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A father and son aboard a Cessna 150 were killed when their aircraft was reportedly "broadsided" by an Air Force F-16 over Moncks Corner, South Carolina, on Tuesday. The F-16 pilot, Maj. Aaron Johnson, ejected and was not hurt. The jet crashed in a wooded area and nobody on the ground was hurt. The NTSB is examining both crash sites and on Wednesday identified Joseph Johnson, 30, as the pilot of the Cessna, and his father Michael Johnson, 68, as his passenger. Crews were still searching Wednesday for Joseph Johnson's body, according to an Associated Press report. The fighter was based at Shaw AFB in Sumter. The jet was on a training mission practicing instrument approaches to Charleston International Airport, which shares the field with Charleston Air Force Base.

Investigator Dennis Diaz told The AP that the F-16 "was able to fly in some fashion for a period of time after the accident, which is why we have an aircraft site that’s separated by about 10 miles.” The fighter was under "positive control" by air traffic control Col. Stephen Jost, commander of the 20th Fighter Squadron told a news conference. The Cessna had just taken off from Berkely County Airport, a non towered airport about 17 miles northwest of Charleston, The Cessna was headed for Myrtle Beach and the collision occurred between 2,000 and 3,000 feet. Jost said the 20,000-pound F-16 would have been going between 230 and 290 mph at the time.

The Cessna was smashed to small pieces by the impact and debris rained down over an eight mile area  about 20 miles northwest of Charleston. There were no reports of injury or damage on the ground. Weather was overcast but Jost told a news conference he didn't believe weather was a factor. The F-16 left a crater and smashed trees in the woods surrounding the historic Lewisfield Plantation. Workers at the plantation found the pilot and took him to ambulance personnel who drove him to the base, where he was being kept for observation.




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Pipistrel cancelled plans to symbolically fly its Alpha Electro electric-powered training aircraft over the English Channel on Tuesday after Siemens, the supplier of the motor, issued a "demand not to fly over the water with their motor," said Pipistrel CEO Ivo Boscarol in a statement (PDF). Boscarol said his company's flight has been in the works since last October, with the company finally receiving approval from French authorities last week. Takeoff was planned for July 7 at 10 a.m. and shortly before that Siemens demanded the flight be stopped and seemed to suggest that using its motor to fly over water would violate its development contract with Pipistrel.

In a statement to AVweb (PDF), Siemens spokesman Florian Martini said Pipistrel didn't tell Siemens it was planning the flight. Martini cites Siemens' "safety demands" in the statement but did not directly address the question of why it ordered Pipistrel to not use its motor. The Slovenian company has developed the aircraft with the intent to certify it with the Siemens motor and is in production.

Boscarol described the last-minute decision by Siemens "bizarre and incomprehensible." He did, however, leave broad hints that he speculates the decision has something to do with Airbus' plan to fly its E-fan electric airplane over the Channel on Friday, which would have made it the second electric airplane to make the crossing. Siemens is listed as a sponsor of that splashy event, which has been widely promoted by Airbus and the first such crossing of the Channel. 

Siemens does not supply the motors for the E-fan but it does supply a lot of electrical components to Airbus. Boscarol hinted that he believed there was some connection there. "Unfortunately it was once again the interest of the capital that prevailed, and we lost the competition on the account of fair play -- we could of course still perform the flight in the next three days, but we respect Siemens and their demand not to fly over the water with their motor," he said. He also congratulated Airbus in advance for the scheduled Friday flight.

Airbus spokeswoman Christine Manderscheid didn't directly address the question of whether it pressured Siemens to pull its support for the Pipistrel flight but instead chided Pipistrel for a perceived lack of preparation for the flight, the approval of the French authorities notwithstanding (PDF). She said that while Airbus didn't know the specifics of Pipistrel's flight, she was unaware of any other company that had taken the precautions Airbus is undertaking for its flight on Friday, including chase aircraft, air traffic control coordination and rescue boats. "There is no comparable status known for any other player. We are not aware of the test status and the agreements between Siemens and Pipistrel. But no serious player in aviation compromises on safety,” Airbus tweeted on Tuesday.

AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently flew the Alpha Electro and prepared this video report.

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The sight of an otherwise normal-looking light twin flying around the patch with no one in the cockpit has just put a new spin on unmanned aerial systems. Aurora Flight Sciences of Virginia announced it completed a series of test flights of its Centaur Optionally Piloted Aircraft in June as part of a project with the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR Alliance) of Rome, New York. The tests took place at the alliance’s headquarters at Griffiss International Airport and are the first of their kind at a federally designated UAS test site. The Centaur, a specially equipped Diamond DA-42, demonstrated taxi, takeoff and landing in a video released by the alliance. 

