Divided senate OKs help for private schools

Repub Lt. governor pushes controversial funding initiative through

By Zack Budryk
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In yet another bill that divided Republicans and Democrats down the aisle, on Feb. 17th the Virginia Senate passed legislation to provide tax credits for individuals and businesses that fund scholarships for low and middle-income students to attend parochial and private schools.

Senate Bill 131, sponsored by Sen. William Stanley, R-Moneta, would provide a 65 percent tax credit for individuals and corporations that donate money for such scholarships. The state would cap the total tax credits at $25 million per year. Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-26th, sponsored a bill capping the tax credits at $50 million.

SB 131 was debated on the Senate floor for nearly an hour. Then all 20 Republican senators voted for it; all 20 Democrats voted against it. The bill passed when Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, cast the tie-breaking vote.

Proponents of such “school choice” legislation assert that it would give students access to a quality of education that their families otherwise could not afford.

Low income help?

Under the bill, scholarships supported by tax credits must go “only to students whose family’s annual household income is not in excess of 300 percent of the current poverty guidelines or eligible students with a disability.”

That means a student from a family of four with an annual income of $69,150 would qualify for a scholarship. (Under the federal government’s 2012 guidelines, the poverty level for such a family is $23,050.)

The tax credit program would fund about 7,300 private-school scholarships, according to an analysis of SB 131. The bill would establish “Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits.” These credits would go to taxpayers “making monetary donations to scholarship foundations” approved by the Virginia Department of Education.

State funding of religion?

Senate Democrats condemned the bill, saying it amounted to taxpayer subsidies for religious schools and a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.

Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, argued that the bill would violate the Virginia Constitution, which forbids “any appropriation of public funds, personal property, or real estate to any church or sectarian society.”

“The purpose behind that [article] in our 1971 constitution is quite clear: We don’t appropriate to private entities; we give the money to public entities,” Petersen said. “That’s why we’re a public body.”

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, said SB 131 would undermine the public school system.

“I think if you were to look at any history of this county … the reason why people have been lifted out of poverty is the public school system,” Howell said. She said the bill is part of an effort by Republicans to sap resources from public education.

“Right now it’s a trickle of blood,” Howell said. “But if we keep this up, this will be a hemorrhaging of blood from our public schools.”

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, expressed similar sentiments.

“Our public education system has issues; it needs more funding. But what we don’t need to do is run away from it,” Deeds said. “That’s what this bill does.”

Republican social agenda

“We have heard for quite a while from many that it takes a community to raise and educate a child. And paradoxically, the burden has been placed on the state to do just that with taxpayer dollars managed by a distant government agency,” Stanley said. “This bill will initiate the real change needed to encourage investment by offering solutions tailored to solve specific problems as determined by those closest to the situation.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell has long been a proponent of such legislation. The Republican governor, who headlined a rally for “school choice” earlier in the month, praised the vote.

“Virginia students deserve a world-class education regardless of their ZIP code and socio-economic status. Public and private-sector entities must come together to provide every possible opportunity for students to get the education they need to fill the good jobs available in the 21st century,” McDonnell said in a statement following the vote.

“This legislation will increase the ability of nonprofit organizations to provide education improvement scholarships so low-income students or students with disabilities can attend the nonpublic school of their choice. It is a common-sense measure that will spur private support in educating the leaders of tomorrow and will give students a new opportunity to learn the skills they need to be successful in the future.”

SB 131 is the latest in a series of bills this session concerning hot-button issues for social conservatives; others include abortion, voter identification and drug testing for welfare recipients. This was the 10th tie-breaker Bolling has cast.

On Tuesday, the House passed its own bill providing tax credits for private-school scholarships. The 64-35 vote also was along party lines.

House Bill 321, sponsored by Delegate Jimmie Massie, R-Richmond, would support scholarships for students eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch program. (A family of four qualifies for that program if its annual income is below $41,348.)

Under the House legislation, corporations would receive a tax credit equal to 70 percent of their donations to the scholarships.

On the Web

To monitor or comment on Senate Bill 131, visit the Richmond Sunlight website:

Here are the 2012 poverty guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Under SB 131, scholarships supported by state tax credits could go to students from families that make up to three times the poverty levels: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/12poverty.shtml

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted Friday on “SB 131 Income tax, corporate; tax credits for donations to organizations, etc.”

