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The crew of a Hawker 700A jet that crashed in Akron, Ohio, a year ago showed a “disregard for safety,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said today, and the company where they worked also “fell short of their obligations.” Both crew members and all seven passengers died when the jet crashed into an apartment building about 1.8 miles short of Runway 25 at Akron Fulton International Airport on Nov. 10, 2015. The crew worked for Execuflight, which operates charter flights under Part 135. The first officer flew the approach, the NTSB said, and failed to follow checklists. The wing flaps were set at 45 degrees instead of 25 degrees, and the rate of descent was too fast. “The first officer’s lack of awareness and his difficulty flying the airplane to standards should have prompted the captain to take control of the airplane or call for a missed approach, but he did not do so,” the board said. Both pilots had been fired by previous employers, the NTSB said, and Execuflight never checked into their past records.

The captain had failed a written test in crew resource management while working for Execuflight, the NTSB found, with a score of 40 percent. However, the company recorded his grade as 100 percent, “glossing over CRM training deficiencies that could have been corrected,” said Hart.” It is not surprising that CRM issues featured prominently in the accident flight. … The protections built into the system were not applied, and they should have been.” The safety board found that as the airplane reached the minimum descent altitude, which was about 500 feet above the touchdown zone, the airspeed was 113 knots, which is 11 knots below the minimum required airspeed, and the airplane was improperly configured with 45 degrees of flaps. The captain should have initiated a missed approach, the board said, but he didn’t. He told the first officer to level off, but when the first officer attempted to arrest the descent, the airplane stalled. About 7 seconds later, the CVR recorded the sounds of impact. The seven passengers were employees of a real-estate company based in Boca Raton, Florida.

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Only the FAA can set standards for aviation safety, AOPA told the Supreme Court this week, and states and courts should not be allowed to undermine that responsibility. AOPA submitted a “friend of the court” brief asking the judges to hear the case of Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp., which involves a 2005 airplane crash in North Carolina. The pilot was killed, and his spouse sued the engine manufacturer, claiming the carburetor was defective. A lower court said the carburetor was not defective because it had been certified by the FAA, but an appeals court said just because it was certified, that didn’t eliminate the possibility of a design defect. That ruling would allow juries to hold a manufacturer responsible even if their product satisfied all FAA regulations and had been FAA-approved, AOPA says.

“This case presents an important question about the states’ role in ensuring continued operational safety of aircraft approved by the FAA,” AOPA wrote in its brief. “As owners and pilots, AOPA members have a substantial interest in the duties imposed upon manufacturers to address unsafe conditions in FAA-approved designs. These duties significantly affect the safety of existing aircraft and future aircraft produced in accordance with that design. Additionally, the cumulative cost effect of aviation products liability actions on manufacturers is also passed onto aircraft owners. Thus, state-law duties defined in an aviation products liability action affect the cost of purchasing new and maintaining existing aircraft.”

“It’s vitally important that manufacturers have one set of standards, established by the FAA, to adhere to,” said AOPA general counsel Ken Mead. “Otherwise they can face the nearly impossible and very costly challenge of trying to follow a hodgepodge of potentially contradictory state standards. That’s bad for safety, it’s bad for manufacturers, and it’s bad for aircraft owners who end up, quite literally, paying the price.” GAMA also plans to file a brief about the case, AOPA said.

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Tier 1 Engineering has flown a battery-powered manned helicopter for a five-minute cruise flight, the company recently announced. The aircraft flew to 400 feet altitude and reached a peak speed of 80 knots during its first flight, which took place in late September in Costa Mesa, California. “I’m very pleased to achieve this historic breakthrough in aviation,” said Glen Dromgoole, Tier 1 president. “Never before has a conventional manned helicopter performed a vertical takeoff, cruise, and landing solely on battery power.” The aircraft carried 1100 pounds of Brammo lithium-polymer batteries, which powered twin electric motors and a motion control system from Rinehart Motion Systems. The five-minute flight drained about 20 percent of the available battery energy, the company said.

The company is developing the aircraft for Lung Biotechnology PBC, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, which intends to produce an electric-powered helicopter for distributing manufactured transplant organs to hospitals, with much less noise and carbon footprint than current technology. Sikorsky also has an electric-powered helicopter in the works, the Firefly, but it has not yet achieved a manned flight. Pascal Chretien of France flew his own electric-powered helicopter design untethered for two minutes and 10 seconds in 2011. He flew an additional 29 flights, but always in hover mode. He never achieved level flight.

