First International Sale of the COMAC ARJ21 Regional Jet

The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC) has for the first time inked a deal to sell one of its aircraft to an airline outside of China. This is a major milestone and reinforces the fact that China is becoming a very relevant force in the airliner manufacturing space. To date, the COMAC ARJ21 regional jet has been sold and operated exclusively on China’s domestic networks by airlines such as Chengdu Airlines (launch customer), OTT Airlines (Subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines), China Express Airlines, China Southern Airlines, China Flight General Aviation Company (CFGAC), Genghis Khan Airlines and Jiangxi Air.

Who is the international lauch customer of the COMAC ARJ21 Regional Jet?

Indonesia’s PT TransNusa Aviation Mandiri, more simply known as TransNusa is a regional domestic airline with routes concentrated in the eastern part of the country. It is based in Kupang on the island of Timor and services destinations in Nusa Tenggara, Timor and South Sulawesi. TransNusa was inaugurated in August 2005 using aircraft chartered from Pelita Air and Trigana Air Service and gained its own operator licence in August 2011.

TranNusa started operations with destinations in South Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Timor.

Throughout its life, TranNusa has forged various business partnerships with other operators, acting as a feeder airline for other carriers as well as leasing or block buying seats on carriers such as Aviastar, Indonesia Air Transport, Sriwijaya Air and Riau Airlines. Aircraft operated by TransNusa include Fokker 28s, Fokker 50s, ATR 42-300s. These aircraft were leased from Trigana, Pelita Air and Riau Airlines.

TransNusa has operated various aircraft including this ATR-600.

Over the period 2017 – 18, TransNusa bought four new aircraft of their own, three ATR 72-600s and an ATR 42-500. By 2019 the airline boasted a fleet of 1 BAe 146 and 7 ATRs with 3 ATRs about to be delivered. Things were looking good for TransNusa with various safety awards having been achieved. Then Covid hit.

Like most places in the world, Covid changed travel in Indonesia. As a result, TransNusa decided to temporarily cease operations in September 2020 and returned aircraft to their lessors.

A restart for TransNusa.

In November 2021, TransNusa announced it was coming back. This time the airline would reinvent itself as a Low-Cost Carrier (LCC) with a restart set for February 2022. A recent investment in the airline by China Aircraft Leasing Company (CALC) to the tune of 35.68% has been responsible for the change in strategy. No doubt this change is also responsible for the decision to lease 30 ARJ21s.

What is the COMAC ARJ21 Regional Jet?

The Comac ARJ21 Xiangfeng (Chinese for Rising Phoenix), is a twin-jet airliner with engines mounted on each side of the rear fuselage. The ARJ21 (Advanced Regional Jet) began development in March 2002 with the first prototype rolling out on 21 December 2007. CAAC type certification was achieved on 30 December 2014. The project for various reasons fell behind and certification was eventually 8 years behind target. Testing in cold climate and ice conditions were actually conducted in North America with many of the proving flights conducted around the world.

Chengdu Airlines was the launch customer of the COMAC ARJ21.

The ARJ21 does depend heavily on imported technology and parts, such as engines by General Electric and the wing designed by Antonov of Ukraine. China maintains that the design has been done completely in China by supercomputers, however, there are those who are keen to point out the similarities with the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 and MD-90. The MD-80 and MD-90 were licenced to be built in China, and tooling for those airframes was left in China.

Chengdu Airlines was the first to receive the ARJ21 and took delivery on 29 November 2015. They commenced commercial services on 28 June 2016 with a flight from Chengdu Shuangliu Airport to Shanghai.

Mass assembly of the ARJ21 will enable 30 units to be produced per year and is located in the same facility as the COMAC C919 production plant in Pudong, Shanghai.

ARJ21 Specs

Type ARJ21-700 ARJ21-900
First Flight 28 November 2008 TBA
Crew 2
Passengers One class 90
Two class 78
One class 105
Two class 98
Cabin Width(Internal) 3.14 Meters (10 feet 4 inches)
Cabin Ceiling Height 2.03 metres (6 feet 8 inches)
Aircraft Length 33.46 metres(109 feet 9 inches) 36.35 metres (119 feet 3 iinches)
Main Wing Span 27.28 metres (89 feet 6 inches)
Main Wing Area 79.86 square metres(859.6 square feet)
Main Wing Sweep back 25 degrees
MTOW 40,500 Kg (89,300 lb) Standard
43,500 Kg (95,900 lb) Extended Range
43,616 Kg (96,157 lb) Standard
47,182 Kg (104,019 lb) Extended Range
OEW 24,955 kg (55,016 lb) 26,270 Kg (57,920 lb) Standard
26,770 Kg (59,020 lb) Extended Range
Cargo Capacity 120.14 cubic metres (711 cubic feet) TBA
Takeoff Dist. 1,700 metres (5,600 feet) Standard
1,900 metres (6,200 feet) Extended Range
1,750 metres (5,740 feet) Standard
1,950 metres (6,400 feet) Extended Range
Fuel Capacity 10,386 Kg (22,897 lb) TBA
Engines x 2 General Electric CF34-10A
Engine Thrust x 2 75.87 kN (17,057 lbf) 82 kN (18,500 lbf)
Speed (Cruise) Mach 0.78 (828 kph, 447 kn, 514 mph)
Speed (Maximum) Mach 0.82 (870 kph, 470 kn, 541 mph)
Service Ceiling 11,900 metres (39,000 feet)
Range 1,200 NM (2,200km, 1,400 Miles) Standard
2,000 nm (3,700 km, 2,300 miles) Extended Range
1,200 NM (2,200km, 1,400 Miles) Standard
1,800 nm (3,300 km, 2,100 miles) Extended Range

The TransNusa Deal

The ARJ21 deal calls for 30 aircraft to be delivered with an option for 30 more in the future. The delivery of February 2022 looks like it might be on time, as an ARJ 21 in TransNusa colours has been seen at Shanghai’s Pudong airport. This is an important step for COMAC as it can now show that their aircraft are relevant in the non-Chinese market as well.

