Bridge Stunt Leads To ADS-B Revocation


A well-known Ohio pilot and aviation columnist may be the first to run afoul of a new regulation triggered by the ADS-B mandate enacted in 2020. Martha Lunken, 78, who pens a popular column in Flying Magazine and is a fixture in Midwest aviation, flew under a bridge near her home airport, which bears her name, in southern Ohio in March of 2020, an impulsive and “immature” stunt she told AVweb she knew was wrong. But she said a coincidental malfunction of her Cessna 180’s transponder with ADS-B-Out may have resulted in her being slapped with an emergency revocation of all her certificates instead of the suspension that normally accompanies such transgressions. 

Lunken said that after she’d crossed flying under a bridge from her bucket list she headed home and checked in with Cincinnati Approach and was told her transponder was off. She said she reset it and set a new code and it resumed working. In their subsequent investigation, FAA officials said that she’d shut it off on purpose to stop the system from tracking her while she threw caution to the wind. Lunken, a longtime former FAA safety inspector and veteran flight instructor, vehemently denies the charge. “I know what I did in that cockpit and I did not turn it off,” she said.

The agency used a new section of its Legal Enforcement Actions guidebook for FAA staff, which calls for revocation of a certificate for “operating an aircraft without activated transponder or ADS-B Out transmission (except as provided in 14 C.F.R. § 91.225(f)) for purposes of evading detection.” The section was added in a package of other amendments in January of 2020, just after ADS-B became mandatory in most controlled airspace and about two months before Lunken’s flight of fancy. The section is on page 9-14 at the bottom.

Lunken said she took the 180 to her avionics tech, who said the transponder seemed to be loose in its mount when he took it out. It tested fine on the bench and after it was re-installed. The FAA interviewed the tech. Lunken said the tech was unable to tell them whether the device was malfunctioning during the flight. She said now it’s her word against the FAA’s on whether the intermittent ADS-B Out signal was a malfunction or a deliberate violation. She said radar tracks that were part of the evidence against her showed the ADS-B signal from her aircraft to be intermittent. She speculates she jarred the connections loose during a few bone-jarring landings in gusty crosswinds. “I had made several rather brutal landings at OH77 (the 32’ wide, concrete, crosswind strip just north of the bridge) and it was bumpy at low levels,” she said. “I did not turn it off.”

Lunken, who has spent 60 years flying in that area, said that if she was trying to prevent Big Brother from watching her do something, there are myriad easier and virtually undetectable ways to do it. The FAA declined comment and suggested AVweb submit a Freedom of Information Act request to review the agency’s evidence supporting their findings. A spokesman said that’s agency policy on legal matters.

As for the stunt itself, which has been the focus of most of the social media attention and reaction, Lunken said it was just a silly spur-of-the-moment thing. “I looked over my left shoulder and I saw the bridge and I thought ‘I just have to fly under that bridge before I get old.’” The Jeremiah Morrow Bridge is 239 feet above the Little Miami River Gorge and Lunken said she didn’t have to draw very heavily on her 14,000 hours of experience to get to the other side. “It certainly didn’t take any skill,” she said. As for it being a reflection of her attitude toward safety and the regs, she said nothing could be further from the truth. “It is not part of a pattern of behavior and I am not an irresponsible pilot,” she said. “I would never have put anyone in danger.”

A security camera snapped a picture of her passage and the FAA sent her a letter a few weeks later saying they were investigating. She said she expected to be sanctioned, thinking she might have to sit out for a period of weeks or months. FAA enforcement guidelines call for a period of suspension of 30 days to four months for the bridge stunt, which is a violation of altitude and distance-from-objects regs. “I knew it was illegal and I did it anyway,” she said. “I’m 78 and I’m still not very mature and I hope I never am.” When she didn’t hear anything after six months, she thought the FAA had dropped the matter. The emergency revocation letter was delivered March 19.

Lunken said she’s considered appealing the revocation but her lawyers estimated the cost at $25,000. Instead, she’s spending her time watching from the ground while others fly and hitting the books to reclaim her private pilot certificate. Revocation cancels all certificates and ratings (she was an ATP) and she has to start over to get back in the air. So far, it’s been an eye-opener as she studies for the written. “A lot has changed in 60 years,” she said. Normally, a revocation prevents the guilty party from taking flight training for a year but her legal team negotiated a three-month reduction. “I’ll be a student pilot in December.”

