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While most general aviation advocacy groups had positive reviews overall this week for the FAA's proposed new rules for commercial operations of unmanned aerial systems, reaction has been mixed on other fronts. One of the biggest disappointments was handed to Amazon, whose plans to develop autonomous delivery drones would be grounded by the proposed rules. The company doesn't intend to give up yet, though. "We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need," Amazon spokesman Paul Misener told ABC News. "The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers."

Also this week, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum outlining the administration's policies in regard to the use of unmanned aerial systems. The memo states, in essence, that agencies operating UAS must ensure that existing protections for privacy, civil rights and civil liberties are not violated. The memorandum notes that the technology for UAS "continues to improve rapidly, and increasingly UAS are able to perform a variety of missions with greater operational flexibility and at a lower cost than comparable manned aircraft ... [UAS] may play a transformative role in fields as diverse as urban infrastructure management, farming, public safety, coastal security, military training, search and rescue, and disaster response." No comments have so far been posted to the docket for the FAA's proposal, but the government has been closed due to the Monday holiday and inclement weather on Tuesday.


Leading advocates of electric technology for aviation will meet later this month at the Museum of Flight in Seattle to offer an all-day symposium that's free and open to the public. The event will feature talks by Erik Lindbergh, founder of the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize; George Bye, CEO of Aero Electric Aircraft Corp.; Dean Sigler of the CAFE Foundation; and more, including experts in fuel cell and battery technology. The symposium will be held Saturday, Feb. 28, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will include displays of electric-powered vehicles.

Topics to be discussed will include an update on NASA's LEAPTech project, the Quiet Flight Initiative, video updates from Europe, and the electric aircraft STEM education challenge. The presenters also will attend a reception where they can answer questions from attendees. Prior registration is required through the museum website. Although admittance to the symposium is free, a fee is required to visit the museum exhibits.

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Spaceport America, which was built in a remote area in New Mexico to provide a site for Virgin Galactic's space-tourism flights, hosted its first-ever general aviation fly-in over the weekend, and announced it will begin to offer more opportunities for private pilots to fly in for visits. Holding the fly-in event was prompted by a "growing number of requests" from pilots to visit the spaceport, according to the company's website. "This fly-in is the first in a series of events that will be taking place in the coming weeks and months leading to a new, exciting Spaceport America Visitor Experience, designed to delight visitors as well as to expand and grow the spaceport's tourism business," said Christine Anderson, the spaceport's executive director.

Only 10 pilots were allowed to sign up for the inaugural fly-in, and each paid a fee of $500 for the privilege. They were allowed to bring as many passengers as they wanted, and a total of 24 people took the tour. Virgin Galactic had been expected to start tourist flights from the site this year, but that has been delayed about a year, Anderson said, due to last year's fatal accident. The spaceport will continue to be operated as a "prior permission required" airport, according to the facility's website. Private visitors also are not allowed to drive onto the site, but bus tours are operated from Truth or Consequences, about 30 miles away. Other tenants at the site are SpaceX, which has a launch/landing pad there, and UP Aerospace.


Quest Aircraft, which builds the Kodiak turboprop in Sandpoint, Idaho, has been acquired by Setouchi Holdings, the company announced on Tuesday. Setouchi, which has been an authorized Kodiak dealer, is part of the Tsuneishi Group, an international company based in Japan, which is mainly involved in shipbuilding. "We are very excited to have a strong organization such as Tsuneishi Group believe in Quest, our products and our philosophy, and invest its resources in the company," said Sam Hill, CEO of Quest. "Over the last few years, we have experienced steady growth, and with new financial capitalization and a shared understanding of the potential opportunities in the marketplace for expansion, we are looking forward to significant growth for Quest in the years ahead."

Quest's headquarters and manufacturing operations will remain in Sandpoint, the company said. The existing leadership team will continue to oversee and manage the organization. As production ramps up and growth in other areas of the company increases, plans for both physical and personnel expansion will be developed and implemented. "Quest has positioned itself to be attractive to outside investors to help us grow the company," said Hill. "We feel we have the perfect fit with Tsuneishi Group." The Kodiak is a single-engine, 10-seat airplane designed for STOL use and float capability. It can take off in less than 1,000 feet at full gross takeoff weight of 7,255 pounds.


