Monday, November 24, 2014

Reno Retro: When D.B. Cooper's plane landed at Reno airport

Editor's note: On today's 43rd anniversary of the nation's only unsolved skyjacking, here is a story RGJ reporters Guy Clifton and Emerson Marcus wrote in 2011, 40 years after the infamous event.

Originally printed Nov. 24, 2011

On Thanksgiving eve 40 years ago a man calling himself Dan Cooper jumped from the belly of a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727-100 and into infamy.

The mystery of what happened between Seattle and Reno on that night in 1971 has been the source of thousands of tips to the FBI, the subject of books and movies, the inspiration for copy cats, and the subject of untold hours of speculation by amateur sleuths who would love nothing more than to be the one who unlocks one of the country's great unsolved mysteries.

That includes Seattle lawyer Galen Cook, who is convinced letters sent to the Reno newspapers a few days after the incident hold the clues to the question everyone wants answered.

Who was D.B. Cooper?

"It's a 40-year old mystery that no one has been able to crack," Cook said. "To this day, the FBI has not come up with the solution. That's what keeps me going."

Cook is convinced he has pieced the puzzle together. He believes William Gossett, a Korean and Vietnam war vet who died in 2003, was Cooper.

Other sleuths are equally sure they know the answer.

The FBI, including its longtime lead investigator Ralph Himmelsbach, has long believed the hijacker could have never survived the jump.

"I still feel about it pretty much the same as I did the next day or two (after it happened)," said Himmelsbach, 86. "Most likely he's still lying in the weeds up there."

Regardless, the case remains the FBI's only unsolved skyjacking, and several times in the past four decades, the bureau has brought the case back into the spotlight with new leads or calls for help from the public.

Just this summer, the FBI said it had a "credible lead," when an Oklahoma woman came forward to say that D.B. Cooper was her late uncle. However, the uncle's DNA did not match DNA the FBI collected from the tie Cooper was wearing the day of the hijacking.

"It's still an open case," said Ayn Sandalo Dietrich, public affairs specialist with the FBI in Seattle. "There is an agent assigned to it. We keep handling tips about it. There is certainly a public interest in it."

'I have a bomb'

On Nov. 24, 1971, Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 was scheduled for a 30-minute hop from Portland, Ore., to Seattle that afternoon when a man dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase bought a one-way ticket at the counter under the name Dan Cooper.

He took a seat near the back of the plane, which included 36 other passengers, and after it was airborne, about 3 p.m., handed flight attendant Florence Schaffner a note which she initially ignored, thinking the man was asking her for a date.

He leaned forward and whispered to her, "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb."

He told her to sit beside him. She asked to see the bomb and he opened his briefcase to expose wires and red sticks resembling dynamite.

Then he relayed his demands: $200,000 in unmarked $20 bills and four parachutes.

The plane circled Sea-Tac Airport for two hours as FBI and Seattle police worked to secure the money and parachutes.

The plane landed on a remote runway and once the ransom money and parachutes were delivered, the other passengers were released. The pilot, first officer and one attendant were kept on the plane.

According to the FBI, Cooper then demanded to be flown to Mexico. However, he also ordered that the plane be flown with the landing gear down, the flaps at 15 percent, a speed of no more than 200 mph and an altitude no higher than 10,000 feet.

The flight crew — pilot William Scott, first office William Rataczak, flight engineer H.E. Anderson and flight attendant Tina Mucklow — convinced him the plane couldn't be flown to Mexico without refueling along the way so they threw out different destinations, and Cooper agreed to let the plane land in Reno.

It departed Seattle at about 7:40 p.m. It was a dark and stormy night in the Pacific Northwest.

About 40 minutes into the flight, the crew in the plane's cabin observed an indicator light showing the drop-down stairwell near the tail of the plane had opened.

Reno airport scene
At the Reno airport, a cadre of local, state and federal law enforcement officers was waiting.

A reporter from the Nevada State Journal, taking advantage of a short-wave radio operator's capture of the conversation between the pilot and the Reno tower, monitored the conversation with the pilot.

"We will be landing with the airstairs down," the pilot told the Reno tower. "We have not communicated with our passenger."

The pilot then said he would be landing the plane at 11 p.m. "straight up."

"At this point, no one knew whether he was still on the plane," said Joe Martin, a retired Washoe County Sheriff's deputy. "We all took up positions. I was at the north end of the runway. The plane went right over us and landed. That's when we found out he was gone."

After landing, the pilot again radioed tower that the hijacker "took leave of us somewhere between Reno and Seattle."

Law enforcement using police dogs searched the airport grounds. A search was also launched in a nearby Reno neighborhood.

All that was found in the plane was the clip-on black tie and mother of pearl tie tack Cooper had been wearing, two of the four parachutes and several cigarette butts.

The flight crew was questioned by the FBI and spent the night at the Mapes Hotel before departing Reno the next day.

The Reno letters

On Nov. 29, five days after the hijacking, a letter arrived at Reno Newspapers, headquarters of the morning Nevada State Journal and afternoon Reno Evening Gazette (the papers that later combined into the Reno Gazette-Journal).

Postmarked from Oakdale, Calif. – a San Joaquin Valley town better known for producing rodeo team ropers – the letter in cut-out and pasted words from newspaper clippings read: "Attention! Thanks for Hospitality. Was in a Rut. D.B. Cooper."

The Reno Evening Gazette, scooping the Journal and probably much to the chagrin of the FBI, published the letter on its front page that evening.