Do you know any more? Please free to comment below, we value our reader’s input.

The last Airbus A380 flies the nest.

And just like that the dream is over. On 16 December 2021, a grey Hamburg evening, the last ever Airbus A380 Super Jumbo lifted off, did a circuit of the city and flew east to its new home. What began as the next big thing in aviation, the Airbus A380 fell well short of expectations for European plane-maker, Airbus. The last Airbus A380 brought the total deliveries of this airliner to 250, well short of the 1,000 that Airbus had envisaged in the planning stage.

Singapore was the launch customer for the A380 back in October 2007, with the first route being between Singapore and Sydney. It was an exciting time in air travel with the future looking assured for this new arrival. Little did we know.

So what happened? How did Airbus get it so wrong? Well, perhaps it wasn’t a matter of getting it so wrong so much as coming in late. When the first A380 was rolled out in front of dignitaries to huge fanfare in 2005, it was already 2 years late. Other technologies had also been progressing and there was a ground swell toward the new more economical twins jets like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner followed by the Airbus A350.

A matter of succession.

Over the last decades, go to any international airport and you would be greeted by the iconic tails of Boeing 747s poking up into the sky. The 747, Queen of Skies, had been the very symbol of international travel for decades. The design of the 747 hadn’t changed for quite some time and I’m sure that Airbus saw this as an opportunity to fill this niche of the market with a brand new updated very large passenger transport aircraft. What they couldn’t have foreseen is the demise, or at least shrinkage of that sector of the market.

Airbus A380 tails of Emirates, QANTAS and Singapore Airlines at London’s Heathrow Airport. It looked very much like the common sight of giant Boeing 747 tails adorning international terminals would be replaced by those of Airbus. Unfortunately it seems that the A380 will never reach that level of market penetration.

The Airbus A380 is very popular with passengers and many will arrange their travel plans to ensure they get to ride on it. For airline bean counters, not so much. Airlines were finding that the new twin jets were more economical on all but the very busiest routes. They were also more eco friendly, so opting for these just made more sense. The big shake up really came when Covid-19 reared it’s ugly head. Countries closed borders and travel came to a standstill. Airlines sent their aircraft to desert or other storage facilities with little knowledge of if or when they would ever be used again. For some, it was the end of the road. Airlines like Lufthansa and Air France retired their A380 fleet.

So who got the last A380?

So back to the Hamburg sky. Where in the east was the last A380 going?

There is one airline which has put great faith in the A380. Emirates Airlines of Dubai is by far the largest customer of the A380 and aircraft registration A6-EVS was on its way to Dubai to become the 129th A380 in the Emirates fleet.

Tim Clark of Emirates firmly believes that the popularity of the A380 with passengers will carry it well into the future. Considering that much of the Emirates network is medium to long haul, perhaps the economics of the A380 still stacks up. One thing you can count on is that you will still be able to fly on an A380 for many years to come.

Lufthansa took an each way bet with their choice of giant passenger transport, buying both the Airbus A380 as well as the Boeing 747-8i. Boeing have also had little success with the 747i which is the passenger version, the cargo version, the 747-8F, however, had better success. This all due to an each way bet by Boeing at creation of the original 747.

What of the huge assembly buildings in Toulouse, France? Now the assembly line has fallen silent, Airbus has plans to use some the space for assembly of their narrow body aircraft. With new orders coming in, such as the one from QANTAS, it is hoped that workers will be redeployed for the most part.

Airbus seals the deal to reinvigorate the QANTAS Fleet.

In an historic agreement between Australian flag carrier QANTAS and European aircraft maker Airbus, a new deal has been forged to reinvigorate the carrier’s aging domestic and short-haul fleet. QANTAS has been a big supporter of the Boeing 737 for the last 30 years, flying models such as the 737-300/400/700 and of course the current workhorse, the 737-800. Competition between Boeing and Airbus for this lucrative deal was fierce with Boeing putting forward their 737 MAX as a logical upgrade option for the QANTAS Fleet.

The Qantas Boeing 737-800 has been the trusty workhorse of the domestic and short-haul QANTAS fleet for many years now.

With the average age of the QANTAS fleet of 737-800s being 13 years, it was time to update to more economical and eco-friendly modern airliners. Of course, when you’re going shopping it is best to go hard or go home. The QANTAS team took this rationale on board as they dangled a large order in front of both Boeing and Airbus. Not only was the QANTAS fleet of Boeing 737s up for replacement, but they also brought into the deal a requirement to replace aircraft in their subsidiary operators, QANTASLink and Jetstar.

So what have QANTAS and Airbus agreed for the updated QANTAS Fleet?

The deal that QANTAS and Airbus have agreed to is the largest single aircraft order in Australian aviation history and will be fulfilled over the next decade. So what is the deal exactly?

The Airbus A220-300 is the larger of the two variants of this type, the other being the Airbus A220-100. The A220 was originally designed and built by Bombardier of Canada and is finding great traction in the regional and short-haul market.

The 737-800 workhorse will be replaced by the Airbus A321XLR which is the largest member of the A320 family as well as the longest range. XLR stands for EXtra Long Range. The Airbus will carry 15% more passengers than the 737 it replaces. The other part of the order involves replacing the aging Boeing 717s operated by QANTASLink. QANTASLink is one of three airlines left in the world that still operate the 717. These aircraft will be replaced by the Airbus A220-300, the larger of the two variants of the type.

