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After 73 years and 7,000 miles, a World War II pilot comes home

Chick Jacobs – Fayetteville Observer

Capt. Fulton Lanier’s last mission, in 1944, ended when the plane iced up in a severe storm and slammed into a mountain between Tibet and India.

The last 25 yards of Capt. Fulton Lanier’s journey home came with staccato rifle shots, a bugle playing a mournful, familiar tune and the occasional growling of lumber trucks trying to find fourth gear on nearby U.S 421 on a sweltering Thursday afternoon.

But, after more than 73 years of waiting, and nearly two years after a melting glacier yielded his remains 7,000 miles away, the 6-foot-tall World War II pilot known to his family as “Runt” was finally home in Harnett County.

“This sets a lot of things right,” said his nephew, retired Judge Frank Lanier, accepting handshakes from some of the 100-plus friends and family who attended a ceremony at Harnett Memorial Cemetery. “There wasn’t any doubt what happened, but just to have him here … it means a lot.”

Another family member, Diane Lanier, agreed.

“There was a service nearly 20 years ago at Arlington (National Cemetery in Virginia) when they first found the plane,” she said. “Four of the others on the plane were buried. But not Frank. They didn’t find him.”

That any of the crew of the C-87 Liberator cargo plane were found at all was a bit of a miracle. Lanier was one of the pilots flying a dangerous lifeline over the mountains of Tibet to supply Allied troops fighting the Japanese in China. It was called “Flying the Hump.” The combination of worn equipment, quick turnarounds and unpredictable, generally awful weather made it one of the most dangerous missions of the war.

So, of course, Lanier volunteered. Tall and lanky, a football star at Campbell College in Buies Creek and Lenoir-Rhyne, Lanier was eager to fly. He flew three missions a week, when weather and mechanical conditions allowed. His last mission, on Jan. 31, 1944, according to records, ended when the plane iced up in a severe storm and slammed into a mountain between Tibet and India.

It remained there, preserved in ice until the blistering hot summer of 1993 actually melted enough ice for Tibetian hunters to search for game in the area. They found the plane and four of the bodies. They also found evidence of Lanier, including his lieutenant’s bars and a meal ticket.

A military lab in Hawaii later positively identified four members of the air crew, but Lanier was not among them. Still, the Army hosted a burial ceremony for all five men — Lanier included — at a joint grave in Arlington National Cemetery in 1998.

Nearly 20 years later, another expedition to the area recovered one more body. DNA testing in Hawaii confirmed the body as Lanier’s. He was flown back to North Carolina this week, and returned to his family in Buies Creek.

Several veteran’s motorcycle clubs provided a rolling escort, and he was buried with full military honors.

Also present at the ceremony were several members of the Chinese Student and Scholars Association from the Triangle area. Like nearly everyone sweltering in the afternoon sun, none of them knew Lanier. But they knew that their world would have been very different without pilots like him.

“We remember his place in history,” said Miniqiang Jin as other club members nodded in agreement. “We fought the Japanese together, shoulder to shoulder. They were not soldiers, but brothers.

“When I was young, I remember the stories of how Americans helped as we fought. These men were very brave. We honor their memory.”

Robert Opie Lindsay honored with historical highway marker

Rockingham Now – Joe Dexter

Citizens were reminded of one of Rockingham County’s unsung heroes on July 30, during the dedication and unveiling of a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker honoring World War I fighter pilot Robert Opie Lindsay.

The marker is the 24th of its kind placed in Rockingham County. Over 1,500 state highway historical markers have been erected across the state’s 100 counties since 1936.

The dedication program and unveiling of the historical marker placed on the corner of U.S. 311 and Lindsay Bridge Road was sponsored by The Museum and Archives of Rockingham County in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and N.C. DOT.

Residents gathered in the McMichael Community Room of the Madison-Mayodan Public Library were taken back to the beginning of combat aviation, as historians and fellow fighter pilots painted a picture of the fortitude flowing in the blood of one Opie Lindsay – an innovator born near Madison on Christmas Day in 1894.

A man that 24 years later, become a North Carolina icon in a span of six weeks.

From September to October of 1918, just a month prior armistice of 1918, Opie Lindsay shot down six German planes, becoming the only Tar Heel pilot to earn the designation of “ace”

According to documents housed online by The University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina Pilots flying with the Royal Air Force, French squadrons or U.S. Navy may have downed over 100 German planes during World War I.

