By the second week of February 1969, 11 flights had been commandeered in the United States—a record annual pace. The hijackers included a former mental patient accompanied by his 3-year-old son, a community-college student armed with a can of bug spray, a Purdue University dropout with a taste for Marxist economics, and a retired Green Beret who claimed that he intended to assassinate Fidel Castro with his bare hands.

At the behest of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, the Federal Aviation Administration formed a special antihijacking task force to develop possible solutions to the crisis. The group was immediately inundated with thousands of letters from concerned citizens, who recommended inventive ways to frustrate skyjackers: installing trapdoors outside cockpits, arming stewardesses with tranquilizer darts, making passengers wear boxing gloves so they couldn’t grip guns, playing the Cuban national anthem before takeoff and then arresting anyone who knew the lyrics. The most popular suggestion was for the FAA to build a mock version of José Martí International Airport in a South Florida field, so that skyjackers could be duped into thinking they had reached Havana.

—From The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by Brendan I. Koerner (published by Crown in June)