February 1, 2007
Nathan A. Ferguson
A Massachusetts company does not claim to have invented the hot air airship, but it does want to provide, among other things, something more spiritual: air therapy.
By combining the best of what powered and lighter-than-air technology has to offer, Skyacht Aircraft Inc. has created a hybrid aircraft it dubs the Personal Blimp. If all goes as planned, it will offer super-quiet operation, float like a balloon, and have handling characteristics more like a helicopter. "Air therapy is the practice of taking an aircraft into the sky, usually on a short flight, for the restorative value that comes from just being in the sky," says Dan Nachbar, principal designer and builder. "The 'mission' here is not transportation. The mission is joy."
The accomplishment of that mission involves alleviating the head-aches and expenses associated with traditional helium-filled airships. It's not like you can store a Zeppelin NT in your T-hangar. Plus, traditional airships leak helium, which is expensive to refill, they are sensitive to atmospheric pressure changes, and they require quite a few helpers on the ground.
Cameroon Balloons claims to have invented the hot air airship in 1972. But Skyacht is taking things to a new level with a rigid but folding structural design, something like two big umbrellas with the ends pointing in opposite directions. Instead of helium, it uses burners to heat the air. That way it can constantly adjust for weight changes. And with the thrust from a piston engine, it gives the pilot control in three dimensions. Future plans call for replacing the gas engine with electric motors and developing a quiet burner.
The first two-seat human-carrying demonstrator flew on October 27, 2006. Because it's maneuverable and doesn't disturb the air beneath the open cabin, an occupant can pick the top-most leaf from a tree. Besides air therapy, the company figures the airship could be used for carrying airborne gravimetric measuring equipment (used in diamond prospecting), forest canopy research, wetlands survey/management, ecotourism, and aerial photography/filmmaking.
At full power, the Personal Blimp can do 12 mph with its 24-horsepower engine. Skyacht figures the upper end will be more like 20 mph with an 80-horsepower engine. So what will it cost? Following an FAA certification program, you're looking at $100,000 to $200,000. In comparison, Skyacht says the least expensive helium airship costs $2 million.
For more information, see the company's Web site.
To determine turn radius at standard rate, divide the true airspeed by 200 for the radius in nautical miles. For example, 100 knots divided by 200 equals 0.5 miles.
So you want to learn to fly a very light jet but your local FBO doesn't have anything beyond four-cylinder pistons? In the not-so-distant future, the flight school network Airline Transport Professionals (ATP) plans to offer training in the Diamond D-Jet.
The advantages? For starters, the jets will be new, not creaky old mounts with Pleistocene-era instrument panels. And the jets have one engine and sleek lines, design features that cut down on fuel costs. ATP figures the lower operating costs will allow the company to provide dramatically more jet experience for students with sights on the regional airlines who are enrolled in its Airline Career Pilot program. And ATP will be able to train D-Jet customers as well.
ATP has ordered 20 D-Jets and five flight-training devices. Diamond plans to deliver ATP's first D-Jet in mid-2009, about a year after the scheduled start of deliveries for production aircraft.
Diamond will make aircraft available to ATP so that customers can be trained and ready to fly when they take delivery of their own airplanes. ATP currently has 22 locations nationwide.
Stuck mics provide ample opportunity for embarrassment — singing, swearing — but pilots, and controllers for that matter, still find ways to draw attention to themselves even when the equipment is operating properly. In our recent online survey about stupid things you say and hear over the radio, the phrase "any traffic in the area, please advise" topped pilots' lists of pet peeves. Such a call can cause pilots within 50 miles to step on each other. Other biggies included "left final" instead of "left base" and "position and hold" at nontowered fields. Pilots commonly say that they are "taking the active runway." Where are they taking it? And which runway would that be? One pilot received a clearance from clearance delivery and the controller on the ground wished him a nice flight. The pilot said, "You, too." Another pilot once asked the tower for a "right 360-degree departure."
Then of course there are the ramblers, the ones who tie up the frequency with their life stories and conversations. Although this can be annoying, just make sure you're on the right frequency if you decide to order pizza with all the toppings. One captain started complaining about the company chief pilot and didn't realize he was transmitting. The controller said, "Aircraft with the upper-level management problem, please say again." Also, it's not a good idea to read your credit card number along with the expiration date on 122.8, and then repeat it two more times. A Cessna 172 driver once announced that he was on a 30-mile straight-in final approach. On the ground at Tucson, Arizona, a pilot wanted to go to Phoenix and asked clearance delivery for "VFR to Tucson." The controller said, "Congratulations! You made it." The FAA requires pilots to be able to read and understand English, but sometimes there are barriers. A pilot with a foreign accent on final asked, "May I go around, please?" Surprisingly, students made up a small number of the flubs. One student pilot who was approaching a nontowered field announced that he was "inbound for uncontrolled landings." Students are advised that when a controller asks about intentions, it's not a time to recite future career plans.
Controllers may be specifically trained on how to use the radio, but it doesn't make them immune from embarrassment. A controller once asked an airborne pilot if he wanted to "circumcise" the weather. Another controller cautioned a Southwest flight about wake turbulence — from a Cessna 172. And a new military controller sprung into action during his first emergency call. He asked the pilot to "say fuel on board and souls remaining."
Average values for light multiengine airplanes dropped slightly from the beginning of 2006, according to Vref, AOPA's aircraft value reference. The average value of the 1982 Beechcraft B55 Baron, 1990 Beechcraft 58 Baron, 1981 Cessna 310R, 1981 Piper Aztec, and 1990 Piper Seneca III stood at $225,600 at the beginning of the year and fell to $220,600 by the end. The high-water mark was $268,600 in mid-2000 and early 2001. Values for pressurized twins dropped as well during the course of 2006. Although there hasn't been a lot of activity among twins in the past few years, Vref reports that late-model airplanes such as Cessna 421Cs are bringing top dollar while Cessna 310Rs are in demand and Piper Chieftains in good condition are moving up. Perform your own aircraft valuations using AOPA's free service on AOPA Online. Also, see Vref's Web site.
What does it take to fly a weight-shift-control light sport aircraft (LSA) to an altitude of 40,000 feet? Kristof Cappoen, who hopes to break a current world record, is training for the feat at 15,000 feet, helping engineers modify the Rotax-powered Tanarg LSA he plans to fly, and learning how to identify air patterns and avoid the jet stream. Oh, and he personally has to lose 40 to 50 pounds (not that he's overweight or out of shape) to accommodate the weight of essential equipment needed on board the aircraft for the record-breaking attempt. The record he needs to surpass is 31,890 feet, which was set in France by a microlight weight-shift-control aircraft in 1994, according to the National Aeronautic Association. — Alyssa J. Miller
The February issue mailed on December 27, 2006. Current AOPA members can add a subscription to AOPA Flight Training for $18 per year. For more information, call 800/872-2672.
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