Friday, September 23, 2016

Miramar Air Show has sky-high opening

From the graceful ballet of the Breitling Jet Team to the high-octane aerial drama of the Navy’s Blue Angels, the Miramar Air Show delivered a successful first day, underscoring the event’s prominence in the San Diego Fleet Week schedule despite the past uncertainty of military budgets.

The only small hiccup was a fire near the flight line that delayed the Blue Angels launch by several minutes.

Otherwise, the crowd seemed pleased by the display of military air power and mechanical muscle.

Ava Chan-Crowder was wearing a T-shirt that read “Got Jet Noise?”

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She sat out in Friday’s blazing sun all day with her camera trained on the sky. This was her happy place.

“I’m a big air show fan. I’m a big Blue Angels fan,” said the Imperial Valley native, who grew up watching the Navy team at their winter home of El Centro.

She and her husband regularly travel to see other military air shows, including in Pensacola, Fla., where the Blue Angels are headquartered, and Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii.

“This is the No. 1 air show,” she said, explaining that all the Marine equipment used in the performance makes the difference.

Indeed, the Marines from Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station — performing to the home crowd — may have dominated the scene simply by the number of aircraft presented and young Marines displaying their everyday skills.

At least seven kinds of Marine Corps aircraft worked together to demonstrate how they operate on the battlefield.

F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers thundered overhead, following by AH-1Z Super Cobra helicopters training their guns at the ground. UH-1Y Hueys swooped in to offload infantry Marines showing their “fast-roping” skills.

Then the Marines brought in their ground troops, with gusto.

M1A1 tanks sped along the flight line at near top speed — something one doesn't see every day, even in San Diego.

After the explosions died away and the air ceased throbbing from afterburner, infantry Marines in full battle gear marched past the air show audience, shaking hands and high-fiving fans.

Do the young Marines like putting on this annual air show, considering all the work involved?

“I think they do,” said 2nd Lt. Casey Littesy, a public affairs officer on base, laughing.

“It gives Marines a chance to talk about what they do. We like to talk about ourselves.”

The Breitling Jet Team performed for the second year of its two-year tour in North America.

This jet group — which is like Formula One racing compared to the Blue Angels’ Nascar vibe — wowed the crowd with swooping passes in formation.

The civilian team headquartered in France uses Czech-made trainer jets of the style formerly used by the Soviets. One member of the team said they won’t be back next year, so this is the chance to see them.

Peter Komuniecki was visiting from Canada, where air shows largely feature civilian performers.

As he was talking, the Air Force’s F-16 Viper fighter jet screamed past, making everyone’s ribs rumble.

“This is why we are here,” Komuniecki, said, laughing with delight, when he could be heard again.

Air shows nationally have had to depend on civilian performers in recent years, as federal budget woes made military performances difficult. The Miramar show was canceled altogether in 2013 when the government shut down.

But the show appeared to be back at full strength on Friday.

The Blue Angels team is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, after being formed following World War II to preserve public interest in naval air power.

The performance went off without a hitch, after the sad loss of the No. 6 pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, in a June crash during team practice in Tennessee.

Kuss was replaced by Navy Cmdr. Frank Weisser in the No. 6 cockpit.

Missing, however, was the team’s Fat Albert C-130 cargo plane. The aircraft is sidelined for the rest of the air show season for routine maintenance, a Miramar official said.

That may have led to disappointment for Kali Smith, a 16-year-old San Diego teen who was one of 17 girls who wrote essays to secure grandstand tickets to the show.

Friday was Girls in Aviation Day at the air show, sponsored by the international group Women in Aviation.

Smith arrived wearing her pink “Girls in Aviation” shirt and hoping to meet the Fat Albert pilot, Marine Capt. Katie Higgins.

Higgins is the first woman to fly with the Blues. She pilots the C-130 Fat Albert cargo plane that does demonstrations outside of the main team precision-flying performance.

“She’s a girl and she can fly,” Smith said, explaining her reasons for being inspired by the Marine captain.

For herself, Smith expects to earn her private pilot’s license in three months time. Some day, she wants to fly for Cal Fire, she said, “because I think they are interesting and I like what they do.”

Smith isn’t interested in the military, she revealed, but, “This is the next best thing.”


National Aerobatic Championships' final take off in Texoma

DENISON, Texas (KXII) -- If you hear some buzzing in the sky, it's because the U.S. National Aerobatic Championships are back at North Texas Regional Airport in Denison.

Pilots from all the nation have been coming to the North Texas Regional Airport to compete for the last 43 years, but this week, the tradition is taking off for the every last time.

"Expect to see some fast hard core aerobatics," Elias Corey, who is flying in the championship, said.

Precision and symmetry are what these pilots are aiming for. Corey is one of more than 50 competing in the aerobatic championships this week.

"I mean you're gonna see planes coming down to 300 feet, then shooting straight up into the sky," Corey said.

After 43 years, this is the last time these pilots will compete in Denison. So instead of just watching from the ground, Corey took News 12 up in his plane to get a closer look.

Lake Texoma Jet Center Operations Director Terry Vogel provides the fuel for the planes.

She said over the last few years, NTRA started getting more and more flights, that don't stop when they're competing. So they decided to move to a less busy airport in Wisconsin.

"Logistically, it just seemed to work out better for them to relocate to an airport that didn't have as much traffic," Vogel said.

Vogel said it's a bittersweet ending to an era.

"Naturally we are sad, but we feel honored to have had them that long," Vogel said. "They bring a lot to the community, hotels, restaurants, aviation."

