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As Hurricane Irma raged up the west coast of Florida, images of the storm were pouring from news sites and it’s inevitable that aircraft and airports will have suffered from the onslaught. For instance, there was a report Sunday that the roof was torn off the fire station at Naples Airport. There will be coverage of that in coming days. But in advance of the storm, the story was about how aircraft owners and operators were preparing and some were pretty creative. The packed hangar award has to go to SunState Aviation in Kissimmee, which wedged dozens of its training aircraft into a single hangar with some creative arrangement as the photo shows.

Many of those who didn’t have shelter for their aircraft fled north and airports across Georgia and Alabama were opening their fields to Irma refugees. It’s not clear how much safer they’ll be there, however. Irma may still be a hurricane when it hits that area and late Sunday it appeared Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta would be affected by the storm, no doubt adding to the hundreds of flights already canceled by the storm.

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Princess Juliana Airport, on the Island of St. Martin, has been severely damaged by Hurricane Irma’s Category 5 winds. Maho Beach, where tourists take photos under jets landing on the island’s 7,500-foot runway, is entirely underwater in recent photos. The same photographs show a thick layer of sand covering 30 feet of the runway overrun area. Winds reported at 185 miles per hour knocked down fences, destroyed jetways and threw heavy objects through windows in the terminal. The terminal area forecast from the airport immediately prior to the storm advised pilots they could expect winds from a heading 300 at 140 knots, gusting to 160 knots.

Princess Juliana Airport is the island’s only airport capable of supporting heavy jets, which is limiting efforts to aid the beleaguered island. One government official said 95% of the island has been destroyed by Irma. The runway at Saint Martin Grand Case Airport, on the island's north shore, is only 3,900 feet long. At least two people have been killed on the island by the storm, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in decades.

The Air Force is proposing cutting costs on the future Air Force One aircraft by eliminating what has, until now, been considered an essential security measure. According to Defense One, Air Force brass are reportedly considering scrapping the converted Boeing 747-8i’s air-to-air refueling capability, saying the latest jumbo jets have all the range needed to get almost anywhere on earth from Washington. Up to this point, however, in-flight fueling has always been referred to as a means of keeping the aircraft in the air and the president out of harm’s way in a crisis. Defense One said it’s seen the Air Force briefing notes and those recommending the change have also said in-flight refueling has never been used, although some sources dispute that.

The magazine claims this and other proposed changes in capability and equipment are part of the Air Force’s drive to allow President Donald Trump to achieve a $1 billion saving on the estimated $4.2 billion replacement of the pair of 200-series 747s that currently serve as the “flying White House.” Among the other economy measures being considered are a more commercial interior and and off-the-shelf air handling system instead of an upgrade to the humidified air system used by 787 airliners. The Air Force is not tampering with the secure communications, self-defense and beefed-up electrical systems needed to support all the systems. The Air Force has already saved some money by buying off-the-shelf 747-8i aircraft that were in storage after the Russian airline that ordered them went bankrupt.

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The mysterious fatal crash of an Air Force aircraft at the Nevada Test and Training Range on Sept. 5 is raising speculation a new aircraft is under development at the fabled Area 51, the famous super-secret test center on the dry bed of Groom Lake in the Nevada desert. The Air Force announced that Lt. Col. Eric Schultz was killed in the crash and when reporters asked what type of aircraft he was flying they were told it was classified. They were told that “additional information concerning the accident will be released as it becomes available.”

The crash occurred at 6 p.m. on Sept. 5 and military.com reported that an Air Force spokeswoman said the aircraft type was classified. The crash happened about 50 miles from the base at Area 51 in heavily restricted airspace. The aircraft was attached to the Air Force Materiel Command, which owns all USAF aircraft and runs the test center at Edwards Air Force Base. Lt. Col. Schultz was an experienced test pilot who had worked on the F-35 test program.

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Claims of theft by TSA employees are a constant irritant for airline travelers so a jet charter company looked at how those claims are resolved and found that almost half were denied. Of the 7,900 claims filed with the TSA over the 14 months from January 2016 to February 2017, only 4,300 were resolved, says Stratos Jets, a charter company, which crunched the government data. Even among the claims that were resolved, payment was meager, with less than 25% approved in full and 12% settled for partial value. “In the case of denied claims or those that aren’t responded to promptly, travelers have the option to file a suit against TSA with the U.S. District Court,” says the Stratos report. “Processing of claims can take up to six months, according to information provided by TSA, and claims are generally denied if TSA determines your bag was not opened for ‘physical inspection.’”

