Pilot Briefing

Man to break sound barrier with his body

September 1, 2010

Either Felix Baumgartner will break the sound barrier, or the sound barrier will break Felix Baumgartner. Not even Baumgartner knows for sure.

According to Red Bull publicists, “sometime” in 2010 Baumgartner will step out of a capsule beneath a helium-filled balloon at 120,000 feet “somewhere” in North America. According to unofficial sources, it will happen this summer above New Mexico.

Baumgartner will break the sound barrier wearing a fully pressurized space suit. “We still have an unknown, which is what happens to my body when I break the speed of sound; but at least we’re going to know that I’m able to handle the step-off,” he said.

He’s practiced stepping off with the capsule suspended a few feet above the ground. If he stumbles, he won’t be able to achieve the streamlined position necessary to break the sound barrier. That could lead to a flat spin when he reaches dense air. Testing proved the capsule remains stationary while he shuffles to the door and drops off, so that part is less of a worry than it was.

He has bungee-jumped in the pressurized space suit—helmet by the David Clark Company—to practice controlling his forward rotation. He’s got that part down, too.

This past spring he made skydives from 26,000 feet in a fully pressurized suit and found that earlier problems with bulky equipment have been corrected.

There seems little left to do but take the leap. Once it’s over, you’ll be able to see a full television program on the National Geographic Channel.


LSAs complete global formation flight

Two pilots flying Flight Design CTs are back in Sion, Switzerland, after circling the globe in 51 days. The two flew in formation.

The Flight Design CT aircraft were modified to carry 120 gallons of fuel for 17-hour legs over water. The aircraft normally carry 35 gallons of fuel.

Yannick Bovier, 37, and Francisco Agullo, 41, departed their home base on the last day of April. After 51 days, the pair returned safely on June 19 after crossing two oceans.

“The story of these two pilots as reported in their log is a fascinating read,” said Flight Design USA President Tom Peghiny. The Swiss team calls their adventure Azimut 270.

Some Middle Eastern countries made getting overflight permission difficult. Bovier and Agullo are airline pilots and were familiar in dealing with aviation authorities in many countries. They also had support teams to help with permits, logistical efforts, and weather reports.


Sun-powered airplane flies 26 hours

Switzerland’s battery-powered Solar Impulse has flown through nighttime on batteries recharged by solar panels during the day. It will need to do that repeatedly to fulfill plans for spanning oceans and circling the globe.

The four-motor aircraft took off from an old air base, staying close to home for 26 hours and nine minutes before a safe landing. Weather conditions were perfect. The flexible craft with a 210-foot wingspan flew at an average speed of 23 knots indicated airspeed. It reached an altitude of 28,000 feet on battery power during daylight hours, and then glided down to 5,000 feet after sunset where it remained on battery power until the sun rose again.

The Solar Impulse—registration number HB-SIA—with André Borschberg at its controls successfully landed to the cheers of supporters.

Borschberg had this emotional reaction: “I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career. Just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise thanks to the sun… And then that suspense, not knowing whether we were going to manage to stay up in the air the whole night. And finally the joy of seeing the sun rise and feeling the energy beginning to circulate in the solar panels again!” Borschberg is CEO and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project.

“Bravo André! You have just proved that what I have been dreaming about for the last 11 years, is possible,” said Bertrand Piccard, initiator and president of the project.


NAFI to become independent organization

The National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) have decided to end a 15-year relationship under which the two organizations shared office space and administrative functions.

After an extended period of discussions, EAA and the NAFI board of directors agreed that NAFI would become a fully independent organization no later than March 1, 2011. The transition begins immediately.

“We endorse NAFI’s decision to position itself as an independent professional association for the flight instructor community,” said Tom Poberezny, EAA chairman and president. “Meanwhile, EAA will continue its focus on events and initiatives aimed at growing participation across the whole aviation community, such as the recent International Learn to Fly Day, expanded flight instruction opportunities for youth, and the Learn to Fly Discovery Center at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

“With a cleaner operating structure, and each organization focused on its core strength, EAA looks forward to working with NAFI on projects that benefit all of aviation. NAFI has become a much stronger organization over the past 15 years, which included doubling the number of members, creating an executive director position, establishing the Master Instructor Program, and many other achievements,” said Poberezny.

“We truly appreciate all that EAA has done for NAFI and pledge to work hard with EAA to serve our mutual interests, which are many,” said Ken Hoffman, NAFI board chairman. “The focus of NAFI will be to continue to work for the benefit of the professional flight instructor and other teachers of flight.”


Hawker Beechcraft to lay off 130

Hawker Beechcraft officials have filed so-called “warn” notices with the state of Kansas 130 layoffs could take effect as soon as the end of August.

The notices involve hourly employees. Last year Hawker Beechcraft, like every major and minor aircraft manufacturer, laid off thousands of workers. Layoffs triggered a worker protest last September.


Flying car intended for jungle use

There are more than 100 light sport aircraft you can buy, but there is soon to be a new one, the I-TEC Maverick Sport Model. It is somewhat like a powered parachute with a roadable vehicle attached. It was developed for use by missionaries in remote areas of the Amazon to use roads—as far as they go—and to fly the rest of the way to indigenous people.

I-TEC founder Stephen Saint grew up among the Waodani Indians of the Amazon. The vision for I-TEC grew out of his experience among the Waodani.

