Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mustang Fever

This P-51D Mustang was restored and is now owned by Mark Peterson. "Hell-Er-Bust" was the mount of WWII ace Ed Heller of the 352nd Fighter group and appeared at the Chino Airshow this year carrying 2 bombs underwing in addition to the six wing-mounted machine guns. Photo credit, David Brown

In company with countless pilots who normally take to the skies at weekends in small aircraft, I’ve often looked enviously at the North American P-51 Mustang. All the cliches are there: Fire – breathing Fighter, Exceptional Performance, Noisy, Fantastically expensive…OK....OK That’s enough.
But this does not help… It’s an addiction. Just watch a pilot…any pilot… when a Mustang flies by. Their eyes swivel, they drool over the sound of the Merlin. It’s incurable, and it’s called Mustang Fever.

Tony Banta flies his beautifully restored P-51D Mustang "Kimberly Kaye" during a visit to Southern California. A marvel in polished aluminum, the Mustang is painted with the black and yellow checked nose of the 353rd Fighter Group, and the black rudder of the 352nd Fighter Squadron. Photo credit David Brown

But how does one ever get to fly aboard one of these classic fighters?… well, there are just a few ways…inherit the money…be a film star…own the company….or be lucky.
So I was lucky.
On my first Mustang ride some years ago I flew with veteran Mustang pilot and owner, Elmer Ward. The mission was a two-ship flight from the Hawthorne Air Faire in Elmer’s Mustang “Man O’ War” in company with a second Mustang “What’s Up Doc” flown by Ross Grady. Just a quick ferry from Hawthorne in California to Elmer’s base at Chino.

Although this Mustang of course was built as a single-seat fighter, the cockpit had been modified to accommodate a second seat behind the pilot, in the place normally occupied by a fuel tank. It was a bit cramped, but a small price to pay for the experience.
"Man O’ War "sat on the ramp at Hawthorne in a line of eight Mustangs. Silver with red nose and tail, it was painted in the colors of Claiborne Kinnard, 334th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter Group, operating in Europe in the latter part of 1944.

Before start our two fighters were pulled out of the lineup and parked on the ramp parallel to the crowd behind the ropes, to keep our slipstream away from the audience.

Elmer gave a through briefing and pre-flight introduction before we flew. We donned parachutes and helmets. Flying a Mustang is done as a no-kidding military mission and is briefed as such. When his victim was strapped in the back seat Elmer finished his emergency egress briefing with a question, “Have you ever done a parachute jump? (Pause) I’ve been flying these things for years and haven’t done it yet.” Then, still grinning he climbed into the front seat and strapped in.

"Man O’ War" was immaculate, Red nose and tail, squadron letters on the fuselage and with distinctive black stripes along the fuselage and on the wings to break up the outline in combat. It was not your average flying club aircraft. It’s a no-compromise fighting machine.

Elmer Ward's P-51D Mustang "Man O' War" on the ramp at Hawthorne, Southern California.
Six machine guns and excellent performance and range made the Mustang one of the top fighters in the Second World War. Photo Credit: David Brown

So what’s it like to be sitting in the back seat of a Mustang? Visibility in all directions through the bubble canopy is superb, apart from the total lack of vision ahead. The hardware in the cockpit is in some ways familiar to me, with some items identical to the AT-6 of the same era. But the big throttle, the supercharger and the whole Merlin powerplant are different. With the complication of the liquid cooling, the Merlin engine is more complex. And the aircraft handling is different. It's a big, fast and heavy aircraft by light plane standards. Stories abound of new Mustang pilots coming to grief with the torque roll induced by opening the throttle too quickly on a go-around, or having directional control problems on takeoff or landing. The average pilot requires a lot of training before leaping into the air in the Mustang.

Once strapped securely into the back seat, parachute straps and harness prevent any movement. It’s getting quite hot, with the sun beating down through the partially-open canopy. I can see some of the instruments and switches over Elmer’s shoulder, and monitor the action through my headphones as Elmer goes through his pre-start checks.
One thing the Air Force training did was to instill in the student pilot the absolute necessity to follow the appropriate checklist.

Next the Elmer sings out “ CLEAR PROP”. This gets a thumbs up from our ground crew.
I duck my head as Elmer winds the canopy forward part-way and fires up the Merlin
This is followed by a series of loud barks from the engine and a burst of smoke from the open stacks. The huge four-blade prop jerks to life, then blurs into a shimmering disc in the late-afternoon sun. From the back seat it sounds like a huge and very loud tractor chugging away as it idles, even through my helmet. At least the biggest fan in the world is blowing some cool air in my direction.
We are looking good so far. Elmer checks in with me on the intercom, then calls Hawthorne tower for taxi clearance.
Elmer waves our chocks away.

While we have been starting up, Ross Grady in his camouflaged Mustang, ahead and to our left, has also fired up and is ready to go.

“What’s Up Doc” starts to move and Elmer eases the throttle forward. “Man O’ War” starts rolling gently forward as we follow the other Mustang down the taxiway.

As the Mustang has a tailwheel, it has no forward vision on the ground because of the long engine cowling obscuring the view in front of the nose. So the pilot has to S-turn down the taxiway, looking alternately down the left, then the right side of the fuselage to clear the blind spot ahead.

At our run up area, Elmer winds the canopy fully closed, makes sure the brakes are on, brings the stick back and pushes the throttle forward.

The noise of the Packard-built Merlin engine is quite awesome. It’s standard practice to wear earplugs in addition to the noise-canceling headset. With a twelve-cylinder piston engine running only a few feet in front of you, there’s a real feeling of power when the throttle is advanced.
With 12 open exhaust stacks pointing straight at you, IT IS ALSO EXTREMELY LOUD.

Pretakeoff checks complete, Elmer looks across to Grady and signals that we are ready.

”What’s Up Doc” pulls onto the runway, and we follow him.
We line up on runway 25 cleared for a formation takeoff .We are to the right of the other Mustang, and on the right side of the centerline.

Both pilots increase power. Grady looks across at us, gets a thumbs up from Ward, and gives a head nod to signify brake release. Both Mustangs start to move and accelerate together. In “Man O’ War” the noise is overpowering.
Both Mustangs become airborne. I see the gear doors of the other Mustang flash in the sunlight, then his gear starts up and the Mustangs start an exhilarating climb into the sunlit California sky.
We bank left and turn through 180 degrees until we are on a downwind leg, then settle into a slow climb heading east.

Ward brings the engine back to cruise at 35 inches MP and 2300 rpm. Airspeed settles down at 200mph. I’m in the enviable position of having nothing to do but look around me.

There may be some things in life more satisfying than riding in the back seat of a Mustang, with one of the best Mustang pilots in the world at the helm. But only a few. The other Mustang is riding just feet away, so close that I can see the tiny movements of his controls, the lazily turning arc of that huge propeller strobing through your own propeller.

“What’s Up Doc” is in full camouflage and military markings, a real fighting machine. The sun is setting behind us, so a golden glow is illuminating every detail of the fighter. Downtown Los Angeles is clearly visible in the crystal-clear air, with the San Gabriel Mountains towering in the distance. The ground is scooting past perceptibly faster than I am used to seeing it move. We head East for Chino, past Fullerton, Anaheim, over the Prado Dam and turn left up the Chino Hills and then in over Chino airport for an overhead break to Runway 21. Every second of flight is magic as I watch the other Mustang against the background of the hills, then the dairy farms surrounding Chino.

As the Chino control tower floats back beneath us, Grady banks away to the right. After another couple of seconds we follow him, banking hard right and onto the downwind leg.

Elmer calls the tower “ Finals, Three greens ”.

Over the fence the throttle came back and the Merlin started its characteristic popping
then we touched in a perfect three-point landing and taxied in to Elmer’s hangar at Square One Aviation where he restores Mustangs, in addition to flying them.

