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The pilot's perspective

Claudia Ouellet

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Do you listen to podcasts?

This is a Freakonomics Radio podcast episode featuring Patrick Smith, Cockpit Confidential’s author. Answering Stephen Dubner's questions, he gives his opinion on the business of flying, the pilot-less plane, the evolution of flying from the passenger’s perspective, pilots training (and the dreaded idea that plane fly themselves thanks to autopilot systems) and many other subjects.

We’re curious about what you think after listening to it. Agree, disagree? Can you suggest other podcasts/podcast episodes that you think aviation enthusiasts should listen to?

Bumpy Entry into Service for Latest Rolls-Royce Trent

Gregory Blanc

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Problems with Rolls-Royce engines used in Boeing 787 wide-body jets may also be an issue in the competing Airbus A330neo jet.

Rolls-Royce’s Trent 7000 turbine engine, which exclusively powers the Airbus A330neo jet, shares the durability problems afflicting the Trent 1000, from which it was developed. Rolls-Royce has confirmed that the upgraded version of the Trent 1000—the Trent 1000 TEN—which the British company is offering as a replacement for the original turbine, is also affected.

The earlier Trent 1000 snag has led to unscheduled shop visits for dozens of 787s, costing the engine manufacturer more than hundred of million pounds ($310 million) last year.

Parts of the A330neo engine are being redesigned, although most fixes won’t be available until about six months after the delivery of the first plane this summer. A redesigned turbine blade that is being rolled out with the 787 will also be used on the Trent 7000 and should be ready in time for the first delivery of the A330neo. The turbine blades have caused the most problems for Rolls and have become very costly. 

While the A330neo hasn’t yet entered service, this glitch with the Trent 7000 should concern Airbus, as it may deter potential buyers.

BOEING WINS BIG… FINALLY!

Gregory Blanc

 Boeing T-X  Credit: Boeing

Boeing T-X
Credit: Boeing

A Boeing-Saab partnership has won a $9.2 billion contract in the T-X competition to produce the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation training jet.

Boeing’s award for the T-X trainer program marks the third major victory by the company in about a month. Coming fast after the award for the Air Force Huey replacement and the selection by the U.S. Navy to build the MQ-25, Boeing’s latest victory, in the three-way T-X competition, completes a dramatic shift for Boeing’s once-imperiled St. Louis factory complex and establishes the manufacturer as a new global competitor in the training market.

What a month for Boeing and its partners! Let’s take a look at the course of events.

 Boeing MQ-25 Stingray  Credit: Boeing

Boeing MQ-25 Stingray
Credit: Boeing

First, in Aug. 30, Boeing has seized the Navy’s MQ-25 tanker drone contract, worth $805 million (first phase), to build the first four MQ-25 unmanned tankers. This covers the design, development, fabrication, test and delivery of four Stingray aircraft, a program the service expects will cost about $13 billion overall for 72 aircraft. The first payment includes the integration of the drone into the carrier air wing for an initial operational capability by 2024.

The Navy has followed a long and complicated road in trying to develop a UAS that would fly on and off its aircraft carriers. The program UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike), as a surveillance and strike asset, was canceled in 2016. The effort to field a carrier drone was reborn that year as an unmanned tanker that could double the range of the carrier air wing.

Oh! By the way, did you know the reason why the US Navy initially wanted an unmanned tanker? Why does the Navy want to extend the range of its aircraft so badly? Because the service has become concerned about the range of its fighters due to its adversaries such as China and Russia, which have developed anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles which could force carriers to keep their distance from the battlespace!

 Boeing MH-139  Credit: Boeing

Boeing MH-139
Credit: Boeing

 Boeing MH-139  Credit: Boeing

Boeing MH-139
Credit: Boeing

 Bell UH-1  Credit: Bell Flight

Bell UH-1
Credit: Bell Flight

Second, in Sept. 24, a Boeing-Leonardo team has won a $2.38 billion contract to manufacture a new batch of helicopters to replace the Air Force’s UH-1N Huey used to guard the service’s nuclear missile silos. The new fleet of MH-139, a militarized version of the commercial AW139, in addition to supporting the service’s nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile bases in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, will be used for training, test and operational support airlift missions.

Boeing will receive an initial $375 million for the first four helicopters and the integration of military-specific items needed to bring the AW139 to the Air Force’s requirements. It plans on buying 84 new helicopters over the course of the program, with the first aircraft being delivered in 2021.

