Archive for May, 2011

“Piston” pack reaches 5,000 feet

Monday, May 30th, 2011

The Martin Jetpack, really a piston-engine pack powered by a derivative of a Mercury motorboat engine, has reached 5,000 feet above New Zealand with a mannikin simulating the pilot. It should be ready for delivery, the company says, in 18 months. However, it came to Oshkosh in 2008 able to hover at only a few feet with two assistants to steady it, and the promise then was that it was ready for delivery in 2009. See it fly here, and parachute back to Earth. I recall doing an interview with the developer’s high-school-age son, then the company test pilot, and asking him why he didn’t fly higher than a few feet. “Because I don’t want to fall and I don’t want to hit the ground,” he said then. The developer’s first test pilot was his dedicated and supportive wife. It descends under a parachute, although the design calls for it to land under its own power. The developer, Glenn Martin, said use of the chute was a test of the emergency landing system, but the video was cut so as not to show the actual impact of landing. The machine was damaged–the mannikin had no comment.

Gulfstream 650 test flights resume

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Gulfstream Aerospace has resumed testing of its new 650 flagship after the April 2 crash of a 650 test aircraft that took the lives of the pilots and engineers aboard. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is continuing. Tests will be conducted with a limited flight envelope while the investigation is in progress. The reduced envelope will limit use of low speeds and increase V speeds. The crash occurred as the aircraft was performing a single-engine takeoff–simulating loss of an engine after liftoff. The test flight took place May 28, with Serial Number 6001 flying for 1 hour and 39 minutes. The crew included senior experimental test pilots Jake Howard and Tom Horne, and Flight Test Engineer Bill Osborne. The company still anticipates certification in 2011, with entry into service in 2012, as originally announced in 2008.

Extra, Commander, playing waiting game

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Two firms are making important decisions this summer. For Commander Premiere Aircraft, the decision either continues or ends the effort to bring the Commander back into production. The company has been ordered to vacate the factory at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, airport by the city. The city was able to pay off the bonds it used to construct the facility by using casino money, and it now wants the tenant out. Premiere Commander was nearly sold to Ron Strauss of Canada until he ran into difficulty raising the money in Europe for the purchase. He is back there, now, talking with potential investors. This should all play out in 30 days. For  Extra Aircraft, the pending decision is not as serious. The factory in Germany is doing well, but the United States distributor wants to open an assembly and distribution facility for the company’s single-engine turboprop. That was going to be in Montrose, Colorado, until the county government’s previous legal troubles with the local airport threatened the deal. “We’ll go elsewhere,” Extra officials said, and cities in Colorado and around the country responded. One of them called me and I forwarded the information to Extra. But now the company says it will wait 60 to 90 days before deciding to leave Montrose.

UPDATE: Commander Premiere Aircraft has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and is looking for a new buyer.

Terrafugia plans flight for Oshkosh

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Will there be a flying car at AirVenture 2011? Terrafugia officials are building two prototypes and hope one of them will be done in time to fly for the big EAA Oshkosh show. It is hoped, assuming all goes well during testing, that production can begin by the end of the year. The Terrafugia Transition, as it is called, is intended to cruise at 93 knots carrying a useful load of 460 pounds. Useable fuel is 23 gallons. On the road, the company predicts the two-place car, with its wings folded vertically like a bird, will get 35 miles per gallon. The high center of gravity created by the folded wings will bring interesting challenges when driving in high winds. A Rotax 912S powers it, and a full vehicle parachute is available.

Update 6/10: Schedule slips — Terrafugia said it will not have one of its prototypes done in time to fly for EAA AirVenture. Instead, the earliest a test flight could occur is March 2012, and deliveries will occur no earlier than late 2012.

Alaska STOL competition

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Each year the nation’s best tailwheel pilots and manufacturers compete for the shortest takeoff and landing at the Alaska STOL Competition at the Valdez Fly-In, Alaska. Reputations are on the center line. Suffice it to say these aircraft will land on any average home driveway without hitting the car already parked there.

Watch the human-powered helicopter lift off

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

As Al Marsh reported this week, Gamera took flight. The human-powered helicopter, named for the giant flying turtle in Japanese horror films, is the project of the University of Maryland’s Clark School of Engineering. (Full disclosure: My daughter attends UMd, and I freely admit to using the hashtag “#goTerps” in my Tweets on the event.)

Pilot Judy Wexler, looking poised and competent (while the engineering students jumped around out of nervous excitement, I’m guessing), was able to get the craft off the ground and hover for several seconds–long enough that the team has filed for a world aeronautical record. View the video here.

SpaceShipTwo passes critical folding test

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Virgin Galactic, which has enticed 430 customers to take a suborbital ride into space, has passed a critical wing-folding drop test of SpaceShipTwo. The aircraft returns from altitude by raising its twin boom tail, creating not only drag but a stable return position in the nearly airless environment. The test proves the spaceship’s design, and now it’s on to preparations for the first commercial flight. Watch the test here.

Diamond Aircraft denied loan

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Diamond Aircraft was notified May 17 that it will not get the $35 million loan ($36 million U.S.) that was characterized by the company as critical for the future of the D-Jet and the future of the company. The company laid off half its workers while waiting on news about the loan. The company says it has “other doors” to try where funding might be available–even in a recession. One of those is the China option (maybe a purchase?), where Diamond has a plant. Workers previously laid off will continue to be picked off by other aerospace companies while top officials look for ways to fund the jet program. Hopefully one of the doors Diamond is knocking on will open soon.

Jetman sought for AirVenture

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Schedules seem in conflict at the moment, but EAA is negotiating with the staff and sponsors of Yves Rossy, the former airline pilot who straps a wing with four model-airplane jet engines to his back, to make an appearance at EAA AirVenture. Negotiations date back at least as far as November when EAA officials first said they were trying to get Rossy to fly at AirVenture. The chief sponsor is Breitling, which may have other plans for Rossy during the time AirVenture takes place July 25 to 31.

One word: Wow

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Just watched the space shuttle Endeavour take off on its final flight, the second-to-last launch of a NASA shuttle. Wow. Gives me goosebumps just watching on TV. Atlantis is slated to fly the final shuttle mission, STS-135, a 12-day mission currently scheduled to launch on June 28.

The shuttle program was still a novelty back in 1984, when I was credentialed as a newspaper photographer for STS-41D: the maiden flight for Discovery, and only the shuttle program’s 12th mission. While I was on the Cape for both scrubbed attempts in June 1984, I missed the launch itself in August (one of the shuttle’s three engines had to be replaced, resulting in a two-month delay).

About 13 years later, however, I did get to see a shuttle launch, when I was able to sneak away from an NBAA convention in Orlando for a couple of hours. It’s something you feel more than see, as the shock waves roll in–a long time after you watched the shuttle lift off. This is something to experience, and you have one chance remaining.

Today’s shuttle statistic: The solid rocket boosters burn 11,500 pounds of fuel every second.  OK, another “Wow.”