Jewelry claims were most consistently denied, with three in four receiving an outright rejection and only 9% approved in full. Lost cash and cameras follow close behind—both denied in two-thirds of claims. Travel accessories (like headphones and chargers) were most likely to be reimbursed, with 48% of claims being paid in full. By dollar amount, travelers with stolen or damaged computers faired best, receiving an average of $460 per claim, though claims for computers and accessories were only approved in full for 16% of claims.

The full report by Stratos Jets is available here.

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AVweb’s General Aviation Accident Bulletin is taken from the pages of our sister publication, Aviation Safety magazine and is published twice a month. All the reports listed here are preliminary and include only initial factual findings about crashes. You can learn more about the final probable cause in the NTSB’s web site at www.ntsb.gov. Final reports appear about a year after the accident, although some take longer. Find out more about Aviation Safety at www.aviationsafetymagazine.com.

June 1, 2017, Bowling Green, Ohio

Varga 2150A Kachina

The airplane was destroyed when it impacted terrain at 1159 Eastern time. The solo private pilot was fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed. The pilot had recently purchased the airplane and was relocating it to a private airstrip near his home.

Witness observations were consistent with the airplane flying at low altitude and maneuvering erratically before it impacted. Each witness reported the engine was running prior to impact. The accident location was about six miles from the destination airport, and evidence indicates the airplane impacted terrain with its left wing low and a nose-low pitch attitude greater than 70 degrees. All airplane and engine components were accounted for at the accident location. Fuel was present at the fuel selector valve and inside the remnants of the engine-driven fuel pump. The flap selector was found at the second notch position and the flaps were found in an extended position.

June 1, 2017, Fulton, N.Y.

Lancair IV-P Experimental

At 1830 Eastern time, the airplane was force-landed to an airport after losing engine power. The pilot and flight instructor were not injured; the airplane sustained minor damage. Visual conditions prevailed.

The purpose of the flight was to calibrate an angle of attack indicator, which required a series of zero G maneuvers. During the first maneuver, the flight instructor and pilot noticed the engine overspeed, as well as a noticeable “bang.” Following the total loss of power, a forced landing was performed without further incident. Examination revealed two fractured connecting rods.

June 1, 2017, Ventura, Calif.

Cessna Model 180

The airplane experienced an in-flight break up and was destroyed when it impacted terrain at about 1157 Pacific time. The solo private pilot was fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The debris path was about 1˝ miles long and included all major components of the airplane except its right elevator. One witness heard a noise, looked up and observed the airplane spinning toward the ground. The engine and both wings had separated from the airplane; the tail section remained attached to the fuselage.

June 2, 2017, Blaine, Minn.

Cessna Model 210F Centurion

At about 1911 Central time, the airplane sustained substantial damage during landing. The solo pilot was not injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The airplane’s landing gear did not fully retract after takeoff. The pilot circled for an hour while performing emergency landing gear extension procedures without success. He returned to the departure airport and circled for another hour. Tower controllers confirmed the main landing gear were partially retracted and the nose wheel was extended. As the airplane settled onto the runway, the main landing gear retracted into the landing gear bay. The airplane veered off the runway and the right horizontal stabilizer was substantially damaged as the airplane skidded to a stop.

June 2, 2017, Banning, Calif.

Cessna Model 150M

The airplane collided with trees and the ground at about 1130 Pacific time, shortly after taking off after a touch-and-go landing. The flight instructor was fatally injured; the student pilot sustained serious injuries. The airplane sustained substantial damage to both wings and fuselage. Visual conditions prevailed.

The student reported the touch-and-go landing on Runway 26 was hard and the wind was gusting. After takeoff, the airplane drifted right of the runway centerline and the flight instructor took control. A witness observed the airplane at about 100 feet agl. It began to descend and lose altitude. Shortly thereafter, the wings wobbled and the airplane impacted trees and terrain. Observed weather at the facility included easterly winds at 17 knots, gusting to 23.

