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The industry task force convened to advise the FAA on its plan to require registration of most small drones got together today in Washington to figure out which of the millions of little aircraft to keep tabs on and how to do it without driving everyone crazy. And they need to do it by Nov. 20. It's a tall order but FAA Administrator Michael Huerta urged the task force, made up of alphabet group leaders, drone manufacturers, retailers and commercial drone users (25 in all), to "think big, think outside the box." The big-box thinking got underway in the afternoon after FAA staff "briefed participants on the current statutory requirements and international obligations for aircraft registration."

In his remarks to the group, Huerta essentially said their task was to advise the agency on a system that would allow the agency to come down hard on those who willfully flout the coming UAS rules, while letting the majority of responsible owners get full value from the little technological marvels. "No one wants to see this promising technology overshadowed by an incident or accident that could easily be avoided with proper training and awareness of the safety principles that are now second nature in manned aviation," Huerta said. The task force is back at work Wednesday.

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Even as the FAA struggles to formulate drone regulations, Internet giant Google says it will begin delivering packages by drone sometime in 2017. David Vos, who leads Project Wing for Google's parent, Alphabet, said the company is in discussions with the FAA to set up an air traffic control system for drones that would use cellular and Internet technology to deconflict drone traffic at altitudes below 500 feet, according to a report this week by Reuters. 

"Our goal is to have commercial business up and running in 2017," Vos said at the ATCA Conference in Washington on Monday. Alphabet is moving quickly, having announced Project Wing only in 2014 with videos of flight research taking place in Australia. In the U.S., Project Wing has partnered with NASA for further flight trials.  

Vos claims with the FAA's recent announcement requiring drone registration, a system to separate small drones from other aircraft could be functioning within 12 months. This system would use wireless and Internet technology, including cellphone apps, to identify drones and keep them clear of other aircraft in controlled airspace. Google, Vos said, would like to see Class G airspace carved out for drones, which would allow unmanned flight over populated areas while avoiding aircraft flying in that airspace, especially helicopters.

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image: CCTV+

The first Chinese airplane designed for the large-airliner segment rolled out of the factory on Monday morning. The C919 jet, built by the state-run Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), can seat up to 168 passengers. COMAC said it has orders for 517 aircraft from 21 customers, most of them based in China. The jet competes with other single-aisle jets such as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, but according to Reuters, the C919 may face obstacles in the world market, because despite five years of effort, the FAA hasn’t agreed to certify it.

Without FAA certification, the aircraft can operate only in China and some Asian, African and South American countries that recognize the certificate approved by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Reuters said. The FAA has been working with the CAAC since 2010, conducting a “shadow certification process,” Reuters said. But the two regulators reached an impasse last year over various technical and bureaucratic issues. “While the CAAC wanted to learn from the FAA, they felt the Americans were too rigid and unnecessarily delaying things. And the longer the delay, the greater the embarrassment to the Chinese," an unnamed source told Reuters. However, Reuters said other sources told them the two regulators are still working together to resolve outstanding issues as a "top priority.” First flight for the C919 is expected next year, with first deliveries in 2019.

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The hypersonic Sabre engine under development by Reaction Engines has attracted an investment of about $30 million from global aerospace company BAE Systems, the companies announced on Tuesday, and they also said a $90 million research grant from the British government is expected to be finalized soon. The injection of cash will accelerate development of the Sabre jet-rocket hybrid engine, which BAE says has “the potential to revolutionize hypersonic flight and the economics of space access.” Mark Thomas, managing director of Reaction Engines, said the deal means the company will transition from researching “enabling technologies” for the engine and now will work toward developing and testing a working prototype.

BAE Systems is a global defense and aerospace company that employs more than 80,000 people in 40 countries. Reaction Engines was formed in 1989 by British inventor Alan Bond to develop the Sabre engine design as well as a launch vehicle concept. The British government grant will help to develop the engine and also to investigate its applications for space access vehicles. According to the Reaction Engines website, “Sabre is at heart a rocket engine designed to power aircraft directly into space (single-stage to orbit) to allow reliable, responsive and cost-effective space access, and in a different configuration to allow aircraft to cruise at high speeds (five times the speed of sound) within the atmosphere.” The engine achieves this goal by operating in two rocket modes: initially in air-breathing mode and subsequently in conventional rocket mode.


