with everything else in the complex, interrelated and interdependent world we live in, there's a balance point, if not multiple balance points. When AVIC invested in both Cirrus and Continental, it brought in significant investment. The Middle Eastern money keeping Cirrus afloat pre-AVIC was not going to go another round of funding for Cirrus to complete its jet. But the Chinese did. Nor was Teledyne—nor any other Western company—going to seriously invest in Continental and bet big on diesel. But the Chinese did. (To be fair, Continental made its first diesel investment before AVIC purchased the company.)

These have directly observable effects in the factories at hand. Continental's diesel operation in Germany is perking with new energy is so is the Mobile engine plant. Jobs that may have been in jeopardy before are now less likely to be. That's doubly true because the Chinese appear to have far different standards for return on investment than do Western companies, where next-quarter thinking pervades the boardrooms.

In the favor of those airplane and engine factories, the Chinese are slightly bending the rule that capital will find the most efficient means of growing itself. Aviation is all but immune to that business school assumption. That's another way of saying Cirrus and Continental weren't likely to see Western investment, even though the opportunity was there to do that for several years, if not a decade or more. So if you blame the Western companies for selling to China, well, we had our chance many times over.

There is, among people who think about such things, a widely debated notion that states who are strong trading partners will be less likely to resort to armed conflict when their interests clash. Nice theory. I'm not sure it's true now, if it ever was. Prior to World War I, Britain and Germany had strong trade ties, but also naval competition, just as the U.S. and China do now. The potential for conflict in the Pacific, particularly in the East China Sea, isn't trivial. Allowing myself a worst-nightmare moment, it's possible to conceive of Continental-powered drones chasing Lycoming-powered drones with prejudicial intent. As I said, complicated world.

Every story needs a conclusion, so here's mine: The balance point swings in favor of allowing if not encouraging Chinese companies to invest in U.S. general aviation. The investments will foster jobs, or at least protect them in the short term, and also products that might otherwise never have been created. Mooney's new M10 series is a recent case in point. Even if those products go to China, Western customers are almost certain to buy them, too. As a community, we are facing the fact the general aviation may be in dusk for a long time and that when it does emerge, the sun will rise further east than we may have ever imagined.

GA technologies are by no means our most sensitive secrets, nor do they necessarily illuminate the path to those secrets. The Chinese aren't going to buy Boeing or Northrup Grumman. And if it ever comes to that, the world will have grown complex beyond my meager ability to analyze it.  

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AVweb readers provided us with a wealth of fantastic photos in 2014, and here's a nice summary look at many of them edited together by Paul Bertorelli. And thanks to everyone who contributed. Best wishes for 2015.

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