June 3, 2017, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Piper PA-23-250 Aztec

At about 1418 Atlantic time, the airplane was destroyed when it impacted ocean water and a reef, then caught fire, shortly after takeoff. The commercial pilot sustained minor injuries; two passengers were seriously injured. One passenger was fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed and an IFR flight plan had been filed for the FAR Part 135 on-demand air taxi flight. Shortly after takeoff from Runway 8, the pilot reported an engine failure and was unable to maintain altitude. Avoiding a populated beach, he ditched in shallow water. Portions of the airplane were recovered, including both engines.

The right engine’s two propeller blades appeared undamaged and were not in a feathered position. One blade from the left engine’s propeller appeared undamaged. The other blade was bent aft, but neither blade was in a feathered position. The airplane’s master switch was off and the left and right fuel pump switches were on. The left engine’s magneto switches were on and the right magneto switches were off. The left engine’s fuel selector was positioned to the left inboard main fuel tank. The right engine fuel selector was positioned to the right outboard main fuel tank.

June 3, 2017, Garfield, Wash.

Sonex Experimental

The airplane sustained substantial damage at about 1130 Pacific time during a forced landing. The solo private pilot was not injured. Visual conditions prevailed. While in cruise flight at 4000 feet msl, the pilot noticed a vibration followed by a loud bang. Shortly thereafter, the propeller separated from the airplane. The pilot subsequently performed a forced landing to a paved road. During the landing roll, the airplane impacted a power pole guy wire, and its left wing sustained substantial damage. Examination revealed the propeller assembly and forward section of the crankshaft separated near the forward crankshaft bearing.

June 4, 2017, Moorpark, Calif.

Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee 180

At about 1545 Pacific time, the airplane collided with the ground. The commercial pilot and his 15-year-old son passenger were fatally injured. The airplane sustained substantial damage. Visual conditions prevailed.

The pilot’s daughter was on her horse in an outdoor arena when the airplane approached from the northwest and flew over the arena in a southeast direction. The airplane then began a 180-degree left turn, tracking back past the arena and to the northwest. The pilot’s daughter exclaimed that she could see her brother in the front left seat as the airplane passed by.

As the airplane overflew a house on top of an adjacent hill, it began to turn left until it was now lined up on the original inbound track. Witnesses heard the engine sound increase as the airplane flew directly toward the arena, but now at a much lower altitude. The airplane continued to descend with the engine operating, and flew about 100 feet directly overhead, startling the horses.

Prior to reaching power lines just east of the arena, the airplane began a steep right turn; witnesses could see its complete wing profile. The turn progressed, with the nose pointing up, and then dropping back down, as the airplane passed out of view behind trees. Witnesses then heard two loud thuds. Evidence indicates the airplane’s right wingtip sustained damage consistent with power line contact.

June 8, 2017, Harrisonville, Mo.

Piper PA-28-235 Cherokee 235

The airplane struck a person while taxiing at about 0800 Central time. The pilot was not injured; the pilot-rated pedestrian was seriously injured. Visual conditions prevailed. As the pilot taxied to a parking spot after landing, the airplane’s wingtip struck a pilot-rated pedestrian who was filming the operation.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Aviation Safety magazine. 

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In a world stitched together by instant communication, it’s easy to forget that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even web mail haven’t existed forever. None of them existed 25 years ago when Hurricane Andrew tore into the southern tip of Florida, instantly educating the populace on how bad a bad hurricane could be.

Except it wasn’t instant. News outlets were there all right, but the area remained difficult to access for days because, according to contemporaneous news reports, more than 50 roads were blocked by trees and downed power poles. The true extent of the damage was revealed the way it usually is, by low-altitude airplane or helicopter survey. I learned of it firsthand when my friend Todd Huvard, then publisher of The Southern Aviator, flew over the area and was stunned at how thoroughly the landscape had been scrubbed of evidence of human effort. “You can’t imagine,” I remember him saying. He was right. I couldn’t. But I can now. (I’ve fled Florida to Todd’s house in North Carolina and we’re perusing archive issues of the magazine.)

As is so often true, the region learned the value of its general aviation airports as disaster recovery sites during Andrew. Although the facilities at Kendall-Tamiami airport were obliterated—including the then-Miami FSS—the runways weren’t. Within hours, civil organizations like Angel Flight were flying all manner of relief missions into Kendall-Tamiami—doctors, nurses and critical supplies totaling more than 115,000 pounds in all in nearly 200 flights, according to The Southern Aviator’s reporting at the time.

