“The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.” Friedrich August von Hayek
Since last week’s mystery aircraft was relatively easy to identify, according to the number of correct answers I received, this week I have provided another interesting aircraft type. Please send your answers to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will publish the names of those that identified the aircraft correctly within the Thursday edition of APAnews.
Passing of Fanie Bezuidenhout in an aircraft accident
On Saturday at around 09h20 Fanie Bezuidenhout’s Jodel’s wings folded upwards and he crashed at Springs airfield. Apparently, Fanie was flying with a photographer when the tragedy happened in front of numerous photographers who had come to Springs airfield to take pictures of aircraft flying as a club. Unfortunately the photographer lived for a short while until the person also succumbed to the traumatic forces of the accident. Fanie was a most enthusiastic aviation person who had re-built his Jodel after an earlier accident several years ago. Recently Fanie has won an award for the best home-built aircraft at the EAA Sun ‘n Fun weekend held in Bloemfontein. On behalf of Fanie’s many friends and family, we say goodbye to a man who lived life as a grass roots aircraft builder. Take care on your onward journey to that great hangar in the sky Fanie.
The October edition of African Pilot featuring Aircraft Maintenance and Refurbishment has been completed and will be published early this week. This 230-page edition with 14 videos and 19 picture galleries also features the high successful Children’s Flight, the disappointing Rand airshow, Durban, Virginia airshow, Pipistrel aircraft now represented by Absolute Aviation, Textron and NetJets significant order, Airbus Helicopters PHI order, USAF F-15EX evaluation and USAF Red Hawk trainer amongst many other exciting features. I also wish to thank our many loyal advertisers that supported this special edition of African Pilot.
The November edition will feature Southern African airlines, Gifts for Pilots and Aircraft Leasing. In addition, African Pilot features all aspects of aviation from Airline business to Recreational and Sport Aviation, whilst Helicopters, Military Aviation, Commercial and Technical issues are addressed monthly. Within African Pilot’s monthly historical section, we feature the Best of the Best, Names to Remember and the monthly aviation Fact File. Overall African Pilot has the finest balance of all aviation subjects brought to you within a single publication every month and the best part is that the magazine is FREE to anyone in the entire world at the click of a single button. African Pilot is also the largest aviation magazine in the world by number of pages and is well ahead of all other South African aviation publications in terms of overall quality and relevance to the aviation market.
The thirteenth edition of Future Flight will be sent out to the world-wide audience on Monday 16 October. This 144-page edition has seven picture galleries and 14 embedded videos. Due to the nature of the subject material, compiling this exciting new publication has been most rewarding, whilst at the same time, the magazine allows many of African Pilot’s advertisers to have their adverts placed in our second monthly magazine FREE of charge.
When I started Future Flight on my return to South Africa from AirVenture, Oshkosh 2022, the objective was to reduce the overall size of African Pilot to a more reasonable page count and this has been achieved. The next milestone will be to attract advertisers to make this publication sustainable and I have given myself a year to reach this goal. I would love to receive your feedback about this new digital publication: email@example.com. Thank you.
Wouter Botes – Air Accident SA Presentation at EAA Chapter 322 Johannesburg
Krugersdorp Flying Club fly-in on Saturday 14 October
Pictures by Charlie and Fiona Hugo and Athol Franz
With excellent visibility and relatively minor winds, the Krugersdorp Flying Club (KFC) staged its annual fly-in on Saturday with plenty of entertainment, a scrumptious breakfast and a selection of unique aircraft that can only be found on this airfield. Bjorn travelled with me to assist with the video that we will publish next week as well as within the November edition of African Pilot. It was good to meet up with so many KFC members as well as visitors to the airfield as well as interview them for the magazine. Thanks to the organisers as well as Dale de Klerk who was ever busy marshalling and explaining about several of the colourful unique aircraft that were on display. The Flying Lions arrived with three branded Puma Energy T6 Harvards to take some fortunate passengers for a formation sortie to the west of the airfield. On their final take-off the three Harvards performed a flat display trailing smoke to the delight of the gathered audience. A full feature with a video will be published in the November edition of African Pilot.
African Pilot’s 2023 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.
