Pilots are generally an opinionated bunch and usually not shy about sharing their opinions. But " Flight of Mistakes," the story of Troy Martin and Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer's ill-fated foray through the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), drew more than the usual outpouring of opinion.
As soon as the January issue of AOPA Pilot dropped into mailboxes, pilots started e-mailing author Thomas B. Haines, who spent a good share of his at-home holiday time responding.
"During the first week the magazine was out, most of the commenters were very harsh toward Martin and Sheaffer, and some suggested that AOPA was too soft on the pair," said Haines, AOPA Pilot editor in chief. "Those commenting later expressed a certain empathy, and some said AOPA was too hard."
However, the majority of commenters to Haines, and a large number of writers in the AOPA Online Aviation Forums, thought the litany of mistakes should never be forgiven.
"I'm not buying that it was a 'Flight of Mistakes,'" wrote one member. "A mistake is something that happens when a person of reasonable intelligence errs in judgment or an event occurs beyond the person's control. These two imbeciles exercised no judgment whatsoever and, in failing to do so, jeopardized the ability of AOPA and all GA pilots to properly educate the public and government that we are capable of self regulation and do not pose a threat. To the extent that the article seems to justify their ignorant behavior, AOPA's position is misplaced."
Some went as far as to say the two should have been shot down.
"I wondered what cave these two numbskulls have been living in since September 11, 2001.... It scares the hell out of me to know there are people this incompetent in the cockpit. I am glad the FAA pulled [Sheaffer's] ticket and I hope he never gets it back!"
Another called for mandatory annual, rather than biennial, flight reviews. "One hour on the ground and one in the air, every 24 months, is clearly inadequate. When [FAR] 61.56c is changed to require annual flight reviews to specifically include navigation, this will be remembered as the Sheaffer rule. It is expensive but it has been a long time in coming."
Others believed that the government and the media should share blame. "To focus on only the bumbling pilots, while disregarding the contributions of the interception agencies and the media, is to provide only part of the whole story."
"How stupid can our government be?" asked another member. "The DHS helicopter can't communicate on civilian frequencies? Come on!! The whole ADIZ is just a feel-good exercise and doesn't really protect anybody from anything in the air.... Does anybody in authority at DHS even have a pilot's [certificate] or even been in a GA airplane? I am sure everyone at AOPA is trying to fix this."
Some thought AOPA was too "soft" on the pair, while others found the tone just right. "The simple fact is that these men should not be flying and AOPA should be ashamed to identify with them," said one critic, while a more empathetic commenter told Haines, "The calm style of your writing was a perfect way to show that the pilot was neither stupid nor incompetent, but a series of simple mistakes lead someone who was not up-to-speed on the realities of the ADIZ to make a series of blunders that caused the press and the politicians to sensationalize and over react to the event."
Said another, "The last thing we should be doing is heaping continuing scorn on these two pilots for their mistakes; they need our help and support to successfully get back in the air. Now that the dirty laundry is aired, I hope that AOPA backs them up in their quest to fly again, and doesn't shun them because of the perception that they committed an 'unpardonable sin.'"
Finally, several commenters acknowledged Martin and Sheaffer's courage for speaking up and allowing their story to be told. "Thanks again for a great article and for all the work you do for all of us. And please also thank Troy and Hayden for their courage in reliving their horrific experience with us."
January 4, 2006