Lancair’s First Evolution Kit Delivered

Lancair International announced today that it has delivered the first Evolution kit to Andy Cruce of Miramar, Florida. Cruce and his wife saw the Evolution last year at Oshkosh and began contemplating the purchase. “When we considered the speed, roominess, carrying capacity, BRS ’chute and docile flight characteristics of the Evolution, we decided the Evolution is what we need,” Cruce is reported to have said.

(Left to right): Mike McReynolds (Centerfire Composites), Brian Harris (Owner, Centerfire Composites), Joe Bartels (CEO Lancair), Andy Cruce and Timothy Ong (GM Lancair).

Lancair says that Cruce came to Redmond, Oregon, to participate in the company’s two-week builder-assistance program. A 6000-square-foot facility was constructed at the headquarters specifically for Evolution builders. According to Lancair, Cruce says he plans to have the airplane flying by early 2009.

Lancair reports that it has a full Evolution production schedule booked through February 2009. The prototype that appeared at this year’s Sun ’n Fun is now painted and will be available for demo flights at Oshkosh.

The Evolution is a four-seat design powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6 turbine engine, making it capable of speeds in excess of 385 mph, according to Lancair. It also features numerous safety features including a ballistic ’chute, airbag seat belts and energy-absorbing seats.

Lancair lists the fastbuild kit price as $250,000, with a finished cost in the range of $650,000 to $1 million.

For more information on the Evolution, call 541/923-2244 or visit Lancair International.

Commentary: New Kitbuilt Rules—Punish Everyone for a Few Scofflaws

The FAA, in its revised Advisory Circulars that govern the licensing of Experimental/Amateur-Built aircraft, has taken an aggressive, broad-brush approach to stopping “excessive commercial assistance” in kitbuilt aircraft. An advisory panel was formed last year, and the initial findings were published in February, with the draft of revised rulemaking supposed to appear this spring. In fact, the draft of the new rules appeared in the middle of July, with a substantially shorter comment period than the industry was given to understand. We have 30 days, until August 15, to comment; those on the advisory panel believed it would be 60 or even 90 days. As this is written, the EAA has petitioned for an extension to the comment period.

In the proposed changes, which will cause current guidance ACs to be superseded, simple and effective rules that have worked for decades have been supplanted by a new, complicated set of guidelines that, at their most onerous, specifically require a certain amount of “fabrication” from builders. In past guidance, the terms assembly and fabrication were used interchangeably.

Let’s understand fabrication. In the past, builders created airplanes from largely raw parts—cutting and welding steel tube, for example, or working with foam cores over which fiberglass cloth and wet resin were applied. But the industry has inextricably moved on to where builders are working with far more complete basic, structural components. Fiberglass (and Kevlar and carbon fiber) shells are premolded using high-technology tooling that offers much better form control and consistency. Even the common aluminum kits come with a high degree of fabrication, particularly of critical structural items; these pieces fit together like a high-quality puzzle, and don’t often need hours with a hacksaw or file to make fit. Very few of the popular kits I know of that use steel tubing require any welding by the builder at all.

Into this, the FAA has decided that it wants a certain amount of “fabrication,” namely 20%. In the draft documents, the 51% of the kit that is the minimum to be left to the builder is broken down by 20% assembly, 20% fabrication, and 11% that can be either. Never before has the FAA required a specific amount of fabrication; the previous rules said simply that the builder had to commit the majority of the assembly and fabrication, though every modern kit I can think of includes some degree of pure fabrication.

And then there’s the issue of just what fabrication is. In the guidance, the FAA says this means working from “raw” materials. But how raw is raw? If you have a composite airplane, do you have to go back to raw glass and foam? Or can you get credit for working with seaming materials—say, installing a strip of glass that joins two other prefabricated pieces? This is one area where the working group was at odds with the FAA, and it seems that the group's recommendations have been ignored.

I spoke at length with Dick VanGrunsven about the proposals, and he said that the FAA had come through Van’s Aircraft and run a test of the new checklist on the popular RV-7 quickbuild kit. It passed the 20% fabrication level, but not by a lot. I asked if the RV-10, which is a more advanced kit, would pass and Dick said he didn’t know; it hadn’t been run through the same checklist. And as for the RV-12, it’s difficult to say, but the high level of prefabrication seen on that kit would, near as I can tell, put it right on the edge.

