Pilot Briefing

May 1, 2004

Firms ready for Light-Sport Aircraft initiative

Imagine you were getting ready to run in a glorious footrace that had been talked about for a decade. The stands are starting to fill with people, but the judges haven't told you when it will start. They also haven't told you what the exact rules are, but you have a good idea.

Such is the situation for a bevy of aircraft manufacturers jockeying for position as the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft initiative comes ever closer to fruition. Mostly they are homebuilt-aircraft companies whose kits would qualify as flyaway models under the performance limitations.

But the publishing of the final rule establishing a new category of low-performance aircraft and a new level of pilot certificate has been delayed as it works its way through the federal system. In late March, the FAA temporarily withdrew the proposal from consideration by the Federal Office of Management and Budget.

For SkyStar Aircraft Corp. in Caldwell, Idaho, offering ready-to-fly airplanes meant restructuring the company. It has created two divisions, one for homebuilts and the other for Light-Sport Aircraft, and increased its production staff by 30 percent. "SkyStar wants to be sure that we can deliver product of high quality in the least amount of time, and that will not happen if we wait until the rule is finalized. We need to stay on the front side of the power curve," said Frank Miller, president and CEO.

Factory-built Light-Sport Aircraft will not be type certified. By following a different process with standards developed by the industry, companies will be able to offer these aircraft at much lower prices than other companies that went through the traditional type certification process for more complex aircraft. Each aircraft will be issued a special light-sport airworthiness certificate that demonstrates conformity to the manufacturer's design, assembly, and quality control processes.

SkyStar says that getting ready for the anticipated demand requires a sizable financial commitment. But with the additional resources, Sky-Star believes it will see some spillover for the kit segment, which will mean better quality and easier assembly for homebuilders.

Ace Aircraft already has two classics in kit production that meet the specs — the single-seat Baby Ace Model D and the two-seat Junior Ace Model E. Base prices are estimated to start at $51,500 for the Baby Ace and $63,500 for the Junior Ace factory-built versions.

Airline new hires are civilian pilots, college grads

The average new hire at a major airline in 2003 was a civilian pilot, 34.6 years old, with 5,419 total hours, an airline transport pilot certificate, and a four-year college degree, according to a database of statistics compiled by AIR Inc. The statistics were drawn from interviews with 180 civilian pilots and 57 pilots with military experience conducted throughout 2003. Civilian pilots represented 68 percent of those hired by airlines last year. Civilian new hires at the major airlines ranged in age from 27 to 42, according to AIR Inc. For more information, call 800/JET-JOBS (538-5627) or visit the Web site ( www.jet-jobs.com).

Helicopter industry sees strong demand

A new launch and reported strong sales highlighted Helicopter Association International's (HAI's) three-day convention and trade show in mid-March.

One of the highlights of opening day at Heli-Expo 2004 in Las Vegas was the unveiling — complete with swirling smoke, exploding balloons, and blaring music — of the first 19-seat Sikorsky S-92 twin-turbine helicopter. It was painted with Petroleum Helicopters Inc.'s yellow and black markings. The S-92 is a big helicopter. It's more than 68 feet long, nearly 18 feet high, and has a maximum takeoff weight of 26,120 pounds. One day after the introduction of the S-92, Sikorsky reported an unexpected influx of orders, accounting for all S-92 production through the rest of the year and well into 2005. The S-92 is the most successful commercial helicopter launch in the company's history.

Schweizer Aircraft President Paul Schweizer reported a "very good year in 2003." Schweizer celebrated its twentieth year in the helicopter business last October. More than 900 helicopters have been delivered since production began. Last year was highlighted by the sale of 10 Model 300Cs to Pakistan. Company revenue increased 15 percent, mainly because of Schweizer's involvement as a subcontractor on the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter project.

And Robinson Helicopter announced a record sales year in 2003. The company sold 422 new helicopters, of which 219 were R44 Raven IIs, 75 were R44 Raven Is, and 128 were R22s. Production slots for 2004 deliveries are already booked five months ahead. As production is continuing to ramp up, Robinson employment numbers topped 1,000 at its Torrance, California, production facility. For more Heli-Expo news, see AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/members/hai04.html). — Steven W. Ells

NAA announces most memorable records of 2003

The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) saw an increase in the number of aviation records set in 2003 — possibly as a result of the centennial of powered flight. From those new records, the NAA compiled its list of the most memorable.

Three of the records were set by transcontinental speed demons. Fred Coon and Mark Stolzberg broke a piston-engine record by flying a Grumman Cheetah from Santa Ana, California, to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, in 14 hours, 53 minutes, and 32 seconds. They averaged 159 mph. On up the airspeed indicator, Steve Fossett and Douglas Travis set a record in a Cessna Citation X by flying from San Diego to Charleston, South Carolina, in just under three hours. They had an average speed of 726 mph. The next day Fossett and Joseph Ritchie hopped in a Piaggio Avanti and flew back to San Diego for a turboprop record.

In the world of long-haul flying, here are a few extremes. Randolph Pentel and Mark Anderson set a national record for the fastest time around the border of the continental United States. They did it in a Cessna Citation Ultra in 45 hours and 27 minutes. William Watters, Raymond Wellington, and Ahmed Ragheb set a distance record in a Gulfstream G550 by flying from Savannah, Georgia, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a distance of 7,546 miles. And on the lighter side of things, Jon Jacobs flew his Mitchell Wing ultralight 170 miles on only 2.7 gallons of fuel, to eclipse a 15-year-old record for straight-line distance on limited fuel.

