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The Robird: Coming Soon to a Sky Near You

by Tori Williams 1. February 2018 08:00
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During a research project for my Airport Manager Certification class (which is really just studying for the AAAE CM exam), I happened upon a video of one of the most interesting Wildlife Management technologies I've ever seen. The video featured the "Robird," which is an Unmanned Aerial System designed to look and fly exactly as a bird of prey does. Created by the company Clear Flight Solutions in the Netherlands, the bird uses UAS technology to be remotely controlled from the ground by a certified pilot. The bird can be used in several scenarios where birds may be a hazard to the surrounding environment, but especially at airports where birds pose a threat to safe flight operations. The body of the UAS is painted with faux feathers, eyes and a beak to increase the lifelike appearance. This device comes in two models, the Eagle and the Falcon, replicating their respective birds of prey.

To begin their marvelous flight, one person uses their hands to hold the drone up into the air while the pilot uses their controls to makes the bird come to life and start flapping its wings. A slight mechanical buzz is heard, but nothing that would give the bird away to his avian enemies. The assistant then launches the drone forward, sending it into the skies and on towards its mission. The small but mighty UAS is able to reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, a big selling point for those looking to take their wildlife management tactics to the next level.

A flying robot has many unique challenges. It has to be lightweight enough to soar through the air, but the body must contain all of the necessary mechanical parts, resulting in extra weight. The engineers were able to give the birds perfect weights (the Falcon is 1.6 pounds and the Eagle is 4.5 pounds) by creating the bodies out of nylon composite with glass fiber and utilizing a lithium polymer battery. The wings are 3D printed, and the machine is assembled by hand.

The most important technology of the Robird is how Clear Flight Solutions has managed to make the robot look incredibly lifelike, completely indistinguishable from a real bird of prey from even a short distance away. This is achieved not only by the immaculate paint job on the robot, but the way that it flaps its wings and has a flight behavior eerily similar to the real birds. This is achieved by having each foam wing flex into different degrees across its length.

The pilot is always able to control exactly where the bird flies, so it is safe in even the busiest airfields. Because it utilizes drone technology, it will be easy to regulate and classify the device for Airport Certification Manuals. The creators of the device are quoted as saying, “it can be tempting to put too much technology into the bird,” and seem to want their device to be useful because it is simple, rather than too technological to operate daily.

The goal when using this robot is to scare away unwanted wildlife from active airfields, providing efficient wildlife management and drastically reducing the occurrences of bird strikes. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, birds make up 97% of reported wildlife strikes. Seeing as they are the most common wildlife hazard, airport managers must often target them specifically.

Birds have shown a tendency to become accustomed to other traditional means of wildlife management, such as loud noises or statues of owls. Clear Flight Solutions claims that as use of their Robird continues on the airfield, the birds will learn to avoid the supposed “hunting ground” of the creature, and the problematic populations will dwindle. In a series of test flights they were able to reduce the bird population in the affected area by 75 percent over time.

This is a new and exciting technology, and I am interested to see how this bird drone develops further into the future. Check out the video below to see the realistic flight patterns of the Robird. The future is now!

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Flying | Tori Williams

Electric Airplanes

by Tori Williams 1. January 2018 20:52
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Last summer a family member of mine decided to take a leap into the future and purchased a Tesla Model S. When we went home for the holidays my husband and I were able to take a ride in the brilliant unity of technology and transportation that is an electric car. Outfitted with dozens of luxury features, and with an engine so quiet you’ll wonder why we’ve dealt with noisy mechanical engines for this long, riding in a Tesla will change your life. The power behind the electric car is amazing. There is no delay between pushing the pedal (Gas pedal? Go pedal?) and when you are moving along smooth as silk. After riding in the Tesla and seeing several charging stations “in the wild” I truly believe that electric cars are going to be the preferred way to travel in the future.

Bringing everything in my life back to aviation, as I am so inclined to do, I began to wonder about the options that are available for electric airplanes. Surely the innovations that Elon Musk has brought to cars was brought to airplanes long ago. Fuel is one of the largest costs when operating an aircraft, whether small or large, so surely someone has made an electronic solution. The engine noise inside an aircraft is so loud annoying that many people opt to fly gliders for some peace and quiet. To be rid of insane fuel costs and mind-numbing loudness would make aviation a much more comfortable place to be. I began digging around online and found some interesting developments that are striving to bring battery-powered flight to the public every day.

History

Electric powered flying machines have been around almost as long as aviation itself. The first instance was in 1883 when Frenchman Gaston Tissandier flew an electrically-powered airship using a Siemens motor. Improved electric airships were then created, however, most of them had to be tethered to a power source on the ground. Innovations to full-sized aircraft didn’t come until the invention of the Nickel-Cadmium battery, which could provide much more power with less weight. The first manned electric aircraft to fly under its own power was the Militky MB-E1 in 1973. This small two passenger aircraft had a flight time of just 14 minutes, but it was a good start. Ever since this first flight dozens of companies have been working on creating the perfect electric airplane.

