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Briefing: November 2013

The first FAA-approved commercial drones launched on September 12 from a ship in the Chukchi Sea, off the North coast of Alaska. The ScanEagle unmanned aircraft system weighs just 44 pounds and has a 10-foot wingspan. It will conduct surveys of ice and marine mammals in the vicinity of drilling rigs. The UAS will be allowed to fly 24 hours a day at heights up to 2,000 feet and out of the line of sight of operators on the ground. The U.S. Air Force also said in September it has successfully flown the first of its mothballed F-16 fleet as a drone, which will be used for target practice.

Briefing: April 2014

After almost five years of quiet at the Mooney factory in Kerrville, Texas, the assembly line re-booted in February and the classic Acclaim Type S was back in production. The company has risen, yet again, thanks to a fresh infusion of cash from new investors, and new corporate leadership. The new Acclaim models will feature the TSIO-550-G turbo-normalized engine by Teledyne Continental Motors and an upgraded Garmin G1000 integrated avionics suite.

Briefings: March 2014

The FAA is moving forward to integrate autonomous aircraft into the National Airspace System -- at an excruciatingly slow speed for operators eager to use unmanned aerial systems, but perhaps still too fast for pilots worried about safety and separation. The six sites are in Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, New York, and Virginia. The FAA wants to see data showing that UASs can operate safely amid manned aircraft, and said the testing will continue until at least February 2017. The FAA also said it will establish rules to protect privacy as well as to ensure safe operations.

Briefing: February 2014

After weeks of speculation, Textron announced in late December that it would buy Beechcraft Corp., for $1.4 billion. Textron is the parent company of Cessna, Bell Helicopter, and Lycoming. The acquisition of Beechcraft is a tremendous opportunity to extend our general aviation business, said Textron CEO Scott Donnelly. Textron also will take on the profitable service business for Hawkers orphaned jet line, creating opportunities to convert those owners, as well as pilots upgrading from the…

Briefing: January 2014

Another light-sport amphibian has entered the field, this one from Vickers, a New Zealand company. The Wave, an Icon look-alike with a Lycoming IO-360 engine, will sell for under $180,000, the company said, and will be available for sale at EAA AirVenture in 2014. Kit manufacturer Vans Aircraft has a second batch of ready-to-fly RV-12s in production by partner Synergy Air, in Eugene, Ore. The first batch of 12 was announced a year ago and sold out the first day. The LSA version sells for $123,000, fully equipped, or $115,000 for the base model.

Briefing: August 2014

The Asiana Airlines flight crew mismanaged the descent of a 777 into San Francisco International Airport last July, the NTSB said in its probable-cause hearing in June. The pilots made several mistakes and by the time they decided to go around it was too late. The airplane hit the seawall, causing a fiery crash that killed three passengers and seriously injured 49. The board also found the complexities of the auto-throttle and autopilot flight director systems contributed to the crash, and should have been more clearly described both in Boeings documentation and in Asiana pilot training. Crew fatigue also was a factor. The board also said emergency responders on the scene, who ran over one of the crash victims with a fire truck, should have been better trained and equipped. The board followed up with 27 safety recommendations to the airline, Boeing, the aircraft firefighting group, and the city and county of San Francisco.

Briefing: July 2014

lectric-powered airplanes may still be far from mainstream, but interest in this technology continues to grow. In late April, Airbus engineers successfully flew the E-Fan, a tandem two-seater with a pair of electric-powered ducted fans on the tail. The batteries, carried in the wings, provide 30 minutes of flight.

Briefing: May 2014

Cirrus has been flying a Vision jet since 2008, but the first copy of the final production version flew for the first time on March 24. The jet is one of three conforming flight-test aircraft that will complete the flight-test regime, with deliveries expected to start late next year. Cirrus chief test pilot Mike Stevens flew the jet for an hour after takeoff from Duluth (Minn.) International Airport, and said it handled and performed very well and all systems functioned properly, just what you want in a first flight. The SF50 is a seven-seat, pressurized, single-engine jet, with a price of $1.96 million. Cirrus CEO Dale Klapmeier said the company has 500 reservations for the aircraft.