Monday, December 19, 2016

Editorial: Glory hallelujah! Leath's truth is marching on

Regents and Iowa State University president still don't understand why his use of school aircraft is a big deal

The Iowa Board of Regents met last week to discuss an internal investigation into Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s frequent use of university-owned aircraft.

Unfortunately, the regents appeared to ignore the most damning aspects of the report. Either that, or they decided to publicly portray the findings in the most flattering light possible.

The regents’ head cheerleader seemed to be Larry McKibben, who was bubbling over with praise for Leath in terms that would have made a Hollywood press agent blush.

"If we can make something that we regret, and you regret, be a better thing for the university in the future — glory hallelujah!,” he told Leath at the meeting. "And the fact that you have said what you said today really impresses me — that you are that kind of a leader that will acknowledge (what) all of us ought to do when we have these kinds of circumstances arise.”

Glory hallelujah?

Listening to McKibben, you’d think Leath was a champion of openness and accountability. You’d never realize it was Leath’s own conduct that was at issue; or that Leath failed to disclose critical information to the regents and to others; or that he repeatedly admitted to various transgressions only after undeniable evidence of it publicly surfaced; or that he still faults the press for exposing and then pursuing the matter.

McKibben is heaping accolades on Leath for publicly articulating his “support” for the general principles of openness, transparency and accountability — even though these are the very principles Leath has betrayed at every turn in Planegate.

In an interview late last month with the Business Record, Leath signaled that he still doesn’t get it, grousing that the  media “are taking a lot of fun out” of his job.

“Some of the stuff I’m going through now is just unbelievable,” he said. “With all the great things about Iowa — and we love it here — the vicious personal attacks were unexpected … It’s a distraction for me, it takes (staff) resources, it takes time away from the things we should be doing, and it takes money. Frankly, I don’t understand it.”

You’d think Leath’s understanding would have been enhanced by the number of checks he has had to write, reimbursing the school or its foundation for his flight-related expenses.

Before the regents’ meeting, Leath had agreed to pay $17,500 for damage resulting from a “hard landing” he executed in one of the school’s planes, plus $4,600 for trips that were largely personal in nature. At Monday’s meeting, it was announced that Leath would make $19,000 in additional reimbursements related to dozens of other questionable flights, many of which were tied to pilot proficiency training and certification.

Even now, questions remain about other flights. Some of those flights were to North Carolina, where Leath owns a cabin. Some were flights for which no detailed records can be located. Some involve the transportation of firearms for hunting, which requires special permission. Some were for vaguely described “donor relations” trips to meet with unidentified individuals. And some were to locations within easy driving distance.

Then there’s the fact that the infamous “hard landing” was never reported to the school’s Office of Risk Management or to the full Board of Regents. University policy says “all losses or damage to university property must be reported to the Office of Risk Management.” Not much wiggle room there, but Leath said last week that “as the preliminary audit showed, and the comprehensive audit has now confirmed, I did not violate any policy or break any laws.”

In response to such assertions, the regents, with the notable exception of Subhash Sahai, have done little but vigorously nod their heads in agreement, slap Leath on the back and commend him for a job well done, and exclaim, “Glory hallelujah!” — an expression that can now be considered the Iowa equivalent of, "Heckuva job, Brownie."

The Board of Regents seems to be ensconced in the new, post-fact world occupied by some national politicians: a world in which facts are stood on their heads, and reality is whatever one wants it to be.

As for Leath, he can argue he is the innocent victim of “personal attacks,” but the facts — and his own checkbook — say otherwise.

Story and video:

Drone operators run afoul of emergency responders

LEBANON, New Hampshire -

They're considered a popular present this year, but drones are launching pleas from emergency responders to steer clear, and with some saying it's a matter of life and death.

Drones are becoming more and more popular, both commercial and recreational.  They allow you to soar to new heights.

But as the saying goes, nothing beats the real thing.  On this day we take to the skies with DHART, the helicopter emergency response crew at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. "We not only provide speed of flight, but we also provide an advanced level of care, with the two critical care providers we transport with. We fly with a critical care nurse and a critical care paramedic," said Kyle Madigan, DHART's Director.

DHART crews transport roughly 1,400 patients every single year, often the most critical in the region, but there is a new threat that they themselves face. "As we are flying 120 miles per hour through the sky and a drone passes us going the opposite direction, it can be a split second moment," Madigan said.