24 October to 4 November
SAC Advanced World Aerobatics Championships Las Vegas
Contact Annie Boon E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
SACAA Safety Management System Durban Industry Workshop
Contact Nomhle Dlamini E-mail: email@example.com Cell: 083 451 2628
26 to 29 October
Border Aviation reunion weekend
Contact Seth Cell 061 432 8248 or Bianca Cell: 081 263 3998
SACAA Safety Management System Cape Town Industry Workshop
Contact Nomhle Dlamini E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 083 451 2628
SAPFA SA Landing Championships – Brits & Stellenbosch airfields
Contact Ron Stirk E-mail: email@example.com Cell: 082 804 445 0373
SACAA Safety Management System Johannesburg Industry Workshop
Contact Nomhle Dlamini E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 083 451 2628
1 & 2 November
Drones in disaster and risk management conference Century City Conference Centre
November Contact E-mail: email@example.com Cape Town.
EAA Chapter 322 breakfast fly-in gathering, boot sale, fly market EAA Auditorium
Contact Neil Bowden E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
SAA Museum Society Technical tour of historical aircraft
Contact E-mail: email@example.com or Cell: 076 879 5044
Brakpan Aero Club Cessna fly-in
Contact Clarissa E-mail: Clarissa@airborneaviation.co.za Cell: 074 113 2911
Gyro fly-in to Kitty Hawk
Contact Juanita Cell: 082 040 9798
EAA Chapter 322 breakfast fly-in venue TBA
Contact Neil Bowden E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
13 to 17 November
Dubai Airshow 2023
EAA National & Chapter 322 Annual Awards Dinner Venue TBA
Contact Neil Bowden E-mail: email@example.com
19 to 21 November
55th African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Annual General Assembly (AGA)
Speke Resort in Entebbe, Uganda. Dedicated website: https://aga55.afraa.org/
Aero Club Awards 50 Viking Way Rand Airport (Menno Parsons hangar)
Contact Sandra Strydom firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 011 082 1100
SAA Museum Society Trains, Planes and Automobiles hobby fair
Contact E-mail: email@example.com or Cell: 076 879 5044
SAA Museum Society SA 295 Helderberg 36 years on 08h00
Contact E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 076 879 5044
27 and 28 November
AfBAA African Business Aviation Association conference Cape Town
Contact Sam Keddle E-mail: email@example.com Cell: +27 (0)63 717 3460
DCA Industry Roadshow East London, Eastern Cape
Contact Ms Charmaine Shibambo E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
EAA Chapter 322 monthly gathering, fly-in breakfast EAA Auditorium
Contact Neil Bowden E-mail: email@example.com
2 to 3 December
SAC ACE of Base Heidelberg airfield
Contact Annie Boon E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
4 to 7 December
Egypt Defence Expo (EDEX) Egypt International Exhibition Centre
Contact E-mail: email@example.com
8 & 9 December
SACAA ICAD annual airshow Bisho
Contact Noel Godwin E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 082 414 7702
9 & 20 December
Saudi Airport Exhibition Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center
Contact Stephanie Ramos E-mail: email@example.com Cell: +971 50 395 2025
On Wednesday a young woman died after the aircraft she was flying crashed in Kroonstad
Free State Police spokesperson, Sergeant Josephine Rani, said it was reported that a 22-year-old woman took off with her crop spray single-seat aircraft at Kroonstad airfield for her final assessment to become a crop spray pilot. “At about one km from the airfield, the aircraft crashed and exploded. An inquest has been registered and the investigation continues,” Sergeant Rani said.
Cocaine smuggled to Australia from South Africa
The Australian Federal Police intercepted 100kg of cocaine, smuggled via a plane from South Africa, during the first week of October 2023. The cocaine was intercepted in Australia on Saturday 7 October and five suspects were arrested. The haul is worth an estimated 40-million Australian dollars, or roughly R489-million. In 2019 two drug traffickers were arrested in Australia for attempting to smuggle cocaine into the country in passenger planes from South Africa. Now, a similar takedown has happened, showing how resilient some narcotrafficking routes are. However, a police operation targeting an international trafficking syndicate that flew 100kg of cocaine there on a passenger plane from South Africa a few days ago prevented the consignment from being dispersed.
During a press conference on Monday 9 October DFP Detective Superintendent Kristie Cressy said the principal organiser of the syndicate “is associated with an organised crime group of significant interest to Australia” which had “extensive links to overseas-based entities.” She said the syndicate had been monitored for roughly 12 months. “There are still ongoing investigations in regard to the South African end and we will use our international network,” Cressy said. “The AFP has a member in Pretoria to liaise with local authorities to further that investigation.”
Scoot flight escorted by Singapore’s F-15SG fighter aircraft due to bomb threat
A Scoot flight bound for Australia had to make a U-turn, escorted by Royal Singapore Air Force fighter jets, due to a bomb threat. Flight TR16 took off at 16h11 local time from Singapore’s Changi Airport bound for Perth Airport on 12 October 2023. Scoot told local media outlets that a ‘precautionary decision to head back to Singapore was made one hour into the flight ‘due to a bomb threat. Two of Royal Singapore Air Force’s F-15SG fighter jets were then activated to escort the Boeing B787 aircraft back to Changi Airport. The flight landed back in Singapore at 18h27 local time.
