August 15, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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When deadly Hurricane Charley tore across the Florida peninsula on Friday, it drove right through what must be one of the highest concentrations of GA aircraft in the country. Newscast after newscast showed videos of trashed hangars and wrecked airplanes, a DC-3 belly-up in Orlando with its wings torn off, a crumpled red taildragger with its tail half-gone. At Punta Gorda Airport, right in the center of the storm's destructive trail through Charlotte County, at least 30 aircraft were destroyed. "So many were in unidentifiable pieces that an accurate count was difficult," said AVweb's Paul Bertorelli, who toured the airfield on Saturday. "Some aircraft were still securely tied down, but had been shredded by flying debris or the shear force of the wind. One Piper Tomahawk remained tied down, but its tail had been twisted off." President Bush arrived Sunday to survey the damage ... and impose a TFR.
An owner, picking through the rubble of what was left of his hangar, said his airplane was blown about 150 feet. It appeared repairable. "The windshield is broken and it's got some dents. I covered the hole ... I guess we'll see," he told Bertorelli. Improbably, in a hangar in the same row, two ultralights appeared untouched by the violent winds. Several rows of recently constructed T-hangars stood up fairly well, with only minor damage apparent. Pilot Jim Morgan took shelter in a hangar during the height of the storm in Charlotte County. The winds tore the hangar apart, sending sheet metal, toolboxes and pieces of airplanes swirling, Morgan told the Associated Press. Morgan said the sound of the destruction was "like a calypso band on steroids." The Category 4 storm, with winds up to 145 mph, killed at least 13 people statewide, and damages are expected to exceed $15 billion. The number of damaged aircraft has not yet been tallied, but from early reports it seems likely to be in the hundreds.
Every building on the Punta Gorda (Charlotte County) airport was damaged, Bertorelli said. "A large steel hangar south of the terminal area collapsed entirely ... Aircraft of various sizes were scattered across the airport's broad terminal ramp area, and at least four had been blown into the terminal walls." Several rows of T-hangars were demolished, taking airplanes, cars and even a boat or two with them. At Eastern Avionics, a major avionics dealer, the roof of the sales office was damaged. Aircraft Depot, a local repair shop, lost both doors of its hangar and the aircraft inside were piled in a twisted heap. Power lines were down everywhere, and officials didn't know how long it would take to restore electricity. The airport was open Saturday for relief flights, primarily as a staging area for a fleet of helicopters being used for damage survey and patrol work. The airport was also being used by a large number of tree-clearing and utility crews. USA Today reported that at the Port Charlotte airport, small planes were stacked and snapped apart "like toys cast off by an angry child."
At Lake Wales Airport, about 50 miles south of Orlando, all the hangars were virtually destroyed, contributing writer Tim Kern reported to AVweb yesterday. At Orlando Executive Airport, about 40 small aircraft were torn from their moorings, and Kern was told that no small aircraft on the field escaped damage. Kim Showalter, who with her husband, Bob, owns Showalter Flying Service, told the Orlando Sentinel that damage at the field was the worst since the flying service started in 1945. "We've had strong storms before but nothing like this," she said. At Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach campus, a dozen Skyhawks and a new Diamond were wrecked, Kern said. He also noted that an altimeter kept in his living room normally reads about 140 feet (set to 29.95). Left unadjusted during the storm the ground-bound unit topped out at 1020 feet. "When Hurricane Charley hit Winter Haven with its full force at about 7:30 on the evening of Friday the 13th," says Kern, "it was packing winds well over 100 mph (the nearest reporting anemometer blew away after recording 106) -- damage was widespread and severe."
During the storm, airports became impromptu shelters for thousands of stranded travelers. About 3,000 people weathered the hurricane at Orlando Sanford International Airport. Commercial flights are expected to be back to normal today across the region, but many owners of GA businesses and aircraft in the area will face a longer recovery.
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AVweb offers on-location accounts of Hurricane Charley's impact on GA from AVweb Editorial Director Paul Bertorelli. See also contributions from aviation journalist Tim Kern...
Paul Bertorelli's coverage of the damage at Punta Gorda. Paul's image gallery. Warning: The gallery includes images of aircraft in severe distress. (If bent metal makes you ill, avert your eyes.)
Tim Kern's full account of the storm. Tim's image gallery.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE AN INSURANCE POLICY THAT PAYS YOU BACK YOUR PREMIUMS?
The news media took a lashing from GA last week, in a turnabout that ended with two NBC-TV reporters under arrest and GA advocacy groups in an uproar. The two reporters, "Middle-Eastern-looking" men working undercover, went to St. Louis Downtown Airport on Wednesday and asked about chartering a helicopter. (Recall last week's warning that helicopters may be the next object of terrorists' desires.) They were trying to find out whether anybody was paying any attention to the "Security Alert" that warned of terrorist interest in helicopters. The reporters showed driver's licenses from two different states as their I.D., and tried to pay with cash. The FBO staff stalled the pair and called police. Officers arrested the two men after a search of their bags turned up knives, various weapons ... and box cutters. NBC News that night broadcast a brief note about the incident, but nothing could be found about it on its Web site, and the episode got very little play in the mainstream press.
