800-388-1647 info@leroywhomerjr.org P.O. Box 268, Marlton, NJ 08053

Lest We Forget

Memorials, anniversary ceremonies, days of public service are all ways people remember Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Yet, in some ways, especially recently, lessons from that day seem to be forgotten.
Take for example the airlines. After the attacks, Congress mandated reinforced cockpit doors. When procedural experience showed there were still concerns about a cockpit breach when it was necessary for the door to be opened, United and Northwest went ahead installing a secondary barrier. A secondary barrier is a lightweight wire door that blocks access to the cockpit. When the cockpit door needs to be opened for crew meals, restroom breaks etc. the secondary barrier prevents anyone from gaining access. United currently has secondary barriers installed on their 757/767, 747 and 777.
With the recent merger of United and Continental airlines, United Airlines is now under Continental management. Several months ago I became aware that United had paid Boeing to remove this safety feature from their recent delivery of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. When asked for a reason by Ellen Saracini, widow of Captain Saracini United #175, no clear cut reason was given.
Instead, you may have noticed a flight attendant standing in front of the cockpit door with their arms crossed or standing behind a beverage cart. So, it would appear by the airlines’ own procedures that they do acknowledge there is a need for a secondary barrier.
Why the pushback from other airlines to install these devices? Cost? Research conducted this year estimated these barriers to cost 5000 – 12,000 each. If that number seems high, compare it to the reported one million dollars United invests per airplane on their in-flight entertainment. If given a choice, I believe most of the flying public would opt for safety.
Last week I flew to Washington, DC to meet with congressional reps and encourage them to sign on to HR 1775 which would mandate airlines to install these barriers. I learned even more about this issue. An article in Politico magazine suggested that passengers were one of the many layers of security which negates the need for secondary barriers. I’m not sure how that would work – first, we would have to know this as an expectation, much like when we agree to sit in an exit aisle. I’m assuming this would only apply to the adult able bodied, then I suppose who would have to agree to sleep/eat/read in shifts. As I found out in my meetings in DC, for this cockamamie scenario to work, given a generous minimum reaction time of a 30-45 seconds of passengers to notice a breach and then react, they would still not be able to intervene as it takes as little as 3-6 seconds to breach the cockpit.
And also realize that if the cockpit is breached, no one will ever be able to get through the reinforced door. Which means the aircraft can be used as a WMD, and the only way to stop it would be for the government to order an American aircraft to be shot down.
This all boils down to the almighty dollar. The airlines just are not concerned enough to want to spend a relatively small amount of money to keep their passengers and crews safe. There are people, bad people, terrorists, mentally unstable individuals, who are seeing this weakness right now, figuring out how to use it to their advantage.
I would ask everyone who reads this to remember September 11, 2001, how helpless you felt, how we didn’t know what was happening, what more was going to happen. If we ALL contact our congressional representatives, and ask them to support HR 1775, and then pass this information on to your friends and families, especially the ones who have to travel for work. Because if this bill doesn’t get passed, and a plane is hijacked again, the blame will fall on the these representatives, many of whom were present for the dedication of the plaque which hangs in the US Capitol, as a thank you to crew and passengers from United #93 who lost their lives while thwarting the attack on this intended target.

To contact your congressional rep, go to:
www.house.gov/representatives/find/ OR http://www.alpa.org/ALPADeptInfoPages/Departments/GovernmentAffairsDepartment/PopvoxSecondaryBarriers/tabid/7906/Default.aspx

UPT Graduation, Vance AFB

I recently had the pleasure of attending undergraduate pilot training (UPT) graduation at Vance AFB in Enid Oklahoma. Courtney Schaer was a 2006 scholarship recipient from The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation. I was also in attendance when Courtney graduated from the US Air Force Academy in May 2011. I had never been to a graduation at USAFA; it was very emotional for me thinking of LeRoy’s graduation in 1986, nine years before we would ever meet.

Now here I was again, having the privilege of seeing Courtney complete another major milestone in her aviation career. As is the case with many of our scholarship recipients, we meet them when they are young kids, and somehow they become these adults who can fly airplanes!

I decided to take a look at Courtney’s scholarship application essay – oh yes, we do keep them! – to see what 2006 Courtney had to say. She wrote “a good family friend started to take me up flying with him and taught me about the aerodynamics of an airplane and what it takes to be a good pilot. I instantly became hooked on the mixture of adrenalin, freedom and power that I receive when I was at the controls of the airplane. I also felt a comforting connection with my father every time I climbed into the cockpit. Flying gave me a bonding experience with my father that I had missed out in the early years.”

