Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cessna M337B Super Skymaster, N1309: Accident occurred November 17, 2010 in Avon Park, Florida



Jedi 21 — the call sign for a Cessna 02-A Skymaster propeller plane with a crew of three — was flying over the Avon Park Air Force Range as part of a training exercise being conducted by Air Force Special Operations Command when the weather began to deteriorate.


It was the night of Nov. 17, 2010. An Air Force staff sergeant performing weather forecasting duties had already recommended to the Avon Park tower that planes like Jedi 21 return to base because of the rain and low visibility, according to investigators.


At about 8:45 p.m., the crew made the last call anyone would ever hear.


“Inbound to Avon Aux Field.”


Five minutes later, the plane, which had aborted the exercise on its own after experiencing sensor problems rendering it unable to participate, crashed into a farm field. Its wing, investigators would later determine, was ripped off by strong wind, sending Jedi 21 into a dive from which it could not recover.


The crash of Jedi 21 is another example of the dangers of military aviation training, which has claimed nearly 80 lives since 2010, according to figures compiled by The Tampa Tribune from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. That also includes the March 10 crash in heavy fog of a Louisiana Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter near Eglin Air Force Base that killed all 11 on board, including seven Marine commandos and four National Guard air crew.


The aviation mishaps range from a birdstrike on an Air Force HH-60 helicopter that killed all four crew members on Jan. 7, 2014, and a Navy aircraft hitting the side of a mountain, killing both crew members on March 14, 2008, to an Army OH-58DR helicopter clipping wires in 2011 killing two and the midair collision of two Marine helicopters on Feb. 22, 2012, killing seven.


The figures, however, do not include the crew of Jedi 21. That’s because Robert Finer, James Scott Henderson and Samuel Marcus Adams, all former military pilots, were no longer in uniform but flying as civilian contractors in a civilian-owned plane.


The National Transportation Safety Board determined that weather was the likely cause of the Jedi 21 crash.


“The pilot’s inadvertent encounter with an unexpected intense rain shower with severe turbulence at night” was listed as the probable cause of the crash in a Feb. 16, 2012, NTSB report.


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In May 2013, the widows of the three crew members sued the government, claiming in a wrongful death action that, among other things, the Air Force failed to provide adequate weather information to the crew, in an airplane with no weather sensors, as it made its final approach to Avon Park into a strong storm. The government denies those claims, adding that any blame belongs to the air crew and the company that owned the plane. Air Force Special Operations Command deferred comment to the Department of Justice. Air Force officials did not respond to requests for comment.


The suit, which was filed under seal for security reasons until a request from The Tribune to make the amended complaint public, is scheduled to be heard before a judge in South Florida next month.


Bob “Snapper” Finer, 57, started his military career as a Marine infantryman before learning how to fly and becoming an aviator. He retired in 2000 as a lieutenant colonel, continuing his passion for flight, says his widow, Dena Finer.


“He was a very highly skilled and dedicated pilot,” says Dena Finer.


After leaving the Marines, Finer spent summer fire seasons flying firefighting aircraft. The flight out of Avon Park was part of a new contract he’d just signed, says Dena Finer.


“His goal was to help train these men so they could come home from the war zone,” says Dena Finer.


James Scott Henderson, 49, served in the Air Force for 25 years, according to his obituary, earning several medals while flying F-16s during the Gulf War before retiring in 2008 as a colonel. His wife, Sharleen Henderson, declined comment.


Samuel Marcus Adams, 48, flew combat missions for the Air Force in Operations Desert Storm and Southern Watch, before retiring as a lieutenant colonel, according to his obituary. His wife, Beverly Adams, declined comment.


The three men were working for Patriot Technologies Group, a civilian firm which helped train troops on how to call in close air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, according to its Linkedin page. They were aboard one of the company’s two aircraft taking part in the exercise.


What happened on the day of the crash is culled from NTSB records unless otherwise noted.


At about 3 p.m,, an Air Force staff sergeant, who is not named in the NTSB report, was forecasting the weather in preparation for a mass briefing, scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m., for everyone involved in the training exercise.


“Conditions looked to be on track for relatively clear skies,” the staff sergeant noted. He later recalled that before the mass briefing, he noticed “mid-level cloud cover increased at around 7,000 to 8,000 feet with some scattered clouds to the south at about 4,000 feet.”


There were weak returns on the radar, but the staff sergeant told investigators he believed that they would “die out relatively quickly.”


At about 6:30 p.m., Henderson and Adams attended the mass briefing “which covered the goals of the exercise, the status of the airfields, and most relevantly, the current and forecast weather,” according to the lawsuit. Finer, the pilot, who had 6.200 hours of civilian flying time, gave the Skymaster a pre-flight check, according to Dan Rose, the attorney representing Dana Finer.


The other Patriot Technologies Group aircrew attended the briefing as well.


“During the briefing, there was no mention of any precipitation or convective activity throughout the flying period,” the unnamed pilot of the second aircraft told investigators.


At about 7:30 p.m., the Skymaster with Finer, Henderson and Adams took off from Avon Park, according to the suit, about 10 minutes after the other Patriot Technologies Group plane.


Around that time, the Air Force forecaster could see showers building up on the radar from the southwest moving toward the northeast. He notified exercise commanders of “a possible recall of light and medium fixed wing aircraft.” After hearing from a pilot of low clouds and rain to the south, the forecaster contacted the tower sometime between 8:10 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., recommending a recall of aircraft, like Jedi 21, that relied on visual flight rules “due to worsening conditions with rain and lowering ceilings.”


At 8:15 p.m., after flying through “numerous rain showers with visibilities between one and two miles,” an H-60 helicopter taking part in the mission, who had reported that the weather “was worse than briefed,” had difficulty landing at Avon Park. That was because of what was called “0-0 conditions” while over the field — meaning they could not see where they were because of the weather.


By 8:40 p.m., Jedi 21 reported that it was returning to base. Five minutes later, the crew reported it was 4 miles away, with the plan to call in when it was 2 miles from Runway 5, where officials in the Avon Park tower told it to land.


