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Pilots Say Drone Tech Can Enhance Safety

26 Feburary 2019

MQ 9 Reaper Drone The U.S. Helicopter Safety Team spun off from the International Helicopter Safety Team in 2013 and is composed of government regulators and industry operators who make data-driven safety recommendations to the rotorcraft industry. In February, just ahead of the rotorcraft world’s largest annual gathering, the advocacy group released a report that details a vision for reducing fatalities in part by removing humans from the equation in certain situations, and also giving helicopter pilots access to tools and technology that allow small drones to avoid obstacles, hover without pilot input, and even fly themselves home. Pilots of drones and helicopters seem at times like aeronautical Hatfields and McCoys, each camp eyeing the other warily, sometimes competing for the same dollars. Yet some helicopter pilots suggest embracing unmanned options will save lives. The report’s authors studied years of accident data, zeroing in on the most common fatal accident factors. More than half of the fatal helicopter accidents since 2009 involved: loss of control, unintended flight into instrument meteorological conditions, or low-altitude operations. The USHST concluded that loss of human life could have been avoided in roughly one in five of the accidents involving these factors, if an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or optionally piloted aircraft (OPA) been used instead of a manned helicopter. Applications that can be performed by UAS or an OPA continue to grow. Given the continued expansion of UAS and OPA (both in sensor and performance) capabilities, their use to supplement and support operations is logical when manned operations are at a particularly high risk, such as in low level situations, rapidly changing terrain and weather, and especially near manmade obstacles (poles, towers, wires, etc.). Complacency, fatigue, birds, quickly changing weather, and obstacles are common risks associated with power line inspection, aerial application of chemicals, firefighting, crop defrosting and harvesting, and pipeline and wind turbine inspection. The authors also recommend fitting manned helicopters with drone technology including obstacle avoidance systems that are already used by off-the-shelf drones that cost $1,500 or less. The report lists 22 current UAS capabilities that could benefit helicopters. A third recommendation is to fit helicopters with technology allowing them to be remotely piloted, or piloted by less complex, more intuitive means. Reducing human pilot workload and distractions would inevitably increase safety. Some manufacturers are already well on their way to doing this. Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary created by and named after the inventor of the world’s first practical helicopter, has been testing a 12,000-pound S–76 dubbed the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft. SARA is equipped with automation technology that enables the helicopter to fly with little or no human input. While highly qualified test pilots remained on board during the early tests, the company has more recently tested the system with non pilots who take the controls with as little as 30 minutes of training. One of the program’s goals is to allow future helicopter pilots to take their hands and feet off the controls and concentrate more on the overall mission. There is also an economic aspect, particularly as many companies are vying to create on-demand urban air taxi service. While many are building electric vertical takeoff and landing concepts from scratch, more traditional helicopters could one day fly with two crew, one pilot or none, making more room for passengers (aka “paying customers”). The USHST study focuses on safety more than economics, though the report addresses both. More than a few helicopter pilots insist that drones are killing their business by offering cheaper, and at times, more readily available alternatives to the heavier, more costly aircraft. The report urges helicopter operators to integrate drones into their business to increase profitability and safety. [Original article source]

The Most Successful Aircraft – The Story of The Boeing 737

26 Feburary 2019

Sometimes the phrase “the most successful” can be a bit vague. However, that is not the case with the Boeing 737. Boeing’s third commercial jetliner, the Boeing 737 paved the way for the company to be as dominant as they are now. In the 20th century, there we are a lot of big aircraft manufacturers – namely Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, de Havilland, Sud Aviation and many more. All of them had two things in common. Firstly, they all built commercial airlines to compete with Boeing. Secondly, they did not succeed in doing so, as all of them are either merged into other companies, bankrupt or do not build commercial aircraft anymore. One of the reasons why? The Boeing 737, which helped Boeing dominate the commercial aircraft market for 52 years now. Today, it is the most-popular jetliner in the world. Airlines all over the world have ordered over 1500 Boeing 737s, while Boeing themselves made and delivered 10.510 of them so far. And on this day in history, on April 9th of 1967, the first Boeing 737 took flight. Ever since making its debut flight, it seemed like the 737 was destined for success. However, nowadays the type is associated with two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that seem to tarnish its reputation as one of the most reliable and successful jets in history. But how did we get here? Let’s dig deeper into the story of the 737 and explore the reasons why it even came to be as an airliner.

