Saturday, September 02, 2017

Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York: Mystery of planes circling solved

Syracuse, N.Y. -- Residents on the east side of Syracuse reported an odd sight this week - a small plane circling overhead for long periods over several days. heard from a half-dozen people who wanted to know what was going on with the plane. Who was flying it? Was it on some type of search and rescue mission? Perhaps taking aerial photographs? 

Witnesses described the craft as a single-engine "Cessna-type" plane. Some thought it was painted blue on the bottom but mostly white everywhere else. One person said it was gray.

Since we love mysteries, we decided to look into it. First, we checked with the Army's Fort Drum in Watertown. Were they sending aircraft down to Syracuse on some kind of mission? 

Nope. A spokesperson said Fort Drum only operates helicopters, not planes.

Witnesses said the plane's propeller was on the front of the craft. That ruled out the Reaper, which is powered by a rear-mounted prop. But what about the planes that follow the Reapers while they are in unrestricted airspace?

We called the Civil Air Patrol, the U.S. Air Force's civilian auxiliary. Its small, single-engine planes follow the Reapers from the time they take off from Hancock until they reach restricted airspace over Lake Ontario.

The FAA requires the Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing to have humans, either on the ground or in the air, observe the remotely-piloted Reapers the entire time they are in unrestricted airspace to watch out for other planes. This reduces the risk of collisions with other aircraft. 

Sure enough, Lt. Col. Dean Anderson, commander of the Civil Air Patrol's Central New York affiliate, said the planes were from the auxiliary.

The patrol operates four small planes - three of them painted red, white and blue, and one painted military gray. Members of the unit and volunteers from throughout the country fly the planes almost daily providing chase duty for the Reapers.

Anderson said the planes normally escort the drones from Hancock to Lake Ontario on their daily training missions. The drones are operated by pilots sitting in control stations on the ground at Hancock Field, the Air National Guard base at the airport. The planes also escort the drones back to Hancock, he said.

The missions do not normally require the planes to fly around in circles. But at times, the drones' takeoffs are delayed by maintenance issues or by other aircraft using the runways, Anderson said. In those cases, the chase planes fly in circles southeast of the airport, an area that includes the east side of the city and parts of DeWitt, while waiting for the Reapers to take off, he said.

The circling usually does not last very long. But the Civil Air Patrol often has two planes on drone chase duty each day, so what people thought was a single plane circling around for an extended period was likely two planes at different times of the day, he said.

Original article and comments ➤

Hurricanes keep new NOAA Aircraft Operations leader busy

Capt. Nancy Hann

LAKELAND — Friday was a hectic day for NOAA Corps Capt. Nancy Hann to start her new job as commander of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aircraft Operations Center at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

Two of the agency’s planes were in Texas for crews to take high-resolution images of Hurricane Harvey flood damage, images that are being used by emergency management agencies as they continue evacuation and disaster operations.

Two other planes and 40 workers had just returned from tracking Harvey and were being readied for Saturday’s deployment to Barbados to provide around-the-clock tracking and research on fast-developing Hurricane Irma, which is out in the Atlantic moving west.

There was a change of command event Thursday for Hann, who took over management of the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center from the outgoing commander, Michael Silah. Silah had been in charge of the center since March 2016 and had overseen the recent move from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa to Lakeland Linder.

The move to Lakeland was completed over the summer and now all nine weather-observation aircraft, an array of scientific equipment and 110 employees are operating out of here, Hann said.

The 58,000-square-foot aircraft hangar and office facility on the airport’s Flightline Drive is home base for uniformed members of NOAA and civilian workers.

Currently, the center’s Hurricane Harvey mission involves a Twin Otter and a Beachcraft King, each with crews of two pilots and a sensor operator, surveying flooding around Houston, Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange, Hann said.

The data and high-resolution photos will help “FEMA, and state and local emergency management agencies decide how to spend limited resources,” she said.

The deployment today of two large WP-3D Orions (P-3s) will put crews in place for around-the-clock operations providing continuous real-time data feeds about Hurricane Irma for the National Hurricane Center’s forecasts, Hann said.

“The P-3s fly through the hurricane, generally at 7,000 to 10,000 feet. They pass directly through the eyewall and then come back through the eyewall, usually working in quadrants.”

The crews deploy devices into the storm that collect information on temperature, wind speed and humidity, which comes back to the aircraft for interpretation and then is transmitted to the National Hurricane Center, Hann said

The crews consist of pilots, flight engineers, technicians and scientists to run specialized equipment, she said.

“We work 12-hour shifts,” she said. “The flights are eight to nine hours long and there is a two-hour-long preflight process.

“To finish Harvey, come back to Lakeland and take care of some maintenance, then go to work on Irma is definitely keeping us busy,” Hann said.

Adding to the hectic pace at the center, “a Gulfstream IV (G-4) aircraft is on standby for surveillance for Hurricane Irma,” Hann said.

She described the G-4 has a “high-altitude jet that does research above and around the storm — collecting information about the intensification and track of the storm.”

The G-4 studies the weather in front of the storm, the high- and low-pressure systems, to develop information about where the storm will go and how fast, she said.

“This is an extraordinary work force that is highly specialized and talented,” Hann said. “The information we provide to the nation and to forecasts is because of the dedication of the work force.”

