Pilot Briefing

August 3, 2009

Flying the Soldier

Sgt. Joshua Ben, a youthful former cavalry scout in the 82nd Airborne Division, recently flew to Washington, D.C., as a passenger in the AOPA’s 2009 Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes SR22 in a trip arranged by the Veteran’s Airlift Command. The Veterans Airlift Command links volunteer general aviation pilots and aircraft owners with wounded veterans in need of transportation.

Ben, 22, an Afghanistan combat veteran, won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart there in 2007 after losing his right leg in an ambush. He’s in the process of moving from the U.S. Army’s Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., to Orlando where he’ll become a full-time student studying forensic science at the University of Central Florida in the fall.

“I’ve jumped out of C-130s and C-17s before, but I’ve never flown anything quite like this,” he said before boarding the Let’s Go Flying SR22 at the Showalter Aviation terminal at Orlando Executive Airport.

While serving as a gunner atop an armored Humvee, Ben and his platoon were ambushed by Taliban fighters. A dozen U.S. soldiers including Ben were wounded in the attack. A rocket-propelled grenade penetrated the side of his vehicle and wrecked his right leg in an instant. Ben’s body armor protected him from most of the bullets that struck him, but one pierced his abdomen. Doctors were able to remove it during surgery (and the future scientist keeps the nearly perfectly preserved AK-47 round in a specimen jar.)

Ben credits a pair of A-10 Thunderbolt pilots for helping save him and his fellow soldiers with well-timed strafing passes. “The sound of those Gatling guns was like music to us,” he said. “No one who hears them that close ever forgets the sound.” —Dave Hirschman

Waco Classic Introduces new model

Waco Classic President Peter F. Bowers got to thinking one day, “What’s changed about our product?” Little had changed with the luxury Waco Classic biplane, other than the introduction of glass cockpits and aircraft entertainment systems. So he developed a new model with a larger, 300-hp Jacobs R755-A2 radial engine. The powerful engines feature an updated oil filtration system with chip detector, a JPI EDM 930-7 engine instrumentation system, and a new Sensenich Taper Tip propeller. Front cockpit brakes are now standard, as is a leather interior. There are also new carbon fiber wheel pants and wheel pant fairings available.

Bowers said he expects the YMF-5D model will be certified by October. More power will improve takeoff performance and may modestly increase the 120-mph cruise speed of the $395,000 aircraft. The model is based on a customer survey asking customers what they would like. The company has a few prospects for new orders, but like many manufacturers facing the current economic downturn, there is no backlog at present.

Cessna announces more layoffs

A new round of layoffs announced in June by the Cessna Aircraft Co. will bring total workforce reductions since November to 8,265, or 53 percent of the total number of workers, the Wichita Eagle has reported.

Counting Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, and Bombardier Learjet, total layoffs in Wichita since November 2008 have reached 11,875, the newspaper reported. By comparison, Seattle-based Boeing has by itself laid off 10,000 workers—some of those in Wichita.

Cessna spokesman Bob Stangarone told the newspaper the company is now in the worst part of the downward economic cycle. Financing remains difficult to find, daily use of business jets is down, and customers are waiting to see whether a recovery will actually occur.

Research on future Cessna products continues. Order cancellations for jets have not stopped. Cessna has reduced its delivery forecast for the year by 200 aircraft. It is expected 2010 deliveries will be below this year’s total.

Viking gets Otter engine approvals

Viking Air Limited of Victoria, British Columbia, has a supplemental type certificate from Transport Canada for the installation of the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-34 or PT6A-35 turboprop engines on the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter.

In addition to the new engine and prop configuration, the modification encompasses improvements to design with new composite cowls, incorporation of a gross weight increase to 9,000 pounds, optional panoramic windows, and optional extended-range fuel tanks. The modification involves an update to major aircraft systems.

World traveler honored in Jordan

Robert Gannon, traveling the world at his own pace in a Cessna 182 ( see “Pilot Briefing,” June 2009 AOPA Pilot), was invited back to Jordan to be honored by that country’s aerobatic team, the Royal Jordanian Falcons. Gannon is circling the globe at a leisurely pace, sometimes going backwards as in this case, but it was worth it. He was invited back to Jordan after the aerobatic team saw a story on Gannon’s trip to Iraq to deliver hospital toys and a donation.

