“The ruling class has the schools and press under its thumb. This enables it to sway the emotions of the masses.”
African Pilot’s aircraft of the week identification quiz
No prizes, but can you identify this aircraft? Last week’s aircraft proved to be rather easy, so let’s see who gets this one correct. Please send your answers to me and not to other African Pilot e-mail addresses – Thank you: email@example.com. I will publish the names of all those that identified the aircraft correctly in the Thursday edition of APAnews.
Where will I find the requirements to obtain a Night Rating?
Fortunately now that the COVID-19 restrictions have been reduced to Level-1, there are many General Aviation events that have been planned for the end of this year. Please visit the calendar of aviation events featured within this edition of APAnews so that you can see what has been planned for the remainder of the year. Thanks to the magazine’s extensive contacts with event’s organisers, African Pilot is the only South African aviation publication that brings you regular updates, within the monthly magazine as well as within APAnews and the website: www.africanpilot.co.za
African Pilot’s October 2021 edition
The October edition featuring aircraft / helicopter maintenance will be distributed early this week. This 256-page edition has 21 embedded videos and 27 picture galleries making African Pilot the largest aviation monthly publication in the world. Within this edition African Pilot has showcased many AMOs and aircraft refurbishing companies where no single company shares any part of a double page spread with any other company. In addition, African Pilot is the only South African aviation magazine that presents embedded videos and picture galleries to increase its advertisers exposure to the market.
African Pilot’s November 2021 edition
The November edition will feature African Airlines, Gifts for Pilots and Aircraft Leasing. African Pilot has already undertaken research on African Airlines and we will be presenting factual information about these airlines, not just an inaccurate listing of airlines, many of which have ceased to exist. The Gifts for Pilots feature allows for any of the pilot shops to market their merchandise. Finally, Aircraft Leasing is a sector of the aviation industry that is often neglected and this feature will present an opportunity for leasing companies to present their business profiles. African Pilot is the ‘only aviation magazine’ that provides its advertisers with quality coverage within a well-designed publication that has South African, African and International reach.
Video of the week
Brakpan Tiger Moth Fly-In on 25 September 2021
African Pilot Digital Calendars
Wallpaper calendar for the months of September and October. Go to our wallpaper page to download the calendars in three different resolutions.
View and download African Pilot’s last three (3) 2021 editions.
Click on the covers below.
The mystery of Flights to Nowhere
I have watched and enjoyed the full series to date and I was impressed with the production of the various episodes that African Pilot published as a series during 2019 / 20 and that we consolidated into Wouter’s eBook. I understand from Wouter that the series has been so popular that the television station will be re-broadcasting the series on Mnet catchup for the next few weeks.
Flights to Nowhere eBook
Aero Club coffee table Centenary Yearbook
The AeCSA Centenary Yearbook is now available to purchase from the online shop. Please visit www.aeroclub.org.za/shop.
Aero Club support
SACAA to measure customer service
A key strategic outcome indicator of the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is to measure and improve the customer service experience of all its customers and stakeholders. Critical to delivering good customer service, is feedback from the customers themselves on the standards that will satisfy them. The SACAA aims to give seamless services to its customers and further add value by being an enabler of our customers businesses. Participating in the customer satisfaction survey will take seven minutes of your time. All responses are completely confidential. The data collected will only be shared at an aggregated level with no individual or personally identifiable details. This is in line with the requirements of the Southern African Market Research Association (SAMRA) of which Digital Republic is a corporate member.
Please follow the link below to complete the survey:
News from CAASA
CAASA / AMOSA and industry leaders have been in negotiations with the SACAA regarding Directive AIR-2020-002. As you may observe, once this directive expires in February 2022, you will not be able to overhaul parts and components at foreign facilities, unless that facility has a SACAA approval. We request information from you so that we may further substantiate our claim that it is not feasible to comply with the requirement that all foreign suppliers be SACAA approved. Please supply us with the following:
- Name of your foreign repair / overhaul supplier.
- Country location of supplier.
- City location of the supplier (reason is that suppliers can be spread out across a country such as the USA).
- PN of parts maintained / overhauled. Description of parts.
- Approximate number of this the part sent annually (for many parts it is uneconomical to repair / overhaul within South Africa due low number of units).
