Editor's Log

July 2005 Issue




Editor’s Log: 07/05

Fly, Forrest, Fly!
It’s spring here on the east coast, time when a young man’s fantasies turn to flying. Unfortunately, some of those fantasies reportedly involve flying long distances without rudimentary flight planning or keeping tabs on the airplane’s position and the airspace one might encounter.

So it was on May 11, when a Cessna 150 obliviously flew into the heart of the secure airspace surrounding the nation’s capital. The event involved a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) Black Hawk helicopter, a CPB Cessna Citation and two U.S. Air Force F-16s and thousands of panicked government employees. Thankfully, the incursion ended without further drama at the outlying Frederick (Md.) Municipal Airport, home of none other than the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

Several days later, the event had mostly faded from regular news coverage when a Canadian-registered Cessna 340 went Nordo after a lightning strike in basically the same airspace and almost caused a repeat performance. Both incidents gave ammunition to those charged with national security who favor additional security-related airspace restrictions. While the incursions had “happy” endings—no one got shot down, although the 150 reportedly came as close as 20 seconds from that demise—the final chapter has yet to be written.

The informed and the uninformed alike already have wondered aloud how such a thing could happen and whether existing airspace restrictions are enough to prevent “something bad” from happening. The implication is that the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which has been extensively covered in this magazine, should be expanded. Sadly, not only did the 150 penetrate the ADIZ and the associated Flight Restricted Zone, but it apparently flew into Prohibited Area 56 and completely ignored the associated Class B airspace.

That this airspace incursion came at a time when many in industry were thinking progress had been made toward shrinking the ADIZ just adds to the irony.

“I shake my head in frustration,” AOPA President Phil Boyer told a television reporter. “Over four million e-mails sent last year to members concerning airspace restrictions, a continuing campaign on the Web, and our cooperative educational efforts with the FAA and TSA. It’s absurd to me to think that there is a pilot as close to Washington, D.C., as the southern Pennsylvania border who is not aware of this airspace.”

Not only is it frustrating and absurd, the Cessna 150 episode justified—for the national media and thousands of Washington-based policymakers—the rank amateurism the public associates with general aviation. Too often it appears someone gives an airplane’s keys to Forrest Gump. We all can use this episode as a reason to become more professional in our flying.

As the article beginning on page 12 details, being current is not the same as being proficient. The next time you grab your airplane keys and head to the hangar, remember the responsibility you have—to your family, to your passengers and to your colleagues. And check Notams.

—Jeb Burnside