AIN is proud to highlight the following winners of the 2021 Top Flight Awards. The awards are designed to recognize the best and the brightest in business aviation and honor creativity and innovation in design and technology as well as quality and passion in business aviation services and significant contributions by industry people.
Each year, AIN solicits nominations for the Top Flight Awards, with the nominees announced on November 1 and the winners revealed on December 1.
The main criteria for qualifying as nominees for Top Flight Awards include the date of service entry, in the case of new aircraft, or date of availability for products and services, during the applicable time period from the previous October first through September 30. The nominees also must illustrate something new and unique such as improved safety and performance, contributions to aviation or public benefit, creativity and innovation, and more. There were 10 categories for the inaugural 2020 awards, and this year the number of categories climbed to 14.
Among the winners this year, selected by AIN editors, are new aircraft with significant upgrades, as there were no new models entering into service during the applicable time period for nomination qualification.
New or slightly altered categories for the 2021 awards include: Excellence in Innovation; Charitable Hero; Safety Hero; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Sustainability; and Maintenance Innovation.
To recognize as many deserving people and companies as possible, AIN welcomes input from readers of Aviation International News, Business Jet Traveler, FutureFlight.aero, and AIN Media Group newsletters during the nomination process, which will be opened after the first quarter of 2022.
New Business Jet: HondaJet Elite S
The HondaJet has its roots in aerodynamic studies that began in 1986. The all-composite MH02 Honda research twinjet featured an above-wing engine mount and a forward-swept wing. It first flew in 1993. With results of its flights in hand, Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino returned to the drawing board and 10 years later the first HondaJet prototype took to the skies.
When deliveries of the first production HondaJet HA-420 began in late 2015, it quickly attracted attention. The airplane’s carbon-fiber composite fuselage is mated to metal wings with over-wing engine pylons, thin natural laminar flow wings, a porpoise-like nose, and raked cockpit side windows. The design helps to make the aircraft speedy and allows for more rear cabin and luggage space–including room for an enclosed toilet—and a larger, quieter cabin with less vibration. The over-the-wing-engine-mount pylons reduce drag and eliminate the need to contour the aft fuselage.
Continuing to build on the success of the original HondaJet, the new $5.4-million Elite S features an increase in maximum takeoff weight (mtow), flight deck improvements, a nosewheel steering system enhancement, and new paint colors. The Elite S mtow is 200 pounds heavier, which allows carriage of an extra passenger or flying an additional 120 nm with one pilot and five passengers.
New Business Turboprop: Textron Aviation King Air 360
The upgrade of the King Air 350/350ER, badged the 360/360ER, includes Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion touchscreen avionics, IS&S ThrustSense autothrottles, an updated onboard maintenance system for faster maintenance troubleshooting, a digital pressurization system, and a cabin redesigned for better aesthetics and comfort, with new seats; more refined cabinetry, partitions, and side ledges; higher work tables; LED lighting; lower-profile air and light components; new switches; and power outlets and USB charging stations. The 360 has a maximum range of 1,806 nm and a top cruising speed of 312 knots. Power comes from a pair of Pratt & Whitney PT6A-60A engines that produce 1,050 shp each.
The King Air’s roots trace back to the 1930s, when Walter Beech introduced the Model 18, arguably the first cabin-class twin-engine business airplane. In 1958, Beech debuted the Queen Air, an aircraft that remarkably resembles today’s King Air, save for the square passenger windows and piston engines. Beech delivered the first King Air in 1964 and by the late 1960s, the company commanded 77 percent of the business twin-turboprop market. Beech’s efforts gave rise to an entire family of larger, more powerful business and commuter turboprops. Today, more than 7,000 King Airs are on the civil registry and more than 1,000 of those are big ones—the 15,000-pound Model 350 that debuted in 1990. The Model 350’s wing is certified for infinite life and the aircraft was built to commuter-category standards, which provide for added levels of safety and redundancy on critical systems. If one of the two engines fails, its propeller automatically feathers to cut drag, and the rudder is simultaneously boosted to compensate for the asymmetric thrust.
New Rotorcraft: NASA Mars Ingenuity
On April 19, 2021, NASA’s Mars Ingenuity unmanned helicopter became the first aircraft to fly on another planet. Since then, the aircraft has made 15 flights through the beginning of November and has become an integral part of Mars exploration, helping scout the Red Planet in cooperation with the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity is a four-pound, $80 million coaxial helicopter purposely designed to operate in the thinner Martian atmosphere, where gravity is 62 percent lower than Earth’s. The aircraft is equipped with four carbon-fiber main rotor blades that spin at more than 2,500 rpm—10 times faster than a conventional helicopter—and is powered by solar cells and batteries. The aircraft is designed to operate in the extreme climate of Mars, where temperatures can fall to -130 deg F. While Ingenuity is not kitted with any scientific instruments, it is equipped with a camera system that can take images of the ground at a rate of 30 per second and analyze them, combining with a sensor system that can adjust flight controls at a rate of 500 times per second to ensure vehicle trajectory and stability. Ingenuity was designed and built by NASA in cooperation with contractors including AeroVironment, Lockheed Martin, and SolAero.