Four days later, on Dec. 2, another letter arrived with similar cut-out type. It read: "Plan ahead for Retirement income. D.B. Cooper."

Warren Lerude, the Reno Evening Gazette's managing editor in 1971, recalls the mysterious letters. He also received angry phone calls blaming the paper for copycat incidents that happened in the year to come.

"People would call me up and say, 'If it weren't for you guys printing that story, we wouldn't have any copycats. The media's involved. The copycats are doing it because they're aware of it. Why do you print such irresponsible stuff,'" Lerude said. "It's news when a public institution receives a note from someone who's newsworthy."

Cook is convinced the Reno letters — along with letters to newspapers in Vancouver, British Columbia and Portland — were written by the hijacker, who wanted to taunt the FBI.

Cook said the first letter to the Gazette, postmarked Oakdale, was near where his suspect, William Gossett, lived. The second Reno letter carried a Sacramento post mark.

Cook started investigating Gossett as a suspect in 2008. In his records, Cook also has Gossett's 1978 marriage proposal to his fifth wife. The letter was written on "MGM Grand Reno" stationary.

"Reno seems to keep coming up in this mystery," Cook said. "I asked the widow what he was doing in Reno and she said she never knew and he never told her. I just find that interesting. Apparently, Mister Gossett had some business in Reno."

Cook suspects Gossett was laundering money through hotels in Reno.

Himmelsbach said the FBI did investigate the letters.

"We gave credence to everything," he said. "We promised the public through the media that we would look into every lead they gave us. We felt we probably would need a little help, that somebody out there would have an answer for us."

FBI spokeswoman Dietrich said the letters were sent to Washington, D.C.

"The letters were sent to the FBI laboratory for analysis but nothing was found," she said. "It was never proven if the actual hijacker wrote the letters."

The letters are not among the material the FBI has made public over the years and Dietrich said the FBI doesn't say where it keeps its evidence.

'It's inescapable for me'

Himmelsbach is 86 and long retired from the FBI. He lives in Woodburn, Ore., about an hour away from the area in southern Washington where many believe Cooper made his jump.

Himmelsbach said he understands the public's infatuation with the case and knows he will forever be linked to it.

"There is not a week that goes by without me getting something in the mail or a telephone call — some reminder of it," he said. "It's inescapable for me. I'm used to it now."

Last week, a reporter from NBC's Today Show spent a day with him, shooting a segment that will run this weekend.

Himmelsbach said he has mixed feelings as to whether the case will ever be solved.

"I hope that it will, but actually, I doubt that it will be," he said. "I would think that by now we would have found something. Whoever did it, if he survived, there is no way he's going to take it to his grave without saying something to somebody."

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How Greater Rochester International Airport (KROC) prevents collisions

Dozens of jets soar in and out of Greater Rochester International Airport daily without colliding with one another or the many vehicles and people that traverse the airfield, from fuel trucks to maintenance crews.

It's easy to take that for granted, but it's the result of careful planning behind the scenes, according to Michael Giardino, Monroe County's aviation director.

"There's continual training, ongoing training," he said. "Our ears and our eyes are open all the time."

Close calls among planes, vehicles or people at U.S. airports rose 80 percent between 2003 and last year, according to a USA TODAY review of data from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA. For commercial passenger flights alone, the increase was 64 percent.

But at the Rochester airport, there has been no significant change in the number of these incidents. During the same period, there was only one episode considered to have caused "significant potential" for a collision, when the pilot of a private plane landed on the wrong runway in 2007.

Altogether, the FAA recorded 28 so-called "runway incursions" at the Rochester airport during this 10-year period. Almost all were considered to have posed little or no risk for a collision or weren't rated at all.

That's a good record, and it's thanks to the airport's proactive approach to heading off problems, Giardino said.

Anyone who drives a vehicle on the airfield, whether it's a snowplow or a truck for a deicing crew, has to undergo annual training and be licensed by Giardino. If someone breaks the rules, they may be required to undergo more training or have their license suspended or revoked — steps that the airport director said he has had to take quite rarely.

"Everyone is supposed to comply with the rules of the airport, and ignorance is not an excuse," he said.

A team of FAA staff, airport employees and companies that service and maintain aircraft meets at least monthly to review any incidents and steps needed to prevent them in the future. Among other things, that team also reviews so-called "hotspots" — areas of the airport where extra attention is needed to prevent accidents.

For example, one taxiway leads directly from an airport ramp to a runway, Giardino said. That's an older feature of the airport — the FAA usually requires taxiways built today to include turns before entering a runway to help ensure that aircraft do not enter the takeoff and landing area inadvertently.

Air traffic controllers are particularly careful about requiring pilots to read back instructions on how to use that taxiway, Giardino said.

"Since we brought it to the attention of the air traffic controllers, they're very cautious," he said.

Airport staff also meets routinely with commercial airline representatives to discuss safety issues. Pilots for non-commercial flights also are invited annually to the airport to tour it and get more familiar with the airfield.

The key is not delaying conversations about potential problems, Giardino said.

"It's more of a see something, say something approach to doing it, where we don't put off an issue and say we'll address it at next year's meeting," he said.

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Executive AirShare: Fractional aircraft ownership firm opens shop in San Antonio

Executive AirShare, the nation's fourth-largest fractional aircraft ownership company, has launched operations at San Antonio International Airport.

The company is based at Landmark Aviation at 557 Landau Road. It has begun operations with an Embraer Phenom 100 light jet aircraft and a staff of two pilots.

Executive AirShare offers shareowners the use of a private aircraft for a set number of days per year, based on share of ownership.