Cape Town International Airport hydraulic fluid spillage closes runway
On landing a TAAG B737, D2-TBJ, encountered a major hydraulic failure, lost a primary hydraulic system on landing which left hydraulic fluid all over Runway 01/19 which was closed for several hours whilst the aircraft was still partially on the runway. Runway 34/16 remained available but was limited to short-range departures. On Friday 13 October the main runway was re-opened for normal traffic. Congratulations and appreciation to all involved in resolving this situation.
easyJet confirms $20B Airbus order for 157 additional A320neo family aircraft
The details were unveiled on 12 October 2023, as the airline also said it expects its annual profit before tax to be between $541 million (£440M) and $565 million (£460M). Under the agreement easyJet has entered into a conditional arrangement with Airbus to secure the delivery of 56 A320neos and 101 A321neo jets between 2029 and 2034. The British-based carrier already has an order in place for 158 A320neo family aircraft set to be delivered by 2029. EasyJet also revealed that 35 of the A320neo jets that are part of that existing order will be converted into A321neos within existing order. In total the carrier has 315 aircraft now on order for delivery by 2034, alongside a further 100 purchase rights that were also announced in the latest trading update.
The newly announced purchase will enable easyJet to complete its fleet replacement programme of A319 aircraft and replace approximately half of the A320ceo aircraft. The airline said it is in exclusive negotiations with CFM International for the supply of engines for the proposed purchase. The financial update estimated that the cost of the new aircraft and conversions will reach around $19.9 billion.
Textron Aviation adds cutting-edge Garmin Autothrottle system to the Cessna Citation M2 Gen2
On 12 October Textron Aviation announced that its renowned Cessna Citation M2 Gen2 will include Garmin Autothrottles beginning in mid-2025, reducing pilot workload and improving the flying experience. Garmin Autothrottles further enhances the Citation M2 Gen2’s capabilities by optimising engine power, simplifying flight management and increasing overall operating efficiency. With this advanced technology, pilots can expect to experience smoother and more predictable flight profiles, providing them with even greater control and precision while flying.
Fully integrated with the Citation M2 Gen2’s Garmin G3000® avionics system, Garmin Autothrottles streamlines operations from take-off to landing by managing aircraft speed, engine performance and power to allow the aircraft to climb, descend or maintain altitude. It automatically manages engine thrust, optimising airspeed and fuel efficiency and adjusts engine power based on factors such as altitude, airspeed and aircraft weight. By maintaining precise control over these parameters, it ensures a smoother and more comfortable flying experience for passengers. In addition, Garmin Autothrottles includes features to prevent exceedance conditions and provides alerts to pilots if any deviations occur, enhancing overall peace of mind.
JAL and Regent Craft to study Seaglider operations in Japan
Japan Airlines (JAL) and Rhode Island, US-based Regent Craft have entered into a comprehensive partnership under which the two companies will pioneer seaglider operations in Japan. Subject agreement follows strategic investment in Regent by JAL Innovation Fund, a JAL Group subsidiary firm established in 2019 for purpose of providing Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) funding to startup companies deemed capable of bringing added value to the global airline industry.
The all-electric seaglider currently being developed by Regent is a wing-in-ground effect craft which functions after the fashion of the ekranoplan ground-effect vehicles developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and ‘70s. Regent’s seaglider is a ‘V’-hull, high-wing flying-boat fitted with forward and aft ventral hydrofoils. The craft’s empennage is of the ‘T’-tail variety and its wings incorporate dihedral and anhedral sections featuring radically-down-turned distal termini fitted with pontoons. The craft develops thrust by means of no fewer than eight wing-mounted electric motors (four-per-side) each driving a single three-blade propeller. Accelerating to rotation-speed (Vr), the seaglider rises up on its hydrofoils before climbing to only a few meters above the water’s surface, availing itself of the diminished aerodynamic drag characteristic of ground-effect.
The JAL-Regent agreement instantiates a commitment to deepen business development between the two companies with the goal of establishing a system of seaglider operations in Japan. JAL brings to the table knowledge accumulated over 72-years of aircraft operations while Regent offers expertise in the field of flight-physics, electric propulsion, rapid-prototyping and flight-control software. Together, the two concerns seek to drive awareness and understanding of seagliders in Japan and the Far East region, identify jurisdictions for seaglider operations by JAL and JAL Group operators, develop infrastructure for seaglider operations to include a planned demonstration flight in 2025 and obtain certification for the commercial operation of electric seagliders.
