04 August 2009

Free Aircraft?

One thing newcomers notice about aviation is that it costs money, generally quite a bit of money. In these days when you can get tons of good quality software for free, there isn't much that is free in the realm of aviation at all.

There are of course some free things in aviation. For instance COPA Flight 8 membership is free. Anyone can come to our nine meetings a year, featuring interesting guest speakers, held in Ottawa, for free. There is a bargain!

AvWeb, the twice-weekly web aviation news magazine is free, too. As anyone who reads it knows it is a great source of aviation news and usually scoops the paper publications on most stories by months. AvWeb is paid for by advertising, but being aviation advertising, even that is of interest to pilots. If you aren't signed up for AvWeb, you should be. After all its free!

This week I found something else in aviation that is free. How about a free aircraft? Well not quite a free aircraft, but free plans to build one, you still have to find your own hardware! Still, these days when aircraft plans cost many hundreds of dollars, free plans are a bargain. So what is the catch?

The free plans are for the Beaujon Enduro, an ultralight that was designed in 1978 by Hubert Beaujon. Beaujon designed a large number of practical ultralights in the 1970s and 80s and he sells seven sets of plans in a book entitled "How to Build Ultralights". The Enduro plans are really a free sample so you will buy his book, although they seem pretty complete. The plans are in the form of 25 JPEGs and a total of 15.3 MB. They are free to use, copy and share for personal and nonprofit use as long as the advertisements for Beaujon's book remain on the pages. People have built and flown Enduros.

The Enduro is a very simple single seat ultralight with a constant chord wing made from spruce spars, polystyrene foam ribs and featuring a Rhodes St. Genese 32 airfoil. If you built it as per the plans with a Briggs & Stratton 401417, four-stroke, 656 cc, 16 hp (12 kW) engine it is supposed to come out with a 230 lb (104 kg) empty weight. It is a small aircraft and should be easy to hangar, too with a wingspan of just 24 ft 6 in (7.47 m) and a length of 16 ft 7 in (5.06 m).

So what relevance does this have some 30 years after it was designed? Well it strikes me that while the Briggs and Stratton motor can be found cheaply and, being a four-stroke it does burn only 1 US gal/hr giving an endurance of five hours on five gallons of gasoline, there are some better alternatives. ElectraFlyer offers a really nice electric power package that puts out 18 hp (14 kW). The specified Briggs & Stratton motor, 5 US gallons of fuel and the tank weighs about 120 lbs total. The Electraflyer package with the largest 5.6 kWh battery weighs 104 lbs! This would give about two hours cruise endurance, all for about US$12,500 for the complete powerplant and battery and turn this 1978 design into a true 21st century aircraft. It would be easy to complete the aircraft and get it in the air for under $20,000, not bad for a new aircraft and one in which a "fill up" (recharge) would cost well under a dollar. As a bonus the aircraft flies silently, so no noise complaints!

Okay so the hardware isn't free, but a set of free aircraft plans are a good place to start in aviation, where not much is available for free.

27 July 2009

July 2009 Update on 406 MHz ELTs

21 July 2009 - by Kevin Psutka

COPA received the following statement from Transport Canada regarding the status of the ELT regulation:

“Transport Canada will recommend that the emergency locator transmitter regulations be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II, pending a Treasury Board Secretariat meeting, which will take place sometime in the Fall 2009.‬‪ ‬‪‪Once published, the regulations will require all aircraft used for commercial, private, or government-run operations to be equipped with either a 406 MHz ELT or an alternate means of emergency location approved by Transport Canada.

The regulations will provide for a transition period of two years to allow sufficient time for stakeholders to adhere to the new requirements.‬‪

Aircraft engaged in non-commercial recreational aviation operations that are currently required to be equipped with an ELT, will be required to maintain their ELT. However, any aircraft not equipped with an ELT capable of broadcasting on the 406 MHz frequency will be required to retain their current ELT and also have on-board a placard that is visible to all passengers. The placard will inform passengers that the aircraft is not equipped with an ELT as recommended by international standards, which may contribute to delays in search and rescue operations. The regulations will provide for a transition period of 90 days to ensure compliance with the additional requirements.‬‪”

This statement follows COPA’s efforts to stop the draft regulation, which was released to the Gazette I public consultation process, from ‬‪going into law in Gazette II. The Transport Minister turned the draft back for more work and the above statement reflects this work and Transport Canada’s intent not to seek more consultation. It is important to note that the above statement is a statement of intent, not an announcement of the final regulation. The current draft is undergoing internal government review, including legal vetting, and may change again as it works its way through the internal process.

