Pilot Briefing

October 1, 2008

Aquatic life blocks Florida airport

Tropical Storm Fay threw a new challenge at Melbourne International Airport staff in late August. A routine check of the airport’s runway for debris turned up two gopher tortoises, four walking catfish, an alligator, and a blue indigo snake. “We thought one of the tortoises was the top of one of the taxiway lights, then it started to move,” said Cliff Graham, the airport’s operations manager.

“We had to remove the four walking catfish off the runway before Delta could land,” Graham added.

Walking catfish use their pectoral fins to get around on land and can breathe out of water as long as they stay moist, which wasn’t a problem August 20. The tortoise were moved to the airport’s designated gopher tortoise relocation area, and the walking catfish and snake were tossed back into a nearby pond. The gator wanted no part of the action and scampered back into a drainage ditch, Graham said.

Single-engine Eclipse jet does aerobatics

The Eclipse Aviation 400 single-engine jet not only flew to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh—as did the Cirrus Design SJ50 Vision—it did aerobatics. That’s right, a single-engine personal jet did an entire aerobatic routine to show off its maneuverability.

Let’s add right here that it will not be certified to do aerobatics. Eclipse Aviation Director of Training Randy Brooks, formerly with the Red Baron aerobatics team, flew the routine simply to show off the new airplane.

It started with a climb to 1,000 feet in the pattern to gain energy, followed by a dive to 300 feet at 245 KIAS, then a 3.5-G pull into a Cuban eight. That maneuver is best described as a pattern shaped like a figure 8 lying on its side and requires that you be upside down at the highest points.

Then Brooks did a wingover to turn around, and performed an aileron roll in front of the crowd. At that point he needed to turn around, but why make a boring turn? He rolled left, kept rolling through inverted, and stopped when the right wing was pointed at the ground, then pulled to turn right.

Finally, he did an arching knife-edge pass (that means one wing was pointed at the ground) for the length of the show line.

While the Cirrus Design SJ50 Vision also did flybys for the Oshkosh crowd, it didn’t do aerobatics. A spokeswoman said the company is focused on transportation, and aerobatics is not the image it wants to project. It should be noted that the Piper Aircraft single-engine PiperJet also flew during the EAA AirVenture airshow, but for the first time and at its home plant in Vero Beach, Florida.

Optica sees a brighter future

Remember the Optica aircraft of the 1980s? It’s back again. The original designer of the aircraft, John Edgley, has repurchased the rights and plans to build it in England.

Given the heightened need for security, Edgley thinks it has a future. It died for lack of customer support and a manufacturing base, but not before one of the aircraft recorded 3,000 hours looking for forest fires in Spain.

Edgley purchased the jigs and tooling, and three aircraft. One of them is flying again. The Optica can carry video and infrared cameras.

Solar-powered airplane visits Olympics

OK, there was no aviation event at this year’s Olympics, but we still found a way to write about it. Celebrity balloonist Bertrand Piccard and fellow pilot André Borschberg were there with a huge model of their solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse.

Solar Impulse will take flight next spring using nothing but the sun for power. An around-the-world flight is planned for 2011. The aircraft will make five stops, with the two pilots taking alternating flights. One of the stops is planned for Florida following takeoff in Hawaii.

The Olympics provided a stage for the Solar Impulse project, and its sponsor, Omega, to impress on the world’s visitors the need for alternative energy sources.

The 3,400-pound, multiengine aircraft will reach a maximum altitude of 28,000 feet and a maximum speed of 43 mph using four 30-horsepower electric motors. Sometimes it will glide and other times it will use its motors.

With nearly the wingspan of a Boeing 747, the top of the wing will be covered with 12,000 photovoltaic cells averaging 6,000 watts. Lithium batteries store energy for night flight. A computer will manage the power system and send data to the ground.

What is old is new again

Casual visitors to new flying clubs springing up in six cities are going to be a little confused when they see the rental fleet. On the ramp will be two Beechcraft T-34s, a Boeing/Stearman PT-17 Kaydet, and a North American Aviation T-6 Texan (the World War II tailwheel model, not today’s T-6 Texan 2 with a nosewheel).

