Saturday, 29 August 2009

EGNOS arrives

EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) is due to be given the green light in October, with full approval for it to be used for 'safety of life' applications (i.e. approaches) in 2010. This clears the way for RNAV approaches with vertical guidance - known to be liked by the UK CAA!

Full story here

Friday, 28 August 2009

RNAV Approaches

There are more precision GPS approaches in the US than there are ILS approaches. There are non-precision GPS approaches all over Europe, and of course in Iraq and Afghanistan too.

In the UK, until very recently, Shoreham had the only GPS approach. Gloucester has recently been approved and Lydd is almost there, so things are moving, albeit slowly. The approaches at Gloucester and Shoreham both require an ADF as the NDB is used for the missed approach procedure. What possessed the designers or regulators to mandate the use of an archaic, unreliable navaid in a modern approach is beyond me.

It doesn't really matter if much of the rest of the aviation world thinks that we have a third-world aviation infrastructure, but if we don't do something to at least start to catch up in this, and other areas, GA's utility will be reduced even further.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Very Little Joy

I can remember the earnest look of concern on regulators' faces when talking about VLJs. How would the ‘system’ cope with thousands of light, slow jets being flown by non-professional crews? Some suggested new rules that would require a crew of two for any jet aircraft, some suggested banning them from certain high-volume airspace and some just attended lots of conferences and meetings, many in exotic locations. For the foreseeable future, the regulators will have to find something else to fret about. The skies, be they in Europe, the US or anywhere else for that matter, aren’t about to fill up with business or personal jets of any kind, let alone small, slow ones.

I suggest that the term VLJ no longer refers to Very Light Jet, Very Little Joy seems more appropriate. Truth is, the dream of thousands of small jets leaving aircraft factories has turned into a bit of a nightmare for the companies seduced by the dream.

In no particular order…

Eclipse: The daddy of all VLJs. Vern Raeburn’s baby promised disruptive technology. The Eclipse promised a new aircraft with new engines, new avionics and new systems, all of it built in a (you’ve guessed) using new manufacturing techniques. The company succeeded in building and certifying the aircraft, burning their way through $1.7 BILLION on the way. Early, unfulfilled promises of good performance mated to a sub $1m jet caused a stir and undoubtedly made selling existing aircraft like the Piper Meridian much harder. One strange episode involved the (brief) launch of the Eclipse 400 - a single-engine, V-tail, four-seat jet designed, in my opinion, purely as a spoiler for the Cirrus Jet. According to Raeburn, the E400 'only' cost $10m.

Adam: A good bunch of people with an interesting centreline twin that probably belonged to another era. I always felt that the A700, a twin jet version of the A500 was a slight panicked response to Eclipse’s announcement. Had they started with a clean sheet of paper I’m pretty sure that their proposed VLJ wouldn’t have had the twin boom configuration.

Diamond: Christian Dries, the man behind Diamond has enough energy to run a small European country and the D-Jet is just one of his many projects. Traditionally, Diamond’s aircraft development takes place in Austria, but Dries moved the jet project to Canada, partly because it is closer to the prime market, but also because of grumbles over the difficulty of working with some European regulators. A while ago, Dries told me that he had spent €80m on the D-Jet; I expect that figure has risen considerably. Diamond is still talking about deliveries in mid-2010, but the high cost of development must be hurting, and there are rumours that Dries is looking for a company to partner with.

Cessna: Not so long ago, the Citation Mustang commanded a premium, now, if you have the cash, there are some great deals to be done. The Mustang is a good aeroplane and a safe bet. None of the VLJ players are smiling right now, but Cessna at least aren’t crying.

