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Air Force One and the Statue of Liberty

What you do does make a difference to the folks on the ground

On April 27, a Boeing 747 being followed by two F-16s flew low over Manhattan Island with a roar that was all too familiar to New Yorkers.  Terrified workers ran from their buildings.  For thousands the feeling of terror was live and real again.

What were the folks in the 747 doing?  Well, it happened to be one of the planes used as Air Force One and they wanted a low-level picture of it over the Statue of Liberty.  Are these guys nuts?  No, they are what I call aviation klutzes.

They simply had not thought through the impact they would have on the folks on the ground.  While most of us don’t have near that impact on the people we are flying over, we do from time-to-time make transgressions that put us into the aviation klutz category.

It is a terrible admission to have to make, but I have to tell you that I have been an aviation klutz from time to time.  I have inadvertently flown with my prop howling at high RPM over neighborhoods near the airport, directed my prop blast into a hangar, and copied ATIS and my clearance with the engine running loudly while parked next to the outdoor seating area of the airport coffee shop.  Am I mean-spirited?  I don’t think so.  But like many pilots, I have been thoughtless.  What’s worse, even though I have resolved to be a good aviation citizen, it is possible I will still descend to thoughtless klutzhood every now and then. 

Now the truth is, being a good aviation citizen isn’t all that easy.  When you are in an aircraft you are busy.  Your attention is focused on what you are doing.  Unless you take special effort to think about how you are affecting others, it won’t come to mind.

Plus, thoughtful citizenship is not normally included in the instruction program when we learn to fly.  In fact, occasionally we have been trained to do something that has an unnecessarily negative impact on others.  For example, instead of being trained to fly quietly on approach, we are often told to increase propeller RPM early on a constant-speed prop to be ready for a go-around.

I had never thought much about how my flying was affecting folks on the ground until I attended a series of neighborhood meetings about a proposed runway extension at our local airport.  Some of the meetings had over a thousand attendees—and most had shown up to let everyone know how much the noise from airplanes bothered them.  The number and intensity of these folks was a great surprise to me.  For the first time I realized that if we wanted to keep our airport, we were going to have to be more considerate of our neighbors.

There are a few little things you can do that will make a big difference.  For instance, climbing at best angle-of-climb speed right after takeoff not only multiplies your alternatives in the event of an engine failure, but it reduces your noise impact on the neighborhood geometrically as you gain altitude.

Since much of the noise made by airplanes is caused by the speed of the propeller blade tips, keeping prop RPM low anytime you are over a populated area makes a huge difference.  Most manufacturers approve RPMs as low as 1800.  Many pilots with constant-speed props are afraid of operating their engines at that low an RPM, because we were erroneously taught never to operate over-square (with manifold pressure in inches greater than RPM in hundreds).  So consequently, we needlessly fly over neighborhoods with our props screaming away even when we are in no hurry and just enjoying the view.

 You can also reduce neighborhood noise by keeping your pattern tight and delaying your descent in the pattern until you are on a normal descent path to the runway.  A lot of pilots start their descent abeam the landing point regardless of how extended the traffic pattern has become, and wind up flying an extended pattern at low altitude over neighborhood homes.

 Your alternative when the pattern becomes extended is to hold your altitude, slow down, keep the airplane to follow in sight, and turn base when they pass abeam you on final.  This keeps your noise footprint closer to the airport and has the safety advantage of making it easier for everybody to keep pattern traffic in sight.

 To be a thoughtful aviation citizen, you don’t necessarily have to put others ahead of yourself.  Just think about the effect you have on others.  It will cost you very little, if anything, to minimize that effect.  The little effort it does take will pay rich dividends to the aviation community from greater support for airports and general aviation.




  2. Bill Brasky

    No John and Martha, these are not just “aviation klutzes.” The crew of Air Force One and the F-16 pilots are some of the most knowlegable and professional pilots in the world. These people know the regulations of such an act. Air force One does not move without the explicit order of the president. It then is not hard to deduce where the order came from. It came from the desk of a president that cares more about his image than anything else.

