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Victor bomber accidentally becomes airborne during taxi demo

By David Kaminski-Morrow

UK air accident specialists are not intending to investigate an unusual incident at an air show during which a Handley Page Victor bomber unexpectedly became airborne during a high-speed taxi demonstration.

The incident occurred during the Cold War Jets Open Day at the Bruntingthorpe airfield, south of Leicester, the scene of the recent restoration to flight of an Avro Vulcan.

Bruntingthorpe’s Victor, XM715, had been participating in the 3 May event when it became briefly airborne, apparently reaching a height – based on photographic evidence – of at least 20-30ft.

Circumstances of the incident are unclear. There are no confirmed details of the speed of the aircraft, the crew complement, or meteorological conditions, nor has it been confirmed whether the aircraft sustained any damage.

HP Victor XM715
HP Victor XM715

But while the Air Accidents Investigation Branch says it is “aware” of the incident, it is not conducting an inquiry. The Civil Aviation Authority has so far been unable to comment further, pending clarification of the incident, but says the aircraft is not on the civil register.

Bruntingthorpe’s Cold War Jets event involves fast taxiing of several vintage aircraft including the de Havilland Comet, English Electric Lightning and Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer.

First flown in 1952 the Victor was, alongside the Vulcan and the Vickers Valiant, part of the Royal Air Force‘s nuclear deterrent ‘V-bomber’ fleet.


Germans reinstate grounded Blue Wings’ operating licence

By David Kaminski-Morrow

Germany’s civil aviation regulator has reinstated the operating permit for Dusseldorf-based carrier Blue Wings, weeks after grounding the airline.

The regulator, LBA, states that examination of Blue Wings has shown it “could meet the legal requirements” for commercial airlines under European law.

LBA withdrew Blue Wings’ licence – a temporary permit, as the carrier had been under scrutiny for some time – towards the end of March.

The Germany authority states that Blue Wings will be able to restart passenger and freight operations with seven Airbus A320 aircraft.

TT/AirTeamImages.com
© TT/AirTeamImages.com

Russia’s National Reserve Corporation, which owns 48% of Blue Wings through an investment vehicle, had offered its share in the airline to Aeroflot for a token sum.

Aeroflot had been set to discuss the proposal at a board meeting today.

Blue Wings, which was mainly serving Russian and Turkish routes, has 20 Airbus A320-family aircraft on order, an agreement which had been placed under threat by the grounding.


Indonesia’s Linus Airways shutters operations

By Leithen Francis

Indonesian carrier Linus Airways has stopped operating and is seeking new investors to restart.

The carrier officially stopped operating on 27 April, the day it submitted its cessation notice to the Indonesian Directorate-General of Civil Aviation, the airline’s president director, Julius Indra, says from Jakarta.

When asked why Linus is temporarily grounding its two BAe 146s, he says it is for financial reasons.

The carrier is now seeking new investors to inject cash into the business, confirms Indra, who was unable to say when services will resume.

“We are talking to some investors who have an interest in coming into the aviation industry,” he says.

Prior to its voluntary closure, the passenger airline was operating to eight domestic destinations on a scheduled basis, says Indra.

At this stage, the carrier plans to retain its two aircraft, he adds.

According to Flight’s ACAS database Linus’ BAe 146s are both -200 models and the owner is Trident Jet (Dublin).


Light at the end of the personal jet tunnel

By John Croft

Favouritism is clearly at work as general aviation manufacturers make substantial cuts across product lines. With one exception, the personal jet programmes in progress at six airframers have stayed relatively intact as the companies look to better position themselves for what promises to be a growth market for the fuel-efficient jets when recovery comes. The exception is Eclipse Aviation, whose Eclipse 400 single-engined four-seater has become a victim of the company’s bankruptcy and pending liquidation.

Cirrus Design suspended its light sport aircraft offering, the SRS, in lieu of keeping its 300kt (555 km/h) Vision SF50 personal jet programme on track. Although it has pushed back first deliveries of the Williams FJ33-powered five-seat single to 2012, the company continues to test-fly its prototype once or twice a day at its Duluth, Minnesota facility, says Cirrus jet sales co-ordinator Gary Black. He also says the “fully loaded” price for the aircraft would be between $1.3 million and $1.4 million. A “typically equipped” SF50 will cost about $1.25 million, the company has said.

Diamond continues to be the best bet for first certification and deliveries of a personal jet as the 315kt D-Jet, also powered by the FJ33, continues toward Transport Canada and US Federal Aviation Administration certification by the middle of next year. Mark Lee, Diamond’s director of marketing and sales for D-Jet, says the company has notified customers that first deliveries will be pushed to the latter half of next year.