So am I a happy person after this flight? Well, yes and no. I've been flying in a Mustang. It was a great ride. There are only a handful of these hot fighters still around. But I must admit, there are limits to a ride as a passenger. Any pilot really wants to get his hands on the controls after all…Let’s fast forward a few years to a subsequent occasion when an opportunity presented itself of flying a two seat dual control Mustang, “Tempus Fugit.”
With a few days advance warning , I took the opportunity to read up the pilot manual of the P-51 and caught an airliner to Reno, for the Air Races, Air Display and who knows what else…

Tempus Fugit (Time Flies)

This motto is painted on a polished aluminum cowl. The cowl is attached to N 151TF, which just happens to be a North American TF-51 dual control Mustang. The paint scheme is distinctive, with red nose, yellow-striped wings and a striped red tail. This Mustang is painted to represent the mount of Colonel William Daniel when the aircraft flew with the 31st Fighter Group with the 15th Air Force in Italy during 1944.

It has been raced during the week and still has its race number 23 on the vertical tail.
And this aircraft just happens to be parked on the ramp at Reno Stead Airport.

After a hectic week of flying, problems, late-night maintenance and engine runs, we are on for my flight, as long as we do not run out of daylight.

Tempus Fugit ready for engine start prior to a test flight after some engine work at Reno Stead Airport. The Mustang is painted in the colours of Col William A Daniel, CO of the 31st Fighter Group operating in Italy in 1944. The 5 kills marked under the cockpit made Daniel an ace. Photo credit David Brown

It is shortly before sunset on the last day of the week-long event. After the display, everyone wants to fly….. I'm crossing my fingers.... and then the wait is over. I am to fly this fighter with Mustang pilot Robbie Patterson.

When it’s time for me to climb aboard I remember that the approved way to mount this beast is to climb up on one mainwheel, avoiding the machine gun ports on the leading edge, step up onto the metal connecting links of the gear leg, onto the leading edge of the wing, then walk inboard to the cockpit. When you are a young cocky fighter pilot this somewhat atheletic climb is a breeze.

As I lean into the cockpit I take note of a placard on the canopy rail to lower one’s head before jettisoning the canopy in the event of having to bail out. The reason being of course that the canopy jettisons rearwards and might take your head off as it goes.

In the rear seat, this time I have a full instrument panel, stick, throttle quadrant etc, everything you could wish for.
The cockpit of this dual-control Mustang looks practically the same from front or rear seats. Engine instruments for the Merlin are on the right hand side of the panel. The throttle quadrant is on the left hand cockpit wall. It's brand new and still has a new car smell.

Photo credit:Provenance Fighters

The cockpit, in a spirit of déjà vu, is very much like the T-34 which I have been flying recently, which is not surprising. The Mustang was designed in the 1940s, rather than the 1950s of the T-34 but they are similar. The systems of the T34 are just a bit simpler. In the Mustang I note the extra dials and controls for the coolant system (and a power increase of around 1250 HP) and an airspeed indicator that is marked up to 700 mph ( We have a dive speed of 505mph)
“Tempus Fugit” has been recently restored and is in pristine condition.

I have my checklist out and once we establish communications between front and rear seats, I follow through as Robbie does his pre-start checks:

Flaps up
Carb air cold
Coolant auto
Rudder trim six right
Elevator and aileron trims zero
Fuel quantity left and right (Maximum of 90 gals per side, but he has just flown and we have enough for a short flight)
Mixture idle cutoff
Prop full forward
Throttle cracked one inch forward..
Fuel on Main LH tank

The pilot’s manual makes no concessions. Getting this far involves a number of critical items. Any interruption of fuel on takeoff, or setting the rudder trim incorrectly could lead to a sudden return to earth, or a swing on takeoff and a fatal crash.

The Mustang start procedure is no different in principle to any piston engined aircraft, with the addition of moving the coolant and oil radiator switches to OPEN.

Starter ON. The prop starts to turn.
Count six blades passing in front of the nose and switch ignition to BOTH.
Fuel boost pump ON and PRIME
Mixture to Normal.

The Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin comes to life. We start up with much popping and banging, with the exhaust stacks blowing smoke both sides of the cockpit.

Check oil pressure up to 50psi.
Warm up at 1300rpm.
Check dead cut on each magneto in turn.
We get our clearance and taxi out with the callsign of RACE 23.

Starting to taxi out to the runway. In addition to S-turning to see his clear path ahead, the Mustang pilot has to use differential brakes for directional control, helped by the steerable tailwheel , has to remember not to use too much power which could tip the Mustang on its nose. He is kept quite busy. Photo credit: John Rayner

Our taxi is westbound into the setting sun, so Patterson keeps S-turning to maintain visibility, wary of other traffic, and swings us into wind at the runup area for Runway 08.
At the engine runup area Patterson advances the throttle to give 2300rpm. He checks manifold pressure, cycles the prop, and checks both magneto drops are within limits,.
One complexity that is new to me is to check the supercharger in high gear.

There is a stark line in the handling notes in bold lettering.
Do not exceed 40 inches MP (Manifold pressure) on the ground.
Unless the tail is tied down this amount of power will tip the Mustang onto its nose. The cost of replacing the prop is horrendous, so caution is the watchword here.

Robbie throttles back to 1500 rpm, checks that the coolant and oil radiator switches are AUTO, left tank is selected with boost pump on. Our flaps are up. Trims are rechecked at rudder 6 right, elevator and aileron zero. Finally the canopy is wound forward and locked.

With the exhortation, “Watch your knees” Patterson verifies we have full and free movement of controls. I’ve been wacked on the knees before so make sure I’m clear of the controls.
ATC talks to us, “Race 23 continue to hold for landing traffic”

We wait for the traffic and I’m anxiously watching the coolant temperature creeping up. Mustangs, with their liquid-cooled engines are notorious for overheating on the ground.
Here is the traffic, a B-25 and a pair of Mustangs,. They fly in from the west in formation, perform an overhead break, then one at a time roar past us for a landing.

Finally it is our turn. We are cleared onto the runway.

From the tower, "Race 23 is clear for takeoff."

We line up on the centerline.
Patterson brings the stick back to lock the tailwheel.
Throttle forward to 30” MP. Full right aileron. Right rudder.
We release the brakes in a crescendo of noise.

There is no turning back at this stage.

We are on the centerline but the stick and rudder pedals are moving significantly to keep the Mustang on its arrow-straight track. Engine torque is trying to pull the nose left and force the left wing down.

At 50 mph the tail comes up and as the control effectiveness increases, power is further increased to 46 inches, together with the noise level.

We leave the ground

Race 23 gets airborne at Reno and the gear is just starting to retract. The rudder is deflected to the right to counteract the effects of the Merlin at full power trying to pull the nose to the left. Photo credit: John Rayner

Once the gear is up, Patterson reduces power, we turn north and clear the field.

“Want to fly it?…..” asks Robbie. I take the stick, wiggle it to confirm I have control and do a couple of gentle turns to left and right. The controls are nicely balanced. Not like the hydraulic flight control systems of a jet fighter. This is a classical rod and cable system connecting me directly to the ailerons, elevator and rudder. I head north along Highway 395, heading towards the slopes of Granite Peak.

We are climbing at 2700 rpm, 46inches MP and 180mph. Barely a couple of minutes later we are at 8000 feet, with Pyramid Lake off to our right.

I ease the stick forward until we are in level flight, and retrim on the elevator and rudder. It's time for some turns, so I check we are clear to the left, ease the stick towards the left and co-ordinate with the rudder. The Mustang is nicely balanced and I reverse the bank to the right.

I steepen the turns, first to 30 degrees and then a couple with 45 degrees of bank. I'm having to work a bit harder as the g comes on, but the Mustang is steady in the turn.

No surprises there and I come back to level flight.
In cruise we are loafing along at 280mph, engine running at 2500rpm and 42 inches MP, while burning a mere 80 gals per hour (Mustang operation is not for the thin of wallet)

Tempus Fugit has the same Merlin engine as the single-seat P-51D. The second cockpit has a full set of controls to enable training to be carried out in this powerful warbird. The vertical tail is taller than the original fighter. Photo credit Doug Fisher, Warbird Digest via Platinum Fighters.

