Sunday, July 27, 2014

New Guard station lifts military's profile

Heretofore, only about 200 of nearly 11,000 South Carolina National Guardsmen have been based in Greenville County. 

Going forward, however, the state's most populous county will have many more of the men and women in uniform.

Earlier this month, Guard pilots began flying from a new helicopter station at the South Carolina Aviation and Technology Center in southern Greenville County.

The $27.5 million Army Aviation Support Facility is home base for 10 helicopters — six Chinooks and four Lakotas — and 75 full-time soldiers.

Another 200 part-time Guardsmen will work at the 110,000-square-foot facility, where helicopters will soon be lifting off 30 times a week from a giant concrete pad, according to Lt. Col. Charles Lewis, the commanding officer.

The helicopters were moved from McEntire Joint National Guard Base, which is in Eastover near Columbia and remains home for the Guard's Blackhawk and Apache helicopters and its F-16 fighter jets.

The new helicopter station is Greenville's first military presence of any size since Donaldson Air Force Base closed in the early 1960s, according to local historian Judy Bainbridge.

And more is coming.

In January, the Guard is scheduled to break ground on two other buildings next to the helicopter station, creating a military complex that will perform a variety of functions.

Up to 70 full-time Guardsmen will use one of the buildings to maintain and repair hundreds of military vehicles such as Humvees and trucks for carrying cargo or troops, officers said.

The other building will house an armory for soldiers working with the helicopters as well as a school for training aircraft maintenance mechanics.

The Guard will operate the school in conjunction with Greenville Tech, which will move its existing aircraft maintenance program into the new building.

Graduates will be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration for airframe and power plant work.

Guard units in South Carolina and other states need that kind of mechanic to work on Lakota helicopters, officers said.

Skills taught at the school are also sought by private-sector aviation companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp., which refurbishes military planes on a 282-acre campus within sight of the new helicopter base, and The Boeing Co., which builds its 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston.

Lewis said the helicopters were moved to Greenville because they'd outgrown their space at the McEntire base near Columbia.

In addition, he said, the Guard sees strategic benefit in spreading air assets around the state and an opportunity for recruiting in the Greenville market.

The Guard needs manpower with technical skills and has "kind of tapped out the Columbia market," Lewis said.

The helicopter crews will fly to landing zones in South Carolina's Sumter National Forest and North Carolina's DuPont State Recreational Forest as a way to practice low-level flying in both flat and mountainous terrain, according to an environmental analysis prepared by the Guard to satisfy federal requirements.

The pilots will also simulate carrying Humvees by lifting concrete blocks weighing up to 25,000 pounds and flying them to public airports in Anderson, Greenwood, Pickens or Oconee counties.

Lewis said the number of flights per week could rise to 40 during peak training cycles.

Greenville Tech's aircraft maintenance department is currently housed in an older building next to the new helicopter station.

The building doesn't have enough room for all of the nine airplanes and one helicopter that Tech uses for teaching, so some of the aircraft are kept outside and moved inside as needed, said Carl Washburn, head of the college's aircraft maintenance department.

In the new building, he said, Tech will be able to put all of its aircraft inside a hangar shared with the Guard.

"So rather than wasting the time moving airplanes around we're focused on teaching these technicians and making them better," he said.

Once the school moves into the new building, Washburn said, it will be in a position to ask the FAA for permission to expand enrollment from 120 students to 150 and possibly more over time.

He said Stevens Aviation, which refurbishes military and civilian aircraft in a hangar behind the new helicopter base, and a Honeywell plant in Greer that makes helicopter engines are two other local employers that hire the kind of mechanics produced by the school.

Washburn said he wouldn't be surprised if other aviation companies set up shop at SCTAC to be near the school.

Jacqui DiMaggio, Tech's vice president for finance, said the college will spend $6 million on the armory building to satisfy a federal requirement for a 20 percent local match.

About 80 soldiers who were stationed at an existing Guard armory at SCTAC were re-assigned to Spartanburg, said Lt. Col. Andrew Batten, the officer in charge of Guard construction in South Carolina.

National training center
The Guard could expand even more in Greenville if plans for a national training center are approved by the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia.

The proposed training center would teach military units and civilian first responders such as police and fire departments how best to work together in the event of a national emergency such as a hurricane, said Les Eisner, a recently retired major general who came up with the idea of developing the Greenville complex more than 15 years ago.

