Archive for August, 2012

Human-powered helicopter has 2nd crash

Monday, August 27th, 2012

UPDATE: Saturday the human-pedaled helicopter named Gamera II after a sic-fi monster turtle (like the regular-sized school mascot) flew again after repairs from an earlier crash. It crashed a second time. See that crash here. The  good news, after reporting no one was injured, is that it rose to 9 feet, just inches from where it needs to be to win a $250,000 Sikorsky prize. It can stay aloft more than a minute, and within an 11.7-ft circle, and reach above nine feet. But it must do all those things on one flight–and not crash–to win. For now the U. of Md. kids have gone back to class–back to the school routine–and back to the drawing boards to make changes to the heavily damaged Gamera II. Months from now you will hear from them again, unless the kids at the University of Toronto get their similar helo flying more than a few inches high and for longer than 14 seconds.

UPDATE: The University of Maryland’s Gamera II human-powered helicopter crashed during a descent Aug. 30, when a blade bumped into a student. There were no injuries. The human-powered helicopter had reached 8.6 feet. To win a Sikorsky $250,000 prize it must stay aloft for 60 seconds (it has done that in a test flight), remain within an 11.7-foot circle (it achieved that, too, on another test flight), and climb to 9.8 feet. It must do all three on one flight, and that has not been accomplished. Here is the crash video. Gamera II has in the past routinely drifted sideways during descent. There are simultaneous attempts by Canadian students at a school in Toronto to win the Sikorsky prize. For a roundup of all attempts nationwide, see this Popular Mechanics article.

UPDATE! In preparation for the August 30 trial, the students on August 28 made an unofficial flight for 65 seconds–long enough to meet one of the Sikorsky requirements–and met a second requirement by staying within an 11.7-foot diameter circle. That’s two out of three requirements. The craft climbed to EIGHT feet (see the exciting video of that here), but if it should make it to 9.8 feet they will have themselves a $250,000 prize. 

In a larger indoor arena, with a few unspecified modifications, the University of Maryland’s Gamera II human-powered helicopter will make a second attempt at the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize this month. Engineering students confirmed a record of nearly 50 seconds on August 15. But the bigger prize is so close they can smell, taste, or feel it–take your pick. To win, the bicyclist sitting at the center of the 114-foot contraption must stay aloft for 60 seconds, achieve a height of 9.8 feet, and  stay inside a circle that is only 11.7 feet in diameter. This time around, the students have a real shot at the 60-second mark, if not the height and navigation marks. The move to the bigger arena means they won’t constantly crash into walls as happened previously.  The attempt will be August 30.  The University of Maryland mascot is the Terrapin turtle with the slogan, “Fear the Turtle.” No one said anything about” terrible.” Still, the Terrapin is one tough dude. It can live in fresh or brackish water–Terrapin don’t care (to borrow a slightly cleaned-up phrase from the YouTube video about a honey badger that faces down a rattlesnake and shows blissful disregard for the reptile’s venom).

Godspeed, Neil Armstrong

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

We lost an aviation icon, and perhaps the country’s greatest space hero, with the passing of Neil Armstrong on August 25. Armstrong, 82, was the first man to walk on the moon; his statement, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” both summarized his accomplishment and underscored his modest personality.

Although Armstrong generally shunned the spotlight of publicity, he continued to fly, moving from a Beech Bonanza to the Cessna 310 that he recently sold. He told AOPA Pilot Editor in Chief Tom Haines in May that he was planning his next aircraft purchase. 

The New York Times reported that Armstrong died afterof complications from cardiovascular procedures, attributing the information to a statement from his family.

The statement is worth reading, and if it wasn’t written by Armstrong, it certainly was inspired by him:

“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

“Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.

“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.

“While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

Do you see similarities with the following quotes attributed to Armstrong, which I nominate as his best:

“This is one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

“I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.”

“Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying.”

R.I.P., Mr. Armstrong. An Eagle has landed.

Tanker exit could heat up fire season

Monday, August 20th, 2012

It’s been a brutal wildfire season in the western United States. And fewer large air assets are available for firefighting since Aero Union’s Lockheed P-3 Orion tankers were grounded last year.