Visibility out of the bubble canopy is superb. In fact it is Awesome. We are heading north and I can see Stateline Peak out in front of us with Honey Lake on the horizon. Pyramid Lake is over my right shoulder and the sun is dropping rapidly towards the mountains to our left.

"Let me have it for a minute," says Robbie, and I relinquish control. He pulls the nose up above the horizon and does an immaculate slow roll.

"Want to try one?" Sure .
I do a roll, repeating the maneuver.
We are at 35”MP and doing 240 mph. At the end of the valley I reverse course. Now a 60 degree bank and pulling 2g. This is fun.

Southbound, I do another roll. We are following the valley with Pyramid Lake now off to our left. Again I reverse course, gaining confidence and pulling to 60 degrees of bank this time, finding that the Mustang likes to climb in the turn. We soar up into the sky in a majestic arc as I squint into the setting sun. This is a world of difference from the staid T-34 I normally fly. I try to keep the ball in the middle. Power and airspeed changes require a lot of trimming on the elevator and rudder trim wheels, it’s a little bit…different…

We are northbound again and I go for a four - point roll. I pull the nose above the horizon to start. Over we go to the left, with wings vertical, halt momentarily, continue to inverted, and our world is momentarily upside-down. Stick left again and we continue the roll, stopping wings vertical to the right, and then back to level flight again. I'm kept busy on the rudder pedals co-ordinating the maneuver. I find myself grinning. Handling is good.

But all good things …..depend on our gas gauges. It’s time to head back to the field. Banking hard left round the hills we start letting down towards the setting sun. I ease the big throttle back. Speed is up to 300mph and as we bend round to the south over the hills Robbie points out an aerobatic plane in a vertical climb at our 1 o’clock.

Squinting against the sun I convince myself that this is an FW 190… against a Mustang he would not have a chance… but reluctantly I have to let him go, steer clear and continue on , pointing the nose towards the bulk of Peavine Peak to the south of the field.

The view you do not want to see. A Mustang at your six-o-clock would be bad news for any enemy aircraft. The 11 feet diameter propeller dominates this photo of Tempus Fugit on a photo shoot. The TF-51 has a full second cockpit and dual controls. It dispenses with the six wing-mounted machine guns of the P-51D single-seater.
Photo Credit Doug Fisher, Warbird Digest via Platinum Fighters.

Reno Stead airport comes into view at my 11 o'clock. Patterson calls the tower that Race 23 is five miles out on initial. I (reluctantly) hand control back to him.

By now we have our nav lights on and the sky to the east is darkening rapidly as dusk approaches.

We bank left, line up with the runway and zoom across the field in a low pass, then soar up until we are on a close-in downwind leg.

Downwind checks

Fuel on fullest tank
Boost pump ON
Throttle back to 26 inches MP.
Speed dropping through 190 mph
Continue slowing on downwind.
Usual checks:
Gas. Fullest tank
Undercarriage Down Below 170mph Hyd pressure OK.... 3 greens.

Mixture Normal
Prop-Forward to 2700rpm
Flaps, initially - 20 degrees
We curve round onto base at 165mph
Onto final approach at 150mph and we roll out on finals, lowering flaps to 50 degrees

Check 3 green lights to confirm the gear is locked down, then flaps are lowered in stages as we curve round onto base leg, the Merlin popping loudly, and onto final approach.

Airspeed hovers around 130 mph as we come down finals for a gentle wheel landing. As the speed drops so does the tail.
We taxi back, canopy open, swing the tail round and shut down.


Thanks to John and Simon at Provenance Fighters for giving me the opportunity of experiencing the Mustang.

I’d be the last person to claim that on the basis of one back seat ride in a dual-control Mustang that I was a Mustang pilot. Any more than someone who sits down at a piano for the first time can claim the capability of giving a recital at Carnegie Hall….

But having said that…Later that week, heading for the east coast, looking out at the sunrise from my seat on a Delta airliner eastbound from LA, I’m relaxing with scotch in hand and reading through the Provenance Fighters brochure when the attractive young lady in the seat next to me, noticing the colorful Mustang on the cover, says in all innocence, “Are you a Mustang pilot?”
“Funny you should ask that,” I’m forced to reply, “ as it happens…”

It’s Mustang Fever after all.

Specification of North American P-51D Mustang

Wingspan 37 feet
Length 32 feet 2 inches
Height 13 feet 8 inches
Engine 1 x Rolls-Royce Packard Merlin
Two-stage supercharged V-1650 (1490HP)
Empty Weight 7050lbs (TF-51 7320lbs)
Takeoff Weight 9600lbs
Armament 6 x 0.5 inch machine guns
Crew 1 (2 for the TF-51)
Fuel 180 gals internal + 2 x 75gal drop tanks.
G limits +8/-4


Max speed at sea level 360mph
Service ceiling 35000 feet
Range 750miles

Source: Platinum

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fait Accompli !

ZA 001 flying over the Oregon coast during flight testing. The clean lines of the 787 are evident in the photo, as is the distinct curve of the composite wing, typical at light weights without a heavy fuel load in the wing. Photo credit Boeing

It’s done. Complete. Finished and signed off. The flight testing of the Boeing 787 has been finished after a three-year marathon. On 26th September the first 787 was handed over to launch customer All Nippon Airways at the Boeing facility in Seattle. It was flown to Japan on the following day.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Original Boeing plans claimed an orderly ramp-up of the 787 to first flight, an eyebrow-raising 8-month of flight testing effort to certification involving 5 aircraft, then a switch to the 747-8… Very neat. Of course, the 747-8 was only a development of the 747-400, so that should have been a piece of cake….(more at a later date on this)

(I’ve done similar flight test planning so I know that life/reality and engineering problems will inevitably play havoc with any schedule..the best laid plans of mice and men etc.)

It was an ambitious plan. For a new composite airliner, it was very optimistic.
Things started unraveling early, with fuselage barrel sections for the first aircraft delivered with temporary fasteners. World-wide suppliers turned out to have world-wide problems.
Then a weakness in the 787 wing-to-body junction caused a massive delay, due to the need to redesign and then fix the problem on the first four test aircraft.

(The first four 787s cannot be sold to the airlines as their structures are not certifiable.)

Boeing 001 eventually was cleared for flight and flew in December 2009……

According to Chuck Killberg, Chief Pilot and Director of Flight Operations for Boeing Test and Evaluation it took 210 pilots and 3000+ engineers in the Test and Evaluation group to complete the testing. It basically took six flight test aircraft working full time, and another three production aircraft which were pressed into service in the later stages of the program.

The flight testing took 1782 flights and a whopping 5049 flight hours. It included the spectacular crosswind testing at Keflavik, the tail-scraping minimum unstick speed testing (at Edwards Air Force Base) and rejected takeoffs ending up with glowing brakes. You’ve probably seen it on You-tube.

Less spectacular was the steady progression of flutter flying, which required hour after hour of painstaking testing to higher and higher speed on the first aircraft (while the rest of the fleet was restricted to a pedestrian pace as they flew about the country) The day they achieved flutter clearance was a big milestone as all the aircraft could then fly at normal cruise speeds.(This chopped an hour off the cross-country time from Seattle to Victorville)

Boeing flight testing of the 787 was carried out at Victorville in Southern California, to take advantage of the good weather, in addition to Boeing Field in Seattle and Moses Lake in Washington State. One of the prototypes is seen here at Victorville in 2010 when the flight test program was in full swing. Photo credit David Brown

Boeing 001 spent weeks at Edwards doing takeoff performance testing, mainly single-engine testing, starting in the early morning.

What is probably just as impressive is the high-altitude takeoff and landing performance testing, done at El Alto International Airport at La Paz, Bolivia by ZA 005. This airport is at a mind-blowing altitude of 13,325 feet, and the air is so thin that hotel guests are provided oxygen in their rooms at night to help them to get to sleep.

The whole program stumbled when an electrical fire on ZA 002 in October 2010 caused a halt to all flying, a big investigation and a redesign of an electrical panel (not untypical, but very public and time-consuming) with a further delay while all the aircraft were upgraded.

