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Manufacturers of general aviation aircraft — and the folks who buy those aircraft — have been waiting for a few years for the FAA to move forward with a rewrite of the Part 23 rules that govern certification — and now advocates are pressing for an NPRM to be ready by the end of this month. Seven legislators from the House and Senate sent a letter last week to the federal Office of Management and Budget (PDF), asking them to “expedite and complete” their review of the proposed NPRM so the FAA can publish it.

The FAA “risks losing its international leadership,” the letter says. An international meeting is scheduled for Jan. 5-7 to discuss certification issues, and the European Air Safety Agency already has published a draft proposal. The revisions to Part 23 are intended to “facilitate the introduction of safer small aircraft and new safety-enhancing technologies,” the letter states. The FAA has said the new rules aim to provide “twice the safety at half the cost.” The proposal is expected to create an ASTM certification pathway for Part 23 aircraft, similar to what is now in place for light sport aircraft.

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Congress reauthorized the Export-Import Bank Thursday as part of the five-year transportation funding bill that passed the House and Senate and will go to President Obama for signing. The bank, which guarantees loans on U.S. exports to foreign buyers, will be a boost for international aircraft sales, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association said in a statement. “The lapse in the Ex-Im Bank’s authority should never have occurred, and the bank’s closure has taken a serious toll on both small and large general aviation manufacturers who have seen deals disappear or be delayed during these last five months,” GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce said. “While renewal of the Bank took much longer than it should have, we appreciate the efforts of those who have worked so hard in securing the Bank’s reform and reauthorization."

The bank's authorization had expired June 30. Passage of the bill gives it operating authority until Sept. 30, 2019. While the reauthorization had bipartisan support along with business organizations such as GAMA and large corporations, it met resistance from some Republicans who said it mixed government with the marketplace. Boeing is the largest beneficiary of the Export-Import Bank, and had argued that losing it could result in moving jobs to other countries, according to a Fortune report. Boeing said the bank allows U.S. companies to compete globally. "With these votes, Congress did the right thing for workers at companies large and small across the nation, including the 1.5 million workers at nearly 15,000 U.S. companies that help Boeing design, make and support America's aerospace exports," the company said after the bill's passage.

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South African authorities are investigating what appears to be the first fatal crash of an Eclipse light jet. The South African air force was dispatched after radio contact was lost with the EA500 on a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. It was being tracked at about 35,000 feet when communication ended. A Gripen fighter pilot actually spotted the aircraft spiral into a narrow ravine in the Riviersonderend area. It disintegrated but there was no fire. The aircraft was flown by its owner, Kobus Dicks, 57, a Kwazulu-Natal businessman described as an experienced pilot.

Radio contact was lost at 10:15 a.m. and the aircraft crashed about 40 minutes later. Dicks routinely used the Eclipse for business and was the first in all of Africa to own one when he bought it in 2013, according to the Cape Times online edition. The Eclipse went into service in late 2006 and there were 266 built before the company went bankrupt in 2008.

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Registration is now open for Build A Plane’s 2016 design competition, the nonprofit group announced this week. The program, which is co-sponsored by GAMA, aims to promote science, technology, engineering and math education in U.S. high schools. In its first three years, the program has reached more than 150 schools in 38 states and Washington, D.C. “As we continue to look for innovative ways to attract more young people into the aviation field — whether as pilots, engineers, maintenance professionals, or manufacturers — the Aviation Design Challenge has been a resounding success,” said GAMA President Pete Bunce.

GAMA will provide teachers with a “Fly to Learn” curriculum and five copies of X-Plane design and simulation software. Students will design and fly their own virtual airplane in a fly-off. The winning team will win an all-expenses-paid trip for up to four high school students, one teacher and one chaperone to experience general aviation manufacturing firsthand. Each team must comprise four students, including at least one boy and one girl. Each school can enter only one team. Teachers must sign up by Jan. 31, and entries must be complete by April 30. The competition is open to the first 100 schools to enter.