Boeing and Leonardo’s MH-139, which will be manufactured by Leonardo subsidiary AgustaWestland in Philadelphia, outbid Lockheed Martin Sikorsky’s HH-60U Black Hawk and Sierra Nevada's Force Hawk, an upgraded UH-60L Black Hawk — which some analysts saw as the service’s aircraft of choice going into the competition.

As said, the MH-139 will be a missionized version of the Leonardo AW139. Leonardo produces civil versions in Italy and in Russia, but also in Philadelphia. It is only the third non-U.S.-designed helicopter to win a Pentagon competition. There are more than 900 AW139s in service among 270 governments, military services and companies globally, with 260 assembled and delivered from Philadelphia over the past 10 years.

 Boeing T-X  Credit: Boeing

Boeing T-X
Credit: Boeing

Finally, on September 27, the US Air Force awarded Boeing Defense and Saab a contract for the production of 351 T-X trainer jets, 46 simulators and associated ground equipment. It is to be noted that the contract is an indefinite-delivery and indefinite-quantity award, allowing the USAF to purchase up to 475 aircraft and 120 simulators, with possibly more in the international market. An initial delivery order for $813 million provides for the engineering and manufacturing development of the first five aircraft and seven simulators.

The duo defeated rival proposals based on the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50A and Leonardo T-100, a derivative of the Italian-built M346.

Long story short, when the Air Force finally returned to a T-X replacement program about six years ago after cancelling the previous one, Boeing quickly decided to develop a clean-sheet option. In 2013, the company announced a collaboration with Saab to build and produce an advanced trainer prototype for the Air Force.

More than 90 percent of the twin-canted tails single engine (GE Aviation F404) is planned to be manufactured in the USA. Saab will produce the aft fuselage and some subsystems.

The Air Force T-X trainers will replace the 57-year-old fleet of Northrop T-38C Talons and it may only represent the beginning. In addition, a pending U.S. Navy should put out a requirement for a Boeing T-45 replacement. Experts also estimate a potential export market of 200-300 additional aircraft sales for the T-X winner.

Initial operating capability of the T-X trainers is planned by the end of 2024 when the first squadron and its associated simulators are all available for training. Full operational capability is projected for 2034.

 Northrop T-38C Talon  Credit: Northrop Grumman

Northrop T-38C Talon
Credit: Northrop Grumman

The new trainer cannot come too soon for the service as it grapples with using its aging T-38 Talons. A crash followed another trainer mishap in Texas on Sept. 11. In that incident, a T-38C from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, crashed after takeoff. Two other T-38s have crashed this calendar year. Last November, total hydraulic failure in a T-38 from Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, caused that aircraft to crash. The accident killed Capt. Paul J. Barbour, 32, who was on a requalification flight that day.

In the end, those 3 major contracts spell “Major Year” for Boeing.

6 reasons why you don’t need experience to be a good troubleshooter

Mathieu Ouellet

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1.       History can send you on the wrong path

It’s not about what the problem was the last time. Knowing was usually breaks on an aircraft helps. Actually, it helps a lot! Unfortunately, it’s also one of the experienced maintenance engineers’ biggest pitfalls. Applying a good thought process to finding the probable cause of this exact failure is a much better option.

2.       Years on the job aren’t the whole story

Troubleshooting is easier when you are experienced, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t be good at it without years of aviation maintenance work under your belt. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea of “waiting” for years for experience to sink in. Like anything else, troubleshooting can be taught, practiced and improved. It can be accelerated if you are systematic in your own development.

3.       You don’t have to know an aircraft type by heart

It’s not about knowing the specific aircraft model you’re working on inside and out. Once again, knowing the aircraft does help and make things easier. However, if you have to work on different aircraft models on a day-to-day basis, it may take a while before you get to know all of them enough to troubleshoot on autopilot (See? I made an aviation joke there.). Any aircraft you might work on today is pretty much designed around systems that work the same way. If you know the basics, you’ll find your way around a new aircraft easily. If you can fix an electric issue on an airplane, you’ll probably be good enough to diagnostic a car's electric system, right? Starting from the basics is the key!

4.       A solid foundation is everything

Troubleshooting requires techniques and a good methodology. You didn’t learn ‘’by experience’’ how to do a proper lockwire! You learned how to do it during training, and then experience made you better and faster at it. First a good base, then experience.

