Michael Dornheim, a veteran journalist with the weekly magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology, died after the car he was driving went off the road and into a ravine in the Los Angeles area. He was 51.
Dornheim was last seen leaving the Saddle Peak Lodge near Calabasas, Calif., where he had dined with friends the evening of June 3. He left the restaurant alone and said he was planning to take the “back road” to his home in Los Angeles, according to a June 11 release from the Los Angeles County Police Department.
Police discovered his body in the wreckage of his vehicle June 12 in a ravine in the Santa Monica Mountains, an updated version of the release said.
An engineer for Chicago-based Boeing Co. before becoming a reporter, Dornheim drew on his technical expertise to produce in-depth stories, according to colleagues. He was also a trained pilot.
“He was kind of an engineering nerd and proud of it,” said James Asker, managing editor of Aviation Week. “He definitely took the engineering approach to solving problems, whether it be problems with a story or otherwise.”
One such problem arose in 1988 when the U.S. military decided to unveil its B-2 stealth bomber to the media, but restricted access to head-on views to conceal engineering secrets. So Dornheim grabbed a photographer, rented a plane and flew overhead to capture exclusive photos for his publication.
“When it was all done, I asked Mike what had really motivated him, and he said, ‘Oh, I was just hoping to put some flying time on my expense account,’” Asker said.
As a journalist, Dornheim was an expert in a variety of areas, including aircraft fuel-tank explosions and flight controls. Out of the office, he was very social, an outdoorsman who loved motorcycles and had befriended many members of the aerospace industry, Asker said.
Dornheim received a number of awards for his work, including being named the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace Journalist of the Year three times. He is a finalist for this year’s award as well.
He is survived by his brother and parents.