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At least two pilots in the last week have lodged complaints about laser light in the cockpit that was traced back to a Christmas light display, raising concerns about the popular displays, according to media reports. Authorities found the source of laser light that affected a mail pilot near Mason County Airport in western Michigan last week was a home display set up outdoors and aimed at the side of a barn. The light reflected into the sky directly across the airplane’s flight path, authorities said. In Dallas, an American Airlines 737 crew reported a laser strike at 13,000 feet that also was traced to a holiday display.

The consumer displays project stars and other patterns onto houses and lawns, and are growing in popularity due to their ease of installation compared to traditional electric lights. A story this weekend posted at northjersey.com called the $40 displays “the hottest trend in holiday lighting,” and noted that the local home stores already had sold out. One manufacturer says at its website the lights from the display “diminish and become nonexistent after 850 feet.” The lasers shouldn’t be used within one mile of an airport, according to the website. The popular “Star Shower” brand comes with a warning not to point it toward the sky if you’re within 10 nm of an airport, according to KWCH in Wichita.

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Artists at Disney Animation have created unique nose art for a B-17 called Swamp Ghost, which was lost on a mission in the Pacific during World War II. In what may be the first collaboration by Disney since the end of the war, the studio created art that depicts a Donald Duck character emerging from a swamp with extended wings. The project was announced at the Pacific Aviation Museum's gala over the weekend.

The aircraft was lost in Papua New Guinea in 1942 after running low on fuel. The crew survived an emergency landing and although the airplane was believed lost, it was discovered intact by a Royal Australian Air Force helicopter in 1972. The airplane was recovered, cleaned up and placed on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During the war, most Flying Fortresses acquired affectionate names and nose art, much of which was designed by Disney Studios. The New Guinea B-17, however, hadn't been in service long enough to have picked up a name. It was christened Swamp Ghost after it was discovered. It has been on display at the museum in as-is condition since 2014. It joins more than 40 other aircraft on display on Ford Island.

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The MicroTower is a highly automated traffic and weather robot for airports of all sizes.  It incorporates some pretty smart artificial intelligence, as will be obvious from this AVweb video checkout of the system.

In a world (imagine that in a really deep voice) where the spoken word languishes in the dustbin of thoughtful expression, pilots who master aviation shorthand will fly confidently, speak well with ATC, and ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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To think that regulation does anything but stifle creativity and strangle commerce is about as close to apostasy as you're likely to get in aviation. And even if it weren't, would you admit it in mixed company? That's a rhetorical question. Don't overthink it.

But one man's onerous, suffocating rule is another's golden opportunity to make a little money in the margins. One of the latter is David Wartofsky, the irrepressible and sometimes contrarian owner of Potomac Airport, a little country airport hard under the flight patterns of Reagan National Airport and Joint Base Andrews. That's a sporting little bit of airspace where wandering off procedures will get you a Blackhawk or F-16 playmate, if not a little worse. But that's a story for another day.

Wartofsky has a rep for, shall we say, alternative thinking, and one of the ideas he's come up with is quite the amusing example of this. You probably haven't thought about it much because you have your own problems, but putting automated weather sources like AWOS or ASOS on an airport is an expensive pain the ass. The FAA gets involved because it oversees such programs and state or local agencies meddle, too, requiring site surveys, permits and all manner of paper-generating masturbatory exercises that keep government agencies humming along, but don't do much for the rest of us.

Wartofsky's idea was to design a little aviation weather unit that (a) operates on the same frequency as the CTAF and (b) is so completely independent of regulatory entanglements that it's even solar-powered and does all of its communicating via satellite link rather than landline which would, of course, require a trench and thus a permit and who knows what else. The device, which he calls a MicroTower, can literally be dumped off a truck at a suitable place on the airport and activated within a few hours.