5.       Research is the name of the game

It doesn’t matter if you know where all the components are by heart and which access panel to open. Troubleshooting is about thinking, analysing, using a solid method and being effective. Any aircraft mechanic worth their salt can find their way to the units, that’s the easy part!

6.       Yeah, we can’t help you with that one

You need to be smart to troubleshoot. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t help with that so… Good luck to those who self-diagnose as not-so-bright!

3 Reasons why Aviation has Been Slow to Adopt Fibre-Optic Technology

Mathieu Ouellet

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Lighter and smaller!

In an industry like aviation where weight and space saving are top priorities, these two advantages alone should be enough to convince designers to replace most of the conventional copper wires with fibre optics. Ground communication networks started to make theses change decades ago, so why is it taking so long to see these changes in the aviation industry?

The first thing you’ll probably say is; “well, because of the never-ending certification processes of aviation.” Right? Well, what about other technologies? What about composite materials, touch-screen technology, lithium-ion batteries, Wi-Fi internet and Force Feedback Side-sticks, to name just a few? Each of these “new” technologies had to go through the same certification process. So, what is the problem with fibre optics?

Before going any further, let me clarify one point; fibre-optic cables are already used in the aviation industry, however, there are so few in an aircraft that we can almost say that this technology is mainly rare or not at all implemented. One of the exceptions is the Boeing 777 that has had an extensive fibre-optic network for its in-flight entertainment system since 1995. The use of fibre optics is, however, limited to non-essential systems. The military has started using fibre optics for more essential systems, for example in the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35, and in the Eurofighter Typhoon. Yet, their use is limited to mission-critical systems and not flight-critical systems.

Advantages

The most surprising thing about this technology is the numerous advantages gained from implementing it:

  • Replacing multiple copper wires with a single fibre

  • Lighter and smaller cables

  • It is not affected by EMI (Electromagnetic Interference)

  • Greater bandwidth

  • No grounding or short concerns

  • Upgradeable without ripping out and replacing cable harnesses

So Why Isn’t It Used More?

The main problem when it comes to replacing electronic links with fibre optics is its reliability, particularly in harsh conditions, such as the aircraft operating environment. An aircraft has a number of stresses which do not exist in telecom installations. The temperature extremes and thermal shocks are far greater in an aircraft than in a static installation. Moreover, the mechanical vibration and shock seen in an aircraft are not present in static outdoor environments. Finally, critical systems in aviation demand a much higher reliability than a telecom link, which does not result in an emergency when a connection is lost.

So, the main reason for the slow integration of fibre optics in aviation is its reliability in harsh environments. Recent developments in fibre-optic technology have already pretty much resolved this issue. Its mechanical robustness has been improved, as well as its environmental stability and installation flexibility. Boeing performed fibre optics testing on the 757 platform, mounting the fibre on the landing gear axle and on the engine’s firewall. Initially, the fibre was intended to stay on board for one year, but due to availability of the aircraft, the fibre ended up staying on the plane for four years without a single fibre optics failure.

There is also the fact that aircraft connectors need to be disconnected and reconnected much more often for testing, part replacement, troubleshooting and many other reasons. Since the surface of the fibre has to be perfect in every single way to prevent loss, the wear caused by multiple disconnections over time could create issues on aging aircraft. Therefore, non-physical contact connectors should be used in aviation to prevent these problems.

Another issue with fibre optics is maintenance. It is much harder to repair than a conventional copper wire. First, you have to locate the damaged area, which is done using special testers, such as a Visual Fault Locator or an Optical Time Domain Reflectometer. Then you have to repair it with special techniques and tools using a splice or a pigtail assembly. However, this is still feasible, it simply requires specific equipment and skills that can be taught to any good avionics technician, and a little more time.

What’s Next?

To sum up, although the integration of fibre-optic technology in aircraft is slow, it is happening. This technology has so many advantages that investing to resolve its issues is definitely worth it. We often hear people ask; “Is fibre going to make copper obsolete?” It isn’t! The two will coexist, each being employed where it makes the most sense.

What About Going Wireless?

Also, the foreseeable move to wireless technology is often ignored in this debate. Replacing some of the copper wires with fibre-optic cables would significantly reduce the weight of the aircraft and the size of harnesses, there is no doubt about it. But replacing these exact same wires with a wireless connection, in other words, using no wires, is even more attractive. So, why should a company invest in developing technology that might soon become outdated?

