Stick A STEM On It


I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday but I know exactly where I was on July 17, 1999. I was standing on the ramp at Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Connecticut pre-flighting an F33 one of my students had loaned me. I was flying down to Cross Keys, New Jersey, to go skydiving. A lineman approached me and asked if I had seen a Piper Saratoga and he gave me the N-number. I hadn’t seen it and gave it no further thought.

Later that evening, when I learned that the missing aircraft had been flown by John F. Kennedy Jr. and had crashed into the Atlantic enroute to Martha’s Vineyard while flying VFR on a hazy summer night, I had a vague sense of guilt. I couldn’t shake the feeling that for all the sunshine and shameless glad handing in support of airplanes and aviation we do, we do a crappy job of conveying to people how easily they can get killed doing it. And how much avoiding getting killed—really, all of it—is on them.

I had the same feeling when a reader texted me this link describing a young woman, Zara Rutherford, who has just set off to become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo. According to the site, she left Belgium on Wednesday and arrived in Greenland on Friday. The aircraft is a Rotax-powered Shark European ultralight to the 600 KG weight limit; what we would know as an LSA. It’s a retractable, so it’s fast (127 knots in economy cruise) with up to 49 gallons of fuel according to the POH. So far so good. But it’s also day VFR limited and Ms. Rutherford appears not to be instrument rated. Whatever pilot rating she has she earned last year.

Ostensibly, the reason for the flight is to promote STEM education and to, yet again, demonstrate to young women and girls that they can do this sort of thing. It’s now to the point, it seems, that whatever risky, edgy thing you want to do is somehow made credible by the high-minded insertion of STEM learning. Want to set yourself on fire and swing on a cable under the George Washington Bridge? Well, call it a Foucault Pendulum demonstration to promote STEM and maybe the crazy label won’t stick.

If this flight completes successfully—and let’s fervently hope that it does—I hardly think the risk squeeze will be worth the payoff juice. I don’t think it’s fair to call it wild-eyed unglued, but as the reader who texted me said, it’s also pretty sketchy. It is attempting to distaff duplicate the circumnavigation record set by 18-year-old—and instrument-rated—Travis Ludlow in a Cessna 172 beginning in May.

These flights are catnip for the popular press. These editors don’t know risk assessment from a pile of horse dung so the people who dream these things up—nominally adults—think they have to break through the noise level by lowering the common denominator with ever younger pilots or less capable machinery just to see how low the crazy can go. I doubt if they promote aviation in any measurable way if they succeed, but they profoundly tarnish it if they don’t.

And, as you knew it would, that gets me to the all-time low water mark for these sorts of circus acts: Jessica Dubroff.  She would be a vivacious 33-year-old today, but the adults around her—spurred on by the press’ insatiable appetite for spectacle—put her in a pile of twisted wreckage in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At seven, she was too young to be a real PIC and too short even to reach the pedals without a booster seat.

She was in quest of a record she couldn’t even have legitimately earned—the youngest person to pilot an airplane across the continent. In a towering example of bad judgment, her flight instructor departed Cheyenne VFR into thunderstorm conditions and high winds. No survivors. The whole awful thing was so appalling that Congress actually passed the Child Pilot Safety Act to discourage a repeat.

For a time, Guinness stopped recognizing such record attempts to tamp down people attempting ever riskier stunts. But apparently they’re at it again, since Ludlow’s record is listed by Guinness. I see the two flights as subtly different since Ludlow was better trained and in a more capable aircraft. But there is no bright line between inspiring and over-the-top lunacy.

By the time you find it and cross it, you may no longer be among the living.

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    • 80 hours total time–no instrument rating–flying a complex aircraft over oceans to remote countries around the world. What could possibly go wrong?

      I wonder if she had a flight planning service do the flight plans, weather, and ground handling/fueling arrangements? With a few exceptions, we’ve always done it ourselves–I always joke that “It takes more time to make the flight planning arrangements, landing fees, weather fees, customs fees, etc. than it does to make the flight!” (that is NO JOKE!)

      • Dale Snodgrass is also an example for STEM. Flying is one of the most serious things you can do and NO ONE can ignore the basics at any time and expect to live.

        Being smart or experienced does not matter when you make mistakes.

  1. I can’t understand why age is even relevant.

    A pilot must meet certification standards and testing. Either you meet those standards, or you do not. If you meet those minimum standards, age is not relevant.