Floor: 02/17/12 Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (20-Y 20-N)

YEAS – Black, Blevins, Carrico, Garrett, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Reeves, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner, Watkins – 20.

NAYS – Barker, Colgan, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Northam, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Saslaw – 20.

Mr. President (Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling): YEA

Published in: on February 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm  Comments (19)  

Va. gov. eager to ‘punish’ tuition-hike happy VCU board with 50% funding cut

[Watch the video and comment on MyFrontRoyal.com]

By Tracy Kennedy
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell wants to punish Virginia Commonwealth University for what he calls an “unacceptable” tuition hike by the school’s Board of Visitors last spring.

The governor stated his intentions last month when he addressed the General Assembly’s budget-writing committees.

“The VCU board approved a 24 percent rate increase for the kids at VCU last year. That’s unacceptable,” McDonnell told the Senate Finance, House Appropriations and House Finance committees on Dec. 17.

“And I’ve made a challenge in the budget, and I’ve only appropriated half of that general fund revenue back to the university.” He said this is something for the board to think about “this spring, when they consider future tuition increases.”

McDonnell’s proposed budget amendment would cut state funding to VCU by $17 million. That’s equal to half of what VCU’s tuition increase raised.

VCU had the largest in-state tuition increase in Virginia last year after it raised tuition and fees by $1,700. As a result, VCU’s in-state undergraduate students now pay $8,717 in tuition and mandatory fees.

Even so, that’s slightly below the average for four-year institutions in Virginia. By comparison, in-state tuition and fees total $12,188 at the College of William and Mary and $10,628 at the University of Virginia.

VCU has more than 32,000 students – just behind George Mason University. George Mason’s tuition this year is $8,484.

When they raised tuition last year, VCU officials said they did so reluctantly. They noted that the school’s tuition rates historically have been among the lowest in the state.

“VCU has cut costs to the bone over the past several years, so much so that the reductions undermined the quality of instruction,” VCU President Michael Rao said in a press release responding to McDonnell’s action.

Rao said VCU needed the tuition increase to make up for a $42 million budget gap created by the end of federal stimulus funding and inadequate state support. VCU received $12 million less in 2009 than it did in 2000, while enrollment has increased 35 percent.

“We will work tirelessly with the Governor’s team and General Assembly members during the session to resolve this budget issue in the best interests of our students, their families and the future of the Commonwealth,” Rao stated in the press release.

At the same time that McDonnell is seeking to withhold money from VCU, the governor is seeking an additional $50 million for higher education funding overall.

McDonnell is proposing a legislative package called the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011. His goal is to grant an additional 100,000 college degrees in Virginia by 2025. McDonnell is also seeking to revive a program to help offset some of the tuition that in-state students pay to private, nonprofit colleges in Virginia.

The governor reiterated those goals in his State of the Commonwealth Address on the opening day of the General Assembly’s 2011 session.

“College tuition has doubled for Virginia students over the past decade. That is unconscionable,” McDonnell said. He called on legislators to “implement major reforms and more accountability in higher education to make college more affordable and accessible for our students.”

“The new dollars will be targeted to undergraduate financial aid and funding incentives for efficiency and economic development, technology, increased four-year graduation rates, year round use of facilities and degree attainment,” McDonnell said.

“These actions will make college more affordable and accessible and create a better educated workforce and more jobs.”

[Watch the video and comment on MyFrontRoyal.com]

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm  Comments (3)  

Fast-pitch softball champs fundraising for regionals

Warren County's 12-and-Under Babe Ruth League fast pitch Softball Virginia State Champions celebrate with trophy and practice at Chimney Field readying for regionals.

12-Under Virginia champs, 10-Under runner ups raising $ for Florida trips

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

The weekend of July 17-18, two local Babe Ruth League girls fast pitch softball teams representing the Warren County Girls Softball Association will be conducting fundraisers to help facilitate trips to the Southeast Regional Tournament to be held in Alamonte Springs, Florida, near Tampa this coming week.