If the final version of the regulation fulfills this intent, privately registered recreational aircraft, including foreign registered aircraft, will be permitted a choice between a 406 ELT (TSO C126), an alternative means and 121.5 ELTs (TSO C91 or C91a).

If you have not converted to 406, please remember that satellite monitoring of 121.5 has ceased as of 1 February 2009 and you should consider carrying an alternative device, file and adhere to a flight plan and use flight following services whenever possible, as well as monitoring 121.5 MHz because this may be the only means of alerting for many of your fellow pilots. Even if you have converted to 406, you should consider additional measures to improve your chances of your distress being detected and then being found.

27 May 2009

Amateur-builts lose weight restriction

This is interesting news!

For years US amateur-builts have had no restrictions on their gross weight or number of seats, while Canadian amateur-builts have had those restrictions.

In the 1950s Canadian amateur-built aeroplanes were limited to two seats and 1200 lbs. Over the years the limit has grown and a few years ago was raised to a maximum of 5000 lbs and four seats.

Now with the issuance on 2 April 2009 of a new EXEMPTION FROM SECTION 549.01 OF THE CANADIAN AVIATION REGULATIONS AND CHAPTER 549 OF THE AIRWORTHINESS MANUAL – AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS - AMATEUR-BUILT AIRCRAFT those restrictions have been specifically lifted. This means that Canadians can now build, import and own amateur-builts of any size and weight.

This applies not just to aeroplanes, but all categories of amateur-builts, including gyroplanes, gliders, helicopters, airships and balloons. There are still maximum empty weights that must be met, but these are in relation to the builder-selected gross weight.

26 May 2009

GPS For Sole-Means Navigation?

For many years Canadian pilots have been relying more and more on GPS for both VFR and IFR navigation. There are even pilots who are using it as their sole-means, especially VFR and have stopped buying paper maps. With very few problems the GPS satellite constellation has proven itself up to the task, at least since it was declared operationally ready on 27 April 1995, but that could be changing very soon.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has identified that the USAF-run GPS satellite constellation is in trouble. There are currently 30 satellites in orbit, the 24 needed for the system and six spares, which sounds like enough to run the system. The problem is that many of the satellites are getting old and will need replacing soon or will fail. The USAF has a program to replace the satellites, but it is US$1B over budget and almost three years behind schedule.

U.S. Government Accountability Office recently said that it "is uncertain whether the air force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption...there will be an increased likelihood that in 2010, as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to."

Because of the orbits involved, Canada is one nation that may see greater periods of no-usable-GPS signals, starting in 2010. If the USAF is not able to catch up its replacement program or if the older satellites fail at an increased rate than expected then GPS signals may not be reliable enough for navigation over Canada next year.

There are replacements available, such as the Russian GLONASS satellite system that is currently semi-operational, having not completely recovered from the fall of the USSR. To use it though, you will require a different receiver that works on the GLONASS frequencies, something most current receivers do not currently do. There are two other systems, the European Galileo system and the Chinese COMPASS system. Galileo is expected to be operational in 2013 and COMPASS is still in the planning stages.

These three alternate systems will probably mean that starting in 2013 reliability will be improved and you will be able to buy new hardware that will use two of more of the available systems.

So what to do for aviation navigation in 2010? Probably the obvious solution is to ensure that you have the "traditional" methods of navigation available, this includes paper maps for flying VFR and VOR/ADF for IFR flight. Losing GPS signals while VFR is a nuisance, but it can be a "show stopper" while in cloud IFR.

The warning has been sounded, now we all have to take advice from the Boy Scouts and "Be Prepared".

12 January 2009

What airport is he at?

I'm sure you've been there. You're 10 minutes back from your destination, a small airport with no control tower or flight service station, just an ATF on 122.8 MHz. You called on the ATF that you are 10 minutes east at 3000 feet giving your landing intentions. Another aircraft calls 20 miles east, but you missed the beginning of his transmission and don't know if he is going to your destination too. Is he just above your high wing Cessna?

Wouldn't it be nice if he had followed the FAA's recommendation to repeat the name of the airport at the end of his position broadcast. He must be Canadian...

Transport  Canada only expects us to say the airport name at the beginning of our position call and to not repeat it at the end.

For some years I have followed the FAA's recommended practice of repeating the airport name at the end of the transmission. I used to fly at Russell (PH4) (now closed) and our ATF was on 122.8 MHz. There were lots of calls at other airports on that frequency. "Russell Traffic, Colt NDS 10 east over Casselman at 3000 landing Russell". Any pilot listening will know where I am and that I am going to Russell. I believe this is the best way to maximize the chance of conflicting traffic knowing my location.

Now I fly  out of Rockcliffe most often, "Rockcliffe Traffic Colt NDS right downwind 27 full stop Rockcliffe. Is that so hard?