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Saturday, April 30, 2011

AF447: APU Found But Difficult Search Ahead

The search for debris from AF447 is making gradual progress -- as evidenced by the discovery of the auxiliary power unit -- but the French air accident investigation office, the BEA, warns the process is complicated by the way the debris has come to rest at around 4,000 meters depth.

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(Photo: BEA)

The aft and forward portions of the aircraft broke apart - likely on impact with the ocean surface when the Airbus A330-200 went down on June 1, 2009 - and parts are intermingled. The cockpit voice and flight data recorders are located in the aft section of the A330.

There is still no sign of the crash survivable memory unit, which dislodged from the flight data recorder casing.

The BEA says it has not commenced any retrieval activities, yet, largely to focus on the search for the recorder.

Finding the APU and other elements could be important, too. Those components could provide clues to what caused AF447 to crash, especially if the crash survivable memory unit is not recovered or is seriously damaged.

Chinese Buildup Upsets Strategic Balance

Defense analysts and U.S. Navy brass agree—China’s recent successes in developing an anti-ship ballistic missile and a more robust navy have made the powerhouse Asian nation a much greater military force to reckon with.
China’s muscle-flexing, they say, will most certainly upset the balance of power in the region and force the U.S. to rethink its long-term military and geopolitical strategies for Asia and the Pacific Rim.
Opinions diverge, though, over the real implications of China’s growing super-charged military might.
To be sure, the U.S. is unlikely to be so quick to send another aircraft carrier battle group to the Taiwan Strait as it did in 1996 when the USS Nimitz plowed into those waters.
But no one’s certain about China’s true capability—or will—to take out a U.S. carrier. There’s even less certainty about just what China plans to do with its pumped-up military forces. While some feel the Asian leader will expand its reach in a fashion similar to the old Soviet Bloc, others say China will use its growing force to secure the home front, shipping lanes and what it claims to be its national assets.
Certainly, China is determined to protect its homeland and avoid another political collision. The key to that was the development an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM)—the so-called carrier killer, the DF-21D.
Months ago, the missile achieved the equivalent of what for a U.S. weapon would be called initial operational capability (IOC). The Pentagon has played down that milestone a bit, pointing out that the missile is yet truly untested in any battle scenarios, real or simulated; and analysts wonder about the true capability or lethality of the DF-21D.
“Assessing this carrier-killer missile, as with the J-20 fighter, is impossible without knowing more about China’s true [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and network capabilities,” says Richard Aboulafia, analyst and vice president of the Teal Group consultancy. “A platform, or a weapon of any kind, is only as good as the targeting information it receives.”
Christian Le Miere, International Institute for Strategic Studies research fellow for naval forces and maritime security, says: “There are questions about its terminal guidance system. The mobility of the carriers is a problem, but you can fire toward a basket of coordinates and guide the terminal stage. This is why the accuracy of the guidance system is so crucial.”
The Pentagon recently noted in its annual report on China’s military: “The navy is improving its over-the-horizon targeting capability with Sky Wave and Surface Wave OTH radars. OTH radars could be used in conjunction with imagery satellites to assist in locating targets at great distances from [Chinese] shores to support long-range precision strikes, including by anti-ship ballistic missiles.”With small numbers of carrier groups or ships and a comparable number of Chinese ASBMs to counter, U.S. forces should be fine, says defense analyst John Gresham, an author of several books on military tactics and equipment. But carriers and other ships face greater risks as the Chinese grow the inventory and improve their targeting capability.
The real question, though, is whether China would take a gamble and take out a carrier. As the Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes in a recent report, the Asian giant has developed too many entanglements—especially financial ties—with the U.S. to commit such an act of war.
“They’re more likely to use those missiles to threaten other ships, ones that are a threat to their shipping lanes” Gresham says. “They’d use a missile to make a point—to send a signal—to, say, a tanker fleet using a transit lane they claim as their own, or some ship that threatens one of their ships.”
The CRS reported: “Some observers say that China may be building, or may want to eventually build, a series of naval and other military bases in the Indian Ocean—a so-called string of pearls—so as to support Chinese naval operations along the sea line of communication linking China to Persian Gulf oil sources.”
And it’s this “string of pearls”—along with the Chinese homeland, Taiwan and rather large, claimed territorial waters—that China has built its navy and missile batteries to protect. The big concern on the minds of many, though, is whether the U.S. and its allies have to worry about China turning those defensive capabilities into an offensive expansion force the way the Soviet Union did during the Cold War.
China, La Miere says, does not have quite the ideological opposition to the U.S. as it did to the former Soviet Union. “So the relationship is very different; but in terms of being a potential strategic competitor to the U.S., then, yes, Washington may well consider China in the future as its greatest challenge since the Cold War.”
As the CRS reported, “Chinese maritime military forces could influence the political evolution of the Pacific, which in turn could affect the ability of the United States to pursue goals relating to various policy issues, both in the Pacific and elsewhere.”

Shuttle Launch Delayed By Technical Problem

NASA has postponed Friday’s scheduled launch of the space shuttle Endeavour for at least two days because of a technical problem.
The space agency says two heaters on one of the shuttle’s three onboard power units had failed and the launch is delayed at least until Sunday.
Endeavour had been due to blast off at 3:47 p.m. EDT (1947 GMT) on a mission to deliver a pioneering physics experiment to the International Space Station.
President Barack Obama and his family had been scheduled to attend the launch, which was to be the 134th and next to last for the U.S. space shuttle program. NASA is retiring its shuttles after a cargo run by the shuttle Atlantis this summer.
U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who is married to Endeavour commander Mark Kelly, was at the space center for the launch attempt.
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was gravely injured during an assassination attempt Jan. 8 outside a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store in which six people were killed and 12 others were injured. She has not been seen publicly since the attack.

