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If you own a drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds, and you fly it outdoors, you are required to register it in the FAA's registry by this Friday. "Besides being required by law, registration provides an excellent opportunity to educate yourself if you are new to aviation, and it will help you become part of the safety culture that has been the hallmark of traditional aviation for more than a century," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Of course if you're already a pilot or well versed in aviation lore, that won't excuse you. The one-time registration fee of $5 is good for three years, and one fee covers all the drones you own. New owners who buy drones after Friday must register before their first flight outdoors.

More than 342,000 people already have registered. Failure to register, the FAA says, could†result in a civil penalty†of†up†to $27,500, a†criminal fine of up to $250,000, and/or†imprisonment for up to three years. Owners of model aircraft have argued that they should not be required to use the drone registry, but the Academy of Model Aeronautics is now advising its members to comply with the law and register so they're not subject to federal penalties. Drone owners still are prohibited from using their drones for commercial purposes without express permission from the FAA. But last week, U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis and Cheri Bustos, both from Illinois, introduced an amendment to a federal bill that would let companies fly drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds for commercial purposes without FAA approval.

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Regular airline service between the U.S. and Cuba will resume but don't pack the sunscreen yet. While the Department of Transportation has formally signed an agreement†reached two months ago allowing up to 110 daily roundtrip airline flights between the U.S. and the island country, there are still significant restrictions on who can buy those flights. "While general tourist travel to Cuba is still not allowed, this new arrangement will facilitate visits for travelers who fall under one of the 12 categories authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control," the DOT's release said. The 12 categories cover business, education and humanitarian visits.†There's also no mention of general aviation in the announcement.

It will be at least four months before airlines will be able to capitalize on this limited market. U.S. carriers will have to apply to DOT for allocation of passenger and cargo flights. There will be up to 20 flights daily to Havana available and 10 to each of the other nine international airports. "DOT recognizes the eagerness of U.S. carriers to take advantage of these new Cuba opportunities, and expects to reach a final decision sometime this summer on which carriers will be awarded the authority to conduct scheduled air service to Cuba and which markets they will serve," the release said.

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For the world's scheduled airlines, 2015 "was an extraordinarily safe year," according to an analysis issued today by the International Air Transport Association, based in Montreal. However, the world was "shocked and horrified" by two deliberate acts that caused the loss of two airplanes and all 374 on board — Germanwings 9525 and Metrojet 9268. Besides those two flights, which were not counted as accidents, there were no passenger fatalities on jet transports. Turboprop flights had a less perfect record, with four accidents resulting in 136 deaths. "The long-term trend data show us that flying is getting even safer," said Tony Tyler, CEO of IATA. He added that while there are "no easy solutions to the mental health and security issues" blamed for the two jet losses, "aviation continues to work to minimize the risk that such events will happen again."

Last year's overall record actually was a little worse than the year before — measured in hull losses per 1 million flights, the 2015 accident rate was 0.32, the equivalent of one major accident for every 3.1 million flights, while the rate in 2014 was 0.27. But the previous five-year average (2010-14) was 0.46, and compared to that, the rate for 2015 shows a 30 percent improvement. Overall, more than 3.5 billion people flew on 37.6 million scheduled flights last year. Most of those flights, 31.4 million, were on jets, with just 6.2 million on turboprops. Broken down by region, every region except North America showed improvement compared to the prior five-year rate. In North America the rate was 0.32 compared to 0.13 for the prior five years.

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Viking, a Canadian company that has been building brand-new Twin Otters for a few years now, this week introduced a new variation, the 400S Seaplane, at the Singapore Airshow. While the twin was previously available with optional floats, the 400S is optimized for water-based operations, with corrosion-resistant packages for the airframe, powerplant and fuel system. Other features include additional draining and sealing, and corrosion-resistant materials throughout the aircraft. "The Twin Otter is already the world's most successful commercial seaplane, and with the modifications we are making to streamline the flight deck and optimize the aircraft for seaplane operations, we see our market share expanding even further," said Evan McCorry, a Viking spokesman. The airplane carries up to 19 passengers and sells for $6 million. Cirrus and Piper also announced news at the show.

Cirrus spokesman Todd Simmons said all new SR models delivered in 2016 will feature a suite of upgrades, including remote keyless entry, a Bluetooth audio panel and Garmin's Flight Stream Wi-Fi system, which connects the flight deck to a pilot's mobile device. Newly designed seats provide more pockets for gear and added comfort for long flights. "We continue to refine the aircraft to enhance both pilot and passenger comfort," Simmons said. Piper announced at the show that it has recently delivered 12 single-engine and 3 multi-engine training aircraft to an airline-oriented flight school at Budiarto Airport in Indonesia. The deal includes 10 more airplanes that will be delivered starting this summer. The Singapore Airshow, which opened today, runs until Sunday. The show is the largest of its kind in Asia.

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Sometime around March 1, the very first Boeing 727 ever built will take off for one last time, to fly to its permanent home at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the museum has announced. The airplane, which entered service in 1963, hasn't flown since 1991, when it was donated to the museum by United Airlines. It has been undergoing restoration ever since by crews of volunteers at Paine Field, in Everett, Washington. The final 727 flight will help celebrate the Boeing Company's centennial year. After the flight, the jet will become part of the museum's permanent collection, and there are no plans for it to ever fly again.

The criteria for the final flight is "safety, safety, safety," according to Bob Bogash, a volunteer who maintains a website about the project. "The flight will be made when the restoration is complete, the airplane is deemed safe for the proposed flight, approvals are received from the FAA, the pilot is happy, and — especially — when the weather is good," Bogash wrote. The flight will carry essential crew only — a pilot, first officer, and flight engineer — and no passengers. The 727 then will join the museum's prototype 737 and 747 in a new Aviation Pavilion set to open this summer.

