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/

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

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

787s Move Along, Weight Problems Persist

By Guy Norris

The first significant 787 production line shuffle is under way at Boeing’s Everett site this week with the movement of ZA001 to the flight line, ZA002 to the paint hangar and the subsequent aircraft due to move to make room for the first production-configuration aircraft, ZA100.

But while 787 watchers are encouraged by the news that the first aircraft is due to be fueled for the first time on May 5, industry analyst Bernstein Research appears to be less optimistic. In a report published on May 1, it says weight problems on the first production batch could limit range capability by as much as 15%. In addition, it believes the first delivery to ANA will not be made in the first quarter of 2010 as Boeing currently plans, and that full-rate production of 10 aircraft per month will not be achieved until mid-2013, some six months later than planned.

Bernstein says it “remains concerned about three issues: the timeline for certification; the resolution of weight and range issues on the aircraft; and the outlook for ramp-up of production rates. Boeing has failed to meet previous schedule goals on this program, and we believe that investors should adopt a conservative view on the timeline for certification.”

It adds that “first production airplanes are likely to be roughly 8% overweight, with range 10%-15% less than promised. These values are worse than for most development programs and suggest that substantial redesign work will be necessary. Finally, we see the planned production ramp-up as challenging. Management has said that it intends to ramp production up to 10 airplanes per month by the end of 2012. But, the Tier 1 suppliers have not yet validated their production capacities with the new production technology, and if substantial redesign is needed to reduce weight, it will further complicate a rapid increase in delivery rates.” It adds that, given a potential “stretch” of six months in the overall schedule from first flight to full rate production, it sees Boeing reaching a rate of six per month by the end of 2012.

Boeing, by contrast, says it is increasingly encouraged by progress on both the manufacturing and testing front. Boeing 787 VP and general manager Scott Fancher says results from the recent series of system, factory and gauntlet tests “give us confidence in our ability to move into further gauntlet testing using either ground power or the airplane’s engines or auxiliary power unit. This is a significant milestone on the path to first flight.”

Over recent weeks the 787 has successfully completed build verification tests, structures and systems integration tests, landing gear swings and factory gauntlet, which is the full simulation of the first flight using the actual airplane. Boeing adds that “all structural tests required on the static airframe prior to first flight also are complete. The final test occurred Apr 21 when the wing and trailing edges were subjected to their limit load of around 2.5g, the highest loads expected to be seen in service. “We continue to analyze the data, but the initial results are positive,” Fancher says.

Boeing also confirms that ground vibration testing were concluded last week on the second test aircraft, ZA002, clearing a further hurdle to first flight. It adds that “ZA001 will undergo additional airplane power and systems tests as well as engine runs. After completing final systems checks and high-speed taxi tests, the airplane will be ready for first flight, which is on schedule for later this quarter.”

The aircraft, which has been undergoing final test system installation in its temporary home in Paint Hangar 45-03, was moved to Fueling Dock F-3 on May 3. The fuel test will calibrate the aircraft’s Goodrich-supplied fuel quantity indicating system and fuel quantity data concentrators. The process will be controlled via refuel panels, also supplied by Goodrich.

Photo: Boeing

Fire Scout Lands On Frigate McInerney

By Amy Butler

The U.S. Navy’s developmental MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned rotorcraft has made its first series of landings on the Frigate McInerney.

The tests, which wrapped up April 28, included four flights from the ship over three days, Capt. Tim Dunigan, the Navy’s Fire Scout program director, said May 4 during a press briefing at the annual Navy League Sea, Air and Space conference in Washington. “The aircraft is doing everything we want it to do,” he said.

The tests took place off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla. A series of flight-tests in Chesapeake Bay in February allowed the 3,150-pound gross-takeoff-weight aircraft to hover close to the ship and execute approaches. Winds exceeded the allowance for landing at that time.

For this recent set of trials, painted markings took the place of the metal grid that will serve as the landing pad for Fire Scout.

The McInerney tests are taking place in advance of more trials slated for the Fire Scout’s future host platform, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Fire Scout is expected to begin shipboard tests on the LCS-1, the Freedom, made by Lockheed Martin/Marinette Marine, by the second quarter of 2010, Dunigan said.

A schedule isn’t yet firm for tests on the first General Dynamics LCS, Dunigan said.

This fall, Fire Scout will deploy on the McInerney to support counternarcotics operations in U.S. Southern Command.

Derived from the commercial Schweitzer 333, the four-bladed Fire Scout carries an electro-optical/infrared sensor, laser pointer and range finder. The aircraft is slated to get a radar, but Dunigan says the Navy hasn’t yet selected which model. Up to three Fire Scouts are expected to fit in each slot designated for an H-60 onboard the LCS.

The aircraft is designed to support anti-surface warfare and minehunting missions handled by this new ship class. A communications relay could follow to support shifting data to and from the H-60.

Fire Scout’s operational range is about 110 nautical miles from the ship, with an endurance of about eight hours.

The Navy has two fully instrumented development test models in service. The total buy for the Navy is expected to be 168 aircraft. The Army also is buying the rotorcraft for its Future Combat Systems program, and Northrop Grumman says there is international interest as well.

Initial operational capability for the system is expected in 2011. Flyaway cost for the aircraft is about $7 million, Dunigan says.

Photo: US Navy, Video: Northrop Grumman

WestJet Quarterly Earnings Lower

WestJet Airlines said on Tuesday its first-quarter earnings fell 28.7 percent as the soft economy ate into demand and competition in the industry led to lower pricing.

Canada’s No. 2 carrier earned CAD$37.4 million (USD$32 million), or 29 Canadian cents a share, down from a year-earlier CAD$52 million, or 40 Canadian cents a share.

Revenue decreased 3.3 percent to CAD$579.3 million.

WestJet, which competes with the country’s dominant carrier, Air Canada, warned in March of a gloomier outlook because of a weaker economy and stiff competition on fares.

The airline added 7.2 percent capacity in the first quarter on an available seat mile basis. That cut its load factor by 1.5 percentage points to 80.4 percent.

“While the weakened economy had a negative impact on our first quarter financial results, our margins continued to be among the strongest in North America,” Sean Durfy, WestJet’s chief executive, said in a statement.

“Softening demand, aggressive competitor pricing and Easter falling in the second quarter of 2009, versus the first quarter of 2008, all contributed to our decline in RASM (revenue per available seat mile). However, lower fuel prices resulted in a decline in CASM (cost per available seat mile) and contributed to our overall profitability.”