Tuskegee airmen honored

 

The Tuskegee Airmen were America’s first African-American fighter pilots and they trained in segregated units during World War II.  Today sixty-three of these pilots will be given honorary degrees from Tuskegee University:

The event recognizes the Tuskegee Airmen’s exemplary combat performance during World War II, which included the destruction of 260 enemy aircraft while not losing a single bomber to enemy fire in more than 200 combat missions, a record unmatched by any other fighter group.

Read more in Tuskegee Airmen To Receive Honorary Degrees Today.

AOPA fights user fees

Economic challenges have always deterred some from buying their own planes or becoming pilots.  For those who fly planes as a hobby or even fly small passenger planes for profit, the cost can often be overwhelming and limits the number of pilots who can pursue aviation consistently over time. 

At a Pilots’ Town Meeting in Wichita this week AOPA president Phil Boyer addressed the issue of user fees that is threatening to ground even more aviation enthusiasts. 

The Federal Aviation Administration says it does not have the money to modernize the air transportation system. There has been talk of charging fees of users of general aviation aircraft, such as the fees airlines pay.

In an interview before the meeting, Boyer said those fees could negatively effect aircraft sales in Wichita.

Read User fees menace aviation, pilot says.

Lasers causing problems for pilots

On a recent night in Detroit, 16 pilots reported seeing lasers as they made their descents to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.  As any pilot knows, anything that can distract their focus during landing poses a serious threat to the safety of anyone on board. 

"We treat it as a very serious matter," FBI Special Agent Dawn Clenney said. "Laser beams can disorient pilots responsible for an airplane full of passengers."

A memo sent to law enforcement agencies by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department in 2004 said there is evidence that terrorists have explored using such lasers as weapons. Clenney said pointing laser beams at airplanes could be considered a terrorist act under the USA Patriot Act and could carry up to 20 years in prison.

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SUVs in the Skies?

Three MIT grads have come up with a design for a flying SUV they call Transition.  They recently won the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize and they are creating a stir in the academic community:

The trio says it’s taking an engineering approach to the project. What they’ve come up with is a two-place vehicle with an airplane-like fuselage and fold-out wings. It will have a 100-hp engine driving a tail-mounted pusher prop and weigh in at 1,320 pounds, qualifying it for light sport aircraft (LSA) status. In fact, Dietrich says, the no-medical, low-cost Sport Pilot certificate option was a major factor in the decision to design the drive-to-the-airport-and-fly-away machine. It’s that last little bit that allows the MIT group to avoid a rat’s nest of engineering hurdles by sidestepping what has often been the major impetus behind flying cars. Rather than take off from the driveway and soar over the stressed-out commuters below, Transition will join them on the freeway on its way to the airport. Once on the ramp, the wings will fold out and head for the runway like any other plane. Not much detail is available on the way it all comes together but presumably it will be fleshed out a little more in time for Oshkosh. In the meantime, Merton Flemings, who’s taught engineering and materials science at MIT for 50 years, says Dietrich’s plan is the real deal. "With the advent of new materials and new engines and this innovative design, he’s got a chance to make it work," Flemings said. "I think the time has come."

Read MIT Sets Its Mind(s) To Roadable Aircraft.

 

Fighting for civilian airspace

North Carolina’s Pope Air Force Base wants to expand the MOA thereby reducing the size of civilian airspace in the area.  AOPA opposes the plan:

"This proposal would affect the use of three GA airports and a major airway, V136 between Fayetteville and Myrtle Beach," said Heidi Williams, AOPA director of air traffic services. "While the Air Force plan includes measures to make the airspace available when needed for civilian IFR operations, on the whole we think the justification for taking this airspace is weak."

On the other side of the country advocates of civilian airspace are claiming a temporary victory with the shrinking of the TFR along the US-Mexico border.  The area is heavily trafficked by UAVs, and insecurities about the UAVs’ ability to “sense and avoid” other aircraft have prompted the government to exclude civilians from the airspace.