You’ll eventually see the membership clubs at Boston; Westchester, New York; Dallas; Los Angeles; Orlando; and Atlanta. As this is written the new flying club, Boston-based Fly History, had just announced it was open for student enrollments, so none of the flying clubs was in operation. While brokers had located some of the aircraft to be used and had secured insurance, no aircraft had been bought.

Each club will accept only 20 charter members. The charter members do not pay an enrollment fee, but they do pay $1,250 per month. After that, they can fly the aircraft for $165 an hour dry and $275 an hour dry for the T-6 Texan.

Pilot requirements, ones that can be met after joining, generally require training and time in type to meet insurance requirements. Total time requirements are 500 for the T-34, 750 for the PT-17, and 1,000 for the T-6. Tailwheel total time is 50 for the PT-17 with 300 landings, and 100 hours with 50 in a Stearman or Waco for the AT-6. The PT-17 requires 10 hours in make and model while the T-6 requires 25 hours in make and model.

At press time it appeared the location in Orlando might be the first of the six clubs to be activated because of strong interest from pilots in the area.

American Champion to Scout out fires

American Champion Aircraft has built a prototype of a water bomber for small fires based on its Scout heavy hauler. The aircraft can drop 100 gallons of water through two doors in the belly of the aircraft in 3.5 seconds. The tank is mounted behind the pilot. A fleet of Scouts flying a staggered formation could be used on small fires before they become big ones, company officials said.

LSAs selling about 500 per year

So how is the light sport aircraft industry doing, at least in the United States? From a strictly quantity standpoint, registrations are moving at a pace of 500 per year, based on latest statistics from bydanjohnson.com. Owners registered 248 LSAs in the first half of 2008.

That is fewer than the industry would like, but the industry is made of smaller manufacturers that can survive on 10 or 20 deliveries a year. And they can also sell in Europe, especially given that 18 of the 24 top-selling LSAs in the United States are made in Europe.

It is interesting to note that since time began for light sport aircraft in the United States, and that is four years ago when LSAs were first approved, two tailwheel aircraft have remained in the top five best-selling aircraft. The two are the American Legend Aircraft Company’s Legend Cub and the CubCrafters Sport Cub.

There have been 1,118 LSAs registered in the last four years, far less than most in the industry would have liked. Of those, 214 are Cubs, and 259 additional registrations belong to the seemingly permanent leader, Flight Design’s CT series of tricycle-gear aircraft. Tecnam, the third-best seller after the CT and Legend Cub, had 92 of its tricycle-gear aircraft registered by mid-2008. That means that more than half of all U.S. registrations came from just four companies in the past four years.

So much for the financial and sales health of the industry. The FAA wants to know about the light sport industry’s regulatory health. The industry is self-regulated and each company promises to abide by a set of industry-agreed-upon standards established by ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials. FAA officials began a 29-company “assessment” in September after some manufacturers complained that while they are playing by the rules, others aren’t.

If true, that’s bad news, considering that a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said recently the agency continues to have “some concerns” about all light sport aircraft because “they aren’t certified by the FAA.” There’s even an NTSB accident report last fall in which the agency said flatly that the LSA involved did not have a pilot’s operating handbook that met ASTM standards. So far the NTSB has made no “recommendations” that might call for tighter regulations affecting the light sport industry, but it’s a real concern both at the FAA and among manufacturers.

Airport geese tracked at Greensboro

Wouldn’t it be nice if airport birds could be fitted with transmitters so controllers know exactly where they are? Wait a minute, somebody has done that.

Fifteen non-migratory geese at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina, are now wearing personal locators—GPS transmitters that report not only the location of the birds, but their altitude and speed when in the air.

The Canada geese were chosen from a group of 770 geese that were tagged in June, a time of year when only resident geese would be in the city and the transients would have migrated. There are dozens of lakes within a few miles of the airport where geese hang out at night. At dawn and dusk they are on the move to or from feeding grounds—crossing flight paths used by the airport.