His six combat victories were made official by ground observers during that period.

Mayor David Myers, who spoke during the dedication ceremony, gave those in attendance a vivid look into the everyday life of a fighter pilot risking life and death for his country in a primitive machine.

Myers, who rose to the rank of colonel during 30 years in the United States Marine Corps, retired in 2012 with more than 3,000 flight hours and 110 combat missions under his belt.

The accomplished compatriot credited Lindsay for creating a pathway for him to succeed in the air, as well as planting a foundation for the future of air service.

“It puts [the Town of Madison] on a new level,” said Myers, following the unveiling of the historical marker. “This gentleman laid a foundation for future aviation and fighting in air. If you look at Nellis Fighter Weapons School and TOPGUN, all of it started with pilots flying by the seats of their pants — literally. This means a lot to the community.”

Fellow pilot Mark Richardson also rose to the rank of colonel during his 24 years in the United States Air Force. The chairman of the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners shared during the ceremony that Lindsay’s accomplishments are stunning. According to Richardson, less than one in ten million Americans have ever achieved ace status.

“Even as a fighter pilot myself I cannot begin to explain all of the actions of Opie Lindsay,” Richardson said. “At that time, he flew an aircraft that was open cockpit with manual machine guns, unreliable engines and no verbal communication between aircraft. Everything in aircraft aviation was evolving and evolving very fast.

“…Your main source of protection was having a sharp eye, one that can find the enemy before they saw you. Your chariot was made of fabric, wood, wire and a very unreliable engine. You had no armor whatsoever. Some pilots sat on their helmet to provide some measure of protection. The only thing you had to protect you was having superior skills to that of your foe. To have survived even a few weeks in that environment is indeed an accomplishment and to make it through two world wars is extraordinary.”

Muriel Opie Lindsay, who paid tribute to her father during the dedication ceremony, was honored with the unveiling of the historical marker.

The Georgia resident read letters from her father’s post-war journal and gave the audience a sense of Opie’s character through a wartime letter that was sent home following an engagement overseas.

The story humorously depicted a crash in what was thought to be enemy territory. After watching his engine fail due to a spark-plug malfunction, Lindsay attempted to land his plane in safe territory by heading back towards France. His only problem was that no matter what direction he headed, his compass told him he was due north.

Lindsay lost her father at a young age but remembers him through his chronicles throughout the years.

She discovered him as a young man who thought long and deep about life. She did so through a journal he had written in for five years following the First World War.

Muriel read from those words of discovery, that never once mentioned the war, 75 years after her father first penned them.

“There really are no words,” said Muriel Lindsay after removing the covering over the historical marker prominently displaying the accolades of her father. “This has meaning beyond what I even knew it was going to. I’m just going to have to be with it a day a two. “I’m grateful and I don’t know why exactly, but that’s how I feel.”

For Richardson, gratefulness lies in the example Opie Lindsay set by exploring his own talents and making an indelible contribution to his nation. Richardson said honoring the Madison native wasn’t just right thing to do just because he was in need of another accolade .

“It’s the right thing to do because we need to remind our fellow citizens, especially our youth, that we have talents well beyond what we recognize on a daily basis,” Richardson said. We have capabilities waiting the opportunity to emerge. We too can make extraordinary contributions to both mankind and our country.

“We can use this sign, perhaps most effectively, as a reminder and training opportunity to remind our youth and fellow citizens of these potentials. And if we indeed take this opportunity and use this historic marker in such a way, today will not only have been a great day, it will help verify that you are living in a great place and doing the right thing.”

 

Birth of the Cobra

By Stephen Joiner Air & Space

Mike Folse proved that a helicopter could fly and shoot at the same time.

Bell Helicopter’s prototype
Bell Helicopter’s prototype for the AH-1G Cobra flies in front of two UH-1 Hueys, the aircraft it was designed to protect. (Bell Helicopter Historical Archives via Ray Wilhite)

 

Meet the Blue Angels of 2017

Pensacola News

The 2017 U.S. Navy Blue Angels returned to Pensacola Naval Air Station on Monday. The six-jet demonstration team includes three new pilots along with three returning pilots and a show narrator, also an experienced F/A-18 pilot. Three Marines pilots fly the “Fat Albert” C-130 jet, which accompanies the fighter jets.

