Pilot Briefing

May 1, 2009

Mooney sets speed record

Dave Craddock, owner of the first production Mooney Acclaim Type S, set a world speed record on a trip from Minneapolis to New Orleans. He averaged 333 knots with a max ground speed of 357 knots, covering the 904-nm route in two hours and 43 minutes.

The record flight, submitted to the National Aeronautics Association (NAA) for review and certification in the C-1.c category, spanned the entire length of the Mississippi River. To accomplish the world-record speed over a recognized course, Craddock departed Crystal Airport outside of Minneapolis and did a running start over Crystal at 25,000 feet and a running stop over New Orleans, descending through 11,400 feet.

“I had been watching the weather for several days via the Internet and realized that I could set a blistering record,” Craddock said. “I love flying my Mooney Acclaim Type S at 25,000 feet, and I look for opportunities to do so.”

Nicknamed the Batmobile, the Acclaim Type S is the third new Mooney for Craddock, a dentist from Kewanee, Illinois. As vice president of the Flying Dentists Association, Craddock used the Acclaim to attend meetings in Minneapolis and New Orleans on January 31 along with setting the speed record. “Gone from home only 24 hours, I missed no clinic time,” Craddock noted. “I could have never, ever done that trip commercially.”

Georgia AOPA member to head aviation committee

Georgia State Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R) has been appointed as the chairman of the Georgia House of Representatives aviation subcommittee. The aviation subcommittee hears legislation that affects air transportation, airports, and the aerospace industry throughout the state of Georgia. “As a licensed pilot, Barry understands the aviation industry, the rules and regulations involved in aviation, and the impact Georgia’s airports have on our economy,” said Rep. Vance Smith Jr. (R), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

“Georgia has a rich aviation heritage and aviation continues to have a significant impact on local economies throughout the state. I hope to be able to bring a new perspective that recognizes the importance of both the air carrier and the GA industries in our state,” Loudermilk said.

Quick Briefs

The body of famed mountain flying instructor Sparky Imeson was found in his crashed Cessna 180 north of Bozeman, Montana. He was on a one-hour flight from Bozeman to Helena on March 17. Imeson has conducted mountain-flying safety seminars nationwide and is the author of several books on the subject.

Cessna’s light sport aircraft, the SkyCatcher, suffered a second setback in March when the test pilot was required to activate a BRS airframe parachute system during a test flight. The aircraft descended under a parachute and flipped over after hitting a fence northeast of Wichita. The pilot was not injured. The test program had recovered from an initial setback following a spin-related crash and redesign in late 2008. The redesigned aircraft is the one involved in the March flight.

Telluride Regional Airport, Colorado, is closed while the runway is reconstructed (see “America’s Airports: Landing on the Mesa,” February 2009 AOPA Pilot). It will reopen November 2, 2009. All airport staff remain employed, either working on the project itself or maintaining the airport, which is open only to helicopters.

Cessna 185, Garmin 496 help study global warming

Is there, or is there not, global warming? A Cessna 185 and a Garmin 496 portable GPS receiver last year helped NASA search for the answer.

Idaho pilot Steve Garman, flying a mission for the Lighthawk volunteer environmental air force with offices in Wyoming, spent two weeks helping NASA scientist Ross Nelson determine the carbon content of the Alaskan forest. That, in turn, can help answer questions about global warming. It was the most precise flying the Lear 60 pilot has ever done. The aircraft is owned by the environmental-mission coordinating organization, Lighthawk.

“In my 13,500 hours the flying was never as tough, and I will never do it again,” Garman said. Ross was sitting in the back with a laser device and camera, measuring the height of vegetation and trees. But the aircraft had to follow a precise path, plus or minus 20 feet. Garman had Garmin 530 and 430 GPS receivers connected to an autopilot, but that combination wasn’t precise enough. He had to manually fly the track using a Garmin portable 496 GPS. That is tough enough and required days of practice before attempting the mission. But because of the way the measuring equipment works, Garman was not able to bank the aircraft. All turns were flat turns using only the rudder.

The 496 was scaled down to a few hundred feet to enable Garman to keep within the 20-foot margin of error. He traced north-south tracks derived from satellite paths across the state, and visited such exotic locations as Barrow and Dead Horse. Some of the vegetation plots are in national parks or on military reservations. Although it was June 2008, the temperature on the Alaska’s North Slope was in the 20s and 30s.