Lunken will also be on hiatus from Flying for an unspecified period of time but will write a column in the August issue explaining the incident. She said she has kept her editors informed of all developments in her case, which Flying officials confirmed.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Oy vey! Martha!
    Like her, I take pride in still being a kid at heart. Possibly, she like I, determines her age by adding her chronological age to her experienced age and dividing by two.
    I really hope the FAA’s action was not motivated by a chance to “get even” because of her criticisms of the agency.
    On the other hand, I’d hope she learns that “flipping the bird” at authority figures is not the best way to engender change.
    Good luck, Martha. I hope you get to complete your “bucket list”.

      • Should this ever come up, I still have all the documents that prove I presented the same thing as ADS-B to the Military and the FAA as an employee…
        Yes, I hold the power to turn ADS-B OFF for everyone.

  2. As an aging aviator wanting to add another completion to the proverbial “bucket list”, we can flaunt any regulations to satisfy our selfish demands? Seriously?

    And Martha, with all her knowledge of ADS-B, transponder operation, and her airplane expects me and the FAA to believe that her transponder had “accidentally” moved slightly off its tray making the transponder inop just prior to her overwhelming “need” to do what she clearly knows (in advance) is reckless? Geez, if your going to do something clearly illegal and stupid, at least be more creative in planning your excuse for such poor behavior.

    Because she is a celebrated, long term Flying magazine writer, because she is (now a former ) pilot, ATP, and FAA examiner who had to make decisions about not only check-ride performance but assess another’s judgement and decision making skills, she has chosen her legacy by this ” stunt”. Unfortunately, her need for notoriety and attention at all costs has made another black eye for all of us GA pilots, elevating to an already aviation ignorant public, we little airplane drivers cannot be trusted to operate our extravagant aerial chariots with out far more government oversight.

    ADS-B allowed her to do what she did because it was the trigger point for FAA scrutiny. Security camera footage is not enough. There is no fun in pulling off a stunt without others knowing about it. So she gets a “twofer” of generating public interest in the knowledge that she actually flew under the bridge, and the subsequent longer term publicity generated among the GA aviation world as we all look for the revocation, appeal, and eventual disposition of the legal consequences to her actions. For her, it seems any attention…good or bad…she desperately needs and craves.

    To some she will be a “hero”. To others like me, an immature person who has to be the center of attention all costs. The problem is, she has placed a portion of those costs on me without my knowledge or permission until I read it on AvWeb. I have no sympathy for Martha. She chose her aviation destiny and should not complain about the inevitable fall out.

    • Thankfully, you are the adult in the room. I entirely agree with you, even while the teenager in me sort of revels in Martha’s “flipping the bird” at authority figures. Thanks for reminding me about reality.

    • No justification for impulsivity in aviation, but we are all human and we all live in glass houses whether we admit it or not. Have you ever crossed a street against the walk sign, sped through an intersection without enough time to see another car approaching, or driven so fast on the freeway that you probably endangered other drivers? Would I fly under a bridge? No. Was what she did as dangerous as some of the other things I just mentioned? Possibly, but maybe not. As for notoriety, I doubt this is what she was seeking. As for judgment, when fallible individuals place themselves on a pedestal and preach to the rest of us with no hint of compassion, it is hard to take them seriously. And, it’s about “me” and not “us”? Finally, I would save the “black eye” rant because in an imperfect world we will always have black eyes to deal with. If we can’t handle that reality, then maybe we should all just pack it in right now. My desire is that she learns her lesson, at what will certainly be a measurable personal cost, and is eventually allowed to return to flying. I will not be afraid to share the sky with her. Acknowledging wrong doing, but offering redemption, to me is better than blatant condemnation.

    • No mercy huh? Thank for writing your concerns about yourself and your own well being, that’s super interesting. I know you are confident in your opinion because you have never broken any aviation laws, that’s immediately clear so rightfully you should be the first one to cast a stone. Perhaps this is just a trial of one person who knows what they did rather than condemnation of the entire community. It’s not representative and you know that so please don’t try to translate this into some kind of #metoo, because you are simply not a victim of this not crime.

    • The pilot seat is not the place for someone with maturity, judgement, or honesty issues. No sympathy here.

