Aviation Technology - Page 2 Aviation Articles

The Tools of Modern Aviation Engineers

Being married to an engineer has opened my mind to a whole new world. People have often speculated where aviation seems to be going and spoken praises for the engineers who have built modern aviation and contributed to the technology boom, but outside of the circle of engineers and tech people, little thought is given to the tools that fuel modern engineering innovation. It’s interesting that above my husband’s desk, hanging on the wall next to his computer monitor is a framed original 1929 engineering drawing of a Waco Biplane. He keeps it there as a reminder of how far we have come in the span of a lifetime while he draws the same biplane in a 3-dimensional computer aided design software called Solidworks.

Up until the late 80s most engineering drawings were made by hand.

SolidWorks is one of the most popular programs today that allows one engineer to design something in a few hours what would have taken a dedicated team of engineers and draftsmen weeks in the past. Drawing in two dimensions is simple and gets the job done, but as designs become more and more complex, two-dimensional drawings become more and more prone to error. 3D CAD, on the other hand, eliminates errors before they begin by recognizing dimensional conflicts such as over and under defining parts and can generate two-dimensional drawings in a matter of seconds. These programs dramatically boost productivity and eliminate errors, allowing engineers to design more things faster and more accurately.

Why then would anyone want to spend so much time deciphering old hand drawings and making them 3D? This is a popular one for restorers of these old airplanes, like my in-laws. There is a story well known in the Waco community of a man who set out to restore his airplane going off the original drawings. When he finished the individual pieces for four whole wings, he attempted to put it together, but the parts did not fit and he had to scrap them. So imagine finding out the airplane doesn’t fit before buying a single material! SolidWorks does that

Beginning of the right-lower wing of the Waco in 3D CAD. Adjustments already had to made to get the metal brace clips to line up properly.

With the models like the one shown above, engineers can ask the software to check for dimensions that don’t work out and other minor complications that were not thought of. Furthermore, one can ask the software how much the assembly weighs, what the properties are under specific loads and adjust for these shortcomings.

Another fascinating tool that today’s engineers are using is 3D scanning technology. There is a company called Aircorps Aviation that we met at Oshkosh 2017 that uses handheld laser scanning technology to scan aircraft parts to reverse engineer and 3D model. This is extremely useful for aircraft restoration project that deal with parts that are no longer available or difficult to find. Being able to recreate the part by seeing what other parts are around it is ingenious and will help restoration projects that may not have been possible otherwise.

The crazy thing is that with all these technological innovations, engineers are not getting dumber. They are still incredibly brilliant people, but 3D CAD helps them push the line between reality and the impossible, making today the world of tomorrow. Whatever aviation innovations may present themselves in the next few years, these tools are helping make them the most that they can possibly be.

5 Major Items Pilots Miss During Their Preflight Inspection

Perhaps the most critical part of any general aviation flight is the preflight inspection of the aircraft. For most pilots, the preflight inspection follows a checklist along with a routine flow around the aircraft. Most pilots and student pilots perform what would be considered a sufficient inspection, following their checklist and routine items.

Surely 100% of pilots would be able to find discrepancies if they were present right?

Well...not exactly. Sit down, strap yourself in and get ready to read some interesting real-life statistics!

Every year at the Sun N Fun airshow the FAA partners with a local flight school to host the Project Preflight event. The purpose of the event is to test the preflight efficiency of pilots and student pilots of all ages, hours and experience. A flight school volunteers one of their airplanes for the event. Participants are invited to preflight the aircraft like they would before any other flight – checking the fuel, oil, tire pressure and anything with blue tape is unnecessary. The catch is, the aircraft has several intentional discrepancies, some are major squawks! This year we hosted the event and gathered the data from 144 total participants.

Here are the results...

Water Bottle Lodged Behind Rudder Pedals – Out of 144 participants only 30% found this major discrepancy.

Cotter Pin Missing In Right Wheel – Only 28% found this one!

