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It would appear the latest political gambit to reform pilot medical regulations will die Wednesday when the House extends existing funding for highway projects and gets ready to go on summer holiday. CNN reported House Speaker John Boehner told members Tuesday the House would vote on a three-month extension rather than consider a Senate bill that would fund transportation infrastructure projects for at least three years. Tucked into that bill is an amendment that mirrors the language of the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2, which includes measures to end third class medical requirements for many private pilots. "We're not taking up the Senate bill," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters. Ignoring the Senate and passing the extension means Congress gets a jump on its August recess and the Hill is expected to be a ghost town by Thursday.

It's the second setback this week for third class medical reform. Last Friday the Air Line Pilots Association wrote senators announcing its vigorous opposition to third class medical reform, saying it could provide a loophole for those with mental and physical ailments to fly through, thus endangering other aircraft. Condemnation came quickly from general aviation groups who said ALPA blindsided them with its eleventh-hour opposition. It would now appear both sides of the issue have a few months to hone their positions. The Senate bill also contained an amendment to continue funding of the Export-Import Bank, which gives loans to companies to promote U.S. exports.

image: GAMA

Reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank made some progress in Washington over the weekend, winning support from a Senate vote in a rare Sunday session. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association has been lobbying for reauthorization of the bank, which expired June 30, saying the bank's loan guarantees help GA manufacturers to close transactions with non-U.S. buyers. The bill is expected to pass in the Senate early this week, according to The New York Times, but faces a "potential showdown" in the House, CNBC reported Monday. The reauthorization is moving through Congress as an amendment to a highway bill. President Obama has said he supports reauthorizing the bank.

The bank "supports millions of manufacturing jobs throughout the country, allows U.S. businesses to compete on a level playing field globally, and returns funds to the U.S. Treasury," said GAMA President Pete Bunce. "With half of all general aviation aircraft deliveries made outside the U.S., there is absolutely no time to waste." Since 2012, the Ex-Im Bank has provided loan guarantees of more than $1.9 billion to general aviation manufacturers, acting when commercial banks will not or cannot provide financing, according to GAMA.

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Airbus recently debuted its Bluecopter technology demonstrator, with a public demo at its facility in Donauworth, Germany. The aircraft already has logged more than 28 hours, testing out new technologies that aim to improve fuel efficiency and the ability to fly quietly. "With Bluecopter, we have met our goals of decreasing fuel consumption by as much as 40 percent, significantly reducing CO2 emissions, and lowering noise to approximately 10 decibel effective perceived noise (EPNdB) below ICAO noise certification limits, while raising the maximum payload and the passenger comfort," said Marius Bebesel, the Airbus program manager for research and innovation.

The Bluecopter also is being used to further evolve the company's Fenestron shrouded tail-rotor, helping to develop performance improvements through optimized blade and stator designs. An acoustic liner integrated in the Fenestron's shroud and the active rudder on the tail fin contribute as well to the reduced noise footprint. To reduce fuel consumption, the Bluecopter can be switched to "eco-mode" during cruise, by shutting down one engine. The remaining engine operates more efficiently and the fuel consumption is drastically reduced. The eco mode is based on an automatic control system that assists the crew and ensures safe operation of the aircraft.

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image from Facebook

A Russian helicopter pilot on a solo trip around the world was rescued on Monday morning after spending more than 30 hours alone on an ice floe after ditching his Robinson R22 helicopter about midway between Iqualuit and Greenland, in the Davis Strait. "It's wet. It's cold. He has some polar bear neighbors who are very interested in his whereabouts. He has quite a survival story," said Rear Admiral John Newton, of the Canadian Navy, who spoke to the press about the rescue. Newton said Sergey Ananov, age 49, had a life raft and a survival suit. "It was a very small target [for searchers]," Newton said. Rescuers were alerted when an on-board beacon indicated that the aircraft had descended to sea level and stopped moving, but then had to search for Ananov at sea amid clouds and fog.