On this issue of defining fabrication, the EAA has decided that it will fight the FAA on at least the requirement for a certain percentage. According to the EAA’s Earl Lawrence, “EAA will be opposing the 20% fabrication requirement in favor of a simple majority portion of the tasks. EAA believes that there is just too much debate and opinion as to what is fabrication and what is assembly, what is the definition of the two etc. for builders to wade through all of this.” The EAA is going to push the idea that “a task is a task is a task,” which is how the previous set of rules were laid out. If a builder did a “task,” say, build a rib, he simultaneously received credit for fabrication and assembly, even if the vast majority of the true effort was assembly.

In order to define who did what, the FAA has created Figure 9-3: Amateur-Built Fabrication and Assembly Checklist, which consists of 187 tasks and breaks them down. A column is used to define what has been done by the manufacturer, what was done by commercial assistance, what was assembled by the builder and what was fabricated by the builder. In a stark turnaround from previous indication, where the FAA opposed the idea of multiple credit among various entities for a specific task, the new checklist allows the builder to define, by 10% increments, who did what. For example, Task 1 is “fabricate longitudinal members.” The maximum value for any line is 1, so the manufacturer might be listed as 0.5 and the builder 0.5, if he fabricated half of the longitudinal members. But what is half? How do you define it? By steps in the process? Time? Effort? It takes an automated stamping machine about a second to pound out a wingrib, but it could take a builder days to complete the same task by hand. (And do I have to point out that the professionally manufactured rib, with its locating holes, is almost certainly a better, more consistent part than one hammered on a workbench next to the washer and dryer by an amateur builder?)

More troubling is that some major components are now on that list. For example, one line says "Fabricate engine propeller." Assuming the builder did not create his own propeller, that line scores a 1.0 for the Manufacturer/Kit/Part/Component line, which takes away a point from his own participation. In the past, purchasing such critical items as the propeller didn't count for or against the builder, or even factor into the computations determining major portion. Now the prop is joined by such things as the engine mount and exhaust system, which, if the builder does not fabricate (presumably from "raw materials") counts against his efforts. Does the FAA really want builders welding their own exhaust systems?

This Fabrication and Assembly Checklist continues down to a tally chart at the end, where the points are supposed to add up and create percentages of the effort. Given that the manufacturer can have only 49%, maximum involvement in the basic structure of the airplane, the total remaining assembly and fabrication columns must add up to 51%. And the fabrication column alone must be 20% or more. If it’s not, the FAA is supposed to reject the application.

Commercial assistance is next on the list. Back to that form. The column next to Manufacturer is Commercial Assistance. Any commercial assistance is deducted from the manufacturer’s score; as it’s written, the builder gets NO credit for any commercial assistance, even if he is intimately involved during that time. Worse than that, the ability for builders to get credit for educational assistance has been removed.

And while the new rules continue to leave overall construction of the engine, avionics, interior (and painting) outside the realm of the checklist, a few items have been snuck in. For example, the builder has to “fabricate instrument panel.” By placing this item on the task list, it removes it from the free category and requires the builder to specify how much was done by the kit maker, how much by himself, and how much by commercial assistance. If, for example, the kit he’s working fro
m has a 49% completion rate, and the builder honestly admits that his panel was professionally built, that line becomes a 1.0 under Commercial Assistance, and the airplane is no longer eligible.

Potentially the worst aspect of these new rules is the strain it puts on the DARs, or designated airworthiness representatives, who are the foot soldiers for the FAA in the Experimental world. These independent inspectors, who regularly (and rightly) charge a fee to “sign off” on Experimentals, are going to be put to a massive amount of work and responsibility under the new rules. In many places, the new draft documents refer to the FAA as making a determination, but you can read that as DAR. In many parts of the country, FAA inspectors outright refuse to come and inspect Experimental/Amateur-Built aircraft, citing workload.

There are other gems in this draft. For example, any modification to the kit by the builder that may impact the eligibility of the kit to be on the approved list must be re-evaluated by AIR-200 to ensure the kit remains eligible. But who is to make this determination? The DAR? The FAA office? It boggles the mind to think how long it could take to reach a determination on a small alteration. Ask anyone trying to certify a new technology with the FAA just how difficult it is to get anything through the system.