Kansas City, Mo.-based Executive AirShare operates 30 jet and turboprop aircraft for its shareowners and lease program participants. In addition to its new base in San Antonio, the company operates from Fort Worth Meacham Airport and Dallas Love Field and also serves shareowners based in Austin and Houston.

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Tarmac trouble: U.S. runway close calls soar


Near runway collisions involving commercial airplanes climbed two-thirds from 2003 to 2013 at U.S. airports to a rate of nearly one per day, as a shift to major hubs led to increased traffic in most of those cities, according to a USA TODAY review of federal data. 

 The most severe incidents, like a 2011 close call at Chicago Midway International Airport where a departing jet narrowly missed a taxiing Boeing 737 by 62 feet, are down and officials say that shows progress.

There were 341 reported runway incidents – known in the aviation industry as "runway incursions" – involving at least one foreign or domestic commercial flight last year. In six of those incidents, a plane encountered a severe risk of a crash. In the rest, the incidents were less serious but deemed by federal officials to present a collision hazard.

The three airports with the most runway incursions since 2003 are also the nation's busiest: Chicago's O'Hare International, Los Angeles International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International. The growth in reported runway incidents nationwide occurred even as the overall number of flights remained relatively flat.

Though there have not been any fatal crashes involving domestic airlines since 2009, officials and experts say the possibility of an accident on the ground remains a concern.

"Runway incursions are always at the top of the list" when it comes to aviation safety issues, said Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

A number of recent events have raised alarms about potential dangers on the nation's runways, taxiways and other tarmac areas. Among them:

On Oct. 5, a Delta jet with 44 passengers was clipped by a Royal Jordanian Airlines Airbus A330 carrying 159 passengers at JFK Airport in New York.

In May 2013, a United Express flight and a Scandinavian Airlines Airbus A330 struck each other on a taxiway at Newark Liberty International Airport.

In April 2011, an Air France A380 jet taxiing to the runway at JFK Airport hit the tail of a regional jet, spinning the smaller aircraft 90 degrees.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said improvements to the reporting system in 2007 and 2012 help explain the increase in reported runway incursions, and the number of serious incidents "remains very low."

"We believe that the comprehensive, proactive safety management system we have put in place is reducing the level of risk on our nation's runways," she said.

Often, runway incursions are minor errors that result in no real risk to passengers, but sometimes the incursions place passengers a few feet from catastrophe.

One such incident occurred on a snowy night this January, when a traffic jam of airplanes on the tarmac at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport left a passenger jet unable to taxi off an active runway.

The pilot watched helplessly as another aircraft used the runway to take off, missing a collision by 80-100 feet.

"This was way (too) close and EXTREMELY lucky," the unnamed pilot wrote in a report filed anonymously with federal officials. "Had that been a heavier aircraft … the probability of a collision would have been imminent.

"Less than a year after the close call in Minneapolis, 245 passengers at the same airport were jolted by last month's wing-clipping incident. No injuries were reported, but flights bound for Los Angeles and Louisville were delayed for hours.

"We were just on the runway, taxiing, and then all of the sudden, there was a big bump that we all felt," said passenger Christina Theodoroff, who was traveling to visit family in Los Angeles. "They wouldn't tell us right away what happened, but everyone around me knew."

Advances in safety technology have rendered midair collisions virtually non-existent in domestic commercial passenger flights. The last involving two commercial airliners occurred in 1965, when a midair accident above Carmel, N.Y., killed four passengers and left 108 survivors.

Although passengers may feel safe once an airplane's wheels are on the tarmac, experts say ground travel at airports leaves less room for error.

"Simply because you're on the ground, you're not dealing in three dimensions, necessarily," Rosenker said. "You can go around, but you can't get below it. … The runway is the only place you can go."

The deadliest accident in aviation history was a runway incursion in 1977 at Los Rodeos Airport in the Canary Islands that killed 583 people when one Boeing 747 crashed into another during takeoff.

Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association – the union of workers responsible for preventing these kinds of incursions – said the number of runway incidents considered to pose a severe threat fell 84% from 2000 to 2013.

As a result of advances in technology and information gathering, Church said, "our nation's runways and taxiways have never been safer."

Yet the rash of recent incidents has resulted in increased federal scrutiny of the FAA's Runway Safety Group, which is charged with safeguarding the nation's takeoff and landing areas.

In a report released in September, the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general found "confusion and fragmented responsibility among runway safety personnel" at the FAA. Ineffective communication led to uncertainty about which branch of the agency leads the nation's runway safety efforts.

The Runway Safety Group has seen a 27% reduction in its non-salary budget and five changes in leadership since 2011, while runway incidents involving commercial and private flights increased 30% from 2011 to 2013.

The group has fallen behind on an effort first proposed in 2007 to install safety lighting on the runways of 23 airports nationwide, the report found. The FAA scaled back the project to 17 airports and does not expect to complete it until 2017.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Aviation subcommittee, said he asked for the inspector general's report in response to the rise in recent runway incidents.

"We need to understand why this is happening," Larsen said in a statement, "so the FAA can make changes to improve both the safety and efficiency of our aviation system."

The September report criticized the FAA for failing to establish baseline measures that would indicate whether the increasing incident count reflects an increase in actual runway incursions or changes in the reporting rules that broadened the definition of runway incursions.Some of the growing incident count could be related to reporting changes, said Richard Healing, a Washington-area aviation consultant and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. But the increase over the past few years probably points to an actual growth in incidents, he said.