Ananov used flares to signal his rescuers, and was down to his last one when it was spotted by a Canadian Coast Guard ship. Speaking by satphone from the Coast Guard ship, Ananov told CBC News he had a mechanical problem. "The belt that transfers the power from the engine to the gear was broken and the machine lost its power," Ananov said. "There are two valves, so one of them broke, and with one valve remaining the machine cannot fly horizontally." The R22 began to spin out of control, and he went "down, down, down." He tried to land on the ice floe, but lost control and crashed into the Strait. Taking along his life raft and supplies, he swam to the ice floe and put on his survival suit. Ananov had started the trip from Moscow on June 13, and already had crossed North America.

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image: NTSB

A cockpit design that made it possible for one human error to result in a catastrophic crash was mainly to blame for the destruction of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo last October, which resulted in the death of the co-pilot and injury to the pilot, the NTSB concluded on Tuesday. The board also spent some time discussing whether the co-pilot's action, in prematurely unlocking the tail, was part of the probable cause or not. After a half-hour break, the board proposed a revised probable cause, which noted that the co-pilot's action initiated the break-up. The board also found the co-pilot was not using a written checklist, and was working under time pressure while experiencing vehicle vibration and G-loads.

The board also found that by not considering the possibility of human error in its safety analysis, Scaled Composites, which developed and built the spacecraft, missed the chance to mitigate it. The company's training didn't ensure that pilots adequately understood the risks of unlocking the feather early, the board said. Also the company should develop better accident-response procedures that would make better use of helicopter assets and also better train flight crews in the use of parachutes. As a result of the investigation, the FAA will develop a database of safety data for the commercial space industry. "The success of commercial space travel depends on the safety of commercial space travel," said board chairman Christopher Hart, in his concluding remarks.

More details about the investigation and conclusions are posted at the NTSB website.

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Daily news comes fast and furious in the aviation world, but some stories deserve a second chance to reach your eyeballs. Below are stories you may have missed recently.

Busy and Some Things With Legs

This year marks my 27th or 28th Oshkosh tour—I can’t exactly remember which for sure. I would characterize the week as busy and moderately consequential. By consequential, I mean I saw things that made me believe they’ll have legs in the market and have some impact on sales and development of new aircraft. One was new—the Rotax 9l5 iS—and the other two were what I consider validations.

Yingling’s remanufactured 172—about which I’ll have more to say later this week—was the validation. It’s the fifth such project to emerge, showing that this refurbishment trend we’re seeing is gaining ground. That’s good. The other validation was the RX1E electric trainer. I continue to believe the electric airplane market will struggle for a long time before it’s a real thing, but I also believe it eventually will carve a niche and the fact that we’re seeing these airplanes show up repeatedly is a good sign.

After every AirVenture I’ve attended, something always stands out in a way that makes me think it about it for days on end. This year, for me, that would be the interview of Warren Denholm on the restoration of the Mosquito. That anyone could do this at all is simply stunning; that it could be done so well is inspiring.

Last, a note about our staff, some of whom will comment below. We work our tails off at AirVenture and everyone stepped up and them some. A special shout-out to someone you never hear much about: Scott Simmons, our webmaster, without whom you’d never see what we produce.

—Paul Bertorelli

Weather Dependent

Toward the end of the week, EAA tweeted that on Thursday, the field saw 3153 aircraft movements, the “largest single-day number in at least three years!” The weather clearly had a lot to do with that. In Wisconsin, we relish those summer days when we can enjoy blue skies, comfortable temperatures and a clear horizon—all at the same time. And when we get a string of days like that, I can assure you it’s a rare treasure indeed. So it was this week at Oshkosh.

The absence of bad weather—namely, storms and roasting heat—was the extra push that helped bring out the healthy numbers of airplanes and conventioneers. There’s also the satisfaction of feeling chipper even after making your way from KidVenture to the Vintage Red Barn. Whenever I chatted with people from around the world—Australia, China, New Zealand and Trinidad, to name a few—this was a big bonus, as they had traveled great distances to see the sights of Oshkosh.

Granted, 78 degrees in the sun is a bit hot for some, depending on where you come from, but all you perennial visitors know how awful the conditions can be here. Still, even when a storm blows your company tent down and the mud’s up to your knees, or you’re baked into a wilted mass of sweat and sunblock, you always seem to make the best of it and hope it’s better next year. This is that year.

There’s nothing like looking at all the pictures you took at Oshkosh and seeing cool airplanes against that gorgeous blue backdrop, props sparkling in the sun. It’s nice to know this encourages more of you to come back next year, whatever the weather brings.

