Pilot Briefing

January 1, 2006

NASA sets challenge for top GA aircraft

If money is what really makes airplanes fly, NASA is ready to write some checks to pioneering general aviation pilots.

As part of the broader NASA Centennial Challenges program, the agency is prepared to kick off the aeronautical component called the Personal Air Vehicle Challenge. Each summer NASA will award a total of $250,000 in cash to various teams that improve the performance and flying qualities of GA aircraft. It's similar to the Ansari X Prize and the Orteig Prize, which helped spur rapid technological advancement. NASA has selected the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation, a flight-testing and research group in Santa Rosa, California, to stage the annual competition.

The ultimate goal is to make light aircraft safer, more affordable, and more appealing to the masses. As a baseline, each competing aircraft is required to have a stall speed of less than 52 mph and be able to land safely with a total power failure. In addition, aircraft need to demonstrate high fuel economy. The performance bar will be raised each year. For 2006, there will be up to 16 competitors.

Two $25,000 prizes will go to the quietest aircraft, internal and external. Two more $25,000 prizes will be offered, one for "ease of use," promoting an airplane that is easy to fly, load, board, and maintain, and the other for the airplane with the best handling qualities. The big award, the Vantage Prize worth $150,000, will go to the best all-around airplane. Many of the competitors are expected to come from the light-sport-aircraft ranks. For more information and complete rules, see CAFE's Web site.

Heinz Kerry settles $15 million lawsuit

A lawsuit regarding the death of Teresa Heinz Kerry's first husband in a 1991 midair collision near Philadelphia has been settled for $15 million. The settlement came to light after some court records were unsealed. Heinz Kerry had sued the owners of a Piper Aerostar on which her husband, U.S. Sen. John Heinz, was traveling, as well as the owners of a Bell 412SP helicopter. When the pilots of the Aerostar reported a landing-gear malfunction, the helicopter went to inspect it, resulting in dangerous formation flight by two dissimilar aircraft. The crash killed seven people, five in the air and two on the ground. The NTSB cited poor judgment by the pilots of both aircraft as the probable cause. Heinz Kerry is now the wife of AOPA member, GA pilot, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg analyzed what went wrong and what can be learned from the crash (see " Safety Pilot Landmark Accidents: Down and Locked," December 2005 Pilot).

DEPT. OF R&D

Aircraft designers use movie theater

Dassault Aviation designed its newest aircraft, the Falcon 7X now in flight testing, in a darkened auditorium in St. Cloud, France, where engineers wearing 3-D glasses sat before a 10-foot-high screen. Engineers told the Los Angeles Times the process cut $300 million from development costs. The engineers used joysticks to manipulate the aircraft, rotating it and flipping it as if it were in the room. They also designed the machine tools needed to manufacture the aircraft. The $40 million jet can carry eight passengers and three crewmembers. Meanwhile, Boeing bought the Dassault software to design its 787, a 250-passenger airliner that will enter service in 2008, the newspaper reported. — Alton K. Marsh

A rule of thumb

To determine the density altitude when you don't have a flight computer, add 600 feet to the field's elevation for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit above standard temperature at the airport's elevation.
Source: Mountain Flying

X-1 test pilot dies at 82

The pilot who almost became the first pilot to break the sound barrier, except for a contract dispute with Bell Aircraft over a huge bonus payment prior to the flight, has died at 82, the Los Angeles Times reported. Chalmers "Slick" Goodlin had made 26 test flights in the Bell X-1 and was on the verge of breaking the sound barrier in 1947 when he demanded a $150,000 bonus for a successful flight. Bell refused, and Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, then making less than $3,400 a year as a military officer, was tapped for a place in history. The dispute helped the newly formed U.S. Air Force (formed a month before the famous flight) to take over the project from Bell. The newspaper reported that Goodlin was touchy about his failure to be the first pilot to fly faster than sound. Later, when the movie The Right Stuff portrayed him as flicking a cigarette in disgust as he watched Yeager's historic flight from the ground, he protested that he wasn't even near the base that day. — AKM

What's in the January issue of AOPA Flight Training?