  3. Chris Perry

    Steve Schultz was “spot on” with his statement. An officer may need to question orders at some time….this was not one of those times. This was, I’m sure, a very poorly thought out plan by the administration to generate positive publicity that went entirely wrong. Seems to be in line with most of this admin. plans.
    Let’s not overlook the honor and simplicity of owning our mistakes.

  4. Alan S

    Opportuity missed,

    The public should have been informed! What an opportuity to photograph a beautiful aircraft. My first reaction, and I’m a pilot. ( W T F ? )

  5. Buck Pilot

    Facinating Discussion to date on a topic that apparently caused a few ruffled feathers… Remember, the VC-25/B-747 in use was not Air Force One, it only becomes Air Force One when the Commander in Chief is on board. It terms of addressing “feelings” in the defense of the National Vital Security Interests of the United States of America; “feelings” are not particularly relevant. However, clearly, in this case, it will be treated as a lesson learned for future such flights for photographic opportunities using the CINC’s fleet of aircraft. Frankly, the only thing these pilots did wrong: They weren’t flying low enough! Warm Regards, Buck.

  6. Bill W

    John and Martha used a recent event to remind us all of something we all needed to consider. It was a very thoughtful article and I for one am most appreciative. Is it not a shame how so many have either missed or ignored the point and turned the discussion instead to more irrelevant partisan political garbage?

  7. Cole Weidenbusch

    Having just come home from a pleasant flight behind the rumble of a radial, I’m writing this as I listen to the din of lawnmowers, screaming children, mega-stereos with subwoofers, leaf-blowers, gas trimmers, motorcycles — remind me again of whose peace and quiet we shouldn’t be intruding upon with our noisy airplanes from thousands of feet away?

  8. rich (richmanwisco)

    @ John and James

    you said: “Did they have to use exactly the same type of aircraft that caused the 9-11 disasters?”

    You forget your history. None of the aircraft involved on 9-11 were Boeing 747s.

    you said: “As a specific starting point, what about a statement from the PIC of the aircraft? The pilot must have some idea of how and why this flight was made.”

    The man (an Air Force colonel) knew exactly what the flight was about. I refer you to the documentary shown on National Geographic Channel in January. The planning of these missions is meticulous down to the last detail. Nor is he, as you suggest, obligated to utter a single word to the public about it.

  9. rich (richmanwisco)

    To those who wish to take the opportunity for a partisan potshot at the president, just stop and think for second on whether his predecessor would have done the exact same thing.

    The two best points in this thread were: 1) they have to fly their hours anyway, and 2) you never EVER publicize where the presidential fleet is.

    The whole exercise was just a bad call. The deeper issue at work here is that we have a public that is told to be scared, told to fear so that politicians can make political hay out of it. It happens on both sides. And that is just sad.

  10. Jim Thompson

    What was the purpose of this flight? Was it to have a picture of “Air Force One” with the Statue of Liberty in the background? If that was the purpose, I wish to let Washington know about a way to do it at perhaps 1/10,000th of the cost of that flight. There is a program called PhotoShop that would allow them to take a stock photo of the statue and a stock photo of AF One and combine them. My middle school students would be happy to teach someone in Washington how this is done.

  11. John DePalma

    I say it was not a photo mission first, but most likely a joy ride for some people who were not on the official passenger manifest for “security” reasons. This goes right in line with the $165.00 steaks the Clampat’s are living it up with at the White House.

  12. Tim

    My hat is off to the Air Force guys. They were doing their job. And 99.999% of them do it very well. I was NOT the Air Force, it was all the other meatheads that decided that it was alright to do the photoshoot. And nobody ever said anything about saying it was going to be AF1. Just let the media know there is going to be a military escorted photoshoot around that area on xx day. No need to tell them anything else. The media will spin it up anyway.

