Friday, 24 December 2010

Bad composite work, great service

A week or so ago, a wing skin became disbonded from the main spar during a Cessna production flight test. Cessna, in conjunction with the FAA issued an AD that effectively grounded a handful of aeroplanes, the vast majority of which were still in Cessna's hands.

Since then it has transpired that a couple of other aircraft in the field have been grounded as recent repairs to these airframes have made use of composite parts manufactured by the same Cessna facility in Mexico that made the faulty parts. It seems that composite work had been done during a time of extremely high humidity, and this caused something called amine blush.

While this is an undoubted embarrassment to Cessna, the way the company has reacted has been pretty impressive. Any owners affected are receiving not only regular updates, but they are being compensated too. That's pretty impressive, and not something that I've heard of before in the world of piston GA.

Here's one of Cessna's updates…

To update you on the situation with your Corvalis based on questions posed by our affected customers:

  • Work continues at a rapid pace across Cessna, in close coordination with the FAA

  • As a very brief recap, a wing skin on a new Corvalis disbonded from its spar in several places during a production flight, causing a fuel leak.

  • As a precaution, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive for a handful of new aircraft delivered with parts that may not meet the original design criteria

  • The AD was expanded to several other aircraft recently repaired with parts that may also not have meet the original design criteria

  • The FAA and Cessna engineers agree the issue stems from a production process anomaly where some bonding steps were done during periods of high humidity resulting in a condition called amine blush.

  • Cessna has suspended production of composite parts from our TAM facility until such time as we are confident all components being produced meet the type design through processes which will assure the products are the quality our customers expect and deserve.

  • We expect it will take some time to resume composite production and unfortunately a date can not be established at this time.

  • Since we identified the amine blush condition and there is no approved method of testing for this condition, we are not able to ship any parts that have been produced from the TAM facility.

  • We are exploring multiple paths to secure airworthy parts that would satisfy your immediate needs to return your aircraft to service and satisfy the FAA as an AMOC (alternate means of compliance) to the current Airworthiness Directive (AD).

We will continue to work these efforts over the holidays and I will keep you informed. Additionally, I believe one of my team has spoken with each of the customers affected about alternate transportation or ownership expenses, however, if you have questions please contact me.

Again, we are very sorry for the inconvenience and will resolve it safely and as quickly as possible while treating our customers fairly in the process.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

More CLOUDCLO than SNOCLO

We took the dog to the strip for a walk yesterday. Overnight, like many others we'd had a few inches of snow - and I guess like others it was perfect snow. It was perfect for flying, soft and powdery and not too deep.

I haven't flown for a couple of weeks now and I'm feeling the need to get airborne. The aeroplane has been moved to its winter base at Henstridge, but it was the low cloud rather than the drive that kept me on the ground.

With a bit of luck there'll be some fine winter days over the Christmas break and some snow still on the ground.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

UK Harriers bow out



Over 80 have been built, they're operated by five different countries and today the UK retired its Harrier fleet. As Harrier test pilot John Farley said - the decision says a lot more about the UK than it does about the aircraft.

I've had the pleasure of working with John for a while now, he wrote a regular column for FLYER for a few years - each one carefully researched and crafted. If there were any more we'd publish them in an instant, but John's a man who knows his own mind, and when he decides that he's written enough that's it!

I've also had the honour of working with John on his book A View from the Hover. The first print run sold out pretty quickly and the second has just arrived back from the printers. This time it's in full colour and with an index. I delivered some to John a couple of days ago - and got him to sign a few while I was there.

This blog's not really an advert, but if you want to get hold of a signed copy. then give Charlotte in the FLYER offices a call and she'll sort it out for you.

Monday, 13 December 2010

In the blue corner













Stand by for a war of words and numbers. Highly respected online news organisation Avweb and highly respected member organisation AOPA USA are squaring up for, well, a bit of a ding-dong.

Just before AOPA Summit in November, AVweb ran a story commenting on AOPA's senior staff salaries, they went on to comment about AOPA's spending on aviation and other lobbying activities. Needless to say, AOPA reacted and discussions were held. The story was pulled, but not spiked. Instead, talks were promised and I believe that an exchange of views has taken place.

The next few days will see an AVweb update, and perhaps as a pre-emptive strike AOPA President Craig Fuller has written about AVweb in his blog.

AVweb has responded.

I wonder who'll be reaching for their lawyers first?

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Parallel Universe

A week or so ago I went to a press conference at EASA. The invitation said that the subject would be 'A better regulation for GA' with about half-an-hour set aside for a brief presentation, which would be followed by some lunch and a Q&A session. It struck me that half-an-hour wasn't long to cover both EASA's efforts so far and their plans for the future.

Once inside the building, I was shown to EASA's reception where I chatted for a while with other European aviation journos while we watched everyone in the meeting room waiting for us in an office on the other side of the atrium and one floor down. There seemed to be an issue with letting them know we were all somewhere else; somewhat unkindly I found myself muttering something about drinks parties and breweries.

We were eventually taken to the room and introduced to eight or so EASA employees responsible for looking after different aspects of GA. Eric Sivel started by explaining that of EASA's 500 employees, 100 had PPLs and so they were well aware of the issues facing GA. He went on to say that back in 2004 he and others had realised that GA needed help, and that something had to be done to give it a boost and make it sustainable. I just about muffled a scream at this point. I seemed to be experiencing life in a parallel universe.

Sivel went on to describe how MDM.032 was about to achieve great things, and that the LAPL (Light Aircraft Pilots Licence) was also a very good thing. He accepted that there was much work still to be done, and that by engaging with EASA we could all help move things in the right direction for GA.