Your information will help us in our discussion with the SACAA. Please feel free to pass this e-mail on to other AMOs. For further information please contact CAASA E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
SACAA imposes fuel levy
What happened in aviation over the past week?
EAA Taildraggers at Warmbaths airfield
For the second year the annual EAA Taildraggers fly-in event was held over the weekend of Friday 9 to Sunday 11 October, somewhat later in the year this time due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. Richard Nicholson and his team from the Warmbaths Flying Club planned and managed a superb event that attracted somewhere in the region of 119 aircraft, according to ATC records of all shapes and sizes. This was also a great opportunity for the many aviation photographers to enjoy the excellent weather and wonderful friendship of the many pilots who flew their aircraft to Warmbaths. Thanks to Fiana and Charlie Hugo for accompanying me to capture the excitement of the day, which will be featured within the November edition of African Pilot.
Henley Air Rocket HEMS day at Rand Airport
Initial pictures were taken with the orange jackets on, this included Mr. Jean Baptista pictured in the centre, from Medicare, the company who supplies us with our CorPuls III ECG Monitor / Defibrillator on the aircraft and who sponsored our crew their jackets. The jackets have been a huge hit amongst the crews and industry alike, you can see make our crew members stand out in the crowd. These jackets are issued solely to crew and ROCKET support staff. The pictures taken after that show our recently acquired orange flight suits, the flight suit colour was a suggestion from a pilot in Durban, who made a comment while we busy with and aircraft inspection for the KwaZulu Natal Department of Health and was later put forward to the management team. The idea behind the high visibility flight suits is similar to that used by the air force and search and rescue teams world-wide and once again has created a stir in the industry. The orange flight suits are only issued to flight crew, dispatchers and our Managing Director of BRISK Solutions / ROCKET HEMS. The branding on the flights is very similar across the board, with the only differences being the qualification shown on the back, denoting ‘Doctor or Emergency Care Practitioner’ for our primary medical crew, or ‘Paramedic’ denoting our secondary medical crew, each individual’s name badge is embroidered in ‘white’ for those who have been qualified between two and five years, in ‘silver’ for those who have been qualified for between five and ten years and in ‘gold’ for those who have been qualified for ten years and more.
What is scheduled for the next few months?
African Pilot’s 2021 calendar
We will publish the aviation calendar within APAnews three months ahead, but you can always visit African Pilot’s website: www.africanpilot.co.za if you would like to obtain the full calendar for the entire year.
12 to 14 October
NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) Las Vegas Nevada
Krugersdorp Flying Club spot landing at Jack Taylor airfield, Krugersdorp
Contact E-mail: email@example.com or Cell 079 213 9059
Panorama breakfast fly-in
Contact Alan Stewart E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lydenburg annual fly-in and festival
Contact Coenraad De Beer Cell: 076 466 9999
SAA Museum Society presents Breast Cancer awareness day
Contact Margeret Cell: 082 336 9600
Henley Air open day at Rand Airport
Contact Andre Coetzee E-mail: email@example.com Tel: +27 (0)11 827 5503
EAA Chapter 322 monthly meeting virtual via Zoom
Contact Neil Bowden E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 084 674 5674
Children’s Flight at Orient airfield
Contact Felix Gosher
5 to 7 November
EAA Sun ‘n Fun at Brits airfield
Contact Neil Bowden E-mail: email@example.com Cell: 084 674 5674
SAA Museum Society Airline Collectibles at Rand Airport
Contact E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 076 879 5044
SAPFA SA Landing Championships at Brits Airfield
Contact Ron Stirk E-mail: email@example.com Cell: 082 445 0373
14 to 18 November
Dubai Airshow DWC, Airshow Site, Dubai, UAE
SAPFA Springs Speed Rally at Springs Airfield
Contact David Le Roux E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 073 338 5200
Sports Aerobatics Club Western Cape regionals at Stellenbosch airfield
Contact Annie Boon E-mail: email@example.com
EAA Chapter 322 monthly meeting virtual via Zoom
Contact Neil Bowden E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 084 674 5674
2 & 3 December
Security Drone Conference at Emperors Palace Convention Centre
Contact Tawanda Mandaza E-mail: email@example.com Cell: 063 580 6400
Aero Club of South Africa annual awards venue TBA
Contact Rob Jonkers E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 082 804 7032
Cancelled due to very few international events
4 & 5 December
Sports Aerobatics Club ACE of Base Baragwaneth Airfield
Contact Annie Boon E-mail: email@example.com
2022 Aviation calendar
I have started compiling the 2022 aviation calendar, so if you would like to reserve a specific date even if this is provisional, please send the details to me. What I require is the date, venue, contact person(s) and contact details such as Cell number and e-mail. Thank you.