Meet the 2017 Blue Angels pilots

No. 1 Navy Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi, flight leader: Bernacchi is a native of Los Altos, California. He attended the University of California, San Diego. Bernacchi graduated from the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) at Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada, in 2003 and later became an instructor pilot at the school. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2015, Bernacchi was the executive officer of a Strike Fighter Squadron on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and served as fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. 2 Navy Lt. Damon Kroes, right wing: Kroes is a native of Fremont, California. Kroes served in the U.S. Marine Corps before graduating from San Diego State University in 2006. He was later commissioned as an officer in the Navy. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2016, Kroes served as a flight instructor at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. 3 Navy Lt. Nate Scott, left wing: Scott is a native of Danville, California. He attended the University of Southern California. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2016, he was an instructor pilot at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. 4 Navy Lt. Lance Benson, slot: Benson is a native of McPherson, Kansas. He attended Kansas State University. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2016, he was an instructor pilot at Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. 5 Navy Cmdr. Frank Weisser, lead solo: Weisser is a native of Atlanta. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Weisser flew with the Blue Angels from 2008 through 2010 as both opposing solo and lead solo. Weisser rejoined the team in 2016 after Blue Angels pilot and Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss died in a crash at a Smyrna, Tennessee, air show. Before his latest tour with the team, Weisser was supervising training at NATO School Oberammergau in Germany.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. 6 Navy Lt. Tyler Davies, opposing solo: Davies is a native of Kennesaw, Georgia. Davies enlisted in the Navy before attending University of La Verne in Riverside, California. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2015, Davies served as an instructor pilot at Naval Air Station Oceana,Virginia. Davies was the team’s narrator during the 2016 show season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. 7 Navy Lt. Brandon Hempler, narrator: Hempler is a native of Warnego, Kansas. He attended Kansas State University. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2016, Hempler was deployed as part of a strike fighter squadron on board the USS George H.W. Bush.

C-130 “Fat Albert” pilots

Marine Maj. Mark Montgomery: Montgomery is a native of Cartersville, Georgia. He attended the University of Athens, Georgia. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2015, Montgomery was deployed to Afghanistan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marine Maj. Kyle Maschner: Maschner is a native of Scottsdale, Arizona. Maschner enlisted in the Marine Corps before attending Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2016, Maschner served in Okinawa, Japan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marine Maj. Mark Hamilton: Hamilton is a native of Becker, Minnesota. He attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Before being selected for the Blue Angels in September 2014, he served as officer in charge of a Marine Expeditionary Unit detachment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. 

Tuskegee Airman recalls his time of breaking barriers in sky

By JENNY DRABBLE Winston-Salem Journal

For 33 years, Terry Bailey, an unsung hero, was a seemingly ordinary mailman.

Few knew the quiet man who tirelessly delivered their post each day was a former member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first group of black pilots in the United States Armed Forces.

But as Bailey spoke at Mount Zion Baptist Church on Feb. 11, the 91-year-old proudly donned his “Red Tails” jacket, an emblem of his time piloting the red-tailed fighter jets during the days of World War II.

“It was fantastic and it was exciting,” Bailey said of his time as a Tuskegee Airman. “I was never afraid, just eager.”

The handful of attendees sat with rapt attention after having viewed the 2012 film “Red Tails,” which documents the black pilots sent into air combat in Italy in 1944.

Before 1940, black people were barred from flying for the U.S. military, Bailey said, but becoming a pilot was always his dream.

“In high school, I used to watch the planes go across the sky until they were out of sight,” Winston-Salem native Bailey said. “I told myself, ‘One day, I’m going to fly myself a plane.'”

The opportunity came when Bailey was 18 and stumbled upon an advertisement in the newspaper for the Tuskegee Airmen.

Although his parents begged him not to go, he knew it was what he was meant to do, he said. He was sent to Mississippi for testing before he was selected to go to the Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee, Ala., to learn to fly.

“Mr. Bailey is being modest. This was the select group of the select group that got to train,” Mount Zion’s Rev. Serenus Churn told the crowd. “There were grave misgivings about the mental acuity of African-Americans to be able to fly, so the vetting process was extensive.”

Bailey logged hundreds of hours while training for two years and two months to be a fighter pilot of a single-engine plane.

