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Columbus shop equips plane for flight around the world

Columbus shop equips plane for flight around the world

Friday, April 30, 2004

Mark Niquette

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

RENEE SAUER | DISPATCH

ElectroSonics installed communications equipment in a modified Cessna that three pilots will use to try to set a record for circling the globe against the jet stream. In the background is ElectroSonics engineering manager Tim Winiesdorffer.

A small avionics shop in Columbus is playing a role in an attempt to set several records for flying around the world.

ElectroSonics, which primarily installs radio and navigations systems in corporate jets at its 25-employee operation near Port Columbus, spent the past three weeks working on a plane that is scheduled to leave Monday on its around-the-world trek.

Workers installed a high-frequency radio required for flying over oceans and a cellphone unit that uses satellites to work in any part of world.

"The installation we’re doing is pretty normal, but the fact the aircraft is leaving here to go set a world record is pretty exciting," said John Cogley, operation manager.

ElectroSonics, founded in Columbus in 1958 and owned by Garrett Aviation Services, was the only avionics shop that was able to do the work in time, flight commander Matt Brooks said.

Brooks and the other two California pilots making the flight picked up the modified Cessna 501 Citation I/SP yesterday in Columbus.

The 69-hour flight is scheduled to leave at 6 a.m. Monday from Teterboro, N.J., and return at 5 a.m. Wednesday, Brooks said. The plane is scheduled to make 18 stops of about 20 minutes each to refuel on its 22,680-mile journey, he said.

If successful, the pilots will set the record for flying around the world westbound in a 12,500-pound aircraft, said Art Greenfield, director of contests and records for the National Aeronautic Association.

The existing speed record is for eastbound flights because that’s typically the direction of the jet stream, he said. The flight also is trying to set 38 other records for speed, distance and altitude for the aircraft’s weight class.

"I just think it’s going to be a cool thing to do," said Brooks, 52, president of a real-estate investment company in San Francisco. "It’ll be a grueling experience but an experience of a lifetime."

Brooks and the two other pilots will work four-hour shifts, with one person flying the plane, one assisting and manning the radio and the other resting.

Garrett Aviation is a subsidiary of General Electric, with nine locations nationwide including Columbus. It’s helping sponsor the flight by retrofitting the Cessna with morepowerful engines, additional fuel capacity and the upgraded communications system.

It’s a way to promote the company’s modification package for older planes, spokeswoman Eileen Boyce said. Instead of paying up to $6 million for a new plane, owners of older aircraft can spend between $1.9 million and $2.6 million for Garrett’s FJ44 Eagle II upgrade package, she said.

ElectroSonics, which was acquired by Garrett Aviation in 1999, has customers from across the nation and typically finishes work on two or three aircraft a month, Cogley said.

Business and employment have fluctuated over the years with the ups and downs of the aviation industry. There was a downturn during the past few years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, he said.

But aviation is starting to come back, and the company is having a good year, Cogley said.

And any publicity from its role in the around-the-world flight can’t hurt, he said.

"We’re part of Garrett Aviation, and we all share the same sales network," Cogley said. "Any promotion of Garrett is good for us here in Columbus."

mniquette@dispatch.com