AIR SHOW

After retiring, pilot focused on collecting, flying vintage planes

2012-09-02T09:45:00Z 2012-09-05T10:44:15Z After retiring, pilot focused on collecting, flying vintage planesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
September 02, 2012 9:45 am  • 

Updated 7:29 pm. Sunday: Glenn Smith left a lucrative job at a Dallas-area technology firm for an early retirement of restoring Soviet fighter jets and flying to exhibitions across the country. 

He died Saturday when his nearly 30-year-old training plane nosedived during an air show in eastern Iowa and crashed into a field, authorities said. Spectators watched the 59-year-old Smith’s plane erupt into flames, followed by a cloud of gray smoke. Nobody on the ground was hurt.

Smith had been flying in formation with other members of the HopperFlight team at the Quad-City Air Show in Davenport.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. Senior air safety investigator Aaron Sauer said Sunday that a preliminary report on the crash is expected within a week, but a final report will likely take several months.

He said inspectors would examine the few remaining pieces of the plane, as well as Smith’s autopsy and toxicology reports.

Smith did not make a mayday call or suggest any sign of distress before the crash, according to Sauer and Randy Ball, a good friend of Smith’s.

Ball said Smith was a meticulous flier who would map every step of a flight plan beforehand.

“They practiced the day before and everything went fine,” Ball said.

Smith was a longtime technology entrepreneur whose company was acquired by Tyler Technologies, a Dallas-based company that develops software for local schools and government clients, in 1998. He remained an executive at Tyler until 2006, the company said in a statement.

After retirement, Smith focused on collecting and flying vintage planes. He kept two rare Soviet MiG-17 fighter jets at the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum in Tyler, about 90 miles east of Dallas, museum president Carolyn Verver said.

Ball, who also owns a MiG-17, said he spent countless hours working on planes with Smith. Smith loved to preserve planes so others could see and appreciate them, Ball said.

“Those guys are literally using their own money to save a part of history and share that history with everybody else,” he said.

Smith was also the newest member of the “Hoppers,” according to the team’s website. The Hoppers are a group of pilots who privately maintain and fly L-39 fighter jets at air shows and other exhibitions. The L-39 Smith flew Saturday was made by a company in the former Czechoslovakia in 1984, according to a Federal Aviation Administration registry.

“He kept it absolutely immaculate,” Ball said.

Part of the Hoppers’ mission is to introduce American audiences to planes produced and used by the country’s former enemies, according to the website.

“It is important for people to remember and for young kids to learn, so that history does not repeat itself,” the website said.

According to the HopperFlight site, Smith had been a pilot for a quarter-century and has a commercial pilot’s license with an additional instrument rating certification. Details about Smith’s flight history from the FAA were not immediately available Sunday.

A squadron of planes flew over the crash site Sunday in the “missing man” formation before the air show continued. 


Authorities release name of pilot killed in Q-C Air Show crash

Update: 11:48 a.m.: Authorities have released the name of the pilot. He is Glenn A. Smith, 58, of Frisco, Texas. He also is listed as the director of the foundation, Warbird Education Foundation, that owned the plane.

Smith, whose nickname is “Skids” was a technology entrepreneur who founded a company in 1981 that provides information technology services to local governments, according to the Hoppers team website.

He started flying about 24 years ago and earned his commercial pilot’s license.

The website said Smith is the newest member of the team and flies a PT-17 Stearman, T-37 Tweet, MiG-17, L-39 and Super Cub, according to the site.

Glenn also was a certified scuba diver, licensed sailor and enjoyed sking and golf, the Hopper site said.

- Thomas Geyer

________________________________________________________

Shortly after 8 a.m., a squadron of planes flew over the crash site in missing man formation.

Investigators are mapping the scene and will take aerial photos of the crash site this morning. The plan is to be done and out of the field today.

