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The U.S. Senate today passed a bill that includes changes for how third-class medicals would be implemented, marking the third time in the last six months that such legislation has been passed by the Senate. “It’s clear that third-class medical reform has strong bipartisan support,” AOPA President Mark Baker said in a statement today. “The Senate has passed these reforms three times already, and the Pilots Bill of Rights 2 has 178 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House. It’s time for the House to take action and pass Pilot's Bill of Rights 2 so we can get much-needed medical reforms.” Today the reforms were included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed by a vote of 85 to 13.

Aviation-related legislation has been stalled in the House due to a stalemate over a proposal to privatize air traffic control. AOPA, EAA, GAMA, NBAA and 10 other aviation advocacy groups sent a letter (PDF) to House leaders last week, urging them to end the stalemate and reauthorize the FAA before the current authorization expires on July 15. If no bill has been passed by then, the FAA will have to operate on short-term budget extensions, as it has in the past. NATCA has been lobbying for the government to change the way the FAA is funded, in hopes that a new system could be put in place that would avoid these recurring budget issues.

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The U.S. government has given permission to six airlines to go ahead and start service to secondary cities in Cuba, but the OK to fly to Havana is still on hold till later this year. The new treaty between the U.S. and Cuba allows U.S. airlines to ultimately fly up to 110 flights daily to the island — 20 to Havana and 10 to each of nine other international airports. The Havana routes are most prized, so for most of the routes awarded this week, the airlines each got what they asked for. The six airlines are American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and Silver Airways. U.S. airlines have not flown to Cuba in more than 50 years.

The U.S. flights will originate from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Philadelphia. The airlines have said they will start selling tickets later this month and airplanes are expected to start flying in September. Currently, it’s possible for general aviation pilots to fly to Cuba from the U.S., but the process is complex and pilots are assessed multiple fees.

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After five years of work in collaboration with aviation industry experts, the FAA has published its new Airman Certification Standards for the private pilot (airplane) certificate and the instrument (airplane) rating. The new standards replace the current Practical Test Standards as of Wednesday. The ACS provides guidance for both the knowledge exam and the practical test. It aims to evaluate pilots in a range of “areas of operation,” including task-specific knowledge, skills and risk-management elements in each area, the FAA said.

The new standards have been in the works since 2011. GAMA was among the industry groups that collaborated on the project, and said in a statement today the new standards are “clearer and more relevant” than the previous standards, and do a better job of teaching risk management and decision-making skills. “The FAA has worked closely with industry over the past five years to address longstanding issues with how the standards for pilot training are presented,” said Jens Henning, GAMA’s vice president of operations. “With the ACS, the introduction of clear risk-management requirements will help advance general aviation safety and improve the flight-training experience.” A new series of revised pilot-training handbooks will be published by the FAA later this month.

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Airbus will become the first foreign company to assemble helicopters in China, under a new deal to deliver 100 H135 aircraft. The deal is worth about $788 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. “With the further opening up of the Chinese skies and the increasing growth in the civil and parapublic segments, China is gearing up to be the biggest market for helicopters in years to come,” said Norbert Ducrot, an Airbus Helicopters official. Airbus said it expected demand for helicopters to rise as China’s power industry develops offshore wind farms. A new assembly facility will open in the coastal city of Qingdao in 2018. It will take about 10 years to deliver all 100 helicopters.

General aviation companies have encountered mixed results over the last decade or so as they try to break into the Chinese market. The country has been slow to create the infrastructure and regulatory system needed for general aviation and business flying to thrive. Embraer recently ended a 13-year effort to produce Legacy 650 jets in China, saying demand for private jets had failed to materialize. Embraer executives also said China’s tax system makes it cheaper for buyers to import aircraft rather than buy made-in-China versions, according to Bloomberg News.

