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News Letter 22 November 2018

Good day all

After an abundance of awards ceremonies last week we are in for a much quieter weekend.

East Rand Flying Club will be hosting the second instalment of the new format of air racing. The Speed Rally concept is the brain child of Protea Nav Rally pilot Jonty Esser. Jonty and his team started this more exciting form of Rally flying in an attempt to attract more pilots to the sport of Nav Rally flying ahead of the World Championship that will be hosted by SAPFA in Stellenbosch in 2020. The World Championship will also form part of the Centenary Celebrations of The Aero Club of SA.

All thirty places for this Speed Rally have been filled and it promises to be a very exciting event, if you in the Springs area on Saturday be sure to pop in and experience this new and exciting form of Sport Aviation.

SAA Technical musical chairs continues

The acting CEO of SA Airways’ maintenance subsidiary SAA Technical (SAAT), Wellington Nyuswa, has been replaced after six months at the helm of the embattled unit. Nyuswa was appointed as acting CEO in March 2018 after the suspension of CEO Musa Zwane, along with SAA’s CFO Phumeza Nhantsi, following a qualified audit report by the auditor-general tabled in parliament at the time.

SAAT, which provides maintenance service to almost all large aircraft in SA, has experienced capacity problems that have led to flight delays and disruptions. SAAT, which provides maintenance service to almost all large aircraft in SA, has experienced capacity problems that have led to flight delays and disruptions.

The report found, among other matters, that SAAT’s inventory could not be verified and that there were insufficient controls in place to manage the inventory. It also found glaring accounting irregularities on maintenance costs and that incorrect exchange rates had been recorded. It said that SAA Group had not established controls to maintain complete records of irregular expenditure and wasteful expenditure.

SAA’s current CFO Hendus Venter is the new acting CEO though also in a (three-month) acting capacity. Venter’s role as CFO at SAA is being filled by Mankwe Makgate in an interim capacity, according to sources.

JSE-listed Comair, SAA’s main competitor, is winding down its arrangement with SAA and is in the process of reassigning all its maintenance to Lufthansa Techink. Comair CEO Erik Venter said earlier that there had been a drain of skills and no reinvestment into that pool at SAAT, and that this had created a crisis around aircraft maintenance. Mango, a subsidiary of SAA, recently sent one of their Boeing 737-800 to Jordan for major maintenance.

SAAT has also faced a slew of allegations of procurement and tender irregularities. In 2017, forensic accounting firm Open Waters reported irregularities going back to 1999 that has cost the maintenance unit millions of rand.

SAA Group has been unprofitable for decades. The debt SAA carries is significant and underwritten by the government. The Treasury allocated R5bn to SAA in the October medium-term budget. About R14.2bn of SAA’s debt is due in March 2019.

Nyuswa was appointed as Zwane’s replacement to ensure business continuity, said SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali.

Virgin Orbit Flies Converted 747 with Rocket Attached to Its Wing

Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit plans to launch satellite-ferrying rockets into low-Earth orbit from the wing of a converted commercial airliner. On Sunday, the company got one step closer to realizing the goal when it conducted the first captive carry of its rocket "Launcher One," strapped to the wing of a Boeing 747-400.

The company is steadily gaining momentum. Last month, Virgin Orbit hitched the rocket to the side of its jet for the first time, although the plane didn't take flight. On Sunday, the aerospace company made further progress by taking its B747, Cosmic Girl, into the sky in an effort to test what it calls a "flying launch pad."

Unlike Virgin Galactic, Branson's space tourism company that plans to take paying customers into low-Earth orbit, Virgin Orbit will launch small payloads for commercial and government contractors. The company has already won contracts with the Department of Defence and Sitael, an Italian micro-satellite manufacturer, among others.

Virgin Orbit will begin operations in 2019. Cosmic Girl will ferry Launcher One to an altitude of 35,000 feet and deploy lightweight satellites, with a maximum capacity of 1,100 pounds per payload. The company hopes to offset the typically exorbitant cost of satellite launches with quicker and more efficient methods that could see it conduct over 20 launches per year. Smaller, lightweight payloads are key to that directive.

Because of its aerial deployment tech, Virgin Orbit is something of an outlier in the commercial rush to decrease the cost of rocket launches. The new space race has largely been characterized by companies such as SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Iridium One and Blue Origin, all of which conduct launches from the ground. In terms of aerial launch, Virgin Orbit is joined by Stratolaunch Systems, the company founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, famous for its six-engined mega-plane.

Sunday's milestone flight lasted 80 minutes, and tested the converted commercial airliner's performance with a rocket attached to its wing.