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file photo, AgustaWestland

A prototype AgustaWestland AW609 tiltrotor that was part of the company’s test program crashed in Italy on Friday morning, killing both test pilots on board. Some press reports say there may have been an in-flight fire prior to the crash, but authorities have not confirmed any details. The aircraft had been built by Bell in 2003, and moved to AgustaWestland when they took over the program in 2011, with the aim to achieve certification by 2017. It was one of two aircraft in the test program; two more are under construction. 

The program has a long history of setbacks and delays. The latest accident has stirred up recurring questions about the technology. “Are tilt-rotors airworthy?” asked a headline in Defense World News, the day after the crash. The design has seen a number of fatal accidents — in May, a V-22 Osprey crashed in Hawaii, killing two Marines; in 2000, an Arizona accident killed 23 Marines; and seven people died in a test-flight crash in Virginia in 1992. After the Hawaii crash, a Marines spokesman defended the aircraft’s record. “Factually, the MV-22 is safe," said Capt. Eric Flanagan. "The MV-22 had the lowest Class A flight mishap rate of all Marine rotorcraft through the first 200,000 flight hours." AgustaWestland said on its Twitter feed on Friday it “confirms … the tragic loss of two pilots … [and] is working with relevant authorities to determine the cause of the accident.”

AgustaWestland officials talked about their plans for the design at the Helicopter Association International expo in March; click here for the video.

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The IMC Club, which has grown to about 130 chapters with nearly 3,000 members, now has completed its acquisition by EAA, Radek Wyrzykowski, founder and president of the club, told AVweb on Monday. “All IMC Club members will automatically become EAA members,” effective immediately, he said. Going forward, all members of the IMC Club can continue their EAA membership, which will include access to all the IMC Club content. “So for example, if there’s an airport that now has both an IMC Club and an EAA chapter, the IMC Club members will become members of the EAA chapter,” Wyrzykowski said. The IMC Club programs of “organized hangar flying” will continue, and will be available to both the former IMC members and the EAA members, at no added cost.

“It’s very exciting,” Wyrzykowski said. “It means the IMC Club will be free, which is what I always wanted. A lot of IMC Club members already belong to EAA.” IMC Clubs that don’t have an EAA chapter nearby will become an EAA chapter, he said, and then it’s up to those members how they want to proceed. If they want to continue to focus just on IMC Club programming, that’s fine. “They don’t have to become a full EAA chapter, if they don’t want to, but they can,” he said. Under the agreement, the IMC Club becomes a subsidiary of EAA, and Wyrzykowski will become Manager of Flight Proficiency for EAA IMC. This allows the club to take advantage of the vast infrastructure already built by EAA, which has more than 190,000 members and nearly 900 chapters, and will allow Wyrzykowski to focus on developing content for the club meetings. “I will continue to run the Club, but from within EAA,” he said.

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Nextant Aerospace in Cleveland, Ohio has had great success remanufacturing Beechjet 400As.  AVweb recently visited their shops and prepared this video.

Even if it's not going to be a bumpy flight, every pilot knows aerial success rides on keeping passengers and disparate FAA elements happy, and that all begins when you ace this quiz.

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Somewhere in the not-that-distant past, the rollout of a new airliner morphed from a simple tow out of the hangar to polite applause into industrial theater with a cast of thousands. Give China’s COMAC—the government-owned consortium responsible for commercial aircraft—credit for nailing the theater part, albeit with a slight party twist not of the balloon and noisemaker variety. See the video of the COMCAC C919 unveiling this week here.

When I saw the rollout, I immediately knew who to ask about this interesting airliner’s potential on the world market. Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group is our go-to guy for such questions. Will the C919 offer meaningful competition for the likes of Boeing’s 737MAX or the Airbus 320NEO? Aboulafia was blunt. “None whatsoever,” he replied in a return email. He sent along this link offering his full analysis.

I’ll summarize. While we’ve been entertaining ourselves with news stories about the huge potential for aviation in China, the country has quietly become the hottest market for new western airliners but has gone backward in its ability to manufacture aircraft to meet its burgeoning needs. As Aboulafia notes, rather than building up its expertise as a global supply chain partner, China has instead distracted its focus with ambitious certification projects for which it lacks experience and technology.