Elevator Nut Missing – 39% found the nut to missing from the right side of the elevator.

Rag Behind The Alternator – Easy to spot but only 63% of participants found the rag!

Cotter Pin In Control Lock – Only 42% found a small cotter pin in place of the control lock, hard to miss but deadly if left in.

Interesting right?! The statistics are concerning to say the least, but what a great insight into a previously unknown sector of general aviation that can be used to educate pilots and future pilots.

So how can we improve these statistics?

Yes, of course we can say “pilots need to be more thorough in their inspections” or “we need to apply more focus and attention to detail during a preflight” but what are some other realistic strategies we can implement to actually achieve that?! Here’s one – maybe it’s extreme and definitely hypothetical but it’s worth pondering.

Again, hypothetical but let’s break it down. We need pilots to perform thorough inspections, how can you put yourself in that “attentive” frame of mind? If you’ve ever rotated the tires on your vehicle yourself, isn’t it likely that you’ll double check and triple check the tightness of the lug nuts before you call it a job done? The theory is that you’ll be taking more responsibility for the state of the aircraft rather than assuming the mechanic or previous pilot left the aircraft in an airworthy condition. This doesn’t mean you should become an aircraft mechanic or add an hour to your preflight, the goal is to find a way to improve our attention and focus when preflighting an airplane.

Project Preflight was certainly educational and we had an absolute blast hosting the event. On behalf of SunState Aviation we would like to thank all of the 144 participants for stopping by and giving us your time, without you this educational piece and the safety of future pilots would not be a reality!

By Alec Larson – May 8, 2017
Flight Training, SunState Aviation

Oldies But Goodies, the decision to buy a new aircraft versus old(er) aircraft

The majority of manufacturers of new turbine business aircraft are still having difficulties selling their new aircraft. Sales remain sluggish. According to GAMA 2016 was the worst year for business jet deliveries since 2004. Ref: https://aviationweek.com/bca/business-jet-shipments-lowest-2004-gama-says

When I talk to brokers of pre-owned aircraft, many are reporting that 2016 was a very good year and that 2017 is continuing the upward trend. Why is that? One reason is that there are still a lot of quality pre-owned aircraft for sales at prices that have not recovered since the last recession. 

A friend in the finance industry who frequently works with high net worth individuals reports that for them, buying new is not financially the best option. Ten, 15 or 20-year old business jets are safe, have relatively low time versus their life, and, if you understand the maintenance requirements, can offer years of excellent service. 

Business jets still depreciate at alarming rates. A rule of thumb for a new business jet? Try 8% to 10% per year! Sources like Vref and the Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest support this with historical data. For a number of models, you can easily buy a seven-year old for about half or less than acquiring new. The manufacturers' sales people stress the new aircraft have much lower operating costs due to the lower maintenance costs, have the latest avionics, and new aircraft warranties. They are right, but still - that market depreciation! Being a numbers person, I ran some numbers.

looked at several popular large cabin business jets and the below is an average of a couple models. I used Vref pricing and ran operating costs to include the costs aging aircraft maintenance using our Life Cycle Cost software. Here are a couple things to consider.

Acquisition

New aircraft list = $44 million 

7-Year old model = $7.5 million

15-Year old model = $3 million

 

Knowing that acquisition is only part of the costs, what about the variable operating costs - including all the older aircraft maintenance?

Variable Cost Per Hour (on engine hourly maintenance program)

New aircraft = $3,800 per hour 

7-Year old aircraft = $4,900 per hour

15-Year old aircraft = $5,100 per hour

$1,300 per hour in operating cost is a lot - 34% greater than for the new model. The new jet, $44 million and you are good to fly right away. The 15-year old might need $2 million to $4 million in upgrades, new paint & interior, ADS-B, and some engine work. Even the 7-year old will need some upgrades. 

