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FAA recommends new flight rules for Hudson corridor

Rick Day, Senior Vice President for Operations, Air Traffic Organization unveiled new flight safety and operational enhancements for the VFR flight corridor on New York’s  Hudson river in testimony today.  Mr. Day’s statements, made to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security on Aviation Safety, was in response to the fatal mid-air collision of a Piper PA-32 and a Eurocopter AS 350 on August 8th.

Current Hudson Airspace

Current Hudson Airspace

The Task Force, consisting of FAA air traffic and safety experts and air traffic controllers, with assistance from the  Helicopter Association International, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, was assigned to make recommendations.  These include mandating pilot rules, standardizing charts, create an entry point from Teterboro, and restructuring the airspace in the following manner:

  • It would establish a uniform “floor” for the Class B airspace over the Hudson River at 1,300 feet, which would also serve as the “ceiling” for the exclusionary zone. This removes some confusing complexity that currently exists.
  • Between 1,300-2,000 feet, aircraft will operate in the Class B airspace under visual flight rules but under positive air traffic control and communicate with controllers on the appropriate air traffic frequency.
  • Below 1,300 feet, aircraft must use a single common radio frequency. Mandatory routes for aircraft flying up and down the river will require them to favor the “right side” of the river (i.e. the east side for northbound traffic and the west side for southbound traffic) to provide horizontal separation as well.
  • Coordination of traffic and handoffs between Air Traffic Controllers at the Teterboro tower, Newark tower, and radar control will be improved.
Proposed Hudson Airspace

Proposed Hudson Airspace

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FAA Administrator urges professionalism, use of SMS

Randy Babbitt, the FAA Administrator, stressed more cockpit professionalism in the drive for more safety and fewer accidents at US airlines.  In a speech to the International Safety Forum today, Mr. Babbitt stated that the difference between the outcomes of the US Airways Flight 1549 and Colgan Flight 3407 was one of  “textbook greatness, the other a complete inattention to basic details.”

The Administrator was referring to the contrast between the two flights.  The January 15th US Airways flight, which an Airbus 320 was struck by Canada geese after departure from New York’s Laguardia airport and was followed by a successful ditching in the Hudson river.  The other was the February 13th fatal crash of a Colgan DeHavilland Q400 in Buffalo, NY, in which pilot error was largely believed to be the cause.

Babbitt indicated that in addition to a more professional culture, the airlines should better utilize tools and concepts like the Safety Management System (SMS), a set of guidelines and risk management processes designed to increase the safety decision making process. Last month the FAA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF) concerning the SMS for the airline industry and other aviation operators to adopt.

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Construction of Spaceport America in NM continues

UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL

The world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport is taking shape in New Mexico as development continues on privately funded, civilian spacecraft which will launch from the facility.  Spaceport America, located in Upham NM, 30 miles east of  Truth or Consequences, has been under construction since 2007 with formal ground breaking  ceremonies occurring in June 2009.

The facility will enable the launching of both manned and unmanned systems with pads for vertical launch capabilities as well as a 10,000 foot concrete runway for horizontal takeoffs and landings for spacecraft such as Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnight2/SpaceShipTwocombination.  Three concrete pads were recently completed for use in NASA’s 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Centennial Challenge competition.  Spacecraft will attempt to takeoff and land vertically in a simulated lunar landing.  Several teams are competing for a total of $1.65M in prize money for successfully completing 180 seconds of powered flight followed by a precision landing on one of the pads.

Several launches have occurred at the facility since the project was announced in 2005 with the most recent being a UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL sounding rocket carrying a New Mexico student payload.  The launch, which occurred on May 2nd, 2009, failed to reach its projected altitude.

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NTSB issues safety recommendations for Medical Helicopters

Medi-flight Helicopter

Medi-flight Helicopter

The NTSB has issued 15 safety recommendations to various government regulators and helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operators following a dramatic increase in accidents.  Among them are the creation of scenario-based pilot training curriculum, installation of  flight data recorders for aircraft, the use of an autopilot in single-pilot operations and use of night-vision equipment for pilots.

According to the NTSB, of the 55 mediflight accidents which occurred in the last 3 years,  of which 41 were helicopters, 29 could have been prevented with the adoption of these recommendations and the others contained in the press release.

As a result of the increase in accidents, a 4-day hearing was conducted in February by the NTSB with testimony from the FAA, the Helicopter Association International (HAI), the Association of Air Medical Services, the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association, the National EMS Pilots Association, Air Methods, and CareFlite.  The following was determined to be the focus of the hearings:

  • Pilot Training
  • Collection of Flight Operations Data
  • Use of Flight Recording Devices and Data
  • Safety Management Systems
  • Weather Information
  • Use of Autopilots or Dual Pilots
  • Night Vision Imaging Systems
  • Reimbursement Rate Structures
  • Federal Policy and Guidelines

The full press release can be seen here

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Cartercopter in development of personal air vehicle

Carter 2+2 PAV

Carter 2+2 PAV

The research and development company Carter Aviation Technologies of Wichita Falls, TX is slowly developing its 4 place personal air vehicle (PAV) which utilizes technology demonstrated with the CarterCopter Technology Demonstrator (CCTD).  Using the jump ability of an autogyro to get off the ground quickly the aircraft can then use its Slowed Rotor/Compound (SR/C) to travel to its destination at speeds exceeding current production helicopters, then spot-land in areas inaccessable to fixed-wing airplanes.