That final call never came, so a search and rescue order was initiated. But it was too late.


A resident living about a mile or two from the accident site said it had just started to rain when he heard, but did not see, an airplane.


He described the sound of the plane as “at full throttle, like it was pulling out of a dive.”


Then he heard a “thud” sound and, realizing the plane had crashed, called 911.


A second witness was on his back porch about three-quarters of a mile from the crash site, talking to his daughter on the phone, when he too heard, but could not see the plane.


At first, the plane sounded normal. Then it sounded like a “dive bomber, rolling into a dive,” the witness told investigators. The engine revved louder until the witness heard the crash, then called 911.


Both men reported that a big storm hit the area shortly after the accident.


About a half hour after the crash of Jedi 21, the second Patriot Technologies Group plane reported that it was aborting the exercise due to weather, and that they had trouble landing at several airports because of the storm.


The pilot of the second plane told investigators that he didn’t “receive any additional weather information throughout the flight” nor did he get called back to base because of the weather.


At 1:18 a.m. Nov, 18, searchers found the wreckage of Jedi 21, along with the bodies of the three crew, in and around a retention pond and swamp on a farm pasture.


Dena Finer, 50, had just flown to California with her sister, Julie Hobbs, and was at the rental car counter when she received a call from her husband’s oldest son, telling her about the crash.


“It was horrible,” she says. “I just broke down in the middle of the rental place. Thank God my sister was there,”


Dena Finer says she immediately returned to her home in Idaho.


“It has devastated my life,” she says of the crash. “Everything imploded on me.”


Sharleen Henderson, according to court papers, was hospitalized last year for “serious health reasons” largely related to the stress of litigation.


In their suit, the women claim that the Air Force had a duty to tell Jedi 21, which had no weather-sensing equipment, about the deteriorating weather. The suit alleges that despite an Air Force weather forecaster urging the tower to have planes return to base, that call that was never made and instead Jedi 21 was told to land into “the edge of a storm ... capable of producing severe turbulence and strong outflow winds.”


The suit points out that, according to the Air Force handbook, “Severe and extreme turbulence have been known to cause extensive structural damage to B-52s,” a far bigger and sturdier aircraft than the Skymaster.


“The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that turbulence accounts for approximately 71 percent of all weather-related accidents and injuries” with the cost to U.S. airlines due to injuries, damage and delays estimated at upward s of $500 million per year.


The government, which declined comment through the Department of Justice, denies in its responses any negligence and argues that if there is any blame, it rests with the crew and the company that owned the plane. The government also states that federal law protects weather forecasting from being the subject of claims.


“Aircrews operating at Avon Park were also advised that the Tower would provide only limited weather information (ceiling, barometric pressure and wind direction/speed),” according to the government’s response, “and there was no certified radar equipment in the Tower to provide radar-based air traffic control or air traffic weather information.”


The Air Force weather forecaster’s “primary duty was to support the unit that was in charge of conducting the exercise, and he would provide specific weather briefings for aircrew only upon request,” the government said in its response.


The matter will be up to a judge to decide, because the parties could not come to an agreement during mediation.


Because Finer, Henderson and Adams were civilians, their ability to file a tort claim against the government is far greater than if they were still in uniform, says John McKay, an attorney specializing in aviation law. That’s because the Federal Tort Claims Act doesn’t permit service members, or their estates, to seek claims for injuries or deaths sustained while on active duty. Over the years, lower court decisions have extended that to claims brought by reservists, McKay says.


Dena Finer says she has special empathy for the families of the 11 killed in last month’s Black Hawk crash near Eglin Air Force Base, which is still being investigated.


“It is devastating to the families,” she says. “It is heartbreaking to hear other people having to go through it. It touches my heart so closely.”


Story and photo gallery:  http://tbo.com


   

NTSB Identification: ERA11GA066
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Wednesday, November 17, 2010 in Avon Park, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/16/2012
Aircraft: CESSNA M337B, registration: N1309
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

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 public aircraft accident report.


Prior to the flight, the crew attended a mass briefing with the military training exercise personnel for whose operations the flight was to provide aerial support. The briefing included weather forecast information but did not include any indication of rain showers, thunderstorms, or other hazardous weather over the military operations area or near the landing airport for the period of operations. During the flight, the weather in the area began to deteriorate. Other pilots, ground personnel, and witnesses reported periods of heavy rain and reduced visibility. Infrared satellite imagery for the time period of the accident flight depicted an area of cumulus congestus cloud development over south-central Florida, north of a stationary frontal boundary, moving north. Ground personnel were monitoring the deteriorating weather as the accident airplane continued its mission. Although there may have been discussions of a weather recall, the evidence indicates that this did not occur. The accident pilot likely discontinued his mission and initiated a return to the airport due to the weather conditions. The airplane was not equipped with weather radar. As the airplane approached the airport from the north in night conditions, it encountered the edge of an area of echoes with a maximum core reflectivity of 55 decibels; such echoes are capable of producing severe turbulence and strong outflow winds. The right wing separated in flight, and the airplane crashed inverted in a farm pasture west of the airfield. An examination of the wreckage did not reveal evidence of a preexisting mechanical malfunction or failure. All observed fracture surfaces on the right wing showed indications of overstress.


The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The pilot's inadvertent encounter with an unexpected intense rain shower with severe turbulence at night.

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On November 17, 2010, about 2050 eastern standard time, a Cessna M337B, N1309, impacted terrain following an in-flight separation of the right wing near Avon Park, Florida. The airplane was registered to a private individual and the public use flight was operated by Patriot Technologies LLC under contract with the Department of Defense. The commercial pilot and two pilot-rated crewmembers were killed. Night instrument meteorological conditions were present in the area, and no Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight plan was filed. The local flight originated at MacDill Air Force Base Auxiliary Field (AGR), Avon Park, Florida, about 1932.

According to the operator, the purpose of the flight was to provide aerial support to an Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) training exercise. The flight, using call sign "Jedi 21," was in contact with AGR tower at the time of the accident. Tower instructed Jedi 21 to report a two-mile final for runway 5. When Jedi 21 did not report final, a search and rescue response was initiated. The wreckage was located about 0118 on November 18.