While the focus recently has been on the center’s work researching and tracking hurricanes, the center also researches water forecasts, such as snowmelt and impact on soil and runoff, and other weather conditions, including tornadoes, and air chemistry, Hann said.

Hann last served as chief of staff for the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.

And Silah, who was promoted last month from captain to rear admiral, is the now leading the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, as well as the uniformed NOAA Corps. That means he is responsible for the agency’s fleet of research and survey ships, as well as the research aircraft.

“Capt. Silah’s service as AOC’s commanding officer has been exemplary, and we thank him for his dedication and leadership,” Rear Adm. David A. Score, who is retiring as director of OMAO and the NOAA Corps, said in a news release.

“NOAA’s aircraft operations will also be well-served by Capt. Hann, a proven leader who is committed to the safety and success of every mission NOAA flies on behalf of the nation,” Score said.

Hann has been executive officer at the NOAA Marine Operations Center-Atlantic, associate director at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, and NOAA liaison to the U.S. Pacific Command.

She has worked as a pilot and flight meteorologist on NOAA aircraft, has been a project manager, and served aboard NOAA ships supporting fisheries surveys and oceanographic research.

Her education includes a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a master’s degree in aeronautical science and space studies from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and a bachelor’s degree in marine science and biology from the University of San Diego. And, she is a certified diver and has made numerous scientific dives.

Story and photo gallery ➤

CalFire enlists Global SuperTanker to fight fire

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has contracted the world's largest aerial firefighting tanker to combat fires across the state.

The first U.S deployment of the Global SuperTanker, a converted Boeing 747-400, flew drops of retardant over the 3,880 acre Ponderosa fire in Oroville.

The giant aircraft is currently stationed at McClellan Air Field where CalFire has a reload base. It will be deployed when needed per the contract with Global Super Tanker Services.

“I mean the big thing is we can drop a lot of retardant in one load,” said SuperTanker pilot Tom Parson. “When you can take 18,000 gallons out to the fire, you know where as it might take a lat six trips to do that.”

The aircraft can hold more than 18,500 gallons of fire retardant that can be dropped all at once or in pilot controlled bursts. The plane has also been used to fight fires in Israel and Chile.

Story and video ➤

Special flight brings teen back to Columbia Falls

KALISPELL - A sophomore and star runner at Columbia Falls High School recently diagnosed with leukemia has been in Denver receiving treatment. Although she couldn't attend the first day of school this week, thanks to a non-profit organization Kimberly Peacock did get to return home - in style - on her own private jet.

"It feels wonderful to bring her back home. This was probably the best medicine for her is to get home again," said Heather Peacock, Kimberly's mom. "When her blood counts are high enough then she'll be able to go back to school. School started today so we will be working with her and the school system on whether she able to be physically present in the school or not."

15-year-old Kimberly Peacock was embraced by her father as she exited a jet that took her home from Denver. 

Since her diagnosis about four weeks ago she has gone through multiple surgeries, received chemotherapy and has lost most of her hair -- and h
Her immune system is too weak for her to be around the public.

AeroAngel a non-profit out of Denver that provides free flights for patients going through medical treatment who can't travel by commercial airline.
AeroAngel averages about one flight per month and relies on volunteer professional pilots to do flights on short-notice in all types of weather conditions.

The Founder of AeroAngel, Mark Pestal, flew Kimberly into Glacier Park International Airport himself.

"I think particularly when you know somebody is going through this really come along side with them, alongside of them in their health journey and you know just kind of get them to the next point is really great to be able to help out a great family and a great young girl who has a bright future ahead of her," Pestal said.

Kimberly's parents say she has a long road of recovery ahead but they say her prognosis is good. They also expressed their gratitude for the community of Columbia Falls who has been a major support for their daughter.

Story and video ➤

Shelby Scorse: Pilot and storm chaser

Shelby B. Scorse

Shelby B. Scorse started flying before some kids get their driver’s license. The 20-year-old University of North Dakota senior grew up in Lunenburg and took to the skies at a young age with her father, pilot Jeff A. Scorse. Ms. Scorse’s childhood reading was not of fairy tales but of adventurous pilots who helped nurture her innate desire to explore and learn.

Recently, she combined her love of flying with her love of weather research, flying planes this summer directly into storms to alter weather patterns as part of the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project.

By “seeding” clouds, Ms. Scorse says that pilots are able to increase rainfall by 10 percent and decrease hail by 45 percent, on average.

What got you interested in flying and how old were you when you got your pilot’s license?

“I became interested in flying from a collection of different things. My dad has his pilot certificate, which was a source of inspiration. I remember loving to fly with him when I was much younger and that may have been what initially made me think of becoming a pilot. I also had read a few books with characters who were pilots and that sparked my interest further. To top it off, I had never wanted a traditional desk job – and having my office be the cockpit of an aircraft sounded pretty amazing.

“While going through my pilot training, I found that there were many people and organizations that were supportive and wanted to help me achieve my goals. The Fitchburg Pilots Association, Boeing Flight Services, the Experimental Aircraft Association, Women in Aviation International and many individuals offered either financial assistance or their expertise. With this help and support, I earned my private pilot certificate when I was 18, right before I started college.”

Why are you interested in weather research? 