African airlines’ traffic fell 58.5% in August
IATA has announced that the recovery in air travel decelerated in August compared to July, as government actions in response to concerns over the COVID-19 Delta variant cut deeply into domestic travel demand. Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to August 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.
Total demand for air travel in August 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was down 56.0% compared to August 2019. This marked a slowdown from July, when demand was 53.0% below July 2019 levels. This was entirely driven by domestic markets, which were down 32.2% compared to August 2019, a major deterioration from July 2021, when traffic was down 16.1% versus two years ago. The worst impact was in China, while India and Russia were the only large markets to show a month-to-month improvement compared to July 2021.
International passenger demand in August was 68.8% below August 2019, which was an improvement compared to the 73.1% decline recorded in July. All regions showed improvement, which was attributable to growing vaccination rates and less stringent international travel restrictions in some regions.
“August results reflect the impact of concerns over the Delta variant on domestic travel, even as international travel continued on a snail’s pace toward a full recovery that cannot happen until governments restore the freedom to travel. In that regard, the recent US announcement to lift travel restrictions from early November on fully vaccinated travellers is very good news and will bring certainty to a key market. But challenges remain, September bookings indicate a deterioration in international recovery. That is bad news heading into the traditionally slower fourth quarter,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. African airlines’ traffic fell 58.5% in August versus two years’ ago, somewhat improved over the 60.4% decline in July compared to July 2019. August capacity was down 50.1% and load factor declined 12.7% to 63.0%.
RwandAir and Qatar Airways sign codeshare agreement
RwandAir and Qatar Airways have signed a comprehensive codeshare agreement to offer travellers more choice, enhanced service, and greater connectivity to more than 65 destinations across Africa and the rest of the world. As part of the deal, the Rwandan flag carrier will also launch new non-stop flights between their Kigali hub and Doha in December. The agreement benefits travellers from across the globe who fly with both airlines, which expands each carrier’s route network. Customers can enjoy the simplicity of buying connecting flights on both airlines using one reservation, with a seamless ticketing, check-in, boarding and baggage-check experience that encompasses the entire journey.
Yvonne Makolo, RwandAir CEO, said: This is a major milestone for RwandAir and marks the beginning of an exciting new journey with Qatar Airways. We are also immensely proud to welcome Doha to our route network, connecting customers with Qatar’s hub and further expanding their flight map. “This codeshare agreement will give our customers significantly more choice and flexibility, allowing RwandAir to strengthen its global presence and build on its strong and loyal African customer base.
As we continue to grow out of the pandemic, this partnership represents yet another extremely important step on our recovery runway, and we hope to deliver more commitments like this to our customers in the very near future.”
Akbar Al-Baker, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, said: “We share a very close and collaborative bond with Rwanda and welcome RwandAir’s new non-stop service between Kigali and our home in Doha. “With this comprehensive codeshare agreement, we are committed to deliver greater choice and connectivity to our customers in Africa and around the world. The new partnership will help position Qatar Airways in the region and complement our African expansion strategy. As we brace ourselves to meet pent-up demand for travel, I see dynamic partnerships like this one propel travel, tourism and trade firmly on the path to recovery.”
The new codeshare will enable RwandAir customers to book attractive offers to popular destinations in the U.S, such as New York, Washington D.C., Dallas and Los Angeles. The partnership will also see these offers extend to key European cities, such as London, Zurich and Madrid and points across Asia, such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Those travelling on RwandAir will benefit from outstanding service, as the airline won the award for best airline staff in Africa at the 2021 Skytrax awards. The agreement also increases Qatar Airways’ footprint in Africa, with access to destinations such as Bujumbura, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. Both airlines recently announced a loyalty partnership, giving RwandAir Dream Miles and Qatar Airways Privilege Club loyalty members access to each other’s destinations.
