Friday, October 26, 2007

X-49A “waltzes” as helicopter great, Frank Piasecki, celebrates 88

Piasecki Aircraft Company opened its doors to the media and military guests on 25 October for a special birthday party and flight demonstration of the company’s vectored thrust-ducted propeller (VDTP) compound helicopter demonstrator, shown above, at Boeing’s test facilities at the New Castle County Airport in Wilmington, Delaware. “It’s rare to have the opportunity to honour a man with the work of his imagination,” said John Piasecki, vice-president of the company, regarding his father and company founder, Frank Piasecki, who is wheelchair-bound but attended the demonstration.

Following birthday celebrations for the elder Piasecki, who turned 88 the day before, test pilots and engineers began a 15-minute flight demonstration, cut short by light rain that threatened to damage external test sensors mounted on the aircraft. Aerial manoeuvres included two high-speed fly-bys at 155kt, 2g constant speed 180-degree turns at roughly the same speed, and a nimble hovering demonstration best described as waltzing, with pusher prop wailing like an angry hornet.

The aircraft first flew in June and has reached speeds of 177kt in a “slight dive”. An unmodified Black Hawk has a maximum cruise speed of about 160kt. The X-49A currently has 19 flight test hours and 24 flights, averaging two flights per week primarily to take test data on a variety of trim conditions possible with the controllable rudder, elevators, flaperons and other control devices. The pusher-prop has not been optimized to reduce noise levels. Visitors were asked to wear earplugs during the demonstration.

The inclement weather scuffed what was to be the coup-de-grace of the day – a fly-off between the X-49A and an unmodified Black Hawk. Steven Schellberg, chief test pilot for the program, said the duel would have highlighted the VDTP compound’s ability to maintain high speed in tight turns. The company hopes to achieve speeds of 175-180kts at the conclusion of the first phase of flight testing by year’s end.

Piasecki's X-49A flight test team poses with their aircraft after another successful test flight

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cirrus ride or bust -- The tempo increases

In a dazzling display of integrated marketing communications prowess, Cirrus sales folks rang my phone just minutes after my email invitation from regional sales rep, Boni.

On the phone was Sue, at the company's headquarters in Duluth.

Sue, who was very pleasant, wanted to know if I had any follow-up
questions on the Cirrus info pack I was sent recently.

I told her that my only question was, "Where's the demo ride I was promised?"

Sue confessed that although the offer for the free flight is "real",
sometimes you, meaning me, have to "push a bit" to make it come true.

The reason? "Sometimes you get a kid who wants to go up."

Kids don't have a couple hundred $K to plop down on an airplane, unless they're in High School Musical. (Neither do I, but that's another story)

What about my ride? Sue tells me to contact Boni (who is a "he", in case you
were wondering).

Wait! My free Cirrus flight rises like the Phoenix...

I doubt it was my angry blog to Cirrus, but I can dream...

Just a few minutes ago, I received the following email
from Boni Caldeira, Regional Sales Manager at Cirrus, the
same Boni from whom I received my "rejection" letter...

Might I really be the recipient of the "limited number
of demonstration flights?" I'm starting to feel like I'm
on a rollercoaster here. Stay tuned.

Cirrus Open House at Carlisle Airport!

Cirrus, maker of the world’s best-selling airplane, invites you to sit in the pilot’s seat of our flagship aircraft — the new Generation Three SR22 Turbo. Experience the luxury and check out the latest aviation technologies — including our unique airframe parachute system. A limited number of demonstration flights in the SR22-G3 Turbo will be available during the event.

This event will be held at:

Carlisle Airport [N94]
228 Petersburg Rd
Carlisle, PA 17013

Wednesday, October 10 • 3 pm – 7 pm
Thursday, October 11 • 3 pm – 7 pm

Monday, October 8, 2007

Free Flight in a Cirrus? Fuhgetaboutit!

Turns out the offer for a free flight in a Cirrus
was just a tad misleading (see earlier blog)....

On 18 September I received a Cirrus information packet
and letter from Boni Caldeira, regional manager for the
company, who informed me that if I have "any questions
or need any additional information on these airplanes or
how to place an order," I should call him.