Over the past several months DHART pilots have encountered more than one unmanned aircraft in the air. Officials say a couple of close calls could have been deadly. "If we were to collide with a drone it could have a catastrophic effect on our vehicle, causing us either damage to the aircraft, or in the extreme causing our aircraft to have a crash landing," Madigan said.

The Federal Aviation Administration does have rules for drones.  Any drone weighing over .55 pounds must register with the FAA.   They are not allowed to fly higher than 400 feet.  Drones must always stay within eyesight of the operator, and not fly within five miles of an airport.  They are also not allowed to be used near power stations, government facilities, or prisons.  

But those in the sky say the rules are often not followed, or in some cases ignored, and drones are being seen more and more frequently in the exact places emergency responders need to go.  "People are flying drones around car accidents, around fires, trying to get a view of things that they weren't always able to see. But now with this technology in the palm of their hand and the drone flying, they can see things that they haven't seen before in the past.  Well this inhibits then emergency responders from doing their jobs," Madigan said.

There is an app drone operators can download, "Know Before you Fly," that includes maps of no fly zones. Public service announcements are also helping to get the word out. "Fly responsibly and follow the rules," Madigan said.

It's a message that's not meant to spoil the fun, just to ensure that this helicopter makes it back to the hospital safely, so patients can get the life-saving care they need. 


Cessna 150 Commuter, N150EC: Accident occurred December 19, 2016 in Palm Bay, Florida

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

FAA Flight Standards District Office: ORLANDO, FLORIDA 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report  -  National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: ERA17LA071
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, December 19, 2016 in Palm Bay, FL
Aircraft: CESSNA 150, registration: N150EC
Injuries: 2 Minor.

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 December 19, 2016, about 1400 eastern standard time, a Cessna 150M, N150EC, was substantially damaged during a forced landing after experiencing smoke in the cockpit while maneuvering near Palm Bay, Florida. The flight instructor and a student pilot received minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the instructional flight, which was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The airplane departed Melbourne International Airport (MLB), Melbourne, Florida, about 1300.

Both the flight instructor and the student pilot provided written statements, and their descriptions of the events were consistent throughout.

During recovery from a simulated engine failure, both pilots first smelled and then observed smoke in the cockpit. The flight instructor took the flight controls, selected a forced landing site, and maneuvered the airplane for landing. Upon touchdown, the nose landing gear settled into low brush and soft terrain, where the airplane stopped, nosed-over, and came to rest inverted.

The flight instructor held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single engine and instrument airplane. His Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first-class medical certificate was issued on July 25, 2013. The instructor reported 309 total hours of flight experience, of which 3 hours were in the accident airplane make and model.

The student pilot was issued a student pilot certificate and an FAA third class medical certificate on May 19, 2014. She reported 75 total hours of flight experience, of which 3 hours were in the accident airplane make and model.

The two-seat, single-engine, high-wing, fixed-gear airplane was manufactured in 1976, and equipped with a Continental O-200-A series, 100-horsepower reciprocating engine. According to the airplane's maintenance records, the most recent annual inspection was completed on October 31, 2016, at 5,139 total aircraft hours.

At 1615, the weather reported at MLB; located 18 miles south of the accident site, included clear skies and wind from 090 degrees at 5 knots. The temperature was 27 degrees C, the dew point was 23 degrees C, and the altimeter setting was 30.27 inches of mercury.

An FAA inspector examined the wreckage at the site, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. Examination of the engine compartment revealed wires connected to the battery relay exhibited thermal damage.

The airplane was retained for further examination at a later date.

MICCO — A student pilot and a FIT flight instructor escaped serious injuries after their small, single-engine plane landed in an open field and then flipped over Monday afternoon in rural south Brevard County.

One person was transported to a nearby hospital as a precaution. The 2:20 p.m. incident was described as a precautionary landing by officials.

The plane, a Cessna 150 that flew out of Orlando Melbourne International Airport, landed off the roadway and flipped over moments later after hitting a bumpy patch of ground in the 2700 block of Micco Road. It happened several miles south of the nearest airport in Grant-Valkaria.

Lt. Mike Bandish with the Palm Bay Police Department said a student and instructor from FIT's aviation school — a separate but affiliated entity from the Florida Institute of Technology — had flown out of Melbourne in the small Cessna aircraft to practice engine failure maneuvers when the cockpit began to fill with smoke.