  • Committed to buying 20 Airbus A321XLRs to replace the current Boeing 737-800s.
  • Committed to buying 20 Airbus A220-300s to replace the current Boeing 717s.
  • Further options for 94 more aircraft.
  • The selcted engines are Pratt and Whitney.
QANTASLink is one of three carriers that still operate the Boeing 717. This derivative of the original Douglas DC9 has been a popular regional and short-haul aircraft.

This announcement will certainly hurt Boeing who is already reeling from challenges they have faced with the Boeing 737 MAX. QANTAS has been a customer of Boeing’s now since the 1950s, even at one point being the only airline in the world that had an all Boing 747 fleet. The change will mean that the Boeing 787 will be the only aircraft in the QANTAS fleet from Boeing. That was the result of a fiercely contested race between Boeing with the 787 and Airbus with the A350 back in 2005.

What Next?

The next step for QANTAS is to obtain board approval to sign off on the deal which is expected in June 2022. Once signed off, deliveries should start in mid-2023 and go over a period of 10 years.

Waking the giant, the return of the Airbus A380.

It is an ill wind that blows no good, or so they say. By all accounts, the winds of history over the past two years have been anything but good. Other than the obvious tragedies and losses, many industries have been decimated, very few more so than the travel and airline industry. With countries and states locking down to various levels around the world, travel has become a far off memory from another life and time. But a change is being felt and it seems waking the giant is called for. Bring back the Airbus A380.

The Airbus A380-800 also known as the Super Jumbo is an Airbus answer to the Boeing 747. Carrying 555 passengers in a 3 class configuration, was it too late to market?

Covid vaccinations started off slowly in many countries with mixed messaging, misinformation and scarcity of vaccines in some cases holding back the rollout. In Australia for example the rollout was hampered by distrust of one type and scarcity of other types, but that is now in the past. New freedoms in some states of the country are promising to bring back some sort of normality as a reward for passing specific milestones of the percentage of the population being fully vaccinated. The game-changer is that if travellers go overseas and are fully vaccinated, they do not have to do hotel quarantine on return home. QANTAS CEO, Alan Joyce, said this makes international travel possible again.

“this makes international travel possible again.”

The opening up of international travel routes will be a gradual affair. With varying levels of covid containment in different countries, new agreements will have to be made between those countries. For example, the return of Australians to the popular holiday isle of Bali will be dependant on agreements that can be thrashed out between Australia and Indonesia on what rules and conditions will govern who can come to Bali and what procedures they need to follow. If, for example, the Indonesian government requires arriving travellers to quarantine for any significant time on arrival, it is pretty much a non-starter.

Singapore was the launch customer for the A380 back in October 2007.

So why does it mean a reawakening of the giant, the Airbus A380? Well, we used to be able to fly all over the place, pretty much. Now, however, we will have for the near future a more limited amount of places we can fly to. To that limited amount of places, we have a large portion of the population who is busting a gut to get their butt on a plane seat. Missed family, friends, events or just to get the hell out and see something different. The point is, we will have many people going to similar destinations, therefore, more seats are required. The Airbus A380 is the biggest there is, so is perfect for the job.

A380s back in Australia on Christmas Day

QANTAS for its part has its twelve Airbus A380s parked at Southern California Logistics Airport (VCV) in the Mojave Desert. This location was chosen over the more local Alice Springs where airlines like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines have chosen to store their aircraft because it is drier. The earlier than expected restart of international travel has sparked a lot of activity and excitement. To reawaken an aircraft from its slumber takes thousands of man-hours and is already underway. We believe we may see the first of two QANTAS A380s back in Australia on Christmas day. Two aircraft will return initially and be used on short routes to enable retraining of personnel. The plan is to use these two initial aircraft on the Sydney to Los Angeles route. This route is some 7,500 miles in length with an eastbound travel time of 13 hours and 45 minutes and westbound of 15 hours. This means that two aircraft are required to maintain the schedule which begins on 27 March 2022 and is currently showing as:

QF11 Sydney to Los Angeles departing 10:15AM arriving 6:00AM
QF12 Los Angeles to Sydney departing 9:55PM arriving 6:55AM (+2 days)

Three more A380s are due to arrive back in Australia in November 2022 and are slated to operate on the Sydney to London via Singapore route. Five more are due back in early 2024, leaving two which may well be scrapped.

Singapore Airlines, the launch airline for the Airbus A380, announced a few days ago that it will bring the A380 back into its fleet on 18 November 2021. The aircraft will operate as SQ317 from Changi to Heathrow. For a month from 04 November to 01 December, the A380 will operate crew training flights between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. From 01 December an A380 will be put on the Singapore to Sydney run to add to the Christmas seat availability.

A380 on approach to Heathrow Airport

Earlier this month British Airways also announced it was bringing back some of its A380s to be used on the Miami, Dubai and Los Angeles routes. It also has intentions of running short-haul training flights initially to Madrid and Frankfurt, so there may be opportunities for planespotters who would not normally see those aircraft in their home airport.

Qatar Airways will also bring back five of its A380s in November to service routes to London, Heathrow and Paris, Charles de Gaul. CEO Akbar Al-Baker said it was not for the love of the aircraft as he has indicated in the past that buying the A380 was the airline’s biggest mistake. There is even a possibility of all ten of their A380 fleet coming back online to fill in the gap left by their A350s grounded by a fuselage skin problem.

Airbus A380-841 Malaysia Airlines.

What of Emirates? By far the largest operator of the type. Well, they have still been flying A380 through the pandemic, but at half strength. That means around forty-three have been in service while seventy-seven have been stored. Emirates says they will bring more back into service before the end of the year.

So an ill wind it may be, but for the Airbus A380, this ill wind may well mean that it gets a few more years of useful life before disappearing into history.

How do you feel about the A380 coming back? Are you happy about it, do you like travelling on it? Are you lining up for those first seats?

Safe travels everyone.

Biomimicry and the shape of a wing.

