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Unleaded aviation fuels developed by Shell and Swift Fuels will move on to Phase 2 testing in the FAA's Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative, the FAA announced today. The tests are part of the FAA's ongoing efforts to develop an acceptable unleaded fuel for small airplanes. "Small aircraft are the only mode of transportation that still relies on leaded fuel," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "We're committed to finding safe fuels that benefit the environment and our general aviation community." Test data will help the companies obtain an ASTM International Production Specification for their fuels and allow the FAA to authorize the existing GA fleet to use the unleaded replacement fuels. The testing will begin this summer and conclude in 2018. The two contenders that were eliminated were one fuel from Swift, and one from Total.

The PAFI program began in 2013, and six companies submitted 17 formulations to the FAA for assessment. The fuels were assessed in terms of their impact on the existing fleet, the production and distribution infrastructure, the impact on the environment, toxicology, and the cost of aircraft operations. In September 2014, the FAA accepted four fuel formulations into the PAFI Phase 1 test program. Phase 1 testing, which concluded in December, included basic fit-for-purpose and chemical property laboratory evaluations, six rig tests, materials compatibility testing, engine testing, and a literature study which evaluated the chemical components of the fuels to obtain information on their toxicity and environmental impact. The FAA reviewed the Phase 1 data and the updated feasibility assessments, and then selected the two fuels that it says would have the least impact on the GA fleet and on the fuel production and distribution infrastructure. Approximately 167,000 GA aircraft in the U.S. currently rely on 100-octane low-lead aviation gasoline for safe operation.

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Certified drone operators may now fly small UAS, weighing less than 55 pounds, up to 400 feet AGL, the FAA said today, expanding the flight zone from the previous limit of 200 feet. The policy change follows a "comprehensive risk analysis," the FAA said. Operators still are restricted to daytime VFR. They also must still keep the drone within sight and stay away from airports and heliports. "This is another milestone in our effort to change the traditional speed of government," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "Expanding the authorized airspace for these operations means government and industry can carry out unmanned aircraft missions more quickly and with less red tape."

The change applies to UAS operators with a Section 333 exemption and to government UAS operations. Other provisions of an FAA authorization, such as registering the drone and making sure operators are certified pilots, still apply. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International welcomed the change. "The FAA's decision … provides greater flexibility to those receiving FAA exemptions and makes it easier for more commercial UAS operators to access the skies," said AUVSI President Brian Wynne. "However, the FAA still needs to finalize its small UAS rule as quickly as possible … The new blanket COA altitude remains lower than the operating ceiling of 500 feet proposed in the small UAS rule." The final rule, expected this spring, is expected to make it easier to use drones commercially, especially if the requirement to hold a pilot certificate is eliminated, as anticipated by some in the industry.

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Authorities in Cyprus have arrested a man who threatened an EgyptAir flight on Tuesday, and nobody was hurt. The passenger, Seif El Din Mustafa, who boarded in Alexandria, Egypt, told crew members he was wearing an explosive belt and demanded that the crew divert the Cairo-bound A320 to land in Cyprus. Mustafa was "unstable," Cyprus official Homer Mavrommatis told CNN. "He kept on changing his mind and asking for different things." His motivation seems to not have been political, but may have been related to his ex-wife. The incident has raised concerns about airport security in Egypt, according to CNN, but it's not clear if the man had any actual explosives.

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The military will put F-35 Lightning II fighters on a series of summer airshow tours this year in an effort to gain some good publicity for the jet program, which has been saddled with budget and technical problems. The Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation will display the fighter during its show season, starting with Luke Air Force Base's event taking place in Arizona this weekend. The Marine Corps will take its version of the F-35 to the U.K. for the first time to take part in the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Air Show in July.

