No Heroes In ADIZ Incursion
By ANN Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien
I wasn't flying Wednesday when the city of Washington went into
a massive, hyperventilating panic over a light plane in the ADIZ; I
was driving the highways, and I got to hear the blow-by-blow on the
radio and in periodic phone calls with ANN's Pete Combs. Good
grief, what a shameful episode. There's enough shame to go around.
Indeed, there are no heroes in this tawdry tale of ADIZ incursion,
but there's a whole gaggle of goats:
Shame On The Security Establishment
..in the first place, for being unable to distinguish between a
real threat and a bogus one. The physics of the Cessna 150 make it
an improbable terror weapon. Indeed, we have an incident to show us
that a Cessna 150 is not much threat to the White House. In 1994, a
suicidal nutball tried to kamikaze the
steel-and-concrete-reinforced landmark, and left an unsightly black
smear on the wall and a divot out of the lawn -- who are we looking
out for with all this panic, the groundskeepers?
A Cessna 150 does not a warplane make. But steeped in the
shibboleths of relativism and egalitarian ignorance, security
managers prescribe the same frantic reaction, as if it were some
kind of anti-Newtonian universe: "For every action, an identical
and hyperbolic overreaction."
The mighty 150 has a gross weight of
1,500 to 1,600 lbs, or about half the weight of a compact car. Even
a 172 is lighter gross than the empty weight of my 1965 mustang
(~2,500), which is pretty light by new-car standards. I think a
typical Camry or similar vehicle is about 3,800 lb. You just can't
do a lot of damage with 2,000 lbs unless it's all explosives... I
know a little about blowing things up, and served for 25 years
alongside the guys with the equivalent of a PhD in blowing things
up, the 12BS and 18C demo men of the Army Special Forces. If we
can't figure out how to destroy a big, strong building with a
Cessna 150, and we can't, it's a pretty safe bet that Osama or
whoever can't do it either: he puts on his baggy pants one leg at a
Then, there's the whole question of, "what about the building?"
The White House is no stranger to hard times, having been burnt to
a shell by a British raiding party on August 25, 1814 (the only
surviving fixture from before 1814 is a Gilbert Stuart portrait of
George Washington which was secured by a fleeing Dolly Madison).
The West Wing burned again in 1929. Yet the building endures. The
walls are made of the original stone, reinforced during a 1948-52
renovation with concrete and structural steel, and light GA
aircraft are not going to move them. QED. Most other public
buildings in Washington are equally robust -- compare the damage
and death toll at the Pentagon to that in New York. Or take a good
look at the J. Edger Hoover building sometime.
Shame On Our National Leaders
...for not facing the risk (if any?) like grown men. A lot of
the current security nonsense has come about because of the
physical and even moral cowardice of our current crop of national
leaders. If we are "a nation of laws, not of men," why are some men
so demanding of special protection?
Our Government is predicated on the
idea that no man is divine or irreplaceable. Our Constitution has
been frequently amended to ensure that suitable procedures are in
place to ensure an orderly succcession and continuity of
Apart from the troubling moral issues raised by special
privileges for the Washington elite, there are practical issues
involved in hasty and ill-advised evacuations like the one we've
just seen. I've looked at several airline incidents that rose to
the level of accident only when the crew made a judgment call to
order an evacuation, and passengers were injured in the
Why injure people unnecessarily, when few people are likely to
be injured in the extremely unlikely event the worst-case scenario
comes to pass, but some people are likely to be injured in a
Shame On The News Media
I was able to hear the audio from
the White House Press Room, and boy howdy, it was a pitiful
display. Screaming, and yelling, and blubbering and carrying on. A
most unseemly display, but then the most fitting 19th Century word
for concept that's defined by the 21st Century word "metrosexual"
is probably "poltroon."
The every-man-for-himself-and-devil-take-the-hindmost stampede
for the exits was unseemly, unsurprising, and, as noted above,
unsafe. You are much safer staying in the building during the
attack than bolting for the exit, where you might be trodden under
by Helen Thomas or somebody.
I always figured most news people would be no earthly use in a
crisis (real, or as in this case, imagined) and now I have my
Shame On The Men In The Plane
You didn't think I was going to let these two clowns off, did
you? I mean, I fly in Boston and I know about the ADIZ. My friends
in Florida and California know about the ADIZ. According to a
family member, the unlucky pilots knew about the ADIZ, but they
blundered into it anyway.
Research in the human behavioral
subset of "being lost" has shown that humans, when confused about
location, will seldom if ever backtrack to the last known location
and try again -- even though that method, logically, offers a good
chance of success. Instead they will press on forward -- pretty
much in whatever direction they happen to be pointing -- for good
or for ill. The only antidote to this deeply ingrained behavior,
since one can't grab his hippocampus and shake some sense into it,
is to have a plan and conscious procedures for safe recovery to a
known point when mislocated.
Many people will focus on the instructor, and as the more
experienced pilot and authority figure, he's definitely where the
buck stops. The FAA will probably recognize this with a certificate
suspension or even revocation (since the violation wasn't willful,
revocation would be out of line. But the security organs will want
their pound of flesh). I hope the instructor subscribed to AOPAs
Legal Services Plan.
But the student also deserves a share of the blame. By the time
you're doing ambitious cross-countries, you need to have a baseline
level of situational awareness. A student can't just ride on the
instructor's ticket (even if that is how the FAA sees it, in legal
terms). He holds a ticket inscribed not pilot student but student
pilot -- the first is the adjective, the second the noun. Students
shouldn't be constantly in their instructors' faces, but they
should be willing to speak up. Many an airliner has come to grief
because a doubting FO held his tongue. If there was ever a place to
indulge in bumper sticker behavior, the cockpit is where you "Speak
truth to power" and "Question Authority."
These two men had a very unpleasant day, and they have more hard
times ahead. But they were lucky; they very nearly died. If the
fighter pilots had been what the Air Force calls "fangs out", this
whole story would be ten times worse. The 150 pilots will live to
fly again -- and one hopes, to enjoy flight again.
One Organization Reacted Credibly
After all this ranting, I ought to close on a positive note --
and there is one to be found. Despite all the things that COULD
have gone wrong, the air defense organization reacted with as much
restraint as alacrity. If the military and DHS intercept crews
hadn't been at the top of their game, if the controllers hadn't
been alert, God alone knows what might have happened. These
disciplined men and women are trapped in a bad system that's not of
their making, but they still performed like a symphony orchestra
with Beethoven Himself conducting.