I do agree with the FAA’s putting a high-tension clamp on the act of taking a prebuilt, certified aircraft, modifying it and placing it into Experimental/Amateur-Built registration. This process, on the face of it, is crazy, and it’s amazing to think of how many aircraft have somehow been reset to carry E-AB certificates. It’s hard to argue with the FAA for wanting to stop that practice in its tracks. The FAA has also warned that E-AB aircraft that are built using certified parts—say a wing or fuselage—might not be eligible: “excessive use of such salvage components...will not be acceptable…”

In the end, it’s my view that the FAA has complicated this issue beyond recognition, and if these draft documents go through as written, they will create hardship for the rank-and-file builder who legitimately wants to construct an airplane of his own. Moreover, these new rules will do nothing to improve or even maintain safety.

The FAA has published a comment form in Microsoft Word that can be faxed to 202/267-8850 or emailed.

Amy's RV-10: That Ole Paint

It turns out, ole silverback, as I was beginning to deem 9AB, our newly hatched and DAR-blessed RV-10, was going to get a new name. We'd flown it all of 15 hours, and were beginning to feel like our feet were at least wet when it came to the basics of its flight characteristics and avionics suite. We'd had a couple of snafus and setbacks, an itinerant voltage regulator, seized bearings in the nosewheel and a magnetometer failure--all fixable with new hardware, revised plans and a little more testing. Now, with a south Florida summer in front of us, we really wanted the beast protected, and that's just what painting an airplane is all about.

The only thing my husband, the RV-10's builder, hates worse than fiberglass, is paint. The solution: shop it out. We'd negotiated with Craig Barnett, owner of Scheme Designers, and he'd come up with a wonderful paint scheme for the airplane. The horizontal lines with tapering trim really softened the bulbous cockpit and enhanced the sleek look of the sloping Sam James cowl and 14-inch spinner. Barnett convinced us to also paint the spinner to elongate the look of the airplane. There are still a few curved lines out on the tips of the vertical stabilizer and wings to keep the chicks in the family happy. But for the most part, I have to acquiesce and admit that for this bird, stripes work.

It was a couple of months of back and forth figuring that scheme, but we did it while the airplane was under construction so there would be no pressure. Finding a paint shop in the summer that could take our machine and render the scheme live? That seemed like it was going to be nigh on impossible without at least a four- to six-month wait.

Then Joe at Hawk Aircraft Painting at the Vandenburg Airport in Tampa, Florida, suddenly had an opening. We'd had Joe paint our Cessna 210 years ago, and it had proved to be a durable application. We asked him if he'd worked with Scheme Designers before and he said yes. We visited to see what he was doing, and chatted about paint colors. We struck a deal, and before we knew it, the airplane was at Vandenburg, in pieces.

Joe touched up a few smiley rivets and smoothed a couple of spots where fiberglass and metal abutted, but generally his job was to prime and paint to spec, which he and his crew did. A month and a half later the airplane is back with us, reassembled, and looking sharp for its next round of fly-off testing. Now if it would only stop raining for a morning so that we could get it back into the air and see how it performs with paint!

New Product: "Swing-Wing" Ultralight to Be at AirVenture

Gene and Larry Smith, the owners of Culver Props and Valley Engineering will have the production model of their new Back Yard Flyer "swing-wing" legal ultralight at Oshkosh. With its award-winning four-stroke Big Twin engine out front and its ability to rotate the wing 90° on its vertical axis, this plane can open the door to many pilots who can't afford out-of-sight hangar rents.

The plane can be seen in Booth 560 in the lightplane area at the south end of the field.

For more information, visit Valley Engineering.

Proposed FAA Guidance on Homebuilts Is Announced

Offering a 30-day comment period, the FAA has announced its much anticipated Official Notice of proposed guidance pertaining to the regulation of Experimental/Amateur-Built aircraft.

Read the FAA's draft here.

Read EAA's Initial Overview of the policy here.

Fly-In Preparation and Safety

There are always risks involved with flying into any airport, but when there’s a fly-in going on, those risks are higher than usual: lots of traffic, pressure, excitement, special procedures and pilots who may not be up to the task. (Present company excepted, of course.) Nevertheless, you can arm yourself for the demands of fly-in flying by preparing mentally, studying the event’s special procedures and polishing your flight skills beforehand with a certificated flight instructor.

Things to Think About in Advance

Just about everybody knows that the human element is a major contributor in many aviation accidents and incidents. By thinking things through before the fly-in, there will be fewer surprising situations.

