While I certainly don’t have all the facts concerning the recent incursion into the Washington ADIZ — and within three miles of the White House — by Hayden Sheaffer, a certificated pilot, and Troy Martin, a student pilot, in a Cessna 150, I am upset with them for what they’ve probably done to all of us.
Fortunately, they survived the incident with little more than embarrassment, probably harsh treatment by law enforcement and other governmental agents and a questionable future in the air. Reports indicate they came within minutes of being shot out of the air, so they are really lucky, although Lt. Col. Tim Lehman, who was flying one of the F-16s, said that he did not see the 150 as a threat and would have fired only if ordered to.
On Sunday, May 15, the “New York Times” reported pilot Sheaffer got lost en route and then froze at the controls. It took student pilot Martin to actually get the airplane safely on the ground at Frederick, Md. How accurate that report is I don’t know.
I have absolutely no sympathy for either of these two guys, even though I’ve been guilty of getting lost a few times myself in my earlier years of flying. However, when I got lost it was in rather remote areas with very few landmarks to help me figure out which way was what. I can honestly say I never got lost flying over major cities where tight air traffic control rules are in effect because I closely watched my charts and kept track of where I was by looking out the window.
What really bugs me is the situation in which these guys have put all the rest of the flying community. I was at a party the day after the incident and half a dozen people started talking to me about it. These people, none of whom were into flying, mentioned what they felt was the irresponsibility of the two, the lack of controls for people flying light planes and many of the other usual negative comments about general aviation pilots and “those little planes.”
Everyone wanted to know how these guys could fly so close to the White House without talking to anyone, etc. “How come they didn’t have a flight plan?” is the most common question. Of course, non-pilots think an airplane can’t go from point A to point B without a flight plan or without the pilot talking to an air traffic controller.
With that kind of talk, I fear that Congress will get enough pressure to push for mandatory flight plans and much more stringent controls on general aviation. The knee jerk reaction of members of Congress and Senators against aviation is something that’s happened previously — that’s how we ended up with emergency locator beacons many years ago — and I can see it occurring again over this situation.
How two pilots can take off in good VFR weather, fly across Washington, D.C., with all the buildings and monuments in that city and not realize where they were is impossible for me to understand. When flying in that area, everyone has to be aware of the restricted and prohibited areas — or he damn well ought to know about them. Even without good radios or GPS, I don’t understand how they could fly through the DC area and get into those restricted areas.
About the time of the incursion, I understand discussions were scheduled to get underway over opening Washington National Airport again to general aviation. I doubt that’s going to happen now as a result of this incursion. I can imagine the TSA, Secret Service, military and law enforcement folks aggressively arguing against reopening the airport, citing this situation.
I think all of general aviation is getting a black eye, at best, and going to get slapped with a lot more rules and regulations, at worst, as a result of this flight. The only good that I see coming out of the entire situation is that the military got some good training, the evacuations of the White House and Congress went off without a hitch and the pilots weren’t shot out of the sky. They are very, very lucky!
Dave Sclair was co-publisher from 1970 to 2000.