At this point I didn't know what to think, part of me was glad they realised how much still had to be done, and part of me was scared about them doing it.

Eventually the time came for a few questions. In no particular order...

Q. When ELA1 comes about, what will the weight limit be, 1,000kg or 1,200kg?
A. 1,200kg

Q. What the f**k were you thinking when you brought in Part M? Costs have increased, confusion reigns and there are lots of things that are mandated now, but were recommended before.
A. Err, well, err if you use Part M properly it should cost you no more. Not only is LAMS allowed (even though the CAA say it won't be) but many of the things that some authorities claim as mandatory are in fact recommended. Not all owners, maintenance organisations, CAMOs or National Aviation Authorities are the same, or apply the rules in the same way.

Q. Part FCL. Why are there all sorts of dumb things in here like the revalidation rules for example?
A. The revalidation rules are simple for the LAPL

Q. What about the PPL
A. Ah, well, not out fault. We had to adopt a lot of the stuff from the JAA.

etc. etc.

In general , the impression I got was...

1. The LAPL is seen as the recreational licence for Europe.
2. There's not a great deal of uniformity in the way in which regulations are interpreted or applied.
3. If you want to save money, understand the system yourself and be prepared for a fight.
4. EASA staff do not fully understand how unpopular they are.

I'm digging into a few things that were said, and will report back...

Friday, 10 December 2010

Sorry...

I know I promised an update after my trip to EASA, but thing have been manic, and that's now been compounded by my laptop going into self-destruct mode :-(

I'm working on fixing that, and then I'll sort the update this weekend assuming the IT stuff goes smoothly...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

An informal lunch

I'm off to Cologne tomorrow (assuming I can get through the snow). Part of the reason for the trip is the following EASA event. At first I thought that a 30 minute presentation was a bit short, but then I saw that it was about better regulation for GA, and now I'm wondering if they'll have trouble filling the time.

I want to believe that EASA is doing a great job. People I like and respect have worked with them and I have a high opinion of them, but when I see things like Part M, and some of Part FCL, I struggle to see how their output can be described as anything other than poo.

I'll let you know how it goes…


EASA Media Event: A Better Regulation for General Aviation in Europe

Dear all,

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has several ongoing projects and tasks to promote better regulation for General Aviation in Europe.

Considering the upcoming milestones leading to the implementation of new EU Regulations, EASA’s Communications Department is very pleased to invite you to a briefing and lunchtime discussion on the theme of:

A Better Regulation for General Aviation in Europe

Date: Friday 3 December 2010 from 12:30 to 14:00
Place: EASA Headquarters in Cologne, Germany. Access details are available here.

A 30 minute presentation by EASA General Aviation experts will be followed by a Q&A session. An informal lunch will be provided.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Making aviation work

Emporia is a small town in Kansas with roughly 26,000 inhabitants. It is served by a small airport, Emporia Municipal (KEMP). It has one 5,000' hard runway and one 3,800' grass runway, pilot-controlled lighting, a VOR approach and a GPS approach to each end of the runway. There's an FBO and a self-serve, 24-hour avgas fuel pump. There's no tower, so pilots take care of their own radio needs.

It's a typical American airfield, small, not hugely busy and pilots are able to take care of their own needs from fueling, to lighting to radio comms. What's more, the facility is there and available 24 hours a day whether you need somewhere to land for fuel, or somewhere to stretch your legs (the pilot's lounge remains open, even when the FBO is closed).

Having facilities available like this means that aviation can be used as a business and transport tool, and that means that means more pilots, more aircraft and more economic activity…


Night flight

I love flying at night. The air is (generally) smoother, the visibility often good and the sights spectacular. I accept that an engine failure would be more of a pain at night than it would during the day, but still, night flight is something special, something to be enjoyed.

I'm struggling to get much of it done, and yet with it being dark at around 5pm there ought to be plenty of opportunities. The problem is, as ever, the lack of suitable places to land - I'd estimate that about 70% of GA facilities shut up shop as the sun goes down, a further 25% become unavailable an hour or two after that, leaving just a couple of places in the entire country that are both available to GA at say 10pm and that don't require a small mortgage to pay the fees (I can think of, erm Southend and err...)

There's an obscure rule that prevents licensed airfields from installing pilot-controlled lights, and even when a licensed airfield becomes unlicensed when closed, pilot-controlled lighting is still not allowed. Even it it were, I doubt that many would oblige and fit the necessary, relatively low-cost equipment - night flying habits just haven't developed enough to make it worthwhile.

It's a shame, and it's one of the two things that significantly reduce the utility of GA in the UK, the other being the lack of instrument approaches at smaller airfields.

Perhaps one day…



Saturday, 20 November 2010

It's not a yoke

I flew a Cessna Skycatcher recently. It got me thinking about the different types of controls used in light aircraft. I guess the most common is either the yoke or stick, although even here here are variations on the theme. Beechcraft for example had their throw-over yoke that featured a central pedestal with one yoke that could be used on either side while the simple joystick could either be one single stick per side, or a common arrangement with two sticks a la Robin or even Robinson for that matter. Then there's the sidestick, commonly found in aircraft like the Cirrus. It falls nicely to hand and moves for and aft and rolls left and right, sort of like a yoke that has been positioned to one side. The Eclipse and the Corvalis, nee Columbia, also have a sidestick, but rather than the Cirrus arrangement they are more like a real stick that has been positioned to the side, they too are good, although the control forces are higher. If you can track down the in-cockpit video of Sean Tucker doing aerobatics in the Columbia you'll see him, awkwardly, using two hands on the stick. Then there's the Skycatcher. It has a grip that resembles a control column, but it is placed where you'd expect a yoke, pitch control is achieved by moving the stick in and out, but roll control is achieved by sliding the stick left and right rather than it pivoting at the base.

