Pilot Briefing

January 1, 2002

NASA pushes the inflatable envelope

From solar-powered flying machines to pop-out inflatable wings, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center had an active year in 2001. And the center's projects didn't go unrecognized. They both received a "Best of What's New" honor from Popular Science magazine.

The solar-powered Helios flying wing set a new world altitude record of 96,863 feet over the Pacific Ocean on August 13. Built by engineers from Dryden and Paul MacCready Jr.'s AeroVironment Inc., it was the first time that a nonrocket-powered aircraft maintained level flight at that altitude. The record flight sets the stage for future missions that will use a regenerative energy storage system to enable Helios to remain aloft for months at a time. Production variants may see service as long-term environmental monitors as well as communication relays that will reduce dependence on satellites.

Now ask yourself, "What deploys as fast as the human eye can see?" Try NASA's inflatable wing. During three flights in June, a project team dropped the radio-controlled I-2000 from an airplane flying at altitudes between 800 and 1,000 feet. The 2.7-foot-long wings popped out in a third of a second, thanks to propulsion supplied by an on-board nitrogen bottle. In the undeployed state, the wings can fit in a container the size of a coffee can. Possible future applications of inflatable wings include Earth science and planetary research aircraft.

Each year the editors of Popular Science select 100 new products and technology developments to honor. The Grand Award winner in the aviation and space category was Boeing's X-45 Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), designed to fight battles without risking pilots' lives.

Boeing was also mentioned for the Sonic Cruiser, a 767-size airplane that is designed to cruise close to the speed of sound.

Chinese engineer takes first flight, 45 years late

When Jim Goolsby, a retired United Airlines captain, discovered the designer of his Nanchang CJ-6A warbird on a layover a couple of years ago in China, he had no idea that the spry 72-year-old engineer had never taken wing in the airplane he helped create.

The engineer, Bushi Cheng, was 27 when the People's Liberation Army Air Force decided to redesign the Soviet-built Yak 18A, and they enlisted this young graduate of Qinghua University (a well-respected engineering school in China) to take the project in 1957. A new wing incorporated increased dihedral for stability, and a square tail replaced the rounded one that was a Soviet signature. The first CJ-6A was test-flown in 1958 with a Chinese version of the 260-horsepower radial, named the Housai HS?6, which was later upgraded to 285 hp. The Chinese produced great numbers of the airplane to use as trainers for their growing air force, and it remains in production today as the updated CJ?6G. But Cheng never had the opportunity to fly in any version of the CJ?6.

Fast forward to EAA AirVenture 2001. Goolsby, having met Cheng and learned of his CJ?6 history, brought Cheng and his wife, a composites engineer, to Wisconsin for the convention. In the days before AirVenture, the couple joined the Yak Pilots Association at its formation clinic in Manitowoc (see " Going F.A.S.T.," page 74). Cheng happily signed cargo doors for several CJ?6 owners in attendance. And he beamed as Goolsby took him for his first flight, nearly 45 years after completing the plans for the airplane back at the factory in Nanchang. — Julie K. Boatman

FAA lifts restrictions in Bahamas

It's back to normal operating procedures for pilots wanting to fly VFR between the United States and the Bahamas. FAA Administrator Jane Garvey (below) lifted the restrictions on VFR flying to and from the United States and the Bahamas on November 8 during a presentation via satellite at AOPA Expo. As AOPA Pilot went to press, restrictions had also been lifted from Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands.

The restrictions, imposed as part of the security response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, limited general aviation flying to IFR operations. While the return to pre-September 11 flying is a welcome development, it's more important than ever to follow the rules and be aware of the pitfalls. It's especially important to remember to file and activate international flight plans to and from the Bahamas, obtain a discrete transponder code from flight service prior to penetrating the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) boundary inbound to the U. S., close your flight plan upon arrival, and provide U.S. Customs a one-hour advance notice of arrival. Pilots flying to the U.S. from the Bahamas may file and activate flight plans and request Customs notification with Bahamian flight service, but this is no guarantee that U.S. authorities will receive them. For this reason, it is wise to file, activate, and make ADCUS (advise Customs) notifications using Miami International Flight Service Station frequencies.

