Flying Lessons Blog

Test Pilot May Face Prison But Prosecution of Boeing in 737 MAX Disasters is Unlikely

October 15, 2021

Mark Forkner, formerly a Boeing test pilot, was to be arraigned in Federal Court in Texas today for fraud for his role in the crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX airliners that killed a total of 346 people. Forkner is the first individual to be criminally charged for hiding Boeing’s flawed design of the 737 MAX from regulators. One might find this lone wolf prosecution curious considering that in legal documents signed by Boeing earlier this year, the airplane maker acknowledged “fifty or more employees” had “participated in, condoned or was willfully ignorant” of Forkner’s deception of the FAA. The consequences of the deception are… Read More…

TWA 800 Conspiracy Theorists, You’re Wrong

July 16, 2021

Saturday, July 17th marks the 25th anniversary of the crash of TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747 that exploded shortly after takeoff from New York, killing all 230 people on board.  While many events since that day in 1996 have eclipsed the story in size and scope (the 9/11 attacks and the Corona pandemic to name but two) the theory lives on that the official cause of the crash was covered up. “Look-backs” at the accident necessarily include the unlikely scenario that the flight from New York to Paris was felled by a missile. But the theory flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that… Read More…

Southwest 737 Max Flight Returns to Airport After Cockpit Fire Warning

July 13, 2021

A Southwest Airlines 737 Max made a rapid return to Baltimore Tuesday morning just minutes after takeoff after a fire warning horn sounded in the cockpit.  Southwest Flight 4136 left Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport headed for Phoenix at 6:43 but was in the air only briefly before the fire warning bell and airspeed over speed alert began to sound. Other people on the radio frequency could hear the audible warnings blaring as the pilots turned the plane around and landed. Emergency vehicles were waiting on the runway as the plane touched down. The pilots requested that firefighters check for smoke or signs of… Read More…

Head of FBI Probe Into TWA 800 Crash Dies, Leaves Mixed Legacy

July 6, 2021

This post has been updated to included confirmation of Kallstrom’s death and details concerning the cause of death. James Kallstrom, the 78-year old former head of the New York office of the FBI, died on July 3rd. According to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, Kallstrom struggled for six years with an illness related to his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam in the sixties. Edmond J. Boran, the foundation’s president told me Wednesday morning that Kallstrom’s exposure in 1966 and 1967 only began to trouble him fifty years later when a mysterious rash appeared on his upper torso. He was treated with chemotherapy…. Read More…

Former Delta Pilot Jailed for Making Death Threats

June 21, 2021

NOTE TO READERS: Several readers, including acquaintances of the pilot discussed in the blog post below, have criticized me for a headline since changed which asked “Was he Unstable?” In their opinion, the acts for which this person was arrested were unrelated to his work at Delta Air Lines, and occurred several years after the airline questioned his mental stability and following an extremely contentious relationship between the airline and the pilot which ended in his firing. You can read more in the comment section. In deference to the logic of these arguments, I have changed the headline. I will also remind readers that the… Read More…

Robert Francis Controversial Face of TWA 800 Investigation Dies

April 29, 2021

During the second half of the nineties, the patrician visage of Robert Talcott Francis dominated the news.  And yet, when he died earlier this month at the age of 83, few outside of the aviation press published obituaries. This is not an obituary either, but my impressions of a thin slice of the man’s career when he was caught between feuding agencies and a multinational catastrophe. In 1996, Francis, with his Oxford shirts and aristocratic manner, was the vice-chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and as such he was the face of two high-casualty, high-profile airline crashes. In May, he was in Miami when… Read More…

The Aviation Industry Knows, “Don’t Make a Mistake” is Not a Solution in Taser Handgun Confusion

April 19, 2021

When Minneapolis police officer Kimberly Potter fired her service revolver instead of her taser on April 11 killing Danute Wright, she was not the first to say this fatal action was a mistake. Sixteen police officers have done something similar according to the website The weapons have a similar feel and both are worn in holsters on an officer’s belt. They both fire with finger pressure on a trigger. That this weapon confusion could happen repeatedly over the course of decades has many in law enforcement calling for better training and urging officers to be more careful. But there’s a more thoughtful and effective… Read More…

Beyond the Headlines, More Than Pilot Error in Fatal B-17 Crash

April 14, 2021

The list of failures leading up to the crash of a World War 2-era B-17 in October of 2019 is lengthy, highlighting not just individual lapses but systemic ones, the National Transportation Safety Board has found. Seven people died and five others were seriously injured when the 4-engine aircraft dubbed Nine O Nine, struck approach lights short of the runway at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut then veered across the threshold slamming into vehicles and a deicing tank off the right side of the runway.  The pilot, Ernest “Mac” McCauley, 75, and co-pilot Michael Foster, 71, were killed along with five of the passengers who… Read More…

Kobe Bryant Crash Hearing Triggers NTSB Chairman to Ask, Are Two Pilots Better Than One?

February 9, 2021

Surprising no one, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the helicopter crash that killed basketball superstar Kobe Bryant just over a year ago, was the result of poor pilot decision-making. Evidence of that came to light within days of the accident in January 26, 2020. The surprise came later, when NTSB board chairman, Robert Sumwalt, suggested things might not have taken a turn for the tragic, had two pilots been at the controls that day instead of one. Bryant, his teenage daughter Gianna, her friends and their parents, a youth basketball coach and the pilot were killed when the S-76 owned by Island Express… Read More…

American Slashes Mechanic Training on 737 Max by 90 Percent

February 4, 2021

American Airlines, one of the first U.S. carriers to resume flights of the Boeing 737 Max, has slashed the training time for people who will repair and maintain the airplane – prompting one senior mechanic to file a report with the Federal Aviation Administration. Gary Santos, a crew chief at American’s base at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport recently received 4 hours of instruction making him qualified to work on the Max and to inspect the work of others. It is one-tenth the amount of time that was set aside to teach mechanics about the airplane prior to the crashes of two Maxes that… Read More…

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