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A new advanced robotics system that functions as a copilot has been successfully tested in flight in a Diamond DA-42 and a Cessna Caravan, Aurora Flight Sciences announced this week. On Monday, Aurora demonstrated automated flight capabilities with the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) in a Caravan, flying basic maneuvers under the supervision of a pilot. Aurora is developing the system under contract for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has said it has visions of ALIAS as “a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft, enabling operation with reduced onboard crew.” The goal is to reduce pilot workload, improve mission performance, and increase aircraft safety. The system will next be tested in flight in a Bell UH-1 helicopter. Aurora says it plans to develop the technology for commercial use as well as military applications.

Key elements of Aurora’s solution include the use of in-cockpit machine vision, non-invasive robotic components to actuate the flight controls, an advanced tablet-based user interface, speech recognition and synthesis, and a “knowledge acquisition” process that facilitates transition of the automation system to another aircraft. “ALIAS enables the pilot to turn over core flight functions and direct their attention to non-flight related issues such as adverse weather, potential threats, or even updating logistical plans,” said John Wissler, Aurora’s vice president of research and development. “Demonstrating our automation system on the UH-1 and the Caravan will prove the viability of our system for both military and commercial applications.” The aim is to allow “humans to perform tasks best suited to humans and automation to perform tasks best suited to automation,” the company says. Aurora, which is headquartered in Manassas, Virginia, has previously developed an autonomous system that can be installed in any helicopter, which then can be operated remotely using a tablet computer.

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Last week, I attended a briefing at the local town hall where airport officials briefed a new arrival at the airport, a skydiving operation. As I figured it would, that ignited a minor freakout among the local pilot community, but they listened politely and asked good questions of the operator, who intends to start selling tandems later this month or early next.

At one point, someone asked how transient pilots running along the beach on the way to Key West will know they’re flying through an active drop zone. “Well,” said the airport representative, “there will be a NOTAM on it.” This elicited a dark laugh from several attendees and this take-it-to-bank constant truth: Nobody reads NOTAMs.

I beg to differ. I always read NOTAMs because I don’t want to be the derp who shows up at an airport to find the runway closed or that I’ve just barged into a TFR. I find that kind of thing simply indefensible. But pilots do it all the time. And truthfully, it’s hard to blame them much because despite the FAA’s tweaking of the NOTAMs system, it’s easier to grasp the tax code than it is some of these NOTAMs, so it’s no wonder pilots blow them off.

Early Saturday I was headed out to fly the Cub and as I always do, I checked NOTAMs, had a look at the METARs and TAF and clicked on the graphical TFR page expecting to see nothing in Florida other than that maddening permanent TFR over Disney’s Magic Kingdom. But whoa, what’s this? A TFR over Venice? Not quite, but it was close enough to send me into the weeds to find out exactly what the TFR was about.

Here’s an excerpt of the text:

1610211600 UTC UNTIL 1610212000 UTC,
1610212100 UTC UNTIL 1610220130 UTC,   
1610221600 UTC UNTIL 1610222100 UTC,
AND 1610231600 UTC UNTIL 1610232100 UTC.

Try to make sense of that at 6:30 a.m. before your first latte has kicked in. It took a few minutes of probing to figure out exactly where it was. The FAA actually has a pretty good graphical site for this that plots the TFR on a sectional and gives the active period in plain language. But you have to work to find it. If the notice was up Saturday morning, I couldn’t find the details. By Saturday evening, it was up.

I’m sure there’s some spec somewhere that explains why they describe this thing with lat/long or a radial/distance when in fact the stupid thing is centered on the Charlotte County Airport. Why not just say that? Too simple, I guess. Participating in aviation requires learning certain things, to be sure, including the arcane language of coded weather reports and diktats from the FAA. We’re long past due to revise the thinking that requires pilots to learn and retain these silly codes. Yeah, I know; they’re the stuff of international treaties. To be fair, websites like CSC DUATS do offer a plain language tab and that’s good. They just need to be a little easier to find. And when the revolution gets here, I'm going to personally remove that pull-down tab that offers a sort option to include "VIP TFRs." 

I am absolutely sure that when the snowbirds start arriving next month, I will hear this on the CTAF: “Hey, there’s skydiving here? When did that happen? Why don’t they announce this stuff?” The sad thing is that pilots who express such surprise probably won’t learn from it. Once a blunderer, always a blunderer. And I say that as a recovering blunderer.


Both Garmin and GoPro rolled out new action cameras this month and since aviation is a target market, our sister publication, Aviation Consumer, took a look at these new products.


The new organizers of the Flying Aviation Expo, led by Scheyden Precision Eyewear President Jeff Herold, hope to build on past successes and build the show into the premier GA event for the West Coast. Herold tells AVweb how this month's event came together. 

DC One-X from David Clark
Picture of the Week <="227133">
Picture of the Week

Mark Robidoux caught this postcard-perfect image of a seaplane in National Geographic light. Nice shot Mark.


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