Fear, Loathing And ADS-B

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If I were more diligent about keeping logbooks, I could look up the date when my airplane partner and I flew up to meet John and Martha King in Jacksonville for some kind of event or another. When we got to the airport to depart, the weather was crap; probably ¼-mile and indefinite ceiling. It was night. This was—and probably still is—just the kind of instrument flying I love. I remember John saying he agreed and was happy to see someone else actually doing it.

Despite that avuncular presence on the green screen, Mr. King’s inner wild child is revealed by another comment he made earlier that day when we were discussing the five bad attitudes the FAA is always trying to browbeat us with to warn that a mild-mannered podiatrist can metastasize into a psychopath at just a whiff of 100LL. You remember them, right? Anti-authority, impulsivity, invulnerability, macho and resignation. “Hell,” John observed, “you have to have three of those just to want to be a pilot in the first place.” My three are that I have resigned myself to my anti-authoritarian impulsivity and so far my machismo has rendered me untouchable. I guess I’m over budget.

And here, I’ll segue into the Martha Lunken story Russ Niles filed this week and which is otherwise bouncing around social media like a rubber check in a tile bathroom. Summary: Ms. Lunken, a well-known Ohio aviation personality and Flying Magazine columnist, decided, on a whim, to fly under the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge that carries I-71 over the Little Miami River in Oregonia. Ohio. Here’s a picture, so you can see the appeal. It’s the highest bridge in Ohio. If your reaction is, “that would be a cakewalk,” you’re not alone.

But the act is indefensibly boneheaded, which she admits. But for one line in the FAA enforcement letter, it’s not wild-eyed crazy, either. The line is: There were people under the bridge. It provides no further detail so we don’t know if they were in boats or having picnics on the shore. For me personally, if I were willing to take on the bridge stunt, I’m not willing to risk the remote chance of having the flaming wreckage with me in it land between the chicken and the potato salad of the Stooldrear’s Sunday outing. That, if you’ll pardon me, is a bridge too far.  

I’m not too worried about knocking the bridge over or hitting cars. Still, I wouldn’t try it for reasons related to the thrill-versus-consequences ratio. The potential ^%$ storm Ms. Lunken is now inevitably enduring, with this blog being another predictable gust, is hardly worth the payoff. Now if I were flying with Michael Goulian inverted … give me a minute on that. Nor would I accept the argument that one bridge buzz job is necessarily emblematic of a pattern of bad judgment or a gateway drug to yet more demented acts, say, like buying an Ercoupe.

Being a columnist and all, Lunken is an opinion leader of sorts and thus expected to be, if not a moral guidepost, at least not too much of a knucklehead. It is a kind of burden to bear, earned or deserved or not. Readers develop a perception of a media persona as somehow an exemplar. Perhaps showing yourself to be all too human is the on-ramp to redemption. Nonetheless, one needn’t bore holes under a major interstate artery to reach that higher plane of aeronautical wisdom conferred upon those of us who sin, repent and rejoin the flock. The more mundane runway excursions, fuel exhaustions and taxiing into hangar doors should suffice without the prospect of a permanent chair on the beach because you appeared to show criminal intent.

The eye-opener is that the FAA raised the charge to Murder 1 because they claimed Lunken intentionally turned off her ADS-B to avoid detection. She says she did not. This shows the low standard of proof in administrative law. You are presumed guilty if the government says you are and the burden is on you to prove otherwise. They revoked all of her certificates. She has to start anew if she wants to fly again. Odd calculus indeed. If I had to go through all that just to reinstate my certificates, I’d rejoin my bowling league. That said, there might yet be a pretty good T-shirt business is this. Aviation, like motorcycling, has its outlaw contingent.

Her case also shows the uneven way penalties are assessed. The day before we reported this, I got a call from a reporter in Oregon asking about a case where a local pilot—the mayor of a town—was suspended for 200 days for operating a Skyhawk that was two years out of annual and without having had a flight review in six years. He appears to have run the airplane out of gas and landed on a beach causing grievous injuries to one of his passengers. Scroll to 11:11 in this video to see it. In my view, he got a light sentence despite a persistent pattern of bad judgment and noncompliance.