“I became interested in weather research and weather-related flying jobs while taking meteorology classes at the University of North Dakota. I had great professors and more than one of them had been involved with a weather modification project before. The University of North Dakota, working with the North Dakota State Water Commission, has a pilot internship program for the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project that I heard about around this same time. This project was where I was able to work this past summer.”

How close do you fly to storms and why?

“In order to apply the cloud seeding material to the clouds or storms, we fly close enough to find the cell’s inflow. The material is released into the inflow and carried into the cell where it is able to work effectively. For most of the clouds that we seeded, we flew directly under the bases of the cloud to find this inflow. For larger storms, we would tuck the plane along either a shelf cloud or under the flat bases along the sides of the storm. Occasionally, and in certain aircraft, we would ‘top seed’ instead. This involved flying directly though the feeder cells of a large storm and dropping the seeding material into the clouds itself.”

Is it risky?

“Flying around thunderstorms can absolutely be risky, especially if not properly trained. It is not something pilots normally do. A couple of times, I was momentarily worried, but we had a great team of meteorologists on the ground talking to us keeping us out of anything that could have been dangerous. Some planes do get hit by lightning, but we didn’t this summer. Planes deal with it and the static goes off of the wings and it is fine.

“Also, all of the pilots on the project receive instruction and all intern pilots are paired with a qualified weather modification instructor. While flying, we were constantly in contact with an amazing team of meteorologists that would watch our aircraft’s track overlaid on a radar display and alert us to any danger. As a pilot crew, we would constantly be discussing our options and always had safety in mind.”

What did your team learn over the summer? 

“This summer was an absolutely amazing experience. Over the course of the summer, our team of pilots and meteorologists learned how to better communicate and how to do our jobs more effectively and safely. With each mission, we got a better idea of which parts of the storms had inflow and which didn’t. We also got better at working as a team and were able to have a lot of fun each and every time that we got to fly.”

What do you want to do after you graduate from the University of North Dakota?

“I would love to do something in the weather research field, but I will probably end up flying corporate. There are not a lot of weather-research jobs.”

Original article and photo gallery ➤

AirCare 2: University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics helicopter encounters laser

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Someone was shining a laser at a hospital helicopter, late Friday night.

Officials with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics said AirCare 2 was on its way to Ottumwa's hospital at the time.

"It is impossible to understand why anyone would endanger the lives of our patients and staff in such a reckless and callous manner," said UIHC Spokesman Tom Moore in a statement.

Moore said the crew followed procedure and gave coordinates to authorities.

"They were told the person was caught," said Moore. "This wasn't the first incident in that area, and all involved are relieved that an arrest was made."

Pointing a laser into a cockpit is a federal crime, with a potential five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine. Even so, several thousand laser incidents are reported each year to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In 2015, ABC News reported on a spate of commercial planes flying over New York and New Jersey which spotted lasers beamed toward the aircraft. The FBI and FAA investigated the incident. One agent called it a laser "assault."

Original article can be found here ➤

Bare-bones economy seats may be coming to international flights on American Airlines

Some low-cost foreign carriers are offering fares to Europe that sound too good to be true.

Norwegian Air Shuttle is advertising one-way tickets as low as $89, while Reykjavik-based Wow Air has flights starting at $69. For the most part, such fares are for bare-bones tickets and are limited to certain off-peak days. Checked bags, food and other essentials will cost extra.

Still, such offers have forced at least one U.S. airline to consider matching the foreign carriers.

Don Casey, senior vice president for revenue management at American Airlines, told an audience at an aviation summit this week that American Airlines is considering offering a bare-bones, no-frills ticket on certain international flights.

American Airlines, like several of its rivals, added so-called “basic economy” tickets earlier this year on many domestic flights. The low-cost ticket gets you an economy seat but almost all other services, including seat selection, checked bags and food, cost extra.

Basic economy passengers even have to pay an extra fee to bring a carry-on bag that goes into the overhead compartment.

Casey did not use the term “basic economy” when he talked about the new international seats. Instead, he used the industry term “unbundled,” which refers to a ticket for a seat, without any extras such as checked bags, snacks, drinks or entertainment.

American Airlines officials said the carrier may add the new cheap seats next year.

American Airlines already has added basic economy seats on several routes between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Original article and comments ➤

Jet-driven: Aerospace parts company expanding plant

This rendering gives an aerial view of how Moeller Aerospace’s Harbor Springs plant would appear from the southwest with a planned building addition in place.

HARBOR SPRINGS — An aerospace manufacturer’s recently launched expansion project at its Harbor Springs plant is expected to bring growth in its workforce along with the building footprint.

Work began roughly a month ago toward enlarging Moeller Aerospace’s facility, located off West Conway Road at 8725 Moeller Drive. The company produces machined parts used in jet engines — with a customer base that includes major engine manufacturers such as General Electric, Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney. It also provides parts for use in electrical power generating equipment, supplying manufacturers such as Siemens and PSM.

A 67,000-square-foot addition will nearly double the plant’s area, allowing additional production resources to be phased in over several years. The plant’s headcount recently stood at about 226 employees — including several hired in connection with the expansion project — and company officials expect that will increase to around 260 once the production increases are fully implemented. Plans are in the works to add about 80 pieces of production equipment at the plant.

“This is a multimillion-dollar investment,” said Moeller plant manager Dave Davidson.

