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Bloomberg is reporting that Embraer is considering closing its factory in Harbin, China, because of slumping demand. Orders for business jets in China have essentially stopped thanks to a crackdown on corruption. The wealthy are lying low trying not to attract the attention of increasingly aggressive government investigators and buying a business jet has fallen off the radar for virtually everyone. Embraer converted a plant that used to build regional jets for Chinese airlines to building Legacy business jets but it has delivered just two aircraft so far this year according to an unnamed source quoted by Bloomberg. The news service says Embraer hasn't commented on the report.

The politics in China and the sanctions against Russia because of the Ukraine situation have turned growth projections by many companies upside down. Most have invested heavily in China in particular as the government there signaled a virtually untapped market was about to be opened up through steady liberalization of airspace policy. According to Bloomberg, Embraer is saying the Harbin facility is running normally but it did not address the facility's future. The factory used to make ERJ-145s but was converted for Legacy 650 and 600 production after the last of 50 regional jets was delivered in 2011, according to Bloomberg. The Aviation Industry Corporation of China is a partner in the Harbin facility.

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NASA said recently it will invest more than $2.3 million to support eight research projects that are working to develop quieter supersonic aircraft with fewer emissions. The support will go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Irvine, as well as several industry teams including Wyle Laboratories, Rockwell Collins and Honeywell. The researchers will investigate the impact of stratospheric supersonic aircraft on the global environment, the influence of turbulence on sonic booms, quiet-nozzle concepts that could reduce sonic booms, and more.

In a recent interview with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, NASA's associate administrator for the aeronautics research mission, Jaiwon Shin, said the agency's supersonics research aims to help overcome technological barriers so private industry can move forward. "NASA has been working on technologies to develop the shape that will minimize the sonic boom intensity," he said. "If we successfully do that, then I think there are U.S. companies that are very much interested in building supersonic airplanes."

Growth in air travel is shifting, Shin said, with increasing interest in long routes between the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S. and Europe. "We know how long it takes to fly to Korea from here," he said. "China alone will add about 200 million passengers between 2011 and 2016. The problem is they have to fly at least 10-plus hours to get to any place. People eventually will start demanding shorter flying time. But there are all kinds of technical barriers."

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Airbus is working on a reusable launch vehicle that could boost a rocket into space, then fly back home like a drone and land on a runway. The winged and powered vehicle, called Adeline, has been in the works since 2010, Airbus said on Friday. Airbus allowed a contingent of reporters a look at the technology at its Ariane production center in France, ahead of next week's Paris Air Show. The craft is designed to launch like a rocket and carry its satellites or other payload into orbit, then the lower part would return to Earth with the most expensive parts of the launch system -- the avionics, engine, and propulsion bay. The system could recover up to 80 percent of the spacecraft's value, resulting in launches about 30 percent cheaper compared to traditional systems, the company said.

Airbus is competing with SpaceX, which has said it wants to bring the cost of a space launch down to about $100 million, from today's cost of up to $500 million, by using reusable components. Airbus said its reusable launch system won't be ready for use until at least 2025 or 2030. SpaceX hasn't yet successfully tested its system, but seems to be substantially ahead of the Airbus timeline. The United Launch Alliance of Boeing and Lockheed also is working on a partially reusable Vulcan launch system, but the vehicle doesn't return on its own -- the plan is to dispatch a helicopter to catch the falling engines in midair.

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The FAA kicked off a national general-aviation safety campaign on Saturday, encouraging GA pilots to install and use angle-of-attack indicators in their aircraft. Loss of control is the number-one cause of GA accidents. Angle-of-attack indicators can help to prevent some of these accidents, the FAA said, by making it easier for a pilot to recognize an impending stall and take corrective action. Last year, the FAA simplified its design-approval requirements for the devices, making it simpler and cheaper to install them in GA aircraft.

Other factors that contribute to loss-of-control accidents include failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and take corrective action, intentional regulatory non-compliance, low pilot time in aircraft make and model, lack of piloting ability, failure to maintain airspeed, failure to follow procedure, pilot inexperience, and the use of over-the-counter drugs that impact pilot performance. FAA Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker officially debuted the Fly Safe campaign at the fly-in at AOPA's headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. Many GA groups are partnering in the effort, including EAA, the Aircraft Electronics Association, GAMA, NBAA, the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators and others.