Luxair signs firm order for four Embraer E195-E2 jets
Luxair, the official airline of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, has confirmed an order for four E195-E2 jets from Embraer. These aircraft will serve as a valuable addition to Luxair’s recent procurement of larger narrow-body planes. The order encompasses four E195-E2s, accompanied by two additional options and three purchase rights for potential future acquisitions. The conversion capability to E190-E2 aircraft is also part of the package, allowing for flexibility as needed. The first E195-E2 is expected to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2025.
Gilles Feith, CEO of Luxair, emphasised the airline’s ongoing commitment to advancing and securing its long-term success. He pointed out that these state-of-the-art aircraft underline the airline’s dedication to sustainability and passenger well-being. Notably, the E195-E2 stands out in the regional aircraft market for its exceptional qualities, boasting the lowest levels of noise and fuel consumption. Its spacious and tranquil cabin, along with ample overhead storage, will significantly enhance the travel experience for Luxair passengers. In summary, the E195-E2 perfectly aligns with the carrier’s objectives and the needs of its passengers.
Sikorsky unveils Raider X Scout helicopter prototype
Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky has unveiled its prototype of the Raider X scout helicopter. The next-gen scout helicopter, which is one of two contenders for the US Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme, was revealed this week at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Meeting & Exposition in Washington, D.C. The Raider X is competing with the Bell 360 Invictus for the FARA programme that is set to replace the Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior retired in 2017. Development of both prototypes has been slowed due to delays in engine delivery.
Earlier this month, Sikorsky president Paul Lemmo said the company was awaiting delivery of the General Electric T901 Improved Engine Turbine Program (ITEP), Janes reported. “As soon as we receive the engine, we will be able to immediately start the installation process in advance of ground testing and eventually flight-testing,” Lemmo said. The ITEP is the Army’s next-generation replacement engine for the AH-64E Apache helicopters, the UH-60M/V and HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, as well as for the FARA. Sikorsky expects to make the first flight before the fourth quarter of 2024, according to Janes.
Upgraded Boeing AH-64E Apache makes first flight
On Wednesday Boeing’s AH-64E, the US Army’s latest model of its Apache attack helicopter, has taken its first flight with an upgraded capabilities suite, the aircraft manufacturer announced Wednesday. The twin-engine, tandem-seat attack helicopter is equipped with an M230 30 mm cannon, Hydra-70 2.75-inch rockets, as well as laser-guided and radio-frequency Hellfire missiles.
In December 2021 the Department of Defence contracted Boeing for the aircraft modernisation project of AH-64E, also known as Version 6.5, or V6.5, which includes capability-enhancing software updates. They include optimised route and attack planning, enhanced Link 16 features and the integration of an open systems interface. The ITEP is the Army’s next-generation replacement engine for the AH-64E Apache helicopters, the UH-60M/V and HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, as well as for its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme.
Dutch military aircraft forced to divert during evacuation mission in Israel
A Dutch military aircraft, tasked with the repatriation of Dutch citizens, faced unexpected challenges when attempting to land at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV). On its approach, the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) was abruptly diverted by air traffic control (ATC) due to incoming fire at the airport. Passengers recounted the terrifying moment when they were instructed to lie on the ground while Israeli defences worked to neutralise the threat.
“On the way to the airport, we had to lie on the ground along the highway because of rocket attacks,” passengers told NL Times. “Whilst the same at the airport we heard dull explosions in the air, mainly from the Israeli anti-aircraft defence.”
The A330 continued circling for some time but eventually managed to land at TLV and safely evacuate 199 Dutch nationals, including 28 students and their teachers from Rotterdam and Gouda. The aircraft arrived at the military air base in Eindhoven at 22h10 pm local time. The MRTT can usually accommodate 267 passengers and 45 tons of cargo.
According to a Dutch Foreign Affairs spokesperson, the lack of additional passengers was due to the inability to refuel in Tel Aviv. “We could not take more than 199 people because of the weight,” he was quoted as saying in an De Telegraaf article. The defence aircraft is scheduled to perform another flight to Tel Aviv on 12 October 2023, where it will pick up a second group of Dutch citizens.
While the military flight successfully evacuated citizens, KLM, the Dutch flag carrier, was forced to make a difficult decision. Initially, the airline planned to help the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in repatriating Dutch nationals. However, after reviewing the ground situation and the military flight incident, KLM opted against conducting a repatriation flight, citing safety concerns for both passengers and crew. The airline conveyed its regret, acknowledging the eagerness of many passengers to get home, but said it was prioritising safety.