"From a community perspective, yes we will be gone, and we are all sad about that, but I think there's a lot of growth happening locally, which is the reason for the move, so that's a positive," Corey said.

The championships start Saturday at 11 a.m. and end next Friday. It is free and open to the public.

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Federal Aviation Administration awards $6 million grant to Telluride Regional Airport

The Telluride Regional Airport Authority recently was awarded a $6 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, money that will go toward a spring 2017 project to reconstruct the aircraft parking apron and repair a drainage pipe.

The overall project cost for the work, scheduled to begin April 10 with a June 21 completion target, is $6.7 million. The specific FAA grant amount is $6.029 million. The airport will provide a 10 percent local match toward the project, but $250,000 of the match is being provided by the Colorado Division of Aeronautics.

Airport Manager Rich Nuttall, in announcing the grant award, said the airport would be closed during the 10-week project period. Four contractors submitted bids for the project, with Reams Construction Co. of Naturita submitting the lowest bid and winning the contract, he said.

“The project will start in April right after ski season closes,” Nuttall said Friday. “The reason (for closing the entire airport) is we are redoing the whole ramp, and we only have one taxiway entrance to the ramp, and that taxiway also is going to be partially rebuilt.”

By “ramp,” Nuttall is referring to the apron, where aircraft are parked, unloaded or loaded, refueled or boarded. The existing asphalt pavement that was constructed in 1993 will be removed and re-graded to bring it up to FAA airport design standards, Nuttall said. This will mean lowering the east end of the apron and raising the west end of the apron. 

“Basically, we’re going to take dirt from the east side of the ramp and put it at the west side of the ramp, and make that balance,” he said.

As Nuttall mentioned, the project also will include reconstructing the taxiway that leads to the apron as well as widening the apron to align with the taxiway.

“During the construction project, the airport at its own expense will perform other asphalt maintenance, which will include crack-sealing and seal-coating the runway, taxiways and other  portions of the aircraft parking areas that are not part of the construction project. All areas will then be re-striped,” Nuttall said in a news release last week.

He elaborated on the condition of the current apron in a phone interview Friday.

“It’s 23 years old now, and the asphalt’s deteriorating, a lot of cracks,” Nuttall said. “Normally you get about 20 years of life out of asphalt. We’re past that now.”

As for the upcoming winter tourism season and the return of commercial passenger service by Great Lakes Airlines on Dec. 17, the airport manager said the apron, taxiways and the airport in general are in solid condition to handle the increased traffic.

“It’ll be fine during the winter,” he said. 

The grant application process started in May 2015. First, airport officials had to design the project, then submit it to the FAA for approval. The federal agency then indicated that the money for the project wouldn’t be available in 2016.

A grant application was resubmitted and then the FAA indicated the money would be available for the 2017 federal fiscal year, Nuttall said.

Last year, the airport began work on a new $7 million run-up/de-icing pad that also was funded by FAA and state grants, along with the airport’s contribution. That project, which did not require airport closure, was completed this year.

The run-up pad is the area where pilots stop the aircraft to check engines and await clearance for take-off. It puts the aircraft clear of the taxiway where other planes might be speeding up to take off.

“There were some minor things (the contractor) had to finish up on in 2016,” Nuttall said.

He added that terminal improvements to create more room for airport users might be coming next spring while the airport is closed. 

Matt Skinner, COO of Colorado Flights Alliance, which works to secure commercial flights into the Telluride and Montrose airports, said the airport improvements make a positive difference.

“Rich has done a fantastic job securing available federal funds for airport improvements,” he said of Nuttall. “These grants have been, and continue to be, essential to the airport’s upkeep and continuing improvement, which in turn play a critical role in securing and maintaining air service.” 


Durango City Council and La Plata County consider airport oversight changes

The Durango-La Plata County Airport director could answer directly to La Plata County or an airport authority, instead of the city, as soon as next year.

For months the Durango City Council and the La Plata County Commissioners have discussed a change in day-to-day oversight at meetings.

The county would take on the debt and collect the property taxes if voters approve money for a new terminal in November, and that helped start discussions, county spokeswoman Megan Graham said.

“It’s their responsibility to be more engaged in the management,” she said of the county.

A logical time for transfer would be Jan. 1, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said this week. But that could be delayed because some elected officials want to wait until after the election to make a decision.

“Really the most important thing is to get the vote passed and then we can get the structure figured out,” Durango Mayor Christina Rinderle said.

The boards will discuss the issue again in early October.

The airport director and staff employees are city employees, but the City Council and county commission have a say in major airport decisions.

A shift in oversight would transfer administrative management functions such as payroll, benefits and human resources to an authority or the county, although the money would come from airport operations.

Under an authority, the airport director would answer to one board instead of two.

“I think it would be a superior management structure,” Councilor Dick White said.

An airport authority could not collect taxes but it could help balance the governance between the county and the city, which co-own the airport, White said.

If an airport authority was formed, city councilors and county commissioners could be on the board charged with overseeing airport finances and the director, and that might simplify the oversight structure, he said.

Even though both the City Council and county commission approve major airport decisions, the airport director is on the city’s staff. If governance shifted to the county, the director would be on county staff.

“One of the owners has an unequal role,” White said.

The shift to an authority might also solve what some perceive as an awkward structure of the Durango-La Plata County Airport Commission, an advisory group.

It is the only city board with a city councilor and a county commissioner who are voting members, said Sherri Dugdale, assistant to the city manager. The board advises the director and sends recommendations to the council and commission.

