AVmail: February 9, 2004

Reader mail this week about terrorists (and non-terrorists), stupid pilot tricks and more.


Who Are the Terrorists?

While it is very unlikely that a Jewish immigrant from Israel would be a member of al Qaeda (NewsWire, Feb. 2), it is not impossible for such a person to be a terrorist.Lest we all forget, prior to 9/11 the single most deadly act of terrorism in the continental U.S. was the bombing in Oklahoma City. The main perpetrator was a white guy from Illinois who was both a former member of the U.S. Military and a former Civil Air Patrol cadet.While we should all remain vigilant, we should also remember that terrorists do not all look the same or act for the same motives.Michael A. Klaene

In response to your story on “Mike” the suspected terrorist (NewsWire, Feb. 2), I feel your usual slightly-sarcastic wit again has gone too far in taking a mere news item and blowing it into something bigger than it is. Maybe it’s just me, but I get the feeling that you are expressing your own feelings into the story by “can you believe the FBI would act like this?” type of reporting.I’m not an FBI agent, a cop or in any way affiliated with law enforcement or the government. I do ask how would you and Mike want to FBI to handle this? Did you both stop to think that the FBI probably gets hundreds of tips a month like the one that involved Mike. How would you and Mike want them handled? I’ll help you get started:

  1. Not do anything. (Of course, I sure hope he’s just an aviation nut, don’t you?)
  2. Initiate a full blown investigation interviewing Mike’s coworkers, friends, relatives etc.
  3. Bug his apartment and trail him, slowly building a case.
  4. Show up at his apartment, guns drawn, swat team on the roof, helicopters nearby, etc?
  5. Knowing that you get hundreds of these tips a month, assign an agent who would stop by for a quick hello and a “sorry about this intrusion but I’ll be brief” chat. If the guy does balk, sweats, refuses to answer questions (actually still legal under the Patriot Act), runs, gives misleading info (you get the picture), then maybe you might pursue the matter further.

In fact I suppose the best way to handle tips like these are just the way the FBI, police, IRS agents, FDA inspectors and most other serious government agencies handle themselves, or at least I hope they do. (Good for OSHA on their surprise inspections). If the FBI did nothing with Mike’s tip, they open themselves up to — well, you know — FBI bashing. If the FBI handled it with any more gusto than they did, then they get even more bashing the other way.It seems to me that today we are so quick to judge and scream “Foul!” whenever something happens that we feel may be wrong but usually don’t know the full story about. The press in in a position to temper this by doing its job and offering both viewpoints, but they often don’t (or don’t print the story in the first place). Did you, or will you, go back and ask Mike the above points on how this should have been handled?I suppose Mike would say that, since he is a law-abiding citizen (I hope), the FBI should leave him alone and go after the real terrorists who have flight material sent to them in the mail and who, of course, unfortunately look like middle-eastern men between the ages of 18 and 45 who say they are Jewish immigrants because that’s what they put on their immigration papers. Did the FBI agent actually use the words, “Under suspicion as a terrorist”? I doubt it. Was the agent unprepared (another opinion and by itself criticism), or was the agent trying to act as non-threatening as possible?What do you think, AVweb? I think you should either stop writing about these incidents or do a lot more thinking about them before you print them.Kevin Shannon

AVweb Replies

If you check back through the article, you’ll see we just reported what “Mike” said. I don’t think Mike was necessarily saying that his case shouldn’t have been investigated; rather, he’s critical of the way in which it was investigated. With all the resources at the FBI’s disposal, it seems to me that a business card left under the door with a request to call back hints at a lack of conviction on the part of the FBI agent. Can’t speak for Mike but I think he’d have preferred something between that and the SWAT scenario, if the agency really thought he was worth investigating.

Russ Niles
AVweb Writer/Editor

GA Airport Security

When a madman rented a truck and parked it in front of a building in Oklahoma City and killed hundreds, did we put higher fences up and security checks on vehicle rental operations? What would have happened to the Twin Towers if two tanker trucks full of Jet Fuel were slammed into their lobbies? Should we authorize guns for the drivers of fuel and chemical tankers? The threat and potential is in so many places and doesn’t take great planning or power to accomplish. Why do we stand by and let General Aviation and the airports we use and need be singled out (NewsWire, Feb. 5)?Roger Sutton

Supermarket Near Airport

I believe you omitted the fact and probably the clincher that the FAA said it was not unsafe to put the building and people on the site (NewsWire, Feb. 2).Why they said it, I cannot understand … possibly politics?Norman Greenberg

