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General Aviation news briefs: Flying Wisconsin, Connecting Pilots and Prairie Aircraft

How many airports do you have in your backyard? Ever counted them all, and then flown there?

Wisconsin pilot and aviation advocate Rose Dorcey set out this summer, along with her pilot husband John, to do just that.

With 45 runways already checked off on their trip, they have 15 more to go. They then can say they visited 60 public airports in the Badger State’s 72 counties over the course of four flights.

Dorcey, who took her first flight lesson at in Wisconsin Rapids at South Wood County Airport (ISW) on her 30th birthday “a few years ago,” says she still has not lost the passion of being up in the air. The image at the top of this post, taken from her blog, shows the next trip she envisions — flying a set of waypoints that allows her to trace out the state boundaries of Wisconsin. Or perhaps her flying IFR into the 17 general aviation airports in the state that support it.

We think her current endeavor is just as neat and as future one may be. Plus, it is something many of us could do if we possess as much creativity. What better mode can connect you to your statewide neighbors and, at the same time, allow you to take in the scope of countryside that surrounds you? Read about the voyage and see tons of aerial pictures of the beautiful lake-filled American countryside on her blog, Flying Wisconsin. [more]

Want to plot a similar journey for yourself? Make sure to begin with our Airport Resource Center. With it, you can look up airport listings by state, and then check each individual airport for current weather conditions, approach information and FBO prices.

Print out a kneeboard summary and find places to golf, to eat or to sleep along your trip, all from the same web page.

Speaking of useful tools, ConnectingPilots.com is another new web site that aviators will find useful for social networking. Dubbing itself the “Aviation Compass for Aviation 2.0,” it harbors links and contacts for flight schools, fellow pilots, aviation blogs and other handy resources we can use, whether in the air or on the ground dreaming of the next flight.

Started by PlasticPilot.net blogger Vincent Lambercy, the project continues to seek companies, individuals and resources to feature on the site. Visit it and check it out.

Also today, we would like to recognize Prairie Aircraft Sales. The dealership announced this week that it acquired certification to be the exclusive Cessna Piston Dealership for the Canadian Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

“We continue to represent Cessna for the full Caravan line for all of western and northern Canada, as well as all makes and models of pre-owned aircraft from singles to jets,” the company said in a statement. Check out Prairie Aircraft Sale’s inventory in our Aircraft Exchange by clicking here.

UPS cargo plane crash in Dubai hits close to home for us

When a life is lost in a plane crash, we in the aviation community often take an added degree of concern compared to the general population. We understand acutely that the loss affects families and friends intertwined into our own social circles.

As members of this profession, we share a tight-knit group.

We, too, may have had an equipment issue in the cockpit or a close call on a landing before. We count our lucky stars that we walked away. Though these incidents are rare compared to the number of hours flown, we still take notice alertly when such mishaps occur. When lives are lost, the news still stings us with sadness.

No matter how much one prepares, things still can go wrong. When tragedy strikes, we lean upon each other and search for ways to prevent it from happening again.

Such events especially bring sorrow to our hearts when they happen close to home.

Last week’s crash of a UPS cargo plane that killed two in Dubai, though on the other side of the world, brings pain directly to the neighborhoods in which our coworkers live here in Louisville, Ky.

According to news reports, a Boeing-747 cargo plane turned back toward Dubai shortly after takeoff, reporting smoke in the cockpit. Soon after, the control tower there lost sight of the aircraft on radar and it went down.  

One of the two men at the controls, Doug Lampe, a 15-year veteran for UPS, called this city home. He attended Southeast Christian, the largest church in the community that counts among its members some of our fellow employees and their families. [more]

"It affects our whole community,” Dave Stone, senior minister at Southeast Christian, told The Courier-Journal, our local newspaper. “UPS is woven throughout the fabric of Louisville, so everybody hurts."

UPS is the largest private employer here, thus many fellow Louisvillians golfed, worked and worshipped with Lampe. Today, we too mourn with our city and our fellow aviators.

We extend condolences to the Lampe family, as well as the family of first officer Matthew Bell, of Sanford, Fla.

Additionally, as with all other crash investigations, we wish for answers to be found and potential problems to be resolved.

Company officials noted in a release that regular maintenance and a recent inspection shown no problems in the 2007 model aircraft. The company and the NTSB are sending inspectors to join investigative crews from the United Arab Emirates.

