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Large-scale drones could safely fly in the National Airspace System by using ADS-B technology, according to NASA researchers. The agency said recently it has developed a patent-pending integrated communications and control system that's capable of collision warnings as well as real-time traffic and weather updates. Vigilant Aerospace Systems has recently signed a licensing agreement with NASA to develop the system. "One of the major advantages of this system is that it uses existing FAA infrastructure to help keep drones away from other aircraft," said Kraettli Epperson, CEO of Vigilant. "It also gives nearby aircraft the ability to be aware of the drone and improves situational awareness for the drone operator."

Vigilant intends to commercialize the technology as part of its new FlightHorizon product suite, NASA said, and will equip both manned and unmanned aircraft with the hardware and software. The system provides synthetic cockpit views and detect-and-avoid commands to improve flight safety for all kinds of aircraft. The technology has been tested extensively on Armstrong's remotely piloted aircraft Ikhana Predator B. "We were excited about licensing this technology because we see the potential for these particular inventions to not only make significant contributions to flight safety for both unmanned and manned aircraft but also to be a platform technology for the future of flight automation," said Epperson.

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A high-school science teacher is planning to fly a Cessna 182 from coast to coast next month using aviation biofuel made from Camelina plant seed oil. "We'll use a 50-50 blend of aviation biofuel and Jet A to power the fuel-sipping SMA diesel engine," said Ross McCurdy, who plans to launch from North Central Airport near Providence, Rhode Island, around April 16, and fly to Santa Monica, California. The blended fuel is a drop-in replacement for Jet A and can be used in jet engines, turboprop engines and aviation diesel engines. McCurdy has taken delivery of two 55-gallon drums of the special fuel at North Central, and has cached the fuel, in five-gallon cans, at airports along the route. "It's easier to handle that way, we can just pour it into the plane," he said.

McCurdy is planning to host events at the stops along his route to promote aviation, science education and clean energy. He's bringing along his 12-year-old son for the flight, and several other pilots who will fly along at different times, most of them members of Paramus Flying Club, based in New Jersey, which owns the airplane. "Our goal is to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy," McCurdy said. "This will be the first transcontinental flight using aviation biofuel in a certified light aircraft." The planned flight stops are University Park Airport, in Pennsylvania; Moraine Airport, near Dayton, Ohio; Walnut Ridge Regional Airport, in Arkansas; Grand Prairie Municipal Airport, in Texas; Dona Ana County Airport, in New Mexico; Chandler Municipal Airport in Arizona; and Santa Monica. He plans to depart Santa Monica on April 22, Earth Day. McCurdy has been planning the flight for several years; we first interviewed him about the project in 2012, and in 2013 he flew the 182 from Providence to Kitty Hawk and back.

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Assembly of the unique Airlander lighter-than-air transport vehicle is now complete, Hybrid Air Vehicles announced today. The ship was shown off to visitors, fully inflated and hovering, inside the hangar in Bedfordshire, U.K. The next step will be a ground-testing phase, then it will roll out of the hangar to start an extensive flight-test program. The company said it expects to log 200 hours of test flying by the end of the year, and then will complete a series of trials and demonstrations with prospective customers. Also on display was the vehicle's multi-use cabin, which can handle a variety of roles, including surveillance, cargo, and passenger flights for up to 48. The airship is 302 feet long.

About 60 percent of the ship's lift is provided by helium, and the other 40 percent is driven by the ship's aerodynamic shape and thrust from its rotating engines. In flight, it will have a top cruise speed of about 80 knots and can remain aloft for up to two weeks. It was first developed as a surveillance platform by the U.S. military, but when funding ran out, the British company took on the project. About $1.1 billion has been invested in the aircraft so far, according to the Daily Mail. Hybrid Air Vehicles is not the only manufacturer exploring lighter-than-air technologies — the U.S. Navy is working with Aeros, and Lockheed Martin also has an airship design in the works.

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Columbine II, a Lockheed VC-121A Constellation that once served as Air Force One for President Dwight Eisenhower, took to the air this week after being grounded since 2003. The airplane, which has been undergoing restoration in Tucson, Arizona, flew to the Mid America Flight Museum, in Mount Pleasant, Texas, on Monday. The 1,000-mile flight took about five hours. Volunteers from the museum have been working with engineers from Dynamic Aviation, the aircraft's current owner, to return it to flight status. The Connie was to have flown to Bridgewater Airpark, in Bridgewater, Virginia, the home base for Dynamic Aviation, on Tuesday but that flight has been delayed until Wednesday. The reason for the delay has not been released.  

Karl Stolzfus, chairman of Dynamic Aviation, told reporters his company will completely restore the interior to create a "living museum" reflecting the times of the Eisenhower administration. "He was a very good president and a very well-liked president," Stolzfus said. President Eisenhower's granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, was the guest of honor at the departure ceremony in Arizona, and shared her memories of flying in the airplane as a child. "Now she moves on to expert hands who will restore her and ready her to be shared with future generations of Americans around the country," Eisenhower said.