The pilot attempted to land in a field about three-quarters of a mile south of Micco Road. Several Brevard County Fire Rescue crews responded, and found the two at the scene, conscious and moving around.

The flight instructor remained on scene after declining to be transported.

Police and Florida Tech personnel are still investigating the incident, according to Bandish. The flight instructor and the student pilot, who is not enrolled at the university, had been reaching a higher altitude when the two heard a noise and saw smoke filling the small cockpit, Florida Tech officials reported.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board also are investigating.

In November 2012, four people were killed – including a Florida Tech student and a flight instructor – on a take-off from the Palm Beach International Airport. The Piper Seminole aircraft was en route back to Melbourne from the Bahamas as part of ongoing training.

Story and video:

MICCO, Fla. - One person was taken to the hospital after a single-engine plane crashed Monday afternoon in Brevard, according to Brevard County Fire Rescue.

A FIT Aviation flight instructor had been in the plane with a student pilot doing training maneuvers over a field near Micco Road when the cabin started to fill with smoke, officials said.

The pilot had to put the plane down. It was found upside down in the field.The extent of the damage to the aircraft is not known.

The student pilot was taken to Sebastian River Hospital for precautionary measures. The pilot refused treatment.

The aircraft took off from Melbourne International Airport.

Story and video: 

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — A plane crash was reported Monday in the 2700 block of Micco Road in South Brevard County.

Officials said the cause of the single-engine plane crash is unknown.

One person was transported to a local hospital and one person refused medical treatment, according to Brevard County Fire Rescue.

Story and video:

Boeing airplane unit to cut more jobs in 2017, shares rise

Boeing Co's commercial airplane unit said on Monday it would cut an as-yet-undetermined number of jobs in 2017 after slashing its workforce by 8 percent in 2016, as it struggles to sell planes in the face of a strong dollar.

Chicago-based Boeing and European rival Airbus are battling especially slow demand for their lucrative, long-range twin-aisle jetliners, such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A330, in a global climate of political and economic uncertainty.

Boeing said last week that it would cut 777 production to five a month in August 2017, a 40 percent reduction from the current rate of 8.3 a month, because of slow sales.

The company did not say how many jobs it will cut next year, noting it is still assessing its 2017 budget and employment needs.

But the announcement shows the world's biggest plane maker is axing jobs more aggressively than it forecast earlier this year, and that it will not let up the pressure to cut costs under the new chief executive of the airplane unit, Kevin McAllister, who succeeded Ray Conner on Nov. 21. Conner is now vice chairman of Boeing Co.

"To successfully compete and win new orders that will fund future product development and growth requires us to achieve much better performance," Conner and McAllister said in a memo to Boeing Commercial Airplanes employees on Monday, which was made public.

Boeing "will need to do more in 2017" to lower costs and make its planes more affordable, the memo said.

Its shares closed up 1.1 percent at $156.18.

Boeing is contending with a strong dollar that makes its products more expensive overseas, a non-functioning U.S. Export-Import Bank that hampers aircraft financing, and President-elect Donald Trump's provocation of China, one of Boeing's biggest markets.

Trump has also targeted Boeing for criticism, saying the United States should cancel a pending order to buy modified Boeing 747s as new presidential aircraft, Air Force One, because the cost was too high.

A Boeing spokesman said plane sales are getting more competitive, requiring additional cost-cutting beyond what was envisioned in 2016. "We've got to perform better," he said. "It's an ongoing process."

Boeing has booked just 468 net jetliner orders this year, down from 768 last year and 1,432 in 2014. The figure is also well below Boeing's target of having sales roughly match the 745 to 750 aircraft Boeing expects to deliver to customers this year.

Boeing gets the majority of the payment on a plane when it is delivered.

The company also is under pressure to cut costs as it tries to hit Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg's goal of lifting its operating profit margins to the mid-teens by 2020. The figure has averaged 6.9 percent over the last decade.

By comparison, Airbus' margins have averaged about 3.7 percent over the past 10 years. The company said last month it would cut about 900 jobs to restructure, reduce costs and prepare for tougher competition.

For 2016, Boeing said it expects job reductions to total 8 percent of the commercial airplane workforce, including a 10 percent reduction in the ranks of executives and managers.