He said the center could use virtual reality technology as well as real-life exercises to simulate disaster scenarios.

Eisner, a two-star general when he retired from the state Guard in March, said he sees a need for military units and civilian first responders to train together.

"In a combat zone, the military's in charge. Domestically, we're not in charge. We're in a support role," he said. "So the people in charge have to understand our capabilities, our limitations, our strengths in order to better serve them."

Eisner said decision-makers in the National Guard Bureau have expressed support for the training center concept but it remains a "work in progress."

Noise concerns

The Guard says it will operate the helicopters as quietly as they can and stay out of designated "no fly" zones that are the most noise-sensitive areas.

But that hasn't stopped some residents near SCTAC from complaining already.

Ed Paxton, who lives about two miles from the helicopter station, scoffed at the Guard's conclusion in its environmental analysis that the training flights would have no significant adverse impact, given the mitigating measures.

"As far as I'm concerned, the only people there will be no significant impact to are those people who are deaf," Paxton said.

Carl Stoner, a retired IBM field engineer and former Cessna pilot, said he knew his house was in the path of SCTAC air traffic when he bought it in 1998.

Noise became a problem, he said, when huge transport planes changed their approaches to the Lockheed Martin campus. Now he's concerned about the addition of helicopter noise.

"If they go west of me I don't care," Stoner said. "If they go east, my way, I do care. I will be extremely ticked off."

Paxton and Stoner also said they think hauling huge concrete blocks suspended from helicopters by cable in a populated area raises safety concerns.

Greenville County Councilman Willis Meadows said he thinks the concerns are legitimate, and he will ask the Guard to conduct the training with concrete blocks somewhere besides SCTAC and stick to a set schedule.

"If you're going to lift 25,000 pounds, it's going to make a lot of noise when it lifts off," Meadows said, referring to the double-rotor Chinook helicopters.

County Councilman Butch Kirven, however, said the helicopter base shouldn't create much more aircraft noise than SCTAC has been producing for a long time.

The 2,600-acre industrial park with an 8,000-foot runway used to be Donaldson Air Force Base.

"I think the worries about the noise have been greatly overblown," said Kirven, a former brigadier general in the South Carolina National Guard.


Wausau pilots finish plane as homage to EAA founder

WAUSAU – A small red single-wing, single-person airplane with the words "Mechanix Illustrated" stenciled on its fuselage will be one of thousands of craft converging on Oshkosh on Monday for the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture 2014.

The plane — called the Baby Ace — is simple and hand-built from basic materials, mostly wood, metal tubing and fabric. It's got a 65-horsepower engine, weighs 579 pounds empty and can reach speeds up to 85 mph. When it's in the air, it sounds like a cross between a lawnmower and a 1950s-era farm tractor.

But among World War II warbirds, U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and other exotic aircraft that are on display in Oshkosh from Monday through Aug. 3, the Baby Ace will be the star, because she is a replica of the aircraft that really started it all. Basic as she is, she represents the heart and soul of the EAA, and the man who founded and built the organization, Paul Poberezny.

Poberezny was in the midst of building Baby Ace when he died last August at age 91. The fact that Baby Ace is flying at all is due to the work of a dozen or so Wausau-area pilots, mechanics and aviation enthusiasts, and one man in particular who became close friends with Poberezny — Kurt Mehre, 51, of Schofield.

"You had to know the man," Mehre said. "He was a people person. ... He liked to say that aviation made him a millionaire, because he had a million friends."

Poberezny loved airplanes and flying, and he was generous in sharing that passion, Mehre said. Anyone who was interested was welcome at Poberezny's Oshkosh shop, called the Aeroplane Factory, where he would instruct and put people to work. For the past several years, Mehre spent his spare weekends with Poberezny, helping the aviation leader with various projects, including the Baby Ace.

The Baby Ace is a replica of a plane that Poberezny first built in the mid-1950s. In 1955, he authored a series of articles in the magazine Mechanix Illustrated that gave step-by-step instructions and basic plans to build the airplane. His mission was to share his passion for building and flying, and that Mechanix Illustrated story opened the skies to anyone who had basic mechanical skills. The interest in flying — and in the EAA — soared.

After Poberezny's death, the Baby Ace project ended up in the hands of Mehre and the Wausau chapter of the EAA. The Baby Ace was completed last week, just in time for the EAA AirVenture and its memorials to Poberezny. Mehre and his friends, Dave Conrad and brothers Lyman and Clifford Hatz, were the primary builders.

