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Wed, May 28, 2008

Continental Pilot Says Rocket Flew By His Jet

FAA, FBI Investigating Alleged Incident

What did you do over the Memorial Day holiday weekend? We're guessing that somewhere near Houston, TX there's a model rocket enthusiast who'd rather not say.

The Houston Chronicle reports a Continental Airlines pilot was startled by what he described as a rocket that shot past his cockpit window Monday as Flight 1544 was about eight miles north of George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The FAA is trying to establish a radar history, and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating the incident, which happened about 10:30 in the morning.

Continental Airlines spokeswoman Kelly Cripe said the pilot made no diversionary maneuvers, the plane was not damaged, and nobody was injured.

"We don't know for sure what the object was," said FAA spokesman Roland Herwig. "But we think it might be somebody doing model rocketing. The pilot saw the rocket and some people saw the rocket's trail.

"Building rockets is a legitimate hobby," Herwig added, "but hobbyists have to let the FAA know what they're doing."

Robert Morehead, president of the Amateur Spaceflight Association in Houston, says that's not exactly accurate, as the FAA would only need to be notified if a rocket would be entering controlled airspace.

He said the only danger to an airliner might be if the rocket is ingested by an engine... and even then, it might not cause serious damage. He acknowledged getting a model rocket up into the flight levels is, well, "...not rocket science if you use a kit."

"There is a guy who claims his rocket has reached the threshold of space or 75 miles... there are lots of models that could fly as high as an airliner. You can do it with a 10- to 15-foot tall rocket and some little ones."

FAA's Laura Brown says that so far, no plane has been hit by a launched model rocket. "There are model rocket clubs operating around the country. This was a holiday weekend that would be good for a launch," she said.

And the next 90 days or so may be a really good time to stay home, with your Estes motors hidden under the bed...

FMI: www.continental.com, www.faa.gov, www.asa-houston.org/

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