Fire At FAA Buildings Forces Evacuation

CNN.com:

“A blaze at a Federal Aviation Administration facility outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, has forced the evacuation of two buildings and impacted the agencies internal e-mail and Internet systems”

Yep, I was knocked offline from my work on the FAA’s ERAM system at around 3:30 this afternoon, in the middle of a database edit. I wondered what had cut my day short. PITA.

Saab’s Remote Air Traffic Control Tower With Panoramic Views To Be Trialed In Norway

Dante D’Orazio, writing for The Verge:

“From the layman’s perspective, few of the many cogs that keep planes in the sky and airports running safely could use a 21st-century upgrade more than the age-old air traffic control tower. Saab unveiled its vision of the future last year with its remote tower (or r-TWR) — a system that provides a 360-degree live video feed of an airport to offsite monitoring stations”

This is a great idea for aggregating smaller, lower-volume airports. Control operations for multiple airports can be handled from a single facility by running them from separate “tower cab” rooms for each.

It’s not a good idea for high-volume airports where a technology failure can render an airport sightless.

When technology fails at FAA radar facilities in the US today, they go to what’s called an ATC-zero operation. That means exactly what you’d think: no ops.

Imagine Hartsfield-Jackson (Atlanta)’s five runways being rendered useless on a sunny day due to a remote video outage. On-site controllers can at least look out the window.

Air Force X-37B Space Plane Mission Ending Soon

Mike Wall, writing for MSNBC:

“OTV-2’s flight represents a big jump for the X-37B space plane. The vehicle has been aloft for 462 days as of June 8, more than doubling the on-orbit time of the first space-flown X-37B, known as OTV-1.”

The X-37B is the experimental space plane project launched by the US Air Force. It carries new technologies into low Earth orbit for testing. Looking like a miniature space shuttle, it launches in similar fashion, spends hundreds of days on-orbit and returns as a glider to be used again.

It manages all of this without an onboard pilot. Essentially a space-based drone, it enables next-generation satellite technology tests without the expense of building and launching an unretrievable satellite.

FAA Taking “Fresh Look” At Passenger Device Use During Takeoff/Landing

Ryan Faas, writing for Cult of Mac:

“The ban on electronic devices has come under fire recently as the F.A.A. has been certifying the use of iPads in the cockpit during all phases of flight (including takeoff and landing) by various commercial airlines as a replacement for hefty “flight bags” of paper manuals and charts.”

If it’s ok on the flight deck, it’s ok in the cabin.

If airlines want your device shut off during taxi-out so they have your attention for the safety briefing, they should say so. Otherwise there’s no good reason to ban devices during any phase of flight. Certainly not electromagnetic interference, which would be a concern on the flight deck where iPads are already in common use.

Watchdog Orders Checks on Every Airbus A380

MSNBC.com:

“Europe’s aviation watchdog called for checks Wednesday on the entire worldwide fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbo jets for cracks on parts inside the wings.

The European Aviation Safety Agency’s move to inspect all 68 A380s in service came as Qantas Airways grounded one of its planes, saying engineers had found 36 wing cracks after the aircraft encountered severe turbulence.”

So, first off, severe turbulence: ugh.

More critical than that, though, is the carbon fiber wing parts’ performance under stress. Cracks were first claimed to be a result of the manufacturing process, but this latest discovery appears to come as a result of normal, if heavy stress on the wing.

In other words, the A380 wing appears to develop cracks when stressed as it was designed to do. That’s a far more serious problem, because if normal loading causes the wing to deteriorate it can also cause it to fail.

Airbus will ground these aircraft if normal loading is found to cause these cracks. There’s no way they’ll risk, or be allowed to risk, a wing failure in flight. Imagine the cost to Airbus of such a grounding.

20 Airbus A380s Inspected for Cracks

CNN:

”We [Airbus] pushed the boundaries on this aircraft with the carbon fiber rib skin, an innovative design to increase fuel efficiency,” Williams told reporters. “These cracks are a result of a combination of factors during the design and manufacturing process.”

Airbus says they have a “repair scheme” for airlines to follow. I’d add, “keep looking.”

Airbus Finds More Cracks In Plane Wings But Assures Travelers Theyre Safe To Fly

Mary Beth Quirk, writing for Consumerist:

“”Airbus confirms that some additional cracks have been found on a limited number of non-critical brackets … inside the wings of some A380s,” the planemaker said in a statement to Reuters. “Airbus emphasizes that these cracks do not affect the safe operation of the aircraft.”“

It’s safe to assume that Airbus, before anyone else, would know what constitutes a “non-critical bracket.” They designed and built the aircraft, right?

Still, I get the feeling that this is only the opening round of concern and investigation. Metal fatigue is normal in high-use aircraft, and factors into the design lifespan of an airframe as set by the manufacturer. In that light, four years is a very short span in which to find fatigue on an aircraft.

Feel better now?

F-35B Suitability Tests

Cool video from Lockheed Martin documenting F-35B STO/VL suitability tests. Reminiscent of Marine Harrier jets, but with stealthier design.

Watch for the engine nozzle to rotate down as the jet pushes off the deck after a short roll.

Really stunning if you switch to HD mode.

American Airlines First To Allow Pilot iPads on the Flight Deck

Devin Coldewey, writing for TechCrunch:

“If you’re flying American on Friday, there’s a chance your pilot will be using an iPad instead of the traditional paper flight charts. The airline has reportedly become the first major one to get FAA approval for the device, though smaller charter lines have had it for a while. American announced their intention to make the switch back in June, joining Alaska and Delta and probably a few others by now.”

Great news.

Digital, video-displayed instruments replaced analog dials and indicators on the flight decks of modern aircraft years ago. It only makes sense that charting and aircraft manuals follow in that way, appearing in electronic form on the popular iPad.

Presumably these iPads will be used after the doors are closed and the aircraft is moving about the airport, and during the critical departure and arrival and departure phases of flight. The same periods when passengers are admonished to fully shut off anything with a power switch.

It’s evident, then, that the prohibition against using electronic devices during critical periods of flight, and during the taxi out to the runway, is all about getting and keeping passengers’ attention, and has nothing whatsoever to do with interfering with cockpit equipment.

Getting and keeping passenger attention is essential for effectively communicating emergency instructions on the first try. Why don’t airlines just come out and say so?