Police issue release on Efremidis arrest

On Wednesday February 25, 2009, Front Royal Police arrested 52 year old Elias Efremidis of Front Royal for being a Fugitive from Justice. The fugitive charge stems from an incident involving the trafficking of cocaine in Boston, Massachusetts in 1988.

After an intensive investigation conducted by members of the patrol and criminal investigations division, Mr. Efremidis was found to have been living in the Front Royal area under the alias’ of Ilias and/or Louie Rodinos for the past eleven years.

The investigation was sparked by an incident in which Louie Rodinos had pointed a laser light device at a uniformed officer.

After warrants were obtained by Officer B. Miller and served by Officer E. Rosemeck, suspicions arose as to Rodinos’ true identity. Officer Rosemeck conducted research into the identity of Rodinos and found numerous discrepancies within various police reports. Officer Rosemeck notified Detective Sergeant J. Ryman of his findings and further investigation ensued.

The investigation continued with the assistance of Virginia A.B.C. Agent M. Wild and led detectives to Rodinos’ true identity of Elias Efremidis. Further research revealed outstanding indictments in Boston for the drug trafficking charge. Mr. Efremidis is being held without bond pending further court actions.

The investigation is on-going and anyone with additional information is asked to contact Detective Sergeant Jason Ryman with the Front Royal Police Criminal Investigations Division at 540-636-2208.

See related story: Rodinos arrested on Massachusetts’ extradition warrant

Published in: on February 27, 2009 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rodinos arrested on Massachusetts’ extradition warrant

Embattled Victoria’s/Union Hall Lounge owner cited as 2-decade drug fugitive

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

Front Royal, VA – The manager of Victoria’s Restaurant and Union Hall Lounge has been arrested and is facing extradition to Massachusetts on 20-year-old drug trafficking charges.

Louie Rodinos was arrested on Feb. 25, on an extradition warrant issued and served by the Front Royal Police Department. The 52-year-old Rodinos is accused of failing to appear for trial on cocaine trafficking charges in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, in 1988. He is accused of using two aliases, Louis Rodinos and Elias Rodinos, since that time. According to the Feb. 25 extradition warrant, Rodinos’ real name is Elias Efremidis. Rodinos’s wife and daughter, in whose names his local businesses have been held, have used the last name of Efremidis during their two business stints in Front Royal. Several years prior to opening Victoria’s at 231 Chester Street in March 2006, Rodinos and his family operated the Grapevine Restaurant/Texas-Spirit Saloon at the intersection of Commerce Ave. and North Royal Avenue.

Rodinos was denied bond during an initial extradition hearing before Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Ronald Napier on the afternoon of Feb. 26. A second extradition hearing is scheduled for Warren County General District Court on March 3, at 10 a.m.

In arguing against bond, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton told the court Rodinos has been identified as Elias Efremidis, the man who fled Massachusetts in 1988 as he faced trial for trafficking two kilos of cocaine. Noting the man Rodinos is alleged to be, had disappeared from Massachusetts while on $25,000 bond, Layton called the defendant a continued flight risk. During cross-examination Layton asked Rodinos if he had not had his Victoria’s ABC license seized. Rodinos said no, that rather he had voluntarily turned it in. Regardless of the circumstance, Layton called the floundering Victoria’s business situation additional incentive for the defendant “to cut and run” if released on bond.

Rodinos’s attorney Paul Thomson called his client to testify at the extradition hearing in an attempt to establish Rodinos’ ties to the community and the state. Rodinos testified he has lived in Virginia for 11 years, that his son had graduated from Warren County High School and was now attending Hampden-Sydney College. Rodinos also said he currently lives in Warren County with his wife, Fatoula Efremidis, and that he has two grandchildren here. Both his wife and daughter were in court for the hearing but were not called to testify.

Neither attorney asked Rodinos if he was, in fact, the person named in the extradition warrant. However, in arguing for bond, Thomson asserted that if released, his client’s intention was to acquire counsel in Massachusetts to try and have that legal situation resolved.

Thomson later explained that authorities have 90 days to establish that Rodinos is in fact the person named in the extradition warrant – “Are you this guy? That’s the sole purpose of an extradition hearing,” Thomson said. He also noted that Massachusetts requires its governor’s authorization for extradition actions.

