Puerto Rican airports struggling with charter flights

By Raul Colon

Puerto Rico is one of the business air destinations in the Caribbean as its serves more than 200 daily passenger flights out of one international and two regional airports.
For local officials, that number should easily be doubled if more charter flights use the regional facilities as staging centers.

But despite massive investments in infrastructure and marketing promotions, the facilities have yet to receive a single charter flight. The problem is puzzling at one of the newest facilities in Puerto Rico.

The potential of the Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla, located in the northwestern part of the island, has not been fully exploited even after the Puerto Rican government invested millions of dollars in making it an attractive destination.
The main problem with the regional facility is the lack of charter flights, which have been absent from the airport despite a 2008 law which provide a 50 percent discount on air operations to any company that implement that type of service.

“It’s a puzzling the situation. The government has invested resources in promoting this type of flight operation in order to stimulate the Portal del Sol Tourism District and we need to see the results of this investment, especially in this tough economic time,” said Sofia Estevez, the Tourism Company’s Sub-director.

According to the executive, the responsibility of promoting this kind of industry rest on the shoulders of the Corporation for the Economic Development of the Western Region (IDEO by its Spanish acronym), because it’s the only organization with the authority to promote and develop charter flights to the airport.

“IDEO have not presented many promotional packages to investors. That’s the truth. But recently the corporation signed a deal that would provide the airport with its first charter flight by March of 2011,” she said.

Estevez also mentioned that the deal, which IDEO has already committee $1.4 million of its own resources in price reduction and promotion cost, involves a Spanish company and could serve as the gateway for future business.

“If this IDEO program is successful, we can see a booming industry flourishing at the Aguadilla airport. That would produce more jobs to the region and stimulate the island’s overall profile,” Estevez added.

Since 2003, the Puerto Rico Ports Authority has invested millions of dollars in renovating and upgrading the almost 60 year old airport, including the improvement to the 12,000 feet long runway.

According to the Airports General Manager, Arnaldo Deleo, when the government enacted Law 67, known as the Law for the Incentive Programs to Charter Flights at the Rafael Hernandez Airport, in May 2008, it was with idea of producing a constant flow of fights to the area, but despite the incentives presented by the law, no passenger charter have landed at the facility.
“We have invested heavily in the airport to upgrade its facilities. With have a 60 sq/ft terminal waiting for people to use and we hope that once the charter industry take off, we will need to add space,” Deleo said.

Among the incentives granted by Law 67 was a 50 percent reduction in take-off and landing operations as well as matching fund program when a company provides a regular scheduled flight program.

The Aguadilla Airport is currently use by discount airliners such as Jet Blue, Continental Air and Spirit, which provides the customers with six combine daily flights, most of them to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and New York.

In 2009 the facility moved 500,000 passengers.

Peacemaker’s Global Mission

By Raul Colon

Conceived during the waning moments of the Second World War as the world’s first true intercontinental bomber, the amazing Convair’s B-36 Peacemaker would go on to have a relative tumultuous short operational life span. Since its conception in late 1941 through its maiden flight on August 8th, 1946, the B-36 seemed to be always on the brink of cancellation. Six times between 1943 and 1945, the Pentagon and Congress tried to shut down the entire program.

At the heart of the discussion was the feasibility of mass produce a large piston-powered platform in light of the rapid development of the jet engine and the possibilities it offered. Clouding even more the issue was a bitter inter-service battle between the newest member of the Pentagon, the Air Force, and the most revered one, the Navy, for control of America’s nuclear deterrence arsenal. In the end, no amount of controversy or Congressional investigations (there were 5 officials ones between 1943 through 1946) managed to stop the program.

The B-36 went on to serve on the front lines but for only 10 years, four of them on active operational status. A pale figure when compared with its replacement, the venerable B-52, which still remains is the US main heavy bomber platform more than five decades since its development. But despite this apparently overwhelming argument against the operational capability of the Peacemaker, the plane did something few others managed. It pushed the limits of technology during its active run. In a nutshell, the Peacemaker became a technology test bed.

Several of these state-of-the-art activities performed by the B-36 are commonly know. Its role as America’s first and only nuclear powered aircraft has been well cover for the past two decades. But others aspects had not been that well covered. One of those was Project Global Flight.

