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The FAA last month proposed a revision to its Airworthiness Directive regarding ECi cylinders, but the NTSB and AOPA have objected to several of the proposal's key components. In comments posted to the docket (PDF), the safety board says the proposal affects "many more cylinder assemblies" than it should, and also removes repetitive inspection requirements that the NTSB had requested in its initial recommendations. The NTSB also disagrees with the FAA's proposal to require the removal of cylinders for inspection prior to the engine manufacturer's recommended TBO. AOPA also said (PDF) it continues its opposition to the AD, and urged the FAA "to take action which is more limited in scope and is in closer alignment with NTSB recommendations."

AOPA said the "continued call for early retirement of ECi cylinders prior to their reaching time between overhaul (TBO) is unjustified by FAA documentation and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) review and recommendations." The FAA's comment period closed on Monday. The initial proposal drew about 600 comments; the revision, which was posted in January, drew about 41 comments, nearly all of them expressing disagreement with the proposed AD, in whole or in part. The revised AD would affect about 5,000 aircraft at a total cost of about $28.7 million, according to the FAA's estimate.

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Robinson R-44 helicopters have been cleared to fly again in New Zealand after investigators there concluded that a rotor blade broke because of a crash and its failure didn't cause the crash. Last Saturday, New Zealand grounded R-44s with Dash 7 rotor blades after preliminary inspection of the wreckage from a crash near Queenstown last Thursday revealed a blade broken at the same point as one that developed a fatigue crack in another aircraft a month earlier. Lab inspection of the blade in the second crash determined it likely sheared off when the aircraft hit the ground. Both occupants of the helicopter were killed. Director of Civil Aviation Graeme Harris lifted the flight ban Tuesday. Australia had also grounded the aircraft but there was no word late Tuesday if that had been cancelled, too. Meanwhile, there are still concerns about the first blade crack and the manufacturer has issued its own direction to operators.

On Monday Robinson Helicopters issued a safety alert mandating "careful visual inspection" during each pre-flight inspection of the rotor blade where it transitions from the hub to the extended chord. It's in that location that a fatigue crack formed on a New Zealand R-44 in January. The pilot in that case noticed vibration and was able to land safely. The blade was shipped to Robinson and is being examined. New Zealand has left in place an AD requiring daily pre-flight inspections of the rotor blade until the cause of the crack can be determined.

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Martin Jetpack, the New Zealand-based company that aims to bring a commercial jetpack to the market, raised $27 million Tuesday in its initial public offering, bringing the total value of the company to about $100 million, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. First deliveries of the devices, aimed at the first-responder market, are scheduled for late 2016, at a retail price of about $200,000. The company says the jetpacks can carry one or two people for up to 30 minutes. The company is also working on an unmanned version of the jetpack, called a Skyhook, which would be capable of carrying loads of up to 260 pounds.

The company also closed a deal last month with Kuang Chi Science, a Hong Kong investment fund, raising $50 million over the next two years. "We are excited with the prospect to partner on this disruptive transport technology," Kuang Chi Science executive chair Liu Ruopeng said at the time. "With our knowledge of advanced materials we hope to be able to help build a lighter, stronger Jetpack with increased payload and range that will open a whole new set of market opportunities here in China and globally." The Jetpack features a composite structure pilot module and a ballistic parachute system that the company says can deploy and safely recover the aircraft from as low as a few meters above the ground.

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"Poor decision-making by the crew" was the probable cause of a fatal Learjet accident last November at Grand Bahama International Airport, according to the Bahamas' aircraft accident investigation unit. Both crew members and seven passengers died after the jet struck a crane at about 220 feet ASL, about 3.2 nm from the runway threshold. The crew had executed a missed approach procedure due to poor visibility and rain at decision height, and was attempting a second try when the accident occurred. The crew showed poor decision-making "in initiating and continuing a descent in IMC below the authorized altitude, without visual contact with the runway environment," according to the investigators' report.

