Skip to comments.Shop grounded (Looks like R/C Airplanes to be banned?)
Posted on 03/18/2003 6:00:43 AM PST by ItsTheMediaStupid
March 13-464, 2003 Shop grounded
By Jason Green
A closed sign sits in the window of Clanton's Hobby Shop. It's been there for three weeks and now it sits next to a recently placed for sale sign.
Store owner Ricky Ritch said that he had little choice but to close his business when the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials asked him to stop selling remote control airplanes, rockets, helicopters and fuel containing more than 20 percent nitroglycerin.
On Wednesday, Ritch received a visit from the Justice department, the Homeland Security department and agents from the FBI's Montgomery and Birmingham field offices. That visit confirmed the items he was selling and custom building are now on a list of items the government believes terrorists have begun to use.
The shop owner said he was shocked at the revelation, but once he began thinking about it, he could see how someone could use like items for less-than upright purposes.
"I have planes and helicopters in stock that could carry a pay-load of 40 pounds or so," he said. "I never thought about any of this stuff being more than toys until I started watching television and saw the big deal they were making out of it. Now I am concerned that something I have built in the past might have been or is being used to harm someone else."
The events which have unfolded in Ritch's life and the life of his relatively new local business have also gotten him thinking about visits and phone calls he has received over the course of the past few months. He said there have been out of the ordinary questions regarding the potential payload capacity of certain aircraft as well as the best possible speed of some of the "toys" he sells.
"I originally just thought it was someone interested in getting into the hobby," he explained. "But, now that I think about it, there have been some calls which really didn't make sense. The questions they asked never really had anything to do with getting into the hobby."
Ritch said he is now left with the fear that items he has already built have fallen into the hands of people whom could potentially do harm to American citizens. It's a fear that Ritch never thought he would have to deal with.
"It's just not something I ever thought about happening," He said. "I don't want to think about it."
Also, in 1998 while living in Los Angeles, Ritch said he built 20 aircraft for an individual in California who never wanted a receipt and always paid in cash. The customer told Ritch that he was purchasing the aircraft for friends overseas. There were questions in Ritch's mind then as to what was actually going on, but it wasn't until the customer became more and more insistent that Ritch build the aircraft bigger and more powerful that the local shop owner cut ties and ceased working for that person.
For Ritch, the items he has been encouraged not to sell make up approximately 90 percent of the current stock he has on the shelves of his Second Avenue business.
"I stand to lose about $125,000 because of this," Ritch explained. "The things that make money here are the planes and the fuel. The United Parcel Service and Federal Express are no longer allowed to deliver the types of fuel that it takes to power most of the items I sell. I've basically been put out of business."
Ritch said the only items left on his shelves the government hasn't encouraged him to refrain from selling are a few glue-together models, some remote controlled cars and NASCAR memorabilia. In fact, the remote control cars do Ritch little good, he said, because the fuel it takes to make the vehicles capable of high performance activity can't be delivered. Once the fuel Ritch currently has in stock runs out, it will take an ATF license to purchase and distribute more.
With that in mind, Ritch said he had little choice but to begin thinking about the future of his business. He can either completely change the items his business carries or he can pack everything up and wait. That wait would be until May 24, when Congress reconvenes to discuss the matter of model aircraft and remote controlled aircraft being used by terrorists in attacks.
"I was so disturbed by the entire ordeal that I called my real estate agent and told them to put the store on the market," he added. "As long as it sits there I'm losing money and if I can't sell the items that make me money, it's not much of a business."
Ritch, who is also attempting to sell his home in Clanton and planning to build another in the area, said he doesn't know what his next step is.
He said he must now consider moving into a smaller store and changing the kinds of toys he sells.
Ritch indicated he wasn't told to close his store. However, being unable to sell 90 percent of his stock apparently leaves him with no other viable options. Selling the fuel Ritch currently has in stock will require specific actions in compliance with Homeland Security mandates. The purchaser, as will Ritch, will have to be licensed with the ATF and will be required to undergo background checks among other measures prior to the merchandise changing hands.