The Centaur’s ability to fly with or without a pilot opens the twin to a broader range of uses, and converting the aircraft to “unmanned flight mode” can be done in under four hours with two people, according to Aurora Flight Sciences. Control equipment carried in the Diamond’s cargo space allows the aircraft to “effectively deploy itself” and fly beyond line of sight of ground operators, according to the company’s website. “This aircraft is coming into high demand from a range of customers, both military and commercial interests, in the U.S. and abroad,” Aurora chairman and CEO John S. Langford said in the company’s announcement.


Six pilots, the latest graduates of Able Flight’s training program, will receive their wings during a ceremony July 21 at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. This year’s class includes a pilot who was born without hands or feet, two who are quadriplegics, one who is a paraplegic, a deaf pilot and a wounded veteran. From mid-May to early July, four of the six learned to fly through Able Flight's joint program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. They attended classes and together accumulated 181 hours of flight instruction in three specially adapted LSA aircraft -- two Sky Arrow 600 LSAs and a Flight Design CTLS. 

Among them is Scot Abrams, who served in the Marines before joining the New York Police Department. Eight years ago, he was on duty riding a police motorcycle when he was hit by a motorist, leaving him partially paralyzed. He now has his sport pilot certificate and plans to pursue his private ticket in New York. “When I first soloed I just got chills. It’s freedom. I can do it. And I’m going to do it — over and over,” Abram said in Purdue University’s announcement of the graduating pilots. Able Flight, in its eighth year of providing full flight training scholarships and other support for people with physical disabilities, is in its sixth year partnering with Purdue.

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A high-flying entrepreneur came down to earth in a Calgary jail cell late Sunday after his multi-balloon publicity stunt ended with a parachute drop into the western Canadian city. Daniel Boria, 26, was charged with mischief endangering life after he attached a "$20 lawn chair" to 110 helium-filled balloons with the intent of skydiving from the chair into the middle of the Calgary Stampede, a huge rodeo and festival underway in the Alberta city. Boria, who came up with the stunt as a way to publicize his cleaning business, spent the night in jail and spoke with reporters on Monday. “It was incredible. It was the most surreal experience you can ever imagine. I was just by myself on a $20 lawn chair up in the sky above the clouds,” he told a television network.

Boria said winds kept him from reaching his destination and he bailed out when he started heading into the clouds. He apparently didn't carry an air rifle to allow him to shoot balloons to regulate his altitude. Global News reported that officials at Calgary International Airport estimated his altitude at between 8,000 and 10,000 feet. “At one point I was looking up at the balloons, they were popping, the chair was shaking and I was looking down at my feet dangling through the clouds at a 747 flight taking off and a few landing,” Boria told the CBC. After jumping from the chair, he landed about a mile from the Stampede grounds in a small park. He sprained his ankle but was otherwise uninjured.

Since his arrest, the Calgary Police Service's Facebook page has filled up with comments urging the charges be dropped. The police are so far unmoved. "I don't think any publicity stunt is worth your life, nor obviously the life or property of somebody else," Insp. Kyle Grant told the Calgary Herald. Grant said Transport Canada is also likely to chip in with charges under the Aeronautics Act.  "I think he will end up out-of-pocket quite a bit. It probably would have been cheaper to get a billboard," he said.


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About 20 years ago, air show performer Bob Carleton and a friend built a very clever solution for getting eight sailplanes in and out of hangars without causing damage.  It's an electric-powered carousel, and AVweb recently gave it a test spin, so to speak.


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The other day, I was sitting at the kitchen table doing a little remedial work on my quadcopter after an unfortunate encounter with a tree. A neighbor, who happens to own a Cessna 170, dropped by and after eyeballing the drone for a few seconds, said, “I’d win.” Say again? “I’d win if I hit that thing with my airplane,” he said.

Probably true, although I wouldn’t take the bet either way. California Senator Dianne Feinstein definitely doesn’t share the sentiment, however, having just introduced the Consumer Drone Safety Act (PDF). In a nutshell, the bill would saddle the FAA with writing yet another set of regulations concerning UAS, despite being months (if not years) behind on the regs they’ve already been tasked with developing.

Feinstein’s view of “drone safety” is to have a new set of specific flight guidelines and restrictions for operating consumer-grade drones, equipping them with sense-and-avoid technology and transponders or ADS-B, and mandatory geo-fencing to keep these aircraft out of sensitive areas. And it would require manufacturers to retrofit, at their expense, the technology to achieve these requirements on drones already in the field. Buried in the fine print is a provision that would allow the Administrator to waive these requirements if he deems them not applicable or necessary. It’s a safety valve of sorts, but just the kind of thing the FAA has never been good at dealing with.  