—Elaine Kauh

The Spirit Lives On

Having seen more than a dozen EAA AirVentures, they are all kind of the same, yet each year we find things that we haven't seen before. This year, it was nice to see Goodyear's brand-new Zeppelin flying daily above the show, and showing off its maneuverability in the airshows. The weather was amazing, with blue skies and no rain for most of the week, and mostly manageable humidity. The camping areas and airplane parking were packed—the North 40 for airplanes filled up midway through the week.

Plenty of people were there to promote a new idea, or a new design, or just to share something beautiful that they built purely for the love of flying—the 23bis ultralight was a great example of that. Spending a week at this show every summer is hard work, and it can be exhausting, but it's a wonderful thing that it exists, and it's nice to remember that it grew from the ideas of a small band of folks who just wanted to share their love of aviation and the spirit of experimentation—it lives on.

—Mary Grady

Where Aviation News Is Made

What I really like about covering AirVenture are the surprises that are as inevitable as they are, well, surprising. If you'd told me 10 days ago I'd spend a couple of hours riding around in Red Three with Tom Poberezny I might have been surprised about that. My thought was that it would be a trip down memory lane with a Volkswagen engine clanging in the background but I couldn't have been more wrong. If you didn't watch the video (thinking that it was what I thought it was going to be) have a look. Plenty of folks have watched it and not all of them have liked it.

Then there was FAA Administrator Michael Huerta confirming the agency has been accused of breaking the law in its labor dealings with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. He said he disagreed with it and could win an award for the bafflegab that followed but it's clear that something is up and I think that all the strange behavior of the alphabet groups in their relationship with the FAA over the past year has something to do it. You read it here first. I'm convinced that privatization of ATC is a done deal and each of the alphabet groups is holding a coupon it wants honored for its mild opposition to the very notion of user fees. Five years ago, any suggestion of user fees would have resulted in t-shirts (still have one from 2008) and railing rhetoric. This time it's been a few press releases.

Adding fuel to that fire is the Air Line Pilots Association's knife in the heart of the alphabets' all-consuming campaign to get rid of the third class medical. ALPA says it has safety concerns about eliminating the medical and those of us who know better understand the alphabet groups' position and can rationally accept that the third class medical probably has little effect on aviation safety. But, when Congress is considering the rather desperate attempt (I've never been a fan of adding unpopular amendments to slam-dunk bills to get around the proper discourse on these discussions) to pass the measure who will they believe? Will they go with the biggest collection of airline pilots who take them back to their voters every week or the groups that represent the rest of us? Incidentally, ALPA has publicly supported "stable funding" for the air traffic control system. Hmm.

I love the atmosphere, the chicken enchiladas in the food court are fantastic (really) and there's something about looking up and seeing the world's only operational B-29 flying overhead that is both exciting and humbling. But I go to AirVenture to connect the dots and there's a pretty interesting picture emerging. Stay tuned.

—Russ Niles

Busy and Some Things With Legs

This year marks my 27th or 28th Oshkosh tour—I can’t exactly remember which for sure. I would characterize the week as busy and moderately consequential. By consequential, I mean I saw things that made me believe they’ll have legs in the market and have some impact on sales and development of new aircraft. One was new—the Rotax 9l5 iS—and the other two were what I consider validations.

Yingling’s remanufactured 172—about which I’ll have more to say later this week—was the validation. It’s the fifth such project to emerge, showing that this refurbishment trend we’re seeing is gaining ground. That’s good. The other validation was the RX1E electric trainer. I continue to believe the electric airplane market will struggle for a long time before it’s a real thing, but I also believe it eventually will carve a niche and the fact that we’re seeing these airplanes show up repeatedly is a good sign.

After every AirVenture I’ve attended, something always stands out in a way that makes me think it about it for days on end. This year, for me, that would be the interview of Warren Denholm on the restoration of the Mosquito. That anyone could do this at all is simply stunning; that it could be done so well is inspiring.

Last, a note about our staff, some of whom will comment below. We work our tails off at AirVenture and everyone stepped up and them some. A special shout-out to someone you never hear much about: Scott Simmons, our webmaster, without whom you’d never see what we produce.