Among the last tests was the proving of the ETOPS performance, which involved climbing to 37,000 feet, shutting one engine down and cruising for 345 minutes on the remaining engine. Not spectacular, but one of the boxes to be checked off to certify a safe, cheap and efficient aircraft. Similarly the trials to prove cruise air nautical miles per gallon(anmpg). The 787 is claimed to be 20% better than existing airliners, so it has to be proven. I would often see one of the 787s climbing out of Victorville and heading out over the Pacific on its testing for anmpg. Not exciting or glamorous flying, but absolutely necessary to prove performance to the customer.

787 design.

The 787 is 50% composite with one-piece fuselage barrel sections which are simply bolted together, so making construction faster and simpler than conventional metal aircraft. The composite structure does not suffer from corrosion.

Passengers enjoy the benefit of larger windows (which can be dimmed with a switch) and lower cabin altitude. The air in the cabin will be cleaner and have higher humidity, so improving passenger comfort on long flights.

The wing is 7% more efficient. It is a clean wing with smaller flap and wing to body fairings, together with raked wingtips rather than the fashionable winglets. The ailerons are digitally controlled and will float upwards to offload gust loads. (in this way the structure can be made lighter, so saving 5000lbs. )

The last certification flight is complete, with the Boeing 787 seconds from touchdown in Seattle. Pilots can use the velocity vector symbol in the HUD to ensure they hit the precise touchdown point. Photo credit Boeing

The 787 cockpit is similar to that of the existing 777. In fact Boeing is offering a common 5-day course for the crew to qualify for the 777/787.

The Boing 787 Flight deck features five Multi-Function Displays and both pilot and co-pilot have head up displays directly in front of them. The cockpit layout is similar to the Boeing 777 and a common conversion course is provided for pilots new to the 777/787. Photo credit:Wikipedia

The cockpit is dominated by a total of 5 Multi-Function Displays with two Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) as a step towards the ultimate paperless cockpit. Checklists are electronic. Conventional control columns and throttles enable the pilots to interface with the digital flight control and autothrottle systems.

Each pilot has a Head Up Display.directly in front of him. Long used by Miltary Aviation, the HUD is especially useful for approach, when its flight path vector enables precise tracking of the touchdown point all the way down to the ground.

Building on the TACS system (Thrust Asymmetry Compensation System) used for the 777, the 787 has an improved version (ITACS) which senses thrust asymmetry and moves the rudder to compensate for loss of an engine and achieve co-ordinated flight.

Engines are either the Trent or the GenX. Package A Trents gained certification on August 13, with Package B and the GenX coming later.

Noteworthy about the 787 engines is that there is no engine bleed. So engine performance is retained during takeoff. (Older aircraft suffer a takeoff performance penalty with some air bled off for the air conditioning .) As the 787 is largely electric, it has 6 generators, with two on each engine and another pair driven by the APU.

Passengers will notice the improved and spacious cabin layout.

Overhead bins have been redesigned and are larger and more convenient to use.

The 787 is QUIET. Engine nacelles incorporate low-noise chevrons to improve the acoustic performance. The 85db noise contour around the typical runway on takeoff for the 787 is significantly smaller than that produced by current jets.

The bottom line

In summary, the 787 has 20% lower fuel consumption together with 15-25% lower operating cost.
The 787-8 has 242 seats and already on the horizon is the 787-9 with 280 seats.
This will have longer range, to enable it to operate between more city pairs.

The 787-9 is two years away (flying in 2013) so in theory the flight test teams at Boeing have a chance to catch their breath. But with the Boing 747-8, KC-46 tanker and P-8I to complete flight testing, and the 787-9 flight test looming on the horizon, chance of a rest may be just a dream.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Touch of Class

My Flight Evaluation was carried out on N208FD, sister ship to N208ED pictured above
Photo credit: Cessna

A Touch of Class

Flight Evaluation of the Cessna Grand Caravan

Originally built as a utility aircraft, the Cessna Caravan has evolved into a useful addition to the turboprop market for the personal owner. With an impressive load capability, and stretched to become the Grand Caravan, it has a huge cabin. Equipped with fully integrated avionics, and powered by the reliable single PT-6A turboprop, it is an easy aircraft to fly. Over two thousand of the single-pilot Caravans are now in service and it is flying in over a hundred countries. A recent avionics upgrade has added Garmin 1000 displays to the instrument panel.

Caravans now feature a 3-screen Garmin 1000 instrument panel, with two LCD Primary Flight Displays flanking a central MFD with moving map. Photo credit Cessna

After an increasing number of Caravan owners opted for customized interiors, Cessna introduced an STC for the luxurious Oasis interior, installed by Yingling Aviation of Wichita. Oasis options are available with 10, 9 or 8 seats including the crew. Sumptuous leather seats are standard. In each case two forward-facing seats are positioned behind the crew, together with four-place club seating with executive side tables.

The leather upholstery is an option from Yingling Aviation and adds a further touch of class to the Caravan. Photo credit Cessna

The Oasis cabin blends large scenic windows for each passenger with sumptuous leather seats and stylish cabinetry.

The typical Caravan purchaser these days increasingly is an owner-pilot, rather than the traditional fleet manager, purchasing multiple aircraft for commuter and cargo operations.

(Having said that, Caravans are finding use in many Air Forces, not forgetting Federal Express.)Many Caravan owners are trading up from piston twins. Insurance experience requirements are typically less stringent, because of the single engine, simple systems, and lack of the complexity of pressurization or retractable gear. Another selling feature is the size and convenience of the cabin, coupled with load-carrying ability. The option to have the Oasis interior is the icing on the cake.

Price of a typically equipped Grand Caravan is around $2M. Operationally the Grand Caravan can be very flexible on approach and at Mid-Continent the Cessna pilots regularly fly approaches between 160 and 75 knots to merge in with other jet and piston traffic.

My Grand Caravan flight was with Greg Pavlish, Manager of Flight Operations at the Cessna Wichita facility. During our preflight walkaround Pavlish pointed out the easy access to the engine, with the inertial separator (a movable vane for protection against foreign object ingestion from contaminated runways), oil filter and standby generator all accessible. There were two crew doors, which open 180 degrees, each with a fold-away ladder, so that the pilots could board without disturbing the passengers in the cabin. Two rear doors supplemented the crew doors, with a large two-piece door for cargo on the left side, and a regular passenger airstair door on the right.

N208FD was destined for eventual delivery to Australia. As befitted an aircraft living in warmer climes it had no “flight into known icing” systems but instead had anti-abrasion boots on the leading edges of the horizontals. All Caravans were plumbed for the icing system option that included boots for wings and tail surfaces, windscreen and propeller de-icing. For the bush-flying role at its ultimate destination, this Caravan was fitted with the optional larger 29 inch diameter tires and extended nose gear fork to increase the propeller clearance. The rugged steel-tube gear was designed to handle rough runways.

The wings were fitted with Fowler flaps, with slot-lip spoilers supplementing the ailerons to give excellent low speed roll control. Outboard flaps had Wheeler vortex generators and trailing edge Gurney angles to keep the airflow attached at low airspeeds. This was to keep the stall speed with flaps down below the 61 knot limit for FAR 23.

An underfuselage pod had 112 cubic feet capacity. It has little effect on cruise. Our Grand Caravan with the pod would cruise around 170 knots TAS at medium altitudes. The pod will carry 1,090 pounds with a maximum floor loading of 30 pounds per square foot and typically all baggage is carried in the pod, leaving the cabin free for the passengers. The four cargo pod compartment doors were all on the left hand side, easy to latch and with lockable doors. With our preflight completed it was the work of a minute to close all the doors and cowlings.

Into the Air

I climbed the short ladder, slid into the left seat, folded the ladder into its stowed position next to the seat, and closed the door. Pavlish did the same in the right seat. I adjusted my seat, which had ample vertical and horizontal movement, then clicked into the 5-point harness.
Before start our fuel was 900/960 pounds and our takeoff weight was 6,800 pounds

I appreciated the spacious cockpit. I’m over six feet tall and found that I was not cramped at all, and all the controls and displays were conveniently placed. The overhead panel contained fuel tank select handles and the standby flap motor controls. Starter and electrical switches were on a panel conveniently located on the left hand cockpit wall. The circuit breakers were arrayed vertically below this panel.