Along the way, they, like Poberezny, allowed anyone to help who wanted, sharing the skills and passion like their mentor did. They worked a lot of late nights through the summer to get the plane ready for AirVenture. But the group had focus.

"This really is an homage to Paul," Conrad said.

"It was a labor of love for us all," Mehre said. "It's really about the family, to honor all the Pobereznys."

If you go

What: EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

When: Todaythrough Aug. 3

Where: AirVenture grounds and airport at the intersection of Highway 41 and 20th Avenue in Oshkosh

Cost: Tickets are $43 for adults Monday through Aug. 2; $22 for Aug. 3. Children are $32 for Monday through Aug. 2; $22 for Aug. 3

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Kurt Mehre refuels the Baby Ace at the Wausau Downtown Airport on Thursday, as a group of Wausau-area aviators flew the plane to get enough hours on it to be able to fly it to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. Peeking inside the plane is flight instructor Steve Montgomery. 
(Photo: Dan Young/Daily Herald Media )

Directorate General of Civil Aviation mulling to introduce easier flying license rules for small operators

NEW DELHI: India's civil aviation regulator is likely to make it easier for companies to start flight operations, especially those seeking to use small planes. It's also recommended that small operators be allowed to run scheduled services to boost connectivity of destinations that aren't served by airlines.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is preparing a new set of civil aviation rules that would substantially ease the process of getting an air operator's permit or flying license for so-called non-scheduled operators (NSOPs), said a senior official at the regulator.

Such companies typically run corporate or chartered flight services. The proposed rules could result in the time an NSOP needs to get a flying license being slashed to six months from around a year now.

Currently, both scheduled and nonscheduled operators have to meet the same guidelines for a flying license.

"It has been found that the NSOPs do not need to meet a lot of conditions to get a license, which the scheduled operators have to, since they operate with much lesser complex aircraft and systems. The work is on for a less complex set of rules for them, making them simpler," said the DGCA official cited above.

The new rules are likely to categorize general aviation operators into two-companies that operate smaller and less complex aircraft and others that operate large aircraft as well.

The rules are likely to be simpler for the first type and more elaborate for the second. Operators welcomed the move.

"This was a long-pending demand from our side since we do no need to go through such a complex process for licenses like the scheduled operators. This is a step in the right direction," said RK Bali, secretary of the Business Aircraft Operators' Association.

There are about 130 NSOPs in the country that are registered with the DGCA.

Other proposals being considered include allowing NSOPs to engage in scheduled commuter or shuttle services to encourage air connectivity in and out of tier-II and tier-III cities.

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AirMed Service Comes to Dickinson, North Dakota

Last week we told you about Sanford AirMed moving in to the Dickinson area, and when you hear air-ambulance, you're probably thinking about a helicopter. But instead, Sanford will operate a King Air B-200 fixed wing aircraft that can carry a two patients and a highly trained team of flight paramedics, nurses, pilots and mechanics.
Paramedics say the beauty of the service is being able to give patients in rural areas easy access to medical care that's safe, reliable and most

"Planes can fly in weather that helicopters can't," says Lead Flight Paramedic, Adam Parker. "As well as transport patients a farther distance. Helicopters wouldn't transport a patient from Bismarck to Minneapolis, for example. That would be a fixed wing plane that could do that flight."

The King Air B-200 can fly at speeds of more than 300 miles per hour. And the service should be up and running in a few months.

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Millville Municipal Airport (KMIV) receives $2 million in federal funding

The Millville Municipal Airport is receiving $2 million in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding for runway rehabilitation, which will help improve the economic growth of South Jersey, according to officials.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) announced the funding for Millville on Friday, along with $1 million in FAA funding being given to the Cape May Airport.

"Investing in our nation's airport infrastructure creates jobs, grows our economy and allows for better access to South Jersey tourism attractions and destinations," said LoBiondo, who is also chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. "This federal funding for both Cape May County and Millville is critical for the long-term economic growth of our region."

Millville's airport, which is operated by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, will use the $2,055,120 in FAA funding to rehabilitate runways, terminal aprons, taxiway extensions and additional apron construction.

The potential growth of the Millville Municipal Airport was previously shown to the community during an open house last December at the Lewis B. Finch Administration Building.