During the Feb. 26 hearing, Layton told the court the Massachusetts prosecutor that had originally brought the drug charges against Elias Efremidis had moved up within that office, and was still “eager to prosecute the case” despite the lapse of time involved.

The Efremidis family closed Victoria’s and the Union Hall on Feb. 11, six days before turning their ABC license in on Feb. 17.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 7:54 pm  Comments (2)  

Union-breaking case against Interbake goes to federal judge

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

Front Royal, Virginia – A federal trial stemming from a 48-count indictment alleging that one of the three largest cookie and cracker manufacturers in North America has engaged in illegal activities to thwart union organizing efforts at its Warren County plant concluded in Martinsburg, W. Va., on Feb. 10. At this point it can be only guesswork as to how long a federal judge will take before rendering a decision in the alleged union-busting case, but it could be months, and eventually years before a final resolution is achieved according to a representative of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union.

“That is why the Employee Free Choice Act is so important,” BCTGM Union rep John J. Price says. “Up here where I am (in Ohio) a case has gone on for 6-1/2 years without resolution – there is no incentive to deter these companies [from anti-union activities]. There are 2000 pages of transcripts and 250 exhibits [in the Martinsburg trial]. The judge has set March 18 for briefs to be filed in that case. Say it takes until the end of August to review everything submitted and Interbake loses. They can appeal to DC and there’s another two years gone.”

The pending federal legislation Price referenced would simplify the process of unionization of the workplace. It would allow unionization through the submission of a simple majority of worker signatures on union authorization cards. Currently, companies can contest such generally supportive moves toward unionization and require secret ballot votes on labor representation.

Price pointed out the Employee Free Choice Act would fine companies found guilty of violating national labor laws, such as are alleged in the current Warren County Interbake case, three times the amount of back pay owed employees found to have been wrongly terminated for union support.

And it is this scenario of alleged management harassment and firings of union supporters that is at the root of the federal case brought by the Baltimore Regional Office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Interbake’s Warren County industrial bakery.

The plant specializes in cookies and ice cream sandwich wafers. Interbake’s website lists 1,100 employees at six locations in what it says is the third largest cookie and cracker manufacturing operation in North America. Interbake’s parent company is George Weston, a Canadian company founded in 1882. Interbake’s corporate offices are in Richmond, Va.

“Instead of concentrating on making ice-cream sandwiches and cookies, that plant’s management seems focused on union busting,” Price says of the union’s read on Interbake’s management tactics at its Warren County plant. “We believe it reflects a diabolical plan on the company’s part. Unfortunately in 2007, employees were required to attend mandatory company meetings that put fear [of unionizing] into workers.”

The current federal suit alleges Interbake management began a pattern of worker intimidation and profiling following an initial pro-union authorization vote shortly after the plant opened in the spring of 2006. Price said at that time about 2/3’s of the Warren plant’s workers signed pro-union authorization cards. Then, despite what he calls a mutually beneficial past relationship between the national baker’s union and the company, Interbake declined to let BCTGM in as the plant’s employee representative. It was then the trouble started, according to Price.

“Given the history of the relationship between the company and the union I have no idea why they did that. As I said, that’s the million dollar question and it remains the million dollar question,” Price said of Interbake’s initial move against BCTGM as the labor representative of its Warren County workforce. Price said that Interbake and its parent company, George Weston, actually increased its market share and profitability from an earlier relationship with the baker’s union based at a plant in North Sioux City, South Dakota. “The employer made money – they actually went from fourth to second in the industry during this relationship,” Price said.

Interbake’s Richmond-based attorney in the case, Mark Keenan, did agreed with Price on that one point – that the union and company had a previously good working relationship based at Interbake’s North Sioux City, SD facility – but that’s about it as far as concurrence on the basic issues at stake in the federal suit goes.

Timing is everything

“In 2006 before we had hired any employees, the union was demanding that they be allowed to be the employees’ labor negotiations representative. The company wanted to preserve the right of workers to choose,” Keenan said of Interbake’s move toward a secret ballot on unionization. Keenan said the company believes a secret ballot is the most effective way to assure employee’s right to vote what they believe, without undue coercion from either side.