Normally, elected officials are not involved as voting members in the process of advising department head, who answer to the city manager and the city manager answers to the council. So the structure on the advisory board crosses a line of communication in the city, White said.

“That’s an awkwardness of the structure I think we all recognize,” White said.

Elected officials could also transfer operations to the county.

It’s a change that seems to make intuitive sense, Commissioner Julie Westendorff said.

“I’ve had constituents ask why the county doesn’t run the airport, since the airport is in the county,” she said.

But she wants to make sure the options are explored before making a decision.

Airport operations are self sustaining – including all of the administrative overhead – so the change would not put pressure the county’s budget.

“The airport has always paid its way and I expect that to continue,” Westendorff said.

The last change in airport governance was in 2003 when the city took over the airport operations and maintenance.

Previously, the county managed operations and the city was in charge of capital, such as the building and equipment.


Cirrus SR22, N176CF: President Leath damaged Iowa State plane while flying in 2015


This undated photo provided by the Bloomington Normal Airport Authority shows a damaged wing of a Cirrus SR22 single engine plane at the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill. Iowa State University President Steven Leath caused "substantial damage" to the university airplane he was piloting when it made a hard landing at the Illinois airport last year — a costly incident kept quiet for 14 months.

This undated photo provided by the Bloomington Normal Airport Authority shows a damaged wing of a Cirrus SR22 single engine plane at the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill. Iowa State University President Steven Leath caused "substantial damage" to the university airplane he was piloting when it made a hard landing at the Illinois airport last year — a costly incident kept quiet for 14 months.

Iowa State President Steven Leath damaged a plane owned by the school while flying in July 2015 from an 11-day trip to North Carolina for both personal and university business, an Iowa State spokesperson confirmed Saturday. 

The school said Friday that Leath "encountered a microburst, a localized downdraft within a thunderstorm" while he was flying, and "as a result, he experienced a hard landing at the Bloomington, Illinois airport."

John McCarroll, executive director of University Relations, said Saturday that the trip from July 3-14, 2015, was to North Carolina and "involved donor contacts [and] some personal business."

Due to a tight travel schedule, Leath used the school's single-engine Cirrus SR22 to travel, McCarroll said. 

Leath holds FAA pilot certification for single-engine aircraft, according to the school. Leath has flown the single-engine plane several times, including for both personal and university purposes. 

The hard landing in Illinois, which was to refuel the plane, caused about $12,000 in damage, which was paid for by the university using discretionary funds — money earned through university investments, not state appropriations or tuition, McCarroll said.

McCarroll said the school decided it was "best" to just pay for the damage instead of filing an insurance claim.

Leath reimbursed the school $1,100 in November, 2015 for his trip that resulted in damage. He also reimbursed the school for three other trips, all to North Carolina, in 2015 and 2016. In all, the four trips resulted in Leath paying the school $4,637.50.


March 25-29, 2015 trip: Leath reimbursed $1,212.50 (invoice sent April 7, Leath paid April 8.)

May 12-17, 2015 trip: Leath reimbursed $1,162.50 (invoice sent Sept. 23, Leath paid Nov. 19.)

July 3-14, 2015 trip: Leath reimbursed $1,100.00 (invoice sent Nov. 18, Leath paid Nov. 19.)

Aug. 26-30, 2016 trip: Leath reimbursed $1,162.50 (invoice sent Sept. 2, Leath paid Sept. 9.)

Leath and his wife own property in Ashe County, North Carolina and his family owns and manages a Christmas tree farm in the county. Prior to becoming president at Iowa State, Leath was vice president for research at the University of North Carolina.

"Keep in mind, none of the trips in question using the Cirrus SR22 were strictly for personal reasons; each of them had university business purposes," McCarroll said. "The president however felt that because some personal time was also involved, he should reimburse the university for the aircraft use."

Iowa State employs three trained pilots who fly two planes owned by the university, but Leath has flown himself for several trips. Along with the Cirrus SR22, Iowa State also owns a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air.

Leath said in a statement to the FAA that he "encountered an extremely strong gust that lifted me and I quickly added power but still dropped hard hitting the right wingtip" and his "left wing flap caught the top of a runway light," according to the Associated Press.

An airport inspection found "substantial damage to both wings," debris on the runway from the broken light and skid marks, according to the AP. 

The trained university pilots were sent to pick up Leath and his wife, Janet, with the school's other airplane after the incident, McCarroll said.

The round trips to pick up Leath and his wife cost more than $2,200 and was paid for by the "Greater University Fund," according to the AP.

The AP reported that the university vice president who oversaw the school's flight program, which would have been Warren Madden, who is now retired, said he was never told about the incident.

Madden told the AP that university policy would bar Leath from personal use of university planes. He also said due to insurance and liability issues, Leath would never fly alone. The AP reporter informed Madden that Leath had flown alone.

McCarroll said he could not answer legal questions about if the trip would have violated rules, but added, "President Leath believes he has acted appropriately."

Iowa State lists a policy online to provide clarification regarding personal use and misuse of university property:

State law, specifically Section 721.2 of the Iowa Code, prohibits any state employee from using, or permitting any other person to use, property owned by the state or any subdivision or agency of the state for any private purpose or for personal gain to the detriment of the state. Violation of this statute is a serious misdemeanor.

While the university said the microburst caused the hard landing, the AP quoted experts that said "the incident appears to be a case of an inexperienced pilot making an error."

McCarroll said Friday he would not comment further about the experts interviewed by the AP, but noted that Leath has been flying for 10 years.