John Hansman, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, said the probability of close calls between aircraft on the ground and in the air grows exponentially with increases in traffic at airports. As airports become more crowded, they leave planes fewer places to go.

"These are rare events," he said. "But the more flights you have, the more likely you're going to have these rare events."

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Jack Stewart: What it felt like to fly Concorde

Concorde was the most glamorous airliner the world has seen. But what was it like to fly? Jack Stewart delves inside the Science in Action archive to find out.

It was the ultimate airliner. From 1976 until its retirement in 2003, few things in life signified luxury quite so much as a flight on Concorde. It could whisk around 100 people – paying over £4,000 a seat – for a two-hour trans-Atlantic trip at speeds faster than that of a rifle bullet. It was a remarkable achievement of engineering.

The whole aircraft was revolutionary, and it presented unique challenges to the designers and test pilots. The Concorde’s delta wing design borrowed the form of much smaller jet fighter aircraft in order to achieve its dazzling speed, while the airliner had a moving cockpit that sloped forward for landing, and assumed that classic needle-nosed shape as it sped towards its cruising speed of Mach 2.

I recently discovered some gems from the BBC radio archive, unearthed as part of the 50th anniversary of Science in Action on the BBC World Service, which provide a fascinating insight into the aircraft’s development at the time. The first clip is from 1969, the year the plane made its first test flight, and so it was one of the first times we heard its signature roar. Captain James (Jimmy) Andrew, flight-development manager for Concorde at BOAC, gave his first impressions of handling the still-experimental design, in particular whether there were any problems approaching Mach 1.

Apparently, Concorde “handled very well” and was easier to fly than other aircraft such as the Boeing 747. It is "a pilot's plane, but also a passenger's plane", according to Andrew, and Concorde did turn out to be a favorite, at least for those who could afford it. Passengers may have enjoyed a choice of four different champagnes to wash down a sumptuous three-course meal, but if you think Concorde’s interior was the height of sophistication, think again. Compared to your average Airbus, Concorde was decidedly cramped.

As Captain Andrew explains, instruments on the plane were reasonably conventional, with some newer "pretty fancy" ones, even computerized ones, to be installed soon. Ten years later, Science in Action went back to look at these hi-tech upgrades. In 1979 (three years after Concorde went into service), interviewer Arthur Garratt saw the highly advanced (for the time) INS, or Inertial Navigation System, in action. This allowed aircraft to calculate where they were, and how fast they were going. This was years ahead of GPS satellite navigation, which we all take for granted now (many of us, after all, have it on our smartphones).

Concorde was retired in 2003, a few years after the fleet’s sole fatal accident, when one craft crashed soon after taking off from Paris. However, the legacy of the needle-nosed airliner lives on. Engineers are striving to develop supersonic passenger transport that will finally deliver on the promise of a London to New York trip in an hour, though in a less-expensive, less-polluting, less-noisy fashion.

But before we start dreaming of this far-off future, let us enjoy these cutting-edge moments from our aeronautical past. And let's not forget that it could do more than just fly very fast in a straight line.

Story, video, photos and audio:

Mixing business travel with pleasure

Klingaman with his Cessna 182
When Russ Klingaman has a hearing, deposition or client meeting well beyond the borders of southeastern Wisconsin, he hops aboard his Cessna 182 and takes to the skies to get there.

Klingaman, partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Milwaukee, has been flying for more than 20 years and has clocked well over 2,000 hours in the air. His passion for flying stems from childhood, much of which he spent flying with his late father, Bill, who served as a professional flight instructor on the side.

“I learned about flying through being his son, and when I became an adult I acted upon those passions that he had helped me develop,” Klingaman said.

Klingaman first began piloting planes in the early 1980s, when Bill taught him how to fly an ultralight aircraft – what Klingaman describes as “a motorcycle or a moped with wings.”

He bought his first plane, a two-seat Cessna 150, upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1991, and a few years later purchased the four-seat plane he still flies today.

While a good chunk of Klingaman's airtime is devoted to business trips, most of his flights take his family of four on getaways all over North America. Klingaman has flown as far as Key West, New Orleans, Palm Springs, Martha's Vineyard and Winnipeg, Canada.

Outside of flying, Klingaman focuses part of his practice on aviation. In addition to teaching aviation law at Marquette University Law School and serving as president of the Lawyer Pilots Bar Association, he has advised flight instructors, mechanics and other industry professionals in need of legal aid.

“What I really love is knowing what I know about aviation and being part of the aviation community and being able to deal with assignments from clients that involve aviation,” Klingaman said. “It's putting together what I love to do with my career.”

Story and photos:

The Cessna 182 during a Klingaman family spring break trip to St. George Island, Florida.

Finalists for Lafayette Regional Airport (KLFT) director’s job narrowed to four: Committee hopes to have leader named in early 2015

LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Airport Commission members this week narrowed the list of applicants who want to run Lafayette Regional Airport from five to four and ,in December, will travel to airports in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia for site interviews.

The commission on Thursday decided not to include David Blackshear in the final four, commission search committee head Paul Guilbeau said.

Blackshear, of Lafayette, is vice president of Applied Airport Technology in Maryland.

The remaining applicants are: Jason Devillier, of Lafayette, director at the Iberia Parish Airport in New Iberia; Ralph Hennessy, of Baton Rouge, assistant director of aviation at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport; Robert Kennedy, of East Point, Georgia, vice president of consulting services for Aviation Strategies International in Georgia; and Steven Picou, of Amarillo, Texas, deputy director of aviation at the Amarillo International Airport in Texas.