Virgin Orbit chief pilot Kelly Latimer lauded the performance in a Virgin Orbit statement:

“Everyone on the flight crew and all of our colleagues on the ground were extremely happy with the data we saw from the instruments on-board the aircraft, in the pylon, and on the rocket itself. From my perspective in the cockpit, the vehicles handled incredibly well, and perfectly matched what we’ve trained for in the simulators.”

The work isn't done for Virgin Orbit, however. The company plans to conduct several more tests, including a drop test, when a rocket will be released from Cosmic Girl without igniting, before officially conducting its first launch in early 2019.

First ever plane with no moving parts takes flight

The first ever “solid state” plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers.

The flight represents a breakthrough in “ionic wind” technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust.

Steven Barrett, an aeronautics professor at MIT and the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, said the inspiration for the project came straight from the science fiction of his childhood. “I was a big fan of Star Trek, and at that point I thought that the future looked like it should be planes that fly silently, with no moving parts – and maybe have a blue glow. But certainly no propellers or turbines or anything like that. So I started looking into what physics might make flight with no moving parts possible, and came across a concept known as the ionic wind, with was first investigated in the 1920s.

“This didn’t make much progress in that time. It was looked at again in the 1950s, and researchers concluded that it couldn’t work for aeroplanes. But I started looking into this and went through a period of about five years, working with a series of graduate students to improve fundamental understanding of how you could reduce ionic winds efficiently, and how that could be optimised.”

In the prototype plane, wires at the leading edge of the wing have 600 watts of electrical power pumped through them at 40,000 volts. This is enough to induce “electron cascades”, ultimately charging air molecules near the wire. Those charged molecules then flow along the electrical field towards a second wire at the back of the wing, bumping into neutral air molecules on the way, and imparting energy to them. Those neutral air molecules then stream out of the back of the plane, providing thrust.

The end result is a propulsion system that is entirely electrically powered, almost silent, and with a thrust-to-power ratio comparable to that achieved by conventional systems such as jet engines.

Prof Guy Gratton, an aerospace engineer and visiting professor at Cranfield University, said: “It’s clearly very early days: but the team at MIT have done something we never previously knew was possible in using accelerated ionised gas to propel an aircraft. Aeronautical engineers around the world are already trying hard to find ways to use electric propulsion, and this technology will offer something else that in the future may allow manned and unmanned aircraft to be more efficient, and non-polluting. In particular, the fact that they have already got this out of the laboratory, and flown a battery driven model aircraft – albeit so far on a very small and controlled scale – is very exciting.”

The successful flight of the plane – which has no name beyond the uninspiring “Version Two” – owes as much to the engineering prowess required to make it as thin and light as possible as it does to the propulsion method itself. The plane weighs just 2.45kg, but manages to fit in a five-metre wingspan, battery stack, and a high-voltage power converter.

In the immediate future, the MIT team hope to increase the range and speed of the plane, primarily by scaling up the size of the overall machine. Potential applications in the short term include unmanned drones, where silent flight may be beneficial, and high-altitude solar-powered flight, where the lack of moving parts could allow such a plane to soar for years on end, acting as a pseudo-satellite.

In the longer term, the ability to power flight purely through electricity opens up the possibility of carbon-neutral flight, which could lower the emissions of the aviation industry globally.

Barrett also noted that solid state propulsion tends to miniaturise well, and suggested that smaller drones than those currently possible with rotor-based flight could take-off using an ionic wind drive in the future. “Solid state things lend themselves to scaling down quite well,” he said, “creating extremely small flight vehicles that serve uses we can’t imagine.”

Ash from Alaska volcano prompts aviation warning

Residents of a tiny Alaska Native community woke up to a little pre Thanksgiving excitement Wednesday, with a neighbouring volcano spewing a billowing dark cloud high into the air.

The sooty emissions from Mount Veniaminof were visible from the Aleut village of Perryville nearly 40 kilometres to the south, locals said. But the wind was pushing the plume away from the community of 101 people.

Alaska Volcano Observatory scientists said that overnight emissions from Veniaminof generated an ash plume up to 15,000 feet. The cloud drifted more than 241 kilometres to the southeast.

The ash emissions prompted an aviation warning. Observatory geophysicist Dave Schneider said that level of emissions would affect mostly smaller aircraft. Ash above 20,000 feet could threaten jet airliners.

Veniaminof is 772 kilometres southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula. It became active again in early September.

About a month ago, Perryville was dusted by drifting ash. When people saw Wednesday’s distant ash cloud from the volcano, they were “a little alarmed,” said Gerald Kosbruk, president of community’s the tribal government. “This is the most ash I’ve seen come out of it, People also heard rumbling noises coming from the volcano overnight,” he said.

The volcano erupted for several months in 2013. Other recent eruptions occurred in 2005 and between 1993 and 1995.


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