Air Transportation: A Little Something On The Side

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November 20, 2007: On November 14th, a helicopter from the Thai Air Force appeared in the air over a village in western Thailand. The helicopter appeared to be circling an area not far from the village, and some curious villagers started walking in that direction to see what was going on. The villagers eventually found the helicopter on the ground, in a meadow, and apparently undamaged. The crew was nowhere to be seen. In less than an hour, however, the pilot appeared out of the jungle, carrying a bag. He explained that his mother had asked him to get some wild mushrooms, and he went looking for a likely spot to pick them. He climbed into his helicopter and took off. The villagers returned and told their friends, who told their friends, and in a few days the news had reached the commander of the air force. The pilot was suspended, pending an investigation of this misuse of air force property.

Mushroom hunting isn't the only thing military aircraft are misused for. What the Thai pilot did was not unusual. What was strange was that he did not lie to the villagers about why he had landed. It's rather common for military pilots to use their aircraft for personal use. Most pilots realize that this sort of thing is dangerous, at least to their careers. But with a little care and planning, and creative lying, one can get away with it. Transport pilots, particularly in reserve units, have the greatest opportunities for this sort of thing. These pilots often fly training missions that take them from one base to another. By befriending the people who schedule the training flights, you can arrange to take a training flight that gets you to somewhere you want to be, for a little recreation, or other personal business. Periodically, one of these trips will be exposed, and a news item will result. In some countries, where the corruption is more intense, aircraft will be used for smuggling, or as a private transportation business. The bribes are a reasonable cost of doing business, because the government is picking up all the other expenses.

Combat pilots tend to be jealous of this sort of thing, because their training flights almost always begin and end at the same base. So the transport pilots are often inclined to offer the fighter and bomber pilots free transportation, just prevent anyone from talking out of turn. You get by with a little help from your friends.

 


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