An original release, sent out by the school Friday afternoon, also included a summary of Iowa State's ongoing relationship with the City of Ames and the Iowa State University Flight Service.

Iowa State said they were releasing the information because of comments Leath made at his annual address on Sept. 14 about improvements to the Ames Municipal Airport. Iowa State is planning to cover $250,000 of the $4.15 million project, which includes a new terminal and hangar.

They also said several media inquiries and public records requests had been made. The AP published a story with more details Friday afternoon shortly after the release from Iowa State.

In addition to the release from Iowa State, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said in a statement he supports efforts by Iowa State to expand the airport.

"I fully support economic development efforts between our universities and their local communities," Rastetter said. "Partnerships such as the agreement between Iowa State University and the city of Ames on the continued development of the city’s airport are critical to help encourage growth."

Rastetter said he is aware of Leath flying the university-owned plane. Iowa State noted several times in their release that Board of Regents leadership was made aware of the effort to expand the Ames airport and the purchase of planes.

Iowa State also said Friday that the airplanes were not bought with taxpayer money. The Iowa State Foundation purchased a Beechcraft King Air and gifted it to the university. The Cirrus SR22, flown by Leath, was bought with unrestricted private funds managed by the ISU Foundation.


University President Steven Leath gives his annual address within the Great Hall of the Memorial Union on Sep. 14. 

AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State University's president was returning from an 11-day personal trip to North Carolina when he damaged a small university-owned airplane in a rough landing, the school confirmed. 

President Steven Leath, a pilot, flew himself and his wife on July 3, 2015, in the university's Cirrus SR22 to Ashe County, North Carolina, where he owns a home and helps manage a family-owned Christmas tree farm.

While returning 11 days later, Leath caused "substantial damage" to the plane after he hit the runway with one wing and a runway light with the other upon landing in Bloomington, Illinois. Leath has blamed gusty conditions for the incident, but flight experts told The Associated Press it appears to have been pilot error.

University spokesman John McCarroll said the trip to North Carolina involved unspecified "donor contacts" as well as personal business for Leath. It wasn't clear why the Leaths were landing in Illinois. He said Leath reimbursed the university in November 2015 for part of the flight that wasn't business-related. The university paid for the $12,000 in repairs to the plane instead of filing an insurance claim because "we had the money," McCarroll said.

In addition, the university sent its other aircraft to pick up the Leaths in Bloomington at a cost of $2,200 that was billed to the "Greater University Fund," a pot of unrestricted donations that Leath controls.

Leath reimbursed the university a total of $3,500 for three other trips to North Carolina in which he used the plane, including one last month. In each case, the reimbursement paid was based on a formula created by ISU's flight program, McCarroll said.

The trips were either a mix of university and personal business or instances in which a business trip was scheduled before or after personal trips and Leath needed the flexibility of the school's plane to meet his official obligations, McCarroll said.

Still, Leath's routine use of a university aircraft for personal travel would appear to conflict with school policies and, possibly, with state law. Any public official who uses state-owned property for "any private purpose or for personal gain to the detriment of the state" is guilty of a serious misdemeanor. Noting that prohibition, university policy says employees cannot remove any kind of university property "for personal use from the buildings or grounds," even if it may seem to be of no value.

In addition, university policy requires employees to schedule their travel "in a manner that excludes consideration of personal gain." And policy of the Iowa Board of Regents, which governs the school, requires leaders such as Leath to "serve as role models and stewards of the institution's finances" and "promote, by personal example, ethical behavior among employees."

McCarroll said Leath did not inform the Iowa Board of Regents about the accident "immediately after" it happened, but that he informed Board President Bruce Rastetter at an unspecified later date.

Weeks after the accident, the board voted on Aug. 5, 2015 to extend Leath's contract through June 2020. The contract guarantees Leath his full annual salary of $525,000 if the board fires him without cause — a buyout that would be about $2 million today.

Rastetter issued a brief statement Friday saying he was aware of Leath's use of the plane: "He is a licensed pilot and can fly aircraft for which he is certified."


In this Sept. 14, 2012 file photo, Iowa State President Steven Leath speaks he is officially installed as the university's 15th president during a ceremony in Ames, Iowa. Leath caused "substantial damage" to a university airplane he was piloting when it made a hard landing at an Illinois airport last year - a costly incident kept quiet for 14 months. Reports obtained by The Associated Press show both wings suffered damage after Leath failed to navigate windy conditions and hit the runway at the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill. The university confirmed the incident Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, after AP inquiries, saying it paid for $12,000 in repairs itself rather than file an insurance claim.

AMES — Iowa State University President Steven Leath, a licensed pilot certified to fly one of the two ISU-owned aircraft, on four occasions used the single-engine plane for trips “that were a combination of university business and personal business,” the university said in a statement Friday.

“Even though each of these trips had a component of university business associated with them, President Leath reimbursed the university for the costs of these trips,” read the statement, which was released in response to questions from the media following comments Leath made during his annual address Sept. 14.

The reimbursement was based on a predetermined formula developed by ISU Flight Service. ISU spokesman John McCarroll did not immediately provide the total cost of the four trips but said Leath reimbursed the university $4,637.

Details of the trips — including when and where they were, what type of business was involved and when Leath provided the reimbursements — were not available Friday afternoon.

According to the statement, Leath encountered a downdraft while flying the university’s Cirrus SR22 in July 2015. That resulted in a “hard landing” at the Bloomington, Illinois, airport and caused a wing flap to clip a runway light.

“While the aircraft remained airworthy, relevant repairs costing approximately $12,000 were subsequently made to the aircraft and were covered using non-general fund resources,” according to the university.

