Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stop the presses! AFOne goes around!!!

For real, Air Force One went around yesterday morning, and it's a headline on the LA Times' website. Admittedly that is probably quite a rare occurrence. I'm guessing runway incursions are a non-factor when there's a 30 nm TFR. But the reaction of the press and their beloved public is rather amusing. At least they got the nomenclature right. Yes, that's correct, it "went around." It didn't "zoom up again" or any other silliness. Not only is it standard procedure, it's a very smart procedure if you ask me!

As the Air Safety Foundation and many other insightful types will tell you, any time you don't like something with the approach, abort and have another go. Especially if you're carrying the President! Five bucks says that pressure to complete the mission was a factor in the accident that killed the crew who were late to pick up former Pres. George HW Bush a while back, and also in the accident that claimed the life of the Polish president, his wife and half his cabinet in April last year. The more important the cargo, the more willing you should be to go around. (Mr Obama, if you're reading this, I'd wander on up to the cockpit next time you're aboard and tell your pilots "Well done. Thanks.")

It's a good job there isn't a headline every time I go around, that's all I can say.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Made in Chinamerica

As the previous post suggests, I'm a bit of a Burt Rutan fan. So I was extremely pleased to read in the AOPA online magazine an article on the resurrection of Adam Aircraft under the guise of a new company, Triton Aircraft. Originally one of the many Scaled Composites' iconic designs, descendants of the A500 might yet be buzzing around our skies as common as Long-EZs and VariEzes seem to be here in NorCal.

Coming soon to a field near you? Except that the future version probably won't have a prop on the front; lead (re)designer, Thomas Hsueh wants a "jet nose." He also wants to drop 800 lbs off the A500. I reckon it'll look pretty darn hot either way!

As if that wasn't sufficient news to bring a smile to my face, the story of Adam's white knight had me beaming. You see, Thomas Hsueh is a Chinese-born American businessman and aeronautical engineer. He's set up shop in Washington state and is hoping to turn out a refined A500 prototype in the next two years. He wants to replace the two piston engines with a single pusher turboprop and lop 800 lbs off the empty weight. At which point he'll do some "soul searching" to see if manufacturing can remain in the US. (I hear Mexico is the new place to build aircraft.)

Whether or not the production run can afford to happen in America, it's gratifying indeed to see this particular aviation story come full circle: a Chinese immigrant rescues an American-designed plane from the hands of a bankrupt Russian company, and brings all the essential tooling, rigs and other equipment back to the US of A. A win for the home team!!

What broadens my smile further still is that Chinese connection. Cessna's had a lot of stick (okay, I'll stop with the puns soon I promise) recently for manufacturing the 162 Skycatcher in China. But it seems to me the Chinese-American collaborations in aviation are doing a lot more than providing cheap(er) manufacturing. Innovations abound, too. Yuneec seems to be doing pretty darn well with its electric planes, for example. It won last year's Lindberg Electric Aircraft Award.

Although the company is based in Shanghai, Yuneec's prime markets are clearly in North America and Europe. As stated in this AOPA interview, Tian Yu, the company's founder, is aiming for a 4-place variant of their e430, called the e1000. Mr. Yu freely admits that the real challenge for his and all electric aircraft is the energy density in batteries, but it's not stopping him from doing everything he can with aerodynamics and weight savings elsewhere in the mean time.

Anyway, I'm rooting for Mr Hsueh and his new venture, Triton, as well as for Yuneec and electric planes generally. I'll be very excited to see a revised A500 design. Perhaps there'll be an electric version one day, too.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Getting time in type

For its time the Link Trainer was a revolution. Today's modern flight simulators are indispensable for training new generations of airline pilots, as well as lots of private instrument pilots. At home, some of us "fly" X-Plane or other software packages at our kitchen tables to get a feel for a particular approach, a cross country, etc. And all of these devices has an important role to play in flight training.

But, when it comes to inspired simulation, I would put Burt Rutan's solution to getting time in a single-seat type (the BD-5) up against any of them:

Not only does it sound like it worked well (including for crosswind landing practice), it sounds like a big ol' dollop of fun! There is a wonderful report on "flying" the BD-5 Trainer at I think we need to recreate this idea for everything from Citabrias to 767s. I volunteer to drive the truck!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

NWS report on the Sun 'n Fun tornado

There were nine tornadoes confirmed by the National Weather Service. Here's the report of the one that hit Lakeland Linder (click to enlarge):

The full report is a pdf located here. And this is the URL in case you want to browse: Man, 95 mph winds. Ouch.

Based on the red arrow (which the NWS put on the map, not me!) it would appear that the tornado went right through the Aviation Explorer Post 491's display, a dead hit. Good job a lot of the warbirds were moved off Rwy 5-23 or else it would have been a strike, counting half a dozen P-51s, an F4U, a gaggle of T-6s.....

Friday, April 8, 2011

A little muddy, but SnF roared back on Friday

Describing the atmosphere at Sun 'n Fun on Friday morning is difficult. I think pensive is the most accurate way to put it. There definitely wasn't a galloping celebration, but nor was anyone showing overtly the signs of distress that might have been expected following the previous day's devastating storm. Instead, the majority of the visiting public appeared contemplative, not quite somber. The volunteers, reps, crews and other workers just looked dog-tired, as you'd think they might after a long, arduous night.