Light Attack Gathers Steam

For the Hawker Beechcraft/Lockheed Martin AT-6 light attack aircraft team, the mantra is to produce the right weapon effects.
“If you are talking about counterinsurgency target sets, you want to be able to pick the right weapon and precisely place it where and when it needs to be there,” says Dan Hinson, AT-6 demonstration and test manager and chief test pilot for the team. “That requires persistence and network-centric command and control.”
The team is competing against Embraer with the Super Tucano to supply 20 Light Support Aircraft to Afghanistan and potentially 15 aircraft to the U.S. Air Force for use in training foreign air forces.
For more endurance, the team is looking at ways to add fuel without diminishing capability.
“We are working on putting 325 pounds of extra internal fuel in the wings, which would give another 45 minutes to an hour of flight,” Hinson says. “I flew four to six hours and still had 400 pounds of gas. That was with the EO/IR [electro-optic/infrared] turret and external fuel tanks, but not weapons.
“If the mission is ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], we can stand out there a long time,” Hinson continues. “Five hours is very doable and four is a pretty good standard. Being able to hang out in the battle with the same guys on station without having to cycle out for inflight refueling provides an amazing [amount of continuity] for an airborne mission.”
Another imperative for the AT-6 program is to leverage prior Defense Department investments in people, programs, logistics, platforms and training systems.
“We’ve taken the EO/IR sensor capability out of the MC-12W ISR aircraft, and we have integrated all of those capabilities,” Hinson says. “That means the Defense Department is familiar with every part we’re putting on the aircraft.”
For actual combat use, the AT-6 is considered to be in the right altitude band to give the best trade-off between avoiding threats while staying close enough to the fight to conduct precision targeting.
“We’re networked into the land battle with the A-10s and F-16s,” says Derek Hess, Hawker Beechcraft’s director of light attack programs. “We will have the ability to exchange still images, nine-line messages and streaming video as well as the flexibility of a helmet-mounted cuing system.”
“Right now the focus on the interaction of this aircraft and its capabilities [is being explored in] training missions that include joint terminal attack controller training, intelligence processing, exploitation and dissemination training while serving as a surrogate [unmanned aerial system] platform for U.S. peacetime training missions,” Hinson says. “The mission set lends itself to homeland defense and security missions like border and port security, counter-narcoterrorism, maritime patrol, disaster area imagery or search and rescue.”
Several key pieces are receiving particularly intense scrutiny, including the defensive survival equipment (missile warning and countermeasures systems) and the Scorpion helmet-mounted cueing system (HMCS).
“When you tie it into a network-centric weapons-delivery platform, the package becomes a significant force multiplier,” Hinson says. “When you talk about having Forward Air Controller-Airborne [capabilities] in both [front and rear] cockpits, it is huge. We are A-10-centric, so a second cockpit is something that continues the evolution of capabilities as new tactics, techniques and procedures emerge.”

AirAsia Reintroducing Fuel Surcharge

AirAsia will reintroduce a fuel surcharge for all domestic and international routes starting Tuesday, May 3, the carrier said on Friday.
Asia’s largest budget airline said flight bookings made before the May 3 deadline would not be affected by the surcharge.
“The rising jet fuel prices and the situation in the Middle East and other external factors, have made it imperative for us to reintroduce the fuel surcharge,” said Kathleen Tan, AirAsia’s regional head of commercial, in a statement.
AirAsia abolished fuel surcharges in November 2008 after the price of fuel fell to new lows following the collapse of the price of crude.
The carrier’s fuel surcharge will range between 10-90 ringgit ($3.37-$30.35) per passenger depending on the length and duration of the flight.
The price of crude has been increasing since the start of this year owing to tensions in the Middle East as well as other demand factors.
The price of U.S. crude was trading at $112.65 as at 0834 GMT on Friday.

F-X Bidders Could Gain From Tsunami Damage

BEIJING — Enlargement of the Japanese F-X fighter program is under consideration as the repair of all 18 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries F-2B trainers damaged in the March 11 tsunami looks increasingly unlikely.
The defense ministry’s initial assessment — that it will be lucky to repair as many as three of the aircraft — also seems to raise the possibility of the F-X program being pursued more urgently. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and the Eurofighter consortium are competing for the order for 40-50 fighters, with the prospect of further production after the initial requirement — replacement of F-4EJ Phantoms — is met.
Just pulling apart the damaged 18 F-2Bs and examining them will cost ¥13.6 billion ($166 million), the ministry tells the Asahi newspaper.
The air force had 33 F-2Bs before 18 were submerged at Matsushima air base by the tsunami, according to Forecast International data (Aerospace DAILY, March 18). So repairs, if any, will leave only 15-18 available.
As a result, the country appears to have four choices: accept a reduction in aircraft numbers, build replacement F-2Bs, acquire Boeing F-15Ds from U.S. stocks, or add units to the F-X program.
Although there is no official comment on the matter, neither of the first two options looks easy.
Since the damaged aircraft are all two-seaters, the training fleet has taken a heavy hit; restoring its numbers should be a priority.
And while Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is still building the last few F-2s before closing its production line this year, its suppliers have already stopped making parts and systems.
So placing an order for more aircraft would now be unusually costly — even if Japan wanted to spend more money on the 1990s model instead of moving on to a new type.
Indeed, the cost of restarting parts production is probably a reason behind the ministry’s bleak assessment, although it could presumably look at using some of its stock of spare parts to refit the damaged aircraft.Japan flies the F-15DJ, a close derivative of the F-15D, as a conversion trainer for its F-15J force. Potential issues with acquiring secondhand F-15Ds include availability, remaining fatigue life, and their suitability as replacements for the F-2Bs, which were used to train pilots for F-4EJs as well as F-2As.
As to the fourth option, the ministry has not raised the possibility with bidders of enlarging the F-X order to replace the F-2Bs, says an executive from one of the bidders, but it would not be expected to do so until it knew how many of the drenched fighters could be saved.
The aircraft types confirmed as competitors for the F-X order are the Lockheed Martin F-35, Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Eurofighter is represented by BAE Systems in association with Sumitomo Corp.
Responses to a request for proposals are due by September. First deliveries are due in 2017, but Eurofighter and Boeing have warm production lines from which they could conceivably divert two-seaters ordered by other customers.
Restoration of fighters soaked in salt water may seem improbable, but in the 1990s the Greek air force recovered a Mirage 2000EG that had crashed at low speed into the sea on final approach. That aircraft was pulled from the water after three days and eventually put back into service.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Tale of Two Towns

