Aviation Bests and Worsts, Featuring Sen. Inhofe

By James Fallows

Previously in Bests and Worsts here.

Best: Want an idea of what it's like to take a "$100 hamburger" day trip in a small plane -- these days, probably more like a €500 quiche in Europe? The short video below, from Matthew Stibbe's site at Forbes, depicts his one-day trip from the small Denham airport outside London, to Rotterdam with a lunch in The Hague and tour of the "Girl with a Pearl Earring" Mauritshuis Museum, and back before dark.



Yes, yes, I realize: flying in Europe is really expensive (it's not cheap anywhere), and this is an indulgence. Still, enjoy the scenery and adventure in this clip. Viewing hint: Starting about one minute in, there  are about 45 seconds of in-cockpit shots of the pilot trying out avionics settings. The English and Dutch countryside views come before and after.
 
Worsts: I know that Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the champions of aviation in Congress (hmmmm), has said that his "illegal landing" episode in Texas is "old news" (it happened late last October) and that it's being used for partisan purposes (Rachel Maddow has apparently gone to town on it).

senatorinhofe.jpgBut I bet that people in the aviation world would join me in doing a double take at the conduct reported in these reports from the FAA's Flight Standards District Office, first reported yesterday on The Smoking Gun which had asked them in a FOIA request. (Inhofe photo from TSG.)

You really have to spend a little time with the reports -- and the startling audios! -- to get the full picture. One valuable way to begin is with this MP3 combined version of the relevant audios, prepared by AVweb. The background on what you're hearing is explained at TSG.

I've made my share of flying mistakes; I've been chastised; I've chastised myself. But for context I'll say that what will seem unusual to people with experience is:

  a) landing on a runway marked as "closed" with a "huge yellow X" at each end of the runway, in the words of one of the airport officials on the audio, and covered with men and machines doing repair work;

  b) performing a "sky hop" over the men and machines -- touching down briefly, zooming over them, and landing behind them, rather than "going around" when Inhofe saw that the runway was blocked -- aborting the landing, applying extra power to climb away from the runway and circle around to try again, which in theory you're supposed to be ready to do on every approach in case you're not well set up to land;

  c) being belligerent and assertive after the incident -- "What the hell is this? I was supposed to have unlimited airspace!" -- rather than shocked and contrite (and "unlimited airspace" as it applies to a closed runway -???) ;

 d) being the object of this description by the airport manager: "I've got over 50 years flying, three tours of Vietnam, and I can assure you I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life."

 e) having the airport manager and others say "this isn't the first time" and "this guy is famous for these violations."

 I'm just quoting what's in the FAA reports. See for yourself. Again, I've made mistakes, and frankly I never stop thinking about them. But I feel fortunate that I've never seen an incident like this. Seriously, read the documents, and ask other people you know with aviation experience.

To end on a brighter note: Check out FlyNano:

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Thanks to Bruce Williams.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/04/aviation-bests-and-worsts-featuring-sen-inhofe/237228/