4 Aviation Notes, Including Some on TSA and 1 for Nerds Only

By James Fallows

590703main_taurus_800_800-600.jpg1) Encouraging news, via NASA and Network World, about successful results in the NASA-Google Green Flight Challenge for an ultra-efficient new airplane. The prize of $1.35 million, reportedly the largest ever in aviation, went to the Pipistrel-USA.com plane shown at right, which met the following standards:

>>NASA today awarded what it called the largest prize in aviation history to a company that flew their aircraft 200 miles in less than two hours on less than one gallon of fuel or electric equivalent....

[T]o win the Green Flight Challenge, an aircraft must exceed an equivalent fuel efficiency of 200 passenger miles per gallon (mpge). Typical general-aviation aircraft have fuel efficiencies in the range of 5-50 mpge.  Large passenger aircraft are in the 50-100 mpge range, depending on passenger/cargo load. Green Flight Challenge aircraft also must have an average speed of at least 100 mph over a 200-mile race circuit; achieve a takeoff distance of less than 2,000 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle; and deliver a decibel rating of less than 78 dBA at full-power takeoff, as recorded from 250 feet away.<<

Congrats!

2) TSA department. I have had some bad run-ins myself recently, which I'll describe at some point. The main take-home lesson is: avoid Dulles Airport if you possibly can, although that is tricky if you live in DC. In case you haven't seen it, the most notorious recent TSA- uber-alles account is from Lori Dorn, about how her post-breast cancer prostheses caused a "security" incident at JFK. The TSA is apologizing for this one, sort of.

2A) Placeholder for update later on security-overkill front: Why the FAA and other agencies are wrong to start imposing a system that would, in effect, put absolutely unprecedented limits on Americans' accustomed ability to travel within their own country without being monitored. Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune explained the problem well this summer. More from NBAA, and more in this space soon.

3) There is a lot of other aviation-safety news, from the long overdue AF 447 update to the recent surprising episode involving an ANA flight in Japan, of which there is an animation after the jump. Plus airshow accidents. They are all in the queue.

4) Now, for nerds only: In a small plane that, in the right circumstances*, can get 40-50 mpge, I have been doing a lot of business-related flying in the past few days. (*Right circumstances = four people aboard; "best economy" fuel and power setting; 10 - 12+ mpg for the plane in no-wind conditions;  x 4 = 40-50 mpge.) There was a real weather anomaly on Sunday afternoon, as we came from coastal Massachusetts back to the DC area. The further south we went, the colder it got. The chart below -- which indicates "freezing levels," the altitude at which the surrounding air temperature goes below zero C, at the time of this flight -- shows something fairly unusual. That is the self-contained patch of coldness centered more or less over the nation's capital, generated perhaps by the moral and civic mood therein. It was in the low 70s F when we got in the airplane in Massachusetts and in the low 40s when we got out two hours later in suburban Maryland.

FreezingLevel.png
 
Further note for flying enthusiasts: the trip was IFR on the V16 coastal route -- along the RI and Connecticut shore and over Long Island to JFK airport, then through the center of New Jersey past Atlantic City down toward Dover, Delaware, and then V268 across BWI airport toward Gaithersburg -- and was in the clouds the entire way. Thus the steady fall in outside air temperature as the trip wore on had my full attention, from a comfortable 8 - 10 C in New England to 1 - 2 C near landing time in Maryland. This mattered, of course, because 0 C or thereabouts inside clouds means airframe icing, something very much to avoid. But the light rain hitting the windshield always stayed liquid, and there was never any trace of ice on the wings (which also have the TKS anti-ice system). So I kept considering alternate plans -- climb, land -- but didn't have to employ them. Mentioned just for aviation lore and the oddness of the weather.

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From CBS news on the bizarre ANA incident (with pre-roll ad):

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