    • “Show me the Pilot and I will show you the crime…”

      Stalin’s chief of Police – roughly translated, my Russian is not that good.

      Make sure your ADS-B is on comrades.

  3. ‘To others like me, an immature person who has to be the center of attention all costs.’

    I commend her maturity to accept the outcome of her dalliance without complaint and read no hint of wanting to be the ‘center of attention’, despite the insecure need for some to ‘virtue signal’ their displeasure. Her 18,000 hours and childlike maturity gives her the inner freedom to recognize how information has changed over the years as she prepares again for the PPl written. Can we readily make such adjustments with our own decisions?

    ‘The problem is, she has placed a portion of those costs on me without my knowledge or permission until I read it on AvWeb.’

    You and all of us will survive. A man can only be an island in his mind. Welcome, if you dare, to the imperfect human race.

    • Yes Dave, I will survive the fall out from Martha and any inspiration her bridge stunt provides for the next copy cat, yet immature pilot contemplating their FB/Social media coverage of their “dalliance”. But the next inspired bridge stunt may not be that bridge with Martha’s outcome.

      At 68 years old, the last thing I need as a Bonanza owner is an elderly pilot ( or for that matter any age pilot) scattering an airplane and the following litigation as another reason to “harden” the already expensive insurance market any further. In addition, I and all other aging pilots, do not need the high visibility Martha and her 78 years of chronological age is bringing to the discussion about aging pilot decision making. Especially, crossing off another “bucket list” goal.

      Lastly, with 14,000+ hours of experience including owning and flying a Cessna 180 for a long time, along with several other tailwheel airplanes like the Cub she pranged the neighbors 150 with, it seems pretty poor decision making to participate in multiple “brutal” crosswind landings on a 32 foot wide concrete runway. She might need a serious check of the landing gear box area of her airplane if the landings were “brutal” enough to loosen the transponder from it’s tray. Or a structural check of the airframe for over stress if turbulence was so bad as to loosen the offending tray. If what she says about her present skills and decision making is true regarding flying in instrument loosening turbulence and multiple crosswind landing performance self described as “brutal”, she should have never been flying that day at that time. And then she flies under a bridge in those conditions? Yeah, the checks in the mail and I love you too.

      I am well aware, as is every other human being, of the imperfect human race. Especially my own. Because of those imperfections naturally already endowed to every one of us, we have rules and regulations in the attempt to corral the least common denominator of imperfections that can be anticipated or demonstrated by accumulated history.

      Martha’s bridge “stunt” adds more focus to the already ponderous sets of FAA rules opening Pandora’s box of ADS-B use and misuse, discussions about “Big Brother”, potential government over reach that has been pushed to the surface even more by the pandemic, and now the FAA’s use of a new law precisely aimed at intentional misuse of ADS-B technology and requirements in controlled airspace. What adds insult to this is she is a former FAA employee including pilot examiner. The perfect storm for FAA lawyers and ambulance chasers waiting to see what the legal precedence will be set by Martha’s legal disposition of her bridge stunt. All pilots will be paying for this one way or another. I did not expect someone of her skills, capabilities, experience, and aviation savvy to set those wheels in motion. Depending on what happens to her legally, that outcome is being carefully watched by the next imperfect aviator inspired by her performance and subsequent social media fame combined with mainstream aviation coverage as AvWeb’s to potentially do likewise. Thanks Martha.

      • I’ve got a few years more than you on this orb, Jim, and I just can’t be bothered by all the Fears of Consequence that you seem to take on from her dall… er, stunt. I don’t condone it, but geez, like Larry S said, a total flogging for it? and, (my words) Inhofe gets a slap on the wrist and STILL doesn’t accept responsibility, let alone any humility for his criminal act years ago actually endangering lives?

        I showed this writeup to the small group of ladies in my orbit today and after reading it, all smiled and said ‘Of course! she’s female, that’s why.’ No proof is offered here, but the difference between her and Inhofe in punishment is rather extraordinary, just sayin’.

        If I may quote from the great movie “No Country for Old Men”, ‘You can’t stop what’s coming, it’s not all about you. That’s vanity.’
        Be safe out there.