The company is taking steps to reconfigure its plant site to allow for the plant expansion, such as creating new parking areas and relocating part of a warehouse building on the property. Company officials hope to have the plant addition framed in by November, and aim for it to be ready for occupancy by April 2018.

Davidson noted that growing demand for commercial jets is helping drive the expansion, with aircraft operators looking to update aging fleets.

“We’re expanding existing and adding new product lines,” the plant manager said.

Ironwood Construction of Petoskey is a key contractor for Moeller’s building project. Several Harbor Springs firms, including Harbor Springs Excavating, FAH Architecture and Stockton Architecture and Development, are other examples of other local companies involved in the project.

“Our plan is to use as many local contractors as possible,” Davidson said.

Headquartered in downstate Wixom, Moeller Aerospace has roots in a company known as Moeller Manufacturing, which was founded in 1954. The company has had a presence in Harbor Springs since the 1970s. To learn more about Moeller Aerospace, see

Original article can be found here ➤

Air Wyoming? State explores behaving like an airline to ensure regular service to cities

The impending departure of Allegiant Air from Casper, announced last week, signaled more than the end of popular discount flights to Las Vegas. It showed the extent to which Wyoming is dependent on the whims of commercial carriers to serve relatively rural areas.

Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, said that airport officials had done everything possible to retain Allegiant service, including attending the company’s annual meeting every year in Las Vegas.

“What more can we do?” Sweeney asked at a legislative committee meeting Friday.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation has a possible, if ambitious, fix. The agency wants to contract with airlines to provide regular service to airports in the state, similar to how large airlines like United contract with smaller carriers like GoJet to provide regional air service.

That would be a different approach than the revenue guarantees currently used to subsidize commercial air service in most Wyoming airports where the local, state and federal government chip in to the tune of $46 million per year to guarantee carriers a minimum amount of business each year by covering any shortfall.

WYDOT’s idea is to start entering what are known as capacity purchase agreements. Those deals give the entity commissioning the contract more control than by offering revenue guarantees alone. WYDOT and local airports in Wyoming would dictate the frequency of flights, number of seats, price and destinations while paying the contracted carrier a set amount.

“This idea of capacity purchase agreements, for decades, has worked very well for airlines,” said WYDOT director Bill Panos. He pitched it as a public-private partnership that could reduce the amount now spent by the state on ensuring air service to small Wyoming cities.

Air service challenges

The new approach is intended to head off a series of factors working against reliable commercial air service in the Cowboy State.

One is price. The average air fare to or from Wyoming airports is nearly 30 percent more expensive than the national average, while southern neighbor Colorado has fares that are 20 percent below the national average, leading to a gulf that makes it hard to persuade state residents to fly out of local airports rather than driving to Denver or Salt Lake City, Panos said.

Only about half of Wyomingites taking a flight use airports in the state each year, according to WYDOT data.

Moreover, as commercial airlines begin phasing out the smaller jets that have long served many Wyoming airports in favor of at least 70-seat aircraft, it will become more difficult to continue attracting carriers to the state, even with revenue guarantees.

“That’s why I think the program we’re talking about is so significant,” said Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, at the Joint Interim Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee meeting Friday in Casper. “How do we end up with air service? Because right now the 50-passenger airplane is the size that fits the market we have.”

And finally, even in Wyoming cities with regular air service, a common problem persists: It’s far easier to fly out than fly in. A businesswoman in Rock Springs can fly through Denver to an afternoon meeting in Dallas and arrive back home the same night. But her counterpart in Dallas couldn’t fly into and out of Rock Springs in a single day.

A capacity purchase agreement, Panos said, would solve many of these issues.

The core goal would be bringing three daily round-trip flights to Denver to all nine Wyoming airports with commercial air service, ideally with prices aligned with national averages and few to no cancellations or delays. While the program’s proposed model could eventually be built out to include connection to other hubs such as Minneapolis or Dallas, Denver remains the largest regional hub for Wyoming, with connections to carriers like United, Southwest and Frontier.

Currently, four carriers service eight Wyoming airports — Casper, Cheyenne, Gillette, Rock Springs, Riverton, Laramie, Cody and Sheridan — all with their own schedules. WYDOT’s goal is to transition to a single carrier with regular Denver service.

Jerimiah Reiman of Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW Council, which is working on economic diversity in the state, said lack of reliable air service in Wyoming led many business people and companies to move out of the state or cluster around Jackson, Wyoming’s busiest airport. Jackson was largely left out of the WYDOT proposal because it already has frequent, primarily leisure-based, flights.

“Commercial air service is a significantly limiting factor,” Reiman told the committee. “There’s a lack of air service particularly to global destinations.”

Nick Wangler of the Forecast consulting firm, which worked with WYDOT on developing the proposed program, said that Wyoming is unlikely to see this kind of regular service to regional hubs without more state intervention.

“The way (airlines) do it is, ‘If it’s not broken, we don’t want to fix it,” he said. “What’s ‘not broken’ to them is we’re paying really high airfares and we have really full flights.”

But instead of having, say, a single flight with high fares, the state could use a capacity purchase agreement to create three flights with lower fares, Wangler said.

