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Briefing: February 2015

Solar Impulse, the one-of-a-kind solar-powered aircraft designed to fly around the world, is now in Dubai, where it will launch in March. The aircraft was built and tested in Switzerland. It was then disassembled and flown to Dubai aboard a cargo airplane. Andr Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, who have led the effort, said they are confident in the aircrafts capability and their own training, and they will take turns as pilot. The expedition is expected to take 25 days of flying, and will be completed in stages over four or five months. Some legs above the Atlantic and Pacific will require five to six days of nonstop solo flight. The aircrafts wings measure about 236 feet across, and carry more than 17,000 solar cells.

Briefing: March 2010

In January, a database update for some Bendix/King KLN and KLX products rendered them unsafe for use under IFR. Jeppesen apparently delivered some bad data to Bendix/King that contained incorrect dynamic magnetic variations for all terminal and en route waypoint records. Bendix/King quickly posted a corrected database and got the word out to customers through about every channel imaginable. Still, its a sobering thought how dependent weve become on data that has a potential, however remote, of being corrupt. As far as we know, no in-flight incidents occurred as a result of the problem.

Briefing: January 2015

The loss of SpaceShipTwo during a test flight in November wont shut down Virgin Galactics space-tourism project, according to CEO Richard Branson. Branson also said he still plans to be aboard the first commercial passenger flight. NTSB staffers said their investigation wont be complete for about a year, but in the first few days after the accident, they found that the aircrafts feather mechanism -- a rotating tail boom intended to slow the aircraft on descent from high altitudes -- was prematurely deployed, and initiated the breakup of the aircraft at about 50,000 feet. Pilot Peter Siebold was injured but survived, and co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed. A second spaceship is already under construction and is expected to launch in 2015.

Briefing: February 2010

We now have approved technical and operational standards for ADS-B equipment-but dont get too excited. This really means (among other things) that manufacturers can now move forward to develop conforming ADS-B hardware. The FAAs final rule on what will be required for GA equipage to fly in controlled airspace isnt due until April of this year. Compliance isnt required for another decade-provided the system is up and running by then.

Briefing: January 2010

Once upon a time it was considered just fine to polish frost smooth rather than scrape the junk off. Now the FAA has changed its mind. The rule is only binding on Parts 125, 135, or 91 subpart F (fractionals), but nine of the 12 frost-related accidents the FAA identified were with non-fractional Part 91 operations, so all of us might take note. Previous FAA guidance recommended removing all wing frost prior to takeoff, but allowed it to be polished smooth if the aircraft manufacturers recommended procedures were followed. But manufacturers never published standards for polished frost, and the FAA said it has no data to determine how to polish frost to satisfactory smoothness.

Briefing: November 2010

The FAA handed over another $356 million to Lockheed Martin along with a three-year contract extension for running our automated flight service system. Lockheed Martin took over the AFSS function in 2005 and says the net result of the changes over the past five years is better, more efficient service, despite slashing the number of flight service stations and staff. Said Jim Derr, Lockheed Martin Flight Service Program Director, We are excited to have the opportunity to continue providing the most accurate and reliable flight service briefings available. We noted he didnt say, useful.

Briefing: December 2014

In October, Gulfstream announced it will add two new wide-cabin business jets to its line: the Gulfstream G500 and G600. The first G500 is already built, and taxied to the unveiling event in Savannah, Georgia. The company also revealed a 70-foot-long mockup of the G600, which it displayed a week later at the NBAA convention. Both jets carry up to 19 passengers in extra-wide cabins, and both can fly up to Mach 0.925, the same top speed as Gulfstreams G650 and G650ER. The cockpits feature active control sidesticks and touchscreen avionics. The G500 will start deliveries in 2018, with the G600 to follow a year later, the company said.

Briefing: October 2014

Seaplanes led the news at EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh this year, with Icons debut of the final production version of its aircraft. The company is ramping up for production at a new plant in Vacaville, Calif., with plans to start deliveries of the LSA seaplane next year. Also, a new contender, MVP.aero, showed off a concept with a bundle of unique features. The mock-up and graphic display of the MVP.aero Model 3 amphibians unusual design, targeting fun flying, featured a cockpit that opens up to a deck for fishing, relaxing, and camping out.

Briefing: November 2014

Two general-aviation aircraft designs, the Turbine Mallard and the all-metal tandem SAM LSA, are up for sale. Thierry Zibi said he enjoyed designing and building the SAM, but doesnt want to run a production company. The SAM is certified in Canada as an Advanced Ultralight, and is compliant with the LSA rule in the USA. Frakes Aviation acquired classic Grumman Mallards type certificate some years ago, and upgraded the fleet with turbine engines. The TC is back on the market now, as the current owners are ready to retire. Were looking for someone to take on the entire project, said Sam Jantzen, of Mallard Aircraft, who is working with Frakes. That would include not just the type certificate but the inventory of parts and several partially-built aircraft now owned by Frakes and based in Texas.

Briefing: December 2010

The Office of Inspector General for the Transportation Department reports that the FAAs ADS-B plan faces significant risks and challenges. The number-one issue: Reluctance to purchase and install the required new avionics. Users have raised justifiable concerns about evolving requirements and uncertain equipage costs and benefits, the report says and brings back up the idea of cost sharing on incentives for upgrading users. The report also points to promised cost savings by using contractors that have evaporated or ended up costing more than doing things in-house. Meanwhile, the Airline Electronics Association says the new FAA guidelines that require ADS-B equipment to be installed under the supplemental type certificate (STC) process will stall early equipage, delay early implementation, and, at the extreme, cause the failure of ADS-B implementation all together.

Briefing: September 2014

The long, slow process to find an alternative to leaded aviation fuel took a step forward in July when the FAA said it will start to evaluate nine possible replacement fuels from five producers. Avgas is the only transportation fuel in the U.S. that still contains added lead, a substance banned from most fuels due to its toxicity. The FAA has set a goal to find a new, unleaded aviation fuel by 2018. This summer, the FAA will analyze the candidate fuels in terms of their impact on the fleet of 167,000 lead-fuel-burning GA aircraft, the production and distribution infrastructure, their environmental impact, toxicology, and cost. By September 1, the FAA will select several of the fuels for further testing. The nine proposals now under evaluation were received from Afton Chemical Company, Avgas LLC, Shell, Swift Fuels, and a consortium of BP, Total, and Hjelmco.

Briefing: June 2014

A controversial airworthiness directive that affects certain Superior Air Parts cylinders took effect April 25 despite widespread opposition from the maintenance industry and the manufacturer. The AD grounds any aircraft with Continental 550, 520 and 470 engines with SAP cylinders that have been in the engine for more than 12 calendar years.