But when you look at residual values as a financier does, that difference in the operating cost budget pales in comparison to what (may) happen to the value. After seven years, that new jet may be worth half of new (or less) based on recent history. That $44 million jet may decline by $22 million! The older jet's value will be dependent on the maintenance status, especially the engines. It's possible that after seven years the now 15-year old may still get $2 million or more if the engines are in good shape. Even if you park the 15-year old jet after seven years' use, you are only out $4 to $6 million. 

One area not covered in these numbers is availability and utilization. A aircraft age, they require more maintenance and the extra maintenance burden requires more downtime. When the aircraft is in for maintenance, it is not available for flight. I you need high utilization, that older aircraft will likely make it difficult to maintain a busy flight schedule. But, for the lower utilization owner, such as many high net worth individuals, 200 hours a year is plenty and that 15-year old jet can easily keep up that schedule. 

Can you keep an older jet flying 30-hours a month? Maybe but not every month. I don't have an exact number as there are too many variables, but maintaining consistent 500-600 annual hours will be very difficult in all but newer models. A new aircraft can sustain that use with ease. That seven-year old model can probably sustain that level save for the "once every 8-year" type of heavy maintenance. 

Consider a company like NetJets. They need to minimize downtime. NetJets and the other fractional aircraft providers all tend to operate newer models. They do this to be able to offer the 800-occupied hours per year for their share owners. They cannot consistently get the revenue hours with older aircraft. 

can't ascertain that the new aircraft sales are going to the high utilization operators while the infrequent-fliers are buying the older models. But that can be one reason while the pre-owned aircraft brokers are enjoying a good year. 


The Top 10 Business Jets

It’s hard to believe that just over 100 years ago, flying was just a pipe dream.  We’ve come a long way and now aviation has a part to play in many industries and has become its own segment of the aerospace industry.  “Business aviation” refers to any aircraft that are used in furtherance of a business.  According to the National Business Aviation Association, business aviation contributes approximately $150 billion to economic output and employs at least 1.2 million people (NBAA.org).  While only about 3% of the 15,000 registered business aircraft are flown by Fortune 500 companies, the rest belong to varying sizes of for-profit and not-for-profit companies all over the United States – this includes universities, local and federal government, and other businesses. 

Arguably, the future of aviation is business aviation and Globalair.com has their top ten picks for business aircraft backed up by several years of experience in aircraft sales. 

#10: Gulfstream 550 (G550)

If there is one company that evokes luxury in their aircraft, Gulfstream Aerospace has to be it.  The sleek frame of the G550 cuts through the air at 0.80 Mach using two Rolls-Royce BR710 engines with a max cruising altitude at 51,000 feet.  This luxury jet can be configured up to 19 passengers and sleeps 8 comfortably.  If you’re looking to escape the cares of everyday life easily, or reach your international group in England, the G550 has a range of almost 7,000 nautical miles (nm).

While it boasts a comfortable ride for passengers (a cabin over 40 feet long), pilots aren’t soon forgotten with the state of the art PlaneView™ flight deck featuring some of the most advanced avionics known in existence.  The flight deck features four liquid crystal displays for your flight crew with easy software upgrades making it compatible to your flight department, no matter how big or small.  Additionally, a Head-Up Display (HUD) is included in the G550 that projects flight data in the pilot’s forward-looking field of vision.  In times of reduced or obscured vision, such as inclement weather, the Enhanced Vision System (EVS) uses infrared technology to capture what the pilot cannot see – runway markings, taxiways, and other terrain are now visible in poor weather conditions.

According to the NBAA, the G550 has the reliability of 99.9% -- this means out of five years of service, you will only miss one trip (Gulfstream.com).  In a world where time equals money, this is a statistic to get behind.

#9: Gulfstream 200 (G200)

The little brother to the G550, the G200 had its first flight on Christmas Day in 1997 and was later released in 1999.  While Gulfstream no longer produces the G200, it doesn’t keep it from being a popular used aircraft.  It was originally named the “Astra Galaxy”.

