Saturday, February 23, 2013

Welsh lightning lab goes down a storm with aircraft makers

Cruising at 35,000ft when your plane is zapped by lightning may sound like the stuff of nightmares.

But thanks to Welsh academic who regularly fires 200,000 amp lightning bolts at pieces of carbon fibre used to build planes, you needn’t worry.

Professor Manu Haddad helps run the state-of-the art Cardiff University lightning lab, a single unit on an industrial estate in the Splott area of the city which replicates the conditions planes are subjected to in lightning storms.

While we may happily be under the impression the phenomenon is a rare one, Prof Haddad says lightning strikes on commercial carrier planes are not as uncommon as we’d like to think.

“For civilian aircraft, on average, there's one strike to each civilian aircraft every year,” he said. “It's fairly common.”

The time to worry is when lightning is capable of doing damage.

But thanks to the work of Prof Haddad, and others, complications are few and far between.

The Cardiff lab is littered with panels of carbon fibre bearing the battle scars of being zapped to test their durability. And the conspicuous nose of a radar-carrying Boeing 737 lies in the middle of the lab for testing.

Capacitors – hooked up to cables running up and down the walls and the length off the laboratory – use the same electricity grid we use to boil a kettle to replicate the 30,000C temperature of lightning, five times the temperature of the surface of the sun.

Prof Haddad said: “When lightning is generated in the first place it's due to charged clouds.

“In real life they get charged with hot air rising up, there is friction in the air and then charged pockets in the cloud.

"We charge up the capacitor. Each one is charged to 20,000 volts. Then when you reach that level, you want to discharge.

“You want to deliver it and discharge it into the test object.”

Once the generator is charged, the capacitors are discharged and lightning is directed at an object in a specially-sealed room – accompanied by a deafening bang and cloud of smoke.

The lab replicates four stages of a lightning strike from the initial energy spike in less than 25 microseconds to a longer trail of energy and data is sent back to a special control room.

Pictures of what is happening can only be captured by cameras built to catch images at more than a million frames a minute.

But despite all that, thanks to new composite materials with an in-built copper mesh, the lightning current in a storm normally runs harmlessly over the body of the aircraft.

"Yes of course what the lab does really is it makes sure that everything that is used in the aircraft in terms of metals is safe as far as lightning is concerned,” Prof Haddad said.

"In particular, in the past, metal aircraft – also aluminum – was used which is a good conductor of lightning.

"The first discharge from the cloud is very large current but very fast. In less than 25 microseconds it just goes to its maximum 250,000 amps and then that's followed by lightning.

“Without the (copper) mesh it destroys it completely.”

All the latest planes, including the much-vaunted Boeing 787 Dreamliner, are using the composite materials tested in Cardiff as the primary material in the construction of their airframe.

The lab project in the capital has been running for less than two years through a £1.6m link-up between European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and the Welsh Government.

The name of the laboratory is the Morgan Botti lab – so called after Dr Jean Botti, chief technology officer at (EADS) and former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who jointly unveiled the scheme.

And while not many people know they might well have been on a plane struck by lightning, more people are getting to know about the work of Cardiff’s lightning lab – the only such university facility in the country, and possibly the world.

Professor Manu Haddad added: “In the university system we are unique as a research centre, even through Europe and throughout the world as a university that has such a set-up for aerospace.”

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Griffiss International Airport (KRME), Rome, New York: Takeoffs, landings drop 30% in one year

ROME --  The number of takeoffs and landings at Griffiss International Airport is down since 2011.

Recent figures from the Federal Aviation Administration show a drop-off of more than 30 percent, from 60,265 in 2011 to 40,474 in 2012.

The numbers come as construction gears up for a $1.5 million U.S. Customs office at the airport, which is operated by Oneida County.

“The numbers will fluctuate and the economy has something to do with that,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente.

The bulk of the decrease comes from general aviation flights, which are private planes used by businesses and individuals. Those plummeted more than 60 percent, from 54,331 in 2011 to 20,609 in 2012.

Picente and other county officials surmised that higher fuel prices could be part of the reason for the reduction in such flights, and said local companies with planes might be using them less in the tough economy. Still, they had not yet determined for certain what happened.

Democratic Minority Leader Frank Tallarino of Rome said Picente needs to develop better long-term plans for the airport and “just study why, why is it,” that the general aviation flights weren’t coming in.

Offsetting the slack general aviation numbers were slight increases in military flights and also in takeoffs and landings by planes likely coming in for repair and overhaul by companies based at Griffiss. Figures comparing 2011 and 2012 show:

  • There were about 2,700 more military takeoffs and landings at Griffiss in 2012.
  • 71 more operations involving commercial flights of 60 or fewer seats.
  • 45 more operations involving planes with 60 or more seats flew into Griffiss in 2012.
  • Fuel sales were up 5 percent, from 887,000 gallons to 931,405 gallons.

Those numbers are more important from an economic standpoint, said Randal Wiedemann, a Kentucky-based aviation consultant who has done work related to Griffiss in the past.

He said aviation activity in general took a hit when the economy plummeted in 2008, but has been slowly creeping back.

“Discretionary income has a lot to do with whether people go out to fly personally,” he said, referring to the general aviation flights.

Also, he said, the uptick in landings of larger planes is a good sign for the aircraft maintenance businesses at Griffiss. A look at FAA statistics going back to 2007 show those operations are up to the same levels they were at when another aircraft maintenance company, Empire Aero, was operating successfully there.

Steve Perta of the Oneida County Aviation Association said he isn’t sure why the general aviation numbers went down so precipitously, but he said Griffiss’ fuel prices were slightly higher than at other airports in the region.

“They can be as much as 50 cents a gallon more elsewhere,” he said.

Picente said the new Customs Office should help increase the number of military flights using Griffiss, as well as facilitate arrivals of planes coming in for maintenance at MidAir USA and Premier Aviation.

Meanwhile, operators of two small businesses based at Griffiss said they are doing fine.

Luigi Bottini of Galaxy Aviation flight school said he was doing “very well.”

“We had problems when we first went into the recession,” he said. “But the last couple of years it’s picked up.”

Michael Ezzo, owner of Air Charter Express private charter company said he is “happy with business the way it is.”

“Our business is driven by people who have to go places for specific reasons,” he said. “A lot of general aviation is recreational fliers. I can see where they might have reason to cut back.”

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Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport (KBRO), Brownsville, Texas: Determined to fly despite Federal Aviation Administration funding threats

Air passenger service will continue as normal at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport even if threatened staffing reduction comes to pass as a result of “sequestration.”

So says Larry Brown, the airport’s aviation director. Brownsville was among 25 smaller Texas airports on a Federal Aviation Administration list of facilities that could see air traffic controllers’ hours reduced if the federal government implements automatic spending cuts.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in a White House press briefing on Friday, predicted big headaches for air passengers if sequestration goes through and air traffic controllers and other FAA employees are furloughed.

Reducing employees’ hours is part of the FAA’s plan to shave $600 million in spending during the remainder of fiscal year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The cuts would be enacted March 1 and take effect in April.

Brown said that not having controllers in the Brownsville tower would create tremendous difficulties. He said he wasn’t aware of the latest list but that an earlier FAA list of airports facing possible cuts did not include Brownsville.

If the cuts occur, Brown said, he would keep controllers in the tower even if the money had to come from the airport’s budget. Without controllers, you can’t have flights. Valley International Airport in Harlingen and McAllen-Miller International Airport in McAllen were not on the FAA list.

“That would be very hard on the local community and the local economy,” Brown said.

He thinks sequestration is a bad idea, especially considering the impact on the country’s transportation system.

“It’s not something we would support,” Brown said. “We don’t support wiping out some of the air traffic network of the United States.”

The airport’s exact contingency plan would depend on the severity of sequester consequences, if and when they come down, he said.

“One way or another we keep the tower open, period. That’s it,” he said.

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Airports  marked for closure

Letter to airline and airport operators

Letter from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta
The lists of affected facilities can be viewed here:

Captain Billy Hock showcases musical talent during weather delay

ST. LOUIS (KSDK/CNN) - United Express Captain Billy Hock took matters into his own hands Thursday to help entertain stranded passengers at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. 