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John Frank, a founder and executive director of the Cessna Pilots Association, died at his home in Santa Maria, California, on Thursday, June 9. Frank was well-known as an expert and advocate for Cessna aircraft and pilots. He hosted seminars, consulted with the FAA and other agencies, and authored three buyers’ guides. He was an A&P mechanic and had logged more than 15,000 hours as a pilot. “His knowledge of all things Cessna was encyclopedic,” says Mike Busch, who worked with Frank at the CPA for more than 20 years. “John and his wife, Kris, created the Cessna Pilots Association at the kitchen table in their small home in Wichita [in 1984], and built it into a powerhouse with 14,000 members at its peak.”

Prior to founding the CPA, Frank had served as a pilot in the U.S. Army, worked in aircraft certification at Beech Aircraft and served as executive director of the American Bonanza Society.

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Without nearly enough fanfare, some excellent guidance on a subject that is becoming increasingly critical for pilots was released two weeks ago. Entitled Flight Safety in the Drone Age (FSDA), it is a three-page document that should be read and digested by every pilot. While the FAA has enacted regulations concerning drone operations and the respected Academy of Model Aeronautics has long provided best operating practices and training programs for unmanned aircraft, until now there has been little in the way of educational material for pilots when it comes to protecting themselves in a world where the number of registered drone operators exceeds the number of manned aircraft pilots and the danger of unmanned—manned inflight collision is steadily increasing.

Flight Safety in the Drone Age was developed by the Permanent Editorial Board of the Aviator’s Model Code of Conduct (AMCC) initiative, an organization dedicated to providing tools for pilots that advance aviation safety and citizenship. It admits an unpleasant fact right up front—we’ve relied on “see and avoid” for aircraft separation in VFR flight operations since Orville and Wilbur built their second airplane, and with the small size of many drones and their ability to change direction very rapidly, “see and avoid” has to be augmented with piloting techniques and potentially, technology, to reduce the risk of mid-air collisions.

While drones do fall under the definition of “aircraft,” the level of knowledge about, and willingness to comply with, aviation safety requirements on the part of their operators varies greatly. FSDA recognizes the potential problem with human nature and drones—just as there are pilots that are stupid enough to fly low over a crowded beach because they think it’s cool, there are drone operators who will try to see how close they can fly their drone to an aircraft in flight. FSDA also mentioned something that was more than a little chilling to me: drone operators may decide to fly their drones at night (unlighted) and in IMC in controlled airspace.

Drone Capabilities

FSDA encourages pilots to get to know drone regulations and the capabilities of drones that are on the market to develop a feel for what drones can do and how they can potentially affect the airplanes a pilot flies during various phases of the flights a pilot plans to make. It particularly warns helicopter pilots about the risk of colliding with a drone because the majority of drones do stay below 400 feet AGL and a significant proportion of helo flights are at low altitude.

There are restrictions on drone operation within certain distances from towered and non-towered airports, however, in many cases, the airport operator can waive those restrictions. Right now there is not a lot of information available on where drones are operating and there is not yet a standardized reporting procedure or method of transmitting information to pilots. That means asking airport management if drone operation is permitted near your airport and aggressively seeking drone operation information during preflight planning. If there is going to be drone operation in an area you are planning to fly, also find out the “loiter” points for the operation(s) as that is where the drone is programmed to go and loiter if it loses it link with its operator.

In flight, Flight Safety in the Drone Age states that your risk is highest below 500 feet AGL and makes recommendations as to what to do during the phases of flight when you are at lower altitudes. Putting it bluntly, don’t mess around down low if you can avoid it—make your initial climb aggressively, then transition to a cruise climb so you can see what’s in front of you and delay descending to pattern altitude so that you won’t get there well before arriving at the airport. Some years ago I quit scud running because of the proliferation of towers just waiting to snatch airplanes out of the sky when the weather gets murky. I wrote a column for AVweb about it, because I think that pilots have to make decisions for themselves and so should understand what’s involved with scud running. To me, the proliferation of drones has added a large, heavy brick on the it’s better to fly high side of the fly low versus fly high balance scale.