Keenan also disputes Price’s estimate of initial and subsequent union support at the Warren County plant. He said Price’s own testimony at trial estimated the number of pro-BCTGM union authorization cards topping out between 55 and 60 percent, rather than the 66 percent Price’s referenced 2-1 margin implies. The Interbake attorney also stated that BCTGM Local 68 Business Manager Gary Oskian testified at trial that the union had “demanded” voluntary recognition as the Warren plant’s labor representative early in 2006 before the plant opened. At issue remains whether such a union “demand” predated a workforce expression of union support, be it 55 or 66 percent.

Keenan also said the company believes the timing of union allegations of worker coercion just prior to the April 2008 vote were prompted by the union’s expectation of a second consecutive loss by secret ballot of the plant’s employees. Keenan observed the union made no allegation of similar coercion in the wake of the 2007 election that saw unionization soundly defeated.

The disputed and tightly contested 2008 vote came following a decisive, nearly 2-1 defeat of unionization in April 2007. Price says the union views such marked short-term turnarounds in union support at individual plants, as he believes was the case between 2006 and 2007 at Interbake’s Warren County plant, as indicative of concerted and often illegal management efforts to crush organized labor representation.

Keenan counters that if 60 percent or less of the plant’s workers signed the 2006 union authorization cards, the numbers to affect the 2007 secret ballot turnaround could be explained by a change of as few as 20 or so votes – “which is not nearly as dramatic a turnaround.”

Labor relations

The federal trial began on Oct. 27, and concluded after 27 days of testimony on alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act at Interbake’s plant here. The complaint was filed on July 31, 2008, three months after a still disputed secret ballot on unionization in April 2008. Among the evidence heard by US Administrative Law Judge John T. Clark was whether Interbake fired six employees for their union support prior to that April 16, 2008 election at which the company contends unionization was defeated by a 100-97 vote. Price says if the NLRB-enabled, but still contested votes of the four, fired employees are allowed to stand, the union wins the April election by a 101-100 count.

While the company says the contested employees were all fired for legitimate reasons, the union has a different read on the situation. Of fired union supporter John Robinson, Price said, “He had never missed a day; did all he was asked to do and achieved top seniority He was approached about a change to third, or the midnight, shift,” due to a specific personal situation. “All he did was question why, with his seniority, he would move to the third shift – and they fired him on the spot. Everybody at the plant knew why he was fired,” Price says.

Keenan asserts that the company’s effort to change Robinson’s shift was strictly due to medical limitations Robinson admitted to at trial. “He was a good employee but there were medical issues that limited what he could do,” Keenan asserts. Rather than shift other workers to accommodate Robinson’s situation, the company’s policy was to move Robinson to an open third-shift spot. Keenan characterized Robinson’s departure as almost a “self-termination” due to his medical limitations.

In addition to disagreeing on the particulars of specific terminations, Price and the union point to other methods of company harassment and coercion. Price cited “mandated” company meetings during which the union contends employees were threatened with lost retirement benefits and the specter of lost jobs if unionization was allowed at the plant. – “And the bottom line for any worker is they don’t want to lose their job. No wonder they were scared to talk to us after that,” Price said.

In contrast to the alleged series of mandatory management meetings the union believes were designed to scare workers away from union support, Price says the union was allowed scant opportunity for rebuttal at the plant in 2007. “We got only two, hour slots before and after shifts – it wasn’t a level playing field. Our tables were right across from management’s offices. We actually spent more time talking to managers than employees,” Price observed.

“I think that’s simply inaccurate,” Keenan counters. “Workers change their minds for a variety of reasons.” Of past labor violation allegations against Interbake in 2006, Keenan said that of 46 individual claims filed in 2006, 40 were either dropped by the NLRB or withdrawn by the union. Of the remaining complaints, Keenan says they were generally minor violations such as supervisors removing union materials from tables were they were legally set out for employees. He said the company decided it was not cost effective to litigate such minor offenses, and settled those cases out of court.

After the trial’s conclusion, one Interbake employee and union supporter spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his own job.