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Brunswick and Bath are neighboring towns in Southeastern Maine, separated by a mere 10-minute drive along U.S. 1. The residents share much – weather, a love of the outdoors, lobster – but their regard for the U.S. Navy may differ. Decidedly.
You see, Bath is home to the Bath Iron Works, a fabled builder of warships that's owned by General Dynamics. 
Jay Johnson, the company's chairman, told analysts just yesterday that the yard will be busy supplying the U.S. Navy with Aegis and multi-mission destroyers for years to come – good news to Bath's thousands of pipefitters, welders, electricians, riggers, and painters as well as those who teach their children, fuel their cars and deliver them pizza. 
Brunswick was almost equally well known for its Navy connection, specifically the 3,200-acre air station that was home for decades to the P3 Orions that patrolled North Atlantic looking first for Soviet subs and later for drug smugglers. At one point the base employed 6500 sailors and civilians. But the Pentagon decided to shutter the place in 2005, the last Orion departed in 2009, and the handful of remaining service folk are either gone or will be momentarily.
I was motoring around the base two weeks ago, and the experience was kind of eerie – a city, much of it consisting of seemingly brand new housing, along with picnic parks, playgrounds and schools, but bereft of people; an airport with countless acres of concrete but without any planes, tugs, trucks or noise.
The local and state governments are trying to figure out how best to exploit the place, to replace those thousands of lost jobs and millions of lost dollars. It's indicative of the difficulty in that effort to see headlined in today's Portland Press Herald the news that an outfit called The American Bureau of Shipping plans to set up a computer-based ship modeling center at Brunswick Landing – the new name of the air station property – and employ 30 people. Thirty.
While the not-for-profit bureau is headquartered in Houston, the report says the modeling center is being transferred from India. Yes, India.
Not surprisingly, the governor, junior U.S. senator and local congressman all remarked on the happy news.
One of the first aviation tenants to alight at Brunswick Executive Airport (BXM) was Kestrel Aircraft Co., a turboprop single initially developed by  Britain's failed Farnborough Aircraft, and headed by ex-Cirrus chief Alan Klapmeier. When I spoke with Alan at the recent Sun 'n Fun, he mentioned that the airport was about to transfer to full civilian control, and that I was welcome to visit his operation. I tried, but discovered it's surprisingly difficult to locate things in a vast, largely empty place, with no one to ask for directions.
When my motel clerk learned of my aviation background, he sought details about "that company that's going to build airplanes" at the former air station. I likened as how the new operation would likely start out slowly and small, but he was not put off. "Hey, any jobs are welcome here." Indeed.
I wish all involved well. In truth BXM/Brunswick Landing comprises a fabulous facility, featuring an 8,000 ft runway, hangars, offices, and opportunity galore. 
And all the lobster you can eat.

Sukhoi SU-30MK Indonesia Airforce

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TS-3003 The Sukhoi SU-30MK parked at apron of SOETTA Airport Indonesia
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Tiger Tales in the Air

Tiger Tales in the Air
Formation of Tiger Tails from the 2008 meet.NATO Tiger meet 2011 is fast approaching.http://www.natotigers.orgThere is only one day with airshow at Cambrai-Niergnies, Sunday, 15th May: Spotter days are Wednesday 11 May 2011Monday 16 May 2011 Sold Out!Tuesday 17 May 2011Please note that each SPD is limited to 1,500 persons, andno person will be allowed to register for more than one SPD. Names and passport details will be kept on computer and cross-checked for every applicant.Photo: © Ulrich Metternich / NTA

RFID Slowly Gaining Applications

The application of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags has been slow in coming to commercial aviation. Costs are the big restraint and the technology is not applicable in quite as many ways as early supporters hoped.
But low-cost chips are being embedded by some airlines in luggage tags because RF tracking has a better success rate than straight-line bar-code scans.
More complex tasks include an instant read on the maintenance pedigree of a replaceable part to see if its useful life is up or whether it is time to overhaul a rotable part. The ability to drill down into the history of a part is limited only by the chip’s memory size.
Credit: SNAP-ON
Boeing and Airbushelped to lead the Air Transport Association’s Spec 2000 drive for common RFID standards, and they later moved on to an electronic product code in a push to advance an aviation e-marketplace.
Despite all these developments, U.S. military services, not commercial aviation, are the leaders in RFID technology. Still, Boeing, Lufthansa and others are persistent. Boeing has teamed with Fujitsu to create airline maintenance’s newest remote-sensing technology application. Called Component Management Optimization (CMO), it grew out of a 2005 request from Japan Airlines, which was spending as much as 13 hr. to perform one-by-one visual inspections of oxygen generators. JAL wondered if RFID chips might reveal the maintenance and performance status of the generators in a simple scan. It could. A technician walking down an airplane aisle can complete an RFID oxygen generator check in a mere 8 min., says Boeing CMO Program Manager Phil Coop. Similarly, passenger life vests can be quickly inventoried. Because the chip detects if the vest’s storage pouch has been disturbed, it also can reveal if it needs to be inspected or replaced.
Boeing expects to announce its launch customer for CMO this week, Coop says. Initially, it will be applied to managing cabin emergency equipment. Later, Boeing will add asset management features to cover rotables, repairables, airframe degradation, essential cabin equipment and powerplants.
Through trial and error, Boeing found that RFID is not the solution for every task. Sometimes its antenna can be fooled; in other instances the environment is too harsh. So CMO also will make use of Contact Memory Buttons from MacSema of Bend, Ore. The golden-colored, coin-size buttons have been used for years on military aircraft, such as the two shown monitoring a line-replaceable unit on an AH-64 Apache (right photo), says MacSema Vice President Denis Boulet. Boeing is the first to apply them to civil aircraft.
Even when RFID is not the best solution, it has prompted a search for something that is. For the better part of a decade, Snap-on struggled with how to apply the chips for better inventory control of aerospace hand tools. But even the smallest chip could not be applied to a thin-wall socket without jamming it. Snap-on’s solution was to adapt laser technology that it sells to auto repair shops for wheel alignments.
Customers such as Raytheon Co.,Sikorsky and theU.S. Air Forcewanted better accounting of hand tools to improve their asset management control. They also were interested in anything that might reduce the chance that an unaccounted-for tool became a source for foreign object damage (FOD), Joe Chwan, director of Snap-on’s worldwide aerospace sales, explained during Aviation Week’s MRO Conference and Exhibition in Miami last week.
The Kenosha, Wis.-based company has introduced a roll-away tool chest that uses a laser scanner to record the position of every tool in a drawer, right down to replaceable screwdriver heads called Apex bits (left photo). If a torque wrench is due for recalibration, the chest warns a technician. And it always demands that tools be put back in their rightful location. Even a worn-out Apex bit must be replaced so it can be accounted for. The chest will alert the tool-crib manager so it can be disposed of properly.
Lufthansa Technik Logistik is one of many maintenance specialists pushing for RFID acceptance. By the end of the year, the company expects to introduce its own RFID applications. The chips will first be applied to manage oxygen generators, says Tom Burian, Lufthansa’s RFID project manager.
In the early days, RFID technology was not mature enough for aviation applications, says Burian. Now cost is one big restraint, the need for wider acceptance by supply-chain managers another. Asset managers at MRO say the best solution will come when big commercial businesses start ordering RFID so chip prices plunge. As one of them says: “Hurry up, Wal-Mart!”