The unit cut 6,115 jobs, or 7.3 percent, through November compared with the tally on Dec. 31, 2015, according to Boeing's employment data. That suggests a further 565 job reductions in 2016, and more next year. In March, the company said it planned to cut about 4,000 jobs at the unit.

The company is offering a voluntary layoff program in early 2017, according to Monday's memo, which added that involuntary layoffs may occur in some cases. A spokesman said employees participating in the voluntary layoff program will receive a lump sum payment of one week's pay for each year served, for a maximum of 26 weeks.


Cessna 182A, N5954B: Accident occurred December 18, 2016 near Apple Valley Airport (KAPV), San Bernardino County, California

FAA Flight Standards District Office: RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA


Date: 19-DEC-16
Time: 03:00:00Z
Regis#: N5954B
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: 182
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: MINOR
Aircraft Missing: No
Activity: UNKNOWN
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
Operation: 91

APPLE VALLEY --- Apple Valley Protection Fire District Chief Sid Hultquist said a Cessna 182A pilot and his passenger escaped major injuries after an emergency landing caused the aircraft to "flip over" in a remote and rural area Sunday night.

The pilot suffered facial and wrist injuries. His passenger complained of chest discomfort.

Hultquist said firefighters were dispatched to the crash at approximately 7:30 p.m. However, the crash scene was not found by authorities until 50 minutes after receiving the report.

"The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department's helicopter was extremely valuable in finding the crash scene," Hultquist said. "All we knew was the crash was reported somewhere in the desert, northeast of the Apple Valley Airport. It was a very vague description that said the scene was anywhere from three to eight miles northeast of the airport. The pilot and the passenger were unsure where they were and without the helicopter, we probably wouldn't have found the scene because it was in a very remote and rural area that you could not see from the road."

The Cessna was found near Central and Johnson roads, roughly three miles northwest of the airport. But firefighters were met with a new challenge of getting to the scene due to rough terrain.

Hultquist said firefighters were forced to used 4-wheel drive vehicles to get to the scene. An SUV was used to transport both men, in their 60s, to the road, where they were treated by AVFPD firefighters and later transported to St. Mary Medical Center for medical evaluations.

The pilot attempted to make an emergency landing for unknown reasons. The aircraft's front propeller struck a dirt embankment, causing the Cessna to flip upside down.

"Thankfully the plane didn't catch fire and these men were able to exit with moderate injuries," he said. "This could have been a lot worse. We don't know why they tried landing out there. The cause is still under investigation."


APPLE VALLEY, Calif: ( Authorities are investigating what caused a small plane to crash shortly after 7:00 p.m., injuring the pilot and passenger.

A Cessna 182A crashed in a remote area about three miles northeast of the Apple Valley Airport.

Fire Chief of the Apple Valley Fire District Sid Hultquist says with the assistance of the Sheriff’s helicopter they were able to pinpoint the aircraft nearly 50 minutes later.

The helicopter landed next to the upside down plane and Sheriffs discovered both male occupants had exited the plane.

The terrain required a 4-wheel vehicle to transport paramedics to the site in order to access the scene.

The pilot suffered injuries to his wrist and face, while the passenger had minor injuries to his chest. Both were transported to Desert Valley Medical Center for treatment.

“They attempted an emergency landing in the desert area and when the plane landed the propeller hit (the ground), and it flipped it upside down,” Hultquist said.

Almost exactly one year ago, a world-famous aerobatics champion for Red Bull, Michael (Mike) Mangold was killed in a plane crash at the Apple Valley Airport on December 6, 2015.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will be summoned to investigate the crash further.

Story, video and photo gallery:

Cessna P206D Super Skylane, N80896 LLC, N8751Z: Incident occurred December 18, 2016 in Lincoln, Placer County, California

N80896 LLC:

FAA Flight Standards District Office: SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA


Date: 18-DEC-16
Time: 21:22:00Z
Regis#: N8751Z
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: 206
Event Type: INCIDENT
Highest Injury: NONE
Aircraft Missing: No
Damage: NONE
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
Operation: 91

Piper PA-28R-200, N55484: Accident occurred December 16, 2016 in Kewanee, Henry County, Illinois

FAA Flight Standards District Office: DUPAGE, ILLINOIS 


Date: 16-DEC-16
Time: 19:20:00Z
Regis#: N55484
Aircraft Make: PIPER
Aircraft Model: PA28R
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: NONE
Aircraft Missing: No
Activity: UNKNOWN
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
Operation: 91

Stinson 108-3 Voyager, N812C: Accident occurred December 16, 2016 in Ionia County, Michigan

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

FAA Flight Standards District Office: GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN.