As now proposed, individual Wyoming communities would enter into the capacity purchase agreements with a carrier that would operate and staff the flights, while the local airport — or a community-based board — would brand the flights, distribute tickets and plan schedules and routes. Wangler said under the current plan, passengers would still purchase tickets on the airline’s website and board an aircraft with a national brand’s name painted on the side, though that’s subject to change.

“The best solution is invisible,” Panos said.

Skepticism, support

WYDOT is now completing a study of the model and the legislative committee agreed to form a working group, though lawmakers wavered between support and skepticism over whether the model will — or should — ever be implemented.

If the model is seen to completion, it would include creating hubs in Casper and possible Cheyenne that would allow flights to and from cities within Wyoming.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said that the timing likely wasn’t right for the Legislature to fund a new air service program.

“We need to continue to look at the current situation and continue to pursue competition,” Gray said. But with the exception of Casper, commercial airlines have shown little interest in serving Wyoming without government subsidies — much less in competing with one another.

Regional carriers, which formerly served the small markets that larger airlines were not interested in, have been battered by new federal regulations passed after a 2009 regional plane crash that require pilots to have significantly more experience before flying any commercial routes.

Gray said he believed the solution to Wyoming’s air service troubles lay in attracting Southwest Airlines to the state because it was already a discount carrier.

“You plop down Southwest and I think that’s the biggest thing you could do to control price,” he said.

State officials emphasized that the airline was uninterested in local markets and used only large planes that even Casper was unlikely to be capable of mustering demand for.

Despite volunteering to serve on the working group, Gray cast the lone vote against moving forward with developing the capacity purchase agreement model.

In contrast, Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, was one of the more enthusiastic supporters of exploring the model. He said that as carriers move to larger jets, many states will be competing to attract carriers to capacity purchase agreements and that Wyoming risked falling behind and losing out on a vital transportation option.

Von Flatern said he’d been involved in discussions about air service in Wyoming for decades and that this was the first time he aware of an option like the capacity purchase agreement to work — something other rural states were likely realizing as well.

“It’s of the utmost urgency we get on this,” he said. “This presentation could be given in Arkansas this morning, or South Dakota.”

Original article can be found here ➤

Former Dover Air Force Base mechanic flying high with the Thunderbirds

Former Dover Air Force Base Airman Mark McMonagle is now a structural maintenance technician for the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the official air demonstration team. 

DOVER — When it comes to working on aircraft one could say that Mark McMonagle takes it to the extreme.

Senior Airman McMonagle spent four years stationed at Dover Air Force Base where he worked on the C-5M Super Galaxy — the world’s largest cargo airplane — as well as the C-17 Globemaster III.

These days Airman McMonagle, a native of Port Matilda, Pennsylvania, is one of four aircraft structural maintenance technicians for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team.

It’s a different world. Now, he’s one of the rock stars of the air.

“I always have people coming up asking for autographs,” Airman McMonagle said. “It’s very intriguing seeing all of the different locations that we got to. We’ve got 76 shows at 38 different locations, so we’re busy from the end of February through the middle of November.”

It was just last summer when Airman McMonagle traveled to the Ocean City (Maryland) Air Show where he saw the Thunderbirds perform in person for the first time in his life.

He figured that being around the precision of the Thunderbirds’ team and the power of the F-16 Fighting Falcons that they pilot was something that he would really enjoy.

“I actually wanted to join (the Thunderbirds) a couple of years ago but I was too low of a grade yet,” Airman McMonagle said. “I just put (an application) together with the hopes of making the team and it caught me by surprise when I had an email saying that I was accepted.”

He is now one of more than 120 enlisted personnel, representing nearly 30 career fields, that form the backbone of the Thunderbirds.

Airman McMonagle was chosen to join the team after undergoing a very competitive hiring process that focused on his past record of success and extensive job proficiency

Just like every new team member, he began his new assignment learning about life as a Thunderbird, the team’s long and detailed history, its heritage, mission and squadron-specific policies.

It all culminated with an oral exam where he was tested by his fellow Airmen on anything and everything related to the Thunderbirds. Once he completed the final test, the squadron commander rewarded him with a Thunderbirds patch and coin.

“I’ve been with the Thunderbirds for eight months now,” Airman McMonagle said. “I do aircraft structural maintenance, so we’re kind of the auto body (shop) of the aircraft. If they have any loose hardware, paint, or anything, there’s four of us on the team and we do all of the external and internal structural (work on the aircraft).”

Judging from his official job description, it appears to be a little more involved that just slapping on some Bondo body filler or putting some duct tape on a crack.

The description says “his responsibilities include inspecting and repairing damage to plastic, fiberglass, bonded structures and bonded honeycomb assemblies on aircraft, balancing aircraft control surfaces and ensuring that repairs are pressure-, fluid- and weather-tight, and removing corrosion by using various chemical and mechanical methods to treat and preserve the aircraft.”

It’s actually the same job he did on Dover’s C-5s and C-17s for four years.

“The biggest difference has been going from having to use a stand for everything I worked on to having to watch my head so I don’t bust it on anything,” Mr. McMonagle said, about the nuances of working on cargo aircraft and jet fighters.

He anticipates that he will serve between three and four years as a Thunderbird.

Mr. McMonagle still has roots, and in-laws, in the Dover area.

“My wife (Miranda) is actually from here, she grew up here and her parents live down here, so I’ve got the in-laws here and I’m heading back to Pennsylvania (last) week,” he said.

