Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Augusta Regional Airport (KAGS) looks at replacing outdated facilities in next master plan

Although Augusta Regional Airport is projected to gain an estimated 141,000 departing passengers by 2033, an additional runway won’t be needed to meet the growth, according to consultants compiling a 20-year master plan for the airport.

Instead, the airport needs to focus on replacing outdated facilities including the aircraft hangars, maintenance buildings, firehouse and air traffic control tower, said Mark McFarland, project manager with Mead & Hunt consultants. The commercial airline terminal, which opened in 2007, won’t change in the coming two decades, he said.

The master plan, which will be finalized next spring, includes space for a runway parallel to the existing runway, however, only to save the space if it’s ever needed in the future, McFarland said.

“The amount of activity would need to more than double to make that necessary,” he said.

The airport held an open house Wednesday for the public to view the master plan proposals and give feedback.

According to an air activity forecast, commercial operations are projected to increase from 13,564 operations in 2013 to 16,155 flights two decades later. The number of regional jets with a 37 to 50 seat capacity is expected to drop by more than 5,000 operations while regional jets with 66 seats or more will increase by more than 6,000.

Passenger enplanements, or the number of people departing Augusta Regional, is projected to increase to 410,664 passengers annually.

The master plan also looks at increasing aircraft parking space, which falls far short of demand during the annual Masters Tournament held each April in Augusta.

Randy Sasser, a member of the Augusta Aviation Commission, which governs the airport, said planning for Masters Week is the most needed aspect of the master plan, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration. The airport has expanded massively in the past decade, so the change won’t be as noticeable to the typical airport user, he said.

“Where this plan is going, the passengers won’t see any change in the next 20 years,” Sasser said.

- Source:

Larry Bielstein : Gig Harbor resident a member of special Federal Aviation Administration group

Gig Harbor resident and retired U.S. Air Force pilot Larry Bielstein is with currently a lieutenant colonel and flight instructor with the Peninsula Composite Civil Air Patrol based at Bremerton National Airport. Bielstein was a fixed wing, rotary wing and civilian pilot who flew in combat in Vietnam, where he was awarded several medals including the Bronze Star. 

As a boy, Larry Bielstein built his first model airplane with his uncle. It crashed.

“Neither of us knew anything about aerodynamics,” Bielstein recalled.

He’s figured things out since then.

Bielstein, 78, is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel with a load of “fruit salad” on his former uniform, which includes a Bronze Star. He’s been flying for more than 50 years, earning awards along the way and volunteering his time with the Civil Air Patrol and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. In 2009, he was a recipient of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which recognizes pilots with more that 50 years of flying accident free.

He and his wife, Marilyn, live in Gig Harbor near the airport.

Bielstein’s accident free for a reason. Pre-flight, the 78-year-old is meticulous. He checks each part of his light-sport American Champion Champ airplane before it leaves his hanger, he calls for weather, he runs through his worn and well-used checklist.

A 20-year-old when he joined up in the Air Force, enlisting hadn’t been the original plan. He’d been attending college at Santa Clara University while working laying sewer pipes, or “underground engineering” as he calls it. The job paid his tuition and he was on his way to becoming a manager when tragedy struck: His boss was killed in a car accident. Bielstein joined the Air Force and put college on hold, eventually finishing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Omaha later on. He also earned an MBA at the University of Puget Sound while still on active duty.

His work in the Air Force took him all over the world. In the Vietnam War, Bielstein spent a year flying rescue helicopters. That’s where he earned the medals on his uniform. His assignments usually focused on rescuing Army helicopters and downed fighter pilots, Bielstein said. Staying alert, the crew was on watch and could be called any time. When called to action, the helicopter had to be ready to go within five minutes. It was a harrowing year.

“I’ve been shot up, but I’ve never been shot down,” the veteran said.

After retiring, Bielstein missed flying, so he got involved in the area with the Civil Air Patrol and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. However, he’s reaching the point where he’s scaled back on much of his flying work. He doesn’t do much instructing.

