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Heli-Expo, the annual event hosted by Helicopter Association International, opened in Louisville, Kentucky, this week, with about 700 exhibitors and 60 helicopters on display. Two aircraft being shown for the first time are Bell's flight-test vehicles for the 525 Relentless and the 505 Jet Ranger X programs. Bell officials said they have nearly 80 letters of intent for the 525, which first flew last July, and more than 350 interested in the 505. Honeywell officials said at the show they expect slower economic growth over the next five years, with 4,300 to 4,800 helicopter deliveries worldwide, about 400 less than last year's forecast.

Also at the show, officials from Finmeccanica Helicopters (formerly AgustaWestland) said they are continuing to work on their civilian tiltrotor following a crash last year, and hope to resume test flying soon and stay on track for certification in 2017. Airbus Helicopters brought its H215 to the show for the first stop on a three-week U.S. demo tour. The twin-engine multipurpose helicopter can fulfill a variety of missions at an economical price, the company said. Pratt & Whitney Canada announced today they will add FADEC controls to several of their engines used by helicopter manufacturers. Heli-Expo officials said they expected about 20,000 industry professionals to attend the show, which besides the exhibit hall and static display features more than 100 educational courses, seminars, workshops and forums.

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Textron Aviation has confirmed that all its U.S. sales are being handled by factory representatives. That would appear to be the end of the extensive dealer network that sold Cessna aircraft for decades. Nikki Riemen, Textron's media and public relations manager for the piston and defense division, said the company is "focused on developing and building direct long-term relationships with our customers, ensuring they are positioned for success throughout their entire aircraft ownership experience." The shift in focus appears to be an ongoing process. "We have built and are expanding our dedicated team of piston sales experts within the U.S. to assist customers with the aircraft acquisition and ownership experience, as well as to connect customers directly to the engineers and experts who designed and built the aircraft," she said in an email to AVweb.

Last month, the company sent out a direct mail solicitation to some Cessna owners extolling the virtues of the Cessna 182. The colorful mailer encourages the existing Cessna owners to "learn more about the exciting performance and cost advantages of new aircraft ownership" and gives them a web address where they can schedule a demo flight. It also lists the number 844-448-9828 for "factory-direct sales representatives."

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Lockheed Martin will create a preliminary design for a low-sonic-boom supersonic X-Plane, NASA officials announced on Monday in Washington, D.C. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden noted it's almost 70 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. "Now we're continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight," Bolden said. The Lockheed Martin research team will complete a preliminary design for an aircraft using Quiet Supersonic Technology, with a budget of about $20 million over 17 months. The next step then will be to build a flying technology demonstrator that will likely be piloted, not a drone, and will be about half the size of a production aircraft.

Lockheed won the contract after submitting design concepts to NASA's Commercial Supersonic Technology Project. The project aims to reduce the usual loud and disruptive sonic boom to a soft thump, or "heartbeat," that should be nearly unnoticeable to listeners on the ground. "Developing, building and flight-testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry's decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission. Test flights are expected to begin about 2020 if the funding continues. Shin recently announced that NASA's new budget proposal includes a request to fund five new X-Plane projects that aim to transform commercial flight technologies.

A fatal crash in Alaska in November 2013 was initiated by one small mistake by the pilot -- a missed frequency change, which meant the lights failed to come on as expected at the destination airport -- but in the NTSB's final report, issued on Friday, the safety board said a chain of events and decisions by the pilot, the company he worked for and other company employees all contributed to the accident. "The pilot's decision to initiate a visual flight rules approach into an area of instrument meteorological conditions at night and the flight coordinators' release of the flight without discussing the risks with the pilot … resulted in the pilot experiencing a loss of situational awareness and subsequent controlled flight into terrain," the NTSB said. Witnesses found the airplane an hour after the crash, but the pilot and three passengers died, including an infant being carried by his mother.