SimAero plans new training centre in Delhi
Seoul SimAero has announced it plans to open a new training center in Delhi. Located within a 10-minute drive from the main terminals of Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI), the new SimAero Training Centre will market-specific training solutions for local airlines. The future training centre is set to feature eight simulator bays offering training for the A320, B737 MAX and ATR 72-600 Full-Flight Simulators. The training centre will feature a ground school classroom equipped with IT tools for Computer-Based Training (CBT). Trainees will also have the opportunity to relax and network in a welcoming lounge area.
The SimAero team has already initiated discussions with Indian airlines, to anticipate their training needs and adapt the Training Center features accordingly. As the training centre undergoes construction, the SimAero India Team already actively provides training solutions to local customers through the SimAero group’s global network. The SimAero Delhi Training Center is planned to be fully operational by the Q4 of 2024.
Elon Musk optimistic about manned Mars mission
During a video conference at the International Astronautical Congress in the Azerbaijani capital city of Baku, Elon Musk stated with confidence that SpaceX is well-positioned to make a successful landing on Mars within four-years. Musk contended SpaceX’s Starship, the largest, most powerful rocket yet conceived of by humankind, has ‘a decent chance’ of reaching orbit on its second test flight. The spacecraft’s first orbital test flight, which took place in April 2023, fell somewhat short of resounding success. The endeavour got off to a dramatic and promising start with the simultaneous firing of the 33 Raptor engines by which Starship’s Super Heavy first-stage booster is powered. As thousands looked on, the Boca Chica, Texas morning filled with the din and fiery fury of cryogenic liquid methane and oxygen combusting under 790 atmospheres (11,603-pounds-per-square-inch) of pressure. For several impossibly long seconds, the great rocket, stacked stage-upon-stage to its imposing 230-foot height, remained motionless atop 17,100,000-lbf of thrust, the equivalent of 75 Boeing 777-300ERs at full take-off power.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the immense vessel commenced ascending, straining against Earth’s gravity to impel its 11-million-pound bulk spaceward. A cheer went up from the launch-controllers assembled within SpaceX’s Starbase facility as Starship cleared the launch-pad tower, rising with increasing speed and certainty, persevering against incomprehensible forces with the preternatural stoicism peculiar to machines. Gathering speed in earnest despite the failure of five of its first-stage Raptor engines, Starship rocketed past 16,000-feet, accelerating rapidly through 368-knots. At approximately one-minute eight-seconds after lift-off, intermittent plumes of flame were observed within Starship’s otherwise stable thrust column. One-minute twenty-seconds into the flight, at an altitude of FL300 and a speed of 460-knots, Starship passed successfully through Max Q (maximum dynamic pressure), that point in a space-vehicle’s ascent at which its structure is subjected to maximum mechanical stress.
Two-minutes after liftoff, as Starship neared first-stage separation, a pronounced jet of flame erupted from the spacecraft’s thrust column. Fifty-seconds later, Starship’s directional thrusters fired, initiating an end-over-end flip, a planned manoeuvre by which the vehicle’s first-stage separation is preceded.
Three-minutes four-seconds after lift-off, the Starbase control room fell silent as Starship continued flipping, through 360°, 720°, 1,080°, directional thrusters firing intermittently in a losing battle against inertia and misfortune. Three-minutes fifty-seconds into Starship’s first orbital launch attempt, commentators conceded ‘This does not appear to be a nominal situation.’ Nine-seconds later, the great rocket, small and fragile-looking at an altitude of 95,144-feet and a velocity of 1,149-knots (1.7 Mach) exploded in an adiabatic cataclysm of rapidly depressurising cryogenic fuels.
Characteristically reactionary, the FAA summarily grounded Starship before stipulating the implementation of 63 corrective actions, a bold gambit for an agency only semi-competent in the certification and oversight of conventional atmospheric aircraft. Undeterred by the mishap and the paroxysm of regulatory claptrap precipitated thereby, SpaceX got down to the arduous business of crunching the immense volumes of data gleaned during Starship’s first orbital launch attempt and applying such to the machine’s betterment.
Musk’s optimistic comments vis-à-vis a near-future Starship mission to Mars mirror those set forth last year by SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell, who predicted human beings will walk the surface of Mars before 2030. SpaceX’s Starship is a remarkable machine, a 390-foot-tall behemoth with a payload capacity of 330,000-pounds to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in its fully reusable configuration and 550,000-pounds to LEO if fully expended.