Reading that essay today, I feel the same way about spending time with Courtney during her graduation. I am able to see a part of LeRoy’s life story through her, which in turn makes me feel even more connected to him. For me, although I didn’t know it when we started the Foundation, is one of the greatest gifts I could have been given.

We are in the process of reviewing this year’s scholarship applications, and I have no doubt they will make us just as proud.


A Day in the Life of a C-12 Pilot

One of the coolest jobs in the Air Force exists at Yokota Air Base, Tokyo, Japan. On the western edge of the biggest city in the world lies a base with a small unit of Air Force personnel that fly the C-12J. The C-12J is the military version of the Beechcraft 1900C, which can seat up to 19 passengers. Our primary mission is to transport distinguished visitors (DV) which can be military members above the rank of Lt Col, or US/foreign civilian leaders. We also have a deployed mission transporting troops between their forward-operating-base and bigger cities where bilateral meetings and events take place. On a daily basis we fly into airfields all over Japan, Korea, the Micronesian Islands and the Philippines.


A typical week for a C-12 pilot may involve flying a mission (transporting a DV to a bilateral function) and flying a training sortie. Our training sorties are meant to maintain our proficiency in the aircraft, especially in responding to emergency situations. On a typical training sortie we may fly Visual Flight Rules (VFR) over Tokyo, practice short field operations (landing at a field that is significantly shorter than an average runway, which requires a precise touchdown in the first 500 feet and stopping within the remaining runway, often 1,500 feet or less), practice instrument flying (referencing only aircraft instruments to maneuver the aircraft without looking outside), and practicing emergency situations (losing an engine just after takeoff, conducting a single-engine landing and conducting a single-engine go-around). Aside from flying, every person has an office job which helps sustain the operations of the squadron, group or wing that they are assigned to. Typical jobs in the squadron are: Training, Safety, Scheduling, Standardization and Evaluation, Assistant Director of Operations, and Executive Officer to the Commander.

459th AS performs Samurai Surge

Currently, I am the Chief C-12J Evaluator Pilot and work in Standardization and Evaluation, assigned to the Operations Group. My primary responsibility is to ensure that our C-12 pilots and C-12 procedures meet standards. I evaluate pilots by giving them a checkride. These checkrides consist of a Ground Evaluation, Flight Evaluation, and Emergency Procedure Evaluation. By testing a pilot’s knowledge of the airplane, their performance in the airplane, and their response to a simulated emergency, I evaluate their overall proficiency level and assign an appropriate grade (Q1 – pass, Q2 –pass, but needed additional training, and Q3 – not qualified). Looking at the “bigger picture,” my goal is to ensure the squadron’s training is sufficient and that the C-12 community is adhering to standards that are required by FAA, ICAO and military rules.

c12 DV carpet

As I reach the tail end of my tour here in Japan, I reflect on why the C-12 has been such a rewarding experience. Japan is rich with culture, and I have appreciated being able to experience their traditions and favorite past-times. Being submersed in a completely different language and way of life also brings you closer to your fellow Airman. Our small squadron is much more like a family than other unit I’ve seen. The flying has been incredible, and the opportunity to “pick the brains” of our passengers on the most important national issues, whether they be Congressman or top military leaders, has been a rewarding and humbling experience.

Capt Christina Lee, 374 Operations Group Standardization and
Evaluation, C-12 Evaluator Pilot

Aviation and Minorities

Every once in a while someone will ask me why we do not yet have any Black or African American scholarship recipients, so I decided to address this in this blog. The simple answer is that we have few minority applicants. Included in the application itself we have a demographic survey that the applicant can complete if they choose to. About 80% of applicants answer the questions regarding their race, family income and how they found out about our programs. We use this information in several ways – most importantly, to continue to identify ways to disseminate information about our Foundation to anyone interested in aviation including minorities. Interestingly enough, within the current pilot population, women are also considered a minority.

So back to the applicant survey, this past year 60% applicants were Caucasian, 7% Asian Pacific, 7% Latin American, 6% African American and 3% multiracial. So although each application is assigned a number and all identifiers – name, address, gender, race are removed and not seen by the scholarship committee, the odds are not great for minority applicants right now. As a way to try to encourage aviation as a career to minority students, we provide a free outreach initiative called “A Pilot You May Be”, an interactive program that introduces elementary school age children to the world of flight.