Perseverance and Ingenuity launched together from Cape Canaveral on July 30, 2020. In February 2021, the helicopter was parachuted onto the Martian surface at the Jezero Crater. In honor of the first flight, NASA designated the test flight area on Mars, in the Jezero Crater, as “Wright Brothers Field.” A small piece of fabric from the original Wright Flyer is attached to Ingenuity. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) presented NASA and the FAA with the official designator for the flight IGY, call sign Ingenuity, and gave the airfield location the ceremonial designator JZRO for Jezero Crater. Because data must be sent to and returned from Mars over hundreds of millions of miles using NASA’s Deep Space Network satellite constellation, Ingenuity cannot be flown with live pilot inputs and its flights are not observable from Earth in real-time.
Technology: Garmin Smart Glide & Smart Rudder Bias
Garmin continues to develop its Autonomi family of safety products with Smart Glide and Smart Rudder Bias.
Smart Glide can be engaged in the event of engine failure or other in-flight emergency and then, either recommends the closest suitable airport or, in cooperation with the autopilot, flies to that airport at the appropriate speed. Smart Glide is available on GTN Xi navigators paired with Garmin’s G500/G600 TXi and G3X displays and GI 275 and G5 electronic flight instruments, as well as experimental G3X Touch and G3X autopilot systems. If equipped with a compatible autopilot, including the GFC 500/600, Smart Glide activation will automatically engage the autopilot.
Smart Glide frees pilots to deal with the emergency at hand. If there is no suitable airport within gliding distance, Smart Glide still uses the Garmin autopilot to adjust the attitude for best glide speed and during the off-airport approach and landing gives the pilot audible altitude alerts. Once it selects the airport, it also sets that airport’s CTAF or tower frequency into the standby field and switches the CDI to GPS mode plus switches the transponder to the 7700 emergency code.
Designed with piston twins in mind, Smart Rudder Bias adjusts rudder force to help control sideslip after an engine failure and works with Garmin’s Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP) to help the pilot control bank and avoid flying too slow. Loss of control after failure of one engine in twin-engine piston airplanes continues to be a significant safety issue.
Smart Rudder Bias is certified in the Beechcraft Baron B58/58A, Piper Navajo PA-31-300 through 325, and Cessna 414A. Garmin is working on other piston twin types as well. The required equipment includes Garmin’s G500 or G600 TXi configured as a primary flight display with Engine Indication System (EIS) and GFC 600 autopilot with yaw axis option. There is no extra charge for the Smart Rudder Bias software, and airplanes already equipped with G500/G600 TXi, and EIS can be upgraded to take advantage of Smart Rudder Bias with the addition of the optional yaw servo.
Training Innovation: Aviation Performance Solutions Virtual Reality Upset Training
Aviation Performance Solutions (APS) is now using virtual reality (VR) technology for the maximum transference of upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) skills to a customer’s specific aircraft type. Loss of control in-flight (LOC-I) is responsible for nearly 50 percent of all fatalities in aviation worldwide, and UPRT is the most effective mitigation. VR allows pilots to consolidate knowledge on their own aircraft type following APS’s integrated academic, on-aircraft, and advanced simulator training.
In addition to having a photorealistic model of the aircraft’s flight deck, the VR simulator's software incorporates exacting aerodynamic modeling to mimic the handling characteristics of the customer's aircraft. Other benefits include the ability to replicate in-flight upset scenarios at low altitudes and/or in instrument meteorological conditions.
A unique feature of APS’s VR solution is the ability to visualize the aircraft externally during an upset. This allows a great opportunity for a conversation between the instructor and student on topics such as lift vector orientation, maneuvering room at low altitude, and recovery strategies.
Excellence In Innovation: Kenny Dichter
Kenny Dichter first came to aviation prominence as the founder of jet card provider Marquis Jet in 2001, a company he sold to NetJets/Berkshire Hathaway in 2010. In 2013 he launched the Wheels Up charter/membership company. Less than a decade later, Wheels Up has become the largest Part 135 operator in the U.S. with 170 leased or owned aircraft, 170 managed aircraft, and 1,200 more controlled by partner operators thanks to a series of recent and rapid acquisitions, including TMC Jets, Delta Private Jets, Gama Aviation Signature, and Mountain Aviation.