    Perhaps this is why Federation Aeronautique Internationale and the National Aeronautics Association–the certifying officials for international and U.S. records–has no category for “youngest.” Those who believe it IS relevant have to go to unofficial sources–like Guiness Book of World Records–a source designed to adjudicate bar room bets. Interesting–according to Wikipedia, with falling sales of books in the internet age–Guiness went to the would-be record setters themselves to provide the revenue for the 50 staffers employed. They list the fee for researching and publishing the “record” as “between US$12,000 and $500,000 for help in finding good records to break as well as suggestions on how to do it…..”

    I have several FAI and NAA records myself. Perhaps I should look into setting a “record” as the “OLDEST” for Guiness–but first, I have to come up with their fee! (laugh)

    • Wisdom, life experience and just plain having had time to make more mistakes and learn from them. Thats the age difference. As the author of the article stated in an earlier piece, you can teach a monkey to standards (I’m paraphrasing but his point was similar when discussing flight training).

    • It matters because a) the brain continues to develop until nearly the age of majority, and b) while it it possible to teach judgment to some degree, there is no substitute for time and experience. If age is not relevant, then why IS there even such thing as “age of majority?” Well, because experience – there’s that word again – has taught civilizations that it is necessary.

  2. Aviation in general, along with the government doesn’t point out risks to aviation because in the past the idea was to promote aviation. Government encourages flying, using statistics to justify that argument. If passengers were to have to sign a waiver like skydivers do so that the risks are plainly pointed out in writing, aviation in general would probably be mostly military with very little civilian airplanes flying. Especially with the risk averse society we have today, not to mention the greedy tort lawyers who would pounce on any crash.

  3. At the time of Miss Dubroff’s accident, I marveled at how her parents or any flight instructor could think it was a good idea to let a child attempt such a stunt. Doing any such activity in the name of STEM education is, frankly, hypocritical. The basic tenant of STEM education is to LEARN how to do something; understand what is involved and work to develop a safe and practical way of achieving a result. Doing some ill-conceived stunt without fully understanding the risks and hazards is the actual antithesis of what STEM represents. Unfortunately, as you said, this sort of thing is catnip to the news media, and whatever it is will be swallowed up in the next news cycle. Not a good reason to risk life and limb for 15 seconds of fame. If we really want to use flying as a good application of STEM learning, we should be highlighting activities like Angel Flights, disaster relief, Pilots ‘n Paws or sea turtle rescues and how those things are possible because the pilots got a good education that allows them the freedom and knowledge to do such things. If you just want to get into the Guiness record book, try blowing the largest bubble gum bubble or lining up the best dominoe maze. A whole lot safer and about as useful.

  4. Don’t really see the connection between the flight and getting young “iPhone text neckers” to consider STEM coursework. But I think it’s a typical GA cheap shot from some to sarcastically whine “she has an impressive 80 hours logged” or “what could possibly go wrong?”

    What could go wrong? Multi-tens-of-thousands-hour pilots of different stripes and experience have flown their logbooks into mountains or created fiery holes of death for themselves and others, proving the point from the blog that this defying gravity thing can bite anybody at any time.

    She may have the necessary skills, maturity and good fortune to complete this flight and I’d wager will never find herself uttering such drivel about another pilot in her lifetime. Now that’s a pilot we need in GA. Such an adventure and experience builder she can look forward to with this flight- I hope she ignores the judgements from the GA peanut gallery of their fears and biases. What a wonderful young woman to represent GA!
    But STEM coursework, may remain unaffected…

  5. As a now retired school teacher, I did work with students in the STEM program and I don’t see how a young, inexperienced pilot would serve as a motivator to get more girls involved in STEM. I am sorry I don’t see how any of this is anything but a news producer at the expense of a life. I would not give this story as a “victory” for STEM even if the pilot had been successful.

  6. Well said, as ever Paul. I followed Travis Lulow and now I’m following Zara. Travis is an exceptional young man, bright, cool-headed and well trained. He made numerous good calls and diversions during his trip – a careful instrument pilot in a capable aircraft loaded with avoinics – which he knew how to use. I am concerned for the safety of this VFR attempt – it seems wildly reckless to me and I fear she is unaware of the grave risks. I advised her to get some instrument training – she got precious little but replied “it shouldn’t be needed, but you never know…” Where are her parents and mentors? She was already forced very low over the N Atlantic in the crossing from Scotland to Iceland. I’ve made that crossing at 21,000′ in a much more capable Mooney, flown by an experienced instrument pilot. We had some challenges, but we were well prepared in a well-equipped aircraft. We still got arrested in Reykjavic, but that’s another story…

    • Watching Zara navigate up the West Coast, scud running into Boeing Field, and the next leg being VFR to Juneau, I share your concern that her lack of instrument ability will, at best, cause her numerous delays. Certainly wish her success. I believe the key to showcasing “STEM” is having the technology and being able to use it. She and her plane do not see capable of this.

