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February 2, 2004

NewsWire Complete Issue

By The AVweb Editorial Staff

This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ... Trade-A-Plane

Trade-A-Plane offers Classifieds updated daily, Product/Advertiser Index, Dealers/Brokers, Forums, NAAA Evaluator, Performance Database, Spec Sheets, and Weather. Order your subscription today at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/tap.

Pilot As Terrorist Suspect

How You, Too, Could Get A Visit From The FBI...

His only crime is fastidious attention to his airplane but an AVweb reader says the long arm of the law reached out and touched him because of his passion. Mike, who asked that his last name and hometown not be used (AVweb has verified his identity) says a dark tan, a black beard and the regular shipment of aviation-related merchandise to his home is all it took to have him branded (briefly) as a suspected terrorist. "What we have here is a textbook example of how things are not supposed to work," Mike told AVweb a week after he was interviewed by the FBI on suspicion of being a terrorist. We suspect there are those who might feel the exact opposite is true. Mike does most of the maintenance on his 40-year-old complex airplane by himself (under a mechanic's watchful eye) and he began assembling the stuff needed for his most recent annual about three months ago. Since he works during the day, he orders most of the parts and materials he needs from catalogues and has them shipped to his apartment. Over the past few months, boxes and shipping containers obviously containing aviation-related merchandise (some of them, like paints and lubricants, labeled as hazardous materials) began arriving at his home.

...Al Qaeda Operative, Or Jewish Immigrant...

Since the aviation merchandise (and "hazardous materials") arrived while he was at work, they were received by the building manager and held for Mike to pick up. Mike says he believes someone working in the building manager's office looked at him, looked at the kind of stuff he was getting in the mail, and then looked up the local FBI office in the phone book. About 10 days ago, he arrived home to find the business card of a local FBI agent slipped under his door with a note on the back asking him to call. After a couple of trips through the FBI's voice mail system, the agent and his suspect made telephone contact. "At first he didn't want to tell me what it was about, being vague about having to investigate a complaint, but when I pressed him he broke down and told me I was under suspicion as a terrorist!" Mike said. "I nearly cracked up." He arranged to meet with the agent and the story unfolded. Mike said the agent seemed ill-prepared for the interview, lacking even basic knowledge of his suspected terrorist. "He didn't know how old I was, where I was born, anything," Mike told AVweb. "Since I am a naturalized citizen, I know I have a file at the INS, but he didn't, and didn't even bother to check." Had the agent checked the INS file, Mike said, he would have discovered his suspect was a Jewish immigrant, not the most likely profile for an al Qaeda operative. Mike said it didn't take long for the agent to wrap up his investigation after that and other facts were revealed.

...And What Might Have Happened

Perhaps the episode confirms such terrorism tips are actually followed up but Mike said he thinks his experience shows something else. "It's like all the other measures they've taken in the name of [GA] security," he said. "They're all window dressing." He noted that if he'd actually been a terrorist, finding the FBI card under the door likely would have sent him bolting for the border, or changing his appearance, or doing something to evade the authorities ... as opposed to picking up the phone and giving a special agent a call. Even if his apartment was under surveillance, Mike estimates an international terrorist worth his salt would be able to escape. "But because I'm not a terrorist, I met him for lunch," Mike said. An FBI spokesman said investigation strategies differ in each case. "Sometimes there are reasons to be overt with the subject of an investigation in order to solicit their cooperation," said spokesman Bill Carter. Mike said he thinks the agency knew from the outset that he wasn't a terrorist but had to go through the motions of opening and closing the file to keep bureaucratic butts covered.

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Airport Wars

One Pilot's Donation Saves Airport...