Cirrus: Alan Klapmeier’s enthusiasm was infectious and over 400 people sent the manufacturer $100,000 deposits without even knowing the proposed specification. The economy changed, but so did the politics at Cirrus. Last year Brent Wouters took over as CEO with founder Klapmeier remaining as Chairman. In June Klapmeier announced that he was putting a team together to buy the jet project from Cirrus Aircrfat/Arcapita. That deal fell apart during Oshkosh, and last week Klapmeier cleared his desk. Many of the deposit holders sent in cheques because they believed not only in the jet, but in Alan Klapmeier. There have been quite a few people asking for their deposits to be returned and they are being gradually refunded as cash flow allows. Yesterday, Cirrus Aircraft announced that it was closing ‘Cirrus North’, the building that housed the jet project. Wouters insists however that the company is fully committed to completing the jet. Should there be a ‘run on the bank’ from deposit holders I find it hard to see how the company could avoid a spell of legal protection from creditors.

Piper: Until recently, I was pretty sure that the Piper Jet would prove disastrous for the Florida-based manufacturer. The wing looks gorgeous, but the fuselage with its rear-mounted engine could only be loved by its mother. I’m no aerodynamicist, but I didn’t reel with shock when I heard a rumour that the nose baggage locker contains a block of concrete. (I’ve never been able to/allowed to open it when I’ve seen the jet on public display.) Notwithstanding the above, the Piper team were in fine form at Oshkosh, and Piper undoubtedly the most upbeat manufacturer.

Epic: This Epic LT turboprop kit was real, but the company announced loads of other projects. The house of cards eventually collapsed and as I write this there are plenty of people still looking for Rick Shrameck, Epic’s CEO.

Eclipse II: Mason Holland and Mike Press recently paid $40m for the liability-free assets of Eclipse. Given that those assets set others back $1.7b, I’d say they got a good deal. Initially, the plan is to provide support, spares and upgrades to existing owners. When the economy changes, production could start again.

There are of course other, even smaller players and there are still visionaries (?) pounding the streets, getting thrown out of VC offices the minute they mention 'VLJ'. I’m willing to bet that the ongoing projects at Cirrus, Piper and Diamond are causing more headaches than joy, and in this economy it is only possible to guess at the damage being done by any lack of focus resulting from what many will only think of as a millstone.

I’d be willing to bet that Eclipse Mk II will do OK. It's often the second or third owners of a set of aviation assets that make the money. I suspect that there’s some money out there... waiting for one of the existing companies to go bust in order to acquire a debt-free project... or three.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Why real maps should remain on paper

I'm a devoted GPS user. Even if I try, I can't imagine touring without one. In fact, I have two units - an installed and approved GNS530, and a Garmin 495. Both have current databases and both are very good, and both will one day get upgraded when the next wave of whatever comes along. I hardly ever fly without them, and I never fly without a paper chart.

I might love the latest and greatest, but my heart sinks when I hear of another GPS that displays a digital version of a CAA, Jeppesen or other paper chart. Showing real, georeferenced charts on screen is seen by some as the holy grail, but I just can't understand why.

When you go flying, how small do you fold your chart? I enjoy a fairly spacious cabin in the C182, and have become a bit lazy when it comes to chart folding, so it's at least A4 in size and perhaps bigger. I've been looking at what other other pilots do and most seem to fold their charts down to about A4.

That provides an area that would take at least 45 minutes to fly through in an average GA aircraft, and it's a nice size to help with the bigger picture, giving situational awareness.

Contrast that with the displays that are showing digitized charts. Even the biggest are just too small. Of course, it's possible to zoom out, but then it's a struggle to read the 'chart' - and zooming in so that any notations are clear just makes the immediate area far too small.

Charts were designed and drawn to be on paper; vector charting was designed to appear on screens. Having the real thing on a screen with a moving symbol of an aeroplane showing exactly where you are may seem comforting, but with the very minimum of effort the combination of a real (big) map and a moving (vector) map GPS is the way to go.

The weather today was mainly...

