March 19, 2012


Are we having fun yet?  I sure was!  And why not, aviation is fun. And that's what its meant to be. 

Today I am announcing that I will be stepping away from WAFO? to take part with my friend Mike Vanhoy in the next generation of flying blog.  This blog is #pilotlogic.  It's about the art of flying through the eyes of young professionals. 

Many of my favorite features will be migrating with me to #pilotlogic.  Features such as Teaching From The Tube and Recommended Reading will now be featured on #pilotlogic.  We also plan to show videos and share stories as we make our journey through careers in aviation. 

Thanks for all the support over the years!  I'll see you over there

-Colin J. Fischer, Pilot

February 15, 2012

Shuttles Discovery and Atlantis Final Power Down

NASA announced today that Discovery and Atlantis were powered down for the final time in preparation for their eventual display in Washington and Cape Canaveral respectively.  Both of the orbiters went through a power-on procedure to retract their Ku-band antennas and robotic arm. 

The end of the Space Shuttle era is bittersweet - the Shuttle allowed space travel to become relatively common place by opening up space travel to more than just military test pilots.  The Shuttle pioneered new technologies such as the MMU, and long-duration power supplies for the Space Station and eventual flights to the Moon and Mars.  The Shuttle was also a victim of its own success, suffering 14 casualties during its tenure as America's Manned Space Program.  Regardless, the Shuttle was still an engineering marvel, and she performed her mission well. 

February 14, 2012

NASA Reveals FY 2013 Budget

Corresponding with the President's 2013 budget proposal, NASA unveiled its vision for the next fiscal year.  Overall, the agency is receiving a $59 million cut.  The FY '13 budget has a larger sum of monies being sent to Human spaceflight initiatives and space technologies.  This comes at the cost to robotic missions.  NASA is going to drop out of the ExoMars Mission (as reported by  Earth Sciences missions, however are also seeing an increase in funding.  Additionally, the James Webb Space Telescope is likely to survive to launch. 

Here is NASA's video explaining the new budget (don't expect any statistics): also breaks this down pretty well.


What I like: 
  1. Increased funding for human spaceflight, so the US may close the gap between the Shuttle and the first launch of the SLS.
  2. Increased funding for Commercial Spaceflight.
  3. Increased funding for Earth Sciences.
What I Don't Like: 
  1. Overall decreased funding.
  2. Reduced funding for robotic missions.
  3. Lack of a clear commitment and concrete direction for the agency (beyond development of SLS).
This budget is pretty much what I expected to see from the administration in an election year.  The President can claim that he's increasing funding to human spaceflight, while driving down the cost of the agency overall.  The theme of reducing NASA's budget has been talked about by GOP candidates as well, including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. 

The economics of space have been pretty well studied.  The heyday of Apollo is the most often quoted  figure, where $14.00 was returned for every $1.00 spent.  I don't have figures for today, but I would imagine that the return on investment is somewhere around $7-$10.00 per $1.00 spent. 

Beechcraft AT-6 Aircraft launches a Laser Guided Missle

Beechcraft has been developing the AT-6 aircraft and announced today that the aircraft became the first fixed wing vehicle to launch a laser-guided missile.  In case you are not familiar with the AT-6, here is a video put out by Aviation Week

This is a good example of using existing technologies to develop a new capability.  The COTS technologies also make it potentially easy to maintain.  However, given the cost of training pilots and maintainers, it is unlikely that this aircraft will be fielded before the expected pull out of troops from Afghanistan next year.  

February 10, 2012

Swiss pilots try new ATC Procedures

I discovered this piece of news about a Swiss flight that used a new ATC technology that allows pilots to provide their own separation services while on an instrument flight plan.

I'll admit that I'm not all that familiar with oceanic ATC procedures, but what drew me to this was more the implications for the FAA's NextGen Airspace. From what I understand of the program, the FAA intends to automate much of the en-route ATC system, and this appears to be a step in that direction. If this is successful, I can eventually see the system being included first on Airliners, and eventually (like TCAS) all IFR-certified aircraft will have this system. It also has implications for the proliferation of UAS into the national airspace, as UAS pilots can have a clearer situational awareness of surrounding traffic and maneuver around them. We have yet to discover how reliable this system is, but it certainly shows great promise.

February 9, 2012

Wright Bros Building may be Condemned

This came across my desk today and wanted to pass it along. A building in Ohio that once was used by the Wright Brothers is decaying and may be demolished. Certainly, it will be a sad day in aviation if this happens. Fortunately, a group of citizens is trying to save it by renovating and improving it. If they can't then the safety of the surrounding community is paramount.

February 8, 2012

12 in '12: FAA Re-Authorization Bill to open airspace to drones

The recently-passed FAA re-authorization bill mandates that UAS integrate into the US Airspace within 3 years. This is a major victory for UAS manufacturers who will be seeing a major decline in sales now that the Iraq war is over and Afghanistan is winding down.

In 2009, the FAA's re-authorization mandated full integration of UAS into the national airspace in five years (2014). However, three years later there is still no published progress in this area. As is well known, the biggest hinderance to integration is the lack of a capable see-and-avoid system so UAS can avoid colliding with other aircraft. This could be solved by mandating the use of an IFF/TCAS system on all aircraft, or having all UAS fly on an instrument flight plan. However, neither of these solutions are plausible in the current airspace environment. An instrument flight plan works well for a Predator- or Global Hawk-sized aircraft. For smaller vehicles such as Shadow 200s, Ravens or other small UAS will likely make up the majority of the national UAS fleet do not carry transponders, and the missions they will perform will be locally launched, locally operated. Additionally, there aren't enough controllers to handle the added workload of so many UAS operating in their airspace on local missions.

The only difference between now and 2009 is that the US drawdown overseas is closing or severely limiting the UAS market in the military. Therefore, its politically expedient to open UAS operations in the national airspace so a new business sector can open up. This will allow the UAS industry to keep production levels, and limit layoffs. These are important political tools in the ongoing recession.