McCarroll said the $12,000 came from “university discretionary funds consisting of interest on earnings.”

No one was injured in the incident and Leath reported it to the control tower and to the Federal Aviation Administration.

ISU has owned and operated transportation aircraft since the 1950s, but officials say they’ve gotten questions about Leath’s use of the aircraft because he holds an FAA pilot certification and instrument rating.

University officials said he occasionally piloted the single-engine Cirrus SR22 for university business and for flight training required by the FAA and the university insurer.

Officials reported the foundation bought one of ISU’s aircraft and donated it to the university. ISU bought the other.

“No taxpayer money was used to acquire either aircraft,” according to the ISU release.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on Friday released a statement affirming he’s aware of Leath’s use of the university plane.

He also issued a statement on ISU’s relationship with Ames over a $4.4 million Ames Municipal Airport development project that will cost the university hundreds of thousands of dollars.

ISU’s Flight Service is based at the airport.

“Partnerships such as the agreement between Iowa State University and the city of Ames on the continued development of the city’s airport are critical to help encourage growth,” Rastetter said.


Piper PA-11, N4681M: Accident occurred September 19, 2016 in Grand Isle, Vermont

Docket And Docket Items - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Portland FSDO-65

NTSB Identification: GAA16CA495
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, September 19, 2016 in Grand Isle, VT
Aircraft: PIPER PA 11, registration: N4681M
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot of a tailwheel-equipped airplane reported that about 450 feet above the ground, he reduced the power to idle to simulate an engine failure and forced landing. The pilot further reported that he "pushed the nose over" and made a "left tear drop turn" to land on the opposite direction of the takeoff direction. When the pilot had about 15 to 20 degrees remaining in the turn, and was about 15 to 20 feet above the ground, he reported that he increased "back stick pressure" and the airplane entered an aerodynamic stall. Subsequently, the left wing dropped and the airplane impacted terrain in a nose low left wing down attitude.

The left wing and fuselage sustained substantial damage. 

The pilot reported no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

The pilot reported in the National Transportation Safety Board Pilot/ Operator Aircraft Accident/ Incident Report that he misjudged the wind speed and did not realize he was completing the simulated training maneuver with a tailwind. The accident airport did not have an automated weather observing system or wind indicator. 

The crashed Piper PA-11 on the Savage Island runway 

The damaged plane after it was moved from the crash site to a barn on Savage Island.

The plane has been disassembled and placed in a barn on Savage Island until the owner can remove it. 

GRAND ISLE — The sheriff who mounted a large-scale emergency response to a plane crash on a Lake Champlain island said the air national guardsmen who did not immediately notify authorities should face consequences.

The accident occurred Sept. 19 around noon on Savage Island, according to Grand Isle Sheriff Ray Allen. However, the crash of the airman’s personal plane wasn’t reported to authorities until six hours later when another pilot, flying over the privately owned island, saw the crashed single-prop Piper PA-11, and radioed the flight tower at Burlington International Airport, Allen said.

Air traffic controllers called Vermont State Police, who called in Allen. Believing he was dealing with an active crash scene, Allen dispatched two boats and called on Milton’s volunteer fire department to join the marine response.

Allen requested assistance from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter out of Plattsburgh, New York, to help search the more than 200- acre island for the downed plane, but one of his deputies reached the scene in time to cancel that request.

The island’s caretaker, Wayne Fisher, told sheriffs that no one was injured and the pilot and his passenger were long gone, Allen said. Hours earlier, Fisher had ferried them back to Grand Isle, and drove them to the airport at Allenholm farm where their car was parked, the caretaker told Seven Days, which first reported the incident.

After an airplane accident that results in injury or “significant damage,” federal regulations require that the operator must “by the most expeditious means available, notify the nearest National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) office.”

It does not appear the two airmen involved did that, as the NTSB didn’t notify the Federal Aviation Administration workers at the Burlington airport.

“In my thinking, yeah, there ought to be some consequences,” Allen said. The response put his deputies and a group of volunteers at risk due to the lake’s low water level and because they left the island after dark, he said.

“If necessary agencies are informed ahead of time, we don’t have to treat this like it’s an active response situation,” Allen said.

Allen said failing to report an emergency happens frequently and is frustrating.

A few years ago, he said someone spotted light reflecting off the window of a car stuck in the ice on Lake Champlain. His department was called in, along with volunteers, who used specialized gear to trek out onto the ice, only to find the car was abandoned.

The car owner “was actually at home relaxing,” Allen said.

“If people are out there enjoying recreational activities, and something goes wrong, somebody else is going to see it and report it if they don’t,” Allen said, “It’s common sense.”

The FAA and NTSB are conducting a joint investigation of the accident. Scott Pratt, the FAA investigator handling the case, said depending on what his investigation finds, a suspension or revocation of the airmen’s private pilot license was possible.

The Piper PA-11 involved in the accident is registered to John Rahill. Rahill is a Lieutenant Colonel with the Vermont Air National Guard who flies F-16s and has deployed overseas a number of times, according to news reports unearthed by Seven Days.

VTANG spokesman Maj. Chris Gookin confirmed airmen were involved airmen, but declined to confirm the identity of the pilot or passenger, citing the ongoing investigation. Rahill did not return a call requesting comment.

George Moore, an aviation attorney who serves as an aviation legal expert for Plane & Pilot magazine, said the pilot should expect a letter from the FAA taking some type of action against their private pilot license.

“I think he’ll have to fight not to be suspended,” Moore said.