First, consider your main objective when attending a fly-in. It's not putting the airplane exactly on the numbers when the controller tells you to, and it is not even attending the fly-in. Your main objective is to arrive alive and well and be able to fly your airplane the next day. This seems obvious, but aviation is filled with examples where pilots did not keep their primary objective in mind. Military pilots sometimes get “target fixation” and fly their airplane into the ground while trying to put a bomb on target. Civil pilots sometimes get so intent on a particular task, such as landing exactly on the numbers, that they don’t keep their airspeed and vertical speed under control. “Flying the airplane” is a good way to meet your objective.

Another part of mental preparation is briefing your passengers on what to expect and what to do. I tell my passengers that I want to know about airplanes that are within 500 feet vertically and within 1 mile laterally, or those that are within 2 miles but closing fast. I don’t have time to worry about every airplane they see; I only care about those that might affect my flight path.

The last point of mental preparation is to anticipate your own state of mind. At major fly-ins, most pilots will be excited about landing; their stress level will be elevated, and their skills and awareness will be degraded. Then there is the additional demand of trying to comply exactly with the published flying procedures for the event.

Learn the Procedures Well

AirVenture, and other fly-ins, usually have procedures that are quite different from every day operations. The best time to learn -- thoroughly -- is weeks or at least days in advance, so that you’re not pressured to go unprepared. The worst time to review procedures is, of course, in a courtroom, after something went wrong.

Procedures come in many flavors: FAA-published NOTAMs, web pages and even some who disseminate their own “simplified” procedures. All have their strengths and weaknesses in varying proportions.

Anything with FAA on it will be definitive and authoritative. For example, the published AirVenture Oshkosh NOTAM does a nice job of describing normal procedures. And the AirVenture NOTAM has evolved over the years and reflects the considered inputs of many dedicated individuals and organizations. Nevertheless, the published NOTAM may have some detail that has been superceded, so check with Flight Service before you go.

Still, a published procedure may not help you with every contingency. For example, there are no published go-around procedures and no mention of what to do when the Piper Cub right ahead of you slows to 50 mph on a 2-mile final and you can’t go that slow (which happened to me one year). No published procedure is perfect, of course, and if every remote possibility were covered, the document would be the size of a big-city phone book. Just remember that you’re still PIC and have those responsibilities.

Another source of information is the Internet. For example, AirVenture’s site (www.airventure.org) has pictures of the Fisk arrival, named after the tiny Wisconsin town that forms the primary entrance path for show traffic, and such information can be a big help. If the fly-in is near where you live, you could fly there in advance, before the traffic builds, and familiarize yourself with the local landmarks and conditions.

Sometimes you can find “simplified” procedures on private sites. You still need safety and contingency information, and that will almost certainly not be part of the simplified procedures. However, they may be useful as in-flight reminders of frequencies, headings and altitudes. Don’t count on them to tell you all you need to know, but consider them as supplementary sources.

Distractions You May Encounter

Other pilots in the area can be a big distraction. At any large fly-in, the law of averages says that there will be pilots who are unskilled, unprepared, clueless or just plain rude. Don’t let their inadequacies provoke you into risky behavior. Anticipate what someone else might do and figure out how you’ll address the situation. Go through approach and departure patterns, and determine how you would handle having the radio blocked, or getting cut off in the pattern, or finding somebody suddenly flying close formation on your wing, or having someone stop in the middle of the landing runway, or someone taxiing across the runway in front of you, or anything else you can think of. I have encountered many such situations, and all of them have happened to somebody. Your main objective is to keep you, your passengers and your aircraft safe.

Controllers are another and potentially most insidious source of stress for pilots. Controllers don’t know your skill level or stall speed, and they might get fixated, too, and insist that you put it down “right on the red dot” or “right on the numbers.” Every year, some pilots forget who is in command and get so focused on the controller that they neglect to fly the airplane. It almost happened to me one year at AirVenture, but I got away with it. How? I had a docile airplane and appropriate skills, and I concentrated on those rather than letting the controller be PIC of my airplane.

So Then What Do You Do?

If you can’t safely put the plane right on the red dot, be a good citizen: Get on the radio and tell the controller, land as close as you can or go around. (After working with your CFI in preparation for the fly-in, you might prefer not to land at the primary airport because doing so is inconsistent with your skill level and risk profile. That may be the most mature and wise decision.) Your best bet is to review the situation in advance, when you have the time, people with whom to discuss the alternatives and no pressure. Nothing beats good preparation.