While we’re at it, don’t let it escape notice that ADS-B is now an enforcement tool, even if isn’t working. And I did not know that if the FAA decides you turned it off to evade detection, it’s an automatic—or at least potential—revocation.

And since bad things come in threes, I learned of another accident this week in which ADS-B may be a factor. A flight school Skyhawk crash landed on a golf course after an ADS-B track that may show impromptu aerobatics. Even if that isn’t true, the ADS-B will be the music for a rug dance for the pilots, I’m sure.

There are two blades to this dull axe. On the one hand, if knowing that ADS-B is the all-seeing eye it may appear to be serves as an inhibition to doing stupid stuff—like flying under bridges on a whim—that’s not a bad thing. On the other hand, the data might be compromised or made to somehow catch you in a marginal act leading to enforcement that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. I’d much prefer they spend their resources trying to find causes for all those unknown engine failures.

Of course, if your airplane has no electrical system, like my old Cub, that’s different, isn’t it? (It does have the 1930’s style three-foot N-numbers under the wing, however.) I’m still not doing the bridge thing. Bucket list or not, I’ve never liked explaining myself and I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna start now. Don’t want the time, not doing the crime.

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77 COMMENTS

  1. Another article that has me laughing because of your considerable writing skills describing an event with John and Martha, with the humorous totality of what the behavioral mindset is that seems to drive us becoming pilots. We don’t need another attempt of pilot recruitment aimed at the masses. They will never become pilots because they lack the necessary traits of “Anti-authority, impulsivity, invulnerability, macho and resignation.” Identifying human beings with those five traits is all we need to swell the pilot ranks. That is the secret sauce lacking in present recruitment. “Despite that avuncular presence on the green screen, Mr. King’s inner wild child is revealed by another comment he made earlier that day when we were discussing the five bad attitudes the FAA is always trying to browbeat us with to warn that a mild-mannered podiatrist can metastasize into a psychopath at just a whiff of 100LL.” “Hell,” John observed, “you have to have three of those just to want to be a pilot in the first place.” If anyone knows, John and Martha knows! Man, I am still laughing…excuse me while a wipe my tears. On the other hand, I am deeply angered by Martha’s behavior.

    Yes, 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? I am not sure even Michael Goulian could fly inverted under that bridge in the conditions Martha claims loosened her transponder tray. 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. Those imperfections are 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.

    This is not an accident…a whoops, I landed at the wrong airport, I missed a call by ATC. No, she had contemplated her decision to fly under that bridge, weighing in the balance the fall out the the present FAA rules and regulations she was aware of, and then said, I can afford that price. And viola!…another “bucket list” item checked off. She knew she would get caught. She knew there would be sanctions by her own admissions. I am not sure was aware of the ADS-B regs that covers intentional misuse of ADS-B including turning on and off for nefarious reasons. To me, this is narcissistic behavior at its best. She has an excuse for her behavior, yet will take the “high road” willingly taking all the fury of the FAA like lamb led to slaughter. Poor me for them to be so wrathful. I am just a old lady who had a momentary lapse in judgement responding to my teenage urges.

    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.

    • > and any inspiration her bridge stunt provides for the next copy cat, yet immature pilot contemplating their FB/Social media coverage of their “dalliance”.

      This is the crux. The FAA initiative to create a GA “safety culture” (not a bad thing IMHO) has been decades in the making, and the enormous influence of social media–especially of the multi-media variety–has not escaped its notice. Although Martha didn’t record her stunt and post it publicly, the FAA can see the flight plan in this sequence of future events as clearly as the rest of us. Yes the FAA has a YouTube channel, but how much influence on the culture can you get from a talking head telling you heed the rules? The FAA’s only realistic PROACTIVE tool to influence the culture is deterrence.

      That means we no longer have to consider how our decisions and behavior might appear to NTSB investigators only, we also have to consider how the FAA might decide they could be perceived through the eyes of the average YouTube consumer.

  2. This is an example of the difference between “Dumb” and “Stupid”.

    Every pilot who has been flying for any length of time can look back at something they did and say “well in retrospect, that was a dumb idea”.

    Stupid is deliberately going out and doing something that is black and white in the “ I know this is illegal” and doing it anyway by conscious decision.

    The problem with the stupid acts, aside from the obvious elevated personal risk to the pilot and anybody nearby, is it hurts everybody in GA by enabling the anti GA narrative.