Though they cannot bring back these two accomplished pilots, we hope they can find resolution to help prevent us from losing others.

The FAA gives anwers on the King-Santa Barbara ordeal, but questions remain


John and Martha King with their Cessna 172
prior to their fateful trip last weekend to Santa Barbara.

When something goes wrong, we usually can step backward and find multiple events that led to the collective mishap. It appears that happened again this week.

Many in the aviation community displayed outrage after police detained well-known King School owners John and Martha King last weekend, mistakenly believing the aircraft in which they were flying had been stolen. Guns drawn, officers handcuffed the couple and hauled them away in police cruisers.

Looking backward on this incident of mistaken identity, a chain of events can be found to blame. Now several national aviation groups, including the AOPA and NBAA, have urged government agencies to employ more efficient tactics so those who fly legally are not lumped together with the criminals who do not.

We spoke with several officials with the FAA and FBI about the incident to shed more light on what happened and how they think it could be kept from happening again. Now we will break down the King ordeal in Santa Barbara. Let us try to reconstruct what went wrong in chronological order, while also considering how to redirect efforts to avoid this from happening again. [more]

-          The FAA made a list of tail numbers, including the trouble-making N50545 from this event, available to the Cessna Aircraft Co.  The aircraft maker then attached it to a 2009 Cessna 172S that will be flown by, among others, John and Martha King.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told GlobalAir.com that aircraft manufacturers, including Cessna and others, often receive blocks of available registration numbers from the agency. This allows each company to deliver an aircraft directly to the buyer, simplifying the process of obtaining a new plane.

-          Through Oct. 1, old FAA rules have allowed retired tail numbers to be reissued two years after they are retired. The new rules, which GlobalAir.com writers have written several articles about, increase the timeframe between recycling tail numbers to five years. They take effect next month. The updated law also allows the FAA to better track to whom and to where an aircraft is registered by enforcing registration renewals more tightly.

So some of the work to help fix this has taken place already.

“This new endeavor will probably eliminate, to a huge degree, a 'Santa Barbara' occurrence in the future,” said FAA spokesman Mike Fergus in an email Monday. He served as an acting public affairs official for the west coast this week and normally represents the agency for issues in the northwest and Alaska. “Just how the C-150 number was reissued (the plane stolen in 2002 that sparked the mix-up) is not something I can track down.”

-          Fergus’ last line brings up another aspect in this bureaucratic snowball that involves several federal and local agencies. The Cessna 150 in question originally was reported stolen (and the Kings say the owner still never has recovered it) in 2002, seven years before last weekend’s incident. Thus, even if the new five-year FAA policy of recycling old tail numbers had taken affect years ago, it may have done little to prevent this particular case.

The FAA will now look into further options for handling the registration numbers of stolen planes, Brown said, including considering an AOPA suggestion to retire them outright.

-          The Kings’ filing of an IFR plan alerted law enforcement that a stolen plane may have been flying into Santa Barbara. They in turn argue the absurdity of a criminal filing a path that lets the government know their exact moves ahead of time.

The El Paso Information Center, a joint security force of several branches of federal government that is overseen by the DEA, tracks flight plans against a list of registration numbers from stolen aircraft (and the probably keep tabs on other suspect flights, too). Originally focused in the realm of border patrol, the facility’s roles and staff grew exponentially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Its employees now investigate many aspects of illegal immigration, terrorism and drug smuggling.

Nobody outside of the agency knows for sure exactly what happened at this point, as DEA public affairs officials told reporters this week they would dig for better answers before commenting, although AOPA reporter Alton K. Marsh talked to the right sources got a home run. (His report on the AOPA web site, perhaps the most thorough on this whole affair, also notes the case of a Cirrus aircraft that shares a tail number with a Piper that was stolen in Florida. The FAA will likely push to have both numbers removed from the stolen aircraft list.)

By calling a spokesman with the McKinney, Texas, police department, from where the Cessna 150 originally was stolen, Marsh’s reporting makes it increasingly clear that officials at EPIC learned somewhere along the line that the registration number did not, in fact, belong to the stolen 150 but to the 172 flown by the Kings. By the time the center tried to relay this to police in Santa Barbara, police already had detained the couple.

-          Though the DEA has not confirmed this, it is reasonable to assume, based on conversations with the FAA and other reports, the data alerting of the stolen aircraft originated from within the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. The FBI oversees the center, which includes data gathered by local, state and federal agencies from throughout the United States.