  7. Paul, I remember well the day that JFK Jr. crashed, too. More specifically, I remember the weather. I was flying a trip as a corporate pilot to Teterboro, one of our regular runs from Richmond. The day was VERY hazy, more so than your typical hazy summer day. It was really IFR with no visible horizon. By the time JFK Jr. took off, he was committing himself to a night flight with no visible horizon partially over open water. That’s not something an experienced instrument pilot would want to do in a single engine airplane under VFR rules. Maybe he didn’t realize that just because it gets dark, the haze doesn’t go away.

    • “Maybe he didn’t realize that just because it gets dark, the haze doesn’t go away.”

      This was the source of my vicarious guilt. Somehow, the GA edifice didn’t teach him to understand this.

    • Just imagine how history would look different if the blue ‘level’ button with pitch and roll limits and — now — autoland were installed in that Piper.

  8. I am a solo circumnavigator. In 2017 I followed Amelia Earhart’s route on the 80th anniversary of her flight. The reason most people don’t know who I am is because my flight ended differently. Regardless, I mention this because I have the experience both of preparing and of flying the route so I can claim a modicum of experience.

    During the flight my focus was always on that particular day’s activities, whether it was flying, maintenance, or resting. It was only afterward when I was able to look back and absorb the gestalt of the flight that I truly realized just how challenged I was.

    A bit of my background. I am a CSEL/CMEL, Instrument, CFI/CFII, with 53 years, over 12,000 hours, and 90 different aircraft in my logbook. I am an aerobatic and UPRT instructor. I have flown in or over many different countries and have several long over-water crossings in addition to my circumnavigation. My planning and preparation for the circumnavigation spanned 5 years. I had excellent ground support. The key point here is that I have more experience than most, and yet I still found myself challenged, requiring every bit of aviation knowledge and experience I possess.

    I have had several young people come to me wanting advice and assistance so that they can set some kind of record by circumnavigating. I point out that an arbitrary number like age has nothing to do with the accomplishment. I was 63 when I accomplished my flight. (I celebrated my 63 birthday in Chittagong, Bangladesh, with a $3 lobster dinner.) I encountered and managed mechanical difficulties — failed magneto, failed HF radio, and an engine failure over the Pacific. (It got better!) I encountered extreme weather — thundersnow over the Tasman Sea, landing in a haboob in Africa, and an upset in Myanmar that left my aircraft inverted while IMC, not to mention dealing with the myriad thunderstorms of the Inter-Tropical Convergent Zone. I still consider the flight the high-point of my flying career, so far.

    I am now providing assistance and advice to two young people planning to do circumnavigations. They lack experience. (Understatement.) Hopefully they will give me a couple of years to work with them so that they understand and can deal with the potential challenges they will be facing. Yes, it is possible that everything will go perfectly and that 80 hours as a VFR pilot may be sufficient to complete the flight. My experience says that is unlikely and that one would be well served to spend some time trying to understand all the different ways that something like this could fail.

      • Zara Rutherford is 19 years old. For better or worse, an adult.

        For whatever yardstick you use to measure, seems we can’t imagine someone else doing something we ourselves can’t imagine at some age. For every person dismayed at a 19 year old flying around the world, I bet I could find 1 or 2 people dismayed that a 63 year old is still flying, much less around the globe.

        At 19, Zara should be regulated to the YouTubes and the ticktocks. Heaven forbid someone, an adult no less, cares to take a peek over the horizon. And I’m sure for some, this gurl should be talking home economics classes vs. STEM.

        For many, freedom and Liberty of the individual must be curtailed for as much and as long as possible. I posit, that of you treat a 15 year old as a responsible, functional, individual member of society, by 19, you’ll have a functional, individual adult.

        Maybe, just maybe, Zara is really an adult. Maybe she has broken some molds. I hope so. And I don’t just hope so for her sake.

        If she doesn’t complete her goal, AvWeb will surely inform us and we can sit back on our Lazy-Boy throne and fire as many “I told you so’s” as our thumbs will allow us to type. All the while rejoicing that this individual got what she deserve and in the least, was reeled back from making an effort.