Fortune's recent report on what it called "a $400 billion image problem" notes that the F-35 was originally scheduled to appear at Farnborough in 2014, but an engine fire grounded the jet amid a series of engine and operational troubles. An Air Force official told a House subcommittee last week the jet has a "perception problem," Fortune reported. "The public perception and the reality are so different," said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon's F-35 program manager. "Getting out there and telling the story is part of what we need to continue to do." International media have also been critical of the F-35 program as governments abroad are among its customers. An Australian news outlet reported that a military think tank used the term "Ponzi scheme" in telling lawmakers to reconsider plans to take delivery of up to 72 of the fighters by 2023 for $17 billion.

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Airbus' new Mobile, Alabama, plant completed its first jet last week, commemorating the milestone with a maiden flight of the A321 that will go to JetBlue. The $600 million plant, which Mobile announced in 2012, began operations last fall as Airbus' first U.S. manufacturing site. The site, which Airbus expects to help fill demand for its A320 series of airliners in the coming decades, marks a victory after Mobile's struggle to win a major aviation employer. The city lost a bid to build military refueling tankers under a previously proposed Airbus contract. The company's biggest rival, Boeing, won that $35 billion contract in 2011 and is developing the KC-46 tanker for the Air Force at its base in Seattle.

However, just as Mobile and local media celebrated the completion of the plant's first Airbus, Boeing suffered a setback in the tanker program. The Pentagon said last week Boeing is likely to miss its August 2017 deadline to complete 18 of the aircraft for the Air Force, according to a Bloomberg report. The new estimate is now March 2018, which could mean penalties and cost overruns that would be borne by Boeing. The first flight of the KC-46 took place in September 2015 and has since completed aerial refueling tests. The testing is behind schedule, according to Bloomberg's report, and while the Pentagon reported "low confidence" in Boeing completing its order by August of next year, the company maintains it's still working to meet the deadline.

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The phrase "rusty pilot" seems to be a thing now. Since we can't find many new pilots, we're stirring up the walking wounded, clearing out the ambulatory wards, perhaps enticing them with AOPA logo walkers and a discount on the early-bird special at the airport cafe. I get it. It's as good a plan as any.

Last month, I decided to do my part and since I'm due for a flight review, why not make it interesting and combine that with an instrument proficiency check? This is a reprise of a stunt I did exactly three years ago this month, scheduling an IPC after not having been instrument current for five years. This illuminates one of the things I don't like about Florida. There's rarely any IMC weather and what there is is usually full of lightning and occasionally hail. I miss those 300 and a mile days in the northeast because there's no other kind of flying I'd rather do than in actual IMC. The lower the better.

As with the previous recurrency, I meant to make this a bit of a personal human factors trial. As I get older, how do my instrument skills degrade given that I'm not using them at all? Do years of instrument instruction given instill habits and skills that are evergreen? The short answer to that, at least for me, is yes. But there are limits and I noticed that this time around, certain things were harder than they were three years ago.

The airplane we used was an aging Warrior with a pair of equally aging KX-170B radios; no GPS, no DME. Pure start of the art. As I expected, my basic scan is still there with no degradation that I can detect. I can still fly to ATP standards, which is good, because I have a certificate that says I am one. No problems with maneuvers or unusual attitude recoveries. Intercepting and tracking VOR courses? Piece of cake.

However—and there's always a however—I missed two or three radio calls during the first 30 minutes of the flight. I'm not sure why this is so, but for the remainder of the flight I got into the zone. Maybe I had to burn in an unfamiliar tail number. Whatever the case, I feel like I fixed it and it wouldn't be a worry for me on an actual IFR flight.

The other however occurred on an intercept for a localizer approach. I had it properly set up and had the intercept wired. As the needle came in, I turned to center it, but in exactly the wrong direction. For ^%$'s sake!? The needle whacked the side of the case with a clang audible on the ground. The inbound course was supposed to be 35 degrees and for the plate brief, I vocalized that. But I burned into my brain 135 degrees. I have no idea why this happened but I am sure it won't again. We missed the approach, took another vector and I flew a needle-centered approach to mins.