    GA is fighting for its life as it is, please don’t do anything stupid.

  3. Martha may have unwittingly exposed why ADS-B will never replace our ELT’s … the box might get loose OR someone might purposely turn it off. Say … MH370 beat Martha to the number 1 spot on that front. I’m betting that the next iteration of TSO requirement for ADS-B will include removal of the on/off switch, direct wiring to the battery and maybe even the requirement to dial in your pilot certificate number before the engine will start. At that point, an automatic debit of one’s bank account for spewing carbon byproducts of combustion into the atmosphere will be the natural resultant. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that the greenies would establish an upper limit on that, too. Exceed it and your engine won’t start because you’ve exceeded your personal allotment. With some modifications, ADS-B “in” might allow the FAA to talk to you while you’re violating some rule OR — like modern car computers — they could plug in a tester and determine how many FAR’s you’ve violated since your last annual checkup . You may have been ahead of your time for moving your “Mission” backwards to a no electrical system airplane.

    • Regarding hand propping your 0200 — my first cub was a 65hp stock 1941. I never enjoyed hand-propping. After selling that airplane, I bough a 1941 which has a wind-driven alternator, a battery, and a starting motor. But because the electrical system is not engine driven, it is not subject to the requirement of a transponder, and certainly not ADS-B.

  4. Yeah Martha!

    I have always admired Martha Lunken’s often irreverent attitudes and commentary regarding life in aviation and the FAA. I still do!

    This situation she now finds herself in is a classic example of government overreach and overreaction. Granted, she violated a rule or two, which one of us hasn’t? In my 50+ years and 30K hours aloft there have been a few moments when I elected to do something “off the books” that was designed to excite or amuse me and that was calculated to keep me alive and uninjured in the process. After all, if I was safe, so was the airplane and any spectators.

    This action against Martha seems to me to be a veiled retaliation for her perceived irreverence or disrespect for the FAA. But the “gummint” has gone rogue in its attempt.

    • Right on the money. If anyone thinks the impetus for developing ADS-B was anything other than surveillance of “those little airplanes,” come see me; I have a bridge for you. “Weather-in” was just the sweetener in the cyanide so pilots would swallow it whole. Good boys.

      The natural evolution of any government is more control and more power to itself. Until Roosevelt, we’d done pretty well avoiding that; steeply downhill since then, freefall in these recent days. Maybe – at least until the book-burning starts – we can read about the days when acceptable behavior included that vast area beyond one inch to the right all the way to one inch to the left of eighty-five shelf-feet of federal regulations.

    • The FAA should still be required to show a preponderance of evidence that she intended to turn off the transponder/ADS-B to hide the bridge stunt. If, for instance, there was a good ADS-B track prior to the stunt but it goes missing before descending below the coverage area, and then it mysteriously reappears afterwards, that would be one thing. But if it disappeared well before the stunt and reappeared well after it, then it’s not so clear that there was intent.

      As for the stunt itself, there definitely should be consequences. Particularly for someone who’s former job included violating other pilots for pulling a similar stunt.

      • Exactly Gary. If the FAA alleges intent, it should have to prove intent. Certificates are cash money to those who have them – which is not to dismiss the romance of flying, merely to point out that certificate holders have property interests in their certificates and property interests receive constitutional protection from government action. The minimum of due process that I can imagine is that the government must offer proof of its allegations. It is not enough to prove that an ADS-B signal was not received; that could happen for any number of reasons having nothing to do with intent. If the government alleges intent, it must prove the intent it alleges. To require less of the government erodes everyone’s constitutional protections.

        • You bring up still another salient point, Joe. After I installed my ADS-B box, I had to fly it in Rule airspace for nearly an hour while maneuvering to prove it was working. This implies that there are situations where transponders DON’T work. And who among us hasn’t heard an ATC request to “Recycle transponder?”

    • Ron,
      You are incorrect.

      (If you are having a bad Monday, please forgive me for throwing that right back at you. Otherwise, I hope you see the humor. Did you have any particular reason we should agree with you? My biases tend to reject just about all forms of administrative law creep, which this is certainly a good example of.)

  5. >>And I did not know that if the FAA decides you turned it off to evade detection, it’s an automatic—or at least potential—revocation.

