Archive for September, 2011

Electric helicopter flight achieved

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

There was little said about it, but a French company achieved the first manned electric helicopter flight back on August 12. The flight lasted a little more than two minutes and achieved a height of three feet. The battery technology just isn’t there yet to make electric helicopter flight practical. The specially designed one-seat, twin-rotor helicopter used dangerous Lithium ion polymer pouch cells that would have erupted in flames had the helicopter crashed. It was designed, built, and flown by French enginer Pascal Cretien, who was sponsored by a French company, Solution F. Sikorsky Innovations plans to fly its electric Firefly helicopter soon, and then put it on the shelf to wait for battery technology to improve.

Remarkable tales from 9/11: Tammy Duckworth

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Thinking about the 9/11 anniversary, it’s hard to grasp the impact that the events of that day have had on so many.

Among those whose lives would be severely impacted is Tammy Duckworth. You’ll recall that we profiled her in AOPA Pilot in the March 2010 issue. The story and video includes her remarkable tale of surviving a helicopter crash in Iraq, losing her legs, getting back into flying, and starting her life over again.

She is among 40 people that TIME Magazine interviewed about the impact of 9/11. A remarkable Web site. Her story is here:,32068,1139568115001_0,00.html

iPad insanity

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

I’ve been flying with an iPad for around a year now, testing all the various apps, and let me just say that I don’t get it. I mean, I get it in the sense that the thing is cool and it holds all the charts you need; it does some rudimentary flight planning and a little bit of everything else. But I still don’t get it.

Apple’s iPad has taken off in aviation like nothing I’ve ever seen. Even GPS, which was a much bigger technological leap, took years to catch on with as much unbridled excitement. Maybe that’s because it was relatively more expensive, but when you’re talking about the difference between going from VORs to direct and carrying paper versus a tablet, it seems to me there’s no contest. Maybe that’s talking Apples to Oranges, but I don’t think so.

Let’s start with what the iPad really offers. And I mean in terms of new capability. From what I’ve seen on the app market, there’s virtually none. Granted, some apps package information in a new way, or offer a new gizmo or tool. But no one is buying an iPad for the ability to calculate a crosswind faster. Maybe you can say that ForeFlight, WingX, and the rest of the integrated navigation apps offer some type of new capability because they integrated charts with flight planning in the cockpit. But that’s simply not true, other than a few minor features here and there. Seattle Avionics has offered Voyager for years now. It’s a PC-based product, meaning you can use it on a tablet in the cockpit. And it does significantly more than any app on the market so far.

I think most of what these programs do is simply duplicate technology of a panel-mounted GPS and a free computer flight planner, such as AOPA’s. I mentioned this to Editor in Chief Tom Haines, and he made the point that his Garmin 530 doesn’t show airways, and the iPad does. That’s true, but so does a chart.

That leaves packaging. Are we as a population really blown away by the fact that we can carry all our charts in one small, portable device? I think the answer is yes. There seems to be no other plausible explanation for why the adoption rate is so high. As I wrote in an AOPA Pilot feature,  “Godsend or Gadget?”: “If the iPad were just a chart viewer, it wouldn’t be worth the expense.” A few letter writers said I was flat-out wrong, but I stand by the statement. If I had $700 to spend on either an iPad and a full set of chart updates for a year, or that same amount to buy paper, I’d buy paper. Call me old-fashioned, but paper doesn’t overheat, you can read it in sunlight, and it doesn’t require a charge.

 Admittedly, I’ve been stuck before without the proper chart, which should never happen on an iPad, but that’s more a result of my stupidity than a limitation of the product. And I generally fly over only about half of the states, which I think is fairly common. I don’t need a nation’s worth of charts.

So to me we’re left today with a device that largely replicates what we have, but with all the limitations that come with relying on an electronic device. But, the future is promising. Once we get good in-cockpit weather on it, the iPad will become infinitely more valuable. And that’s just the beginning. Better flight planning products, panel integration, logbook and maintenance tracking, and all the other facets of our aviation life on one device is an exciting thought.

I just think that day has yet to come.