The selections were made based on recent interviews conducted via video teleconferencing. Each interview lasted less than an hour.

Guilbeau said he and one other member of the search committee would travel to Baton Rouge, New Iberia, Atlanta and Amarillo to interview the finalists. Each interview will take place over two days. Larry Sides, whose firm Sides & Associates is helping with the director search, will make the trips to video the interviews.

Guilbeau said he expects to conduct the interviews before the end of December.

The committee plans to reduce the number of applicants to three in late December or early January and the full commission will then choose a director from that list. Guilbeau said the director would be chosen “in early 2015.”

The list of applicants started with 31 who responded to a nationwide search that ended in October. That was quickly whittled to eight, then to five.

The five-member search committee is composed of three commission members — Guilbeau, Tim Skinner and Valerie Gotch Garrett — and appointees from government and business: Stone Energy Chief Executive Officer David Welch and Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux.

“It’s getting harder and harder to peel them now,” Guilbeau said, a nod to the quality of the remaining candidates. Each is pursuing a job that pays $100,000 to $150,000 a year, depending on experience.

The job became available in June after longtime airport Director Greg Roberts resigned.

Commission members have placed cordiality and people skills on applicants’ must-have qualities. Guilbeau has said the new director “needs to be the face of the airport and the people of Lafayette.”

Depending on the outcome of a Dec. 6 tax election, the new director could oversee construction of a new airport terminal that would expand parking and increase the number of boarding gates from three to five.

A 1-cent sales tax would be levied on goods in Lafayette Parish except groceries and medicine, and bring in $35 million to $37 million. The tax would be temporary, officials have said, running from April 1 through Nov. 30, 2015.

The money would be combined with bond issues and matching state and federal grants to reach the $90 million engineers estimate is needed to build the terminal.

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Sitting out in the open cockpit with two wings beside you: the Tiger Moth experience -- Steve Millington has a unique job - flying a Tiger Moth

It's the plane that has more romance attached to it than almost any other craft. The Tiger Moth has starred in films, been used in war and for crop dusting and taken people on joy flights.

Alpha Zulu Tango had been restored twice when Steve bought it six months ago.

His adventures in flying started young. As a kid, he built lots of small planes and then gained his pilot's license at 19.

"I saw an ad in the paper saying 'Wanted jackaroo with a plane license.'"

Steve spent 12 months just out of Carnarvon mustering, trying to get low-level flying experience before gaining his agricultural pilot's rating.

He had flown about 7,500 hours of general agricultural and forestry flying before he went up in the Tiger Moth.

The experience of getting into the open cockpit of the Moth was unique, he says. "I felt like I'd flown for the first time."

Contrary to what we may think, the pilot isn't in danger of being swept away by the wind as they are sheltered by the windscreen.

The pilot sits in the back with just a couple of wings for company. The reason for sitting in the rear is simple, says Steve.

"Because you fly the Tiger Moth solo, the pilot must sit in the back to keep within the centre of gravity envelope."

Life story

Built in in1942, the original plane was boxed up to go to then-Rhodesia but didn't make it, Steve explains.

In 1946, the RAAF acquired it and it was used by the Royal Queensland Aero Club in the 50s before heading out west.

For most of the 60s, it was used it as a crop-dusting machine around Carnamah, York and Northam.

In the 1980s, a new private owner restored the 'plane.

It was restored again in 2006.

"I bought it about six months ago with about seven or eight hours total on it. It had sat in a hangar all that time," says Steve.

The metal airframe would still be 1940s, says Steve as would the engine and many of the instruments.

"The wings were brand new from New Zealand in the 2006 restoration."

The De Havilland company worldwide produced about 8,500 Tiger Moths, Steven estimates. In Australia, the local company built 1,085 of which 860 were for the RAAF.

"In WA, there are 12 in private collections still flying and Australia-wide, about 160 [are] still flying.

"A lot spend a lot of time in the hangars."

These little 'planes have stood the test of time, says Steve. As a trainer for the RAAF, their life span was 17 years, something which wouldn't be possible today, he reckons.

And if Steve ever felt the urge to fly off into the wild blue yonder, he certainly could.

"Yes, but it would be a slow escape. They travel at about 75 knots which is about 140kph," he says.

"AZT has a fuel capacity of about two and half hours of flying so there would be lots of stops. I have thought about it."

Despite being over 70 years old, the Moth has lots of life left in it, says Steve.

"You get about 1,000 hours out of the engine and the frame, as long as it's maintained, should last another 30 years."

Story and photos:

Superb view of the Capes over Geographe Bay

The Secrets of Surviving the 10 Most Nightmarish Airports This Thanksgiving

Some 3.55 million people are expected to fly this Thanksgiving weekend, making this year’s busiest travel weekend the most crowded since 2007, according to AAA. (If it’s any consolation, the roads will also be jammed.) It’s going to be just as bad as it sounds: the new Bloomberg Airport Frustration Index reveals that some of the more annoying airports in North America—including LaGuardia, O’Hare, Miami, and LAX—are also among the most heavily traveled.

To give airports a Frustration Score, we measured how long it takes to reach them during rush hours, compiled on-time arrival and departure data, and weighed comments and opinions from an online survey of more than 3,000 travelers. And while our respondents had some choice words for their favorite airfields—one traveler’s advice for LaGuardia’s central terminal: “Close your eyes”—they also had tips. The most frustrating airports tend to be disliked because of one or two specific problem areas, be it delayed or cancelled flights, long treks or public transportation shortcomings. That means there are ways to massage the pain points. If you find yourself at one of these top-10-and-not-in-a-good-way airports, here’s what you need to know.

