Monday, November 10, 2014

Pilot killed in plane crash before election may win seat anyway

A man who died in a plane crash last month could win an election in eastern Kern County. 

Michael Hill, 68, whose two-seater T-67 Firefly crashed Oct. 24 near Randsburg, was on the ballot for one of two short-term positions on the Mojave Air and Space Port board of directors.

Also killed in the crash was Ilam Zigante, 27, of Lancaster.

As of Monday afternoon, incumbent David Evans and Hill, a challenger, were ahead in the race for the two seats, with 1,610 and 1,229 votes, respectively. In third place with 1,106 votes was S. JoAnn Painter, current president of the governing board.

The results are not yet final, said Kern County Elections Chief Karen Rhea, although it was unclear how many votes are outstanding in this small race.

"If he is elected," Rhea said of Hill, "the seat will be considered vacant."

The board could then appoint someone to fill the position, or call a special election.

Longtime Mojave resident Bill Deaver, who appears to be headed for a victory of his own in a separate race for a long-term seat on the board, said one possibility would be to appoint Painter, should she remain in third place.

If Painter is in agreement, Deaver said, "I'd certainly be willing to make that motion."

Hill, a former U.S. Navy test pilot, was the director of business operations and an instructor at the National Test Pilot School at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the ill-fated plane was based. Flyers at the school are trained as test pilots for propeller-powered airplanes, jets and helicopters, according the nonprofit company's website.

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Slingsby T67M-260 Firefly, N456FR, L'Avion Inc: Accident occurred October 24, 2014 in Ridgecrest, California

NTSB Identification: WPR15FA021
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, October 24, 2014 in Ridgecrest, CA
Aircraft: SLINGSBY T67M 260, registration: N456FR
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On October 24, 2014, about 0900 Pacific daylight time, a Slingsby T67M-260, N456FR, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near Ridgecrest, California. The airplane was registered to L'Avion Inc., Mojave, California, and operated by the National Test Pilot School under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight instructor and passenger were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the instructional flight. The local flight originated from Mojave Airport (MHV), Mojave, about 0832.

Information provided by representatives from the National Test Pilot School revealed that the flight was part of the Flight Test Engineer training program and that the flight had the primary focus of spin training. Following a loss of radar and radio contact with Air Traffic Control, the wreckage was located by company aircraft.

Examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane impacted open desert terrain about 12 miles south of Ridgecrest. Wreckage debris remained within about 10 feet of the main wreckage. Vegetation, about 12 to 18 inches in height, located immediately to the left and right of the aft area of the fuselage appeared to be undamaged. All major structural components were located at the accident site. The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Krueger: Slightest mistakes can mean disaster in flight

Gerald Krueger
There is an old saying among pilots: Flying is not unsafe, but it is terribly unforgiving of mistakes. 

The mistakes made in aviation are so noticeable because air tragedies are so public. Hardly a person today misses out on the sad news that an airplane has crashed, especially if it contained numerous passengers.

Airline pilots do not dwell on mishaps. They are very well-trained, and they do their job over and over each day. From that kind of experience, they become very relaxed and completely confident in the ability to handle most any type of event that causes some quick action on the pilot’s part.

Having said that, there are still mistakes made in professional circles of flying that cause tragedies.

This thought brings this old zoomie back to a tragedy of nearly 40 years ago. I lost a good friend who I served with in the Navy. He was the captain on an ill-fated flight from New York City on their way to Buffalo, N.Y., to pick up a professional football team.

They took off in terrible weather. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, strong winds, and just about as miserable weather you could ever endure. It was a sort of deadhead flight, with only three pilots in the whole airliner.

They crashed not long after takeoff. The co-pilot was flying and the airspeed kept increasing, and he kept pulling back on the yoke, until the aircraft entered a deep, deep stall. They tried everything possible to recover from the stall and nothing worked. They were in touch with air traffic control and home base right down to the impact in the mountains northwest of New York City.

Now, why did he keep pulling back on the yoke? The airspeed indicator gets its information from a device on the side of the aircraft called the pitot tube, which is very susceptible to freezing conditions. To counter this possible freezing, a “pitot heat” is always turned on as soon as the engines are started.

Sadly, somebody forgot to turn on this pitot heat, and it even went by the takeoff checklist which is very, very unusual. With the freezing rain, the information the airspeed indicator in the cockpit needed was false and showed a regular increase in airspeed when in actuality the airspeed was constant.

