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The first civilian tiltrotor aircraft could be available for sale in 2017 and it will be built in Philadelphia. Agusta Westland announced Tuesday the AW609 will be certified in the U.S. and go into production at facilities it already operates in Philadelphia. In a series of presentations at its sprawling display area at HAI Heli-Expo in Orlando, company officials said two flying flight test aircraft have accumulated 1,200 hours and two more will join the test program this year. The aircraft will take off and land vertically but also climb to 25,000 feet and cruise at more than 250 knots with up to nine passengers. Business, paramilitary and military markets are being targeted for the aircraft.

In 2011, Agusta Westland acquired full control of the former Bell/Boeing tiltrotor project, which produced one of the prototypes now being flown at Agusta Westland's Arlington, Texas, test facility. The Texas test article was flown to Orlando from Texas and test pilot Paul Edwards said it performed well. "It's great to fly," he said. The company says it has made many changes to the original Bell/Boeing design. New Pratt&Whitney Canada engines and aerodynamic refinements have resulted in the production design. The company hasn't named a price but it's believed to be in the $24 million range.


Airbus Helicopters presented its clean-sheet medium-class rotorcraft design, the H160, at Heli-Expo, in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday. The new design features two firsts -- the largest-ever shrouded tail rotor, which is double-canted at 12-degree angles to enhance anti-torque control efficiency, and an all-new "biplane stabilizer" with a staggered placement of two dual-level, interconnected stabilizer surfaces. Both features provide improved performance and flight stability, the company said. First flight for the aircraft is expected later this year, with deliveries to start in 2018.

The H160 will cruise at 160 knots, can carry 12 passengers up to 120 nm, and has a maximum range of up to 450 nm. It's the first ever fully composite civil helicopter, the company said, with a lightweight airframe that resists corrosion and fatigue. The integrated Helionix avionics suite was designed by Airbus. The payload lift, range and efficiency are suited for a wide variety of uses, including oil and gas operations, public services, air medical services, coast guard duties, commercial transport, private flying and business aviation, the company said. The aircraft is the first one to be branded with the Airbus Helicopters corporate identity, instead of Eurocopter. A full-scale mockup of the design is on display at Heli-Expo.


Bell Helicopter introduced its new 407GXP at Heli-Expo, in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday. The new aircraft is an upgrade of the 407GX, with a payload increase of 50 pounds, a new fuel-efficient M250 Rolls-Royce engine with FADEC, and new avionics features that the company says will lessen pilot workload. "The Bell 407 has proven to be a very popular aircraft, with over 1,200 flying worldwide today," said Bell spokesman Matt Hasik. The company also announced at the Expo that it has agreed to deliver 200 of the new helicopters, configured for emergency medical services, to Air Methods Corporation; the order is one of the largest commercial sales in Bell Helicopter's history.

The new model also features an increase of 500 hours in the time before overhaul for the transmission, and an improved hover performance calculator. The helicopter can cruise at speeds up to 133 knots and has a range of 337 nm. When configured for passengers, the cabin can seat up to six plus a pilot. Deliveries of the new model are expected to begin later this year. The order for Air Methods will be fulfilled over 10 years, starting in 2016.

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The FAA's air traffic control system is at "increased and unnecessary risk" from cyber-attacks and other threats, according to a government report released this week. The analysis by the Government Accountability Office found weaknesses in controlling access to computer systems, encrypting sensitive data, and implementing security programs. For example, the auditors found the agency's information security systems and procedures don't meet the requirements of a 2002 law, and its information security strategic plan hasn't been updated since 2010. The GAO recommended 168 specific actions that the FAA should take to improve the security of the National Airspace System, and the FAA concurred.

"A large, complex, interconnected system like the NAS inherently faces many security risks," says the GAO report. "Although FAA took many steps to address these risks, weaknesses remain. … Until FAA establishes stronger agency-wide information security risk management processes, fully develops its NAS information security program, and ensures that remedial actions are addressed in a timely manner, the weaknesses that we identified are likely to continue, placing the safe and uninterrupted operation of the nation's air traffic control system at increased and unnecessary risk." In a letter responding to the report, Keith Washington, of the Transportation Department, said the FAA is working to "increase cyber-security awareness and competence across the agency and to build an agile, highly skilled cyber-security workforce."


It appears that FlightPro, the well-regarded Android flight planner and chart app, will not be back anytime soon, thanks to increasingly intense legal wrangling among the shareholders and entities involved. FlightPro missed the Feb. 5 update for its subscribers and at least some of those involved were hopeful the service could be restored. That doesn't seem likely in the short term at least. Shane Gordon, the general counsel for FlightPro, has told subscribers there will be no further updates until the legal wrangling is settled. "I have stopped all work by the new developer as the new investors have refused to fund any work pending resolution of this suit," he said in an email to those who have inquired about further updates.

FlightPro was introduced about a year ago as an Android answer to iPad apps and it earned good reviews, but shareholders got into a legal scrap in late 2014 that has now escalated. "All I have left at this point is to once again apologize for failing our faithful users," Gordon said in an email to a subscriber supplied to AVweb.

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The sixth annual "Fly It Forward Challenge" is underway this week, calling on pilots around the world to take a non-pilot woman or girl on a short flight to introduce her to general aviation. "Salute the girls and women in your life that inspired you and/or supported you," say the event organizers at the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide. Out of more than 1 million pilots in the world, only 50,000 are females, the group says. The Fly It Forward Challenge aims to address this imbalance by inviting girls and women to visit airports and other industry facilities to see for themselves what it's all about and to learn about career opportunities.