Hock and 1,700 other people were stranded at the airport due to bad weather when he decided to pass the time doing what he loves most: play piano.

He played for about three hours as a mixture of snow and sleet covered the runway.

Hock said he composes all of his music.

"Everything I like to play I write myself. I just find it more fun," he said.

About 300 flights were canceled at Lambert Airport on Thursday. 

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Captain Meynard Halili still has 'right stuff' at 67

Capt. Halili is the only Filipino licensed to perform aerobatic aircraft exhibitions in the country.

Captain Meynard Halili flew a kite when his folks wanted him to sleep after lunch so he’d grow up to be tall. 

 “But look at me, I’m short!” he said. It was a few years after World War II, and one particular afternoon, that his kite pointed him to a dream.

“[There] was a gleaming airplane,” he recalled. “This was a post-war situation. 1950's, and this American flyer was doing loops, rolls, and everything. And I said that when I grow up, I'll fly just like that.”

He wouldn’t fly a plane until he became 40-years-old, but he sure held on to his dream.

It was new journalism writer Tom Wolfe who chronicled the elite requirements needed to transform test pilots into astronauts in his book “The Right Stuff”. Transcending enormous risks and technical dangers needed a different level of mental and physical strength; what jet pilots called the "right stuff."

Capt Halili certainly has the right stuff. First, he surmounted his childhood in a poor family, then he worked for Philippine Airlines and got into the cargo business afterwards, where he earned enough to send himself to study flight in the United States.

“I learned everything from seaplanes to gliders, aerobatics,” he told GMA News Online. “I just loved it.”

Now at 67, he still flies his plane at the 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival. He’s the only Filipino licensed to hold aerobatic exhibitions in the country.

Throughout the four day gathering, he’d hop into his plane twice – in the morning right before the Breitling Jet Team flies, and once more in the afternoon.

“I do aerobatics but that [Breitling] team is superb,” he declared in awe.

Capt. Halili has been flying for years, but his record is not spotless. One time, he had an air show accident that almost cost him his life.

“I went up to about 800 feet upside down [and] rode to a cloverleaf,” he told GMA News’ Cata Tibayan. “[Then] I went for a hammerhead and on the way up at 200 feet the engine fails.”

With strong faith, he converted his fall to airspeed to bring the plane relatively safe on the ground.

“People thought I’d be gone. But God is good, I had no bones broken. But I have, what, 50 stitches on my face? You just can’t see them.”

Halili flies a Bellanca, a design of aircraft known for their efficient, low operating cost gaining fame that does well in world record endurance and distance flights. Capt. Halili's “been married to” his yellow plane since 1999.

“Look at her. Well taken care of, [and] she still looks brand new. [I] never put her under stress, never scolded her for mistakes that I made,” he told GMA News Online.

So if you happen to catch him and his yellow plane when you go to the 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival, give him a wave. He could have stopped flying because of his age, but he still does it for the love of it. The same way he looked up at the sky and tried to reach it at 40. The same way he watched a plane while he flew a kite as a child.

Then maybe, you’d consider flying at 40 years of age while playing with a kite at the festival.

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Massachusetts jet breaks sound barrier over New Hampshire, Vermont

WESTFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts Air National Guard fighter jet flying a routine training mission over the New Hampshire-Vermont border inadvertently broke the sound barrier, rattling some residents and sparking concerned calls to police.

The National Guard says the pilot of the F-15C Eagle was completing qualification training in a controlled military airspace Thursday morning when he flew at just under 700 mph at 20,000 feet above sea level, National Guard spokesman Maj. Matthew Mutti said.

The area isn’t among those designated by the U.S. Air Force for supersonic flights, he said.

Residents of the Vermont city of Bradford and the New Hampshire communities of Lyme and Orford may have heard the resulting sonic boom, according to a statement released by the National Guard.

Orford police Officer Michael Foster said the sonic boom prompted about a half dozen residents to call his department. ‘‘It was just concern because of the noise,’’ he told The Associated Press.

Dispatchers at the Hanover, N.H., police department, who take calls for 23 towns, told the Valley News of Lebanon, N.H., that they received 15 calls related to the sonic boom.

The National Guard says it didn’t intend to cause undue concern.

The military restricts supersonic flights to specific operating areas in an effort to avoid disturbing communities over which the jets are flying. The aircrafts are allowed to exceed the speed of sound when flying ‘‘15 miles off the coast at a specified altitude ...for the same reasons we don’t fly supersonic over the land,’’ Mutti said.

The F-15s — extremely maneuverable tactical fighters designed to enable the Air Force gain and maintain air supremacy over the battlefield — secure the northeastern United States airspace.

‘‘We will continue to work hard to prepare our pilots to fulfill our mission of air superiority, and our commitment to the community’s safety is always paramount, never intending to cause undue concern,’’ said Col. Kenneth Lambrich, vice commander of the 104th Fighter Vice Wing based in the western Massachusetts town of Westfield.

Federal Aviation Administration: 787 Can't Return Until Fire Risks Fixed

Federal Aviation Administration officials said they're reviewing a proposal from Boeing Co. to let the 787 Dreamliner fly again, but reiterated the agency won't permit the plane to return to service until officials are confident safety risks over the jetliner's lithium-ion batteries have been addressed.

The agency's comments came after FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari met Friday with a delegation led by Ray Conner, chief of Boeing's commercial unit, to discuss a package of modifications to the 787's battery system that Boeing hopes will end the FAA's five-week-old grounding of the 787.

The meeting was viewed as a first of many pivotal steps in Boeing's effort to resume flights for its flagship plane despite the inability of the company and government investigators in the U.S. and Japan to determine the root cause of two incidents last month in which the Dreamliner's batteries burned.

While FAA engineers and managers were briefed by Boeing in the days leading up to the meeting, the agency's leadership told the company beforehand not to expect any decision at Friday's high-level session, according to people familiar with the details. After a detailed technical briefing, senior FAA officials reiterated they needed more time to analyze the proposed fixes, according to one knowledgeable person, and indicated they weren't ready to commit to a company request to start flight tests as soon as early March.

Besides Messrs. Huerta, Conner and Pocari, Boeing and FAA officials in the meeting included Peggy Gilligan, the agency's top safety official, and her deputy, John Hickey, who was head of the FAA certification office for new jetliners when many of the 787's safety reviews were conducted, and Mike Sinnett, the 787's chief engineer, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The early March date is important for Boeing if it hopes to get the planes back in the air sometime that month or in April, which is the expectation of some airline customers. Also during the first part of March, the National Transportation Safety Board is slated to release further details of its probe of burning 787 batteries. With Boeing pushing the FAA for a speedy decision, some agency officials are leery of moving before the safety board's findings can be fully assessed.

The FAA is "reviewing a Boeing proposal and will analyze it closely," agency spokeswoman Laura Brown said in an email. "We won't allow the 787 to return to commercial service until we're confident that any proposed solution has addressed the battery failure risks."

Boeing called the meeting "productive," but offered no details on its proposed fixes. "We are encouraged by the progress being made toward resolving the issue and returning the 787 to flight for our customers and their passengers around the world," Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said in an emailed statement.

Boeing's proposal involves a 10-point package of changes, according to government and industry officials. They include a containment box to surround the battery, venting tubes for smoke or fumes, greater spacing between the battery's cells and additional internal temperature and voltage monitoring.

The FAA's decision holds huge stakes for Boeing and for the eight global airlines whose 787s have been idled. Boeing also has been unable to deliver dozens more already built Dreamliners while the grounding is in effect, meaning it can't get fully paid for the jets, and putting new operators on hold.

Mr. Birtel said Boeing, the FAA and other authorities have "been working closely" while "teams of hundreds of experts and working this issue around the clock" to return the 787 safely to service.

The safety board has been conducting an intensive probe into what caused a battery aboard a Japan Airlines Co. 787 jet to catch fire on the ground in Boston after a flight from Tokyo on Jan. 7. That was followed on Jan. 16 by an All Nippon Airways Co. 787 that was forced to make an emergency landing during a Japanese domestic flight after a battery overheated. The FAA ordered all U.S. Dreamliners grounded, with regulators around the world quickly following suit.

