Saturday, 12 June 2010

Visiting the past

I had occasion to fly into Stapleford recently. I've been there before, but I've usually jumped into a waiting taxi, or been met by someone. This time I had a couple of meetings at the airfield and took the time to grab a bite to eat before heading off again.

The cafe/bar/restaurant is a decent place - light airy and friendly and with a menu and specials board that has it just about right for a UK airfield - decent food at a fair price - it's not pretentious and it doesn't smell of stale chip fat, which can't be said for every destination.

Sitting outside I noticed a scenic flight board offering trips over London or around Essex. As a kid I used to cycle to Stapleford, and one day a friend's dad put his hand in his pocket and bought a couple of tickets for a local scenic flight for my cycling buddy and me. I can't remember a huge amount about the flight, but I do remember thinking that I wanted to learn to fly one day… perhaps that was where it all started?

Friday, 11 June 2010


It seems that the FAA and EASA see the problems of ash clouds somewhat differently. Take a look at this Wall Street Journal report on talks held on Tuesday in New Orleans. Here's a flavour.

FAA: ...the correct option is to tell pilots to avoid ash, provide them with the best possible forecasts and then let individual airlines "make the fly or no-fly decisions". Carriers are "better able to integrate the risks" than government bureaucrats.

EASA: I didn't hear any criticism... the only possibility in the European system is to have a better model to predict the movement and concentration of ash particles.

Thursday, 10 June 2010


The result of a slow roll over on landing I understand.

FAA report on LSAs

A couple of years ago a new industry sector was born. Light Sport Aircraft was set to bring low-cost, simple flying to thousands, and what's more it was going to reduce the costs by (largely) doing away with certification requirements. The manufacturers got together with the FAA and agreed a standard. For LSAs sold in the US, it is the manufacturer who certifies that the aeroplane meets that agreed standard. In the main, this seems to have worked. LSAs enjoy some variable flying qualities, but they haven't proved dangerous.

In Europe (as you may imagine), EASA has taken a different view - the agency is still struggling with the details, but CS-LSA, when it is eventually born, will almost certainly require some kind of design organisation approval for the company, production organisation approval for the factory and certification for the design. The hope remains that, despite the very different approaches, we'll end up with a common(ish) standard so that manufacturers don't have to build a different variation on a model for each new territory.

This battle between the regulatory philosophies has recently moved on with the FAA hinting that they may consider moving closer to a European model - the light hand of the USA may get a little heavier. Following an audit of some LSA manufacturers, the FAA found:

- most manufacturers could not demonstrate full compliance with accepted industry standards
- some companies had failed to implement sufficient internal manufacturing systems
- some people didn't fully understand FAA regulatory requirements

The FAA has made some recommendations as a result of the review - and I'm sure that the full report is being closely read by many European regulators. Watch this space…

The full FAA report and synopsis can be found here on Dan Johnson's blog.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


I recently had the pleasure of flying with Nathan Doidge, a very special individual. Nathan is working towards his NPPL and recently went solo. That's a huge moment in any pilot's life, but Nathan has cerebral palsy and must be one of the most disabled people ever to solo a powered aircraft.

I jumped in the back of a PA28 while Nathan and his instructor Mike Owen from Aerobility (BDFA) flew a few circuits at Old Sarum - it was a hugely humbling experience - Nathan flew really well and despite having to work hard at things like using the PTT and making the radio calls he pulled off a couple of greasers.

The people at Aerobility really deserve our support, the difference they make to people's lives is huge and to be able to witness that first-hand is uplifting.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Alternative engines

There was a time when almost every aeroplane pictured on the cover of FLYER was powered by either a Lycoming or Continental. Now, most are powered by either a Rotax 912, or by one of the diesel engines - and knowing what's coming down the cover pipeline I can't see that changing any time soon.

It's interesting to compare the mogas (Rotax) engined aircraft with the Jet A fueled aircraft. Almost all of the Rotax-powered machines have been designed around the engine. The advantage here is that the designer can conjure with the full set of compromises - speed/range/weight & balance/space etc. when setting out the basic elements of the design and configuration of the airframe. By contrast, the engineers adding a diesel engine to an existing design have to work with the compromises and assumptions made by the aeroplane's original designer - as an example, Diamond's DA40 was originally designed with 180hp Lycoming - when that was first replaced by the 135hp Thielert, the airframe had to cope with a heavier engine producing less power. Now that the Thielert has been replaced by the Austro Engine, the power has (almost) been restored, but there's even more weight hanging on the front - giving the engineers some weight & balance issues (dealt with by putting extra eight in the back, I understand). The installation in the Cessna C172 brings other challenges, the wet-wing fuel tanks were originally specified at a size suitable to provide enough avgas for a decent range/weight compromise - jet fuel is heavier than avgas, but it contains more energy, and the engine consumes less of it. It's not practical to reduce the size of the tanks, and too much useful load is taken up by filling them, so the POH supplement that is part of the STC limits the fuel contents.

Things will be improved when someone designs an airframe around the engine. That will require a large chunk of money, particularly in the certificated world, but before risking that much cash, manufacturers will want to know for sure that the engines are reliable, affordable and here to stay, and that there's a market large enough to justify the expense.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Jet dreams?

Christian Dries took advantage of Aero (Friedrichshafen) earlier in the year to update people on the D-Jet's progress, more recently Cirrus Aircraft gave a web-based progress report on their SF50 Vision. I'm sure that stuff is still going on with the Piper Jet, but their website hasn't seen an update in over a year (deliveries are projected to start in early 2013).

So what do we know and what can we guess? Both Diamond and Cirrus have spoken about raising more money in order to get the job done. Dries hasn't publicly mentioned a figure but has spoken of a strategic partner while Cirrus CEO Brent Wouters said that $64m had been spent to get 'about half way there. Piper, may be owned by Imprimis, but having a well-funded owner doesn't necessarily mean that the development dollars are flying through the door at a vast rate of knots.

There's been no announcement about Diamond's jet partner, so either that deal has fallen through, or negotiations are proving tortuous. Meanwhile Brent Wouters and his team are out looking for money to finish SF50 development (I wonder if they enjoy Chinese food?) I bet quite a few VCs roll their eyes when they hear of another aeroplane company looking for money.

Diamond has spent significantly more than Cirrus and say that there's still a significant chunk of money required to reach the finish line. As a result of their bigger spend and older project Diamond are further ahead in the development cycle, so Brent's $64m to get half way is either impressive or an underestimate of how far they've actually got with their project. I'd guess that between the three manufacturers there's probably another $250m to be spent, and the engineering challenges will almost certainly be easier to overcome than the challenge of raising the money in the first place.

Will we ever see a GA apron with a customer SF50, Diamond Jet and PiperJet parked side by side? Not in the near future...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Being a fuel fool (or not)

One of the challenges of strip flying is that there's not often fuel available. I have a good few airfields within 20 minutes or so, but I wouldn't really want to head for them without an hour's worth in the tanks.

A couple of days ago I flew back to the strip from Henstridge. I dipped the tanks before take-off and found that I had 13usg on board, enough for an hour and a quarter or so at my leisurely econo-cruise mode. Today, I planned a short trip to fill the tanks. According to my calculations, and according to my JPI fuel totaliser I had enough (which for me is enough to get somewhere, find the runway closed, get back, go-around and land off the second approach) but dipping the tanks with the fuelhawk gave a reading of between 0 and 5usg.

I very much doubt that any fuel has been stolen, and I'm pretty sure that it was in there sitting between some ridges in the fuel bladder, but even the most optimistic measure fell short of my comfort level so I turned around and went in search of some jerrycans instead.