Several Department of Defense personnel were on the Avon Park Air Force Range at the time of the accident. These persons included range and airspace controllers, a weather forecaster, and other flight crews. 

An Air Force Staff Sergeant, acting as a primary Restricted Operating Zone (ROZ) controller, reported the following. Jedi 21 checked in on station and worked on his frequency for about an hour, until he reported a "bent sensor." According to the operator, "bent sensor" is an Air Force Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures Manual 3-1 standard communication term indicating a technical anomaly with sensor equipment. The ROZ controller continued to work with Jedi 21 for about 30 more minutes before checking off station uneventfully.

An Air Force Tech Sergeant, also working ROZ controller duties, reported the following. About 2040, he received a call from Jedi 21 stating that the flight was returning to base (RTB). The controller requested the reason for the RTB, and reportedly received no response from Jedi 21. The controller further stated that they were tracking weather in the area to determine if returning other flights to base was warranted. About 15 minutes later, or about 2055, AGR tower called him and inquired as to the location of Jedi 21. The controller believed at the time that Jedi 21 had landed. About the same time, the "…weather conditions became severe at AGR with heavy rain and limited visibility." 

An Air Force Staff Sergeant, performing communications link duties between range control, AGR tower, and ROZ control, reported the following. He heard the RTB call from Jedi 21 to the ROZ controller. When the controller asked for the reason for the RTB, no response was heard. About 2045, Jedi 21 called "inbound to Avon Aux Field (AGR)." He then heard Jedi 21 call 4 miles from AGR, which was the last radio call he heard from Jedi 21. He added that, about 2055, the "weather significantly grew worse with heavy rain at the Avon Field."

An Air Force Staff Sergeant, performing weather forecaster duties, reported the following. He began to prepare for the 1830 evening mass briefing about 1500, and stated, "...conditions looked to be on track with relatively clear skies." He recalled that, before the mass briefing, mid-level cloud cover increased at around 7,000 to 8,000 feet with some scattered clouds to the south at about 4,000 feet. He noted some weak returns on the radar to the south but felt that they would "die out relatively quickly" with the loss of heating as the evening progressed. His overall assessment of the synoptic situation and weather on the night of the accident is that "there was no significant weather event during the operation other than a brief heavy shower." He also stated that the showers did not occur until after communication was lost with the accident airplane. 

In a timeline attached to his written statement, the forecaster reported that between 1930 and 2000, he continued to monitor weather to the south and could see showers continuing to "back build" on radar to the southwest, tracking northeast. He notified exercise command of a possible recall of light and medium fixed wing aircraft and requested a pilot report from the south ROZ with no response. About 2010, he received a pilot report of 3,000 foot ceilings and rain to the south. During the time period of 2015 to 2030, he contacted tower to recommend a recall of visual flight rules (VFR) aircraft due to worsening conditions with rain and lowering ceilings. He reported that, at 2035, tower recalled light and medium fixed wing aircraft. From 2040 to 2050, he continued to monitor the weather conditions, and from 2050 to 2055, a brief, heavy shower moved through, reducing visibility to between 1 and 2 statute miles.

An H60 helicopter pilot, who was transitioning from south to north on the Avon Park Range between 2030 and 2100, reported that the weather was "worse than briefed." He stated that his aircraft flew through numerous rain showers with visibilities between 1 and 2 miles. At 2015, while arriving at AGR, they experienced "0 – 0" conditions (zero ceiling and visibility) over the field. After slowing the aircraft, he was able to regain contact with the ground and land.

Another Patriot Technologies Group aircraft was airborne on the Avon Park Range at the time of the accident. He attended the mass briefing prior to the flight and recalled that, during the briefing, there was no mention of any precipitation or convective activity throughout the flying period. He departed AGR about 1920 and arrived on station about 1935. He recalled that, the weather "began to change rapidly and deteriorate with weather moving from south to north." He was forced to deviate from the mission to remain in VFR conditions. About 2120, unable to maintain VFR, he elected to abort his mission and land at Avon Park Executive Airport (AVO). At 2130 he attempted to land at AVO, but weather prevented the approach. He held over Sebring Airport (SGF) until about 2200, when he reattempted an approach at AVO. He stated that, he did not "receive any additional weather information throughout the flight" and did not "receive a weather recall." He added that he was in continuous radio contact with the command and control center and was monitoring UHF and VHF guard frequencies during the entire flight.

A witness was outside at his residence at the time of the accident. He reported that he lived 1 to 2 miles north of the accident site. He stated the following. It was dark at the time and it had just started sprinkling. He heard the airplane, but did not see it. He described the sound as "at full throttle, like it was pulling out of a dive." He then heard a "thud" sound and he knew the airplane had crashed. He called 911 and told the operator that a plane had crashed between his location and Avon Park. He said that there was no explosion. Immediately after the accident, it started raining hard. He was drenched because he needed to be outside to get good reception on his phone. He did not see the wreckage until the next morning.

A second witness was outside, on his back porch, about 3/4 mile from the accident site, at the time of the accident. He was talking on the phone to his daughter. He did not see the airplane or the crash, but he heard the airplane fly near his house. The airplane sounded like it was traveling in a northerly direction. He stated that the airplane sounded normal, and then it sounded like a "dive bomber, rolling into a dive." The engine rpm's increased audibly until he heard the airplane crash. He got off the phone and called 911 because he knew an airplane had crashed. He stated that a "terrible storm" hit a few minutes after the accident, and lasted for about 10 minutes. There was a lot of rain, but no thunder or lightning. The rain was so intense that it filled up his gutters, which he had just cleaned out.

A search of recorded radar data from nearly facilities revealed a primary target on a south-southeasterly heading, and the radar data terminated at a point approximately collocated with the accident site. The time of the last recorded radar point was 2050. No altitude or airspeed data was captured, and the data source was not positively identified as coming from the accident airplane.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The certificated commercial pilot, who was acting as pilot-in-command and was seated in the left cockpit seat, held airplane single and multi-engine land ratings and an instrument airplane rating. He was also a certificated flight instructor. He reported 6,200 civilian flight hours on his FAA second-class medical certificate application, dated December 29, 2009.