        • I agree with you 100% about Inhofe (we are all less safe with pilots with his attitude flying around) but disagree that the FAA gave him a pass because of his gender. He’s a very powerful senator, and so he got away with actions that would have had anyone else’s ticket pulled. I remain very disappointed that he got away with a slap on the wrist for intentionally and irresponsibly landing on a closed runway forcing workers to literally run for their lives.

          I think it’s likely that the Martha Lunken situation is the polar opposite. She has no power or authority over the FAA, and in fact, she’s been (from their point of view) a loud-mouthed critic for a long time. I am sure that it’s personal, to some extent, and she shouldn’t be surprised that they are throwing the book at her. I don’t think it’s completely undeserved — I have enjoyed reading her columns for years, but if we’re being honest, many of them describe incidents of poor judgment from her decades in the industry. I hope she’ll take some time to reflect on all of that and perhaps resolve to be a safer pilot and more diligent observer of the rules should she regain flight privileges.

  4. I just took a look at the link you provided to the FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program. Geezus! An army of lawyers must have written that monstrosity? And an “Enforcement Information System.” Nuff said.

    I talked with a FAA ADS-B “guru” in their hangar at two different Airventure conventions regarding use of the ‘anonymous’ mode afforded by some UAT’s. He told me that ‘they’ had a way of ferreting who you were anyways. And he told me that they wouldn’t use ADS-B to violate anyone. Right .. got it. I didn’t believe it then and I certainly don’t believe it now. I was making an equipment selection decision so I decided to just buy a 1090Mhz box and know that ‘they’ were watching and behave. Now, I’m wondering if having one in the airplane is wise IF you don’t need it to fly in “Rule” airspace? I’ve already predicted auto-generated airspace violation letters, and worse, as Arthur Foyt opined. What’s next … automatic debit of your bank account for levied fines if you’ve used that method of paying your taxes? I also predict ADS-B ‘everywhere’ is coming … especially once space based ADS-B happens.

    I see this as VERY similar to the lopsided $1.6M fine the FAA levied against the City of Anniston, AL. Chicago — with it’s deep pockets to fight back — gets a $33K fine for destroying a world class urban airport while Anniston gets a $1.6M fine for failing to take care of a few minor items on an airport the Govment abandoned and turned responsibility for to that small City because someone peeped them off? Message received loud and clear.

    I don’t condone her momentary lapse in judgement but I do think a year’s revocation and subsequent use of her “bully pulpit” to school the rest of us would have gone a lot further in ensuring that all of us behave as pilots but … I guess they feel crucifixion was necessary? Good thing being drawn and quartered or beheading is no longer in vogue! The 78 year old woman indirectly worked for them … is this the thanks she gets? What happened to “kinder and gentler?”

    Ya’ll tighten those lockdown screws on your ADS-B transponders, now … heah!! And don’t you forget to occasionally do a PAPI to ensure it’s all working in between certs and retain the proof.

    • I remember when they passed seat belt laws here in Texas, they made a big deal about how this would not be used to stop anyone and would only be an add on ticket. Of course, that wasn’t in the law and now they have Carte Blanche to pull over anyone at any time.

  5. Maybe her transponder issue really was unintentional, but she already lost her DPE credentials and now she pulls this bridge stunt, so it’s not unreasonable to doubt her claim about the transponder. I no no way condone what she did, but it should still be the burden of the FAA to prove she intentionally turned it off for the stunt. Of course, we all know about the FAA’s disdain for due process, and that’s something that needs to be addressed.

  6. I never met Martha, but am aware of her time working for the FAA while living in SW Ohio. The irony I find is that back in 1993, I paid for a P-51 ride out of Clinton County Airport (I66). I saw about 6-8 people grinning ear to ear after their rides, and figured it was well worth the $400 fee. The pilot/owner ran a propeller shop up in Findlay Oh, I’ll omit his name as he got into some IRS problems soon after my ride. I had no parachute, and we did a few loops and rolls, I figure the others did as well. As I understand it, Martha came down hard on the -51 pilot for breaking the rules requiring a parachute. I don’t know the exact details however. It seems Martha got tired of following rulers herself. I know, it was just that one bridge stunt (that she got caught doing…). We might all like to fly through open hangar doors from end to end, but thankfully most of us just try to follow the rules and do things right.