Have you ever watched birds as they move through different phases of flight? Wings spread wide as they ride updraughts or tucked further in as they descend quickly toward a likely meal. Twisting and flexing their wings and feathers to maximise their efficiency. What if the shape of a wing on our airliners could be changed in much the same way? Let’s face it, watching birds gave us the idea of flight in the first place and we should continue to learn from them.

Wing flapping may not be the way to go…

Perhaps a full emulation of bird flight might be a little disconcerting to a passenger looking out the window. Wings flapping may not be the way to go, but there are still many areas where today’s aircraft wings can be improved. Both Boeing and Airbus have been competing in the area of wing technologies for years. Today we have Winglets for Boeing and Sharklets for Airbus where the addition of those mechanisms on the wingtips have gone a long way to reducing drag and therefore saving the industry billions of dollars and reducing emissions. Composite materials, folding wingtips and various other technologies have been seen on the latest airliners bringing even more efficiencies.

Back in 2009, Airbus introduced the Sharklet. This innovation served to reduce wingtip vortices which form when the air from the top of the wing meets the air under the wing and creates a whirlwind effect. This serves to create drag which inhibits the forward movement of the aircraft through the air. By reducing that drag, the aircraft requires less energy to push it forward thereby reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

X-Wing is based on nature……..

At a summit in Toulouse on 22 September 2021, Airbus’ Chief Technical Officer, Sabine Klauke, proudly shared details of what she referred to as the X-Wing. The X-Wing is another instance of Airbus’ technology-based solutions which were working toward decarbonising aviation. The technology of the X-Wing is based on nature and like birds enabled a wing to change shape and span depending on the phase of flight. This means the wing would always be efficient for that phase of flight. To achieve this the new wing sported sensors to detect wind gusts giving it the ability to make changes according to the conditions. These changes include pop up spoilers or plates that can pop up perpendicular to the airflow, multifunctional trailing edges and a semi-aeroelastic hinge.

Airliner wings are made up of so many different parts to control the various stages of flight. From flaps and slats to offer more lift at slower speeds, airbrakes to slow the aircraft down and ailerons to control the banking of an aircraft. The X-Wing looks to rethink a lot of these parts and use biomimicry to better control the way a wing behaves much like birds.

The project has been running for around 6 years now and Airbus hopes to have the wing flying by the mid-2020s.

The testing of the concept is being carried out by the Airbus subsidiary UpFirst. Using a Cessna Citation VII business jet platform, there will be 3 wings produced to test the concept from different standpoints. These include:

  • Understanding system integration.
  • Comparing real life testing with computer modelling.
  • Ramping up industrial production.

As well as the flying efficiency of the new wing, Airbus is looking at the production process and how it can be done as cheaply and efficiently as possible. The idea is to make the wing universally adaptable to all the airliners in its stable.

As we move toward net zero-carbon by 2050, these new technologies are becoming increasingly important to drive down emissions and improve efficiencies. Using biomimicry to achieve those ends makes a lot of sense.

What are your throughs on the topic? Please feel free to share them below.

Last ever Airbus A380 takes to the sky.

It must have been with gravely heavy hearts that the employees of Airbus Industrie watched on Thursday 25 March 2021 as the last ever Airbus A380 takes to the sky. The end of the Super Jumbo era goes with her as she makes the flight from Toulouse, France, to Hamburg, German. Here she will, as all her sisters before her, be painted in the livery of her new owning airline and be fitted out internally.

The last ever Airbus A380 will then make her way to her new home in Dubai and fly under the livery of Emirates, registration A6-EVS. Emirates, the largest operator of the A380 with already 117 aircraft in their fleet took their most recent delivery of three A380s in December and now await this final one. Apparently, Emirates had tried to cancel the rest of their massive A380 orders with Airbus, however, Airbus could not agree as they maintained they had already started construction of the final aircraft on the order book.

Singapore was the launch customer for the A380 back in October 2007.

….if anything can be called Aluminium Overcast, it is this.

Last ever Airbus A380 takes to the sky way before we thought it would.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that travellers were getting excited about seeing and getting a ride on the brand new Super Jumbo. In 2007, Airbus and the A380’s launch customer, Singapore Airlines, created huge excitement around the world as they prepared to launch the first Super Jumbo into the world. On the 25th of October that year, the first route was flown from Singapore to Sydney. This writer was very excited. Living in Sydney gave me an opportunity to view this new technological marvel first-hand way before those in the rest of the world. A rarity in this part of the world to be first in such things. As it flew overhead, I thought to myself, if anything can be called Aluminium Overcast, it is this. The sheer size of the wings was overhead was awe-inspiring.

It was also exciting as you travelled the world to see various airports which had adjusted their airbridges and ramp areas, putting up signs progressively saying “We are A380 Ready”. As if to throw maize down to attract pigeons out of the sky.

Emirates is the largest operator of the Airbus A380 and the recipient of the last A380 made.

It is always amusing to look back at the marketing concepts that were put out there about this new airliner. The Airbus A380 was designed to give more of a concept of space to travellers. There were fewer seats per square metre of cabin floor as compared to the Boeing 747. The A380 was certified to carry 853 passengers in a squishy all economy layout, which it turns out no airline ever implemented. The common layout was a mixed class arrangement with around 500 passengers. There was talk, also in the marketing handouts, of the ability to have duty free shops and various other amenities to make the trip more enjoyable. Singapore Airlines and Emirates did put private cabins for the wealthy aboard, however, for the most part, economies dictated that the A380 gave us just more of what we already had.

So, why is the Air A380 being discontinued? One could be forgiven for blaming it all on Covid 19, and no doubt that is the reason why Emirates tried to back out of the final aircraft in their order book. Let’s face it, 2020 was a perfect storm for air travel with countries slamming their borders shut or making quarantine such that it made travel impossible, for most anyway. But the rot for the A380 and also the Boeing 747 had already set in before this. The age of the giant twins, such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 was upon us and airlines no longer wanted big 4 engined airliners that could only fly to certain airports. You can read about this in more detail here.

