Quick 5: Model Airplane Club to share thrill of flight Saturday


Posted Sep. 17, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

Lansing, Leavenworth, Leavenworth County

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Military should have stripped plane before it went to museum: minister

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, right, says it’s the military’s fault spare parts weren’t stripped from a transport plane when it was decommissioned.

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Government under fire for scavenging aircraft parts from museum plane

Canada’s search-and-rescue system is being held together by “tape and baling wire,” say experts and opposition critics, after revelations that the Royal Canadian Air Force had to raid an old Hercules airplane at a museum for parts.

The Citizen reported Monday that air force technicians went through a Hercules on display at the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ont., in July 2012 because they needed navigational equipment for a similar aircraft still in use.

Asked about the issue in the House of Commons Monday, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson referred only to “a mistake” but did not explain what he meant. His office had earlier defended the scavenging of the museum-based aircraft, saying the military “took the initiative to remove these functional, perfectly good parts and use them effectively.”

News of the museum visit prompted opposition MPs to question the government’s commitment to Canada’s search-and-rescue capabilities in light of growing concerns about the state of the rescue system, which they argue has gotten worse under the Conservative government.

“This is a basic commitment for the Canadian Forces,” NDP defence critic Jack Harris said of search and rescue. “And the government is not giving it priority. It really makes you wonder why we can be so cavalier about foreign operations and at the same time we haven’t got our act together here at home.”

The Canadian Forces and Coast Guard respond to thousands of emergency calls around the country every year, from stranded fishermen and lost children to downed pilots and avalanche survivors. Search and rescue is considered a “no-fail mission,” meaning failure to find the target is unacceptable.

In April 2013, Auditor General Michael Ferguson said the military and coast guard had been able to “adequately respond” to search-and-rescue emergencies and distress calls in recent years. However, he also said unless urgent action was taken to address critical personnel and equipment challenges, response times and capabilities would fall dramatically. That included replacing the air force’s aging search-and-rescue airplanes.


Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have promised new planes since 2002, but documents obtained by the Citizen show defence officials don’t expect them to begin arriving until at least 2018.

Harris said he admired the “inventiveness” of the military personnel who were able to scour for parts from a museum to keep planes flying, “but it’s really clearly an indication of how badly these new aircraft are needed.”

Liberal search-and-rescue critic Yvonne Jones said it isn’t just the air force’s airplanes that are of concern; the air force also doesn’t have the right helicopters to do the job, while the coast guard is using old icebreakers.

“There’s no stability in search and rescue anymore,” she said. “There has been nothing done (by the Conservative government) to strengthen search-and-rescue activity in Canada.”

Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary said the fact the search-and-rescue system works as well as it does is a testament to the professionalism of the military and coast guard officials involved, given that it is being held together by “tape and baling wire.”

But he said there are no obvious quick fixes, especially when it comes to getting new equipment through the country’s troubled military procurement system.

“They’re (the government) trying to dig themselves out of a hole,” Huebert said of efforts to fix the search-and-rescue system. “But if it was you or me, I don’t know how we would do it.”

The Citizen reported Monday that the search-and-rescue squadron at CFB Trenton contacted the air force museum’s executive director in 2012 to see if they could go through the Hercules on display there.

They were seeking two inertial navigation units that they could take from the museum’s airplane and install in one of their H-model Hercules, which range in age from 20 to 40 years.

RCAF Capt. Julie Brunet said in an email, “These high value and essential systems allow long non-stop flights to be able to provide better response time to any search-and-rescue mission.”

Once air force technicians confirmed the museum’s Hercules still had its navigational units, it only took about half an hour to get them out.



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MyReporter – Where can model aircraft be flown?

A. Posted rules at New Hanover County parks prohibit a number of recreational pasttimes including equestrian activities, fireworks, bathing in ponds and, unfortunately for enthusiasts, operating radio controlled aircraft, cars trucks and boats in most cases.

That being said, there are multiple clubs supporting the area’s R/C fans.

Rod Smith, president of the Wilmington Model Flying Club, said that while the group does not have facilities for rocketeers, there are options for airplanes. The Cape Fear Quiet Flyers (www.CapeFearQuietFlyers.com) maintain a field along Randall Parkway, and members passing a flight test are welcome to fly there.

The larger Wilmington Model Flying Club (www.wilmingtonmodelflyingclub.org) maintains a large field off of U.S. 421 about 20 miles north of town. To join a discussion on the topic, visit that club’s online forum at http://wmfc.lefora.com.

A national organization, The Academy of Model Aeronautics, can be found at www.ModelAircraft.com.

Paul Stephen

Q. When did the LORAN towers come down and how long did the job take?

A. The towers were taken down in May. The job took “approximately five weeks,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Lane Munroe, command center chief of Sector North Carolina.

The Coast Guard “is determining the best course of action for the land,” Monroe said.

The four 628-foot towers were located for many years on Coast Guard property on River Road.

The 210-acre tract of land near Snow’s Cut Bridge formerly housed a Coast Guard LORAN Station.

The towers were used to send out low-frequency radio waves for the LORAN system before the LORAN program was decommissioned in 2010.