    Proof that there is ZERO common sense in DC.

  13. Howard Billman

    Hear, Hear, Hear!!!!!

    This is something that we should all consider !!!

    I will!

    Thanks to the Kings for the effort….

  14. Thaddeus J. Lindsay

    A follow up to previous post;
    I wonder what the poor fellow that accidentally wondered his GA aircraft into the “forbidden Airspace” of the Whitehouse” went through after he created such a scare? I bet he didn’t get away with “I didn’t know any thing about it” (and he shouldn’t)! We need to be cognoscente of where we are, that is our responsibility.

  15. David

    Good article and good advice.

    Oh and I can’t wait to see the pictures of Air Force One with Lady Liberty as a backdrop. I’m pretty sure those will never see the light of day…

  16. John and James

    Many pilots and non-pilots are interested in facts about this poorly thought through low pass over lower Manhattan by a Boeing 747 chased by 2 jets. Did they have to use exactly the same type of aircraft that caused the 9-11 disasters? Try going through airport security with a bomb look-alike as a photo op for your friends. Not a problem Mr TSA officer, just getting some pictures. As a specific starting point, what about a statement from the PIC of the aircraft? The pilot must have some idea of how and why this flight was made. Why doesn’t the FAA release a statement? They cleared the flight plan. Transparency or OBacity?

  17. Chuck Alverson

    Some great suggestions on being a good airport neighbor, not only at our home base, but we want to keep thos GA airports available on our cross country visits.
    As to the New York fiasco, I’m sure that the non-flying public was not aware of the Air Force One markings. All they saw was a very big plane being chased by two fighter jets. I can’t comprehend why they prohibited anyone from being informed ahead of time

  18. Jeff Wright

    John and Martha,

    Thank you for this thoughtful reminder to all pilots to “fly neighborly”. As a professional aviation planning consultant, I have taken part in many public hearings for airport and heliport projects where nearby residents come out to express their concerns about noise impacts on their neighborhoods. Sometimes it is just a few residents, sometimes dozens and, on occasion, hundreds. All pilots need to understand how important it is to maintain good relations with your airports’ neighbors (your home airport and those you fly to) to encourage a greater number — rather than a diminishing number — of aviation facilities for us to use and enjoy. Thanks again for the great heads-up for all of us.

  19. Ron Wagner

    I used to be a USAF pilot in the Presidential Wing at Andrews. I have taken off from Andrews many times and flown out of many other airports under tight security about our departure time. And we NEVER publicized our exact route of flight. In fact, we often filed for a fake destination, took off on that flight plan, changed our destination inflight, which in itself was a diversion because we refiled in the air to an airport that was beyond our actual destination and then we would suddenly change destination again when we were a few miles out of the real one.

    Announcing this flight far in advance and spreading the message to everyone in New York would have been a perfect setup for terrorists to send a huge message to the world.

    You all think they’re klutzes, but how loud would you be screaming if they had announced the exact time and route of a low-and-slow flight by the most recognized aircraft in the world, and then terrorists had shot it down?

    As it was, nothing really bad happened.

    They’re not klutzes. They are taking care of one of most visible national treasures!

  20. Lois Reid

    “If you look for the evil in mankind, you will surely find it” Abraham Lincoln
    Thank you for your common sense, rational response. Situational awareness does not always seem to include simple common sense and good manners whether flying or driving. When you do something stupid and thoughtless it is also good manners to apologize.

  21. Gil Williamson

    Klutze is too kind. Haven’t these baffoones heard of Photoshop? Instead of blowing $400,000 of the tax payers money, they could have got the job done for $100 by hiring a teen ager with a computer and access to stock images.