Jay Carter, CEO and principal designer of CarterCopters, LLC holds over 21 patents in the development of gyrocraft, including one which made the CCTD the first gyrocraft to exceed mu-1 in flight using the SR/C configuration.  As a rotorcraft accelerates forward, the main rotor must travel faster than the relative air around it.  The same air must also go over the retreating blade, causing instability.  This  imbalance in the geometry of the aircraft necessitates  special care in its design.

Pusher rotorcraft like the Sikorsky X2 and the CCTD handle the retreating blade in different ways.  The X2 helicopter utilizes a rigid powered rotor and counter-rotating blades which minimize the angle of attack in the retreating blades, therefore making lift negligible on that side.  Lift of the airframe is then achieved using only the advancing portion of the rotor blades.

The CCTD, as well as the prototype PAV, Carter uses the SR/C concept for an autogyro which actually allows the gyrocraft to travel faster than the advancing blade itself, exceeding mu-1.   This occurs by unloading the aircraft’s lift from the rotor and transitioning it to the wings in this hybrid aircraft.  Cartercopters accomplished this goal with the CCTD on June 17th 2005.

Using the engine to pre-spin the rotor, Cartercopter autogyros are able to jump takeoff using little or no runway.  It then accelerates forward using the rotor as the main lift device, a defining feature of all autogyros.  The rotor’s weight is concentrated in the tips which stabilizes the blades as well as maintaining inertia for jump takeoffs and limited hover.  As the aircraft increases speed, more lift is transferred to the main wings on the fuselage as the rotor is slowed by the oncoming air.  As the aircraft slows for landing, the main rotor is once again loaded to accept more lift as  the vehicle transitions away from the wings to achieve a low speed, low rollout landing.

The 2+2 PAV

The 2+2 PAV is an all new design being developed by Carter to incorporate new technologies for a safer, more economical mode of transportation.  Shown at Airventure 2009 in Oshkosh, WI, the prototype is still under construction but operation is envisioned to begin by pre-spining the rotor, followed by a jump takeoff, reach 210 knots at 20,000 ft and land in a constrained environment. To be built under the FAA’s 51% rule, the Carter company is taking deposits for delivery at a later date.

Carter is also developing a new landing gear technology to decrease or eliminate bounce during a rough landing or a crash.  Using accelerometers controlling valves and hydraulic fluid which changes its viscosity electrically, the PAV will be able to withstand landing impacts in excess of 2000 fps without injury to passengers or loss of aircraft.  The current FAA requirement is 600 fps.

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DEFCON hacker illustrates flight plan vulnerability

A pilot presenting during the DEFCON conference this month showed how to use fake identities to file flight plans.  As Righter Kunkel explained during the annual convention for hackers, it is easy to provide a AME with false information to obtain a student pilot medical certificate.  Armed with the medical, a person can file false flight plans with ATC.

While this is illegal, it is not going to be a problem until many flight plans are submitted.  If this is done, it can be a big problem in the form of what is called a denial of service attack.  DoS attacks are used to overwhelm the computer servers that are used to process incoming information.  In the case of the ATC’s systems, many of the computers are linked in such a way that if one goes down, it could take down the rest of them.  Radar, communication, and transponder information could all be compromised.

Kunkel explains that he, as a pilot, is trying to get this information out there to highlight the vulnerabilities of the underfunded FAA and increase awareness.

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New AvGas alternative lead-free

Sorghum used for AvGas

Sorghum used for AvGas

Swift Enterprises, an Indiana start-up, is pursuing a replacement for 100LL in aviation fuels using biologically derived products. The company claims that the product, 100SF will meet or exceed the current standard for low lead AvGas, ASTM D 910.  Swift, based at the Purdue University’s Research Park, was started in 2001 for the development of sustainable fuel for use in aviation, as well as developing cheaper fuel cells for use in electric cars.

The intention is a truly replacement gasoline, with no modifications or alterations necessary for current aviation piston powerplants.  Tests have been conducted in a number of engines, both statically as well as in flying test aircraft to demonstrate viability.  The flight tests have included Van’s RV-3 and RV-4 as well as a Beechcraft Bonanza G36.  According to the company, the tests have been encouraging and may allow them to begin manufacturing the new fuel in Q3 2011.

Comparisons between 100LL and 100SF indicate that the Swift derived fuel  is advantageous to 100LL in energy density and MON, the octane benchmark  used in testing various fuels.  The main barrier to a replacement fuel, detonation, also has appeared to have been addressed.