LORAN, which stands for long-range aids to navigation, was developed during World War II. But the system couldn’t keep up with increasingly more accurate GPS navigation systems.

According to county tax records, the River Road property is valued at more than $4 million, with about $1.6 million of that total representing the office and storage buildings on site.

– Ken Little

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Fighting wildfires with eyes in the sky

DENVER — Firefighters in Colorado are sending advanced infrared sensors and cameras aloft in airplanes as part of a first-in-the-nation effort to stop wildfires before they get started.

The plane’s cameras can “see” the heat from something as small as a blowtorch on the ground from 20,000 feet up in the air, allowing operators to more precisely direct firefighters. In the West’s rugged terrain, finding small wildfires sparked by lightning or a hunter’s campfire can take hours to pinpoint, especially when firefighters have to hike or drive miles through canyons, over mountains and through dense forests.

Left unchecked, those small fires can smolder for days until a warm day and high winds fan them into a megablaze. While other government agencies have similar aircraft, Colorado officials say they’re the first state to deploy a comprehensive network of planes, firefighting aircraft and data-sharing systems.

“This is going to be the model for how we fight wildfires in the future,” said Paul Cooke, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

The two planes are part of a newly expanded $20 million aerial firefighting program intended to help protect Colorado from devastating wildfires that have charred parts of California, Washington and Oregon this year.

The equipment is similar to the kind used by the military or in movies, but few frontline firefighters have had access to it before, Cooke said. The airplanes also have high-speed Internet connections, allowing sensor operators to transmit real-time data to firefighters walking through smoky, dark woods.

In video played at a demonstration Monday, the infrared cameras showed a firefighter’s heat signature walking through dense forest in southern Colorado as flames burned about 20 feet away. Flipping to a normal aerial view, the camera operator showed how smoke and trees obscured both the firefighter and the advancing fire.

In many western states, small wildfires remain the responsibility of small, often volunteer, fire departments. The problem is that those small departments sometimes can’t reach and extinguish small fires, allowing them to gain momentum and tear across miles of dry forests. Once they reach a certain size, state or federal aid gets called in.

Colorado’s model flips that approach on its head. The state’s planes will help local fire departments find those small fires before they can get out of control. State officials say spending more money up front will save money down the road: Major wildfires can cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damages by burning down homes. Extinguishing a major wildfire can cost tens of millions of dollars more, not to mention the money spent rehabilitating the area and protecting drinking water.

On Sunday, the plane’s operators helped search for two missing hunters, finding a still-warm campfire from high in the sky. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, whose agency coordinated the ground search for the missing hunters, said the aircraft will be a useful tool because local agencies can tap its resources when it’s not being used to spot fires.

“As an asset, it’s certainly good to have,” he said. “I can’t justify having one myself, but having it at the state level, that’s a wise choice.”

The 2012 High Park Fire, which burned in Smith’s northern Colorado jurisdiction, was sparked by a single lightning strike before growing to become the state’s third-largest wildfire, burning more than 87,000 acres, or nearly 136 square miles, and 259 homes. The day it started, local firefighters spent hours trying to pinpoint its location, frantically driving along old mining and ranching roads to find it.

Cooke said the new planes could have quickly spotted the ignition point, allowing a firefighting helicopter to douse it with water.

“It’s going to fundamentally change the way state and local fire departments fight wildfires,” Cooke said.

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Model plane pilots lobby for a place in the sky above parks



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    With few options, owners of model planes want a share of a major park. The odds are uncertain.

    It was a neighbor who sparked Loren Temple’s love of radio-controlled airplanes. A few years ago, that neighbor gave Temple a model plane kit. Ever since, the 17-year-old Shakopee native has been an enthusiast, spending his free time building and flying radio-controlled planes. But the field where he used to fly closed last year, and his flying club needs a new home.

    “We have no place to fly that’s close,” said Temple.

    After a site near Valleyfair slipped away as an option, he and others began lobbying for a new field at Cleary Lake Region Park. But the group is waging an uphill battle.

    Cleary Lake is owned by the Three Rivers Parks District, which bans radio-controlled airplanes. And the Three Rivers staff has recommended against the flying field.

    The pilots did recently win the support of the Scott County Parks Advisory Commission, however. And they still hope to persuade the board of the Three Rivers district, based in Hennepin County, to allow the field.

    In short, it’s a classic case of park-use conflict of the type Three Rivers often confronts — reminiscent of recent skirmishes in the south metro pitting snowmobilers against snow hikers in winter.

    Jordan’s too far

    Temple is a member of the Minnesota Valley Radio Control Club. Until this year, the club was allowed to maintain a flying field at a privately owned site across the street from Valleyfair in Shakopee. But when the property was sold, the new owners said the club could no longer use the field.

    “This year because I don’t have the Shakopee field, I haven’t done half the flying I did being able to fly down by Valleyfair,” said Temple. “I just hope that we’re able to work something out and have a park here.”

    Since the Shakopee field closed last year, the closest field for most members of the Minnesota Valley R/C Club — which has fliers from across the southwest metro — is in Jordan. Many members consider that too far for regular use. And, pilots say, the Jordan field often closes because it’s prone to flooding.

