Experimental Aircraft Damaged in Elmira

by Andrew Stamp 

It is 7:20PM on a Saturday evening. You are on shift alone, because typically Saturdays aren’t extremely busy. From the commercial apron, you witness an aircraft based at your airport have a nose gear failure upon landing.

Without hesitation, you run for a crash truck and respond. The tower immediately clears you onto the runway to investigate. Upon arrival, you find no fire, no injuries, and no other apparent hazards beyond a possible unstable aircraft. Easy peasy, or so you thought.

The Elmira Corning Regional Airport is an Index B airport, with ARFF available 24/7. Operations and / or Maintenance staff man ARFF and security, which can vary from one person, to nine people on duty. Two crash trucks are always at the ready, an Oshkosh Global Striker 1500 which is our primary truck, an Oshkosh TI-3000 and a Ford F550 Danko Rapid Intervention Vehicle. Our ATCT normally operates between the hours of 0600-0000, but due to Covid-19 issues, the hours of operation have changed two times within a couple of months and currently the ATCT hours of operation are 0700-2000.

At 1910 hours, I was excited to see a “Velocity RG” experimental aircraft take off. For a few years, I’ve seen the pilot working on this aircraft. I wondered if it would ever fly, since it looked like an odd aircraft. A few weeks earlier, I watched him doing high-speed taxi tests on Runway 24. I kept hoping to see him take off. Finally, on that Saturday in mid-August, he took flight. I was standing on our commercial apron, attempting to video his flight and landing; however, it was outside the zoom range of my cell phone. I’m glad I was there to witness his flight, and after the landing mishap I was especially glad to find the occupant uninjured.

While on a single – Ops Officer on duty shift, I had that “Velocity RG” aircraft experience a nose gear collapse following a bounced hard landing. After ensuring the closure of the runway with ATCT, my focus was directed to incident priorities such as aircraft occupant condition, aircraft condition, and hazards such as fuel spills, etc. After addressing those issues, it was time to begin aircraft recovery. At some point after conducting my duties, I was walking back to the truck when I noticed a greenish vehicle driving on our parallel taxiway towards the runway. I could see the pilot’s realization that his friend who he left in his hangar, was now entering our airfield, unescorted. Luckily, I overheard the tower make contact with the vehicle driver preventing a runway incursion from taking place.

I have now immersed into what had become a multi-federal government agency incident, without extra help on the way. I very quickly dealt with the unescorted vehicle. I needed to get our primary runway reopened as soon as possible. In just over a half an hour, I would lose the tower’s assistance, and sunset was fast approaching. After contacting the FAA Regional Operations Center for permission to remove the aircraft, I quickly called the Chemung County Director of Aviation for assistance in notifying the TSA regarding the unescorted vehicle. 

After being cleared to remove the aircraft at 1957 hours, the pilot and FBO got to work. Our tower closed at 2000 hours, as scheduled, with an announcement on the tower frequency that Runway 6/24 was closed, the protocol would be that the tower was closing for the evening and that the frequency was reverting to a CTAF frequency after tower closure. I assisted with the aircraft removal by lighting the scene and path of travel with floodlights. At 2025 hours, after a long slow drive down the runway checking for FOD, we were clear of the runway. At 2113 hours I was back in service and it was time to handle paperwork.

A day later, while discussing the events with the tower personnel, I was told to make any pertinent requests to “the ROC”, the FAA Regional Operations Center. If I had requested, possibly that the ROC could have kept the ATCT open for the duration of the ongoing emergency. I definitely could have benefited from the tower being open later. Those extra twenty-five minutes on the runway alone after the ATCT closed were a bit unnerving.

This incident was a good reminder that if things can go wrong, they will. Keep your eyes open and don’t get tunnel vision. Use your training to resolve your incident priorities. Be prepared for things to change or situations to arise during your incident.


Editor’s Note:

We appreciate that Andy took the time to write this article, sharing with all of us what he faced by himself as the lone ARFF, Security, Operations person on duty during an incident at his airport. There is a lot to handle for one airport representative, even for a relatively minor incident. We would also like to take a moment to touch on one other topic brought to light at this incident and that is ATCT radio communications after the closure of an ATCT. It is important for ARFF and other airport personnel to understand the concept of monitoring the airport CTAF or Unicom frequency for all aircraft operations after the ATCT closes and the airfield reverts from Class D ATCT controlled airspace, to Class E airspace with no air traffic control, just pilots announcing their intentions on the CTAF….. This is a big deal for airports that are normally 24-hour ATCT controlled! You may end up having to monitor the frequency to know if aircraft are inbound that may have a conflict with your operations on the field.

About the Author: Andrew Stamp, AMF, is an Airport Security Operations Officer whose duties include ARFF, Terminal and Airfield Security, and Airfield Operations. His experience includes being a volunteer firefighter, a year in Iraq as a firefighter and apparatus driver/operator, and eleven and a half years at the airport, with 16 years in the fire service. His training includes National Certified Firefighter II & ARFF, NYS EMT, and National Certified Fire Officer II.