Aviation News

April 22, 2011

How the Media Blew That Michelle Obama ‘Close Call’ Story: A Pilot’s Take



US Air Force Boeing C-40B 01-0040 about to touch down at LaGuardia Airport

US Air Force Boeing C-40B (01-0040) about to touch down at LaGuardia Airport. (Photo by Ron Peel)


The media is truly out of hand these days when it comes to aviation incidents. Come to think of it, they over-exaggerate almost everything these days which is why you need to watch the news with a curious eye. Things like severe storms, economic crises and similar large scale events are broadcast every hour as “breaking news” when in fact the world isn’t ending.

Back to the original topic, though. It seems that a military-version Boeing 737 carrying our First Lady was ordered back into the sky after getting a little too close to the aircraft ahead of it, a large C-17 military transport aircraft. The incident has had every media outlet [including our own, admittedly. -Ed] going bananas. Quite frankly, it’s no big deal. It happens all the time. The real page turner would have been, “C-17 lands on runway, Mrs. Obama’s slams into it while rolling out on landing.” But thanks to the professionalism in the control tower and in the cockpit, there was no story; at least there should not have been.

A go-around is simply the act of climbing back up into the air and coming back around for another shot. It is similar to a takeoff procedure, except you are already in the air. The power comes up, the nose comes up, the gear comes up, and then the flaps—you guessed it—come up. This is the equivalent of looking for a parking spot and circling around the block if one isn’t available. As airline pilots and in this case, Mrs. Obama’s pilots, we practice go-arounds every single time we are in the simulator, every six months, for our entire careers. Not only that, but we all did hundreds of them while training as neophyte pilots. (Read my article detailing exactly what happens in the cockpit during a go around.)

Most pilots will typically experience this about once a year—and though it’s a serious maneuver that requires precision flying, if you find yourself in the back of an airliner doing a go-around, know that it’s the safest thing you could be doing at that minute. Pilots do not execute go-arounds for fun, they’re done for safety. Thankfully, Mrs. Obama was involved in a go-around and not a headline grabbing incident. Oh, wait.

NYCAviation Columnist Justin Schlechter is a First Officer for a major international airline. You can read more of his writing on his Positive Rate blog.

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of NYCAviation.

About the Author

Justin Schlechter



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  • Just as I (as a pilot) thought. No biggie!

  • Anonymous

    Media likes aircraft incidents because it sells more papers and is always an attention grabber.   I congratulate you for giving us the true story.