Airbus A380 tails at London Heathrow. These became as common a sight as the Boeing 747.

It is not just the Airbus A380 that has seen the end of its days. The Boeing 747 Jumbo also is now struggling with being viable. Boeing brought out the latest iteration of the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747 8 and its sales in the passenger-carrying market have been very ordinary. Boeing has, however, benefited from a design decision taken back in the 1960s when they decided to sit the cockpit in a bubble above the main deck. They did this as an each-way bet, in case the passenger version flopped they could fall back on the design as a cargo version with a nose door. In the 747-8 this has paid off. The 747-8F freighter version has far outsold the 747-8i passenger version. For airbus the cargo version is not really a viable idea as the flight deck sits between the upper and lower decks, negating any possibility of a straight in nose loading door like the 747.

So, what will become of the A380s still flying? There are still high-density routes in the world where these aircraft are the perfect solution. Travel will need to get to some semblance of what it was pre-covid. Of that, however, there is no guarantee as every new month brings us a new normal of how the world is. As for the folks down at Airbus in Toulouse, they will still have A380s to service, however, I’m sure for many there will not be such a happy outcome.

How an instrument landing system(ILS) can autoland aircraft.

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At the end of a flight, there is always that feeling of excitement. The flight was pleasant enough, with some nice views along the way, but now you are ready to get off and re-join planet Earth. You look out of the window and glimpse the layout of the world you are about to become part of, perhaps seeing some expected landmarks. Now that you are lower it becomes more interesting as there is more to see close up. The usual hubbub of activity and announcements as the crew prepare the cabin for landing is going on around you as you continue to enjoy the view. Gradually, however, more clouds are appearing and your view becomes more and more interrupted until eventually, all you see are variations of white and grey. You wonder to yourself, can the pilots see any better than I can? How are they going to land this thing without any visibility? I assume this aircraft uses an instrument landing system(ILS) to get us down. Maybe even autoland.

We’ve all no doubt heard about instrument landing systems and the ability to autoland an aircraft. But what does it mean?

Why do we need ISL and autoland?

Some parts of the world have a greater need to be able to autoland an aircraft. For example, the United Kingdom and much of North-West Europe is very prone to thick fog. This is mainly due to the cooler air condensing over the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream. In the U.K. the thickness of these fogs, famously the “London Fogs”, was further exacerbated by soot in the air and visibility was literally down to a few feet. This has improved since the Clean Air Act came into force which forbade the burning of smoke-producing fuel. Driven by these conditions the U.K. Government created a unit to investigate the feasibility of an autoland system in the mid-1940s. The flight delays and cancellations caused by these weather conditions were very disruptive and costly.

The Sud Aviation Caravelle was the first aircraft to be certified to Cat III autoland on 28 December 1968. These categories are determined by the number of backup autopilots an aircraft has. Generally, three are required as backups in case one or more fail.

So what do we know about how an aircraft can be brought to the ground safely using technology? Well, we need several different pieces of technology on the aircraft as well as on the ground. Let’s look at the ground first.

At most major airports, some or all of the runways will be equipped with an ILS or Instrument landing System. This system very basically comes with two radio beams. One of those beams is located beyond the far end of the runway and is responsible for sending a signal directly down the centreline of the runway. This beam is used for directing the aircraft horizontally left or right until it is lined up with the runway centre line. The second of the two beams is located next to the touchdown point of the runway, so the point where the aircraft wheels should first settle on the runway. This beam is directed up at an angle of 3 degrees, as this is the angle at which aircraft approach a runway to land. This beam is the benchmark for letting aircraft know whether they are too high or too low in their approach.

The Hawker-Siddeley HS.121 Trident followed the Caravelle with a (CAT IIIA) and to CAT IIIB during 1975.

How does ILS work?

You are perfectly correct if you observed no beams in the sky on your last approach in the fog or any other time for that matter. That is why pilots have an instrument on their panel called a VOR or Very high-frequency Omni-directional Range. This is a very important instrument and one of its many uses is to show a representation of the ILS radio beams as two needles. The horizontal needle will move up and down to represent the horizontal 3-degree glideslope. The other vertical needle will move left and right to represent the aircraft’s position relative to the runway centre line. The pilots can then orient the aircraft correctly for the approach and “fly the needles” for a safe landing. In addition, some airfields may have marker beacons along the approach path to the runway so as to backup the ILS information as far as the centreline and distance to go is concerned. There is usually an outer, middle and inner marker and these will light up on the instrument panel to confirm the progress toward the runway.

The ILS is a great system for getting aircraft lined up and approaching at the correct angle and heading for landing. If a pilot is flying the aircraft, however, they will expect some visual clue to start presenting themselves while the aircraft is still at a height where last-minute corrections can be made or that the landing can be aborted. Put yourself in the pilot’s seat of a Boeing 747 on approach to Heathrow. It’s foggy, and Tower Bridge was the last thing you saw before you popped into cloud and then fog. You dutifully fly the needles nicely lined up and as your altitude decreases you slow the aircraft, drop the undercarriage and run out all the flaps. The aircraft’s maneuverability now takes on the attitude of a breeze block, so you need to be sure you are on the centreline and glideslope as the ability to correct your position is severely diminished. As you pop out of the cloud, you expect to see the Hatton Reservoir ahead of you but there it is over to the right. You are nicely lined for the Southern Perimeter Road, landing on which is not approved. So you go round and try again.