Like most Gulfstream aircraft, the G200 boasts a large cabin size that can hold to 18 passengers, but typically configured for 8-10 passengers.  Unlike the Rolls-Royce engines, the G200 runs on two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW306A turbofans producing a maximum cruise spend at 0.80 Mach, similar to the G550.  While it has approximately the same cruising speed, the G200 has almost half the range at 3,400 nm at 45,000 feet which makes it a perfect aircraft for domestic flights here in the U.S.

From this description, the G200 can be seen not only as a predecessor to the G550, but the smaller, less expensive version of the G550.  The G200 is an excellent aircraft for a business that does mostly domestic flights.

#8: Hawker 4000

Taking a break from the Gulfstream family, the Hawker 4000 hails from Beechcraft which is owned by Textron Aviation – the parent company to Cessna and others.  Produced from 2011 to 2013, the Hawker 4000 was quickly realized as the top jet product by Beechcraft.

A worthy competitor to the G200 as well as slightly newer, it can seat up to ten people (14 maximum) and has average of 6 feet of standing room in the interior cabin.  It cruises at 45,000 feet with a range of 3,445 nm and 870 km/hr.  A common identifier of the Hawker 4000 is the hawk profile painted in tan on the tail section.

If you’re currently in the G200 as an airframe, a newer and comparable version would be the Hawker 4000.

#7: Hawker 800XPi

A predecessor to the Hawker 400 is the Hawker 800 which was first produced in the early 1980s.  A later version of the Hawker 800 was the XP and XPi which was most notable by the addition of winglets.

Like the previously mentioned aircraft, the 800XPi is similar in size when it comes to passenger capacity and length.  The maximum speed in cruise is 745 km/hr while its range is the shortest out of the group at just under 2,000 nm and has a service ceiling at 41,000 feet.  However, it’s rate of climb is nothing to sneeze at – 1,948.8 feet/minute!

#6: Citation Sovereign

We now switch gears back to the Textron company to that of Cessna and the Citation Sovereign.  This particular aircraft is classified as a mid-size business jet and at the time of its introduction in 2004, the third largest in the Citation line (weight-wise).

A unique feature of the Sovereign is its ability to take off and land in short distances which is unusual in a business jet.  For corporations and private companies, this becomes a valuable feature for plants and factories situated in small towns with short runways.  Not only does the Sovereign get you there fast (848 km/hour), but it also is considered a transcontinental aircraft with a range of over 3,000 nm.

#5: Falcon 2000

In our plethora of business aircraft manufacturers, we come to Falcon (birds of prey do make good names).  Dassault Aviation is a French aircraft manufacturer that can be seen as a fairly healthy competitor to Textron’s companies as well as Gulfstream.  Probably the most notable of the Falcon line are the aircraft that have three engines, however, the 2000 is the one of the older models in the line with just two engines.

Like other aircraft in its class, the 2000 has comparable speed as well as range which is 3,000 nm.  The impressive thing about the 2000 is its ability to climb to 37,000 feet in just nineteen minutes – that’s just over 1,900 feet/minute!

#4: Challenger 605

We’ve finally come to our last brand name in jets (although not our last pick) which is that of Challenger.  It’s one of the few non-American manufactures and actually is produced by Canadair which you might recognize as the manufacturer of the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ).  Coincidentally, Canadair is an independent company that is also a division of Bombardier Aerospace – famous for its Bombardier Business Jets, or BBJs, among others.

The Challenger 605 is the fourth aircraft in the 600 series which dates back to the late 1970s.  The 605 was introduced in 2006 as an upgrade to the 604.  Some new features included larger cabin windows, updated Rockwell Collins instrumentation and the capability of holding an “electronic flight bag”.   The most distinct visual feature is the rounded tailcone.

The 605 is comparable in size to the previously discussed aircraft, but is one of the fastest at 870 km/hour and a range close to 4,000 nm.

