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The FAA has backed off on its controversial bid to force the early replacement of thousands of ECi cylinders but still wants the cylinders on thousands of engines replaced long before the end of their normal service life. In 2013, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive calling for repetitive inspections and early (sometimes immediate) replacement of 36,000 cylinders on Continental 520- and 550-series engines. Manufacturers, repair shops and even the NTSB have criticized the AD, saying the failure rate of the cylinders doesn't justify such an expensive ($82 million) fix. A revised AD issued late last week reduced the number of affected cylinders by 20 percent, eliminated some of the inspection requirements and extended the life of the affected cylinders to an average of about 1,000 hours. AOPA says the relief is welcome, but it's not enough.

"AOPA will file formal comments on the supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking and, once again, ask the FAA not to insist on early retirement of these cylinders," Rob Hackman, AOPA's VP of regulatory affairs, said in a story on AOPA's website. The cylinders have a TBO of 1,700 hours and the NTSB says the FAA should require replacement then. The revised rule will require replacement as early as 1,000 hours and as late as 1,160 hours, depending on how many hours the cylinders have flown when the AD takes effect. The FAA says the revised rule also reduces the number of affected cylinders from 36,000 to 28,874. The comment period on the revised AD goes until Feb. 23 and comments can be submitted here.

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image: Reuters

Indonesian divers have recovered the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the wreckage of AirAsia Flight QZ8501. The FDR was recovered Monday and the CVR was retrieved from underneath a wing, which had to be lifted from the seabed using airbags. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that officials were able to successfully download the data stored on the FDR. The CVR is still on a ship on its way to Jakarta where it will also be analyzed. Indonesian officials have said they will handle the analysis of the FDR data, and they are expected to issue a preliminary report within a month. The main fuselage has not yet been found, but searchers are working to verify a sonar image of interest off the coast of Borneo.

As more wreckage is located, one official said there appears to have been an explosion before the airplane hit the water, but others have disputed that theory. Supriyadi said the left side of the airplane appears to have disintegrated, and he said fishermen in the area had reported hearing an explosion and seeing smoke above the water. But Santoso Sayogo, an investigator at the National Transportation Safety Committee, told Reuters, "There is no data to support that kind of theory." All 162 people on board died in the crash; so far 48 bodies have been recovered.

The NTSB released its annual Most Wanted List for safety improvements on Tuesday morning, and for general aviation the number-one issue is loss-of-control accidents. "The Most Wanted List is our roadmap for 2015," said NTSB acting chairman Christopher Hart. "This list is grounded in the accident investigations by which NTSB learns safety lessons, and in the recommendations that are NTSB's primary safety product. At the NTSB we want to make new strides in transportation safety in 2015, and we want to lay the groundwork for years that are even safer."

Loss of control is not new as a GA issue. A General Aviation Joint Steering Committee conducted a detailed analysis in 2013 that found for the period 2001-2010, loss of control caused 40 percent of fatal GA accidents. The FAA and the industry subsequently have worked to address the problem with more training programs and by encouraging the use of angle-of-attack indicators. Also on the NTSB list this year is the safety of search-and-rescue and law-enforcement missions flown by helicopters operated by local, state and federal governments. Last year, the board cited identification and communication of hazardous weather as its most-wanted safety improvement for general aviation. "These are safety improvements for which the time is ripe for action," said Hart. "We want [the list] to be a roadmap for policy makers and legislators as well."

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Airbus has introduced a long-range (4,000-nm) version of its A321neo single-aisle airliner as it squares off against Boeing in the lucrative low end of the airliner market. The neo is Airbus's next-generation version of the A320 series, which goes head to head with Boeing's 737 MAX, which currently has a projected range of up to 3,800 nm. Both are used mostly on short- to medium-haul routes but Airbus says its new aircraft will be a true trans-Atlantic platform that will open new routes for airlines that do not fly wide-bodies. "The longer haul single-aisle market is a lucrative one that the A321neo will now dominate," said Airbus CEO John Leahy.

First customer for the longer-legged A321 was Steven Udvar Hazy's Air Lease Corporation, which has ordered 30 of them. Airbus A321s go the extra range by adding a belly fuel tank and increasing the maximum takeoff weight to almost 214,000 pounds. The standard seating configuration will allow 206 passengers in two classes. Airbus hopes to deliver the aircraft starting in 2019.

While the FAA creeps toward releasing regulations for unmanned aerial systems, plenty of entrepreneurs and designers are moving ahead with new products. One new design, the X PlusOne, aims to combine the usual VTOL multi-rotor design with the ability to fly horizontally at high speeds. xCraft, a start-up company, is just wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign to launch the hybrid drone. The X PlusOne takes off and lands vertically, but once aloft, it can tip over 90 degrees and fly forward at speeds up to 60 mph. A camera mount is optional. The drone runs about $200 for a kit up to $1,100 for a fully accessorized ready-to-fly version.

The drone's designer, JD Claridge, is an aerospace engineer who formerly worked at Quest Aircraft. "We actually see this technology as applicable to manned flight as well and we have addressed this in the patent," Claridge told AVweb in an email. "For a manned version, we would see the need for a gimbaled passenger compartment/cockpit that allows the occupants to remain upright no matter the orientation of the craft. It may be many years down the road, but a manned and pilotless transitional VTOL aircraft utilizing this technology is definitely a possibility." The Kickstarter campaign has so far raised nearly three times the team's $50,000 goal. Google has been testing a similar design for its Project Wing delivery-drone project.

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Although you don't see it as much, the kind of nose art that reached its zenith during World War II is still with us. I recently saw a shot of some pretty risqué art on the nose of an A-10. It's still out there.

Another military tradition also popular during World War II was the decorated flight jacket, with the A2 being the most popular variant. As personal totems, these jackets got festooned with unit and campaign patches but also custom artwork, often specified or even designed by the jacket's owner. And each jacket told its own unique story.

The other day, John Slemp, a professional photographer from Atlanta, contacted me about an interesting project. He's assembling a photo record (in book form) of as many decorated flight jackets as he can find.  "In photographing the flight jackets of World War II veterans," he wrote in an email, "I have come to realize that 'real people' wore them, sweated in them, and in some cases, died in them.  They are a symbol of who they were as individuals, as members of a unit, and of a nation. In a very tangible way, they depict the service of the owner, and as objects they too are important."

Slemp's project is just getting underway. He has shot a couple of jackets and is looking for more. "I'm seeking flight jackets of any air crewman from World War II, especially if they have hand-painted artwork on one or both sides of the jacket.  The condition is irrelevant, as I want to show the jackets as they are today.  Equally important would be to know the owner's history and/or service record, with perhaps an original photograph of the owner in uniform.  If a museum wishes to lend their artifacts, I'm willing to travel to their location to make the images," Slemp told me.

What a terrific project. As we all know, as each day passes, there are fewer World War II veterans alive to tell their stories. But I suspect just as the jackets have been passed down, so has the history behind them. If you know of any flight jackets that meet Slemp's design brief, you can contact him directly at john@aerographs.com. I can't wait to see the book.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

John Ross of Jacksonville, AR starts off the new year with an old photo — and we heartily approve. Click through for more reader photos.