The pilot was flying a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan with nine passengers on board as a VFR scheduled commuter flight. The flight coordinator noted several risks -- instrument meteorological conditions, night conditions and contaminated runways at both destination airports -- but these were never discussed with the pilot, as company policy required, the NTSB said. About 18 miles from the first destination, the airplane encountered thick fog, and the pilot diverted toward an alternate airport. Post-accident examination of the pilot's radio showed that the Caravan's audio panel was still selected to the ARTCC frequency rather than the destination airport frequency, so the pilot-controlled lighting would not have activated. Witnesses on the ground saw the airplane fly over the airport at a relatively low altitude, about 300 to 400 feet. The airplane impacted the top of a ridge about 1 mile southeast of the airport at an elevation of about 425 feet MSL in a nose-high, upright attitude.

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A young English couple will start their lives together faced with the prospect of thousands of dollars in fines after the groom and five of his stag buddies were kicked off a Ryanair flight Friday. The six Englishmen, all aged 25-28, went to Berlin instead of their bachelor party destination of Bratislava. Apparently the other six members of their group had had enough of their boorish behavior, too, and carried on to Slovakia without them. The flight originated in London and the young men from Southampton face fines up to 25,000 euros and civil claims from the airline for the cost of the diversion. Meanwhile, an American man awaits his fate after being found guilty of being a one-man party diversion on a U.S. Airways flight from Philadelphia to Denver in 2015. It could be a lot worse than the tongue-lashing and second mortgage that awaits the British bridegroom.

Late last week, the Department of Justice issued a news release describing the antics of Joseph Wayne Lynch, who was convicted in a three-day jury trial of interference with a flight crew. He could go to prison for 20 years and be fined $250,000. He missed his connection to Denver and apparently spent the unplanned layover in an airport bar. The airline tried to make amends by putting him in first class for the later flight but flight attendants also noticed he was drunk and decided to turn off the free drinks. He didn't like it much and the situation started to fall apart. Apparently it got so bad with Lynch that flight attendants armed themselves with a pot of coffee and an ice hammer to discourage him from escalating his behavior, which included kissing one of them on the neck and turning the air blue with profane epithets. But Lynch wasn't finished when the plane landed. He also unloaded on the police and FBI officers who turned up to take him away. Sentencing is set for May 16 and Lynch is out on bond.

In a market rich with tablet and smartphone navigation apps, Garmin has announced a new, purpose-built portable GPS navigator, the aera 660. It's the company's first dedicated aviation portable since the aera 796 appeared in 2011. Following the trend in smartphones, the aera 660 has a 5-inch capacitive touchscreen and more interface capability than any previous portable from any manufacturer. Its operating logic resembles the GTN series and G3X Touch products, so anyone familiar with those should adapt to the 660 easily, according to Garmin.

The aera 660's Connext wireless interface includes the ability to link with Garmin's VIRB XE camera, the recently announced GTX345 transponder and the GDL39/GDL39 3D portable ADS-B In receivers. The 660 will also be compatible with Flight Stream, Garmin's in-cockpit wireless network system that links panel avionics to tablets and smartphones. Taken together, these capabilities mean that ADS-B traffic and weather can be displayed on the aera 660 through a variety of sources.

The aera 660 will have data features similar to Garmin's apps and panel mounts including daily updates for fuel prices, WireAware to alert helicopter pilots of power line locations and VFR helicopter charting coverage for eight metro areas in the U.S., plus the Gulf of Mexico. Garmin says database revisions will be available for as little as $29.95 for a single update or in bundles for $149.95 annually. European operators will have a new enhanced base map.

The aera 660 will retail for $849 and is expected to be available later in March.

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Tarkio, Missouri, isn't the sort of place someone like Rep. Bill Shuster would normally visit but sometimes a politician just has to do what a politician has to do. I suspect the urbane and well-connected Pennsylvania congressman, chairman of the prestigious Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,  dug in his closet for a pair of old shoes and headed to the mall for some jeans and a cotton shirt. He then made the trek to corn country because he knew he could never get the kind of access and interaction with aviation's top leaders all at once in any other place.

With all due respect to AirVenture, NBAA, Sun 'n Fun and HAI, if you want to buttonhole the Who's Who of U.S. aviation, the somewhat presciently named Wingnuts Flying Circus airshow in Tarkio (population 1,583) is the place to be. The show has a nice lineup of well-known performers and the usual assortment of warbirds and military aircraft typical of the hundreds of small-town airshows that bring aviation to the masses across the U.S. It also hosts an aviation "town hall" meeting which, by the looks of Facebook photos, attracts about 100 people.