#3: Challenger 300

The Challenger 300, at first glance, can easily be confused with the Challenger 600 series which is not the case.  Unlike the 600 series, the 300 is recognized as a Bombardier (parent company of Canadair). 

It entered commercial service in early 2004 and is considered a super-mid-size jet.  This basically means it’s very comparable to all the other aircraft discussed, but has greater range capability.   The 300 has a range of approximately 5,700 km and caps out at 45,000 feet.  

#2: Gulfstream IV-SP (GIV-SP)

We’re back in the Gulfstream family (popular for a very good reason)! The GIV-SP is very comparable to other Gulfstream products, but represents the fine-tuning that the Savannah-based company did to improve their product line.

For instance, Honeywell advanced flight deck displays, electrical power generation, cabin temperature control and pressurization were added to this particular model.  Additionally, improved Automatic Power Unit (APU), flap system, redesigned landing gears, and other systems were improved in this particular model.

#1: Gulfstream 650 (G650)

Quite possibly my favorite Gulfstream is that of the G650.  Sleek, shiny, and the largest of the Gulfstream family, this aircraft has the ability to take you just about anywhere.  True to the company’s tagline for this aircraft, “Farther faster, first of its kind,” the G650 more than lives up to its standard.

It has done just that with a maximum range of 7,000 miles (you read that right), and an operating speed of 0.925 Mach.  It also has the heaviest takeoff weight at almost 100,000 pounds (that’s a lot of golf clubs, or fuel).

Besides the G650 being visually stunning, the wingspan is the most noticeable at approximately 100 feet which is nearly as long as the aircraft itself.  It also features the most advanced avionics developed by Gulfstream – the PlaneView™ II flight deck.  Like the G550, it has four displays with the EVS, HUD, Synthetic Vision as well as fly-by-wire technology which is computer-controlled and highly redundant – this is advanced as the technology gets.

A Clear Winner?

While Globair.com has their favorite picks which have proven to be popular among used aircraft owners, be sure to do your research when it comes picking the business jet that works for your company.  Remember to read our tips about purchasing an aircraft – while focused on single-engine aircraft, there are some excellent tips to consider.  However, you might want to consider going to a jet broker when it comes to your business needs.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of the common business aircraft on the market – just remember to save your pennies as these sleek, used aircraft run anywhere from $6.4 to $52.9 million!

 

Searching for your next private jet? Click here to visit Globalair.com’s listings. 

 

 

2017 Thoughts - No Recovery Quite Yet?

I recently returned from the excellent Corporate Jet Investor CJI-Miami conference. The two-day conference was attend by over 200 financiers, brokers, lawyers, manufacturers, appraisers, consultants and others involved in the transactions of buying and selling corporate aircraft. This includes helicopters, too (see footnote) . There were individual speakers and panel discussions. And way too much good food. Congrats to the CJI team for putting on a great event. Much of the discussion centered around the state of aircraft sales, residual values, and when the "recovery" is coming and where. Here are some things that stood out for me.

Flying is still down. There were three sets of data points supporting this. Jet Support Services (JSSI) has their Business Aviation Index built from the utilization of about 2,000 aircraft flown by their program customers. For third quarter 2016 (2016Q3) flight activity was up 1.4% versus 2015Q3. Sounds good until you see the number, about 29 hours per month, is only 84% of the overall peak utilization. Separating out Part 91 operations showed utilization of 22.5 hours per month - only 270 hours per year. That is not high utilization for the business jet fleet. 

Wingx, using FAA data, was not promising either. They show an average of 101 hours per year for all light jets and 159 annual hours for heavy jets. Not sure how accurate the FAA data is, but trends are trends and they are well off peak levels. Promising is that turboprop and light jet activity is on the rise. 

JetNet's JetNetIQ report also showed increasing aircraft fleet cycles. But total fleet cycles flown this year are only at about 2003 levels even though we have 50% more aircraft in 2016 versus 2003. So we have more business aircraft flying fewer hours and cycles versus peak periods. But flying is slowly increasing. The utilization trend is positive.