Wildlife biologist John R. Weller, based at the airport, said each goose has a solar pack that can power the GPS transmitter for two years. They were banded at 14 sites near the airport, and fitted with transmitters by Weller, Ph.D. candidate Liz Rutledge, and Research Biologist Brian Washburn from the National Wildlife Research Center in Sandusky, Ohio.

Weller said an airport harassment program using noisemakers has convinced most geese to avoid landing at Piedmont Triad International. Yet they remain in the city and literally cross paths with aircraft. Since geese travel in groups, banding only 15 will reveal the location of large flocks of geese. Weller said the study would offer important information for airports nationwide. Signals are sent from the birds up to satellites, and back down to researchers.

“Boys and planes” captures July photo of the month

“Our boys love aviation and flying in small airplanes,” said Brian Hash. “My wife, Denise, took this picture of Nolan (age 6) and CJ (age 4) at a park and ride at the south end of the Auburn Municipal Airport (S50) in Auburn, Washington.” Nolan first flew in an airplane at five weeks old and CJ says he will be a pilot when he gets bigger. Go online to see the 2008 monthly contest winners and click on “2007 winners” to view last year’s winner and honorable mentions.— Machteld A. Smith

This month in aviation history

Compiled by Kathryn Opalewski

October 1, 1958 | The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is established under the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.

October 26, 1958 | Pan Am flies the first transatlantic jet trip from New York to Paris.

October 22, 1962 | President John F. Kennedy delivers a national broadcast on the Cuban missile crisis and U.S. “quarantine” of Cuba.

October 7, 1963 | The Lear Jet 23 makes its initial flight.

October 6, 1964 | The Sikorsky S-61L and S-61N become the first civil helicopters in the non-communist world to be certificated for instrument flight rules operations.

October 3, 1967 | Maj. William J. Knight, USAF, piloting the X-15 rocket plane, sets an unofficial world record of 4,534 miles an hour, almost seven times the speed of sound.

October 19, 1967 | The FAA type-certificates the Grumman Gulfstream II, a two-engine corporate jet with a crew of two and a maximum capacity of 19 passengers.

October 23, 1968 | The National Transportation Safety Board announces that aircraft accident investigation reports will be available, upon request, to the public.

October 15, 1976 | A new nationwide standardized format goes into effect for pilot reports (pireps), reports by en route pilots describing in-flight weather conditions as they encounter them.

October 24, 1978 | The U.S. passenger airline industry is deregulated.

October 18, 1979 | The first prototype of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series makes its initial flight.

October 2, 1981 | The FAA announces a $10 million contract with the University of Oklahoma to help train new air traffic controllers to replace those fired for going on strike.

October 6, 1981 | Blanche W. Noyes dies. One of the nation’s early female pilots, she was probably the first woman pilot to have a career in the U.S. government.

October 4, 1984 | Sixty-one-year-old Elaine Yadwin lands a Piper Cherokee Warrior II safely in Florida after her husband, the airplane’s pilot, dies during the flight.

October 3, 1988 | Citing increasing congestion and a rash of air traffic control errors, the FAA indefinitely reduces the maximum number of arrivals permitted at Chicago O’Hare from 96 an hour to 80.

October 17, 1989 | An earthquake registering 7.1 on the Richter scale shakes northern California, damaging runways, disrupting airline service, and causing approximately $50 million in damage to FAA facilities and equipment.

October 31, 1992 | President George Bush signs the Airport and Airway Safety, Capacity, Noise Improvement and Intermodal Transportation Act of 1992.

October 15, 1997 | A Saturn probe is launched from Cape Canaveral on a 1,499,676-km journey that will take seven years. The Cassini-Huygens probe gathers data about Saturn and its moon, Titan.

October 17, 1998 | The first of 276 Airbus A319s ordered by USAirways is delivered. This is the biggest aircraft order ever placed by an airline.

October 2, 2001 | Switzerland’s national airline, Swissair, is grounded as it is declared bankrupt, the largest company to fall victim to the downturn in air travel and the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11.

October 24, 2003 | The Concorde makes its last scheduled commercial flight before retiring in November.

October 11, 2006 | New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and flight instructor Tyler Stanger are killed when Lidle’s Cirrus SR20 crashes into an apartment building that borders New York City’s East River.