The total consumption of AvGas currently is approximately 300 million gallons annually. Swift Enterprises calculates that to maintain that production annually, 400 square miles of sorghum, the crop of choice,  are needed to be planted annually.  This constitutes the land mass of around .010% of the landmass of the USA.  For comparison, in 2007, the total land area used in farming was 40.1%

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Supersonic noise suppression could allow US flights

Research into minimizing the sonic boom that occurs as an aircraft flies at Mach 1 and beyond is continuing at NASA and commercial aircraft makers.  Efforts to modify the N-wave, the shock wave which occurs at speeds in excess of Mach 1,  have been ongoing at Gulfstream, in conjunction with NASA. Using a modified F-15B fitted with a telescoping boom flight tests have been promising creating a smaller n-wave which will  greatly reduce the noise heard on the ground from “sharp crack to a quiet whisper”  according to a presentation which Gulfstream gave to the FAA sponsored Advanced Technologies and Supersonics  symposium in 2009.  The boom, which can extend to 24 feet from its 14 foot-long  retracted position, is constructed using composite materials. According to Gulstream, the Quiet Spike, results ” in a softer sound that is 10,000 times quieter than the Concorde.”

In 2005, Lockheed patented “Passive aerodynamic sonic boom suppression for supersonic aircraft” which also addresses the area of the aircraft’s nose as a way to mitigate the pressure wave propagating from the airframe. A gull wing, as well as modified body form created by pinching the fuselage at the mid-point also is identified to reduce noise.

In 2008, the FAA issued a statement indicating that it would be open to new rules allowing for the operation of supersonic aircraft while over land. This change, would allow supersonic operation of aircraft meeting Stage 4 sub-sonic noise requirements. Currently, supersonic aircraft which meet this noise threshold cannot operate in the US.

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Future fast helicopter to push 250 knots advances

Sikorsky helicopter is testing its X2 demonstrator in hopes of combining the flexibility and hover of helicopters with the speed and range of airplanes. Flight tests continued with the first engagement of the rear pusher propeller which, in theory, should enable the hybrid to speeds of 250 knots. The helicopter generates lift with two counter rotating main rotor blades, in addition to the rear pusher. This arrangement makes torque more manageable and needs only to be addressed for the pusher rotor.

Sikorsky’s challenge in attempting a 250 knot helicopter was to counter the loss of lift of the retreating main rotor blades as the airframe travels forward.  This is being addressed by using a rigid rotor which uses the Advancing Blade Concept (ABC) with which the retreating blade produces little or no lift.  First pioneered with the Sikorsky XH-59A, a turbojet powered experimental helicopter, the ABC allowed it to reach 240 knots in 1973.  Then current technologies made it impractical, though.  More advanced “fly by wire” flight control systems have allowed greatly improved handling characteristics in the X2 demonstrator.

Sikorsky XH-59A

Sikorsky XH-59A

Recently, Sikorsky announced the X2 TECHNOLOGYTM Light Tactical Helicopter (LTH) in anticipation of flight tests confirming the capabilities of its demonstrator.  It is envisioned to compete with other smaller combat helicopters like the Eurocopter AS 550 Fennec and HAL Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).

“These technologies can potentially bring new rotorcraft capabilities that, to date, have been unachievable by the industry,” said Sikorsky President Jeffrey P. Pino. “In addition to doubling the speed of helicopters, this technology can improve hot/high performance, maneuverability and low acoustic signature. Sikorsky’s Light Tactical Helicopter concept demonstrates a way to package these capabilities into an airframe that is tailored to meet a range of military missions.”

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How EFIS may be killing pilots

EFIS Primary Flight Display

EFIS Primary Flight Display

Something has been gnawing at me in aviation, which may spell trouble for relatively low time commercial pilots.  Chances are today aviators who  are training to become a professional pilots are doing so in one of the current generation of trainers.  This means that they are probably using a modern EFIS equipped Cessna G-1000 or Cirrus Avidyne aircraft as a primary trainer.  Continuing on toward the Instrument rating, pilots are fully integrated and comfortable with utilizing all of the capabilities of these truly remarkable pieces of avionics.

"Six Pack" Analog Instruments

“Six Pack” Analog Instruments

Trouble is, that while today’s pilots are trained in these thoroughly modern avionics suites,  they are then thrust into the world of down and dirty entry level freight and Part 135 position flying old Cessna and Piper light twins.  These aircraft, while capable, are equipped with  the pre-1960’s technology of the “six pack” and analog instrumentation.

It is probably safe to say that by almost all accounts, the transition from analog instrumentation to modern EFIS equipped cockpits is not difficult, the same cannot be said the other way around.  Scans must be developed and perfected in a way that takes much longer to achieve.  This is due to the way the information is presented and the physical distance that the eye much travel.  For a low time pilot who is in their first 100 hours or so, it could spell trouble.

EFIS was designed specifically to rectify the flaws that occur in flying with the previous generation of analog instrumentation. Studies of the scanning of the primary and secondary instruments  were carefully researched and used to design the Primary Flight Display (PFD) which is now standard in all airliners and now being incorporated into more and more GA aircraft.

I hope that this will be identified as a hazard and that additional training may be incorporated prior to these pilots flying the line.