NTSB Identification: CEN17LA057
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, December 16, 2016 in Ionia, MI
Aircraft: STINSON 108-3, registration: N812C
Injuries: 1 Uninjured.

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 December 16, 2016, about 1045 eastern standard time, a Stinson model 108-3 single-engine airplane, N812C, equipped with snow skis, was substantially damaged while landing at Ionia County Airport (Y70), Ionia, Michigan. The private pilot, the sole occupant, was not injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight that departed Lowell City Airport (24C), Lowell, Michigan, about 1030.

The pilot reported that shortly after takeoff from a snow covered runway he heard a thump and subsequently saw that the left main landing ski tip had rotated up, past vertical, and was in contact with the left wing strut. He decided to land at nearby Y70 because he anticipated requiring assistance upon landing and the departure airport was unmanned. Additionally, Y70 had a snow covered turf runway, south of the paved runway 9/27, that was typically used for glider operations. The pilot reported that upon touchdown, the left main landing ski separated from the axle, the left gear leg dug into the snow, and the airplane rapidly decelerated before it nosed over. The right wing, left wing strut, and vertical stabilizer were substantially damaged during the accident.

As designed, the main landing skis are supported by two 5/32 inch braided steel cables and bungee/shock cords. Both ends of the 5/32 inch steel cables are terminated with a thimble-eye and compressed/swaged plain copper oval nicropress sleeve (No. 18-4-P). On the accident airplane, the forward and aft support cables had pulled through their respective nicropress sleeves where the cables attached to the left ski's tip and tail. The nicropress sleeves for the left ski tip and tail attachments were not located during the investigation. However, a visual examination of the remaining nicropress sleeves, located where the support cables attached to the left landing gear leg, appeared to be inadequately compressed. Additionally, a visual inspection of the right main landing ski cables also revealed inadequately compressed nicropress sleeves. The width of the remaining nicropress sleeves, as measured with a dial-caliper, were between 0.440 and 0.446 inch.

According to manufacturer specifications, when properly formed, the width of a 5/32 inch nicropress sleeve should be less than 0.395 inch. A test cable eye was fabricated using 5/32 inch braided steel cable and two plain copper oval nicropress sleeves (No. 18-4-P). The first nicropress sleeve was compressed using a proper 5/32 inch swage tool. The other test sleeve was compressed using a larger 3/16 inch swage tool. The width of the properly formed test sleeve, using a 5/32 swage tool, measured 0.383-0.386 inch. The width of the other test sleeve, using a 3/16 swage tool, measured 0.442-0.452 inch. 

The pilot reported that the accident airplane was typically equipped with snow skis during the winter snow seasons. In February 2009, he purchased the main landing skis, Federal Aircraft Works model A-2500A, from a private individual. The skis were purchased used with an undocumented service history. The skis were purchased as complete assemblies, which included all cables, bungees, brackets, and hardware appropriate for a Stinson model 108-3 installation. The forward and aft support cables were already fabricated and installed on the skis when they were delivered to the pilot. Additionally, the pilot reported that the support cables were not repaired or replaced while he owned the skis.

On December 14, 2016, the pilot, who was also an aviation mechanic, installed the main landing skis for the 2016/17 winter snow season. According to an airframe logbook entry, the main landing skis were installed per manufacturer's drawing No. 11R955/AB. The accident occurred during the first flight since the skis were installed for the season.

Silverhawk Aviation celebrates silver anniversary

Schuyler Risk (left), business development director, and Mike Gerdes, president, at Silverhawk Aviation headquarters.

Lincoln-based Silverhawk Aviation has weathered the storms of ownership changes over the years and even the Great Recession, but somehow the business has managed to fly for 25 years.

The key to survival, said current President Mike Gerdes, is maintaining sustainable growth.

“It’s hard for an aviation company to stay in business this long, especially with all the ups and downs in the economy,” Gerdes said. “It’s obviously a high-capital industry. We position our company to grow sustainably so it can still be healthy during the next economic downturn.”