In the aerospace manufacturing sector, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission, China sold $482 million in parts and structures for all U.S. aircraft primary manufacturers in 2014. That’s less than half of Mexico’s output and but 10 percent of Japan’s $4.86 billion. China’s growth was only 5.9 percent over its 2013 totals. Aboulafia says structures and component supply chain work is the best way to build a foundational aerospace sector because it’s more profitable and less risky than major cert programs like a single-aisle airliner. In other words, walk before you expect to run.   

The C919 is reportedly finding strong demand in China but this might be just so much PR spin. Chinese airlines have a decidedly strong taste for western airline technology to the extent that 20 percent of Boeing’s new business is in China. Airbus is doing well in China, too, but Teal finds that opening up a manufacturing center there didn’t help much. Since it started assembling aircraft in Tianjin in 2009, Airbus has increased its annual compound order growth rate in China by 10.9 percent, while Boeing posted an 18.5 percent growth rate during the same period, without the trouble of building manufacturing facilities there.

Because China still hasn’t figured out how to protect intellectual property rights—something that seems utterly foreign to the culture—the C919 is not likely to enjoy the latest in avionics technology, which means it will be a shadow of the 737MAX or the 321NEO. In his book, China Airborne, author and pilot James Fallows described the complex and arduous process China will have to follow to become a world aerospace power. Although China has shortcutted to dominance in other manufacturing fields, the difficulties of international certification and global reticence to trust the country to respect intellectual rights will present the Chinese with a rutted road.

And even if they gain the expertise to manufacture to near current global standards, Aboulafia points out that new market entrants have almost no chance of success. He points to Bombardier’s struggling CSeries as a case in point. And Bombardier has demonstrated that it knows how to build airplanes.

Meanwhile, the personal and bizjet sector is doing no better. An aviation CEO I know recently returned from China’s Aviation Expo and reported that although training activity is high, sales of personal aircraft have dropped to near zero. Anyone with money, evidently, is lying low to avoid getting whacked by China’s aggressive anti-corruption program. Nothing like a little fear to put a chill into buying that new Cirrus you had your eye on.

As an aside, he reported that AVweb is blocked to internet users in Beijing and Chengdu but appears to be available in Xi’an. Maybe it was something I said. But as Fallows pointed out, one hallmark of a vibrant aerospace industry of global dimension is the unfettered exchange of information. Including this crummy little blog.

There's Something (Affordable) in the Air || January 20-23, 2016 || U.S. Sport Aviation Expo || Sebring, FL

The Electronics International crew drove down to Arbuckle California to meet up with Pacific Valley Aviation's Darren Miller for two days of filming.  Miller and his crew fly ag planes for a living.  His livelihood depends on speed and dependability, which is why he's chosen to fly with Electronic International's MVP-50T.  The MVP-50T is the engine monitor of choice for both Thrush and Airtractor aircraft. A state-of-the-art digital engine monitor that offers the features pilots need to fly safe and protect their investment, the MVP-50T is a superstar in EI's line-up of products.  Click here to learn more.

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Rich Stowell spoke at the NTSB’s recent Loss Of Control forum, proposing that the flight training industry needs to change its culture to help reduce loss-of-control accidents. He discussed the LOC issues facing general aviation and his new “Learn to Turn” initiative with AVweb’s Elaine Kauh. Stowell, a Master Instructor, 2014 National FAASTeam Rep of the Year, and the 2006 National CFI of the Year, is known for his expertise in LOC issues and specializes in spin, upset recovery, and aerobatic instruction.

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Now that Avidyne's IFD440 hybrid touch GPS navigator is certified and shipping, the company is putting a sharp focus on the experimental and kit aircraft market. This includes builders with existing Garmin GNS navigators. In this video, Kitplanes magazine contributing editor Larry Anglisano, along with Avidyne's Tom Harper, shows how to transition from an existing GNS430W to a slide-in IFD440, including configuration and setup of the new Bluetooth keyboard.

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A team headed by NASA engineer Mark Moore plans to fly a modified Tecnam P2006T driven by an array of small propellers powered by electric batteries.  Moore explains to AVweb's Mary Grady how this project could completely upend the design rules for GA aircraft of the future.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Darin Scheer of Farson, WY tops the pile of breathtaking photos we have to share this week — possibly literally, given his elevation when he snapped this shot. Click through for more incredible photos from AVweb readers around the globe.