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In the firstáand largest demonstration of its kind, staffers from NASA and the FAA last week flew 22 drones simultaneously from six test sites across the country to assess NASA's drone traffic management system. Operators outside NASA entered flight plans and planned operations from several locations, using various kinds of aircraft and software. The traffic-management system checked for conflicts, approved or rejected the flight plans and notified users of constraints. The research platform "performed well," said Parimal Kopardekar, NASA's manager for the project. "This test would not have been possible without the six FAA test sites – it was a collaborative effort to ensure a successful test."

A total of 24 drones flew multiple times throughout the three-hour test. In addition to the live aircraft interacting with the system, NASA Ames introduced dozens of virtual aircraft into the same airspace. This mixing of live flights with virtual flights provided additional insight for future tests to refine the concept, NASA said. The six test sites were located in Fairbanks, Alaska; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Reno, Nevada; Rome, New York; Virginia Tech's locations in Blacksburg, Virginia, and Bushwood, Maryland; and Corpus Christi, Texas.

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Three people survived the crash of a Beechcraft Duchess in the back yard of a home in Pompano Beach, Florida, Monday. The Duchess clipped the roof of the house before crashing in the yard and erupting in flame. The pilot and two international students from Peru and Ecuador in the aircraft were badly burned. The aircraft is registered to Florida Aviation Academy at the nearby Pompano Beach Airpark.

No one on the ground was hurt but debris from the crash was strewn across four neighboring yards. The injured have been identified as pilot Geoffrey White, 40, and students Sylvia Mena, 23, of Ecuador and Fernando Diaz, 25, of Peru. They were described as having second-degree burns to 30-40 percent of their bodies. Federal investigators are on the scene.


NTSB investigators have completed their fact-finding into the October 2014 midair crash at the Frederick, Maryland, airport, in which three people in a Robinson R44 helicopter died after a Cirrus SR22 "flew through [its] rotor system" in the traffic pattern. The safety board has not yet determined the accident's probable cause. The factual report states the air-traffic controller talking to the Cirrus didn't hear the pilot check in at 3 miles out, one minute before the crash, because she was listening to a pilot on the ground-control frequency. As the Cirrus pilot approached the pattern, the controller said, "I have three helicopters below ya in the uh traffic pattern."

The pilot said he had two of the helicopters in sight, and the controller told him he was "cleared to land." Seconds later, the two aircraft collided. The Cirrus pilot deployed the airplane's CAPS parachute system, and was not hurt, and his passenger survived with minor injuries. The factual report notes that both air traffic controllers on duty stated the airport's traffic pattern altitudes were 900 feet msl for helicopters, 1,300 feet msl for small fixed-wing airplanes, and 1,800 feet msl for large fixed-wing airplanes and twins. However, "the facility was unable to produce any documentation … of the 900-foot msl helicopter TPA they had mentioned." The NTSB has not announced a date for its probable-cause determination.

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The U.S. Helicopter Safety Team, an industry-government partnership, has set a goal to reduce fatal civil helicopter accidents by 20 percent by 2019. The team said recently its efforts will focus on improving personal protection, aircraft equipage, pilot judgment and pilot decision-making. The team said total helicopter accidents have decreased by 52 percent compared to 10 years ago. In addition, fatal accidents are down 41 percent and the fatal accident rate is down 60 percent over the same time frame.

The Safety Team said its efforts for this year will include a thorough analysis of fatal accidents from 2009 to 2013, to help develop specific recommendations for intervention. The team also plans to enhance its outreach to all helicopter industry areas, with special emphasis on personal/private flying, aerial agricultural application and emergency medical services. The Safety Team has been working since 2013.

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A stealth fighter jet called the X-2, which has been in development in Japan since 2009, flew for the first time on Friday, CNN has reported. The jet, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is not a production design or prototype, but a technology demonstrator, which is meant as a test bed for future designs. The Japanese will fly the jet for a couple of years before deciding if they want to continue into production, according to the Japan Times. They could produce a production version by the late 2020s. Japan already is buying copies of the F-35 stealth jet from the United States, which could be cheaper than developing their own.

"The maiden flight was significant to secure the necessary capability for a next-generation fighter jet," Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters in Tokyo after the flight. "We can expect technological innovation in the aerospace industry as well as application of that technology in different fields." The U.S. has been flying airplanes equipped with stealth technology since the 1980s.

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Fresh from its first manned flight, eVolo's Volocopter was on display at Aero 2106 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, this week. AVweb got an update on this intriguing program.


In the hyper-competitive world of tablet apps, nothing stands still and so it was no surprise at the recent Aero show in Friedrichshafen that Garmin announced some new features for its Pilot iOS app. In this exclusive podcast interview with Garmin's Jessica Koss, AVweb reports on the details.