No, they're not mine.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Epic lawsuit grows, Shrameck still missing

The original lawsuit filed against Epic by Rich Lucibella has been extended to cover two of Epic's sister companies - Aircraft Completion Servces and Aircraft Investor Resources - and Rick Shrameck, Jeff Sanders and Michael Shealy.

Epic's Bend facility remains shut with Epic's landlord holding lien against the property inside. Meanwhile Shrameck's whereabouts remain a mystery.

Running on empty

Ever been tempted to stretch a flight, or take off a little tight on fuel? It seems that the pilot of this Piper Comanche pushed it a little too far and ran out.

The pilot reportedly told Santa Barbara controllers that he was 'out of fuel' before gliding to a landing on Highway 101 in California. Apparently he intended to land with the traffic in the northbound lane, but ended up landing into oncoming traffic. The aeroplane hit two cars before spinning around and hitting a third. Luckily for everyone involved no-one was seriously injured. The only passenger was the pilot's wife (also uninjured) and I can only imagine what she said (and probably continues to say).

I've occasionally taken off from the strip to pick up fuel with less avgas on-board than I would like (and I like to land with one hour of fuel left in the tanks). My limit for a 'reduced' fuel margin means landing with thirty minutes in the tanks, but with this incident sparking a re-think, I'm now in the market for a couple of 20l jerrycans that'll take me back to the general rule of one hour's worth of fuel in the tanks on landing.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Shuttleworth Collection threatened

There's a thread on the FLYER forums concerning a letter received by the Shuttleworth Collection. It's shown here, but a larger version is available over on the forums.

As you can see, it contains a threat against the aeroplanes in the Collection, and it is a threat that is rightly being taken seriously.

I have no idea if there's a genuine risk to the Collection's aircraft, but it does bring home the fact that in the UK, for the vast majority of the time, aircraft are pretty safe whether they're left outside on strips (fingers crossed), on airfields or in hangars.

Of course, there have been some well-documented criminal acts, like the five substantially damaged aircraft at Redhill in 2003, and latterly there was some damage to aircraft parked outside at Wycombe Air Park just prior to AeroExpo, but to date (and the fingers are still crossed) we've been lucky.

That said... crossing fingers is not really a serious crime-busting strategy, so despite the relative safety we need to remain vigilant, and to encourage other airfield and strip users to join us in aviation's version of Neighbourhood Watch.

I hope the threat to the Shuttleworth Collection is spurious, I hope they catch whoever is sending the letters, and I hope that it isn't, as the police wonder, an 'inside job'.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Some good and bad UK destinations

I was being quizzed by a non-flying friend recently. He wanted to know where pilots went in the UK, and what they did when they got there. I somehow failed to describe the eau de damp building and stale chip fat that permeates some establishments and concentrated on some of the nicer or more interesting places I've been to...

  1. Blackpool. I know, not an obvious choice, but it's so different that landing there and then walking along the seafront when the summer season is in full swing just transports you to a completely different place.
  2. Oban (photo). Situated in some of the UK's most stunning scenery Oban is well worth a visit. At one time Paul Keegan would welcome you with tea and jammy dodgers, but local political nonsense may have changed this.
  3. Compton Abbas. Great views, air/ground the way it should be done, good food and a real buzz.
  4. Bolt Head. Amazing strip perched on the cliffs of Devon. Land, park and walk into Salcombe for a bit of sophisticated (compared to Blackpool) seaside fun.
I somehow failed to mention...

  1. Lydd. Glad to say that Ms Frosty is no longer there and the welcome is, well, welcoming. Trouble is, when I tried to buy a meal (at lunchtime) the spotty yoof told us that he was on his lunch break and couldn't serve us any food!
  2. Newquay. Good ATC but expensive and a pain to use. Go to Perranporth instead.
  3. Blackpool. I know it features in the good to visit list, but just don't get stuck there on a Tuesday night in January!
  4. Alderney. Great island that's well worth a visit. Sadly it is spoilt by some of the unfriendliest ATC this side of the Urals.