Ritch said that it's hard for him to imagine having to do that. Based on information given to him by the FBI and Homeland Security, he has little choice. He will comply.
"I don't think the FBI or Homeland Security or the U.S. Justice Department are organizations that I can take on," he said. "I'll do what they've asked me to do and have I'll have to deal with it. I just could not have imagined this ever happening. All I know is that I would hate to be the guy that sold something that was used to blow something up or was used to knock a plane out of the sky."
Ray Zicarelli, an agent with the Mobile FBI Field Office, said late Thursday afternoon that he could not confirm whether or not agents had been in Clanton. However, he did confirm that there was be some interest in some hobby shops throughout the country.
"There has been no nation-wide canvassing of hobby shops, but the FBI is interested in some hobby shops as they apply to model aircraft," Zicarelli said. "We do not comment on which we have contacted based on security issues. I can say that we have no indication that there is any cause for concern in the area."
I doubt this is policy, or there would have been more stories, and probably press releases from Homeland security.
Sounds like some over the top local FBI or ATF office has misinterpreted things. The ATF is Very Good at that.
I went to an R/C plane hobby shop last week in western Ky. to pick up a new controller and they were doing a very good business. They didn't say anything about Feds stopping this hobby or anything like that. I talked to them about becoming a regular customer and buying my supplies from them. I would have no idea about this guy in the article, but it does sound suspicious.
"I have planes and helicopters in stock that could carry a pay-load of 40 pounds or so,"
Flying 40lbs. of plastic explosives into the grandstands of a baseball game or a NASCAR event would be a pretty effective way to send a message.
And your point is???
You beat me to it! So-called "hot" model engine (and dragster) fuels are mostly nitromethane. However, nitromethane has been described as "the simplest nitrogen-based high explosive" -- and, packaged with an appropriate oxidizer, is sold as a commercial binary (mix immediately before use) explosive. (Deliberately being vague here...)
Of course, R/C transmitter/receiver/servo combinations have been used by middle eastern terrorists to trigger bombs.
BTW, were any of you FReepers aware that those suspected of bombing the Murrah Building in OKC visited a model shop shortly before the bombing? And that an Iraqi caught an overseas flight from OKC shortly thereafter -- and that his luggage was found to contain "several car radios and other bomb-making materials and tools". (So-described by Italian customs, who discovered them.)
I've often wondered if mis-translation masked the true nature of those "car radios"...
I build models -- and certainly don't advocate shutting down our hobby. OTOH, A good "Heads-up" to model shops across the nation seems in order...
Of course, nowadays, the terrs seem to favor cell phones for triggering bombs.
Hmmm -- perhaps a computer program that rapidly and repeatedly cycles through all cell numbers, giving each a ring... Might give some terrorists a few nasty surprises...
Jimmy Buffet lives in Flordia, and I am pretty sure he is a conservative. On the opposite end of the political scale of his uncle Warren Buffet.
I wonder how many Iraqis/Muslims own these hobby shops? Are they contributing to their communities the way you and I would expect them to or are we going to see some surprises?
FWIW, I am a physical chemist -- and I fear that you are under-informed: As you, yourself, noted in your final statement, nitromethane (properly catalyzed and/or highly shocked) is capable of detonation. In other workds, it is a high explosive.
For your enlightenment, I offer the following on-line technical papers as references:
A great part of the considerable interest devoted to nitromethane, the simplest explosive nitro compound, is related to the understanding of the chemical mechanism of initiation of detonation. Experimental observations show that a careful study of the methyl group, in particular that of the highly excited [[nu]](CH) vibrational states, could bring some information to elucidate the initial chemical mechanism of decomposition, including the means by which intramolecular energy transfer processes can occur. Actually, one interesting peculiarity of the methyl group in nitromethane is the low value of the potential barrier to internal rotation, which is essentially free at normal temperature. Its coupling with the other vibrations, especially with the CH stretching modes, could affect the vibrational energy redistribution and thus the nitromethane reactivity.
Session G1 - Nitromethane.