Condor launches flights to Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives
Condor has launched flights to Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Maldives, three of the most popular destinations in the Indian Ocean. From Frankfurt, Germany’s popular leisure airline takes off on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays to Mauritius, to the Seychelles on Fridays and to the Maldives on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The island state of Mauritius lies in the southwest of the Indian ocean and is well-known for its mountainous inland, with rain forests and waterfalls. There are unique hiking, climbing and diving areas to discover and with Port Louis also a lively capital with a historic centre. Among the most famous sights are the natural phenomenon ‘Seven Coloured Earth’ and the 556-metre-high mountain Le Morne Brabant.
The Seychelles off the east coast of Africa inspire with beautiful picture book beaches. However, the 115 islands have much more to offer. In the capital of Victoria, weekly markets take place where you can buy fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. It is also the starting point for ferry trips to surrounding islands, such as La Digue and Praslin. From there it is not far to the island of Curieuse, natural habitat of the giant tortoises and the Seychelles palm Coco de Mer. Hiking enthusiasts can conquer the Morne Blanc Trail, at the end of which awaits a viewpoint with spectacular views of the coast.
The exotic Maldives are famous for white sand beaches, blue lagoons and exclusive hotel resorts. The archipelago consists of over 1,000 coral islands and includes 26 ring-shaped atolls. Numerous dream beaches invite you to sunbathe and relax or to snorkel and dive.
PC-12 crash claims eight, including Romanian billionaire and family
Italian air traffic control reported there was no distress call from the pilot of a Pilatus PC-12 turboprop single before it crashed ‘minutes’ after take-off on Sunday 3 October from Milan Linate Airport. The pilot was Romanian billionaire Dan Petrescu, head of a major construction company as well as a chain of shopping malls and reportedly one of Romania’s richest men. All eight onboard, including Petrescu’s wife and adult son, died when the airplane crashed into a vacant building, also setting multiple cars on fire. According to Italian press reports, among the victims were a one-year-old boy and his parents, as well as two other women who were sisters. All were friends of the Petrescu family. No one on the ground was injured.
The flight was bound for Olbia on the island of Sardinia off the Italian west coast. The Sardinian resort Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) is a popular vacation destination for high-net-worth individuals. According to Italian press reports, ‘authorities’ said that the PC-12’s flight path appeared to suggest that Petrescu was trying to return to the airport after overflying a local seaplane base and the ‘densely inhabited areas southeast of Milan.’ The aircraft crashed into an unoccupied building that was under restoration. The crash site is near a metro station located in the Milan suburb of San Donato.
Sierra West Airlines flight PKW887
A Dassault Falcon 20C, N283SA, was destroyed when it impacted trees and terrain while on approach to Thomson-McDuffie County Airport (HQU/KHQU), Thomson, Georgia, on Tuesday 5 October. The captain, Raymond Bachman (73) and first officer, Claude Duchesne (63), the only occupants, were fatally injured. The final ADS-B data point (located 1.1 nautical miles from Runway 10 threshold) showed a descent rate of 1,600 feet per minute at 700 MSL (200’ AGL) and a ground speed of 133 Knots. The Field elevation is 500’ AMSL. The lowest permitted decent on any approach to Runway 10 is 400’ and one mile visibility.
British Airways adds former red list destinations to its network
Following the welcome news that a significant number of countries have been removed from the UK Government’s red list, British Airways is resuming services and increasing frequencies to a number of destinations. British Airways is set to ramp up services to popular winter sun destination South Africa, with daily services to Johannesburg expected by mid-December. The airline will also restart services to Cape Town, offering three flights a week in November, before moving to a double daily service in December. British Airways Holidays is now offering up to £300 off holiday packages to some of these destinations, including South Africa. Packages currently available include:
- Cape Town: British Airways Holidays offers seven nights, at the Holiday Inn Express Cape Town City Centre from £789pp, travelling on selected dates between 1 November to 30 November 2021 inclusive. Includes economy (World Traveller) return flights from London Heathrow Airport, 23kg luggage allowance and accommodation with breakfast. For reservations visit www.britishairways.com/capetown
Customers booking with British Airways can do so with absolute confidence, thanks to the airline’s flexible booking policy. Customers are able to exchange their booking for a voucher or move their dates without incurring a change fee if their plans change. British Airways Holidays’ customers also have access to a range of additional flexible booking options, as part of the company’s Customer Promise, including securing a holiday with a deposit from just £60 per person and lounge access for those spending over £1,500 per person.