Starship is a composite vehicle consisting of an expendable, for now, Super Heavy booster, first stage and a reusable, Starship, second stage. The 230-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide Super Heavy booster section is powered by 33 of SpaceX’s proprietary Raptor engines arranged in concentric rings. At full-power, the stage’s complement of Raptor and Raptor Vacuum engines produces a staggering 17,100,000-pound-feet of thrust. The mighty Saturn V rocket by which NASA’s Apollo missions landed men on Earth’s moon produced a comparatively anaemic 7.5 million.
The Starship second stage is 160-feet-tall, 30-feet in diameter and fitted with three Raptor atmospheric and three additional Raptor Vacuum engines. The section’s 56-foot-tall by 26-foot diameter payload bay boasts an internal volume of 35,000-cubic-feet, slightly larger than the entirety of the International Space Station’s pressurised volume. The Starship second stage functions as a self-contained spacecraft within which crew and cargo will journey into space. Stacked and fuelled, Starship’s first and second stages mass approximately 11,000,000-pounds.
Proposed applications of SpaceX’s Starship include supporting construction of the Starlink internet constellation, performing suborbital point-to-point flights, and conveying space-travellers and cargoes Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and the vastness beyond.
During his keynote speech before the attendees of 2023’s International Astronautical Congress, Musk conceded he did not seek to ‘set expectations too high’ for Starship’s sophomore orbital launch attempt. The SpaceX, Tesla and ‘X’ boss emphasised lessons learned from the flawed April Starship launch constituted a success of sorts. Prior to undertaking a second Starship orbital launch attempt, SpaceX must obtain authorisations from the FAA and environmental approval form the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It can be persuasively argued that red-tape, not gravity, is the unrelenting force against which the mighty rocket must strain to free itself not of Earth’s, but of Washington D.C.’s surly bonds.
Virgin Galactic completes fifth successful manned space flight
On 6 October Virgin Galactic announced that its Galactic 04 mission, the company’s fifth manned spaceflight in five-months had been successfully completed and the three private astronauts borne spaceward aboard such had returned safely to Earth. Virgin Galactic asserts its unbroken string of successful spaceflights evinces the company’s ability to deliver safe, repeatable space-travel and a transformative customer experience.
The Galactic 04 mission’s crew of private astronauts comprised:
- Virgin Astronaut 017: Ron Rosano of the United States of America.
- Virgin Astronaut 018: Trevor Beattie of the United Kingdom.
- Virgin Astronaut 019: Namira Salim of Pakistan. Alternately a resident of the United Arab Emirates and Monaco, Ms. Salim was the first Pakistani to travel into space.
The Galactic 04 mission was operated by C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer, who piloted Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity to orbit and Jameel Janjua and Nicola Pecile, who piloted Virgin Mothership (VMS) Eve. Chief astronaut instructor duties were seen to by Beth Moses. Galactic 04 saw VMS Eve, a four-engine, twin-fuselage, twin-empennage behemoth named for Evette Branson, Sir Richard’s mother, lumber skyward from Virgin Galactic’s New Mexico Spaceport America facility at 09h28 MDT.
Slung beneath Eve’s center-wing section, VSS Unity and the three aforementioned private astronauts constrained their enthusiasm through an altitude of 44,341-feet, at which Unity separated uneventfully from Eve, dropped free of the massive mothership and fired its hybrid rocket engine. Accelerating to Mach 2.95, Unity climbed heavenward, reaching a 54-mile (285,120-foot) apogee and drifting awhile at space’s edge. Unity’s return to Earth was nominal, a term denoting perfection in the clipped argot of spaceflight culminating in a nicely executed, 10h25 MDT landing back at Spaceport America.
Virgin Galactic personnel are currently about the business of collecting telemetry data from and conducting post-flight inspections of the aforementioned vehicles in preparation for the Galactic 05 mission, the launch window for which has yet to be announced. Recent successes notwithstanding, Virgin Galactic’s has been an arduous evolution from concept to countdown. In 2004, Sir Richard Branson somewhat prematurely declared Virgin Galactic’s first paying passengers would journey spaceward in 2007. Fourteen years thereafter, Virgin Galactic made its 2021 inaugural flight, which unbeknownst to many, drifted dangerously off-course, compelling the mission’s pilots to heroic feats of improvisation by which an embarrassing emergency landing was precluded.
In July 2022, Virgin Galactic announced the signing of a long-term lease for a new final-assembly manufacturing facility for its next-generation Delta class spaceships, which are slated to serve as the company’s workhorse vehicle for near-future spaceflight operations. The first Delta class ships are expected to commence revenue-generating payload flights in late 2025 before progressing to passenger-carrying space tourism flights in 2026.