The crane was positioned at the Grand Bahama Shipyard, according to a news release from the Bahamas Department of Civil Aviation. When the aircraft hit the crane, "a fireball lasting approximately 3 seconds was observed," and the right outboard wing, right landing gear and right wing fuel tank separated from the aircraft. The aircraft then traveled about 1,578 feet before crashing inverted into a pile of debris at a trash and recycling plant adjacent to the shipyard. The full report will be posted at the website of the Bahamas' Aircraft Accident Investigation and Prevention Unit.


Much of the U.S. is locked into a winter-weather regime this month, but spring is coming soon, and the aviation calendar is filling up. AOPA has announced their second year of regional fly-ins, starting with Salinas, California, on May 16. Each of the free events features a social gathering on Friday night followed by a full day of seminars and exhibits on Saturday. This year's schedule will also include Frederick, Maryland, on June 6; Anoka County-Blaine Airport, Minneapolis, on Aug. 22; Colorado Springs on Sept. 26, and Tullahoma, Tennessee, on Oct. 10. For Sun 'n Fun, coming up April 21 to 26, organizers promise a new fly-in camping area for youth, and a new and improved warbird ramp. Also, the Breitling Jet Team will launch its first U.S. tour at the show, flying a team of seven L-39 Albatros jets.

Fantasy of Flight, in Polk City, Florida, has reopened on a scaled-down basis, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday to Sunday, until April 26. "We want to allow the aircraft-loving public the opportunity to reconnect while we continue to create and design the next iteration (Act III) of the Fantasy of Flight attraction," said Kermit Weeks, the owner of the site. "There will be as many planes as we can comfortably put on display." The site will also be open June 19 to Aug. 2 and from Nov. 20 to April 10, 2016.

Flying also has announced they will host their Expo in Palm Springs again this year, Oct. 15 to 17. The event will feature a parade of planes, seminars and exhibits. EAA says aircraft designer Burt Rutan will return to AirVenture this summer after several years' absence, to celebrate his iconic VariEze design, which first flew 40 years ago. In honor of the anniversary, EAA is inviting all owners of Rutan-designed aircraft to come to Oshkosh and join in the festivities. AirVenture runs July 20 to 26 at Wittman Regional Airport, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

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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.

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When Elaine Kauh and I were shooting the Cub vs. Champ shoot-out video (scroll to the bottom of this page), it was the first time I'd ever flown these two vintage taildraggers back-to-back in any kind of organized way. I'd flown the Cub plenty and the Champ a little less often, but with months or years separating the stick time. But hop out of one and climb into the other and the differences between the two are quite noticeable; maybe even dramatic.

And although I didn't realize this, they should be different. The J-3 didn't change appreciably from its pre-World War II roots to the peak civil production after the war. But the Champs, as most of us know them, are post-war airplanes and the degree to which aviation technology changed between 1938 and 1946 is nothing short of stunning. Not all of that—in fact, maybe little of it—was applied directly to rag-and-tube taildraggers, but I strongly suspect the Champ enjoyed a lot of rub off from what constituted a good flying airplane—call it an embrace of best practices, I guess.

This manifests itself across a range of design points. First, the Champ is nearly a foot shorter than the Cub, but the cabin area is longer and wider. It's much easier to get into and once you are in, it's absolutely commodious compared to the Cub. The forward visibility is better in the Champ, thanks to a larger windshield and the fact that the pilot sits up front. In the Cub, the view from the rear solo seat is quite restricted and is worse yet with a passenger in the front seat. Seeing past someone's head during landing is a skill unto itself.

Performance can be apples to oranges because each airplane can have several different engine choices. Our comparison was between a C-65 in the Cub and a C-85 with a case and crank upgrade in the Champ, making it nearly the equivalent of an O-200. The Champ, a 7DC, climbed better and cruised faster, although the Cub really matches it in takeoff performance.