        If she does complete her goal, we might hear about it in passing, and yet we will still consternate that someone had the audacity to cross that line and join the living, instead of wallowing the the self-loathing world of the dead.

        • And I suppose you can congratulate yourself for having the clinical distance to let anyone do what they want despite the consequence and then immunize yourself from any responsibility because the Aunt Janes are spoiling all the fun for the steely eyed adventurers who dare to be great.

          Before I wrote this piece, I contacted two highly experienced ferry pilots whose opinions I respect for a sanity check. Both agreed with Brian’s conclusion above, but both also declined to weigh in as he has done publicly. The eye opener was the airplane itself, mainly, not much helped by an 80-hour, non-instrument pilot.

          Day after day, week after week, year after year we write about fatal accidents after the fact, ostensibly to point to the errors to remind people not to make these mistakes, not to commit these errors of judgment, not to push their own envelope to the breaking point in the hopes of *preventing* another accident.

          Here, we have an opportunity to perhaps do it *before* the broken body is pulled from the wreckage as the adults in the Dubroff crash failed to do. The only difference here may be the utterly irrelevant distinction of being the youngest person to do something, age of majority an equally irrelevant distinction.

          As Brian pointed out, if you’re going to undertake a flight like this, you better have your s&^t in one sock and then some. Maybe that’s the case here, maybe it isn’t. If raising the question–which I think is fair game when something like this is placed on the international stage–brands me as a quivering Melvin, I’ll take the hit if it saves writing about another fatal accident.

          • Paul Bertorelli’s comment says it all–I’ll nominate him for the “top commentator” award on this thread!

            If age IS an issue, why don’t any of the international sanctioning bodies recognize “youngest, or “oldest” or ethnicity for pilot records? Answer: Age, like ethnicity, has nothing to do with it.

            It’s not opinion–as those of us “of a certain age” remember of actor Jack Webb’s Detective Joe Friday–it is a laconic “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

        • Robert Ore, I am not criticizing Zara for her age. The pilot’s age, sex, race, and/or nationality are not issues. Preparation, experience, and skill level are.

  9. I’m all for STEM and inspiring young women. Still, did you look at the itinerary?

    9NM9 has a 5000′ elevation, and is likely to be 90 degrees this time of year. I doubt she got much high and hot experience in Belgium, and I have no idea how her microlight will perform in that density altitude.

    Nome? Ulaanbataar?


  10. Reading Mr. Bertorelli’s statement brought back memories for me. I took off from Springfield, Ohio with my wife, a cohort, his wife and child headed to Hanscom in Boston for a meeting. We were flying a Cherokee 6 as well, certainly similar in vintage and performance to JFK, Jr.’s aircraft. I had likely 500+ hours, SEL, MEL, instrument rating and Commercial. I previously owned and flew a PA-34 with boots for 200 hours without issues. I had a significant proportion of my instrument hours flying at night and in the proverbial soup. That does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that I claim to be anywhere experienced like the gentleman earlier posting and having 23,000 hours. I knew the airplane and I was comfortable flying in instrument weather as long as there was not cumulus issues, icing. We were headed into Hanscom it seems about 7-8pm that evening. I know our IFR flight plan put us headed toward the field at 7,000 feet, we were turned right for a downwind and then landed either on runway 5 or 29. We were in clouds with drizzle for most of the flight. There was no turbulence. I utilized the wing leveler and the flight was really rather benign as far as I was concerned. After we landed, we went into the FBO and while waiting for transportation, sat and watched the television on the wall. They were reporting about the fact that JFK’s flight was overdue. I believe later that evening or the next morning we found out that he had crashed. I do not remember anything about the meeting to which we had travelled. I remember and am reminded so clearly of my thoughts and emotions upon learning about this accident that never needed to happen. So sad. I think Mr. Bertorelli’s comments and numerous others, especially the 23,000 hour circumnavigating pilot offer very clear information that should be listened to by all neophyte pilots but even folks like myself. Thank you gentlemen.

  11. I was one of the volunteers who helped put “Voyager” around the world in nine days in 1986 from / to Edwards AFB. That endeavor also prepared for over five years and was flown by an eminently qualified pilot with a qualified backup and a bevy of highly qualified volunteers helping back in Voyager Mission Control in Mojave 24/7.