—Paul Bertorelli

Weather Dependent

Toward the end of the week, EAA tweeted that on Thursday, the field saw 3153 aircraft movements, the “largest single-day number in at least three years!” The weather clearly had a lot to do with that. In Wisconsin, we relish those summer days when we can enjoy blue skies, comfortable temperatures and a clear horizon—all at the same time. And when we get a string of days like that, I can assure you it’s a rare treasure indeed. So it was this week at Oshkosh.

The absence of bad weather—namely, storms and roasting heat—was the extra push that helped bring out the healthy numbers of airplanes and conventioneers. There’s also the satisfaction of feeling chipper even after making your way from KidVenture to the Vintage Red Barn. Whenever I chatted with people from around the world—Australia, China, New Zealand and Trinidad, to name a few—this was a big bonus, as they had traveled great distances to see the sights of Oshkosh.

Granted, 78 degrees in the sun is a bit hot for some, depending on where you come from, but all you perennial visitors know how awful the conditions can be here. Still, even when a storm blows your company tent down and the mud’s up to your knees, or you’re baked into a wilted mass of sweat and sunblock, you always seem to make the best of it and hope it’s better next year. This is that year.

There’s nothing like looking at all the pictures you took at Oshkosh and seeing cool airplanes against that gorgeous blue backdrop, props sparkling in the sun. It’s nice to know this encourages more of you to come back next year, whatever the weather brings.

—Elaine Kauh

The Spirit Lives On

Having seen more than a dozen EAA AirVentures, they are all kind of the same, yet each year we find things that we haven't seen before. This year, it was nice to see Goodyear's brand-new Zeppelin flying daily above the show, and showing off its maneuverability in the airshows. The weather was amazing, with blue skies and no rain for most of the week, and mostly manageable humidity. The camping areas and airplane parking were packed—the North 40 for airplanes filled up midway through the week.

Plenty of people were there to promote a new idea, or a new design, or just to share something beautiful that they built purely for the love of flying—the 23bis ultralight was a great example of that. Spending a week at this show every summer is hard work, and it can be exhausting, but it's a wonderful thing that it exists, and it's nice to remember that it grew from the ideas of a small band of folks who just wanted to share their love of aviation and the spirit of experimentation—it lives on.

—Mary Grady

Where Aviation News Is Made

What I really like about covering AirVenture are the surprises that are as inevitable as they are, well, surprising. If you'd told me 10 days ago I'd spend a couple of hours riding around in Red Three with Tom Poberezny I might have been surprised about that. My thought was that it would be a trip down memory lane with a Volkswagen engine clanging in the background but I couldn't have been more wrong. If you didn't watch the video (thinking that it was what I thought it was going to be) have a look. Plenty of folks have watched it and not all of them have liked it.

Then there was FAA Administrator Michael Huerta confirming the agency has been accused of breaking the law in its labor dealings with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. He said he disagreed with it and could win an award for the bafflegab that followed but it's clear that something is up and I think that all the strange behavior of the alphabet groups in their relationship with the FAA over the past year has something to do it. You read it here first. I'm convinced that privatization of ATC is a done deal and each of the alphabet groups is holding a coupon it wants honored for its mild opposition to the very notion of user fees. Five years ago, any suggestion of user fees would have resulted in t-shirts (still have one from 2008) and railing rhetoric. This time it's been a few press releases.

Adding fuel to that fire is the Air Line Pilots Association's knife in the heart of the alphabets' all-consuming campaign to get rid of the third class medical. ALPA says it has safety concerns about eliminating the medical and those of us who know better understand the alphabet groups' position and can rationally accept that the third class medical probably has little effect on aviation safety. But, when Congress is considering the rather desperate attempt (I've never been a fan of adding unpopular amendments to slam-dunk bills to get around the proper discourse on these discussions) to pass the measure who will they believe? Will they go with the biggest collection of airline pilots who take them back to their voters every week or the groups that represent the rest of us? Incidentally, ALPA has publicly supported "stable funding" for the air traffic control system. Hmm.

I love the atmosphere, the chicken enchiladas in the food court are fantastic (really) and there's something about looking up and seeing the world's only operational B-29 flying overhead that is both exciting and humbling. But I go to AirVenture to connect the dots and there's a pretty interesting picture emerging. Stay tuned.

—Russ Niles

What of Icon?