The center allows agencies to (most of the time quite intelligently) share information on fugitives, terrorists, sex offenders, stolen cars and goods, important tools to support crime fighting. However, according to FBI spokesman Bill Carter, it is up to the reporting agency to remove or change a report so other agencies can avoid the failure of acting on bad information.

The 172 flown by the Kings had been stopped 18 months beforehand with a Cessna employee at the yoke. The situation did not entail drawn guns and news media coverage, as it did in the King case. However, at that point, it gave investigators every reason in the world to remove the registration number in question from the NCIC.

“It’s happened with cars,” said FBI spokesman Bill Carter. “A stolen car is recovered and the police department fails to clear it.”

Imagine that one if you see a dozen officers behind you with guns drawn and all you did was run a red light.

To drive this home further, Carter noted that NCIC data alone is not probable cause for an officer to make an arrest.

Although the King situation exposed several chinks of armor in the registration and tracking of aircraft, along with how law enforcement uses that data to catch criminals, it is a cloud that also comes with a ray of sunshine.

The Kings received an apology from the Santa Barbara police chief and, in turn, they offered to work with the agency to help develop a more effective protocol for approaching suspect aircraft. The Kings hope that other agencies use the result in a nationwide model.

Furthermore, one also can be hopeful that the FAA and other involved federal agencies can modify their policies to ensure the innocent remain innocent so investigators’ time can be more effectively spent catching those who are not. No innocent person wants, or deserves, to be confused with someone else at gunpoint.

AIN says FAA is giving American Airlines and others fair warning with $24M fine

Two years ago, the FAA ordered American Airlines to comply with an airworthiness directive and repair faulty wiring harnesses on its fleet of MD-80s.

Following the federal inspection, on several incidents, where a handful of planes that still did not meet the requirement, the airline shut grounded all of the planes in its fleet, cancelling more than 300 flights.

In all, reports say, more than 90 percent of the 300 aircraft in question did not follow the directive.

The $24.2 million fine levied by the FAA last week will be the largest in the agency’s history if American pays it in full. However, the company challenges the ruling and such fines often are settled for lesser amounts.

 Now AIN’s David Lombardo says the message an aviation company can gain from this is that when the agency says to fix a problem, fix it. Or else.

“Essentially, American kept telling us the problem was fixed when it wasn’t,” an FAA spokesman told the magazine.

Read the entire analysis, including how the fine amount was derived and American’s response, at this link.

Gulfstream G650 nears speed of sound, earns title of fastest civilian jet


Courtesy of Gulfstream

The Gulfstream G650 neared the speed of sound in flutter testing this week, hitting Mach 0.995, and established itself as the fastest civilian aircraft on the planet.

In achieving the speed, test pilots Tom Horne and Gary Freeman, joined by flight test engineer Bill Osborne, took the aircraft into a dive where the nose of the aircraft pitched 16 to 18 degrees below the horizon, Gulfstream said in a statement.

Flutter designers applied a range of vibration frequencies during the dive on the tail, wing and flight-control surfaces to make sure the plane could naturally dampen them without further action from the pilots. The company said the aircraft performed “flawlessly” during the test. [more]

A photo of the three-member test crew on the Gulfstream web site this week showed each of them beaming smiles and  flashing thumbs-up gestures. 

Since the G650 flight-testing program began in November 2009, four airplanes have completed 575 hours in more than 170 flights. The entire testing phase will span 1,800 hours.  

“The airplane is very predictable,” Horne said. He is the senior experimental test pilot for Gulfstream. “It’s very easy to control and to get precise control at those speeds. The airplane response has matched the expectations of our engineers, and we’ve been able to easily fly the test conditions and march through the test plan.”

The ultra-large cabin, ultra-high speed G650 will carry eight passengers and a four-person crew on 7,000 nautical-mile legs at Mach 0.85. The company says it can cover 5,000 nautical miles at Mach 0.90.

Various floor plans can accommodate up to 18 people, according to the company web site, which dubs the G650 “the fastest, widest, longest business jet”

Technological features built into the aircraft will include a Planeview II avionics suite, featuring a Triplex flight management system, 3-D weather radar, automatic emergency descent mode, Head-Up Display (HUD) II and Enhanced Vision System (EVS) II, among other features.

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