by Tim Hennagir
Golden Wings Museum owner Greg Herrick had a major role in drafting an amendment in a recently signed federal aviation bill.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012 signed Feb. 14 by President Barack Obama contains an amendment that protects historic design data of more than 1,200 different aircraft built from 1927 through 1939.
Herrick’s large hangar at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport is filled with vintage and antique airplanes representing the 1920s and 1930s, aviation’s Golden Age.
“These files chronicle the development of our aircraft industry,” Herrick said. “They are irreplaceable and document the very fabric of American innovation.”
In 1997, Herrick requested the drawings for the tail of a 1937 tube-and-fabric Fairchild aircraft.
Access was denied on the basis the design drawings contained trade secrets of the original manufacturer.
A lawsuit was filed and 15 years later the case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in a unanimous decision, the lawsuit was remanded to a lower court.
Herrick finally obtained copies of the drawings, with his experience leading to the amendment in the FAA bill.
“I was very frustrated by the fact I was unable to get the drawings for this aircraft,” Herrick said.
“The only way we could really put the nail into the coffin with this issue was to make it an act of Congress,” he said. “The information that’s protected represents the DNA that was used to design historic aircraft.”
The U.S. government mandated early aircraft manufacturers to submit design data in order to receive approval to build an aircraft for public use.
The data included technical blueprints depicting design, materials, components, dimensions and geometry of the aircraft in addition to engineering analysis and test data.
Today, fewer than a half-dozen of the aircraft are still being manufactured. Very few of the original manufacturers are still in business, Herrick said.
Yet, thousands of the aircraft are still part of private aviation collections and continue to be restored, maintained and flown.
According to Herrick, over time, much of this technical data became scattered through various government offices and storage facilities.
Locating this data for purposes of restoration, repair or continued airworthiness inspections for a given model of aircraft grew increasingly problematic.
Herrick said the FAA also adopted other policies that made obtaining the data extremely difficult.
“Less than 10 percent of the aircraft in question are still in existence,” Herrick said. “The FAA was extremely reluctant to release information about them.”
U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, a Republican lawmaker from Missouri, was the bill’s primary sponsor, Herrick said.
Graves has a local connection to aviation, according to Herrick.
“He bought one of his airplanes at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport,” Herrick said. “He’s been up here several times for visits.”
Graves also serves on the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation and is co-chairperson of the Congressional General Aviation Caucus, which works with pilots, aircraft owners, the general aviation community and government agencies.
“Graves told me, ‘Why don’t you write out what the law should look like on paper and send it to us, we’ll tweak it, put it into the correct bill format and I’ll fight for it.’ By God, he got it done,” Herrick said. “It’s one of the few bi-partisan pieces of legislation that’s come through.”
Tim Hennagir is at [email protected]