Hardly a week goes by that angry airport supporters don't fill a council chamber somewhere trying to save their local strip, but it's not often one of them puts his money where his mouth is. Enter Robert Kimball, who set an example (or an uncomfortable precedent) a week ago by putting up $6,630 to ensure his local airport, owned by the borough of North Cambria, in Pennsylvania, received a $132,000 state grant to complete the airport's master plan. Local governments in Pennsylvania must ante up 5 percent of state airport grants and the local council was considering dropping the grant until Kimball's offer came along -- they then voted unanimously in favor of taking his money and then the state's. The council also agreed to take the airport off a state Web site that lists the facility as being for sale and in which the owner is said to be looking at "all proposals for the development of this land." The posting has apparently been up for four years and was put up as a "trial balloon" to gauge interest from the private sector in taking over the airport. Council member Don Cessna (yes, really) said he knew nothing about the Internet ad, and the airport is not for sale.

...Florida Legislators Open The Bank...

While the Pennsylvania politicians couldn't (wouldn't) come up with $6,630, their counterparts in Florida's Martin County are getting set to part with millions to protect Witham Field. The FAA has approved the county's plan to buy homes near the end of the main runway and to soundproof others, all at taxpayers' expense, to ease the effect of noise on residents. Airport director Mike Moon said the county now has to find ways (like borrowing) to pay for the houses and soundproofing and that might take some time. Meanwhile, the FAA has also rejected a couple of noise-prevention measures in the plan and that has some local residents making a racket. The county had hoped to ban older, noisier jets from the airport but the FAA said such a ban isn't warranted because so few so-called Stage One aircraft use Witham. Airport activist Dave Shore cried foul. "It's shocking," Shore told The Palm Beach Post. "Give the community a break. They are loudest, noisiest, most polluting of all jets." The FAA also rejected a voluntary noise-reducing takeoff procedure that would steer aircraft away from homes and over water.

...How About A Supermarket Off The Runway?

The politicians of Farmingdale, Long Island, extol the economic benefits of a massive new supermarket, while the proposal has driven some opponents to such headline-grabbing stunts as attending council meetings made up as bloodied airplane crash victims. The new Stew Leonard's superstore will be 1,032 feet from the end of busy Republic Airport's main runway. "It's a disappointment that they don't understand ... that it's unsafe to build these types of facilities in these locations," said William McShane, chairman of the Long Island Business Aviation Association. The store will be well within the airport's runway protection zone and, in addition to local aviation officials, the state department of transportation also objected to the location. All fear the horrible potential of a crash into the store. However, the Babylon Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously in favor of letting the 160,000-square-foot store, complete with petting zoo, settle in below short final, to the cheers of local business people. "We want the store here," said Bob Getchell of the East Farmingdale Civic Association. "It's good for the economy, it's good for the neighborhood." The FAA says the store won't pose any air navigation hazard.

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Thunderbirds Crash: Truth In Images

AVweb has confirmed that the image last Thursday posted to our Picture Of The Week section of Capt. Christopher Stricklin's Sept. 14, 2003, ejection from Thunderbirds jet number 6 -- roughly eight-tenths of a second before aircraft impact -- is in fact authentic. It was shot by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III, Still Photographer, U.S. Air Force, from the catwalk atop the tower at Mountain Home AFB, and was not officially released by the Air Force until last Friday afternoon.

For the photographically inclined, Staff Sgt. Davis said he shot images with a Nikon D1X camera using a 300-mm lens with an aperture setting of 2.8 and shutter speeds of 1/1000 and 1/2000. For the now famous (and now official) shot, Davis "waited for the aircraft to level and clicked the shutter." And yes, he did experience some concern that the jet, which the Air Force says Stricklin turned away from the crowd, appeared instead to be directed at the tower. By his own account, the wreckage stopped just 100 feet shy of the tower's base. The nature of the lenses involved offer explanation for the automobiles so clearly visible in Davis' still image, but absent from the in-cockpit video. The picture and story have generated a great deal of material, rumors and interest. So we invite you to enjoy:

Terrorism Without Action

Al Qaeda has apparently discovered a new instrument of terror. It's called the threat and it was used to ground at least six return flights headed to the U.S. Sunday and today. Based on intelligence reports issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the travel plans of hundreds of people were upended when British Airways, Air France and Continental cancelled flights to and from Washington and Miami. The Department of Homeland Security said they had word al Qaeda was planning to release biological agents or a radiological device aboard an aircraft. Of course, the airlines could only suck up the financial loss and the likely loss of customers with stoic rejoinders on security that have taken on a mantra-like quality. "The safety and security of our operations is our absolute priority and will not be compromised," British Airways said in a statement. But British pilots have asked their government to examine the U.S. intelligence reports with a critical eye to see how credible they are. Over the Christmas holidays, at least two British Airways flights to Washington and six Air France flights to Los Angeles were cancelled under similar circumstances. The U.S. was on heightened terrorism alert at the time but there are no plans to raise the alert status because of the latest threats.