Ruptured Southwest 737 Fuselage Section

Ruptured Southwest 737 Fuselage Section
An NTSB photo showing the interior and exterior surfaces of the ruptured fuselage section from a Southwest Boeing 737-300.

First Flight for LH 747-830

First Flight for LH 747-830
Seen arriving at Paine Field, in Everett,WA is the first 747-830 for Lufthansa.

Three Contenders Remain For Japan F-X

Sometime this year, a Japanese technician will perform the final piece of work on the last F-2 fighter to leave the Nagoya works of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. With that, Japan’s 45 years of post-war fighter production will cease and the progressive loss of skills already under way in systems manufacturing will have spread to every stage of building combat aircraft.
This fact looms large for officials in charge of charting the path for the next fighter program. The sooner a new fighter goes into production, the sooner this highly specialized industry can be revitalized.
The defense ministry says three groups have responded to its April 13 request for proposals (RFP): BAE Systems with Sumitomo Corp., offering the Eurofighter Typhoon; Lockheed Martin with the F-35; and Boeing with the F/A-18E/F.
The ministry said last year it would also be interested in the Lockheed Martin F-22, Boeing F-15 and the Dassault Rafale. But the U.S. will not export the F-22, and the F-15 is out because Boeing believes Japan’s air force is leaning toward a completely new aircraft type. Dassault Rafale declined to comment.
The RFP was issued early this year because the ministry and Japan Air Self-Defense Force (Jasdf) hope to make a recommendation in time for the procurement to be included the fiscal 2012 budget. To ensure inclusion in 2012, the contenders have until the end of September to respond. A winner is to be selected and a recommendation made to the cabinet by the end of December, leaving three months for parliament to decide.
Japan’s defense guidelines say 40-50 F-X fighters will be ordered, with the first 12 to be delivered by March 31, 2017. The F/A-18E/F and Eurofighter Typhoon programs are more mature than the F-35’s, so it is easier for these two to meet the deadline. The F-35 program has had many delays, but Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 general manager, Tom Burbage, told Aviation Week in March that they could deliver as soon as fiscal 2016.
Early delivery is an important factor also because the F-X is needed to replace the F-4s, all more than 30 years old. Shigeru Iwasaki, Jasdf chief of air staff, is coy about when the F-4s will go. It depends on the accumulated flight hours on the airframe, but it may happen within the next 10 years, he says. If so, Mitsubishi will have to quickly ramp up F-X production. Some industry executives say the tight deadline for first deliveries and the ministry’s concerns about cost mean the first batch of F-Xs might be fully imported.
Japan requires local manufacturing of military aircraft, along with domestic development of some parts and systems. But licensed production there, particularly for short production runs, has proven expensive. The country also tends to change the aircraft design, to the extent that the F-2 was really a new aircraft following the F-16 configuration. Quite apart from the expense, design changes take time. Some industry executives say Japan is unlikely to make any significant changes because these would escalate costs and upset deadlines.
Some relief for Japan’s fighter production base is coming from an unfortunate circumstance. The ministry believes that 18 F-2Bs that were submerged in the March 11 tsunami can be salvaged. Work began on April 17. The engines, electronics and at least some electro-mechanical systems presumably need to be replaced. The ministry does not yet know how much the repairs will cost.
In the F-X program, the Typhoon and F/A-18E/F will likely cost less than F-35s, but Lockheed Martin could argue that the F-35 could also satisfy Japan’s longer-term F-XX requirement to replace the air force’s older F-15s, so production costs would level out over time.
As the newest aircraft, the F-35 has the advantage of fifth-generation fighter technology. But it may be hard to persuade the ministry that there will be no more delays and cost overruns. The defense budget is constrained and future military spending is likely to decline, say industry executives. The reconstruction costs in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis are further straining the national budget.
Some industry executives are wondering if the FX decision will really be made this year. It will be a political challenge for the government to allocate money for new fighters when it is still grappling with national rebuilding costs. There is also the risk that public dissatisfaction over handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis will force out Prime Minister Naoto Kan and, with him, Defense Minister Toshimi ­Kitazawa. A new defense minister could insist on reviewing as big a program as the F-X before letting it proceed.