Happily, in use all of the control arrangements work well, and all of them are pretty easy to get used to. Most pilots will convert in minutes without thinking.

Is there a superior configuration? Not really, although I guess everyone from engineers, to test pilots, designers and weekend renters will all have their favourites. There is one anomaly though, is it just me or does everyone think that Maules should have sticks instead of yokes?

AOPA Summit 2010 Long Beach, California

I've been to pretty much every AOPA Expo for the last fifteen years (it's only been called AOPA Summit for the last two), and sadly 2010's event was the smallest I can remember.

It's not entirely AOPA's fault, the GA market is going through some pretty lean times right now, but nonetheless exhibitors were thinner on the ground than normal. Most of the big names were there, but a few were missing, or had a reduced presence. The opening sessions, always a great start to the day providing both information and a sense of community have gone, and this year they were replaced by 'AOPA live' an event that is logically better, but that somehow misses the mark.

At the same time there's a little anti AOPA vibe going on in some quarters. Both of the big US online news sites, ANN and Avweb, ran less than positive stories about AOPA, and I heard more than a few members grumbling about the rise in membership fees and the $250 ticket price for the closing banquet (no, I didn't go).

It's a shame, AOPA does a HUGE amount of positive work for GA and thanks to its size, AOPA US makes a significant contribution to IAOPA, so wherever we fly in the world we benefit from having not just a strong local AOPA, but a strong US AOPA.

Next year's event will take place in Hartford Connecticut from 22 to 24 of September, much earlier than usual in order to benefit from the 'fall colors'

Simples

Anyone who has flown in the US will know just how easy it is, but talking about it over here, particularly with regulators, usually just elicits a roll of the eyes or a comment about how Europe is different for one reason or another.

I did a bit of US flying recently that showed, once again, that they just do General Aviation better than anywhere else.

Approaching Emporia Kansas (KEMP) I called Flight Service on 122.3 and filed an IFR flight plan from Emporia to Clermont County in Ohio (I69). When it came to working out the route, I just asked for DCT. The leg would be something like 560nm.

Taking off from Emporia (which, like almost all airports is open 24hrs a day with pilot-operated lights and self-service fuel) I called Kansas City Center and asked to pick up our IFR clearance, which was "Cleared dct I69, climb and maintain etc. etc."

I've just had a look at a similar length route in Europe, EGBJ to LFMD, and after a few minutes of playing around with the excellent Eurofpl I've got as far as

CFMU reply: ROUTE135: THE SID LIMIT IS EXCEEDED FOR AERODROME EGBJ [EGBJ50577A] CONNECTING TO LFMD.
ROUTE134: THE STAR LIMIT IS EXCEEDED FOR AERODROME LFMD [LFMD51850B] CONNECTING TO EGBJ

I'm sure I'd get there eventually, but it could hardly be called simple, and there's no way in the world that any acceptable or flown route would be anything like direct.

Still, things are different here…

Just managed to find a route that works thanks to the Excellent FlightPlanPro

MALBY L9 CPT N859 SITET A34 KOVAK H20 DOMOD A3 NEV R31 MTL A3 AMFOU

It carries a 10% route length overhead, although the route actually flown would undoubtedly be different, and probably shorter.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Shoreham looking shabby

I got up this morning and looked at the TAFs. The morning's weather was fine, but prob30 very pants later. Taking everything into account I took the appalling Kia Cee'd (hired from Hertz yesterday after my car went into limp home mode) and drove for two and a half hours to get to Shoreham.

Frankly it should be a jewel of an airport. It has a decent length runway, instrument approaches, full air traffic, lights, fuel, maintenance, hangarage, history, an art deco terminal, a cafe, a couple of flying schools and Transair, the UK's largest pilot shop. Not only that, but the local area is great and the nearest competition is miles away.

I got to Shoreham a few minutes early and decided to have a poke around to see what had changed since my last visit, to be honest I was a bit surprised, what's been going on?

A lot of the buildings, including the terminal are looking shabby and unloved and the restaurant, once closed, once decent, once average has a collection of chairs and tables that wouldn't be out of place in a run down bus station. I walked through the terminal's lobby area (not too bad) and walked outside to see an almost deserted apron. I don't think I've ever seen it so empty - I don't know if it had been cleared for a specific reason, but it didn't look like people were preparing to paint lines or wash concrete.

I really hope that the tatty state of the place is temporary and not a stage in a great little airport's decline.



Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Autumn flight

I haven't managed to post much recently as things have been busy at work. Despite that I've managed to do some flying, including a short flight in great light - I posted a few more pics here.

Next week I'm off to AOPA Summit in Long Beach, although AOPA's autumn event is significantly smaller than Sun 'n Fun or Oshkosh it's nonetheless a great event mixing education, exhibition and social functions pretty well, although I see that tickets for this year's Saturday night meal are on sale for $250 each.

I'm due to fly to a meeting tomorrow, but looking at Lyneham's TAF I suspect that I'll be driving!

TAF EGDL 022234Z 0300/0318 22015G25KT 9999 -RA BKN012 TEMPO 0300/0309 22012KT 6000 -RADZ BKN006 TEMPO 0312/0318 5000 -RADZ SCT004 BKN008=



Friday, 22 October 2010

Remember that humble pie?



