Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Inerview With Eclipse Aerospace Co-Founder Mike Press Part 2: Coming Aboard Eclipse Aerospace

By Carmelo Turdo
Mike Press, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of the current Eclipse Aerospace, is staking his well-earned reputation on the success of the rejuvenated EA500/550 series "personal jets."  When the fledgling company began gearing up to produce one of the first very light jet models, Press was in line to be the first owner-operator of the EA500 jet, serial number 4, for use in a training role.  He purchased the rights to the early production positions of the jet, and became the largest volume broker of very light jets with his company, Single Pilot Jet Management.  He would eventually become an investor as the company arose from early financial collapse in 2010, and he is now part of the leadership team.  
Mike Press has almost 50 years of experience in aviation.  He was a highly decorated U.S. Air Force combat fighter pilot, flying 480 combat missions in Vietnam.  He served as the 65th Aggressor Squadron Commander at Nellis AFB, Nevada in the early 1980s and in senior leadership positions where he managed foreign military sales for Europe and Asia.  Following his retirement from the U.S. Air Force as a Colonel, Press served as a senior director of Northrop Grumman Corporation from 1995-2005 and ran the field office supplying Boeing military production in St. Louis.  He was involved with the sales and marketing of the early Eclipse EA500 product from 2005-2007 before the financial collapse of the company in 2008.  By then, 260 aircraft were sold, yet at 85% complete as promised for delivery.  The new company, Eclipse Aerospace, was born in late 2009 through the financial investment of Press and Mason Holland, and later as a partnership with Sikorsky Aircraft of United Technologies in early 2011.  Production of the new model, the EA550, will commence in 2013.

More detailed accounts of the Eclipse personal jet, and the rise, fall and rebirth of the corporation behind the plane can be found in the recent book, The Great Eclipse, now available for order on demand at and other booksellers. 

Next in this series: the EA500, Total Eclipse and EA550 products

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Interview With Eclipse Aerospace Co-Founder Mike Press, Part 1: Very Light Jet Sportster

By Carmelo Turdo
So what is the Eclipse?  Technically, it is a Very Light Jet - a small jet aircraft designed for single-pilot operation, seats less than eight people, and is lighter than 10,000 pounds gross takeoff weight.  The new term is Personal Jet, and that is where the Eclipse family of jets really fits.      


The Eclipse is a sportster of jets, giving a single pilot and a few friends or family members a quick ride to a vacation spot or business meeting up to a thousand miles away, cruising at 41,000 feet and 425 mph.  All along you are also sipping fuel at about 55 gallons per hour.  After seeing one of these beauties at St. Louis Downtown Airport on a regular basis, we had to find out more about it.
The Aero Experience recently spoke with Mr. Mike Press, one of the first owner/operators, once the largest volume broker of very light jets, investor in the current Eclipse Aerospace, and Ken Humbertson, the Regional Account Executive in St. Louis. We discussed a wide range of topics related to the Eclipse line of jets, the development of the aircraft and the corporate turbulence of recent years, and the bright future ahead. 

Mike Press (left) and Ken Humbertson of Eclipse Aerospace

In the next series of posts, we will profile the Eclipse jets, review the development of the aircraft and corporate evolution to the present day, and relate personal insights into Eclipse Aerospace.

March 1 Marks Centennial of the First Parachute Jump From a Heavier Than Air Aircraft Over St. Louis

By Carmelo Turdo
A special 100th anniversary celebration of the first successful parachute jump from an airplane will take place Thursday, 1 March, at 1:00 PM on the Jefferson Barracks military installation.  Captain Alfred Berry parachuted onto the Parade Field at Jefferson Barracks on march 1, 1912.  The event starts with a ceremony in Building 24 at 1:00 PM, and will move to the west parade field to observe a commemorative parachute jump at about 1:30 PM (weather permitting).  The public is invited to attend.  Entry to the base will be by the older Sherman Road gate (just keep going straight as you pass St. Bernadette’s Church).    

