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The FAA today published a final rule that allows student pilots to log up to 20 hours in flight simulators, finally reaching the end of a long and twisted regulatory path. The current rules allow only 10 hours to be logged, although many flight schools had permission from the FAA to log up to 20. The FAA tried to go straight-to-final-rule with the change in December 2014, but had to start over with the rule-making process when two commenters filed objections. The new rule takes effect May 12.

The rule allows Part 61 instrument students to log up to 10 hours in basic training devices, and up to 20 hours in advanced devices, with the combined total not to exceed 20 hours. Students at Part 141-approved flight schools can log up to 25 percent of creditable time in basic devices and 40 percent in advanced devices (not to exceed 40 percent total time). The prior 141 limit was 10 percent combined. The new rule also says students don't have to wear a view-limiting device while in a simulator. "This rulemaking relieves burdens on pilots seeking to obtain aeronautical experience, training, and certification," the FAA said. "These actions are necessary to bring the regulations in line with the current capabilities of aviation training devices and the needs and activities of the general aviation training community and pilots."

AOPA and the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators both welcomed the changes. "AOPA pushed strongly for all of these changes," said David Oord, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "The new provisions will benefit the safety of training while significantly reducing the costs associated with it. Training using simulation has proven to be safe, effective, and economical for commercial aviation and we support its increased use in GA flight training." A post at the SAFE blog also responded to the new rule: "SAFE has led the charge for approval of increased simulation credit and we are proud our proposal to the FAA is quoted extensively in the current NPRM. Flight simulation provides a huge opportunity for aviation educators and a superior, less expensive, training environment for clients at all courses and levels. For both initial and recurrent flight training, increased FAA credit for simulation is a huge win."

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The FAA issued two direct-to-final-rule Airworthiness Directives today that affect general aviation airplanes. A Cessna AD addresses the elevator trim tabs in about 5,000 twin-engine T310Q, 310Q, and 402B aircraft. Textron already has issued a service bulletin, but allows up to a year to make the fix — the FAA said today it is shortening that time to 90 days. The clock starts April 26, the effective date of the AD. Replacing the elevator trim push-pull rod hardware should cost about $100, the FAA said. The Piper AD addresses reports of wing-rib cracks found in PA-28 Cherokees, and extends the directive to more models than the previous AD.

The Piper AD affects about 700 airplanes. The cost to operators should be about $85 for an inspection, and another $125 if repairs are needed, the FAA said. The cracks occurred during production, the FAA said, and if not corrected, could result in reduced structural integrity of the wing. Operators must comply with the AD within 25 hours of flying after the effective date of April 26, with the exception of those airplanes listed in the previous AD, which have 25 hours after last Oct. 29 to comply.

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Cirrus brought a mock-up of their final Vision jet interior to Sun 'n Fun last week, but if you missed it, that's because Cirrus, as usual, had no exhibit of their own in Lakeland — the mock-up was hosted at the Whelan tent. "The greatest thing about our jet interior is the modular seating design," Matt Bergwall, Vision SF50 product line manager, told AVweb by phone from Duluth today. The five passenger seats (three full-size and two limited to 90 pounds) are easy to take out and install, Bergwall said, so the pilot can custom-configure the cabin for each flight. They also can be staggered, to maximize shoulder space.

The pilot and copilot seats slide far back into the cabin, to make it easy to get in and out. "The pilot can close the cabin door without leaving his seat," Bergwall said. He added that the oval egg shape of the cabin creates a more spacious feeling than the more common "metal tube." Big windows add to the sense of space, he said. The mock-up and a real jet will be on display at the Cirrus exhibit at EAA AirVenture in July, Bergwall said. And will there also be a Vision jet delivery at the show? "Maybe," Bergwall said. The company recently said certification for the jet is expected around the end of the second quarter. The FAA has proposed that Cirrus doesn't need an in-flight test of the jet's parachute, and is accepting comments on that proposal till May 2.

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As Sun 'n Fun drew to a close, Aspen Avionics announced yet another encouraging development in the avionics market: compatibility with Garmin's new line of ADS-B systems. Through a newly approved STC, Aspen's Evolution-series PFD and MFD retrofit display systems can display ADS-B weather and traffic when connected with Garmin's GDL88-series dual-band ADS-B receiver. The company also said it's planning on including Garmin's new GTX345 ADS-B transponder to the interface by the end of the year. The GTX345 is Garmin's next-generation wireless all-in-one 1090ES transponder that replaces the GTX330ES. It also has a built-in dual-band traffic and weather receiver. See our flight trial video here.

The GDL88 is Garmin's remotely mounted ADS-B system and is available in several versions and price points—both with and without internal WAAS GPS and weather and traffic receiver. While Garmin's ADS-B protocol was previously only compatible with select Garmin displays, the company has been gradually opening its architecture to third-party interfaces, including the recently announced interface with the NavWorx ADS600-B ADS-B receiver.

The cost for Aspen's unlock software to enable the Garmin interface is $795 and can be field-installed by any authorized Aspen dealer. Aspen's entry-level Evolution VFR PFD has a starting price of $4995 and Garmin's GDL88 starts at $3995. For more, contact Aspen Avionics and Garmin.