The public got in, one way or another

No doubt uppermost in people's minds were the damaged planes, the shattered dreams and the lost livelihoods of the many who suffered on Thursday. Spending an hour or more in the stationary traffic waiting to get into Lakeland Linder, followed by the virtual chess game (for those not wanting to spend further time waiting for a tractor-trailer ride) that arose out of having to pick a careful path through the mud and waterlogged grass from the parking area, would have added a bit to the general malaise. But I didn't hear much serious complaint, just a bit of steam-letting here and there. Not enough to ruin anyone's day, particularly in light of the prior day's events. I heard that several people opted to park where they got stuck in traffic and walked in, one guy I met walking 4 miles. That's dedication if you ask me. It's the attraction of the event, the indomitable EAA spirit. You do what you need to do to make the objective.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sun 'n Fun triumphs over adversity

A full post when I recover from an exhausting, exhilarating day. Sun 'n Fun came up trumps and then some. Wagstaff, Chambliss, Tucker, Goulian, F-22, Blue Angels, Younkin (day and night), fireworks.... Awesome. 'Twas a memorable day. I thought this pic rather summed it up. Onward and upward!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sun 'n Fun gets the worst of it

It doesn't look like there was too much damage in other areas. Some occasional trees down, a hotel lost its roof in St. Pete, a few structures here and there. Could have been a lot worse overall. But poor old Sun 'n Fun copped the worst of it, being a bunch of temporary structures and kite-like vehicles stuck out in a very exposed region. Not a good combination.

There are still occasional reports that tornadoes touched down. Whether or not they did, it's quite obvious that winds close to hurricane force came along with the storm cell. I've seen measurements as high as 87 mph. Seems about right, based on the videos.

The best coverage I've seen so far is courtesy of Grassroots News. Talk about being on the scene!

These guys had to hang on for the ride, too.

Flood 'n Mud - damage update

A video report from the EAA. I recognize several of those planes from yesterday. Like this, which yesterday was an immaculate Air Cam:

So so sad :-( Glad to hear nobody seriously hurt but it's still way sad all the same. I get pissed off the internet goes out halfway through an internet post I haven't saved. Put a few thousand hours of your life into a plane and watch it blow into pieces must be heart-wrenching.

Sun 'n Fun becoming Flood 'n Mud

I'm sitting in my hotel room in Winter Haven, watching the Doppler radar and the "live, continuous coverage" on the ABC news out of Tampa. Right now it's bright, though not sunny, through my hotel window. But there is apparently a tornado on the ground less than twenty miles north of here. I can see the sky is especially ominous-looking in that direction. Everything immediately north of I-4 is a mess, according to the TV and the internet. So far, Lakeland Linder airport and Winter Haven, where I am, are relatively safe. But this is the latest radar pic:

How lovely. It's looking pretty grim. I used to live in Florida so I am somewhat conditioned to this stuff. I can only hope that everyone at Sun 'n Fun is glued to whatever mobile internet devices they have out there.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What the flutter...?

My head hurts. It all started innocently enough, too. An article in January's Aviation Safety magazine covered the issue of airspeed and when the plane you're flying considers that it's "going too fast." Here, "going too fast" is defined by the physics of the situation, not the regs. This is the part in the article that grabbed my attention:
"However, it is very important to understand VNE is not an indicated airspeed. Instead, VNE is a true airspeed. Of course, true airspeed and indicated airspeed are going to be the same value only at sea level density altitude with standard atmospheric conditions. At much higher density altitudes, flying at an indicated airspeed, even in the green arc below VNO, can result in a true airspeed substantially exceeding the VNE redline. That's bad."
The article went on to describe how glider pilots flying high can run into problems with aerodynamic (or aeroelastic) flutter because they failed to reduce their VNE as their TAS went up with (density) altitude. Which got me thinking about what I fly and how I fly it. What are the potential consequences of my having a never-exceed speed masquerading as an IAS on my IAS dial? And if VNE really does change with TAS, at what density altitude do I need to become concerned at the true versus indicated airspeed difference? Twenty feet? Two thousand feet? Flight level 200...? Judging by the responses to the Aviation Safety article the following month, as well as some confused questions I saw on internet bulletin boards, I wasn't alone in my concern.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Roadable plane, flying car, whatever

I'm sorry but I just don't get the Transition roadable aircraft from Terrafugia. Sure, it's an interesting aeronautical engineering concept and so far it seems to do what it was designed to do, but I'm afraid I don't see the mission it's trying to satisfy. That could be a problem because I ought to be in the target demographic - pilot, some disposable income (no kids), frequent traveler for work and pleasure, etc. - assuming they want to start selling them at some point.

I was out for a bike ride earlier and I started thinking about the likely mission parameters of a roadable plane. (I do all my best thinking once I'm hypoxic.) Now, it's not particularly surprising to find that when designers set out to merge two highly disparate objectives they often end up compromising so far that neither mission is satisfied. The V-22 Osprey, the Porsche Panamera ("I wanted a 911 Carrera 4S but the wife insisted on a family car"), there are plenty of examples where compromise seems to have produced what we might politely term "thought-provoking" vehicles. Might the Transition be headed this way?