Columbiana County (02G), East Liverpool, Ohio: Airport operator settles rent dispute

GLENMOOR - The former operator of the Columbiana County Airport Authority recently agreed to pay what he owes for storing his aircraft at the facility, but nothing more for failing to live up to the terms of his contract.

The Authority board voted in December to approve an agreement in which Scott Lesh would pay them $1,230 in back rent, with the Authority forgiving the alleged debts he incurred during his period as the airport's operator.

Board Chairman Mike Diloreto said they were satisfied with the deal since it made Lesh current on his back rent, and they were not really out any other money.

"What we ended up doing was treating him like any other tenant," he said.

Lesh was hired to serve as the airport's operator under a two-year contract approved by the Authority board in October 2008. The contract required Lesh's Quantum Aviation to pay the airport $400 a month, plus utilities.

Lesh only paid $300, triggering a late penalty, and nothing toward utilities. Lesh rarely showed up and then quit making payments altogether, owing $8,200 as of May 2011. The board declined to renew the contract after it expired and then began trying to collect what it was owed.

Assistant County Prosecutor Andrew Beech recommended the airport settle for the hangar rent Lesh owed and waive the rest, which Diloreto said was mostly penalties anyway.

The airport operator sells fuel, offers pilot training and provides aircraft mechanical repair services. Diloreto said they knew at the time it might not work out with Lesh since airplane owners were cutting back due to the recession and rising fuel prices. Lesh was already busy serving as the operator at the Beaver County (Pa.) Airport and as a pilot instructor for U.S. Airways when he signed on.

"We knew we were going out on a limb in the first place," he said.

Lesh was the airport's third operator who has been unable to make a go of it since the 2004 retirement of Jerry Gearhart, the airport's long-time operator. Rather than actively search for a new operator, the board decided to operate the airport themselves as much as possible. An automated system was installed that allows pilots to purchase fuel around the clock, and pilots also have access to the terminal any time. The airport also has a manager who maintains the buildings and grounds.

Diloreto said many small airports are having a difficult time finding operators because of the economics. "You know what they say: If you want to make a $1 million in aviation, start out with $2 million," he joked.

The airport's main source of revenue is $10,000 they receive annually from county commissioners, plus rent from 26 hangars, all of which are currently filled. The airport must obtain federal and state grants to resurface and rehabilitate the runway.


Chautauqua County/Jamestown (KJHW), Jamestown, New York: Airport Director Deserves A Chance

Sam Arcadipane sees a day when the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown will not only break even, but make money.

An enterprise account making a profit - what a novel idea.

From 2006 to 2010, the Jamestown airport lost $3,637,312. It lost a little more than $900,000 in 2011. In a recent interview, Arcadipane said the airport is operating within its budget. While that is great news, being within budget is a long way from being a revenue generator.

Arcadipane says one of the biggest obstacles for the airport is its small runway. The 5,300-foot runway can't accommodate larger planes that would allow the county airport to expand its offering of destinations and lower ticket prices. He estimates the airport needs at least a 6,000-foot runway to begin bringing in the larger planes and proposes expanding the runway 500 feet on each end.

Arcadipane will have to make a very strong case to the County Legislature for such an expansion project.

Right now, we don't know what types of carriers could be coming to the airport, where those flights may be going or how much lower ticket prices will be. Those unanswered questions mean we don't really know how spending the money on a runway expansion will affect the airport's bottom line. Arcadipane's task is made even more difficult since the county has spent more money on alleged money-making enterprises in the past only to be disappointed by a gas well at the Chautauqua County Home and lower than anticipated revenues from its methane to energy project at the Chautauqua County Landfill.

Don't forget, too, discussions in 2010 over airport grants. It took several meetings and pointed discussion to get legislators to agree to accept federal grants then - and many of those same legislators will have a say in any of Arcadipane's plans.

It will be interesting in the future to see how legislators handle airport spending, especially in light of ongoing discussions involving the Chautauqua County Home. Some legislators already seem content to let millions of taxpayer dollars go down the drain with the county home, a facility that runs at 98 percent occupancy and still loses nearly $9,000 a day. But, the home's drain on the county's finances is likely to limit local share money for airport improvements unless Arcadipane can demonstrate the project will dramatically increase the airport's earning power. We doubt some legislators would be able to see the benefit of 700 feet of runway that would give the airport a chance to make money, not when the county is putting extra money into IGT funding for the home.

Arcadipane's passion for the airport is evident when one looks at the work he has done already, especially given the airport's shoestring budget.

He deserves a chance to argue for the airport's future.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Gary/Chicago International KGYY), Gary, Indiana: Airport group hunting for manager, investment

A new committee wants to attain the old goal of getting Gary/Chicago International Airport recognized as Chicago's "third airport" by taking off in a new direction.

The joint city/airport public-private partnership committee that wants to find a private operator for the airport met for the first time Friday.

"We all know and recognize the Gary airport has been an underperforming asset for the region and we would like to change that," said committee chairman David Bochnowksi at the meeting at the airport administration building.

Bochnowski explained the committee has been charged with finding a way to land a private company to oversee the day-to-day operations of the airport and make the kind of investments the airport badly needs to build business.

"We are not engaged in the sale of the airport," Bochnowski said. "The airport will continue to be publicly held by the city."

The committee has been charged with reporting its recommendations to the city and airport within 60 days.

Airport consultant John Clark, of JClark Aviation, told the board of pressing needs at the airport beyond the current $166 million runway expansion project. Those include resurfacing its main runway, an update of its master plan and building out its cross-wind runway.

He pointed out the airport currently takes in about $300,000 less a year than it needs to sustain operations.

And Clark was not calculating the public subsidies currently needed to operate the airport.

The airport will levy $1.5 million in property taxes this year for its general fund and $1.4 million for its building fund. The Airport Development Zone also takes in more than $4 million per year from a tax increment financing district on the city's west side.

"One challenge quite frankly is without self-sufficiency it's hard to see how that funding will occur," Clark said.

The board also heard by speaker phone from David Narefsky, a partner at the Meyer Brown law firm in Chicago, who has advised municipalities nationwide on public-private partnerships.

Narefsky is currently advising the city of Chicago on a developing privatization deal for Midway International Airport. His firm was also involved in the long-term lease deals for the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Road.

Narefsky will be providing the committee with examples of airport public-private partnerships that can lead to airport growth and economic development around it.

The committee on Friday also took care of basic housekeeping items such as a meeting schedule, resolving to meet every two weeks.

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William P Hobby (KHOU), Houston, Texas: Rapist wanted for attacks near airport

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Crime Stoppers and investigators with the Houston Police Department are searching for the suspect responsible for multiple sexual assaults in the vicinity of William P. Hobby Airport.

The first assault occurred on December 31, 2012 at approximately 8:30am. According to Crime Stoppers, a 22-year-old woman and a friend exited a METRO bus at a stop near the intersection of Glencrest and Airport Boulevard. As they were walking, a Hispanic male driving a green Ford Mustang approached the women and offered them a ride.

The victim's friend was driven to a business near the corner of Airport Boulevard and Monroe, and she got out of the car. The victim requested to be driven to a business near the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Hansen, however the suspect refused, and parked the car at an abandoned building on the 8900 block of the Gulf Freeway.

There, the suspect engaged the child safety locks to prevent the victim's escape. The suspect hit the woman in the face and proceeded to sexually assault the victim while choking her. After the assault, the suspect released the victim from the vehicle and fled.

In a second assault, on February 8, 2013, the same suspect approached a 28-year-old woman walking along the 8900 block of Airport Boulevard. The suspect asked the woman to accompany him to a nearby hotel, and the victim got in his car. Driving past the hotel, the suspect pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse adjacent to an operating Post Office. There, the suspect struck the victim several times, and choked her while engaging in a sexual assault. The victim fought back, and was able to escape the suspect's vehicle through the driver's side door. She fled the area partially clothed, and was rescued by a concerned citizen at a nearby convenience store.

