Friday, October 21, 2011

Terror Threat - What Do You Think?

Ever so often, some occurrence in your life leaves you with questions; questions that breed questions. This summer such a thing came my way.

Back in February, I made a decision to hit as many aviation events as I possibly could during the year. Doing my best to coordinate with scheduling for time off, and by making every effort to drop trips (sacrifice work to someone who wanted it), I was able to attend many large and small airshows. It was during one of these, on an otherwise typical day of aviation, when I received a call from a friend.

Sitting in the grass answering a question about flying wires, I excused myself and picked up the phone. Having not even finished the word “Hello”, I was caught off guard when the voice on the other end jumped right in to let me know I really needed to come see what he was up to over in a remote corner of the airport. Doing my best to remember his directions, I then sat out to find him.

Looking forward to seeing whatever crazy project my friend was involved with, you can imagine my surprise when I found him sitting on a picnic table doing nothing but engaging in small talk.

Sensing my curiosity, he then told me, casually, his phone call was intended to lure me away from the more crowded area of the event. The reason for this? There had been a credible terrorist threat against the airshow and, according to him, if I didn’t believe him all I had to do was look at the small control tower. What I saw, with the use of my long camera lens, were soldiers better known as snipers.

Not one of the actual snipers
 Now, quite honestly, while I was straining to see the large caliber rifles placed on high, two things went through my mind; “This is crazy” and “I have great friends.” Later though, I would have questions.

The next day, like every other good American, I had almost forgotten the previous day’s terrorist threat. Then I learned it had been considered serious enough to be escalated to the Governors office along with several other government agencies, and that the “soldiers” were back. That’s when the questions that breed questions entered my mind.

Should the crowd have been told? Were event officials right to keep the secret? And how did I feel about knowing of this threat, when others did not?

The pluses and minuses of informing attendees about a credible terrorist threat vs. not informing them are numerous. And although I’m sure the airshow officials went through them all, ultimately they chose not to inform. What would you do?

If you blurted out an answer, I would caution you rethink it. Making such a decision might initially seem easy but I believe arriving at the best answer to be much harder. Some may say the airshow should be obligated to notify the crowd and that to not do so is negligent. Yet, when you enter such an event, are you not accepting the risk of being part of such a large target and, could you not be considered a bigger target if you were crammed together at an exit trying to leave after having been told of such a threat? The possibilities are endless for both arguments. It is a very tough call.

Every potential plus to notifying attendees comes with a negative. For example, how exactly do you notify a complete airshow crowd? If you blurt it out over the PA system, you risk it sounding like a “take cover” message that causes panic. If you designate people to spread the word you risk taking too long or not getting the message to everyone. And if you post a sign at every vendor’s booth, then you simply risk missing the people on the flight line. So what do you do?

What if you manage to notify everyone? What happens? Do they panic? What if media outlets exploit it to the point people are scared to go to any airshows? Would TSA use it as an excuse to get involved with security? And worse yet, would someone or some insignificant group demand that all attendees of such events be screened by TSA? These are all valid questions.

How about the vendors? Things have been tough in aviation and losing out on the income from a false alarm could be a major blow to them. In some towns, the airshow is significant enough to affect the entire local and regional economy. What if an event is essentially cancelled due to a “threat” and the loss of revenue trickles down to job losses? This is a valid concern.

Then of course there is all the money that was spent on the event. It may seem callous to think of dollars during such a situation but what if those dollars belonged to a non-profit that used the airshow to raise money for homeless children, battered wives, or even an aviation lobbying group. The first two are obvious heart string pullers but the last one might be hard to understand. Yet, what if a favorite aviation lobbying group had a major loss on this event due to a false alarm and in the end did not have enough funds to defeat a new user fees bill? This could trickle down to all of aviation. It is a valid concern.

Worst case, let’s say you notified everyone, people left, vendors lost money, the event lost money, airshows nationwide took it on the chin, politicians insisted that all airshows have TSA screening, and crowds were thinner next year because airshows were now considered terror targets, all for a false alarm that didn’t even scrape someone’s knee? Is that the worst case?

