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.”

Pumpkin Air Patrol

If you live within driving distance of Winchester, Va., and haven’t taken a detour onto Route 522, you’ve been missing one of the best roadside markets in the Old Dominion. The Virginia Farm Market is in its fourth generation of business there.

Every fall, the property famous for its red building with a giant apple on top gets even more colorful as the seasonal pumpkins arrive. This year I had the pleasure of capturing the annual scene from above for the market, the first client of my new company, Airscape Photography.

See more aerial views of the property here.

Drone Journalism After A Disaster

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

When disaster strikes these days, it doesn’t take long for drone pilots to document the damage from the air – and for people to start talking about the imagery.

The reactions tend to fall into one of two camps. Those who appreciate the aerial perspectives of nature’s fury celebrate the technology that delivers it. But more cynical viewers (usually other drone pilots) see the footage as evidence of bad behavior.

The pessimists have a point. Drone operations are heavily restricted in disaster zones because of the prevalence of emergency responders flying manned aircraft at low altitudes, and some drone pilots do break the rules. Just this week police arrested a California man for flying his drone near an airport frequented by aircraft fighting wildfires in the state.

But people shouldn’t rush to the judgment that every aerial disaster photo or video was obtained illegally. That attitude undermines the quality visual journalism being produced by conscientious drone pilots, like Josh Haner for The New York Times.

Haner, who last year used his drone skills to help illustrate the “Carbon’s Casualties” series on climate change, was in Santa Rosa, Calif., last week to film the aftermath of deadly wildfires. His footage brings the fire’s impact to life from the sky – and it was all shot legally.

“Exercising the most caution around breaking news is something I’m very passionate about,” Haner told Drone Book. “I think as a journalistic community we need to think about when we fly and make ethical decisions that err on the side of caution.”

Haner shot the footage in two locations outside the range of temporary flight restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, a fact that he confirmed beforehand by calling 1-800-WXBrief. He also showed his remote pilot’s certificate to police at the nearest road block, and they told him where he could fly without being over an active fire.

No flight restrictions were implemented in the area of the footage for about 24 hours after the fire started, but Haner and his editors decided against flying over active fires.

“Just because we can fly in areas before TFRs go into effect doesn’t mean we should,” he said. “In this situation we postponed our flights until we felt comfortable there were no fire or rescue flights in the area even though there were no TFRs in effect for a very long time.”

The first TFR took effect as Haner transmitted his footage to the newspaper. “I was glad that I’d already finished as I don’t like going anywhere near TFRs,” he said. “It’s just not worth it.”

Another video in Santa Rosa shot by drone pilot Douglas Thron gained traction online. It featured a U.S. Postal Service truck driving through a neighborhood destroyed by fire.

“It was a trippy thing — he was actually delivering the mail,” said Thron, who was on assignment for NBC’s “Today.” “I was shocked to see him because most of the roads were blocked off, but he obviously had access.”

Thron appears to have flown his drone before a TFR was implemented for the area.

The Los Angeles Times also published aerial imagery of the wildfire’s damage, and its approach to getting the story is worth noting. “No drone was used,” Marcus Yam said in an email. “I flew in a helicopter for those aerial surveys.”

The point is that it’s possible for journalists to obey the law and capture newsworthy aerial footage in disaster areas. Dozens of journalists are, like Haner, certified to fly drones themselves; news outlets can contract the work to highly experienced drone pilots like Thron; or they can go the old-fashioned but costlier route of hiring helicopter pilots.

So the next time you see powerful aerial footage of a disaster scene, resist the urge to jump to any unwarranted conclusions about how it was obtained. Just appreciate the moment.

The Tragic Tale Of Thomas Selfridge

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

Thomas Selfridge (left) with Alexander Graham Bell, who recruited the military aviator for his Aerial Experiment Association that was competing with the Wright Brothers to be the first in flight (Photo: Air National Guard)

Most pioneer aviators are known for their famous flights, but one of them is best remembered for a fatal flight. Thomas Selfridge became the first person to die in a motorized aircraft accident 109 years ago this September. He was 26 years old.

The tragedy occurred at a key point in aviation history, as the U.S. Army considered a contract to buy airplanes from the Wright brothers. Orville Wright was at the controls of the Wright Flyer that day, nearly five years after he and his brother, Wilbur, made history with flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Selfridge, an Army lieutenant with an aviation background, was his passenger — a concession that Orville Wright made reluctantly to try to win the contract.

The two were in the air above Fort Myer, Va., for just a few minutes when a propeller malfunction triggered a chain of events that sent the aircraft plummeting to the ground. Wright survived the accident with severe injuries, but Selfridge never recovered from a fractured skull.

A storied history of Selfridge success
The Selfridge surname was well established in military circles before Thomas Etholen Selfridge was born in 1882. His grandfather and uncle, who shared the name Thomas O., had distinguished Navy careers. Both rose to the rank of rear admiral, and the uncle led an expedition related to the Panama Canal.