Piper Aircraft
© Piper Aircraft

Helping to the development was a change in the aircraft’s ice-protection system. Lee says the FAA and Transport Canada, based on analysis of industry-wide ice-related accidents, had asked for an increase in the flow rate and operational time of the planned TKS icing protection system, a change he says would have brought the entire weight of the system (including fluid) to roughly 90kg (200lb). As a result, Diamond decided to install pneumatic boots on the wing and horizontal stabiliser leading edges. Engine inlets continue to be protected by bleed air, as before.

There are 360 orders for the five-seat jet, which is priced at $1.5 million in 2009 dollars. Diamond is expected to announce a substantial price increase, perhaps 25%, by the end of May.

Following Diamond, service entry of Piper’s $2.2 million, 360kt, five-seat PiperJet is likely to be in 2011. Despite cutting its staff by nearly half, the Florida manufacturer continues to push forward with its first jet offering, for which it reports 200 orders. Flight-testing and envelope expansion tests continue for the first Williams FJ44-powered prototype, says the company, with the second of four total certification aircraft planned for construction next year. “We’re heavily investing in the PiperJet,” says chief executive James Bass. “It is our future.”

Stratos Aircraft continues to develop its $2 million Williams FJ44-powered composite four-seater, the Stratos 714. Company co-founder Carsten Sundin says a full-scale composite cabin mock-up is complete and will be used for marketing this year.

Primary performance targets include carrying four adults at 400kt for 2,780km (1,500nm) with NBAA IFR reserves.

Epic Aircraft continues to advertise its four-seat 320kt Victory single-engine personal jet, although the company continues to evaluate whether the project will move forward to certification.


EASA cautions 737 operators of radio altimeter errors

By John Croft

EASA has published a safety information bulletin alerting Boeing 737 operators of an “erroneous low range radio altimeter (LRRA) indication” that has been linked to the fatal crash of a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 at Amsterdam Schiphol on 25 February. The accident killed nine of the 134 on board, including three pilots in the cockpit.

Central to the investigation is a radio-altimeter fault that caused the aircraft’s autothrottle to enter retard mode at too high an altitude, reducing thrust to idle speed before the aircraft was in position for its final flare above the runway.

Pilots lost control of the aircraft after speeds decreased to 110kt (204km/h) at approximately 500ft (152m) above the ground due in part to the fault. The system is designed to automatically reduce thrust to idle when the aircraft enters its landing flare approximately 27ft (8m) above the ground.

Dutch investigators revealed on 29 April that several radio altimeter failures had occurred on the accident aircraft in its previous eight flights. EASA notes that “there are reports of further incidents attributed to the same cause”.

In its 30 April alert, which references a flight operations technical bulletin published by Boeing, EASA says if one of an aircraft’s two LRRAs provides erroneous altitude readings, the associated “flight deck effects” may typically include “inappropriate flight mode annunciation indication of autothrottle retard mode during approach phase with the airplane above 27ft above-ground-level.”

The agency is recommending that flight crews, whether operating in automated or manual flight modes, “carefully monitor” primary flight instruments including airspeed and attitude, for aircraft performance and the flight mode annunciation for autoflight modes.

“When the autothrottle mode is selected during critical phases of flight, the pilot flying may consider to keep a hands-on position on the engine throttles to guard against and correct any abnormal behaviour,” EASA continues, adding that, “Early intervention prevents unsatisfactory airplane performance or a degraded flight path.”


Boeing Begins Shedding Jobs

Michael Mecham mecham@aviationweek.com

Boeing has reduced its job count by nearly 4,000 positions across most of its employment units since the first of the year, achieving nearly 40% of the total it expects to shed in 2009.

The company’s total employment as of April 30 was 159,161, compared with 161,965 in April 2008 and 162,191 on Dec. 31 – a drop of 3,030s. But a Boeing official said another 1,000 vacancies have gone unfilled since the company began pruning its job list in January. Boeing’s total employment edged up across all sectors last summer and then began receding in November and December.

The number of jobs at Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) was 65,972 as of April 30, down 1,687 from the Dec. 31 figure, but off only 242 from April 2008.

Employment has actually edged up within the company’s other major production unit, Integrated Defense Systems (IDS). It stood at 70,023 as of April 30, rising 106 positions from the end of 2008. But it is down 1.020 from the previous April and 1,437 from last year’s high point in June.

Responding to increasingly strong evidence of a weakened global airline market, Boeing said in January it would shed 4,500 jobs in 2009 at BCA.

A month later, it projected a second round of 5,500 job cuts elsewhere in the company. In April, when BCA said it will reduce 777 deliveries beginning in June 2010, the company acknowledged that further jobs cuts are likely in BCA, adding that it is is too early to say how many.

As of April 31, Engineering, Operations and Technology, the third largest employment group, had shed 699 jobs since Dec. 31. It now has 11,729 workers. Employment at Finance & Shared Services dropped 711 in the same period and now stands at 9,226.

Human resources, administration and corporate headquarters accounts, which totaled 2,211 as of April 30, have all declined slightly since Jan. 1.

737-900ER image credit: Boeing