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Indonesia's transport minister told reporters Tuesday that ADS-B data showed AirAsia 8501 climbing at a rate of 8,000 feet per minute before it crashed in the Java Sea Dec. 28, killing all 162 people on board. Ignasius Jonan made some remarks about the crash during a parliamentary hearing in which he also unveiled reforms to the country's aviation system. He elaborated when questioned by reporters later. "The plane may have climbed in the last minutes at a speed beyond normal limits. After that, it stalled. Why did it stall? I don't know," Jonan told reporters, according to The Wall Street Journal. Jonan said the aircraft then descended and went off radar three minutes after the steep climb. Even though he seemed quite sure of events leading up to the crash, Jonan then cautioned reporters not to draw conclusions about the cause of the crash before investigators finished their report. Investigators have not yet revealed any information gleaned from the aircraft's flight data recorder, which is being analyzed in Jakarta. 

Jonan said the much-faster-than-normal climb (typical climb rates are between 1,000 and 2,000 fpm) began right after air traffic controllers refused a request from the flight crew for a climb to avoid weather but allowed a course deviation. The changes being introduced by the government would tighten rules around obtaining route permits and the sale of tickets on flights that have not been approved. The crash plane was technically flying illegally because the airline did not have a route permit for Sunday service for that flight. Meanwhile, the team examining the cockpit voice recorder has all but ruled out terrorism as a factor in the crash. A spokesman said Monday there were no sounds of gunfire or explosions on the tapes, making it unlikely that terrorism was involved. Divers are now searching the fuselage of the A320 for bodies and the main piece of wreckage is being readied to raise to the surface this week.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says his company will try again next month to recover a booster rocket used to launch a space payload. The company will try for a second time Feb. 8 to land a spent booster rocket on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean now that it has figured out the rather pedestrian fix that might have made the first "close but no cigar" attempt successful. Musk released a brief but spectacular video (click through) of the first stage of the Falcon rocket crashing on the deck of the barge earlier this month. It was determined the rocket ran out of hydraulic fluid used to actuate control fins as it approached the barge. Instead of landing softly on the deck, it came down hard at an odd angle and then propelled itself overboard. "Upcoming flight already has 50 percent more hydraulic fluid, so should have plenty of margin for landing attempt," Musk said in a tweet.

Fireball on the deck of the barge notwithstanding, the first mission was a success. The much-needed supplies on the Dragon capsule made it to the International Space Station without a hitch. The next SpaceX rocket is scheduled to launch Feb. 8 from Cape Canaveral with a satellite headed for the neutral gravity point between the sun and Earth, about 930,000 miles up. That will give the satellite a six-month orbit and enable it to take spectral images of the entire sunlit earth. Musk has said in the past he believes recovering the initial stage of the rocket will cut the cost of launches dramatically and make space more accessible.

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Nextant Aerospace has completed the first test flight of its remanufactured G90XT design, the company recently announced. The project, which launched about a year ago, matches a refurbished King Air C90A with the new H75 engine by GE. The airplane also features a Garmin G1000 cockpit, electronic engine controls, new dual-zone air conditioning and many more upgrades. "We spent several months with existing King Air operators during our feasibility studies trying to understand what types of enhancements would significantly improve their ownership experience," said Nextant CEO Sean McGeough. "We listened carefully and believe we are delivering a product that will have a large impact within this market segment."

Test pilot Nathan Marker said the first flight went smoothly. "The increased power was very noticeable during the takeoff run," he said. "I was also impressed by the lower noise levels in the cockpit. The change in position of the propellers relative to the fuselage combined with the new engine makes for a much quieter and more comfortable flight experience for passengers." The flight test program should last about six weeks, according to the company news release, with certification and first delivery expected in the second quarter of this year. The company, which is based in Cleveland, previously developed the 400XTi, a remanufactured business jet based on the Beechjet 400A/XP, with new Williams engines and Rockwell Collins avionics.

At NBAA's convention in October, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli toured a mock-up of the G90XT.

Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the Swiss pilots who plan to fly the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft around the world, announced the route they will follow at a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning. After launching from Abu Dhabi in late February or early March, the route includes stops in Muscat, Oman; Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India; Mandalay, Myanmar; and Chongqing and Nanjing, China. They will cross the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, and then Si2 will make three stops in the U.S. -- Phoenix, Arizona; somewhere in the Midwest; and New York City. After crossing the Atlantic, the aircraft will land in Southern Europe or North Africa before flying back to Abu Dhabi, in late July or early August.

The first round-the-world solar adventure will span approximately 25 days of flying, with Solar Impulse cruising at speeds between 30 and 50 knots. "With our attempt to complete the first solar-powered round-the-world flight, we want to demonstrate that clean technology and renewable energy can achieve the impossible," said Piccard. "We want youth, leaders, organizations and policymakers to understand that what Solar Impulse can achieve in the air, everyone can accomplish here on the ground in their everyday lives. Renewable energy can become an integral part of our lives, and together, we can help save our planet's natural resources." The project has been in the works for 12 years.