With all that being said, we do not select scholarship recipients based on ethnicity. The Foundation is making a significant investment in someone’s future when we award a scholarship, and we select the most qualified applicants.
There are some professions where I think most people are not concerned about gender or ethnicity – they just want the best. I happen to be in one of those professions; I’m a nurse. And I happen to be good at my job. No one has ever requested someone of another ethnicity to care for them. And when I get on a plane, I want to know that I’m flying with the finest, that the most qualified pilots are in the cockpit, wouldn’t you?

Melodie Homer

A Day In The Life…Courtney Schaer, Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training

courtney-blogAs a student in Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) no one day is ever like the next.  Sure, the variables remain the same: flights, simulators (sims), academics, stand-up and formal briefs; but there is always something new, something different and exciting to add to the mix.

Starting out there are three phases to UPT.  The first phase is purely academics and last about a month and a half.  During this time we are introduced to a majority of aspects of the T-6A Texan 2, from systems, to aerodynamics, to the basics in instrument and navigation.  From there we hit the flightline for phase two, which places us in flights in a squadron and involves all the flight training we do in the T-6. Phase two last about four months and concludes with a tract select, in which you track either T-1s preparing you to fly  heavy aircraft such as tankers or transports, T-38s which prepare you for the world of fighters, or helicopter.  T-1s, T-38s and helicopters are phase three and last the remaining 6 months of our pilot training experience.

Being in phase two, our days usually begin with a formal brief that covers everything from the current weather and runways, to a brief emergency procedure of the day. As the students, we run the majority of the morning brief, however our instructor pilots (IPs) oversee it and love to ask us questions, especially about typos on our PowerPoint and flub-ups in reading the METAR and TAF -information on weather.  During the first 15 days on the flightline, these formal briefs were the most dreaded part of our day and could last up to an hour due to the tedious process of memorizing checklist and procedures and having to recite them word for word.  Now that we’ve been on the flightline for a few months, these briefs are just as they’re meant to be… brief.

After formal brief, we break up and prepare individually for our flights and sims for the day.  Our simulators are instructed by government contracted retired Air Force pilots, whom fondly remind me of what it would have been like to be taught how to fly  by my grandfather.  One thing is for sure: when you’re flying with a sim IP, you are bound to hear some great stories that mainly start with the phrases “So there I was…” or “Back in my day…”  In total we log about 38 hours in the simulator while flying the T-6.  Today I completed my formation simulator and have just my low-level simulator left before I am sim complete for the T-6!

Our actual flights in the T-6 are a whole other beast to tackle.  Flights usually last 1.3 to 1.5 hours and take many more hours than that to properly prepare for them.  We usually meet up to brief with our flight IPs an hour prior to takeoff.  In our brief, we go over the profile that we are flying and any special syllabus items that need to be covered as well as anything that may affect the flight for that day, such as winds, weather, NOTAMs (notice to airmen), etc. You name it, we brief it. A half hour prior to our takeoff time we move to the stepdesk where we are assigned a tail number for the flight and briefed on any important happenings going on in the squadron or in the air that may affect us.  Then we continue on to life support where we put on our G-suit, harness and test our helmets before we step to our jet.  When we get to our assigned plane, we go over the books and do a preflight inspection of the plane, if everything is good to go, we both strap-in and start running the before take-off checklists. For a beginning student, these checklist could take up to a half hour to run from start to take-off, however the more familiar you become with the jet, the faster things go and with the weather starting to really warm-up, its best to keep your IP happy with fast checklist to get the plane’s AC up and running.

The flights themselves are always challenging and if you adequately prepared, they can be a lot of fun too!  My most memorable flights have been my initial solo in the T-6, and my two area solos, where I got to take the plane out by myself and preform aerobatics until I couldn’t see straight. It was amazing! Going cross-country was also a great confidence builder and was the point where instruments really clicked for most of my class. The last block of rides in phase two are formation rides, which act like a capstone to the program.  My formation dollar ride (first ride) is tomorrow and I’m so excited.  I haven’t decided if I want to go fighters or heavies yet and I hear that formation is usually the deciding factor for most people.

With the end of phase two drawing near, our UPT class also faces a lot of changes, besides the obvious of switching to a new aircraft.  Our UPT base is joint and we have Internationals, Navy and Marine officers in our class.  Our Navy and Marine officers only stay up through the end of phase two and then do the remainder of their training with their own service.  Our whole class is very close and it has been a great experience sharing these exciting and challenging times with our water loving brothers and sisters. However, I know in the end of the day, we’ll all be up flying in the same skies and will sure to cross paths again.  So far UPT has been a ton of work; there have been good days and not so great of days, but I feel truly blessed to be given the opportunity to both serve my country while following my dream.