Boeing Unfazed By A320 NEO Threat

Airbus’ new engine option (NEO) for the A320 family is not having an impact on Boeing’s customer base for the rival 737 and is not influencing the company’s decision on whether to build a successor or re-engine the existing airframe, says Boeing Chairman, President and CEO James McNerney.
The company remains on schedule to deliver 20-40 787s and 747-8s this year after the first 747-8 Freighter is sent to Cargolux in mid-year (probably July) and 787 to All Nippon Airways in August.
Boeing has set a production target of 485-500 airplanes in 2011, far higher than its 2010 total of 462. The rampup reflects not only greater anticipated productivity on the 747 and 787 assembly lines but also continued increases in 737 and 777 output.
In the next three years, total factory output will be up 40% from current levels, McNerney said. Even factoring in that number reflects previously anticipated production rates of 10 aircraft per month from 787 assembly lines in Everett, Wash., and North Charleston, S.C., the jump is a “stunning” number, says Frost & Sullivan analyst Wayne Picker.
In a teleconference Wednesday on first quarter results, McNerney would not comment on when Boeing can expect the 787 line to be profitable, given the cost overruns associated with falling more than three years behind schedule. But he foresees “significant opportunities to increase the profitability” in later production.
“We are looking at a new model or two as alternatives from where we are now,” he said. He did not provide details, saying those models will be discussed later.
Boeing has already discussed a 787-10 stretch of the 250- to 290-seat, long-range 787-9 that already is planned. The -9 is a stretch version of the basic 210- to 250-seat 787-8.
There was to be a shorter-range, higher capacity 787-3, but it attracted little interest. Thus far, Boeing has not discussed a freighter version although it always has introduced a freighter in its widebody offerings. McNerney’s comments were the first to suggest multiple variants to come.
“NEO has not to date had a significant impact on our customer base,” he said of the 300 commitments Airbus has recorded. Instead, the re-engine project is “closing the [technology] gap [Airbus] has with us,” he asserted.
As senior Boeing executives have said for more than a year, McNerney reiterated that the company’s customers prefer to wait for an all-new airplane rather than a re-engined 737.“My view is that we’re not going to lose customers for three-to-four years with a significantly new airplane versus a re-engine” program, he said. The time reference is to the NEO’s service entry in 2015 and the anticipated 2019/2020 service entry for a 737 replacement.
He added that NEO has done “a good job of fending off the Canadians in the Airbus customer base,” a reference to Bombardier’s CSeries single-aisle challenger.
If it builds a new single aisle, Boeing “will address the heart of the market first,” referring to products seating 145-185 seats. “We haven’t sorted it out totally, [but] in all likelihood that is where we will start,” McNerney said. After that, the new product line could shift into a 757-size replacement of slightly more than 200 seats to give competition to the Airbus A321.
Meanwhile, Boeing is seeing progress on the 787 and 747-8 development programs that both are expected to be in hand by the time it has to begin work on either a successor to the 737 or a re-engining program. The timeline for a new airplane remains 2019-2020, as the company has maintained for months.
However, Boeing is sticking with its earlier statements that no new airplane versus re-engining decision will be made until late this year.
Boeing’s final assembly line in the 40-26 bay in Everett, Wash., now has the 36th through 39th production line numbers under production. Parts for the 40th aircraft are arriving. In total, 29 aircraft have rolled out of the factory.
The company is using its 40-24 bay as a rework center to refurbish aircraft with design changes that have flowed out of its flight test program. That same building is also being refurbished to become the 787 surge line.
Meanwhile, the program has towed five 787s to nearby hangars at Paine Field owned by Aviation Technical Services for similar change incorporation or customer-specific work. One out of an anticipated six 787s have been flown to Boeing’s San Antonio, Texas, factory for rework.
Boeing reported first quarter revenues of $14.9 billion, down 2% from a year earlier, with earnings from operations of $1 billion off 15%. But net income rose 13% to 586 million and earnings per share were $0.78 a share, slightly off the $0.80 Wall Street was projecting.
The declines were attributed to the continued investment in bringing the 747-8 and 787 programs through development and flight test to initial deliveries.

India Shortlists MMRCA Competitors

LONDON — The Indian government has named the final candidates in its Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program.
The MMRCA competition keeps the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale in the mix. Saab confirms the Gripen has been eliminated.
Industry officials indicate the other three contestants — the Boeing F/A-18E/F, Lockheed Martin F-16 and MiG-35 — also have been eliminated, although India will not formally announce the lineup until April 28.
If both U.S. fighters are cut, it would be a big blow to Washington, which had aggressively courted India with technology-release promises. Furthermore, the two U.S. contenders were the only ones with fielded active, electronically scanned array radars, which India says it wants.
The government will now evaluate industrial and commercial terms before naming a final winner in several months.
The MMRCA program is to lead to the Indian assembly of the chosen design. The program is for 126 fighters, although it is expected to grow. The Indian contest has been the most coveted of the international fighter programs currently in the competition phase.
Saab CEO Hakan Bushke says that despite the loss “we are committed to the Indian market and continue our plans for growth and see huge business opportunities in the aerospace, defense and security sectors.”

Countries Split As EU Softens Liquids Ban

A ban on passengers taking liquids on aircraft will be partly lifted in the European Union on April 29, but up to half the EU’s 27 member states are expected to ignore the change, citing security concerns.
Passengers traveling from non-EU countries to or through the European bloc will be allowed to carry onboard duty free goods containing liquids, aerosols and gels. A full lifting of the ban is scheduled for April 2013.
Carrying more than 100 ml of liquid onboard aircraft has been banned since 2006, when British police uncovered a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners bound for North America using bombs made from liquid explosives.
Several EU member states, particularly those with busy airport hubs, remain staunchly opposed to a softening of the ban, saying there are still widespread security concerns.
France has said it will not take part in the partial lifting of the ban, saying its military involvement in Afghanistan and Libya makes it a potential target and that it wants to maintain the tightest possible security.
European airports association ACI-Europe said in January lifting the ban too soon—before technology is in place to detect possible liquid explosives—could threaten aircraft security. It has called the April 29 deadline “overly ambitious.”
While many passengers, long frustrated by the limits on carrying liquids on aircraft, will cheer the change, the fact some major countries are not taking part means there is likely to be continued confusion and frustration for travelers.
An EU source said about half the EU’s member states were not expected to make the rule change on April 29, although only one or two countries have formally applied for a derogation—permission to opt out of the change in legislation.
Companies that operate airport shops are keen to see an end to the ban, which is expected to lead to an increase in sales of alcohol, perfume and other products sold in quantities over 100 ml.
ACI said that in principle it supported the full lifting of the ban, but said current liquids-scanning equipment was “unfit for purpose,” meaning not certain to capture all potential liquid explosives that might be smuggled.
The partial lifting of the ban has already been postponed for a year as a result of opposition from EU member states, who raised concerns about the quality of the liquids-scanning machines and the potential ramifications for security.