In addition, notification of your destination Customs facility by telephone is strongly recommended. This is where a satellite or in-flight telephone comes in handy. Miss the one-hour advance notification and you face a $5,000 fine. "I bought a satellite telephone at AOPA Expo just for that reason," said Thierry Pouille of Air Journey, a touring firm that leads private aircraft on flights to the Caribbean. "The Bahamians may not pass along your flight plan information, so it's safest to make your own calls to Customs and get flight following from U.S. ATC as soon as you can after taking off." Private aircraft travel to the Out Islands of the Bahamas has dropped dramatically since the terrorist attacks, with predictable results (private aircraft travelers account for 60 to 70 percent of out-island revenues). — Thomas A. Horne


Headlines pulled from the most recent editions of AOPA's e-mail newsletter

Buyers line up for Mooney sale

In mid-November officials at Mooney Aircraft were hopeful that a deal to sell the company could be arranged within a few weeks. Funding was in place to sustain minimal operations through November 30. A number of potential sales deals have been under consideration.

Vigyan forms spin-off company

Vigyan, an aerospace research and development firm, has announced a spin-off company, WeatherStream, which will market the satellite cockpit weather system it developed in partnership with NASA. The system, Pilot Weather Advisor, uses an RS-232 interface to display on a number of PC- and CPU-based units, and includes the antenna, receiver, ground station hardware, and software necessary to deliver current Nexrad and other weather data to the cockpit.

Embry-Riddle, Northwest sign agreement

Students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University could be on a fast track to an airline career, thanks to a new agreement the school signed with Northwest Airlines. The agreement lays out course requirements, sets minimum flight experience levels, and allows students to train in Northwest Airlines simulators under a new internship program.

Cessna lays off workers at piston plant

On October 25 Cessna Aircraft Company announced the layoffs of 175 workers at its single-engine plant in Independence, Kansas. The plant previously laid off 230 workers in May. The move dropped the plant's work force to 500 by the end of 2001, or about half of its peak last year.

Lancair production remains strong

Business is right on track at The Lancair Company despite all the negative economic news in the general aviation industry. The company, maker of the Columbia 300 and 400, sold 18 new aircraft in August and September. Although the company said it saw a drop in sales after September's terrorist attacks, business remains strong.

Runway incursion system scores a save

The Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS), a new technology at San Francisco International Airport, alerted air traffic controllers to a potentially hazardous situation on one of their runways in October. AMASS, first commissioned in June, provides controllers with visible and auditory alerts to assist in preventing runway collisions. This evidence of the system's effectiveness comes on the heels of critics calling the project "AMESS" for being millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

To sign up for the free AOPA ePilot or to view the archive, see AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/members/files/pilot/epilot/).

Tiger wins certification

At long last, Tiger Aircraft LLC received FAA certification on the new AG-5B Tiger in mid-November. The four-place airplane is an updated version of the AG-5B Tiger produced by American General from 1990 to 1993.

The engine, a 180-hp Lycoming O-360-AK4, is the same as in the earlier version of the Tiger. The original Tiger was first manufactured by American Aviation and then by Grumman in the 1970s when it carried the AA-5B designation.

The newest Tiger features a luxury automobile-like interior with European leather upholstery, climate controls in the rear seat, and a redesigned IFR panel. Also, all of the metal has been treated for corrosion resistance. Like its predecessors, the new Tiger's airframe is made of bonded honeycomb (no-rivet) construction.