His wife and daughter, Rosie, moved to Las Vegas, home base of the Thunderbirds, prior to his first year with the aerial demonstration team.

When it came to selecting which air shows he wanted to work, there was no doubt that last weekend’s Thunder Over Dover was the first one he circled.

“The four (aircraft maintenance structural technicians) alternate back and forth on different locations, so we get together at the beginning of the season and compile which (performances) we want to be on and who wants what,” said Mr. McMonagle.

“It’s great just seeing friends and family and being able to come to the show and bring them all out just to see what we’re all about.”

Original article can be found here ➤

Onodera asks new U.S. envoy to pay heed to base concerns

TOKYO -  Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has asked new U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty to pay heed to Japanese people's concerns over the hosting of U.S. bases.

"On the (U.S. military's) Osprey aircraft, I believe great care is taken in ensuring their safety, but various concerns are still voiced in Japan," Onodera told Hagerty, who paid a courtesy call a day after he assumed his post.

"I hope you will lend an ear to the voices of local people, including on issues related to the U.S. forces in Japan," the minister also said during the meeting, the start of which was open to the media.

Hagerty, a businessman close to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrived in Japan at a time when the bilateral alliance is becoming more important in the face of repeated ballistic missile launches by North Korea, including one that flew over Japan into the Pacific Ocean earlier this week.

Onodera said that the "best way to resolve" the North Korean missile threat is through a "proper response" from Japan and the United States, which will serve as a deterrent.

Hagerty added that the two countries are "100 percent aligned in our resolute opposition to the North Korean regime and their rogue activities" and that the North's provocations have increased his country's responsibility to defend Japan to "the highest level."

On issues related to U.S. forces in Japan, the ambassador vowed to work to "make certain that we are optimizing our presence here in Japan."

Concern over the safety of the U.S. military's Osprey aircraft has been on the increase in Japan due to a series of accidents and emergency landings in and outside Japan.

An Osprey aircraft crashed off Australia on Aug. 5, killing three U.S. Marines, while another made an emergency landing at a commercial airport in Oita Prefecture, southwestern Japan, on Tuesday. Both planes are based at the U.S. Marine Corps' Air Station Futenma.

The U.S. Marines said Friday the aircraft that made an emergency landing at Oita Airport did so because the pilot identified an engine malfunction that required a swift landing. The Osprey is now being repaired at the airport.

The Ospreys, which take off and land like helicopters but cruise like planes, have caused significant concerns in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, due to their noise and record of accidents. U.S. forces have deployed more than 20 of the aircraft at the Futenma base.

Original article can be found here ➤

Smoke grounds two National Guard helicopters going to fight Chetco Bar Fire

Grants Pass, Ore. - As the Chetco Bar Fire advances towards Josephine County, two Chinook helicopters had to land at Grants Pass Airport instead of continuing on to the Illinois Valley helipad to help fight the fire.

The two choppers arrived early Saturday morning from Pendleton, Ore. and had been out fighting other fires around the state. Due to the visibility being less than three miles, the helicopters could not take off again.

"It does limit the firefighting capability," Larry Graves, manager of the Grants Pass Airport, said. "If the helicopters can't see the fire and if the forward air controllers can't see fires or the helicopters, they can't direct traffic and everybody has to sit on the ground."

Because of the smoke in Grants Pass, the helicopters must wait until some of it clears up before heading out to the Illinois Valley.

One of the Chinook helicopters was en route to replace another helicopter there already fighting the Chetco Bar Fire.

One of the National Guardsmen said they typically have 12-day shifts and have been helping fight other fires around the area as well.

While the helicopters were grounded at the Grants Pass Airport, visitors there for Airport Day on Saturday could check out the helicopters. Those who arrived early enough even got to see the National Guardsmen practice rappelling down from them. 

Original article can be found here ➤

Accident occurred September 02, 2017 near Burnet Municipal Airport (KBMQ), Texas

BURNET, Texas (KXAN) – A private helicopter crashed south of Burnet late Saturday afternoon, said the Federal Aviation Administration.

FAA said the aircraft – a Hughes 369 A – lost power near Burnet Municipal Airport and crashed on US 281 while attempting to make an emergency landing.

There were four people on board, said Burnet Police Chief Paul Nelson. He said two of them were taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. The other two people were uninjured.

Chief Nelson said the call for the crash came in at about 4:30 p.m.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Original article can be found here ➤

Ravi Bansal returns to Buffalo, New York, after solo flight around the world

The trip, during which he covered 23,000 miles and 34 airports, raises $160,000 for Indian hospital.

Ravi Bansal


Ravinder K Bansal, an Indian American entrepreneur has completed a six-week solo world tour after raising $160,000 for purchasing an MRI machine in Ambala, India.

A resident of Buffalo, New York, Bansal set off for the journey on July 4 from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport and returned on August 21, as planned despite facing unexpected technical failures with the plane.

He had stopovers in 34 cities and covered 19,878 nautical miles, or nearly 23,000 miles.

The mission had its highs and lows. The high being the raising of $160,000 toward his target of $750,000, and the low being the revelation that someone had hacked into Bansal’s email and set phishing emails to his contacts, asking for cash.

“I am making contact with people I haven’t talked to in years,” Bansal told  The Buffalo News.