One of the airplanes we hoped to cover here at AirVenture was the new Icon A5, an amphibious LSA that the company says has the potential to reset the entire market. Well, maybe. It’s sure a good-looking airplane. Icon promised us a trial flight then, without explanation, abruptly withdrew the invitation. This has happened before at AirVenture and frankly, it doesn’t upset me too much. Doing a flight trial here at the show is not the best way to evaluate an airplane because such demos tend to be rushed and you really need a full day to do them right.

But then things took a bizarre turn. The company’s PR rep called and said in addition to no flight trial, the company wouldn’t offer any interviews nor could we shoot any video of the airplane. Further, when the flight review was proposed, Icon hinted that it wanted control and approval of what video we did shoot and wanted a list of questions to be asked. If Icon is showing the world how an LSA should really be built, it’s also showing the world how not to do marketing and communication. The reason companies come to AirVenture is to show what they’ve got and that includes unfettered press access to the products and the leadership of the company. If they can’t explain and promote themselves and answer the occasional hardball question in this venue, how will they do when the going gets rough with deliveries, customer service and the inevitable rough spots?

What coverage the A5 has gotten so far has amounted to one long sloppy wet kiss from the aviation press and maybe the airplane deserves it. I sure hope so. And while I surely understand a company wanting to tightly control its image, that goes only so far. Any credible company needs to stand up on two feet and answer all the questions thrown at it. We’ll see if Icon matures and figures that out.

Bose A20

In today’s "Top Ten Reasons You Know You’re At AirVenture" video, we included some bloopers, of which we have many. One I didn’t include was one that occurred when I was recording an interview with Bose’s Hratch Astarjian on the company’s new A20 Bluetooth upgrade. Accidentally, in the middle of the recording, the headset I was wearing linked with a Bluetooth source and began playing music. Really nice music.

In fact, the audio quality was so good it startled me for a good 20 seconds before I stopped Hratch so we could reconfigure and resume the discussion. Also, when you watch that video, note the voice audio quality—it comes through even on the YouTube feed. If you’re not using Bluetooth for music, you really should consider it. It so enhances the experience of flying that I almost consider it a no-go when I can’t pair up with my playlist. And Bluetooth headsets do this seamlessly, making them one of the easier gadgets to use. If you’re still at the show, check out this upgrade in Bose’s booth (283). Bluetooth capability will be standard on new A20s and you can upgrade an older A20 by adding a new cable.

Be the PIC

We’ve said this before, but I think in the name of safety, it needs to be said again: When you fly into Wittman Field during AirVenture, you need to bring your A game and that entails two things: being sharp on listening to the radio and complying with instructions and tuning out and resisting the urge to get outside your own envelope (or the airplane’s) just to satisfy an amped-up controller.

On Wednesday morning, a Malibu crashed while landing on Runway 27 and if there’s a characteristic accident at Oshkosh, that might be it. We don’t know the specifics yet, but it might be similar to the Jack Roush crash in 2010. Recall that Roush crashed his Beech 390 jet when attempting a go-around on what turned out to be a tight approach with what he thought was a potential conflict. The NTSB ruled that Roush had failed to execute the go-around properly and stalled the airplane. He was injured badly enough to lose an eye.

During that arrival, Roush was flying the jet in a way that he normally would not have: a tight carving approach that’s typical of the multiple aircraft arrivals to the same runway here at OSH. Remember that ATC uses non-standard runway separation during AirVenture and while I don’t consider this unsafe, it has less margin than you enjoy at your home airport where a tower applies sequencing and standard separation. And then some. Controllers (and pilots) are good at making this work at Wittman, but some are better than others.

There’s a certain intimidation factor here that pilots just have to ignore. I was listening on frequency Monday when I heard a controller tell an airplane, rather urgently, to “tighten it up, tighten it up, tighten it up.” He was already in a steep banked turn headed for Runway 27. As a pilot, you need to do your best in this circumstance but resist the urge to overdo it. There’s always a danger of hauling back on the stick to the point of stalling the airplane, just to satisfy that command to tighten it up. Well, don’t. If you can’t make the turn safely, or you can’t make the green dot without smacking the airplane onto the runway like a dead bug, then don’t. Someone might have to go around or turn out of the pattern and that’s a better outcome than a stall/spin short of the runway, which has happened here.

