Pilot Briefing

September 1, 2009

Oshkosh wrap-up

AOPA Pilot editors filed nearly 50 stories from EAA AirVenture in July, not counting videos, Twitter reports, and Facebook entries. In case you missed it, here are some of the highlights. See AOPA Online for the full report and online videos.

Garmin International won the prize for sheer volume of announcements. A representative said there were nine in all. The most affordable product is the cellphone weather service, Pilot My-Cast. While it has learned new tricks to improve the service, the big news is that it is available on the iPhone in September for $99 a year. Garmin also beefed up the G600 panel with new features but left the price at $30,000, and introduced a G500 panel for $17,000. Garmin offers the G3X avionics suite for light sport aircraft and Experimental category aircraft for $10,000.

Cessna Aircraft Company continued its march toward the light sport aircraft era with news that its SkyCatcher, troubled by two accidents during spin testing, had passed spin testing and has been found in compliance with ASTM standards, the industry agreed-upon quality standards for all light sport aircraft. Changes following the second incident included a ventral fin beneath the tail and modifications to the aileron and elevator movement. At the same time, Cessna said it has completed with King Schools a new course for sport and private pilots, just in time for the first SkyCatcher deliveries this year.

Teledyne Continental Motors said it has certified the first full authority digital engine control (FADEC) turbocharged engine, the TSIOF-550. The 350-horsepower engine will be of interest to Cirrus customers in need of an overhaul. Lycoming announced the iE2 add-on electronic engine control system. While it adds the convenience of single-lever engine control, it also provides the engine with the computer smarts to burn alternative fuel.

Light sport aircraft manufacturers got their share of attention, too. Tecnam showed off a new Rotax-powered half-million-dollar twin-engine aircraft, although it’s not a light sport aircraft. It is a fully certified economical trainer (10 gph total fuel burn counting both engines). Remos said it is launching a marketing push while Flight Design, the leader in sales since the LSA movement began five years ago, offered an electric-powered aircraft and flight controls for the handicapped. The Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association said it would begin awarding its stamp of approval to companies that have low-cost parts, readily available repair centers in the United States, and good pilot training and transition programs. At this writing there were 99 light sport aircraft approved, although eight to nine of those are off the market.

Goulian named top airshow performer

Boston-area airshow pilot Michael Goulian has received the airshow industry’s 2009 Bill Barber Award for Showmanship. He joins a list of distinguished airshow performers.

Goulian grew up with aviation after his late father Myron Goulian, a former crop duster and airline-training pilot, established Executive Flyers Aviation in Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1964. Like his father, Goulian soloed at age 16 and soon began aerobatic training. After numerous medals in aerobatic competitions over a number of years, he won the U.S. National Unlimited Champion title in 1995. His father was there to see it, racing through the crowd and shouting, “My son!”

Goulian supports young performers who dream, as he did, of a career as an airshow performer. With coauthor Geza Szurovy, Goulian wrote Basic and Advanced Aerobatics, one of the top-selling aerobatic training books. Goulian currently competes in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at sites around the world. Watch a video of his latest race on mikegoulian.com under “Latest Videos.”

Four-legged friends go flying

This one’s for the dogs. And cats. But no birds for now, although that could be the next category sharing a Beechcraft 1900 with your family pet, depending on demand. AOPA member Dan Wiesel who, along with his wife, was once a consultant to startups in San Jose’s Silicon Valley, is now the president and CEO of Pet Airways. Two aircraft are configured to transport pets in their travel kennels along a route from New York to Baltimore to Chicago, to Denver, and finally Los Angeles. At the time we checked the startup was booked ahead three months. All flight operations are conducted by Suburban Air Freight in Omaha, Nebraska, but Wiesel lives in Delray Beach, Florida. In-flight drinks are served, but there are no snacks in case the pets discover they don’t like flying. There’s also no window view, but so far, no complaints from the passengers.

Waco Classic introduces new model

Waco Classic President Peter F. Bowers got to thinking one day, “What’s changed about our product?” It turned out that 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-horsepower Jacobs R755-A2 radial engine. The 275-horsepower engine of the older model is still available.

The more 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. The engines come from a supply built during World War II and kept in new condition in their original crates. They were used on Cessna’s famed multiengine Bamboo Bomber trainer and on the Cessna 195. They are upgraded to modern standards by primarily two firms in the United States.

More power will improve takeoff performance and may modestly increase the 120-mph cruise speed of the $395,000 aircraft.

The new D model is based on a customer survey asking customers what they would like. The feedback then went into the upgrade effort. The company has a few prospects for new orders, but like many manufacturers facing the current economic downturn, there is currently no backlog. The positive side of that is a short 90-day delivery time for the next customer, Bowers said.