    Not widely known, the fete was likely successful because we were able to reliably communicate with the airplane every six hours from mission control (with the help of an unnamed Government entity … long story). In disguised communications, they reported their position and the flight planners communicated back to them their next ‘fly to’ coordinates … taking into account weather and other factors. An early decision to use the favorable winds of a typhoon over the Pacific by Mission weather planners who were able to communicate that critical information made all the difference to a successful completion many days later. Without it, they would not have made it. But that wasn’t the only ‘good luck’ story.

    In total, I think there were about 25 people who worked in Voyager Mission Control. I was manning the communications when a frantic message came from Dick that they had nearly lost the airplane west of Africa and he wanted us to “get him out of it.” Days later, the night before the airplane landed at about midnight, we got the message that we had “a glider on our hands.” Looking for favorable winds at a lower altitude offshore Baja, Dick descended not knowing that the mechanical fuel pump on the rear critical engine had failed. The header tank forward of the right side instrument panel was unable to provide fuel in the nose down attitude. Before they went swimming in the Pacific, the front engine was successfully restarted after ‘sleeping’ for about five days. They came minutes away from ditching. Then, engineers told Jeana how to replumb the airplane to get the rear engine restarted. (All fuel lines ran under her rear facing seat)(check it out in the Voyager exhibit at the EAA Museum). Then a decision on shutting down the front engine had to be made … it was kept running but the fuel remaining was unknown at that point due to the winglets being ground off on takeoff. Next morning on a really cold December morning on the dry lakebed, aviation history was made. I often think about how many things HAD to go right in order for that to happen … not the least of which was all the unsung helpers in Mojave.

    Now transpose that with what you’re talking about here. While it isn’t an endurance test, nevertheless, SO many things have to go right or tragedy will occur. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

    By the way, the Voyager had only 18 gallons of fuel left when they landed … the typhoon and weather people did their jobs! Only one paid employee ever worked for Voyager; all others were volunteers.

  12. I was a fan of the flight and Dick and Jeana at the time. At least met them and have a signed copy of Voyager on the shelf. Very cool how involved you were Larry with the event! Not jealous at all…

    Generally speaking, a few of us here have struggled to explain that, as you describe and the book Voyager does in detail, no amount of planning and ‘luck’ can guarantee success for such huge undertakings, just how it is. But as I recall, another Yeager of a different stripe at the time with a billion hours and binders full of experience snarled something before their attempt like ‘anybody can ride a gas tank around the world’ or some such drivel, and maybe Jeana got some ‘lack of experience’ flak too, I don’t know.

    When is there enough ‘preparation, experience, and skill level’ and who determines that and why are legitimate questions, but pointing out knee-jerk reactions of negative assumptions are legitimate, too. All of the highly experienced kings and queens of the sky with bulging logbooks have a unique responsibility, in my view, to check their judgements and assumptions for the upcoming aviators and adventurers, count to ten, and maybe offer more support (as some have done here), than naysaying. There’s so much g%#damn cynicism and lack of respect in today’s world it would be refreshing to at least find more support than protest from like-minded individuals.
    Or not. Que sera, sera.

  13. I totally relate with so much of what is being discussed in this STEM labeled adventure. What’s not being recognized here is how far we’ve come in the past 20 years. Zara Rutherford (19 YO) has so much weather and technical information at her finger tips. How many GA round-the-world flights had an internet connection? Weather modeling has come so far over the last decade. Most of us older folks are not capable of believing the models because of a lifetime of poor WX reporting. Maybe this is a STEM project because Zara is never alone up there, she’s connected real-time to all the advancements that have made this endeavor possible. She has never experienced all the Good-Ol’-Days of aviation. The days when our sectional was spread out, visibility declining, turbulence increasing and you can’t hear nothing on the scratchy radio speaker… Dang-it, my fuel gauges are bouncing on empty….Sure miss the Good-Ol’-Days 😉

  14. I have to second the actual damage to the cause of STEM – as opposed to support. This is a foolhardy effort at a meaningless thing (around the world) the primary purpose of which is to capture publicity. The pilot has to justify it (possibly even to herself) as meaningful so adds the STEM and Gender Flag Waving. I’d have more respect for the effort if she’d just done it for no reason. There is not positive here for either of the “causes” claimed.

    That being said, for an 80 hour pilot to attempt this flight VFR – in that aircraft – is nothing short of plain old stupid. Not because she’s female, not because she’s 19; just because it’s bad Aeronautical Decision Making. I consider myself a pretty risk friendly pilot and I’d never have attempted around the world with 80 hours. Heck I wouldn’t feel good about it it 43 years – and many many hours – later.

