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As Amazon bolts at breakneck speed toward package delivery by autonomous drone, it sees future air traffic control and de-confliction as a series of overlapping but collaborating apps in which aircraft and controllers share separation tasks. Amazon's Gur Kimchi, who's overseeing the company's PrimeAir drone development efforts, outlined a view of the future in which aircraft will be tied into the internet and mutually linked, just like cars, appliances and computers already are. Kimchi elaborated on Amazon's plans on the opening day of Exponential 2106, the trade show of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in New Orleans.

Kimchi concedes that when drones of all kinds begin to proliferate, which he and others see as happening in the next year or so, the industry will need to be ready. "The airspace at some point will become congested. And we need to be ready. This is not a technology problem, but an industry-getting-together problem. And we have to do it now," Kimchi said.

He sketched Amazon's view of how to do this as a multi-tiered airspace system monitored and controlled by real-time data flow from manned aircraft and unmanned systems, via transponders or dependent surveillance. Kimchi sees an automated and integrated system that he called "NextGen for low altitude." No-fly zones for drones would be imposed around airports and above 400 feet, enforced by a constant stream of transponder altitude and position data, with hard geo-fencing.

He explained that Amazon favors "overlapping federated control," which means aircraft and drones would be capable of de-confliction through traditional air traffic control or through collaborative, onboard sense-and-avoid capability.  Or both. Kimchi argues that such a protocol is different from current technology only by degree. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel here," he said. He said the system would need to have "pre-defined low-risk locations" that would allow drones and manned to aircraft to operate in the same or nearby airspace with acceptable risk. But geo- and altitude-fencing would reduce the risk of collisions. "You don't leave your box, I don't leave mine," Kimchi said. He offered no specific timeline on when Amazon thinks its delivery drone network will launch. Worth noting is that many have expressed disappointment at the FAA's slowness in developing UAS regulation. Most of Amazon's testing has, therefore, been done in the UK.

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As the U.S. military deals with the uncertain complexities of a future dependent on and driven by robotic technologies, the soldier of the future will have unprecedented precision capabilities, but also higher expectations than soldiers of the last generation. That's one of several observations offered by General David Perkins at Xponential 2016, the AUVSI trade and technology show in New Orleans, on Tuesday. Perkins is head of the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine command, the agency charged with describing the future the military will have to operate in. "That's describing, not predicting," Perkins said.

In an engaging 40-minute talk, Perkins said that unlike in previous eras, when threats were better understood, the modern military faces the "unknown, the unknowable and the constantly changing." He said that the while unmanned systems—aircraft and land vehicles—will be a necessary part of planning for that future, the larger issue is to develop a force culture that can innovate much faster than the enemies it may face, giving commanders not just technology, but multiple options that bridge simple access to weapons systems, whether automated or not. "In an unknown world, I don't know what problems I'm going to have," Perkins said. "That requires a completely different kind of organization than we've had in the past," he added.

He said this level of innovative thinking is fundamentally reshaping the military, right down to redesigning basic training and rethinking how robotic systems fit into the force structure. Current thinking, according to Perkins, sees UAV-type technology at three levels of development: first as a tool, second as partner to the military people who will use such systems and last, in the longer term, as fully autonomous systems capable of machine learning. Still, he said, the Army's prime goal is not autonomous technology, but leadership development. For the foreseeable future, soldiers won't be replaced by robotic systems, but enhanced by them. This, he said, is reflective of an underlying culture that emphasizes constant innovation that doesn't always mean new technology or high-dollar weapons systems.

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The FAA will hold a public hearing on its proposed Part 23 revisions today and tomorrow in College Park, Georgia. On the eve of the event, a coalition of general aviation groups sent a letter (PDF) to the FAA urging them to work swiftly and implement the revised rule by the end of this year. "The importance of this effort … to assure a brighter future for the general aviation community … cannot be overstated," the groups said. "The FAA must work swiftly to implement the changes being proposed in as short a timeframe as possible … This must be an absolute priority for the FAA." Leaders of nine groups signed the letter, including GAMA, AOPA, EAA, HAI, NATA and NBAA. The FAA said the purpose of the public meeting is to discuss the NPRM, hear the public's questions, address any confusion and obtain information relevant to the final rule under consideration.

The FAA published its proposed new Part 23 airworthiness standards in March. The new rules, for normal, utility, acrobatic and commuter category airplanes, would remove current prescriptive design requirements and replace them with performance-based airworthiness standards. "The proposed airworthiness standards are based on, and would maintain, the level of safety of the current part 23," the FAA said. A transcript of this week's meeting and all material accepted by the panel during the meeting will be placed in the public docket, the FAA said. The NPRM written comment period will close on May 13.

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Completing Leg 10 of its round-the-world flight, Solar Impulse 2 landed in Phoenix, Arizona, about 9 p.m. local time on Monday. Pilot Andre Borschberg launched from the airplane's first U.S. stop, in Mountain View, California, about 5 a.m. local time on Monday, and flew for nearly 16 hours, crossing 720 miles. Strong tailwinds helped boost the airplane's groundspeed for the leg to 115 mph. Borschberg flew close to Elon Musk's SpaceX headquarters and above the Mojave Desert, "where many American heroes pushed the limits of aviation," according to the Solar Impulse website. "Individuals including Burt Rutan, Charles Yeager, Paul MacCready, and Richard Branson have all inspired Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg to build a solar-powered aircraft."