What does it do, exactly? You can see--and hear--it in action in this video I shot at Potomac Airport recently. Basically, the MicroTower camps on the CTAF frequency--Unicom in most cases--and listens to be activated by microphone clicks from a pilot desiring weather information. It spews back wind, altimetry, visibility and runway advice, but it's capable of more than that. For example, prior to takeoff, you can have it do a comm check by recording and playing back your radio output. It will even provide signal strength. Built into the machine is some rudimentary artificial intelligence to avoid spattering the frequency with long, unnecessary transmissions. It knows, for example, to shorten its transmissions if the frequency is busy with a lot of airplanes. It knows, too, to drop the visibility report if the vis is greater than 10 miles. And like a human pilot, it will clip its transmissions as necessary. It knows what time it is, too. If you call for an airport advisory, it will say “good evening,” and prompt you through a micro-tutorial to get more info.

One of the benefits of ASOS/AWOS, besides providing real-time aerodrome weather, is that these sensors are stitched together into a network via the Internet and this data provides useful information for forecast modeling. It can also be remotely accessed for flight-planning purposes. With no hardwiring to the Internet, how can the MicroTower do this? Two ways: via satellite comm or through a wireless node to an in-range router that can be hardwired without requiring permitting or trenching. The whole shebang can be remotely programmed and controlled through the satellite link. A pair of table-top-sized solar cells wired to a battery network keep the device perking along.

Wartofsky likes to say the MicroTower is to air traffic control as an ATM is to banking. Well, halfway, maybe. ATC implies traffic separation and IFR services of some sort, not just weather. And the MicroTower doesn't do that. However, if the FAA kept its sticky fingers off the technology, you could see how it might someday evolve to at least provide traffic advisories. Once ADS-B technology is widely fielded, you can imagine how traffic data could be funneled to such a machine and bent-piped to airplanes that don't have traffic capability. Increasingly, I'm wondering if there won't be a fairly large population of airplanes operating out of country airports that won't bother with ADS-B. I'm sure other capabilities can be built into it.

And speaking of country airports, they're the MicroTower's core market. Your well-heeled airports or those with towers can afford and will want AWOS/ASOS-type equipment, whose cost runs to the multiple hundred thousands and which require dedicated frequency assignment. Smaller airports that might be busy or are customer centric (or both) aren't likely to be candidates for certified weather equipment. But for $100,000 or so, they can have one of these MicroTowers and get most of the benefits.

Potomac Aviation Technology--Wartofsky's company--has about 150 of these systems scattered around the world, with about 100 in the U.S. They're especially attractive in the aviation-developing world, including India and China. If you know the key commands, the MicroTower at Potomac will answer in Chinese.

Not bad for a little guerilla project intentionally designed to fly under the regulatory radar. 

The AI Evil

I don't think we need to worry much about the MicroTower suddenly becoming self aware and launching nuclear strikes against humanity. But if you're interested in reading about people who do worry about the unknowns of AI, I suggest this article in The New Yorker. It reveals a real schism in the field, with some scientists insisting that true artificial intelligence is many years off, it it's ever achieved at all.

But others worry about an explosion of super intelligence and point to developments happening much faster than even skeptical scientists expect. The ethical and philosophical implications are daunting to say the least. Machine super intelligence could expand at an exponential pace and become utterly unmanageable by the humans who invent it. The piece is worth a read.

 

AVweb Insider is a blog and a statement of opinions and commentary on current issues in general aviation. We welcome alternate points of view and guest blogs.

 

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Jim Remar, president and COO of the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center, talks with AVweb's Elaine Kauh about the restoration project that will bring parts of the Apollo mission engines into the public eye for the first time since the historic flights took place.

Introducing the Tango Wireless Headset from Lightspeed || That's Right - We Said Wireless

FreeFlight Systems, your nextgen avionics leader, presents a five-part short course on ADS-B and what it means for you.  In the second installment, Pete Ring demonstrates the different ways traffic data is shared among aircraft, ATC, control stations, and the FAA.

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Picture of the Week

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