MIXED session, Tuesday morning, July 29 CCA,
[G1.01] Mechanism of Chemical Decomposition in a Shocked Condensed Explosive
Based on these P-T Hugoniot data, we construct the detonation diagram of nitromethane, which consists of no-detonation, super-detonation, normal-detonation zones. In the super-detonation zone between 12 and 19 GPa, the shock-compressed nitromethane detonates with a significant induction time; whereas, the detonation occurs nearly instaneously in the normal-detonation zone above 19 GPa.
Those papers were, indeed online when I used them as references a couple of years ago (while doing research on the compositon of the OKC truck bomb). However, like many things in this new medium, they obviously had a limited lifetime. (Webserver filespace is obviously considered to be more valuable and recyclable than printed journals...)
If you are truly interested in pursuing the nitromethane issue, FReepmail me, and I will dig out some current articles for you. Again, apologies for cutting-and-pasting old references without checking...
I believe this should be the oxidizer rich, nitromethane instead. I also think 40 lbs is too high, stopped reading there.
Besides, what's to stop some guy with a minivan and a garden sprayer from doing the same thing?
It's not an explosive at all. It's a very high octane fuel that contains some oxidant. The model airplane engine is a diesel. This fuel just allows the engine to work w/o being sensitive to F/A ratio.
I stepped out for a smoke yesterday and some neighborhood kids were playing with their model rocket. It was nice to see. The control nuts are after that too.
Nitromethane is used an explosive, properly detonated. A buddy of mine developed an oil well-head severing system using nitromethane.
I have read much of what has been written on the subject of the recent incident with the hobby shop in Clanton, and will admonish you to realize that most of what has been written is an extreme exageration of the capabilities of any "normal" model airplane, such as those found in hobby shops. The speeds, and payloads, quoted do not reflect the state of the art in the, R/C model aircraft sport/hobby today. While those numbers MAY reflect the absolute records in the sport/hobby, they certainly do not reflect the potential performance of a single model, any more than the record mileage of an automobile (about 70 MPG), and the fastest automobile (nearly 700 mph), are the performance specifications of a single automobile. Furthermore, when a modeler refers to "Nitro", he is refering to "nitromethane", NOT "nitroglycerine", and nitromethane, while flamable, is MUCH safer than gasoline. In fact, if the flashpoint of nitromethane was just a few degrees higher, it would be classified as "combustable", in the same way as paper is. Nitromethane is quite safe, and will not explode, unless it is compressed in the cylinder of an engine. It is CERTAINLY not in the same category as nitroglycerine. It is MUCH safer than gasoline. With the possible exception of your lack of research to verify the facts, I do not blame you for this story, as it is obvious your reporter was mislead by the person he talked to, or, misinterpreted what he was told. I would offer my, personal, help, in any, future, story on the subject of model airplanes, to ensure that the facts are presented in an accurate way. Certainly, a model airplane could be used in a detrimental way, but, then, so could almost anything. A model airplane is no more likely to be used in a detrimental way, than would be an automobile, a truck, or a bow and arrow. In fact, of the aforementioned items, I'd say the model is a lesser threat than all except the bow, and arrow, and isn't much more of a threat than that! Should you ever need any help in verifying the facts in a story involving model airplanes, please feel free to contact me. Just FYI, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, (AMA), is a 170,000 member organization, dedicated to serving the needs of model airplane enthusiasts in the USA.
Jimmy sends lots of mixed messages. He's an active hunter, but he appeared at campaign functions for Gore - and Clinton, too, IIRC.
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By Niko Price
March 12, 2003 | Al-Taji, Iraq -- A remotely piloted aircraft that the United States has warned could spread chemical weapons appears to be made of balsa wood and duct tape, with two small propellors attached to what look like the engines of a weed whacker.
Iraqi officials took journalists to the Ibn Firnas State Company just north of Baghdad on Wednesday, where the drone's project director accused Secretary of State Colin Powell of misleading the U.N. Security Council and the public.
"He's making a big mistake," said Brig. Imad Abdul Latif. "He knows very well that this aircraft is not used for what he said."
