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Man charged with lying to FAA about pilot and mechanic certifications

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

A man who performed maintenance on and flew a historic plane cared for by a Monroe veterans organization has been charged with fraud after authorities say he lied to the Federal Aviation Administration about having pilot and mechanic certifications.

Paul Douglas Tharp, 53, of Greensboro was arrested Wednesday and charged with lying to the FAA about his qualifications as a mechanic and a pilot and with flying an airplane without the proper pilot’s license. If convicted, he faces a maximum of five years in prison for each of two counts of making false statements to the FAA and three years in prison for each of three counts of flying without proper authorization.

“Tharp knowingly and repeatedly lied about his qualifications to his clients and the FAA and in the process put lives at risk,” U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said in a news release. “Tharp’s lack of proper certification as a pilot and a mechanic is a serious safety hazard, and now Tharp must face the legal consequences of these dangerous lies.”

Federal prosecutors say Tharp was hired by the Warriors and Warbirds group in 2011. The Monroe-based organization was started by local pilots in 2005 to honor veterans and their families, according to its website. Their centerpiece is Tinker Belle, a C-46 cargo plane purchased from an aviation museum in Midland, Texas. The city of Monroe owns the plane, but the group held pancake breakfasts, air shows and hangar dances to help pay for Tinker Belle’s repair and maintenance.

During much of World War II, the C-46 was a workhorse, carrying badly needed military equipment over the Hump – the nickname given the Himalayas – from Allied bases in India to China. The supplies kept U.S. and Chinese forces in action against the Japanese.

Prosecutors say Tharp operates an airport in Davidson County, but when he was hired by Warriors and Warbirds, he was certified to fly only single-engine aircraft (Tinker Belle has two.) He also didn’t have the necessary mechanic’s license with an FAA seal of approval.

Authorities say Tharp regularly traveled to Texas to perform maintenance on the C-46, even though he wasn’t certified to do so. On three occasions, he was the second-in-command on flights, also something he wasn’t certified to do.

On June 4, 2011, Tharp – acting as second-in-command – and several other people flew to an air show in Reading, Pa. Because the plane still needed mechanical work to improve its airworthiness, the FAA required a special permit before it could be flown back to Monroe.

“An FAA inspector asked Tharp if someone had inspected the airplane’s condition to determine if the C-46F was safe for the return flight from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, and Tharp falsely represented he was an A&P mechanic who could make that determination,” prosecutors said.

“When the FAA inspector asked Tharp about his (mechanic’s) certificate, Tharp lied and told the inspector that he had forgotten his A&P certificate in a rush to prepare the C-46F for the flight to Pennsylvania.”

Prosecutors said Tharp gave the FAA inspector the number of another mechanic’s certificate.

The FAA inspector approved a temporary flight permit, and the plane flew back to North Carolina, with Tharp operating as second-in-command, authorities said.

But when the FAA learned the certificate belonged to another mechanic, it launched an investigation. Prosecutors said Tharp again lied about his certifications.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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