What if you notified everyone, people panicked, attendees were trampled, a bomb went off at the gate through which everyone was attempting to leave, the airshow was cancelled, vendors lost money, the event lost money, airshows nationwide took it on the chin, politicians insisted that all airshows have TSA screening, and crowds were thinner next year because airshows were now considered terror targets, and twenty people were killed? Would the lawyers and politicians look at the event and say “You know what, they notified everyone, they did their part, so let’s just all leave them alone”? No way in hell would that happen.

Ultimately, there are situations that leave you damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Yet I believe there is an answer to this problem that may not be that obvious. It requires guts, principles, and a desire to do what is best for everyone even though it may cause a little grief up front. Here it is: If the event in question was yours, admit it was, and then take the lead in common sense airshow security. I believe it would be much easier than you think.

For starters, you could tell everyone the measures that were taken to secure the event. Next, you could express how difficult the decision was and then lay it on the line with a letter.

“Dear Airshow Attendees;
Life has risks. It is time we all admit it. Large gatherings of people, such as the one at our event, make desirable targets for anyone, or any group, wishing to cause mayhem. That is clearly and well understood by us and, as always, we will continue to provide a security presence for the event. But just so we’re clear, no amount of security can keep a crowd safe. Ultimately, your safety in such a group is a risk you are willing to take when you step onto these grounds and into such a group. You should educate yourself on these risks, learn to spot potential threats, and consider yourself in charge of your safety. With a people educated and self-responsible, together we can provide the common sense security that will keep us as safe as possible without the down side of giving in to or self-imploding events like these in the name terror (Post at every entrance and exit).” With that produced, follow it up with an open discussion.

Yes, that’s right; I believe the solution to this problem is an adult conversation on the subject. The ups and downs of both sides are debatable but preparing people for the possibility is not. Do it now and, should another threat happen, the answers will come much easier for everyone.

What do you think?

Rumor Has It

It’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of private companies taking the lead in the space race. All one has to do is study history to see that when private companies take charge, the race accelerates. Yes, those who are incapable of studying history, always point to the disasters and accidents that befell private entities competing in any challenge. But what those people fail to understand is that setbacks are the signposts of growth.
Do something big and you can expect something big to go wrong. Aviation has a long and dubious record of such things. Historically though, one thing, above all else, has continually plagued aviation; powerplants. Early on it was the mere existence, or lack thereof, of powerplants that bound man to short glides. When that problem was solved, the issue of reliability reigned supreme. Finally, with dependability nurtured to acceptable levels, only one issue was left, engines with enough fortitude to power the machines our minds could dream up. Unfortunately, this final frontier refuses to go away.
Airframes that never went airborne due to the lack of appropriate powerplants would make a multi-volume novel. For whatever reason, human capabilities have no limits when it comes to creating the next jump in airframe technology. Yet, those same capabilities turn into limits when it comes to squeezing more power from the laws of physics. Or maybe the mind is simply more capable of dreaming up the dream than the how to. Whatever the case, one thing holds true with any flying machine; no matter how amazing the airframe, it is the powerplant that makes it all work.
Could Spaceship Two be next?
With great hopes for their success, I have watched Virgin Galactic’s operation. Organizations like this are the future of space transportation. They also serve as the only hope I’ll ever have of ever making it into space. So, as you can imagine, when I recently got wind from two different sources that Spaceship Two is falling prey to the final frontier of powerplants, I felt bad for all those involved.
What exactly did I hear? The rumor is, and I stress rumor, that the powerplant is not producing the thrust required and that a new powerplant may have to be designed and the spaceship redesigned to hold it. If true, that would be a huge setback. Wanting to know the truth, I contacted Virgin Galactic. What I got in return was a promise to discuss my question that never happened.
If like me you’ve been watching Virgin Galactic, you may have noticed the press releases about all aspects of the operation minus one, Spaceship Two. Although I cannot imagine how they would keep it quiet were such a problem to exist, several things appear to support something is up with the craft. I hope the rumors are wrong. I really want that flight into space.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Airport Closing Temporarily for Maintenance

As you read in a previous post, we are currently doing some extensive work on the runway and parking areas in an effort to bring them back to our high standards. Up to this point, we have been able to do most of this work between operations but now we find ourselves running out of time. Therefore, we have decided to close the airport for a day or two in order to help us finish quickly.