Hawker Beechcraft hires restructuring expert

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Hawker Beechcraft has named a new chief financial officer, one skilled in restructuring companies in transition. The question in some observers’ minds is whether Karin-Joyce “KJ” Tjon Sien Fat was brought in to restructure the company, or to prepare it, or parts of it, for sale.

Former Cessna PR chief joins Embraer

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Well, that didn’t take long. Bob Stangarone, who left Cessna Aircraft in mid-August to “stay ahead of change,” is head of Embraer’s North American public relations operations. Embraer is the scariest competitor Cessna has–given the success of Embraer’s Phenom jet. Still, the company is affected by the economic doldrums like everyone else. Embraer is estimated to have had 23 deliveries in the second quarter, compared to 40 for the second quarter of 2010, and eight in the first quarter, compared to 20 for the same period in 2010.

D-Jets flying again

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Flight testing of D-Jet prototypes 002 and 003 resumed August 31, following the grounding of the jets in March. New funding allowed the recall of part of the development team, said Diamond President Peter Maurer. Design work will be completed allowing production to start on conforming aircraft 004. A one-hour flight of D-Jet 003 included testing of aircraft systems and navigation software. There! A little good news for the Labor Day weekend. Canada, where Diamond Aircraft is located, celebrates that holiday this weekend as well. The company received financing from an undisclosed source to resume the D-Jet program.

Putting deadly August to bed

Thursday, September 1st, 2011


August marked the anniversary of two remarkable aircraft accidents, the affects of which we feel on every flight, even 25 years later.

On August 31, 1986, a Piper Archer and an Aeromexico DC-9 collided over the community of Cerritos, California, killing all 64 on the airliner and the three occupants of the Archer. In addition, 15 people on the ground were killed and five homes destroyed and seven damaged by fire and falling debris. The Archer was squawking VFR with a Mode A (non-altitude-reporting) transponder and inadvertently penetrated the bottom of the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area (today we call that Class B airspace).

The accident led to the mandate for Mode C (altitude-reporting) transponders around Class B airspace and even beyond the Class B borders in what is known as the Mode C veil. The convulted airspace around Los Angeles is in part also a result of the Cerritos accident, as ATC attempts to separate loads of airline and GA traffic around dozens of airports.

I worked for an independent aviation magazine at the time and remember the remarkable effort by AOPA public relations staff to attempt to protect GA from onerous new regulations. Any time people on the ground are injured or killed from an aircraft accident, the potential for knee-jerk regulations escalates. Killing 15 on the ground was unprecedented. The media frenzy went on for months and AOPA staff worked admirably through it all, advocating for reasonable changes that improve safety without compromising the ability to take advantage of the versatility and utility possible with GA aircraft.

Discussions of requirements for airliners to carry collision avoidance systems was already underway, but the Cerritos accident escalated that talk. The TCAS mandate followed quickly, and today all airliners and many GA aircraft carry such systems.

Fortunately, discussions to require Mode C transponders in all types of airspace at all times–even from aircraft without electrical systems–calmed with time and thanks to AOPA’s input. The debate about the Mode C veil would continue for years before finally being implemented in the late 1980s.

However, what we learned about collision avoidance from Cerritos pales compared to what we learned about microbursts from the Delta Airlines accident at Dallas-Fort Worth International a year earlier on August 2, 1985. The Delta L-1011 was en route from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles with a stop in Dallas. On approach to DFW, the airliner tangled with a thunderstorm that slammed it into the ground, killing 8 of 11 crew members and 126 of the 152 passengers as well as one person on the ground. A massive investigation showed that the airplane encountered a little understood windshear phenomenon that became to be called a “microburst.” Essentially, a large burst of air near a thunderstorm that slams into the ground, robbing an airplane on approach of critical airspeed.

As a result of that accident, we soon saw the development of low-level wind sheer alert systems at major airports, more sophisticated algorithms in next-gen weather radars that look for microburst signatures, and new generation airborne weather radars that also seek to alert to microbursts and turbulence. In addition, training scenarios were established to help pilots recognize microburst situations and escape from them.

Here’s hoping we continue learning from such accidents and see no more of them.