The same suspect is believed to be responsible for both assaults. He is described as a Hispanic male between the ages of 36 and 42, 5'8"-5'9" tall and weighing between 170 and 180 pounds. At the time of the assaults, the suspect had medium length hair, a mustache and a dark brown complexion. Witnesses report that the suspect speaks with a Spanish accent.

On the date of the first assault the suspect wore a brown plaid shirt and blue jeans. During the second assault he wore a white t-shirt and light blue jeans. A composite sketch of the suspect is attached.

The suspect's vehicle is described as a green Ford Mustang bearing partial plates BL714--. The vehicle has damage on the right rear panel near the driver's side tail light.

Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for any information called in to the 713-222-TIPS (8477) or submitted online at that leads to the filing of felony charges or arrest of the suspect(s) in this case. Tips can also be sent by text message. Text TIP610 plus your tip to CRIMES (274637). All tipsters remain anonymous. 

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Chief of Embattled Boeing Steers Clear of the Spotlight

Updated February 22, 2013, 3:43 a.m. ET 

The Wall Street Journal

CHICAGO — The cutting-edge jetliners Boeing Co. had bet its future on sat grounded, unsettling images of passengers on escape chutes splashed across TV, when Chief Executive Jim McNerney sent handwritten apologies to the chairmen of the airlines whose 787 Dreamliner batteries went up in smoke.

Around the same time last month, he discreetly persuaded the CEOs of General Motors and General Electric to lend Boeing their best electrical experts, and quietly met with the head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

With his storied company facing the biggest crisis of his eight-year tenure, Mr. McNerney is wagering that it is better to disappear behind the scenes to try to fix the problem than to be out front reassuring the public.

"I'm the one who has to stand up with absolute confidence when Boeing proposes a solution to enable this technology for the world," he said during an exclusive interview in his Chicago office. "And the only way I know how is to dive in deeply with the people doing the scientific and technical work."

The company is expected to submit a proposal to the FAA on Friday seeking approval for fixes that Boeing hopes will return the planes to the skies, and plans to meet with Japanese air-safety authorities next week. The proposal sets an ambitious timetable calling for passenger flights to resume as early as mid-March.

The stakes couldn't be higher.

"This airplane is our near- and medium-term future, and ultimately speaks to our reputation and our brand," Mr. McNerney said during one of two interviews in which he detailed what he and his senior executives have been doing since the crisis erupted. His desk was covered with detailed drawings of Dreamliner systems, which he turned facedown.

Boeing continues to build five 787s per month, even though it can't deliver or get fully paid for any of the planes—which list for about $200 million—until the Dreamliner is recertified to fly. In a meeting Wednesday at the Everett, Wash., assembly plant, Mr. McNerney told his senior executives: "We'll have a lot of 787s stacking up around here if we don't get this done sooner rather than later."

At the same time, Boeing's airline customers, who have been forced to cancel hundreds of flights, are increasing the pressure on the chief executive to detail plans to bring their Dreamliners back into service.

The lithium-ion-battery meltdowns have been a public-relations debacle for the company. Two 787s started smoking, and passengers on one of them escaped on emergency slides after landing in Japan. Airline-safety officials in the U.S. and Japan displayed burned-up lithium-ion batteries and regulators world-wide grounded the entire fleet. It was the FAA's first jetliner grounding since 1979.

Mr. McNerney has taken some flak for not doing more to inform investors and the public what he has been doing to solve the problem. "He's not been front and center when there's a lot of fear that this battery problem could be more than a minor glitch," said aviation consultant Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Teal Group. "When you launch only one new jet a decade, you need someone in the public eye taking personal control, rather than raising more questions about how long until the 787 planes will fly."

Boeing's board has been supportive of its CEO's approach. "Jim is doing exactly what he should be doing," said lead director Kenneth Duberstein. "He is out front right now with the constituencies that matter—the customers, the regulators, the employees and the suppliers."

Mr. McNerney, who is 63 years old, came to Boeing in 2005 after running 3M Co. He was raised in a family of five children, and his father was CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Mr. McNerney had been a varsity pitcher at Yale University and fraternity brother of former President George W. Bush. After earning a Harvard M.B.A., he worked in marketing at Procter & Gamble and management consulting at McKinsey & Co., then moved up the ranks at General Electric, where he ran several divisions, including one that built airplane engines. After losing the horse race to succeed Jack Welch as GE's chief executive, he moved to 3M and became a Boeing director.

When Boeing brought him in as chief executive, it was reeling from corruption probes, the loss of defense contracts, weakness in its commercial-jet business and the resignation of two consecutive CEOs. The defense business represented half of Boeing's revenue. To build the airliner business, Mr. McNerney pushed the development of the 787 Dreamliner. It was designed to be a game-changing passenger jet—more fuel-efficient than competitors, with a lightweight frame made of composite materials and an electrical system using powerful lithium-ion batteries.

Orders poured in, and last year Boeing surpassed Europe's Airbus as the leading aircraft manufacturer in the world by number of planes ordered and delivered—the first time it held the top spot in a decade.

The Dreamliner was plagued with delays, which Boeing chalked up to design changes and production outsourcing. Nevertheless, Mr. McNerney presided over a DreamTour last spring, including a black-tie gala at Reagan National Airport in Washington. By early January, 50 planes had been delivered.

"I was beginning to feel better," Mr. McNerney recalled. "And then—bang."

On Jan. 7, Mr. McNerney was told to turn on the television in his office. He saw a Dreamliner owned by Japan Airlines at the gate at Boston's Logan Airport. Smoke was coming out of the cargo area and firefighters were rushing to the empty plane. He got on the phone with Ray Conner, his commercial-airplane head, and chief technology officer John Tracy. They suspected "foreign object debris" or the 787's electrical panels, which had experienced two in-flight incidents in December.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators. When Boeing's engineers were allowed aboard the next day, they saw firsthand that the fire was limited to the lithium-ion-battery unit.

Mr. McNerney said he was surprised: "We had tested the hell out of" the battery, he said.

Mr. McNerney spearheaded the company's probe, but other executives spoke publicly. The Dreamliner's chief engineer, Mike Sinnett, held conference calls with analysts, investors and the media. Mr. Conner attended a news conference with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA chief Michael Huerta announcing a joint review of the 787 systems by the agency and Boeing. Mr. McNerney issued a statement pledging company support and cooperation, adding that Boeing stands "100% behind the integrity of the 787."

Over the next week, Mr. McNerney and his team reviewed the prior battery testing. The batteries, each with eight cells, had shown no problems over 2.2 million cell-hours of operation, both on the ground and during 50,000 flight hours. The team devised a plan to assess the electrical system. Mr. McNerney set up a private meeting to brief the FAA chief. Separately, Mr. McNerney spoke to board members and customers.

On Jan. 15, Mr. McNerney got home at 6:30 p.m., set out some fish he planned to bake and changed into workout clothes. Suddenly, his cellphone started vibrating with a string of messages: "Another battery fire." "Smell in cockpit." "Smoke in electric bay." "Plane diverted in Japan."

He called Mr. Conner and told him: "The battery problem isn't a one-off anymore."

The fish stayed uncooked as he worked the phones and watched news reports of All Nippon Airways passengers descending slides after an emergency landing in western Japan.

The following day, Mr. McNerney slipped into Mr. Huerta's FAA office, unnoticed by journalists. The meeting swiftly turned grim as it became clear the FAA likely would halt all 787 flights.

In Chicago the next day, Mr. Tracy, the chief technology officer, told Mr. McNerney that "nothing that happened posed a risk to the plane or the passengers," according to both men.

Mr. McNerney banged his hands on his desk. "Do you understand the meaning of what we're dealing with here?" he recalled saying. The issue isn't just "electrochemistry in a battery…It's about the safety and confidence in our planes and our brand. And it can't happen again."

Mr. McNerney called his counterparts at GE, GM and other companies to ask for help from their top battery and electrical experts. "I wanted to make sure the world's technical experts were focused on this problem with us, because ultimately the credibility of our solution will depend not only on us," but would need their "imprimatur," he said recently.

He recalled telling one of his daughters he couldn't attend her horse show because "this is a tough problem for Dad right now." An avid ice-hockey player, he skipped his team's trip to Minneapolis for the annual pond-hockey national championship.