    Success isn’t even an accomplishment in this case. You could stand in the middle of a busy Interstate Highway for 24 hours. You might survive it. But if you do, it’s not an accomplishment; it’s pure dumb luck. Same thing here.

    I hope she makes it. I really do.

  15. “I doubt if they promote aviation in any measurable way if they succeed, but they profoundly tarnish it if they don’t.” — PB.

    Precisely. There’s your problem! Every one of us is an ‘ambassador’ for GA — good OR bad –every time we fly. When everything goes right … no one notices, it makes no difference and no one is harmed. When it goes bad, it becomes a feature on the nightly news giving GA still another black eye. And if you’re somehow rich, famous, young, old or otherwise out of the ‘ordinary,’ so much for the worse it is for ALL of us (that’s why PB mentioned JFK) and the bad PR lasts for days, or more. Witness Kobe Bryant’s demise just trying to get around LA traffic. Ultimately, the problem then becomes that The Regulators — you know, the people who are here to help us — then decide it’s their duty to protect society from those pesky bug smashers … thereby harming the larger population of pilots with still more Regulations. We DON’T need no mo’ stinkin’ help! Frankly, I’ve had just about enough of their help. At some point, WE have to take on responsibility.

    Let’s draw a parallel example with the fight between FAA and those folks down in Kissimmee flying warbirds. It resulted in harm to ALL of us in the form of the LODA thing. Everything was working just fine until … And now the Administrator has the gall to tell us HE can’t use his executive power to fix what they broke faster than four years. Meanwhile — potentially — safety IS compromised for many of us in the process of them punishing ALL of us for standing up to them.

    For me, I think about the risk of just losing my airplane — fuhgetabout me — each and every time I depart the surly bonds of earth. I often reject the inclination — usually for winds — because she’s been my companion for 36 years now. At this point, all of my aviating is recreational thereby discretionary. Having already achieved Master Pilot and Mechanic status, my last aviation goal is to become a flying octenagarian. At that point, I might just decide to fly around the world (sic) in a balloon lawn chair disguised as a black triangular UFO with blinking lights. I guess what I’m really saying is that I want to become an “old” pilot and not smash myself being a “bold” pilot. Age, experience, wisdom and a modicum of good luck does that … don’t ya know. Being careful is job #1 for all of us.

    If this young gal pulls it off … great. It won’t do squat for STEM but it will give her bragging rights. If — alternately — she becomes a splat on a mountain somewhere … we’re all screwed. Having liberty also means taking on the attendant responsibility to pay attention to subsequent implications . Let’s cut the crap here … she’s doing this for notoriety, not STEM. In the process, she’s displaying her immaturity. Some adult somewhere is financing her attempt, too.

    Ya’ll be careful what you ask for … you might just get it.

    • Larry, If you where tasked to fly an unmanned aircraft around the world, can you do it? Sure you can, easily. Connect an Iridium data link to a three axes autopilot. Data link the engine parameters to Rotax engineering and contract a meteorologist firm. Several cameras. Now, start calling the airports that you are scheduled to land at and set up arraignments. Fuel, Maintenance, contacts and hotel if there’s a human passenger in your aircraft. The biggest challenge is going to be customs and permissions.

      The military has been operating drones from thousands of miles away for over a decade. We have certified autopilots that land complex aircraft at a push of a button. We have access to Data and communication over the entire planet earth, the ISS and soon the moon. So I read on AvWeb.

      • I’m well aware of what the military has and can do. And I’m well aware of what technology could potentially do. What’s that got to do with a 19 year old 80 hour pilot flying an LSA. For that matter, what’s it got to do with my flying MY Cessna? And what does what she’s doing have to do with STEM ?

        • Just pointing out that Kara may be more a passenger then a pilot. Someone else could be flying that plane around the world. Today anyone can acquire the components necessary to operate an aircraft remotely. Sounds like Science, Technology, Engineering and Math is a very important part of this mission?

  16. Paul,
    I have enjoyed (and disagreed on occasion) your articles. This ‘race to the bottom’ is only productive when it is safe. Aviation can be as safe as one makes it. I was taught to think in terms of “when the engine quits” as opposed to “if the engine quits”. Consequently I fly higher (I did all of the nape of the earth flying in the military, while young & much quicker) than many of my contemporaries & sometimes stay on the ground when I perceive the risk to be greater in the air. Thank you for another thoughtful article.