Tom Haines

An Air Force One colossal screw up

April 27, 2009 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

I don’t know whether to be furious or amused by the, um, snafu the federal government created when an F-16 and a Boeing 747 flew at low altitude over Manhattan April 27 striking understandable fear in the minds of a still shell-shocked city. People scrambled from high rises. Construction workers raced from their perches. Even the stock market took a dip at about the time the seemingly perilous scene unfolded in the crystal blue skies remarkably similar to those on Sept. 11, 2001 when airliners also flew low over the skyline and ultimately changing the course of history.

The New York Times reports that the feds went to some length to let New York officials know that the photo shoot involving a VC-25, the Air Force version of the 747 used to transport the president, and the fighter was planned for over the city. While many agencies were informed, none bothered to alert the public or the media and according to one report, the police department was warned not to tell anyone.

Here’s a quote from the NYT article:

The Police Department confirmed that it had been notified about the event but said it had been barred from alerting the public. “The flight of a VC-25 aircraft and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the F.A.A. for the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it but to direct any inquiries to the F.A.A. Air Traffic Security Coordinator,” the Police Department said in a statement.

Even with the notification, it was a stupid and tasteless stunt by the White House Military Office. While it infuriates me that they would be so clueless about the possible impact on the city, it amuses me that not even the federal and city officials can coordinate such a simple thing and then they wonder why average general aviation pilots occasionally screw up and mistakenly enter a TFR, causing confusion for those at the same agencies.

As happens when a GA pilot stumbles into airspace where he is not supposed to be, I hope someone in charge of the VC-25 operation gets a good talking to by someone wearing a badge . Makes me wonder if the VC-25 pilots were forced to lie face down on the tarmac with a gun pointing at them as we’ve seen happen to GA pilots.

8 Responses to “An Air Force One colossal screw up”

  1. Paul Pakusch Says:

    Makes me wonder, too, why the government can demonize the use of general aviation as frivolous spending, yet spend obvious thousands of dollars of tax money on a photo op.

  2. Jaz Says:

    I’m confused and alarmed by a few things
    1) Did the President know about this before hand? If Not, why?
    2) If the plane accidental crashed into a building, who would have been held responsible?
    3) How much did this “stunt” cost the tax payers?
    4) You don’t do this in New York or in any major city in a post September 11th world with out notifying the public, they have the right to know especially New York!!

  3. Dan Namowitz Says:

    Obviously Uncle Sam didn’t read last week’s ePilot Training Tip about the etiquette associated with performing low-altitude maneuvers before dispatching that “photo opp” flight.

    Quoting us: “Practicing ground reference maneuvers or simulated engine-out emergency landings could bring about a conflict-or defy local training etiquette-in inappropriate areas…”

  4. John K. Jones Says:

    As a private pilot, it just pisses me off as I am sure this can’t help GA. Nice to see that there were open lines between the different government groups.
    I don’t think the pilots will be face down on the tarmac.

    “Makes me wonder if the VC-25 pilots were forced to lie face down on the tarmac with a gun pointing at them as we’ve seen happen to GA pilots.”

  5. Steve Roth Says:

    Unfortunately, I heard Chuck Shumer of NY blamed the FAA and the “political hack” administrator installed during the Bush administration. Huh?

    It is so unfortunate that the real culprits here were the elite White House employees who dropped the ball. Word has it that they could not divulge all of the information on the flight since it was classified. Give me a break. Also, the media has been commenting on the “training flight” portion of this “fiasco”. What they do not realize is that all such activity is a training flight — there is no such thing as “around the patch” for these aircraft.

    The real aspects of this scare me into understanding the coordination processes at the highest levels of Govt. I worked for the Federal Govt for 30 years. Career Feds would have done it right. The White House “Poltical Hacks” messed this up.

  6. Kevin L. Cope Says:

    Like so many ‘stands” that AOPA takes, this one is far too weak and obliging. AOPA should immediately begin pounding at Congress and at relevant legislators, pointing out that the one documented case of even a perceived aviation threat since 9/11 emerged not from general aviation, but from the government and the military itself. Haines’s reticence–his weak “hope” that “someone” will be scolded–is symptomatic of AOPA’s excessive politeness (another symptom might be its obsession with large and fast airplanes piloted by the wealthy rather than with the kind of budget flying that would expand its membership and strengthen GA). AOPA, please make maximum publicity out of this flyover episode. Instead of cow-towing, embarrass some influential people so as to send a signal that GA is not to be abused!

  7. Patrick Mahaffey Says:

    Like all of you, I am appalled by the lack of coordination within government agencies. This incident could and should have been avoided with a little foresight and communication.
    But that is just half of the outrage. We all should be asking for an resonable justification for this flight activity. The authorized expense incurred in a meaningless photo opportunity is reason to question the government’s rationale in its overall fiscal responsibility.
    Before I lose focus, the point I wanted to make is this whole picture opportunity could have been created using a number of video editing software porducts such as PhotoShop. Someone else can do the cost analysis.

  8. Eric Renegar Says:

    Just shows you that obama and his foiiowers are plain stupid and will drive this country to the brink and me to drink!

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