So what happened there? Well, two things really. Firstly, as you get closer to the ground, the accuracy of the radio beam signals is diminished due to ground and other factors. The second was the fact that the aircraft flying more slowly near the ground is far less manoeuvrable as the lessened effect of flight controls due to less air passing over them. The controls become sloppy and need more exaggerated movements to achieve the same result. Any last-minute corrections to go over further to the right would be met with disaster as there would be no time to get the aircraft correctly lined up again in a stable descent.

So this was the problem. ILS is a great system, but not good enough to land in near-zero visibility conditions.

This brings us to the aircraft systems that are used in concert with the ILS signal to achieve a safe landing in visibility conditions that in the past would have required the pilot to seek out their alternative landing airport.

An older style analogue VOR instrument shows the needles neatly crossed in the middle to show the aircraft is in the correct space horizontally and vertically..

Autoland and the radio altimeter.

Autoland is a system that takes control of the aircraft approach and landing using autopilot. During the autoland process, the autopilot will still use the ILS as described above to fly the needles, however, in addition, it will also reference the radio altimeter. What is that I hear you ask. Well, as you probably know the standard altimeter is little more than a barometer measuring air pressure. The higher up we go the less becomes the air pressure at a fairly uniform rate, so we assign different heights with air pressure. This works fairly well when you measure in thousands of feet, however, you need something a little more accurate when you are flying near the ground.

A radio altimeter is very much like a boat or submarine depth sounder, it sends down a radio signal directly beneath the aircraft and then listens for the remnants of the signal to come back and then measures the change of phase between the sent signal and the returned signal. This gives the height above the ground directly below the aircraft. The radio altimeter is only used at the beginning and end of the flight as beyond 2,500 feet it becomes ineffective. Above that height, the instrument will have a flag pop up saying Off so that it doesn’t confuse pilots during flight.

On approach using autoland.

So back to our intrepid crew landing a 747 at Heathrow. Tower Bridge disappears behind us again for our second attempt. This time you’ve made an early decision that autoland might be the way to go. You select this setting on the autopilot panel and as speed reduces you run out the flaps again and dangle the Dunlops. You now have the best seat in the house while you watch the aircraft line up precisely on the needles, horizontally and vertically. At 2,500 feet the radio altimeter leaps into action and your co-pilot starts reading out the steadily decreasing altitude. You picture Kew Gardens below you and start further reducing speed. By Hounslow, you need to be in steady flight configuration at around 1,000feet.

ILS coupled with autoland enables aircraft to continue operating in all types of weather

This is where the radio altimeter earns its right to be on the instrument panel. Because of its high accuracy, you will be depending on it to flare the aircraft for a soft landing at the correct moment. The flare is when the aircraft nose is raised just prior to touching down. This serves to arrest its downward movement to something that the landing gear can cope with when slammed down onto the ground. This is one of the trickiest parts of flight and one pilots train and train for. Flare too early and you can stall over the runway and come down like a ton of bricks. Flare too late and well, same effect really. Being able to flare at the correct moment is made much easier if you can see the ground

We won’t be able to see the ground which is why we are using our trusty autoland.

Through 1,000 feet and you constantly scan your instruments to check for anything that looks out of place. Meanwhile, you are subconsciously taking in your co-pilot reading off the altimeter readings. Still pea-soup out there. Approach speed now we are on short finals. Then you hear your co-pilot calmly call out THIRTY FEET! Right on queue, the aircraft nose raises higher to bleed off the speed for the touchdown.

As the spoilers pop up and brakes come on with reverse thrust the autoland will still use the ILS to maintain the aircraft on the centreline of the runway until such time it is manually disconnected.

Another flight that managed to operate on schedule regardless of the visibility conditions.

Aerial Firefighting with Fire Fighting Airplanes

It seems to be the new normal now that each year brings devastating fires that are getting harder and harder to fight. Like anything, bigger problems need bigger solutions. To support the brave men and women who risk their lives to fight these fires, often coming in from other countries to support their brothers and sisters in need, we have seen in recent years new tools come into play. A few years ago smaller planes, like the twin-engine high wing Canadair CL-215 would skim across lakes or other bodies of water, scooping up that water to then dump it on inaccessible fires. We also had helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-64, an example of which was owned by Erickson Air-Crane called Elvis which was loaned to Australia in the early 2000s. Aerial Firefighting is now moving to the next level with fire fighting airplanes.

With bush fires becoming more ferocious and harder to fight from the ground, organisations are turning more and more towards larger fire fighting airplanes. Fire fighting airplanes are not purpose-built, however, with so many airliners now being retired, there is a ready source of large aircraft that can be converted. Unlike the current trend in air travel where large jets are becoming all but obsolete, for fire fighting airplanes bigger is better. So now we are seeing those older airliners that we used to travel in getting a new lease on life.

..for fire fighting airplanes bigger is better..

The biggest is the Boeing 747, “Queen of the Skies”. Yes, the airliner that was the world’s largest for most of its life is now finding a second life as the air defence to back up our on the ground firefighters. Like ground troops in a war, when the going gets tough you call in air support, and you want to be sure that they can bomb the hell out of the enemy. Well, this is the biggest, no doubt.

Global Supertanker Boeing 747-400.

The Global Supertanker, Spirit of John Muir, is the worlds largest VLAT or Very Large Air Tanker, holding almost twice as much water or fire retardant as its next closest rival. This Boeing 747-400 started its life as an airliner flying for Japan Airlines before retiring to its next role as a freight carrying aircraft for the now defunct Evergreen International. The seats already long having been stripped out, the fuselage now accommodates two large identical tank systems giving the aircraft an effective payload of 20,000 gallons of water, retardant or gel. The tanks are pressurised and can deliver in one burst or in 8 segmented releases. The delivery can take the form of a blanket or drizzle out like rain which comes out through four outlets under the fuselage.

Spirit of John Muir can reach anywhere on the U.S. mainland within four hours and with a load time of 30-35 minutes can be deployed very quickly where needed. The aircraft was a great asset in South America during the recent Amazon jungle fires, really living up to the John Muir legacy.