In the spring of 1945, one full year before the bomber were to take to the air for the first time, Convair top officials were so impressed by the Peacemaker’s projected long range profile, that they decided to plan an around-the-world marketing flight. Two full years after the initial interest and after relative small investment on the project, the company abandoned the idea without much fan fare.

On a clear January 1947 (6th) morning and in front of small group of reporters and Air Force officials , Convair revealed the extent of Project Global Flight’s characteristics. The program called for a modified B-36, stripped of all its amour plating, armament, antenna and radomes. The sighting blister would also have been removed. The radio operator, bombardier and gunners would have stayed home for the adventure. Without the gunners there would haven’t a need for guns, so all firing systems were schedule to be decommissioned as would the instrument panels and forward compartment carpeting. The only parts of the interior expected to survive the stripping, albeit in a modified state, were the gallery and crew bunks.

All the modifications would have saved an estimated 5,000 pounds of overall take-off weight. On top of that, the ‘new’ Peacemaker was to be fitted with six new, experimental flexible fuel cells installed on the wing structure. Four adjacent bomb bay fuel tanks were to be installed on the lower air frame section. The last planned alteration propose was the housing on bomb bay door number 4 of four Aerojet (4,000 pounds of thrust) jet assisted take-off (JATO) bottles for fast takeoff operations.

The final plane profiled for this over modified B-36 stated an operational range of 15,075 nautical miles at an average cruising speed of 210 mph. Accordingly to Convair’s press release, Global Flight would have taken off from Idlewild Airport in New York. Following its departure, the massive bomber would proceed with a circle route over Scotland, Germany, the Black Sea, the Soviet Union, Japan, the Aleutian Island in the Pacific Ocean, until it reached Vancouver Island on the Canadian Pacific coast. From then, the aircraft was set to move southward until reaching Forth Worth, Texas, its final destination point.

In the end, this projected flight path, along with the substantial modifications planned for the B-36 in order to completed, were never performed. Reasons for the cancellation varies from account to account (budgetary issues, serviceable airframes at the time and the flight over Soviet Russia are the most commonly use excuses), but the fact that the project faced so many uncertainties in its developmental stages probably doomed the idea.@

Jane’s Aircraft Recognition Guide, Gunter Endres and Mike Gething, HarperCollins 2002

US Air Force: A complete History, Lieutenant Colonel Dik Alan Daso, Hugh Lauter Levin and Associates 2006

Concept Aircraft: prototypes, X-planes, and Experimental Aircraft, Jim Winchester, Thunder Bay Press 2005

Broken Arrows: The B-36 Log

By Raul Colon

The B-36 Peacemaker was one of the largest bombers ever to take to the air. Its story is unique in American aviation history. Conceived during the final days of the Second World War as the first true intercontinental bombing platform, the Convair Corporation biggest program endured a tumults short life span despite huge investments. Develop as a purely deterrence weapon, the massive plane barely booked on the United States Air Force’s active arsenal ten years. At a cost of just under 300 million dollars, the B-36 would go down in the record books as one the most expensive aviation program of all time.

Despite it, the B-36 achieved its mission profile with astonish success. During the four years the Pacemaker was assigned full operational status, no major incident erupted between East and West. But by 1955, the Pentagon decided that its ‘ultimate bomber’ could not longer be expected to penetrate the ever more sophisticated Russian air defense system, thus the decision to axe the entire program was made. Delays in the development of the B-52 project extended the life of several Pacemaker airframes well into the early 1960s.

Now, almost five decades since its conception, a downfall of details regarding this amazing piece of engineer is becoming available. From its traditional role as the ultimate heavy bomber platform, to its position as America’s first and only true nuclear powered plane, the B-36 has seen it all, including the active deployment of nuclear weapons.

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) has several terms to address a number of nuclear weapon incidents or mishaps. They are stated on the Nuclear Weapon Accident DoD Directive 5230.16. The incidents involving an un-sanctioned release of a nuclear ordinance includes the accidental or unauthorized launching of a weapon, an unauthorized nuclear detonation, the non-nuclear burning of an atomic warhead or one of its components, radioactive contamination and the jettison of a nuclear payload due to accidental causes.