One of my best instructors, Barbara Mock, said that “instrument flying is like war.” Fly-in flying requires the same level of respect and preparation, and if you’ve done your homework, it becomes a lot easier.

Practice Makes Perfect

You can’t necessarily prepare for everything you might encounter going to a fly-in, but you can improve your skills in the meantime, and that practice can be lots of fun and very satisfying. After all, don’t we all enjoy being fully in control of our airplanes, knowing exactly what we can and cannot do safetly?

Only you and your CFI know what performance you can get from your airplane with what level of risk, and the Federal Aviation Regulations state clearly that the pilot-in-command is the ultimate authority for the safe operation of the airplane (not some blog). The purpose of the following exercises is to help you determine you
r skill level so that you will know, at the fly-in, what you can and cannot attempt safely. It should be obvious but we’ll restate it here: Don’t take excessive risks during these exercises. You and your CFI can discuss and perhaps practice the maneuvers below. Most of them are based on situations I’ve encountered over the years at fly-ins.

• As warm-ups, get competent at all those ground-reference maneuvers you had to do to get your license. Chances are they’re rusty skills worthy of some sandpaper.
• Tight traffic patterns: Try traffic patterns so tight that the turn from downwind to final is a continuous 30 degree banked turn, and you turn final at 150 feet agl. One major fly-in has a traffic pattern at least this tight. Practice both left and right patterns.
• Tracking a route over the ground: Fly along the very center of a road or railroad at 900 feet agl (where safe and legal) and 90 knots. Try to hold within 5 knots and 50 feet of altitude, while also looking all around for other traffic. Hint: You don’t have to be looking straight ahead to determine your pitch attitude.
• Fly the final approach at varying speeds: Try these from just above stall warning horn to 20 knots above normal speed. Depending on traffic or obstacles on the runway, “normal” approach speeds may not give you the separation you want from other traffic. Become accustomed to your airplane’s responses when you try to shed that extra approach speed quickly.
• Changing landing points: On a long runway-- at least 6000 feet -- designate short, medium and long landing points. Be able to land on any point after your CFI tells you, at 200 feet up on final approach, which one to land on. If your wheels touch 2000 feet short of a point, do you add power to fly down the runway, or add power to taxi at 40 or 50 knots? What is it like to fly 2000 feet along the runway at 3 feet of altitude? How well can you judge your speed, and how much time do you have to look at your airspeed? What do you do if the stall warning comes on at 10 feet of altitude?
• At altitude, practice 45 degree banked turns at speeds just above stall warning, with just enough power to hold altitude. What happens if you chop power during this turn? What happens if you go to full power?
• Practice landing on both the left and right sides of a wide runway, and learn what it looks like when you’re well off the centerline.
• Practice landings on narrow runways, no more than 50 feet wide. Some fly-ins temporarily use taxiways as runways, and they can be narrow.
• Practice recovering from overshooting a turn to final, as might happen if you get cut off in the pattern or find that there was more tailwind on base than you anticipated.
• Be ready to handle all kinds of landing winds: crosswinds, headwinds, tailwinds, and quartering headwinds and tailwinds. Changing active runways at fly-ins is hard for controllers to do, and you may end up with unfavorable conditions.

Additional Situations to Ponder

• How much separation from other aircraft on the runway do you really need to be safe, regardless of what’s customary? (Customary separation may be legally waived during a fly-in, and smultiple landing airplane at a time on one runway may be a given.) How does your required separation vary with your speed, and with your speed relative to another airplane ahead?
• As you change your speed in the pattern, on final, or on rollout, can the pilots behind you adjust to your speed changes?
• After you land and are rolling out, do you want to stay in the middle of the runway, or get off to one side in case somebody behind you is too close, can’t slow down and needs to pass, or perhaps doesn’t see you? Practice getting off to the side of the runway with your CFI.
• If you need to turn off the runway quickly, what works best in your airplane? Do you approach the intersection at speed, slow down in a straight line and then turn?

There are lots of other ways to reduce your risk at fly-ins. You can plan to arrive when traffic is lightest, such as early in the morning. You can talk to other pilots who have flown there, or you can fly in with somebody who has been there before. You can also plan to arrive when winds are likely to be lightest, or when the crosswind component is least. Whatever the situation, remember that you are legally pilot-in-command, so be pilot-in-command. Having an accident or incident will ruin the fly-in experience, so do whatever you can to minimize risks. Stay cool, calm and collected, and be ready to have a great time!