If there’s a forest fire, there’s usually a TFR to protect the fire bombers, but not always. Even if there isn’t it’s a good idea not to fly over events that attract the attention of the public such as disasters and crime scenes because they not only attract news helos, they attract drone operators like politicians to microphones. Areas of great natural beauty are also drone magnets.

The Drone Operator's Focus

Keep in mind that the drone operator is probably concentrating on operating the drone and collecting images/video rather than paying attention to whether there are other aircraft in the sky, even if you have taken the sensible precaution of turning on every light on the aircraft. Do you still want to fly low?

If you are going to fly low, be intensely vigilant—it’s not the time to be head-down in the cockpit. Make a decision now, right now, as to what part of the aircraft you prefer to be hit by a drone, because you may only have enough time to maneuver to avoid impact at a very vulnerable spot such as the windshield.

As to impact, you can’t intentionally hit a drone or shoot one down. They are aircraft—and disabling an aircraft, any type of aircraft, is a federal offense, a felony.

The editors of FSDA recommend reporting hazardous drone operations to the FAA as it does a number of positive things—it may result in a drone operator being heavily fined (and if a pilot, having his certificate suspended), support education efforts about drone operations, get media attention that gets the word out to drone operators that there are sanctions acting like a knucklehead and adds to a database on drone operations that may help the development of sensible regulations and repeal of ones that don’t work. Also—file a NASA (ASRS) report of the hazard you observe; the database it builds is of great value. If you have a near miss with a drone, ask ATC to file a Near Mid-Air Collision report.

I applaud the editorial staff of the Aviator’s Model Cod of Conduct initiative, especially Principal Michael Baum, for the work they put into creation of FSDA and that it will be updated as more is learned about drone operations and their interaction with piloted aircraft. They make it clear in FSDA that this is an emerging field and that people plots often rely on for safety information, such as controllers and airport management, may not yet have in-depth knowledge about drones. They encourage pilots to inform themselves and act as ambassadors to inform others in the aviation and local communities about drone safety.

There are already many statutes and ordinances regarding drone operation around the county. While those that attempt to regulate flight operations are probably void due to complete preemption of regulation of the national airspace system by Congress and the FAA, localities do have the authority to regulate the location of airports and landing fields. FSDA recommends that pilots stay involved locally with issues of drone operational safety, especially near airports.

Conclusion

We’re going to learn a great deal about the interaction of drones with the piloted aircraft world rapidly. I’m hoping that it’s a long time until the first mid-air occurs and that the accident rate stays below that of aircraft/deer collisions (about one percent of aircraft accidents). Thank you to the editorial board of the AMCC for the work they did in getting Flight Safety in the Drone Age out to pilots and their willingness to update the document as more is learned.

Oh, and since you’ve read this far, take a look at the Aviator’s Model Code of Conduct website—it has a lot of good, thoughtful stuff.

Rick Durden is an aviation attorney, a CFII, holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols 1 & 2.

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Perhaps because many of the new airplane introductions these days are in the LSA segment and Cub-type airplanes remain popular, I find myself flying a lot of these aircraft. And before I slither into one for the demo, someone will remark, “Well, you’re a Cub guy, so it’ll be familiar.”

There are two things wrong with that statement. First, even though I own a portion of one, I don’t consider myself a “Cub guy.” Nor necessarily even a taildragger guy and definitely not an adherent to the real-men-fly-taildraggers meme. I just happen to be in a Cub because it was available, relatively cheap and I could afford it. Could just as well be an Interstate Cadet or a Funk or a Champ.

The second wrong part, or at least sort of wrong, is that if you can fly one taildragger, the experience will transfer to another. Not quite. When I was out in Yakima, Washington, flying Cub Crafter’s new XCub last month for this video, Randy Lervold and I had a discussion about this. He observed that when he flies a new tailwheel airplane, it takes 10 or a dozen landings to sort it out and get the feel of it so that three-points and wheelies are reliably bounce free and the casual observer would conclude the pilot knows what he’s doing.