NASA

It’s impossible to write an article about electric aircraft without mentioning all of the work NASA has done with solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They have set quite a few records with their Pathfinder, Centurion, and Helios. These long skinny planes look like something out of a sci-fi movie, and they made groundbreaking discoveries in the future of solar-powered flight. In 2001 the Helios set an altitude record of 96,863 feet! However, these are not manned and I wanted to focus more on the human transportation involved with electric aircraft.

The Sun Flyer

Of all the electric aircraft prototypes I saw in my research, none looked as complete and interesting as the Sun Flyer. The 2 seater aircraft is sleek, costs approximately $16 per flight hour (compared to $89 for a Cessna 172) and can fly 3 hours on a single charge. The founding management team includes Charlie Johnson, the former president of Cessna, so they must know what they are doing. They are not currently in production, but as is evident on their website, they have deposits for 105 aircraft. I can definitely see this company and concept becoming huge in the upcoming years. Although the short flight endurance may seem like a hindrance, this aircraft is perfect as a training aircraft. Training flights are often less than 2 hours, and having a more affordable option benefits both the students and the school.

Pipistrel Alpha Electro

The Sun Flyer is not alone in the race to become the best electric flight training aircraft. Pipistrel is a Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer that holds many awards for their eco-friendly aircraft designs. Their goals are to reduce emissions created by aircraft, make flying more affordable, and decrease the noise around airports. All of these things are achievable through electric aircraft, so their main focus right now has been developing the "Alpha Electro" to be a 2-seater ultralight flight training aircraft.

It will be interesting to see where electronic aircraft development takes us in the future. Teslas are quickly becoming a serious competitor in the car market, and it would be nice to see this same intense competition and innovation with electric aircraft. At the end of the day, everyone can benefit from more affordable and enjoyable flying options!

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Flying | Tori Williams

The Tools of Modern Aviation Engineers

by Tori Williams 1. December 2017 23:33
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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.

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Aviation Technology | Tori Williams | Vintage Aircraft

Top Five Things to Look for in a Flight School

by Tori Williams 2. September 2017 11:00
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So you have finally decided that you will chase your dreams and get your pilot license. That’s great! The next big step in the process is to pick a flight school. However, with the number of flight schools around nowadays (sometimes multiples at single airports) it can be difficult to know which flight school to choose. Ultimately you will be giving a large amount of money to them, so it is very important you find the right fit for your goals and needs as a flight student.

In this article I would like to outline some of the most important things to look for in a flight school, to hopefully assist you in choosing the perfect fit. Sometimes it is worth driving to the next town over for your preferred flight school.

1. Availability of aircraft

One of the number one complaints I’ve heard from my flight student friends is that they are unable to schedule their flights when they need to because there is limited aircraft availability. Having too many students trying to fly too few aircraft can lead to a lot of frustration and unhappiness from all involved. Speak with current students and see how often they are able to fly. Is it flexible or will you be fighting for a plane when the weather is nice? Another important thing to think about is what you will be flying after you complete your training. Does the flight school offer rentals without instructors? Is there a local flying club that has ties to the school? Having a game plan for when you’re flying on your own will save you a lot of work once you achieve your goals to earn your license.

2. Experienced instructors

One of my pet peeves with flight instructors is when they are clearly just instructing to get the hours to move to the airlines. Although this is what the majority of instructors are doing, it doesn’t mean they get to be lazy or haphazard with teaching you. Watch out for instructors who do not take your training seriously, or will cancel your flight for the slightest inconvenience. A good instructor will tailor your lessons to your learning style, and will do the best they can to advance you through the lessons so you aren’t wasting money. Remember, no matter how nice the person is, you have the right to switch to a new instructor if you feel you are not making the progress that you should be.

3. Training Options

The training options that you look for in a flight school have a lot to do with what your personal goals are as a pilot. Do you intend to fly as a hobby or are you ultimately wanting to make a career out of it? There is a notable difference between a Part 61 and Part 141 certified flight school and it is up to you to decide which you prefer. This goes along with the availability of aircraft as well. Do you want to fly the classic Cessna 172 or are you looking for a more “mission-oriented” type of aircraft? Have an open mind about new aircraft if you’ve only ever experienced one type, but be picky if you need certain type ratings or endorsements for your ultimate aviation goals.

4. Good Maintenance

I can assure you that when I first started looking at flight schools, I didn’t think twice about how their maintenance was. However, once I started flying and planes continually went out of service for the most random things, I began to wonder how smoothly our maintenance department was operating. Ask any potential flight schools who is in charge of maintenance, how a student would report a discrepancy with the plane, and how quickly the turnaround time usually is if a plane does go down for maintenance. Keep in mind that aircraft have regularly scheduled inspections, and ask how long they usually take to complete them. You may be surprised to learn that they are not up to standards. Determining the airworthiness of a plane is ultimately up to the pilot in command, so knowing how well the maintenance has been kept up is important.

5. Safety Record

Even if all of the above features of your soon-to-be flight school appear to check out perfectly, safety should always be the number one concern for pilots. Closely tied to maintenance and instructor experience, the safety record of the flight school directly impacts you. Keep your ear to the ground for any stories of unsafe operations and be watchful for regulation compliance. If the flight school ends up getting shut down for operating unsafely, you may be questioned about it during an interview for an airline. In the short term, you won’t have access to the planes you were flying. Keep tabs on the history of the flight school and be cautious if anything seems off.