Four students are at the Glasair factory in Arlington, Washington, this week helping to build a Sportsman, as their reward for winning the third GAMA/Build A Plane Design Challenge. The Chef Homeschoolers team from Cuba City, Wisconsin, won the trip in a nationwide competition that aims to develop their skills in science, math, engineering and technology. "GAMA is thrilled to be working with another very impressive group of students, who put in the hard work to understand the basics of aerodynamic engineering and flight in the competition and now get to use that knowledge first-hand as they help build an actual airplane," said GAMA President Pete Bunce.

The team will also tour Boeing's facility in Everett, Washington, and the Museum of Flight, in Seattle, during their visit. Bunce said he also took each of the students up for a Young Eagles flight before they left Wisconsin. GAMA member companies are funding the team's lodging and travel expenses. Seventy-four teams from across the country competed in this year's challenge, using "Fly to Learn" curricula and X-Plane software. The winning team includes students Abri Badger, Colton Koester, Nathan Koester and Jonathan Smythe, teacher Tom Smythe, and chaperone Steve Badger.

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The Carbon Cub is CubCrafters' most popular seller, by far.  Slap a pair of Aerocet floats on it and head for the nearest lake, and it's easy to understand why.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli did just that and prepared this video report.

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If ever we need a king in this country and someone put me in charge, somewhere on my to-do list would be getting rid of FAR 91.119. OK, so I wouldn’t eliminate it, but I’d amend it so that people would just worry about it less. I’ve been in more discussions than I care to remember about what constitutes congested areas versus uncongested areas and what exactly is a settlement, anyway?

Over-thinking this is a cultural/geographic thing, I think. Pilots on the coasts tend to sweat it more than pilots in flyover country do and definitely more than seaplane or back-country pilots do. This occurred to me on a recent visit to CubCrafters in Yakima, Washington, where I spent a pleasant morning with Randy Lervold flying a float-equipped Carbon Cub off Rimrock Lake, west of Yakima. (Here's a video on the adventure.) Rimrock is a reservoir formed by the impoundment of the Tieton River, which flows from the west toward Yakima. It has a nice 2500-foot turf strip at the east end, naturally resurfaced by Mt. St. Helens in 1980, according to the state’s description of it. In short, it’s the perfect playground for an amphib. I’d come to CubCrafters to learn about the new Aerocet floats that are a popular option on the Carbon Cub.

Back-country flying in general and float flying specifically is really all about low-altitude ops. To slip into lakes and rivers, there’s really no point in flying much higher than safe clearance above the treeline and for me, a wingspan or so will do it, especially when the terrain is falling away, as it usually is when you’re ducking into a lake or a suitable pond. City folk tend to get nervous, if not a little incensed, when airplanes skim the trees. Remote lake dwellers, on the other hand, might not even lift their heads and people in boats wave their hands rather than shaking their fists.

At some point during my splash and goes, Randy Lervold mentioned that what we were doing—just fooling around on the water and examining the forest from close up—is what Cubs do. And it is, but for reasons that aren’t always obvious and that I sometimes think are just an accident of history. Clearly, the Cub’s planform—a slow-flying strutted high wing—is perfect for strapping floats to. But it’s not the only such design. You’ll see plenty of 180s, 185s and 206s on floats, plus the occasional Maule and Husky. Then there are the boats, the rare Grumman Widgeons, Lakes and the impossibly pokey Republic Seabee. What’s interesting is that among all these designs, and that’s not the entire list, Cub-type airplanes are the only ones still in production that outsell everything else, meaning that there are necessarily more new ones going on floats than anything else.

Between kits, the LSA Carbon Cub and the certified Top Cub, CubCrafters is selling just shy of 100 airplanes a year. Jim Richmond, owner of the company, says floats are popular option—maybe one airplane in five will get them.

