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A gaping hole opened in the side of an Airbus A321 jet operated by Daallo Airlines, shortly after it departed from the Mogadishu airport in Somalia this morning, headed for Djibouti. Early reports said there was a loud noise, just minutes after takeoff, and at least two passengers were injured. A third passenger appears to have fallen from the plane. A body was found shortly after the plane landed. Passengers said they heard a bang, and some reported flames or smoke, and then a hole opened in the plane's side. "I don't know if it was a bomb or an electric shock, but we heard a bang inside the plane," passenger Mohamed Ali told The Associated Press. The crew was able to circle back to the airport and land safely.

This video, posted today on YouTube, appears to show the interior of the airplane as the crew maneuvered back to the airport. Daallo Airlines is a Somali-owned airline, based at Dubai Airport Free Zone. The airline operates scheduled services in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

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The House Appropriations Committee has added its opposition to the nascent debate over privatizing the FAA's Air Traffic Organization (ATO). Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and other senior members of the committee wrote a letter (PDF) to the House leadership Monday saying air traffic management should remain a government function. "The annual oversight and funding role of Congress is critical to providing citizens and communities a voice, through their elected representatives, in the operation of our nation's air traffic system," the committee leaders wrote. "We are responsible not just to safeguard the day-to-day operations of air traffic but also to ensure that our communities -- urban, suburban and rural -- have fair and equitable access to air service." The letter is likely the death knell for the privatization initiative that was first publicly discussed last year and has provoked widespread opposition among aviation groups.

The flurry of privatization news of late is the result of Congress' apparent resolve to reauthorize FAA funding by the March 31 deadline without an extension after years of funding uncertainty for the agency. Privatization proponents have said political interference in the function of the system has created inefficiencies and slowed implementation of new technologies. So, the House representatives have turned the goal of improved performance back to the FAA. "While FAA can and should improve and accelerate the development of modernized air traffic systems, we do not believe the solution is less oversight and less accountability."

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GA pilots will have affordable Wi-Fi in their airplanes within about three years and much greater access to space-based services thanks to a $3 billion investment by a Virginia company. Starting in April, Iridium will launch the first of 72 new communications satellites that will, among other things, increase the speed of its Internet signals fiftyfold. The full constellation of satellites will be in a 495-mile polar orbit by 2017 giving worldwide coverage for a host of communications services, including global Internet at speeds up to 1.4 mbs. CEO Matt Desch said that while that is slow by broadband standards, it's exponentially faster than the satellite services currently available and the increased capacity of the satellites will allow affordable onboard Wi-Fi at speeds (likely around 100 kbs) useable by phones, tablets and computers. He said the signal availability will allow hardware makers to create a portable device that will sit on the glare shield (or a picnic blanket on top of a mountain) and work as an Internet hotspot. "That will do an awful lot for the GA pilot," said Desch. He said text, data, tracking and other real-time services will also be possible and developers will have a field day with the new capabilities.

GA will be a tiny user of the overall service, which is fundamental to a new aircraft tracking system that will ensure aircraft can't go missing. Iridium has partnered with Nav Canada to create the tracking system, which is being sold to air traffic services providers all over the world. The FAA hasn't yet committed to the system, which will allow controllers to keep tabs on any aircraft, anywhere in the world. That means the spacing for aircraft flying over areas not covered by radar can be dramatically reduced and more direct routes can be flown. Desch said the FAA is pondering participation and he hopes the agency is ready when the satellites are. He said the biggest part of Iridium's business is "asset tracking" for companies keeping an eye on their goods. Desch said he wanted to be sure GA can make use of the system because of his own strong links. He's a TBM 700 owner-pilot and an AOPA board member. "The GA market is very important to me."

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The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, held in Sebring, Florida, every January since 2004, may be changing to a new date next year, organizers said on Monday. "Weather challenges in recent years have given us the opportunity to review and assess the best possible time to produce a successful 2017 event," airport director Mike Willingham said in a news release. This year's event started off strong on Jan. 20 and 21, with robust attendance, but over the next two days, winds gusting to 35 miles an hour kept most airplanes on the ground, and some exhibits were closed. Over the last few years, weather has proved challenging for attendees and exhibitors, with either fronts blocking pilots to the north or south, or wind and rain at the show site.

Nevertheless, the show has continued to grow. This year, director Jana Fillip told AVweb the show had attracted the most outdoor exhibits ever, and indoor exhibitors outnumbered the year before. It was the last show for Filip, who has been involved with the show since the start and served as director for the last five years. Expo organizers announced this week that Filip is moving on to new opportunities. A new director will be in place for next year.