No matter what’s happening on frequency, don’t surrender your authority to operate the airplane safely and understand that controllers will build in—or should build in—enough margin to accommodate a pilot who can’t comply with an instruction without exceeding his or the airplane’s limits.

Why Does Huerta Come Here?

Maybe FAA Administrator Michael Huerta should stop bothering to come to AirVenture. Traditionally, administrators have done a Meet the Boss session, plus press availability. But Huerta’s dissembling non-answers and sidesteps of the most benign questions have become somewhat of a joke, and not a har-har joke, but a pathetic one. Give the man credit though; he is a skilled survivor at the highest levels of government bureaucracy.

I have yet to hear Huerta offer a substantive answer on the burning issue of the day, the reform of the Third Class medical. But this week, he reached a new low, suggesting that pilots should contact their congressional representatives to urge action on medical reform. Isn’t this tantamount to saying I can’t do my job, please have congress force me to?

GA’s relationship with the FAA has, under Huerta, eroded to a point I never thought it could reach. And given that the FAA feels it no longer has to respond to legitimate press inquiries, ours is even worse than that.

No Brass Ring

My skydiver friends attempting a world-record sequential jump over AirVenture came up short on Friday. The base formation looked great, but evidently the sequences didn’t work out as planned. I can say from personal experience that this isn’t the first time this has happened. Such a thing is dauntingly difficult under the best of circumstances and doing it at a big airshow with the distraction and demands of a tight timeline doesn’t make it any easier.

It was still a great show, though. I watched Friday’s jump with my friend Duffy Fainer from the airshow announcers' booth. As they usually are, the breakoff and canopy openings were spectacular. Maybe next year.

Rutan Lays Hands on the 915 iS

I was in the Rotax booth on Tuesday shooting a video on the new 915 iS when Burt Rutan, towing a small entourage, popped in. He hadn’t heard about the new engine, but when Marc Becker rattled off the specs, Rutan pronounced it the perfect engine for his new SkiGull amphibian, said to be a versatile design with the capability of flying from the West Coast to Hawaii if not beyond. Rutan confessed to doing something he said he had never done before: showing off a design before the airplane is built.

As Rutan noted, the 915 iS, at 135 hp, has just enough additional horsepower over the 912 iS without much weight penalty to hit a sweet spot. At first blush, its fuel specifics look attractive too, just as the 912 iS’s have to the light sport segment. I’m guessing that Rotax is feeling some heat from the evolving small diesel engine market and is doing exactly what the automotive industry is doing: offering improved gasoline engines that are more powerful and more efficient, but without the weight penalty that continues to dog diesel engines.

I knew Rotax was developing some kind of higher horsepower engine. When I visited the factory last year to produce this video, they said as much. But I was looking for something in the 150-hp range and given current market conditions, I wouldn’t have expected it this soon. The 135-hp power point may be a shrewd choice. At 185 pounds, it’s a little heavier than the 912 iS, but also lighter than the 180-hp Lycoming-based Titan four-cylinders that are going into airplanes like the Carbon Cub and now the American Legend. On a power-to-weight ratio, the Lycoming type is still better than the 915 iS, but the overall weight is quite a bit less and the fuel specifics are likely to be better, too. Niggling little differences like this are what airplane designers look at when selecting engines and although it’s not likely to be transformational, a slightly more powerful engine with slightly better altitude performance and economy can make enough of a difference to give an airframer a potential edge.

Being as delusional as everyone else in aviation, I’ve always had this fantasy of a fast, two-place cruising airplane with enough baggage space to make it a practical traveling machine. Such a thing would need good range, at least 1000 miles, if not 1500, and speed near the 200-knot range. Maybe a 135-hp engine would make that reachable where a 100-hp motor would not. The airplane would need to be slick, however, to move that fast on so little power. New engines have traditionally sparked new airframe designs and I’m going to predict the 915 iS will, too. But whether it does or doesn’t, it shows that Rotax isn’t risk-averse and that it continues to follow a business plan that envisions moderate volume with a long timeline. In my view, that’s the only way to ply a market that just isn’t going to support large numbers.