NTSB Begins Investigation Of Midway Overrun

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 overran the runway at Chicago Midway Airport after landing during wet weather on April 26.
There were no reported injuries among the 139 passengers and five crew members. According to the NTSB, the 737 exited runway 13C at 1:33 p.m. local time. Southwest Flight 1919 was inbound from Denver International Airport.
The weather at the time was “rainy with southerly winds,” the NTSB says. The agency has begun an investigation, and says it will secure the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, and will interview the crew. The closure of the runway caused significant flight delays at the airport.
According to local media reports, the aircraft came to rest in a muddy area to the left of the end of the runway, about 150 feet from a perimeter wall. Passengers were deplaned using mobile stairs and were bused to the terminal.

U.S. Navy Wants Modular Ship Construction

Shipbuilders that want to obtain or retain U.S. Navy work should look to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program for inspiration, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says.
“You have to build with open architecture,” Mabus told a group of defense writers in Washington on April 27. “You have to build modular ships like the LCS, so you don’t have to change the hull when technology changes.”
To make that strategy successful, Mabus acknowledges, the Navy also has to change its shipbuilding ways. “We owe the industry more stable designs,” he says, adding the service can no longer design as it builds. “We owe them more mature technologies.”
When technology does change, the Navy must hold off until the next ship design or next block of ships instead of insisting the contractors shoehorn the enhancements on the vessels under construction, according to Mabus. Finally, he says, the Navy owes contractors transparency about the number of ships it wants and the money it plans to pay for them.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), U.S. Government Accountability Office and Congressional Research Service all have questioned the service’s shipbuilding plan.
The Navy, they say, cannot buy all the ships it says it needs in the upcoming decades with the funding that is likely to be available.
Further, CBO points out that while Navy officials continue to sell Congress on an overall fleet size of 313 in the early part of this century, the shipbuilding and buying plan really calls for a dozen or so more vessels — which could be even harder to afford. CBO counts support ships and other vessels that the Navy does not include in its 313 number.
And while 313 is the stated fleet goal, Mabus acknowledges the current plan should give the Navy about 325 ships by the 2020s.
As the Navy keeps a lid on technology insertions and provides better cost and ship-fleet figures to contractors, shipbuilders in turn owe the Navy a reduction in the cost and hours it takes to build the ships, Mabus says. And contractors need to up the ante they are willing to spend in their yards. “They should make the investments in infrastructure and the workforce so the hours will come down,” he says.

India Aims For 100 Seaplanes In Next 10 Years

India wants to introduce 100 seaplanes into service in the next 10 years to support tourism and essential services to its coastal and island territories.
The federal government has allowed 100% foreign direct investment in the seaplane sector and has urged foreign operators to take advantage of the offer. India looks at more foreign direct investment in this sector so seaplanes can be introduced on a large scale not only for tourism, but also to provide essential services and medical aid during floods and other emergencies.
“The international market for seaplanes over the next decade is 1,000 units. I think 10% of that must come to India. That is our target,” says S N A Zaidi, India’s civil aviation secretary.
India has a long coastline and there is a need for strong efforts to promote seaplane operations, he says, as such services are significant to improving the economy of the Anadaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep. India’s Civil Aviation Ministry has created a separate department to oversee seaplane-related infrastructure, safety, security and regulatory issues, he adds.
The ministry is also close to commissioning a study on key issues concerning the seaplane operations in the country.
To encourage waterfront tourism, Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd., in association with the Andaman & Nicobar Administration, introduced seaplane service to those islands in January, with an eight-passenger Cessna Caravan 208A.

Deep-Space Exploration Faces Major Hurdles

From the hazards posed by deep-space radiation to the subtleties of spacesuit and closed-loop life-support system design, the U.S. faces significant technical and financial challenges if humans are to break out of low Earth orbit, according to witnesses testifying before a National Research Council (NRC) panel.
The obstacles will likely require NASA to seek closer ties with the Defense Department and international partners as well as the aerospace industry and academia; but these alliances may raise security concerns and prompt compromises on destinations and timescales, experts told the NRC’s Human Health and Surface Exploration Panel this week.
Yet the agency has little choice but to reach out in an era of fiscal constraint and long-running uncertainty over its future.
NASA’s dilemma was underscored in presentations by NASA’s Human Exploration Framework Team (HEFT), a group formed a year ago to provide the agency’s leadership with mission options for destinations stretching from the International Space Station to Mars. When it wrapped up work in December, HEFT was unable to define a politically sustainable course for any of the mission options, including President Barack Obama’s favorite, a near-Earth asteroid, by 2025. (See HEFT charts pp. 6-8.)
“We did not find an architectural solution,” Christopher Culbert, manager of NASA’s Exploration Missions & Systems Office, told the NRC panel. “We do not believe it’s possible to satisfy all of the stakeholders. Somebody walks away unhappy.”
HEFT activities have since transitioned to the Human Spaceflight Architecture Team, or HAT, a sustained in-house NASA effort that is looking for technical collaborations with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as well as the International Space Exploration Coordinating Group, which is hosting a June meeting in Tokyo to discuss destinations, dates and technology challenges.
Assessments to date suggest that investments in a heavy-lift rocket and a multipurpose crew vehicle — programs funded in the recently enacted 2011 budget continuing resolution — offer the greatest leverage in addressing technical hurdles to deep-space missions, says NASA’s Scott Vangen, who leads the HAT technology assessment team.
Additional spending on advanced propulsion technologies that could hasten the transit to Mars from months to weeks appear justified as well because they lower exposures to the little-understood effects of galactic cosmic radiation and ease the requirements for closed-loop life-support systems, Vangen says.
Other experts stressed the need for strides in modeling human radiation exposures, advanced dosimetry and spacecraft shielding.
While NASA has made progress in recycling water and breathing air aboard the International Space Station, engineers are finding the life-support hardware less reliable than hoped. The difficulties have been tempered by shuttling temperamental components to the ground for troubleshooting and an aggressive resupply strategy, approaches that won’t be possible on deep-space missions.
The current U.S. spacesuit was introduced in 1982 for use by shuttle crews. The equipment has been adapted for the space station, and engineers have devised strategies for in-space rather than ground-based refurbishments.
But current space garb lacks the mobility and dust filtering for use on planetary surfaces. The shuttle suits are uncomfortable and not sized to accommodate a wide range of body types.
The nine-member Human Health and Surface Exploration Panel is one of a half-dozen NRC sub-groups assembled to assess 14 NASA draft Space Technology Area Roadmaps and shape priorities. A research council steering committee plans an interim report in August and a final document in January.