NTSB says downdrafts killed Fossett

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that adventurer Steve Fossett was most likely killed while trying to escape downdrafts that exceeded the climb performance of his Bellanca 8KCAB Decathlon.

Examination of the site indicated Fossett made a 180-degree turn after radar contact was lost. (After the accident was discovered in October 2008 a review of radar tracks showed one 20-minute track to be within one mile of the site.) Additionally, downdrafts in the area were 400 feet per minute, and Fossett’s Decathlon was capable of climbing at only 300 fpm given the density altitude at its cruising altitude.

Fossett departed the Flying M Ranch near Yerington, Nevada, on September 3, 2007, for a personal flight that some said was to scout a location for a land speed-record attempt. The crash occurred in mountainous country Fossett knew as a boy. A month-long search failed to find the aircraft. Hikers found Fossett’s personal effects on a mountain at 10,000 feet about a half-mile from where the aircraft remains were later discovered. The radar track nearest the accident site indicated the aircraft had been flying at 13,000 feet.

Did Hitler’s engineers invent stealth technology?

Since World War II the United States has hidden in a hangar a German-built wooden aircraft called the Horten 229 that looks very much like today’s modern Stealth Bomber. Did Hitler’s engineers have it first? To find out, the National Geographic Channel and Northrop Grumman teamed up to build a Horten 229 flying wing replica and tested its radar signature in 2008.

It did indeed have a reduced radar signature to 40 percent that of a conventional aircraft (charcoal dust was mixed with the wood glue to absorb radar signals). With the construction and testing completed, the model has gone to the San Diego Air and Space Museum for display. The model was placed on a 50-foot pedestal at a formerly secret location in the Mojave Desert so that it could be hit with radar returns from every angle.

Solar-powered airplane rolls out

A follow-on to the Solar Impulse electric airplane that just rolled out in Switzerland in June may circle the world in 2012. The development model just unveiled by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will fly at the end of 2009 and gather data for the final model. It can fly both night and day using batteries and solar power.

Piccard, a psychiatrist, made the first round-the-world flight by balloon while Borschberg is an airplane and helicopter pilot with management experience. The model just unveiled carries only one pilot. The four-electric-motor aircraft that circles the world must be made light enough to carry two pilots if it is to succeed. The idea is to push the science needed to accomplish the goal.

Helping with that is a large chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer, Solvay; the Omega watch company; and Deutsche Bank. Solvay has designed the cockpit and many of the parts for the aircraft using lightweight polymers.

Will Commander Premier Aircraft rise again?

There’s hope that Commander Aircraft single-engine aircraft will reenter production, with only one possible catch. European banker Ronald G. Strauss, now living in Montreal, has purchased Commander Premier Aircraft, located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The purchase was made by a corporation named Aero-Base of Montreal, which was founded by Strauss, but he doesn’t plan to change the company name. The deal was under discussion for a year but was delayed by the declining economy.

The sale was announced in a press release issued by Stonegate Capital Group officials Joel M. Hartstone and Claudia Horn who, until 18 months ago, served as the top officers of Commander Premier Aircraft. Their positions were turned over to members of the Commander Owners Group while Stonegate officials continued to look for a buyer.

The deal could fall through if Aero-Base fails to successfully negotiate the purchase of the 52,000-square-foot factory that is currently owned by the city of Cape Girardeau.

The deal only narrowly avoided a second trap when the chief investor of the former Commander Aircraft Company sold a note to the Burlington, Vermont-based Aerodyme Corp. Aerodyme, one of Commander Premier Aircraft’s original stockholders, owns an FAA STC to replace the original Commander engines with a larger 320-horsepower engine. That is critical to improving the performance of the aircraft and attracting sales. However, Aerodyme agreed, as have other creditors, to accept a discounted payoff that the investor had previously agreed to. Had Aerodyme not agreed, the deal would have failed.

Strauss said he plans to modernize the four-seat Commander with a larger engine and modern avionics. He described his plans to AOPA Pilot in a telephone interview from Montreal.

Strauss, who carries both French and Canadian passports, was born in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and lived in Belgium and Switzerland working for American banks. In 1999 he moved to Montreal with his Canadian wife. A 650-hour private pilot, he has not flown in two years but previously owned three airplanes, a Commander, a Beechcraft F33 Bonanza, and a Beechcraft Baron 58. The Baron was once owned by the late actor Christopher Reeves.

“I am looking forward to putting back into production an airplane that lots of pilots loved,” Strauss said. “It is the Mercedes of the air and one of the best four-seaters on the market.” He says he wants to hold off announcing details of changes to the airplane until he talks with the Commander owners who currently operate the Commander Premier Aircraft Co. The company will now fall under the ownership of Strauss’ Aero-Base. It is to serve as an umbrella company for additional acquisitions Strauss hopes to make.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | AOPA Pilot 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.