DoD utilized several terms and definitions to classify an incident involving a peacetime atomic weapon deployment. They are as follow:

• Broken Arrow: Term that identify an accident involving a nuclear payload.
• Bent Spear: Term that identifies a significant incident involving a nuclear weapon.
• Empty Quiver: Term use to report the seizure or loss of a nuclear weapon.
• Faded Giant: Term involving a nuclear reactor or radiological incident.

On a cloudy April afternoon in 1981, the DoD and the US Department of Energy, released to a waiting world its once top-secret Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving US Nuclear Weapons: 1950 to 1980. In a gripping and detailing matter, the report described thirty two (32) incidents involving an atomic warhead releases during those three decades. Of that number only two (2) involved B-36 operations.

The first one occurred over the Canadian Pacific Ocean coast, near British Columbia. On February 14th 1950, a B-36B (tail number 44-92075), member of the 7th Bomb Wing stationed out of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, was on a routine, cross continent simulated combat flight pattern from Eielson to Carswell AFB, Texas when, six hours into its profile, the massive bomber began developed serious engine problems that forced the crew to shut down three of its power plant.

Flying at 12,000 feet with icing conditions forming on its wing structures and with half of its engines out of commission, 44-92075 commenced experimented problems maintain level flight. Under those strenuous conditions, the pilot decided to turn the big bomber away from land and towards the relative safeness of the ocean in order to drop its nuclear ordinance, an Mk 4, Fat Man-type of system, over open waters. Release of the weapon occurred from 8,000 feet. At around 3,800 feet, the altitude on which the weapon’s detonator was pre-set, the high explosive (HE) on the warhead detonated causing a bright flash followed by a robust sound and a shock wave. After release, the aircraft turned south east, towards Princess Royal Island where the crew of 17 bailed out, just one mile outside Island’s coastline. Two days later, the entire wreckage of the plane washed up on Vancouver Island.

Incident No. 2 occurred almost seven years later. Not as detailed as the previous deployment, the report did relates the story of a B-36A ferrying a Mk 17 nuclear bomb from Biggs, AFB in Texas, to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. On May 22 1957, this particular Pacemaker (no tail number posted on the incident memo) took off from Biggs for its mission envelop. At exactly 11:50 am Mountain Standard Time and while on approach to Kirtland at an altitude of 1,700 feet, the aircraft’s bomb bay door began to gave way releasing the weapon, along with the entire bay structure two minutes later 4.6 miles south of Kirtland’s control tower. The weapon’s parachute mechanism open, but due to the low operational ceiling, it did not completely retarded.

The HE material inside the Mk 17 detonated on impact. The explosion completely destroyed the weapon and left a gapping crater of 12 feet deep and 25 in overall diameter. Such was the violence of the detonation that the Armed Forces Special Weapons Program, the assessment unit assigned the investigation of the accident, found debris fields as far as a mile outside the contact zone. The final incident report blamed the crewman who removed the weapon’s firing pin (a procedure use to secure the ordinance before final bomb run) with snagging a piece of his cloth against the bomb’s parachute release wire for its partial deployment.

Operacion Soberania

By Raul Colon

Just days after the American and British forces broke through the German defenses at Normandy, foreshadowing the end of Nazi rule over the European Continent, much of that country’s top technical personnel began to filter out of the in hopes of escaping the ever closing circle. Most were captured by the Western Allies (United States and Great Britain); others were ‘recruited’ by the Soviet Red Army, which was rapidly pushing from the East. While another group managed to slip pass the allied hands. Most of them made their way towards South American.

The Republic of Argentina was one of the most prosperous one in Latin America. It had a big German population, a vast land rural region and Perodian government with a slight Nazi flavor. It also possessed one of the strongest militaries in the Western Hemisphere. With the arrival of several German engineers and technicians, the Argentines began formulating several advance new military projects. Chief among them were the AM-1 and PT-1 missiles. The AM-1, an air-to-air system codenamed Tabano, had the distinction of being South America’s first indigenous developed missile. As does the PT-1 air-to-ground platform.