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Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, based in Denver, Colorado, has signed an agreement with Aero Electric Aircraft Corp. to buy 20 electric-powered two-seat trainer aircraft. The college has reserved the first delivery positions for the Sun Flyer airplane, which is still in development. "This agreement signifies our commitment to innovation and to serving the next generation of pilots," said Peter Harris, CEO of Spartan College. The electric airplanes, Harris said, "will make flight training more modern, accessible and economical than ever before." George Bye, CEO of AEAC, says the Sun Flyer will be cheaper to operate than conventional trainer aircraft.

The company brought its single-seat technology demonstrator, Elektra One, to Redbird's training conference, in Texas, last October. Bye said the final version of the two-seat, FAA-certified aircraft will cost as little as $5 an hour to operate, including battery replacement costs. AEAC is now working on initial R&D flight-test operations at Centennial Airport near Denver. Flight tests will continue while the first two-seat prototype Sun Flyer is being assembled, the company said.

AVweb's Rick Durden checked out the Elektra One at EAA AirVenture last summer.

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Boeing and Embraer will work together to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel and establish the industry in Brazil, the two companies announced last week. At the Boeing-Embraer Joint Research Center in the São José dos Campos Technology Park, the companies will coordinate research with Brazilian universities and other institutions. Both companies will contribute toward funding the research. "Boeing and Embraer, two of the world's leading aircraft manufacturers, are partnering in an unprecedented way to make more progress on sustainable aviation biofuel than one company can do alone," said Donna Hrinak, president of Boeing Brazil and Boeing Latin America.

Sustainably produced aviation biofuel emits 50 to 80 percent fewer carbon emissions through its life cycle than fossil jet fuel, according to the companies' news release. More than 1,600 passenger flights using sustainable aviation biofuel have been conducted since the fuel was first approved for use in 2011. "Brazil has shown its potential and is already a benchmark for the clean-energy industry, having created very successful ethanol and biodiesel industries," said Mauro Kern, executive vice president of engineering and technology for Embraer. "Our purpose is to support work on developing and maturing the knowledge and technologies needed to establish a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in Brazil with global reach."

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The NTSB this week released its annual "Most Wanted" list of safety improvements.  Board member Earl Weener, who is a general aviation pilot himself, talked with Mary Grady about the issues affecting the GA fleet and some strategies that can help improve the safety record.

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something the flying world might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via e-mail here. (Or send them direct to Newstips at AVweb.com.)

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Well, I think we can safely kiss good-bye any hope of meaningful changes to the third class medical requirements for private pilots.

I base that theory on the nasty note AOPA President Mark Baker sent to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last week on the topic.  (PDF)

But what I can't figure out is which is the chicken and which is the egg. Did Baker toss out that missive in reaction to something he heard about the fate of the long-suffering initiative or will the intemperate, politically charged tone of the letter cause Foxx to move it to the far corner of his presumably large and overstacked desk.

Baker's frustration is understandable. It's been three years since AOPA and EAA banded together to tear down what is perceived to be a significant barrier in the retention, and to a lesser degree I think, the attraction of new pilots.

There's a key phrase in the mostly-civilized opening paragraph that says much about Baker's frustration. He says he's writing it "on behalf of 350,000 members" and the publicly touted membership number was in the low 400s only a few years ago.

AOPA and EAA wouldn't have gone through all the trouble to put the proposal forward without some encouragement from the FAA. And the FAA did come up with a rule it could live with before sending it to the DOT for mandatory review. That review is supposed to take 90 days at most and it's been more than seven months. 

Of course Baker makes all the well-reasoned economic, demographic and statistical arguments in favor of the initiative but toward the end of the letter he either loses his composure or tosses a political bone that a good portion of his members will identify with as he bids adieu to the medical reform proposal.

"Our members, the general aviation industry, members of Congress, and the American people are frustrated with our government's inability to move efficiently and effectively on issues that will improve safety, save money, and help create jobs and support local economies," the letter says.

While it may have felt good at the time, charged language like that is the lobbying equivalent of telling Foxx to take a deep breath and cough.

Baker either knows that and did it anyway because there was nothing to lose or he isn't the sophisticated Beltway mover and shaker some might have thought he would be.

And for the majority of his members, that means dropping their pants and bending over for the FAA as usual.

Join the conversation.
Read others' comments and post your own.

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One of the new features at the Sport Aviation Expo is the used aircraft sales lot, run by Aviators Hotline.  Logan Feaster shows us how it works.

Tecnam has invested in a major new assembly and support facility for its aircraft at the Sebring, Florida, airport. As part of our Sport Aviation Expo 2015 coverage, AVweb took a tour of the new facility.

KX-170 Dead or Dying? It's 182 in Dog Years! Get a New IFR/TSO'd TKM-170C from TKM Avionics

Van's Aircraft comes to the 2015 Sport Aviation Expo with the RV-12 S-LSA equipped with Garmin's G3X Touch avionics and integrated action camera.  In this video, AVweb's Larry Anglisano, along with Chris Thelan from Van's Aircraft, took the system flying for a closer look.

At Sebring's Sport Aviation Expo, Elaine Kauh prepared this video report on AOPA's Cessna 152 Reimagined project.  She spoke with the association's Jamie Beckett.

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Dan Gualandri from Sarasota Avionics filmed himself installing two instruments by Electronics International, the CGR 30P and CGR 30C.  He removed a total of nine instruments out of his cockpit and replaced them with only two units from EI.

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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.