A Generation of ‘Flying Fools’

When Americans think of hijacking these days, one date sticks in their minds — Sept. 11, 2001, the day that 19 terrorists coordinated the hijacking of four airplanes and killed nearly 3,000 people. But there was a time in aviation history when “skyjackings” were so common that they were a topic of great concern at the FAA.

Stretching from the early 1960s into the mid-1970s, this “golden age of hijacking” featured the hostile takeover of more than 150 aircraft. The outbreak of lawlessness in the air led to new laws, regulations, executive orders and treaties. In addition to experts inside the FAA, pilots, aircraft designers, law enforcers and others brainstormed ways to address the threat domestically, and the International Civil Aviation Organization played a key role globally.

A scene from 9/11 as captured by an FAA employee

“Hijacking — or what to do about hijacking — confronts the government of the United States with serious challenges that require the harnessing of its technological, political and legal skills,” State Department official Frank Loy said in 1969.

The FAA deployed “peace officers” on select flights. It tested a system that combined behavioral profiling of passengers with technological screening and occasional interviews by U.S. marshals. And by the mid-1970s, the foundation of today’s passenger- and baggage-screening system had been laid in airports across the country.

The Cuban connection
It didn’t take long after the first successful flight of a powered airplane for the new technology to become a target of criminality. As noted in the 2017 book Violence in the Skies: A History of Aircraft Hijacking and Bombing, the first known theft of a plane was in 1911, followed by another incident in 1917 that ended with the two scofflaws dying in a crash.

While the earliest unverified accounts of skyjacking date back to 1919 in Hungary and 1929 in Mexico, the incident officially recognized as the first occurred Feb. 21, 1931, in Peru. A rebellion led by Lt. Col. Luis Miguel Sanchez Cerro was the impetus for that crime. Some disenchanted followers of his commandeered a Pan American Airways tri-motor plane for a flight from Arequipa to Lima to drop leaflets on the city. The captive mail pilot, Capt. Byron Dague Rickards, later received a Chicago Daily News award for his daring during that rebellion.

It took another 30 years — and the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba — for skyjacking to surface as a major concern in the United States. Several Cuban aircraft were hijacked to the United States and elsewhere before and after the Castro-led Cuban revolution, but those defections from a newly communist neighbor didn’t stir much angst in America.

Then on May 1, 1961, Antulio Ramirez Ortiz forced a National Airlines pilot to take a detour to Havana, not the United States. Three more such attempts, including the first on U.S. soil, occurred between July 24 and Aug. 9.

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Surrounded By Sprawl

There aren’t many working family farms left in Prince William County, and the Virginia Department of Transportation once tried to seize Cedars Farm to build a commuter parking lot. That idea failed in 2015, so I had the opportunity to capture this photo for an Airscape Photography client.

I did the work as a retirement gift for someone at the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District. Her husband’s parents bought the 125-acre farm in 1936. See more views of the property here.

The Key To UAS Integration

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Collaboration with the drone industry, state and local governments, and the public is the key to successfully integrating drones into the national airspace system, federal officials said this week at the nation’s biggest technology trade show.

“Let’s figure out the right balances,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Finch Fulton said at CES in Las Vegas, where Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration officials discussed the challenges of drone integration.

Fulton and Earl Lawrence, executive director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, participated in a discussion about drone innovation. The topics included the new UAS Integration Pilot Program and the work of the Drone Advisory Committee.

Fulton opened the discussion by explaining the Trump administration’s “revolutionary approach” in the pilot program. Initiated late last year, the program facilitates partnerships between “lead applicants” in industry and state, local and tribal governments. The partners will work with the FAA to test ideas for advanced UAS operations that currently are heavily restricted.

The city of Palo Alto, Calif., for instance, recently outlined two proposals involving the Stanford Blood Center and Palo Alto Airport. The blood center wants to work with the UAS provider Matternet to deliver blood samples on a designated flight path to and from Stanford Hospital. And the airport is eyeing a partnership with Multirotor to explore ways to integrate drones and manned aircraft while avoiding airfield conflicts.

Fulton said the pilot program is designed to identify “reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” on drone operations. As an example, he said research through the program could reveal that the best way to integrate drone deliveries is to conduct the operations at night.

“Instead of just imposing rules and figuring out ways to say no,” Fulton said, “we come to the public and try to figure out ways that we can say yes and to enable this innovation.”

