Flying Lessons Blog

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…

Delta Retaliated Against Pilot By Sending Her to Shrink – Judge Rules

December 22, 2020

Delta Air Lines and its top executives, including the present FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, retaliated against a pilot when it sent her for psychiatric evaluation after she complained of safety issues at the airline, a judge has ruled. Judge Scott Morris ruled that Delta “engaged in an adverse employment action with discriminatory intent,” when it sent Karlene Petitt to Dr. David Altman, a company-appointed doctor who determined she was bipolar. Had that been true, it would have been a career-ending diagnosis.  But Petitt, 58, was not bipolar, as two other doctors later determined. Nevertheless, the ordeal kept her out of the cockpit for nearly two… Read More…

After 32-Years, Maker of Bomb that Felled Pan Am 103 is Charged

December 21, 2020

December 21st, the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, has been a day of grief for 32 years for the people who lost loved ones  in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on this day in 1988. While there were terror attacks on airliners before 1988 and there would be again, the loss of 270 people in the air and on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland holds a unique place in aviation history. Today, US Attorney General William Barr announced that criminal charges will be brought against a third man, Abu Agila Muhammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, referred to as Mas’ud.  Law… Read More…

Aviation Lawyer Added to 737 Max Cast of Villains

December 15, 2020

An attorney whose work defending the environment 30-years ago was the subject of the Hollywood movie Erin Brockovich,  has been cast as the latest villain in the never-ending-drama of the Boeing 737 Max. Tom Girardi, of Girardi Keese in Los Angeles, has been fined, the assets of his firm frozen and he appears to be the subject of a federal criminal investigation. The once-respected attorney is accused of stealing the money Boeing sent to him to settle several suits in the October 2018 Lion Air crash. In a lawsuit filed in Northern District of Illinois Federal Court, Chicago attorney Jay Edelson compares Girardi to the… Read More…

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