That would be my experience, too. Every time I get into a new one, I try to tell myself that this time, I’ll try the direct transference trick from the J-3, as far as sight picture, speeds and so forth. It never works, nor should I expect it to. There are enough minor differences between airplanes to require learning specific quirks in the only way possible: trial and error and often more of the latter than I’d like.

The XCub has a particular quirk I’ll get to in a minute, but first, if you scrub the video to about 7:50, you’ll see a wheelie with a bounce. I had bounced the previous one, but a lot less. On the approach, I was telling myself, “yeah, I’ve got this zero’d now and won’t bounce it.” Despite all the concentration to achieve that, it didn’t work. After another five or six landings, it would. That’s just what it takes in a taildragger. In a nosegear airplane, it doesn’t matter. Even less-than-perfect touchdowns usually stay glued to the surface because in a nosegear airplane, what passes for an acceptable landing exists in a far wider band than it does in a taildragger. If there’s an attraction to flying a taildragger, perhaps that’s it.

Now the XCub’s quirk. That’s probably the wrong word, because it’s actually a feature. The XCub has aluminum rather than steel or the Cub’s traditional bungee gear. This was a revelation for me because aluminum does a nice job of absorbing surplus touchdown energy; it’s far less energetic than steel or those blasted bungees in returning misdirected touchdown energy. This results in a unique feeling on touchdown. If you know you’re a little fast and you know you’re going to bounce, it’s just a small one and not the sharp-edged twang of steel or the slingshot of the bungees, but rather a firm pushback with no lateral wiggles at all.

It’s quite confidence inducing because those small bounces don’t require the massive control inputs to arrest that a really bad spring-steel bounce would. You just ride it out with a little more back pressure rather than sucking the stick rapidly into your gut and sweating out the lateral control. Or just surrendering right away and pouring on the power for a go around. That last choice is never wrong, but it’s better to have other options. It just makes for a safer landing so in that sense, the XCub is a sophisticated refinement of the taildragger idea.

And what of the taildragger or the Cub idea? Why does it endure? Dan Johnson tracks LSA sales and some recent data he collected shows that two companies—Cub Crafters and American Legend—account for 30 percent of the 1956 light sports sold up through last year. I think it’s a combination of the Cub mystique, a design planform that’s just as practical now as it was in 1938 and that attraction to airplanes that don’t have nosewheels. And more people than some of us realize like to land on grass runways, fly floats and skis or head to outback locations. To my eye, with few exceptions, a taildragger just looks right as an airplane and while some nosegear airplanes do, too, many others don’t. If you’ve ever seen a Tri-Pacer or a nosegear Maule, you know what I mean. (Yeah, that’s not fair, I know. Those airplanes were designed as taildraggers. The Cirrus wasn’t.)

My guess is that the XCub will make the same kind of dent in the market that the Carbon Cub did simply because Cub Crafters has skillfully latched onto the upper tier in both price and quality. The company has never so much as nodded to the budget airplane idea. Despite being priced $50,000 higher than the average LSA, the Carbon Cub outsells everything but the Flight Design CTLS series. To me, it represents another datapoint in the argument that price and money aren’t the sole drivers of interest in general aviation.

The XCub will initially sell for about $300,000, provoking the usual reflexive complaints about high aircraft prices. So go ahead and complain. But having a good sense of what it takes to certify a new Part 23 airplane and what Cub Crafters spent to do it, I’m not sure how it could conceivably cost any less and still have any margin worth considering. The Aviat Husky, which competes in the same space, is priced in the same general range.

Of course, there are a lot of used Huskies out there, not to mention used Super Cubs, all selling for a fraction of the XCub’s price. Cub Crafters is hoping the XCub’s additional capabilities will draw in buyers who will find new a better value than vintage. Of such stuff are business plans made. Check out the XCub yourself at AirVenture in five weeks and decide for yourself.

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