New York City’s LaGuardia Airport has earned its special place in U.S. aviation by combining horrendously crowded gate areas with miniature, foul restrooms and a lack of convenient transportation access.  No subway gets near it, leaving taxis, buses and pricey private car services as the main public options to get there. Arriving at LaGuardia at certain times of the day means taxi lines a mile long. Still, seasoned travelers know they can find a taxi stand with a shorter line  just a few feet to the left or right, and standing in line is infinitely better than paying double for one of the gypsy cabs soliciting passengers.

LaGuardia, however, is not uniformly frightening. Terminal D, which Delta Air Lines (DAL) and concessions operator OTG have tried to modernize, has an array of trendy eateries and shops, along with hundreds of iPads for Web surfing—a glimpse of what other, better airports do. Delta has the best LaGuardia real estate and may be a better carrier choice than some of the others there. Still, if you must traipse into the ancient Central Terminal for an American (AAL), Southwest (LUV) or United (UAL) flight, well, there’s nothing you can say about it that Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t already.

The Transportation Security Administration is not known for its speedy ways at Newark-Liberty, 15 miles southwest of Manhattan. Another leading complaint: The airport appears to be trapped in 1974, desperately needing a facelift. Much like at LaGuardia, however, concessions manager OTG is deploying iPads by the thousands and revamping the restaurant offerings in Terminal C, the home of United, the dominant carrier in Newark. It’s an effort to put a nice area inside an old airport. For now, fly United, or at least wait in that terminal for your flight before catching the Air Train to your gate. As for security, if you use Newark frequently, the TSA’s PreCheck program is a must.

The District of Columbia’s closest airport, Reagan-National, is a flight-restricted, mostly-domestic operation. For longer trips, you’re heading to Washington Dulles International. Plan ahead—more often than not, the 30-mile haul isn’t some quick and easy drive or train ride. When you finally arrive, security can be a bottleneck, another critical factor that adds to the frustration most travelers feel at IAD. Like at Newark, frequent travelers recommend TSA Pre-Check. The best advice for navigating Dulles is to allow plenty of time and, if Congress is in session, “Try not to fly on Friday afternoons,” one IAD regular suggests: That’s when legislative folks are trying to get back to their home districts for the weekend.

One of the world’s largest airports, Chicago’s O’Hare International is plagued by flight delays, which means you’ll probably have plenty of time to hang out. One of the best spots if you’re stuck? The airport’s two-story “aeroponic” vertical garden between Terminals 2 and 3 that grows greens used at several O’Hare restaurants. “Great place for Wi-Fi or getting away from the crowds if you have a layover,” says one traveler. There’s also a yoga room near the same area. As for dining options, O’Hare has plenty. Our favorite: Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera has three locations open until 9 p.m. The smoked pork mollete goes a long way toward ameliorating an O’Hare delay.

Although better than its Queens cousin LaGuardia, getting to and from John F. Kennedy Airport requires navigating a patchwork of subway and terminal trains—along with the Long Island Rail Road—that vexes visitors and frustrates locals. Even so, many people suggest that JFK is best tackled with a combination of the subway—the A for the Brooklyn-bound or E into midtown Manhattan—and the $5 AirTran that transits the airport’s eight terminals. If you must take a taxi, “NEVER take the Van Wyck, always ask the driver to take you up/down Woodhaven Boulevard,” says one respondent, calling out the highway so notoriously sluggish it got a special mention on Seinfeld. As for the terminals, JFK is like its metro-area peers: A mix of stylish new amenities and dated, dungeon-like warrens, depending on which airline you fly. JetBlue’s Terminal 5 may be the best bet: it has free Wi-Fi, a children’s play area, and a slew of restaurants, including Piquillo, the first tapas restaurant in a U.S. airport. Regardless of terminal, “Use the curbside check-in,” advises one traveler. “And tip generously.”

The U.S. gateway to Latin America, Miami International wins travelers’ opprobrium for its nightmarish terminal layout and interminable walks to gates and baggage claim. The airport does have numerous electric carts, which flyers can request or, often, flag down. “Sooner or later the airport may have to provide more of them,” says one traveler who requests a cart at the arrival gate. “If offered a ride, take it,” says one commenter. “It usually means there is at least a mile of walking ahead.” As for parking, others warn of expensive rates. An MIA regular offers another fine tip: During those long walks, stop periodically for a drink at the bars. Another traveler says American’s lounge is the way to go: “Spend $50 and use the AA lounge if you’ve got a long layover and aren’t an AA member. It’s worth it to leave the terminal behind.”

Travelers at Philadelphia International try to avoid the restrooms, a necessity that draws low marks in an airport that is also tagged as being old, ugly and cramped. Others say that it’s best to skip the shuttle buses and walk between Philly’s six terminals and to pick the short-term parking lot over the cheaper economy lot. “It’s worth $9/day to not be a sardine for 45 minutes on the trip out to the lot,” says one Philadelphia traveler. One other tip to help ignore both the loos and the masses: The Crabfries at local chain Chickie’s and Pete’s win raves.

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San Carlos Airport (KSQL) first in state to sell unleaded fuel

The San Carlos Airport, once found to exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards for lead emissions, will be the first in the state to sell an unleaded option which proponents say is cheaper, better for aircraft maintenance and environmentally superior.