That's not the usual audience for a panel that includes EAA President Jack Pelton, NBAA President Ed Bolen, GAMA's Pete Bunce, NATA's Tom Hendricks, Matt Zuccaro of HAI, along with Jim Coon, the head of government affairs for AOPA, Andrew Moore, from the National Agricultural Aviation Association, and John Cudahy, who heads up the International Council of Air Shows. I've been to a lot of aviation meetings and I've never seen that big a lineup at any of them.

You get the idea that this is no ordinary country airshow. One of the organizers is Rep. Sam Graves, who grew up in Tarkio and has represented the 6th District for almost 15 years. He's an avid pilot and that's led to him becoming what Aviation Week calls "Aviation's Man in Washington." Graves also attracts some heavy hitters from the House and Senate and that's why all the groups show up. The ear-bending goes both ways.

So you can see why Shuster thought it a good place to float his idea. That, as far as I can tell, was the first place he talked about his bid to create a privatized air traffic control system. As dramatic as that news might have been, local reports suggest most of the discussion at the meeting was about the threat drones present to low-flying aerial application aircraft. Welcome to the Heartland, Bill.

But the formal meeting, held in a hangar just before the airshow started, was just the window dressing. The real work apparently takes place over drinks and barbecue. One of the aviation leaders told me it was apparent Shuster was there to push his agenda and not listen to input and the notion started to unravel at that point. Everyone knows the FAA is broken so why not fix it by giving away its biggest asset to the people who could most profit by controlling it? What could possibly go wrong?

Shuster was apparently deaf to the lack of verbal support and blind to the rolling eyes from the folks he went to woo and fell back on what he knows. He apparently figured the seamy mix of bribery, arm twisting and deal making that is the currency of Washington would eventually win aviation leaders over to supporting the biggest change in government operation in decades. The next couple of years would include a few clumsy media events and lots of hallway meetings to result in the ham-fisted reauthorization bill that collapsed from the weight of its own ineptitude last week. Right up until the last minute, aviation leaders were getting calls inquiring "what it would take" to bring them onside with the blockbuster legislation. Shuster's people had already salted the bill with goodies that appeared intended to bribe the aviation groups into compliance.

The most important was the guarantee that most private aircraft operators would never have to pay the hated "user fees" that would provide revenue for the new private system. Most of the aviation group leaders took that guarantee with a grain of salt, reasoning that if the corporation was setting up the collection system for those fees it was only a matter of time before they spread to GA. Another big carrot was a section of medical provisions stripped of all the due diligence measures contained in the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2. It required no medical oversight whatsoever for private pilots of aircraft weighing less than 6,000 pounds and carrying five passengers or less whereas PBOR2 ensures that every pilot will have had at least one FAA medical in his or her life. There were also liberal changes to aircraft certification and even a section to formally allow homebuilders to work in airport hangars.

If we are to assume that the bill failed because of the privatization provision, then it's also fair to think that the medical, certification and homebuilding measures are still on the table. So the groups are now preparing to press the case for inclusion of those items in the next bill. They're also not holding their breath. Rather than considered pieces of legislation aimed at improving the form and function of aviation regulation, those measures could be simply bargaining chips in the bigger game, which, by the way, is far from over. We'll know that if they disappear from the next reauthorization.

Shuster knew this wouldn't be easy and he's clearly aligned himself with people who are ready to settle into a long campaign. But that's a whole other story that we'll let the Washington media have for now. One thing he surely learned from the first skirmish is that the aviation community isn't about to be bought off with a few cheap trinkets when the system they know, and seem to have found new respect for, is being sold off to the highest bidder.

It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next.

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At its Kerrville, Texas factory, Mooney International has made significant investments to build the new Acclaim and Ovation Ultra aircraft.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently toured the plant and shot this video.

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The staff at Aviation Consumer magazine is conducting an avionics equipment and brand satisfaction survey.  They want to know about your experience with recent major avionics upgrades, including ADS-B equipment.  The results will appear in an upcoming issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.

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Garmin GTX 345 || All-in-One ADS-B
Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Tom Ciura of Lancaster, NY kicks off our latest batch of reader-submitted photos. Click through for more shots from AVweb readers.