Flying the Global Supertanker takes very special skills. Normally you would see the likes of a 747 taking off from a big city airport, climbing to cruise and then descend to some other big city airport at the other end of the journey. The skill required to fly the VLATs is more in line with that of an air-force bomber pilot skill set. Each sortie is critical and the retardant or water must be delivered to a precise location to be effective. This means that delivery runs are often at a very low level, around 200 feet above ground in difficult terrain and smoky conditions. Not for the faint of heart. Having said this, accidents have happened to other fire fighting aircraft and in some cases, airmen gave their lives in service of others.

Since 2006, converted McDonnell Douglas DC10s have been used in aerial firefighting.

10 Tanker Air Carrier operates a fleet of 5 converted DC-10 aircraft. These converted airliners can hold around 12,000 gallons of water or retardant and have been deployed all around the world as required.

This BAe 146 aerial firefighting aircraft is ideal for its slow speed abilities. Here we can see the tail air-brake is deployed to allow it maximum time over the target.

So we can see that the toolbox at our firefighter’s disposal is taking on whole new proportions as we try to stay ahead of our changing weather patterns. It is heartening to see some of our old favourite airliners getting a new lease on life and returning them to the usefulness they once enjoyed. It is, however, even more, heartening to see serious force being brought to bear in the fight to save lives and our precious environment. Never underestimate the bravery of those on the ground and in the air that fight for our benefit.

Boeing 737 MAX Name Change

What’s in a name?

Plenty it seems, and if you’re in marketing you’ll know full well the power of words and names. Ask anyone in the street, well ok, I know it’s hard to find people in the street in some cities at the moment, but ask anyone, what comes to mind when you say 737 MAX. I’m sure warm fuzzy feelings will not be an answer you can expect to hear. Time perhaps for a 737 MAX name change?

Knowing this full well, what would you do if you were Boeing? The MAX name is certainly a poison chalice for them. After two tragic accidents which have led to the grounding of this latest iteration of the very successful 737 model for around 2 years now.

The Boeing 737 Max-7 is the smallest of the four variants offered under the 737 MAX banner.

The 737 MAX has been very closely scrutinised since the type was grounded along with the extensive examination of processes that led to various flaws being allowed to survive the certification process. Both Boeing and the F.A.A. have been found at fault and one can only hope that this will ensure this kind of situation will now be avoided in the future. We also hope that corrections in design and training will ensure that the 737 MAX will end up being the safe aircraft we have come to expect from the likes of Boeing. In short, this needs to be right and also seen to be right.

If you design a bad aircraft, it tends to bite….

The question remains, however, will passengers be willing to get on board a 737 MAX, even after the corrections have been made. If you design a bad car, for example, and it breaks down on the side of the road, you can kick the wheel, call someone and things will be fixed, usually. If you design a bad aircraft, it tends to bite and lots of people hear about it and get gun shy. So this is what Boeing has to contend with to regain the customer confidence.

So what will the Boeing 737 name change entail? Well, it’s not so much as a name change so much as an earlier move to the normal naming convention. If you think about the Boeing 787, which was introduced not that many years ago, it started life as the 7E7 and then the Dreamliner. Since then the aircraft has been referred to as both the 787 and the Dreamliner. The naming convention that Boeing now applies to its aircraft such as the 787, which comes in the 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10, will also be applied the 737 MAX. This is not a new idea. Boeing has referred to the various MAX models as the Boeing 737 MAX 7, or 737 MAX 8 etc..

WestJet Boeing 737 MAX-8, one of 13 in their fleet which are currently grounded.

The move away from the MAX name has been a subtle process and Boeing has begun to the use the name 737 MAX and 737-8(7 through 10) interchangeably. This way they are transitioning away from the MAX name toward the normal naming convention of modern Boeing aircraft. This was evident in a press release recently when Polish charter airline Enter Air placed an order for two 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The release read:

Boeing and Enter Air today announced the Polish airline is expanding its commitment to the 737 family with a new order for two 737-8 airplanes plus options for two more jets.

An all-Boeing operator and Poland’s biggest charter carrier, Enter Air began operations in 2010 with a single 737 airplane. Today, the airline’s fleet includes 22 Next-Generation 737s and two 737 MAX airplanes. When the new purchase agreement is fully exercised, Enter Air’s 737 MAX fleet will rise to 10 aircraft.

“Despite the current crisis, it is important to think about the future. To that end, we have agreed to order additional 737-8 aircraft. Following the rigorous checks that the 737 MAX is undergoing, I am convinced it will be the best aircraft in the world for many years to come,” said Grzegorz Polaniecki, general director and board member, Enter Air.

So we now know that the aircraft to watch for in the future is the Boeing 737-7, 737-8, 737-9 or 737-10. I realise you would have to have arrived from Mars recently not to put 2 and 2 together, however, people have short memories and it won’t be long before they will be happily boarding their 737.

To understand the seriousness of the impact to Boeing of a failed 737 MAX, you just need to look at the order book. The MAX orders are second only to Boeing’s most popular 737 model, the 737-800. They simply cannot let the 737 MAX fail.

Safe travels.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

It has been a long time between drinks, but now within days, we will see the release of the latest iteration of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, MS Flight Simulator 2020. On 18 August 2020, we will see the first all-new version of MS Flight Simulator since 2006. That is a hugely long time in technology and for that reason, we expect to see some pretty cool stuff.

You can feel the crispness in the air as this Piper Cub flys over a valley at dawn. You feel you are there.

Considering that Flight Simulator 1.0 was released back in 1982, this has been a really solid product for Microsoft and popular with flight enthusiasts worldwide for many years. The previous version, Flight Simulator X, released in 2006 taken over by Steam in 2014 is still a great product and used by many still to this day including myself. FS 2020, however, takes things to the next level. As you would expect with newer technology, the level of realism is out of this world. Well, more precisely, it brings you out into this world.

