By Molly • 

Mac summit focuses on aviation

Molly Walker/News-RegisterBen “Flaps” Berry, an aeronautical engineer and one of the Tuskegee Airmen, receives a standing ovation from participants at the Oregon Aviation Industries Summit held Thursday at Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.
Molly Walker/News-RegisterBen Berry, son of Ben “Flaps” Berry, and CEO for AirShip Technologies Group in Lake Oswego,  talks about the AirShip V2 unmanned aerial vehicle that his company has developed.

Eric Folkestad, president of the Cascade Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and Kathryn Vernon, regional administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration, served as keynote speakers.

Folkestad explained the effectiveness of UAVs in the military.

He said that troops are not sent over hills to check ahead anymore. That is now accomplished by UAVs which have have days worth of endurance.

Folkestad said UAVs also have huge potential domestically, but some issues have to be addressed yet.

One issue, he said, is integration of such systems into national air space that is already very complicated and congested. Another, he said, is deciding what uses they are best suited for and how personal privacy can be protected.

Vernon termed U.S. airspace "a national treasure." Aviation, she said, accounts for 5.2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and 10.2 million jobs.

"Transportation is the economic engine that drives our country," she said. "If you don't keep up to speed, you're not going to have a strong economy."

She said air traffic is expected to soar over the next 20 years, and she said sequestration is hampering the FAA's ability to respond. According to Vernon, the FAA was cut $600 million in 2013 and is projecting a $900 million cut in 2014, assuming the nation's political gridlock continues.

Vernon said aviation is become increasingly performance-oriented. She said direct routes cut flight times and fuel costs, so airlines are trying to maximize them.

Around the country the FAA is working on optimized profile descents, where airplanes land as if they were coming down a banister, rather than the traditional stairstep approach, she said.

Vernon said other next-generation procedures are already being implemented, including use of GPS technology to make flying safer and more efficient. "The fact remains that we must modernize," she said.

In other talks:

n Ben "Flaps" Berry, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American aviator corps in the U.S. Army, kept the crowd riveted with tales of his World War II experiences.

The unit was led by Col. Benjamin Davis. He started with 1,000 hopefuls and picked the top 25.

"We knew we were the best in the world," Berry said.

During a single bombing raid over Germany, 600 members of B-17 bombing crews lost their lives. The Army assigned Davis' fighter group to escort duty with the goal of cutting losses by at least 70 percent.

They received new P-51 Mustangs for the mission, Berry said, and Davis refused to have them covered in camouflage paint, as was the normal practice at the time. He wanted them left silver.

In fact, he went even further. He had the tails of the P-51s painted bright red, saying they had no need to hide.

Berry said the Tuskegee red-tails never lost a single American bomber. When they drew escort duty, all the bombers came back.

Berry went on to fly B-25s, then left the service to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering. Later in his career, he worked on the Apollo spacecraft, the Space Shuttle and the X-15.

Berry has written a book about his experiences titled, "Tuskegee Airmen: To the Moon, Mars, and Beyond!"

n Berry's son, Ben, CEO at AirShip Technologies in Lake Oswego, talked about a pair of UAVs his company has developed — the AirShip V2 and the AirShip V5.

"When we designed the aircraft," the younger Berry said of the V2, "it was meant to be something to push the envelope." He said it is capable of continuous operations in the field for 30 to 90 days, thanks to the solar film built into its skin.

The V5 is being developed for underwater as well as aerial use, Berry said. And he noted his father is serving as chief aerospace engineer on the project.

n Vincent Granato, chief operating officer for the Port of Portland, said aviation has been identified as one of the most important clusters for Oregon business. "Airport development has a big connection to the economy of the state," he said.

He said port itself supports 27,000 direct and indirect jobs, 17,500 of them in aviation, via its operation of Portland International Airport. He said it is responsible for generating nearly $1 billion in personal revenue and $3.7 billion in business revenue annually.

"Obviously, the airlines are feeling really good in Oregon," Granato said. "The economy is improving and they're willing to invest."

He said Portland International has been experiencing substantial growth in traffic, 5.5 percent last year and 3.5 percent so far this year. That compares to a 1 to 2 percent nationally, he said.

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