Electric airplane goes 155 mph

An Italian-built aircraft powered by an electric motor achieved a speed of 155 mph on June 12 during an eight-minute flight at Turin, Italy. SkySpark Challenge installed a 75-kilowatt brushless motor powered by lithium polymer batteries in an Alpi Pioneer 300 aircraft.

That was the final flight of the lithium battery test series. That same aircraft will now be converted to hydrogen fuel cells as a power source for the electric motor. The goal of the SkySpark project is to design and build a completly “ecological” aircraft. All systems will use electric power. The goal is to fly at up to 186 mph over a 310-mile course. If successful it would be a world record.

Initial testing indicates the aircraft, using hydrogen fuel cells, will have an endurance of two hours, or more than enough to meet the goals of the 310-mile flight. When powered by lithium polymer batteries, the aircraft has an endurance of 30 minutes. The purpose of the project is to develop technology that will be applicable not only to aviation, but to other forms of transportation.

The electric motor used is claimed to surpass internal combustion engines in efficiency and is smaller. Electronic systems modulate rpm and torque.

Klapmeier wants Vision jet

Alan Klapmeier, chairman of the board at Cirrus Aircraft, is seeking investors to help him take control of the SF50 Vision single-engine jet program and operate it as a standalone company.

“I’ve spoken to more than a hundred potential investors,” Klapmeier said in late June. “And I’m feeling pretty good about our progress.”

Klapmeier, who co-founded Cirrus with his brother Dale, hopes to raise enough capital to convince Cirrus’s majority investor, Kuwait’s Arcapita Ventures investment group, to sell the Vision project to him. Cirrus CEO Brent Wouters was cool to the idea saying Cirrus is committed to the Vision program, it is meeting flight test targets, and he, “doesn’t see a future for Cirrus without the jet.”

So far, Cirrus has 352 Vision deposits at $100,000 each, and that money is being used for design and test work. Klapmeier estimated that two more rounds of financing totaling $120 million will be needed to bring the Vision to market. Merrill Lynch has been serving as financial advisor to Klapmeier and negotiating with Arcapita. If successful, Klapmeier said that he would likely remain on Cirrus’ board of directors, “but probably not as chairman.” Klapmeier would like to build the jet in Duluth but wouldn’t rule out other locations. He said he would rename the jet if he buys the program and “Aegis” is a leading contender.

SuperTanker fire bomber demonstrated

Evergreen International’s Boeing 747 SuperTanker water bomber is certified by the Interagency Air Tanker Board to operate on forest fires this season. The aircraft gave a demonstration at McClellan Airfield near Sacramento, California, in early June.

The SuperTanker can drop 20,000 gallons all at once in a swath as wide as a football field and three miles long, or can divide its load among several fires. It can also attack fires at night when they are most vulnerable. It can disperse the fluid at high rate, or lightly at the speed of falling rain.

Evergreen invested five years and $50 million of its own funds in the development of the SuperTanker. The company plans to explore markets in western Europe, Australia, and Brazil. It also plans to offer the aircraft to fight oil spills, and to clean up episodes of chemical, bacteriological, or radiological poisoning.

German firm tests segmented airship

Worm-like unmanned airships aimed at border patrol and homeland security needs are under development at Sanswire-TAO to suspend communications gear up to 60,000 feet on long-endurance missions. It’s dubbed Stratellite (for stratosphere) by the company.

The enemy of airships is wind, so by segmenting the 111-foot-long envelope of the airship, winds can be more easily handled. Testing will take place in Germany. Ground testing will be followed by flight testing.

Eventually the airship may be used for higher-altitude missions, carrying communications and sensing equipment. The Stratellite will be offered commercially.

Apollo 11 astronauts honored

The National Aviation Hall of Fame located in Dayton, Ohio, was scheduled to present the Milton Caniff “Spirit of Flight” Award to the Apollo program astronauts at the National Museum of the United States Air Force July 17. The National Aviation Hall of Fame is located in the Air Force museum.

The event coincided with the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the first manned moon landing.

Twelve of the surviving Apollo astronauts were expected. They include: Buzz Aldrin, Walter Cunningham, Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, Charlie Duke, Jim McDivitt, Vance Brand, Joe Engle, Harrison Schmitt, Gene Cernan, Fred Haise, and Tom Stafford.