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For the week of Dec. 22, 1999 through Dec. 28, 1999

FAA investigates ‘Risky Business’

Exhibition flyer could lose license for 40 days

Express Staff Writer

rhein2.jpg (9309 bytes)This World War II vintage aircraft allegedly buzzed Hailey neighborhoods this past summer sparking a FAA investigation. (Photo by Jack McFall)

Following an investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration has accused pilot Bill Rheinschild of performing dangerous, high-speed maneuvers over the city of Hailey, including Friedman Memorial Airport, last summer in a World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane.

During the flight, the FAA alleged, Rheinschild—a highly regarded contender in the annual high profile Reno air races—violated six federal aviation regulations.

Included, the agency alleged, was creating a potential "undue hazard to persons and property," an offense for which the FAA proposed grounding Rheinschild for 40 days.

The FAA mailed the details of the investigation and the proposed grounding to Rheinschild at the beginning of September, about a month after the alleged incident.

Unless Rheinschild responded within 15 days, he would have to surrender his flying privileges, the FAA warned him in a certified letter mailed to him on Sept. 7.

He responded.

A glimpse into the FAA’s investigation of Rheinschild was provided to the Idaho Mountain Express following a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The request produced about 20 pages of documents, including correspondence, an FAA investigator’s report, several handwritten witness statements and an aviation fuel receipt.

Neither Rheinschild, nor his Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, Mark McDermott, would comment on the investigation.

The pilot’s personal assistant said in a phone call from Van Nuys, Calif., that Rheinschild was "too busy" to talk to a reporter.

In a telephone conversation, McDermott said he wasn’t talking to the press because previous coverage by the Idaho Mountain Express had been "damaging" to his client.

Because pilots cannot be policed the same way that automobile drivers can, the core of most investigations into alleged violations of flying regulations involves eyewitness statements, according to Hailey airport manager Rick Baird.

The investigation of Rheinschild includes at least five such statements included in the FAA’s response to the FOIA request.

One statement by a member of the airport operations staff, Terry LaFleur, describes a high-speed, low-altitude pass over the runway by a P-51 called "Risky Business" on the morning of Aug. 28, according to an FAA document.

The plane then performed a tight, banking turn, LaFleur says, and buzzed the Woodside Subdivision and the downtown area at "approximately twice the height of a telephone pole." Several eye witness written accounts by Hailey residents of the Mustang’s flight were provided to the FAA.

Janis Gillette said her "children were scared" and that she thought the plane was going to "hit her house."

Barbara Wilkinson said she "could see the person inside the plane it was so close," and that she thought "it was going to crash."

Anne Weber said she ran outside where her four children were screaming and scared, to see if they were okay. She thought the plane was "in trouble" and was going to crash.

Peggie Boyett that she lives "several hundred yards north" of the airport, and was also concerned the plane would crash until she realized the pilot was just a "show off."

During a previous telephone interview with the Express from California-based RWR Cos., a real estate development group, Rheinschild denied being in Hailey on the day of the flight, and that he had recently sold "Risky Business."

Rheinschild is identified as an RWR "principal" on the company’s Web site.

A list of facts from the FAA investigation, however, states that Rheinschild purchased fuel for the plane on the day witnesses reported seeing the flight.

The facts, according to the FAA, state that Rheinschild had one aircraft accident in a P-51 in December 1998, and two aircraft incidents in 1980 and 1984 in Cessnas.

Also, according to the FAA, Rheinschild’s flying certificate was suspended once before for violation of an FAA rule that prohibits fraudulent statements on applications for medical certificates.

As far as the current investigation is concerned, FAA legal division staffer Renee Hunsaker said Rheinschild has requested an informal conference with the FAA to negotiate a decision. So far, however, no date has been set for the conference.

If the FAA and Rheinschild can’t come to an agreement during the conference, Hunsaker said, "a number of things could happen," including a court trial if he seeks to overturn the potential suspension of his license.

However, she said, with the regulations that have to be followed, all of that is "very far in the future."


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Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.