Mainly, he can jog from his house to the Tacoma Narrows Airport and fly his burgundy plane across the blue sky.

“It’s just the joy of being airborne,” he said.

Story and Photos:

Larry Bielstein proudly shows his recent award from the Federal Aviation Administration, The Wright Brothers "Master Pilot" Award at Tacoma Narrows Airport last Saturday, August 24, 2014. 

Fighter jet program brings jobs to Cincinnati

Lockheed Martin brought its F-35 Lightning II mobile cockpit to GKN Aerospace in Cincinnati on Wednesday, where officials and local politicians touted the economic impact the fighter jet program is having locally. 

The F-35 is a fifth-generation combat fighter being developed by Lockheed Martin with manufacturers in Cincinnati providing components. The program is projected to cost $1 trillion over 55 years.

GKN Aerospace produces the aircraft’s canopy, engine front fan case, electro-thermal ice protection system for its engine, and composite and metal structures for the fighter.

“We’re really proud to be a part of the F-35 program,” GKN Aerospace vice president and general manager Floyd McConnell said. “We’re proud to see it strong and vibrant. It’s really good for Cincinnati.

GKN has 250 local employees working on making components for the fighter, company engine products vice president and general manager James Burkhardt said. Over the past four years the work on the program has brought $13 million in capital and technical investment to the area, Burkhardt said. GKN has added about 30 jobs to accommodate work on the program and is looking to hire an additional 35. It is hosting a career fair on Sept. 6 at its Deerfield Road facility to fill those positions.

U.S Rep. Brad Wenstrup said the F-35 program is responsible for 3,000 direct and indirect jobs in the region. He said the program, which is the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program, is vital for the country’s national security.

“I’m a believer that we can do a lot as a deterrent, and when we have an upper hand, that’s a deterrent,” Wenstrup said. “We have a tough time in this country right now with costs. In a lot of ways, I worry that we’re making our strategy – our defense strategy, our security strategy – based on a budget rather than the other way around.”

Wenstrup said he got a chance to test the F-35 cockpit simulator in Washington, D.C., where he made the virtual world a safer place before crash landing.

Story, Video and Photo:

Andy Brownfield | Courier 
 U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup tests the F-35 cockpit simulator at GKN Aerospace on Wednesday.

American and US Airways pull fares from Orbitz

American Airlines pulled its fare listings from Orbitz online travel website Tuesday due to a dispute over the commission Orbitz charges.

In addition, US Airways fares will disappear Sept. 1, American Airlines Group, the parent of both airlines, announced Tuesday. Corporate clients that use Orbitz to book travel will not be affected by the change.

In 2010, American temporarily stopped offering fares through Orbitz in another dispute. American was later ordered by an Illinois court to resume offering fares and flight schedules.

"We have worked tirelessly with Orbitz to reach a deal with the economics that allow us to keep costs low and compete with low-cost carriers," American president Scott Kirby said. "While our fares are no longer on Orbitz, there are a multitude of other options available for our customers, including brick and mortar agencies, online travel agencies, and our own websites."

Tickets purchased through Orbitz remain valid, but changes to exisiting reservations now must be made on each airline's reservation sites. Orbitz shares fell 4.63 percent.

Orbitz said in a statement: "Our sites offer hundreds of airlines which are eager to capture the revenue American is choosing to forego and we will continue to show our customers a broad range of flight options to thousands of destinations in the U.S. and worldwide."


Falling metal joins airplane noise as meeting topic: Stewart Manor, Nassau County, New York

Lee Ackerman in his Stewart Manor yard on Friday Aug. 22, 2014, where he said he found a piece of metal that had been shed by a jumbo airliner. 
(Credit: Howard Schnapp) 

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed Tuesday that a metal panel from an Airbus A380 jumbo jet had landed last week in a Stewart Manor backyard, a mishap criticized at a monthly meeting aimed at reducing airplane noise.