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A Cessna Citation 525 twin-engine jet broke up in flight while maneuvering near Cedar Fork, Utah, the NTSB says in a preliminary report now posted online. The pilot and passenger both were killed. The CJ3 took off from Salt Lake City International Airport about 9:50 in the morning on Jan. 18, headed for Tucson International Airport. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot called ATC to report a failure in the flight management system, and said he needed to fly straight ahead and climb while he tried to program the backup FMS. The controller told the pilot to climb to FL310 and provided vectors around light precipitation. The pilot then declared a Mayday, and said he was having trouble with the backup FMS and was hand-flying the airplane.

"At this time the controller issued the pilot a no-gyro turn to the left to avoid precipitation, after which the airplane's airspeed was observed to fluctuate significantly," according to the NTSB report. "The airplane was then observed turning to the right before the radar target was lost. There were no further transmissions from the accident airplane." According to local news reports, witnesses told the Utah County Sheriff's Office they heard a loud boom and saw the airplane, on fire and coming apart, fall to the ground. The wreckage was found in an open pasture about 28 nm south-southwest of SLC. The debris field extended about 1 nm on an east-west orientation, the NTSB said. The left engine was not found at the site. News reports identified the pilot of the airplane as Donald Baker, 59, of Tucson, and the passenger as his wife, Dawn Elizabeth Hunter, 55.

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In last week's blog, I recounted a conversation I had with my friend TK, who at 55 was considering himself a little long in the tooth to take up motorcycling. That naturally led to considering how old is too old to take up flying airplanes or jumping out of them. Should people of a certain age not even consider these activities? He was thinking no to the riding question.

My answer is kneejerk: Hell yes you should consider it. Attaching an age limit to activities like this strikes me as a comprehensive admission of defeat, if not a descent into self-pity. If you establish that you can't or shouldn't do something as your analytical starting point, haven't you thereby determined that you can't? You've let fear or reticence displace confidence and competence before you've even started. I simply have no patience with this and neither should you.  

A few years ago, I low-sided a bike at the racetrack. It happens to everyone eventually. If it doesn't, you're not trying very hard and might as well stay home. I bruised my foot and went to a doc-in-the-box to have it checked out. Peering at the chart, then at me and back to the chart, then at me, the doc asked, "How old are you?" The rising inflection suggested he wasn't merely fact-checking a birthdate for the insurance form, but expressing mild astonishment that a geezer like me doesn't have the good sense to stand down. Interestingly, before I left the examining room, he went out of his way to withdraw the implication because he, of all people, knew that here in Florida, the medical community exerts great effort to keep older people moving, involved and engaged in the name of improved quality of life. For some people, that's group jazzercise in the warm end of the pool or evening cooking classes. %$^% that. I'm going jumping, flying or riding. Not to mention that these activities allow me to maintain the high hydrocarbon lifestyle I've ascribed to these many years. (How do you think we keep the pool warm?) What the Doc should have said is, "Hey, if you're going to screw around with trail braking, you have to taper off quicker at the tip in." OK, Doc, got it.

Strident declarations of certainty—which I'll concede to being fond of—always have at least one "but" attached. In this case, the but is a qualification: Physical fitness. I'm a religious zealot about this and I believe the mental sharpness required for flying (or riding or jumping) flows from it. It encompasses the right diet, weight control, cardio and weight training. I do about 10 hours a week, but I know people my age or older who do more or who can—and do—run marathons. I could probably get there, but I'm not good at pain suppression and Advil does only so much.

And we're talking about learning flying here, not necessarily continuing to participate after years of doing it, although this may be a distinction without a difference. Because I've always viewed flying as primarily a mental game, it doesn't require the stamina or physical dexterity that sports like tennis, basketball or even golf do. This will be a barrier for certain people of any age but abundant research shows that cognitive function declines with age, although not consistently from person to person. The clinical data also shows that there's a measurable correlation between exercise and cognitive function. Exercise makes you smarter and you're never too old to start.

I'm such a nutcase about this that I really have to hold my tongue sometimes at the risk of becoming a proselytizing bore. Weak physical conditioning is not an inevitable state and avoiding it has such profound benefits that I don't understand why anyone skips the gym, the bicycle, the running track or the pool. It takes determination and focus, but then so does flying. At least that's what my skydiver friend Steve told me over the weekend. He does t'ai chi every morning. He's 83. Jumps every Saturday.