A simple act of failing to turn on two switches resulted in fatalities of three highly trained and professional pilots who had never been in a Boeing 727 that got into a deep, deep stall before. The training had neglected to teach them anything about deep stall recovery, so they were naturally helpless in understanding what to do to recover. The aircraft just kept falling and not flying and repeated attempts to get the machine flying again turned out to be impossible.

There is a unique characteristic of the Boeing 727. Installed on the tail of the aircraft is called a “T-Tail.” The exceptional design of the 727 is its long fuselage topped off by the high “T-Tail” with the engines at the complete aft part of the entire aircraft. Until this accident, no one had ever deep, deep stalled this unique aircraft. Perhaps if someone had, this terrible tragedy could have been avoided.

Nuff said.

Gerald “Jerry” Krueger is a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. His column publishes Mondays.

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Aviation plant was once in Lomax

For some unknown reason, the area in Illinois that bulges west of Peoria and Springfield has never really developed very much in terms of industry and population growth, The numerous towns that dot the area have remained small and with a very few exception, offer little in the way of development. This has therefore kept the entire area primarily agricultural in nature.

It almost turned out differently though. Nearly 100 years ago, Lomax, Ill., one of Lee County’s neighboring communities in this area, very briefly became famous as a possible center for the aviation manufacturing industry. Just how a small community in rural Illinois came to this point involves a rather interesting series of events.

It all started when Shukri Tannus, a Lebanese Born orphan, who had worked his way through Northwestern University by selling oriental rugs door-to-door took a job on the staff of the Keokuk Medical College. Tannus was ultimately forced to resign his position with the Medical College in 1919 because of poor eyesight. He then settled in the community of Lomax and established a small factory for the manufacture of brooms. While there he witnessed the feats of a barnstormer pilot doing stunt flying and offering rides to the local. He became so fascinated with airplanes he wanted to become a part of the flying business.

Seeking out someone who knew a bit about airplanes, he eventually got connected with Glen Romkey who had established a small flying service in Burlington. The two of them decided to start an airplane factory in a vacant building beside the Tannus broom factory in Lomax. They called their new venture the National Airways System, Inc.

Their first problem was how to train workers in the skill of building a light, fragile flying machine This was accomplished by buying some surplus, disassembled World War I airplanes for rebuilding and test flying. As this progressed, an aircraft engineer was hired to help with the design of their new airplane to be called the “Air King.”

The plane was a 3-passenger, 2-wing plane and in their first two years of production approximately 70 Air Kings were built in Lomax. During this period they also produced three experimental “proof of concept” airplanes, one smaller and two larger than the Air King. These plans were never put into large-scale production, but with a record of having already built and sold almost 70 airplanes by 1928, it was obvious that a larger factory was needed as well as an airport more suitable than the grass landing strip they were using.

On Sept. 25, 1928, it was announced that Air King production would be moving to a new factory. Since the majority of their new stockholders were located in the Peoria area, it was only logical that the new factory would be located there, with access to the larger Peoria airport.

Time were good in the “Roaring Twenties” and the future looked promising. What was not know at the time was that the big depression was just around the corner. With the onset of the financial downturn, promised financing dried up almost immediately, and sales of airplanes virtually stopped.

As a result, the doors of National Airways System were closed for the last time in March of 1930. Tannus went back to selling Oriental rugs, and Romkey returned to a hand-to-mouth existence in aviation at Burlington. With the closing of the plant and their departure, the dream of Lomax and Peoria becoming another Seattle of Wichita by building airplanes, disappeared forever.

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Want to complain about noise coming from the Burlington International Airport (KBTV)? The first thing to do is determine if it's a commercial or military jet that's bothering you

KBTV amends airport noise complaint process

Military jet issues should now go straight to Vt. National Guard

Airport officials released documents Monday chronicling 840 complaints received over the last year through the airport hotline and e-mail address.

Ninety-five percent of those complaints stemmed from jet noise from military aircraft.

"So only 4 percent really belong to the airport," BTV airport manager Gene Richards said.

The Vermont Air National Guard flies a fleet of F-16 fighter jets from its base at the airport in South Burlington

Richards has initiated a change, directing callers upset with military flight operations to contact the Vermont Guard directly from now on.

"Here we track data," Richards said. "But if I don't have control over something, I can't fix it. The (Vermont National) Guard does have control. They can change flight patterns and can make changes."

Maj. Chris Gookin, spokesman for the Vermont Guard, said senior leadership wants to hear public feedback about its operation, and said citizens who complain and request a callback will get one. 