Saving time and money on the development costs of the Boeing 737

The late 50s were a great time for Boeing. Their first commercial jetliner, the Boeing 707 made a huge impression on the general public and airlines. It became a cultural icon. Boeing had proved everyone wrong and made a point – commercial aircraft with jet engines are here to stay. The same year that they released the 707, in 1958, Boeing announced they are conducting a design study to complement the Boeing aircraft family. The new 2-engine jet would stand alongside the 4-engine 707 and the 3-engine 727. As the 737 had only two engines, people nicknamed it the “Baby Boeing”. Nevertheless, even before the newest Boeing aircraft was released, the Seattle manufacturer faced stiff competition. Boeing knew that there was an increasing demand in the short-haul market and airlines wanted more efficient twin-engine aircraft. There was the French Sud Caravelle, which began commercial flights in 1959. Douglas had already begun their study of the same short-haul market. The study would conclude in the DC-9, which began commercial flights in 1965. Lastly, the BAC One-Eleven began serving passengers around the world in 1965 as well. Boeing was behind its competitors. It had to act fast and offer something that no other competitor did, in order to attract customers into buying the 737. So, in order to catch up quickly, Boeing appointed John Edward “Jack” Steiner to be the chief engineer. Jack had designed the 727, which saw even more success than the 707. The plan was to use as much of the Boeing 727 as possible for the fuselage and borrow interior parts from both the 707 and the 727 to save time and money. In 1964, the design was complete.

Never seen before

The main competitors of the Boeing 737 mounted their engines on the back of the aircraft. However, to introduce something that the world has never seen before, Jack Steiner asked Joe Sutter, the father of the Queen of The Skies, to help out with the design. He came up with a unique solution – to mount the engines on the wings. This resulted in a few pros and cons: First of all, the new engine mounts significantly improved the cabin. It was quieter, more spacious and had two sets of doors – at the front and at the back. Secondly, it improved performance, efficiency and made maintenance easier. On the other hand, it made some things difficult. Boeing had to redesign the wings to reduce the impact of the engines on the aircraft’s aerodynamic properties. Ground clearance worried the manufacturer because the engines were mounted much lower. However, these worries did not become fruitful and Boeing did not have to impose radical changes to the mounting points. So, the engine mounts were the first advantage of the Boeing 737. But the second advantage was integral to the success of the new jet. It shook the competition and airlines suddenly started to pay a lot of attention to the Boeing 737. It simply had more space in the cabin, thus was more versatile. The DC-9, Sud Caravelle and the One-Eleven had interiors with 5 seats per row. The Boeing 737 had 6. Additionally, airlines could easily convert them to cargo aircraft, as the Boeing 737 could be fitted with standard-sized cargo containers. While the older 737s were converted to cargo aircraft, its main competitors ended up in the graveyard.

First Boeing 737 Flight And Orders

As Boeing‘s engineers finished up drawing the designs in 1964, testing began. On 9th of April, 1967 two test pilots took off and touched the sky with the first Boeing 737-100. The two men were Brien Wygle and Lew Wallick. The pilots later recalled that the aircraft “is a delight to fly” and it possesses “beautiful handling”. Later that same year, the FAA approved the jet for flights. Two years before, in 1965, Lufthansa had ordered the first 10 Boeing 737-100 aircraft. This was crucial for Boeing, as without the initial orders the program would’ve been canceled. Later on, United Airlines also ordered the 737-200 making an additional boost. But the last straw to save the 737 was the United States Air Force when it ordered modified Boeing 737s for military use. In short, the oil prices in the 60s have risen dramatically, which resulted in the 1970s oil crisis – airlines were trying to save as much money as they possibly can and spending money on a new jet was a very welcome idea. In addition, all aircraft at the time had 3 crew members – 2 pilots and a flight engineer. The Boeing 737 was the first jetliner without a flight engineer and airlines were reluctant to make the change. The first ever 737 variant, the Boeing 737-100 barely sold – Boeing only delivered 30 units. However, at the same time, United Airlines reached out to Boeing about a longer 737, dubbed the -200. It was longer, seated more passengers and had a newer engine. The 737-200 was much more popular with airlines. This time, Boeing produced 1114 Boeing 737-200s. So, after a cold start and when the oil crisis of the 70s ended, the orders for the 737 spiked. Massively.