"Hopefully, there'll be an investigation, and some type of explanation, and some protocols put in place to prevent this kind of debris from falling again," Cristina O'Keeffe, Stewart Manor's representative to the Town-Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee, said Tuesday.

The FAA said in an email that an instruction panel was "dislodged from the inside of a landing gear door of an Airbus A380 aircraft."

"The FAA still is working on determining which aircraft the instruction panel came from," the agency added Tuesday.

Five companies fly that model Airbus out of John F. Kennedy International Airport -- Air France, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, and Lufthansa -- said a spokesman for the Port Authority, which operates the airport.

The jet, the world's largest commercial aircraft, can carry more than 500 passengers.

On Aug. 19, Lee Ackerman, 52, of Stewart Manor, was walking his dog when he found a square piece of metal, about 1 foot by 1 foot, in a fern.

On one side of the metal piece was a gray, sticky material that appeared to be glue. On the other side were a diagram and maintenance instructions for an A380 wing landing gear.

The discovery was an unwelcome reminder of the potential hazards of living near flight paths for some people who attended the noise meeting Monday night in Stewart Manor.

They recalled that four years ago a 4-pound metal door dropped from an Alitalia Boeing 767 on final approach to Kennedy Airport and landed near the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola.

"Residents were anxious, some were fearful, but I told them not to hold their breath because this has happened in the past and the FAA has done nothing about this," said Ray Gaudio, East Williston's noise committee representative.

"Who knows how many more parts have landed in baseball fields, empty fields, that no one finds?"

In recent years, noise complaints from residents near Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and under the flight paths have become louder since the FAA began redesigning airspace over New York City for the NextGen satellite-based air-traffic control system.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) has said he would withhold billions in FAA funding if the agency doesn't limit night flights over some Nassau communities. A spokesman for Israel said Tuesday the congressman is awaiting an FAA response.

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Aerial advertising controversy will go to jury trial

The fate of an aerial advertising company and its pilot will now rest in the hands of a jury.

That was the decision made Tuesday during a court hearing in Wahiawa.

Last month, Aerial Banners North flew several banners over Hawaii’s skies, including one paid banner, “Marry me Rachel.”

The city cited the pilot for aerial advertising. Then, after flying another banner on July 21, the pilot was arrested for violating city law.

ABN says it had a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly the ads.

“We believe that the FAA regulations trumped the state regulations and they were operating within the full authority of federal law,” said defense attorney Victor Bakke. “The question is now how do we get a forum where that can be determined?”

Bakke says the pilot was granted permission to leave the jurisdiction and has since returned to the mainland.

If found guilty, the company’s owner and pilot could face three months in jail for each offense.

A jury trial is scheduled for Sept. 4.

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Break-in and theft grounds vintage 737 jetliner

Someone broke into this PWA Boeing 737 over the weekend, stealing a number of parts from the vintage plane, including its emergency door.
 (Alberta Aviation Museum Association) 

A thief broke into a vintage jetliner owned by the Alberta Aviation Museum over the weekend, stealing parts from the plane before seemingly trying to cover the crime up as an act of vandalism, museum officials say.

The Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 737, which used to be housed at the museum’s space in Edmonton, has been stored at the Villeneuve airport since November.

The plane was broken into sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning, according to the museum. A number of specific artifacts, such at the plane’s emergency door, were taken.

Tom Hendricks, the museum’s executive director, says that the items that were taken were those that would still have market value. He says that, combined with the way the thief was able to get into the plane, is a sign that the suspect is someone who is familiar with aircraft.

Hendricks says before the theft, the 737 was flight-worthy and was used for public tours and educational programs.

Morinville RCMP are investigating the break-in.

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Longmeadow pays tribute to 'hometown hero' Lt. Col. Morris Fontenot Jr.

A memorial to Lt. Col. Morris "Moose" Fontenot Jr., as displayed at the memorial ceremony held in his honor.

LONGMEADOW — The American flag that typically flies high above the town green was lowered to half staff Saturday, as a memorial ceremony was held for a resident gone before his time - the late Lt. Col. Morris "Moose" Fontenot Jr.