After 18 hours, Qantas’ longest commercial flight lands in Darwin
The flight landed at 18h39 pm local time at Darwin International Airport. It carried stranded Australians returning home from Buenos Aires (EZE) over 14,683 kilometres (9,124 miles). Qantas used its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for the task, one of the few aircraft that can perform in such an ultra-long-haul role. The flight, designated QF14, took off from Buenos Aires Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE) at 12h44 pm local time on 5 October 2021. It carried the passengers over a slice of the Atlantic Ocean, the southern tip of South America, along the coastline of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, before crossing the middle of Australia and landing at Darwin, located on the country’s northern coast. Due to the length of the flight and the unusual route, for much of its duration QF14 was one of the most tracked flights on various flight tracking services, such as Flightradar24. The journey was 185 kilometres (115 miles) longer than Perth (PER) to London (LHR), Qantas’ previous longest commercial flight, which makes QF14 the longest commercial flight in the airline’s history. However, it is significantly shorter than a couple of 20-hour-long test flights Qantas conducted in 2019 in preparation for the launch of Project Sunrise, the New York-Sydney route. The record-breaking flights were also conducted on a Boeing 787-9, but they did not carry paying passengers, making them not eligible to be considered as airline’s longest commercial flights.
BA confirms return of A380 from November 2021
British Airways confirmed its Airbus A380s will be returning to the skies sooner than expected, with first flights to take off in November 2021. On 6 October 2021, BA said the airline will initially bring back four of its 12 A380s, which will start operations on short-haul destinations so that crew can get familiar with the aircraft again. The superjumbo will then operate flights to Miami and Los Angeles in November 2021, followed by Dubai the following month. The earlier than expected return of the A380 to the fleet comes after the United States said it would open up its borders to international travellers. “This is an exciting time for British Airways and our customers as we see borders re-opening,” Neil Chernoff, BA director of network and alliances said in a statement. “With welcome news from the US, we are dramatically increasing flights and bringing home some of our A380s to give our customers as many options as possible.”
Possible Boeing 777X Freighter Inbound
Sources close to the usual buyers have spun rumours of Boeing’s upcoming release of an all-freight variant of the twin-engine 777X. Faced with flagging sales and deferred orders for passenger liners, whispers of Boeing’s courtship of large freight operators seems probable. So far, Singapore Airlines, FedEx, Deutsche Lufthansa, as well as their DHL unit have likely been offered the product, which could be announced at next month’s Dubai Airshow. Airbus has approved production for an A350 Freighter to be built by 2025, beating its Boeing equivalent to market by two years before the 777X freighter would be available.
Introduction of the spiritual successor to the 747 cannot come soon enough for Boeing. As the 747’s cargo model, the -8F has continued to log hours in the freight industry, operators have chafed at the increasing costs of operation it’s four engines entail. Production is currently expected to end in 2022 when the last of its orders are fulfilled. A twin-engine widebody would be a formidable contender against the Airbus A330 and put Boeing back to its favourite spot as the premier aircraft manufacturer to beat. The business is needed, as the company waves away the lingering scent of the 737 Max debacle from their buyers’ minds. Regulatory delays have postponed the commercial debut of the first 777X by years, as of now set for 2023. Boeing is still comfortable customers will choose them, though, as Tom Crabtree, Regional Director of Air Cargo, said the 777X freighter is a benchmark-setter in maximising the use of space in its spacious frame. Airbus’ A350 competitor, he noted with mirth, that” in terms of cross-section, it’s only on par with the MD-11”.
