Archive for June, 2012

FAA wants LSA paperwork to shine

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Update: There seems to be less to the FAA complaints against the light sport industry than it first appeared. It turns out there was a small sample of companies examined, and of those, less than a majority had problems.

The FAA found that a few light sport manufacturers are lousy at paperwork. The airplanes are  safe, say industry experts, but the light sport industry can’t prove it, retorts the FAA. The agency filed a notice here. Initial media stories interpreted the FAA action as a damning one for the LSA industry–and with good reason. The initial document issued by the FAA looks unnecessarily damning. See a Bloomberg/Business Week story on the subject here. While the FAA originally announced that companies not in compliance with the paperwork will not gain approval for future models, that now looks like only one company is guilty.

There was concern that some of the LSA companies could not contact customers or were out of business. I have no idea if that complaint involves one company or many, but I am betting one to three at the worst. Another issue concerned foreign LSA manufacturers–operating in a country that does not have proper agreements with the FAA–approving their airplanes through a third-party country that has the necessary agreements with the United States. Again, it now appears that is one company.

The FAA did not provide numbers or company names, but other sources provided a broader perspective of the FAA concerns. I know of one company that is rushing to make its paperwork better–and I also know they are pretty good people. They’ll make it right. If there are more, I will happily report the accurate number of companies in trouble. But right now it looks like very few.

Solar Impulse reaches Madrid on route home to Switzerland

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

UPDATE: Solar Impulse back in Spain, resting in Madrid after a flight from Morocco July 6. Switzerland and home next stop. It will not fly again as work switches to a larger model of Solar Impulse, the one that will, in long hops, go around the world. The main spar of the larger Solar Impulse, HB-SIB, is in testing.

Very cool video warning! This sun-powered 3,500-pound airplane with its 208-foot wingspan has made it from Switzerland to Morocco. There’s an app for smartphones to allow you to see the control room, live views in the cockpit, and even text-chat with the pilot. It’s here.

During the Crossing Frontiers Flights, track live on as well as via Twitter (for André or Bertrand), Facebook, Masen’s Facebook page dedicated to the event “Solar Convergence Maroc,” and via the smartphone app “Solar Impulse Inventing the Future,” available free at the App store and Google Play. There are live cameras in the cockpit and at the Mission Control Center. (Here’s a link to video of: Solar Impulse taking off June 29 on successful return crossing of Morocco.)

Solar Impulse is an all-electric airplane that recharges its batteries with solar panels by day, drifting downward at night until the sun returns in the nick of time the next morning.  The next model, similar but with improvements, is already under construction and will fly in the spring of 2013. In the spring of 2014 it will circle the world, one segment of the trip at a time, changing its pilot at each stop. The message it carries is renewable energy. It will come to the United States, but the stops have not been determined. I put in my request that it land at Oshkosh, but by late July of 2014 (when EAA AirVenture takes place) it is scheduled to be back in its hangar in Switzerland with the world-circling trip completed. For an $8,000 contribution I, you, anyone could put their name on the side. OK, that’s a little steep. For $1,300 you can visit Zurich (you pay to get there) and get a tour of the airplane with one of the pilots. Hmm, maybe I could save up for that one.

Here are some specifications: Wingspan–208 feet, Length–72 feet, Height–21 feet, Engines–(get this) four 10-horsepower electric motors, Solar Cells–11,268 (including 880 on the tail), Weight–3,527 pounds, Average Flying Speed–38 knots, Takeoff Speed–24 knots, Stalling Speed–19 knots, and Maximum Cruising Altitude–27,900 feet. It’s already reached 30,300 feet–a world record for a solar-powered airplane, and stayed aloft 26 hours and 10 minutes for another solar record. It ain’t done yet.

Superman flies with a DC-3

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Yves Rossy thrilled a bunch of Brietling employees–their company is his sponsor–when he flew alongside a Douglas DC-3 in which they were riding. Here’s the link.

Ja, die Junkers kommt!

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

There’s a 1939 Junkers JU 52 putt-putting above the Atlantic Ocean right now, on its way for a U.S.-Canada tour and a stay in the main square at EAA AirVenture July 23 to 29. You can track its crossing here .   (It’s in Greenland as I write this.)   Soon you shall know the name Rimowa. That’s the name of a suitcase company in Germany that is sponsoring the tour. The aircraft gives rides in Switzerland for a tourist company called JU-Air, but now it is making the first Atlantic crossing of this model since 1937. The CEO of Rimowa is aboard and since he is a pilot, he is undoubtedly taking a turn at the controls of this 95-knot airplane. Way back when, the Rimowa suitcase was designed to mimic the corrugated aluminum of the Junkers because it was the most modern, toughest construction of its time. Can TSA  X-ray an aluminum suitcase, or do they need a hand inspection?  Anybody know? The suitcases are in the luxury category and cost from $450 to $1,500, depending on size.