Spearheaded by a trio of legendary German engineers, Werner von Baumbach and Ernst and Emil Henrici, Argentina began the development of its own version of the famous Henschel Hs-293, the first operational guided air-to-ground missile in the world. Designed by Baumbach and the Henrici Bothers, and built by the Specialize Weapon Section (Seccion de Armas Especiales) of the Military Construction General Direction, a subdivision of the Gaucho Army; the Argentinean version of the 293, the PT-1, was basically a complete copy of the original.

The PT-1 or Guide Missile (Projectil Teledirigido) One consisted on a 441 pound bomb warhead fitted inside a V1-type structure of 11 feet, 7 inch with a wing span of 9’10”. Total weight was 2,205 pounds. With an initial speed of 195 knots and capable of reaching speeds of 513 kts, the ‘Projectil’ had an effective 18.64 miles range. The optimum launch altitude was estimated at 22,000 feet. Operation of the system was also similar to its 293 cousin’s profile.

Operation Sovereign or Operacion Soberania, the design and development of Argentina’s first air-to-surface missile system commenced in the summer of 1952, with an specially modified Douglas C-47 Dakota. The strong built transport was fitted with a ventral boom was placed through a series of high stress, aerodynamic tests. At the same time, the newly produced PT missile was extensively examined at the Fabrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) advance wind tunnel. Also at FMA, a surplus Gloster Meteor I-087 was altered to carry a ventral pod with the tail of the missile. But the most promising launching platform was the venerable Avro Lancaster B-036 heavy bomber.

The Lancaster provided the PT with a more stable deploying system. As configured by the German engineers, the B-036 consisted of a launching rack installed below the huge bomb bay doors. On April 22nd 1953, the Lancaster replaced the Dakota as the PT’s main deploying platform. Captain Federico Muhlenber was assigned to the initial test phase. Eventually, he will be replaced later by Captain Di Pardo in that task. It was Di Pardo who will have the honor of deploying the last PT missile nearly five years later.

The 036 was assigned to the 1st Air Brigade (I Brigada Aerea). The testing phase began at earnest in October 1953. Flying out of Monzon, the home base of the VII Air Brigade, Muhlenber took the Lancaster through his phases. First it was taxing and runway operations, which ran smoothly. Then, on the 6th, the aircraft took to the air for its initial flight with the PT attached to its belly. The bomber performed flawlessly that autumn morning turning and banking without much effort.

Several more flights were made until the afternoon of the 20th when, flying above the Rio Plata, one of the left engines failed forcing the aircraft to plunge near Quilmes, a suburb of Buenos Aires. Von Baumbach, Ernst Henrici and a mechanic die in the accident. The aircraft and the missile were also lost. After the tragedy, the Argentines when back at work on another altered Lancaster, tail sign B-037. As the same time work was done on preparing the new plane, the design team slightly altered the configuration of the original Projectil.

The improve platform was called PAT-1. The only variant from the original was a larger fuel tank which gave the missile a top operational range of up to 30km. The first recorded launch of the PAT system occurred in late November 1954 at the General Soler firing range. Flying at 15,000’, the 037 entered a dive, a few seconds later Latin America’s first air-to-surface missile was released.

Work on the system continued until September 17th 1955, when the government decided to introduce it as part of their efforts to stem the tide of the rebel forces in the country’s Revolucion Libertadora. The first target of the PAT-1 was to be the Pajas Blanco Airport at Cordoba. But before the Lancaster B-037 was able to take off, an incoming rebel Lincoln aircraft bombed the Monzon base destroying the sole aircraft capable of firing the PAT platform.

By 1956 the air force had modified another Lancaster, B-043 and testing resumed at El Palomar Air Force Base at the outskirts of the River Plate. The first launch took place in the morning of October 5th. A second test was performed on the 18th. Several other deployments took place between the 19th and 21st. On the 22nd, while on taking off, the 043 suffered a small fire forcing the pilot to abort the test mission.

The end of the Revolution in 1958 also signaled the end of the PAT-1 program. With the formation of a new and democratic government under the auspices of dovish President Frondizi, many military projects were closed down, including the much promising Operacion Soberania. Now, fifty years since its maiden flight, only one sample of the first Latin America guided missile exits. Its sits at the Military School Museum in Buenos Aires.@

Lancaster B-037