The incident was made public nearly immediately when the American Association of Airport Executives sent out a notice to warn other airport operators that the same trick ("be on guard for trickery ... as well as terrorists"?) might be tried on them. That notice quickly cascaded across the Internet. On Thursday, GA advocates one after another not only lauded the FBO, but blasted NBC. AOPA President Phil Boyer scolded the network: "We hope this gives you -- and the other media who make a living by generating unnecessary fear -- ample reason to stop making GA a security scapegoat." James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), chimed in: "NBC owes [the FBO operators] a huge apology ... It's harassment -- pure and simple, and inexcusable." From EAA's Earl Lawrence: "This undercover attempt at creating news is the equivalent of shouting 'Fire' in a crowded theater just to see if there are enough doors." It was also a comparatively benign test of a system that ... this time ... worked. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) praised the vigilance of the FBO staff. "Although it is doubtful this story will make the evening news programs, today's incident is further indication that the general aviation community takes security seriously," said President Ed Bolen.
Clarke Thomas, president of Fostaire Helicopters, told NATA how the episode unfolded: "We got a call from a prospective customer asking about a scenic flight. They wanted to know how close they could get to the St. Louis landmarks, and they said price was no object. That raised a red flag right away because any businessman is always concerned with price. When they arrived, they were carrying duffel bags and backpacks -- something else that is very unusual." Thomas's response proves the validity of the Airport Watch concept, said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Vigilant pilots and airport workers make the best security force because they know who does and doesn't belong at the airport. They can easily spot the things that just don't seem right." The general aviation community can quickly report suspicious activity to the federal toll-free hotline (1-866-GA-SECURE).
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Owners of air-knocker airplanes with low-compression engines designed to run on 80-octane fuel will have to search for a new kind of juice soon. Kern Oil, the last standing producer of 80-octane aviation fuel, has stopped making the red stuff, AOPA reported Friday. While this development will come as no surprise to industry watchers, who wonder how long many of the low-volume products we consume will remain economically viable, it will be a pain in the neck for some aircraft owners. But for the unlucky few, there are alternatives (along with some specific operational practices) to consider. Low-compression engines are subject to accumulation of lead deposits from 100LL because of their comparatively tepid combustion temperatures. They don't need the extra octane, and certainly could do without the tetraethyl lead additive used to boost octane. Still, the portion of the fleet capable of using 80-octane is shrinking; all new production aircraft as well as the vast majority of the existing fleet are designed to use 100LL.
Alternatives for owners of 80-octane-familiar aircraft include the use of 100LL fuel and mogas. Automotive fuel is not as widely available as most proponents would like, but it's likely that many pumps currently spouting 80-octane will soon shoot mogas. The best tactic for using 100LL in these engines is aggressive mixture leaning during low-power operations. Owners can also use Alcor's TCP, a fuel additive that helps lead scavenging. And according to AOPA, aircraft owners won't soon be "out of gas." "AOPA has committed its resources to the future of aviation, and ensuring a continuing supply of aviation fuel is part of that commitment," said Rob Hackman, AOPA manager of regulatory and certification policy. "We're working on where you can find fuel today, and where you'll find it tomorrow."
A lack of communication between an airline crew and air traffic control that resulted in an airborne intercept has sparked an inquiry in Europe ... that and the scrambling of six military aircraft from three different countries, two each from the Netherlands, Germany and France ... plus a sonic boom from the Dutch F-16s, heard across much of the Netherlands. Authorities last week acknowledged reports that on May 1, a Spanish Air Europa 737 failed to respond to ATC inquiries for 20 minutes, prompting an international response in fear that a hijacking was in progress. The airline said last week that the crew was unaware they were being hailed (other reports said they heard the calls, but were unaware their flight was the intended recipient of them). Once the crew spotted the French fighter jets, communications were re-established and the 737 continued on to its destination. The airliner, carrying 186 passengers and seven crew members, was en route from Norway to Spain. The Dutch have opened an inquiry into the incident to determine if the pilots broke any aviation regulations (or helped break any windows).
DA42 TWIN STAR CERTIFICATION: LOTS OF FIRSTS
New aircraft associations for owners of Pipers, Cessnas and Beechcraft have launched in the past few weeks. Trevor Janz, who together with Jennifer Julin founded the Piper Flyer and Cessna Flyer Associations, based in Wisconsin, told AVweb on Saturday they are excited about the project and have lots of ideas to serve their membership. "We plan to organize fly-ins, seminars, pilot proficiency programs and other events where pilots can just get together and hang out," Janz said. "We're taking as our model the American Bonanza Society, which we think does just a great job for their members." Also new is the Beech Aero Club, an international type club for devotees of the Beech Musketeer and its derivatives, the Sport, Super, Sundowner, Sierra, Skipper and Duchess. The Beech group grew from Musketeer Mail, a mailing list with 1,100 members, that started in 1999. The members decided to develop a more formal structure and incorporated in July. The club will organize fly-ins, maintenance clinics and other events. Their motto is "All for one and one for all," and remember -- life's a Beech and then you fly.