Scheduled Distinguished Guests:
Gateway Chapter, 82nd Airborne Division Association
Missouri Aviation Historical Society
Mr. Craig Baumberger, aircraft & pilot provider
Missouri Civil War Museum
Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum
Mr. John Judd, office of State Sen. James Lembke
Mr. Charles Benoist, nephew of the designer of the Type 12 Benoist “pusher” used in the first parachute descent from an airplane.

1 p.m. - Commemoration ceremony; Joint Armed Forces Reserve Center
Col. David W. Newman, Jefferson Barracks Base Commander and Master of Ceremonies
Presentation of the colors –1175th Military Police Company, St. Clair
National Anthem
Mr. Arthur Schuermann, Jefferson Barracks Historic Preservation Office
Mr. Charlie Dooley, St. Louis County Executive
U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, Third Congressional District (invited)
Mr. Charles W. Benoist, nephew of Thomas Benoist
1:30 p.m. – Parachute descent; west parade grounds

The Parachutist
Lewis Sanborn is a pilot and master parachutist with more than 7,300 jumps to his credit. The 82-year-old Imperial, Missouri resident served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division from 1948 to 1952 making his first jump at Fort Benning, Ga. He was the co-founder of Parachutes Incorporated, president of the Helmet Sports Parachuting Center and the Orange Sport Parachuting Center. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Sanborn and his wife, Jacky, are the proud parents of two sons and have five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Firendship 7 50th Anniversary: McDonnell Aircraft Rises to the Challenge With America's First Manned Spacecraft

By Carmelo Turdo
February 20 marks the 50th anniversary of America's first manned orbital flight in the Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7, flown by astronaut John Glenn.  The flight lasted nearly five hours and orbited the earth three times.  McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis, MO, by then primarily a producer of fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force and Navy, was awarded the contract for the Mercury spacecraft.  NASA documents describe the selection process:

Awarding the Prime Contract

During the first week in January, 1959, another group of men, led by Carl Schreiber at NASA Headquarters, evaluated the procurement aspects of the competitive proposals. This Management, Cost, and Production Assessment Committee was required to rank only eight companies, because four had been disqualified on purely technical grounds. By January 6, four companies were reported to the Source Selection Board as having outstanding management capabilities for the prime contract. But in the final analysis Abe Silverstein and the six members of his board had to decide between only two firms with substantially equal technical and managerial excellence: Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation and McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. The NASA Administrator himself eventually explained the principal reason for the final choice:

The reason for choosing McDonnell over Grumman was the fact that Grumman was heavily loaded with Navy projects in the conceptual stage. It did not appear wise to select Grumman in view of its relatively tight manpower situation at the time, particularly since that situation might be reflected in a slow start on the capsule project regardless of priority. Moreover, serious disruption in scheduling Navy work might occur if the higher priority capsule project were awarded to Grumman.

NASA informed McDonnell on January 12 that it had been chosen the prime contractor for the Mercury spacecraft. Contract negotiations began immediately; after three more weeks of working out the legal and technical details, the stickiest of which was the fee, the corporation's founder and president, James S. McDonnell, Jr., signed on February 5, 1959, three originals of a contract.  This document provided for an estimated cost of $18,300,000 and a fee of $1,150,000. At the time, it was a small part of McDonnell's business and a modest outlay of government funds, but it officially set in motion what eventually became one of the largest technical mobilizations in American peacetime history. Some 4,000 suppliers, including 596 direct subcontractors from 25 states and over 1500 second-tier subcontractors, soon came in to assist in the supply of parts for the capsule alone.  (Source:

The development of the Mercury spacecraft and its components, training apparatus, space suits, and other support equipment evolved over the next several years.  The astronauts who would fly the Mercury spacecraft were also involved in the design and modification of the systems and cockpit layout of the Mercury and later Gemini spacecraft, also built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation.  In hindsight, many, including Lowell Grissom, brother of Astronaut Gus Grissom who lost his life in the Apollo 1 fire, have questioned the decision to award the Apollo moon mission command module contract to North American Aviation rather than McDonnell Aircraft Corporation.  Ironically, a team of Mcdonnell Aircraft Corporation engineers were assigned to assist North American Aviation in the redesign and production of the Apollo command module, which later transported American astronauts to the moon and returned them safely to the earth.