    Well you do now, which was probably a big part of this. She’s a high-profile example. 5% she had it coming, 95% “let’s make an example out of her”. Mission Accomplished.

      • Jay, you can always become part of the government and change it from within. Many folks that choose public service do because they feel they can do better than the status quo. The government within the United States is for the people by the people with emphasis to protect bystanders and overall public interest. That is a messy job but we need folks to do it.

        I wonder how folks feel that depend on that bridge and if she squashed into it like a bug on a windshield and the bridge was closed to ensure it was structurally sound to handle traffic. If you are in a situation where you depended on that bridge to get you to and from work, you probably have a different view as the minutiae of details continue to surface.

  6. Thinking about it some more this AM … there’s two more technical issues I wonder about. I’m surprised no one else drilled down this deep into the overall situation here.

    If ADS-B is ONLY “required” in Rule airspace per 91.225, why are they SO strictly enforcing it’s use otherwise? This is a generic question; it oughta be optional … no? If a non-equipped airplane can operate without it in non-Rule airspace, why are they SO strongly enforcing it’s use in not only non-Rule airspace but specifically — in this case — Class G airspace? I looked up the location of that bridge and it’s clearly NOT in Cincinnati’s Class B or Mode C veil and well below and clear of nearby Class E airspace rings. Further, 91.225(d)4 specifically EXCLUDES the need for ADS-B below 2,500′ AGL when above 10K’ (Rule airspace) and (d)5 below 3,000′ AGL over the Gulf when in Class E. This clearly shows that they’re more interested in its use higher up vs lower down. She was in G (hey, that rhymes). Seems to me that violation of the ADS-B rule is far less an egregious violation here than her violations of the 1,000′, 500′, min safe altitude and reckless flying rules. Certainly not enough to convict her of “Murder 1” over it. Mitigating the situation some, she took the airplane to an avionics repair facility specifically to check the equipment. Are they trying to convince us that she did that just so that she could then claim it wasn’t working if she got caught flying under the bridge? If so, she’s a mighty sly septuagenarian “doggie.”

    As I stated elsewhere on the subject, back when I was making an ADS-B equipment selection, I researched the pro’s and con’s of having a UAT capable of anonymous identification vs. a 1090Mhz box. Ultimately, I went for 1090MHz primarily because I needed a transponder anyway. Now I’m wondering if that was a wise decision. In her case — had she had a UAT — I suppose they could have connected the “dots” using time correlation of an anonymous UAT signal disappearing and reappearing but it would have been less conclusive. I could even envision a case where an airplane takes off from an uncontrolled airport during marginal conditions, an AWOS is reporting a low ceiling and the airplane then be violated by comparing AWOS reported conditions with an N number. Geezus … where is this all going? Big bro, for sure.

    Finally, here’s one I haven’t gotten a conclusive answer to. If an airplane has ADS-B equipment but it is out of certification date and needs to be flown to a place where a cert can be performed, how do you handle it if you’re NOT in Rule airspace? Do you leave it off and have to inform ATC IAW 91.225(g)1 even if the flight never goes near Rule airspace? If it’s out of date, it’s not legal … therefore it’s not “airworthy” even if you know it was working yesterday. You’re not in Rule airspace but the equipment is installed. Again … where is all of this going? For me, this is all getting to the point where it just isn’t fun anymore … and exactly why I now choose to fly in a place that’s mighty rural away from Bumble Bee AF Base.

    If only those two airliners hadn’t a clunked together over the Grand Canyon back in ’56 …

  7. OH … I forgot something. Last week, I had a reason to go see the airport manager where I hang out down south. Not important where it is. The guy proudly showed me his new airport surveillance equipment … a giant screen TV on his wall being fed from some online software that records each and every flight within miles … well beyond the airport’s Class D/E airspace. It even gets to the point where if he gets a low flying or noise complaint, he can take the address and time of the accused transgression and the software will show him who it was and the 3-D position of the airplane. Around here, there’s SO much Rule airspace that few airplanes don’t have ADS-B anymore. Either way, if you have a transponder and pull a “Martha,” he’s “got” you. Wonderful! If HE can do it, so can the FAA. 1984 is now here … what’s next … Soylent Green?