Qatar Airways Chief Executive, Akbar Al Baker, was quiet on the specifics of a deal, saying only “We have a requirement for 50 aircraft and we will make a decision soon.” A recent spat with Airbus over paint damage to Qatar’s A350 fleet is a mark against the European manufacturer. “If they want to sell any A350’s to us, they have to fix the problem they have, for which they do not have a solution at the moment.” Qatar’s 26 777F freighters have given them a taste of a future iteration, which will help them meet increasingly stringent pollution standards taking effect in 2028. One deal with Boeing might include options to transfer orders of their passenger 777X to the cargo version, as well. It remains to be seen when such a debut could occur. Recent trade shows still draw anaemic crowds compared to their earlier turnouts before 2020 and the freedom enjoyed by manufacturers could always result in an unorthodox product announcement outside of the traditional trade show booth release.
All-electric air race prepares for inaugural season
The Nordic Air Racing Team’s recently completed electric race plane is in preparation for the upcoming season of Air Race E. The first racing series between all-electric aircraft, each race will see eight planes tip-to-tip spring their way around a circuit at speeds up in excess of 200 knots when the maiden 2023 season of the Open Class. Air Race E is poised to be the premier international green racing organisation, working with Formula Air Racing Association to develop new race formulas and work with other key stakeholders as they break new ground in sustainable, battery-powered flight.
As teams prepare for the upcoming competition, Nordic Air Racing beat the rest to the punch after the small, 12-man team completed their open class build. They will be the first to get an all-electric race plane airborne during their upcoming test flight. Under the open class rules, each team may produce their own unique powertrain within formula rules, resulting in many cases as a handmade, bespoke aircraft customized for maximum performance.
Pierre Dussaux, Sponsoring and Communications Manager for the Nordic Air team, described the process as ‘a big challenge’ and said: “Building an electrical plane and a race plane at that, is a process full of surprises.” While difficult, teams appreciate the freedom given. “One of the major attractions of Air Race E as a platform is that the series provides an opportunity to prove our own technologies for future production. This gives our team freedom to develop and perfect our designs and systems for use in other sectors.”
But like any high-performance machine, it can only perform as well as its pilot allows. Long-time aerobatic pilot Rein Inge Hoff is set for the duty, adding to a long list of demanding aircraft including Mustangs and Spitfires. His PhD in Aerospace Engineering has been a help in converting the Cassutt IIIM formula race plane from its piston-engine origins. The performance will be a spectacle when the light, agile aircraft is paired with an instantly accelerating electric motor. Jeff Zaltman, CEO of Air Race E, said, “We are closing in on the first-ever flight of an all-electric racing plane and it promises to be a landmark moment in the creation and development of Air Race E as a championship. I will be excited to see the hard work of the Nordic Air Racing team pay off when they make this historic flight, while I am grateful for the dedication and professionalism of all the teams, engineers and personnel who have contributed on our journey towards this milestone.”
Jet2.com orders 15 additional Airbus A321neos, taking total order to 51
Airbus announced that Jet2.com has placed a further order for 15 A321neos following its initial order for 36 placed in August 2021. It takes the total order by the Leeds, United Kingdom, based airline to 51 A321neos. The two orders reflect Jet2.com’s ambitious fleet expansion and renewal plans. Engine selection will be made at a later date. The aircraft will be configured for 232 seats with an Airspace cabin featuring innovative lighting, new seating products and 60 percent larger overhead baggage bins for added personal storage. By the end of August 2021, the A320neo Family had achieved more than 7,500 firm orders from over 120 customers worldwide.
USAF receives Lockheed Martin laser weapon for AC-130J gunship
Lockheed Martin delivered an Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL) to the United States Air Force (USAF) in preparation for ground testing and flight testing aboard the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship. The AHEL primarily underwent factory acceptance testing before it was delivered to the USAF, Lockheed indicated on 6 October 2021.
“Completion of this milestone is a tremendous accomplishment for our customer,” said Rick Cordaro, vice president, Lockheed Martin advanced product solutions. “These mission success milestones are a testament of our partnership with the US Air Force in rapidly achieving important advances in laser weapon system development.
The AHEL is undergoing rapid testing under a contract awarded by the USAF to Lockheed in January 2019 to integrate, test and demonstrate the system onboard the AC-130J Ghostrider fleet. Even though the system is undergoing operational and functional testing on the AC-130J, Cordaro indicated that the technology was ready for fielding already. According to Lockheed, the US Navy is also interested in the AHEL system, with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, awarding a five-year and $12 million worth indefinite-delivery contract in July 2021 for technical services, integration, test and demonstration of the weapon.
