Michael Dornheim – Aviation Week Editor Dead At 51
I awoke this morning to a television screen filled with the face of my friend of the past 18 years, Michael Dornheim. He was always Mike to me.
This is part news story and part personal indulgence as editor of AeroSpaceNews.com
The reason he was on the local television news I was alarmed to learn was that he had been missing since leaving a dinner engagement in Malibu, California, at 10:30 pm on June 3, 2006. His car was found on June 12, 2006, with a single male occupant matching his description. His employer, Aviation Week, has now confirmed his death.
Dornheim's stories often awed his readers with his mastery of complex technical issues while at the same time they regularly stressed and put fear in the hearts of public relations personnel in the private sector and government.
Mike Dornheim introduced me to my first sources and the overall subject matter of Groom Lake, Area 51 and alien spacecraft in Nevada. He astounded the military aviation industry and gave the U.S. Air Force ulcers with his brilliant coverage of the rollout of the B-2 Stealth Bomber (Spirit). Air Force and Northrop public relations staff had tried to limit disclosure of the B-2's trailing edge during the public event. They also severely limited attendance at the event itself, barring your correspondent along with many much more reputable colleagues.
But Mike and AvWeek out thought them. My sources tell me that Dornheim, along with others in the brain trust that was then Aviation Week (Bruce Smith, Bill Scott, Don Fink and the late great Robert Ropelewski) considered several novel approaches to solve the challenge of getting images of the B-2's outline once it was out of the hangar.
The team watched for NOTAMS calling for airspace restrictions over Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California (PMD), the site of the unveiling. To everyone's surprise, while take offs and landings at PMD were indeed restricted, overflight was not.
Dornheim, a licensed pilot, was assigned the mission to rent a Cessna C-172 and take a photographer aloft to await the emergence of the black boomerang, just above pattern altitude.
And he did. And they made the next issue of Aviation Week. All perfectly legal. Pure genius. Pure Dornheim.*
I collaborated with him on an early television news story I produced on Ultra High Bypass jet engine technology. It won a nice award, no doubt owing to his appearance more than to my work. When US Air flight 1493 crashed at LAX in February of 1991, Mike and I were the only two "trade" journalists covering it on site. We tried to create a "trade" pool apart from the mass media so we could share my pictures and his excellent writing but the NTSB frustrated that effort.
My last conversation with him was on his birthday last year - a date he shared with my biological mother. He was in very good spirits and extended the most humane and considerate side of his normally reserved personality when I told him how much I missed my recently deceased 15 year old dog.
Mike was an amazing, intelligent, gifted, skeptical, hard working, ethical, adventurous, genius of a man. I've been most fortunate to have called him my friend. The aviation, military and space community all over the world is poorer with his passing.
*The photographer on the B-2 overflight shots was William G. Hartenstein. His website has one of the resulting photos on this page.