The terrain was remote, meaning it would be tough to find the aircraft if the engine quit. Garman estimated that on one run that was lower than the rest, he would have seconds to set up for an emergency touchdown from observation altitude. He carried a tent, a stove, and a shotgun as survival gear for his flights above forests and bogs.

Robinson talks about R66, succession plans

One of the most anticipated events at any Helicopter Association International convention is Robinson Helicopter founder Frank Robinson’s annual briefing

In a wide-ranging, unscripted, hour-long series of comments and answers to audience questions, Robinson candidly and colorfully held forth on his company’s turbine-powered R66 program, the credit crisis, and succession plans—or rather the lack of them—at his privately held firm.

“We’d hoped to have the R66 done by now,” the silver-haired CEO said of the four-seat, Rolls-Royce-powered helicopter that’s flown more than 100 hours in testing. “But [FAA certification] is still going to take the better part of a year. The aircraft flies very well, and it flew very well more than a year ago when I flew it. It’s lived up to all of my expectations.”

Robinson wouldn’t give any specific performance figures or name a price other than to say it will be more expensive than a piston-engine R44 (about $400,000) and less than a Bell JetRanger—if they put the JetRanger back into production.

“It’ll be at least as fast as an R44, and probably faster,” he said. “The rate of climb will be very, very good. The service ceiling will still be 14,000 feet because that’s what the FAA will approve.” The new model will look like “an overweight R44” because of its additional eight inches in width. (It’ll also be eight inches taller at the rotor.) Robinson said his company plans to continue building two-seat R22s, although he personally recommends the larger R44s for pilot training.

The company set a record last year with 893 new aircraft deliveries—an all-time high for civil helicopter firms. But production will fall this year as the ongoing credit crisis takes a toll domestically and especially abroad, where two-thirds of new Robinson helicopters are sold. “The economy suddenly, overnight, has become a horrible mess,” Robinson said. “It’s just as bad, maybe worse, outside the U.S. Right now we can’t deliver on a lot of orders and sales because [buyers] can’t get the financing.”

Robinson, 79, paraphrased the late comedian Jack Benny when asked about succession plans for his Torrance, California-based company. “If I can’t take it with me, I just won’t go,” Robinson laughed, recalling the comedian’s quip about his wealth. “[Jack Benny] didn’t need a succession plan, and I think I don’t either.”

—Dave Hirschman

Superior Air Parts auction scuttled over antitrust concerns

Concerns that the purchase of Superior Air Parts by either Teledyne Continental Motors or Lycoming may violate antitrust laws appear to have scuttled for now a court-ordered auction in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas. Superior officials announced in January they had reached an $11.5 million deal with Lycoming that was to conclude at a court-ordered auction in late February.

A competing bid to Lycoming’s offer came from Teledyne Continental Motors. The auction was scheduled for February 24, but on that day Texas Assistant Attorney General Brett L. Fulkerson delivered a letter to the bankruptcy court warning that an antitrust investigation regarding the sale is in progress.

After many phone calls and much legal wrangling, the auction took place two days later with Superior rejecting, for now, both bids, tossing the company back into bankruptcy limbo. Had the sale proceeded, Fulkerson warned, an antitrust case could be filed against the winning bidder. Superior remains an open bankruptcy case.

Superior Air Parts makes parts for both Lycoming and Continental engines and provides the main competition to the purchase of OEM parts. Here are excerpts from Fulkerson’s letter: “As you are aware, the Office of the Attorney General is investigating the possibility of a reduction in competition in the market for replacement parts for piston-drive, general aviation engines in the State of Texas due to the proposed sale of Superior Air Parts, Inc.

“The proposed sale of substantially all of Superior’s assets to either Avco Corporation or Teledyne Technologies, Inc., poses serious concerns that sections 15.05(a) and/or (d) of the Texas Free Enterprise and Antitrust Act of 1983 may be violated.

“Because of the complex nature of the issues and our concerns about significant competitive harm, we expect that our investigation will continue into [March]. In order to complete our due diligence review we will send additional information requests in the form of Civil Investigative Demands or otherwise to obtain documentary material or sworn statements from persons with relevant knowledge.

“…If our investigation reveals that the sale of Superior’s assets results in the buyer acquiring market power in the relevant market we reserve our rights to take appropriate legal action in a court of competent jurisdiction.”

—Alton K. Marsh and Steven Ells

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | <em>AOPA Pilot</em> Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.