Human-powered helo pedals towards goal

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

University of Maryland pilot Colin Gore pedals and cranks for history

UPDATE: Gamera hovered for 50 seconds before flying tests ended.

The kids at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering have done it again, hovering a human-powered helicopter powered by a male cyclist for 35 seconds. To win the American Helicopter Society Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Competition (why must everything have three names?) they must hover a full minute, achieve a height of three meters at some point during the minute, and stay within a 10-square-meter area during the flight. Do that, and a school could win $250,000. Pilot and pedaler Colin Gore achieved an important second step on June 20 by staying aloft 35 seconds. Here’s a YouTube video of the event. They call the helicopter Gamera after a monster frog from a Japanese sic-fi film. Here’s the turtle’s home page. The university’s Judy Wexler took the first step last summer when she pedaled into the record books by the first and longest flight (11.4 seconds) for a woman.

Target: Upper Midwest

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Last week we began seeing Mesoscale Convective Complexes (MCCs) affecting the upper midwest–mainly Wisconsin. Well, guess what. The same basic weather dyanmics are still in place! There’s a warm- or stationary frontal boundary lying across Wisconsin and Minnesota, with its parent low now over eastern North Dakota. Winds aloft at 6,000 feet are 60 knots out of the south-southwest from Oklahoma to Minnesota. And that means warm, moist air is riding up and over the frontal boundary, setting Minnesota and Wisconsin up for trouble. Again. This will be almost a week of the same-old, same-old for the upper midwest. Today the Storm Prediction Center identifies Wisconsin as having a slight chance of severe thunderstorms. Will another MCC be in the offing? Maybe. After all, there’s a huge area of rainfall in the area already. That said, a check of ceilings and visibilities during the last MCC event showed mostly MVFR weather. On the other hand, yesterday featured a monster bow echo, which signals strong winds and turbulence ahead of onrushing cold outflows from storm centers. Below is this morning’s setup, but this afternoon is when the curtain may raise on the main event. Meanwhile, the eastern US roasts under high pressure. Time for density altitude calculation practice!



Precipitation shield over MN


Winds aloft 6,000 ft msl


MCC on the move

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Yesterday’s post about the mesoscale convective complex (MCC) over Wisconsin needs an update. MCCs can persist for days, sure. But a cold front approaching from the west has changed things. Right now, all the real action has shifted south, to Kansas and Oklahoma, where a low has intensified and threatens to make yet another MCC over Oklahoma. Meanwhile, a cold front about to affect Wisconsin is butting up against a fairly strong high pressure system. That high is giving the whole eastern US great flying weather, but by late tomorrow that cold front should blow through Wisconsin and bring more rain and possible convection over the region. Could another MCC re-form over Wisconsin? Maybe. There’s still a good, 30-40 knot southerly flow over the region at 5,000 feet. If you’re as geeky about weather as I am, you’ll be watching this whole system on the march over the weekend. Meanwhile, here are infrared images of the MCC as it appeared yesterday, along with imagery of this morning’s developing situation over Oklahoma.

Thursday June 14, 1900Z

Wanna see an MCC?

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

In keeping with Storm Week, here’s an infrared satellite shot of a Mesoscale Convective Complex (MCC) from the Penn State e-wall website. Can you see it? It’s covering most of Wisconsin! MCCs are massive thunderstorm complexes that derive their strength from strong southerly flows of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. True to form, this MCC set up north of a warm front and its radar signature is the classic round shape, with a nice cirrus outflow at the edges. I’ve written about MCCs several times in AOPA Pilot, and an upcoming Wx Watch in the July issue will address the subject again. MCCs have a nasty habit of persisting for days, so let’s see how this one plays out.

PC-12s in African Special Ops

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Check out today’s front page story in The Washington Post:  It’s about a network of airports across Africa that are home to Pilatus PC-12s operated by the U.S. military. “Small passenger and cargo utility planes,” the Post calls them. These Pc-12s are probably the “Spectre” models that come with a retractable infrared sensor pod and interior monitoring console. The Spectre option tacks another $650,000 to the PC-12NG’s average equipped price of some $4 million. Military sales are an important slice of Pilatus’ business, and this is further proof. So is last month’s sale of 55 PC-21 trainers to the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Sling LSA joins the market–new video posted

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Now you really have choices. South Africa sent its Sling to America, through a dealer at the Torrance, Calif., airport, and it has passed ASTM standards. It is built like a tank, wide and comfortable, Rotax powered, gets 108 knots, and costs less than the leading light sport aircraft. Most of them top out at $160,000 (well, one hits $400,000), but the Sling starts at $125,000 and tops out with full glass panels and an airframe parachute in the nose for $145,000.The dealer thinks he can speed it up with a new prop he will test soon. I just made a video here. I took it for a flight above the Pacific Ocean off Long Beach and Torrance. Now, about all those choices. Dan Johnson, head of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, says he knows of a dozen more LSAs on the way to market. But as he has pointed out in the past, only 30 or 40 are serious contenders for the market.