Moore noted that the standard for reporting an airplane accident with no injuries is “substantial damage,” and the pilot may argue on any appeal that he did believe that threshold was met.

However, a preliminary accident report on the FAA website lists the plane as “destroyed.” Moore said he believes there’s no doubt the NTSB should have been notified immediately. However, he said it’s understandable the pilot might not have felt any urgency to notify authorities.

““To be charitable, he might have thought ‘Why should I notify anyone?’” because there was no injuries, and the only people in the immediate area, the island’s caretaker, was aware of the situation.

“They’re not anticipating anyone getting all excited and notifying the FAA,” Moore added. “If you look at this from the pilot’s point of view it’s like ‘yeah I’ll take care of this later,’ I want to get back to my car.”

Moore said the FAA investigation may reveal that the pilot was not at fault for the accident or made efforts to minimize the damage. An investigation is underway.

Moore said it’s unlikely the incident will have any bearing on the pilot’s service as an airmen, noting that military pilots aren’t required to have civilian certifications.

If VTANG officials determine the airmen acted recklessly by not notifying authorities, they may ask them to undergo further training.

Being taken off flight duty is unlikely, Moore said.

During a brief interview, Maj. Gookin repeatedly referred to the situation as a “civilian matter,” and would not comment on whether disciplinary action was possible.

Pratt, the FAA investigator, said he didn’t know when the investigation will be completed.


National Guard Pilot Crashed Plane, Left Local Police in the Dark

An off-duty Vermont National Guard airman crashed a small private plane on a Lake Champlain island around noon Monday and left the scene with his passenger — another airman — apparently without calling police.

Local authorities found out about the badly damaged Piper PA-11 on Savage Island only after the pilot of another small plane noticed the wreckage six hours later while flying over the 207-acre island, according to Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen.

That pilot radioed the tower at Burlington International Airport to report it. The tower staff contacted Vermont State Police, who in turn patched in Allen around 6 p.m.

Allen mobilized a massive response to what he thought was an active crash scene.

“There are lots of fire chiefs upset, myself included, along with other agencies, that this was an incident six hours old with no injuries — and nobody there,” Allen told Seven Days. 

Had local authorities been alerted when the incident happened, an unnecessary large-scale response could have been prevented, Allen added. “This was a substantial amount of money and time wasted,” he said.

Federal regulations require a pilot involved in an accident to “immediately, and by the most expeditious means available, notify the nearest National Transportation Safety Board office.” The NTSB had a preliminary crash report on its website Thursday, but a spokesman could not say when the agency was notified.

Allen told Seven Days he contacted the FAA, along with the Milton Fire Department, and had six or seven boats from various agencies respond to the call. He even asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection to deploy a helicopter from its Plattsburgh, N.Y., base. 

After Allen arrived at the scene and realized there was no emergency, he called off the helicopter. The island caretaker, Wayne Fisher, told Allen that the crash had happened around noon. Allen learned that Fisher had ferried the airmen off the island by boat and drove them to the Allenholm Airport, the small South Hero airstrip from which the duo had originally taken off. 

Allen said the low water level exposed unseen obstacles that made it treacherous for the first responders to navigate the lake at night.

“By the time all resources were back in and my last boat came off the water, it was close to 8:30 p.m.,” Allen said.

Fisher told Seven Days that he had been in the basement of the island’s main house, then came upstairs and saw the damaged plane. It was on the grassy airstrip that runs through the private island, which is owned by members of the Riehle family.

The airmen were already out of the plane when Fisher reached it, according to the caretaker. They told him they were uninjured and that there hadn’t been any mechanical issues. Fisher said the pilot claimed to have landed and then tried a complicated takeoff maneuver that failed, resulting in the crash. 

“They did make several calls. I don’t know to whom and the nature of the calls but they made several calls,” Fisher said. “They never asked me to call cops. And I didn’t feel like it was my responsibility; it wasn’t my accident. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Pictures of the scene show the tiny plane nose-down in the field with a broken wing. The FAA describes the two-seat aircraft, built in 1947, as “destroyed.” 

The plane is registered to John Rahill, a lieutenant colonel in the Vermont Air National Guard. He did not respond to a phone call requesting comment. In April, he told NECN about flying an F-16 over Fenway Park for the Red Sox home opener in Boston. And in October 2015, he talked to WCAX after returning from a four-month stint in the Pacific. The deployment was his eighth overseas since joining the Vermont Air National Guard 15 years prior, Rahill told the station at the time.

The Guard issued a statement Tuesday confirming the crash involved airmen and said no further information would be released because of the FAA investigation.

“We appreciate the concern from the community and are happy that neither of our airmen were injured and are currently back at work,” the statement said.

Because no serious injury occurred, the NTSB will rely on information from the FAA “and/or the operator, and will not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report,” the board says on its website.

The FAA did not come out to the scene, Fisher told Seven Days, but interviewed him by phone.


SAVAGE ISLAND, Vermont  --   Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen says he is waiting for a Federal Aviation Administration investigation to dictate whether federal investigators want the state of Vermont to press charges against two off-duty Air National Guardsmen.

Sheriff Allen says 30 people, or more, were dispatched to Savage Island in Grand Isle County Monday after reports of a plane crash.

Allen says the response effort involved multiple marine vessels, volunteer firefighters and a U.S. Customs & Border Protection helicopter. The island is not accessible by any roadway.

“The volunteers, they're taking time away from their families, they're volunteering their time to go out,” said Sheriff Allen.

When they got there, they found a destroyed Piper PA-11. Nobody was with the plane.