With the taste of humble pie still lingering, I was amused and pleased to see an interview that AOPA conducted with Cessna CEO Jack Pelton at NBAA. A week ago I wrote that Cessna was going to launch its single-engine turboprop at NBAA, and when they launched the Citation Ten instead I had to eat humble pie. To be honest, I was starting to wonder if all the rumours over all the years referred to a project that had been quietly retired (remember Cessna's New Generation single engine piston?).

Jack Pelton however confirmed the project and even gave a few details. The aeroplane is based on the Mustang and has a target price of between $1m and $2.2. Jack Pelton suggested that performance would be in the 300kt area with impressive altitude ability.

If those numbers are met the new aeroplane will prove to be tough competition for both the Meridian and the TBM, but numbers - and particularly prices - are difficult to predict, and I can't really see how anyone could sell a certified, pressurised, single-engine turboprop for anything like $1m, unless Cessna do something interesting with their choice of engine, something Pelton hinted at. The announcement is going to make life interesting for Meridian and TBM sales people, even in the short term.

Watch this space, now the cat is officially out of the bag, I'm sure we'll be getting some more information.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Stunning weather, stunning city

There's a Britain From the Air photographic exhibition running in Bath at the moment. The pictures are large and distributed throughout the streets, and certainly enhance the lunchtime stroll.

The weather was stunning yesterday, so with the route taking me over Bath I took a few pictures. Here you can see the Circus with Brock Street running vertically away to the Royal Crescent. During Bath's Music Festival there are evening concerts under the tree in the middle of the Circus and lit candles in all of the windows.

It's easy to forget how nice Bath is when you work there every day, but a quick flight soon reminds you just how special it is.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Electric aircraft making progress?

NBAA has seen its fair share of announcements this week: Cessna launched the Citation Ten, Beech two new aeroplanes, NetJets orders for a huge number of Phenom 300s and Garmin a new avionics suite aimed at high-level business aviation.

That's a lot of good news, but there was another update that could have easily been missed by the men in suits. Cessna and Bye aviation told everyone that they were making progress on their proof-of-concept electric C172. It looks like first flight may well be in April next year (Sun 'n Fun anyone?).

Right now, the electric options are a bit limited, both in terms of choice and performance. Chinese company Yuneec is currently heading the field with a two-seat prototype and a self-launching motor glider. The company also has a range of engines available to power powered parachutes. Lange Aviation in Germany has the Antares motor glider, powered by the world's only EASA certified electric motor, but it would be fair to say that neither Yuneec nor Lange have made the mass market breakthrough.


Based on my recent performance, I should probably avoid predictions, but there's no doubt that the car industry is spending huge sums on electrical propulsion and battery technology. If aviation can somehow take advantage of that, it could provide a bright new future...



Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Inversion

Flying west was an interesting experience earlier last week. Initially, the visibility into sun was about zero. Seriously, the view ahead was the same as being in solid IMC. The ground was still visible, but I wouldn't have fancied navigating by vertical reference (thanks Mr Garmin). Climbing made things a lot better, and by the time I got to 3,000' the scene was stunning.

I obviously wasn't the only person to notice this, and Simon Keeling who runs The Weather School offered this explanation on the FLYER forums.

Reason for the inversion layer is that in anticylonic conditions the air is sinking slowly. As this happens, the air is warmed adiabatically (it becomes dry and so warms at 3C/1000ft as it sinks. At the surface the air is colder, in this case due to the northeast flow moving in off a warmer North Sea. So, the cold, dense air sits at the surface, whilst the warm, dry and less dense air above quite happily sits atop. Hence the reason that temperatures rise with height in the lowest layers.
You might then ask why the cloud forms in the inversion layer? Well, for any given temperature the air can only hold X amount of water as an invisible vapour. Warm air can hold more water vapour than cold. So, on the boundary where these two layer of air meet condensation takes places as the one cannot hold the water as a vapour and hence condensation must take place. We see this as stratus or stratocumulus cloud. As air cannot rise due to the sinking motion described above, it stagnates below the inversion and visibility is reduced. Hope that helps, tried to explain it as best I can.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Humble Pie

Sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and admit to being 100% wrong.

As can be seen here I was pretty sure that Cessna would be announcing their entry into a new market today, but as can be seen here, they announced a new Citation - the Citation Ten.

No excuses from me - I read the tea leaves, took soundings, studied faces and read between lines, all to no avail. All to be wrong.

Now, where did I put that humble pie?

Redhill

I flew into Redhill last week. It was my first visit (by air) and I sort of expected it to be a bit of an issue. Redhill is one of those places that has a reputation. For some it is the fact that it sits in Gatwick's airspace, while for others it's the lack of a welcoming reputation - either way it isn't at the top of most people's 'must visit' list.

I called for PPR before setting off and whoever I spoke to couldn't have been more helpful or indeed friendlier. ATC (Redhill has a tower controller, not a FISO or A/G) was also friendly and professional and the fire crew made the handing over of the £20 landing fee as pleasant as possible. I only had time for a quick cup of tea, but the cafe looked like a decent place to enjoy a bacon sandwich.

It's not a destination in itself (let's be honest, few airfields are) but if you need to be somewhere in that part of the world, Redhill, on the evidence of one visit, fits the bill.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Mooney Airplane Company is no more....

Well, when I say it is no more, what I really mean is that it has no assets. It seems that all asets have been transferred from the Mooney Airplane Company to the Mooney Aviation Company. The new company will do everything the old one did.