Just when you think Bruce Bohannon can't go any higher in his Exxon Flyin' Tiger, he does. Taking off from Angleton, Texas, on November 15, he climbed to 47,067 feet. And, finally, not all of these records required a pilot on board. Maynard Hill, Barrett Foster, and David Brown entered the history books for flying a radio-controlled model airplane from Cape Spear, Newfoundland, to Mannin Beach, Ireland, a distance of 1,882 miles.


Recent news from AOPA's weekly e-mail newsletter.

Fuel-cell airplane may fly soon

The 346-pound DynAero Lafayette III, an experimental airplane with an electric motor that will be powered by a fuel cell, may fly by late summer.

Lancair expands factory

The Lancair Company is planning to ramp up aircraft production once it completes a $2.5 million factory expansion this year.

Cirrus to train FAA

Cirrus Design is using its advanced composite aircraft to train 250 FAA inspectors about flight characteristics and avionics.

Tiger Aircraft lays off workers

Tiger Aircraft, manufacturer of single-engine four-place aircraft in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on February 20 was forced to lay off 16 of its 57 employees for a period of 60 to 90 days.

Liberty honored

Liberty Aerospace was honored with the 2004 Aerospace Industry Award in the general aviation category at the annual Aerospace Industry Awards banquet in Singapore for its recently certified XL2.

Diamond offers Avidyne glass

Avidyne's FlightMax Entegra glass flight deck has been certified on the Diamond DA40-180 Diamond Star. Flight information is displayed on large screens for pilots of the IFR-certified four-seat aircraft.

Australian bush plane goes IFR

The Australian company Gippsland Aeronautics says it is nearing IFR certification for its heavy-hauling GA8 Airvan.

Now you can receive a customized version of the free AOPA ePilot e-mail newsletter tailored to your interests. To customize your weekly newsletter, see AOPA Online ( https://www.aopa.org/apps/epilot/).

Taking the boom out of sonic booms

Sonic booms don't have to be a nuisance. NASA and Northrop Grumman Corp. are on a quest to reduce the intensity of sonic booms, an effort that could one day allow military and business aircraft to fly at unrestricted super-high speeds. The program is gathering the largest set of sonic-boom data recorded over the past two decades.

Last year, a government and industry team showed that by carefully altering the contours of a supersonic aircraft, the shockwave and its accompanying sonic boom can be shaped. Picking up where that study left off, the team conducted more flights using military jets. Recording devices were placed on the ground as well as in the air, mounted on a glider from the Air Force's test pilot school. The glider recorded data above the influence of most atmospheric turbulence.

Eclipse seeks trust through disclosure

Enron. Martha Stewart. You fill in the blank here for your favorite corporate scandal.

In an effort to bolster trust between consumers and companies, Eclipse Aviation has launched a new Web site feature where the public can track the company's progress toward type certification of the Eclipse 500 jet. Basically it's a page with a lot of dots and squares signifying "tasks" and "milestones."

Sure, you could look at this as clever public relations, but this move is a vast departure from previous certification efforts. Typically this is a mysterious process with a few important acts: the idea, first flight, and certification. A bunch of paper shuffling between the FAA and the manufacturer occurs in between. This becomes much more exciting, however, if you happen to be an investor or a deposit holder. Eclipse has posted more than 200 tasks and milestones leading up to the day when it gets the big nod from the FAA, which is projected to be in early 2006. We'll be watching.

To view the page, see Eclipse's Web site ( www.eclipseaviation.com) and click on Track Our Progress.

Members in the news

Jim Upton, AOPA 126199, has published his latest book about legendary jet aircraft. WarbirdTech Series: Lockheed F-104 Starfighter details the world's first Mach 2 operational jet fighter. Called the "missile with a man in it," the aircraft boasted amazing performance, and Upton provides numerous photos and diagrams to prove it. The book wraps up with civilian applications of the jet, including the Starfighters Airshow Demonstration Team. Upton is a retired Lockheed flight-test engineer and test director, and an active pilot. Published by Specialty Press, the soft-cover book sells for $16.95. For more information, see the Web site ( www.specialtypress.com).

Michael Weinstein, AOPA 4120049, recently published a book titled Stationery Flight: Extraordinary Paper Airplanes, which details the theory and construction of origami paper aircraft. Included are designs for paper biplanes, canards, jet aircraft, and a bomber. An introduction to aerodynamics and why airplanes fly is included. Weinstein is a molecular genetics professor at Ohio State University. The paperback book is available in bookstores.

Mohamed Shaik, AOPA 902236, has been honored with the FAA's Wright Brothers Golden Eagle Award for his contributions to the improvement of aviation safety over the past 50 years. Shaik has served as a maintenance engineer, a test pilot, and a flight instructor for the Army Air Corps. Because of segregation, he was not allowed to join the military as a pilot. He now flies a Cessna 172.

Cameron Baker, AOPA 1096069, has been honored with the FAA's Regional Flight Instructor Award for 2004. He competed with other instructors in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Regional winners are considered for the national award. Baker works for Central Flying Service in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Thomas W. Young, AOPA 1065143, has published his first work of fiction, an aviation-oriented war novel that puts readers in the cockpit of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Trash Hauler's Ball tells the story of a "Herk" aircrew in the war on drugs in Latin America. Young flies a Canadair Regional Jet for Atlantic Coast Airlines and is a C-130 flight engineer for the West Virginia Air National Guard. He is a former writer for The Associated Press. Published by Aventine Press, the soft-cover book sells for $16.95 and is available in bookstores.