How Safe Is Your Plane?

CBS news has reported that as late as May 5th 2008
a major supplier of composite materials to both military and civilian aircraft manufacturers, Airtech International, has been under investigation by the U.S. Army for fraud, kickbacks and producing non-conforming products. In a memo obtained by CBS news Army criminal investigators said that they “.. seldom have come across a company with such brazen disregard for the safety of soldiers and civilians as well as for the sanctity of laws…” in part.

The company is a major supplier of composites which are materials that are combinations of two or more organic or inorganic components. One of the materials is called the “matrix”, which is the one that bonds everything together while the other material is in the form of fibers embedded in
the matrix serving as reinforcement.  To make composites for aircraft the composite material, in fabric form, is laid out, layered with fibers running in different directions, cut into various shapes and then placed under heat and pressure in autoclaves which causes the resin to flow and when removed solidifies. The greatest value of composite materials is that they are both lightweight and strong.

Airtech is accused of providing non-conforming parts which do not meet customer specifications and which have contaminants that can weaken the finished structure and thus endanger passengers and crew.

The company issued a statement saying “We are aware of no current ongoing investigation” and that they had fully cooperated with the government, and considered the matter closed citing a November 2006 letter from the FAA which conducted its own investigation and found no violation of federal regulations.

According to a May 5th document an “active investigation” is still being conducted by the US Army while the House Transportation Committee wants to know why there has been so little action.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!

Airplane – Heal Thy Self!

What next, you ask?

Well, how about an airplane that fixes itself!  Science fiction, the fourth dimension or reality?

Modern aircraft are increasingly using composite materials in their construction, and these composites have some unusual characteristics. For example, over time they will develop small cracks or tiny holes. Researchers are developing a resin that “bleeds” when damaged or under stress, which forms a scab over the hole or crack, effectively repairing itself.

Dr. Bond (Ian, not James!) says “We’re also developing systems where the
healing agent isn’t contained in individual glass fibres but actually
moves around as part of a fully integrated vascular network, just like
the circulatory systems found in animals and plants. Such a system
could have its healing agent refilled or replaced and could repeatedly
heal a structure throughout its lifetime. Furthermore, it offers
potential for developing other biological-type functions in man-made
structures, such as controlling temperature or distributing energy

The composite material is made from hollow fibers which are filled with epoxy
resin, so when a hole or crack appears, the resin leaks out and seals the
break returning it to 80 or 90 percent of its original strength. The
epoxy is colored, making it easy for mechanics to spot the repairs and
make a permanent fix once the aircraft returns to base. Imagine a fighter aircraft damaged in a dog fight repairing the bullet holes from the enemy aircraft and returning to base already repaired!

So truth may be stranger than fiction.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!

Pilot Jobs On The Way Out?

Over the skies of Arizona a bizarre array of aircraft are invading their airspace. These are UAV’s, or
unmanned aerial vehicles, and they are being tested for use in wars, border
patrol, law enforcement and – yes – commercial freight and passenger

Imagine climbing aboard an aircraft, locating your seat,
sitting back to relax while a crew – on the ground at the airlines headquarters
– prepares for takeoff, hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the aircraft
itself!  But for the resistance of the
venerable FAA, it could be happening right now!

UAV’s are more and more in the news because they are being
used by the military over Iraq and
They are flown by pilots at airbases right here in the USA, and can
fly thousands of miles without any pilots (or anyone) on board at all. They can
depart from US air bases, navigate halfway around the world, complete a mission
and return to their US air base.

Raytheon spokesman Don Newman, who is the director of
unmanned systems, predicts that companies like UPS, DHL and FedEx will
eventually use unmanned aircraft, followed shortly thereafter by the major air

The FAA reluctance is being addressed and approval of
standards for using unmanned aerial vehicles in the National Airspace System is
expected to occur as soon as 2010.

That’s right folks, its all about money!  The USAF says it costs $ 700,000 to train
pilots while a UAV operator can be trained for $ 13,000.  Doesn’t that make you feel real safe, Hersch?

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!