By closing the airport, we will be able to work non-stop on our projects without the interruptions that are caused by landing aircraft. Although it doesn’t seem like much, having to leave the runway area for just one aircraft operation can really put you off course when attempting to sew a specific rate of seed over a specific area of turf. And since we often get fairly busy during the day, the operations can easily turn a three hour job into six.

It's That Time of the Year - Again

After working year round to provide a green getaway for all of our aviation family, the grass has earned its annual fall days at the spa.
Over the past couple years, the grass has taken a beating.  It went something like this: a record amount of airplane landings followed by flooding rains, then more record amounts of landings followed by a drought, then more flooding rains followed with a banner year of aircraft mixed with a drought.    For humans this would be equivalent to being on a starvation diet, then running a marathon and a daytime dessert hike back to back without any water to drink.
Needless to say, the grass became very stressed over the past 30 months.   Because of this, we have a bumper crop of warm season weed grasses we are trying to get under control.  If we do not do something about it, we run the risk of this invasive weed taking over the entire airport.  Those who don't deal with this on a daily or annual basis may look at the green grass and think it looks good.  But that is not the case.  This weed resembles the blades of grass that you land on during the warm summer season and then it goes into hibernation and turns brown as the temperatures drops below 55 degrees.   The brown patches are hideous. Therefore, we've contracted with a company to apply a new herbicide this fall and hopefully again next spring that should help us eliminate this nasty little pest.
We are also aerating, overseeding at 3 times our normal annual rate, and applying a new form of fertilizer to feed the grass much needed nutrients.  
With all this work, you might also notice a few areas where there is straw on the ground.  These were the areas most torn up during the damp days of the annual fly-in.  We ask that you use due diligence around these areas to not blow the straw.  In these areas there are delicate blades of young grass trying to make it.  Prop blast can cause the straw to go blowing and these younglings will lose their warm blankets which are there to help them get through the upcoming cooler months.
Thanks again to everyone who contributed to the Airport Operation Fund.  As you can see, we put every penny right back into the grounds.

Friday, October 7, 2011

One Giant Leap for Aviation

Last month I was lucky enough to spend a great deal of my time flying around in old airplanes. Because of that, some great little news stories came my way that I was too busy to put to words.  One of those came in the form of photos.
While polishing, to the best of my ability, a large shiny spinner, a faint tone emanated from my phone sitting on the wing. Wiping the remaining black residue from the mirror like finish, I dropped the rag, grabbed my phone, sat down, and opened the digital package. It was from Addison Pemberton and anything from him gets my full attention. Why? He loves old planes?
Once opened, I found two files attached to the email plus a statement, “See 2 pictures taken by Liz Matzelle at the Historic Flight museum during the wonderful “vintage airplane weekend” hosted by the very kind and generous John Sessions at Paine Field north of Seattle. As you can see, I had the good fortune to fly formation with Clay Lacy in his DC-2 with the Boeing 40 which shows these two historic aircraft in their true element.”
 Obviously, the two pictures are quite stunning. Yet, after seeing them, I had a question for Addison that I hoped would add to the photo’s story. In what years were these flying machines manufactured?
When he responded, the answer was as interesting as I suspected. His Model 40 Boeing was built in 1928 and the DC-2 was built in 1934, only six years apart! But that’s not all; the last Model 40’s were built in 1931 and the DC-1 that became the DC-2 first flew in 1933. Therefore, the leap from single engine, commercial, ragwing, biplane, passenger hauler all the way to the twin engine, aluminum, monoplane DC-1(DC-2) was only two short years apart! Just look at the photos and try to imagine what a leap of that caliber would be today.
Thanks again to Addison for sharing the photos and this unique look into aviation history.