In the near-term, Virgin Galactic will continue to operate its Unity platform, the self-same vehicle in which all nine of the company’s excursions to space have been undertaken. Provisioned with a fleet of Delta class ships, Branson and his faithful believe Virgin Galactic can maintain a profitable cadence of four-hundred yearly space missions.
Passenger flights aboard Virgin Galactic’s Delta class are expected to sell for an eye-watering $450,000 per-seat. Customers will be required to make an initial deposit of $150,000, about $25,000 of which is nonrefundable to hold their respective spots. Despite Branson’s confidence in his company’s business model, investors have grown increasingly sceptical of Virgin Galactic’s profit-turning potential. In 2021, following Branson’s trip to space aboard the company’s inaugural flight, the publicly traded company’s stock shot to $55.91 per-share. However, in 2022 after flying no customers to space, the company reported a net loss of $500 million.
China approves EHang EH216-S as the world’s first type-certified eVTOL
On 13 October the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued a type certificate for EHang’s EH216-S two-seat eVTOL aircraft, clearing the way for commercial passenger-carrying flights to begin in China. This approval makes the two-seat model the first eVTOL in the world to be cleared for commercial use. The achievement is especially remarkable given that EHang’s aircraft will operate autonomously with no pilot on board.
According to Guangzhou-based EHang, it has completed the entire process since January 2021 when CAAC accepted its application for type certification. The so-called “special conditions” covering the new category of aircraft were published in February 2022. The Chinese regulator has given the startup a high degree of latitude in permitting it to conduct extensive flight testing in multiple locations, including public demonstrations with passengers on board.
EHang explained that the validation process for the EH216-S ‘scrutinized components, equipment and the entire aircraft for prefabricated defects, faults and interferences.’ It said the process has encompassed more than 500 specific test items and 40,000 test flights, resulting in adjustments and formal conformity assessments covering 65 ‘major categories’ and 450 individual test items. EHang will now be increasing production rates at its Yunfu factory and stepping up deliveries to operators in China. It has not yet said where and when the first commercial passenger flights will begin with the EH216-S, but it has already begun deliveries to domestic customers, including Shenzhen Boling Holding Group.
The company intends to produce variants of the model that could be used for applications including firefighting. It is also working on a larger, four-seat VT-30 aircraft that would have a longer range than the EH216-S, which is limited to 35 km (22 miles).
“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the CAAC, the expert team and all EHang employees for their unwavering dedication,” commented the company’s founder, chairman and CEO Huazhi Hu. “Our self-developed EH216-S passenger carrying UAV system has finally met the high expectation to secure the first type certificate in the global eVTOL industry, marking a significant chapter in aviation history.”
Hu indicated that EHang itself now intends to launch commercial operations that could include air taxi and sightseeing flights. “This will enable us to steadily progress towards our strategic goal to be an urban air mobility platform operator and commit to our mission to enable safe, autonomous and eco-friendly air mobility accessible to everyone,” he concluded. EHang has previously reported multiple provisional orders for the EH216-S from customers outside China. The company has yet to say how and when it intends to secure type certification in other jurisdictions, including dominant regulators such as the FAA and EASA.
No other air safety agency in the world has yet confirmed a regulatory path to approving commercial, passenger-carrying flights in an eVTOL aircraft. The earliest anticipated type certification outside China is in Europe, where Volocopter aims to get approval for its two-seat, piloted VoloCity vehicle in time for the 2024 Olympic Games next summer in Paris. In the US, leading eVTOL developers Joby and Archer currently aim to achieve type certification in 2025.
Opener Aero rebrands to Pivotal Aero LLC
The eVTOL concern formerly known as Opener Aero has rebranded, emerging as Pivotal Aero LLC. Founded by Canadian engineer Marcus Leng and renowned for its unique BlackFly tilt-architecture aircraft, Pivotal has announced the imminence of Helix, the company’s first scalable production vehicle.
Pivotal CEO Ken Karklin stated: “With Helix, we become the leading manufacturer of light eVTOL aircraft. Helix presents the next iteration of ten-plus-years of innovating, testing and delivering on the promise to give individuals access to small, yet mighty aircraft.” Karklin added: “Pivotal reflects our mission to transform movement with the power of flight. The new identity shows the versatility of our system architecture and encapsulates both the exhilaration and utility of flight.”
