Top Aviation Maintenance & Technology Exchange 

March 26, 2015  -  No. 24

In This Issue
Gulf Summit Shines Spotlight on World Aviation Safety
Amazon urges faster FAA approval of drones
University of Illinois researchers test aircraft flight control technology
Boeing's Force Field Could Save Soldiers From Brain Injuries
The Bell 525 Relentless Helicopter Cabin Is Worthy of a Bond Villain
Is Russia working on a crazy supersonic cargo plane?
Safety Expertise
Gulf Summit Shines Spotlight on World Aviation Safety

More than 300 OEM, airline and aviation safety professionals gathered last week at the World Aviation Safety Summit in Dubai, where speakers underscored the need to share responsibility for ensuring that global safety standards meet those of the Gulf carriers, none of whom have suffered a single fatal accident. At the center of the discussion lay the disappearance of MH370 and the growing debate about how to manage flights over conflict zones and entering areas made dangerous because of the SARS and Ebola viruses.

"Aviation safety is not limited to territorial boundaries," said Mohammed Ahli, director general of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA).

"Aviation safety has become a worldwide priority and aviators have many challenges to face. We need to respond to those challenges positively to strengthen the industry and to positively influence public perceptions," he said.

One official said that it would prove premature to implement hard and fast rules on aircraft tracking, because new developments in technology constantly take place.

"There should not be a specific rule, because the technology continues to evolve and improve. What is required is to keep an open mind on what is happening and what is being produced," said Hussein Dabbas, regional vice president, Africa and Middle East, the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

"Cost should not be a consideration for airlines when it comes to the safety and security of their passengers," he added.

Captain Elias Sadek, vice president of safety and quality at EgyptAir, said the additional funds airlines spend on handling the consequences of aviation safety failures such as searching for lost aircraft should instead go toward improving safety.

"Regulators must make it mandatory for airlines to invest in improving safety technology and systems. We owe it to our passengers, consumers and families," he said. "If there is no pressure, the funds will be spent elsewhere."

"Demonstrating the return on investment for aviation safety is extremely difficult as the relationship between an action and its impact on safety is not linear," added Ashley Nunes, an independent industry analyst from France. "There are multiple layers of defenses, checklists and automation that impact this causal relationship."

Amazon urges faster FAA approval of drones

WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration is so slow to approve drone permits that the aircraft become obsolete while waiting, an Amazon executive told a Senate panel Tuesday 

Paul Misener, vice president of global public policy at Amazon, told the aviation subcommittee that the company was grateful to the FAA for approving an experimental permit Thursday to test potential package deliveries. But the drone had become obsolete during the months-long wait, so the company applied again Friday for a new permit for an updated aircraft.

"We are hopeful that this permission will be granted quickly," Misener said.

The pace of FAA rule making has disappointed the drone industry, which argues that other countries are allowing drones - and their potential economic benefit - to develop faster.

In drafting rules released in February for small commercial drones weighing up to 55 pounds, the FAA has required one pilot per drone and required pilots to keep aircraft within sight. The FAA is collecting public comment on the proposal for small drones, and final approval is expected in 18 to 24 months.

Misener said the FAA proposal for small drones "doesn't go far enough." Amazon's proposed delivery service Prime Air would have sophisticated technology to avoid other aircraft, he said. But the aircraft will have to fly highly automated routes 10 miles or more beyond the sight of remote pilots he said

This low level of government attention and slow pace are inadequate, especially compared to the regulatory efforts in other countries," Misener said. 

FAA has maintained that safety is paramount for passenger planes and remotely piloted aircraft to share the skies. Key issues include how to avoid collisions and what happens when drones lose links to their remote pilots.

Margaret Gilligan, FAA's associate administrator for aviation safety, said an advisory panel is developing standards for detect-and-avoid technology and radio controls, which are expected in 2016.

"As proposed, the United States would have one of the most flexible (drone) regulatory frameworks in the world," Gilligan said of the rule for small drones.

In the meantime, FAA has approved more than 50 commercial drone applications, with several hundred more pending. The agency announced Tuesday it is streamlining the approval process by routinely granting applications for drones flying lower than 200 feet high during the day within sight of the remote pilot and at least 2 miles from an airport.

"The agency expects the new policy will allow companies and individuals who want to use (drones) within these limitations to start flying much more quickly than before," FAA said in a statement.

The Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing 50,000 commercial pilots, submitted testimony to the Senate hearing arguing that "it is vitally important that the pressure to capitalize on the technology not lead to an incomplete safety analysis of the aircraft and operations." The pilots said drones must be proven to identify and maneuver to avoid other aircraft.

The goal of Amazon's Prime Air is to deliver packages within 30 minutes by flying drones below 500 feet. Misener argued that overall safety will increase from fewer shoppers heading to the store and fewer delivery trucks on the road.

So far, Amazon roboticists, aeronautical engineers and a former NASA astronaut have been testing drones indoors in Seattle. But Misener said drones must be tested outdoors for flying in wind and turbulence, with different temperatures, humidity and precipitation.

Amazon is testing drones outdoors in the United Kingdom and other countries where the rules allow, although no countries allow drone deliveries, Misener said.

Misener urged the FAA to begin planning now for highly automated flights beyond what the pilot can see. Rules should be coordinated with European and other regulators, he said.

"Elevating the level and intensity of FAA participation in this group is one way the United States could confirm its commitment to (drone) technology and services," Misener said.

University of Illinois researchers test aircraft flight control technology

Researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have tested aircraft flight control technology, which is said to improve commercial aviation safety.

The team at the Advanced Controls Research Laboratory tested Hovakimyan's L1 adaptive control technology on Calspan's Learjet at Edwards Air Force Base in California within varying flight conditions. 