The price for the Tiger with a standard avionics package, including dual Garmin GNS 430s, Garmin GTX 327 transponder, Garmin GMA 340 audio panel, and two-axis S-Tec autopilot, is $219,500. The airplane will cruise at 143 knots, with a maximum gross weight of 2,400 pounds and a useful load of 900 pounds. Tiger Aircraft LLC is based in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Visit the Web site ( www.tigeraircraft.com).

Luscombe nears FAA type certification

Luscombe Aircraft Corporation says it's nearing completion of the type certificate for the improved single-engine Spartan 185 Model 11E. All that remained as of early November were the runway performance and noise tests. Luscombe expected to have the tests and paperwork completed by the time you read this.

The company believes the robust airplane will make a good training and utility mount because of its resistance to spinning and its easy handling qualities. The original Model 11 was certified in 1946. One hundred 11As were produced until 1965. In 1992 the type certificate and intellectual property were sold to the newly formed Luscombe Aircraft Corporation based in Altus, Oklahoma.

There are two basic changes from the 11A to the 11E. The company has converted it to tricycle landing gear and added a more powerful Continental IO-360 engine that puts out 185 horsepower. It gives the airplane a 133-knot cruise speed and a fuel burn of 9 gallons per hour. Modern flight instruments replace the old panel, and additional cosmetic and handling improvements have been made. Luscombe plans to be in full production in first quarter 2002. The base price is $158,900. For more information, visit the Web site ( www.luscombeaircraft.com).

Formation flight on autopilot

Geese use formations to fly farther on less energy as the leader's flow field reduces the induced drag experienced by the birds flying on its wing. Scientists at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center hope to emulate geese and reap the same energy-saving benefits using GPS-based software and hardware that hold precise formations without pilot inputs.

"Fuel flows drop dramatically," says Brent Cobleigh, project engineer, who originally sought guaranteed fuel savings of 10 percent. In practice, fuel savings of 15 to 20 percent are possible.

Current flight-testing of Autonomous Formation Flight (AFF) involves two F-18 Hornets and has verified the system's initial ability to maintain position within five feet. The first flights were hand-flown by test pilots to help determine the "sweet spot" — the position at which induced drag is lowest.

Pilots found this spot at the point where they were fighting the most rolling tendency, in the rising part of the lead aircraft's wake vortex. "Like riding a wave on a surfboard," says AFF chief pilot Dick Ewers. The wing aircraft must stay within 3 to 4 feet of the sweet spot to reap the most fuel savings. Testing in the F-18s is conducted at 36,000 feet at groundspeeds around 500 mph. While skilled formation pilots can achieve this level of precision, the attention required for maintaining position during long-haul flights — those achieving the greatest benefit from reduced fuel consumption — would sorely tax the pilots.

Engineers are now completing the mapping process and will spend the upcoming months writing the software and perfecting the hardware that holds the F-18s in position.

Ewers looks forward to letting the autopilot take over. "You don't let your hands get very far from the cutoff switch, but you're proud of the accomplishment, not fearful."

Eventually, the program calls for joining dissimilar aircraft — and someday using the system, a collaboration between NASA, Boeing, and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), to increase the national airspace system capacity, reduce carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, and reduce fuel costs. The system also promises additional military applications. — JKB

Squawk Sheet

The FAA issued a final rule AD on November 15 requiring the repetitive inspection and replacement, if necessary, of the map light switch covers and chafed or otherwise damaged fuel lines on certain Cessna 172 aircraft. The AD, 2000-CE-26, is intended to prevent fuel leaks, electrical arcing, and potential in-flight fire. The FAA estimates that the AD affects 7,750 U.S.-registered airplanes. The AD was set to take effect December 27. AOPA argued against repetitive inspections, saying that the facts pointed more toward improper maintenance than a wholesale defect or deficiency in the aircraft or its components. AOPA recommended additional inspections of the map light and fuel line only when the map light switch is removed from the shield assembly. For more information, see AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/regulatory/regcessna_map.html).

For more information on current regulatory issues, see AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/regulatory/).