Silverhawk’s growth has “taken off,” doubling profits in the last three years. Profits are 10 times what they were during the 2008-09 recession, Gerdes said.

“Our plan is to double profits again in the next five years,” he added.

As part of that growth plan, Silverhawk is adding to its fleet of charter planes at its headquarters, 1751 Kearney Ave., at the Lincoln Municipal Airport.

“We have 10 charter planes now, and soon we will add a Citation Excel, which is a mid-size business jet,” Gerdes said. “That will be our first entry into the mid-size business market. We’ll add one more Excel in 2017 and two more light jets similar to those in our current fleet. We’ll be up to 14 planes by the end of 2017.”

Mike Gerdes (left), president, Schuyler Risk, business development director, inside a charter jet at Silverhawk Aviation.

Constructing a new hangar

To facilitate that expanded fleet, Silverhawk plans to build a dual-purpose storage and maintenance hangar in the spring, Gerdes said. The company’s current hangar will be used for storage and maintenance.

“That will more than double our current hangar space,” he said. “The new hangar will hold 10 jets. Four or more will be out flying at any given time.”

In addition to adding planes, Silverhawk has been enhancing its charter fleet, such as installing onboard Wi-Fi for customers and upgrading the avionics instruments that pilots use, said Schuyler Risk, Silverhawk’s business development director.

“There’s a big reason that you don’t see as much in the news about airplane crashes anymore,” Risk said. “Improved avionics technology has lowered that risk. We do upgrading work for other charter flight services, private owners and government aircraft as well.”

In addition to having extensive experience in avionics repair and upgrades, Silverhawk Aviation is an FAA-certified repair station in general aviation maintenance, repair and upgrades, as well as phase inspections and routine maintenance.

“We have one of the most respected aviation maintenance shops in the industry,” Risk said. “We’re an authorized service center for Cessna, Beechcraft, Cirrus, and Pratt & Whitney engines. We’ve done more engine upgrades in the Beechcraft King Air 90 than any aviation service in the world.”

Upgrading airplanes is a common practice, Risk added. “The owner gets essentially a brand new plane for a fraction of the cost. Often, upgrading makes a plane better than a new one, because new models tend to have extra things that add weight and hinder performance.”

Being located in the middle of the United States also makes Silverhawk a popular refueling station.

“Our line crews have a reputation for getting people in and out quickly, saving them time,” Risk said. “We just try to deliver the best service we can in all segments, and they all work well together. They’re all complimentary services.”

Silverhawk employs just under 80 staff members.

Chief pilot John Geary (left) visits with Gary Bursek in Cessna Citation V during Silverhawk Aviation's 25th anniversary celebration.

25-year history

In 1991, Mike Weatherl founded Silverhawk Aviation in Seward as a branch of his Silverhawk Security Specialists business. “It was a case where he was flying anyway as part of his security business, so he started doing charter flight work,” Gerdes said. The operation expanded to Crete, then opened the Lincoln facility on the general aviation side of the Lincoln Municipal Airport in the mid-1990s.

Bryan Heart (formerly called Bryan Heart Institute) was Silverhawk Aviation’s first customer and remains a customer today.

“We couldn’t do what we do without Silverhawk,” said Dr. Dale Hansen, executive medical director of Bryan Heart. “We bring echocardiography, nuclear testing and other equipment and see cardiology patients at over 30 hospitals in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri so they don’t have to drive to Lincoln.”

In 2001, Weatherl sold Silverhawk Aviation to Don and Nancy Allen, and the Allens acquired and consolidated Capitol Aviation into Silverhawk. In 2006, the Allens sold Silverhawk to Arkansas-based Gillum Group. Dan Hinnah oversaw the daily operations, and Weatherl returned as a silent minority owner. Hinnah bought Gillum Group’s majority share in Silverhawk in 2010.

“Dan (Hinnah) said he would do it for three to five more years until he got the company back into good financial shape, and in 2015 he turned it over to us,” said Gerdes, current co-owner with Gene Luce, who has been Silverhawk’s maintenance director for 23 years.

(From left) Jordan Springer, Jen Risk, Daryl Clark, Paula Luce, Brent Newman and Jackie Newman enjoy food, drinks and festivities at Silverhawk Aviation's 25 anniversary celebration.

Climbing the company ladder

Both Gerdes and Risk started working at Silverhawk in entry-level positions.

