Scores of airplanes destroyed by Hurricane Charley, Orlando
Executive hit particularly hard
By ANN Senior Contributing Editor Kevin O'Brien
Florida, the nursery of American aviation with its many
airfields and (usually) pleasant flying weather, continues to dig
out and tally the costs of Hurricane Charley. While the mainstream
news focuses on lost lives and lost property, we'll try to give you
the aviation angle.
Looking at the pictures of mangled airplanes, one gets the same
sick, sinking feeling that accident pictures produce. At least
here, no one was in the careening, crashing planes; they were just
blown around by the wind. And what a wind!
Winds of up to 145 MPH broke tiedowns; in some cases the
tiedowns held but the structure of the aircraft failed. In others,
absent or weak control locks let structures flutter with fatal
effect. At some airports, a single poorly tied-down plane broke
loose and slammed into other planes, which were ruined despite
their operators having taken better precautions.
The hurricane hit on the west coast, in Punta Gorda, and not far
from Aero-News's Pete Comb's home and family -- they're OK. It then
proceeded across the state, through Orlando, and devastated Daytona
Beach on its way out to sea -- before recovering some strength and
coming back ashore in the Carolinas. In the process it also blew
right through ANN's offices in Winter Haven, dropping large trees
on the roof, blowing debris all over town and generally doing what
category 4 hurricanes do when they visit.
"It's a ruin"
"Orlando Executive is destroyed," a depressed Florida pilot told
ANN. "Hangars, planes, the works. They might as well close the
place. It's a ruin." With seventy percent of the trees in Orlando
down, the character of the town is changed by the storm. Some of
those fallen trees became missiles in the roaring winds. Over years
of benign weather, many species like oaks that are not native to
tropical Florida took root -- now people are discovering why they
are not native to Florida.
The aircraft losses could have been far worse. Many pilots flew
out, either to the mountains or to the southeast corner of the
state, which was spared Charley's wrath.
ANN's home airport of Gilbert Field in Winter Haven, FL, was
nearly deserted when Charley hammered through. Only a few aircraft
remained on tie-down but at least one large hangar door was blown
in on a mid-field hangar, visibly crushing one SportPlane and
damaging several others.
We Didn't Fly Out Because...
Flying-out was the
subject of heated arguments at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
in Daytona Beach, where some managers argued passionately for
trying to save the aircraft. Flight-line bosses, concerned about
the cost of fuel, hotels for the pilots, and simply not having
enough IPs on hand to move the machinery, decided instead to rely
on Riddle's four-point tiedown system on the single-engine
aircraft. The twin-engine Seminole trainers were stored inside a
maintenance hangar. As the weather closed off escape to the north
and west, and the fearsome power of the storm became clear, some
still called for a quick dash to Ft. Lauderdale to save the
They didn't make the dash -- and they didn't save the
"Winds here were something like 106 knots before they carried
off the anemometer," a Riddle insider told ANN. The cruise-speed
winds destroyed, at latest count, twelve of the school's Cessnas
and two Diamond DA-40s belonging to the ab-initio CAPT program.
"One of the Diamonds is still tied down but the vertical stabilizer
is gone. Another one got loose and it's in pieces."
The Seminoles appear to be OK, but the hangar in which they are
now trapped is damaged, its doors destroyed, and may be
structurally unsound. The doors will have to be dismantled --
carefully! -- to bring the airplanes out.
In 20/20 hindsight, the cost-saving decision to sit it out
appears to have been mistaken. Right now the University is
scrambling to get power restored to the campus, reduce the impact
on the coming fall semester, and get a handle on just how many
millions are lost. While anybody can add up the dollar value of the
machines, the major component of Riddle's loss may be the lost
revenue those ruined aircraft won't be generating.
But Flight Goes On...
The first documentation of the tragic scope of the disaster came
for most Americans when photos -- taken from general aviation
aircraft, naturally -- appeared on television and in print media.
This illustrates the resilience of Florida's aviation industry:
flight goes on. There will be some losses, and certainly individual
owners and operators have taken a terrible beating, but Florida
will remain the nursery of American aviation.
After all, there's (usually) pleasant flying weather