On Jan. 25, he traveled to Washington for the annual formal dinner of the Alfalfa Club, a group of political and business leaders. Mr. McNerney, head of the Business Roundtable, a group of top CEOs, told various attendees that Boeing was working hard to solve the problem.

He faced investors and analysts on a Jan. 30 conference call to discuss fourth-quarter financial results. He told them the operating performance was strong and that Boeing was moving to increase 787 production to 10 per month, from five, and to develop two more Dreamliner versions. He deflected questions about the potential fallout of the battery problems, saying: "I can't predict the outcome, and I'm not going to. We're in the middle of an investigation."

Some listeners weren't satisfied. "Investors weren't looking for him to reveal the details of investigation, but were certainly looking for a discussion of the what-if's," said Carter Leake, aerospace analyst for BB&T Capital Markets. "Investors were left twisting in the wind without any visibility to the timing or cost of the ultimate fix."

A Boeing spokesman said that its guidance assumed no impact from the 787 groundings and that it would update investors "as necessary." Boeing's share price has held fairly steady through the crisis, closing Thursday at $76.01 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

As the crisis dragged into its third week, Mr. McNerney flew to Seattle to check on progress at Boeing's commercial-aircraft unit. At his hotel suite on Feb. 4, he recalled, he grilled his team for three hours, pressing for "high analytical probabilities" on the likely cause and for "multiple layers of protection" for the plane.

The next morning, he visited the nearby Everett production facility, where two Dreamliner war rooms, called "Root Cause/Corrective Action" and "Return to Flight," had been set up. In one room there was a "fault tree" of possible triggers for the battery failures. Of the 88 initial branches, fewer than six branches were circled in red, orange or yellow as likely causes. He studied a graph showing temperature compared with voltage. "Why aren't you more focused here?" he asked.

The war rooms also focused on potential equipment modifications, such as on battery inputs and containers. Mr. McNerney asked about laboratory testing, then proceeded to the plant floor, where he squeezed his 6'2" frame into the small electric bay of one 787 to see how a redesigned battery unit would fit.

Before leaving the plant, he pulled aside Messrs. Conner and Tracy and said, "Good progress, but turn up your game. You understand that, right?"

Two weeks ago, Boeing began officially notifying customers about delays on Dreamliner deliveries.

This week, Mr. McNerney is facing the possibility that investigators may never find the root cause of the battery meltdowns. But he said the team has grown confident it has identified "all probable causes."

On Wednesday, Mr. McNerney reviewed the final details of the modified battery and new safeguards Boeing plans to propose to the FAA on Friday. It is seeking permission to conduct test flights to validate the changes, which could eventually lead to the resumption of regular flights.

Airlines forced to cancel flights and postpone the opening of new routes are growing impatient. The parent company of United Airlines, for example, said Thursday it is keeping its 787s from nearly all flight schedules through June 5, but remains hopeful it can start a new Denver-Tokyo service with the jet in May.

Mr. McNerney just approved plans to have Boeing repair crews ready to be dispatched around the world to install modified batteries and make other changes—as soon as the FAA gives the word.


Athens/Ben Epps (KAHN), Athens, Georgia: Closing of airport tower would raise safety, economic concerns

The air traffic control tower at Athens-Ben Epps Airport is on a list of control towers at smaller airports throughout the country that could close if federal budget cuts set to go into effect March 1 aren’t modified by Congress and the White House as the deadline looms.

If the Athens-Ben Epps tower is closed, airport operations, including the commercial passenger service provided by SeaPort Airlines to Nashville, Tenn., won’t be adversely affected, at least in a technical sense, according to Airport Director Tim Beggerly.

There would, however, be some safety concerns, Beggerly noted. Athens-Ben Epps Airport is at least somewhat unique among airports in terms of the traffic it handles, he said. At any given time, according to Beggerly, it’s possible that a chartered 100-passenger jet and a two-seat propeller-driven training aircraft will be taking off or landing, and air traffic controllers provide the needed expertise for ensuring adequate separation and other factors critical to the safety of both aircraft and their passengers.

There would also be some economic concerns if the tower is closed, Beggerly said, noting that the approximately half-dozen air-traffic controllers who work there, not to mention the people who maintain the tower’s equipment and even the people who clean the facility, would lose their jobs.

Currently, the Athens airport’s tower is staffed for just half the day, Beggerly said. From 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. daily, which includes times that SeaPort Airlines is operating flights into and out of the airport, the facility is “uncontrolled.”

During those hours, Beggerly explained, commercial and private pilots land and take off following a set of standard procedures, including communicating their intentions over a common radio frequency.

Should the tower close, Beggerly said he didn’t expect that circumstance to have an adverse effect on SeaPort Airlines’ presence in Athens. SeaPort provides air service to Nashville — a connecting point for larger airlines — under the terms of a federally subsidized Essential Air Service contract. Similar EAS contracts ensure commercial air service in a number of communities across the United States.

According to media reports, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Friday that the across-the-board budget cuts contemplated in the so-called federal “sequester” will mean trimming $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget this year. In anticipation of those cuts, the FAA has developed a list of 200 airport control towers from which the agency could choose as many as 100 for closure.

In addition to the Athens-Ben Epps tower, six other Georgia airport towers — in Albany, Columbus, Macon and at three small metropolitan Atlanta airports — are on the FAA list.

Athens-Ben Epps Airport is one of nine commercial airports in the state. Outside of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, Athens-Ben Epps Airport is the second busiest among the remaining seven commercial airports in the state, Beggerly said.

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Star Helicopters Offers Oscar-Worthy Flyover Tour

Los Angeles, CA – Star Helicopters offers an extra long, 110-minute helicopter tour called The Oscar, for visitors seeking a truly unforgettable way to see Los Angeles. The tour takes riders farther north, south and west than any other tour company in the area.

The Oscar is a private tour that encompasses all of Los Angeles. It would take two full days to see the same sights by land. It combines all other Star Helicopters tours, making it the longest and most comprehensive of all of their offerings. The tour starts in the middle of Los Angeles and flies north, then south along the shore, and west around the San Pedro Bay. Other tour options include the Director’s Cut, Malibu Grandeur, the Sneak Preview, the Star VIP, the Hollywood Tour, and Soarin’ the Shore.

In addition to the helicopter tours, Star Helicopters offers a variety of pilot and flight training programs in the Los Angeles area, as well as aerial photography, plane spotting, movie production, agricultural services, charters and air taxi services. It is truly a one-stop-shop for everything that can take place in the air. And of course, safety is a priority. “We hold ourselves and our pilots to the highest safety standards. Our company and all of our pilots have a perfect zero accident and zero Incident flight safety record,” said a Star Helicopter spokesman.

About Star Helicopters

Star Helicopters was founded in 2009 and has continually expanded since then. The company started with two pilots, but now operates with eight helicopters and eight pilots. It is the largest helicopter company in the metro Los Angeles area, and stands by its strict attention to customer service and safety. For more detail please visit,

Burnett County Airport (KRZN), Siren, Wisconsin: Aerobatics to be added to 2013 air show

SIREN—In an effort to double the size and scope of the annual air show event at the Burnett County Airport in July, organizers are adding an aerobatics routine to the mix.

"This facilty is an asset to the entire county — we need to get people out here to see what we have," Dave Basten told the county's infrastructure committee last week.

Basten is a charter member of Northwoods Flyers, the county's EAA chapter.

"We've always had a breakfast and airplanes in the past," he continued. "We are just trying to expand on that."

He said by expanding the show, it would be beneficial for the county.

For the July 27, 2013 event, Basten said a full slate of activities is being planned.

"We'll have the classic planes like we've always had but we trying to get a B25 and a P51, military planes, here," Basten explained. "We had them lined up for last year, but they couldn't make it."

He said the war planes are a big hit at other air shows.

"Just seeing that B25 land will draw people," he remarked.

In addition to classic and war planes, he hopes to have an air ambulance on hand as well a helicopter which will offer free rides plus remote-controlled aircraft.

"The guy who did the helicopter rides last year says this is the second-best place he goes," Basten exclaimed.

The air show is looking to attract non-airplane enthusiasts as well.