In Washington's search for a "smoking gun" that would prove Iraq is not disarming, Powell has insisted the drone, which has a wingspan of 24.5 feet, could be fitted to dispense chemical and biological weapons. He has said it "should be of concern to everybody."
The drone's white fuselage was emblazoned Wednesday with the words "God is great" and the code "Quds-10." Its balsa wood wings were held together with duct tape. Officials said they referred to the remotely piloted vehicle as the RPV-30A.
Latif said the plane is controlled by the naked eye from the ground. Asked whether its range is above the 93-mile limit imposed by the United Nations, he said it couldn't be controlled from more than five miles.
Latif said the exact range will be determined when the drone passes to the next testing stage.
Ibn Firnas' general director, Gen. Ibrahim Hussein disputed assertions by Powell and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer that the drone was capable of dispensing biological and chemical weapons.
"This RPV is to be used for reconnaissance, jamming and aerial photography," he said. "We have never thought of any other use."
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, complained this weekend that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix didn't mention the drone in his oral presentation to the Security Council on Friday.
Blix mentioned the drone in a 173-page written list of outstanding questions about Iraq's weapons programs last week. While small, Blix said, drones can be used to spray biological warfare agents such as anthrax. He said the drone hadn't been declared by Iraq to inspectors.
But Iraq insisted it declared the drone in a report in January -- and Hussein held up its declaration to prove it. The confusion, he said, was the result of a typo: The declaration said the wingspan was 14.5 feet instead of 24.5 feet as stated by Powell.
"When we discovered the mistake we addressed an official letter correcting the wingspan," he said. He showed that letter to reporters as well. He suggested inspectors had already seen the drone when the correction was made, but said: "No one of the inspectors noticed the difference."
"We are really astonished when we hear that this RPV was discovered by inspectors, when it was declared by Iraq," Hussein said. "Nothing is hidden."
Hiro Ueki, spokesman for the U.N. weapons inspectors, said the United Nations was investigating the drone's capabilities, and said he was unsure whether Iraq reported the drone before inspectors found it on an airfield or after.
Iraq seized on the issue of the drone -- along with early reports from Washington that Iraqi fighter jets threatened a U.N.-sponsored U-2 reconnaissance plane on Tuesday -- as proof that Washington is trying to mislead the world about Iraq's weapons programs in its push for war.
"You can imagine the exaggerations the Americans are capable of," said Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison with U.N. weapons inspectors.
The United States has been searching for a way out of an impasse created by its demand that Baghdad be given an ultimatum to disarm or face war, which has so far failed to gather enough support in the Security Council.
Amin said the United Nations advised Iraq of one U-2 flight Tuesday, but that two U-2s entered Iraq's airspace. Multiple flights are permitted under a U.N. Security Council resolution approved last November, but the United Nations agreed to inform Iraq in advance.
U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Iraq launched fighter jets, which threatened one of the planes. Amin disputed that, saying the jets "did not take any measures."
Iraqi workers in al-Taji, meanwhile, were destroying three more Al Samoud 2 missiles Wednesday, banned by the United Nations because they can fly farther than allowed, and two trucks full of components for the missile, said Odai al-Taie, a senior Information Ministry official.
Before Wednesday's destruction, Iraq had destroyed 55 of its approximately 100 missiles, as well as 28 warheads, two casting chambers, two launchers and five engines -- all associated with the Al Samoud 2 program. Tools and computer software used for launching have also been destroyed.
An Iraqi mechanic displays a radio-controlled drone near Baghdad. The drone has a wingspan of 24.5 feet, which prompted concern that it could fly long distances, but an Iraqi general said it had never flown more than two miles.
Photo Credit: Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post
I'm afraid Jimmy's a liberal, and a Sinkmeister supporter at that.
There are comments there from people who've met this hobby shop proprietor. He sounds like he knows just enough about the hobby to create Fear/Uncertainty/Doubt when he runs his ignorant mouth. I know of a few gunshop owners who come off that way when interviewed, too.