So, what if you are not a budding pilot? No problem, the level of realism enables you to go and travel the world as if Covid19 didn’t exist. Let’s face it, most of us are not able to travel to the places we would like to go anymore and maybe not for quite a bit of time to come still. FS 2020 is all about the graphics. Asobo Studios who developed the program for Microsoft have used the AI technology in MS Azure to generate a lot of the scenery using Microsoft Bing Maps data. As a result the ground scenery is richer than it has ever been before and makes for a very realistic view of the world.

Flying over New York City with changing weather. Beautiful!

There are three different versions of the FS 2020 release and the difference between these is around the amount of aircraft provided as well more detail or crafting around a selection of airports.

MS Flight Simulator 2020 Aircraft inclusions by version.

AircraftStandardDeluxePremium Deluxe
Airbus A320neoXXX
Aviat Pitts Special S2SXXX
Boeing 747-8 IntercontinentalXXX
CubCrafters XCubXXX
Daher TBM 930XXX
Diamond DA62XXX
Diamond DA40 NGXXX
Extra 330LTXXX
Flight Design CTLSXXX
Icon A5XXX
JMB VL-3XXX
Robin CAP10XXX
Robin DR400-100 CadetXXX
Beechcraft Bonanza G36XXX
Beechcraft King Air 350iXXX
Cessna 152XXX
Cessna 172 Skyhawk (G1000)XXX
Cessna 208 B Grand Caravan EXXXX
Cessna Citation CJ4XXX
Zlin Savage CubXXX
Diamond DA40-TDIXX
Diamond DV20XX
Beechcraft Baron G58XX
Cessna 152 AerobatXX
Cessna 172 SkyhawkXX
Boeing 787-10 DreamlinerX
Cirrus SR22X
Pipistrel Virus SW 121X
Cessna Citation LongitudeX
Zlin Shock UltraX

Of course as time goes on, private entities will start building their own versions of FS 2020 aircraft.

This looks just as i remember it from my visit in 2019. Flight Simulator 2020 really makes you feel as if you are there.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 airports by version.

Microsoft advises that there are 37,000 airports worldwide to which you can fly in FS 2020. Depending on which of the three versions you have, up to 40 of those airports have been handcrafted to show a lot more detail. They haven’t been clear on what the handcrafting actually entails, however, below is the list of inclusions by version.

AirportStandardDeluxePremium Deluxe
Aspen/Pikin County (USA)XXX
Bugalaga Airstrip (Indonesia)XXX
Chagual Airport (Peru)XXX
Courchevel Altiport (France)XXX
Donegal Airport (Ireland)XXX
Entebbe Int’l Airport (Uganda)XXX
Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira Int’l Airport (Portugal)XXX
Gibraltar Int’l Airport (UK)XXX
Innsbruck Airport (Austria)XXX
Los Angeles Int’l Airport (USA)XXX
Tenzing-Hillary Airport (Nepal)XXX
Nanwalek Airport (USA)XXX
John F. Kennedy Int’l Airport (USA)XXX
Orlando Int’l Airport (USA)XXX
Paris Charles de Gaulle Int’l Airport (France)XXX
Paro Int’l Airport (Bhutan)XXX
Queenstown Airport (New Zealand)XXX
Mariscal Sucre Int’l Airport (Ecuador)XXX
Rio de Janeiro-Antonio Carlos Jobim Int’l Airport (Brazil)XXX
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport (Dutch Saba)XXX
Gustaf III Airport (France)XXX
Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport (USA)XXX
Sedona Airport (USA)XXX
Sirena Aerodrome (Costa Rica)XXX
Stewart Airport (Canada)XXX
Sydney Airport (Australia)XXX
Telluride Regional Airport (USA)XXX
Haneda Airport (Japan)XXX
Toncontin Int’l Airport (Honduras)XXX
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (Canada)XXX
Schiphol Airport (Netherlands)XX
Cairo Int’l Airport (Egypt)XX
Cape Town Int’l Airport (South Africa)XX
O’Hare Int’l Airport (USA)XX
Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas (Spain)XX
Denver Int’l Airport (USA)X
Frankfurt Airport (Germany)X
Heathrow Airport (UK)X
San Francisco Int’l Airport (USA)X
We were surprised at the level of detail given to examples of wildlife that are to be found in FS 2020. Even up close, if you dare fly that low, the movement and look is very realistic.

What do I need to run Flight Simulator 2020?

If you have ever run games or earlier versions of Flight Simulator on your PC, then you know that the power of your machine plays a large part in providing you with the ability to get the most out of these heavy graphic programs. MS flight Simulator 2020 is no different. It is acknowledged that this game is pretty heavy and so let’s have a look at what you need to be able to run the program and also what you need to run it well.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 system requirements: Minimum configuration to play the game.

This will allow you to run the game, but you may find you have to reduce density of certain items or that the smoothness is not perfect.

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4460 or AMD Ryzen 3 1200
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • VIDEO CARD: Radeon RX 570 or GeForce GTX 770 
  • PIXEL SHADER: 5.0
  • VERTEX SHADER: 5.0
  • FREE DISK SPACE: 150 GB
  • DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 2048 MB

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 system requirements: Recommended configuration to play the game.

This configuration should ensure you get the necessary frame rate for smoothness and that you can enjoy the full benefits of the enhanced scenery.

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-8400 or AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or better
  • RAM: 16 GB
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • VIDEO CARD: Radeon RX 590 or GeForce GTX 970
  • PIXEL SHADER: 5.1
  • VERTEX SHADER: 5.1
  • FREE DISK SPACE: 150 GB
  • DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 4096 MB

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the game once you start using it. Enjoy exploring the world!