Thomas E. Selfridge’s brother, Edward, also was part of an important event in U.S. history. He was part of an infantry regiment that supported future President Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders at San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. “They were a pretty prominent family,” said Dan Heaton, who wrote a book about Thomas E. Selfridge while serving at the Air National Guard base in Michigan that bears the family name.

Selfridge (Photo: Air National Guard)

Like his grandfather and uncle, Thomas E. Selfridge excelled in the military, and he did it at a young age. He was chosen as an alternate to the U.S. Naval Academy while he was still underage, and a year later, he won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He graduated in 1903, the year of the Wright brothers’ first motorized flights.

A native of San Francisco, Selfridge headed back home for his first assignment. He was at the Presidio during the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated the City by the Bay in 1906, a tragedy that prompted a declaration of martial law. As a young lieutenant, he did such a remarkable job during search-and-rescue and cleanup operations that the Army gave him the choice of his next assignment. He opted to teach at West Point for a year and think about it.

While Selfridge was at the academy, Heaton said he wrote a letter to ask the Wright brothers if he could help in their workshop. But they didn’t want someone from the federal government watching them work on an innovative machine the government might want to buy.

Rebuffed by the Wright Brothers, Selfridge instead went to work for Alexander Graham Bell, who turned his attention to aviation and other interests after inventing the telephone. At Bell’s request, President Roosevelt assigned Selfridge to the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Signal Corps in 1907. The corps assigned him to the Bell-funded Aerial Experiment Association for a year of research into an aircraft meant to compete with the Wright brothers’ work. Selfridge eventually piloted — and crashed into the water — an unpowered, tetrahedral kite called Cygnet.
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Blazing An Aerial Imagery Trail

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Photo: Fireground Images

Keith Muratori has made a career out of fighting fires – and photographing them. Now he is taking his joint passions for extinguishing and chronicling flames to the air.

When he’s not on duty, Muratori listens to an old-fashioned scanner and monitors modern tools like Twitter, fire-paging text services and fire photographer groups on the walkie-talkie app Zello to identify blazes. Then he records the tragic moments with either the camera around his neck or the drone in the air above them.

“The action, operations and vivid colors captured in firefighting imagery are amazing,” said Muratori, a veteran of the Bridgeport Fire Department in Connecticut. “It’s also about capturing the history of the fire service or a fire department, as well as the opportunity for firefighters to learn from this imagery.”

A native of Shelton, Conn., Muratori earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology but developed an interest in firefighting while working on a wellness program for the department that he now calls home. His wife’s admiration for her grandfather, a retired Bridgeport firefighter, also inspired Muratori to make a career change. He initially worked as a volunteer firefighter in Shelton and has been on the paid force in Bridgeport for 17 years.

Muratori’s passion for photography took root at an earlier age, and he naturally gravitated toward documenting fires on film. Fire photographers like John Cetrino and Bill Noonan in Boston and Bob Pressler in the Bronx served as role models. Muratori is one of two official photographers for the Bridgeport department.

 

Watching fires develop while he was behind the lens gave Muratori a new perspective on their behavior, and fighting them inside gave him insights into how to photograph them. “Fire photography became a perfect fit both as a hobby and profession,” he said. “Photographing fires was making me a better fireman, and firefighting made me a better fire photographer.”

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The Aviatrix Whose Name Lives In Infamy

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

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls might well have been one of those rare children capable of being whatever she wanted to be.

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls earned fame as a daredevil, speed and distance pilot in the 1930s but ruined her reputation by aligning with Nazis. (Photo: Monash University in Australia)

Born to the heirs of a tea fortune, she led a privileged life that included New York private schools and time studying music and language in Paris and Vienna. In an era where women had limited options outside the home, she worked not only as a secretary and nurse, but also as a pianist and vaudeville dancer. Then Ingalls found her calling in a relatively new field — aviation.

That choice initially made her a celebrity among the likes of Amelia Earhart and Ruth Elder. Ingalls set numerous records as a stunt pilot and achieved multiple firsts as an aviatrix. Eighty-seven years ago this month, she set a record of 714 consecutive barrel rolls, and a few years later she earned an international award for a solo flight around South America.

But as war with Germany loomed in the late 1930s, Ingalls made some choices that sent her aviation career into a nosedive from which she never recovered. She ended up in trouble with the Civil Aeronautics Authority and eventually spent time in jail for ties to the Nazis. For the rest of her life, Ingalls lobbied unsuccessfully for a presidential pardon.