I don't know exactly why this has been done, but I could probably guess…


Here's the full text of the press release…

October 15, 2010, Kerrville, Texas— As Mooney positions itself for the future, the assets of Mooney Airplane Company, Inc. have been transferred to Mooney Aviation Company, Inc. Mooney Aviation Company wants to advise customers that it is currently providing service on all aircraft supported by Mooney Airplane Company, including technical support, service parts and the factory service center based in Kerrville, Texas.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Cessna to (finally) announce new aircraft?


I first heard the rumours three or four years ago, perhaps more. Cessna was working on a single-engine turboprop to compete somewhere in the Meridian, TBM or Pilatus market space. To be honest, I expected it to be announced at NBAA last year or Oshkosh this year, but all I got when I asked Cessna's media team about it were blank faces.

With NBAA coming up next week, and with a Cessna press release about an announcement on Monday, I'm once again betting that their single will be revealed. The time seems ripe. The Kestrel is moving forwards and attracting a lot of interest in the single-engine turboprop arena and Daher-Socata is looking at reviving the Grob SPn as its entry into the jet market - something Cessna would rather not see, I'm sure.

If it is anounced it'll be interesting to see where Cessna's aeroplane is positioned. I very much doubt they'll go for the Meridian market (too small), so imagine that they'll aim for the TBM850 market space instead. The obvious choice would be to do something based on the Mustang's fuselage.

More on Monday (unless of course I've got it all wrong and the fuss is all about a new colour scheme for the Corvalis or something).

The screen shot above is from FlightAware

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Free call Farnborough Comedy

Shortly after take-off yesterday, I called Lyneham for a basic service. Somewhere east of Marlborough, they called to say, "Squawk 7000 freecall Farnborough on 125.25".

I tuned in and listened out. I don't know what was happening yesterday but the frequency should have been renamed Farnborough Comedy. Seriously, at times it was funnier than Chris Moyles on Radio 1.

Half the fleet in Southern England was airborne, there were people being stepped on, people needing to be called four or five times, people reading life stories, people being forgotten and people (allegedly) clipping the Heathrow zone.

The Farnborough controllers were working hard but I'm not sure there was a great deal of capacity left for much more than a basic service for most callers.


Monday, 11 October 2010

Half time score: Flying 1 - Cars 2


It's not been a good week for aviation. Saturday involved a trip to Goodwood for a meeting, but thanks to some early fog that never actually cleared all day, I ended up driving. Sunday, I went to the end-of-season display at Duxford and very good it was too. The trouble is, I drove to that too. Flying to Duxford would have been good, but that option is no longer open (at least not for the autumn event). Fowlmere is an option, but given the amount of traffic snarling up the roads after the show, using a taxi to get back to the aeroplane would be challenging.

Today, I needed to be in Farnborough. It would have been nice to land there, but alas that's not possible without more than one engine and a very fat wallet. As neither description applies to me, I flew into Blackbushe instead and got a lift.

The score should probably be Flying 1/2 - Cars 2 1/2



Thursday, 7 October 2010

Good news for the IMCr, probably...


There was a meeting in Cologne a couple of days ago. It was attended by some members of the FCL.008 committee, some bigwigs from EASA, the CAA and AOPA.

Reports of the meeting vary a bit, but everyone pretty much agrees that EASA agreed that holders of the IMC rating would be grandfathered. I'm told that Cliff Whitaker, head of Licensing and Policy at the CAA asked a lot of questions and took a lot of notes. Anyone out there who thinks that EASA will try to squirm out of this in future should be reassured by that.

The grandfathering thing is on the face of it a very good start. It answers one or two questions but it also leaves a lot more unanswered. Will it be possible to attach an existing IMC rating to an EASA licence? Will it apply to lapsed IMC ratings? Will it apply to IMC ratings gained between now and April 2012? I'm not really sure that anyone yet knows the answers to these questions, and as I understand it the next step will likely be an EASA NPA and the ensuing consultation.

All in all the meeting's outcome can certainly be classed as a good result, but there's a long way to go and a fair amount of detail to be defined.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Renaud Ecalle

Renaud Ecalle, the 2009 world aerobatic champion, was killed yesterday while flying his Jodel back from a display. His wife and two children were also lost in the accident which took place near Lodeve. More (in French) here.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Jet lust

It seems that pilots aren't the only people with a touch of jet lust. Despite the less than positive economic situation, and the fact that none of the business jet manufacturers are exactly booming, it looks like we may be getting a couple of new players in the market...

First to break cover is Daher-Socata, manufacturers of the TBM850. The French company has teamed up with Allied Aviation Technologies to continue development of the Grob SPn jet. When Grob declared bankruptcy, AAT acquired some of the assets, including the remaining development airframes and the IP.

The second manufacturer planning a move into the jet league is Pilatus. To be fair, the Swiss company hasn't actually said that they're getting into the jet market, and I'm sure that they'd deny it if you asked, but....watch this space...

Thanks to Rod Simpson for the picture

Monday, 27 September 2010

Times still tough for manufacturers

Times are still very tough out there in the world of GA manufacturing.

A few days ago Cessna announced a further 700 job cuts, Hawker Beechcraft laid off 350 and today Piper let 60 employees go.

Wichita and Vero Beach are not great places to be for aircraft workers. I doubt that Wiener Neustadt (Diamond) and Duluth (Cirrus) are faring a great deal better. Those companies supplying the OEMs - Continental, Lycoming, Garmin etc. - will also be feeling the pain.

