Why we love the TSA, chap. #14,867 (Amelia Earhart dept)

The most interesting movie trailer I've seen since coming back to America -- OK, the only one -- is for Hilary Swank's upcoming biopic about Amelia Earhart. Opening shot below; link to full trailer at the bottom.


This is timely not just because the movie looks so gorgeous -- as does Swank, reinforcing the beautiful androgynous kinship in appearance between Earhart and the young Charles Lindbergh -- but also because the latest small chapter in the war of TSA-vs-common-sense involves Amelia.

Four years ago, as described in this NYT article and this one from Smithsonian Air and Space,  a New Jersey pilot named Grace McGuire resolved to recreate Amelia Earhart's round-the-world journey, in a restored version of the same kind of Lockheed Electra airplane Earhart flew. All instruments, equipment, and detailing would be similar. The big difference, as McGuire pointed out in her standard punch line, is that she intended to get home safely rather than disappearing over the South Pacific.

McGuire encountered various obstacles along the way, most notably a struggle with Lyme Disease that for years left her too weak to advance her plans. But her most recent hassle has been with our friends at the TSA.

As described here in AVweb and recounted on many general-aviation sites, the TSA has been ramping up background-check requirements for anyone who does any work, of any kind, at any site where flying craft can land. Most of the nation's 4000-plus small airfields have historically been very casual, low-formality, open operations, policed mainly and effectively by their community of users. To people who have worked at and gathered around them, the airports' openness was much of their American-freedom-style, Earhart-and-Lindbergh-style appeal. To the TSA, it looks like a threat. An overheated pilot partisan argues here that fortifying little airports is part of the Big Government vision of "Team Obama." Her heart's in the right place about the TSA, but of course these rules and the overall security-theater approach got started under the previous team.

 McGuire had moved her Electra airplane to the tiny Santa Maria airport in California, a very nice little field very far from big cities. Restoring a 75-year old airplane meant a lot of ad hoc visits by a variety of craftsmen and suppliers who happened to come up with the right part for the plane. Putting every one of them through Federal security checks and certifying them for permanent airport ID cards, before they could drive up to the little airfield and repair an aileron, was bringing the project to a halt.

Help has arrived, in the form of the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Its staff has already passed TSA security checks, and it will take over restoration of the plane. Happy ending -- but you wonder, will there ever be a chance to say, Enough with the petty security theater, and let's think about the courage and common sense that keep free people free. (Anyone who wants more on this topic, see here and here.)

Back to Hilary/Amelia: film trailer below.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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