Even as it's deep into research on an electric hybrid drive system using internal combustion engines, the creative Slovenia company Pipistrel is looking into electric aircraft that will use hydrogen fuel cells. áAs part of AVweb's follow-up coverage of the Aero show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, Paul Bertorelli recorded this podcast interview with the driving force behind Pipistrel's exploratory ethos, Evo Boscarol.

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How did this whole "brand" thing come about, anyway? When Coca-Cola and General Motors became iconic American companies as far back as the 1920s, was anybody talking about the actual word "brand"? In college during the 1970s and in my early years in journalism, I hardly recall the word itself ever being used in normal conversation.

But now, you can hardly crack the door on a press conference without hearing someone talk about brands and the importance of burnishing, defending, enhancing, extending or creating same. I thought of this last week when I was attending a Cirrus press conference where Ben Kowalski, the company's marcomm guy, was describing a new customer delivery and service center Cirrus is erecting in Knoxville. It's meant to be a high order facility where a Cirrus owner—including the soon-to-be jet owners—can dodge the icy blasts of Duluth (in June) and visit geographically centered Knoxville for service, training, aircraft acceptance and even order specing. It's a great idea and well in keeping with what Cirrus does as a company. Notice I didn't say "brand."

When Kowalski threw up a slide saying Cirrus was thinking of the kind of positive brand resonance that Apple, Audi, Starbucks and Tesla have in their respective markets, I almost thought he had it backward. Frankly, as a customer of three of those companies, I honestly think they're more about image than exceptional product where Cirrus, in my view, is more about product and less about image. Branding is sometimes a sleight of hand where a company seeks to have a customer think of something that is somehow larger than the product itself. Probably, some customers respond to that kind of massage, but I'm not one of them.áIt seems to me if you deliver the product, as Coca-Cola did, as GM did and as any of a dozen other such companies do, the image more or less takes care of itself. You don't need MBAs hiring junior marketeers to dream up "brand enhancement."

Having erected this tiny little soapbox, I shall now mount it, starting with Apple. This blog is being written on a MacBook Pro from notes recorded on an iPhone. In my home office, I have an iMac. Clearly, I am an Apple user but I am also as far from a fanboy as it's possible to get. All of these products are functional enough, but they are overpriced, overhyped and festooned with flaws. I would give the company an A+ in sales and marketing, a lukewarm B- for support and reliability. Why do I persist in using them? Because they're a little less worse than the competition. When I see people camping on the sidewalk the night before to get the new iPhone, I see people whose lives don't seem to be happening, not a brand I'm pining to be associated with. Please, just make the next %$*&^$ iOS have fewer fatal flaws.

And Audi. Let me stop giggling so I can continue. My wife and I owned an A4 once. It was, by performance measure, a terrific car. Handled well and was a hoot to drive. Maintenance-wise, it was a service writer's wet dream. When I was under the car one day banging the tabs of the drooping plastic air dam back in place for the fifth time with a rubber mallet, I suspected that the Audi "brand" was an apparently high-quality car, but one that was in fact cheap to build with a high margin. In other words, image trumped reality. When the heater core burst its seams slightly after the warranty expired, necessitating removal of the entire interior to the firewall, my suspicion was confirmed in a mist of sickly sweet glycol. It's OK to project an image of Úlan and quality, but you gotta walk the walk.

The point is that when a company becomes brand conscious, it's almost as though the brand itself is self-aware and the product merely tags along. Increasingly, I think if all the effort goes to the product and the people who buy it—which Cirrus seems to do pretty well—the brand takes care of itself.

Of course, as a professional crank, I am predisposed to see through all the hype that often puffs up "branding" like an overinflated bus tire and to merely ask if the company delivers a good product and treats its customers right. Based on contacts I've had with Cirrus owners, I'd say the company does that. It has a loyal community. But I'm probably the only person in the universe who thinks that next time Apple has one of its big, overhyped and contrived product announcements, it ought to throw up a slide with a Cirrus logo.

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At Aero 2016 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, a company called Skyleader was showing a wild scale knockoff of an L-39 Albatross called the UL-39 Albi. It's equipped with a 13-blade ducted fan powered by a BMW motorcycle engine. AVweb shot this video on this unique airplane.

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At Aero in Friedrichshafen, Germany, this week, the giant electrical concern Siemens surprised the show with an Extra 330 powered by a 350-hp electric motor. In this video, the company's Frank Anton explained the goal to AVweb and fliegermagazin's Thomas Borchert.

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At Aero, AVweb caught a good long look at the first serious high-output aircraft serial hybrid drive. AVweb's Paul Bertorelli interviewed Tine Tomazic of Pipistrel Aircraft about the Hypstair project.