Lockheed has been focusing on developing laser-based weapons over the past few years under the United States’ first laser weapon programme. The specifications of the AHEL are unknown, but it is speculated that its intensity is the same as that of the High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) currently being developed by Lockheed for the US Navy destroyers.
Lockheed is also involved in several other laser-based solutions for the USAF, including the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) system. The AC-130 is the ground attack and heavily armed gunship variant of the C-130 Hercules heavy transport aircraft with an extensive combat history dating back to the Vietnam war. The arsenal of its latest variant, the AC-130J Ghostrider, includes a precision strike package with 30mm and 105mm cannons, GBU-39 small diameter bomb, GBU-69 small glide munition, AGM-114 Hellfire and AGM-176 Griffin missile.
Employee group raises safety concerns for Blue Origin
A group of self-described former and current employees of Blue Origin released an essay citing issues they claim endanger the future of commercial spaceflight through a toxic corporate culture and safety-ambivalent leadership. In a release penned by Alexandra Abrams, Former Head of Blue Origin Employee Communications and 20 others who have worked at the company, the group makes a series of claims they believe merit outside attention for the good of the industry. Ranging from a sexist, toxic culture dominated by white males, overworked and underfunded teams and a focus on meeting timetables in the civilian space race over adequate safety precautions.
Abrams’ essay describes a patriarchal, toxic work culture that stifles the comfort and safety of female employees with ‘a particular brand of sexism’, untouchable senior staff immune to harassment and nearly impossible expectations all add up to what the essay describes as a reflective of ‘the worst of the world we live in now and sorely needs to change’. Examples of egregious include a former executive consistently demeaning and condescending female staff, referring to them with diminutives such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘baby girl’ and inquiring about their dating lives. His behaviour was infamous within the company, such that new female hires would be warned to stay away from him. Another exec was rumoured to have such strong ties to company founder Jeff Bezos that it took a physical groping incident to finally force the company’s hand in terminating him.
Notwithstanding the concerns of workplace comfort, diversity and health, the group says that safety is the driving force for coming forward with this essay. At Blue Origin, a common question during high-level meeting was, ‘When will Elon or Branson fly?’ Competing with other billionaires, seemed to take precedence over safety concerns that would have slowed down the schedule. The report alleges that company leaders showed impatience with only a few launches on the New Shepard’s schedule each year. Their goal, according to Abrams, was to scale up to more than 40. She alludes to the government’s investigation of the Challenger incident, part of which was attributed to the demanding schedule of 24 flights per year. Continuing the theme of a shortfall in funding and personnel, the report states “We have seen a pattern of decision-making that often prioritizes execution speed and cost reduction over the appropriate resourcing to ensure quality. In 2018, when one team lead took over, the team had documented more than 1,000 problem reports related to the engines that power Blue Origin’s rockets, which had never been addressed.”
The company’s response was quick to point out Abrams’ termination for continued issues involving Federal Export Controls and reiterated its commitment to diversity, and touted their 24/7 anonymous hotline, promising to investigate any new claims of misconduct. Abrams’ group ends their report. “In our experience, Blue Origin’s culture sits on a foundation that ignores the plight of our planet, turns a blind eye to sexism, is not sufficiently attuned to safety concerns, and silences those who seek to correct wrongs. That is not the world we should be creating here on Earth and certainly not as our springboard to a better one. Should we as a society allow ego-driven individuals with endless caches of money and very little accountability be the ones to shape that future?”
Honda introduces plans for hybrid eVTOL transport
Honda Motor Company recently released its ambitious ‘2030 Vision’, and series of changes and projects geared towards future-proofing the company by integrating its wide range of expertise in combustion, electrics, aeronautics, and robotics into a series of products suited for a rapidly changing economy. Central to its new ‘mobility ecosystem’ will be a hybrid gas turbine and electrically powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft, currently dubbed the Honda eVTOL. Designed for local, city transportation, features a simple, robust structure, decentralised propulsive system and relatively quiet arrangement of small diameter rotors. Honda notes their break from the competition in relying on hybrid power. Unlike similar aerial mobility aircraft, Honda believes an all-battery, all electric aircraft would face range issues that would hamper its mobility and limit it to intra-city transportation. As a part of Honda’s theoretical ecosystem, the eVTOL would be able to take-off and land in the middle of a city, without the noise or physical footprint of current small aircraft. The presentation describing the systems also reveals a reservation system that would enable users to book flights and treat the eVTOL like any other rideshare.