A sizable crowd gathered around the Veterans War Memorial to offer their respect to Fontenot.

Fontenot, a member of the 104th Fighter Wing based at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, was killed Wednesday in a plane crash near Deerfield Valley, Virginia. He was flying his F-15C fighter jet to New Orleans for a radar upgrade when the plane apparently developed mechanical problems and crashed.

As Col. Alexander Haldopoulos stepped to the microphone, the assembled crowd fell silent, as easy conversation between neighbors was swept away by the gravity of the moment.

"The Air National Guard and the U.S. of America lost a true hero this week," said Haldopoulos, who is also a Longmeadow resident. "He was a fighter pilot's fighter pilot, and he was motivated by things like tactical capability, surrounding himself with top-notch organizations and people, and making those around him a better person. He was a relationship-builder... one of the most popular and respected officers of our Air Force."

"We wanted to take a moment tonight, and tell you something about this gem of a human being, and allow the people of Longmeadow to pay their respects to Moose and his family," he continued, his voice breaking as he struggled with the emotion of the moment. "The men and women of the 104th Fighter Wing will care for Kara and the girls, you can count on that. And I ask that you keep them in your hearts in the next days and weeks and months to come, and continue to welcome them to this great town."

"We wanted to tell you about this Air Force legend, both in life, and in death - Lieutenant Colonel Moose Fontenot Jr."

Kara Fontenot, the widow of the late Lieutenant Colonel, flanked by her daughters Natalie and Nicole, then offered her thanks to the 104th Fighter Wing, and to the people of Longmeadow.

"I'm completely overwhelmed by how many people are here, considering how last-minute it was. And when I tell you that my husband died doing what he loved - serving his country, flying F15s, and what he loved even more was being part of a band of brothers with his fellow fighter pilots, and these brothers that have cared for us like we are their family members," Fontenot said.

"Today is my 40th birthday... before my husband died, he had casually mentioned to one of our friends that he wanted to plant 40 rose bushes for my 40th birthday. These gentlemen planted 40 rose bushes for my husband."

"We left active duty to join the Massachusetts Air National Guard so that we could settle our daughters down in one place for high school. Natalie is a sophomore at Longmeadow High School, and my daughter Nicole is a freshman. The fact that you all took time to come here tonight just shows us that we picked the right community, and we plan to make Longmeadow our home," she said.

"I just want to thank you so much for your support, my husband would have been so honored if he could have been here today," Fontenot said.

After Fontenot departed the podium, and the ceremony drew to an end, the strains of "Amazing Grace" came bursting forth, played on a bagpipe, mournful, slow, and strong.

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Lieutenant Colonel Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr. 

Massachusetts Air National Guard officials have identified Lieutenant Colonel Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr. as the pilot killed this week when his jet crashed in the mountains of western Virginia.

Fontenot was part of the 104th Fighter Wing based in Westfield. He had been flying an F-15 Eagle from Massachusetts to New Orleans for a scheduled system upgrade when it went down near Deerfield, Va., on Wednesday morning.

Officials carried out a two-day search before announcing late Thursday that Fontenot had been killed. Rescuers had left open the possibility that he had been able to eject before the impact, but eventually found his body in the wreckage.

Radio signals from the pilot had been detected just before the crash but not afterward.

“We all continue to keep the Fontenot family in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time,” Colonel James Keefe, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing, said in a statement.

According to his unit, Fontenot was responsible for inspecting planes and was also an F-15 instructor pilot with more than 2,300 flight hours. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1996, officials said.

Officials said Fontenot had been a squadron commander in multiple locations, and had served on active duty in Washington, D.C., Japan, Idaho, Florida, Alaska, and the Middle East. Fontenot joined the Massachusetts Air National Guard in February and was working full-time.

(CNN) – The body of a Massachusetts Air National Guard pilot with “numerous deployments to the Middle East” has been identified after his F-15C fighter jet crashed Wednesday in Virginia, an Air National Guard official said Friday.