Engine start was simple. I just switched the battery and boost pump ON and hit the start switch. At twelve percent Ng I moved the Condition lever from cutoff to low idle. I heard the engine light up and the engine ITT wound up to a cool 750 degrees. I brought up the avionics displays. We switched on the air conditioning. ATIS informed us that the wind was blowing from 220 degrees and was 20 knots gusting 35. Temperature was 80 Fahrenheit. A typical hot,windy day in Wichita.

Releasing the brakes I taxied out for Runway 17L. The mechanical nosewheel steering was light and effective. We held for a moment while a Citation taxied across in front of us also heading for 17L. Our large windows provided excellent all-round visibility from the Caravan cockpit. I taxied after the Citation. With the strong following wind we tended to accelerate even at idle and to avoid having to use the brakes I twice pulled the propeller back into Beta (Reverse) to slow down.

Pretakeoff checks were quickly accomplished while we were holding short of 19L. We checked the overspeed governor and standby alternator. I checked the Inertial Separator operation by pulling the T-handle and observing a drop in torque and rise in ITT, then ensured that we had full and free control movement, and trims were set for takeoff. Fuel was selected to feed from both tanks. We were ready to go.

Cleared into position and hold, I lined up on the centerline. The tower cleared us for takeoff. I advanced the power lever, watched the torque increase through 1,000 foot/pounds and released the brakes. I needed only moderate right rudder to keep on the centerline. (The engine is canted three degrees to the right, to reduce the torque effects) With the strong headwind, after a short run we reached 70 knots and I rotated into a positive climb. Switching to Wichita Departure frequency we were given a turn to 230 degrees and cleared to climb to 6,500 feet. I stabilized at 120 knots, the recommended climb speed. Rate of climb was a solid 1100 fpm on this ISA +10 day. I trimmed out on the electric switch on the yoke. The Caravan was stable in the climb, despite the rough air at low level. At four thousand feet I selected the autopilot ON, with heading, altitude and yaw damper selected. We were flying this mission without headsets. Noise level was acceptable and we could converse across the cockpit without having to raise our voices.
As we reached 6,500 feet, the autopilot smoothly leveled the aircraft. Stabilized in cruise at 6,500 feet, we had 1,750 foot pounds of torque, the prop was turning at 1,900 rpm and at an OAT of +10C our TAS was 167 knots. The PT 6 was burning 370 pounds per hour of Jet A.

To assess the roll performance I hit the autopilot disconnect button on the yoke and rolled into a turn. Roll performance from a bank angle of thirty degrees left to thirty right was sprightly, with the spoilers supplementing the ailerons to give a good roll rate. There was no adverse yaw. I realized that, despite its size, the Caravan maneuvered like a Cessna 182. It was quite fun.

We turned south, and into the wind, for some low speed flight and I extended the flaps. Quickly decelerating we stabilized at 70 knots IAS. We were heading into the wind and almost in the hover relative to the ground. Southbound highway traffic far below was pulling away from us. I continued slowing into a stall. We had a forward center of gravity and the yoke was almost to the back stop when the nose finally dropped straight ahead. The stall was well-mannered, there was no wing drop and I simply relaxed backpressure and advanced the power to recover from the stall.

The reliability of the PT-6A turboprop is legendary, but Pavlish pointed out that in the unlikely event of the engine quitting, all was not lost. First he had me retract the flaps and accelerate to 95 knots, our best glide speed, then pull the power lever back to flight idle. I lowered the nose to maintain 95 knots. Rate of descent stabilized at 1,500 feet per minute. At his bidding I then pulled the prop lever round the gate, and back into the feather position. The propeller rpm wound down to around 200 rpm and the individual blades came into view. With the decrease in propeller drag, the rate of descent reduced until we were whispering along, losing height at a mere 500 feet per minute. The Caravan was a good glider.

To get back to cruise I switched the boost pump and ignition on, and brought the prop out of feather. The prop spun up, I reset the power lever for 1,000 feet per pounds of torque and we regained level flight. With autopilot engaged I rotated the heading bug on the EHSI to north, the Caravan banked to the new heading, and we adjusted the autopilot altitude selection for a gentle descent down to 3,500 feet. Pavlish turned the radar on as we headed towards the ICT VOR, west of Mid-Continent airport. On this sparkling Kansas day, we had no thunderstorms, and no mountains appeared on the display, but ahead of us we could see an antenna farm on the ground. The radar picked up the antennas, and the TAWS also warned of obstacles ahead and below. I appreciated the reduction in workload given by the autopilot while I experimented with the avionics.

We selected the ILS for 19L on the Garmin 530 and set up for a coupled approach. A Learjet was preceding us on the ILS and crossed left to right across our bows. We needed to keep up with him. Here was a chance to use that flexibility of raising the approach speed mentioned in our pre-flight brief. I initially set Torque to 1,500 foot pounds , which gave us 160 knots IAS rather than the usual Caravan approach at 120 knots. Cleared for the ILS approach we were directed initially to fly 090 degrees and to descend to 3,000 feet. The controller then vectored us onto 160 degrees two miles from KECHI, the outer marker.

I simply hit APRCH mode on the autopilot to arm the system and as the localizer came alive the Caravan banked right and intercepted the localizer. Still at 160 knots we were matching speed with the Learjet. To avoid catching up as the Learjet landed I simply reduced torque to 1,000 feet pounds and stabilized at 120kts. As we crossed the outer marker, the glideslope came alive and we started descending. The wind was still in excess of twenty knots, from the right of track, and the tower was reporting wind shear as well. Despite this our autopilot was tracking us easily down the final approach, with the nose angled off to the right against the strong crosswind. I eased the power back and we slowed to the recommended 85 knots final approach speed as I progressively lowered the flaps.
TAWS gave a “500 feet “ audio warning as we descended on the glideslope. I disconnected the autopilot and continued the approach for a touch and go.

The Caravan had ample control effectiveness to cope with the gusting crosswind, and once we were on the runway, Pavlish retracted the flaps. I advanced the power, and took off for a left hand pattern on 19L. Leveling at 2,800 feet downwind I brought the power back and extended the flaps. As we turned from base leg to finals, the tower asked us to go around for traffic on the ILS approach. No problem. We did a go-around, completed an abbreviated pattern, and this time as we turned base were given a change of runway to land on 19R. Still no problem. The Caravan’s maneuverability enabled me to offset to the other runway with no problem. I completed a touch and go on 19R with full flaps, and came round onto 19L again for a final landing, this time with zero flap, before taxiing back to the Caravan hangar. Surrounded by jets on the ramp, Greg Pavlish demonstrated the ease of parking the Grand Caravan in a confined space. Using differential brake increased nosewheel deflection from 15 degrees to 56 degrees, enabling the Caravan to be swung round in a surprisingly small area.

With this version of the Grand Caravan, Cessna has found a niche market. There are other single-engine turboprops around, such as the TBM 700/850, the PC-12 or the Meridian, designs geared for the high-flying, longer-range mission. All three come with increased complexity, pressurization and retractable gear, stringent insurance requirements …and around a million-dollar increase in the price.

I found the Grand Caravan easy to fly and it offers a lot for a person wanting a capable aircraft combining rugged simplicity with load-carrying capability and full IFR capability, with the option of a luxurious interior.

Specifications and Performance Cessna 208B Grand Caravan

Engine PT6A-114A turboprop of 675 SHP
Propeller MacCauley 3-blade Constant Speed, fully feathering and reversing.