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Distressed Pilot Says Military Turned Him Away

Regulations aside, a California pilot claims the military put him in harm's way when it refused to let him land his powerless Cessna 140 at Travis Air Force Base Jan. 11. But an Air Force spokesman said he was welcome to set down on that big, wide runway. "We were more than ready to accept that aircraft," Capt. Michele Tasista, public affairs chief at Travis, told the Vallejo, Calif., Times-Herald. "As I understand it, we were willing to let him land here." But 68-year-old pilot Ted Weddell said that Travis controllers first peppered him with questions and finally sent him to nearby Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville. He never made it. The fuel-less 140 hit a tree on a vacant lot, sending Weddell and his passenger, 34-year-old Scott Terra, to the hospital. The NTSB preliminary report may support Weddell's version of the events. The report says Weddell made a call on the emergency frequency when fog blanketed his destination and he ran short of fuel looking for a hole in the undercast. The report says Travis controllers then vectored him to the nearest airport, which was fog-shrouded Nut Tree. Weddell insists it would have been safer for him to land at the base. Another Air Force spokesman, Capt. Angela Smith, stressed that Travis is open to any aircraft in an emergency and controllers must have had a good reason if they sent him somewhere else. She did not tell the Times-Herald, however, specifically what that reason might have been in this case. Weddell suffered a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder and facial injuries. Terra broke an ankle and all the bones in his face and was in hospital almost three weeks. There were only three quarts of fuel left in the airplane.

Philadelphia Pilot Faces More Charges

We told you Jan. 19 and Jan. 26 about the case of the allegedly drunk pilot who raised havoc over Philadelphia and southern New Jersey a couple of weeks back, but the story keeps getting better (worse). Authorities now say John Salamone was also taking Valium when he took his Cherokee on a four-hour tear and they've also added the charge of "risking a catastrophe" by allegedly coming within 900 feet of a Boeing 747 loaded with passengers. Meanwhile a local television station has obtained a tape of tower conversations recorded during the ordeal (see below). In one exchange, the controller warns a Learjet that "there's no rhyme or reason to what his flight direction is going to be and his altitude's changing constantly." The Lear pilot responds, suggesting that the aircraft he saw appeared to be practicing aerobatics. Salamone is also alleged to have almost hit a police helicopter escorting him back to his home airport of Limerick, where he was convinced to land after being reminded that he would soon run out of fuel. All the usual authorities are continuing their investigations and Salamone has been grounded.

Note: AVweb is not responsible for or associated with content accessed through the following link -- it's not our reporting, it's not our opinion, it's not on our server ... and it may have changed since last night. When you view it, you will not be on our Web site, so if you have any trouble viewing it, we can't help you (please don't write). Alas, for inquiring minds, here it is.

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"New" Luscombe Battles Legal Headwinds