Lt. Col. Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr., based out of the 104th Fighter Wing in Westfield, Massachusetts, was killed in the crash.

An Air Force Academy graduate, Fontenot earned the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Aerial Achievement Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal and the Combat Readiness Medal, among others, for his service.

He had more than 17 years of F-15 flying experience. He also completed active-duty assignments in Japan, Washington, Idaho, Florida and Alaska. He joined the Massachusetts Air National Guard in February.

His body was found in the mountains near Deerfield Valley, Virginia, on Thursday evening, according to Lt. Anthony Mutti, spokesman for Barnes Air National Guard Base.

The search for the single-seat aircraft was complicated by the remote, wooded location of the crash, near the Virginia-West Virginia border.

Before losing contact, Fontenot had reported an in-flight emergency, according to Col. James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing commander.

The pilot of a F-15 jet that crashed Wednesday in a remote area of the mountains of Virginia died in the accident, military officials at his Massachusetts base said late Thursday.

The pilot was with the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. The single-seat jet was being transferred from Massachusetts to a base in New Orleans to receive a radar system upgrade when it lost contact with air traffic controllers in the D.C. area about 9 a.m. Wednesday, officials said.

The pilot had reported an in-flight emergency before losing communications, authorities said, but they did not specify what trouble the plane encountered.

The name of the pilot has not been released.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and we are doing all we can to support them during this very difficult time,” Col. James Keefe, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing, said in a release. “We ask that everyone respect the privacy of the family and allow them the time they need to grieve.”

The statement released no details about what may have caused the crash, or where the pilot was found. Air National Guard officials said they expected to release the name of the pilot Friday morning and that the investigation into the crash may last up to five weeks.

The jet crashed in George Washington National Forest about 160 miles southwest of Washington, and Virginia State police were alerted by residents who heard the crash in Augusta County. State police said heavy smoke was spotted coming from the side of a mountain in that area.

Keefe said at a news conference Wednesday in Westfield, Mass., home of the fighter wing, that the plane was flying at about 30,000 to 40,000 feet when the pilot reported the emergency Wednesday morning, the Associated Press reported.

F-15s are maneuverable tactical fighters that can reach speeds up to 1,875 mph, according to the Air Force Web site.

DEERFIELD, Va. (WJLA/ABC News/AP) -- A Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15C jet crashed Wednesday along a mountainside in the George Washington National Forest of western Virginia, authorities said, but the fate of the pilot was unknown. 

The crash occurred shortly after 9 a.m. west of Staunton in the rural community of Deerfield in Augusta County (about 135 miles northwest of Richmond). The area around Deerfield is filled with rocky, steep terrain.

Residents who live in the town of 130 people were shaken when they heard a series of explosions-like booms and then saw a pillar of heavy, black smoke coming from the crash site.

"It's the loudest noise I've ever heard," said 63-year-old Rebecca Shinaberry, who lives on a farm about two miles away. "(It) just shook the ground, and from my house we could just see a big plume of smoke."

Turkey farmer A.D. Shinaberry said that from the first two booms, he thought a plane had broken the sound barrier. But 10 seconds later he heard a third boom - the crash, he said.

Then, "it was like a mushroom, black smoke came up," Shinaberry said.

No injuries on the ground were reported. Virginia State Police launched a helicopter to search for the pilot, who may have ejected from the plane before impact. Witnesses reportedly saw an ejection chute.

"We are hopeful that the pilot is OK, and the pilot will be in our thoughts and prayers," said Col. James Keefe, commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

State troopers and firefighters followed the smoke from Deerfield about five miles into the forest, where they found a deep crater and a large debris field among the hills and mountains.

Rescuers initially expressed concern about possible toxic fumes and radioactive materials, but Keefe said the plane had no munitions aboard - just fuel.

Guard officials confirmed to ABC7 News that communication with the jet had been lost prior to the crash; the pilot reported an "in-flight emergency" moments before radio contact ceased.