Span 52 ft 1 in
Length 41 ft 7 in ft
Height 14 ft 10in

Cabin dimensions

Length of passenger cabin 12 ft 4 in
Height 4 ft 3 in
Width 5 ft 2 in


Ramp Weight 8785 lb
Takeoff Weight 8750lb
Landing Weight 8500lb
Empty Weight 4364lb
Useful Load 4548 pounds
Fuel Capacity 2224pounds

Wing Loading 31.3 lb/sq, ft
Power Loading 13.0 lb/HP


Cruise 10,000 ft 175 kts TAS

Range 10,000 ft 870NM
(includes takeoff, climb, cruise, descent and 45 min reserve at max cruise power)

Sea level rate of climb 925 feet per minute

Service Ceiling 23,700 ft

Certified ceiling 25,000 ft

Takeoff ground run ISA 1405 ft
Distance over 50 ft 2500ft

Landing run ISA 950 ft (no reverse)
Distance from 50 ft 1740 ft

Stall speed,
landing configuration, 61 kts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Going the Extra Mile

Going the Extra Mile

Diamondstar DA-40XLS Flight Report

The long-winged Diamond DA-40 has been steadily entering the market in the four-seat fixed-gear general aviation aircraft long dominated by the Cessna 172. With sleek and sturdy composite construction, the DA-40 has been capable of showing a clean pair of heels to the competition.

Diamond has not been resting on its laurels, but has been continuously improving the DA-40. I was eager to fly the latest version, the DA-40XLS.

I met up with the XLS on the ramp outside US Aero at Long Beach Airport in Southern California. The day did not seem promising for our mission, with a thick overcast blanketing the area, but Rob Stewart, my pilot for the day, and US Aero Territory Manager for Diamond aircraft in the South Western USA, was not dismayed. With a full avionics fit and integrated autopilot, the DA-40XLS was fully IFR capable, and the inclement weather would give us a chance to see the advantages of the system under instrument conditions.

A walk around of the sleek composite aircraft revealed a number of obvious differences from the previous generation of DA-40s I had flown. The most noticeable was the 3-bladed scimitar MT propeller, driven by the familiar 180 HP IO-360, now coupled to a distinctive chromed Powerflow exhaust. Although the rated HP is still 180, the improved efficiency of the Powerflow exhaust gives better climb rate and cruise speed.

High aspect ratio always promises aerodynamic efficiency for the wings. Based on the Diamond sailplane heritage, the wings on the DA-40 also sport small winglets which further improve the aerodynamics of the wing. On the safety side, the long and efficient composite wings have double spars which also protect the aluminum fuel tanks. Tank capacity is increased to 50 gallons in the two wing tanks.

The sleek fuselage provides adequate capacity for the four-person cabin.
Stewart pointed out that in the XLS the whole cabin was higher and wider, with a larger cabin area. The canopy sides bulge out further to give more elbow room.
This gives better headroom and more room for the occupants. I am over six feet tall and it must be admitted in flying the earlier Diamond DA 20 Katana and the DA-40 had found the cockpit size rather constricting.

One aspect of the DA-40 I had always liked, in addition to the entrance either side for the front seaters, is the huge gull-wing door on the left hand side for the rear seat occupants. Having first-hand experience of the contortions required when climbing into the rear seats on other aircraft with only two doors or (horrors) only one door, good rear-seat access has always been high on my requirements list. There is extra baggage space behind the rear seats. If the mission calls for no rear occupants, the rear seats fold flat, and bulky or long items can be carried in this flying SUV.

The characteristic T-tail of the DA-40 is unchanged.

It was time for us to board. We started with the canopy open. The canopy incorporates the windshield and is hinged at the leading edge. I found it an exceptionally easy entrance to the left seat, using the step at the leading edge of the wing to climb up onto the wing walkway then step down into the cockpit. Meanwhile Stewart mirrored my actions to slide into the right seat.

Entry to the DA 40XLS is exceptional. The canopy hinges open, with the front seaters stepping up the leading edge of the wing and then down into the cockpit. Entry to the rear seats is via a huge door on the left hand side of the fuselage. The sturdy fixed gear with its speed pants is low drag, while the castoring nosewheel provides the ability to maneuver easily on a crowded ramp.

The cockpit is roomy and luxurious, with leather seats and trim. The twin sticks are built into the seats, so freeing up the all important view of the various panels and controls.
The instrument panel is dominated by the two screens of the Garmin G-1000, although it was to be revealed that this was not the standard G-1000 capabilities that I had been flying for the past couple of years in other aircraft. This system is fully integrated with the GFC-700 autopilot, and is WAAS capable. We were to demonstrate this during the flight.

The twin 10-inch screens of the Garmin 1000 dominate the instrument panel. The center console contains engine controls and the fuel selector. The leather seats and trim seem transposed from a high-end luxury automobile, but the two control sticks are pure high-performance aircraft.

The cockpit is by any standards luxurious, with leather upholstery and finished with plenty of polished wood ...... just think BMW.
I particularly like the electric adjustment of the rudder pedals. The seats do not adjust, but the pedals can be driven through an impressive range.
Ergonomically, the cockpit is comfortable and just feels right. The short sticks are unobtrusive but effective, with each stick containing the usual trim, radio and autopilot disconnect buttons.
Airbags are built into the seat harness for extra safety, and a hefty roll cage protects the occupants. The DA-40XLS is built for survival.

Once strapped in, it is a simple process to go through our pre-start checks, bring down and lock the canopy in its partially-open position with the lever near my left elbow and then start the engine.

The center console has the fuel selector together with the trio of engine control levers with the Throttle, Prop and Mixture. A trim wheel is inset into the console in addition to the electric pitch trim.

I use the usual procedure for starting the IO-360, priming first, then mixture back while I key the starter, and then forward on the mixture lever once the engine fires.

ATIS confirms the ceiling at 1200 feet over the field, with the maritime layer persisting as an overcast south of us to the coast and out to sea.
Stewart calls up Clearance Delivery and requests an IFR departure to VFR on top.
Our answer is a rapid-fire response:
“Diamond 695DS is cleared to PADDR intersection. After takeoff maintain runway heading to 800 feet, then left turn to 200 degrees to intercept LAX 145 radial to PADDR
Departure freq 124.65. Climb and maintain 3,000 feet. Report reaching VMC on top
Expect Further Clearance 10 minutes after takeoff ”

The Bose noise-canceling headsets give us crystal-clear comms.
Now switching to ground control we are cleared to taxi to runway 25L via Taxiway Foxtrot to Delta intersection. The SAFETAXI display on the MFD shows the various designations on this complex airport. I have no problem turning from ramp to taxiway with the castoring nosewheel.

As on previous DA-40s, we taxi with the canopy cracked open for ventilation, with the rear edge up a foot or so. On a normal California sunny day it’s a very good way of keeping the temperature down to acceptable levels.
At intersection Delta I turn into the runup area, and complete the standard engine and control checks. I cycle the prop.
With all in order in the engine department, I lean the mixture and set up our simple flight plan from KLGB out to PADDR on the Garmin 1000. I set up a target altitude of 3000 feet on the G1000.
On my PFD I tun in the LAX VOR frequency of 113.6 and the 145 radial from LAX.
Then I input our squawk code.
Stewart shows me a nice touch. This is the Takeoff/go around button on the throttle which biases the flight director bars 7 degrees up to give the correct climb attitude….. another example of Diamond going the extra mile.

I complete my pre-takeoff checks, which includes lowering takeoff flap.
We wait a few seconds for IFR release. A Jetblue A 320 lands on the intersecting runway 30 and noisily crosses in front of us.
“Diamond 695DS is cleared for IFR Departure as requested and cleared for takeoff on 25L from intersection Delta"
I complete my check list: Lower and lock the canopy, All doors are closed and locked,
Flaps set for takeoff, Strobes and landing light on, Trim set, mixture forward and a final visual check that final approach is clear.
A touch of power moves us past the hold-short line onto the runway. I line up and push the throttle forward. Some right rudder is needed to keep straight, as expected.
I rotate at 63 knots,followed the FD cue on my PFD for the 7 degree nose-up pitch, and accelerate to 80 knots for our initial climb. With flaps up and trimmed out, our climb rate settles at over a thousand feet a minute

At 800 feet I turn left to 200 degrees. Once on course I engage the GFC 700 autopilot , with Heading mode selected and 3000 ft as our target altitude.