    Hey … let’s all start using that term … “Pulling a Martha.” She’ll at least go down being famous. 🙂

    • Not exactly, Keith. I automatically assume that while the avionics shop was looking at her ADS-B transponder, she trotted over to that bridge, climbed over the side and put a big red centerline mark on it so that when she turned off her transponder and flew under it she’d have an aimpoint to miss the vertical stanchions. I think she got away with that felonious act because she probably wasn’t wearing her ADS-B wristwatch?

  8. Your writing style is a gift I enjoy and admire. I fully agree that the example of the pilot who got away with 200 days suspension for an obvious pattern (not just a single instance) of contempt of the rules we all have to play by is shocking and makes it even more clear that the FAA uses measuring cups of different sizes.
    I think the discussion should be whether circumstantial evidence can ever be enough to lead to capital punishment, similar to sense and nonsense of three-strike rules leading to life in prison, even if the strikes were all minor.
    The FAA could have made pretty much the same case before ADS-B was around when her recorded radar presence disappeared and reappeared just in time, with security video footage bridging the gap. Questioning the many benefits of ADS-B over its use in a stack of evidence leads in the wrong direction in my opinion; I’m a big fan of the safety benefits ADS-B brought to us.

  9. My ADS-B comes on and goes off with the avionics master, I never touch the mode switch and have just accepted that “they” are watching every move. At least we don’t (yet) face the NTSB’s proposed Part 121 requirement for archiving recorded video as well as audio within the cockpit and continuous real-time full flight data flow to the government cloud for automated “analysis” by AI computer.

    On my refrigerator is a meme that reads “I feel so much better now that I’ve given up all hope”.
    I simply accept that every government of whatever style or flavor moves in only in one direction – toward more. More size, more complexity, more regulation, more taxes. Tempting as it is to rail against it vigorously, so far I’m able to content myself with just some low level muttering rather than those momentarily much more satisfying flights under bridges.

    • Indeed I support you in your apathy and may I just add my grumble to the pile. if ADS-B didn’t get her, it would have been the cameras every square mile on the planet, on every cell, her own phone or some anti-aviation a hole calling the FSDO. Resistance is futile. There is no winning, just a dwindling list of freedoms to protect. Enjoy flying while you still can, someday they won’t let humans do it because .. SAFETY.

  10. “I simply accept that every government of whatever style or flavor moves in only in one direction – toward more. More size, more complexity, more regulation, more taxes.”
    Keep thinking that way; you soon will be like the frog in the pan of slowly-heated water. Frog soup.

    “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem. It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant, it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” – From Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address.

  11. I blame every pilot for letting ADS-B happen when it said surveillance right in the name. Hey Paul, can you contrast how many lives it has saved vs how many enforcement actions it precipitated, that would be interesting. We let this happen so it’s on us. You’d better start thinking about how to stop automatic charging of landing fees, pay per mile and all the other ways they WILL abuse ADS-B to make aviation that much more unobtainable. Here is your anti-authority attitude. I say eff the eff ay ay. ADS-B is not safety it’s surveillance and that doesn’t deserve any respect.

  12. “Nor would I accept the argument that one bridge buzz job is necessarily emblematic of a pattern of bad judgment or a gateway drug to yet more demented acts, say, like buying an Ercoupe.”

    Oh my! Paul, if you ever feel yourself falling over he edge, call me day or night – it doesn’t matter — for an intervention. I’ll talk you into the Ercoupe. You’ll never regret it.

    David
    http://ercoupe.com

  13. Flight Schools are using ADS-B to keep an eye on students. To see what they are doing. Even what instructors are doing. It isn’t just a tool for the FAA to come after you.
    She says she didn’t do anything with the ADS-B… but just happened to have done something very reckless just before it ‘went out’. ATC told her to recycle her transponder and it magically came back on. Sorry, but a jury wouldn’t believe that had she killed someone.

  14. Tell people that the position of their flying will be tracked and that information (along with their home address) will be available in real time to everyone in the world. Enforcement for turning off the tracker (even in the vast areas of uncontrolled airspace) will be met with severe and un-appealable penalties.

    Yet another reason for new people NOT to be interested in being a GA pilot.