The plane was traveling at a high altitude, about 30,000 to 40,000 feet, when the "extremely experienced" pilot reported encountering a problem, officials said.

The jet was on a maintenance flight from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts. which is home to the 104th Fighter Wing.

Base officials told ABC7 the crashed jet was an older aircraft due to receive a system upgrade upon arrival at its flight destination in New Orleans, Louisiana.

F-15s are maneuverable tactical fighters that can reach speeds up to 1,875 mph, according to the U.S. Air Force website. The F-15C Eagle entered the Air Force inventory in 1979 and costs nearly $30 million, the website says. The Air Force has nearly 250 of them.

A Massachusetts Guard spokesman said he "couldn't even remember the last time they had a mishap" with the F-15C model aircraft.

But the Associated Press reported that several F-15s have crashed over the past few years in various states. In at least one, the pilot ejected safely. Causes included failure of a support structure for the jet and pilot error.

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Col James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing Commander, Massachusetts Air National Guard speaks to the media outside Barnes Air National Guard base in Westfield Massachusetts about the loss of one their F15C fighter jets over the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia this morning, August 27, 2014. No information was given about the status of the pilot or the pilot's identity.

Corinne Gellar, spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, addresses members of the media in a press conference at the mobile command center at the Deerfield Volunteer Fire Department in Deerfield on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. 

 Two individuals walk away from a helicopter that just landed near the mobile command center at the Deerfield Volunteer Fire Department in Deerfield on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. The helicopter is one of several being used in a search and rescue mission to locate the missing pilot of an F15c fighter jet which crashed into a mountain near Elliotts Knob in Augusta County.

 A helicopter lands close to the scene of a crashed F-15C jet near Deerfield on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. 

A helicopter takes off close to the scene of a crashed F-15C jet near Deerfield on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. 

 A Virginia State Police helicopter hovers around the scene of a crashed F-15C jet near Deerfield on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014.  

Emergency responders wait for further directions while searching for a downed F-15C fighter jet along Cold Springs Road near Deerfield on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014.

Two individuals walk away from a helicopter that landed near the mobile command center at the Deerfield Volunteer Fire Department in Deerfield on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. The helicopter is one of several being used in a search and rescue mission to locate the missing pilot of an F15c fighter jet which crashed into a mountain near Elliotts Knob in Augusta County. 
Old Parkersburg Turnpike is closed off to traffic following the crash of an F15c fighter jet which crashed into a mountain near Elliotts Knob in Augusta County on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. The helicopter is one of several being used in a search and rescue mission to locate the missing pilot of an F15c fighter jet which crashed into a mountain near Elliotts Knob in Augusta County.

ELLIOT KNOB -  As the search continues for a jet pilot, at least seven helicopters are searching the area east of Deerfield and beyond. And the Department of Defense is sending a team down to the local command center. 

A fighter jet from a Massachusetts Air National Guard unit crashed into a mountain near Elliot Knob in Augusta County on Wednesday morning, leaving a plume of heavy smoke and a wide field of debris.

The crash happened in a remote area of the George Washington National Forest, off Cold Spring Road, and the pilot's whereabouts were unknown in the early afternoon.

The jet was an F-15C "Eagle" from the Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Wing based in Westfield, Massachusetts. At the base's 2 p.m. press conference, a colonel said normal procedure in a wooded area is to release your equipment -- meaning the pilot, if he or she ejected, would not have his radio.

More equipment and personnel are coming to help look for the pilot, said Col. James Keefe. The pilot contacted radio control at 9:05 a.m. and was at a high altitude when he or she discovered there was a problem with the plane.

The colonel said the F-15C jet isn't typically an intense combat jet and doesn't usually see problems or crashes.

"I can't even tell you the last time we had a mishap in the F-15C model," Keefe said. This jet was en route to New Orleans to get a new radar system.

Witnesses reported to the sheriff's department that they saw a parachute in the air near the scene, which could indicate that the pilot ejected before impact. No one on the ground was injured, and there was no report of damage to structures on the ground.