Many more variants

As the 70s went on and technology moved further, Boeing realized that time has come to upgrade their most popular jet at the time. So, in the late 70s, the Seattle manufacturer had begun designing and developing the new variant. Nowadays known as the “Classic”, the new Boeing 737 frame was longer, seated many more passengers (30 more, to be exact) and the engines were much more fuel efficient. Boeing promised to airlines that the Classic would burn 20% less than the Original, the 737-100 and the 737-200. The Boeing 737-300 made its first flight on the 24th of February, 1984. The Classic Boeing 737s, the -300, -400 and -500, heavily outsold the Originals. Airlines realized how valuable the 737 is. With ticket prices dropping and more people traveling than ever, the United States government passing the Airline Deregulation Act, low-cost carriers boomed. But with the aviation industry increasing its profits, Boeing finally had some proper opposition – Airbus came knocking. They released a direct competitor to the 737, the Airbus A320. The European conglomerate forced Boeing‘s hand for the first time in the short-haul market and Boeing was forced to react. Their reaction? The Next-Generation variants. The 737-600, -700, -800 offered faster cruise speeds, lower burn rate, higher MTOW and a bit more passengers than the Originals.

Taking the Boeing 737 to the MAX

Airlines absolutely adored the Next Generation 737s. To date, the 737-800 variant is the most popular one with Boeing delivering over 5000 of them to various airlines. Technological advancements and shifting market trends prompted Boeing into a discussion about replacing the 737 with a completely new jet. But Airbus had a different idea. They wanted to undercut Boeing yet again and came up with the A320neo. Airbus announced an improved version of the same A320 aircraft with reduced fuel rates, lower maintenance costs and more range. If at first Boeing did not think too much, after American Airlines announced they are purchasing 260 Airbus A320s, current engine option and new engine option included. Boeing had no other choice – they had to react quickly. American Airlines announced the orders in 2011 and Boeing came up with the MAX. First up was the Boeing 737 MAX 8, which made its debut flight in 2016. The newer, bigger engines forced Boeing to move them forward. As a result of this, the 737’s nose would pitch up. To counteract this, Boeing installed MCAS – a system to prevent the aircraft stalling in certain situations. And we all know how that ended up. Two crashes and a lot of shocking facts about the training, certification process has followed. Airbus forced Boeing’s hand, but the 737 is still a 50-year-old airframe. A 50-year-old airframe that Boeing stretched 3 times into the Classic, NG 737 and the MAX and pushed it to absolute limits. Risking and costing lives in the process, while also tarnishing Boeing’s and the 737 airframe’s reputation. Rightfully so.

What's next for the 737?

The future might be grim, as the Boeing 737 MAX is sitting on the ground and waiting for aviation authorities to allow the MAX to return to the skies. As of now, Boeing is scrambling to make a software update to prevent MCAS from taking over the controls of the jet. But on the other hand, the 737 is the most popular commercial jetliner. Whatever the media frenzy might be at the moment, the airframe should not be remembered as deadly and unreliable. The 737 has completely changed the aviation industry and we would be here if it weren’t for it. So, cheers to you, 737! But you should seriously think about retirement. [Original article and image source]

F-35 Auto GCAS Technology Wins Collier Trophy

26 Feburary 2019

The National Aeronautic Association announced that the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) Team is the recipient of the 2018 Robert J. Collier Trophy for “successfully completing a rapid design, integration and flight test of critical, lifesaving technology for the worldwide [Lockheed Martin] F-35 fleet.” As the name implies, Auto GCAS technology uses automation to prevent an F-35 from hitting the ground. The Collier Trophy is awarded annually “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.” “I am so proud of the entire Auto GCAS Team and their commitment and dedication to saving lives through this revolutionary technology,” said Mark Wilkins, senior aviation safety analyst, Office of Secretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness and Safety. “We are truly honored to be recognized with such a prestigious award and deeply humbled considering the aviation greats who won previously.” “I want to congratulate the Auto GCAS team on winning the 2018 Collier Trophy,” said Greg Principato, NAA president and CEO. “The Collier Trophy was established more than a century ago to encourage the best minds in this country to continually find ways to advance and improve aviation. The Auto GCAS team, which includes Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Air Force, the F-35 Joint Program Office, NASA and the Defense Safety Oversight Council, is a sterling example of a project that brought together the best minds from many disciplines. The result is a game-changing advance in safety that has already changed military aviation and can one day change the game for everyone.” The Collier Trophy Selection Committee, comprised of 30 aviation and aerospace professionals, convened on April 4, 2019 to hear presentations from 11 nominees. This year’s Collier nominees also included the Bell V-280 Valor, Boeing T-X, Draken International Contracted Close Air Support & Adversary Air Services in Support of Combat Readiness Training, Embraer E190-E2, F-35 Integrated Test Force, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. Integration of Large UAS into Civil and International Airspace, NASA/JPL Mars Cube One (MarCO) Project Team, Perlan Project, Responsive Environmental Assessment Commercially Hosted (REACH) Project and Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two Program. The Collier Trophy is awarded annually “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.”   [Original article and Image source]