    • That’s bringing back some memories, Mark. I learned to fly at the Wood County Airport (1G0) in Bowling Green OH, and was based at FZI. I flew in the Findlay area regularly. In fact, when my instructor was having issues getting me to land on the centerline, she took me down to the airfield where that prop shop was located for a few landings. If I recall, the paved runway was only about 15′ wide. We established that I could, in fact land on the centerline. It was just that for some reason I was not focusing on actually doing it on the relaticely spacious runways at 1G0. For whatever reason, the landings at that small field cured my problem, but I’ll admit, that first one was a real stress inducer.

  7. I’ve flown under bridges many times in a variety of aircraft, never got hurt or broke anything, and didn’t get any kind of FAA enforcement. Of course, I was doing it in my VR simulator, but it scratched that itch. The most money you could spend on a world-class home VR simulator would be far less than lawyer fees or the cost of re-earning your cert(s) if you do this is “real life”.

  8. Who hasn’t wanted to fly under a bridge. We have all probably seen the video of the Bonanza flying under the Eiffel Tower. Didn’t have security cameras in those days.
    Gonna miss your input to Flying Magazine until August. Flying better keep you contributing to their magazine or I might not renew my subscription.

  9. Dear Martha,
    The story caught my eye, just like the mischievous twinkle in your own. Your delightful, confident smile, and the story which followed has cheered me up no end, on a day that promised to be as mediocre as any other.
    I doubt there are many who could say they have never done anything impulsive. I admire your courage to admit that it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and wait for the consequences. You have more spirit than a cask of single malt.
    Whilst the authorities have been kind enough to name an airport in your family’s honour, perhaps they might consider changing the name of the bridge from a long-forgotten dour old gentleman, to something modern.
    Ah yes, The Martha Lunken Bridge – 2020
    May I wish that you never grow old, and enjoy everything that life offers us.
    Yours sincerely,

  10. No surprise ADS-B has and will be used as an enforcement tool, though I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the “Because SAFETY!” pitch. As has been argued in court regarding *onstar, smart phones, and red light cameras: how does the FAA propose to prove who was at the controls? Oh yeah, now I remember. As a government agency, they don’t have to.

  11. Very disappointing. Full disclosure here, I pulled a similar stunt nearly 50 years ago (Martha would have been flying for about ten years at that point). The difference was that I was a dumbass 18 year old with the ink barely dry on my private pilot’s certificate. On reflection (even at the time) I realized it was a stupid stunt. This lady, with her age and experience certainly knew better. Whether or not she shut down the ADS-B intentionally is immaterial. She set a very bad example for someone who should be a role model. Flying Magazine should shut down her column.

    • The infraction of flying under the bridge was stupid and reckless… but turning off the transponder and then claiming it was broken… that could get you federal prison time.

      • “but turning off the transponder and then claiming it was broken… that could get you federal prison time”

        Right. Politicians like to us CONSTANTLY with impunity, but if we lie, it’s off to prison we go. They don’t care if they end your life.

        • Correct, politicians are liars, nothing they say should ever be trusted or believed as truth. Federal officers can also lie to you, oddly even in court if they want with impunity.
          The average citizen can not lie during a federal investigation. It is best to plea the 5th when a federal official asks a question. Always get a lawyer… and not just an aviation lawyer.

  12. Mr. Holdeman completely misses the point; in 50 years of flying and around 30K TT., I seriously doubt that I have ever done a “regulatorily perfect” flight. The FAA, like all regulatory/government agencies are staffed by humans who each have their biases. Which of the regulatory blunders/intentional flouting they choose to pursue is at their whim. Sins have no weight; all are sins, say the writers of Scripture. In the secular world, the FAA are the judges and we, the taxpaying fliers are at their (sometimes dubious, sometimes fair) – judgment and mercy – REGARDLESS of the seriousness of the infraction.
    Flying under structures isn’t a great idea, for a number of reasons (HEY…when did they string that construction cable there???). But, we can get just as violated for flying too near The People’s House in D.C., regardless of the reason; might even be shot out of the sky…and for what? Too much power in D.C. and OKC is the problem. The Darwin Factor eventually eliminates the problem of low fliers, even great airshow fliers. Let’s lighten up on our fellow aviators; we have enough envious and officious folks who don’t like, or understand why we fly and we certainly don’t need a circular firing squad. IMHO.