That’s a tiny fraction of what was eventually required, but volume was less important than timeliness. When medical personnel and supplies are needed, they’re often needed right now and not the next day or in the next three days, the time it takes for established relief efforts to reach full motion. Even then, distribution of relief effort isn’t homogenous. People who need it badly are left wondering where it is for days, it not weeks.    

Compared to Irma, which is roaring up the west coast of Florida as I write this, Andrew was a compact, fast-moving storm. It did profound damage, but over a relatively small area. Andrew was a Category 4 hurricane upgraded to a 5 after the fact. Irma appears to be a 4 as I write this Sunday morning and is forecast to come ashore just south of where I live, in the Sarasota area. (By Sunday night, it weakened to a Cat 2.) The potential property at risk in its path—including airports—is staggering: Marco Island, Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Many of the airports in these communities—including my own at Venice—are close by the Gulf or tributaries, so the surge flooding potential is high. That trashes the lighting, the AWOS and comm facilities but the runways stay put. In 48 hours or so, we’ll find out what kind of role these airports will play.

There will be a price to pay, however. And we won’t have a sense of that either until later in the week. When I checked in on Venice Wednesday, pre-storm prep was in evidence, but there didn’t appear to be a lot of fly outs. One of the big maintenance operations had moved aircraft back into t-hangars because the large hangars are vulnerable. The t’s at Venice are a mix of older sliding-door structures and some newer hangars built to modern codes. In 2004, we learned how poorly the former fare in a storm and how well the latter do when Hurricane Charley came ashore at Port Charlotte.

When I visited Punta Gorda Airport the morning after the storm, the older hangars were essentially shredded. When the sliding doors lift off their tracks and either collapsed onto the airplanes inside or blew downwind, progressive structural failure was right behind. Dozens of aircraft were lost and one well-known Mooney business, Mod Works, was wiped out entirely.

What was striking about the new code hangars is how they were dented and slightly punctured by missile damage, but the airplanes inside remained intact, if a little moist. Charley was a Category 4 with no storm surge. It was over in four hours. Irma may be a Cat 3 with significant surge. Venice is a half-mile from the Gulf on the west and borders the Intracoastal Waterway on the south and east. No matter how stout the hangar, significant flooding will destroy an airplane and there’s simply no way to know if it will happen or not. It’s very much a random event based on the unpredictable vagaries of wind and tide. Current forecasts call for up to 10 feet of surge.

The more I think about this storm, the more I think of it as a giant test of long-term infrastructure planning and shorter term disaster preparation, the sum of which translate to how habitable Florida will remain in an era where we keep putting more people in the path of storms we know are coming. Along with the abundant sunshine in Florida, there’s also constant streak of denial and a disavowal of probability reflected in unrealistically lax building standards and insurance rates blind to climate realities.

But that’s not to say some infrastructure hasn’t been upgraded. The new hangars I mentioned are an example of this. So is newer housing built to more stringent standards. Based on cable news reporting I’m hearing so far, structural damage is less than expected. The test will be a larger survey of what survives and what doesn’t. At the moment, I’m hopeful that this storm won’t be as bad as forecast.

Based on the hurricane-related coverage I’ve done, the best thing you can hope for is to hear, “it wasn’t as bad as I expected,” a sentiment that reflects, if anything, a good turn of luck seasoned with thoughtful preparation. If the sentiment we hear is, “you can’t imagine,” then it’s clear we’re gonna need a little more work to survive in this part of the tropics.  

Early A.M. update: Press reports from Sarasota and the surrounding country suggest that the forecast surge did not materialize. However, I've heard nothing specifically from the Venice area. Sarasota County power outages are given as about 60 percent. Far less that I would have expected.

The Morane Saulnier Type L was an early wing-warping parasol design used in World War I both as a fighter and a trainer. At AirVenture in 2017, Daher—builder of the TBM—showed off a unique reproduction of the Type L. AVweb shot this video tour of the airplane.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Ah, what summer flying is all about. A Cub on floats is about as grassroots as it gets and Daniel Hanson captured the mood perfectly. Thanks, Daniel.

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Heard on Denver departure.

N1234: "Just off Centennial"

Center: "Squawk 6666"

Center: "Umm, do you want another? We could give you a different one."

Silence

N1234: No, it's okay, we'll keep that one."


 

John C. Lamb

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