    • On the contrary, privacy concerns are very “boomer”. New, i.e., young people grew up with the knowledge that what they were doing, who they were talking to and where they were, were all going to be public, all the time. Their parents started tracking them when they gave them phones. They not only accept the lack of privacy, they embrace it, posting status updates on social media constantly. If you were to tell them that they could NOT be tracked in flight, they would very likely ask “why the heck not?”

  15. Martha knows what she did, why she did it, and when she did it. She said, since it took the FAA over six months to notify her of her revocation, she figured she got away with her stunt. Then she gets legal advice whose lawyers tell her a minimum of $25K for services that will not necessarily get her off the hook. When do you think she took her airplane to the A&P for an avionics’ check? Immediately after her escapade or sometime after? Ya think she didn’t fly in between March and her revocation notification? I bet there are other flights subsequent to her stunt that show perfect avionics performance. Lawyers do not take cases they know they will lose.

    Her appearance on the FAA legal radar screen came from a submitted surveillance camera on the bridge. The article does not say who submitted the evidence. But if I was a bridge attendant responsible for its surveillance footage, an airplane going underneath would be an attention getter. Who are you gonna call with this info? The FAA. The surveillance camera footage set the FAA investigation wheels in motion. And the FAA dutifully notified her she was now under investigation, which she acknowledged figuring a sanction of sorts rather than revocation. No fear, rather a perverted confidence in a slap on the wrist sanction. Radar tracks combined with the bridge camera footage combined with what her legal team knows shows the intermittent ADS-B operation. The question that Martha will have to answer is why the ADS-B appears intermittent at the precise time she is being recorded flying under the bridge?

    In my opinion, the FAA and her lawyers have sufficient evidence her transponder was working fine before and after her stunt. Hence the revocation. Hence the $25K to fight the revocation. Hence, Martha just taking her licks with no fight other than stirring the social media pot and other aviation media ( of which she is a part of…or was).

    The difference between manslaughter and murder is intent. In both cases a victim died. But intent determines the level of consequences for taking someone else’s life. There is enough evidence demonstrating intent that Martha, her lawyers, and the FAA all agree on. Martha is not fighting. Her lawyers make it clear it will be expensive, protracted, and with no assurance of a clear win. Ad the FAA knows full well of her notoriety, her disdain for them, and her ability to take this public in a variety of ways including through respected aviation publications. And yet they chose to revoke her pilot privilege’s.

    There is a lot more information we don’t know about that she, her lawyer, and the FAA do. All she is doing is manipulating the social media and aviation media system for sympathy that takes this argument of intent and lays the discussion at the feet of ADS-B and “govmit” over reach rather than basic piss poor aviation decision making.

    She has accomplished stirring the pot regarding ADS-B and the new law passed 60 days before her bucket list escapade. She is a folk hero to some. Disgusting to others. With still more with their undies in a wad over smart phones, smart meters, stop light cameras, ADS-B, UAT vs 1090, Class G airspace operation, expired transponder certs, ADS-B coverage or the lack thereof, “brutal” landings, turbulent air enough to jar avionics loose, and the Reagan administration. Yes, Martha has effectively added another nail in the coffin of our freedom to fly via General Aviation by fomenting discussions among the aviation ignorant, the aviation savvy, and Big Brother which inevitably gets political and more divisive. And the FAA definitely has a finger in that proverbial wind measuring its velocity and direction.

    And we wonder why there is more and more bureaucratic involvement in our lives? Poor behavior is another perfect storm for justifying and ever increasing bureaucratic involvement in it’s attempt to corral the perpetrator to keep the masses “safe” and under “control”. Once again…thanks Martha for your contribution to this mess.

  16. It just hit me … and no one has yet brought it up.

    When I look at Flight Aware ground tracks of my ADS-B signal, it almost always disappears below something below pattern altitude when I’m landing. She flew low under that bridge in a canyon. Why shouldn’t the ADS-B signal disappear IF there was no ground station nearby within line-of-sight? I don’t know where the ground stations are, where the radars at KCVG are or what her flight profile looked like in the vicinity of the bridge but … this could be a possible reason the signal disappeared? Even she wouldn’t know about it. Even with all the Flight Aware sniffers around, I just looked at the track on my recent flight in busy airspace and it doesn’t appear until I get up near the pattern altitude and disappears when I descend below it. Unless the ADS-B signal was space based, this is — at least — a possibility. Also, until I installed ADS-B, I was not aware that Flight Aware could darn near plot your 3-D track using something they call multi-lateration of the Mode S signal (w/o ADS-B). Has anyone plugged her “N” number into Flight Aware for her flight ??

