AirBoss Ralph Royce Chats About Airshow Safety
There are few more complex "organisms" than an airshow in full operation. The amount of detail, coordination and expertise needed to pull off the modern American airshow is beyond the abilities of any one human being... though it does rely on one to try to coordinate the aerial operations... the much respected and much feared AIR BOSS.
At an inaugural East Coast airshow in 2008, ANN and Aero-TV had the chance to see one of the best at work. Ralph Royce -- Aviation Legend, Pilot, Warbird Jock and Airshow Expert, was at work this time keeping everything safe, entertaining and ON TIME. Following the completion of the show, ANN's Editor-In-Chief Jim Campbell sat down with Royce to talk airshows, safety and how to help all involved to (according to one of Ralph's favorite sayings) "don't do nuthin' dumb."
Royce has an amazing history in the aviation world. Royce served for 15 years as President and Chief Executive Officer of the The Lone Star Flight Museum and Texas Aviation Hall of Fame, having taken on that post in 1991. His emphasis on team-building and his plans for the future were evident in the statement he gave ANN upon his departure, "I cannot thank the volunteers and staff enough, for they have helped make this organization into the world recognized collection of aircraft and aviation memorabilia that it is..." said Royce. "I have had a wonderful ride but I have been planning this for some time. There are a couple of things I want to try in the aviation and air show worlds, and now is a good time to try them."
A commercially rated pilot with extensive warbird and airshow credentials, and a descendent of two generations of aviators, Royce has been involved in some aspect of aviation his entire life. His grandfather was a career Army Air Corps officer earning Military Aviator License # 44. In 1917, he led the 1st Aero Squadron in France and became commander of all U.S. Forces in the Middle East during WWII. Ralph’s father was also a career Air Force officer learning to fly in 1935 and he taught Ralph to fly gliders and small aircraft when he was a teenager. Two generations later, Ralph flew as a command pilot on a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and many of the high performance fighters and aircraft of WWII.
After selling his business, Ralph was named the Executive Director of the Confederate Air Force in Harlingen, Texas in early 1983. During his tenure he oversaw a doubling in size of the CAF, the restructuring of the CAF’s maintenance programs and a total reorganization of the financial structure of the CAF. Opting not to make the move to Midland, Ralph joined the Lone Star Flight Museum where he was President until 2006.
In 1995 Royce recognized the need for an “aviation” Hall of Fame in Texas. He successfully petitioned to have the Lone Star Flight Museum named as the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame and helped raise the necessary funds to build a facility that is today recognized as one of the finest Aviation Halls of Fame in the US.
Royce is known through out the aviation and air show industries as the premier Air Boss for his unique ability to design and control complex or difficult air shows -- safely. He is the principal instructor for “Air Show 101” which teaches air show flying and ground operations basics to new air show committees or staff members. He coordinates instructors for the Air Show Advanced Course, the Air Boss seminar, serves on several committees for aviation safety, and spends time teaching seminars to the FAA and Military on the finer points of managing and operating air shows in the waivered airspace environment.
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A phonecall in the dead of night was the first inkling the people living on the Thorvaldseyri farm had that Iceland's glacier-covered Eyjafjallajokull volcano was about to erupt.
Hanna Lara Andrews, a half-English, half-Icelandic farmer who lives at the foot of the mountain which exploded on Wednesday morning with ferocious power, picked up the phone at 2am to be told by a civil protection official that she had only 20 minutes to evacuate her family, including her one-year-old son.
The warning was clear: if they stayed on their dairy farm they risked being washed away by torrents of meltwater unleashed by the release of energy that had just begun inside the volcano, no more than four miles above them.
It would be the volcano's first major eruption since 1821, since when it has lain dormant and anonymous to most of the world. Yesterday it made headlines when it transformed swaths of western Europe and Scandinavia into an unprecedented no-fly zone.
"I had a bag ready because of the recent earthquakes in the area and grabbed a few things we might need for a couple of days and we went as quickly as possible," Andrews said from a safe house yesterday. "It is a huge shock to us all and it doesn't seem real at all."
Her family, including her in-laws, drove a few miles away to a farmhouse designated for evacuation in the event of such an eruption. There they waited in trepidation for the possible destruction to begin. Their herd of 60 dairy cows and all their possessions were still at the farm – the closest property to a volcano that they had thought was dormant. They were among 700 people evacuated from the area by the Icelandic civil defence authority. Many had to stay in emergency Red Cross shelters.