"It becomes part of the input to our ongoing noise mitigation procedures," Gookin said. "And part of this is to hold our pilots accountable."

The Guard noise hotline is 802-338-3000, then press option 3.

A review of the airport complaint log released Monday also makes clear that a relatively small number of citizens are responsible for most of the jet noise complaints received over the last year.

One person filed 150 separate complaints, for example.

The Guard is now beginning the process of planning for the eventual replacement of its F-16 fleet with the new F-35A fighter jet. The Air Force has said the newer model could be even louder, alarming some residents in the residential suburbs that surround the Burlington airport.

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Mooney M20C Ranger, N6581U, Stoneman Excavating Co., Inc: Accident occurred November 10, 2014 in Lewisburg, West Virginia

NTSB Identification: ERA15FA049
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, November 10, 2014 in Lewisburg, WV
Aircraft: MOONEY M20C, registration: N6581U
Injuries: 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On November 10, 2014, about 1258 eastern standard time, a Mooney M20C, N6581U, was substantially damaged when it impacted a fence and terrain in a pasture in Lewisburg, West Virginia. The private pilot received serious injuries. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which was departing from Greenbrier Valley Airport (LWB) at the time of the accident. The personal flight had an intended destination of Hanover County Municipal Airport (OFP), Ashland, Virginia. The flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to a witness who was working at the airport, the pilot began the takeoff roll at the approach end of runway 04 and the airplane lifted off within the first 2000 feet of the runway. The takeoff roll and initial climb appeared "normal", and the engine/propeller sounded "normal". About 200 feet above ground level the airplane leveled off and continued down the runway centerline. At that time the landing gear remained down, and the flaps remained partially deployed. Then the airplane began a left turn, which increased to a "very sharp" left bank and the nose "dropped". The wings had rolled back toward level just as the airplane went out of view. A second witness located in a parking lot near the departure end of the runway stated that she saw the airplane "Wig-Waging," which she later described as the wings rolling from left to right at a relatively steep angle but could not recall how steep of an angle it was, but said it was "considerably greater than normal takeoffs" she had seen. She stated that she watched the airplane then level its bank angle, then pitched up, and shortly thereafter the nose "came down." She watched the airplane impact the ground and she ran to provide assistance to the pilot.

The airplane initially impacted a fence (wood post and wire construction) and then terrain in a pasture about 1/4 mile to the left of the runway 04 centerline, abeam the 1000 foot marker for the reciprocal (22) runway. The accident debris path was oriented on a 323 degree (true) heading, began at a broken fence post located at N 37.86520 / W 80.39936, and was approximately 50 yards long. The major components of the airplane were located with the main wreckage with the exception of the left main landing gear, located about 15 feet from the initial impact point, and the propeller/hub assembly, which was located about 10 feet to the southwest of the main wreckage.


FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Charleston FSDO-09

Beckley, Bluefield 

A pilot was taken via HealthNet to a hospital in Roanoke, Va. following a plane crash shortly after take-off at Greenbrier Valley Airport Monday afternoon, according to a West Virginia Division of Homeland Security official.  

No passengers were on board.

Greg Stoneman, 65, of Ashland, Va., was flying the plane, according to West Virginia State Police spokesman Lt. Michael Baylous.

Stoneman was extricated from the wreckage by the Lewisburg Fire Department.

He reported losing power immediately after take-off. The plane veered off course and landed in a cattle pasture adjacent to the airport.

State police and Greenbrier Valley Airport police were investigating the accident. The FAA was planning to arrive on scene Tuesday.

Civil Air Patrol was on scene Monday.

Airport traffic was not impacted.

Baylous and the Division of Homeland Security official said they did not know the pilot’s condition Monday evening.

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Emergency crews were called to the scene of a 1962 single engine plane crash that happened on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. Officials said that the plane took off from the Greenbrier Valley Airport, but was crashed moments later. It happened at round 1:15 p.m. 

The plane was a 1962 fixed-wing built by Mooney Aviation. The pilot was the only person on the plane according to state police.

Cpl. H.F. Blevins with the state police says there is a witness who saw the plane crash onto the field.

"An airplane flying at low altitude, thought they heard an engine possible go out, that's the way they describe it, the airplane gained altitude again and then suddenly lost altitude, until it crashed into the field."

The pilot was airlifted to a Roanoke Area Hospital. State police on the scene say the pilot was conscious at the time.

"The victim was found still inside the aircraft, had to be evacuated from the aircraft and seems to be right now in stable condition."