According to the paper, Bansal, who sold the medical oxygen therapy equipment company AirSep in 2014, spent $100,000 from his pocket on the solo flight.

The mission was planned after Bansal’s daughter-in-law was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer. He wants to use the fund raised from his aviation expedition to buy an MRI device so that cancer can be detected and treated at early stages.

Even though he fell short of the goal, Bansal said people still continue to contribute to funding for the MRI machine.

The Indian American’s philanthropic mission abroad his single-engine aircraft Cessna 400 on the US Independence Day. In the six week, he flew across England, France, Italy, Greece, Jordan, the UAE, and Oman and ended in India. He also had stopovers in Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, Russia, and Canada during his return trip to the United States.

According to Travel Beats, Bansal, through his trip, also wanted to create awareness about breast cancer.

Bansal lost his sister-in-law, wife of his elder brother, to breast cancer in 2012. His father was the only private physician at Kasauli.

His sister-in-law, diagnosed with breast cancer, had to travel all the way to Ludhiana from Ambala for chemotherapy.

Bansal will donate the amount raised to the Rotary Ambala Cancer Hospital in Haryana, India, to purchase much-needed MRI.

Bansal took 6 months to prepare for the worldwide trip, during which he learned the basics of survival. He planned the route based on the capacity of his single-engine aircraft, and the availability of gas, airspace, landing permit and visa.

Bansal is a Ph.D. holder in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Engineering. Throughout the trip, Bansal has been blogging about his solo flight, his experience and the mission on

Original article ➤

Letter: Pursue your dreams, not escapism

Capt. James Riordan


Back on Friday, August 11th, the Free Press posted an article titled; “Fire captain takes off for new career.” The article was about a man who was retiring from the Elko Fire Department and was moving to Kanab, Utah where he was going to provide aviation tours in his own personal plane.

On Monday morning, August 15th, I’m outside and I hear an aircraft flying overhead and I finally locate the plane and watch it a while. Climbing and climbing, circling and circling, and from what I see, I think it is someone out for a morning spin and then I thought about the story in Friday’s paper and thought to myself that maybe that’s who it was.

You know currently, we read and hear about so much racial hate, violence and killings, which often doesn’t leave a lot of space for “Dreams.” Dreams are and can be for real but you must try to make that Dream become a reality, not through false hopes or corrupt ideology but what is in your heart for that Dream.

Learning about the strength and power within your ancestral culture, traditions, customs and beliefs, can provide you with a strong path to follow but you must refrain from darkening that destiny with alcohol and drugs.

Don’t fall prey to peer pressure, don’t fall prey to foolhardy scams and cons, but learn about yourself, what you like, what you desire and what your ambitions are and do not follow people who have always led an unsteady lying life.

Life can change fast, one minute we are watching an historic total eclipse, the next we are watching tragedy in Texas, which is why each and every one of us must make an effort to help our young people grab a hold of reality, a reality that does not exist in alcohol and drugs.

The retiring fire captain is sincerely pursuing an ambition, a prime example to follow and in this day and age where your political world is in upheaval and chaotic, our youth, our future generations need justified role models and good people.

Larry Kibby

Original article ➤

GE Aviation's $110M jet-engine factory on path to employ 230 by 2019

LAFAYETTE—Employees at GE Aviation’s new jet engine assembly and overhaul facility here don’t lack for elbow room.

The size of the current workforce—87—is dwarfed by the 300,000-square-foot facility. Several work stations stand empty, not yet called into service. Someone so inclined would have space to turn cartwheels across the polished concrete floor.

But if the $110 million factory ramps up as the company expects, it won’t stay this roomy for long.

The facility, which opened in September 2015 with 21 employees, produces about six engines a week. The goal is to increase staffing and production to a workforce of 230 by 2019 and five engines a day by 2020.

GE Aviation’s optimism rests on a couple of factors: The facility—along with factories in Durham, North Carolina, and France—produces the LEAP, a brand-new engine with a backlog of more than 14,000 orders. And, bolstered by low fuel prices and strong passenger traffic, the airline industry in general is on a roll. Airlines are ordering new planes so they can retire older aircraft, increase the size of their fleet, or both.

“It’s snowballing forward in a positive way, which is what makes aviation right now so exciting,” said Eric Matteson, the site leader for GE Aviation’s Lafayette plant. “People are flying again.”

The LEAP engine, which stands for Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion, is produced by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between Connecticut-based General Electric Co. and France-based Safran Aircraft Engines. CFM launched the LEAP program in 2008, as a more fuel-efficient replacement for CFM56 engines. The first LEAP engines went into service last year.

The LEAP-1A powers the Airbus A320 NEO family of aircraft. In July 2016, Turkey-based Pegasus Airlines became the first airline in the world to take delivery of aircraft powered by these engines. The first U.S.-based airline to take delivery of LEAP-1A-powered aircraft was Denver-based Frontier Airlines, in October.

The LEAP-1B powers the Boeing 737 MAX family of aircraft. In May 2017, Malaysia-based Malindo Air became the first airline in the world to take delivery of LEAP-1B-powered planes.

