Space Tourism Nears the Launch Pad

It won’t be too much longer before passengers onboard a commercial airline might listen to astronauts instead of airline pilots: "Virgin Galactic this is ground control you’re cleared for launch." Virgin Galactic’s commercial sub-orbital launches will be part of an expanding interest in space tourism.  

It’s just a matter of time before six passengers and two pilots might buckle up for the ride of their life. It’s the latest buzz in space tourism: "Virgin Galactic Updates on Plans for SpaceShipTwo." Passengers will board the White Knight spaceship and soar at an altitude of 140 kilometers (about 87 miles). In this Universe Today report, "Brave passengers will experience five minutes of weightlessness, where they might be allowed to float around the cabin. They’ll have to hurry back to their chairs; however, as they’ll suffer 7Gs of force as the vehicle decelerates back through the atmosphere."

Connection Flight Forced to Land Shortly After Takeoff

Oil in the air conditioning unit may have been the cause for a Delta Airlines’ emergency landing in Louisville Tuesday shortly after a flight attendant reported seeing smoke in the plane. None of the crew or the 49 passengers aboard the plane that day were injured according to the Associated Press news story, "Flight Returns to KY,; smoke in cockpit." The main cause of the smoke remains unknown.

The flight was intended to leave Louisville Regional Airport bound for Cincinnati on a connector flight for Delta called Chautauqua Airlines. But as spokesman for the airline, Warren Wilkinson, said, "a flight attendant smelled smoke and noticed a small amount of smoke in the cabin when the aircraft reached about 500 feet. Then a lavatory smoke detector went off." In retrospect, Wilkinson adds, "Whenever we have a situation like this, we err on the side of safety."

Air Show Pilot Dies

Air show pilot Charles Lischer, 61, Cameron Park, CA, died "when his experimental one-seat mini-jet crashed a half-mile from Ocean City airport. The crash occurred during military testing over the Atlantic. According to The Daily News, Salisbury, report, the crash seems to be the result of pilot error.

In the report, "Bishop said Lischer had logged more than 7,000 flight hours, had 30 years of flying experience, had flown countless stunt air shows and had more than four years experience flying the experimental jet, making the crash a mystery." See "Pilot Killed in Jet Crash" for the full report.

What Breaking the Sound Barrier Looks Like

f18-clouds.jpg This US Navy photo of an F-18A transonic flight shows what it looks like the moment a pilot crosses the sound barrier. Or does it? An article in the Cambridge University Press called "Sonic Boom, Sound Barrier, and Condensation Clouds: Prandtl-Glauert Condensation Clouds" questions what exactly these cloud rings really are.

At near-sonic speeds, these clouds are sometimes said to visualize shock waves. But others maintain it’s the aircraft bursting through the sound barrier. According to this article, the clouds are the result of a "high-lift maneuver resulting in very low pressures on the upper surface of the wings." The truth is, there is no simple explanation for this phenomena.       

Chet Derby Dead at 91

Chet Derby, a well-known stunt pilot, died Friday at 91. Yet his legend continues to soar in Tehama County, CA. Once called the best acrobatic pilot of his time by Charles Lindbergh, Derby likened the flying men of his era with race car drivers of today.

Derby, no srtanger to close calls, says of the famous photo of him flying upside down beneath the wing of a B-29, that he had closer calls. The B-29’s had arrived early to the airshow. But this photo made Derby famous as a stunt pilot and the photo won the photographer a pulitzer. When it was time to make a movie about Charles Lindbergh, Derby was there. You can catch Derby in action in this Jimmy Stewart film called "The Spirit of St. Louis." The full story by Daily News says, "Historic R.B. stunt pilot passes," but that he is "now flying with the angels."

Passengers and Cabin Crew Hurt by Turbulence

737px-Airplane_vortex_edit.jpgThis is a featured picture among the finest imagery on the English Wikipedia Web site. It shows the turbulent air flow from the wing of an agricultural plane. The red smoke traces the wake vortex "which exerts a powerful influence on the flow field behind the plane." For this reason, the FAA requires that planes keep a safe distance behind each other when they land.

But turbulence in the sky is having detrimental effects to passengers and cabin crew members. A recent news report by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says "there are nearly a dozen serious incidents every year." The problem, according to the CASA report, is pilots, crew members and passengers all need more effective means for communicating in turbulent skies. Whether or not passengers will listen to crew members is another story.

Test Passengers Needed

A new way of crash landing passenger planes is being patented by Bangkok inventor, Polchai Phanumphai. Instead of pilots trying to belly-flop a dead stick into a clear field, Phanumphai suggests a controlled spin. An altimeter will discharge an explosion that will remove one wing from the plane, sending the plane, its passengers and pilots into a spin. According to the inventor, the lift created by the spin should be enough to bring the plane down gently.

The question of whether the spin and explosions are safe remain unanswered. What happens to the falling debris? Will passengers survive the uncontrollable spin? The biggest question of whether or not a Spinning Touchdown will actually save lives needs to be answered before this type of crash landing is tested. No mention was made in the report as to whether this type of centrifugal force could be used on light aircraft. And nowhere is it mentioned whether test pilots are willing to give it a whirl.

Titanium Has Been an Industry Standard

As Airbus and Boeing compete for the fastest, cleanest, lightest, and cheapest aircraft in the skies, titanium start-up out of MIT called Avanti Metal might be able to help. The company uses MIT research to commercialize an improved process of making titanium. If they’re successful, reducing the current price of $40-and-rising to even $25 a pound could mean significant profit for Avanti. Especially if the estimated cost of production actually ends up being only $3 per pound.

In A Cleaner, Cheaper Route to Titanium, we discover that "Titanium is naturally abundant." So why are prices rising faster than 747s? "Processing titanium oxide found in the ground to make a usable metal is slow and produces toxic waste. ‘The price of titanium has gone through the roof,’ says Corby Anderson, director of the Center for Advanced Mineral and Metallurgical Processing at the University of Montana." When Avanti starts producing titanium more efficiently, the skies will be full of their new invention, saving Boeing and Airbus tons of money.

Advanced Aviation Training Device

reaching.jpg You can own or lease your very own FAA approved flight deck. It’s an advanced cockpit trainer by Precision Flight Controls. And this is as real as it gets when it comes to getting pilots off the ground.

This two-engine jet flight training device is similar to a 737-700 and can be used as official logged flight experience. Private pilot certificate candidates can log up to 2.5 hours of legitimate training. Commercial certificate candidates can acquire up to 20 hours of qualified time, and airline transport pilots-in-training can log up to 25 hours of official training time in this new model. All the instruments, controls, and electronics that pilots need have been updated for a cost-effective alternative to pilot training.   

Free Online GPS Training Module

stylespilotshop_1898_8545515.jpg Familiarize yourself with state-of-the-art GPS for VFR operations in a free online module at the AOPA Web site. This interactive course "fulfills the safety seminar requirement for the FAA WINGS Program" and "offers a clear explanation of how the global positioning system (GPS) works and how you can use it to make your next VFR flight more efficient, enjoyable, and safe."

This animated tutorial will step you through the ins-and-outs of triangulating geographic coordinates and the WAAS real-time correction service. The GPS tutorial is a must see for all pilots.