5.9 earthquake rocks, Virginia, D.C.

Strongest Virginia quake since 1879 damages apartment water lines here

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

On Tuesday, Aug. 23, as people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley braced for possible inland rains and wind from Hurricane Irene’s projected path north up the Eastern Seaboard they got an unexpected jolt.

At 1:51 PM as this reporter was having lunch with a friend at Elements on South Royal Avenue the building was shaken by what was reported to be a 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered 4 miles from both Louisa and Mineral, Virginia. A quick map check of the USGS website indicated the epicenter triangulated by Charlottesville to the west, Fredericksburg and Richmond to the northeast and southeast, respectively.

According to the USGS the earthquake was centered at 38N latitude and 78W longitude in an area known as the Central Virginia Seismic Zone. Weaker earthquakes in the 4.0 range to 5.0 range are reported as typical of this zone.

ABC TV 7 in DC reported the quake to be the strongest one in Virginia since 1879.

The USGS reports that 4.0 quakes can typically be felt 60 miles away and 5.0 quake as far away as 300 miles, with damage typical as far as 25 miles from the epicenter of a 5.0 quake.

The Associated Press reported that two nuclear reactors operated by Dominion Power in Louisa County near Lake Anna within 25 miles of Mineral were undamaged. Those reactors were automatically shut down near the time of the quake. Four emergency diesel generators were operating key safety systems at the nuclear plants, according to AP.

The quake rolled through Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and into the Northern Shenandoah Valley. One co-patron at our Tuesday afternoon lunch stop, Edward Jones broker George Karnes, estimated what he felt as a 2.0 to 2.5 tremor. We were unable to verify or dispute Karnes’ guess at the strength of the quake as it reached Front Royal.

Local damage

Property Manager Teresa Cherry of the Shenandoah Commons Apartment Complex off Westminster Drive told us initial reports indicated damage, primarily to water lines, in nine of 10 buildings in the complex. Some residents allowed to return to their apartments were advised not to use their stoves that evening. However following an inspection of all units it appeared only five residents and two pets were in need of temporary accommodations to facilitate repairs.

On the scene at Shenandoah Commons at 5 PM, County Fire and Rescue Officer Marti Viggiano said it seemed the county would not have to open an emergency shelter at one of the public high schools due to the small number of displaced residents. Local Red Cross has traditionally been able to utilize local motels for families displaced by residential fires in the county.

DC area damage

Some 70 miles to our east, where nerves are usually a bit more taught due to the national political machinations for control or destruction of the federal governmental apparatus, the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings were evacuated due to the rolling tremor. DC-area TV reports showed large numbers of people milling about outside buildings in downtown Washington, including headquarters of the Washington Post.

Despite the evacuation of their building, the Post reported the quake was felt as far north as Boston, as far south as Anderson, South Carolina, and northwest to Columbus, Ohio.

The Virginia Department of Transportation initially reported no known damage to bridges or roadways. However damage reports began rolling in as the afternoon progressed.

A spire was reported to have collapsed at National Cathedral in DC, closing that building to the public. News 7 DC also reported that a building on the 6100 block of Oxon Hill Road in Prince Georges County, Maryland had collapsed. No initial details on the type or age of that building were available.

Our initial experience of the earthquake was at our downtown lunch stop. Several customers quickly recognized the source of the vibrations and rattling silverware as an earthquake. When several Elements customers countered they believed a nearby train was the culprit, another asked, “WHAT train?”

Elements owner David Gedney, who rushed outside to check his building exterior, returned quickly to report that his damage was limited to five broken plates upstairs in his Apartment 2G dinner restaurant.

Rockland report

As the quake rolled through Rockland our northside correspondent Malcolm Barr Sr. and his wife Carol were in their kitchen. Barr, a self-acclaimed veteran of many earthquakes while working in Hawaii, strolled to his front door to see “what piece of heavy equipment neighbor Thomas McGeath was driving by on Rockland Road.” Meanwhile, Barr reported his wife was talking “Armageddon” and their future daughter-in-law in Tennessee called to see if everyone was okay.