Things will undoubtedly get better, but no-one is counting on a very quick recovery.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Aerial adventure

The Gordon Bennett balloon race gets underway tonight. To my shame I knew almost nothing about it, but it looks like a lot of fun and a real adventure. You can follow the progress here

Friday, 24 September 2010

Some lessons not learned

Another aviation school, Aussie Air at Fort Lauderdale Exec, has closed leaving students out of pocket. It seems that Aussie Air, which catered for quite a few foreign students, never quite got the required paperwork together.

It's not unknown for aviation schools to fail, often taking students' money with them, but to be blunt, it's not hard for potential students to carry out a little due diligence before enrolling.

For starters, according to the Miami Herald, some students were offered $20k discounts on a $45k course; that alone should have potential customers going deaf from the sound of alarm bells. Then of course there's the internet which is a rich source of information, even if the quality is a bit variable.

Then of course there's the golden rule... Don't pay upfront

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Photography























I've been involved quite a few air-to-air photo shoots. They're a bit of a blend of photographic techniques - to a certain extent you can pose the subject by frantically waving a series of hand signals. You can change the lighting (the sun's relative position), by re-positioning the formation and although you can plan things on the ground there's often an unexpected element so there's a bit of sports photography in there too.

With good light, some interesting landscapes, a team of good pilots and a comfortable camera ship things are pleasant, with grey flat light, complex airspace, pilots not at the top of their game and an awkward camera ship things can get challenging.

The picture above was taken during a shoot that had its fair share of challenges (most of them do), but the light, pilots and camera ships weren't among them.

Engine woes...

I had an interesting chat with a couple of French pilots over the weekend. They were both longtime P210 owners, one had replaced his engine with a factory-new unit, the other with a factory zero-hour overhaul. They had something else in common, both of their aeroplanes were grounded with big engine problems. Both engines were making significant amounts of metal, and both would need to be replaced or rebuilt.

The zero-time overhaul engine had 450 hours on it and the factory-new had made it to 700 hours. P210 engines don't come cheap, and by the time they've been taken out, replaced and put back in there won't be any change from £30k. £66 an hour for an engine makes flying expensive; the pilot with the 450 hour engine was talking to TCM about a contribution to the cost.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Will Daley's departure re-open Meigs?

In the early hours of March 30th 2003 the bulldozers rolled onto the runway at Meigs Field, Chicago, and dug X-shaped trenches along its length. Mayor Daley had won the fight to close the airport, and although the city was later fined by the FAA, he'd effectively got away with his bully-boy tactics.

Although some of the buildings (including the control tower) still exist, the airport has now been replaced by a park.

Daley will not be seeking re-election and that, combined with Obama's infrastructure rebuilding plan, has persuaded some that they may yet get a runway back at Meigs. AOPA US President Craig Fuller has taken an interest as have local pilots but the City of Chicago isn't showing any signs of closing the (quite popular) park and laying tarmac.

Much as I would love to use Meigs, I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

More Old Sarum history

After my Historic hangar entry, Tony French very kindly emailed me these entries from the 1934 edition of The Air Pilot (12s 6d). Excellent.



Static leak...

I took EW to RGV at Gloucester this morning for the biennial IFR checks. I'm in the habit of getting involved in the maintenance, so watching from a distance was interesting.

If the checks had been straightforward they wouldn't have taken long, but it seems that there's a bit of a static leak somewhere so that needs to be tracked down and sorted first...

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

History hangars

I went to Old Sarum this morning. I dropped in on the way to work (a bit of a diversion, but hey it's an airfield) to take a few pictures.

I've known for ages that the hangars are listed, but to be honest I've never really bothered looking before. They date from 1917 when the airfield was opened as a training station for the Royal Flying Corps and the wooden roof trusses are amazing.

It turns out that they are Grade II* listed which I believe means they are 'particularly important buildings of more than special interest' - they're certainly well worth a look. In fact, if you haven't been Old Sarum itself is a great little airfield with a decent cafe/restaurant, self service fueling but more important than any of that, a friendly welcome.

The airfield website is here and there's some more historic informantion here on Wikipedia

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

LAA sticks to the basics

The 'It's not the LAA Rally' took place last weekend and I have to say it was a great little event.

With something like 800 aircraft flying in and three marquees of trade stands the event managed to combine a social event with a show that didn't take itself too seriously.

I understand that the event will continue to grow slowly and sustainably, which I guess means not betting huge amounts of money on a big event every year.

I'm a fan, events like the LAA Rally and Tankosh in Germany are much more fun than many of the stuffier, sparky, big money events.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The invisible aeroplane

Anyone know what's happening with the Skycatcher? In terms of orders, it's in high-speed cruise, in terms of deliveries it's just about limping away from the hangar.

As I understand it, there have been just eight deliveries so far. Most of those have gone to Cessna employees, or those close... so what gives?

The official line is that the aircraft are being shipped to Wichita for assembly and modification by Yingling Aviation. That's true, but how come only eight have been delivered? Wichita has thousands of skilled unemployed aerospace workers, so presumably there's not a resource issue. Cessna has over a thousand orders, so there's not a demand issue...

There are of course rumours, none of which I've been able to confirm. I've heard that the factory in China is struggling to make acceptable quality aeroplanes, I've heard that Cessna is not at all happy with the Chinese for various reasons, I've even heard that the Chinese have an aeroplane all of their own that looks just like a Skycatcher.

Anyone got any ideas?

Monday, 30 August 2010

Attitude indicator

I was hanging around a flying school recently. This particular school appeared to be modern, forward looking and well run. The instructors, students and ops staff were all friendly and helpful and the facilities were excellent.