Lafayette assembles LEAP-1A engine cores, then sends them to France for final assembly at a Safran plant in a Paris suburb. It also assembles complete LEAP-1B engines that it ships directly to Boeing in Seattle. In the future, the Lafayette facility will also assemble LEAP-1C engine cores for the Comac C919, a yet-to-be-launched Chinese aircraft that’s in flight testing and verification.

Lafayette is getting into the game at a time of high demand for this type of engine.

LEAP engines are built to power single-aisle commercial aircraft, and both Boeing and Airbus say they see strong demand for this size of plane in the years ahead.

In its annual Current Market Outlook report, released in June, Boeing said the industry will need 41,030 new airplanes through 2036, mostly single-aisle.

“The single-aisle segment will see the most growth over the forecast, fueled by low-cost carriers and emerging markets,” the report said. “29,530 new airplanes will be needed in this segment, an increase of almost 5 percent over last year.”

In its own annual forecast, also released in June, Airbus offered a similar outlook. The manufacturer said it foresees a need for 34,900 passenger and freight aircraft by 2036. Of this number, Airbus says, 24,810 will be single-aisle planes.

The Asia-Pacific region will take 41 percent of deliveries during that period, Airbus predicts, fueled by emerging markets like China and India, where air travel will expand as disposable-income levels increase.

Local game plan

The Lafayette plant currently focuses nearly entirely on engine assembly. But that will shift in years to come. The facility’s maintenance/repair area, which is mostly quiet now, will rev up starting around 2020, when the first wave of LEAP engines will need scheduled overhaul work—at about 10,000 flights, Matteson said.

Having production and maintenance under roof helps ensure the facility’s relevance for decades to come, even after new LEAP engines are no longer being built. (Safran plants in Saint-Quentin, France, and Brussels, Belgium, also handle LEAP maintenance and repair, but GE’s North Carolina plant does not.)

“I think it provides more sustainability long term,” said Ryan Metzing, executive director of the Indianapolis-based Indiana Aerospace and Defense Council. “That’s a stream of business that now keeps the facility relevant and successful.”

 This part of the Lafayette operation should likely create opportunities for Indiana suppliers that might be tapped to help GE with maintenance and repair work, Metzing said.

Maintenance work also puts the Lafayette facility in direct contact with its end users—airlines and leasing companies around the world.

“It creates a global presence for the local area,” Matteson said. “At least every other week, we’ve got a customer in the building from somewhere.” That visitation should increase along with increased production, he said.


Even amid all the positives, GE Aviation still faces challenges—especially in industry competition and worker recruitment.

GE Aviation’s main rival for this engine type is Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney, which recently launched its own fuel-saving engine, the PurePower Geared Turbofan.

Airbus offers its A320 NEO customers the option of choosing either the GE Aviation LEAP engine or the PurePower engine. In October 2016, Spirit Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to put A320 NEOs into service, and Spirit chose the PurePower.

“These are the two competing versions of how to do a new-generation engine,” said Seth Kaplan, managing partner of the aviation industry publication Airline Weekly. “The two are kind of competing fiercely.”

It’s too early to say which engine will be more fuel-efficient, Kaplan said. But so far, the LEAP has had a smoother launch.

“If they’ve had issues, they haven’t been significant enough to bubble up to where the whole airline industry is talking about them—whereas that is the case with Pratt & Whitney,” Kaplan said.

In July, Spirit disclosed that it had grounded two of its five new Airbus A320 NEOs because of “various reliability problems” associated with the PurePower.

It’s not uncommon for new engines to experience hiccups, Kaplan said, but the high-profile nature of the PurePower’s difficulties could work in favor of its competitor.

“Right now, if an airline is making a decision [on new aircraft], there’s no question they’re looking at what’s going on—and maybe a bit nervous about what’s going on—with the Pratt & Whitney engine,” he said. “All of that is probably helpful for CFM.”

Staffing challenges

Landing engine orders for the Lafayette plant is only the first hurdle. The next one is finding qualified employees to build them.

“It’s been one of our biggest challenges, finding and hiring enough people to work here,” Matteson said.

Most of the workers are aircraft mechanics who hold a Federal Aviation Administration credential. It typically takes two years of schooling or equivalent military experience to pass the credentialing test, Matteson said.

In addition, he said, the plant needs workers who excel at soft skills such as teamwork, decision-making and the maturity to discuss problems and resolve conflict.

The facility uses what GE calls a self-directed teaming environment. It’s a flat structure, with groups of 15 to 20 employees working out many of their own problems.

Matteson said local schools—Purdue University, Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University—have all been a good source of new hires. But the Lafayette facility is also recruiting at other schools, as well as military bases, hoping to snag eligible recruits as they leave the service.

“Our first few waves of technicians came straight from the local market, but after that we needed to start branching out,” he said.

About 40 percent of the workforce is military veterans. “When you look at the soft skills needed to really excel here, those out of the military seem to better fit that,” he said.

New hires earn $26.50 per hour.

Matteson said GE plans to have about 230 employees in Lafayette by 2019, “with room to grow past that.”

But the plant will likely never get bigger than about 400 employees, he said, noting that GE’s North Carolina plant, which opened in 1993, has about 330 workers.

GE’s strategy nowadays, he said, is to open smaller facilities that can be more nimble and entrepreneurial. And the Lafayette facility’s team-oriented staff structure works only for workforces of 400 or fewer.

“The days of the big campuses, at least for General Electric, are gone.”•

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