At the beginning of his training, he had a few close calls, nearly crashing into a B-25 twin-engine bomber plane and once the ground after the plane spun out. But he was eager and a quick learner, he said.

“Everything you could do with a plane, they made sure we could do it,” he said, “all the acrobatics.”

But within two weeks of being certified, World War II had ended. Bailey was told he could stay in the Army, but they would take his flying license away, he said.

It was a story of disbelief that echoed among the ranks of Tuskegee pilots who returned home. After years of fighting the enemies of World War II, they had never anticipated the battle that waited for them at home.

Instead of being welcomed as heroes, the pilots were shunned and stripped of their right to fly. African-Americans were not allowed to become commercial pilots for nearly 20 years afterward, he said.

Bailey’s parents prodded him into going to school at the Hampton Institute where he studied auto mechanics.

But in the midst of a racially tense and divided America, he was unable to secure a job as a mechanic, becoming a post office courier in 1952.

“I was prepared to go overseas, but the war was over,” he said. “Being a (commercial) pilot was out of the question. The post office was the only place that would hire me.”

In the years that followed, Bailey never got the chance to become a pilot again, but still has a love of planes.

He used to attend the national Tuskegee Airmen reunions 20 years ago, but now less than a third of the 992 certified Tuskegee pilots are still alive, said Bailey, who retired in 1985.

But history lives on through the wisdom and stories of those who paved the way for the world today, Churn said.

“I’d heard for years about the courage and tenacity of the Tuskegee Airmen, but I never thought I’d have the privilege of meeting a real live hero,” Churn said. “I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re very proud of him.”

Vietnam War helicopter pilots represent NC at inauguration

Northstate Journal

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Cherry Point Marks 75th Anniversary

DREW C. WILSON – AviationPros

Aug. 18–In the course of 75 years, fields and swamps along the Neuse River in Eastern North Carolina became the largest Marine Corps Air Station in the United States.

And as Cherry Point celebrates its 75th anniversary, the future may just be as bright as its historic past.

“I look forward to support for this base and for the Marines here for another 75 years,” said Col. Chris Pappas III, who last month relinquished command of the air station.

In a recent interview, Pappas made clear why Cherry Point has a bright future.

“Cherry point right now is at a strategic transition point,” he said. “This base was born out of World War II.”

Today marks the 75th anniversary of Cherry Point. It was on Aug. 18, 1941, that the commandant of the Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, wrote a letter establishing “Air Facilities under Development at Cherry Point.” It was also on that date that Lt. Thomas J. Cushman, the base’s first commanding officer, reported for duty with four enlisted Marines.

With war waging in Europe in early 1941 — and months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor — the Marine Corps was already planning an unprecedented expansion and needed a new, central location to train. A new aircraft facility was part of the plan.

The specifications required “an area at least 10 miles square, unobstructed by public roads, railroads, industries or habitations which would interfere with the firing of artillery weapons up to 6-inch, or with aircraft and anti-aircraft gunnery.” Furthermore, “a real necessity exits for a training area for the Fleet Marine Force units on the Atlantic coast.”

Soon it was apparent that eastern North Carolina was the most suitable geographic location for the air station and an even larger Marine Camp that would become Camp Lejeune.

Initially, military officials pointed to an area called Wilkinson Point and its vast undeveloped territory in rural Pamlico County as the best choice for a base, but the Marine Corps changed its mind and decided to put the station on the other side of the Neuse River between Slocum Creek and Hancock Creek in Craven County because of the presence of a railroad line that could bring in the enormous amount of building materials required for the endeavor.

On Feb. 18, 1941, Congress authorized $25 million for the air facility on the banks of the Neuse River.

More than 40 local land owners, some willingly and others through condemnation proceedings, had their property seized. Some 7,582 acres were taken to create space for the airfield and its proposed 16 squadrons of 310 planes. The purchase price was $104,869.

It was a monumental undertaking to clear forest lands and fill swamps, essentially by any means necessary, including use of dynamite to remove tree stumps and to create ditches for mosquito control.

The facility was originally named Cunningham Field after the first Marine Corps pilot, Alfred A. Cunningham, but on Dec. 1, 1941, it was renamed U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

Six days later, Japan made a devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, war was declared and a new urgency was placed on completion of the air station.