There was of, course, a fly in the ointment and that fly worked in engineering. While I sat on my bar stool minding my own business an obviously frustrated character publicly strutted his stuff for all to see. Trying to make a sentence from the few words that made their way through the expletives, I figured that there was an issue with some paperwork. Something about logging flight time I think.

Whatever the detail, his actions suggested that it was serious - it seemed that if something wasn't entered in the right place on the right bit of paper that a wing would fall off, probably both wings actually.

He may (or may not) have had a point, but his public posturing did nothing to create a good relationship with the instructors. Who knows what the customers thought.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Aquila gets Garmin

I was at the Aquila factory last week and saw their new demonstrator.

Until now buyers have been able top chose between a traditional analogue six pack, a Flymap equipped aeroplane or one with a pair of the excellent Aspen PFD1000s.

Now buyers will also have the option of choosing the Garmin 500 too. Taking the Garmin will cost you about $5000 more than the Aspens.




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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Not a great ATIS

Been a bit busy recently, hence the lack of posts here...will try to do better.

I took someone for their first couple of flights in a GA aircraft a week or so ago. Things started out well - the relatively early departure meant for still smooth air, and the slightly nervous chirps from the right-hand seat served to limit my angle of bank to less than 15 degrees (yawn). We were only flying for about twenty minutes, but it was a good introduction. However...

It was early afternoon when the time came for the return trip. The air had warmed up a bit and there were black clouds on the horizon, which given that the visibility had decreased significantly wasn't that far away. After starting up I tuned the ATIS to hear the words "Thunderstorms in the vicinity" or similar. It didn't put my passenger at ease, particularly as there was a big black cloud sitting off the end of the runway.

We took off and flew through some moderate rain - not so bad that it rained inside, a favourite trick of the Cessna's, but enough to make a bit of noise. The short flight that followed was a bit bumpy, nothing outrageous, but enough for my new to GA passenger to feel a little queasy, although personally I blame the airfield lunch!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Electric future

There's lots of talk about electric aircraft and there are a couple of experimental versions flying, but while they're on the verge of making it to market they aren't there yet. The cost/performance benefit isn't there yet, but that begs the question of what will be an acceptable balance?

For starters it'll have to have two seats - the lighter weight of a single-seat machine might appeal from an engineering point of view, but the market for single-seat aircraft is about as big as their cockpits. I don't think that high speed will be too important, but lack of speed will be a bit of a dampener. 70kt is marginal, 90kt better, 100kt ideal. Range/endurance - it has to be at least a couple of hours surely? Anything less is going to be a real pain, and three-and-a-half to four hours would be ideal. Training aeroplanes will either need a quick charge or a quick change of batteries.

So, two people, for two hours, at 90kt and that, I think, is the bottom end of the acceptable range.

I've heard people predicting that in ten years we'll have four-seaters flying for four hours at a time - and if they manage that at any decent speed (120kt at least) we'll be in for some interesting times.


Monday, 16 August 2010

High is good


I've noticed that the way I fly seems to be changing. There was time when I hardly ever ventured above 2,000' - an excursion to anything above 4,000 was unusual and anything above that was very rare indeed.

Then, because I had to on a few occasions I started flying higher. Now, when flying any distance, I find myself climbing higher. Coming back from France last week was a good example - cloud base was broken at about 3,500 with the tops at about 6,000 (or so I thought). I'd checked out the winds aloft, and although I wouldn't be picking up a great tailwind, the increase in TAS would more than compensate for the headwind component.

When it came to climbing, the tops turned out to be higher than my estimated 6k, and I had to climb to FL95 to be comfortably in the clear. The advantage of FL95 is that oxygen isn't required; on the day in question the air was silky smooth, the vast majority of the traffic was thousands of feet below and VHF reception was fantastic meaning that I could find out about D036's activity before even leaving the coast of France. Of course, that altitude also gives a few more options on the crossing between Cherbourg's MP and SAM.


Sunday, 15 August 2010

Avoiding the gliders


A check of the NOTAM for a recent flight revealed a couple of gliding competitions, one of which was local. With my route taking me within about ten miles of Lasham there was a fair chance that I'd be spending a lot of time searching out gliders which are, as you probably know, notoriously difficult to spot.

I have a PCAS traffic system that displays the position and relative altitude of any threat traffic with Mode C or S transponders, but gliders have tended to avoid transponders in favour of either nothing or FLARM, and so far there's nothing on the market that offers both FLARM and Mode C/S in the same unit. PowerFLARM, announced at Aero earlier this year (and still not available), displays FLARM but does not provide a bearing on Mode A, C or S traffic.

When there's a high chance of glider traffic, I try to reduce the possibility of running into one in a couple of ways.

1. I seek out and try to fly in controlled airspace. If there's any Class D on the way, then I call up and request a transit. Gliders can and do fly in Class D with a clearance, but many don't bother (or have a radio) and of course the controllers should know about any traffic.

2. I climb on top if I can. Being on top of cloud also reduces the potential of meeting a glider, and of course it tends to make the flight smoother and the visibility better too.

Nothing is perfect, but doing whatever you can to stack the odds in your favour has to be a good thing.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Big = easy




I often find myself thinking about an aircraft that's cheaper to run. It's the fuel costs that I'd like to do something about, but I was recently reminded why the C182 is such a good all-rounder, even if it does burn a lot of fuel.

For a recent trip to France (only three nights away!) we ended up taking...