Read AOPA opposes Air Force request for more North Carolina airspace and FAA temporarily reduces size of border UAV TFR.

 

“Unapproved” rescue mission in California

If you were in a position to save people who were in danger using your plane or helicopter would you do it, even if it meant defying the authorities?  David Gunsauls and Dan Kohrdt of California did. 

Last week they used a helicopter and night-vision goggles to rescue two 11-year-olds who had been separated from their party and were stranded on a hillside strewn with lava rock near Paradise, CA.    

While everyone was happy about the kids’ safe return, the local authorities were troubled by Gunsauls and Kohrdt’s actions:

"We did not ask for, frankly, nor did we support [the freelance operation]," Capt. Jerry Smith, head of the sheriff’s department’s aviation section. "That was a non-sanctioned event." His team was waiting for daylight to launch. Now, it’s not that Smith is entirely heartless. He told the Paradise Post the rescue "was a very heroic thing," but he also noted that if anything had gone wrong it would have been his department held liable. "Anytime we establish a relationship with a civilian component of the community, we assume responsibility for their actions," Smith said. The helicopter was in radio contact with the ground team.

Read Mission Accomplished.

Steve Fossett tries to break another record

Fossett is at Cape Canaveral today trying to break the flight distance record:

He plans to launch his experimental plane and cumnavigate the world and continue over the Atlantic Ocean for a second time before landing outside London. That’s more than 27-thousand miles in all.

During more than three days in the air, Fossett says he will take power naps no longer than five minutes each and consume a steady diet of nutritious milkshakes.

The aircraft is equipped with an alarm system triggered by any changes in the plane.

Fossett will use the same plane that he used last march when he became the first person to fly nonstop, without refueling, around the globe.

Read Aviation Adventurer Steve Fossett is up to it again.

Microjets

Microjets, or very light jets (VLJs) are set to take off this year for the first time. With two engines, the planes seat about six people and cost half as much as the business jets now in service. With NASA predicting that 20,000 microjets will be in use by 2010, some are concerned that the addition of microjets will result in heavily congested airspace:

Unlike turboprops, which cruise below 30,000 feet, VLJs cruise at the   same altitude as jetliners – between 30,000 and 40,000 feet. But they cruise at   430 miles per hour, considerably slower than a 737, which flies at 500   mph.

Read Make Room for Microjets.

FAA to regulate space tourism

You’ve probably heard about Virgin Galactic’s space tourism program that’s set to launch sometime in this decade. But did you know that space tourists will be subject to the same aviation rules that apply to airlines? 

Not only will FAA agents be screening space tourists, but FAA is also suggesting that space tourism companies check the global "no-fly" list, from US Homeland Security Department, to exclude potential terrorists. "New technologies carry new risks. Nonetheless, Congress recognizes that private industry has begun to develop commercial launch vehicles capable of carrying human beings into space, and greater private investment in these efforts will stimulate the nation’s commercial space transportation industry as a whole," said the FAA report. (BBC News).

Talk of regulations hasn’t discouraged interested space tourists, however. The Virgin Galactic home page has been visited by about 7.5 million people, and 3500 have said they are willing to pay a deposit as soon as flights become available. The cost of a 2-hour flight, including 5 minutes of weightlessness? Roughly $190K. 

The DC-3

This legendary plane has now been airborne for 70 years. It was built in the 1930’s when American Airlines asked Douglas Aircraft to design a passenger plane to compete with United Airlines’ Boeing 247. 

In its day it was state-of-the-art, complete with autopilot, a retractable undercarriage, an aerodynamic nose, and extremely strong wings. Noisy by today’s standards, it was considered very quiet when it came out. The DC-3 made air travel tolerable for more people. Traveling across the United States had been an especially treacherous journey prior to the DC-3, but after its advent the number of travelers surged. The military soon began ordering many of the modified DC-3s, the C-47, which became known as the Dakota. About 200 DC-3s remain in operation today. Read Celebrating an Aviation Legend.