Gerdes started taking flying lessons in 2004 while studying math and finance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“As I started doing that, the flying bug bit, and I realized that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” he said. “After college I became a flight instructor, and I helped Performance Aircraft launch its flight school in 2006. So it was a natural transition to slide over to charter flying in 2007 for Silverhawk.”

Promotions soon followed, including chief pilot in 2010 and director of operations/CFO in 2011. Gerdes became president and co-owner in 2015.

Risk is a third-generation pilot, following his father, Ken Risk, and grandfather, George Risk.

“I was kind of a ‘hangar rat’ as a kid,” he said. “I spent a lot of time at the airport with my dad, working on planes and vacuuming them.”

Later, while studying political science and economics at UNL, Risk worked on the flight line and pumped gas at Silverhawk. After graduation and working in sales jobs across the United States, “the flying bug hit me again in 2006, and I earned all the certifications I needed to fly professionally,” Risk said.

He worked for a regional airline in Denver before moving back to Lincoln in 2008, when the recession hit and “there were no flying jobs anywhere,” he said. He worked in commercial banking for two years before returning to Silverhawk in January 2010 as a line service technician while waiting for a pilot position to open. He began flying for Silverhawk in October of that year and earned various promotions before being named director of business development in 2015.

“The way we started, I don’t think either Mike or I thought we would be doing what we’re doing now,” Risk said. “It was a great place to work, and we wanted to see it grow and flourish, and it has.”

(From left) Kirk Brom, Kim Russel, Dr. Larry Wood and Sue Wood visit at Silverhawk Aviation's 25th anniversary celebration.

Charter service is all about saving time

Silverhawk started as a charter flight service in 1991.

“In 25 years, Silverhawk’s charter planes have flown over 3 million miles, which equals 120 times around the world,” said Risk.

“As the company added planes, it made sense to add mechanics, and eventually it added the fuel service as well,” said Gerdes. “It’s taken off from there.”

Silverhawk’s charter planes fly a 50-50 mix of business and private clients, according to Gerdes. With a charter fleet ranging from King Air turboprops to a full lineup of Cessna Citation jets, Silverhawk gives clients the freedom to fly where they want, when they want, he said.

Since Silverhawk has its own planes and pilots and serves clients who live and work within 175 miles of Lincoln, the company does not need to bring in planes from other charter services.

“A lot of national charter services serve clients from all around the country, and repositioning planes is built into their charges to customers,” Gerdes said. “Many other charter services are marketing companies, and they find clients but don’t have their own jet fleet, or they only have some and supplement them with other companies’ planes. We have our own planes and pilots.”

With light charter jets, Silverhawk has access to over 5,000 airports across North America, whereas major airlines can only access about 180 airports, Gerdes added. That greater airport access helps clients avoid the hassles of long lines, layovers, delays and cancellations typical of flying on an airline. And there’s no need to drive long distances to and from an airport.

“By the time people drive to an airport and go through security, assuming they can get on a flight and aren’t cut, we could have them to their destination often times before they would have even taken off on an airline,” Gerdes said.

As an example, Risk said that he and Gerdes recently flew a client from Lincoln to Philadelphia on a Thursday, then to Knoxville, Tennessee, then to Las Vegas the next day and to Palm Springs, California, the day after that before returning to Lincoln – all in three to four days. The same round-trip would have taken at least a week using airlines, he said.

“Other folks use us to go to Palm Springs, for example, for three to four days, or for a business trip up and back the same day,” Risk added. “What we can do is really only limited by our customers’ imaginations.”

New jet card

At Silverhawk’s 25th anniversary celebration Nov. 11, Gerdes announced the company’s new jet card, which is designed for clients planning to fly 20 or more hours per year. Because Silverhawk serves clients who live and work within a 175-mile radius, the jet card saves clients up to 50 percent of charter flight costs compared to other leading jet card providers.

In addition, Silverhawk’s jet card promises:

• No membership fees or dues;

• No fuel surcharges;

• No interchange fees;

• No charge for taxi time;

• No peak day/holiday charges; and

• No repositioning charges to pick up or drop off planes.

“We are the only jet card program that can make these promises,” Risk said. “We save our clients time, so they can spend more time on their family, business and life.”

For more details about the jet card, For details about Silverhawk Aviation, see

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