According to a pilot history form provided by the operator, dated October 5, 2010, the pilot reported 10 hours total time in the Cessna 337/O-2. He also reported about 3,500 military flight hours. 

A certificated private pilot was seated in the right cockpit seat. According to the operator, he was assigned duties to support the training exercise that included operating on-board tactical equipment. A certificated commercial pilot was seated in the aft, right seat. He was assigned duties that included operating on-board communications equipment. 

According to the operator, the duties of the crewmember occupying the right cockpit seat did not include flying the airplane.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The airplane was a Cessna M337B, serial number 337-M0015. The airplane was originally built as an O-2A for the U.S. Air Force. It was powered by two Continental model IO-360-D engines, each rated at 210 horsepower at 2,800 rpm. The airplane was not equipped with weather radar.

A review of the aircraft maintenance records indicated that an annual inspection of the airframe and engines was performed on October 14, 2010. The aircraft total time at the time of the annual inspection was 5,566.9 hours. The forward engine time since overhaul was 1,260.3 hours and the rear engine time since overhaul was 1,111.8 hours. 

On October 11, 2010, an eddy current inspection of the bolt holes in the horizontal flanges of the lower cap of the front wing spar and jack point was performed. The inspection was performed in accordance with Cessna Multi-Engine Service Letter 78-2. According to the inspection documents, no discrepancies were found.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

The National Weather Service (NWS) Surface Analysis Chart and satellite imagery for 1900 and 2200 depicted a stationary front extending east-to-west over southern Florida, south of the accident site. A regional radar mosaic chart identified, in the area of the accident, an east-to-west band of echoes. Infrared satellite imagery surrounding the time period of the accident depicted an area of cumulus congestus type cloud development over south-central Florida, north of the stationary frontal boundary. No defined cumulonimbus or thunderstorms were identified in the immediate vicinity of the accident site. 

Doppler radar images at 2052 depicted the accident site under the leading edge of an area of echoes with a maximum core reflectivity of 55 decibels (dBZ) located about one-half mile east of the accident site. The next radar scan at 2057 depicted echoes of 35 to 45 dBZ over the accident site with the edge of the 50 dBZ core located about one-eighth mile east of the accident site. FAA advisory circular (AC) 00-45B correlates echoes of 50 to 55 dBZ with video integrator and processor (VIP) level 5 “intense” intensity echoes capable of producing severe turbulence and strong outflow winds. No lightning activity was observed in the area of the echoes.

AGR does not have weather reporting facilities. The 2055 weather observation for Bartow, Florida (BOW), located 28 miles northwest of AGR included the following: surface winds from 100 degrees at 6 knots, sky clear, visibility 10 statute miles, temperature 21 degrees Celsius, dew point 19 degrees Celsius, and altimeter setting of 30.12 inches of mercury. Other stations surrounding the accident site reported visual flight rules weather conditions near the time of the accident.

A mass weather briefing was provided by the Air Force Weather Service prior to the accident flight. The briefing was conducted by an Air Force forecaster utilizing a color-coded briefing slide. The briefing did not include any indication of rain showers, thunderstorms, or other hazardous weather over the military operations area or in the terminal area of AGR during the period of operations. 

A detailed Meteorological Factual Report with accompanying graphics is contained in the public docket for this accident. 

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The main wreckage was found adjacent to a retention pond and swamp that were located on a farm pasture. The initial impact crater, measuring 7 feet wide by 9 feet long by 3 feet deep, contained the cockpit instrument panel, forward engine, forward propeller hub, and one blade of the forward propeller. A ground scar consistent with the thickness and length of the left wing leading edge was adjacent to the impact crater. 

The wreckage path was oriented on a heading of about 130 degrees. The left and right tail booms, vertical stabilizers and rudders, horizontal stabilizer, elevator, and a section of the left wing were found in the retention pond. The aft engine was resting inverted on the edge of the pond. All propeller blades were located within the area of the main wreckage. 

Two sections of the right wing were found northwest of the main wreckage impact crater. The outboard section of the right wing, from the inboard edge of the aileron to the wing tip, was found about 800 feet northwest of the impact crater. The aileron remained attached. Another section of the right wing, which included a section of right wing flap, was found about 330 feet northwest of the impact crater.

The wreckage was recovered to a storage facility in Groveland, Florida where a more detailed examination of the wreckage was performed. An examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of preexisting mechanical anomalies. All fracture surfaces that were examined exhibited evidence of overload failure. Sections of the right wing front and rear spars and associated wing skin were sent to the NTSB Materials Laboratory in Washington, DC for examination of the fracture surfaces. Optical examinations of the fractures revealed features and deformation patterns consistent with overstress fracture at all locations. No indications of preexisting cracking such as fatigue or corrosion were uncovered. 

For additional information regarding the examination of the aircraft systems and structure, refer to the Structures and Systems Factual Report and the Materials Laboratory Factual Report, located in the public docket for this accident.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

Postmortem examinations of the pilot and crewmembers were performed at the Office of the District 10 Medical Examiner, Winter Haven, Florida. The autopsy reports noted the cause of death for all occupants as blunt force trauma. 

Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens of the pilot and crewmembers by the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory (CAMI), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The CAMI toxicology reports for the pilot and front, right seat occupant indicated negative for drugs and ethanol. The rear seat occupant tested negative for drugs but positive for ethanol in the muscle, lung, liver, and kidney. Testing for carbon monoxide and cyanide was not performed on any occupant of the airplane.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

Airborne Mapping System

The airplane was equipped with an AeroComputers, Inc. UC5100 tactical mission management system. Memory cards from the unit were sent to the NTSB Vehicle Recorder Division, Washington, DC, for general examination and download of data.

The UC5100 recorded 46 flight history files. The flight history file corresponding to the accident flight was reviewed and the data was extracted using information provided by AeroComputers. The data included the entire accident flight up to about 2045, or 8 about minutes prior to the accident. The UC5100 system is not essential to the operation of the airplane and the crew can power down the system when it is not required. According to AeroComputers, operators normally power down the system when the mission is complete. Additional information regarding the UC5100 data extraction is included in the Recording Devices Factual report, located in the public docket for this accident.