“I would like to emphasize that Interbake and it’s attorneys had a real good idea who was for union representation and who was not by the constant categorizing of it’s workforce by many surveys like demographics. Removing workers from their workstations to ‘speak’ with them about their concerns but never taking any actions, was a clear sign of being profiled. All the while, problems in production were being ignored. Training was non-existent until this federal trial. The workers at Interbake have made the plant productive despite all the obstacles, however we knew we needed representation due to the treatment management instilled on us daily, like not being allowed to go home during a state of emergency one winter.

“At the very least, now Interbake has a split shop. But they could have taken the NLRB recommendation of remedy to rehire the fired workers and count their votes to resolve the issue.

For some reason they will never admit, management chose to block their workers by whatever means necessary.”

“The Judge will decide whether or not the NLRB Regional Attorneys have proven the facts around the unlawful termination of BCTGM supporters Phillip Underwood, Connie Nelson, Christina Duval, Milo Malcomb, Clyde Stovall and John Robinson,” Price says. “Four of the six discriminees listed above voted in the April 16, 2008 election. Their votes will make the difference on whether or not 210 Interbake employees will have the right to collectively bargain a BCTGM union contract.”

Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 7:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Free complete print edition: Early March, 2009

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Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 4:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

‘Front Royal’s got talent’ – and one man’s out to prove it

“It was great. There were a lot of people there. I saw a lot of talent, people came from everywhere with all different kinds of styles – there was opera, there was jazz, there was country, there was blues, rock & roll, rap. There were dancers there, everything.” – Jon Hafferman on the experience of “America’s Got Talent” audition. Photo by Roger Bianchini.

“It was great. There were a lot of people there. I saw a lot of talent, people came from everywhere with all different kinds of styles – there was opera, there was jazz, there was country, there was blues, rock & roll, rap. There were dancers there, everything.” – Jon Hafferman on the experience of “America’s Got Talent” audition. Photo by Roger Bianchini.

Local singer-songwriter Jon Hafferman aims at national television exposure

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

A Front Royal, VA native and former lead singer of the Florida-based country rock Diablo Canyon band, has set off on a different path into the national consciousness. That path is a shot at performing in front of a national television audience on one of the “reality” talent hunt shows that have become so popular in recent years – this one is NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

Jonathan “Jon” Hafferman has spent much of the past 20 years, mostly based in Florida, pursuing his musical dream, while often supporting that dream with “real” work. For as anyone who has flirted with the music business knows, the glamorous, high-flying “rock star” lifestyle stereotype comes to but a few on the back end of years of decidedly unglamorous, van-propelled, road trips, seedy venues, often distracted audiences, and the type of internal squabbling that characterizes an art form involving the collective product of a group of artists, in this case musicians. (I suggest renting the movie “The Commitments” for perhaps the most entertaining and insightful primer on the lifestyle).

Feeling the pull of family ties and personal roots, the 44-year-old Hafferman relocated to his native Warren County last year. In fact he points out it was his sister, Joy Colton, who submitted his name and musical resume to the producers of the show “America’s Got Talent.” That submission resulted in a first-round audition at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center on the Maryland side of Washington D.C. on Feb. 13. Hafferman, who performed under the stage name Jonathan Wade for the first-round “America’s Got Talent” scouts, says he was very satisfied with his one original, one cover song audition.

However, showing that he is firmly grounded in the reality of musical dreams, he asked us if it was all right to include the information he is seeking area musicians to work on an album project he would like to see completed by the onset of summer – (how’s that for a subtle, up front plug, Jon? Not that a classified would hurt either).

Showing some of his musical roots, Hafferman (Sorry Jon-boy, I can’t get used to Wade) selected 1960’s Motown stalwarts The Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain” for his cover, adding an original ballad penned with son Cody – “Heaven” in his quest for the next round of America’s Got Talent.”

“I feel good about it,” Hafferman said of his first-round audition. “I was comfortable, I was rested up and did what I needed to do to get the pipes just right.” – which is a good thing since Hafferman was told to report to the DC-area audition at 8 a.m., hardly a familiar time for popular musicians of any style. But Hafferman wasn’t the only musician dragging themselves out of bed a who knows what time for the shot at network TV exposure. The auditions ran from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Hafferman estimated around 600 on hand to give it their best shot.