The aircraft crashed after 9 a.m. in an area northwest of Elliot Knob and northeast of Deerfield, according to the Virginia State Police.

Witnesses described a frightful explosion.

"I literally woke up to feeling it crash … scary," Ashley-Brandon Brown said on Facebook.

Todd Shiflett was working on a house and saw what he said was a jet plane go down near Hodges Draft.

Vince Wood was working on a house in Deerfield when he heard and felt one boom. After a silence, he heard another boom, Wood said.

At about that time, the 104th Fighter Wing received a report of an in-flight emergency from the F15-C just before losing radio contact with it, according to a release from Barnes Air National Guard Base, home of the 104th Wing.

Col. James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing Commander, said in a release: "We are hopeful that the pilot is ok, and the pilot will be in our thoughts and prayers as the events of this incident unfold."

The jet is a one-seater and was on a cross-country mission over the Shenandoah Valley for a system upgrade. No munitions were on board, the release said.

Local emergency crews rushed to the scene in the national forest.

"I'm on location, with smoke, and we do have debris," said a breathless responder on emergency radio frequencies at 10:04 a.m. "I got debris everywhere... I haven't located anybody."

A witness told authorities they saw an ejection from the jet and a parachute, according to scanner traffic.

The crash site is wooded and sparsely-populated national forest area. About 1 million acres of the George Washington Forest lies within Virginia, covering 29 percent of Augusta County.

Besides the State police, the Deerfield Fire and Rescue Department, the Augusta County Sheriff's Office and the FBI were among the agencies who responded to the scene. Search dogs and helicopters were deployed to look for the pilot.

The 104th Fighter Wing employs over 700 traditional guardsmen and more than 300 technicians. The unit supports Air Force wartime efforts, and organizes, trains and equips personnel to provide an operationally ready squadron to the Air Combat Command.

Authorities are still searching for the pilot of a single-seat F-15C fighter jet that crashed in the mountains near Deerfield Virginia Wednesday morning.

Officials say the pilot reported an inflight emergency around 9:00 Wednesday morning, then lost radio contact.  According to a statement by the Virginia National Guard, "The pilot flying the F-15C made a report of an in flight emergency prior to radio contact being lost. Subsequently there were reports of dark smoke being seen around the aircrafts last known whereabouts. Local law enforcement arrived on scene and confirmed the aircraft crashed."

No injuries were reported on the ground as authorities located the crash site through heavy smoke on a mountainside.

Col. James Keefe of the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard said at a news conference in Westfield, Massachusetts, that the missing pilot is an experienced flyer. He said the plane was on its way to New Orleans to have a radar installed as part of routine maintenance.

"Information on this incident is developing rapidly, and we are not going to speculate on what occurred or the status of the pilot," Col James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing Commander, said in a statement. "We are hopeful that the pilot is OK, and the pilot will be in our thoughts and prayers."

A helicopter, hazmat crews and emergency responders are on the scene. The crash is in a rural part of the county, right in the middle of the George Washington National Forest, near Deerfield Valley Road.  Virginia State Police and the Augusta County Sheriff's Office have blocked off the road near the scene and have set up a command center. No one except for investigators are allowed to go through.

Officials say the clean up is not going to be a quick process because with a jet plane you're dealing with toxic chemicals. We're told the cleanup will likely last into Thursday.

F-15s are maneuverable tactical fighters that can reach speeds up to 1,875 mph, according to the Air Force website. The F-15C Eagle entered the Air Force inventory in 1979 and costs nearly $30 million, the website says. The Air Force has nearly 250 of them.

NBC29's Sean Cudahy is at the scene, we will bring you updates as they become available.

Virginia State Police Statement:

At 9:06 a.m. Wednesday (Aug. 27, 2014), Virginia State Police were notified of a plane crash in the Deerfield community of Augusta County. A crash site has been visually located due to heavy smoke coming from the side of a nearby mountain. State police, with the assistance of the Augusta County Sheriff's Office, are working to reach the crash site at this time.
There have been no reported injuries on the ground – meaning no local residents have been injured as a result of the crash.