"The agriculture association does the breakfast — last year they fed 500," Basten said. "We are also going to have a 5K trail run which will end at the hangar where they serve breakfast."

In addition, organizers hope to display some classic cars.

"If they don't like planes, they can look at cars," he said of potentials show-goers.

The Northwoods Flyers sponsor the fly in and the breakfast.

"This year we will be paying for the performers (aerobatics)," he said.

Airport manager Jeremy Sickler said the airport will have to be closed for the duration of the aerobatic portion of the air show.

That wasn't an issue as much as the insurance.

"While the county's umbrella insurance policy would cover the fly in and the breakfast, we are going to need an insurance rider for the aerobatics," Basten explained. "The one quote we have received was for $1,500."

The committee later authorized $1,500 in leftover funds from the airport's 2012 budget to cover the rider.

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Forks Airport (S18), Washington: Drag races OK'd for next five years

FORKS — The growls and roars of fast cars piloted by daring drivers can continue to erupt at Forks Municipal Airport for up to five drag-racing weekends annually through 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration has decided.

Seven years after it began, the West End Thunder drag-racing series has been approved for the next five years, with races set to roll the weekends of July 6-7, Aug. 17-18 and Sept. 14-15.

FAA policy prohibits grant-obligation airports such as Forks Municipal Airport from closing for non-aviation uses but had granted exceptions and provided a temporary permit last year while it reviewed the city's application.

The FAA informed the city of its decision, which was to approve airport shutdowns for no more than five weekends each calendar year, in a Feb. 13 letter to Mayor Bryon Monohon.

“I'm very excited,” Monohon said Thursday.

On racing weekends, “people are in the restaurants, people are in the hotels, people are shopping in the stores,” he said.

“But the most important thing is the sense of vibrancy and life.”

Race organizer Cary Bourm, president of the West End Thunder drag-racing club, said it took two years to complete the application to the FAA, which has gone back and forth on approving the events.

The FAA first granted an exception to its rule in 2006.

“We thought 50 people would show up, and we had 800 the first time without even advertising,” Bourm recalled.

The FAA extended the exception through 2009, then denied the request for 2010, and then told the city, which owns the airport, and the club that the 2011 races would be the last season.

But the federal agency ended up granting a temporary permit for 2012 while it reviewed the application.

“Recently, [the] FAA developed an assessment tool to determine if the temporary closure of an airport for non-aeronautical events is in the best interest of civil aviation,” Stanley Allison, assistant manager for the Seattle Airports District Office, said in the Feb. 13 letter.

Airport tenants and the city submitted documents to the agency, and the city responded to the FAA's follow-up questions.

“Based on the information provided, we approve the temporary closure of [Forks Municipal Airport] for automobile racing for the remainder of 2013 through 2017,” Allison said in the letter.

Bourm credited Forks City Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck, the Port of Port Angeles and the office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, for assisting with the application and on negotiations with the FAA.

“It makes us very happy,” Bourm said Thursday.

“Now, we can plan ahead and maybe make it a little bit better.”

Bourm said each race draws from 500 to 1,200 spectators, along with up to 105 race cars and 40 show cars.

But attendance gradually has dropped, and organizers have been running out of helpers to assist in setting up the events on the Thursday and Friday nights before the races.

“It started out bigger, but I think it's slowly dying down,” Bourm said.

The lack of help “is our main problem,” he added.

“We're getting burned out.

“You work 12 or 14 hours a day and go home and then work on that, it's pretty hard.”

Set-up volunteers can phone 360-374-6409 or 360-640-1366 for more information.

The FAA is allowing the races under 10 conditions.

They include the agency being supplied with a copy of the $2 million liability insurance policy that covers the events and which West End Thunder has purchased.

The club also must buy a liquid that improves race-car traction — and that costs $800 a barrel.

All that effort has created a loyal following to the kind of event where people see folks they haven't seen for a while and where visitors from all over the world show up, Bourm said.

“We get people from Europe who stop by and look,” Bourm said.

“It's a social event.”

With any community, “you've got to have this feeling that something is going on and that it's a place you want to be,” Monohon said.

“It gives folks a constructive, family-oriented event that is here in town that they don't have to drive off to do somewhere else.”

In addition, for the men and women who take an active part — Bourm's wife, Melene, races — the event is “a labor of love,” Monohon said.

The races also have become a prime fundraising locale for West End nonprofit organizations that set up food booths and other concessions, Monohon said.

“Anytime you are pulling people together, it's a beneficial thing, and this is certainly one of those.”

General admission to a race is $10, and children younger than 12 are admitted free.

For more information on the drag-racing series, visit

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Chico Air Museum gets first airworthy aircraft

CHICO -- The newest plane at the Chico Air Museum is very different than the others.

This new plane makes museum members wildly excited because of its firsts. It is the first operational plane acquired by the museum, which had it flown from New Mexico to Chico.

Because it can fly, it will enable museum members to achieve another first — fly to and participate in other communities' air shows.

There's one more first, but it's an unknown at this point — the first time the public will see the plane.

The Swiss-made Pilatus P-3 is tucked into a private hangar at the Chico Municipal Airport. It has not made it among the other planes in the museum's outdoor yard.

"It's in such beautiful shape that we're going to protect it until the weather is a sure thing," according to museum president Norm Rosene.

How the plane came to Chico is one of Rosene's new favorite stories. He credits Chico aircraft broker Dan Jay, who heard its owner was trying to get rid of it, along with another plane.

Always quick on the uptake when it comes to possible acquisitions, Rosene followed up immediately.

Knowing a plane like this — airworthy and in great shape — would be a plum acquisition for any air museum, Rosene worked quickly to convince the owner that Chico would be a worthy destination.

The Pilatus was a training aircraft for the Swiss Air Force, crafted in the late 1950s. It was designed for night flying, aerobatics and instrument flying, according to the museum's fact sheet.

"This is one of 86, and only 18 are still flying," Rosene noted.

The donation was made, and a couple of weeks later, Rosene and a pilot were heading to New Mexico, where they checked out the plane with air and ground testing, and then headed west.

It hadn't been flown in 10 years, but it had received detailed attention. "Leads like this fizzle out. It never happens. But this time, everything fell into place. It unfolded incredibly quickly."

Rosene also wrote a personalized letter that talked about the role of Chico Air Museum and the dedication of members, to convince the owner.

"For a museum of our size, a mid-size one, we depend on short reaction time and enthusiasm about getting everything done to get the aircraft. To hear that we'd gotten it was unbelievable."

There's no air show penciled on the museum's calendar yet, but Rosene doesn't believe it'll be long.

While flying a beautiful plane is a perk, being part of an air show will help attract visitors to Chico, he said.

Other members of the air museum's membership will be trained to fly the Pilatus, and will be able to handle air show appearances as well, Rosene said.

"This is a way to promote the airport, the city and the museum. People look for places like this to go for a day or weekend."

What makes the acquisition even sweeter to the air museum folks is its lineage.

"This is the great-grandfather to the plane currently being used by the Air Force as a trainer," Rosene said.

The museum is looking for a permanent hangar for the aircraft.

To see the other 10 planes, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 170 Convair Ave. at the Chico Municipal Airport.

The other planes are: Lockheed P2V-7, Lockheed T-33, Antonov AN-2, Aero Vodochody L-29, Luscombe 8A, Vonhune HP 11A Glider, Taylor Titch air racer, Dragonfly experimental, Hummel Bird experimental, Pietenpol Air Camper, and McDonald Douglas F-15A.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pickerington, Ohio: Aviation club hopes to build model aircraft 'airstrip'

A model aviation club hopes to find a landing spot in Pickerington if the city and the club can work out a facility use agreement in the future.

City Development Services Director Joe Henderson made a presentation to the City Parks and Recreation Board Jan. 14 in behalf of the Pickerington Model Aviation Club, which is an organization of aeronautical enthusiasts who regularly fly their high-end model airplanes in demonstrations and competitions throughout central Ohio.

Henderson said the group contacted city officials about the possibility of procuring suitable land in which to build and operate an airstrip.

"At this point we were just having conversations with a gentleman who is active in this club and is looking for potential locations to be able to fly radio-controlled model aircraft in the greater Columbus area," Henderson said.