“This is the rare opportunity when everybody is getting something they want,” said Dan DeMeo, manager and owner of fuel seller Rabbit Aviation. “The pilots want it. The county wants it. And those who are into the environment are overwhelmingly satisfied.”

County supervisors have been talking about unleaded fuel since last year and in the last week gave its blessing to tweak the contract with Rabbit to sell unleaded fuel. The county will also halt a 10-cent-per-gallon fuel flowage fee to encourage more sales through the life of the current contract which runs through January 2016.

DeMeo said a fuel truck is already dedicated to unleaded fuel and the company is in the process of converting an existing storage tank and finding a location at the airport. Construction on the fuel system is hoped for May 2015 with sales ready to go in early summer, he said.

In the meantime, Rabbit is buying small amounts of 700 gallons at a time and selling it to a select group of customers so they can try it out.

Pilots are excited about the prospect of unleaded fuel in no small part because of it is a less expensive alternative that can be used in probably about one-third of the aircraft housed at the airport, he said.

Other aircraft can be modified for a small fee.

“Imagine buying a Toyota Corolla and finding you have to buy Lexus gas,” he said.

The unleaded fuel is at least $1 less a gallon when a full 9,000 gallons is delivered because it must be transported from Canada. Most training aircraft at the airport burn 8 gallons an hour so at 50 flights hours a month, pilots are saving $400 in that same period, said DeMeo, himself a pilot and user of unleaded fuel.

The airport predicts initial demand for unleaded fuel will be lower than the low-lead type because a majority of piston engine aircraft parked there aren’t certified on the former, according to Freda Manuel, the county’s real property services manager, in a report to the Board of Supervisors.

But DeMeo said converting is cost effective because the paperwork costs run less than $200.

In two weeks, he said unleaded users have already paid for the supplemental certificate they need to use it.

Although the moratorium on the fuel fee means a loss of about $8,700 in revenue to the airport enterprise fund over the remainder of the agreement, the addition of unleaded fuel also means sales tax money for the county.

During the 1990s, unleaded fuel was a common item to stock but consolidation of facilities led to only the more lucrative option being kept on hand, DeMeo said.

The Federal Aviation Administration has a 2018 deadline for certifying an unleaded fuel option that can be used by any aircraft without modification. The county is opting not to wait. Last year, the board began discussing a shift on the heels of an EPA report on aviation lead emissions.

For three months, EPA monitored 17 general aviation airports in the nation including San Carlos which, along with McClellan-Palomar Airport in San Diego County, had lead levels beyond its standards. Nearby Palo Alto Airport fell slightly below the threshold.

The EPA chose the county-owned San Carlos Airport for the one-year study because its 2008 lead emissions were estimated at .53 tons per year, according to the agency’s fact sheet on the monitoring program.

County officials at the time said monitors installed in awkward locations contributed to the high results.

DeMeo didn’t have hard and fast numbers on hand but said a rough ballpark estimate is the airport could remove about a ton of lead from the environment by selling more than 100,000 gallons of unleaded fuel rather than the low lead option.

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Airline Slapped in EU for Flight-Delay Excuses

Courthouse News Service


(CN) - In an effort to find ways to avoid compensating customers for flight delays, European airlines have gotten creative with their excuses.

After German carrier Condor's flight from Turkey to Frankfurt suffered a delay of more than six hours, three passengers sued for compensation under the EU's rule that airlines must pay for both cancellations and delays of longer than three hours.

But the law also allows an air carrier to avoid compensating customers if it can prove that "extraordinary circumstances" led to the delay. So Condor blamed the delay on wing damage caused by a gate collision between the plane and a set of mobile boarding stairs, calling the event an extraordinary circumstance that relieved it of its duty to pay.

In an order released Friday - the EU judiciary's equivalent of deciding a case on the merits without oral argument - the European Court of Justice ruled that technical problems are rarely extraordinary enough to justify not compensating customers for the delays the problems cause.

In this case, because mobile boarding stairs are used daily and are indispensible for boarding and deplaning, collisions between the stairs and planes are bound to happen and can't be considered extraordinary circumstances, the court concluded.

The Luxembourg-based court did not make its order available in English.

EU passengers enjoy stringently enforced rights on all manner of transport, but particularly on airplanes.

Last year, the Court of Justice hammered out those rights still further by ruling that even the week-long cancellations that plagued European airspace after the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano did not constitute enough of an extraordinary circumstance to avoid compensating flyers.

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Air traffic controller to remain in pre-trial detention over plane crash: Dassault Falcon 50EX, Unijet, F-GLSA

MOSCOW, November 24 (RAPSI) – The Moscow City Court on Monday upheld the detention of Vnukovo air traffic controller Alexander Kruglov charged in the criminal case over Total CEO Cristophe de Margerie’s death, RAPSI reports from the courtroom.

The court dismissed an appeal filed by Kruglov’s defense.

Kruglov will stay in jail until December 21.

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie died in the crash of his Falcon 50 private jet on the evening of October 23 at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport along with three crew members, all French citizens. The aircraft, which was scheduled to depart to Paris, hit a snow removal vehicle during takeoff.

Russian authorities have also detained until December 21 airport engineer Vladimir Ledenev, and snowplow driver Vladimir Martynenko.

Air traffic control trainee Svetlana Krivsun and flight supervisor Roman Dunaev have been placed under house arrest.

All employees of the airport stand accused of violation of air traffic rules which resulted in death of two and more people. They face up to seven years in prison each.

All defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them.

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China arrests man for selling photos of aircraft carrier base to a foreign spy

BEIJING: A Chinese man was arrested for selling pictures of an aircraft carrier base to a foreign spy, the latest young Internet user to be targeted by overseas intelligence agencies, media said.