No matter what your thoughts are, there are two clear trends regarding aircraft wiring and data transmission in the avionics market; 1) constantly increasing data transmission speeds and, 2) the need to reduce weight. Fibre-optic technology has perhaps had a slow start in the aviation industry, but it still has a bright future. I would not be surprised to see the next generation of avionics architecture using a mix of copper wire, fibre optics and wireless connections, each being used where most appropriate. What do you think?

Dassault Aviation and Airbus team-up on long-term air combat project

Gregory Blanc

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Germany and France have recently agreed on the central requirements for a new fighter jet to replace Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale warplanes through a new program called “FCAS – Future Air Combat System”.

While the FCAS program will comprise both manned and unmanned aircraft that can be operated in conjunction, the unmanned systems will decisively shape the entire project's capabilities to ensure its survivability and assertiveness.

To realize this ambitious new project, Airbus and Dassault Aviation have signed an initial agreement to cooperate on Europe’s FCAS even though the two are rivals. New allies, they have decided to team up to ensure that Europe retains control over its future weapons systems. The systems will be designed to work together for future military missions, and this is why it was important for France and Germany to launch an initial joint study this year so they could get demonstrators of the technology done by 2025.

As we all know it, Airbus builds the Eurofighter while Dassault has the Rafale jet. The new fighter jet project will eventually replace the current generation of each fighter aircraft around 2035-2040. It was also decided that Dassault would take a lead role in the program as the majority of Airbus Defence & Space's operations are located in Germany. When questioned about who will do what, Dassault said they would decide who had the best skills and competencies to lead each part of the project, which is set to include a fighter jet and unmanned aerial vehicles as we know, but also everything related to connectivity and secure communications.

The FCAS program, as well as strengthening the political and military ties between Europe’s core nations, will reinvigorate its aerospace industry. Dassault and Airbus are now awaiting details from the French and German governments on the exact requirements for the program, other than the fact that the future fighter will be ITAR-free (International Traffic in Arms Regulations).

Yes, you read correctly, the new jet fighter will be designed and manufactured without any US component !!!

Without components acquired in the United States, the new fighter will be sovereign, preventing it from being submitted to the US legislation (ITAR) that could block future exports.

Finally, Dassault said the new fighter jet would not be a copy of the U.S. F-35 fighter, but would be more ambitious.

But of course, all this will get the “OK-to-go” as long as Germany does not decide to buy the F-35 to replace its Tornados… Because that would mean the FCAS would no longer be feasible.

Waterless Engine Wash, please.

Claudia Ouellet

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Lufthansa Technik has developed a new engine wash procedure that allows waterless washing of aircraft engines in any type of weather. The “Cyclean Dry Ice” system, which uses a mobile blasting system to shoot tiny dry ice pellets into an aircraft engine, can wash engines even in below-freezing weather.

LHT says the system is able to quickly and thoroughly clean all engine types, regardless of size or height, without the need to fasten equipment to the engine. And since it’s dry ice, it does not leave any kind of residue, considering the ice transitions completely to a gaseous state. That means there is no need to perform an engine run-up after the wash. How good for the environment is that… no chemical residues (and water) to manage after the wash, no waste of precious jet fuel (in any way) and no additional carbon dioxide generated !!!

The future is here; what do you think of that ?

Read the full press release here:
https://buff.ly/2vF3I93

Stall warning system mandatory on de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver aircraft?

Claudia Ouellet

In its last report, the Transport Safety Board of Canada recommends the installation of a stall warning system on de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver aircraft.

The initial 1948 design of the aircraft didn't include any stall warning system because, according to the manufacturer, "the stall is gentle at all normal conditions of loads and flap and may be anticipated by a slight vibration.” Transport Canada’s Civil Aviation Directorate also conducted flight tests on the DHC-2 to evaluate the aircraft's stall characteristics. Flight test engineers described the stall as gentle and reported a conventional stall recovery.

Air Saguenay agrees, saying that on the Beaver ''the pilot will feel the stall on the control wheel. This aircraft warns a lot''.

What do you think: is the installation of a stall warning system on the Beaver a must? Are all these accidents related to a bad design or human factors?

See the original news release

TSB recommends stall warning system following investigation into fatal August 2015 collision with terrain near Tadoussac, Quebec