    • Bill H

      A lot of folks are getting hung up on the cost. Folks those jets were going to fly those hours somewhere. There are thousands of flying training hours programmed into the Air Force operations – they have to stay current too. Imagine how much it costs to do one pattern circuit in a C-5!! Sit outside any one of the major heavy bases and watch how much pattern time is spent and then think about how much X-C time they are putting in.

      I dont agree with the government’s execution and the lack of notification. It was indeed insensitive.

      Thanks for the good aviation citizen reminder – I am pulling the prop back now…


  22. Patricia Reinhold

    It is NOT the pilots fault that authorities(government) did not give notice to the Mayor. He could have let the whole city know. There is no excuse for not releasing that information. Incompetance in the high-ups of the government!

  23. Peter McCook

    Yes!, Amen on the Vx climbouts and tight patterns! How about cross wind turns right at the departure end of the runway instead of 1/2 mile further along in the upwind so long as 700ft AGL is attained?

  24. Frank Burson

    I like to learn a little more about the constant speed prop and how to control it at a lower rpm to be friendly to the people around the airport.

  25. Jack Ditmars

    I guess I never thought about noise in this manner , I fly a AEROSTAR and in 2200 hrs have yet to make a [ necessary ] Go Around , so then why do i go to hi RPM early in the approach ?? guess I was always taught that way ,,, I can change , if i need to go around for real ,, Im gonna slam the throttles forward ,, why not slam the props at the same time ??? they are right there ,,, I guess I always try to be smooth in all power applications ,,,, Thanks for the great article ,,, keep up the good work ,,, Jack

  26. Bob Dobbertin

    I totally agree with you. I fly out of Scottsdale, AZ. Our
    airport here is normally very busy and we of course get ex-
    tended on our upwinds, downwinds or whatever for proper spacing.
    And of course the builders keep building those homes closer to the
    airport boundaries. Keep up the great work. I’ll sign up for your
    blog. Bob

  27. Harold Henderson

    Applaude the effort to increase awareness. Situational Awareness is the category that I put this in and is the one thing I try to ascertain when interviewing pilots as to how acutely attuned each applicant is. Easy to spot in the cockpit, but hard to spot in a two dimensional interview. As instructors, we need to keep trying to find ways to expand future pilot’s world. Thanks again for pointing out the need to foster this approach.

  28. John K. Jones

    Dear John and Martha,

    Well said! I was a bit more “ticked off” about the fly-over. Thank you for this reminder on “being a good aviation citizen…”

    Safe Flying,

  29. Brian Donoghue

    While I appreciate occasional aviation “snafus” occur – the colossal misjudgment demonstrated by the myriad people involved with the 747 incident elevates it far above a “klutzy” move. Your descriptions of prop wash into a hangar or other similar transgressions are occasional mistakes made by every pilot but are not even in the same universe of ignorance demonstrated in New York. How could they possibly be so oblivious? Accidentally landing a Cessna 172 on the lawn of the Whitehouse wouldn’t be considered a snafu, it would be a criminal act and the degree of disregard involved in this incident in New York is severe enough that I think it absolutely rises to this same level.

  30. Randall L. Cole

    If the government wanted to fly over New York City to do a promotional flight for the good ol’ USA. It could have involved the people of New York in a grand setting. Have them standing in the streets around ground zero and throughout the city with smiles on their faces and thumbs up looking up at the sky. This would have sent a profound message around the world that we may have been bruised, but we are still full of fight!!

    • rrothe

      speaking of klutzes, d’ya suppose anybody at the White House ever heard of Photoshop? The whole flight was unnecessary and very expensive.

  31. Michael Kahrs

    This is good advice. Living and flying in Southern California as I do, where every airport I have flown to/from is surrounded by neighborhoods, makes me thankful my instructor has us understand and follow the noise abatement plans for each runway. As his livelihood depends on all the GA airports being open and available to him and his students, he takes it very seriously. Thanks!