Cpl. Blevins says they believe the pilot is from the Richmond area. Federal Aviation Administration is investigating to determine whether this is a mechanical or human error.

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A single-engine plane crashed in a field near Greenbrier Valley Airport on Monday afternoon, Greenbrier County Emergency Operations dispatchers reported. 

The crash was reported at 1:01 p.m., just after the plane had left the airport and crashed into a nearby field.

Lewisburg Volunteer Fire Department Chief Wayne Pennington said firefighters extricated the pilot — who was the only passenger — from the wreckage and that he was transported via helicopter to an unidentified regional hospital.

Pennington said the pilot had serious injuries but that the extent of the injuries was unknown Monday afternoon.

The pilot was not a local resident, Pennington added.

The incident is under investigation by Cpl. H.F. Blevins and Sgt. W.A. Pendleton of the West Virginia State Police, Pennington reported.

Firefighters from Lewisburg Volunteer, Fairlea and Frankfurt Volunteer fire departments responded to the crash, along with Greenbrier County Ambulance Service and Northern Greenbrier Ambulance.

Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration had been informed of the crash Monday afternoon, and crews from the Civil Air Patrol and State Police were guarding the craft wreckage overnight, said Pennington.

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Cessna 172RG Cutlass, Ameriflyers of Florida LLC, N751DW: Incident occurred November 13, 2016 in Addison, Dallas County, Texas (and) Incident occurred November 10, 2014 at David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport (KDWH), Spring, Texas


FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Dallas FSDO-05


Date: 13-NOV-16
Time: 21:00:00Z
Regis#: N751DW
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: 172
Event Type: Incident
Highest Injury: None
Damage: Unknown
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)
State: Texas

Ameriflyers of Florida LLC:

Incident occurred November 10, 2014 

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Houston FSDO-09


Highest Injury: None
Damage: Minor
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)


HARRIS COUNTY, Texas -  A plane circling around Hooks Airport in Spring made a safe forced landing around 5 p.m. Monday.

The plane landed on its main gear, then fell forward onto its nose and skidded to a stop. Sky 2 captured two people stepping out of the plane after the landing.

The aircraft touched the ground twice, apparently trying to free up the nose gear, but both attempts were unsuccessful. After the plane burned off fuel and flew around the airport, it made its third attempt at a landing.

The plane is a Cessna and is a fixed-wing, single engine aircraft. The registered owner of the plane is Ameriflyers of Florida in Addison, Texas, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's registry.


A small plane that circled above David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport in Spring for more than 30 minutes landed safely. 

According to NBC affiliate KPRC, the pilot was having trouble with the nose gear.

The Cessna single-engine aircraft landed just after 5 p.m. Monday, first touching down on its back wheels, then tipping forward, where it skidded on its nose before coming to a complete stop.

There were two people on board. No one was injured.

The aircraft is registered in Addison.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.


Beech A35 Bonanza, N672B: Incident occurred November 10, 2014 at Barnstable Municipal Airport (KHYA), Hyannis, Massachusetts

Event Type: Incident
Highest Injury: None
Damage: Unknown
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)
FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Boston FSDO-61

HYANNIS – A Falmouth man made an emergency landing this afternoon at Barnstable Municipal Airport.

A Hyannis fire official said Michael Reardon, the owner and only passenger of the single prop Beechcraft plane, heard a strange noise when he tried to deploy the front landing gear while approaching Nantucket Memorial Airport.

The tower could not see the planes landing gear down and redirected Reardon to Hyannis.

Hyannis fire crews arrived at the airport as a precaution.

Airport officials in Hyannis also could not see the front landing gear down and the pilot was instructed to circle the airport for about an hour to burn more fuel before attempting a landing.

Reardon landed the plane on runway 15 around 3:30 p.m. on it’s nose.

Hyannis Fire Captain Craig Farrenkopf said the plane sustained almost no damage from the landing and that Reardon was uninjured during the landing.

Griffin Avionics and Capeway Towing & Transport assisted with removing the plane from the runway.

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A pilot make a nose-first emergency landing at a Cape Cod airport after reporting a problem with his nose gear, according to officials.

Authorities say the pilot, who hasn't been identified and was the only person on board, was flying a Beechcraft Bonanza BE 35 Monday afternoon to Nantucket Municipal Airport and noticed a problem with the plane's nose-gear, then called to asked to be diverted to Hyannis' Barnstable Municipal Airport.