Doug Schorpp


Pilot dies in plane crash during Quad-City Air Show

Updated 9:12 p.m.: A pilot flying in formation with two other retired military jets failed to come out of a 45-degree bank during a Quad-City Air Show performance, crashing Saturday afternoon into a field just north of Interstate 80.

The pilot, part of the Hoppers Flight Jet Team, died in the crash about 1:25 p.m.

The impact sent a huge fireball into the sky just southwest of the Davenport Municipal Airport, where thousands of spectators were watching the annual air show.

Davenport Assistant Police Chief Don Schaeffer told reporters the plane went directly into the ground.

“He never had an opportunity to come out of it,” Schaeffer added.

No one on the ground was injured.

Schaeffer said the Davenport Police Department was the lead agency investigating the crash Saturday afternoon. Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, officials, who were stationed at the air show, were also at the crash scene in the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center off Northwest Boulevard.

An FAA spokesman, Lynn Lunsford, said that because it was a fatal crash, the National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation. He did not know when officials from that agency would be on-site.

As the air show continued and planes roared overhead, investigators began setting up a grid system to organize the search for pieces of the wreckage.

The air show is scheduled to continue today.

Schaeffer said the plane crashed in an alfalfa field, but the wreckage was widely scattered. He estimated that parts of the plane were strewn over an area that measured about 75 by 220 yards. The crash occurred a few hundred yards from buildings in the industrial park, but they were not damaged.

The pilot was the only person in the plane and his body was removed from the wreckage. The person’s name will not be released until today because not all relatives had been notified as of Saturday night, but Schaeffer said “this portion” of the air show was not from the Quad-City area. Schaeffer also said he did not know the names of the two other pilots, both of whom landed safely.

Schaeffer had no information about what may have caused the crash.

The plane that crashed was a 1984 single-engine fixed-wing Aero Vodochody L-39C. That model was originally a military training jet, used mainly in Europe, Lunsford said. Over the years, a number of them have been purchased by private owners and used for weekend flying and for air shows, he said.

FAA records show that the plane, which had the tail number N139GS, is owned by the Warbird Education Foundation, based in Frisco, Texas. The plane was built in 1984 and has a turbo-jet engine. The foundation’s 2010 tax return said that Glenn Smith of Frisco is the organization’s president. David Mills of Moline is listed as a director. The return listed a 1984 Aero Vodochody L-39C with a fair market value of $550,000.

Mills also is a member of the Hoppers Flight Jet Team and was at the air show Saturday.

An L-39C crashed in May near Boulder City, Nev., killing two people, according to a report in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper. And a website for enthusiasts of the plane listed 20 crashes of the aircraft since 1998. The website said more than 2,800 of the aircraft were built and 300-plus were flying in private ownership. The plane was developed in Czechoslovakia and was used by the Soviet Union and eastern bloc countries, according to the site.

At the time of the police briefing Saturday afternoon, Schaeffer said there were a number of canisters scattered about the field with the valves broken off, raising the possibility of toxic fumes in the area. He said, however, that the fire department was on hand and authorities were ensuring the safety of the scene before officers began processing it.

Schaeffer said authorities would guard the crash scene at the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center throughout the night. Investigators are expected to return there this morning.

Six of the police department’s crime scene technicians were on the crash scene Saturday, as were many Scott County Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters. The large contingent of investigators walked the field, looking for debris. The plane’s ejection seat mechanism was found intact. The Quad-City Bomb Squad was called to the scene to detonate the explosives package that powers the ejection seat since it was believed to be a potential danger to anyone in the area.

Schaeffer said investigators who return to the field today will “identify the location of each piece of debris we find.”

“We’re going to photograph it and then remove it to a hangar at the airport,” he said. The crash site will be mapped using the police department’s crime scene mapping equipment.

“There are literally hundreds of pieces of debris scattered across the field,” he said. “We want to collect and catalog each piece so that if the FAA or some other investigating body wants to rebuild the plane, they can do it.”