Workers came from all across eastern North Carolina to earn good wages building the station.

About 60 million board feet of timber was milled during base construction. An asphalt plant using sand found at the site produced enough pavement “to pave an 18-foot highway 265 miles long” working at a rate of 50 tons per hour.

The base would need 1,320 housing units for the growing number of military personnel, which swelled from just four on Aug. 18, 1941 to 20,776 in Nov. 1943.

During that time, wave after wave of airmen flying F4U Corsairs and PBJ Bombers trained and deployed, mostly to the South Pacific to fight Japan island to island.

Some of the original hangars built at the base are still standing, along with many other structures from that era.

“This base has some of the oldest hangars in the Marine Corps, average about 57 years old,” said Pappas.

After World War II, Cherry Point became the site of a distinguished, cutting edge electronic warfare community that had important roles in the Korean War in the early 1950s. In 1962, reconnaissance aircraft provided President Kennedy with the photographic information he would use to prove the existence of long range ballistic missiles in Cuba. Aircraft from those same Cherry Point-based electronic warfare squadrons played a vital role in Vietnam.

The wide and varied types of aircraft that have called Cherry Point home are numerous, but a jet that could take off and land like a helicopter, the Harrier, has been a mainstay for four decades.

However, by the next decade, those AV-8B Harriers will begin to be replaced by the Marine Corps’ fifth-generation jet, the F-35B Lightning II.

For two years already, Fleet Readiness Center East, the base’s enormous aircraft rework and repair facility, has been receiving the new jets for early modifications, mostly from Beaufort, S.C., which is part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based at Cherry Point.

Beginning in 2022 and 2023, the first of seven squadrons of F-35s will activate at Cherry Point.

But to get ready for them, major upgrades will have to be undertaken. Hangars are going to be demolished and rebuilt. The air traffic control tower will be taken down and rebuilt in a new location. About $1.6 billion in renovations will be required to prepare for the jets.

“One of the things that the station gets an opportunity to do is all the planning and development so that we are ready to receive those new aircraft so Marines can work on them, they have got a place to repair them and so Marines also have an opportunity to deploy that new asset,” said Pappas.

Cherry Point will be transformed from a 20th century air station with propeller planes to a 21st century master jet base for fifth generation fighter aircraft.

“We have been laying the groundwork for that in years and years in planning,” said Pappas. “What’s going to come here in the next three years is the start of that construction, and so in 2023 when that first JSF squadron is active and operating out of Cherry Point, it is going to be a very exciting day not just for the base but for the legacy of all of the folks that have worked to get that here. That’s what I see that’s coming and it’s going to be a very, very impressive facility when it’s completed.”

James Norment, a member of the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group, said the base has a strong future.

“As long as the Marine Corps serves this country, I think that Marine Corps aviation is going to be an essential part of their mission and Cherry Point is the master jet base on the East Coast for the Marine Corps,” he said.

He said that in addition to the main air station, Cherry Point operates training ranges used by the Navy and Air Force and also directs all air traffic in the area, adding to its value.

“We learned in the 2005 BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process that the Cherry Point facility itself and the training ranges together are probably the most valuable asset in Marine Corps aviation,” said Norment. “We’ll see a pivot to the West Coast at some point. We’ll see a pivot back to the East Coast, and I expect Cherry Point will be strong for the next 75 years.”

He said that the changes coming to the base over the next decade and a half with the arrival of the F-35B aircraft set Cherry Point up for a bright future.

“It is going to be a tremendous amount of change,” he said, “and I think that over the next 20 years you will see more (military construction) money spent on buildings at Cherry Point than on any 20-year period in its past, so I think it is a bright, strong future.”