Why is that? It’s not because they’re working airplanes, although the Top Cubs CC sells do earn their keep, since they’re certified. The Carbon Cub is by far CC’s biggest seller and because it’s an LSA, it can’t be a working airplane. Demand for floats is because the recreational and back-country-for-fun market just gravitates toward Cubs, whether vintage J-3s, Super Cubs or CC’s new production. Cubs do make good floatplanes, but if there’s more to it than that my guess is that when Piper followed the J-3 with the Super Cub, it hit the right combination of affordability, payload, reliable operation and economy that hasn’t been matched since. And CubCrafters airplanes—all of them—are rich with Super Cub DNA. It’s academic to speculate if Piper had stayed in the rag-and-tube game and selling what CC is, those airplanes would outsell everything else Piper makes by a wide margin, albeit for less profit than a Mirage or Meridian generates. But to sell airplanes, you gotta want to sell them. You have to embrace, philosophically speaking, the very idea of what your airplanes do.

When Jim Richmond was getting CubCrafters off the ground during the 1980s, Piper was still making the Super Cub, but not with much enthusiasm. Demand for the Super Cub’s talents, then and now, wasn’t overwhelming, but it was steady enough for CubCrafters to develop a brisk Super Cub restoration and overhaul business that eventually led to an entirely new certified aircraft in the early 2000s, the Top Cub. That airplane is essentially a thoroughly modernized and up-scaled Super Cub and the LSA Carbon Cub a more modern iteration yet. The Carbon Cub is to the original Super Cub as a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle is to the 2015 model; same idea, wholly different execution.   

Yet it’s still a Cub, characterized by predictable handling traits, a slow stall speed, low wing loading and good useful load. Let me clarify that last. As LSAs go, the Carbon Cub is on the heavy side at an empty weight of nearly 900 pounds. But with a 180-hp ASTM Titan engine, which accounts for that higher empty weight, the Carbon Cub’s power loading is more than a third lower than the Super Cub ever was. The experimental version of the Carbon Cub is spec’d to 1865 pounds gross and still has lower power loading than the Super Cub with a useful load of about of about 650 pounds for the float version I flew. The EAB and the LSA versions are nearly identical so read between the lines however you like about legal weights.

With so much of its sales dependent on the LSA Carbon Cub, Richmond told me he’s worried that elimination of the Third Class medical will decimate the LSA market. I hear this a lot and while I think what it will really do is cause the long-awaited and predicted shakeout, I’m not so sure buyers attracted to the Carbon Cub will dry up. There might be fewer of them, but on the other hand, irrespective of medicals, there’s wealth out there and a cadre of buyers who can and will write a check for $230,000 for a new airplane. It’s not a mass market, nor was it ever. Of course, journalists can sit confidently at their keyboards and say such things, without having to either sell airplanes or make a payroll. 

Buyers of new airplanes want new for specific reasons that don’t always relate to the practicality of how they’ll be used or the hard numbers in a spreadsheet comparing new with used. There’s something about being handed the keys to an airplane with fewer than 10 hours on it. A 30-year-old restoration, no matter how pristine, isn’t quite the same.

Then there’s the Cub thing Lervold and I were talking about. Maules go on floats and so do 185s and while both float and fly, the mystique is missing and for some, that matters. Maybe it’s like Harley Davidsons, which aren’t the best motorcycles in the absolute, but to some people they’re just that.

Jim Richmond told me there may be sales potential in the emerging markets of China and India, which there probably is. But I wonder if a Chinese buyer, whose frame of reference is modern automobiles, will get the Cub ethos in the way U.S. buyers, having been steeped in the lore from birth, do. Will glassy water landings on the Yangtze or the Ganges for no other reason than just doing them become a thing?

I’m the wrong guy to answer that. I can barely explain why it’s a thing for me, but I can assure you that it is.

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Although Continental gets all the press for its diesel program, Lycoming also has a diesel engine, which is it now beginning to produce in small volume.  The engine will eventually be certified.  In this video, Lycoming's Michael Kraft gave AVweb a briefing on the DEL120.

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When Mark Vanhoenacker was growing up in Massachusetts, being an airline pilot seemed like an impossible dream — "like wanting to be an astronaut," he says — but today he flies all over the world in the front seat of a British Airways 747.  How he made that journey, and what the experience is like, is the story he tells in his first book, Skyfaring, which was published in the U.S. just this week.  AVweb's Mary Grady talks with Vanhoenacker about his work, both as a pilot and as a writer.

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Although the venerable GE 4509 remains the most popular landing light, LED and HID technology are proving popular alternatives for many owners.  In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli compares the technologies.

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Picture of the Week

Marshall Paulson of Aurora, CO kicks off another assortment of reader-submitted photos. Click through for more shots from AVweb readers.

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