The first IMC Club will open in Australia in April with an inaugural meeting at a historic airport in Narromine, about 200 miles west of Sydney. The group, which features "hangar talk" get togethers where active IFR pilots swap stories that others can learn from, has grown from a meeting of four pilots in 2011 in Norwood, Massachusetts, to 120 chapters with 2,700 members now on five continents. "The first meeting of the IMC Club Australia group will be held in April of this year at the Narromine Aerodrome, which is the host of the IMC Club Chapter there," said IMC Club founder Radek Wyrzykowski. Australian group founder Murray Fedderson said the IFR world is changing quickly in Australia, which is moving faster on ADS-B deployment than many other countries. "The introduction of Performance Based Navigation to be followed by progressive decommissioning of ground navigation aids in Australia and mandatory fitment of ADS-B are part of a rapidly changing operating environment and it is hoped that establishment of the IMC Club Chapter … will provide a forum where pilots can interact to improve the safety and efficiency of their operations," he said.

Wyrzykowski said the informal but informative nature of club meetings encourages the exchange of real-world experiences and it's good for active pilots and those whose currency has slipped. "IMC Club addresses a forgotten group of pilots," he said. "Too often, pilots after obtaining their IFR rating don't want to go to get their commercial license, they drift away and fail to remain current and proficient. We want to bring them back with help of other experienced and proficient pilots."

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Maybe you haven't used a 3-D printer to make your own cogs or dowels (yet), but Jim Bertel and Joel Smith of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing are putting additive manufacturing to work in mankind's final frontier — outer space.


We test-fly DJI's latest unmanned aerial vehicle, the Inspire.

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The other night, I saw a video report—one of several, actually—about how some government agency was lit up because it's beginning to look like 3-D printing will be capable of making parts for firearms. In passing, it mentioned that complex airplane parts would soon be producible by 3-D technology. Yeah, I thought, when pigs fly.

Living in a fast-paced industrial society, you should never think such a thing, much less say it for … sure enough, the airplane parts are happening already. Actually, they're really aerospace parts for satellites and the preferred description of the technology is additive manufacturing. I've been hearing this term more and more; heard it a couple of months ago when I visited Lycoming. They're not doing engine parts yet, but I suspect fast prototyping and non-structural parts aren't too far in the future.

A company called Stratasys Direct Manufacturing—formerly RedEye—contacted us a while ago to report that it made a batch of antenna arrays for a NASA satellite called FORMOSAT-7, a weather satellite system. It's not the first time additive manufacturing parts have been to space, but it is the first time they've been used in a structural function outside a spacecraft and it shows that AM is getting ever closer to the point where hard parts really will be printed. Stratasys is using a plastic material called ULTEM 9085 that looks almost metallic and although you might not be able to make engine parts with it, it's more than up to the rigors of spaceflight exposure.

In this podcast, I spoke to the company's Jim Bartel and Joel Smith about where this technology is going. And wherever it's going, it's getting there a lot more rapidly than many of us realize. The advantage of AM technology is that, depending on the part, it can produce complex shapes much more quickly and accurately directly from digitized design source material than some subtractive technology can. It's also often a better choice for small volume runs typical of aerospace applications. And it's getting both better and faster. 

AM has been around for quite a while for fast prototyping. Businesses that used to have model shops now either have AM capability themselves or they're able to transfer their digital files to shops that do, for fast turnarounds.

"With the additive process, we were actually able to built the part in one piece versus having multiple assemblies," says Joel Smith. "That's one of the benefits of additive manufacturing."

Where will it go from here? Bartel says the company is already seeing an expanding set of applications for aerospace parts with manufacturing lead times reduced by weeks, if not months. Furthermore, with AM, there's no penalty for small volume, as there definitely is when aircraft manufacturers bid parts to vendors who also do automotive volumes.

Will it eventually reach the point where heavy structural parts can be additive manufactured? "That's definitely where the industry wants this technology to go," says Smith.

So was that a pig that just whizzed by? Or a drone?

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Susan Birrell Post of Noblesville, IN kicks off our latest batch of reader-submitted photos with the right attitude. Click through for more pictures.