Built on Pivotal’s fourth generation eVTOL platform, the Helix is aimed at individuals who want to take to the sky for recreation and short-hop travel. After the fashion of its BlackFly forebear, Helix features distinctive tilt-aircraft architecture, simple user interface and outstanding safety predicated upon fault-tolerance and triple-modular redundancy. In addition, the Helix offers:
- Power and propulsion improvements delivering a more robust operational flight envelope.
- Updated digital electronics hardware, occasioning new levels of robustness and reliability.
- A weight and durability optimised aerostructure exceeding industry best practice safety factors.
- A companion smartphone app integrating owner and pilot experience while simplifying pre-flight checks, capturing flight-history and managing charging and aircraft service.
- A redesigned canopy and flight deck featuring an integrated primary display and improvements in comfort and safety.
- Enhanced non-flight-cloud connectivity to improve maintenance, vehicle telematics, charging, and owner asset management.
- A durable livery conducive to reducing the effects of weather, age and solar loading while extending the life of the airframe and improving pilot comfort.
- Product options including a transport trailer, fast-charging, aviation or GSM radios, ADS-B, custom liveries and beacon lights.
- Support for future field-replaceable next-generation batteries to extend range and endurance.
Designed to comply with FAA Part 103, pilots may operate Helix in Class G airspace over uncongested areas in the daytime and are not required to hold pilot certification. However, Pivotal customers must complete comprehensive initial and recurrent flight-training.
Pivotal customer Clark Thompson asserted: “Pivotal is fulfilling the dream of many people and I want to participate in defining this space. I have been following the evolution of eVTOL aircraft for quite some time. Pivotal is the only company delivering an intelligent, powerful and capable recreational product to the market. I am eager to be a part of the Pivotal pilot community, take my aircraft out and share my experiences.”
Helix is slated to have a base-price of $190,000. Orders for the aircraft may be placed on or after 9 January 2024 and require a deposit equal to 25-percent of the aircraft’s purchase price. Customer deliveries are to commence in June 2024. Pricing for options and accessories will be made known as such become available.
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RocketDNA’s autonomous ‘Drones-in-a-Box’ receive CASA approval in Australia
Autonomous ‘drones-in-a-box’ that could respond instantly to emergencies, power outages and identify asset faults quicker have recently been approved by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
The X-Bot solution, developed by RocketDNA, a global drones-as-a-service provider, have the capability of flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and are a cost-effective and easy way for any business with remote assets, such as defence, energy, mining, agriculture, as well as oil and gas industries to monitor and respond to emergencies involving their infrastructure.
“One of the main issues with electricity outages for example is the fault can be difficult to locate, especially in remote areas where the fault may be a fallen tree over a power line kilometres away from a road,” RocketDNA CEO, Christopher Clark, said. “RocketDNA’s drones-in-a-box respond automatically when a fault occurs and can be used to identify the exact location and send the information back to the remote operating centre (ROC) in a much more timely and efficient way.”
These technologies could also help businesses across the asset management, mining, energy and resources, emergency services, defence, agricultural and oil and gas industries mitigate risks by keeping employees out of dangerous and remote settings, while concurrently catering to a wide spectrum of applications. “Rather than sending a human to complete certain tasks, or to respond to an emergency alarm which can be a potentially life-threatening situation, our autonomous drone systems can be pre-programmed or triggered to identify the issue, thus creating safer and more sustainable work environments,” Clark said. “This could be identifying faults on pipelines and conveyors belts, corrosion, overheating and defect detection of critical energy infrastructure, to full emergency response. Our autonomous flight footage and remote detection plus AI overlay is recorded and live streamed in real-time helping organisations simply and urgently determine the issue and the appropriate level of response.”
The CASA approval covers two autonomous drone systems, the DJI Dock System and the Hextronics Global Drone Station, including Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights which marks a monumental advancement for drone technology in Australia. RocketDNA is the first Australian company to secure CASA approval for the cutting-edge DJI Dock System. The approval follows almost a year of work with CASA, including the development of robust safety protocols and a suite of policies and procedures, as well as a practical demonstration.
As part of the work, RocketDNA has also refined flight planning protocols for applications in mining, critical asset management and thermal inspection. “This approval ushers in a new era of data collection applications that can be conducted remotely and marks the initiation of autonomous flights seamlessly integrated into existing operations,” Clark said. “We have already deployed our first DJI Dock to a customer site (gold mine) in Western Australia, where the team will begin implementing autonomous flights into existing operations.”
The system utilises the Starlink broadband satellite system to transmit the data. The full X-Bot product is assembled in Australia; the system is approximately the size of two pallets, weighs just 100kg and can easily be moved from location to location depending on requirements. The DJI drones have a 7km range and can be deployed as part of a network to cover large areas.
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