University of Illinois mechanical science and engineering professor Naira Hovakimyan said: "Predictable, reliable, repeatable, and safe: these four response criteria define a successful flight control system and could set the stage for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"The flight control system is, perhaps, the soul of an aircraft. It consists of the necessary operating mechanisms to control its actions and direction in flight."

During tests, the team identified the L1 control system, overrided the problem and were able to recover aircraft performance with minor adjustments to standard piloting techniques.

Postdoctoral research associate Enric Xargay said: "Remarkably, the evaluation showed that aircraft handling was quite consistent across failure configurations, a critical feature for flight safety."

Researchers also evaluated the system for low-altitude flight and conducted touch-and-go landings with L1 controller engaged, with and without aircraft failures.

The results were found to be consistent with Nasa's earlier tests using subscale research aircraft. Nasa backed a number of research groups to develop and test flight control technologies, as part of the AirSTAR project.

Hovakimyan's L1 flight control system is said to be the only one selected by pilots for stall and post-stall flight conditions. A start-up company, IntelinAir recently licensed the technology from the university for use in next-generation unmanned aerial system platforms.


Boeing's Force Field Could Save Soldiers From Brain Injuries

It's not quite "Star Trek," but Boeing has patented a force field that's meant to keep soldiers safe on the battlefield. In theory, it would sense an explosion from a roadside bomb, counter the resulting shock wave with an electric, laser or microwave arc, and save the soldiers from potential brain injuries. It would not, however, stop any of the shrapnel from the bomb - soldiers would still need to rely on the armored doors of a Humvee or their own body armor. The key is heating the air enough to create a shield that would deflect the shock wave.

"The laser version is flashy, both literally and metaphorically, but those systems are hard to maintain in the field," Brian Tillotson, the senior technical fellow at Boeing who filed the patent, told NBC News. He said the microwave option is probably the military's best bet. Right now, no prototype has been built. Boeing envisions it as something that might protect the cabin of a vehicle or a tent in a field hospital. "Shock waves don't really affect vehicles, but what you do want to do is protect the human body," Tillotson said.

He got the idea for the force field when a biologist he worked with told him that many U.S. soldiers were returning home with no noticeable physical injuries, but later showed signs of brain damage. "In a lot of cases, it was the shock waves from the blast," he said. A study by the Institute of Medicine found that tens of thousands of soldiers have suffered neurological disorders because of shock waves from improvised explosive devices, better known as IEDs.

The Bell 525 Relentless Helicopter Cabin Is Worthy of a Bond Villain

The Bell 525 Relentless super-medium-class helicopter-now in development and expected to fly for the first time this spring-was designed to meet the grueling demands of offshore oil operations, but it also will be available with a variety of luxurious cabin interiors. The 525's commodious 88-square-foot cabin can be equipped with the sorts of technology and entertainment amenities more commonly found aboard private jets, expanding what is possible for private helicopter travelers. New images from the company offer a sample of VIP interior options, including oversize swivel seating, conference layouts, and a mini galley. 

The 525 Relentless is the first commercial helicopter with a fly-by-wire cockpit, featuring sidestick controls and a fully integrated touchscreen Garmin flight deck. It can cruise at speeds up to 178 mph and fly up to 575 miles nonstop. Deliveries are expected to start next year; Bell has not yet announced a price.

Is Russia working on a crazy supersonic cargo plane?

A state-run Russian news site is reporting that the country has ambitions to build a huge, supersonic cargo plane capable of transporting tanks to the field in a matter of hours. While there's plenty of reason to be skeptical that transporting such heavy loads at high speeds is even feasible, let alone realistic, Russia's military is reportedly giving itself roughly the next decade to figure it out.

Russia's RT reports that the heavy transport craft, dubbed the PAK TA (Perspective Airborne Complex of Transport Aviation), could fly at supersonic speeds of up to 2,000 km/h (1,243 mph), carry up to 200 tons (181 tonnes) and have a range of 7,000 km (4,350 mi). The program could call for the construction of a fleet of 80 of the new craft to be built by 2024, giving the Russian military the capability to deliver 400 Armata heavy tanks or 900 more lightly armored vehicles to a battlefield in quick fashion.

The specs are sourced to an apparent anonymous leaker who claims to have attended a closed-door meeting with Russian military leaders and passed on details to the Russian language site, Expert Online.

According to the website Russian Aviation, Ilyushin Aviation Complex - an aircraft engineering outfit dating back to the early years of the Soviet Union - is handling the project. CEO Viktor Livanov is quoted as saying "Today it is just a project that may be implemented by 2030." He added that the exact specifications are still subject to negotiations and that the Russian Ministry of Defense is just one of several potential customers.

Whatever the real status of the PAK TA is at the moment and whatever their reasons, someone certainly seems to want the wider world to know that such an ambitious concept is being discussed.

Among the reasons for skepticism is the fact that the purported specs involve more than doubling the speed of most military transport craft up to this point in history, and doing so while carrying an unprecedented payload - save perhaps for another Russian giant, the Antonov An-225, that once carried a 250-ton (227-tonne) load.

Presumably, the costs of design, construction and fuel for such a craft would also be pretty ridiculous at a time when Russia's economy is getting hammered. But it's never wise to totally rain on a propaganda parade. Anything is possible, even if not very practical.


Curt Lewis, PhD, CSP, FRAeS


PH:  817-845-3983



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Curt Lewis & Associates, LLC is an international, multi-discipline technical and scientific consulting firm specializing in aviation and industrial safety. Our specialties are aviation litigation support, aviation/airport safety programs, accident investigation, safety & quality assessments/audits, system safety (PRA), human factors, Safety Management Systems (SMS) assessment/implementation & training, safety/quality training & risk management, aviation manual development, IS-BAO Auditing, airfield/heliport lighting products and Technical Support.