“It was great. There were a lot of people there. I saw a lot of talent, people came from everywhere with all different kinds of styles – there was opera, there was jazz, there was country, there was blues, rock & roll, rap. There were dancers there, everything.”

Asked to rate some of the competition he witnessed waiting his turn, Hafferman said, “Some of them were really, really good. Like I said there was a lot of talent there. And that’s one thing when you go to something like this, you never know what kind of talent you’re going to be surrounded by till you get there and hear these people.

“Actually in the audition room where we were separated from other musicians and other genres of music, I didn’t really find anything that would be compatible to what I was doing. A lot of R&B was there, a lot of newer things – Britney Spears, how would I classify that (be nice, Jon) – a newer type of thing that you’d see on MTV or VH-1. There was a lot of that there, a lot of young people – and old people, I say old, about my age. And some were older than me. I saw a couple guys that were in the 50’s, early 60’s going up and doing their thing.

“What I really wanted to present to the judges was something along the lines of Motown, but on a different tick. I grew up around Motown, my parents were born and raised in DC, so most of The Temptation songs I’m very familiar with. And I picked ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ because it’s such a good, wholesome tune that basically everybody can relate to. If you hear the words of that song, everybody’s been there; everybody’s had their heart broken. But it wasn’t about the broken heart, it was about being soulful through the rocky side of life. It was good – I enjoyed it, myself.”

Hafferman, or should I say Wade? – said his performance seemed to go over well in front of the four judges at this first-round venue. He said initial feedback likened his vocal style to a combination of Bob Seeger and Greg Allman – not bad if you are grounded in a soulful, American country-rock, R&B-tinged framework.

“There were no celebrity judges [at this stage],” Hafferman observed, noting however that there were music business professionals on hand, one would assume in the talent scouting mode.

As for expectations, Hafferman mixed a musician’s dreams and the “if” that characterizes the reality accompanying such dreams.

“Absolutely,” he said of the goal of national exposure in rounds broadcast across the country. “If I do go on to the second round, the next round will be down in Miami. And after that, the following round will be in Chicago. And when they do the taping of the show, which will air on NBC – that will be in New York City. And that’s what I’m, everybody is working up to.”
Hafferman said the televised round judges include David Hasselhoff, who while known best as a TV star in America (maybe he’ll bring some of the “Baywatch” lifeguards along), has a strong musical following in Europe; Sharon Osbourn (Ozzie’s wife), and I’m not really sure who the last one is – he’s somewhere along the lines of a Simon Cowell, he’s the controversial one.” (we’ll make sure to cut this part out online, Jon, so he doesn’t know you didn’t know his name)

Published in: on February 16, 2009 at 11:54 am  Comments (1)  

Athey’s Bill to Help Virginia’s Auto Dealers Passes House

Hometown Car Dealership Protection Bill to Assist Motor Vehicle Dealers Advances to State Senate

Richmond, Wednesday February 11, 2009 – Del. Clifford “Clay” Athey, Jr. (R-Warren) , Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee , announced that his bill to assist statewide community motor vehicle dealers passed 98-0 in the House of Delegates and will go on to the Virginia State Senate.

The following is a summary of HB -1778:

HB 1778 Motor vehicle dealers; coercion.  Revises and clarifies responsibilities of manufacturers toward motor vehicle dealers in the event of termination of a dealer franchise.

By the end of this year General Motors is expected to terminate over 5,000 of their 7,500 existing dealerships in North America. Every job related to the auto industry in Virginia will be affected by the Detroit Three auto manufacturer’s plans to eliminate auto line makes like Saturn (Chevy), Chrysler, and Ford (Mercury) as well as many others throughout the nation. Some auto parts manufacturer’s plants as well as our hometown car dealerships will be forced to close or dramatically reduce their workforce.

“My HB 1778 ensures that a small part of the Federal bailout money GM, Ford, and Chrysler received last month will be shared with Virginia car dealerships which may be forced to close their doors because the cars they sell and service will no longer be manufactured. This bill provides them a way to attract other manufacturers to replace the Detroit Three saving local jobs.

Protecting home town dealerships and their employees should be our top priority in this time of economic uncertainty not bailing out the corporate CEO’s in Detroit whose bad decisions have brought the domestic auto industry to its knees,” noted Delegate Athey.