Aircraft sales, new or pre-owned, are still flat and pre-owned values overall show no signs of recovering. Several commentators blamed an over supply of business aircraft and buyers in general just not being all that interested in acquiring aircraft.  A couple brokers did note increasing sales activity in turboprops and light jets here in the US. 

Here is a tidbit I got from looking at AMSTAT's data. For business jets globally, about 25% of the fleet, 4,140 jets, is aged over 25 years. Heavy jets are the youngest fleet with only 17% of their number aged over 25. For midsize jets, 24% and for light jets, 33% of the fleet are aged 25 years or older. On the surface, I'd say the time is ripe for those older jet owners to upgrade. Why aren't they doing so in big numbers? 

Data that we see at Conklin & de Decker suggest that as aircraft age, they require increased maintenance to maintain their reliability. This increased maintenance is in dollars and downtime.  As aircraft age, the increase in unscheduled maintenance associated with scheduled inspections also requires a great deal more maintenance down time. Similarly it will take more and more maintenance to achieve any kind of acceptable dispatch reliability. Both detract from the availability of the aircraft for flight operations. Data shows that availability drops from the 95% range for aircraft up to 15 to 20 years of age to an average of 70% at age 25 and 55% at age 30. 

    Aircraft Age        Availability

      0 – 20 years up to 95%

      25 years up to 70%

      30 years up to 55%

By age 30, many aircraft are spending as much time in the shop as being available to fly. Normally this is a big problem and justification enough to acquire younger, more productive, aircraft. But if utilization is low, then maybe this is not such a big deal. The JSSI data are for aircraft under their guaranteed hourly engine maintenance plans. This aircraft are likely to be newer models. Even so, 270 annual hours for a Part 91 business aircraft is not a lot of flying. The Wingsx analysis of the FAA data showing 100-160 annual hours also shows there is plenty of downtime left in the year for scheduled maintenance while meeting g the required flight schedule. 

If operators with these older aircraft are able to meet the flying schedule and they realize the residual value of their aircraft is likely close to spare parts' values, maybe they see little need right now to upgrade. What about FAA NextGen? ADS-B is due by 2020, but for many of these older aircraft with analog equipment, the upgrade may only require a new transponder. If they cannot upgrade, then they might as well fly them until December 31, 2019 and park them. If this is the case for these operators, they may see little benefit to upgrading for another year or two.  

Overall, the general mood at CJI was that things are very slowly improving. But pay close attention to the US. Europe is moribund for business aircraft. As long as oil prices stay low, along with political instability in the Middle East, sales activity there will be slow. Same for Africa.  China and India, although they have the highest rates of GDP growth globally, are growing more slowly than in the past and account for a very small percentage of business aircraft sales. Mexico? Trump, NAFTA, and other trade worries impact there. Brazil's economy isn't promising right now, but Argentina, small a market as they are, is promising. Oceana, another small market for aircraft, is stable. The US has the globe's largest business aircraft fleet. The US, with a pro-business president and Congress combined with the current economic growth that's already underway offers the best hope for the next few years' aircraft sales. 

Personally, I think as 2020 approaches, we will see an uptick in aircraft sales for those aircraft with the ADS-B mods already installed. As supply of these aircraft may be limited, that may help with new aircraft sales.  But given the supply of pre-owned aircraft, that uptick might not be noticeable for another year, or 2018. Food for thought (as if after both Thanksgiving and the CJI buffets I have any room left). 

 

Footnote 1. Most of the helicopter manufacturers are highly dependent on large multi-turbine helicopter sales. Most of those are in oil & gas.  The CJI panel offered little hope for sales unless the price of oil goes up further. However, a recent energy find in West Texas combined the shale oil recovery and fracking technologies getting cheaper point to more land-based oil exploration. Stay tuned.

 

 

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