Whether this bill goes anywhere is debatable. Two pilot unions, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association and the Air Line Pilots Association, have declared their support. So has the National Association of Broadcasters. Huh? That’s rich. The broadcasters want the right to fly news drones wherever they like to drive their ratings, but they don’t want you to have one? The aviation alphabets are aware of the bill, but none of them are taking a specific position yet.

Do these small micro-UAS really represent a threat to manned aircraft? Possibly, but as I’ve noted before, putting any realistic numbers on this is all but impossible. Nobody knows how many consumer-grade UAS are out there because the manufacturers of them are closely held and don’t report sales. What’s been driving the discussion is the FAA’s so-called “near miss” data, which lists what are little more than anecdotal sightings of UAS by pilots. None of this data has been verified or corroborated in any way that would suggest legitimate inquiry. A couple of months ago, I spoke to John Goglia, formerly of the NTSB, about this and he thought the sighting list was all but useless as a foundation for regulation. There’s just not enough real data in the data.

In her pressers, Feinstein has said that without this regulation, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a catastrophe. By that, I assume she means an air carrier accident caused by the likes of a Phantom 2 or a Q500. What’s the risk here? It’s probably not zero, but is it a high risk? Goglia thought a micro-drone ingested into a turbofan would cause damage, but not an accident. What’s needed ahead of any Draconian regulation like Feinstein’s bill is an understanding of the true micro-UAS population and some data on the consequences of a collision with one.

The FAA says it will embark on just such research sometime later this year or next to at least cast a little light on collision outcomes. One study has already been done and you can take a look at it here (PDF). It was researched by Monash University for the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority and published in 2013. The methodology involved analyzing published experimental data and semi-empirical observations, but no blasting of drones at aircraft structures, as is done with bird carcasses for certification testing.

The study concluded that the most likely scenario for a drone strike—and we’re talking about micro-drones, not the Amazon box-carrying variety—for an airliner would be engine ingestion and substantial damage, but a low probability of a catastrophic outcome. The research suggests small drones would be unlikely to penetrate airliner windshields at approach speeds, but larger drones or higher speeds could result in penetrations; the data isn’t clear. The study did predict penetration of fixed-wing UAVs, although it’s not clear why the data supports this.

For general aviation aircraft—a Cessna 172 was the example—windshield penetration was deemed likely at cruise speeds, independent of UAV size. Penetration would be unlikely for a small drone at flaps-extended speed. I’m not sure if I buy that last assertion. My gut tells me that encountering a Phantom at 80 knots might penetrate the windshield, even if the odds are in my favor. Either way, this study reveals a not-very-high risk and, in my view, not one that needs regulation as onerous as Feinstein proposes. Yet.

The FAA’s pending study may produce findings that reveal a lower or a higher risk, but wouldn’t it be better to have that data before clamping down with yet more regulations that the FAA will struggle with writing? Congress specifically directed the FAA to stay out of direct regulation of model aircraft and the community oversight system consisting of Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) guidelines has worked well.

The advent of anybody-can-fly quads resets that idea, but perhaps the guidelines need some revision to reflect that new reality, not an entirely new set of FARs the FAA will have to write and which it will never, ever have the resources to enforce. To its credit, the FAA is pushing education and awareness to buyers and operators of consumer UAS and that’s what AMA told me it supports, too. There are provisions in this bill that AMA is, rightly, worried about. And maybe it’s time to recast the hierarchy of drones and draw a line at, say five pounds for micro-drones. Leave them alone and look at risks for heavier aircraft.

The FAA has often been accused of a tombstone mentality, dragging its feet on regulation until the bodies pile up. But that’s a two-bladed axe. Forward-looking regulation can attempt to reduce risks that aren’t even real and, in the process, can wreak economic havoc on the industries they’re supposed to improve. It’s the standard regulator’s dilemma and the Consumer Done Safety Act doesn’t change that. In my view, this new regulation is just a huge distraction for the FAA at a time when it really needs to focus on the two drone regs already in the works.

The biggie is autonomous, low-altitude drones and those will need sense-and-avoid and ADS-B. Let the FAA concentrate on getting those regulations rapidly right and not retrofitting Bebops and Phantoms with transponders they’ll never be able to carry.

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Pipistrel is taking orders for its pure-electric Alpha Electro aircraft.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently went to Slovenia to fly the aircraft and prepared this video report.

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