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A U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane crashed Tuesday near Sacramento, California, about 9:05 a.m. local time while on a training mission. Both pilots on board ejected, and late on Tuesday, local KCRA News reported that one pilot was killed and the second pilot was hurt, according to officials at Beale Air Force Base. The wreckage, in an open rural area near the Sutter Buttes mountain range, caught fire and sent a plume of black smoke into the sky. Initially, USAF officials said the two pilots were safe, but a few hours later they said in a tweet that “there is no official confirmation of status of U-2 pilots.” One eyewitness told local KCRA3 News that he saw three parachutes after the plane crashed — two with people, and one with equipment.

The Cold-War-era U-2 aircraft, known as “Dragon Lady,” provides high-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance for the U.S. forces. It's capable of cruising at altitudes up to 70,000 feet. It was part of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale.

U2 file photo/USAF

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Clay Lacy Aviation, which operates FBOs in Los Angeles and Seattle, has joined with Key Air, based in Oxford, Connecticut, the two companies announced last week. “Our clients asked us for a larger presence in New York, and this is the first of several strategic steps to expand our East Coast services,” said Brian Kirkdoffer, Clay Lacy CEO. Chris Hand, vice president of operations for Key Air, said joining the “Clay Lacy family” will bring immediate benefits to the company’s clients and employees.

Clay Lacy Aviation was founded in 1968 by Clay Lacy, who grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and flew for United Airlines for more than 40 years, retiring in 1992. The company specializes in jet charter and executive jet management, and offers a range of services indulging charter, sales, maintenance and FBO services. Lacy is also well-known for his work in the film industry and as an avid pilot with more than 50,000 hours logged in a wide range of aircraft.

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A new aviation trade show has been announced for Oct. 24-26, 2017, in Ghana, which organizers say will be the first-ever event of its kind in the West Africa region. “It’s an important announcement for the African continent, especially for Ghana, one of the most dynamic countries in Africa, which is experiencing strong economic growth and an increase in aviation activity,” said Didier Mary, the show organizer. “Kotoka International Airport [in Ghana] is one of the fastest-growing passenger airports on the entire continent.” The show will be run by 4M Events, which also manages airshows in Abu Dhabi.

The three-day show will offer static display space for about 60 aircraft and an exhibition hall for 300 vendors. The organizers also will host a series of conferences on topics important to the African aviation community, including training, maintenance, skills shortages and recruitment. “The growth of African aviation reflects the need for this type of exhibition,” said Mary. By 2040, the continent is expected to experience air-traffic growth of 350 percent to 600 percent over current air passenger levels, and will need to have the infrastructure in place to support that growth, according to the show website.

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The 60th annual Gordon Bennett long-distance balloon race launched on Monday from Gladbeck, Germany, with 24 teams competing from 12 countries. Three teams, from Great Britain, Austria and Switzerland, landed the next morning to avoid flying into military airspace that was scheduled at short notice for a military exercise. By the end of the first 24 hours, half the teams had landed, and after two days, five balloons remained. Those pilots flew high above the snowy Alps, under an almost-full moon, posting spectacular pictures on social media. The teams now face a number of choices as they plan their strategy for the third day and night aloft.

Teams from Spain and Switzerland were neck-and-neck in the lead after crossing the Alps on Tuesday, according to the race website, and flew above the Mediterranean as dawn broke. Also still in the running are teams from Austria and Poland, and a second Swiss team. The winner will be the team that travels the farthest from the launch point, as measured in a straight line. Pilots must carefully manage their resources to stay aloft as long as possible, since flights are limited by the amount of ballast they can lift. Also, the lifting gas in the envelope is lost over time, as it expands in the sunlight and is vented off. The teams’ progress is tracked live online.

images: FAI

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You have to hand it to the FAA. This is a government agency that’s gifted in its ability to tweak the rules in a way that makes we, the regulated, twist, dance, squirm and shimmy in the most creative ways. The latest example came last week when the FAA revised its standards for teaching that most mundane of tasks: slow flight.

As the story reveals, the agency now wants students to demonstrate slow flight by reducing airspeed to a point 5 to 10 knots above stall speed or just above the stall-warning threshold; in other words, the horn or light, if there is one. In days of yore, private pilots had to demonstrate, as described in the FAA’s own dry-as-dust Airplane Flying Handbook, slow flight to a point 3 to 5 knots above stall indications. Usually, that meant the horn was blaring away, but the horn was screeching about an impending stall, not an actual stall. Real stall indications are the onset of buffet or loss of control effectiveness or a full-on stall. (There’s no mistaking that.)

The agency is amending the new AFH to reflect this and new Airman Certification Standards issued in June already has been amended. So what’s wrong with this change? Plenty. First of all, it will sow confusion among the instructional community, which is accustomed to training students to fly slow with the horn sounding and to maintain sufficient focus to do that successfully.

Well, that’s easy enough to sort out. But the larger issue, in my view, is that we’re likely to be training new pilots in a way that makes them numb to flying an airplane in all speed regimes. Stalls and spins are still a leading cause of GA fatalities and although such maneuvering accidents are trending downward, they still happen with depressing frequency. Why is this? Blame the airplanes if you want, but the overarching reason is still the pilot. Training may be at fault, but pilots continue to lack the ability to understand, identify and either avoid or correct a stall condition.  

Does dumbing it down to now avoid even nibbling at the minimum controllable airspeed make it worse? You tell me. My view is that slow flight of itself has a value because a well-flown short-field landing will require these skills and if you want the best performance, you’ll learn that such approaches can often be flown slower than the POH recommendation. You don’t develop that skill by refusing to explore the slow-speed regime. Pretend it’s not there and it won’t be when you need it.

There’s a balance here. I’m sure every instructor I know has students—sometimes quite a few—who are terrified of slow flight and hate stalls. I get that. So we jolly them along, forcing them to swallow enough of the cod liver oil to wobble through the checkride. Then they go out into the world and because they’re terrified of stalls, they fixate on airspeed to the point that they fly approaches 15 knots too fast and lose control on the runway. Or they’re so anesthetized to what a stall feels like that they occupy the bottom of a smoking crater without realizing what happened. But if we force this skill upon reluctant students, do we drive them away?

For a reality check, I passed this notion by Rich Stowell, a many-times master instructor with an expertise in stall and spin training. He told me he had pointed out to the FAA that a stall awareness study done in 1975 revealed that “the most effective additional training was slow flight with realistic distractions … and that extra stall and slow flight training was effective in preventing unintentional spins.” The distraction? No, not Captain Ross lighting matches under the student’s nose, but the damn stall horn.  

If this new doctrine sticks, it puts an instructor in a conundrum, because now, to avoid instructional malpractice, they have to teach it both ways. The Law of Primacy suggests teaching the FAA way first, so the student can parrot the company line on the ride. The Law of Survival argues to teach the student in intimate detail about minimum controllable airspeed, with turns, descents and climbs, with the horn blaring away. They’ll thus be better equipped to navigate the real world of general aviation flying.

And no, AoA indicators won’t fix this. But they could play a helpful role.

The foregoing is opinion and commentary based on disclosed facts. AVweb welcomes other points of view, including guest blogs.

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