When I was instructing, part of my training doctrine was to encourage students to use any non-dynamic periods—straight and level, basically—to error check. Are the frequencies correctly set? OBSs correct? Proper mins briefed and double-checked? How's my SA? Trying to do that stuff while in a descending turn is inviting overload. I've retained this habit and thus caught that the glideslope was inop before the controller reported it and that one of the VOR receivers was incorrectly tuned. I still remember my Morse and still use it.

The assigned hold over a VOR went mostly without a hitch, although the wind pushed me much farther west of the inbound than I figured. Here, another trick kept confusion at bay. Regardless of whether the OBS is set for to or from, if you remember that any of the courses on the side of the instrument where the needle is will result in an intercept, to, from, left or right doesn't matter. Compass course does. If you're flying one of the compass courses indicated by the needle, you'll intercept. It's just a question of how fast. 

One area of diminished capability that I noticed this time was remembering all the items in a clearance. For example, I was assigned 90 degrees and 2500 feet for the missed approach, then back to TRACON. The CFII with me asked I wanted to write that down, but I declined. I could recall it, but not with ease. Second, I needed to calculate both an entry heading for the hold and the reciprocal course for the outbound. Forget it. There was a time I could do that in my head, but not anymore. I used the OBS head as a makeshift calculator. While that's an old habit, I have to do it now. Five years ago, I didn't. I used the OBS as a memory jog for the missed, too. But next time, I'll use a pad, which I had brought along.

Speaking of which, I was using an iPad for chart and plate retrieval and here a shoutout for a product called SmartPlates from Seattle Avionics. I've used all of the major apps, but for the flying I'm doing now, I don't need that kind of horsepower and they're just another thing to stay current on. SmartPlates offers just charts and plates with a simple search function. With a GPS-equipped iPad, it will geo-reference for situational awareness. The thing is as simple as a box of rocks and just as easy to use. For $49 a year, it's a good value.

A sophisticated app that you're not proficient with will be more hindrance than help in circumstances where you don't have surplus mental bandwidth. The same is true of avionics. You can't go wrong with a KX-170B, but jumping into a G1000 cockpit cold for the same kind of recurrency I was doing just isn't an option. Most schools require three to five hours of training just for the G1000. That would have doubled what I spent on this IPC and given me proficiency I absolutely do not need at the moment. The simple app, with geo-referencing, gives nice situational awareness relative to features like approach courses, navaids and airways. I like having that. On the other hand, the real fun of IFR flying for me was always the sheer abstraction of it: being able to determine my 3D position in space merely by the readings on a few instruments. It's not unlike knowing a second language, whereas glass, for all its benefits, is like having the translation done for you.

IFR flying is and probably always will be nothing but a giant head game in which the real skill is neither the scan, nor radio work, nor keeping needles centered, but how you apportion finite brain power to accomplish those tasks without making a smoking crater. Increasingly, the head is challenged by operating automation and remaining in an ever-more-complicated man-machine loop. Is the latter less of a skill or more of a skill? I think it's just different. And that's to say not harder or easier, safer or less safe, just different. Also more expensive. Not that I'm saying an analog panel with KX170Bs is my dream. It's just a momentary reality.    

The next part of this experiment is to hop into an airplane with glass—an Aspen and Garmin GTN 750—and see how that works out. Stay tuned.

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Spitfires are often associated with the Royal Air Force, but they were operated by many countries.  The Historic Flight Foundation near Seattle pays tribute to that heritage with its restored Czech Air Force Mk. 9E Spit.

TouchTrainer from FlyThisSim || Log Time & Stay Current in YOUR Model

Continental's six-cylinder engines are among the smoothest and most economical aircraft engines in the industry.  Now Vitiatoe Aviation is offering improvements for the Cessna 206/207 series engines that include crossflow induction for even smoother and more economical operation.  Here's an AVweb profile of the company.

Great Alaska Aviation Gathering || Saturday, April 30 & Sunday, May 1

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