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The ATC problems that grounded hundreds of flights on Saturday were caused by "a recent software upgrade" at the high-altitude radar facility in Leesburg, Virginia, the FAA said in a statement on Monday. The upgrade, which was installed by Lockheed Martin Corp., had a new function that allowed controllers to set up a customized window of frequently referenced data, the FAA said. But as controllers used the new function, deleted settings weren't deleted from the system memory, and the storage capacity was overloaded. "This consumed processing power needed for the successful operation of the overall system," the FAA said.

The FAA said it has temporarily suspended the use of this function, and is working with Lockheed on a permanent solution. "The company is closely examining why the issue was not identified during testing," the FAA said. During the system failure, the FAA reduced the arrival and departure rates in the region for five hours, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., "for safety reasons." That limitation affected about 30 percent of the average normal Saturday traffic at Baltimore, 28 percent at Reagan National, and 12 percent at Dulles, the FAA said. That added up to more than 8,000 flight delays and 888 cancellations, according to The Hill, which added that the FAA is "downplaying" the impact of the "flypocalypse." U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said he will introduce legislation to require the FAA to provide better information about computer-related flight delays, The Hill reported. "Thousands were left in the dark without information until more than four hours after the meltdown was solved," Mica said in a statement. "This type of air-traffic control failure cannot be permitted in the future, especially in our nation’s capital."

 

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Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went to Cuba to raise the flag above the U.S. Embassy for the first time in 54 years -- does this mean general aviation pilots will soon be able to fly their private planes there? No, it doesn't, says Craig Spence, AOPA's vice president for international affairs. "There's a great deal of interest among U.S. pilots to fly to Cuba," he said, "and there are changes underway that eventually will make that possible. But our best advice is, hold off for right now." The embargo is still in effect, and travel for tourism is still strictly prohibited, he said, and while that will certainly change at some point, there's no definite timeline that pilots can plan on.

With the rules in flux, a plethora of U.S. and Cuban agencies and commissions and even Congress will have to weigh in to establish new procedures. Spence said it is going to take some time to work things out, and "there are going to be a lot of bugs and problems." Another issue is that the general aviation infrastructure in Cuba is not really ready for an influx of U.S. airplanes. "You might be able to find avgas," Spence said, "but you might not be able to find parts and a mechanic if you need one. And access to the Internet for flight planning, and all the other logistics … it's going to take some time." He couldn't put a timeline on that process.

Air Journey CEO Thierry Pouille, who organizes fly-yourself trips abroad for GA pilots, agreed that Cuba is not ready for GA. "Things will definitely be changing," now that diplomatic relations are re-established, he said. "And Cuba is eager to welcome GA. But there's no timeline." Pouille said a "couple of years" might be a good guess. AOPA is tracking the Cuba developments at its Caribbean Flight Planning web page.

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A Canadian soldier may have picked the wrong subject for target practice when he allegedly painted a Toronto police helicopter with the laser sight on a pellet pistol. And while the incident serves as a reminder to all those who haven't gotten the message about shining their cheap little lasers at passing aircraft, it's also an illustration of just how effective airborne surveillance has become. The video released by the police tracks the suspect's crime, attempted escape, apprehension and even the recovery of the pellet pistol via high-resolution infrared imagery. The Canadian Army has confirmed that the suspect, Private Nicholas Caranci, 19, is a member of one of its units.

The helicopter was over the Toronto suburb of Vaughan looking for a suspect in another crime when the pilot reported the laser attack. The officers directed their sensor package at the source of the light and the result was a decidedly mismatched game of cat and mouse, followed by step-by-step directions to the hastily discarded pellet pistol. Caranci is facing two criminal charges and a violation of Canadian aeronautical regulations and has probably lost his job. "When an incident, a special circumstance, or a professional deficiency occurs that calls into question the member’s suitability for continued service, an administrative review will be initiated to ensure the most appropriate career administrative action is taken," the Army said in a statement.

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Two skydivers were hurt when they collided during an airshow performance of the Army Golden Knights and the Navy Leap Frogs on Saturday at the Chicago Air & Water Show, and one of the men later died from his injuries. U.S. Army Sgt. Corey Hood, 32, of Cincinnati, died in a hospital on Sunday. The two teams were performing a "bomb burst" display, in which 13 skydivers link in free fall to form a circle, and Sgt. Hood collided with a member of the Navy team as the formation broke up, according to news reports. The other skydiver landed on a beach and was treated for a broken leg.

Sgt. Hood was knocked out in the collision, and crashed into a building as he drifted to the ground. He was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition with a head injury. He had been in the Army for more than 10 years, according to his official biography, and had served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had logged more than 500 free-fall jumps and 75 static-line jumps during his career. The last Golden Knights jumper to be killed during a dive was Sgt. Thomas Johnson, in 1980, when both his main and reserve parachutes failed to open, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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National Aviation Day, which has been an official holiday on August 19 since 1939, has passed by quietly in the past, mostly unheralded, but this year, it's getting a lot of attention. NASA has been promoting it on social media with a pair of Twitter hashtags (#SpreadYourWings and #NationalAviationDay) and an invitation to post your picture with your arms stretched out like wings to show your love of flying. NASA also posted 10 ways to celebrate the day, including taking a flight lesson, going planespotting, or watching an aviation movie. Also, the day will be honored with an event in Washington, D.C., where a film about Bob Hoover, "Flying the Feathered Edge," will be shown at the U.S. Capitol's Visitor Center Theater.