El Segundo’s LAX noise-mitigation program hits a wall with Federal Aviation Administration

Sylvia Hickey has been waiting nearly a decade for new windows and other measures needed to help drown out the noise of jets flying over her El Segundo home.

Hickey is one of thousands living near Los Angeles International Airport who took advantage of a residential soundproofing program offered by the city and funded by LAX and the FAA, a sort-of peace offering for decades of noise impacts.


Many residents say they can’t even carry on a phone conversation or hear a loud television when planes fly over. But they were willing to wait it out, many for more than a decade, to receive notice that the work would begin.


Hickey changed her summer vacation plans to accommodate the contractor’s planned work this summer. Then, a couple weeks ago, she and dozens of others received sudden notice that they would be waiting indefinitely.


Due to excessively high contractor bids and a looming deadline by the FAA, the city told nearly 200 residents that the noise-mitigation work will have to be canceled unless the city is granted an extension.


“We’re being bamboozled, and I’m angry,” Hickey said. “I signed a contract earlier this year, and there were never any ifs, ands or buts. It was ‘This will be done.’ And we signed on the dotted line.”


The El Segundo City Council last week called a special meeting to discuss the mitigation program, which has been in place since the 1990s. Five years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration moved the boundary denoting eligibility for the program, dramatically reducing which homes were eligible for the funding.


The city reached an agreement with FAA and LAX officials in 2010 to recognize homes just south of the boundary that no longer qualified under federal standards, if the improvements were made solely with LAX funding.


Sensing that it wouldn’t be able to meet an initial deadline, El Segundo was granted a rare extension by the FAA, giving the city until Sept. 30, 2015, to complete the soundproofing work for those homes in the exception area, known as the “yellow area.”


Now the city needs another extension.


Bids for the mitigation work came in at up to 103 percent higher than estimates, staff said, and had to be rejected based on FAA regulations.


“This is a blindside to the city,” said James O’Neill, the city’s residential sound insulation program manager. “This is nothing that we were expecting.”


The city already knew it was up against a tight deadline to get the exception homes finished, but staff had worked aggressively to get design plans ready for 750 homes to be completed this year. Then the bids came back.


Now that the excessive bids have been rejected, the city does not have time to try to secure new bids and complete the soundproofing by Sept. 30, O’Neill said. And the FAA has made clear it will not grant any further extensions.


“The situation is pretty daunting,” said Coby King, a lobbyist for the city. “FAA has made clear to us that they have no intention of bending further on the issue. ... The idea of changing the FAA’s mind on any of these deadlines is going to be difficult.”


That means any uncompleted homes in the yellow area of town would be out of luck. The FAA would not allow the city to use grant funding to complete the work.


“I’ve been waiting 13 years for these windows that I don’t have yet,” one resident said. “Thirteen years is an awful long time. Why hasn’t it been done? Where has it fallen between the cracks? If we have signed contracts and are supposed to have work done by the end of 2015, then, by God, we should have it.”


City Manager Greg Carpenter said staff tried to get an explanation from contractors on why bids were so high, but the city can’t explain the pricing and why it jumped so astronomically.


Mayor Suzanne Fuentes assumed it’s because other cities with soundproofing programs, such as Inglewood, also are racing against the clock to get the work done.


“Everyone knows there’s a deadline,” she said. “So there’s a sense of urgency. It’s like everyone preparing for a hurricane in Florida and the price of materials goes up.”


Council members directed staffers and the public to reach out to local Assembly and Congress members to see if they could persuade the FAA to change its mind, as former Rep. Jane Harman had years earlier.


But an FAA spokesman said the agency has long been lenient with El Segundo and other cities. Since the 1980s, guidelines for receiving the soundproofing work included living within a determined boundary area and the completion of interior noise level testing to ensure the decibels are above 45.


“However, the FAA found that the guidelines weren’t being consistently applied throughout the system,” said Ian Gregor, FAA spokesman.


The FAA sent out a letter in 2012 reiterating that process. That year, El Segundo was granted the exception and an extension for homes that had previously been included in the program only based on boundaries.


Any projects with ongoing construction after this September will have to meet the full requirements, Gregor said.


That means even the homes not in the yellow area that have remained eligible — the ones closer to the airport — now will have to undergo internal noise testing.


“If some of the homes are particularly well-insulated already, they may not qualify after that test,” Carpenter said.


But many residents said last week they had already paid to make preparations in their homes for the soundproofing, including installing new sliding glass doors, making improvements to their attics and the like.


“This has been promised to us. We signed contracts,” Jennifer Gardner said. “You can’t promise this and then not live up to it.”


For now, the city’s only hope appears to be its state and federal lawmakers, and leniency from the FAA.


“We can come up with a number of arguments,” Assistant City Attorney Karl Berger said. “Whether or not you’re successful is another question. We’re fighting federal law.”


Original article can be found here: http://www.dailybreeze.com

Cobra Kai to get simulator

Tuesday’s Wichita Falls City Council meeting includes consideration of a resolution to approve up to $140,000 for a flight simulator for the Cobra Kai Flight Academy, LLC. The expenditure, through the Wichita Falls Economic Development Corporation, would be added to the WFEDC budget under open projects.

The Cobra Kai Academy, located at the Kickapoo Airport, is seeking to invest nearly $500,000 with an expansion to their flight school career center in Wichita Falls. They are looking to purchase additional hangar space, airplanes and a flight simulator. The company is expected to add an additional five full-time positions to its current force of eight employees, and maintain staff over the next five years. WFEDC incentives include a no interest, forgivable loan for the purchase of a Redbird Flight Simulator.

Greg Johnson and Martin Bohn began the school in April 2012. The two merged ideas to form a unique flight-training experience.

The Cobra Kai Method offers a more “natural” way of learning aviation as opposed to rote memory.

“We train the brain, not the pilot,” Johnson said about the Cobra Kai philosophy.