“I look forward to moving this Hometown Car Dealership Protection Bill through the State Senate and the Governor’s desk in spite of the opposition of the Detroit Three,” Athey said.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 1:39 pm  Comments (1)  

Athey’s Bill to Fill Vacancies for Local Offices Passes House

Bill Provides That Vacancies in Cities and Towns Shall Be Filled by Special Elections

Richmond, Wednesday February 11, 2009 – Del. Clifford “Clay” Athey, Jr. (R-Warren), Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, announced today that his bill to filling vacancies in certain local offices and special elections passed 99-0 by the House of Delegates.

The following is a summary of HB -1780:

HB 1780 – Elections; filling vacancies in certain local offices; special elections.  Provides that vacancies in a governing body or elected school board shall be filled by special election notwithstanding any other statutory or charter provision to the contrary; thus overriding charter provisions that may allow a governing body or school board to appoint a person to serve the entire remaining portion of a term.

Athey said that his bill will ensure that the citizens within any town or city have the final word, through their vote, in deciding who is elected to represent them. “This bill arose out of an Attorney General’s opinion confirming the Front Royal town attorney’s opinion that because Councilman Shae Parker was appointed by his fellow councilmen as opposed to being elected by his fellow citizens, he was forbidden by the Virginia Constitution and over sixty state statutes from casting a vote on any issue involving the expenditure of money, the setting of a tax rate, or the issuance of debt,” Athey said.

“My HB 1780, if passed by the State Senate and signed by Governor Kaine, will ensure that any vacancy in a local office going forward will be filled by a Special Election wherein the people will decide who is best to represent their interests in elected office. I am grateful that my colleagues in the House unanimously supported my proposal to require Special Elections even though the Virginia Municipal League, representing Virginia’s towns and cities opposed my bill and demanded that the bill be amended to permit local councils to continue to fill vacancies by defining appointed officials as elected officials which in my judgment would be dishonest,” Athey said.

Related story.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 10:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Hudson River crash and glider skills

Andre Gerner, former Commandant of the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, spoke at the Skyline Soaring Club annual safety meeting on Feb. 7 Gerner also lauded the role of glider flying in developing general aviation skills. Photo by Roger Bianchini.

Andre Gerner, former Commandant of the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, spoke at the Skyline Soaring Club annual safety meeting on Feb. 7 Gerner also lauded the role of glider flying in developing general aviation skills. Photo by Roger Bianchini.

‘Stick & rudder’ experience with powerless flight crucial for all pilots

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

Did powerless flight skills honed at small general aviation airports such as the one here in Warren County, Virginia, help US Airways Pilot Chesley Sullenberger bring his commercial passenger jet down safely in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, saving the lives of all 155 people aboard in the process?

A trio of members and participants in the Skyline Soaring Club’s annual safety meeting held Saturday, Feb. 7, at the Front Royal-Warren County Airport (FRR), as well as their host, Airport Manager Reggie Cassagnol, believe Sullenberger’s experience with glider flight was a contributing factor in his ability to safely guide his US Airways Flight 1549 “Airbus” to a safe “off-field” landing within two minutes of losing all engine power just after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.

While a career-long focus on the wide parameter of airline safety procedures was noted, Sullenberger’s experience as a glider pilot was singled out as a crucial part of the skill sets utilized that day to save an untold number of lives in the midst of heavily populated midtown Manhattan. The primary reason is a glider pilot’s constant focus on what to do if the thermal lift upon which gliders are dependent is lost. For while it was a powerful commercial jetliner bound for Charlotte, North Carolina, Sullenberger piloted on Jan. 15, his sudden loss of power after a collision with a flock of birds put him in essentially the same position glider pilots regularly find themselves in – improvising a landing site.

Cassagnol points out that when gliders are forced to land short of a return to their airport point of departure, it is not termed an accident or even incident, but rather simply an “off-field landing.” And land off field is essentially what pilot Chesley Sullenberger accomplished with his commercial passenger jet on the Hudson River in the middle of New York City on Jan. 15.