Swift Fuel’s Interesting Play

Late in the day, after I recorded a podcast with Swift’s Chris D’Acosta on the company’s new 94 MON fuel, something curious happened. The company sent a press release that announced they had reached an agreement with AvFuel Corp., the dominant distributor of aviation fuels in the U.S. The press release is a little vague about what’s going on here, but I see the relevance in this phrase: “… a framework agreement to serve as a template allowing equitable distribution processes amongst the major avgas distributors for Swift 94 MON Avgas and any future avgas replacements.”

This strikes me as a truce of sorts that Swift hopes will allow its new 94-octane fuel onto airports without facing the exclusionary contracts that have, from time to time, kept mogas from propagating to more airports. And although Swift says its new 94-octane fuel is an approved aviation fuel, it fits into the market space that mogas now occupies—or at least has attempted to occupy. Despite a price break against avgas, mogas is available on only about 100 or so airports. There are several reasons for this. One is that ethanol-free unleaded premium can be difficult to find in the distribution chain, a second is the aforementioned fact that supply contracts often preclude airports from offering competing fuels, and a third is that many pilots simply don’t trust mogas.

Will Swift 94 change that? We’ll see. To reach any kind of critical mass, the company will have to find enough distribution points to make a brand identity dent. The downside is you still need an STC to use this fuel, just as you do with mogas. Furthermore, FBOs we’ve surveyed have expressed a distinct disinterest in a two-fuel solution to address the slow-moving leaded avgas crisis. In a market where fuel sales continue to decline, what rational business case is there for investing $50,000 or more in a second tank farm and pump? I keep hearing that this isn’t really a barrier, but I keep not seeing mogas make significant inroads in fuel sales.

Swift’s Chris D’Acosta told me the FBOs who are now selling the 94 MON fuel are pricing it in the $4 to $4.25 range. If that’s true and it holds, that’s a pretty good price, in my view. It could be that buyers will see this and put pressure on airports to provide the fuel. That could be a good thing. If nothing else, it will be a real-world test case to add another data point to prove or disprove whether fuel price has anything to do with flight activity. (I’m in the camp that believes it doesn’t.)  

Cirrus Flock: Not

Earlier in the week I bumped into Mike Radomsky, who’s a past president of the Cirrus Owner and Pilots Association. He happened to mention he had been involved in the Cirrus mass arrival. These things have become a fixture as AirVenture, with Bonanzas, Barons, Cessnas and Mooneys organizing group fly-ins.

How many did you get, I asked? Seven airplanes, Mike said. I think the Mooney group had about 40. With Cirrus touting the 6000th airplane sold, isn’t that kind of pathetic? Not really. Cirrus owners are just different, Radomsky told me. They tend to be skeptical if not out-and-out reticent to join in such things, but that’s not to suggest they’re not joiners. COPA is, without exception, in my view, the most potent of the owner groups, having demonstrated a measurable positive effect on the Cirrus accident rate. Maybe the fact that they’re reluctant to join large clouds of airplanes flying the same direction actually reflects a healthy survival instinct.

And you know what? I’m not sure I would join the flock, either. I’m basically anti-social and that definitely applies to flying in trail of someone I just met that morning. No offense, but I’d just rather be alone.

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Watching the last-minute machinations over legislative efforts to eliminate or at least curtail the Third Class medical requirement reminds me of arguments I used to have with my Dad when I was kid and wanted something forbidden. When all the logic a 10-year-old could summon seemed to be backing the old man into a canyon from whence there was no apparent escape, he would simply unsheathe the ultimate parental response to a wise-ass kid: Because I said so. Case closed.

We’ve come to that point on efforts to unburden ourselves of this truly reprehensible requirement for medical examinations. Over the weekend, the Air Line Pilots Association added its own because-I-said-so to derail the long-awaited reform of the medical requirement. Surely an organization as serious as ALPA must have the resources to develop data to back up their concerns. They may have, but you can read the letter (PDF) yourself and perhaps illuminate for me anything that supports the argument, other than an appeal to emotionalism.

ALPA’s letter shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given the association’s position was cited in a letter to FAA opposing medical reform from the Aerospace Medical Association. And it does cite data in support of the association’s opposition. Read it here (PDF). Perhaps it’s just me, but AMA’s letter is full of the logical flaws that seem to characterize this argument about medical certification. For instance, the letter notes that a review of autopsy data on 471 pilots involved in fatal accidents between 2011 and 2014 was conducted. Of those, 403 were medically certified, 68 were not, flying under the sport pilot rule.