    • I agree that it’s near impossible to do a perfectly FAA compliant flight. Hell, our overregulated society makes it nearly impossible to live without violating some law at some point. But there’s a difference between, say, missing a NOTAM or screwing up an ATC instruction, and intentionally flying under a bridge. That’s careless and reckless operation if I ever saw it. Pilots, especially those that are responsible for training and evaluating other pilots, should be holding themselves to higher standards. We have enough problems with a larger society that views GA pilots as trust fund kids with death wishes. We don’t need to reinforce that idea.

    • True… but did you deliberately violate a regulation and try to hide it? It appears to the the situation here. The enforcement of the regulations has changed to be sensitive to the infraction. Was it deliberate? Or was it an unintended mistake? One will get you a different response then the other.

  13. Bad luck, transponder going out at exactly the wrong time. Kind of like the bad luck that might occur when a 78-year-old pilot impulsively flies a very old airplane (with loose equipment) down into a gorge on a gusty, turbulent day without, from the sound of it, surveying the site for cables, maintenance workers hanging below the bridge or other unexpected circumstances. She will certainly benefit from the increased emphasis on ADM in the private pilot curriculum. Good call by the FAA a few years back pulling her DPE.

  14. My 2 cents:
    – It’s the intentional nature of her flight that’s troublesome. I suppose one could create scenarios why that’s not too smart: cables, drones, base jumpers… Have I fantasized about: buzzing the tower, barrel rolls, flying under a bridge – absolutely! But we have to be smarter than this.
    – As for her xponder issue: I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Who hasn’t had an avionics gremlin? On the other hand, if she disabled the unit it will remain on her conscious.
    – Her reference to “brutal landings” may be literary license in an attempt to mitigate the avionics issue. However, if not, could it be plan continuation bias? Perhaps she could address this on a future article.
    The level self-inflicted harm, only she will know. Hopefully the harm to GA will be minor.

  15. One of the problems here is how younger impressionable less experienced pilots might now be encouraged to do the same. It is conceivable that a bridge will now be hit, or a life lost, or property damaged, because a pilot or student goes “stupid”. It’s not even close to being worth it; and why?

  16. Chapter 2 of Pilot’s handbook of aeronautical knowledge, which she probably helped write: the five hazardous attitudes in flying – Anti-authority, Impulsivity, Invulnerability, Machosim, Resignation.
    Flying under a bridge fits 4 out of 5 hazardous attitudes.
    If this were Joe Pilot, no one on Avweb will be debating whether he deserved FAA action. Given that she was an authority that other people looked up to, the FAA cannot afford to cut her any slack just because she used to be one of them.

    I also noted that she said studying for the private written was an eye-opener. Really?

  17. ADS-B is a significant enhancement to aviation safety. Having said that, the fact the FAA uses it as an enforcement tool speaks about the nature of the FAA. ADS-B extends beyond our borders.

  18. I don’t really think Martha needs a multi paragraph rant of criticism. She screwed up. She’s hurting. Leave her be.

  19. I believe her about the transponder. ADS-B coverage, as well as GPS coverage, in this region in general is spotty at best, especially below 1,000 AGL. The FAA had me do two additional flights around 1,500 AGL near my home airport for the rebate because they said the GPS coverage wasn’t good enough at 1,000 AGL, and we don’t have near the amount of hills as they do around Cincy. Makes me wonder how airports in this area can have WAAS approaches down to minimums.

  20. Don’t think for a minute that ADS-B ever had anything to do with safety. That’s just collateral damage; it was always about the FAA’s wanting to know where those “little airplanes” were every second of every day. As for ADSB-in, the weather data was just the carrot part of the carrot-and-stick, and as for midairs, many years ago a pilot/mathematics professor determined that, given the Big Sky/Small Airplane scenario, the numbers of midairs without ATC would be about the same as with. I’ll grudgingly concede ATC’s benefit for approach control, although with current computing, the system could generate its own mesh network and handle flow far better, with the controller monitoring the automation and a dog to bite the controller if he speaks or touches anything.

    My grade-school buddy told me in fourth grade, “Personal freedom is at an all-time low.” That was sixty years ago; he was right then, and it hasn’t improved a bit.

    • ADS-B provides pseudo radar in oceanic and remote areas. Australia was the first country to mandate it for IFR flight over the remote areas of their huge country. The safety and operational improvements are quite significant. It will provide pseudo radar in the present radar holes in the U.S., once the FAA does their part.