Lawrence said the pilot program is essential in a world where aircraft are more personal in nature, sometimes flying from people’s palms, but operate in a complex airspace system that evolved over time. The program will pull together experts who know how to achieve safety in their particular realms of expertise in order to develop a “safety culture” for drones.

“We’re having to relearn how we did that almost a hundred years ago now and fit it into the processes,” Lawrence said.

The Drone Advisory Committee is part of that collaborative effort, too. The DAC membership includes representatives from the drone industry, local government, academia and other aviation interests. “It’s our opportunity to reach out and get a good cross-section of individuals who are affected by this new technology,” Lawrence said.

A drone pilot who was part of the panel discussion praised the FAA for successfully integrating drones into the national airspace during last year’s hurricanes in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean. Taylor Mitcham, the “chief drone ninja” at Florida-based SkyNinja, was among the pilots who received emergency FAA authorizations to fly in disaster-stricken areas.

“The FAA had a great response,” she said. “A lot of times we got instant airspace authorizations in a lot of areas that were very critical, especially with our cell-tower inspections that we were doing out in the Florida Keys.”

Lawrence made clear that the FAA is eager to safely achieve that kind of integration on a broader scale by engaging with industry. “We all want to serve the community. We all see the benefit,” he said. “We’re learning together.”

NTSB: Drone Pilot Caused Crash

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

A drone pilot crashed his Phantom 4 small unmanned aircraft system into a U.S. Army helicopter in September because he was flying it out of his line of sight, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded today.

The drone pilot was a hobbyist, not a commercial operator who had passed an airman’s knowledge test to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. The accident occurred 2.5 miles from where he was operating the controls.

The Army pilot, whose Black Hawk helicopter was part of a presidential movement to New York for a United Nations meeting, saw the drone and tried to avoid it but didn’t have enough time.

In addition to flying beyond line of sight, the drone pilot was operating during official night conditions, in an area regularly used by helicopters and in restricted airspace. This demonstrated a “lack of understanding of the potential hazard of collision with other aircraft,” the NTSB report said.

NTSB illustration of the crash scene

NTSB illustration of the crash scene

The agency also criticized the drone pilot’s use of a mobile application with limited capability for alerting pilots to temporary flight restrictions. “Sole reliance on advisory functions of a non-certified app is not sufficient to ensure that correct airspace information is obtained,” the report said. The pilot also did not have Internet access on his mobile device to check for TFRs before the flight.

The operator didn’t know he had crashed until the agency contacted him. “The sUAS pilot reported that he lost signal with the aircraft and assumed it would return home as programmed,” the NTSB said. “After waiting about 30 minutes, he assumed it had experienced a malfunction and crashed in the water.”

The pilot purchased another drone five days after the accident.

The State Of Drone Regulation

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Barely a week or sometimes a day goes by without news of a new state or local drone law, but it hasn’t always been so. The earliest such attempt to regulate drones didn’t occur until 2009.

That is one of several insights from a report released today by the Center for the Study of the Drone. “Drones at Home: State and Local Drone Laws” is the first of three reports the center will release this year exploring the topic. Future reports will cover the use of drones by public safety agencies and the methods of enforcing state and local laws.

“Many of the laws that have passed have enacted statutes aimed at restricting the use of drones by law enforcement, prohibiting drones from flying over critical infrastructure, and preventing individuals from using drones to invade someone else’s privacy,” the report said. “Some of the laws have defined strict penalties for violations, including felony and misdemeanor charges and fines.”

The report includes a chart that identifies the state, city, date of enactment and description of each ordinance. Numerous links point readers toward more information.

Here are some of the historical tidbits and key statistics from the report:

  • The first local drone law in Grand Forks, N.D., banned takeoffs and landings from airports, helipads and other unauthorized locations.
  • The rate of drone regulatory activity started climbing in 2015, when 34 were enacted. Another 58 took effect in 2016.
  • The 133 local laws identified in the report apply to more than 30 million people in 31 states.
  • Most of the ordinances (127) restrict drone activities in the private sector but not by law enforcement or others in government.
  • Sixty-seven statutes regulate drone use in parks, roads and other public spaces, the most common topic of oversight.
  • Seven states have banned local drone regulation, and four others have enacted laws claiming state sovereignty over the airspace.