    There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on here. This woman amassed 18,000 safe hours w/o incident and now has to fry for just one lapse of judgement and suffer severe punishment over a lost signal. Like we used to say in the USAF … a thousand “attaboys” can be erased by just one “awshit” … boy, I guess. I’d be willing to bet that this incident may well shorten her life. Those that think she ought to fry … put yourselves in her position. Without argument, she did wrong, she deserves punishment but not the “chair” IMHO. Especially not over the ADS-B thing.

    • I just revisited the VFR chart. I see two “750′” symbols N and S of I-71. Looking at nearby airports and towers, it appears that local terrain was ~900′ feet. Assuming she was below 800′, she was well below surrounding terrain. Without a ground station nearby, loss of signal would be likely?

      • She was told to recycle her transponder by ATC and it came on…(she forgot to turn it back on after the stunt)… she claimed it was equipment problem. No problem found with equipment by ground techs.
        It wasn’t the stunt that got her. It wasn’t even turning off the ADS-B.
        Once she clearly lied to investigators she was done.
        And oddly… the government might not be done with her.
        She can still be federally charged in this case for a crime and do actual prison time.

    • “18,000 safe hours w/o incident ”

      Umm – no. She recently knocked the wingtip off someone else’s parked 150 in a taxi incident and just after it was repaired – she destroyed the same 150 when she lost control of a Cub she was handpropping.

      That’s not quite incident free.

  17. I was about to make an admission for a flight I made 50 years ago just a week before leaving for Vietnam. It was magnificent and the red superstructure built years earlier looked mighty impressive. But with all the hand wringers here, decided that stirring up the pile was not needed. Since then, I had plenty of experience flying with NVG’s under high tension lines and in unforgivable mountainous terrain at night, that a pass under a bridge seems rather benign.

    For Joe Shmo, indeed, I made my objections known how I felt about ADS-B and its intrusion into general aviation which spends most of its time well below FL180. I lost the battle and the alphabet groups lost me.

  18. I wonder if the case happened to a pilot that wasn’t known by the media, like was the case of Ms. Martha Lunken, anyone cared to debate if the FFA’s sanction was adequate or too much severe.

  19. What you all have missed is how SUPER LUCKY that was all that happened. This is dancing on thin ice in the middle of Lake Superior with no one else around for miles.
    It wasn’t that she turned off her equipment to fly unseen under a bridge. That was reckless and stupid. She was told by ATC to recycle her transponder and it magically came back on. The FAA found out by people under and on the bridge what she had done and investigated.
    She said it was broken equipment, and it was checked by a tech on the ground, they found no problem.
    The actual act of flying under the bridge would have likely been a suspension.
    HOWEVER, when she said it was not her, it was the equipment, that could have put her behind bars in a federal prison camp, AND STILL COULD… yes, I’ve seen people at 78 put in federal prison camps for lying on their taxes… Lying to federal law enforcement is a serious crime that has gotten many people locked up. If you do something stupid, admit it, or at least get a very good team of lawyers.
    She is scaring on very thin ice. A life time of good deeds can be ended with one awww $hit.
    Hopefully, she isn’t the one making the government look bad. She could piss someone off and wind up in prison.

  20. When did skill and calculated precision become risky and dangerous?
    There is a legendary pilot in south central Wisconsin who was flying air shows in the “old days” on a private certificate. Some one told the feds and they sent an agent to investigate the next event.
    After his performance the agent confirmed he had no commercial certificate. He said “after that performance no check ride would be required” and issued a temporary commercial certificate on the spot. The permanent one was mailed later.
    There is a railroad trestle that spans a large river in Wisconsin that has diamond shaped openings in the structure maybe 100 foot square. He routinely flew a cassutt racer through those openings inverted.

    It was one man’s mastery of the machine that today would be viewed as reckless.

    Oh, and I don’t have ADS-B installed in either of my airplanes.