“Rather surprised that nobody had reported the incident,” said Sheriff Allen. “It was probably about 6 hours prior when the crash actually occurred. The pilot or anybody, never reported it to the proper authorities as required to do so."

Sheriff Allen believes the plane crashed around noon Monday.

The Vermont Air National Guard confirmed earlier this week, two airmen were on board.

Sheriff Allen told Local 22/Local 44 News the pilot is John Rahill.

In an email Friday requesting information on Rahill’s rank, Guard spokesperson Capt. Tracy Morris responded: “We don't release information on members without their consent. It's for their own safety and operational security."

Sheriff Allen says the two Guardsmen were taken off the island by boat and brought back to the Burlington International Airport by the island’s caretaker.

As for the crash, pilots are required to immediately contact the National Transportation Safety Board following a crash.

NTSB Investigator Adam Gerhardt says the Board was notified about the incident but he is unsure of the timeline, saying “We are aware and we are investigating.”

“What is your reaction when you hear that they are Air National Guardsmen?” asked Local 22/Local44 News’ Staci DaSilva to Sheriff Ray Allen.

“A little surprised,” he responded. “I know the Guard, federal pilots, have very strict regulations and are up to date on all the requirements of the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board. I was stunned that they didn't ever notify anybody of the incident."

Sheriff Allen says the case, for now, is in the hands of the FAA.

“We're following the investigation out of the FAA and the NTSB and waiting to hear from them what they're going to do be doing or if they want to see any charges from the state of Vermont," he said.

Major Chris Gookin with the Vermont National Guard says the Guard has not been contacted, at this time, by the FAA.

In a statement sent Tuesday, Major Gookin wrote: “We appreciate the concern from the community and are happy that neither of our Airmen were injured and are currently back at work.

Due to the ongoing FAA investigation into this matter, we have no further details to release at this time.”


Officials say safety is the focus of plan for runway

   At least a hundred residents and community leaders attend Thursday night’s meeting at Kaunoa Senior Center on the draft master plan for Kahului Airport that calls for lengthening the main runway and shutting down parts of Haleakala Highway during the work.    

SPRECKLESVILLE - Kahului Airport's main runway has not undergone a major reconstruction since World War II, leading state Department of Transportation officials to advocate for an overhaul and extension of Maui's busiest runway during a packed community meeting Thursday night at the Kaunoa Senior Center.

At least a hundred people, including community activists, residents and International Longshore and Warehouse Union members, listened to state transportation officials present the draft master plan for the airport. The draft plan that extends to 2030 and beyond has a total price tag of nearly $3 billion.

"Health and safety are the most important things to the Department of Transportation, no matter what condition," Transportation Department Director Ford Fuchigami told the crowd. "The extension of the runway is all about our concern for the traveling public."

Plans call for the nearly 7,000-foot main runway to be extended by about 1,500 feet to help airlines and to provide safer conditions for passengers, officials said. For years, airlines have had to fly with less weight in order to take off and land on the runway safely.

Project Manager Chester Koga of R.M. Towill Corp. presented the department's current plan, which will be finalized in the next 30 days. Residents may submit comments on the 350-page plan, which will be followed up by an environmental impact statement.

Work on the master plan began in 1993, when the department sought to extend the main runway to about 9,600 feet, Koga said. The proposal fueled fierce debate about growth on Maui and was eventually abandoned by the department.

In 2009, master plan talks started up again, but officials chose not to seek the 9,600-foot extension again because the length, which would take the runway near Hana Highway, would violate new Federal Aviation Administration regulations for runway safety zones, Koga said. The department opted for a shorter extension - which would extend from the Kahului side of the runway - that still meets FAA requirements.

"This may or may not bother you but if you have taken a ride recently - especially when it's been rather gusty at the airport like today, you would have noticed that the Hawaiian (Airlines) plane lands somewhere around 1,000 feet from the end of the runway," he said. "You'll find that they tend to roll all the way to the end of the runway and when they make the left turn you'll actually see grass on the other side.

"There are some days when the pilot is really stepping on the brakes there to get the plane stopped."

The extended runway also would allow airlines to fly at maximum takeoff weight, meaning they would not have to reduce fuel or lighten cargo for Mainland flights, according to the draft plan.

Another major issue with the main runway is its deterioration over the past six years, Fuchigami said. He said that the department has been paying $1 million a year to patch and repair the asphalt runway and that the FAA recently decided to no longer pay for the repairs.

The department decided to spend $5 million on a temporary repair, which extended the runway's life by five years, giving the department time to work on a comprehensive airport master plan.

The department has decided to use concrete, which has a lifespan of 30 to 50 years, for the rebuilding of the main runway, he said. Most airports on the Mainland have concrete runways.

During reconstruction, a 7,000-foot taxiway will be improved to become a temporary runway. The portion of Haleakala Highway that wends around the airport would be closed, and transportation officials are working out how to direct traffic flow to the airport. A bypass connecting Alahao Street along Kanaha Beach Park to Stable Road and a widening of both roadways to accommodate increased traffic are being considered.

Sprecklesville residents voiced concerns about whether the runway extension will mean that flights will be traveling over their homes.

Fuchigami said that the department is not extending the smaller runway 5-23 that points directly over Sprecklesville, which "would've had a greater impact over anything else" to the neighborhood. However, he did acknowledge that planes from the main runway 2-20 generally will fly over the area.

Those testifying at the hearing also wondered if Maui would become another international airport and see increased traffic like Honolulu. Fuchigami said that "Maui is not even on our radar" for international flights. His efforts at opening international access to Hawaii, besides Honolulu International Airport, are aimed at Kona International Airport, he said.