The center’s report adds to an existing body of work on state and local drone regulations by others. These include Drone Law Today, the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities and drone lawyer Jonathan Rupprecht.

Update, April 6: The Center for the Study of the Drone released its second report in the “Drones at Home” series, “Public Safety Drones.”

Update, April 27: The center released its final “Drones at Home” report, “Drone Incidents: A Survey of Legal Cases.”

A Grand Search-And-Rescue Tool

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

The National Park Service’s recent drone search for two missing hikers at the bottom of the Grand Canyon wasn’t successful, but it highlighted the potential value of the park’s drone fleet, the only one like it in the national park system.

Grand Canyon chief ranger Matt Vandzura told the Associated Press that unmanned aircraft give searchers the same close look at hard-to-reach places as helicopters but without the risks. “It has dramatically increased our ability to keep our people safe,” he said.

The news of the search for a 62-year-old woman and her 14-year-old step grandson follows by about a month the release of a report about how drones are being used to save lives. Eight of the rescues occurred in the United States and contributed to the rescues of 14 people.

Grand Canyon National Park has five drones and four FAA-certified operators, according to AP. The drones capture video of the canyon’s rugged terrain for officials to review twice, once as it is recorded and once at the end of the day.

In November, after a visitor drove off a cliff and died, drones were sent in to examine the trees and brush and make sure it was safe for a helicopter to fly in and lift the car out.

The next month, rangers used a drone to locate a woman who had jumped to her death. Then they rappelled down to retrieve the body.

The dangers of flying choppers in the canyon were illustrated in 2003, when a Park Service helicopter experienced a mechanical failure and crash-landed on the North Rim. Those aboard suffered only minor injuries; the helicopter was totaled.

Other national parks use drones, but for wildlife research. The use of private drones is prohibited in national parks.

How Air Force One Got Its Name

Columbine II takes off from Marana, Ariz., in March. (Photo: Ramon Purcell)

Columbine II takes off from Marana, Ariz., in March. (Photo: Ramon Purcell)

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Piecing together history can be as difficult as solving a complex jigsaw puzzle, and sometimes you never can fill all the slots. So it is with determining the exact role the FAA played in naming the president’s airplane — but the agency definitely was part of the discussion back in 1954.

The origin of the call sign Air Force One became newsworthy this past March when a restored Lockheed Constellation took flight for the first time in more than a decade. The aircraft’s given name is Columbine II, but it was also the first presidential aircraft to be called Air Force One. Now the plane’s new owner, Karl Stoltzfus of Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Va., wants everyone to know the true story behind the name, not the myths floating around the Internet.

“I’m not interested in a ‘better’ story,” said Stoltzfus, who has contacted presidential and Air Force historians and the former personal secretary of Air Force One pilot William Draper. “I’m interested in accurate history.”

A crowd greets Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, as they exit Columbine II. (Photo: First Air Force One/Facebook)

A crowd greets Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, as they exit Columbine II. (Photo: First Air Force One/Facebook)

The history of Columbine II began at a Lockheed factory in Burbank, Calif., in 1948. It left the plant with the tail number 48–610, a designation that would become important six years later. Lockheed Air Service used the plane for shuttle flights between New York and Iceland for a few months in 1949, but it was converted from military transport to a VIP aircraft in 1950.

This particular Constellation served the U.S. Air Force secretary until Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president in November 1952. The plane’s first mission for the president-elect fulfilled his campaign promise to personally visit Korea in an effort to end the Korean War. Weeks later the plane officially became Eisenhower’s aircraft, and he named it Columbine II after the flower of wife Mamie Eisenhower’s adopted home state, Colorado.

The transfer of the plane to presidential service set the stage for a momentous air traffic control encounter involving Columbine II and a commercial flight with a similar call sign. But nailing down the details of that incident is a herculean research task.

“There are about six different urban legends out there on the Internet,” said Air Force historian Robert Spiers, who started the legwork in 2007 after numerous queries about how Air Force One got its name. Some stories, like the fanciful tale of a mid-air collision that damaged the undercarriage of Columbine II with Eisenhower on board, are far-fetched.

“If that had actually happened,” Spiers said, “it would have been all over the media.”

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A School Official Who Homeschools?