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AVweb landed on the World Wide Web in 1995. Since then, we've amassed a huge archive of advice, analysis and inspiration. Travel back with us for a look at a classic article from AVweb's past.

Want more? Visit our advanced search page and enter a topic that interests you. You may be surprised at what you discover.

In this week's Cub Theatre installment, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli provides a video examination of the runway turnback or the so-called "impossible turn."  Well, it's not impossible at all, although it's not necessarily easy.  If you want to try it, you'll need to practice it first.  And think about making the turnback decision before you take off, not when the engine crumps at 500 feet.

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With more than 6300 CAPS-equipped Cirrus aircraft out there and given all the unblinking security cameras running 24/7, it was inevitable that good video of a Cirrus parachute touchdown would eventually emerge. Earlier this month, it did.  (More here.)

On March 5, an SR22 en route from Groton, Connecticut, to Republic Airport on Long Island suffered an engine failure near the airport. The pilot fired the CAPS and a camera caught the touchdown with unusual clarity. It's not the first time this has happened, but I think it's the one that offers the most compelling detail of what forces are involved at impact. According to the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association, which keeps track of these things, the Long Island incident was the 77th CAPS deployment. Of these, 63 are what Cirrus and COPA like to call "saves," but as an independent observer, I prefer to dispense with that label because it suggests no other outcome other than certain death was possible. That implication doesn't pass the reasonable person test, in my view. But it's nice marketing copy.

Two things occurred to me when I watched that Long Island footage for five or six times. First, sometime around 2000 or 2001, I stood in the Cirrus factory at the spot where the company had done some initial drop tests to gather basic load data on CAPS touchdowns. I recall being told—and I wrote as much—that the forces involved would likely injure the occupants and that there was no way the airplane would be repairable. Interestingly, although there have been many injuries and airplanes have been totaled, the outcomes have actually been better than Cirrus may have originally predicted. I think they were wise not to oversell the results.

The general pattern has been only minor injuries and 14 of the airframes have been returned to service after the accident. Two of these must have been cursed, for they were repaired and later involved in a second accident, one of which was fatal. The Long Island airplane, as far as I know, wasn't repairable, however. I saw a photo of the fuselage hacked in half and placed on a trailer or flatbed as only guys who recover totaled vehicles can do. During the impact sequence, you can see structure breaking off the lower wing—probably the flaps—and the thing takes an impressive bounce. Post-accident inspection of the engine revealed valve impressions on all of the piston tops, according to the NTSB's preliminary. Huh? Did the cam go on strike?

So let's run the score. Of 77 total events, 22 or 28 percent involved injuries of some kind. That count is for accidents with at least one injury, not individual injuries, whether minor or serious. The pilot of the Long Island airplane had a scratch on his head, but it was still listed as a minor injury. Nine of the CAPS events—or 12 percent—involved fatalities. That means that in 64 percent of the accidents, none of the occupants were injured. I don't recall Cirrus putting a number on outcomes, but I got the impression they didn't think it would be that high. I wouldn't call it perfect, by any means, but it's far better than the alternative.

Interestingly, the pilot himself and a couple of the quoted first responders said the accident outcome was a lucky, chance thing. But not really. If the airplane had landed on the roof of the building, the outcome would have been little different, other than someone probably needing some roof repairs. If it had grazed the edge of the building, same deal. A wilder ride, but I'd bet no different outcome. The real nightmare would be descending into power lines.  

To be fair and to show how numbers can be made to show anything you want them to show, if accidents involving CAPS deployed outside of its operating envelope are culled, the fatals drop to just one or two, depending how you wish to interpret what happened. Several were clearly outside the system's speed or altitude envelope and at least two probably were. One was a midair involving fire. Two points: It's fair to include these out-of-envelope deployments because homo the sap is a necessary part of the CAPS idea. Call it total system evaluation. On the other hand, if the system is deployed within its operating envelope, it works at least as well as advertised and, if you consider Cirrus' early claims, perhaps a little better.

The lucky juxtaposition of that security camera had an interesting effect. A couple of the local stations ran with the footage and added other footage, such as the Coast Guard's excellent footage of a CAPS ditching in the Pacific in January 2015, to make pretty decent, in-depth stories on the entire concept of whole-plane parachutes. Even though these have been out there for nearly 20 years, it seems broadcast reporters discover them anew every few months, producing an interesting gee-whiz story. That's actually a good thing.  

Where I'm going with this, other than to show the illustrative video, is to compare the CAPS idea to the next big thing: autopilot autonomy to pull an aircraft out of extremis and landing it automatically. I'll look at that in the next blog.

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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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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.

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

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