- Ed Tibbetts


Updated 3:44 p.m.: Davenport police and federal investigators were preparing to comb a field north of Interstate-80, where a retired military plane failed to come out of a 45-degree bank at the Quad-City Air Show and crashed about 1:25 p.m. today, killing the pilot, authorities said.

Assistant Davenport Police Chief Don Schaeffer briefed reporters about 3 p.m. Schaeffer said the plane went directly into the ground.

“He never had an opportunity to come out of it,” Schaeffer said.

Nobody on the ground was hurt by the crash.

The pilot was not identified.

This afternoon, authorities were preparing to search what Schaeffer believed to be an alfalfa field for wreckage, but it was widely scattered. He estimated parts of the plane were strewn over an area that measured 75 yards to 220 yards.

Schaeffer had no information about what may have caused the crash. Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration were at the scene, but they did not take part in the briefing.

At the time of the briefing, Schaeffer said there were cannisters, presumably from the plane, that were scattered about the field with the valves broken off. He said the fire department was on hand, and that authorities were ensuring the safety of the scene before officers began processing it.

“So far, we’re in great shape,” he said.

Schaeffer said that authorities would be combing the field at the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center for much of the afternoon and would guard the site throughout the night. The crash investigation is expected to resume Sunday morning.

- Ed Tibbetts


Updated: 3:23 p.m.: The pilot was killed, Davenport Assistant Police Chief Don Schaeffer said. The pilot’s name was not released, pending notification of his family.

Schaeffer indicated the flying team was not from the area and presumed the next of kin was not as well.

- Times staff


Updated 2:47 p.m.: A Soviet-era training jet flying in formation crashed and burst into flames at the Quad-City Air Show about 1:25 p.m. today.

The pilot is feared dead, and the rubble from the crash fell into a field at the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center in northern Davenport adjacent to Interstate 80.

Officials at the scene told spectators to not go to their cars because the area near the air show at the Davenport Municipal Airport in Mt. Joy was being cordoned off to let emergency vehicles in and out.

The other two L-39 fighter jets returned safely, and flights continued soon after the crash, according to witnesses at the scene.

Two other L-39 planes have crashed this year, according to a website devoted to the planes made in Czechoslovakia beginning in 1966. The site, L39.com, listed fatal crashes on May 18 in Boulder City, Nev., where two people were killed, and Jan. 20 in Rainbow City, Ala.

Earlier today, an official at the air show said flights would continue in the rain, but would be suspended if conditions became unsafe. The National Weather Service reported rain in the area, but no storm activity “within 50 miles miles of here all day,” according to meteorologist Brian Pierce at the National Weather Service in the Quad-Cities.

The airshow official earlier today said the Federal Aviation Administration was onsite and was overseeing the situation and making those decisions.

The L-39 website said that more than 2,800 were made and that an “unknown number” are still in military service, and 300 are “flying in private ownership.”

- Times staff


Updated 2:08 p.m.: A plane at the Quad-City Air Show crashed into the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center in northern Davenport about 1:23 p.m. today.

There is a preliminary report that one person was killed.

Officials at the scene told spectators to not go to their cars because the area near the air show at the Davenport Municipal Airport in Mt. Joy was being cordoned off to let emergency vehicles in and out.

Flights continued soon after the crash, according to witnesses at the scene.

Earlier today, an official at the air show said flights would continue in the rain, but would be suspended if conditions became unsafe. The National Weather Service reported rain in the area, but no storm activity “within 50 miles miles of here all day,” according to meteorologist Brian Pierce at the National Weather Service in the Quad-Cities.

The airshow official earlier today said the Federal Aviation Administration was onsite and was overseeing the situation and making those decisions.

- Times staff


Posted 1:35 p.m.: A plane at the Quad-City Air Show crashed into the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center about 1:23 p.m.

We have reporters and photographers on the scene and will report more when we know it.

- Times staff

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