The next goal for the airplane is to get to New York "as quickly as possible," according to the team's website, "in order to allow us enough time to find a good weather window to cross the Atlantic Ocean." How long they will stay in Phoenix is still unknown, and the next date of departure and destination depends on the weather forecast. Two interim stops in the central U.S. are expected before New York, but the team has not said where they might land. Piccard recently flew the airplane to California, after it laid over for nine months in Hawaii, where the battery system got an upgrade. The team ultimately will reach Abu Dhabi, where the expedition launched last year. Solar Impulse 2 has 17,000 solar cells to power its four motors and to recharge lithium batteries for use at night.


The National Association of Flight Instructors announced on Monday that the group's founder, Jack Jay Eggspuehler, died on April 30. He was 86 years old. Eggspuehler was a flight instructor and professor of aviation at The Ohio State University from 1958 to 1980. In 1967, he led a small group of aviation professionals to create NAFI, with the intent to raise the professional standing of flight instructors across the U.S. He served as the organization's president for 30 years. After his retirement from NAFI's board of directors in 2000, Eggspuehler was named president emeritus.

Eggspuehler was the recipient of many awards and honors, including EAA's Chairman's Award, the NAA's Elder Statesman of Aviation award and an AOPA Meritorious Award for outstanding contributions to flight safety. He was a member of the Flight Instructor Hall of Fame and the Quiet Birdmen. He lived in Ohio and Florida, and is survived by three sons and three grandchildren.

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The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, D.C., will stay open all night on Friday, July 1, to celebrate the building's 40th year. The free event also will celebrate the opening of the newly redesigned Milestones of Flight Hall, where historic aircraft are on display, including the Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1 that first broke the sound barrier, SpaceShipOne and more. The "All Night at the Museum" event will feature special tours and demonstrations by NASM staff, music by the U.S. Air Force Band, talks by aviation and space heroes, a film festival, and hands-on activities for kids. A ticketed reception also will be held for guests over 21. Tickets will go on sale in late May, according to the NASM.

The major renovation of the Milestones exhibit will be the first since the Museum opened in July 1976, and will "change the way we tell the many stories of how aviation and spaceflight have transformed the world," according to the NASM website. Some new aircraft will be added, including the Apollo Lunar Module and a studio model of Star Trek's starship Enterprise. Mobile digital technology will be integrated into the displays. Also, the new exhibit will incorporate interconnected stories that aim to trace the broader social, political, cultural, technical and human aspects of how aviation and spaceflight have transformed the world. The NASM is on the National Mall at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue SW. For those who can't make it there, the All Night at the Museum event will be broadcast live on the museum's website.

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This week, it's off to the drone aircraft show—AUVSI or the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International. They really need a better name for that. It doesn't exactly slide off the tongue. The association is calling the show Exponential this year, clearly suggesting they think that's the growth curve they expect drones will or already are experiencing. Who am I to argue?

Two broad things interest me about this show. One is that FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will be there and although he rarely says much of substance, I'm always interested in the words he uses to avoid the impolitic while also conveying something to keep the audience from rioting. (Oh, wait, that's only at AirVenture.) The FAA is not a favorite agency among the drone crowd. Two years ago in Orlando, you could feel the tension in the room when the then head of the UAS integration program tried to sell drone operators on the idea that their systems represented high risk to aircraft and unsuspecting pedestrians. It wasn't warmly received.

Now that we've had one genuine drone collision—with a balloon—perhaps the administrator will have a comment. As today's news feed reveals, those hopeful that the incident in the UK was a second drone/airliner incident must be bitterly disappointed. Maybe it was a plastic bag. Well, there's always next week.

The second thing I want to explore is applications for these aircraft. Will there really be as many as the companies manufacturing them hope? I remain skeptical and expect to see a shakeout at some point after final rules are published. The number of companies building these things is just staggering. Does the economy need that many eyes in the sky? I can't help but feel it does not. I'll also be watching for more aviation companies sniffing around to hedge against losing business to the unmanned side, especially the helicopter industry. Interesting times.

Just a word about the marketing and communications people in the drone business. They put the typical practitioner of this work in the general aviation segment to shame. Having registered for this show, I've been inundated with invitations to see demonstrations, interview CEOs and generally learn about the products at hand. This rarely happens in GA. In fact, before Sun 'n Fun, only two companies made an effort. Just Aircraft was one and Diamond was the other. I flew both of their airplanes before or during the show and generated coverage I'm sure they will find useful. It doesn't take much effort to make things like this happen. I wish more general aviation companies would exert it.   

Winkle's Book

Back in February, when famed British test pilot Eric Winkle Brown died at the age of 97, I wrote this brief blog in tribute to him. Since then, on the flight to and from Europe last month, I finally had a chance to read his book, Wings On My Sleeve: The World's Greatest Test Pilot Tells His Story. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is exceptional. Brown's experiences through World War II and immediately after it were even more amazing than I could have imagined. Find the book on Amazon and grab it. You won't be disappointed.

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

Alpha Systems AOA is updating its angle-of-attack systems. At this week's Aircraft Electronics Association show, Alpha's Mark Korin said, "We can update any aircraft with an AOA display for safer flying, including AOA installations for pressurized aircraft."

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At this week's Aircraft Electronics Association show in Orlando, L-3 Avionics showcased its recent advancements in certified products that pack multiple functions into lighter, smaller boxes. The recently released ESI-500 standby instrument offers what amounts to a primary flight display backup with instrument data as well as navigation and synthetic vision. The unit, when packaged with a data configuration module and installation kit, retails for about $6,100. L-3 also announced two new features to its ADS-B-compliant NGT-9000 transponder — full traffic and terrain awareness systems rolled into the touchscreen unit.

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