Both teams did their community proud last week in Richmond at the State Tournament. The Front Royal 12-and-Under girls won the Virginia State Championship and the 10-and-Under team was runner up, earning a regional berth as the state’s second place qualifier from divisions representing nearly 270 Babe Ruth League teams throughout the state. Both teams are anticipating expenses of around $10,000 to cover transportation, accommodations, meals and miscellaneous tournament expenses for the teams, coaches and family members able to make the trip.

The squads are heading into this weekend going full bore to assure they have the funds to head to Florida for Tuesday regional team check-ins and orientation meetings. Tournaments play begins on Wednesday, July 21 and progresses to the weekend.


Warren County's 12-and-Under Babe Ruth League fast pitch Softball Virginia State Champions celebrate with trophy and practice at Chimney Field readying for regionals.


Warren County's 12-and-Under Babe Ruth League fast pitch Softball Virginia State Champions celebrate with trophy and practice at Chimney Field readying for regionals.

If you are in town this Saturday or Sunday keep your eyes open for car washes and bake sales set up as team fundraisers. Contact numbers for those wishing to contribute directly to the teams is also posted below.


The 12-and-Unders will be hosting a car wash Saturday and Sunday, July 17-18 at the Royal Oak Tavern parking lot at 101 W. 14th Street on Front Royal’s northside from 10 a.m. till there are no more dirty cars left within the town limits;
The 10-and-unders will host a bake sale at Andrick’s Flea Market on Saturday, July 17;
and car washes at both Auto Zone and the Rite Aid parking lots this weekend as well.


For those not passing through town or who already have clean cars and all the baked goods they need, contributions for the teams can be made through the following individuals:

12-U – Aletha Craig, 540 671-0466 or Buzzy Williams, 540 636-4787 or 540 335-6442;
10-U – For more info on these efforts the league may be contacted at 540 974-9879.

Roster, 12-U Virginia State Champions:

Michala Caison, Emma Wright, Carrie Robinson (State Tourney MVP), Caitlyn Manuel, Myranda Garber, Makela Dawkins, Samantha Santmyers, Victoria Hamilton, Savannah Jones, Samantha Swecker, Ashley Williams, Amanda Kresge. Coach Todd Robinson noted that unfortunately two players, Manuel and Jones will not be able to make the trips due to other family commitments.

State Results, 12 and Under:
Glen Allen, W 2-1;
New Kent, L 10-1;
Varina, W 7-0;
Shenandoah, W 4-3;
Albemarle, W 10-0;
Championship Round
New Kent, W 4-1;
New Kent, W 3-2


The 10-and Under Virginia State fast pitch softball Runner-ups get ready for their regional run


The 10-and Under Virginia State fast pitch softball Runner-ups get ready for their regional run

Roster, 10-U Virginia State Runner Ups:

Annslee Cockrell, Natasha Grayson, Tamara Grayson, Kima Robinson, Georgia Romer, Kelsi Caison, Myrissa Garber, Rachel Sirbaugh, Camryn Greene, Jayda Saulsbury, Savannah Haffer, Lissette Maya, Libby Hipple and Karlee LeHew. As with the 12 and Unders, Coaches Mike Haffer and Angie Caison noted some loss of personnel – Maya, Hipple and LeHew – for the trip due to other family commitments and circumstances.

State Results, 10 and Under:
West Loudoun, W 17-7;
Glen Allen, L 6-0;
Albemarle, W 9-3;
Skyline, W 7-3;
Rockville, W 10-5;
Championship Round
Glen Allen, L 8-2;

Congratulations to all the players and coaches for jobs well done – GO GIRLS!!!

You can keep up with Regional Tournament results and info at the official tourney website:


Warren’s 12-U Virginia State Champions begin North Division Regional Pool play on Wednesday at 6 p.m. versus Kinston Lenoir, NC. Other North Division teams include Creeks, St. John’s, FLA.; and West Ashley, Charleston, SC. One North Division team has already announced its forfeit of a place in the tournament due to the same financial and personnel issues faced by all teams at this point.

South Division teams include the host Altamonte Springs, FLA, Marshall County, TENN, New Kent, VA, and Orange Park, FLA.

The 12-U Regional Championship Round begins Saturday, July 24 at the Seminole Softball Complex with the Championship game at 8 a.m. on Sunday, July 25 at the same location.