FAA says the plane landed safely around 3:20 p.m. without its nose wheel down, scraping the bottom of the nose of the plane and damaging one prop.

The agency says it's investigation with the NTSB.

There were no reported injuries.

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HYANNIS - The pilot of a small single-engine prop plane made an emergency landing at Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis Monday afternoon. The front landing gear appeared to not have deployed.

There were no reported injuries.

Officials closed the airport for a brief time during the incident. Hyannis firefighters responded along with airport personnel.

It is unknown if there was anyone else onboard other than the pilot. Authorities will investigate what caused the landing gear to malfunction.

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Who Builds the World’s Most Popular Drones? Cheap Drones Made by China’s DJI Are Filling the Skies, Disrupting Industries and Sparking Safety Debates

The Wall Street Journal
By Jack Nicas And Colum Murphy

Nov. 10, 2014 1:54 p.m. ET

SHENZHEN, China—Big U.S. defense companies brought drones to the battlefield. Now a Chinese company is bringing them to the masses.

In just a few years, SZ DJI Technology Co. has become the world’s biggest consumer drone maker by revenue, selling thousands of its 2.8-pound, square-foot devices for about $1,000 each. In the process, it also has become the first Chinese brand to pioneer a major new global consumer-product category.

DJI’s four-propeller helicopters, called Phantoms, have become icons of the burgeoning drone era: hovering, camera-equipped robots that almost anyone can pilot. Phantoms have garnered fans for their aerial footage of extreme sports, fireworks and Niagara Falls, and famous users include the actor Jamie Foxx, Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak and homemaking entrepreneur Martha Stewart .

“The DJI Phantom series is like the Model T,” said Matt Waite, a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who studies drone issues and owns three Phantoms. “Back in the day, you could talk about cars, but pretty much every car on the road was one of these Model Ts.”

DJI on Wednesday plans to unveil a new high-end drone, called the Inspire.

The proliferation of Phantoms is disrupting industries and social norms, helping stoke debate over air safety, regulation and privacy.

An angry New Jersey resident recently blew his neighbor’s Phantom out of the sky with a shotgun, leading to criminal charges. A man bounced a Phantom off skyscrapers in Manhattan and crashed it next to a pedestrian, drawing a $2,200 fine from the Federal Aviation Administration. A Phantom provoked a brawl and halted a soccer match in the Balkans when it hovered overhead carrying a political banner.

Humanitarian groups have used Phantoms to search for survivors after earthquakes, while the militant group Islamic State has used them for surveillance in Syria, according to news reports.

And Phantoms are a top choice of entrepreneurs in the U.S. who are using drones in filmmaking, farming and construction—all in defiance of the FAA’s effective moratorium on commercial drones. The agency says it expects to propose rules governing the sector by the end of 2014. Regulations could stifle the drone industry if they are too restrictive, but industry watchers generally expect new rules to be a boon for drone makers by assuring potential customers.

DJI and other drone producers, like car makers, say they can’t ultimately control how customers use their products, but they have been adding some precautions. DJI, for example, programmed its drones to prevent users from flying them more than 985 feet high or near most airports, using GPS. It also allows users to program lower height limits to follow local regulations.

DJI, meanwhile, is starting to wrestle with the problems that go along with such rapid success, bracing for upstarts who want to emulate it and facing criticism of its customer service. Frank Wang, its 34-year-old founder and chief executive, says DJI is still figuring out how to handle its sprawling network of new customers. But “we admit we can do much better,” he said in an interview in DJI’s sleek, glass headquarters in this southern Chinese manufacturing hub.

Mr. Wang’s creation is a new breed of Chinese company. China became an economic juggernaut by in large part manufacturing cheap goods for companies from other countries. In recent years, a handful of Chinese firms, including Huawei Technologies Co., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Lenovo Group Ltd. , have evolved from imitators to global leaders in their sectors.

DJI has taken that further by creating a product that is, in many ways, the first of its kind. At a time when most drones were assembled from kits by hobbyists, it developed systems that stabilized both the aircraft and its camera, and packaged them into an inexpensive device ready to fly out of the box.

“DJI started with nothing in this specific category of small-scale, consumer drones—and it’s now a new global market leader,” said Edward Tse, former China head at consultants Booz & Co., who now runs his own firm, Gao Feng Advisory Co. “DJI is the first Chinese company so far to become a global No. 1.”