The school offers several ratings and certificates including private pilot, commercial pilot, and certified pilot instructor.

Original article can be found here: http://www.timesrecordnews.com

Schleicher ASW-27, N27QV: Accident occurred April 05, 2015 in Reno, Nevada

NTSB Identification: WPR15LA142
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, April 05, 2015 in Reno, NV
Aircraft: SCHLEICHER ASW 27, registration: N27QV
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 may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On April 5, 2015, about 1424 Pacific daylight time, a Schleicher ASW-27, N27QV, broke up in-flight after entering clouds near Reno, Nevada. The pilot (sole occupant) sustained serious injuries, and the glider sustained substantial damage throughout. The glider was registered to, and operated by, the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the departure phase of the flight, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from the Minden-Tahoe Airport (KMEV) at 0730. 

The pilot reported that while maneuvering at 14,000 feet he elected to fly between two large clouds; the clouds filled in quickly and he entered instrument meteorological conditions. The flight became very turbulent; the pilot felt the glider stall and it started to descend rapidly. The airspeed increased very quickly and he heard two "pops." At about 9,000 feet the glider exited the clouds and was in a spin. The pilot attempted to recover, but realized the glider's left wing had separated. He egressed from the glider and parachuted to the roof of a hospital. 

The glider's fuselage came to rest on top of a parking garage, the left wing was found in a park, and the right wing has not been located. The glider has been recovered to a secure location for further examination.

ROBERT W.  SPIELMAN:  http://registry.faa.gov/N27QV 




RENO, Nev. (KRNV & MyNews4.com) -- Investigators are still searching for a missing wing that fell off a glider before it crashed in downtown Reno Sunday afternoon. The pilot was able to parachute out before the aircraft came down and suffered only minor injuries.

News 4 spoke with an aviation expert who explains why the aircraft may have come apart. "It’s really rare to have an airplane break apart in flight,” said Reno Flying Service President John Burruel. 

Burruel said all aircraft's have airframe limitations and if you exceed those limits, especially in severe weather, an airplane accident like Sundays in downtown Reno is possible. "Every airplane has what’s called a turbulence penetration airspeed and that’s a speed that you always want to stay under if you anticipate any turbulence and then every airframe has a maximum airspeed as well, which under any circumstances you don’t want to exceed that speed."

Around 2:30pm Sunday afternoon Robert Spielman's Schleicher ASW-27 Glider crashed into a parking lot near Fifth Street and Arlington Avenue. But before it crashed, Reno Police said Spielman encountered severe wind that sheared both wings off his airplane. And Burruel said even if Spielman was staying within his aircrafts limitations, accidents can still happen. "Sometimes there is something wrong that you don’t know about with the airplane, some fatigue or stress, metal fatigue is a common thing that you hear about and if you don’t know about that, and you’re staying perfectly within the limits of the airplane, you could still have instances like yesterday." 

Burruel also said private planes don't have a strict inspection requirement like commercial planes do. "Because you’re not inspecting as frequently as a commercial airplane is being inspected, it’s possible you don’t know about that fatigue." 

One of the aircraft's wings was found at Dick Taylor Memorial park in Reno, about one and a half miles away from where the glider crashed. If you come across the missing second wing, contact Reno Police. They are working with the FAA and the NTSB on the crash investigation. 

=============

A pilot suffered only minor injuries, after parachuting from a malfunctioning glider and landing on the roof of a Downtown Reno parking garage Sunday afternoon. 

Initial reports indicate that Bob Spielman took off from the Minden-Tahoe airport in his glider on Sunday morning, and was in the process of returning to Minden when he encountered severe winds.

Both of the aircraft's wings were sheared off and debris from one of them landed in Dick Taylor Park. The location of the other wing is unknown.

Spielman escaped the glider by parachute, landing on the five-story parking structure of St. Mary's Hospital, near Circus Circus, just before 2:30 p.m. 
Paramedics say the pilot was treated for his injuries at the scene and released.

The body of the glider landed in a nearby alley. Police say debris struck some vehicles, but no one else was hurt.

Reno Police are in contact with the FAA and the NTSB as the investigation moves forward.

Story, video and photo gallery:  http://www.ktvn.com


















A glider pilot parachuted out of his craft over downtown Reno on Sunday, landing on top of a parking structure, according to the Reno Fire Department. RFD Battalion Chief Dick Nachtsheim said the male pilot, who was not identified, appeared to be in good condition with minor injuries when he was transported by REMSA from the scene near the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino to Renown Hospital.

Nachtsheim said the glider took off from Mammoth and "experienced a malfunction" over Reno, and the pilot parachuted from the craft. Parts of the fuselage landed just west of Circus Circus in a parking lot. A wing was located at Dick Taylor Park, which is north of downtown along Valley Road.

The pilot landed on top of a structure between Fifth and Sixth streets east of Arlington Avenue. The structure is owned by St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, Nachtsheim said.

The glider was not powered and no fuel was involved in the crash, he said, adding the Federal Aviation Administration has been contacted.




RENO, NV - The Reno Police Department is reporting no one was injured after a glider crashed on W. 4th Street in downtown Reno and the pilot parachuted to safety on Sunday, April 5, 2015.

Reno Police Lieutenant Rob Larson tells KOLO 8 News Now that the glider took off from Minden and encountered bad weather about 2:30 p.m. and broke apart. Larson says one wing landed at Dick Taylor Park and the remainder of the glider crashed at 255 W. 4th Street and caused some damage to a couple of parked cars.

Larson says the pilot parachuted to safety and landed near St. Mary's Hospital and was not injured.

The FAA will investigate the cause of the crash.

Amazon’s Drones Exiled to Canada • Refusing to move at the speed of bureaucrats, an impatient Jeff Bezos heads north of the border

The Wall Street Journal
OPINION
By L. GORDON CROVITZ
April 5, 2015 5:50 p.m. ET



Jeff Bezos is known for refusing to suffer fools. His reported put-downs include: “Why are you wasting my life?,” “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” and “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?” Imagine someone as impatient as the Amazon CEO being forced to move at the speed of bureaucrats.