CNN's resident aviation reporter Thom Patterson also gave the day some ink, noting, "Hey, aviation … You deserve some respect. Somebody should throw you a damn party. The country needs to give you a day all to yourself." Patterson also offers a list of suggestions for celebrating the day, including visiting a museum or going for a ride in a sailplane. The day will also be celebrated at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, at Kitty Hawk, N.C., with aircraft displays and a speaker program from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The day was established by President Franklin Roosevelt to honor the birthdate of Orville Wright.

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Pratt & Whitney's venerable PT-6 turbine is one of the marvels of aviation.  But like everything else in aviation, it requires overhaul.  In this engaging video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli gives us a tour of Continental Motors' United Turbine division, which specializes in the PT-6.

Jeff Herold has helped to establish a new nonprofit group, the Catalina Island Aviation Foundation, to preserve and promote the island's traditional air show, which is held above the harbor at the tourist mecca of Avalon, 26 miles off the California coast.  Organizing a show on a small, remote island comes with unique challenges, and Herold explains to AVweb's Mary Grady why he thinks it's well worth the effort.

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On my office wall is a print of a photograph any pilot will—or should—know. Its title is The First Twelve Seconds of the Age of Powered Flight. It’s a riveting photograph snapped by Tom Daniels, a Kill Devil Hills surfman, the moment Orville Wright lifted off from the sands of Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903. Daniels had never seen a camera; no one had seen a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft fly and the moment it did, Daniels made what has become an iconic image of the age of flight. (Technically, Wilbur made the first flight; but Orville’s in the picture.)

Documenting the dawn of that age is David McCullough’s new The Wright Brothers, which I just got around to reading. (Actually listening via audio book.) I think all of us in aviation know the story of the Wrights well, but it’s such a compelling one that it deserves a retelling so that at least some of the passengers that step aboard a modern airliner will have an inkling of the intellect, creativity and determination it took to build a modern air transportation system that we all take for granted.

McCullough has a well-deserved reputation as a writer of popular history, of which he has written nearly a dozen. As a reader of those volumes, I have to say The Wright Brothers doesn’t strike me as his best work. Understandably, pilots may be a tough audience because they’re likely to know a good deal of the history already and will be sticklers for historical detail and technical accuracy. As a popular history, The Wright Brothers does a competent job of describing the grand historical sweep of early aviation and the Wrights' place in it. Readers not interested in significant technical detail will still take away a lucid grasp of what Wilbur and Orville accomplished and how. Over the space of barely a decade, they built a profound legacy that would eventually fundamentally reshape transportation on a global scale.

In listening, however, I hungered for more detail. For example, in explaining the early experimental flights, McCullough explained that the aircraft used its rudder to control pitch. That will strike a discordant note with a pilot because while it’s true the Wrights originally described what eventually became the elevator as a rudder, McCullough missed a chance to explain this insight. There are some technical errors, too. One, if I heard it correctly, was that the fifth and final flight of December 17 was 852 feet or nearly a half mile. But that distance isn’t even a quarter mile.

These are nitpicks, but I’d hope for better. A larger oversight is a complete lack of detail on Orville’s glider experiments at Kitty Hawk in 1911. These are considered by some to be as technically significant as the work in 1903.

Where McCullough finds his strength is in his descriptions of Wilbur’s demonstration flights in France during 1908. This puts into perspective the timeline of the Wrights' influential moment in the sun. They didn’t begin serious experimentation until 1899 and a scant four years later, they had achieved controlled powered flight, including the development of an engine. Yet continuing experimentation during the Huffman Prairie years drew little notice and much skepticism from the press, fellow experimenters and the general public. The U.S. government and military showed no enthusiasm for heavier-than-air flight, although some public funds were used for Samuel P. Langley's ill-starred aerodrome work.

Five years after the first flight, in 1908, that all changed when Wilbur electrified the world with his flight demonstrations in France, where interest in aviation had reached a fever pitch. Interestingly, Wilbur promoted aviation the same way we still do it: by giving rides to as many people as practical. It was during this same year that Orville, demonstrating the Flyer for the U.S. military at Fort Myers, Virginia, suffered a structural failure and a crash that badly injured him and killed Lt. Thomas Selfridge, earning him the dubious title of the first military aviation fatality.

Nor does McCullough offer much detail or explanation of the protracted patent and legal skirmishes that bogged the Wrights down and all but stifled their further contribution to the rapidly advancing science of aeronautics. This period in the Wrights' history remains controversial to this day and even though he doesn’t illuminate it with much texture, McCullough reports something I didn’t know: The Wrights won all the suits they filed and all the actions filed against them. Still today their reputation is under assault. As recently as 2013, the Connecticut state legislature passed a bill declaring Gustav Whitehead the first inventor to achieve heavier-than-air flight, despite the lack of any credible evidence.

McCullough’s history, although lacking in detail I’d like to read, illustrates that these two talented brothers burned brightly for a decade, but were soon overtaken by events and the work of others. In fact, Wilbur, who by 1909 was the world’s most experienced pilot, never flew after 1910 and died in 1912 at the age of just 45. Orville’s last flight was in 1918, but he lived until 1948, long enough to see supersonic flight and the development of practical rocketry. His was an eventful life.

Despite its view from 10,000 feet, The Wright Brothers is certainly worth reading. The story is so remarkable and such a key part of the 20th century that any telling of it can’t help but be engaging. Readers interested in more aeronautical detail should try Tom Crouch’s The Bishop’s Boys. It’s nearly twice the length of the McCullough book and obviously has more space for a more granular treatment.

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