  21. Oh my. I’ve been flying almost as long in years as Martha and I’m very close to her age. Although I don’t have near her hours nor her credentials, I’ve done my share of “stupid pilot tricks”, mostly in my younger, foolisher years. Some were out of hubris, some out of ignorance, and some just happened. One cost me a 90 day suspension some 35 years ago. I’ve known some really great pilots in my lifetime, and I’ve known some really awful pilots, too. I’ve had a hand in de-certificating a couple of the really awful ones, and I’ve helped some otherwise good ones keep their certificates although they screwed up. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all that time, it’s that there’s no such thing as an infallible pilot—nor an infallible human being. So I don’t feel comfortable judging Martha’s high jinks in the vituperative way several here have done. As the fellow who walked on water said, he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Meanwhile, it’s probably a good idea not to fly under any bridges, with or without functioning ADS-B Out.

  22. The FAA acted correctly in this instance. Deliberate acts are to be punished. Accidental should require more training.
    This was no accident. Sorry, but life sucks when you screw up. At least she didn’t kill someone, but that attitude will kill someone sooner or later.

  23. Just like what the FAA did to Bob Hoover and John and Martha King, the actions are draconian and overweening. Period. Contemplate this; had the FAA existed in the early 20th Century, the Wright Brothers would not have flown. Every one of you that agrees with or advocates this actin by the FAA has no idea of the actual power that the FAA has – and will exercise. As predicted by many of us years ago, ADS-B is, to the FAA, simply an enforcement tool.

    • Nope, this system was for ATC, but when I first presented it 30 years ago they said the actual satcom signal was too weak for reliable air traffic control. It could be jammed with very little effort and wasn’t considered 100% reliable to ATC standards. It is still just in testing by the public, but will change in the future.

  24. 239 feet AGL – sorry, ADSB doesn’t work that low. Google has some interesting pics of the terrain surrounding the bridge, and the nearest towers I can find are near Hamilton and Hillsboro. Finally, the bridge is (close to CVG, 34! NM NE) but not in ADS-B or transponder-required airspace. I’m not advocating for the stunt, but there is no crime here IAW with 91.225. There isn’t even a violation of 91.215 here. No one needs a lawyer to win this case; the burden of proof is insurmountable.

    • Careless and reckless… never challenge the federal government. It most likely (98% of the time) will not turn out well. I know this first hand.

  25. Maybe she was reminiscing about the “barnstorming years” of aviation and wanted to try flying like again.

    But on the other hand, stupidity knows no age limit. Martha, Martha, Martha what are we going to do with you?

  26. Everyone, including Martha, 100% knows that she turned her transponder off for her stunt. Everyone also 100% knows there is zero way of proving it.

    • Since you know so damn much, how about contacting me. Have questions that no one else has been able to answer in years!

  27. To the guys who excoriated Martha at great length: Be careful getting down off your high horse so you don’t fall off your soapbox.

  28. Come on people. Seriously? It isn’t this aviator that put costs on anyone, it is the FAA period. Get a grip. She did not commit a horrible transgression in spite of the FAA saying she did. What nonsense. Over regulation rearing its ugly head.

  29. Playing with fire can lead to serious burns.
    Circumstantial evidence is oftentimes enough for any kind of convictions, and if that were not the case then a lot of people would get away with much more.
    The FAA obviously must make clear moves to prevent the impression of preferential treatment of one of their own, however the punishment is way out of proportion – destroying a stack of lifetime achievements is too much for something they cannot actually prove.

    • Like you said… circumstantial evidence… yea, a jury could easily convict on this one. She could ask for one, but it could turn actual criminal as in federal prison time.

  30. I’m glad Péter Besenyei of Red Bull fame has retired from racing with Red Bull. He’d be in a heap of trouble here in the US based on videos I’ve seen.

    As for ADS-B requirements for folks that have the unit, I’m purchasing a popcorn machine for use in the future when all your complaints come in about paying airspace user fees.

  31. I love Martha; known her for years. That’s just my truth in advertising statement.

    My comment isn’t about what she did or her punishment.

    My observation is that oppressed people take a perverse joy in seeing other people’s punishment. I suspect some of the “holier than thou” and “lock her up and throw away the key” comments are reflective of America’s oppressed and over-regulated society.