In frustration that an allegedly intoxicated pilot who was caught flying in Pennsylvania last January couldn't be charged with flying drunk under current laws, the state legislature seems determined to come up with a remedy. The House has already introduced a bill to make drunk flying illegal, and now the Senate is working on another version that has stiffer penalties and sets a lower blood-alcohol limit. "It's one of the things that's been overlooked for years," State Sen. Mike Stack, sponsor of the bill, said in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Meanwhile, in Australia, the (sober) pilot of a Cessna 404 carrying six passengers was on approach to land when a (drunken) passenger tried to move into the co-pilot's seat. The pilot pushed him back, and the man was arrested after landing. Police said they found bottles of rum and bags of marijuana in the man's luggage, and described him as "extremely intoxicated." The airline said it will tighten its security procedures.
NOT ALL AIRCRAFT HULL AND LIABILITY INSURANCE IS CREATED EQUAL
A race for space wouldn't be very dramatic without some struggle and setback, and while the front-runners for the $10 million Ansari X Prize over at Scaled Composites have been humming along (with the substantial help of Paul G. Allen's substantial funding), the pack of challengers deals with daily trials -- and sometimes defeat. The low-tech Armadillo Aerospace team, in Texas, lost their vehicle in a test last Sunday when it ran out of propellant and fell 600 feet, smashing on impact. "$35,000 of rocket is now a whole lot of primo Armadillo Droppings," the team reported at their Web site. On Saturday, the Canadian Arrow team drop-tested its crew cabin, with better results. The cabin fell about 9,000 feet and gently splashed into Lake Ontario beneath a parachute. The group told MSNBC it needs about another $2 million in funding and four or five months more of tests to complete its space vehicle. With the X Prize set to expire at the end of this year, and the goal so elusive, why do these teams persevere? The X Prize organizers say the $10 million incentive is just a tease. According to their market research, space tourism is ready to blast off into a billion-dollar industry.
"We're beginning to see a great number of visitors who come to the Pacific Northwest just to go on a kind of 'aviation spree' at the museums along the I-5 corridor," Teri Thorning, director of Olympia's Olympic Flight Museum, told the Associated Press recently. About a half-dozen aviation-themed museums are expected to attract more than 800,000 visitors this year and more than a million in 2005. The list of attractions is growing, with new display halls, more aircraft collections and new buildings in the works. The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field gained cachet when it scored a Concorde for its collection, and opened a new $53 million wing this summer. Other attractions include: Evergreen Aviation Museum, home of Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose; Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen's private Flying Heritage Collection, which opened for limited viewing this summer; Port Townsend Aero Museum, on the Olympic peninsula; Tillamook Air Museum on the Oregon coast; the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, Wash.; McChord Air Museum near Tacoma; and the Olympic Flight Museum, which holds an annual fly-in.
AVIDYNE'S NEW CMAX APPROACH CHARTS TAKE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS TO THE NEXT LEVEL
One crew member died on Friday when a Convair 580 cargo plane crashed short of the runway at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport; the other crew member was seriously hurt...
The man who inspired Spielberg's "The Terminal" movie is rich and famous, but still lives on a bench at a Paris airport...
Ultralight pilots who want to transition to Sport Pilot certificates must register by Sept. 1...
German biologists are using a light airplane to train endangered geese in migration routes...
The FAA extended its deadline for warbird pilots to convert paperwork to July 2005...
A Belgian airliner returned to Brussels last week after a loose cat entered the cockpit and scratched the co-pilot.
If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Drop us a line. Submit news tips via email to email@example.com.
PILOT GETAWAYS IS JUST WHAT THE NAME SAYS ...
From the CFI #2: A New Way to Train
It's a new world out there in the second century of flight -- one with new technology and new opportunities. But we're still training (and testing) pilots the same old way: Performing maneuvers to the Standards. In her second column, AVweb's Linda Pendleton talks about training pilots a new way, one that reflects real-world missions and prevents real-world accidents.
Reader mail this week about trying to find "Southern Canada," President Bush's visit to Eclipse and more.
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INNOVATION IT'S THE KEY BEHIND NARCO'S NEW DIGITAL TRANSPONDER AT165
Heard on frequency during some nasty weather, a beech 18 night freight pilot offered a report about his current situation...
ATC: Copy. Care to offer a PIREP?
Beech: Sure. At 12,000, we've got lightning ... cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-ground ... so far, negative cloud-to-airplane-to-ground...
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
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