When I put my instructor hat on and advise people about learning to fly or pursuing an advanced rating, I tell them not to worry about the stick-and-rudder manipulation of the airplane. A monkey can do that, as Ham the Astrochimp proved 55 years ago this month, the year my friend TK was born. Ultimately, flying is really about analytical performance under duress, especially instrument flying. In my view, the duress comes from trying to apply critical decision-making information in a situation narrowed by compressed time and smeared by adrenaline. (Is this a parallel entry or a teardrop? What's the reciprocal of 220? Am I west or east of the airport? Should this be to or from?)

There are myriad details in learning to fly, some of which are actually important. So my theory is that he (or she) who has mastered the knowledge base with as few gaps as possible will have little trouble with the actual physical task of flying. And these days, the required knowledge base is larger than it has ever been—everything from knowing the G1000 cold, to pulling up apps on an iPad to remembering the stupid airport gate code. It used to be a lot simpler.

The need to learn all this is a frustrating barrier. It is, nonetheless, learnable. It may take more time and the focus of a monk, but it can be done. Plant yourself in the airplane with an external power unit and you can get the G1000 down in a few hours, perhaps at any age, absent any exceptional memory deficit issues. It's just not easy and it does take desire. No one can hand it to you. I would apply the same logic, to varying degrees, to the skydiving and motorcycling I mentioned in the last blog. These are more physical activities, but they don't require the body of a 20-year-old.  

Just as there are limits, there are options. For the past six months, we've been trying to sell a share in our Cub partnership. I keep getting tire-kicker calls from guys who I can tell are in their 70s, if not older. For them, the Cub fantasy is a trip down nostalgia lane, but it is still fantasy. I have learned that the Cub is not a good old-guy airplane, chiefly because it's a bitch to get in and out of. It requires flexibility and upper arm strength to lever yourself into the thing. I'm okay with that thus far, but I can't say I relish it. A guy I've flown with who's a tad overweight and not in shape can't get into the front seat at all. So for old guys, the Cub is probably a bad LSA choice. But a Champ is much better and so is an Ercoupe. And I guess the Cub would be too for that 10th percentile septuagenarian who's running the marathons that I can't. They're out there. Maybe you're one of them.

A few years ago, AOPA Air Safety Institute published this report (PDF) on the aging pilot. If you've thought about the impact of age on flying, you won't find anything remarkable in it at all, but it's useful to see it stated in black and white, especially the part about exercise. The report recommended 30 minutes a day, which I find minimal, but the clinicals show that even this level of exercise is quite beneficial.

So if a 60-year-old approached me about learning to fly, I'd say sure. Talk to me after you've taken the written and you're on the way to being comfortable with the head work. The rest of it is the easy—and the fun—part. And don't forget this: You need a certain amount of denial to engage in any of these activities. Denial isn't quite the same as self-confidence, but they're probably first cousins. If you can't summon that up, admit defeat and stick to group aquatics.

Oh, then there's the tricky business of deciding when you should quit due to age-induced decline. I am singularly unqualified to offer an opinion on this for reasons that should be obvious. I will, however, admit my lap times are getting slower. Probably tire choice. (See what I did there?)

Ready to Take the Lightspeed Triple Dog Dare?

An airplane conceived in the 1980s gets a modern avionics makeover to take on the small-jet market.  SyberJet's Chuck Taylor says that even after all these years, the late Ed Swearingen's crowning accomplishment still has no equal.

What Everybody Ought to Know About the CGR-30P from Electronics International

... But to achieve aerial romance, you'll need to answer a few probing questions that will determine if you're ready for a meaningful relationship with your aircraft, assuming you ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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Cessna Aircraft launched the second year of its Top Hawk university program, announcing this week its 2016 participants: Kent State University, LeTourneau University, Purdue University and Westminster College. Each school will receive a new Cessna Skyhawk 172 to use for recruitment, flight training and participation in aviation events, along with the opportunity to send students to Wichita for summer internships. Cessna's Doug May talked to AVweb about the long-term benefits of the program.


Performed by Darden Smith and co-written with Radney Foster in 2009, "Angel Flight" is a tribute to the C-130 missions that return fallen U.S. soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen from battlefields around the globe.  The music video, released in 2012, is a reminder to all Americans that real sacrifices in the cause of freedom are continuing.