    Freedom loving people need to resist the unflattering tendency to pile-on. We should push for freedom and companionate responses from our Government when an otherwise upstanding citizen stumbles.

  32. Everyone is a critic…at her stage in life go for it! Glad I did it before security cameras are everywhere though…

  33. Good for you Martha, you go girl. Glad you crossed that off your bucket list. I’m sorry the end of your career came sooner than expected. No harm, no foul I say and like a good pilot you didn’t risk anyone’s life except your own. Flying under bridges is a lot like driving in a lane on the freeway, probably shouldn’t make a habit of it, but its not exactly a daredevil stunt or fraught with peril either. Slap her on the wrist and let her go. Generally I think the agency means well, but making examples of people like this is why we say eff the eff ay ay.

    ADS-B is not safety it’s surveillance, just like it says in the name. I resent my $5000 government tracker and all the BS rules that came with it. We knew this was going to happen and we let it anyway so this is all our fault. We got absolutely nothing for it. Contrast how many lives it has saved vs how many enforcement actions it precipitated and there is your answer why it exists. The insult is that they made us pay for it too. Next will be cockpit cameras and someday only computers will be allowed to fly planes into the ground (737Max).

    You see how they slipped in the law without a peep right after ADS-B became mandatory. It’s insidious. But Martha, if ADS-B didn’t get you, it would have been one of the cameras on every square mile on the planet, your own dang cell phone or some low-tech a hole calling the FSDO. I respect you Martha for having the lady balls to own up to it, admit you broke the law willfully for all of the glory, don’t ever apologize for doing what you meant to do. I know you are sorry you got caught, I am too. You gambled and lost, but you were never wrong to live your life to the fullest. As we welcome our new digital overlords on bended knee we will remember those icons who dared defy inevitability.

  34. I just re-did all my ratings, including retaking the written exams. I found it interesting. Much has changed over the last 40 years. I did get the same score on the instrument written as I did more than 30 years ago.
    Busted down from a general to a ‘boot recruit’ pilot is a hard thing to swallow. But it isn’t like she will ever be an ATP pilot at 78. Maybe she will be a private again.

  35. Many of the comments here prove what I say regularly: we’ve become a nation of slaves. We’ve also become a nation of tyrants. Many of the comments here back up that assertion, too.

  36. Maybe my comment is a tad “off-topic”, but this reminds me of those “thriller” stories when filthy-rich people decide to pull-off a bank heist just for “sh*ts and giggles.”

  37. I’ve seen pilots do stupider things with less punishment from the FAA. Had a pilot, in a citation, buzz a fly event in on a private strip. One person on the runway had to dive to the ground to not get hit. All on video, 3 month license suspension. Seems like inconsistent enforcement.

  38. Have had an aviation crush on Martha for quite a while.
    Lots of harsh critiques here. Certainly, some deserved.
    The harshest of which… give me a frickin break.
    She didn’t aim her explosive laden C-180 at the bridge.
    You get old enough… you have lapses of judgment.
    She’s going to stand up, take a current written (how many of us could do that), get her student’s ticket, solo in an hour, and move on.
    And we should be fine with that.
    The rest of you… get off my lawn.

    • Again… you missed the point. This wasn’t just a laps of judgement or they would have likely given a suspension. It is pretty obvious… She lied to federal investigators… yes, that is a crime.
      A revoked certificate could be the least of her problems if some AUSA decides she needs to be made an example of for challenging the government…

      • “She lied to federal investigators…” reminds me of that line from Wendy’s, where’s the beef? If she really intended to avoid detection she would have had her hand on the switch to turn it back on 1 minute after passing the bridge. If there’s intent to avoid detection, one would be more diligent, not lackadaisical.

  39. I am a concerned about getting violated for not having my Transponder turned on. I was flying with a student the other day and was late getting back home. My student and I landed to get gas and got talking with a local pilot. It got dark and my wife decided to check Flightaware. It showed that my flight ended in a field. She was worried that I had crashed. Later investigation revealed that unless you are on Flight Following or you get interrupted by altitude restrictions of the ADSB system, the signal may just stop working. I would hate to lose my license because for some reason my signal got interrupted. Roast her if you like but don’t complain if you find yourself in the same circumstance resulting from an interrupted signal at the wrong time.