Echoing initial reactions by some of our fellow Elements lunchtime patrons, Barr observed, “Sounded like a train rumbling by.”

While used to such occurrences during his stints in Hawaii, Barr added, “I guess since we don’t have many earthquakes around here, I couldn’t quite believe my wife when she said we were in the middle of one. Those in Hilo (Hawaii) regularly bounced things off the walls; then one of the volcanoes would treat us to another ‘fireworks’ display.”

This report will be updated as information becomes available.


Residents of 25 Shenandoah Commons Way await verdict on whether they will be able to sleep at home following earthquake damage to water lines in their building.

Residents of 25 Shenandoah Commons Way await verdict on whether they will be able to sleep at home following earthquake damage to water lines in their building.

WC Fire & Rescue Officer Marti Viggiano speaks with Shenandoah Commons residents.

WC Fire & Rescue Officer Marti Viggiano speaks with Shenandoah Commons residents.

TV 7 DC shows photo of North Anna Nuclear Power Plant after emergency diesel generators kicked in following automatic shutdown of the nuclear reactors after earthquake.

TV 7 DC shows photo of North Anna Nuclear Power Plant after emergency diesel generators kicked in following automatic shutdown of the nuclear reactors after earthquake.

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Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm  Comments (3)  

Up for adoption: Lester the (very large) mule

Lester the mule, background, was left homeless when his owner died recently. He was delivered to the Julia Wagner Animal Shelter on Sunday morning, July 11. A brown behemoth, Lester appears to have been sired by a Clydesdale and is a gentle giant, probably about 1,100 pounds. He enjoys the shelter’s year-old large animal enclosure, particularly in company with the diminutive Shetland pony, Pebbles (foreground). Both are up for adoption and would appreciate loving homes and a fair amount of grass to munch on. (Courtesy Photo by Michael Kearns.)

Published in: on July 15, 2010 at 7:47 am  Leave a Comment  

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

(Video) Small Virginia town poised to host nations’s 2nd biggest solar farm

[blip.tv ?posts_id=3422132&dest=-1]

EDA approves pending solar field lease at Avtex

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

Is a small, rural Virginia town poised to take a lead position in a U.S. move toward increased reliance on solar power – and bring the troubled 70-year story of what was the nation’s largest environmental disaster Superfund site to a happy and green ending?

On March 26, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development unanimously approved the terms of lease and purchase agreement on approximately 40 acres of what is envisioned as a 150-acre business park on reclaimed land at the Royal Phoenix site in the Town of Front Royal, some 67 miles west of Washington, D.C. The lease is tentative pending approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and FMC Corporation.

EPA is the overseer of over $26 million in federally-funded cleanup of the site, which covers a total of some 467 acres, or about 10-percent of the land in the small, rural, northwestern Virginia town of about 13,000. FMC is a federally-mandated cleanup partner and the lone surviving of three owners of the former rayon and synthetic fibers manufacturing plant opened in 1940 by American Viscose Corporation.

After 49 years as its community’s major employer and economic engine, and a major materials contributor to the Allied war effort in World War II, the then Avtex Fibers plant was closed down in 1989 by Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry for ongoing violations of the state’s water-control standards.

In June of 2009 principals of SolAVerde Inc. proposed development of what could eventually be a 100 to 150-megawatt solar field on one or more sites in Front Royal. But negotiations stalled as an initially envisioned $211 private sector start-up investment morphed into a request by SolAVerde partners for an up-front $18-million investment on a 14-year pre-purchase of solar power from the project by the town.

But with other investment options being explored, including a potential, private sector partnership between SolAVerde/Standard Energy and AMP-Ohio (American Municipal Power), things appear to be regaining momentum. AMP-Ohio is a municipal energy consortium Front Royal joined three years ago.