Aircraft vs. Automobiles

It has become apparent to me that some of us in GA think we are driving cars and can just pull of to the side of the road. Cases at hand in the last two issues: Mineta plans to triple airspace capacity (Newswire, Jan. 29); no student training areas; Ted Waddell runs out of fuel and asks for permission to land in an emergency (NewsWire, Feb. 2); Philadelphia pilot on drunken or drug game (NewsWire, Feb. 2); and two VFR Air Canada mix-ups (NewsWire, Feb. 2).Flying is not a Sunday stroll. Louis Klemp

Giving a Bad Name to Pilots

I am writing in response to your article about the C140 that crashed after allegedly being refused permission to land at Travis AFB (NewsWire, Feb. 2). You said that the NTSB preliminary report may support the pilots version of events. The only facts that I see it supports is that he took off, got caught above an undercast, and crashed. Your article says that he ran short of fuel looking for a hole in the undercast. The NTSB report says that the flight originated at Napa at 1815 local time, and terminated in a tree at 1830. My question is this: If an aircraft takes off with 15 minutes (or less) of fuel, at what point does it begin to run short? The pilot says he was “peppered” with questions by the controllers. I suspect these included, “What is your position?” “How much fuel do you have remaining?” and, “How many people are aboard?”It seems likely that the pilot never got a weather report before he took off. After alerting the controllers to his fuel emergency, they vectored him to the nearest airport. They wouldn’t have any way to know if the field was fogged in (Nut Tree has no control tower), and thanks to the pilot’s fuel status, no time to find out. Finally, if the pilot-in-command determined that his only option was to land at Travis, his duty is to do exactly that, and advise the controllers of his intentions. The pilot is in charge of the aircraft, not the controllers. I doubt that they had stinger crews (as in the photo in the article) itching to shoot down the “attack Cessna.” Despite the fact that, thankfully, no one was killed, this accident seems to be the worst kind: pilot error caused by severe stupidity. And the pilot still doesn’t seem to get it. He blames the controllers for putting him in harm’s way.Joseph Serafino

Thought you might like a bit more background information on this story. I fly out of Nut Tree and Napa. My night currency had expired the day before and on 1/11/2004, I decided I might as well try and get in some night landings at a towered airport, which meant a trip from Nut Tree to Napa. The day had been clear after almost two weeks of straight fog, and the TAFS called for nothing until about 10 p.m. local time. Sunset was at 5:05. I was continually checking ASOS at both Napa and Nut Tree on my cell phone just in case. Napa has a history of either fogging in or low ceilings — even when everything else is clear. I got to the airport about 5:45 and did my pre-flight, still visibility 10 and sky clear.At about 6:00 p.m., I got into my Cessna 172 and discovered the flashlight wasn’t where I left it. I walked back to the hanger, then returned and started up — five minutes max. Tuned in the ASOS and the field had gone to five miles in fog. OK, I can still get in three landings locally. By the time I taxied out to the runway area (about 500 feet away), it looked a lot less than five miles to me. There was a Cessna on short final so I waited about three mins for her to land. “Is it closing in as fast as I think it is?” “It sure looks that way.” So I aborted and taxied back to the parking area (1500 feet total trip length).By the time I had gotten the plane shut down, the field had closed, and by the time I had gotten it tied down it was 1/4 mile, 100-feet vertical visibility. As I was driving away at about 6:15, you could barely see the beacon from across the road. Driving home, about five miles from the airport the fog broke and it was completely clear — so Travis and Napa were clear (they didn’t close until about 7:30; I know because I kept checking the weather). I couldn’t believe how fast Nut Tree had closed, when it is always the one that is open and Napa is always the one that closes.However, I have never flown into Travis when they have had any weather information for Nut Tree. They simply don’t have access to it. At any given time they have six to eight trained controllers and 150 trainees. And those trainees are taught to give priority in handling to the heavy military aircraft that come in. I have been dropped at least three times in the middle of an approach. They simply forget that you are there. Or if one of their jets is coming in, they will really try to route you to an approach that is not available in current conditions, because they have no way of knowing what those conditions are. That particular evening, it was over the minute they headed the Cessna to Nut Tree.Kimberly Nish


Your recent article about UFO’s (NewsWire, Feb. 5) shows that the aviation community is becoming less worried about harassment, intimidation and personal attacks by reporting these, and more concerned with the implications of air safety and the profound level of engineering advancements with these anomalous vehicles.Many may scoff at those who report seeing them, however, quickly change their perspective after personally witnessing one. They do exist and represent an incredible technology that most physicists are barely able to grasp and understand.Are they ours? I don’t know, but denying that they are real with the amount of physical evidence available is poor science, and sneering and joking at those who have reported seeing them is irresponsible. I will not even mention the fringe of people who lie and hoax, that is indicative of every spectrum of all populations, but it is a consistent fraction of us who work and live our lives to enjoy and to learn our environment of aviation and everything good and bad in it, and then extend our experiences to others in sincere honesty.Jeff Smathers