Mr. Wang founded DJI in 2006 in his dorm room at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where he was a graduate engineering student. A slender man with glasses and a slight goatee, Mr. Wang said his dream to popularize drones began after he crashed his first model helicopter as a child in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. “It was impossible for ordinary people to fly that machine,” he said.

He skipped classes and sleep—at one point he was so obsessed he forgot to pay his tuition—to develop a stabilization system that made drones easier to fly, and therefore accessible to a much larger audience.

From the start, his ambitions were global. Having come of age in a China far more internationally attuned than previous generations, he knew markets like the U.S. and Germany held the biggest demand for his products. He traveled to trade shows overseas and hired foreigners in senior positions—a rarity for Chinese firms.

DJI is closely held, and doesn’t disclose information about its profitability or its exact ownership structure—although the company says it has received minimal outside capital and funded most of its expansion from cash flow.

DJI’s earliest products were operating systems that hobbyists used to build drones. In 2012, it developed a camera mount that used similar stabilization technology as its flight-control system, enabling drones to capture stable aerial footage. It put the technology in an eight-rotor helicopter designed for filmmaking companies that cost several thousand dollars, but sales were sluggish amid concerns over murky drone regulations.

In January 2013, DJI released the Phantom, a red-and-white quadcopter that can carry a high-definition camera.

“It shook my world,” said photographer Russell Preston Brown, senior creative director at Adobe Systems Inc. and a co-creator of its famed Photoshop software. “You’re positioning this small camera in a place no one has ever been before.”

DJI’s business soared. From 90 employees and $4.2 million in revenue in 2011, it grew to 1,240 employees and more than $130 million in revenue last year. It now has 2,800 employees, three factories, and this year expects to post sales three to five times greater than 2013.

To sell Phantoms in the U.S., Mr. Wang teamed up with Colin Guinn, a charismatic drone entrepreneur from Texas who had gained minor celebrity finishing second in the CBS reality show “The Amazing Race” in 2004. Mr. Guinn and his team in Austin, Texas, introduced some American marketing pizazz, coining a new motto—“The Future of Possible”—to replace the colorless “Flight Control Experts,” and producing popular Internet videos on the Phantom, prominently featuring Mr. Guinn.

Many consumers assumed the company was American. “It doesn’t come off as a Chinese company,” said Mr. Brown of Adobe. “From the design of the aircraft, to their packaging, even down to their website.”

As sales boomed, DJI’s relationship with Mr. Guinn began to sour. In late 2013, he rejected an offer to take shares in DJI in exchange for his stake in a U.S. distribution company that he and Mr. Wang had formed a year earlier, according to court documents in a later lawsuit Mr. Guinn filed. DJI dismantled the U.S. company, which it majority owned, laying off its employees two days before Christmas, according to the documents. DJI disputes that account, but declined to comment further. Mr. Guinn filed his lawsuit in Travis County District Court in Austin in December 2013, claiming DJI violated an exclusivity agreement with his U.S. distributor by selling directly to other U.S. dealers. The parties settled earlier this year, avoiding a trial.

Mr. Guinn brought most of his team to DJI’s lead competitor, California-based 3D Robotics Inc. He said the settlement precluded him from commenting. Mr. Wang, in the interview, said that Mr. Guinn helped with branding, but differences in style bred disagreements, so the company decided to part ways.

DJI has had other growing pains. One complaint: Phantoms that go haywire and fly away, sometimes never to be seen again. There are lost posters and even a 1,700-member Facebook group “for pilots trying to recover psychologically from crashes or flyaways of DJI products.”

Some customers complain that when devices malfunction, no one answers DJI’s customer hotlines. Aerial Technology International, an Oregon drone retailer, said it recently stopped carrying DJI products after DJI took months to repair them and, in several cases, lost customers’ drones. “Their innovation rose them to the top very quickly,” Aerial Technology CEO Stephen Burtt said. “But then it was: Oh wait, how do we clean up the trail we just blazed?”

Mr. Wang said some customers are losing control of their drones because of technical limitations, including a reliance on a GPS signal, which sometimes can be lost. But “It’s our fault,” he said. “We have to make something that cannot go wrong in any scenario.” DJI generally doesn’t replace drones lost that way.

DJI is also fending off strong competition, including from Parrot SA of Paris and 3D Robotics—the second and third-biggest consumer-drone makers, according to industry estimates—and a bevy of Chinese companies. Peng Bin, CEO of Guangzhou-based drone maker XAircraft, said DJI has dominated aerial photography but is unproven in other drone markets, such as agriculture or deliveries.

—Olivia Geng contributed to this article.

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