The time you spend comparing flight schools will always pay off in the end. Don't be afraid to be picky and ask the hard questions. Flight schools would not be around without students so make sure you do your due diligence in the beginning, and enjoy your time training. What do you look for in a flight school? Let me know in the comments below!

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Aviation Safety | Airports | Tori Williams

Tips for Your First Oshkosh Camping Experience

by Tori Williams 2. August 2017 12:30
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Ever wondered what it would be like to fly into Oshkosh for AirVenture and camp under the wing of your aircraft? Have you thought of doing it before but not known what to expect? I am here to answer any questions you may have about flying in, camping out, and making the most of Aviation’s Greatest Celebration!

A little background about myself: I have been to Oshkosh a total of four times, three of which I flew in and camped beside the plane. That is by no means anywhere near as many times as most Oshkosh attendees. In fact, I met a man this year who said it was his 42nd consecutive year at the fly-in. Now that is impressive! I am a novice, but I was new to camping my first year and there are certainly things I wish I had known beforehand. So here is my complete beginners guide to airplane camping at Oshkosh!

Some financial information upfront: two adult weekly wristbands ($123 each for EAA members) plus 9 nights of camping ($27 a day) will cost just shy of $500. You do get a refund on camping if you do not stay the whole 9 days, and the only major cost you should have left after that is food. Buses are available to take you on Target runs which help to avoid the typically overpriced food offered on the grounds. Overall this can be a very affordable vacation if you plan it out well.

Step One:

Pack Appropriately.

Obviously, what you are able to pack depends a lot on what type of aircraft you are flying in. The first year I had the opportunity to fly into Oshkosh with my husband we flew in a Stinson 10A. That little plane couldn’t haul a third person, let alone a tent, chairs, luggage, and all of our supplies for the week. We ended up having to have my father-in-law carry most of our supplies in his plane which was able to carry much more. You also have the option of mailing your supplies in and picking them up once you get there, if that seems like a better option. Just remember, you’ll have to mail them back or throw them away! Some items I could not live without during the week include: sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, a shower tote, shower shoes, and a medium sized backpack. Don’t forget regular items such as toiletries, sheets, pillows, and a few warm blankets. It can get extremely cold at night. Bring enough shampoo and conditioner to shower every night, even if you don’t feel like it. Believe me, the week will go by much smoother if you go to bed clean every night.

Step two:

Arrive Gracefully.

Read the NOTAM! Believe it or not, there are actual real pilots that attempt to fly into AirVenture without reading the arrival procedures NOTAM. One such pilot was ahead of us on our arrival in this year. He kept asking his buddy over the radio what he was supposed to do. It’s embarrassing and inefficient. It takes literally 10 minutes to review and get an idea of what is expected of you when you arrive at Ripon. Print it out, highlight the frequencies, and get ready to rock your wings when they ask you! Make sure you have your sign with you to signal the ground crew where you need to go. Follow their instructions and take up any grievances with your parking location with the appropriate personnel after you have shut down the engine. Screaming out the window at a volunteer who is just following someone else’s’ instructions won’t get you anywhere.

Step Three:

Set up Your “Home Base.”

I personally think it is important to enjoy the place that you return to every night. We have had great luck with bringing an air mattress and setting it up inside our (slightly oversized) tent. If you do not have access to a battery or generator for the week, there are plenty of outlets where you can blow the mattress up and return it to your tent. I saw this happen more than once, and it is totally worth it to have a comfy bed. I suggest bringing a lantern, cooler, and any other “extras” that would add to your experience camping. Things can get messy and disorganized very quickly in a tent environment, so having a system for where you put dirty clothes, shoes, etc. will also be beneficial.

Step Four:

Scope out Your Amenities.

It is important to know the location and availability of the amenities closest to your campsite. EAA has been very good about providing hot showers, charging stations, drinking water, porta pots and mirrors to their campers at several locations throughout the grounds. The showers are usually in the form of giant trailers with doors that open to individual changing rooms and curtains covering the shower portion. I have had no issues in the past being in Vintage camping, however, this year they did not provide any sinks in the South 40 portion. I had to take a bus and a tram to get to any kind of sink. That made the week difficult, as I wash my face with soap every single morning. I had to get creative and carry my facewash with me as I got on the bus to reach the main area, where I would stop off and wash at the nearest sinks in Vintage. This might not be important for your situation, but getting a good idea of where your amenities are before it gets dark will help a lot.

Step Five:

Have fun!

I know that it sounds cliché, but having fun and enjoying the week is the ultimate goal here. Get to know your neighbors, walk around and see everything you possibly can, and take time to simply appreciate how big and wonderful EAA AirVenture has become. I know of a lot of people who consider it the best week of the year, and it is certainly easy to find something interesting to learn or see.

Let me know in the comments if you have any tips for first-time campers at Oshkosh! As always, I am already looking forward to next year!

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Flying | Airports | Tori Williams



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