"The Delaware River and Bay Authority greatly appreciates the long-term relationship with Congressman LoBiondo and for his continued support of these airports," said James N. Hogan, commissioner and chairperson of the authority. 

The authority also operates the Cape May Airport.

"These grants will not only improve the safety and appearance of the airport but also their importance for the region's economic vitality," Hogan said.

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Airport set to take off: New runway first of $27 million in investments, improvements

The Morrisville-Stowe Airport is set to reopen Aug. 1 with a new $4.5 million runway, the first phase of $27 million in investments that the new operators expect will make the airport a major economic engine for the region.

The runway was completely rebuilt and shifted south for safety reasons. It includes new taxiways, parking aprons and the addition of state-of-the-art lighting and navigational aids. The work was funded entirely by the state and federal transportation agencies.

To obtain the government funding, the new airport operators, Stowe Aviation LLC, which took over management of the facility July 1, implemented a development plan that includes an aviation school, a charter air service, airplane storage, a modern maintenance-and-repair business and a restaurant.

It will all be housed in a new terminal, a U.S. Customs building and a new hangar, according to plans unveiled Wednesday.

“This has been an amazing collaboration between private enterprise and government,” said Tom Anderson, Stowe Aviation president and chief operating officer, at a meeting in Stowe Wednesday with state transportation officials. “The state and the federal government have handed us a state-of-the-art (runway) facility.”

The new runway expands the safe day and night use of the airport, which can now handle planes as large as small jets. The former crumbling runway and inadequate lighting and navigation made it impossible or unsafe for many aircraft and pilots.

The airport has been closed to air traffic since April 4 to make way for the new runway and related runway improvements — the first significant upgrades in 35 years.

The airport handles only private planes, including charter flights and flight lessons. No commercial airline flights currently use the airport. Small jets and turboprops scaled back their use of the airport as the runway degraded.

Stowe Aviation could not confirm current air traffic volumes but the recent improvements, and the investments in the years to come, will be a boon to the local economy, company officials said.

New York, Boston, Toronto and Montreal will be reached in a matter of an hour or two by regular charter or private flight, a compelling and convenient transportation option for business people, visitors and locals, said Russell Barr, a Stowe lawyer who is founder and CEO of Stowe Aviation.

Timing is everything. Jay Peak and Stowe Mountain Resort have spent hundreds of millions to expand and improve their facilities, Barr said, but the only way to get there is by driving the rural roads. Not anymore.

“There are approximately 72 million people living within a 90-minute flight of the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport,” Barr said. “Despite this fact and the billions of dollars spent on local tourism infrastructure over the years, our airport has been largely untouched.

“With the help of state, federal and local government, we are correcting that imbalance with a project that will bring increased business and leisure traffic to the region, as well as making it easier for locals to travel.”

The second phase of the airport’s development is being funded by about $20 million in private investment and should be completed within 18 months, Barr said. That includes:

• A new passenger terminal and fixed-base operation — the service for private planes. The goal is to cater to arriving and departing passengers and to their pilots, offering a concierge service.

• An air charter company that will dramatically improve direct access to and from the Stowe region to cities such as New York, Boston, Toronto and Washington, D.C.

• A planned Customs and Im-migration building to boost traffic from Montreal, Toronto and other Canadian points.

• A flight training academy featuring flight-motion simulators that will attract students and pilots from all over the world, and also be a valuable local resource.

• An advanced facility for aircraft maintenance, upgrades, retrofits and enhancements.

• A professional aircraft management company.

• A cafĂ© in the new terminal.

The airport will employ about 35 people — from food-service workers to airplane mechanics, pilots to terminal attendants — when it is fully up and running, Barr said. But the “indirect” employment from the new business, the people “and currency” it will bring to the area will add zeros to that number.

“This is going to open up markets for our area,” said Barr, who noted that the airport’s location north of Stowe, one step closer to the stunning Northeast Kingdom, will be a boost to that region.

The project at the Morrisville-Stowe Airport falls in line with the state’s aim to make every airport in Vermont economically self-sustaining, at the very least, Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said at the meeting. Last year, the state had to spend about $4.5 million to keep airports across the state running.

Morrisville-Stowe will soon become one airport that will not only uncouple from the state’s money faucet but will likely be an economic hub and tax revenue generator, he said.

Small airports across the nation have become economic engines for their communities and local hubs of activity, Barr and Searles noted.

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