Pro Line Fusion Suite Wins FAA TSO

Rockwell Collins secured final technical standard order (TSO) approval for its most advanced business aviation avionics suite, the Pro Line Fusion, clearing the way for work to begin on a supplemental type certificate on Bombardier aircraft. The Pro Line Fusion was announced in 2007 as the company’s next generation platform, building off some of the technologies incorporated in the Pro Line 21 suite.
Pro Line Fusion will house new technologies such as synthetic vision on head-up display and networked capability enabling interoperability between onboard and ground systems. The system is designed for scalability with an open, modular architecture that would accommodate future technologies. It includes large, high-resolution displays and can be applied to single- and two-pilot aircraft.
The avionics, a direct competitor to Honeywell’s Primus Epic suite, has been selected for multiple platforms and is the centerpiece of the Bombardier Global Vision flight deck on Bombardier Global Express XRS/Global 5000.
In addition, the platform was selected for Bombardier Learjet 85 and CSeries aircraft, along with Embraer Legacy 450/500, Gulfstream G250 and Mitsubishi Regional Jet aircraft.
Rockwell Collins calls the receipt of the final TSO, certifying both the hardware and software, a major milestone. “Now that all the 50 hardware and software TSOs for Pro Line Fusion are approved, we’re focusing on the next major milestone -- the STC of the full system on our test aircraft,” says Greg Irmen, VP and general manager, Business and Regional Systems for Rockwell Collins. “We’re moving full speed ahead to achieve this certification in the coming days.” Rockwell Collins will use its Bombardier Challenger 601 test aircraft for the STC.

Cessna Blames Higher CJ4 Costs for 1Q Loss

Despite steadily improving sales and flat deliveries, Cessna posed a $38 million segment loss in the first quarter, leading Scott Donnelly, Chairman and CEO of Cessna parent Textron, to call the operation performance below expectations and to promise that more cost-control measures are ahead.
The operating loss was greater than the $24 million loss reported in first quarter 2010. “While there are a number of items in the quarter which contributed to the magnitude of the loss, I would say our underlying operational performance at Cessna was disappointing,” Donnelly says.
Contributing to the loss, Donnelly says, is higher-than-expected costs associated with the CJ4 business jet. “The production ramp of the new CJ4 is going well technically but is above our production cost targets,” he says. He attributed this to higher component costs and says the company needs to work out material costs with suppliers.
Also contributing to the down performance were lower forfeiture income and an increase in engineering costs, the company says.
And, while aircraft pricing is stabilizing, “inflation did erode margins, and even with low levels of production in the factory, I believe we could do better in terms of driving productivity,” says Donnelly.
Donnelly notes a series of actions Cessna has taken over the past couple years to drive cost, but says, “[we] clearly have more to do I can assure you we are taking necessary actions to restore our profitability, even as we increase our investments in new products and service offerings”
The loss comes in spite of a $123 million increase in revenues to $556 million in the quarter. Donnelly attributed the increase primarily to a higher mix of its light and mid-size jets and an increase in used jet sales. Cessna delivered 31 jets in the first quarter, the same as in first quarter 2010.
Donnelly also was encouraged that order and customer inquiry activity has increased and that the inquiries are broad-based geographically, including the U.S. Bonus depreciation is still in effect, he notes, and predicts that Cessna should see a boost from that in the fourth quarter, similar to 2010.
Another improving indicator is used aircraft sales, where the availability of used Citations has dropped to 14% of the fleet, compared with 14.5% at the end of the year and 17.3% at the peak of the down cycle. The improvements reinforce the company’s belief that Cessna’s deliveries will be up slightly in 2011, he Donnelly.
Even so, backlog slid $293 million to $2.6 billion at the end of the first quarter. “We did see gross orders up a quite a bit --the market is coming back,” Donnelly says, but adds, “It is coming back slower than we would like.” He adds that backlog may begin to increase again before the end of the year.

Spain, South Korea Swap Parts To Maintain Old Fighters

South Korea and Spain will exchange spare parts to cut the cost of keeping old fighters flying. The Spanish air force will supply parts for F-4 Phantoms to the South Korean air force, which will reciprocate by sending parts that Spain can use on F-5B Freedom Fighters. Spain’s Phantom parts are presumably surplus, since it retired the type in 2002. It operated F-4Cs, whereas South Korea has F-4Es. South Korea flies F-5E/Fs, while Spain has F-5Bs. The South Korean defense ministry expects to save 1.3 billion won ($1.2 million) from the deal, the Yonhap news agency reports.

NASA Clears Endeavour For Last Launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA managers on April 27 cleared Endeavour for a launch attempt at 3:47 p.m. EDT April 29 on STS-134, the last mission for the orbiter designated OV-105, with one flight to follow before the shuttle program ends.
“Endeavour’s in great shape. We had an easy call to say that we’re ready to go. We’re looking forward to Friday’s launch,” says Mike Moses, launch integration manager.
The weather outlook for the flight is good, with just a 20% chance that crosswinds would violate launch constraints.
In addition to reviewing the shuttle’s technical readiness to fly and the state of its primary payloads, managers reviewed potential operational effects from the planned visit of President Barack Obama, who is coming to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch.
“We have folks both on the Air Force side and on our side working to understand those impacts, and they should be fairly benign to us, other than the amount of entourage that comes with the president and aircraft arriving at the launch center,” Moses told reporters.
Plans about where Air Force One will land and when it will arrive have yet to be determined.
“A lot of things you learn when you deal with presidential visits. One is that you’re never quite sure what the final plan is until it’s done,” says Launch Director Mike Leinbach.
“We’re taking all options under consideration and deconflicting every one of them.
“We’ve told them we prefer that Air Force One is not on the SLF [Shuttle Landing Facility], but the final decision comes from them,” Leinbach adds.
Endeavour is carrying the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector, which will be installed on the right side of the space station’s central truss, and an Express Logistics Carrier with spare parts for the station.
The crew is led by Navy Capt. Mark Kelly and includes pilot Gregory Johnson, flight engineer Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency, lead spacewalker Andrew Feustel, and mission specialists Michael Fincke and Gregory Chamitoff.
Working in pairs, Feustel, Fincke and Chamitoff are scheduled to make a total of four spacewalks to install experiments and perform maintenance tasks outside the station. The outings are the final spacewalks planned in the shuttle program.
With just two missions remaining before the 30-year shuttle program ends this summer, the number of spectators gathering around Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch is growing. Officials estimate that between 500,000 and 750,000 people will be in surrounding communities for the April 29 launch. The heavy traffic could be a potential operational issue in case weather or technical problems delay the mission.
“Driving home is going to be a challenge and that’s going to factor into our decision this time, more so than ever in the past,” Leinbach says.