By now moisture is streaming back over the canopy.
We plunge into the mist, and the ground below disappears. I simply have to monitor the PFD as the autopilot maintains our attitude as we climb through the cloud deck. The MFD map display confirms that we are tracking towards the coast. At two thousand feet I get an audible warning that we have one thousand feet to go to our target altitude. By twenty three hundred feet the clouds thin, then we are speeding through the tops of this maritime cloud layer and emerge on top into brilliant sunshine. A minute later feet we cancel IFR and start checking for traffic, as we are heading into the busy Long Beach practice area. The Traffic Information System (TIS )uses radar returns from the radars which blanket the LA Basin and we have 3 or 4 targets displayed in our map view on the MFD, with one actually holding at PADDR in front of us. The traffic is also displayed on my PFD, with the correct orientation, either below, above or at our level, giving a good cue where I need to look to spot the bogies.
I scan the sky to confirm the traffic and am struck once more with the amazing visibility from the cockpitwith the extensive transparencies. At the same time I am aware of the extra headroom and elbow room in the revised cockpit. No banging my headset on the roof or side-window in the DA 40XLS.

The synthetic vision (SVT) also depicts, in addition to the aerial traffic, the rocky coastline of Catalina, hidden under the cloud deck in front of us.
I select PATHWAY on my PFD soft key to produce a line of boxes tracing our path out to sea to PADDR intersection.
As we reach 3000 feet we intercept the line of rectangles.
Due to the density of traffic ahead, we curtail our leg outbound and reverse course back to the coast, climb to 4000 feet and I reacquaint myself with the DA 40s handling in medium and steep turns, then slow for a stall series with and without power which confirms the innocuous behavior I remember from earlier DA-40s. Behavior clean and with flap is fairly innocuous. Full aft stick results in the DA-40XLS just sitting there with the nose bobbling up and down. Stalling in the turn under power in other aircraft can sometimes be dramatic. Not so in the DA-40XLS. In turning flight with the stick full aft, and stall warning blaring, we were now into buffet, in turning flight and still under complete control. No problems.

With its sleek lines and efficient high-aspect ratio wing, the four-seat DA-40XLS cruises at 150knots TAS on the 180 HP of the IO-360. This equates to about 16mpg while eating up the
distance at over three miles a minute. The composite construction results in a smooth airframe. Fuel capacity has been increased to 50 gallons in a pair of wing tanks.

Handling with the short stick is a pleasure. The ailerons and elevators use rods and the rudder uses cables. Control inputs and the resulting maneuvers are smooth and precise.

By this time, we are heading north to the coastline on the mainland where the rapidly thinning cloud has broken to reveal the slate-gray Pacific now visible below us.

Stewart points out the long horizon line and flight vector on the PFD which help with SA during maneuvers.

I embark upon a series of medium and steep turns from cruising speed. The G1000 certainly helps in maintaining the correct attitude. I realise that I'm really having fun flying this aircraft as I reverse from a right to a left bank, keeping altitude locked on 3000 feet.

Then, as I am pulling into a steep left turn , Stewart looks across the cockpit, past me and says, ”Let me have it for a minute, you might want to look down there” I relinquish the stick and turn my head to the left, looking down to the surface of the Pacific. Down below the left wingtip as we turn is the streamlined shape of a blue whale, eastbound at 3 knots. On cue the whale spouts, and a cloud of vapor drifts back over the whale. It’s a majestic and impressive sight. I muse that maybe the FAA should consider “ turns around a whale ” rather than the more prosaic turns around a point for us California-based pilots...before I return to my pursuit of perfection in the steep turn.

It's time for the speed run to see how fast we can go. I set up 75% power and we accelerate to 150 knots without fuss. It's an impressive number for any fixed gear four-seater.

I look at the latest capabilities of the avionics We have an impressive list of capabilities, with satellite data link, WAAS, TAWS-B for terrain avoidance, and the TIS traffic capability.

To try out the system I push the NRST softkey on the PFD , which identifies the nearest airport as Torrance. While the radios switch to TOA frequency, the synthetic vision on the PFD displays the rugged coastline, marks and identifies the airfield as TOA on the perspective view on the PFD, and, more importantly, shows that there is a hill (Palos Verdes Hill at 1500 feet) in between us and the airport (we have TERRAIN selected on the MFD and PFD for extra insurance.)
As I head towards the hill, now clearly visible out of the canopy, as we near the coast the terrain on the PFD and MFD goes yellow as our vertical clearance decreases. It would go red and I would get an audible TERRAIN, PULLUP audio warning as we closed on the hill.

That's enough to convince me that the system works, and I pull round out to sea again.
We head eastbound over the Pacific, for a look at the approach capability of the system.

Rather than the usual ILS approach into Long Beach, we choose to sample the WAAS capabilitiy of the system and select the RNAV (GPS) Zulu approach for Runway 30.
Stewart brings up the Approach chart on the MFD so that I can review the approach and set the minimums on my PFD

I switch to Socal on 124.65 to request the RNAV (GPS) Zulu for Runway 30 at Long Beach and we are vectored over DRIFY, heading 120 degrees, and down to 2400 feet while we input the procedure for the approach. We will do this all on autopilot. I input the 290 feet minimums for the LPV mode of this WAAS approach. The system will effectively generate localizer and glideslope inputs which replicate the usual ILS signals, and heads us for the Initial Approach Fix at ALBAS . With APPROACH mode selected the autopilot turns us at ALBAS, heading north east, in over the coast near Huntington Beach, finally turning us at OYSUP to the final approach course of 301,with LPV mode presented on the HSI.
Once established we switch from SOCAL to the Tower on 119.4
I set up speed at 80 knots and approach flap configuration.
The glideslope becomes active and automatically directs us into a descent. I reduce power. We are at 1600 feet at the FAF of GUNEY and we come down to the DA of 290 feet (we get an audible warning-female voice “Minimum altitude”) while I monitor the approach.
Synthetic vision gives a perspective view of the runway and even identifies the runway in this case RW 30.

At minimums I disconnect the autopilot and land. It's all commendably simple and accurate.

After landing, SAFETAXI comes into play again. I am grateful for the depicted plan view of the field on the MFD as we are directed by ground control through a maze of taxiways. We hold momentarily for traffic before we can cross 25L again, then finally are cleared back to the US Aero Ramp .

I'm impressed. Diamond has coupled good performance with a safe, rugged aircraft with avionics that are comparable to that found on a bizjet. And it's undeniably fun to fly.

Specifications of the Diamond DA-40XLS:

Engine Lycoming IO-360-M1A
With Power flow Tuned Exhaust 180HP at SL

Propeller 3 blade constant speed composite MT

Fuel 50 gallons

Seats 4

Weights Max takeoff weight 2645 lbs

Useful load 860 lbs

Baggage 100lbs


Span 39 ft 6 inches
Length 26 ft 5 inches
Height 6 ft 6 inches

Cabin width 45.5 inches


Cruise speed at 75% power:150 knots at 10 gph

Range at 75% power (45 minutes reserves) 720 nm

Max speed (KTAS) 157 knots

Best rate of climb at SL 1120 fpm

Service ceiling 16,400 feet

Takeoff ground roll 1175 feet

Landing ground roll 1155 feet

Landing over 50 ft obstacle 2093 feet

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Next Generation

Just after dawn, Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury get airborne from Mojave in White Knight 2, carrying Spaceship Two under the centersection of the mothership. The crew of White Knight Two sits in the right hand fuselage, so always land offset from the centerline of the runway.
Photo - David Brown

The end of 2010 is a time of change in space. The last NASA Shuttle flights are being completed before the retirement of the Shuttle Orbiter, and both Scaled Composites and Spacex, with totally different vehicles, are making their first steps towards getting humans into space, hopefully at a much lower cost than the Shuttle. Will private enterprise succeed here? It’s a real David vs. Goliath situation.