Warren’s 10-U Virginia State Runner Ups begin South Division Regional Pool play at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 22, against Creeks, St John’s FLA. Other South Division teams include host Alamonte Springs, FLA; Marshall County, TENN; Down East, Smyma, NC.

North Division teams include Ponte Vedra, FLA; Pitt County, NC, Ocala, FLA; Goose Creek, SC; and Glen Allen, VA. There was also one team forfeit announced at the 10-U level.

The Regional Championship Round at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Merrill Park and concludes with the Championship game at noon on Sunday, July 25, also at Merrill Park Field.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm  Comments (5)  

National Zoo’s Andean bear cubs names revealed

Male Andean bear cub Bernardo at the National Zoo’s naming ceremony Wednesday, May 19. Photo: Mehgan Murphy, National Zoo.

One week and nearly 5,000 votes after the Smithsonian’s National Zoo opened the online polls to the public to name its male and female Andean bear cubs the Zoo has its winners: Chaska, pronounced Chas’-kuh, for the female and Bernardo for the male!

Animal keepers and the embassies of Peru and Venezuela submitted names for the online poll that are of Andean or South American derivation. Each name held significant meaning special to the bears or the region in which they are found. National Zoo director Dennis Kelly, along with Deputy Chief of Mission from the Embassy of Peru, Mr. Fernando Quiros, and the Charge D’Affairs from the Embassy of Venezuela, Dr. Angelo Rivero–Santos, announced the names today in a special naming ceremony.

The newly named Andean bear cubs at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo romp and climb in their outdoor exhibit prior to their naming ceremony. Bernardo, the male, is at the top of the tree stump and Chaska, the female, looks up from below. Photo: Mehgan Murphy, National Zoo.

When the polls closed on Monday, Chaska edged out Paqarina by merely 72 votes (1,799 or 37% of the total votes). Chaska, meaning the “dawn star,” was submitted by the Embassy of Peru. Bernardo, Spanish for “brave like a bear,” won by a much larger margin claiming 42% or 2,064 votes. Bernardo was submitted by the Andean bear keepers for the poll but coincidentally is also the name of the Ambassador of Venezuela, Bernardo Alvarez.

The two Andean bear cubs (also known as the spectacled bear), were born at the National Zoo to four year-old Billie Jean on Jan. 14 and 15. They are the first Andean cubs born at the National Zoo in 22 years and the only surviving Andean cubs in any North American zoo since 2005. The last surviving Andean bear cub born in North America before these two was their mother, Billie Jean.

Female Andean bear cub Chaska at the National Zoo’s naming ceremony Wednesday, May 19. Photo: Mehgan Murphy, National Zoo.

The cubs, their mother and father, Nikki, and another older female, Bandit, live at the National Zoo’s Andean bear exhibit in the Beaver Valley section of the Zoo. Due to construction on the Zoo’s seal and sea lion exhibit, Beaver Valley is closed to the public during the week but the Andean bear exhibit will be open to the public on weekends beginning May 22 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

The Andean bear is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species.

Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm  Comments (1)  

Dan McDermott: Just another tech show (VIDEO)

– Google has a new look.
– FCC push to ‘softly regulate’ broadband: http://www.pcworld.com/article/195773/
– Virgin: $25 text/data plan: http://tinyurl.com/26ty59s
– Nowmov.com is cool: http://nowmov.com
– Justin.TV CEO on live video: http://tinyurl.com/34nojx7
– Check out Larry Sabato on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrysabato
– Dan McDermott: http://twitter.com/danielpmcdermothttp://live.warrencountyreport.comhttp://youtube.com/wcrnewshttp://warrencountyreport.comhttp://sherandotimes.com
Recorded on 5/8/2010 – Captured Live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/warrencountyreport-com-live

The early May edition of Warren County Report

Left-click to open. Right-click to download.

AUDIO: A discussion of coyotes, eagles, bats and owl banding on The Valley Today.

Publisher Dan McDermott was guest hosting a talk show today. Dan and WZRV afternoon DJ Lonnie Hill discussed the Friends of Shenandoah River State Park and some critters that populate our favorite river destination.

Here is the Audio. (Left-click to play or right-click to Save-As and play from your computer.)