This explains Amazon’s decision to take on the Obama administration’s Federal Aviation Authority. The FAA is years late in approving commercial use of drones and has violated numerous congressional deadlines. Mr. Bezos says regulatory inertia—not massive R&D—is blocking Amazon’s futuristic plan to have low-flying vehicles deliver within 30 minutes the 85% of its packages weighing less than five pounds.

When Mr. Bezos went on “60 Minutes” in 2013 to announce Amazon Prime Air, many thought he was joking. It’s now clear his appearance was just the first high-profile effort to pressure Washington to allow this next new thing.

Last month Amazon poked the FAA again. The agency had added insult to injury by granting Amazon a useless certificate to test a model of drone that R&D had made obsolete. The company’s head of global public policy, Paul Misener, told the Senate aviation subcommittee on March 24 that in the six months it took the FAA to approve the testing, “We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad.”

The next week, the Guardian published an article by reporter Ed Pilkington, who was granted access to Amazon’s secret testing facility at a location 2,000 feet across the border in Canada.

“The largest Internet retailer in the world is keeping the location of its new test site closely guarded,” the Guardian reported. “What can be revealed is that the company’s formidable team of roboticists, software engineers, aeronautics experts and pioneers in remote sensing—including a former NASA astronaut and the designer of the wingtip of the Boeing 787—are now operating in British Columbia.”

The Guardian said Amazon is taking advantage of the “permissive culture on the Canadian side of the border,” while taking the company’s “quarrel with the federal government to a new level.”

Amazon is trying to shame U.S. regulators into action by publicizing what the Guardian calls “Amazon’s Canadian airstrip-in-exile.”

Last year, Mr. Bezos told a business conference, “Technology is not going to be the long pole. The long pole is going to be regulatory.” He added, “I think it is sad but possible that the U.S. could be late” to the benefits of drones, which are allowed to fly more freely in Britain, Australia, Germany and Israel as well as Canada.

The FAA treats drones the way the government once treated the Internet when it banned commercial use. This arbitrary line was why academics and scientists were first to gain access to the Web. The Internet became the force we know it today only when it was freed for business use in the 1990s.

We now have the worst of all worlds: Businesses like Amazon are not permitted to use or test drones, but hobbyists can buy drones for a few hundred dollars and fly them without safety guidelines that everyone agrees are needed. Rules that work well outside the U.S. limit drone flights to under about 500 feet and require a safe distance from airports.

The FAA in March stretched the definition of “commercial” to catch many hobbyists. The Motherboard website reported that the agency had sent a warning letter to Jayson Hanes, a Tampa-based drone enthusiast, alleging he had violated the law. The problem, according to the FAA letter, was that he had posted video from his drone to YouTube. This transformed his hobby into unlawful commercial activity simply because YouTube has advertisements. Mr. Hanes says he has never received any payment from YouTube, and he estimates revenue earned on the video to be less than a dollar.

This approach effectively criminalizes tens of thousands of videos and photos shot by drone hobbyists and posted online to YouTube or another advertising-based service, such as Facebook or Twitter.

The FAA recently minimized its failure to issue commercial drone rules by saying that “proposed requirements rely on market forces for a market that does not yet exist.” In fact, the drones have become a large industry thanks to entrepreneurs engaging in regulatory civil disobedience by ignoring government prohibitions. Farms, construction sites, movie studios and newsrooms routinely use drones. This black market is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

There are thousands of commercial drone operators in the U.S. forced to work in the shadows. Mr. Bezos is trying to embarrass regulators by pointing out that other countries are flying ahead of the U.S. At least so far, these regulators have shown themselves to be beyond shame.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.wsj.com

With John F. Kennedy International Airport (KJFK) runway under repair, skies above New York City could get crowded

NEW YORK >> The closure of a runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport could create a traffic jam in the skies above New York City this summer.

The main arrivals runway at Kennedy will be closed for repairs and resurfacing for about five months starting at the end of April, just as the summer travel season gets underway, and will likely remain closed through most of hurricane season. When the winds are calm and visibility is clear, the closure of one runway doesn’t cause major disruptions at JFK, which has four runways and rarely operates all four at the same time. But during inclement weather, the loss of that runway could cause a ripple effect of delays at all three of the major airports in the crowded skies above New York.

“It’s probably the most complex air space in the world. When you create limitations in one part of it, it has effects in other parts of it, including other airports,” said Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst and consultant based in Port Washington. “It may limit the capacity of (each) airport in terms of the number of hourly arrivals and departures that can be handled.”

Runway selection is driven by weather and wind. Pilots prefer to land and take off into the wind to create either lift or drag on a plane. Because of this, airport officials are assessing wind direction all day long. When the wind changes, they will redirect planes to a different runway.

With the main arrivals runway out of commission, the Federal Aviation Administration could be forced to land planes on runway 13L, an interior runway that runs parallel to Jamaica Bay. And in poor visibility, landing aircraft on this runway creates a logistical mess for the FAA, officials say.

“If you change (the runway) at Kennedy, you have to change at LaGuardia, and you also have to change the orientation of Newark and Teterboro,” Mann said. “The New York metropolitan air traffic terminal area is really like a spaghetti bowl. If you move the spaghetti in one area, you have to move it in the other area.”

In bad weather conditions and poor visibility, pilots generally have to land using a specific flight path that relies on instrument technology. A series of beacons will send signals to the cockpit to ensure that the plane is properly centered with the runway and descending at the correct angle.

The problem with runway 13L is that its instrument-landing flight path into LaGuardia uses part of the airspace above Teterboro to line up aircraft for final landing. In turn, that pushes Teterboro into Newark’s air space, forcing those two airports to take turns letting planes take off and land.

To help mitigate the delays, the FAA has created a temporary new arrival flight path that can be used by planes that have GPS technology on board. That path doesn’t use any airspace above Teterboro, thus avoiding the logjam effect. But most domestic airplanes do not have GPS technology, though all planes are mandated to install it by 2020.

The technology is mostly relegated to new aircraft or the jumbo jets that make long hauls overseas.