Any female introduced to flight during the Challenge can enter to win a scholarship aimed to get them to first solo, valued at $2,495. This year, the event is honoring "100 Years of Women in Combat," noting that Marie Marvingt (1875-1963), of France, was the first woman to fly an aircraft in military combat, in 1915. To salute the women who have served and thank those who are serving today, pilots participating in the challenge invite female military personnel and their daughters to go for a flight. For more information about offering a free flight, visit the group's website.


Piper's venerable J-3 Cub and the Aeronca Champion are classic ragwing taildraggers that are becoming popular as LSA choices.  In this nose-to-nose comparison, AVweb's Elaine Kauh and Paul Bertorelli take a close look at both aircraft.


EAA has been a strong advocate for changing the FAA's medical rules that apply to private pilots, and last week the effort moved in a new direction as a new Pilot's Bill of Rights was introduced in Congress.  EAA chairman Jack Pelton talks with AVweb's Mary Grady about his take on the bill and what happens now.

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I suppose it has ever been thus, but these days, we’re all appreciative and always looking for someone to wear the mantle of hero. That more than anything explains why that video of the incapacitated skydiver being saved by his instructor went viral over the weekend. I saw it on NBC news Sunday night as a 10-second short, but by Monday morning, it was everywhere and it got more second-day coverage Monday evening.

To my surprise, we even ran it. Russ Niles and the AVweb newsteam make up the daily feed independent of my input, although I see everything before it’s published. When he sent the story my way in our e-mail loop, he amended it with “holy crap!”

I suspect my skydiving friends would be amused by that reaction, not because it isn’t warranted, but because as is always the case, the view from inside any activity highlighted in the mass media is more nuanced. My reaction to the clip was that it was an exceptional example of a hardworking AFF (accelerated free fall) instructor doing his job. By that standard, anyone doing competent work in any field is a hero. Or none of us are. That sounded like the reaction of the instructor, Sheldon McFarlane, when someone stuck a camera in his face and declared him the real deal. He looked a bit pained, actually.

AFF instructors are the unsung backbone of skydiving. (Notice I didn’t say heroes.) They bring new people into the sport—which is in fact, growing—at the expense of fairly rigorous physical effort and no small amount of nerve. Basically, they’re hurling people out of airplanes and teaching—or forcing them—to fall stable and deploy parachutes, an unnatural act for which our DNA in no way prepares us. For new skydivers, the overwhelming challenge isn’t so much the physicality as it is learning to think, analyze and act with a quart of adrenaline surging through the veins. It’s an OODA loop run amuck. In describing the inability to function in freefall, even for experienced jumpers, one of the funnier euphemisms is “fire in the helmet.”

These days, we have vertical wind tunnels to help with the stability part, but AFF instructors still have to confront surprises when stepping off the airplane. I’ve seen more than one come back with bruises and bloodied parts from getting whacked by a spinning or tumbling student. It’s not the sort of thing a high school English teacher or even a flight instructor might expect to encounter. A tip of the helmet to them all; AFF instructor is a rating I never wanted to pursue.

Now for the nuance part. The initial clip left viewers with the impression that had the instructor not been there, the student, Christopher Jones, was seconds from becoming a bug splat on the Australian countryside. Not exactly. In fact, not at all. These days, almost all skydivers are equipped with something called an automatic activation device. We’ve had these things for decades, but the advent of digital electronics have made them sophisticated and reliable.

Using baro sensing, AADs figure out speed and altitude and, if their logic determines that the jumper hasn’t deployed something by a certain altitude, a little cutter squib slices through the reserve parachute closing loop and deploys it. Jones was equipped with an AAD, as all students and the vast majority of experienced jumpers are. It would have deployed his reserve at about 1000 feet, which is plenty of time for a canopy to inflate.

But here’s the tricky part and, if you insist on considering McFarlane a hero, the real reason for it. And it doesn’t have much to do with the likelihood of an AAD failure. Landing unconscious under a reserve parachute is no picnic. Even with the brakes stowed, as they would be, it has forward motion of maybe 10 mph. If the incapacitated jumper landed downwind, add the windspeed to that. It could be a hard face plant at three times your fastest running speed. That might be okay in a nice grassy field, but it could be fatal when obstructions like houses, power poles or vehicles intervene.

McFarlane’s decision to get his student’s reserve out high as possible—at about 4000 feet—gave him more time to recover consciousness while under canopy and land himself safely. And that’s exactly what happened. The actual deployment altitude was probably close to where the student should have deployed his main anyway. I don’t know if McFarlane weighed that or not, but I can’t think of any arguments against getting the reserve out sooner rather than later, unless perhaps a drift over open water is a worry. I think the doctrine is to just get the reserve out. But whether he did or didn’t, McFarlane’s actions were just another example of a professional in a high-risk sport doing a job he was trained and expected to do. In other words, a hero of the everyday, just as you probably are, too.

The real holy crap moment for me was when I saw this still frame from the video. In deploying any parachute, you really want a stable, belly-to-earth body position so the whole shebang comes off your back, the lines unstow and the canopy inflates unhindered. This is especially true of a reserve because if it fails, you’re fresh out of parachutes. But Jones was on his back, so, as the photo shows, the deployment bag whizzes past his foot and the lines are pretty close to his legs and feet. It doesn’t take much to loop a foot or leg into that process and then you’ve got a real mess. That’s probably another argument for higher deployment, but it still gives me the willies.

When I began skydiving, it was traditional to present your rigger with a bottle of whiskey after you deployed a reserve he or she packed for you. I think it’s only occasionally observed now. Hero or not, McFarlane (and the rigger) deserve an entire case.   

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Picture of the Week

Ray Damijonaitis of Gurnee, IL takes "close call" to a new level in our latest prize-winning photos. Click through for more breath-taking reader-submitted pictures.