449th Theater Aviation Brigade at the Army Aviation Support Facility 1 in Morrisville, North Carolina

The North Carolina Army National Guard hosted a change of command ceremony for the 449th Theater Aviation Brigade at the Army Aviation Support Facility 1 in Morrisville, North Carolina, August 7, 2016.
Col. Jeffrey L. Copeland, who is moving on to Joint Force Headquarters as the Army Chief of Staff, handed over command to Lt. Col. Joseph W. Bishop, previously commander of 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.
Brig. Gen. James C. Ernst, the assistant adjutant general for maneuver, was in attendance to provide words of encouragement for the outgoing and incoming commanders.
“We have never had a more trained, ready and responsive force. Hundreds of our 449th Guardsmen are combat veterans with valuable knowledge, leadership skills and technical expertise,” said Ernst.
Throughout its existence, the 449th has responded to numerous natural disasters, both within North Carolina and throughout the United States. Proving instrumental in providing aviation command, the 449th has been noteworthy during Hurricanes Fran, Floyd and Katrina.
“I conclude my aviation career today with great respect for the NC Aviation Team and proud to have been part of that team. I will miss the flying, I loved to fly and my time in command, but time flies when you are having fun,” said Copeland.
Copeland congratulated Bishop and emphasized his capabilities for his new role as commander.
“Lt. Col. Bishop is an experienced, capable aviator and compassionate leader with common sense. I am confident that as the incoming brigade commander he will continue to know what is happening, know what is not happening, and know what to do about it.”
Once taking the podium, Bishop recognized Maj. Gen Beth Austin, Brig. Gen. James Ernst and distinguished guests for attending. He then thanked all those in attendance, paying particular attention his family, wife and children, and read a quote by Winston Churchill.
“‘The reservist is twice the citizen’,” said Bishop. “We as citizen soldiers do not do it alone. It takes a big support system to do what we do, from our families and friends and employers.”
Bishop, who has served 18 years in the United State Army and Army National Guard, has served in multiple leadership positions at the battalion and brigade level and has deployed twice to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a Senior Army Aviator, he is qualified in the OH-58, AH-64A and AH-64D helicopters.
449th Theater Aviation Brigade last deployed in April 2009 to Iraq as the Multi-National Corps Combat Aviation Brigade, with responsibility for all fixed and rotary-wing aviation support of senior leadership, medical evacuation and air movement.
The 449th TAB was formed in 1986. The 449th is a dynamic organization with the capabilities to aid state and federal emergency response with air-lift support, aerial reconnaissance, search and rescue and mountain and water aerial rescue (NCHART), as well as counter-drug support to law enforcement agencies. It is the home to Detachment 1, Bravo Company, 2-151 Aviation (Security and Support); Charlie Company, 1-131st Aviation; 2-130th Aviation Operations Battalion and the 1-130th Apache helicopter Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.

USCG, airport have $384M impact on NC economy

By Jon Hawley, Daily Advance

U.S. Coast Guard commands in Elizabeth City and the Elizabeth City Regional Airport pump $384 million into North Carolina’s economy every year, a new N.C. Division of Aviation report shows.

“Airports mean jobs,” Division of Aviation Director Bobby Walston said in the report that covered North Carolina’s 10 commercial and 62 general aviation airports.

The study found that airports and aerospace manufacturing support 8.5 percent of North Carolina’s gross state product. Combining direct and indirect jobs, plus “induced” spending from aviation sector employees, the report puts the total annual economic impact of aviation in the state at $31.2 billion.

A big chunk of that figure is attributable to the U.S. Coast Guard base and Elizabeth City Regional Airport, whose economic impacts were merged in the report. The study shows the base and airport have $206 million in direct impacts on the economy, $145 million from indirect impacts, and $33.3 million in induced impacts.

The report describes direct impacts as those resulting from firms and businesses ”that are directly engaged in the movement of people or goods through an airport.” It lists airline employees and rental car companies as examples.

Indirect impacts, according to the report, result from “spending by airport-related firms on products and services provided by support businesses.” It lists office supply companies, property maintenance and other businesses as examples.

Induced impacts result from “payroll expenditures by employees of directly and indirectly related firms that produce successive spending,” the report states. It lists buying a new car, computer, or high-definition television as examples of successive spending.

The report also credits the Coast Guard and airport with supporting 2,540 jobs, the majority of which are indirect.

Wayne Harris, director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission, said the “lion’s share” of local aviation activity and employment is attributable to the Coast Guard, not the airport. Close to a thousand military personnel and hundreds of civilians/contractors work at the base, he said.

Harris also noted DOA’s 2016 report values the Coast Guard base and airport’s economic impact much higher than did its last economic output report in 2012. That report, still available online, only put the value of Coast Guard and airport economic activity at $144 million a year.