The good news is that once this runway project is completed, the final product will be longer, wider and safer, allowing it to handle giant international planes. It will be completely resurfaced with concrete, and the electrical and lighting systems will be replaced, said Ron Marisco, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport. The longer length will provide a bigger safety zones for planes that overshoot the runway while landing, meeting a new FAA safety mandate.

But that’s not much consolation for this summer’s travelers.

“When things get very congested, they may invoke ground stops at flight origins for flights destined to the New York airports just because they know they’re not going to be able to handle them until later,” Mann said. “So when you’re sitting in Dallas and you’re ground-stopped for your flight to LaGuardia, it may be due to weather. It may be due to the congestion. Or it may be due to a change that was made at Kennedy.”

Original article can be found here:  http://www.oneidadispatch.com

Pilot from Minnesota killed in Malaysian crash



GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- A Minnesota native was among the six people killed in a helicopter crash in Malaysia Saturday.

Clifford Fournier, 47, originally from Anoka, was piloting the helicopter near Kuala Lumpur when it crashed, according to family members.

Also on board the aircraft were a former ambassador to the United States and an aid to the Malaysian Prime Minister.

According to the Malaysian National News Agency, the helicopter was returning from the wedding of the Malaysian prime minister's daughter. One witness described seeing the aircraft explode before hitting the ground.

In Minnesota, those who knew Fournier mourn his loss.

"He had a certain charisma about him. Not just with his kids and his wife but as he met people he just always kept your interest," said Chris Webb, a pilot with Minnesota Helicopters. "One of the guys who was always very energizing to be around, very positive influence."

Webb called Fournier a gentle giant, always calm and cool, and one heck of a pilot.

Richard Anderson, a former mayor of Princeton, MN, recalled meeting Fournier for the first time while pumping gas. The two would remain close friends for nearly 30 years.

Anderson said Fournier grew up in Anoka and moved to Princeton during his final year in high school.

Soon after graduating, Fournier moved to California and joined the Marine Corps.

About 15 years ago, Fournier saw an opportunity to buy a helicopter company in Malaysia and never turned back, according to Fournier's mother, Barbara Fournier.

Fournier is listed as director and senior pilot of Solaire – a premier helicopter service provider in the region.

On Facebook -- friends and family continue to share memories, pictures and sentiments of Fournier.

""No" was not part of your vocabulary. Somehow you never reach your limit. Always reaching for something better to make a difference," said Jason DeBlassio in a post.

"I would want to tell you so many things Cliff Fournier, yet I am speechless. Gone too early my friend," said Francisco Rosas on Facebook.

Anderson said he will be travelling with Barbara Fournier to Malaysia Sunday to be with family.

Fournier is survived by a wife and four children.

Story, comments, video and photo:  http://www.kare11.com

AĆ©rospatiale SA 365N2 Dauphin 2,  9M-IGB, Solaire Helicopter

Police: ExpressJet pilot accused of stalking American Airlines flight attendant in Tempe, Arizona



PHOENIX - An airline pilot is accused of stalking a flight attendant and pepper spraying her inside her car in Tempe.

 John Phillip Rovenstine, a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, followed the victim, a flight attendant for American Airlines, from an employee parking lot at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to a home in Tempe on March 30, according to court documents.

He then allegedly used pepper spray on the victim and began searching for her car keys in an "apparent effort to start the vehicle and leave with her," documents said.

The victim yelled for help and later told police the pilot tried to silence her screams by placing his hand over her mouth. A neighbor heard the woman's screams and stepped in to help, according to documents.

Records say the woman told police she feared that the man planned to rape or kill her

Rovenstine fled the area before police arrived, according to documents, but later contacted police to "give his side of the story." He told police he wanted to take the woman somewhere private, but did not intent to hurt her.

He was arrested and later charged with stalking, unlawful imprisonment, and assault.

Paperwork indicates that Rovenstine is from Texas and met the victim through a former roommate. He reportedly told the victim via social media that he "sees her as a great potential wife."

ExpressJet declined to comment on whether or not the pilot was still able to fly with the airline, citing company policy against discussing personnel issues.

Calls to a recorded jail hotline indicated that the pilot had been released.

The pilot's next scheduled court date is April 7.

Story, comments and video:  http://www.abc15.com

Jet Airways pilot killed in car accident

MUMBAI: A Jet Airways pilot was killed after a car, contracted by his office, met with an accident on the Western Express Highway at Andheri East early on Sunday. Police said the driver of the vehicle rammed into the barrier of the Andheri flyover. The driver, Kamlesh Kumar Kahar, 38, was arrested on charges of negligence. He was released on bail by a holiday court the same day. Kahar escaped with minor injuries. 

Saumik Chaterjee, the 29-year-old pilot, resided at Mahakali Caves in Andheri East. He was headed for duty on Sunday. The Swift Dzire picked him up from his residence and was ferrying him to the domestic airport via Jogeshwari. 

Around 5.45 am, the vehicle, with Chaterjee in the backseat, was on the south-bound stretch of the WEH. While navigating upwards from a low lying stretch, the driver lost control and rammed into the barrier of the Andheri flyover. Chaterjee was hurt severely on his head. He suffered from haemorrhage and bled excessively. The driver sustained injuries to his head. A passing motorist informed the cops. The traffic police were the first to reach the accident spot. They rushed Chaterjee and Kahar to the Cooper Hospital in Vile Parle, where doctors pronounced the pilot dead. 

Kahar was booked under sections 279 and 304 (A) of IPC for rash driving and negligence. He was also booked under section 185 of Motor Vehicles Act for drunk driving though the cops are yet to confirm if he was drunk. The police are probing if Kahar dozed off at the wheel. 

Sources said that the driver had been struck off night duty and was posted on day duty. But he got his organization to assign him back on night duty. The police are now probing if he was employed elsewhere during the day and if he was overworked. 

A Jet Airways spokesperson said, "Jet Airways deeply regrets to confirm the demise of a cockpit crew member in a car accident in Mumbai on April 5, 2015. Jet Airways offers heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and is providing them all assistance." 

Source:  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com