Not one word about a demo flight anywhere in the nice
four-colour info pack. What's the deal, Cirrus?

The ad clearly says, "Cirrus wants to take you flying!" does it not?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mr. Press’s Little Eclipse Jet

Mike Press’ EA500 gets maximum attention on the ramp at the Atlantic Aviation FBO at Atlanta’s DeKalb Peachtree Airport

Mike Press didn’t have to ask me twice if I wanted to deep-six my Delta Air Lines coach class ticket from Atlanta to Baltimore on September 27 to fly home in the right seat of his Eclipse 500.

We had both been visiting the National Business Aviation Association’s yearly schmooze fest in Atlanta and happened to be leaving on the same day. As someone who writes about very light jets (VLJs) and small jets of all sorts, I was keen to get some actual experience in the equipment that I write about so frequently.

Press, president of Single-Pilot Jet Management (SPJM), the top reseller of Eclipse 500 positions and previously owned aircraft, owns the fourth delivered model (N229BW) and was the first owner/operator to complete EA500 training. He has sold more than 75 EA500s through SPJM and logged more than 200hr on Bravo Whiskey, often for demonstration flights like this one.

Though he had not intended to fly from Atlanta to St. Louis via the Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI), Press amended his route to give me a glimpse of the what all the VLJ fuss is about (plus the detour gave him an excuse to visit Northrop Grumman’s BWI-based unit, a company the former Air Force fighter pilot and consultant has done a bit of contracting with as a civilian.)

We decided to depart Atlanta’s DeKalb Peachtree Airport at 9 am on September 27th. I arrived at the airport just before 8 am. Asked by the staff which plane I was rideing in, I said the Eclipse 500. The woman behind the counter returned a perplexed look, but a lineman nearby smiled and said that yes, an EA500 was indeed parked in the hangar.

Similar experiences occur wherever the aircraft goes, says Press. People either don’t know what the heck an Eclipse 500 is (including some air traffic controllers we spoke to enroute) or people have heard of it and require the owner/operator to put schedule aside to give a tour. Time should cure both.

Flying to Baltimore were myself, weighing in at 180lb (conservative), Press, at 210lb and Pete Sudekum, also about 180lb. Sudekum is director of aircraft sales for St. Louis Aircraft Sales; he and Press and are teamed up to sell Eclipse 500s. Sudekum is a former Embraer ERJ regional jet pilot for the airlines. Four or five years of RJ hell nicely removed his desire to be an airline pilot and he now has a job he truly likes – selling airplanes.

Peter Sudekum loading our luggage

Along with 570lb of people, we had a full-fuel load of 1500lb and approximately six pieces of luggage that I estimate weighed about 100lb, filling the entire space behind the two back seats.

Press’ EA500LX was configured with three seats in the cabin with baggage space behind the two rearmost seats. The aircraft did not feel the least bit small, either in the passenger compartment or in the cockpit, which I found surprising given my preconceived notions about the VLJ. Though the LX’s leather seats were comfortable and solidly made, some of the other interior components were ill-fitted and loose, for example the various mouldings on the sides and ceilings appeared ready to detach. Press says such nits have been taken care of on later models.

Also missing from Press’ plane were amenities he says have been promised for later, after the initial rush of getting the aerodynamic modifications and new AvioNG avionics retrofits completed on the existing fleet. Missing were arm rests for the pilot and copilot seats, and sun visors for the cockpit windows.

On the exterior, I noticed a gap in the joint between the front accessory compartment cover and the airframe. The compartment holds equipment including the air conditioning system, and is not meant to be opened on a regular basis. Press tells me that every time the cover is removed, the gap must be filled with caulking. In this case, he had gone flying before the caulking was dry. The airflow had pulled the material out of the joint in places, leaving a small gap.

Gap exposed in top of nose compartment cover

With 1500lb of fuel (full tanks), three adults and luggage, I estimated that we started the trip at maximum gross weight. Thanks to NBAA traffic leaving the airport on IFR flight plans, weight would not be an issue – we spent nearly an hour waiting in line for takeoff, both engines idling.