Honda also announced its intent to join the space race, in some fashion, as the company accelerates research and development into space technology. One proposal, Honda shared, came from a group of young engineers when they found the company had everything it needed to create a small, reusable rocket capable of satellite delivery. Reportedly, its body of work in automated driving tech has already paid dividends in the guiding the design’s return to Earth. However, most quixotic was a series of proposals about a fuel cell based, renewable energy system on the Moon’s surface. Using their previous expertise in hydrogen fuel cell technology, Honda is designing functional life support systems to be used in a lunar base. Additionally, the integration of another 2030 Vision technology, the humanoid Avatar Robot, as a remote-controlled astronaut and virtual reality stand-in for those back on Earth. Honda’s eVTOL could reach the market just in time to compete against fellow automakers Hyundai, Toyota and General Motors in the Aerial Mobility segment. Test flights are expected within the next three years, with hopes for certification by 2030.
Babcock receives approval to run enhanced drone missions in Spain
The aerospace, defence and security company Babcock, is now the only operator in Spain with permission to fly commercial drones, weighing more than 25kg, beyond line of sight. In practical terms this means Babcock can now fly its own design, the LUA drone, in rural areas, night or day, carrying emergency support payloads of up to five kilograms each trip. Thanks to the Spanish Aviation Safety Agency (AESA)’s cross-border arrangements, Babcock’s permissions extend beyond the Spanish borders and into other European countries where enhanced drone flights could make a world of difference to first responder emergency services or those at risk on the ground.
Capable of flying autonomy of up to four hours, Babcock’s LUA drones can be deployed in less than ten minutes and are ideally suited to complex emergency missions, and in particular, those that require the urgent transportation of medical materials, such as medicines, blood and cardio-protection systems. This approval is the culmination of exceptional work by our team of Research and Development (R&D) engineers in Babcock Spain who have developed LUA within the framework of a Civil UAVs Initiative programme promoted by our client, the Galician government’s innovation agency, GAIN.
Jose Luis Saiz, R&D Director Babcock Spain said “With AESA permission now in place we are keen to see how our LUA drone adds a new dimension to our emergency medical response in rural or hard to reach areas, or during floods and extreme weather. Babcock will continue to work closely with AESA to ensure the safety of these complex operations.”
Edwards AFB completes eight-day drone test flight
A final flight time of sight days, 50 minutes, and 47 seconds covering 12,200 miles of continuous flight was achieved when the Vanilla Unmanned prototype ISR UAS touched down 2 October. It created the newest world record for unrefuelled, internal combustion endurance of an unmanned aircraft. “We are extremely proud of Platform Aerospace’s historic achievement,” said Lt. Col. Adam Brooks, Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force (ET-CTF) Director. “While the world record is exciting in and of itself, it is more important that we realize what this endurance ability means for our Joint Services who need persistent ISR capabilities immediately.”
The ET-CTF has been essential to the development of Vanilla’s prototype drone aircraft, trying to create a cost-effective, airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance demands for long-term periods aloft. Created by Platform Aerospace, a small business from Hollywood, Maryland. They partnered with the 412th Test Wing to launch the aircraft from the seminal testing location, Rogers Dry Lakebed on 24 September.
“The CTF’s purpose is to assist in the development of technologies that will support future war fighter efforts,” Brooks said. “As such, we are humbled to have had the opportunity to support this monumental effort on behalf of the war fighters who will benefit from tomorrow’s technology today.” Prior records fell short of the eight-day mark, the most recent completing five days of flight while uplinked with high-definition Electro-optical and infrared video to a command-and-control satellite beyond visual range. These capabilities are promising for those eager to get a “low-cost, ultra-long endurance ISR asset to the war fighter that can carry real mission payloads.” as described by Platform Aerospace CEO. “The system that flew these last three days costs less than (DoD) pays for some ordnance. It is not just the sticker price for this record-setting system, but also a multi-day flight model with drastically reduced manning and logistics cost.”
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