"He believes Pickerington could be a great fit," said Henderson, who added such an activity has the potential to provide a boost to the local economy.

"This potential club would bring a unique opportunity to our residents and surrounding neighbors," Henderson said.

"(It) seems those who participate in this hobby invest a lot of time and money into it and could bring a strong economic impact to the area."

Henderson told the Parks and Recreation Board the group is looking to purchase or lease five or more acres of land in preferably a less populated area of the city because the planes are relatively noisy.

City Councilman Chris Schweitzer said the model aircraft require a unique skill set to operate.

"Some of these things can go about 100 mph," Schweitzer said. "They're phenomenal."

Schweitzer said the chief organizer of the proposed venture is Jeff Fluegeman, who owns NutritionX, a chain of retail nutritional supplement stores in Columbus.

Schweitzer said Fluegeman submitted a proposal outlining the club's needs and the ways that it "can work with local government and commercial entities to develop space for modelers."

Fluegeman, a certified flight instructor, said he is simply passionate about aviation.

He said model aviation enthusiasts would bring both their passion and dollars to Pickerington if a suitable site can be located.

"It's a passionate group of pretty successful people," Fluegeman said.

"It's a little sub-community. When you do an event it generates a lot of money.

"There is an event held in Plain City that makes (that city) a lot of money."

He said an event typically draws several hundred people that stay in area hotels and frequent area restaurants.

Fluegeman said the private club would be open to a 10- or 20-year lease or purchase of "useless" land, which means land that holds no other commercial value.

"We don't want it near people, it has to be commercial type space," Fluegeman said.

He said the club wants to build on central Ohio's rich and enduring history in aviation and he envisions the club having an educational impact on the community as well.

"Pickerington Model Aviation Club members can work with schools and other community organizations to promote aviation and spark interest in science and technology education."

Fluegeman said, with the right pieces in place, the club will take flight in Pickerington.

"It's all about planning," he said.

"It needs to be set up to succeed. If it's not made to succeed, I don't want to do it, (but) if you build it, trust me, I can get it to work."


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Planes carrying model pilot far: Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne student performed for Dubai’s crown prince

Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
 IPFW student Joe Smith poses with his radio-controlled planes inside the garage of his Fort Wayne home.

FORT WAYNE – IPFW engineering student Joe Smith rode in his first passenger plane just before winter break at the age of 18. 

 He flew his first plane at the age of 14. But the planes Smith flies are radio controlled, and he’s pretty good at it. At least, the crown prince of Dubai thinks so.

Dubai was where Smith was headed on his first plane ride after the prince of the large city in the United Arab Emirates saw a video of Smith and extended an invitation to him to fly during a large event. He spent two weeks there with his father on an all-expense-paid trip in November.

Even though Smith doesn’t think he can turn his hobby into a career, it’s working out well for him now. He’s making extra money for college and getting opportunities like traveling to Dubai.

Smith said that as a teenager, he was involved in a model engine club in New Haven with his dad. When Smith was about 14, he persuaded his dad to get out the model planes his dad had flown 20 years earlier. Just a year later, Smith flew a radio-controlled plane in a contest and took first place.

“That really put me on the board,” he said.

At 18, Smith is still at it. He’s won that same contest three times and secured sponsorships from 18 companies to test and help design new products and gadgets.

For a contest, Smith performs a choreographed routine set to four or five songs. Judges look for a variety of maneuvers and how well they sync with the music.

About a year ago, Smith submitted a video of a performance for another contest. He was chosen as one of the top two fliers, landing him a performance demonstration in South Carolina.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, known to Smith simply as Hamdan, also saw Smith’s video performance. Hamdan, the crown prince of Dubai, emailed Smith to invite him to Dubai for a performance.

“I thought it was some spam, so I didn’t reply,” Smith said of his initial thoughts on the email.

Hamdan sent another email a week later and told Smith he would pay for him to build a plane and for it to be shipped to Dubai. The next day, a $5,000 deposit was made into Smith’s PayPal account, an online payment service for individuals and companies. The deposit changed Smith’s mind.

“I figured if it was a scam he was getting the bad end of the deal,” Smith said.

Hamdan also invited Smith and a guest for a two-week stay in Dubai during the World Parachuting Championships, where Smith would fly the plane he built for contestants and spectators. Smith said Hamdan went to great lengths to ensure the event was the best it could be in the hopes of hosting it in Dubai again next year.

Three weeks later, the plane Smith built was tested and shipped to Dubai, along with accompanying equipment required to fly the plane. And at the end of November, Smith and his dad boarded a plane for a 15-hour flight headed for Dubai.

While there, Smith said he had “a lot of new experiences,” including having his own personal driver. He said traveling to the Middle East wasn’t as much of a culture shock as he expected. Everyone spoke English, and people were incredibly welcoming, he said.

Smith flew the plane he built for the occasion during downtime in the drop zone where parachutists land. He said the size of the area made him a little nervous.

Usually, for the size of the plane he was flying he would have a large area with half a mile of open space in all directions. In Dubai, he flew his plane in an area about the size of a football field, with people surrounding the area.

“But there were no problems. All the equipment worked properly,” he said. “They loved it.”

Sometimes when Smith tells people about his flying hobby, he gets weird looks. He said most people envision a small plane made out of foam from a large chain retailer.

“Throughout high school, (I got) that weird reaction like, that’s kind of lame,” he said. “But then I show people videos and that changes people’s reaction to what I do.”

And some of Smith’s classmates may not even know that this hobby took him to the Middle East.

Although Smith calls it a hobby, he said when he’s not in school and the weather is conducive to flying – little wind and no precipitation – he’s out at his grandparent’s house in Churubusco flying or working on his planes or upcoming performances.

Currently, Smith is preparing for a big contest in Muncie in July but is still in the early stages of choosing the music he will use to fly. He said he will work on his performance for several months leading up to a contest.

And through his sponsorships, he also has the opportunity to test products and electronic equipment used to fly the planes.

Smith said he’s not sure what field he will pursue with a degree in electrical engineering, or whether it will be related at all to flying or radio-controlled devices.

“It’s not a hobby you can make enough money on,” he said. “Flying right now, it’s just paying for college. And a car.”


Monday, February 18, 2013

Albany, Georgia: Model plane flyers grounded for now, Albany News, Weather, Sports 

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A group of Albany radio control plane enthusiasts plan to go to the City Commission to ask permission to fly their hobby planes at Hilsman Park. Police ordered the group to stop flying their radio control planes at the city park after neighbors complained about the noise. 

But the group says their planes are not that loud, and they want to find a compromise with the neighbors.

The flyers say the park is a convenient area for them, and especially for one of their members that's an important factor in his being able to practice his hobby.

For Randall Belt, who was paralyzed in a tree accident 13 months ago, it's a big part of his life. "I love doing it, because it gets me out of this chair. It gives me something to do that I can do. The things I used to do I can't do anymore."

But this month Albany Police ordered Belt and Frank Mosher and other friends to stop flying their planes at Hilsman Park. A group of neighbors signed a petition saying the planes were a nuisance.

Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta said "He said the planes would fly over the neighbor's houses and make a whining noise."

The neighbors and the flyers disagree on a couple of points. The neighbors say the planes are very loud, and the pilots were flying every afternoon and on weekends, hours at a time. The pilots say it's not that loud, and they fly a much shorter time period.

Frank Mosher said "Total, we fly maybe a half hour at a time in the evenings. So I don't see how it could be that big of a problem."

Belt said "They are a little loud when you are right up on it. But when it's 100 to 200 feet in the air, you can barely hear it flying."

Belt has a small car, and can't fit his airplane and wheelchair inside, so the park is a convenient place for him to pursue his hobby. He would like to compromise on what time and how long he could fly, and will ask the city commission to give him and his friends a chance to not be a nuisance.

 Marietta said "It's always down to that balancing of right. I think it's always something government inevitably gets involved with. Let's hope it doesn't go to the Supreme Court or something."

For Belt and his friends, they just want to use the public park for their hobby. Belt and his friends were told they would be charged with disorderly conduct if they flew their planes again at Hilsman Park.