Fuchigami added that the director of Transportation Security Administration will be traveling to Maui soon for the first time, and officials will be pushing for additional staffing, overtime pay and other things.

He said Kahului Airport will be getting a second scanner that will help speed up checkpoints.

"We think it's a huge step," he said.


Tree clearing for the Murfreesboro Airport

The Murfreesboro City Council Thursday (9/23/16) unanimously approved a contract for tree clearing of runway approaches to the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport. The Murfreesboro Airport Commission had earlier approved the contract with Queens Tree Surgery, Inc. for $110,242. A federal and state funded grant will assist with 95 percent of the cost or $104,730.

"These improvements will allow for a clear and nearly maintenance free approach for Runway 18 into the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport," said Airport Manager Chad L. Gehrke. "As a federally funded airport, the City continues its efforts to satisfy its Federal Grant Assurances providing and maintaining safe and navigable approaches along with other protective airport surfaces."

The planned tree clearing project follows a study by the Tennessee Department of Transportation-Division of Aeronautics and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as part of the Runway Extension Project. The survey identified approximately 18 trees on 1.32 acres on the southeast corner of the State Farm property and recommended tree removal. According to the Division of Aeronautics and the FAA, the trees are penetrating the various approach surfaces for Runway 18.

"The understanding and cooperation of our neighbors has been tremendous and the key to the success of this project," Gehrke wrote in a letter to the City Council. "To do our part as a good neighbor, the Airport Commission and City made it a priority to minimize any disturbance of the extremely well-manicured State Farm campus."

Queens Tree Surgery will replace removed trees with low-growing trees similar to existing landscaping.

The federally funded Approach Lighting and Clearing Project began in May 2015 with a four-month runway extension and lighting improvement project. While work on Runway 18/36 was completed last October, the Airport Commission does not expect the new approaches to be published to the FAA until November at the earliest.

ATKINS Engineering has served as consultant for the improvements which included the construction of a new taxiway connectors "A2" and A3" and a new LED airfield lighting system.

The City Council approved the $4.5 million contract with LoJac Enterprises for the Runway Extension Project on March 16, 2015. Grant funding for the project is a combination of federal, state and local funds. The majority of state funding stems from the Airfield Pavement Overlay Project. Local funding is provided through Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funds and annual Debt Service payments.

The Murfreesboro Municipal Airport, located at 1930 Memorial Boulevard, Murfreesboro, TN, 37129, is a general aviation airport serving Middle Tennessee. The airport's largest tenant is the Aerospace Department of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), one of the top schools for aviation in the nation.


Cessna 185D Skywagon, N5892T: Accident occurred September 21, 2016 in Dela Creek, Alaska

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: GAA16CA503
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, September 21, 2016 in Fairbanks, AK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 04/10/2017
Aircraft: CESSNA 185, registration: N5892T
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

According to the pilot of the tailwheel-equipped airplane, he and his passenger waited most of the day for the 30-knot wind to subside before departing the 1,200-ft-long dirt and grass airstrip. 

He reported that the wind velocity had decreased to 10 knots and that he had calculated that, with the 10-knot headwind, the airplane would rotate about 700 ft down the runway. The pilot monitored the wind via ribbons placed at various locations around the airstrip. During takeoff, the airplane rotated about 700 ft down the runway and climbed to about 8 ft above the ground. The pilot stated that it “then it felt like we lost our lift.” The pilot recalled that there wasn’t enough runway remaining to land and that there was a brush-covered bank at the departure end of the runway. The airplane started to settle to the ground, and although operating at full power and on the cusp of a stall, they cleared the bank. Beyond the bank, the pilot landed the airplane on a short sand bar, but the airplane overran the sand bar and impacted several large rocks. 

After exiting the airplane, the pilot noticed that he had departed with an 8- to 10-knot tailwind. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the left-wing strut, the aileron, the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator. 

The pilot reported that there were no mechanical malfunctions or anomalies with the airframe or engine that would have prevented normal operation.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot’s failure to recognize he was taking off with a tailwind and his inadequate compensation for taking off with a tailwind, which led to the airplane’s failure to attain a climb and a subsequent forced landing.

NTSB Identification: GAA16CA503
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, September 21, 2016 in Fairbanks, AK
Aircraft: CESSNA 185, registration: N5892T
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

According to the pilot of the tailwheel-equipped airplane, he and his passenger waited for the majority of the day for the 30-knot wind to subside before departing the 1,200-ft. dirt and grass airstrip.

He reported that the wind velocity had decreased to 10 knots and that he had calculated that with the 10-knot headwind, the airplane would rotate about 700 feet down the runway. The pilot monitored the wind via ribbons placed at various locations around the airstrip. 

He reported that during takeoff the airplane rotated about 700 feet down the runway, and climbed to about 8 feet above the ground; "then it felt like we lost our lift". The pilot recalled that there wasn't enough runway remaining to land, and there was a brush covered bank at the departure end of the runway. 

He reported that the airplane started to settle to the ground, and although operating at full power and on the cusp of a stall, they cleared the bank. Beyond the bank, the pilot landed the airplane on a short sand bar, but the airplane overran the sand bar and impacted several large rocks. 

The pilot reported that after exiting the airplane, he noticed that he had departed with an 8-10 knot tailwind. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the left-wing strut, the aileron, the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator. 

The pilot reported that there were no mechanical malfunctions or anomalies with the airframe or engine that would have prevented normal operation.