Chances are you’ve heard of Colton Harris-Moore, the notorious “Barefoot Bandit.” Harris-Moore has been in the news lately for a string of burgarlies, car thefts, and interestingly, airplane thefts. The 19 year old hails from the Pacific Northwest, and that’s primarily where he operated until just a few weeks ago, when he headed east, allegedly stealing two airplanes. His final flight was a Cessna Corvalis to the Bahamas.
Harris-Moore became infamous on the Internet, raised up to icon status on Facebook thanks to 50,000 followers, and was followed diligently in the media. Outside magazine had a particularly compelling profile earlier this year that gives all the interesting background.
The public’s opinion of Harris-Moore seems to be mixed. Sure he seems to be a criminal, who’s been working against the law since he was 12. But another group likes the fact he was able to allude police for two years, and that he seemed to have a certain criminal style.
I don’t really care about all that. What amazes me is how good of a pilot he seemed to be with zero flight training. Think about his accomplishements for a minute. He was able to get in airplanes (as many as five, many of them different types), start them, taxi, take off, fly a long distance, and then survive the landing. All of this with no formal flight training. And the Corvalis is very high performance. It’s incredible. I think back to my initial flight training, and the thought of taking off, much less landing, scared me even after I started soloing. I can’t fathom doing it with no flight training.
So how did he do it? How could he possibly know what to do? Well it turns out he’s apparently quite the whiz on flight simulators. The realistic nature of today’s sims meant he was able to fly the first time he sat in an airplane. Again, I find that amazing. Most of us have thought about sims as an instrument training tool, but Harris-Moore is a shining example that even the most basic sim can be helpful in flight training.
Now, I don’t know if Harris-Moore was able to maintain the runway centerline and fly straight and level. But he clearly knew procedures, basic airspeeds, navigation, probably some communication, and at least some basics about landing. He crashed every airplane he flew, but the fact he survived the crashes seemingly unhurt illustrates how close he probably came to a decent landing.
I know there are security issues around what he did, and that his crimes weren’t victimless. And I feel terribly sorry for the owners of those houses, businesses, airplanes, boats, and cars. But all that aside, I can’t help but be impressed with his skill. If only he had taken the right path, he would have been a heck of a pilot.