 They're asking the neighbors to compromise with their group, to see if the two sides can find a middle ground. The flying group will ask to be put on the agenda for an upcoming city commission meeting to ask city leaders to mediate with neighbors.

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Hamilton, Mississippi: Man Survives and Walks Away From Plane Crash

HAMILTON, Miss. (WCBI/CNN) - An Alabama pilot is lucky to be alive after surviving a plane crash.

Authorities say his plane went down Friday night in Mississippi.

He not only walked away from the crash, he walked ten miles to a local restaurant to get help.

It was just an ordinary Saturday for Jessica Cantrell and her co-workers at Lacky's restaurant. That is until a strange man walked through the door.

"Brianne and I were standing in here and we were making tea and he came running past us to the back of the kitchen. We thought he was here to see somebody and then we all ended up out front and everybody was asking everybody like if we knew him and none of us knew him," said Cantrell.

After they realized something was wrong, restaurant owner Kenneth Lacky spoke to a very disoriented Ricky Ford.

"And the man was like 'Well, my plane crashed.' And he was like 'What do you mean your plane crashed?' He's like 'No, my girlfriend broke up with me.' He kept giving different stories, so we really didn't know which one it was," said Lacky.

"He was trucking it, because when he got here, he walked straight in and he sat down, then he took off walking when he thought he had to leave again until Kenneth got him back here," said Cantrell.

When authorities arrived Cantrell and her co-workers ford really did have a very rough night.

"The cops started talking to him, asking if he had any weapons or anything. When they were walking out they told us he was classified as a missing person," said Cantrell.

She says it's a miracle that he not only survived the crash, but walked through the woods and swamp with hardly any injuries.

The workers at Lacky's are happy Ricky Ford's plane crash survival story had a miraculous ending.

Authorities say Ford landed in Louisville, Mississippi to fuel up, but he was not able to get fuel and took off.

Shortly after that, his plane crashed in Hamilton.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

Cirrus hiring ramps up for new light personal jet

DULUTH — Cirrus Aircraft is on a hiring spree as the development of its Vision Jet moves into high gear toward the targeted 2015 delivery date.

About 50 people have been hired in Duluth in the past six months to fine-tune the new light personal jet, Cirrus spokesman Todd Simmons said.

Most hired are engineers, technicians and designers.

That brings the number of Cirrus employees in Duluth and Grand Forks, N.D., up to about 570, with nearly 500 in Duluth — including virtually all of the jet program positions, Simmons said.

Many more will be needed as the jet program is accelerated.

“We’re hiring, without question,” Simmons said.

The Cirrus website suggests more than 60 additional specialists are being sought. It lists about 30 positions for engineers, drafters, technicians, planners and designers with the SF-50 Vision Jet Program, with some of them involving multiple hires.

It’s a big difference from a year ago, when the Vision Jet program had slowed for lack of capital after several years of development. But when new owners China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co. invested nearly $100 million to bring the new light jet to market, that put the program back on track.

Promotion of the Vision Jet then geared up again with public demonstrations of the prototype. The single-engine personal jet will seat five adults and two children and feature advanced technology, avionics and luxury features similar to Cirrus’ piston-powered planes. It will fill the gap between high-performance propeller planes and light-business jets.

Orders for the Vision Jet are up to 525, the vast majority getting in before the price tag rose from $1.72 million to $1.96 million on July 1.

“I don’t expect to add a whole lot more,” Simmons said of the orders. “We’ve got enough orders out there. That’s quite a lot of planes to build.”

He said a comprehensive update on the Vision Jet will be made in a few weeks.

Other manufacturers have tried and failed to bring a similar owner/pilot personal jet to market, including Piper Aircraft. Cirrus could face direct competition from Diamond Industries, which is developing the Diamond D-Jet, a personal jet that will seat five people.

Its development also stalled when funding dried up during the economic downturn that hit the aviation industry hard. But the development of the Diamond Jet has since resumed.

Aviation industry analyst Richard Aboulafia has said the company that first fills a niche in the low end of the light-jet market will have an advantage, especially if it doesn’t have competition. He doubted the market was big enough for two companies with small personal jets.

“Cirrus isn’t in a race,” Simmons said. “It’s important that Cirrus gets their plane right. We have to build a plane that’s right for our customers. That’s more important than to worry about competitors. That’s the way we look at bringing a jet to market.”


Cirrus Aircraft led market again last year

DULUTH, Minn. -- Cirrus Aircraft led its market again last year, even though its plane shipments remained flat and its biggest competitors showed gains.

The Duluth-based airplane manufacturer shipped 253 of its SR-20s, SR-22s and SR-22Ts in 2012, two fewer than 2011. It was the lowest number of planes delivered since 2001, according to industry numbers released recently.

Although Cirrus’ share of the single-engine piston market slipped from 35 percent to 32 percent, it still out-sold its competitors and continued to be the world leader in its category of small personal aircraft. Its SR-22/SR-22T continued to be the top-selling, high-performance plane in that category.

Its closest competitor, Cessna Aircraft Co., shipped a total of 207 of its comparable propeller planes in 2012, up from 181 in 2011. Diamond Aircraft Industries followed with 93 planes, up from 72 in 2011, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association annual shipment reports show.

Faced with declining retail sales, Cirrus would have had substantially fewer shipments if not for its successful entry into the international training fleet market.

Cirrus has sold 25 SR-20s to the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Powered Flight Program, 23 SR-20s to the French Air Force and Navy and 20 SR-20s to the Civil Aviation Flight University of China. Many of those sales showed up in last year’s numbers.

“We are seeing a shift in the mix,” said Todd Simmons, Cirrus’ executive vice president of sales and marketing. “To Cirrus’ credit, they do other markets to offset the changes in retail.”

And more fleet sales are coming, which should improve the company’s prospects for 2013.

“Other fleet delivers will be announced,” Simmons said. “The good news is that’s a growing part of our business. That is part of our business that will continue to grow.”

Down market

Still, Cirrus, along with the industry in general, continues to feel the effects of the economic recession that sent the industry into a tailspin.

The 2012 industry shipment summaries released by GAMA were a mixed bag. Worldwide, piston-powered airplane shipments were down nearly 2 percent, turboprops up 10 percent and business jets down 3.4 percent. Industry-wide, shipments were slightly up and billings slightly down.

Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst for the Teal Group outside Washington, D.C., believes the industry has not only hit bottom but has been stuck there quite a while.

“What you have is a delay in recovery rather than signs of future trouble,” he said. “It’s just taking so long for people to feel less nervous about making big investments or lending people money.”

But if the economic recovery is sustaining, he believes general aviation will turn a corner.

“When the economy finally recovers … this industry will take off,” said GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce during a webcast.

But more economic bumps could be near.

If sequestration — blanket cuts to federal programs — happens next month, the impact on the general aviation industry will be severe, Bunce said.

Maintaining the lead

With the economic recession, Cirrus’ annual shipments dramatically declined from a 2006 high of 721 during the industry’s heyday. Cirrus has weathered the downturn by cost cutting, selling more fully loaded planes, reaching out to international markets and becoming more efficient.

“The difference today is Cirrus is a far more efficient business at lower numbers, because we made changes in the business,” Simmons said. “We’re being more profitable at lower volume levels.”

In 2012, Cirrus’ quarterly deliveries steadily increased, ending with its strongest quarter in four years.

“We’re off to the best start since 2008,” Simmons said. “So we’re optimist about 2013.”

That optimism is partly due to Generation Five, Cirrus’ redesigned SR-22 and turbocharged SR-22T models, which can now accommodate a fifth person. Its parts and systems were re-engineered and redesigned, along with use of stronger construction materials, aerodynamic improvements, improved flight performance and an improved airframe parachute system, a hallmark of Cirrus planes.

Aboulafia said continuing upgrades and innovations are important.

“New product development and resources are always crucial,” he said.

Cirrus officials expect Generation 5 introduced in January will cause a rebound in retail sales.

“The reason we are enthusiastic for 2013, we are bringing something new to the market, and the market is reacting very favorably,” Simmons said.

Such investment in its piston-powered planes, as well as its Vision light jet under development, he said, will help Cirrus maintain its market lead.