Gameco Opens A Maintenance Base In Chongqing

Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance & Engineering Co. (Gameco) opened its first maintenance base outside its Guangzhou headquarters and will provide line maintenance for ChongQing Airlines there. Gameco, which received Chinese CAAC maintenance approval for this new facility in Chongqing, also is hiring ChongQing Airline’s engineering staff at this location, who, along with key Gameco management personnel, will provide outstation support, component maintenance, ground support and consumable material supply for the airline.
In June or July, Gameco will start providing line maintenance services to China Southern Airlines from Chongqing, and “future maintenance support will be determined shortly,” says David Conrad, Gameco’s director of international sales and marketing. He expects to sign other third-party customers later this year.
Xie GuoMin is the general manager of Gameco’s ChongQing base.
Gameco has said it is considering establishing an MRO joint venture and building a hangar to support airlines, but it is not commenting on details. “Since ChongQing Airlines operates [Airbus] A320s, any JV facility would likely support this fleet type,” says Conrad.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Riding Falcons: Iridium NEXT Readied for Launch

blog post photo
Iridium Communications has signed on to have their Iridium NEXT satellites place on orbit exclusively atop Falcon 9 rockets. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/
Iridium Communications is set to launch its next constellation of communications satellites into orbit. This time however, it will be a far cry from when it launched its current fleet of satellites back in the 90s. The launch vehicles then had a very international flavor with U.S. Delta IIs, Russian Protons and the Chinese Long March all doing their part to hoist the satellites to orbit. This time around only a single launch vehicle will be tasked, the twice-flown Falcon 9, produced by Hawthorne, Calif-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).
Iridium launched this first constellation of communications satellites within the time span of a single year, from 1997 until 1998. Iridium sent this constellation into orbit on multiple different launch vehicles.
The Iridium NEXT is the largest commercial space launch contract with any single entity. All told, this contract is worth  approximately $3 billion.
The Falcon 9 is scheduled to complete this planned 72-satellite constellation in a mere eight launches of nine satellites each. Sixty-six of these satellites will be fully operational; the six remaining satellites will serve as on-orbit spares (in case there is a problem with any of the operating satellites). Iridium will also have nine additional spares on the ground.
Iridium has plans to maximize every last ounce of these satellites. The company will do so by selling space on them so that other firms can attach sensors or experiments.
“Every one of these satellites has a budget of about 110 pounds that can be used to fly extra payloads from different customers,” said Iridium’s CEO Matt Desch during a recent interview. “We will be hosting other people’s sensors on our satellites.”
The arrangement between Iridium and the NewSpace firm was just one in a string of successes as far as SpaceX is concerned. With the first two successful flights of the Falcon 9 rocket, the unspoken-but-obvious backing of the White House and the contract with Iridium, SpaceX is on a winning streak that shows little sign of abating. With the second launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX became the first company to do what only nations had done before – send a spacecraft into orbit and have it return safely to Earth (the Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean a few hours after launch).
The contract with Iridium Communications is set to see its first launch during the first quarter of 2015. With the system fully financed (as of this past fall) the company now has to build it on orbit. When the constellation of satellites is on orbit it is expected to be functioning for many years to come.
“It was an innovative system that broke all the rules, and now we’re going to do it again,” said Desch. “A lot of people don’t realize what a powerful system we are today. They probably only remember us from 10-15 years ago. We’re going to remind them of who we are and what we are capable of, the replacement system will last until 2030 and what we will do today will last for years to come.”

Brazil's Novaer Unveils Trainer, GA Aircraft

Brazil’s Novaer Craft is developing a single-engine basic trainer that also is to serve as the baseline for a four-passenger general aviation aircraft.
The all-composite aircraft is based on the K-51 aerodynamic design, and the critical design review was completed in February, says company president Graciliano Campos. First flight is planned in the first half of 2012, followed by aircraft certification a year later.
The initial focus is on the basic trainer, owing to an emerging Brazilian air force need to replace the T-25s that were first fielded in 1969.
The Lycoming AEIO-540-powered aircraft features a 9.14-meter wingspan, with 12.46 sq. meter wing area; maximum takeoff weight is 1.14 metric tons, with an empty weight of 810 kg. (1,800 lb.). The aircraft is designed to operate within +6 g and -3 g. Maximum cruise is around 202 kt., with a stall speed of 55 kt. and maximum rate of climb of 2,665 ft. per min.
The aircraft features a retractable landing gear, ballistic parachute recovery system, air conditioning and optional pressurized cabin. The two-seat, side-by-side glass cockpit will be developed by Brazil’s Flight Technologies.
The four-seat passenger general aviation aircraft is to fill a niche that is currently highly popular in Brazil but only served by foreign manufacturers. Campos notes that with the U-Xc Stardream, Novaer Craft hopes to close the gap that exists between Brazil’s huge experimental aircraft sector and Embraer’s high-end products.
This version’s empty weight would be 887 kg, with a mean takeoff weight of 1.555 metric tons. G-loading would be limited to +4.4 g and -2.2 g. Cruise speed at 8,000 ft. would be 196 kt., with a rate of climb of up to 1,693 ft./min.
Novaer Craft would offer the aircraft with normally aspirated and turbocharged Lycoming engines.