Boy Scout Revamps Airport Safety

A homemade balloon aircraft, feared to be carrying a 6-year-old boy is seen in Colorado on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009. The balloon floated away from the family's home, but, when the balloon landed, there was no sign of the the boy. Lisa Eklund

Travelers at the world's busiest airport are waiting less at security checkpoints thanks to the tinkering of a 15-year-old Boy Scout.

Josh Pfluger and his scouting pals went into his Rockford, Ill., garage and hammered out a shoe-scanning device now in daily use at O'Hare International Airport. His goal at the time was simply to polish off his Eagle Scout requirements.

Looks like the project passed muster.

Pfluger's homemade invention — a box with a metal detector that travelers step onto before they reach the security gate — are an optional, preliminary step to let passengers know whether their shoes will trigger alarms at the gate.

That can speed up lines by tipping passengers off they may need to remove their shoes and send them through X-ray machines — and maybe even encourage people to leave footwear with metal eyelets behind on future trips.

"It's obviously not a certified machine, but it does initially help in the screening process," said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Aviation at O'Hare. "It's a unique idea ... giving the Boy Scouts an opportunity to demonstrate their merit."

The idea originated with Pfluger's neighbor, Rick Spencer, a Transportation Security Administration official. Responding to security demands after the attempted airplane attack by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, Spencer rigged up a cardboard-box version used with some success at the Madison, Wis., airport.

Recalling his own Boy Scout experience, Spencer decided earlier this year that the task for a sturdier, wooden version would be an ideal Eagle Scout project, which requires a community improvement and group involvement.

With help from his dad, Dan Pfluger, Josh and about 10 others put in a total of 120 hours to design and build more than a dozen scanners, which feature sliding boards with Plexiglas.

Inside each box is a wand, or small metal detector, held up with bungee cords; the box sounds an alarm if there's a violation. With Josh's inspiration, each one has a flag, the TSA logo and "Place foot here" on the top.

The invention has earned Pfluger lots of attention — and a possible career.

"It's real cool," the teen said Thursday as he prepared to fly to New York for a round of appearances on network television shows. "If other airports call me, I'm going to do it as a job."

While they may not be aware of the Boy Scouts' involvement, many passengers seem to approve of the makeshift machines. Robert Wise, a frequent traveler from Chicago, calls such devices "a great addition."

"The first time I saw one, I thought it was really cool," Wise said. "The idea of being able to get through this screening without taking your shoes off can save you a whole huge procedure. People don't want to take their shoes off."

  • Melissa Cheung

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