VSP is not confirming the type of aircraft until crews reach the wreckage.

Virginia National Guard Press Release:

Press Release Barnes Air National Guard Base
104th Fighter Wing - Public Affairs Office
175 Falcon Drive, Westfield, MA 01085


104th Fighter Wing Aircraft Crash Over Shenandoah Valley Virginia

(BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, 104TH FIGHTER WING , Westfield, Mass., August 27, 2014)- At approximately 9:05 a.m. today the 104th Fighter Wing lost radio contact with an F-15C aircraft during a cross country mission over the Shenandoah Valley Virginia.

The pilot flying the F-15C made a report of an inflight emergency prior to radio contact being lost. Subsequently there were reports of dark smoke being seen around the aircrafts last known whereabouts. Local law enforcement arrived on scene and confirmed the aircraft crashed.

"Information on this incident is developing rapidly and we are not going to speculate on what occurred or the status of the pilot", said Col James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing Commander. "We are hopeful that the pilot is ok, and the pilot will be in our thoughts and prayers as the events of this incident unfold."

The F-15C aircraft was in route to receive a system upgrade, and there were no munitions on the aircraft during this cross-country trip.

At this point the status of the pilot is not confirmed.

An initial press conference is tentatively scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at the 104th Fighter Wing. More information will be released once available.

Mr. Cotton Puryear
Va. Army National Guard (Retired)
State Public Affairs Officer
Virginia National Guard

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Retired Federal Aviation Administration inspector explains crash process 

Retired Federal Aviation Administration crash inspector, Phyllis Duncan talks about the process for examining a plane crash scene and putting the pieces together to determine what happened.

Most people might assume that a plane crash scene is chaotic with dozens of people running around, but the process for securing and investigating it is actually fairly structured, said Phyllis Duncan, a retired Federal Aviation Administration crash investigator.

“Chaotic is a loaded word,” said Duncan, who worked with the FAA for 30 years before retiring 5 years ago. “By the time the FAA has arrived, local law enforcement have secured the scene.”

Although Wednesday’s McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle plane crash out of Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass., involved a military aircraft, rather than a general aviation craft, the processing of the crash site is pretty much the same, Duncan said.

Local law enforcement arrive first to secure the scene and asses the condition of the pilot and passengers.

“For that there will be some heightened activity,” Duncan said. “To see if anybody survived, there will be some running around.”

It has been confirmed that the pilot was the only individual on board.

Once the scene is secure, the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board arrive to examine the downed aircraft. 

Because the plane that crashed in Deerfield is a military craft, a military investigator will be the one to process the scene, not the FAA or transportation safety board, Duncan said, but what they’re looking for is the same.

“You don’t want anything touched or moved,” she said. “Then there will be a forensic exam of the crash.”

Investigators will also interview any witnesses and talk to first responders. Once they conclude the on-site exam of a plane crash, an insurance company will take possession of the remnants if the craft is owned by an airport or a private citizen.

For the next year investigators will pour over pilot, plane and maintenance records to determine why and how the crash occurred, Duncan said.

“We don’t make any decisions or conclusions at the site,” she said. “Other than the facts, such as the kind of aircraft, flight plan, who is on board, where they took off and where they intended to go.”

Although no definitive conclusions are made based on the scene, experienced investigators know what to look for to shed light on the last moments before the plane crashed.

For example, if there isn’t a fire at the scene except for a small electrical fire, that indicates that the plane likely ran out of gas, Duncan said.

If the propellers of a plane are undamaged that often means the engine quit before the crash. And if there are burned out circuit breakers discovered, that means the warning light was on prior to the crash, she said.

“It’s a sobering thing to do,” Duncan said of investigating plane crashes.

In the end, it’s the paper trail from the plane and the pilot that sheds the most light on what happened. But it can take many months.

“I look at it like a puzzle,” Duncan said. “I get all of the pieces together and give them to the NTSB.”

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