    • There’s one big difference between the “good old days” and today: from 1920-1930, there were around 110M people in the US. Since 2010 the US population has been above 310M people. The consequences of a mishap are a lot higher now than in the past. And when a large percentage of the population has a high-resolution camera in their pocket, there is less you can get away with. In short, impromptu stunts like what Martha did (and others who have done similar acts) give GA a bad name, and is the aviation equivalent of street drag racing.

      You can be legal but not safe, and you can be safe but not legal. In both cases, neither is something that should be done intentionally. Her stunt was arguably “safe” but certainly not legal.

  21. Wow! We’re now up to 70 comments … if this isn’t a record, it’s gotta be close. PB sure has a knack for shaking the bushes w/ controversial subject articles. I guess that’s what makes his writing so much fun.

    Seems to me that there are two widely distinct camps here … those that think the punishment doesn’t fit the crime (while agreeing there was a violation and punishment is called for) and those that think more Government is good and safety — at ANY cost — is justified and she should spend time in the crowbar hotel with no consideration to leniency or other forms of punishment which would have gotten her (and others) attention. Put me into the former. That said, I capitulate … let’s put her on the rack, give her the chair, draw and quarter her, burn her remains and put the urn in prison for 500 years. Will THAT make ya’ll happy? Boy, there sure are a lot of do gooders living in a glass house here. Let ye who has never committed a violation — ever — cast the first stone.

    Now looking at the ADS-B situation in a macro or strategic sense, I’m sorry I installed it. I rarely need it and now I’m going to be nervous every time I fly. I thought recreational aviation was supposed to be fun; when computer generated violations start … that’ll be the end … and I predict it IS coming. For me, it’s only gonna take a couple more situations like this for me to decide to go back to a 2-D world and buy myself a new Z06 as a far better and cheaper way to have fun and throw in the 3-D towel. If you can’t throw in the “F” and “U” into F U N … and have to sit on pins and needles … whats the point?

    I’m a big fan of the “things seen and things NOT seen” theory. Said differently, the FAA has won this battle and now has done two bad things to itself and lost the war. No one will EVER believe they’re “kinder and gentler” ever again. EVER! And, people are now going to think twice before installing ADS-B … I already know three people who have said, “to hell with it” as a result of this issue. Good job eff ay ay lawyers.

    • I don’t think she should go to prison, but the fact is she could (still). It wasn’t her actions during the idiot move… it was what she did after.
      Had she admitted to it, and said yes, I screwed up I would think the punishment was a little harsh.
      But, a federal jury wouldn’t believe her story. She lied to federal law enforcement. You know what that gets you? Prison camp.
      Her flying and turning off the transponder / ADS-B was a recoverable problem. The lie isn’t.

    • I need to agree. I think it is logical(anathema to the FAA), considering such history as the pursuit of Hoover and King, that this is simply a “get even”. It can readily be seen that ADS-B is not even, by FAA description,
      required in the airspace within which she was operating. Kinder, gentler? Not.

    • Having replied to a comment to which I did not intend, gotta reiterate that it appears to me that Miss Martha
      was not operating in AD-B required airspace at the time of her impulsive, antiauthority, macho, invulnerable,
      resigned operatiion.

  22. The best defense is “Honestly, anyone who thinks that briefly turning off ADS-B will save you from an infraction SHOULD have their certificate revoked.” and that is exactly why I did NOT turn off the transponder.

  23. “Honesty?” SHE says she didn’t and THEY allege that she did … therefore, she’s guilty as charged (not only by THEM but in the Court of Public Opinion on Avweb – [COPOA]) w/o a way to afford to fight back. Wonderful. Ya’ll remember that when they violate you for something. That said, I see many of you are ‘perfect’ and don’t (and never) make mistakes so … you’ll be OK. Hmmm … maybe it’s like committing a mortal sin and then going to confession … that makes murder 1 OK, I guess?

    Unless and until the FAA flies HER airplane under that bridge and VERIFIES CONCLUSIVELY that ADS-B ‘out’ would be visible during the evolution, I ain’t buying that she turned it off. At that point, I’ll join Camp #2.

    I STRONGLY recommend that everyone here read FAA Order 2150.3C Chg 3 … FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program … before you make these kinds of comments. Mr. Dickson isn’t running the FAA, the lawyers in DC are! What a monstrosity! The only thing missing is the electric chair! Likely now coming in Chg. 4?