  • Smooth Operator. Constant-speed propellers give you silky rides and lots of power/cruise choices.
  • The Most Important Lesson. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it.
  • Walking on Air. Explore the form and function of a perfect takeoff.

The January issue mailed on November 30. Current AOPA members can add a subscription to AOPA Flight Training for $18 per year. For more information, call 800/872-2672.

AOPA Online survey: Sport aircraft

Our recent online survey about light sport aircraft (LSA) showed some mixed opinions: excitement and disappointment. First, the good news. Of the 718 people who took the survey, 63 percent said they planned to buy a light sport aircraft within the next five years. Forty-eight percent of the respondents said they would pay up to $60,000, 9 percent said they would pay up to $100,000, and 4 percent would fork out more than $100,000. "I have been in love with the [Piper] J-3 Cub since childhood and now that [similar aircraft] are back in production, I am going to figure out a way to afford it," said one member. "Saw one [LSA] up close. Much better looking than I anticipated. Well equipped, too. I always thought they were just glorified hang gliders. I was sure wrong!" said another. But the survey provided plenty of space for dissent. "The airplanes in the LSA category are, in my opinion, already overpriced for the market they were intended to serve," said a member. Some said that the $60,000 figure used as the baseline in the survey was too high. "They have very limited usefulness, better to spend the same amount of money renting a real airplane with none of the headaches of owning," said another member. Visit the members page on www.aopa.org to participate in the current member survey.

Support survivors of fallen police officers and win a Cirrus

Every year, between 140 and 160 police officers are killed in the line of duty. Families and co-workers are left behind to cope with the loss. But there's a way you can help. And you might even win a loaded Cirrus SR20-G2 donated by Cirrus. Concerns of Police Survivors Inc. (COPS), a nonprofit organization, is offering a drawing for the airplane. Each $100 donation equals one entry. The winner will be selected in August 2006, but you can contribute now. Proceeds will go to support the organization's mission. See the Web site.

Members in the News

Robert N. Cleaves, AOPA 264324, has received an AOPA Certificate of Recognition for his dedicated commitment to the Wilderness Conservancy's Project Care. Cleaves was previously honored by the National Aeronautic Association with its Distinguished Volunteer Pilot award and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Paul Tissandier Diploma for public-benefit flying.

Tad Derouin, AOPA 523847, recently was honored by the FAA for his efforts in helping a student pilot land safely. In December 2004, Derouin was in the air and heard the student on the radio trying to land at Windham Airport in Connecticut. On the first attempt, the student damaged the airplane.

Derouin, a flight instructor and a Connecticut state trooper at the time, flew underneath the airplane to assess the damage. One wheel was missing and a wing tip was damaged. Derouin calmed down the student and had him practice three approaches to get used to the crosswind. Eventually, the student made a safe emergency landing. Derouin is retired from the police force but continues to fly.

AOPA ePilot Headlines

Recent news from AOPA's weekly e-mail newsletter

Quest opens factory
Quest Aircraft in Sandpoint, Idaho, has opened its 57,000-square-foot add-on production facility in preparation for full production of its 10-place turboprop utility aircraft.

Adam delivers first airplane
Adam Aircraft delivered its first customer aircraft, an A500 centerline-thrust piston-engine twin, on November 7, 2005, to a Colorado businessman.

Gulfstream certifies G150
The Gulfstream G150 was certified November 7 by both the Israeli Civil Aviation Administration and the FAA — at least eight weeks ahead of the originally anticipated first-quarter-2006 certification date.

Swearingen now certified
Sino Swearingen Aircraft has received type certification for its SJ30-2 business jet.

Avidyne, Ryan merge
Avidyne and Ryan International announced the merger of the two companies. Under the merger agreement, Ryan's active traffic display and alerting technologies will be added to Avidyne's product lines.

Cessna, Cirrus remain leaders
Third-quarter results from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association showed Cessna Aircraft shipped the most piston-engine aircraft in the third quarter, while Cirrus Design had the best-selling single — the SR22.

Skystar in the courts
Kitfox maker Skystar Aircraft located in Caldwell, Idaho, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (liquidation) in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Idaho.

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