After years of bitter legal battles, a company's plans to build a souped-up modern version of the venerable Luscombe 8F taildragger revolve, predictably, around finding new investment. Renaissance Aircraft LLC has the facilities, the jigs and the equipment and should soon have the legal right to start building new Luscombes, but the court battles have drained its coffers. Renaissance was embroiled in suits and countersuits with the Arizona-based Don Luscombe Aviation History Foundation, which sued over Renaissance's plan to manufacture the 8F. Renaissance ultimately won a $2.2 million judgment against the foundation, which promptly declared bankruptcy. Now, an April 1 deadline looms in which the company has to start paying $21,000 a month in lease payments for 48,000-square-foot hangar built by the taxpayers of Cape Girardeau, Mo. Still, Renaissance owner John Dearden remains upbeat. "I feel very optimistic at this point," he said. As with most budding aircraft manufacturers, Dearden thinks the Luscombe, first built in the 1930s, is the right airplane at the right time. He said that at a price of $80,000, the side-by-side two-seater is less money and has as good or better performance than some kit planes. The word performance isn't often used in describing a Luscombe of old but Dearden's version sports a 150-horsepower Lycoming instead of the C-85 in the originals. The result, according to Dearden, is a 1,500 fpm climb at gross and a 75-percent cruise of 126 knots at 8,000 feet, along with a flaps-down stall speed of 37 knots. "It's a fun airplane," he said. So far two have been built but only one is flying.

Second Navigational Blunder For Air Canada

Could Air Canada flight crews be in for some refreshers on VFR procedures? For the second time in less than six months an Air Canada crew has committed an embarrassing navigational blunder while looking out the windows instead of scanning the panel. According to the NTSB incident report, on Jan. 19, a rare clear winter day in Seattle, the crew of an Air Canada Jazz Dash-8 lined up visually for an approach and landing on Taxiway Tango at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. They were supposed to be aiming for Runway 16R. As AVweb reported in September, an Air Canada A319, with gear down and flaps partially extended, was apparently intent on setting down at tiny Vernon Regional Airport (runway 75' x 3360') in British Columbia before the crew thought better of it and went looking for their real destination of Kelowna International, about 30 miles away. That incident also happened while the crew was flying VFR. Last month in Pennsylvania, a Shuttle America flight actually landed at the wrong airport. In the Seattle incident, the NTSB says the pilot mistook the taxiway for the runway because contrasting light conditions made him unable to see the big yellow X that usually discourages pilots from landing there (two other airliners have landed on the taxiway in the last five years). He suggested some lights and better markings on the taxiway would have alerted him to his error and allowed time for a go-around. He and his co-pilot have plenty of time to replay the incident in their minds, since the airline has suspended them pending an investigation. "Any situation like that we take quite seriously," Air Canada spokeswoman Debra Williams told The Vancouver Sun. Meanwhile, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board is conducting a full review of the A319 incident and its recommendations are expected later this year.

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On The Fly...

The federal government has upheld a ban on large aircraft at Teterboro Airport. The appropriations bill signed by President Bush last week contained a clause limiting the airports use to aircraft weighing 100,000 pounds or less. Local activists were elated, owners of Boeing Business Jets (170,000 pounds) were not...

The FAA is dragging its feet on safety recommendations resulting from the crash of Swissair Flight 111 according to the producers of a documentary television special on the crash. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board issued 23 recommendations from its investigation of the crash, which occurred off the coast of Nova Scotia while the flight was en route from New York to Switzerland. The documentary, to air Feb. 17 on NOVA, says few of the recommendations have been adopted...

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is going to court to force the government to settle contract disputes in 11 of its non-controller bargaining units. NATCA wants the court to force the Federal Services Impasses Panel to take on the disagreements. The panel recently refused to get involved.

New Articles and Features on AVweb

Pelican's Perch #77: Startups & Runups
Even the apparently simple tasks of starting and running up a piston aircraft engine before takeoff should be done with the same concerns for engine life, reliability and safety as any other part of flight. AVweb's John Deakin steps us through the process, dispelling myths as he goes.

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Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles


February 2, 2004
Reader mail this week about getting your license in 40 hours, changes in the D.C. ADIZ, airport closures and more.

Business AVflash

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We Welcome Your Feedback!

AVflash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest aviation news, articles, products, features and events featured on AVweb, the Internet's Aviation Magazine and News Service. http://www.avweb.com

Letters to the editor intended for publication in AVmail should be sent to mailto:editor@avweb.com.com. Have a comment or question? Send it to mailto:newsteam@avweb.com.

Today's issue written by News Writer Russ Niles:
AVweb's editorial team: http://avweb.com/contact/authors.html.

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Let's all be careful out there, okay?

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