Cassagnol, who is a Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) certified safety instructor, said he recommends his CassAviation flight students take at least a couple of glider instructions “to illustrate the point that when the engine stops it’s not over; and to improve their general flying skills.”

‘The Right (Glider) Stuff’

“When you’re flying a powered aircraft, one of the things you’re always asked, especially when you’re a student, is ‘Okay, if the engine fails now, where would you go?’ And it is something [Sullenberger] had rehearsed many times, because in a glider every landing is an emergency landing – they’re all engine out. So you’ve got to make it count. You can’t go around and do it again,” Andre Gerner told us after his own safety presentation to the Skyline Soaring Club. “In terms of developing pure stick and rudder skills, and getting out into the air and finding lift, and there are different forms of lift – glider flying, really I think, makes you keenly aware of what’s going on around you.”

Gerner called himself “an avid proponent” of glider flight as an instructional tool for powered flight in a previous position he held. That position was as Commandant of the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base from 2005-2007. It is a position he noted, that has been held by, among others, Chuck Yeager and “Buzz” Aldrin. Yeager’s legendary reputation in the test pilot world was immortalized in the book and movie “The Right Stuff;” and Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon, behind fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong.

“As I was saying earlier, the four tier-one military schools would be the Air Force Test Pilot School (Edwards), the Naval Test Pilot School at “Pax” River, the Empire Test Pilot School in England, and Epner, which is the French Test Pilot School,” Gerner said. “Then there’s also the National Test Pilot School, which is civilian, that’s in Mohave, California, and then Brazil and India both have test pilot schools. Those are the major schools in the West – but the point I wanted to make is all four of those [military] schools use gliders in their curriculum because it’s considered important to expose students to that unique portion of the envelope.

“I would require every student to come in and get a commercial glider [license]. I’m just a big fan of that. I think its very effective training. It’s pure flying, flying in its purest sense – stick and rudder, you’ve got to move everything and you’re more in tune with what’s going on,” Gerner says of glider pilot’s relationship to his flight environment.

A first in the jet age

Another glider pilot and safety expert we spoke with at FRR on Feb. 7, pointed to the entire set of flight skills Sullenberger brought to the table to accomplish what he called a first in the age of jet flight.

“I think glider training is valuable. It helps a pilot with certain skills. But nobody’s ever ditched an airliner full of passengers in the jet era without loss of life,” Steve Wallace observed of emergency landings at sea. “In my view the more incredible aspect of this story than setting the airplane down in tact in the river, was getting everybody off it alive in the cold water. The plane didn’t break up; the captain and the whole crew, I think, did a brilliant job. I personally am not surprised that he was able to set that airplane down in the river in tact. I am surprised everybody got off it alive.”

Wallace’s credentials in the aviation community include being a part of the team that officially reviewed the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. In fact, Wallace pointed out he had presented a talk on the Columbia disaster at FRR, where one of the astronauts killed on that flight, David Brown, used to fly in on his way to visit his parents in Washington, Va. (but that’s another story for another day)

“I would say [glider flight] is a part of Sullenberger’s background which was tremendous. He was a military pilot as well. And he was also well known in the aviation community for participating in various safety issues, the pilot’s union, national investigations and different things like that. So this was a guy who was well beyond this is the job I’ve got from 9 to 5,” Wallace says.

“He would be the type of person, who in his head, would be – as we talked about on safety issues today – inclined to constantly think in terms of what would I do if this happens and turn over those what-if scenarios. That scenario was beyond anything in a training simulator. That was Sullenberger – what’s my best option? I’m going to put the plane down there,” Wallace said of the man who became a national hero overnight with his quick response to a set of potentially fatal variables.

General Aviation’s value

“Because of increasing automation that you find on airliners, there’s fewer and fewer opportunities for manually flying the airplane – stick and rudder time – because a lot of our philosophies and procedures and practices now are based on using automation,” Skyline Soaring Club member and Sullenberger’s fellow US Airways commercial pilot Curtis Wheeler told us. “There’s a lot of benefit to that, but also it causes a loss of skill in just hand flying the airplane. So what you can realize in an operation like we have here in Front Royal, is we have the opportunity to fly airplanes that don’t have any automation at all. And that gives us a better understanding of just the process of doing that.