A Mercury Spacecraft mockup at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, 1959

Production line at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (Boeing photo)

John Glenn with Friendship 7 (NASA photo)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Missouri Aviation Historical Society Meeting Celebrates Civil Air Patrol Birthday

By Carmelo Turdo

The Missouri Aviation Historical Society bade the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) a belated 70th birthday at its February meeting this week.  Guest speaker, Civil Air Patrol 1Lt. Larry Corbin, gave a primer on the CAP, the United States Air Force Auxiliary, from its humble beginnings on the eve of World War II to the modern day.  1Lt. Corbin discussed the missions of the CAP - Emergency Services, Aerospace Education and Cadet Program - and gave historic and current examples of how the CAP performs these missions.  From coastal patrol and other missions in support of the U.S. Army Air Corps, to current emergency response and education of the next generation of aerospace leaders, the CAP has shown its ability to perform these missions efficiently and competently over the last seven decades.  Society member Carmelo Turdo told the group about his experiences as a CAP cadet during the 1980s, including the achievement of earning the Carl A. Spaatz Award and having the opportunities to solo in a sailplane and Cessna 152.  Several other Society members were also former CAP members.      

Additional CAP squadrons are planned for eastern Missouri and neighboring Illinois, including one that will be based at the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum's historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar 2 at St. Louis Downtown Airport.  More information about the Civil Air Patrol can be found at

Members of the MO Aviation Historical Society Meet This Week

CAP 1Lt. Larry Corbin Presents the CAP Story

Former CAP Cadet Carmelo Turdo Prepares for a Solo Flight

Friday, February 17, 2012

St. Louis Aviation Community Mourns the Passing of Rick Albrecht

By Carmelo Turdo
Regretfully, we announce the passing of Rick Albrecht (January 21, 1934 - February 5, 2012) after a long illness. We express our sympathies to his wife Gen and family. Rick donated his body to science so there will not be any visitation.

Rick was a cornerstone of the Greater St Louis Flight Instructors Association. A few of his many contributions to the association were being president for six years, he was a director for many years, he headed up the committee for the Edward A. Blue Flight Instructor Scholarship Awards and for years he was in-charge of testing at the FIRC. He was always available when asked. He worked tirelessly to promote our association and bring in new members.

Rick’s love for aviation was never ending. Most of you knew Rick and we do not have to tell you what a great flight instructor and person he was. There are many many “students” that Rick taught and flew with. For those of you that did not know Rick, he was a friend to all. We will all miss him.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Real Rocket Scientist Marc Millis Discusses Starship Travel at St. Louis Science Center

By Carmelo Turdo
A real (former NASA) rocket scientist, Marc Millis, gave a lively presentation of what it would take to achieve future interstellar space travel using the example of a Star Trek starship.  The event, part of series of "Second Thursday" lectures at the St. Louis Science Center, coincides with the current Star Trek: The Exhibit.  Millis, noted author and President of the Tau Zero Foundation, compiled a surprisingly broad catalog of possible technologies that could enable travel to the stars while working at NASA.  What started as a side interest became part of his government research responsibilities, to his delight.  The bottom line of starship travel is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy and new technologies that do not presently exist, but solving the problem of interstellar travel is like eating a million pound burger: one bite at a time!

Marc Millis' animated speaking style made rocket science interesting to the audience of several hundred:

The presentation included a primer on quantum mechanics:

After the more than hour-long presentation, Millis stayed to answer specific questions:

Marc Millis with St. Louis Science Center's Gregg Maryniak, organizer of the event:

Future Star Trek Events:

Star Trek First Fridays
Put on your Spock ears and come to the Science Center on the first Friday evening of each month during the run of Star Trek: The Exhibition! In addition to touring the exhibition for a special evening rate, you can participate in a Public Telescope Viewing outside the Planetarium or unique activities throughout the museum and top off your evening with a free showing of a Star Trek movie or episode in the OMNIMAX Theater. Each First Friday will have its own theme so watch the calendar for more information.