The two reports are an “apples-to-oranges” comparison, Harris said, because the 2012 report didn’t factor in all aviation-related Coast Guard commands in Elizabeth City. The Aviation Logistics Center – which maintains aircraft for the entire Coast Guard – and the Aviation Technical Training Center — which trains Coast Guard personnel for their duties — were two major omissions, he noted.

The 2016 report also gives a better picture of how aviation activities in Elizabeth City add to the economy, Harris said. The report also underscores the importance of the Coast Guard to the local economy, he said, noting the agency is responsible for about an eighth of Pasquotank’s labor force and a fifth or more of its total payroll.

“Relative to the size of the community, the economic importance of the Coast Guard is almost impossible to overstate,” Harris said.

To help the Coast Guard grow its local presence even more, Harris said there’s interest in building a local “strip and paint” hangar. Currently the Coast Guard has to send aircraft across the country for stripping and repainting, he said, noting it’d be more efficient to bring that work to Elizabeth City.

Harris said state and local officials might have to cover the hangar’s upfront costs, recouped by a long-term lease and possible purchase, to make the project happen sooner.

Reacting to the report Tuesday, Coast Guard Cmdr. Bruce Brown said the base and its tenant contractors accounted for the majority of the estimated economic output. He added that the Coast Guard’s output equated to 48 percent of Pasquotank County’s gross domestic product last year and, counting indirect and induced jobs, 21 percent of employment in Pasquotank.

In his memorandum to the mayor and city councilors last week, City Manager Rich Olson noted the report shows that the Coast Guard and airport have the fourth-largest economic impact of any general service airport in North Carolina. The report shows the local airport is surpassed by only the Mt. Airy/Surry County Airport, which has an impact of $739 million; Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem, which has a $506 million impact; and Kinston Regional Jetport, which has an impact of $452 million.

The aviation facilities with the largest economic impact on North Carolina are its commercial airports, which are worth more than $27.1 billion a year. The airports with the biggest impact on North Carolina are Charlotte Douglas International Airport, at $13.6 billion, and Raleigh-Durham International Airport, at $8.58 billion.

Elizabeth City Regional Airport Manager Dion Viventi could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Four pilots recovered after Navy jets collide off North Carolina coast

OREGON INLET, N.C. – The U.S. Coast Guard responded about 25 miles off the North Carolina coast Thursday morning after receiving reports of a collision between two planes.

121010-N-CH661-068 RED SEA (Oct. 10, 2012) An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Checkmates of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 211 conducts a refueling with an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Knighthawks of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 136 during an air power demonstration near the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). Enterprise is returning from a deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, where the ship conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jared King/Released)

According to the Navy, the incident involved two F/A-18F Super Hornets that were flying approximately 24 nautical miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras.

The Navy confirms that the jets were from Strike Fighter Squadron 211 (VFA-211) based at Naval Air Station Oceana.

The incident was reported around 10:40 a.m. and an HH-60 Jayhawk Coast Guard helicopter dispatched from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City to assist.

There were two pilots in each jet and all four were recovered from the water.

The Coast Guard reports that the crew of the commercial fishing vessel Jamie recovered all four pilots.  The Coast Guard helicopter then hoisted the pilots and transported them to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

At 12:50 p.m., one Coast Guard helicopter arrived at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital carrying two of the four pilots. They were both able to move themselves to the waiting stretcher.

A second helicopter carrying the other two pilots is expected to arrive shortly.

 

A safety investigation will be carried out to determine the cause of the accident.

In the past several years, there have been several mishaps involving military aircraft in Hampton Roads.

A malfunctioning F/A-18 jet plummeted into the Mayfair Mews Apartments in Virginia Beach on April 6, 2012. The stricken Super Hornet destroyed several apartment buildings off Birdneck Road near 24th Street. Two aviators ejected and survived with minor injuries. No one on the ground was injured.

In August 2013, a pair of Air National Guard F-16s clipped wings off the Eastern Shore. One pilot ejected and his jet crashed. He was rescued by a Coast Guard air crew.

On January 8, 2014, a Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon Helicopter crashed into the frigid Atlantic about 18 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Five men were aboard, but three did not survive.

On January 15, 2015, a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet aircraft crashed approximately 45 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. The jet was from Strike Fighter Squadron 143 (VFA-143) attached to Carrier Air Wing Seven at Oceana Naval Air Station. It was conducting routine training at the time of the crash. The pilot was rescued and survived.