Wheels Up became a publicly-traded company earlier this year and projects an annual run rate of close to $1 billion in 2021. Dichter’s ambitions are much bigger. Earlier this year, he told AIN that he envisioned Wheels Up as the Amazon.com of aviation, with the ultimate goal being to “build a great big platform, democratize the [business aviation] space even further,” and make Wheels Up potentially 50 times its current size. Dichter looks at consumer apps such as Uber and Open Table and sees business aviation potentially following a similar path. If it does, he added, “then there’s an unbelievable opportunity, not just for Wheels Up, but really for the whole [business aviation] space."
Safety Hero: Robert Sumwalt
Robert Sumwalt is a distinguished fellow in aviation safety and executive director of the new Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Center for Aviation and Aerospace Safety. In this capacity, Sumwalt oversees the new center, whose charge is to tackle a range of safety issues surrounding new technologies from unmanned aerial systems and urban air mobility technologies to human-machine and machine-to-machine interfaces. The center Is anticipated to encompass areas such as automatic taxiing, use of artificial intelligence, and streamlined or trajectory-based operations. It may also look at areas such as alternative aviation fuels, new training systems—including virtual and augmented reality tools—and other technologies.
Prior to joining Embry-Riddle, Sumwalt spent 15 years on the National Transportation Safety Board, including nearly five as chairman. He joined the NTSB in 2006 and served under four U.S. presidents. He was appointed chairman in 2017. He has been a pilot for 32 years, including 24 years with Piedmont Airlines and U.S. Airways, and has amassed more than 14,000 flight hours and earned type ratings in five aircraft. While at US Airways, he served on its flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) monitoring team. Sumwalt also managed the corporate aviation department of a Fortune 500 energy company. During his NTSB tenure, Sumwalt advocated the adoption of proven and effective airline safety standards and programs, including safety management systems and flight data monitoring, for Part 135 and other general aviation operations.
Charitable Hero: James Raisbeck (posthumous)
James Raisbeck died on August 31. The noted aerodynamicist and founder of aircraft modification company Raisbeck Engineering made a considerable fortune developing performance-enhancing kits for Learjets and King Airs—and then gave a good portion of it away.
Over the course of two decades, Raisbeck and his wife Sherry contributed more than $32 million through their foundation in large, impactful amounts to a truly broad breadth of worthy causes that included cancer and heart research, the arts, the Seattle Museum of Flight and the adjacent Raisbeck Aviation High School, and the United Way of King County (Washington state).
Before founding his own company, Raisbeck worked for Boeing and Robertson Aircraft and served as a flight engineer in the U.S. Air Force. In 1979, Purdue University presented its Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to him and in 1999 its Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award. He also has received the AIAA Commercial Aviation Technical Achievement Award. In 2002, NBAA honored Raisbeck with its Lifetime Achievement Award for Meritorious Service to Aviation. He also has been recognized with the Living Legends Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award, as a fellow of AIAA, and on the National Air and Space Museum's Wall of Honor.
“James Raisbeck’s impact on aviation is enormous and enduring. His legacy extends from aircraft innovations to aviation institutions that educate and inspire, including the Raisbeck Aviation High School,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.
Charter/Fractional/Jet Card Innovation: Jet It/Jet Club
North Carolina-based Jet It is a fractional-ownership and aircraft management program that flies a fleet of 15 HondaJets—with plans to add six more this year—and recently expanded to Europe with a sister brand called Jet Club. The European launch comes after Jet It recorded 400 percent year-over-year growth in the U.S. Jet It uses a hybrid-fractional-ownership model based on days, not hours, which provides owners with the freedom to use the fleet freely and is ideal for customers making multiple stops in a single day. Customers get the aircraft for the entire day at a flat rate of $1,600 per flight hour. The number of days customers can use the aircraft varies with the size of share purchased. A one-tenth share entitles the owner to 25 days while a one-half share bumps that to 130 days. For owner pilots with a type rating in the HondaJet, either PIC or SIC, they can join the Jet It “Red Jet Squadron” and fly with a company captain while building time and experience toward insurance requirements.
Jet It made more news this summer when it announced it would be the launch customer for the all-electric Bye Aerospace eFlyer 800 business aircraft. The company was founded by Glenn Gonzales, who was formerly a Honda Aircraft regional sales manager and an international demonstration pilot for Gulfstream. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran with flight experience in the T-38A and F-15C.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Duncan Aviation Refugee Assistance
Duncan Aviation works with the Refugee Resettlement Program and other non-profit organizations in Lancaster County, Nebraska, to ease the integration and assimilation of refugees into the community. Lancaster County is the nation’s 18th-largest resettlement area for Asian refugees and immigrants, while Nebraska has become the fifth-largest refugee resettlement area per capita compared to states with similar-size populations. Half of Nebraska’s refugee population resides in Duncan’s headquarters city, Lincoln, Nebraska, which is now home to Afghani, Vietnamese, Bosnian, Mexican, Russian, Ukrainian, Tajikistan, Kurdish, Sudanese, and Chinese refugees and immigrants.