Thanks to automation, starting the engines is largely reduced to turning on the batteries and flipping an overhead switch to the “start” position for each of the two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F FADEC-equipped engines, each of which looks to be small enough to pick up in bear-hug fashion when standing alongside the fuselage.

After waiting in a business jet conga line for nearly an hour in perfect VFR weather, we finally received clearance to takeoff. The EA500 accelerated quickly, reaching the target rotate speed of about 90kt. First impression – this is a very small jet that feels like a much larger jet. Ride was solid, and reminded me of what it might feel like to ride on a magic carpet…

Our flight plan called for a cruise altitude of FL350, which seemed strange at first for such a small airplane. Though air traffic control kept us below that level for about 20 minutes, after we cleared the busy Atlanta area, we were given incrementally higher clearances until reaching FL350. Press let me fly the plane through FL290, after which RVSM rules require the autopilot to do the flying. I found the sidestick controller quite pleasant to fly with, though roll forces were a bit heavy for a guy who spends his days typing on a computer. It was also fascinating to watch commercial airliners whiz by just 1,000ft above, and it brought home the need to stay vigilant about wake vortices from those much heavier vehicles.

With the current version of Avio avionics, there is no flight management system, coupled autopilot or even a GPS for that matter. Press used a Garmin GPS496 with satellite weather as the primary navigation tool, though we tracked the appropriate VORs with the Avio system as well, using the autopilot’s altitude and heading-hold modes. Eclipse intends to rectify the situation when it begins retrofits with the AvioNG later this year, along with the performance modifications and FADEC upgrades the company says will boost cruise speed to 352kt at FL360, burning 400lb of fuel per hour

Press’s EA500 performed well with reference to the as-delivered book numbers for his aircraft. We expected 330kt at FL350; we got 334kt true airspeed at FL350, burning approximately 210lb per hour on each engine, with engines running at 97.3% N1 and ITT of about 680. We burned roughly 600lb of fuel from engine start to level-off at cruise altitude, leaving 900lb for the remainder of the trip.

Garmin’s GPS496 is essential equipment until the AvioNG is installed

The trip into Baltimore was uneventful, with a smooth landing in part due to Press’s skill and in equal part due to the Eclipse’s trailing link landing gear. We touched down at the target speed of 87kt. Press predicted we’d land with 500lb of fuel remaining. He was right -- the MFD read 500lb in the tanks when we exited Runway 33R and taxied into Signature Aviation.

Signature was gracious enough to offer me a free lift to the parking garage where I’d left my car four days earlier to catch the Delta Boeing 757 flight to Atlanta. Imagine the airlines or the TSA being so kind?!

I won’t have to tell you which leg of the trip I liked the best.

Wrong about Misonne

After receiving a thoughtful and enlightening email from composer Bruno Misonne last night, I realized two things:

1.) People actually, sometimes, do read the blatherings of people like myself
2.) I was wrong about Bruno

Turns out that "Early morning landing at Heathrow" (see previous blog for link) isn't supposed to be chock full of airplane noise. In fact, though it's on his latest compilation, it was made two years ago as background music for a video, he writes.

What's more, Misonne lives near the Brussels Zaventem airport, not Heathrow.

For a taste of aerial heavy metal in his music, he suggests listening to USS Nimitz.

I think I get it now, Bruno. Sorry!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

AVIATION NOISE: When life throws you a lemon...

Bruno Misonne, of Wavre, Belgium, has made lemonade of the lemons put in his yard, courtesy of London's Heathrow Airport.

Most people moan and complain about the rumbling of aircraft landing and taking off.

Not Mr. Misonne.

According to a press release from his publicist, Misonne is the "creator of an entirely new genre of music based on Aviation." He lives just 10 miles from "a large airport where he 'parks' his instruments," the release continues. Instruments are jetliners, of course, and the "large airport" is Heathrow.

Misonne's latest release, “Early Morning Landing at Heathrow”, came to him whilst toiling in his garden, we're told.

Given how little airplane noise I hear in the piece, I would say Heathrow is actually a pretty good neighbor. Now if they could just do something about Mr. Misonne's synthesizer...