A ‘darling of aviation’ soars
It is perhaps fitting that controversy surrounds the birthdate of a figure as controversial as Ingalls. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., sometime between 1893 (the date on her headstone) and a decade later, according to conflicting documents and her own vague court testimony in 1942. Ingalls was the daughter of Francis Ingalls and Martha Houghtaling, whose father was a wealthy tea merchant. The Ingalls family later gained another connection to affluence when Laura Ingalls’ brother married a granddaughter of powerful banker J.P. Morgan.

Laura Ingalls (left) descends from a TWA “Sky Chief” with Amelia Earhart in 1935. (Photo: Kansas Memory)

Although no known historical accounts explain why, Ingalls turned her attention to aviation in 1928. On Dec. 23, she flew solo for the first time over Roosevelt Island in New York and then went to the Universal Flying School in St. Louis. She was one of the first women to earn a federal commercial transport license from the Department of Commerce’s Aeronautics Branch, a classification that authorized her to fly any airplane on approved transport routes.

Less than a year after enrolling in the flying school, Ingalls set her first record in women’s aviation — 344 consecutive loops over Lambert-St. Louis Field. Although she bested the previous record of 46 loops by nearly 300, she told reporters she was “terribly disappointed” that a pause to pump gas from a reserve tank meant another 66 loops didn’t count.

She overcame her disappointment like the overachiever she was — by shattering her own record less than a month later. Ingalls flew 980 consecutive loops over nearly four hours in the air at Hatbox-Municipal Airport in Oklahoma, a feat that won her hundreds of dollars. “I was offered a dollar apiece for every loop I made over my record of 344,” she told one reporter.

That was just the beginning of a years-long stretch of records and firsts for Ingalls. The record for consecutive barrel rolls came next. Ingalls did 714 of them, besting the women’s record by 647 and the men’s mark by 297.

She shifted her aviation focus to speed and distance records after that milestone. Over the next several weeks, she finished third in the Women’s Dixie Derby from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, and then set the women’s transcontinental round-trip record — 30 hours and 25 minutes to get from New York to California, and 25 hours and 20 minutes to return. In that age of daredevils, Jessie Maude Keith-Miller and later Amelia Earhart quickly broke Ingalls’ record, but Ingalls reclaimed the west-east transcontinental record in 1935.
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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.

There’s A Cougar In Them Thar Hills

Originally published at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

There are no cougars in Wayne County, W.Va. By official accounts, there are no cougars anywhere in wild, wonderful West Virginia. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2011 that the eastern cougar is no longer endangered because it is extinct.

But for a few days last month, a Prichard, W.Va., man named J.R. Hundley deceived a whole bunch of gullible people on Facebook into thinking he had seen one near his house. “I think he killed my [pit bull]! Something tore him up pretty bad,” Hundley wrote Dec. 16.

When asked by Facebook readers, Hundley divulged phony details about the origins of the picture. He implied that he took the photo on “my driveway up the hill to my house” on Lower Gragston Creek Road. When one reader voiced concern about a free-roaming mountain lion killing pets and livestock, Hundley even offered this reassurance about the one he never actually saw: “I was gone, came home and found him. He wasn’t mean at all!”

Nearly 1,600 people shared his warning about a puma on the prowl in the hills, and another 600 liked it. You could tell from the comments that locals wanted to believe it was true, if only to justify their unfounded fears that mountain lions are in the area. Some people spread rumors of their own.

“We saw one cross the road in Prichard a few years ago in front of us, but it was black,” Carrie Ann Bragg wrote. Kathy Baker Rice shared this tale: “I saw one on Bear Creek a few years ago, just about three miles from Buchanan, Ky., which is across the Big Sandy River from Prichard. Huge.”

Cara Nelson-Hall suggested that the mountain lion Hundley imagined was not alone. “They’re on Davis branch. We hear them,” she said. And Jim Reed cried conspiracy by state game officials. “I bet DNR released him out there, lol,” he said half-jokingly. “I would call them and ask them if they did and tell them to pay [you] for your pit bull.”

Appalachian Magazine bought into Hundley’s story, touting it and other alleged sightings of mountain lions in Appalachia under the headline “Mountain Lion Sighted in West Virginia.” Several readers told their own cougar tales in the comments of the magazine’s Facebook page and ridiculed the doubters.

“Anyone that thinks there are no panthers in West Virginia is a fool,” Opal Marcum said. “They are in Wayne County, Mingo County and Logan County for sure. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t see you.”

But discerning readers quickly pegged Hundley as a hoaxer. “Also look out for the notorious Sasquatch,” Travis Boone mocked. “He’s around too!!”

Some critics assumed that the picture was real and that Hundley edited a mountain lion into it. But as it turns out, the entire photo is real (along with a second one like it). Hundley just didn’t take it.

The photos were published on three Facebook pages, Hunting Trophy Trips, Oregon Outdoor Hunters and Oregon Outdoor Council. Oregon State University forestry student Hayden England saw the cougar March 10 while working in the field near Vida, Ore., and the McKenzie River.
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