More about Friends of Shenandoah River State Park.

Published in: on November 2, 2009 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

URGENT: PLEASE take TEN SECONDS to support a great local school!

Just Ten seconds: Please vote BEFORE MIDNIGHT FRIDAY for Mountain Laurel Montessori school in Front Royal http://tinyurl.com/lv7as9

Voting has begun! Please go to: http://www.earthdayeverydaychallenge.com/ and click on Mountain Laurel’s video (sign of Mountain Laurel Montessori – 4th school listed) to view our 5-minute video. There is also a link to read our essay. Follow the directions to register your vote and don’t forget to confirm your vote when they send you the confirmation email. We think you’ll be very excited to see all that Mountain Laurel Montessori does to help our little corner of the world. Please vote for us and and urge all your friends to vote, too. Just imagine what our tiny school with a big heart can do with the $20,000 grant!

Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 10:56 pm  Comments (1)  

Video: One-day-old clouded leopard cubs at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo Conservation and Research Center

One-day-old clouded leopard cubs at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo Conservation and Research Center, originally uploaded by Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

An endangered clouded leopard at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center (CRC) in Front Royal, Va., gave birth to a genetically valuable litter of two cubs on Tuesday, March 24. Staff had been on pregnancy watch of the two-and-a-half year-old clouded leopard “Jao Chu” (JOW-chew) for five days. She gave birth to the litter early Tuesday morning.

This is Jao Chu’s first litter. She and the cubs’ father, two-and-a-half year-old “Hannibal,” were born in Thailand in a collaborative research program with the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand. The cubs’ sex will not be known until the first veterinary exam.

Due to deforestation and hunting, clouded leopards are vulnerable to extinction. National Zoo scientist Dr. JoGayle Howard and colleagues are aggressively working toward saving this species from decline. The Zoo has been working with clouded leopards at the Conservation & Research Center since 1978, with the goal of creating a genetically diverse population. In the past 30 years, more than 70 clouded leopards have been born at the Zoo’s research facility in Virginia, with the last litter born in 1993.

Breeding clouded leopards in captivity has been a challenge, primarily due to male aggression, decreased breeding activity between paired animals, and high cub mortality. In 2002, the National Zoo in collaboration with the Nashville Zoo and the Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP) created the Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium—the largest population of confiscated clouded leopards in Southeast Asia. The Clouded Leopard SSP oversees clouded leopard populations in zoos worldwide, and makes breeding recommendations for potential pairs based on the genetics of each cat. Since Thailand’s captive cubs are only one or two generations removed from the wild, their genes are especially valuable.

To date, the Thailand Clouded Leopard Consortium has produced 32 surviving cubs. The National Zoo’s program at the Front Royal facility is the only one of its kind combining breeding with scientific research. For example, scientists still do not know why male clouded leopards attack their possible mates, but several graduate students at the National Zoo are studying the males’ behavior—one student plans to test anti-anxiety drugs used in humans and domestic cats in an attempt to suppress male aggression.

Howard and colleagues have learned how to reduce the risk of fatal attacks by hand-rearing cubs for socialization and also introducing males to their mates when they are six months old, allowing the pair to grow up together. Hannibal and Jao Chu, the only compatible pair of clouded leopards at CRC, are proof that these techniques work. The new cubs also will be handreared by experienced CRC staff.

Following mating, the gestation period for clouded leopards is about 86 to 93 days. The average litter size for clouded leopards is two to five cubs. Clouded leopard cubs weigh about a half of a pound when born.

Little is known about clouded leopards. They are cats native to Southeast Asia and parts of China in a habitat that ranges from dense tropical evergreen forests to drier forests if there is suitable prey.

They are the smallest of the big cats, weighing 30 to 50 pounds and measuring about five feet long. Their short legs, large paws, and long tail (accounts for half their length) help them balance on small branches, and their flexible ankles allow them to run down trees headfirst.

The newborn cubs will not be on exhibit at CRC. However, visitors may get an up-close treetop view of two clouded leopards—a male named Tai and a female named Mook—at Asia Trail at the National Zoo’s campus in Washington, D.C.
For more photos, visit the Zoo’s Flickr site: tinyurl.com/dem9uu

Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 7:17 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)  
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