    On a recent evening, dozens of men bearing model airplanes crowded around the entrance of the Scott County Government Center. They were there in force to show the county’s Parks Advisory Commission their support for a flying field at Cleary Lake.

    The meeting did not look promising at first.

    Three Rivers staff had carefully considered the proposal but had determined that radio-controlled planes were not an appropriate fit for Cleary Lake, said Tom McDowell, associate superintendent for the Three Rivers Park District. They would not be recommending the flying field.

    “The mission of Three Rivers Park District is to promote environmental stewardship through recreation and education in a natural resources-based park system,” McDowell said. “We are different from municipal park systems. As we continue to discuss this, things that are entirely appropriate in a municipal park system might not be determined to be as appropriate in a special park district.”


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    RCAF raided museum for search-and-rescue plane parts

    The Royal Canadian Air Force has quietly turned to an unusual source for spare parts to keep its venerable search-and-rescue airplanes flying: a museum.

    The Citizen has learned that, in July 2012, air force technicians raided an old Hercules airplane that is on display at the National Air Force Museum of Canada because they needed navigational equipment for a similar aircraft still in use.

    The revelation highlights the difficulties military personnel have increasingly faced in keeping Canada’s ancient search-and-rescue planes flying after more than a decade of government promises to buy replacements — with no end in sight.

    The air force museum is on Canadian Forces Base Trenton and boasts a large collection of military aircraft that have been retired and subsequently placed on display.

    Among them is an E-model C-130 Hercules transport aircraft that entered service in 1965 and was used in a variety of roles before being retired in 2010 and given to the museum the following year.

    Museum curator Kevin Windsor said classified equipment is typically taken off the display aircraft, but otherwise the museum tries to keep the aircraft as close to operational as possible to give visitors an authentic experience.

    It was during his Windsor’s second week on the job that the search-and-rescue squadron at CFB Trenton contacted the museum’s executive director, retired lieutenant-colonel Chris Colton, to see if they could go through the Hercules.

    In particular, Windsor said, they were looking for two inertial navigation units that they could take from the museum’s airplane and install in one of their H-model Hercules, which range in age from 20 to 40 years.

    “They sort of called (Colton) up and said ‘Hey, we have these two INUs that we can’t use. Do you have any on yours?’ ” Windsor said. “Some of the parts are interchangeable. They just kind of got lucky on that.”

    The INUs work in conjunction with two GPS units to provide the Hercules’s main navigation system, RCAF Capt. Julie Brunet said in an email. “These high value and essential systems allow long non-stop flights to be able to provide better response time to any search-and-rescue mission.”

    Once air force technicians confirmed the museum’s Hercules still had its navigational units, it only took about half an hour to get them out.

    “They’re two boxes, maybe a little bit smaller than a computer printer,” Windsor said. “They’re not huge things. They just sort of popped the cords and away they went.”

    Auditor General Michael Ferguson raised concerns last spring that the federal government’s search-and-rescue capabilities are in danger of crumbling, in part because the air force’s eight Hercules and six Buffaloes are on their last wings.

    The airplanes are used to respond to thousands of emergencies across the country every year.

    Defence Department officials were also told in a secret briefing last year that the military had been forced to “purchase spare parts from around the world” to ensure the “continued airworthiness” of the air force’s 47-year-old Buffalo airplanes.

    Defence Minister Rob Nicholson’s office defended the air force’s decision to ask a museum for parts to keep its search-and-rescue planes flying.

    “The RCAF took the initiative to remove these functional, perfectly good parts and use them effectively,” spokeswoman Johanna Quinney said in an email. “It was a sound decision, helping to ensure the long-term viability of the aircraft.”

    But former head of military procurement Dan Ross said it’s “embarrassing” that the air force has to “cannibalize old stuff that’s in museums” to keep its planes flying.

    And retired colonel Terry Chester, national president of the Air Force Association of Canada said it’s “indicative of a larger problem, which is maintaining a fleet of older aircraft and having to become increasingly creative in ways to make that happen.”

    Officials were warned back in February 2012 that spending extra money to extend the lives of the Hercules still being used for search-and-rescue “is an evil necessity” because of delays in obtaining replacements, according to documents obtained by the Citizen.

    Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have promised to replace the Hercules and Buffalos starting in 2002, but it remains unclear when new aircraft will actually materialize.

    In 2005, the Defence Department was accused by some companies of rigging requirements for the new search-and-rescue airplane so that one specific aircraft, the Italian C-27J Spartan, would win. That prompted the new Conservative government to send the project back to the drawing board.

    More recently, internal documents show, military officials had hoped to release a request for proposals from aerospace companies in early 2013, with new aircraft flying by 2017.

    Instead, the Conservative government has ordered extensive consultations with industry as part of its revamped defence procurement strategy. While the government says this is essential for getting the purchase right, it has also pushed back the timeline yet again.

    Public Works spokeswoman Annie Trepanier said in an email Friday that the government now hopes to release a request for proposals either later this year or in early 2015.

    That would likely mean no replacement until at least 2018, during which time the Hercules and Buffalo will need to remain in service.



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