10 Tanker Air Carrier (see the May 2012 AOPA Pilot article here or view the accompanying video on AOPA Live here), has modified the Douglas DC-10 for use as an airborne firefighter. Both of its former airliners have seen some service during this year’s fires. (Evergreen Aviation has modified a Boeing 747 for use as a tanker but said it has not been activated for service by the Forest Service.)

10 Tanker has invested millions developing, demonstrating, and deploying its technology. But the company says that its business model is viable only if it gets an exclusive-use contract from the Forest Service. An exclusive-use contract would provide more financial stability by paying the company to have the aircraft standing by and ready for almost immediate dispatch (the contract provides an amount per flight hour, as well). However, 10 Tanker has only received “call when needed” contracts—there’s no guaranteed payment, but the company agrees to respond within 24 hours of a call if aircraft are available (in this scenario the hourly rate is much higher).

“If used properly, [exclusive use] costs the government less to get the job done,” said Rick Hatton, 10 Tanker’s president and CEO; the cost per gallon of suppressant delivered is significantly lower, and high volume combined with short turnarounds can put more suppressant on a fire quickly. Without a multiyear exclusive-use contract, he said the privately funded company may well have to ground the airplanes altogether.

Evergreen notes in its statement that one reason the 747 is not flying is that the U.S. Forest Service’s specification for Next Generation Air Tanker aircraft limits tank size to 5,000 gallons–the 747 can carry 20,000 gallons, and the DC-10 tanker’s capacity is 11,600 gallons. The situation has prompted both companies to ask the public to contact their representatives in Washington, D.C. and ask them to examine current Forest Service policies regarding what it calls very large air tanker (VLAT) aircraft.

The call to action on 10 Tanker’s Facebook page is direct, and blog posts elsewhere indicate that absent a more suitable contract, the company could ground the aircraft in November. People in several towns credit the orange-and-white tankers with saving their homes–and I expect that some of them already have written their senators and representatives. 


Found — Waco in Sam Lyons painting

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

It wasn’t really lost, but the 1993 Waco used for Sam Lyons’ painting of a Waco flying past a home on Florida’s Intercoastal Waterway was recently discovered in Uvalde, Texas, where it is owned by Sierra Industries. The home in the painting belonged to the owner at the time who lives on Florida’s east coast. Thanks to for use of the photo of the painting.

Viral video of Idaho crash

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Some of you have seen the footage of a plane crash on YouTube that has gone viral on some of the social media networks. Although the three passengers apparently were not serious injuries, be advised that later in the video there are graphic images of the pilot’s more serious injuries.

The limited information accompanying the video says it took place in Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and that density altitude was an issue. As best as I can tell, this is the preliminary NTSB report, which doesn’t offer many details. Nevertheless, it’s a dramatic depiction of density altitude’s effects on an aircraft that does not appear to be lightly loaded.

I’d love to read a Never Again by the pilot in this accident. I’d also love to know what he thinks about the video posted by his passengers, who apparently all were videotaping the flight. At the time of this post, the video had 338,978 views.

China came to learn from Oshkosh, not buy it

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

China’s participation in EAA AirVenture this year was largely under-reported. They rented one of the $40,000 chalets on the flight line where they briefed American officials and reporters on what their country is doing to improve general aviation and other infrastructure. I made a visit, although I could not attend the briefing, and found a nice group of people eager to learn and to explain their culture. Serving as guide to Chinese officials was Francis Chao, managing director and publisher of China Civil Aviation Report who also operates a “virtual office” in California that informs American businesses about China. Both of his efforts are located in Pittsburg, California (which explains the spelling of the city name). Chao seems to get it–he understands both the American and China perspectives, and was a great supporter of the China visit to Oshkosh. Chinese officials at first wondered why they needed to go to Oshkosh when so many U.S. aviation companies are already traveling to China to seek new markets and joint ventures. Chao felt that Chinese officials needed to see Oshkosh where new, old, and future aerospace are all in one place–and in perspective. Many Americans

China Chalet at EAA AirVenture

are concerned that China is buying every American airplane company in sight, but as airshow star Michael Goulian pointed out to me minutes after I left the China chalet, general aviation needs Chinese money to survive.