Duncan works with area non-profits including the Good Neighbor Community Center and the Asian Community and Cultural Center to provide these new residents with English language learning classes (ELL) immediately upon resettlement. Duncan also will begin providing ELL volunteers in 2022. It also works with community organizations to provide building maintenance, electrical, plumbing, painting, and food pantry assistance.
“Our goal with these nonprofits is to offer eligible refugees careers here at Duncan Aviation, eventually,” said Leon Holloway, Duncan human resources manager. “We’ve only hired a couple of refugees, but we continue to support nonprofits in other ways.”
Neste is a leading supplier of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to the U.S. and European markets and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in related refining capacity. The recently announced expansion at its Rotterdam refinery represents a $231 million investment that will add another 500,000 tons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) a year to the plant’s capacity. Burning 100 percent SAF in place of Jet-A can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent, while the emissions reductions are lower when burning blended SAF and Jet-A.
In September 2021, Neste announced that it would acquire Agri Trading, one of the largest independent renewable waste and residue fat and oil traders in the U.S. Also that month, Neste announced it is partnering with Kinder Morgan to create a domestic raw material storage and logistics hub in Harvey, Louisiana to support increased production of renewable diesel, SAF, and renewable feedstock for polymers and chemicals. Among the materials stored at the facility will be the used cooking oil Neste collects from more than 40,000 restaurants across the United States.
Neste uses a Kinder Morgan pipeline to deliver more than one million gallons of SAF to date to the San Francisco International Airport and in January created a strategic alliance to deliver SAF to Avfuel FBO locations, beginning with Monterey, California. It also delivers fuel to other major international airports in Europe.
Contribution To Safety: HAI and U.S. Helicopter and Vertical Aviation Safety Teams
The U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) in collaboration with Helicopter Association International (HAI) and the Vertical Aviation Safety Team (VAST) followed up their “56 Seconds To Live” safety video with a companion course that focuses on unintended flight into instrument meteorological conditions (UIMC). According to USHST, the one-hour scenario-based training course teaches pilots to recognize situations that can lead to UIMC and stop a flight before an accident occurs via sound aeronautical decision-making (ADM).
Included in the course are a simulated-accident video and four alternate scenarios demonstrating examples of ADM that would have prevented the accident; related video messages from members of the USHST steering committee and other industry leaders; guidance, tips, tactics, and recommended practices; and links to course-related materials. Pilots can access the program through the USHST’s training introduction page and also through the HAI online academy. Users without an HAI academy account will need to register to track their progress and obtain a completion certificate and FAA Wings credit.
The video was released in February 2021, days after the NTSB issued its probable cause finding in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others last January. According to the NTSB, the crash resulted after the pilot inadvertently entered instrument meteorological conditions and experienced spatial disorientation.
The 56-second time period is based on a USHST study of 221 fatal helicopter accidents that occurred from 2009 to 2019, and the video offers a graphic depiction of how those 56 seconds feel to a desperate helicopter pilot. Unintentional IMC was one of the top causes in 38 of the accidents.
New FBO: Jet Aviation Scottsdale
Jet Aviation’s FBO and hangar complex at Arizona’s Scottsdale Airport consists of an 8,500-sq-ft terminal and a 30,000-sq-ft hangar, which can accommodate aircraft up to the size of a G650. The new FBO is the third at the airport. The new terminal features a large lobby, passenger and crew lounges, pilot snooze rooms, a conference room, meeting room, and weather and flight planning facilities. The new facilities were built using cost and energy-efficient construction practices, and the company plans to install solar panels at the site later this year.
Jet Aviation Scottsdale offers passenger and aircraft handling services, including baggage handling, on-site customs, complete line service, aircraft cleaning, fueling, hangarage, aircraft parking, catering, hotel, and car rental coordination, and concierge service. Jet Aviation operates more than 30 FBOs worldwide.
Maintenance Innovation: FlightSafety Virtual Reality Training
FlightSafety International has begun offering virtual reality (VR) training on Pratt & Whitney Canada engines at its learning centers. The training includes “X-ray” vision, dynamic engine cutaways, and borescope practice, all of which can meet regulatory requirements. The VR training recently received EASA approval for the practical training portion of one of FlightSafety's PT6 engine training courses. The company provides advanced, technology-based maintenance training for many Pratt & Whitney Canada engine families including turboprop, turbofan, and turboshaft engines as well as for auxiliary power units (APUs). FlightSafety has delivered close to 14,000 courses for Pratt & Whitney Canada engines and APUs to customers from 126 countries to date.