Me, in the right seat, flying a helicopter, something Facebook doesn’t think I’m interested in. Skip Robinson Photo

In late 2019, I discovered that I was part of Facebook’s gender bias problem.

This was not a possibility that had previously occurred to me. I am an editor with a helicopter industry magazine, Vertical, and have been managing our Facebook page since I created it in 2009. I’m also a female helicopter pilot and flight instructor myself, with no appetite for the blatantly misogynistic posts I’ve seen on some other aviation industry pages.

For many years after the launch of our Facebook page, a consistent 10 percent of our followers were women. This might not sound like a lot…


An NTSB investigator examines the wreckage of the Island Express Sikorsky S-76B that crashed in Calabasas, California, in January 2020, killing all nine people on board. NTSB Photo by James Anderson

Periodically, the National Transportation Safety Board will reiterate its recommendation that the Federal Aviation Administration mandate safety management systems (SMS) for Part 135 aviation operators. That includes most commercial operators apart from Part 121 commercial airlines, for which SMS is already required.

The NTSB did so again recently in the context of the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, that killed nine people including Kobe Bryant. That’s curious on the face of it, because the operator of the accident helicopter, Island Express, actually had an SMS.

“Ah, but!” the NTSB essentially said. “Island Express did not have a fully implemented SMS.”


William Langewiesche contends that the Boeing 737 Max crashes were “textbook failures of airmanship.” But his argument rests on stereotypes that most of us in aviation have discarded as incomplete and unproductive. iStock/MatusDuda Photo

There are a lot of bold pronouncements and sweeping generalizations in William Langewiesche’s much discussed New York Times Magazine article, “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max?” There is, for example, his contention that Boeing at the corporate level is a “corrosive agent” that “dangerously distorts American society.” But also his argument that in the case of the 737 Max, Boeing’s habit of, say, “toying with nuclear annihilation” doesn’t really matter, because the aircraft itself was designed by engineers of “unquestionable if bland integrity.” …


Flying Magazine’s columnist is 58 years behind the times, and her editors should have caught it.

Sarina Houston’s tweet first drew my attention to this jaw-dropping column in Flying Magazine.

In its August 2018 issue, Flying Magazine published a piece by its longstanding “Unusual Attitudes” columnist, Martha Lunken, titled “Romance on the Runway.”

Spoiler: the title refers to an episode recounted to Lunken by “a rather famous old aviator friend” who once had sex on the runway at the Santa Monica Airport. He was a 19-year-old flight instructor, his partner was his 30-something female student, and the airport was cloaked in dense fog.

That’s it. Apparently Lunken’s friend did not describe any dramatic lead up to…


Galina Rastorgueva and Ludmila Polyanskaya set a number of helicopter speed records in 1975 in a modified Mil Mi-24. Photo from the July 1991 edition of Ninety-Nine News

In September of last year, I had the opportunity to fly a Mil Mi-24D attack helicopter for a story that has now been published in the winter issue of Vertical 911 magazine.

Getting to fly a Hind — the NATO reporting name for the Mi-24 — is a rare privilege for any helicopter pilot, but particularly for those of us in Western countries, where Soviet military hardware is hard to come by.

Famously, even Hollywood had to resort to a dressed-up Aérospatiale Puma helicopter to play the role of a Hind in the Rambo movies. (Although there were Hinds in…


Rediscovering Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham at his desk in 1917. Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress Photo

Of all the indignities suffered by America’s military aviators during World War I, perhaps none were as richly symbolic as the requirement that they wear spurs.

“It is a queer sense of humor that requires a field officer, who in the course of his duties suddenly is called upon to mount his winged steed, to divest himself of his spurs and put them in his pocket for safety,” recalls Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Hiram Bingham in his 1920 memoir An Explorer in the Air Service. “I speak the more feelingly on this matter because of one Sunday afternoon at…


Notes from my 2016 reading

Above, the books mentioned in this post — some more obscure than others.

My research projects last year took me in some unexpected directions, and while most of those directions led through JSTOR and other online repositories of academic papers, I also picked up some really interesting books. Here are a few that stood out for me. None of them are new releases, some are more obscure than others, but each of them gave me some new perspective or way of thinking about the world.

The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt

Elan Head

Helicopter pilot and special projects editor at MHM Publishing, often exploring the world by air

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