Originally published at PJ Media
By K. Daniel Glover

Bonnie Henthorn and her husband spent their formative years in Tyler County public schools. Between them, their two children spent at least 15 years in that school system. The family has paid taxes that support the schools for decades.

bonnie_henthorn_twitterWith deep roots and a historical perspective like that, Henthorn is an ideal choice for president of the Tyler County school board, a role she has filled since 2014. But none of that matters now because in January she committed the unpardonable sin of public education: She started homeschooling.

Henthorn announced the family decision at the Jan. 4 school board meeting, citing two reasons that had nothing to do with Tyler County schools. “One is that I want them to have a more Christian-based education,” she said. “… Number two is I no longer feel that the state leadership has the best interest of the students at heart.”

That very personal decision, designed to benefit Henthorn’s sophomore son and seventh-grade daughter, quickly became the topic of a very hostile public debate.

At the meeting, board member Linda Hoover peppered Henthorn with questions. She implied that Henthorn couldn’t lead an education system if her children weren’t part of it and that pulling them from it is “a slap in the teachers’ faces.” Another board member, Jimmy Wyatt, called it a “questionable decision” that might show a lack of faith in the county school system.

The outrage escalated over the next few weeks. A Tyler County native created a Facebook group and a Change.org petition demanding Henthorn’s resignation. The Charleston Gazette-Mail published an editorial decrying the “sad mess” in Tyler County and calling Henthorn “unsuited for public school leadership.”

At the next school board meeting, the union that represents Tyler County teachers expressed its lack of confidence in Henthorn. Even State Board of Education president Michael Green, whom Henthorn specifically mentioned when criticizing state leadership, felt compelled to issue a statement.

Read the rest of the article at PJ Media.

The Illegal Immigrant Among Us

By K. Daniel Glover

Three years ago, my wife and I had the pleasure of hosting a young Guatemalan man in our Virginia home for a few weeks. Andres came to the United States on a work visa for a job in Texas, but when he arrived, his sponsoring employer told Andres he had no work available.

The employer then told Andres he could use the short-term visa to work anywhere in the country. He chose Northern Virginia, in part because of the job market and in part because mutual friends introduced Andres to our family — including the three children we adopted from Guatemala.

We loved having Andres in our home. The children adored him and even took an interest in learning their native tongue, an idea they had resisted for years when Mom and Dad suggested it. We took Andres to the White House, treated him to exotic meals (by Guatemalan standards) and spoiled him as best we could while he struggled to make sense of his immigration status.

But after a trip to the Guatemalan embassy, we became concerned that Andres had no right to be in America. We paid an immigration lawyer who confirmed that suspicion.

Andres’ would-be employer had lied. His visa gave him the right to work only in Texas, only for that employer and only for a few months. He was an illegal immigrant — and living in our home. Worse, he was in a city on the prowl for illegal immigrants, with our house located just blocks from the “Liberty Wall of Truth.”

The lawyer advised Andres to stay in our home until he could take the earliest flight to Guatemala. We bought his airline ticket and sent him home to the needy family he had come to America to support.

I thought of Andres last week as I read and watched the confession of “undocumented immigrant” Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who lied for more than a decade so he could stay in America and rise to glory in a profession that prides itself on truth-telling.
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The Taxman Cometh, Again And Again

Originally published by American Issues Project
By K. Daniel Glover

If you heard it once during the 2008 presidential campaign, you heard it a thousand times: Barack Obama will not raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

Obama made the pledge most emphatically in New Hampshire, where people live free and die knowing they paid low taxes. “I can make a firm pledge,” he said last September. “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

A majority of voters either believed that pledge or didn’t care that Obama was inviting them to read his lips because they sent him to the White House and gave liberals control of Congress to boot. Now the taxman is in town, and he will be knocking on taxpayers’ doors again and again.

He has already staked his first claim. Congress passed and Obama signed into law a bill that increased tobacco taxes to help fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The new rates, including some increases of more than 2,000 percent, took effect April 1. Cigarette smokers now pay $1.01 per pack in federal taxes, up from 39 cents. Smokers who prefer small cigars pay the same $1.01 rate, but they previously paid a mere 4 cents. Roll-your-own-tobacco fans have to pull $23.68 out of their wallets for each pound instead of $1.10.

The law, endorsed by Obama just days after his inauguration, reminded the country that while liberals love to talk about taxing the rich, they are just as eager to tax the poor.

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