  32. BZ

    You are a klutz if you have done all those things. My chief mechanic would have thrased you within an inch of your life if you had done any of those things around his hangar. 🙂

    You may be generous in suggesting the 747 and F-16’s were the result of a klutz like thought process. Some might suggest BO and his crowd are building a case for “their” security is better than Bush’s. Personally, I am waiting and watching but not especially optimistic.

    I think it is obvious that there should have been the widest possible publicity surrounding this event. Even so, there would have been many who did not get the message.

    Not a good deal.

  33. Mike and Ronnea

    Re: Air Force One and the Statue of Liberty

    Permission granted by authority or not, it wasnt followed by the FAA FAR/AIM laws. So you say: “It is the Air Force One”, communicating this on the news would of been nice to the American people that pay for that flight indirectly.

  34. James Agnew

    Hi John & Martha missed you at SNF.

    I totally agree with you that pilots should get some training in being a good neighbor and reducing noise when safe.

    As far as the fly-over, there was no excuse for not notifying the public and not causing panic. It seems our government is taking this as a misjudgment on their part.

    I cannot believe this explanation; I find it hard to believe that some low level clerk handed the keys to an Air Force 1 aircraft to a pilot and told him to take a hop up to NY for a photo op. I’ll bet that it took a ton of paperwork and sign-offs so there were a lot of people that could have suggested the notification be given.


  35. Mark

    While I can understand how some might have been concerned the fact that the plane was a replica of Air force one!! and escorted, wouldn’t people be able to connect the dots?

    Just a thought….

  36. Steve Schultz

    As a former active duty Air Force pilot, I take extremely strong exception with your calling the pilots of the F-16s and VC-25 as “aviation klutzes.” THEY were not the klutzes — they were ordered to fly an authorized mission on an authorized route. THEY have no control over releasing information when its been classified by higher-ups. THEY would go to jail if they did so. The “klutzes” are the ones who ordered NYPD and other local authorities to keep the mission secrect under threat of prosecution — and it’s clear from the FAA memo on the subject another agency ordered the mission classified and the FAA went along with it. The “klutzes” are the bozos in the Obama White House who one minute claim they know nothing of the flight and the next minute claim they authorized it, but “made a mistake” in notification. The President doesn’t know what’s going on with HIS airplane? Give me a break! The bottom line is you owe the professional Air Force crews who were doing their job an apology! WE are NOT “aviation klutzes!”

    • Jim Thompson

      Mr. Shultz, I won’t argue that the Air Force pilots were following orders, but there is also a time to question your higher ranking officials and ask them if they have considered the consequences of such an operation.

    • Russ Keller

      Stand down mister. We all admire honor and respect the brave men and women who serve/d our country and the King’s message was not directed at them or you. I’m gratefull people with intestinal fortitude like you are protecting us from those who wish to do harm. The second paragraph identifies the folks in the 747 as the knuckleheads. I’m glad to hear an apology from the Whitehouse co-ordinator but still an incredibly unthoughtfull thing to do. Your assesment of who’s responsible is right on target.

    • Juan Rodriguez

      You are one hundred percent right it`s irresponsible to call Air force personnel that, giving up the information of Air Force one location and or position can have dire consequences not to mention the opportunity for terrorists to try to shoot it down.

  37. Gary P.

    Here’s the problem. This was a well planned out and executed maneuver.
    The White House officials informed FAA in a memo to NOT release the information to emergency services or the CIA.
    When I goof up when I am flying first it is not planned or intentional.

  38. Hugh

    I can only think of one reason that the White House would not allow New Yorkers to be warned about this flyover. The president was aboard.

    • vickih32

      Actually it was Louis Caldera the director of the White House military office that planned it. The president had no idea of it and was furious about it – naturally! The Mayor of New York also had no idea of it. I just couldn’t imagine what terror was going through there minds the poor citizens of New York!

  39. Thomas Swift

    Being the President of a local flying Club, I believe this article would be a great addition to the monthly e-mail I send out pre-meeting date.


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