Garmin sets stage for new generation of products

With the purchase of Sequoia Instruments on November 29, Garmin made its first public move toward the development of a complete primary flight display system. Sequoia, based in Los Gatos, California, is a research and development company that has, among other products, a GPS-aided air data and attitude heading and reference system (ADHRS).

The solid-state sensors in an ADHRS provide navigation-critical data such as attitude, heading, and rate information for aviation, marine, and land applications. An ADHRS is necessary to drive the next generation of primary flight displays. The flight displays will replace conventional flight instruments, giving light aircraft all-electronic displays similar to those enjoyed by larger aircraft for more than a decade. Sequoia has been on the forefront of research and development efforts, including NASA's Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments (AGATE) program.

ADHRS is an enabling technology for Garmin's developmental integrated cockpit system, and it also has significant potential for military applications in unmanned surveillance aircraft," said Min Kao, co-CEO and cochairman of Garmin Ltd. "We extensively tested the Sequoia ADHRS against alternative gyroscopic technology in our company aircraft and were impressed by Sequoia's design, which offers a superior combination of performance, reliability, and economics."

Garmin paid about $5 million in cash for Sequoia's technology and assets. Three technologists from Sequoia — all with doctorates from Stanford University — will be joining the engineering staff of Garmin's U.S. subsidiary to support technology transfer, quality assurance, and successful delivery to market. — Thomas B. Haines

Members in the news

Brian Power-Waters, AOPA 1779503, has rereleased his first book, Safety Last, about airline safety. The book was first published by Dial Press in 1975 and received widespread notoriety. It is packed with Power-Waters' experiences as a USAir captain for 28 years. He was in the headlines in 1981 during the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike when he defended the controllers. The move cost him his job at USAir. Power-Waters has also written two other books, Margin for Error: None and Is It Safe? All three books are available at bookstores and through Amazon.com ( www.amazon.com).

William E. Heinecke, AOPA 11249570, an entrepreneur based in Thailand for the past 40 years, recently completed a book titled Entrepreneur — 21 Golden Rules for the Global Business Manager. The author said he makes various points throughout the book by using his flying experiences, such as how preparing for flights compares to getting ready for business opportunities and the importance of training to eliminate risk. Heinecke owns a Piper Malibu Mirage and has multiengine and helicopter ratings. His company, Minor Corporation, provides representation for Cessna Aircraft Company in Thailand and works with many nonaviation companies. The book is published by John Wiley & Sons and is available at leading bookstores and at Amazon.com on the Web.

Russ Still, AOPA 1376269, and Guenter Wendt have written The Unbroken Chain, about Wendt's exciting career as a NASA engineer. "The book has been described as a ground-shaking, fumes-in-your-nostrils documentary of the glory days of manned space flight," according to Still. In a unique touch, the book will include an interview with Wendt on CD-ROM recorded at the old Cape Canaveral launch sites. Mercury astronauts Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter, and Gordon Cooper have joined together to endorse the book. It is published by CG Publishing-Apogee Books. For more information, visit the Web site ( www.padleader.com).

Carolyn Williamson, AOPA 1255605, has been named executive director of the University Aviation Association (UAA). She replaces Gary W. Kiteley, who held the position for 24 years. Williamson previously served as vice president of Women in Aviation International (WAI) and managing editor of its magazine, Aviation for Women, for four years. She was a founding board member of WAI. In her new role, she will be responsible for the overall management of UAA's central office. In addition, Williamson will serve as contract administrator for the organization's technical and professional contracts, and liaison with government and industry officials. She is a graduate of Faulkner University in Alabama.

Harmen Koffeman, AOPA 1057821, has published The Cost of Your Airplane's Parasite Drag, a 160-page book that details how to reduce drag and thereby reap fuel and time savings, as well as increased rate-of-climb and glide performance. The price for the softcover book has been recently reduced to $19.95. For more information, visit the Web site ( www.aerodrag.com).