The autopsy data revealed that 25 percent of the medically certified pilots had “moderate to severe medical hazards” while 60 percent of the uncertified pilots did. Wow. Sounds scary. But what the report doesn’t say is how many of those accidents were caused by medical issues. If it did, it would sound a lot less scary. So I swept the data myself and found that of those 403 fatals, 18 or 4.4 percent were caused by medical incapacitation. Research AOPA conducted found that between 2004 and 2013, medical incapacitation accounted for even fewer accidents; just 1.6 percent of all fatals. On a flight-hour basis, AOPA says it amounts to one accident every 625 years. You can make your own judgment, but those are small numbers. And now we get into the rabbit hole.

All of those dead pilots had medicals and the system failed to detect them and stop them from plying the skies with their medical infirmities. In arguing that medical cert isn’t a burden, AMA’s paper said 98 percent of applicants are approved; 2 percent are rejected or require special issuance. If that’s so, isn’t the entire system a rubber-stamping fiasco that screens exactly nothing? Does it actually catch a statistically significant number of pilots who represent a clear and present danger? Those aren't rhetorical questions. The answer is of course medical certification is a waste of time and money for everyone.

In further support of its argument and a position I suspect is supported by ALPA, AMA notes that medically certified pilots have a lower accident rate than do sport pilots with no medical certification. Well, no kidding. Sport pilots are flying light little kites without anything like the structural protection of certified aircraft, two dots AMA fails to connect because it would erode what little logic the underlying argument has. Then the AMA docs really go for the maximum reach. Citing a study in 1999 that found that 6.4 percent of auto crashes were due primarily to driver incapacitation, it extrapolotes that if the Third Class is eliminated, up to 2503 new accidents would occur. Yet a closer reading of the data, reveals this study (PDF) by NHSTA which found that 1.2 percent of driving crashes are due to incapacitation which is, curiously, about the same percent we find with pilots who are actually medically certified. One reason this is so, of course, is that even holders of First Class medicals have to self-certify between AME visits, so the validity of medicals at any level is sketchy. In my view, AMA's citing of statistics is the most dishonest use of data I've seen in, well, maybe ever.

What no one can seem to figure out is what ALPA’s real motives are in opposing reform. It’s clearly not really safety because the numbers supporting that argument are laughably non-existent. If it’s a political chit of some kind, what is that exactly? I’ll bet there are more than a few pissed-off ALPA members who may have been planning to tuck away a Bonanza or a Skyhawk for their retirement years and, thanks to their union, will have to sweat medicals with the rest of us.

And sweat is the right word, for fear of medical loss hangs over this declining industry like a pall. Removing the medical requirement once and for all would be a breath of relief we desperately need. In the end, Mr. Spock got it wrong. The needs of the few—AMA members—outweigh the needs of the many. But then that's the way U.S. politics has always worked.

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We always take more photos than we need at AirVenture — how can you not? — so here are a few editor Mary Grady's trips around the field during the show. Only three hundred fifty-something days to go until we do it all again!

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FlyThisSim introduced a new floor-mounted simulator Wednesday at AirVenture in Oshkosh. The TouchTrainer FM 210 offers full cockpit controls and panels for more than 100 aircraft models with a 210-degree horizontal view.

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At AirVenture Oshkosh this year, volunteer pilots helped test-fly a simulator connected to a new GA version of NASA's automatic ground-collision avoidance system cellphone app.  The space agency hopes releasing this technology to all pilots will prevent future CFITs.

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We caught up with Swift Fuels' Chris D'Acosta at AirVenture to discuss the latest developments in the quest for a viable 100LL replacement.  D'Acosta also brought us up to speed on his company's efforts toward providing low-octane fuels for underserved portions of the current GA fleet.

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Although the FAA and industry have been quiet about it, the effort to find and certify a replacement for leaded avgas appears to be on track toward a 2018 approval, according to Lycoming's Michael Kraft. In a podcast recorded with AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli at AirVenture on Wednesday, Kraft said the group overseeing the testing effort, the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative, will seek congressional authorization to make sure the selected and certified fuels will be legally applicable to the entire GA fleet with no hiccups.

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