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The Gustaf III airport at St. Bart's, in the Caribbean, is well known as a challenging one for pilots and a scenic spot for planespotters, but last week, one enthusiast with a camera was caught on video in a close call. The photographer was focused on shooting a single-engine airplane on approach, when another photographer shooting 360-degree video caught him ducking as the Cessna 182 appears to skim just above his head.

A motorcyclist on the road nearby also ducked as the airplane flew over. How close, really, was the encounter? It's hard to tell for sure, considering that camera angles and distances can be deceiving, but surely close enough to feel the propwash going by.

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I don't make a habit of including photos in this space unless there's a compelling reason to do so. I prefer to imagine that my incisive prose will somehow deliver you to a place where a mere photo would be nothing but a rude intrusion on a near metaphysical bond between author and reader. But mostly, I just don't have the pix.

Today, I am making an exception. This photo was taken from the video stream when I was flying Diamond's new DA62 last week, which is currently in the midst of a national tour. That's Diamond's Brent Eddington in the right seat and you'll note that I have a look you could describe as either confusion, consternation or fear of impending doom. Or all three. The reason for this is that I am pretty sure I am doing a serial devotional of the astronaut's prayer: "Oh, Lord, I beseech thee, don't let me ^%$# up this $1.3 million airplane." Not that there's much likelihood of this, but when airplanes have seven-figure price tags, you quite naturally get nervous about such things.

I'm not going to do a review of the airplane in this blog, but I will be putting up the video as soon as I have time to cut the footage. Suffice to say in building the DA62, Diamond demurred on any meaningful compromise and the airplane shows it. From the door handles to the leather seats to the cup holders, the DA62 strikes me as a well-conceived design equally well-executed. If airplanes get better than this, I'm not sure I know how. It has the feel of a luxury car. 

I will comment on the engines, which are Austro AE 330 diesels, the latest iteration of the company's conversion of the well-regarded Mercedes OM640. (See a video about it here.) Mercedes has dumped a few mega million Euros into the R&D of these engines and that shows, too. Occasionally in this space, you'll read comments decrying the lack of sophisticated ECU technology in aircraft engines. Well, stop complaining. The AE 330s are those very engines you're carping about not existing. On startup, they are so utterly silk smooth that they transfer no discernible vibrations to the airframe and the only way to be sure they're running is to look at the props spinning.

During the video shoot, I had occasion to record the startup from outside the airplane from five feet in front of the props. The engines are so quiet you could have a normal conversation without raising your voice. Oh, and they're throttle by wire, too. Throttle operation is smooth as buttah. One thing the engines lack is long TBOs. The AE 330s are, for now, 1000-hour engines. This has been a persistent weakness in the diesel engine segment and it needs to be addressed. On the plus side, the Austros are overhaulable at reasonable prices, rather than having to be replaced as are the Continental diesels. 

I first clapped eyes on and flew this airplane three years ago in Austria, when it was a test article then known as the DA52. At the time, Diamond CEO Christian Dries was fuming that this would be the last certification project he would do. He obviously wasn't serious because he's since embarked on an even more ambitious project to build and certify electric aircraft. I think Dries couldn't stop pursuing new airplane projects if he wanted to. As are many of us, he's afflicted.

I can't recall what Dries was annoyed at, but it might have been this: The DA62 is being offered in two versions. One has a 1999-kg (4397-pound) weight limit for Europe, the other has a 5071-pound (2305-kg) limit for other than Europe. I'll do the math for you. The European version has a 674 pound lower useful load, turning what is otherwise a full-fuel-with-five-people airplane into one that carries two with generous baggage or three with a little less fuel and no baggage. The stated reason? Air traffic fees in Europe rise markedly at weights higher than 2000 kg. That's why no one should wonder why we in the U.S. so rabidly oppose privatized ATC funded by user fees.

When I visited Austria in that summer of 2013, the CS 23 rewrite was in full swing and I asked Dries if he thought applying the new streamlined regulations to the DA62 cert project would have reduced the price appreciably. He was skeptical. As I reported before, Dries believes that the only thing that will drive down prices significantly is volume. Lots of volume. The unfortunate truth is that there only 20 to 40 people in the world a year who can afford to buy an airplane as expensive as the DA62. This is a constant reality that's not likely to change much even if volume tripled.

I restrain myself from constant wailing about the high price of airplanes. The din is at once annoying and boring. The prices are what they are for reasons not worth debating for the thousandth time and we all understand them anyway. In the CS 23 project, the industry is making a concerted and legitimate effort to control aircraft price inflation and we can only wait to see how effective that will be. We saw last week at Sun 'n Fun that it's already having an effect in retrofit avionics. In the meantime, I ignore the prices and revel in what an airplane like the DA62 represents: a thing designed and executed about as well as it can be, unblemished by compromise. That's worth a cheer no matter what it costs.

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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.

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The F-35 fighter made its Sun 'n Fun debut Thursday. Capt. Daniel Haley describes what it's like to fly the stealth fighter.

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While symbolism alone might win in the presidential-campaign circus, pilots who understand what's behind aeronautical iconography will impress hangar neighbors and have no trouble acing this quiz.

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