The philosophies are different. Scaled Composites will use the rocket-powered Spaceship Two to reach space for a few moments above the 100km altitude. Spacex is on the point of flying a conventional vertically-launched rocket (Falcon 9) to achieve orbital flight which will eventually carry humans in a capsule (Dragon) in the same style as the Apollo program. The Spacex rocket is due to be launched within a few weeks.

Spaceship Two is air-launched from a Mothership, White Knight Two. Captive tests and two drops have been completed. Today is the third glide flight during this phase of flight testing.

The sun rises at Mojave on 17th November to reveal White Knight 2 (WK 2) on the ramp. SS2 is nestled beneath the center section of the twin-fuselage WK2. Both crews are already on board. Pete Siebold and Clint Nichols are flying SS2 today, with Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury piloting the Mothership WK2. The engines are running and the control surfaces on WK 2 move as the pilots check them. Finally the large airbrakes on the trailing edge of the wing are deployed, then retracted. Mechanics on ladders are fussing with the engines on WK 2, and eventually the cowlings are buttoned up and WK 2 slowly taxis out to the east end of the field, to complete the pre-takeoff checks.

By this time I have made my way down to the base of the Control Tower, the nearest accessible vantage point to the main runway.

0710 WK 2 turns onto the runway, the engines come up to power and it starts its takeoff roll. After a surprisingly short run WK 2 is off the ground and by the time it passes the Tower the big aircraft is already a hundred feet in the air.

With the thrust of the four big turbofans, WK 2 is soon off the ground and climbing away.
The high aspect ratio of the WK 2 wing is optimized for the climb, while the low aspect ratio wing of SS 2 gives the required supersonic performance.
Photo: David Brown

The back end of Spaceship Two, a flat plate where the rocket nozzle will be on future flights, today sports plumbing for the water ballast carried inside. Today's flight will include flying at an aft cg, and the water will be jettisoned before landing to regain the normal c.g. position.
Photo: David Brown

Climbing steeply WK 2 banks right and continues to climb northwards towards California City. It will take a long time, well over an hour, to climb to altitude. WK 2 can climb at 1500 feet/min during most of the climb, although above 40,000 feet the rate of climb will drop to a few hundred feet per minute. I can still see the white shape of WK 2 far off in the distance as they turn southwest and head towards Tehachapi, then some minutes later reverse course and make for California City again.
WK 2 reports on the radio that they are at 25,000 feet. Later in the climb, contrails start streaming from the four turbofans of WK 2 as it passes over California City then heads north.

0825 and the photo chase Extra flown by Mike Melvill snarls off the ground and heads north. Chase will pick up SS2 on its return but his lot today is also to make a climb to over 15,000 feet to eventually rendezvous with SS2.

0830 The contrailing WK2 reappears heading south, heading for Mojave. They fly overhead, then make a lazy circle and head back north. Not quite high enough to drop yet.

Like a time-lapse photograph, I have been conscious during this period that each time I look around more people have joined me at the base of the tower. Eventually I count fifty or more. These are mainly the young and very enthusiastic engineers from Scaled Composites who have been wrapped up in producing SS2 for the last couple of years. They have made the trek down the ramp to see their pride and joy actually fly.

Another fifteen minutes and WK 2 appears again, once more flying south with the contrails heading straight for Mojave airport.

At an altitude of well over 40,000 feet, and approaching the launch point. All pre-launch checks have been completed and SS2 is trimmed out. The SS2 crew of Pete Siebold and Clint Nichols are ready for the drop.
Photo: David Brown

As WK 2 comes overhead, SS2 silently drops away. The crowd audibly shows its delight. SS2 starts accelerating out in front of WK 2, heading south towards Mount Soledad, while WK 2 banks away to the right in a tight spiral, deploys those big speedbrakes and comes downhill rapidly, joining up on SS2s right wing.

SS2 is going through its test card, in a wide left hand turn to keep it close to the field.

This includes expanding the flight envelope to 246 knots, 3.5 gs and to look at the stall boundary at aft cg.

While south of the field SS2 vents a white cloud as they jettison the water ballast, marking the conclusion of the aft-cg tests.
In the gin-clear desert air, I can see the Extra dash in from the north and join in on the SS2s left wing.

After the drop over Mojave, the crew of Spaceship Two are completing their test cards as they glide down over the field in a left hand turn. WK 2 with speedbrakes deployed is keeping station on the right wing, while the Extra chase plane is maneuvering to get on the inside of SS2 to take photos.
Photo: David Brown

Back overhead now and the formation continues through a second left hand orbit to land back on runway 30. It has been about 12 minutes since the drop. SS2 flares for a perfect landing and the two flanking chase planes do low approaches, then power back into the sky for their individual landings.

Another day of testing complete.

Another step on the way to commercial flights into space.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

World Aviation News- Focus on Flight Test (Updated)

ZA 001, the first Boeing 787, has completed over 620 hours of flight testing and is back at Boeing Field in Seattle after a hectic time at Roswell in New Mexico and Edwards AFB in Southern California for a variety of testing. -Boeing photo

The Boeing 787 flight test program is in full swing and going well. October starts with almost two thousand flight test hours completed, most of them in the first half of this year, and five aircraft now flying. Hot and high trials have been conducted in Arizona. Performance testing was completed at Colorado Springs. Climatic testing (hot/cold and wet) was completed in the climatic Hangar at Eglin AFB in Florida. Crosswind testing was completed in Iceland.
The Southern California good weather has been a powerful inducement for Boeing to send their 787 testing south from cloudy Seattle. I briefly shared airspace in September with Dreamliner 004 (aka Boeing 4)during its visit to Victorville. With testing finished, it moved on to Glasgow Montana for community noise testing before recently heading back to Seattle.
#5, the sole 787 powered with GE engines, continues testing out of Boeing Field

Boeing 1 arrived at Edwards AFB on Monday 16th August for its next phase of testing, including the establishing of minimum unstick speeds at various weights and flap settings. This involved rotating to the maximum possible angle at the lowest possible speed, and letting the rear fuselage scrape the ground, pulling the aircraft off the ground at the minimum unstick speed. To save the rear fuselage from damage, traditionally a low technology skid plate is bolted under the rear fuselage to protect the skin and structure from impact with the runway.

With this task completed, the 787 headed off to Roswell, New Mexico, but suffered an engine surge on the ground which required an engine change.It returned to Edwards last week to complete its maximum energy braking ground tests (rejected takeoff) and then last Monday headed back to Seattle.
The #6 787 is on the point of flying this month.
It's a busy time for the hundreds of flight test people involved in this complexcertification program.

Boeing 747-8 testing is also proceeding at Palmdale and Victorville. The fourth aircraft, RC 503, resplendent in Cargolux red and white colors arrived at Palmdale on 10th August from Paine Field north of Seattle. I happened to be flying out of Palmdale as this neat (and large) aircraft taxied in. Boeing spokesman Tim Bader confirmed that the test fleet would be split between Moses Lake and Palmdale, due to pressure of 787 testing in the Seattle area. It turned out that 503 was only in Palmdale on a brief visit for HIRF testing before heading back north. Cargolux is the launch customer for the freighter version of the 747-8.

The Fourth Test aircraft of the Boeing 747-8 fleet (RC 503) is painted in the colors of launch customer Cargolux. It joined the other test aircraft at Palmdale on 10th August.-Boeing photo

The flight testing has revealed a number of problems which threaten to delay the entry into service of the new freighter. Originally the aircraft was plagued with vibrations of a landing gear door. A series of fixes cured this, however two more problems have now surfaced. The first is a limited cycle oscillation (LCO) of the inboard aileron, attributed to a problem with the Power Control Unit of the control surface. Use of an OAMS (Outboard Aileron Modal Suppression)system may solve this problem. The second is an occurrence of structural flutter at mid weight and near cruise speed. Solution of this problem may take longer to fix and require extra flying.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

View From the Cockpit

The Book:

View From the Cockpit: an Aviation Memoire that takes you into the Pilot Seat of a Pitts Special, within the ranks of the Blue Angels, and Rising tales of the Goodyear Blimp... David M. Brown brings these and other aviation stories into your hands.

Contact: David M. Brown
Watch for future Calendar events.