“In the landing in the Hudson, you had an airliner being landed in the river right down the middle of a big city. That’s a place where an airliner never goes. I don’t know how current Captain Sullenberger was in flying gliders, but he had, had enough exposure to that circumstance and environment where he had some familiarity with what to expect.”

As for commercial pilot training for flight emergencies, Wheeler added, “We have a lot of training events that we have to cover in our simulators, which are mandatory. But we can’t cover every possible contingency in a simulator because we have a finite amount of time in there. And US Airways has already acknowledged that there isn’t a simulator event for ditching that’s done. We study it. We read about it. We mentally prepare for it. But it’s considered a remote possibility and receives a lower priority in the training hierarchy than a lot of the more likely things that could happen, like engine failures – not that they’re likely but they are more likely than ditching,” Wheeler explained of industry-wide training priorities.

“I think that the best pilots look at all the available resources in aviation to try to prepare themselves – and I think most pilots do this – just to take advantage of all the different resources that general aviation provides in order to give some awareness to these hand flying scenarios, different scenarios that are not routine in airline flying. We’re flying around small airports, closer to the terrain than we would be in any circumstance in an airline operation.

“There’s not a good understanding in America today about what general aviation is doing for people, and we’d like to try and promote that,” Wheeler said of his glider club and its host facility. “We need a lot of help keeping an airport like Front Royal Airport open and operational because it brings economic value to the community. In the case of our soaring club here, we come out to Front Royal, we patronize local businesses for lunches and things like that … It gives access for medivac flights. We’ve had law enforcement that’s operated out of this airport, all kinds of utility that comes from having a General Aviation airport – not to mention the stick and rudder skills that can be honed in a relaxed and recreational environment for both amateur and professional pilots – and that was a big payoff that day in New York City.”

Brief commercial message

For information on scenic glider or powered flights over the Northern Shenandoah Valley, as well as flight instructions offered out of the Front Royal-Warren County Airport, call the airport at 540 635-3570.

Economic postscript

Perhaps of particular interest in the current economic climate, other than improving basic flying skills, former Edwards AFB Test Pilot School Commandant Gerner pointed to a side benefit of glider flight to jet pilot training – cost. That cost effectiveness calculates to $60 to $70, including tow plane expenses, per glider flight, to what Gerner estimated is now between $5,000 to somewhere under $10,000 per hour of powered jet flight, even for the low-cost T-38 trainer.  – “And when you get into an F-15 or F-16, the number gets even bigger,” Gerner points out of the huge cost of jet flight. “But the glider, that’s $26 an hour plus the tow.”

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 12:56 am  Comments (1)  

Town police allege illegal tattoo parlor

Interim Police Chief Richard H. Furr advises that on Friday, February 6, 2009 the Front Royal Police Department executed a search warrant at a residence located at 1102 Monroe Ave. Investigators seized several items pertaining to an on-going investigation involving an illegal tattoo parlor operating from that residence. Police subsequently arrested 35 year old JeffreyDwayne Gilliom of Front Royal and charged him with three counts of “Tattooing or body piercing of minors” (18.2-371.3), a class 1 misdemeanor. Mr. Gilliom was booked and released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to appear in Warren County Juvenile & Domestic Court on March 5, 2009. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Sergeant J. Ryman of the Criminal Investigations Division at 540-636-2208.

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 2:35 pm  Comments (2)  

Overturned vehicle accident – no injuries

Front Royal, Virginia police investigated a traffic crash on Monday (Feb. 9) in which one vehicle overturned. The crash was reported at 7:54 PM at the intersection of North Royal Avenue and 5th Street.

A northbound 1998 Honda Accord, driven by Beronica M. Andrade of the 400 block of BelAir Avenue, Front Royal, was passing a northbound 1999 Pontiac Sedan driven by Kelly P. Seekford of the 1500 block of Scranton Avenue, Front Royal on the right when the two vehicles collided. The collision caused the Honda Accord to overturn. Both drivers were wearing their seatbelts and only received minor injuries.

Damages were estimated at $10,000 to the Honda Accord and $4,000 to the Pontiac sedan. Officer B. Miller, who
investigated the crash, charged Andrade with reckless driving and Seekford with driving on a suspended license.

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 2:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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