Aircraft Maintenance: Getting Back To Work from A Deep Freeze

26 Feburary 2019

There are cases when local public airport is left unplowed and basically shut down during the winter. By the time the spring comes airplanes have been sitting in the cold for nearly six months. Though it’s easy to sermonize best practices for aircraft storage and maintenance, but everyone should be aware that the real world often presents us with less-than-ideal situations to deal with. While there are a lot of things that can be done to properly prepare an aircraft for this kind of long-term idle storage, here are a few important points to consider for getting airborne again safely.

  1. Wake up gently - After sitting idle for so long in a cold-soaked environment, it’s important to get everything warmed up gently. If a heated hangar isn’t available, use a pre-heater for the entire firewall-forward and a space heater in the cabin for long enough to get everything heated completely up to the room temperature even before you so much as move a radio knob or a trim wheel. Every little fragile part has become quite comfortable where you left it last, so get it warm before getting to work again!
  2. Give TLC to the tires and wheels - If the tires, tubes, and wheels have been sitting in place for months in the cold, they definitely need attention. Jack up the airplane, remove the wheels, and bring them to a workshop for a thorough brake/wheel inspection and lubrication where the flat spots can begin to relax. Look for weather checking and cracks in the tires and ensure that the tubes are still holding pressure. If you arrived to long-flat tires, I would disassemble the tires and replace the tubes as well. Also clean, inspect, and lubricate the bearings and brake components.
  3. Lube and flush – Probably every lubricated joint has dried out over the brutal cold winter months, especially given the lack of movement. Your aircraft maintenance manual should have a lubrication chart and schedule. Go through it completely for every moving joint on the aircraft. Depending on the amount of time stored, you may need to flush the fuel system as well. However, if the tanks have been left full (and are still full) and you find no significant contaminants when checking the fuel drains, you may be OK. Aviation fuel lasts surprisingly long, but it doesn’t last forever. So, check with your local A&P to decide if your situation requires a fuel system flushing or not. Regardless, you should inspect all the fuel filters and the gascolator. Be sure that temperatures are above freezing during this work so any water gets removed.
  4. Charge the battery and conduct a full system check - Service and charge the battery. Then, go through every system on the aircraft and check its function. That includes every flight control, engine control, electrical system, switch, lever, and dial in the aircraft. If it has stopped working or is about to break with the first pull of the knob, you want to find that out on the ground…not in the air.
  5. Fire it up, shut it down, and inspect - Once you’ve preheated, conduct an initial inspection of the firewall-forward, looking for damage from rodents, hose condition, security of all control mechanisms, etc. Then you’re ready to fire up the engine and go through a run-up. It should be a thorough check, including mag check, idle cut-off check, prop check, maximum static RPM check, etc. Once complete, shut everything down and inspect the engine. Look for leaks, pull the plugs, and borescope the cylinders if you have a scope available. Then clean the plugs and reinstall them. Finally, change the oil and filter. The filter should be cut open and inspected.
It would be easy to say that you should simply perform a full annual inspection on an aircraft that has been left idle over the winter. However, that’s not practical for every owner and not necessary in all cases. If the aircraft was stored in a known airworthy condition and is still in annual, you simply need to do a careful inspection and servicing to ensure that it is still airworthy and safe for flight before going airborne. And, by all means, treat that first flight as all post-maintenance flights should be treated—with great care. Don’t carry passengers and remain within gliding distance of the airport while testing the aircraft to ensure everything is performing properly.