Ground handling is a toss-up. From the backseat of a Cub, you're either going to do S-turns, lean out the open door or run into something. You can't really relax for more than a few seconds; it's absolutely blind. From the Champ's front seat, the view over the nose is splendid, with no need for S-turns or even neck craning. Braking and turns I'd give to the Cub. We just installed Grove disc conversions on our J-3 and the braking and turning performance is terrific. The Champ commonly has cable-controlled drum brakes with a lot of hysteresis in the cables. That means you have to anticipate the need for brakes a couple of seconds before you really need to turn or stop. Plus, the heel pedals are awkwardly placed compared to the Cub's.

Pilots who've flown the Champ but not the Cub may get a whoa moment when the tail comes up on takeoff. It pops up almost the instant the throttle hits the firewall and it takes little stick pressure to hold it there. The Champ is just the reverse; it takes a lot of stick force to push the tail up and it takes its sweet time getting there. The Champ's tail is a lot heavier to lift when moving it, too, probably because the gear is further forward relative to the center of mass.

That may create another little quirk. I can't prove it, but I think the Champ groundloops more readily than the Cub. In addition to being shorter, the Champ's gear is also four inches narrower. You notice this when rolling out. If the Champ starts to depart a little, it will rapidly turn into a lot if you're not right on the rudder. To me, the Cub is slower to aggravate, but once it's 20 or 30 degrees off the track, you're going for a ride.  

The J-3 defines the concept of kite. It has low wing loading and fairly poor lateral and longitudinal stability. Ours, in fact, defies hands-off trimmed flight or maybe even any kind of trim. It does have a phugoid, of sorts, but you never quite know where it will terminate when disturbed. (Trim is done via a cord that works a jackscrew to adjust the horizontal fin's angle of attack.) The Champ has a proper trim tab controlled by a cable and is relatively precise. It won't trim hands-off quite the way a 172 will, but it's close, especially with two people aboard.

The Cub has pleasant control forces; not feather light like so many LSAs are, but just right. Good thing, too, because you have to fly it constantly and the stick has that spoon-in-oatmeal feel. The Champ is noticeably heavier in roll compared to the Cub, but its pitch forces are about the same. Both airplanes have mushy, easy-to-recognize power-off stalls, but both will tip into a spin if you get lazy on the rudder. But, at least in the Cub, it takes deliberate effort to get the spin properly wound up. It wants to diverge into a spiral.

Landings were the real eye-opener for me. Our Cub was down for about six months, getting repairs on some gear damage and installing the Grove brakes. On the first post-maintenance test flight, I did three landings, all of them perfect three-pointers. Sweet, I thought; haven't lost a thing. Then for the next couple of weeks, for some reason, I couldn't buy a decent three-pointer. They weren't horrible, mind you, just lacking that indescribable satisfaction of feeling the stick go slack just as the wheels kiss the grass. Anybody can land a Cub; but it takes work and practice to make the landings look and feel pretty.

The Champ, on the other hand, is a gift to pilots with hands of stone. Where the Cub's bouncy bungees will launch the thing into low earth orbit if you try to stuff it on the runway before it's ready, the Champ's oleos will soak up excess energy and smooth out a three-pointer. (Check out my landing at 6:50 in the video. Anyone can do as well.)

If I were rich enough to own one of each and hangars to keep them in, which would I fly more often? Probably the Cub and definitely so during the summer. Despite all its warts, the Cub has something no other popular vintage taildragger does: the clamshell door that you fly wide open most of the time. Of a warm summer evening, there's nothing quite like it in aviation, including biplanes. Its nap-of-the-earth, elemental flight qualities never seem to grow old. There is no simpler, more direct way to put 500 feet of sweet Fanny Adams between you and the ground.

But when the temperature drops—for me, that's about 65 degrees—the hatch gets dogged, but it's of little help. That leaky door is drafty and loud. That's where the Champ excels, with its latch door. It's quieter, warmer and more comfortable, with a heater that actually works. That's important for people like me who have reptilian cooling systems.

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