A couple of boxes of presents for the people we were visiting
A couple of suitcases (sort of hand luggage size)
A small cool box
A dinghy
A bag containing life jackets and PLBs
A laptop bag
A flight bag
A couple of coats
A box containing various bits of aeroplane stuff including some oil

It all added up to quite a bit of space and a fair amount of weight. Had we been taking a Europa, SportCruiser, C152 or any other two-seat aeroplane for that matter we would have struggled.

I know that it's entirely possible to cut down on luggage, but I also know that the beauty of using GA for personal transport is that you don't have to worry about schedules or carry on luggage limitations.

I burned a total of 240 litres of fuel for the five-hour round trip - taking into account drawback, that works out at about £150pp return, cheaper than it would have been by loco and rental car, and a lot less stressful too.

Long time no blog...

It's been a couple of weeks since I've posted - not since Oshkosh in fact - I'll spare you the details here, but Osh. was busy, work was busier when I got back and I've been away for a couple of days too.

So, Oshkosh - how was it?

Any aviation event with over half-a-million visitors and 10,000 aircraft is going to be prettty interesting and it was but, and I feel a bit guilty about saying this, it wasn't quite what it could/should have been for some reason.

Perhaps it was the damp start that had the waterlogged airfield closed to most arrivals for a couple of days? Perhaps it was the lack of atmosphere caused by the campsites being sprawled all over town instead of on the airfield? I don't know - it wasn't a bad event at all and I'll be going back next year, but many of the people I spoke to felt that it wasn't a vintage year...
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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Red Bull 'resting'

The FLYER news story has a quote from a Red Bull spokesperson. From what I hear the 'consideration' has taken place and Germany will be the last event... Red Bull won't confirm that (yet), but if I'm wrong I'll drink a can of it!

Bose X no longer rules...



Believe it or not, the Bose X headset has been around since 1998, a pretty amazing fact in itself, but when you consider that it's a hi-tech product that has remained at the head of the market, it's astounding.

Yesterday, at 7.30 in the morning, Bose announced the retirement of the Bose X and the birth of its replacement, the Bose A20.

The A20 is available immediately and will retail, in the US, for $1,095... with Bluetooth - or $995 without.

EAA's new president


They don't rush things at the EAA. They've been looking for a new president and now, after a five-year search, they've found one.

Tom Poberezny, chairman and president of the EAA, today introduced Rod Hightower, who will become the EAA's new president on September 7th.

PS Poberezny is at the podium and Hightower is, err holding the baby - an interesting visual metaphor...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Another market entrant?


There may be another entrant making its debut at Oshkosh. Like Cobalt, Korea Aerospace Industries is aiming for the single-engine, four- or five-seat market.

It's not yet clear if they'll have a mock-up of the aeroplane at Oshkosh, or even if one exists...

Coming up at Oshkosh...


The Cobalt is a new, five-seat, twin-tail design aimed at the high performance single market, originating in France. Oshkosh will be the first public outing for the design. More information to follow...

Kestrel and Klapmeier: the big news



The biggest news so far is Alan Klapmeier's involvement in the Kestrel Aircraft. I flew the prototype for a couple of hours on the way from Maine to Oshkosh and if the certification process doesn't change the aeroplane or increase the price too much, I think it'll be a winner.

The Kestrel makes other aeroplanes look old, and certainly look as if they belong to a previous era. I think we'll be hearing a lot more about the company; while they might be busy with the Kestrel, I hear that there's no shortage of plans for other projects too...

The FBO experience

Most airports in the US have an FBO (Fixed Base Operator). They 'pump gas', provide a pilot lounge, access to a computer and sometimes offer flight training and aircraft rental. They're variously family businesses, a chain or a multinational.

They're a major part of the aviation infrastructure and can make or spoil your day. On the way from Maine to Wisconsin we dropped into a couple. The FBO in Burlington has a BBQ every other Friday so we found ourselves invited to a hearty free lunch.

We wanted to buy a chart at the Flint FBO, but they didn't have any in stock, offering us the use of their crew car instead.



Location:N Walnut St,Appleton,United States

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Avoiding the weather




The weather between Augusta and Oshkosh has been prob90 pants for most of the day. I got a lift in the Kestrel from Augusta to Burlington (200nm). When we landed, the FBO had just held a BBQ and we were all invited in for a free lunch. Nice.

I was offered the next leg from Burlington to Flint; we climbed to 16,000ft which got us mainly on top. To avoid the weather we routed over Canada, and by the time we crossed Toronto the weather had cleared enough to get a decent view. A couple of hours later we landed in Flint, Michigan, after a somewhat bumpy descent.

From Flint, it was a relatively short 200nm hop over Lake Michigan and into Oshkosh. There's a 32 page Notam that details the arrival and departure procedures It was fairly quiet when we arrived, although it took the controller a little while to 'tune in' to my Brit accent.

There's been a lot of recent rain and the airfield is currently closed to arrivals wanting to camp - there's just no way that aircraft can be parked on the grass without sinking in. With more rain due, it'll be interesting to see what happens...

Location:Unnamed Rd,Flint,United States

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Kestrel lives




Remember the Kestrel single-engine turboprop? The State of Maine has just announced that The Kestrel Aircraft Company, led by Alan Klapmeier, will be located at Brunswick Landings, Maine.

For more see www.kestrel.aero

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Oshkosh just days away

The world's greatest aviation event opens in Oshkosh next week. There'll be everything from DC-3s (fifty of them) to ultralights, military jets and electric experimentals.

Films, talks, workshops, hundreds of exhibitors, thousands of aircraft and hundreds of thousands of visitors.



Check back here for regular updates, technology permitting...