Former Front Royal Mayor James Eastham, now a town appointee to the EDA board of directors, made the March 26 motion to approve a lease-purchase agreement on 40.6 acres of the 150-acres Royal Phoenix business park site.

Afterwards he said, “The EDA doesn’t want to be an impediment in the process of this proposed use of the entire 150-acre business park side of Royal Phoenix. The EDA is about creating jobs and this is a step in that direction.”

While the remaining acreage at the business park has yet to be released, the EDA and 10th Virginia District U.S. representative Frank Wolf are poised to seek a fast track and eased restrictions on uses at the site at a planned March 29 meeting at EDA headquarters at Royal Phoenix adjacent to the involved 40 acres.

Several hours after the EDA vote approving a pending lease-purchase of the property, this reporter sat down with Front Royal Vice-Mayor Bret Hrbek to discuss the implications of that vote and the status of the solar proposal for Front Royal.

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  

American bald eagle flies over Shenandoah River State Park

This eagle was flying over the Shenandoah River near the low water bridge south of the park at 2:11 pm today. After it flew up the river deeper into Shenandoah River State Park I drove to the three bends overlook and waited for about half an hour but didn’t see it return. – Dan McDermott

More photos

More about the park

Published in: on October 31, 2009 at 2:37 pm  Comments (11)  

Endangered Virginia big-eared bats to be housed in Front Royal

Little brown bat at Greeley Mine, Vermont, with white-nose syndrome, March 26, 2009. Photo: Marvin Moriarty/USFWS.

USFWS announces grant to to capture healthy bats threatened by deadly fungus

By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report

Front Royal, VA–Oct. 26, 2009–The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced today a $322,000 grant to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Zoo to fund the creation of a permanent secure colony of endangered Virginia big-eared bats at the zoo’s Front Royal, VA-based Conservation and Research Center.

The goal is to establish a healthy population of the bats while scientists work to stop a deadly fungus that threatens the entire species.

According to the USFWS, White-Nose syndrome was first documented near Albany, NY in Feb. 2006 when a caver photographed hibernating bats behaving erratically, many with a strange white substance on their muzzles. Some of the bats had died.

Dr. Jeremy Coleman, endangered species biologist and the USFWS National White-Nose Syndrome Coordinator, said that while it is common for mammals to develop fungal infections, it is very unusual for them to be fatal to a species. Coleman said that some bat species can live for up to 20 years in the wild and reproduce slowly so diseases can have a devastating effect on an already threatened species.

Indirect mortality

CRC staff veterinarian Luis Padilla said that scientists are still trying to determine if the fungus is indeed the pathogen that is causing the deaths of colonies of bats from New England to Virginia and West Virginia. “The fungus leads to their deaths indirectly. The problem is that the fungus irritates them and they are more active during times of normal hibernation. Since it is the winter, there are not the usual food sources available to them and they actually die of starvation,” he said. Padilla said that bats who survive the winter often awake in the spring with wings that have been partially eaten away by the fungus, effecting their flight and further impacting their chances of survival.

Padilla said that the captured bats will be screened for several diseases and healthy specimens will be housed in a building at the CRC that will allow them to be totally secure from other bats to prevent their becoming infected. He said that the goal is to protect a colony and their unique genes in the event the species is wiped out in the wild before a cause and cure for the fungus is found. Padilla also plans to establish protocols and capture techniques through the effort.

USFWS West VA Lead Biologist for VA Big-Eared Bats Barb Douglas said there are about 15,000 big-eared bats remaining in four segments in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. The largest segment is in West VA where the CRC bats will be captured. Other species are threatened by the fungus, including the little brown bat which numbers in the millions and is not considered endangered.

Bat infections have been reported in NH, VT, NY, MA, CT, NJ, PA, WV and VA.

The CRC award was one of 6 grants announced today totalling $800,000 from the service’s “Preventing Extinction” fund.

More information: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html

Video: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/wnsaudiovideo.html#publicdomain

Dan McDermott: editor@warrencountyreport.com


Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 2:13 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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