The floods arrived early the next morning. Andrews saw them coming down the mountain. Water melted by the red hot explosive eruptions bursting through the 200m-thick glacier poured off in torrents, washing away roads and sweeping into homes, she said.
"By morning we could see through breaks in the cloud a huge evaporation cloud, like a mushroom. It must have been 20,000ft [6,100 metres] high. It looked enormous, far bigger than we have ever seen before."
It was such an astonishing sight, her father-in-law, Olafur Eggertson, took a picture of the eruption dwarfing the family's red-roofed farm.
Such was its force that three large holes visible on the glacier turned into a continuous rift running for about a mile and a half through the ice, said Rognvaldur Olafsson, who led the rescue effort for the civil defence authority.
Mercifully, the wind, blowing east, carried the plume of ash away from Reyjkavik, the capital, but across farmland, where it turned day into night as it fell and blotted out the sun. This led to speculation, later played down by experts, that the eruption may have the potential to slow global warming.
One local farmer told Icelandic television that he woke yesterday morning to find a layer of ash covering everything. Residents of Kirkjubaerklaustur, about 60 miles east of the eruption, said yesterday that ash was falling thick and dark, making it difficult to see more than a few yards.
"The ash is causing huge disruption to the east of the glacier," Urður Gunnarsdóttir, a press spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said at lunchtime yesterday. "You can't see anywhere and you can't drive because it is just black, like night."
Erlundur Bjornsson, a sheep farmer 95km (59 miles) east of the volcano, told the Guardian that ash had fallen heavily and it had been "almost totally dark".
"The plume came over my farm a couple of hours ago, but the wind direction has changed slightly and it is very fine here, a grey dust that gets in your eyes," he said. "It covers everything and there is a smell of sulphur in the air."
In the early hours of yesterday, 24 hours after the eruption began and with the volcanic activity still intensifying, according to Icelandic volcanologists, the plume had risen seven miles into the sky and had blown across the Norwegian Sea to Scandinavia, and south east across the Shetland Isles, as far as the north coast of Scotland. The Met Office in Exeter produced diagrams showing the plume doubling again and again in size as it stretched to cover an area close to the size of Western Europe.
Shetland residents said the sulphuric smell of rotten eggs was strong by early yesterday morning.
"I noticed a smell in the house and wondered what it was," said Joanne Jamieson, from Sandwick on the southern tip of Mainland, the biggest island in Shetland. "It was coming from the outside, so I opened the door. It was very strong, and I initially thought it was rotting seaweed. I looked down to the beach and actually looked up to see if the sky was falling in."
Jane Matthews, her neighbour, said: "It smelt strongly like rotten eggs, but I didn't put two and two together realising it was coming from Iceland," Initially, I thought maybe it's something to do with my young daughter, or the animals in the field."
Air traffic controllers in Aberdeen had seen the plume coming. By noon on Wednesday they had predicted that local airspace could be closed for a few hours, but by evening it was clear the situation was more serious than that.
Aberdeen airport's duty manager was alerted by Nats, the air navigation service, that its local north-east airspace would be closed. At 1am on Thursday, the closure order was confirmed, affecting more than 100 commercial flights during the day. By 3am, the whole of Scotland became a no- fly zone. Before dawn the Scottish government's civil emergency resilience unit was activated.
By 9.30am air traffic control charts showed that planes were only taking off and landing across southern England. Anywhere north of that, the skies were empty. At 11am Gatwick's busy tarmac apron was at a standstill as airport managers prepared for a national shutdown of British airspace, which began at noon.
Russell Craig, head of communications at Manchester airport, where 45,000 passengers were affected and hundreds of flights were cancelled, said: "It is difficult for passengers to understand because the planes are there and the sky is blue, but it would be dangerous to fly a plane in these conditions."
Small aircraft were able to take off, said Craig, and the airport remained open in case a long-haul plane needed to execute an emergency landing.
By 2.30pm the vast cloud had reached across England, and fears that its fine particles could cause passenger jets to crash caused an unprecedented shutdown of all of Britain's airports. No flights were to be allowed in or out until 7am this morning at the earliest.