The Maverick is currently in testing to qualify under the light sport category. It is billed by the company as the first LSA flying car. The company claims it is road-legal, can maintain interstate speeds, has a robust suspension, and is float-capable. It has a dual drive system that fits a transaxle or drives a propeller. A proprietary mast and spar system hold up the parachute and make crosswind landings possible, the company claims.

The Maverick is the result of seven years of research and development by the Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center (I-TEC), a nonprofit organization. Developing a commercial market is meant to help reduce the cost for frontier use.


International sales picking up for American Champion

It’s been a tough year for American Champion, with sales cut in half, but international sales are improving. The company manufactures tandem-seat tailwheel aircraft.

Last year sales were only two a month (six to eight is normal), but that has increased to four. Sales in Europe once totaled 10 to 12 per year, but there were only two by midyear. However, sales are improving in Brazil, Canada, and India. The Scout and Decathlon tailwheel models account for most of the upturn, but recent sales include the Explorer, Adventure, and Aurora models.

Employment at the plant has dropped from 94 people to 42 workers.

Improvements continue to flow from the Wisconsin factory. Synthetic vision will be offered, Aspen avionics have been added, and the Scout will get a 210-horsepower Continental engine.


Service work sustaining Mooney

Mooney Aircraft is riding out the economic downturn with income from customer service and warranty support work, a spokeswoman said. Once an employer of 400 workers, the Kerrville, Texas, company now has 55.

Customer support remains fully staffed at the factory. Mooney continues to attend the more affordable aviation trade shows such as Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Florida, and the AOPA Aviation Summit.

The Mooney aircraft inventory sold out last December. There are no new aircraft at the factory or at dealers. Some 7,000 Mooney aircraft remain in service. Although there are eight partially completed aircraft in the factory, Mooney will not complete those unless a full production line can be sustained. A ready workforce remains in the Kerrville area, although some now drive to aerospace jobs in San Antonio. The assumption by the company is that the workers would quit their new jobs and return to Mooney. Others have found work in Kerrville at such businesses as hardware stores.

Talks are in progress with new investors so that the production line can be restarted. However, the investors are said to feel the economy remains volatile, and while many indicators have improved, there remains little confidence in the current recovery among potential customers, the spokeswoman said. Mooney has received inquiries from owners who want to trade up, indicating support for a production line once the economy improves.


FAA grants roadable airplane weight exemption; federal highway approval still to come

The FAA boosted hopes of Terrafugia officials to market a roadable light sport aircraft (LSA) by granting a large portion of the weight increase the company requested. The FAA said it would allow the vehicle to weigh 1,430 pounds, the same limit already allowed for LSA seaplanes. The company’s request to increase the weight from the LSA standard of 1,320 pounds to a higher 1,474 pounds was denied.

By granting the same weight limit as for LSA seaplanes, the FAA has acknowledged that the Terrafugia flying car is a different type of LSA. That acknowledgment could help the company with federal highway officials.

Still to come is approval from federal highway officials regarding nonwaiverable highway crashworthiness standards.

Without that, the vehicle can’t be marketed as a roadable vehicle. There is no timetable for a decision, but company officials are hoping to hear this year. Company officials feel the extra weight allowance by the FAA allows for the weight of the structure needed to meet highway safety standards, despite the FAA approval falling 44 pounds short of the request.

As it stands, the FAA weight exemption allows a payload of 310 to 330 pounds when carrying full fuel of 20 gallons. Owners may decide to fly partially fueled in order to carry a passenger. LSA aircraft are limited to two seats.


Lancair gets new chiefs

Gene Wolstenholme and his son, Bob, have assumed leadership roles with Lancair International after increasing their holdings from 40 percent to 80 percent through new investment.

The two are familiar with operating a manufacturing plant. They operate Wolstenholme Machine in Colmar, Pennsylvania, that specializes in precision parts for the medical, aerospace, and telecommunication industries. Subsidiary WMrobots designs and builds robots for bomb disposal and mine detectors for the U.S. and Canadian markets.

Gene Wolstenholme is now the Lancair International chairman while his son is president and CEO. Tom Bowen continues to head company operations. “It is no secret that the Central Oregon area continues to suffer through double-digit unemployment, and this once vibrant aerospace manufacturing center has also suffered with the failures of Epic and Columbia,” Bowen said. “I am determined to do everything I can to maintain Lancair as a world-class company and to grow it into the future as we continue to design, build, and service premium aircraft.

“We are focused on the future,” said Wolstenholme, “We have a world-class product in our 320-knot, $1.2 million Evolution owner-built aircraft.”

Joe Bartels, CEO of LCTI/Lancair International since 2003, resigned as president and CEO under a June 7, 2010, investment agreement, and will remain a minority percentage owner of the company.


Navy to try diesel engine in airship

A U.S. Navy blimp built by the same company that built Snoopy for MetLife will test a piston diesel engine as one of its two engines. The craft is currently tracking oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.

When its job there is done, it will be fitted with a DeltaHawk turbo diesel. The engine, already mounted in an airship pod and ready to be bolted on, was built in Racine, Wisconsin. If successful, the Navy may buy additional engines for airship surveillance.

DeltaHawk engines could be certified as soon as 2011. They offer the Navy a chance to increase the flying time of the airship now in the Gulf from 21 hours to 90 hours. The company has flown one of its engines on a Velocity aircraft for 12 years.