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EAA's annual Skiplane Fly-In at Pioneer Airport offers winter fun and a nod to the association's roots.

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With the exception of tiny squiggles up and down, the general aviation fatal accident rate remains stubbornly at about 1.0/100,000 hours. That's down a little from a decade ago, when it was 1.28 and down a lot from the early to mid-1970s, when it was more than 2.0.

In GA, we tend to resist the notion of required training and recurrency—the 24-month flight review is a joke—in favor of gadgets that make safety automatic and painless.†The latest seems to be the angle-of-attack indicator, of which there are at least now five systems to choose from. All of them perform as intended and in the aviation press, we've fallen all over ourselves reporting on how great these gadgets are and how they should reduce stall/spin accidents. As I've said before, I go a different way on this. I think it's naÔve to think these instruments will make a dent in stall accidents just as it was naÔve to think the CAPS system in a Cirrus would give the airplane an exceptionally low accident rate.

It took Cirrus the better part of 20 years to learn that you can't just slap a safety system on an airplane and expect it to magically keep pilots from crashing and dying. As the airlines have also learned, these systems need to be tightly integrated into initial and recurrent training; otherwise, they're just another blinking distraction the pilot has to deal with under duress. When Cirrus, along with a devoted owner community, got serious about CAPS integration training, the accident rate finally showed improvement—impressively so.

That's not to suggest that I think AoA indicators are a gimmick or not worth the investment. They're not especially expensive and they have the merit of reprogramming pilot understanding of stalls as an airspeed thing to an angle-of-attack thing, where it should have been all along. And that's why I think the marketing of these devices is off base. They're being sold as stall awareness devices when in fact, they're really performance-measuring instruments that happen to include stall warning and awareness capability. If you limit them to the latter, they're just a visual version of the stall warning horn or aural alert and that almost guarantees they won't be integrated into the pilot's understanding of what the airplane is doing.

About 15 years ago, the Navy invited me for an overnight tour of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, which was involved in carrier workups off the Virginia capes. Ahead of that, I spent some time at the LSO school at NAS Oceana flying an F-14 simulator to carrier landings. Like all naval aircraft, the Tomcat was equipped with an AoA indicator and an on-speed indexer that summarizes AoA and, through indicator lights on the nosegear, gives the LSO a continuous and instantaneous readout on the approaching airplane's energy state. It took my sim instructor about 30 seconds to explain the AoA workings and it took another 30 seconds to integrate its response to my manipulation of pitch in the simulator. Hey, I got this.

As you can see from the graphic I'm including, the indicator has an approach reference bar and a tape showing actual AoA. It uses arbitrary units rather than degrees, but that matters little in interpreting it. The indexer has colored chevrons and a circle to show slow, optimum or fast speed and corresponds to what the LSO sees on the nosegear speed indicator.

I flew four or five approaches using this system. I crashed every one of them. Hit the ramp twice, took out the island and, I think, flew through the hangar deck. But I was on speed for every one of these disasters because once trimmed up, the AoA makes it easy to stay on speed with minimal mental bandwidth. The rest can be devoted to staying on the ball vertically—not that easy—and adjusting lateral lineup; all but impossible for me. I could figure it out eventually, I think, but that isn't the point. What is the point is that the Navy considers the AoA a critical, everyday tool for pilots that, oh, by the way, has a little crosshatched area indicating that 29 units of AoA will stall the airplane.

With this doctrine in mind and for this video, we did a flight trial in a Bonanza equipped with Aspen's AoA system. The Aspen AoA is a clever piece of design in that it requires no additional hardware, just a software package that uses the system's internal MEMS gyros and an aerodynamic model to infer AoA. Conceptually, the display is not that different from the F-14 design and it's well damped and accurate, graphically projecting the shrinking stall margin as AoA increases. But I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in using it as an on-speed indexer.

So we set up some slow flight and an approach flying on the AoA indications. Aspen says that the AoA flags at the green/yellow intersection should correspond to the aircraft's published approach speed and indeed it does. And it should. When the system is calibrated, you plug in various values from the POH in order to populate the aerodynamic model with data points for the software to compute AoA.

I found that moving the needles well up into the yellow band still gives—at least for me—comfortable stall margin but also four to five knots slower speed, making the touchdown less floaty and a lot shorter. Approaches flown too fast—very often way too fast because so many pilots are terrified of stalls—are a common scenario leading to excursions and overruns. And even if they don't, they use more runway than necessary and chew up tires and brakes. Further, the AoA flags are nicely damped and thus don't jump around nervously like an airspeed digital display or even an analog needle tends to do. It's thus a little easier to fly. It could also be used to index best angle or best rate for best performance departures. ††

I asked Aspen's developmental team about promoting the AoA system just this way, but they're uncomfortable with that, at least for now. It would require additional aircraft-specific testing rather than the affordable and certifiable one-size-fits-all software package they're offering now. It might also require external sensors, such as a dedicated pitot sensor or a vane. That adds cost and costs narrow the market. For its stated goal of stall awareness, the Aspen AoA and others like it are up to the task outlined for them and that's a broad-brush treatment for stall avoidance. Although I still think the integration training lags and these systems won't have the positive impact some people think they will, they're still a step in the right direction.

Ultimately, I'd like see AoA systems evolve in just the way I've described here—as speed indexers used on every approach to get the most out of aircraft performance and to wrap the sticker puller's head permanently around the concept of AoA. Otherwise, installing an AoA indicator is a little like having a live-in Cordon Bleu chef fix you spam sandwiches for lunch.

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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.

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With an infusion of new capital from Chinese interests, Mooney is on the move with two new models, the Acclaim Ultra and the Ovation Ultra. †The company showed the Acclaim Ultra at a press event on Wednesday.

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