The man, who was surnamed Cao, was detained in the eastern port city of Qingdao in April with a camera, telescope, computer and “other tools”, state broadcaster China Central Television said.

Cao told Chinese security officials he was selling the pictures to an individual who claimed to be a “military magazine editor”, CCTV said on its website yesterday.

“The ‘editor-in-chief’ is actually an overseas spy, whom state security organs have long paid attention to,” the report said.

“He has several identities online, such as editor of a news magazine agency and official-in-charge of a counseling company.”

The report also said Cao had sneaked into a military airport earlier this year to take pictures for his contact, who would pay a “generous premium”.

Cao, who works for a “large company”, was contacted online after he posted his CV on the Internet, the report said, adding that he is “awaiting trial”. “It is not a rare case,” CCTV said, citing unnamed security officials. “In recent years, there is an increasing number of young internet users, like Cao, who have been lured and taken orders from overseas spy agencies when they are looking for jobs and friends online.”

In May, a Chinese snack bar owner was jailed for 10 years for disclosing military secrets including documents and photographs of equipment to “foreign intelligence agencies”, state media said.

The suspect, who was from the southern province of Guangdong, was approached online by “a foreign spy” with the username “Feige” — “flying brother” in Chinese — the official Xinhua news agency has reported.

Beijing announced a double-digit rise in its defense budget in March and has rapidly expanded its military in recent years, rattling its neighbors and attracting the attention of the US, which is making a foreign policy “pivot” towards Asia.

President Xi Jinping has made security concerns a top issue. Earlier this month, state media reported that China adopted a new counter-espionage law aimed at a “more comprehensive state security”.

“Xi stressed that the challenges China faces in maintaining national security today are more diverse than they have ever been, as it has seen complicated internal and external situations,” the report said.

China last year set up a new national security commission, which observers said would have parallels with the US National Security Council.

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Kenmore Air to hear proposals as Peninsula officials try to get airline to resume service

PORT ANGELES — City, Port of Port Angeles and Clallam County officials will meet with representatives of Kenmore Air on Dec. 4 in a last-ditch effort to convince the commercial passenger carrier to resume service between Port Angeles and Seattle.

Government officials Nov. 12 emailed Todd Banks, Kenmore Air president, an offer to discuss “ideas and commitments” for getting Kenmore to reverse an Oct. 31 decision that led to the Nov. 14 shutoff of service out of the port’s William R. Fairchild International Airport.

The company blamed low profits and ridership and high fuel costs after cutting service to two flights a day earlier this summer.

“We want to get a better idea of the contents of the letter,” Banks said Friday.

To resume service, “we’d have to have peace of mind financially that we can have a profitable business,” he said.

Those invited to the meeting at the port administrative building in Port Angeles include port Executive Director Ken O’Hollaren, Commissioner Colleen McAleer, Airport and Marina Manager Jerry Ludke and Director of Business Development Jennifer States; City Manager Dan McKeen and city Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West; county Administrator Jim Jones; and county Economic Development Director Bill Greenwood, Ludke said.

Their proposals included government entities buying blocks of airline tickets at volume discounts for official employee travel as well as potentially allocating lodging tax funds to advertise Kenmore service from Port Angeles to Boeing Field, where a free Kenmore shuttle took passengers to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“We’ll meet with Banks and see what his needs are and can we hit a mark that would allow him to create stability until a better day when he can really flourish in this market,” said McAleer, who wrote the letter to Kenmore, with fine-tuning by McKeen.

Banks said an additional issue in Kenmore’s departure was landing directly at Sea-Tac.

That would have allowed the company to avoid the Boeing Field leg of the trip but only at “significant” expense because of landing fees, gate fees and counter-space lease requirements that would have been imposed on the airline.

Those costs must be reflected in fares, and fares drive ridership numbers, Banks said.

Ludke said Kenmore’s departure also would not have an impact on federal subsidies the port receives for airport maintenance and improvement because Rite Bros. Aviation still flies commercial charter flights out of Fairchild.

Owners of Rite Bros. and Dungeness Line in Clallam County said Friday the impact of Kenmore leaving on their own businesses has been minimal if anything.

But Rocket Transportation of Sequim has seen an uptick in inquiries and reservations and expects to add another shuttle bus and additional drivers by Dec. 31, owner Kathy Roman said.

Roman said she has received a 30 percent increase in inquiries that is due partly to holiday bookings but also to Kenmore’s departure, especially from regular Kenmore customers, including corporate clients.

“If we are getting a 30 percent increase in calls, we are getting calls from Kenmore clients,” she said.

“Very possibly, one out of every three clients going out is now from Kenmore.

“It’s definitely been a bonus, but not one I’m happy about.

“I like it when people have a choice.”

Rite Bros. owner Jeff Well said Kenmore’s departure has not benefited his business.

“We haven’t seen any flights related to Kenmore leaving,” he said.

“It highlights why they left. The economic reality of our community is that people can’t afford to fly.”

Well said his company has lost about $2,000 in monthly income because of Kenmore’s departure.

It lost a maintenance agreement to service Kenmore planes.

That led to a cut in employee hours, he said.

Dungeness Line owner Jack Heckman said last week he has not noticed a large increase in inquiries or reservations for his scheduled bus service to Sea-Tac.

“Right after the announcement, we got a bunch of calls, and there were some reservations made, but I would not say it’s anything substantial to where we would have to add an additional route,” he said.

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