Friday, March 2 – Special Program: Journey to Mars
Friday, April 6 – Special Guest: Star Trek writer, David Gerrold (The Trouble with Tribbles)
Friday, May 4 – Star Trek Costume Contest

Star Trek Lecture Series
Join us on the second Thursday of every month for our Star Trek Lecture Series. Each month, a different guest scientist will discuss a different topic related to Star Trek from androids to virtual reality to three-dimensional printing to the search for life on other planets. Watch the calendar for more information.

Thursday, March 8 – Why NASA and DARPA Are Reaching for the Stars
Thursday, April 12– The Immersive Virtual Reality Environment: Today’s Holodeck?
Thursday, May 10 – To Boldly Go: The New Horizons Mission to Pluto

For more information on future events, visit

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation Retirees Celebrate Mercury Spacecraft 50 Year Anniversary

By Carmelo Turdo
A large group of McDonnell Douglas Corporation retirees gathered for their monthly luncheon today in nearby St. Louis County to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first orbital flight of the Mercury spacecraft - John Glenn's Friendship 7 mission.  It was an honor to visit with this group of talented aerospace engineers and production workers that built the early manned spacecraft - Mercury and Gemini - as well as military aircraft and missiles.  Present as guests were Lowell Grissom, brother of astronaut Gus Grissom, and his wife; Dan Terrell, former Mayor of Mitchell, Indiana, Grissom's home town; Earl Mullins, President of the Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO; Rose Church, McDonnell Aircraft Aerospace Nurse to the Astronauts; and Jack Abercrombie, Curator of the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum.  The group luncheons and activities are organized by Norman Beckel.

McDonnell Douglas Retiree Luncheon
Lowell Grissom addressed the group of nearly 80 McDonnell retirees.  He asked this rhetorical question, remembering the death of his brother, astronaut Gus Grissom, in the Apollo 1 fire  on January 27, 1967:

    "I always think, what if McDonnell made that Apollo spacecraft?  How would things have been different?  My dad always said, 'Things would have been tremendously different if McDonnell built that Apollo spacecraft.'  There were a lot of things wrong with that spacecraft...It  was supposed to be insulated so you couldn't have a spark or an arc, and yet it happened.  Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were gone in an instant.  So it keeps reminding me, what if..."

During the luncheon, I met Mr. Grissom and mentioned to him that his brother Gus Grissom was one of my heroes.  He answered, "Mine, too."

Apollo 1 Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee
Ironically, a team of McDonnell Aircraft engineers assisted in the redesign of the new Apollo spacecraft that performed admirably in future missions, taking 12 astronauts to the moon.

Dan Terrell, former Mayor of Mitchell Indiana, the Grissoms' home town, spoke of the trip that some of those present made to Mitchell in July of 2011 for the 50th anniversary of Gus Grissom's Mercury flight in Liberty Bell 7.  Another trip may be taken this year as well.  A patch like the one pictured below was given to all attendees of the luncheon.

Former Mayor of Mitchell, IN Dan Terrell

Earl Mullins, President of the Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO spoke of the challenges of bringing a space museum and education center to smaller towns like Bonne Terre.  It takes dedication and vision to become successful, and this museum is well on its way to making its mark in the community and across the nation.  Working with other museums, like the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, and groups like the McDonnell Douglas retirees, is key to preserving the aerospace heritage of the region.  

Earl Mullins, President of Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO

Following the luncheon, many in the group visited the James S. McDonnell Prologue Room exhibit at Boeing IDS Headquarters near Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Displays of civilian, military and space vehicles manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, North American Aviation and Boeing are featured, including full-scale engineering development fixtures of the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sightings: Eclipse 500 Jet a Regular at St. Louis Downtown Airport

By Carmelo Turdo
An Eclipse Aerospace EA500 first generation jet is a regular visitor to St. Louis Downtown Airport.  Under new management since the original design of the very light jet was produced, the company has upgraded the EA500 to the Total Eclipse level and launched the EA550 capable of speeds of 425 mph at 41,000 feet.  For more information about the Eclipse line of very light jets, please visit