'I'm the Problem', shouted the suicidal highjacker!

by Captain Dennis Jackson

The sound of a gunshot is picked up on the Cockpit Voice Recorder, and a few seconds later the CVR recorded the sound of the cockpit door opening. A Flight Attendant advised the captain that “we have a problem.” The Captain asked “what kind of problem?” Former US Airways employee David Burke appeared at the cockpit door and replies “I’m the problem”, then immediately fired two shots that fatally injured both pilots.

The Cockpit Voice Recorder began to record the sound of the increasing airspeed of the PSA BAe-146 as it started a steep descent into the central California landscape. A final gunshot is recorded as David Burke shot himself just before the aircraft began to disintegrate at 13,000 feet at a speed of 1.2 times the speed of sound and the Flight Recorders stopped functioning.

Forty-four passengers and crew died that day on December 7, 1987 while flying on PSA Flight 1771. This murder/suicide by a deranged person created passage of a new federal regulation requiring all flight crewmembers, including the Captain, to be subjected to the same security screening as the passengers.

Murderer David Burke knew of the airline security systems and was able to circumnavigate security with this knowledge. Before pilots and other crewmembers were required to pass through security screening many pilots carried firearms in their flight bags to be used in such an incident. I personally knew a female Captain that carried a .45 Colt 1911 in her flight bag. And she knew how to use it!

After this incident the federal government should have reacted to pass regulations that would have provided the training and arming of airline pilots to prevent this from ever recurring. Instead the FAA and Congress reacted in such a way to open our skies to the will of foreign terrorists who have murdered over 3,000 American citizens.

On Friday January 26, 2002 U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a new terrorist warning to the American public by publishing the pictures of 5 terrorists who are willing to sacrifice themselves by killing Americans. We are at war against terrorism. Airline pilots and passengers are unwitting recruits in that war. To deny the warriors in that war the fighting tools necessary to win that war is insanity!

It is time to enact real and common sense security at our national airports. No more “window dressing” security with unarmed National Guardsmen and abuse of passengers and crew by untrained, uneducated security screeners.

With the passage of the Aviation Security Act, which authorizes the selection, arming and training of flight crews the FAA is asking for public comments on arming pilots. I have surveyed other airline pilots and members of the flying public and have compiled the following responses for the FAA.

I encourage all concerned citizens to write to the FAA with your own comments regarding this important issue. Let’s act now to prevent the events of September 11, 2001 from ever happening again.

Comments may also be issued over the Internet, or by mail to:

Public Docket Office, Department of Transportation 400 Seventh Street, SW, Room PL-401 Washington, D.C. 20590-0001

Docket No. FAA-2001-11129

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

Who may participate?

All pilots employed by a US air carrier engaged in intrastate air commerce; and, have passed an approved course of instruction; completed a background check; and has volunteered to participate.

Training program

Submission of a training program should be mandatory for all airlines. Since some airlines have publicly stated that they are not willing to participate in arming of their pilots making the program mandatory will prevent potential terrorists or criminals from targeting non-compliant airlines. The airlines will still retain the right to authorize individual pilots at their discretion.

For an airline to unilaterally opt out of arming their pilots would be no different than an airline ignoring other security requirements.

How to carry:

Concealed only. Method of concealment is up to the discretion of the pilot as long as he/she has been trained and demonstrates competency in their carry method.

What type of firearm:

Any concealable firearm acceptable for law enforcement may be used. The cost of the firearm and training will be at the expense of the pilot.


A balance between stopping power and over-penetration should be considered. Any ammunition and caliber approved for law enforcement may be used. An ideal caliber would be .40 Smith & Wesson in a truncated design for maximum stopping power and a lower possibility of over-penetration.

On board storage vs. personal carry:

On board storage leaves access to the firearm to unauthorized individuals and exposed to detrimental environmental conditions. The type of firearm stored on board may not be the firearm of choice for a particular individual and may not be the firearm the individual would train with. And does not take into consideration the fact that the pilots on board are even qualified or authorized to have access to the firearm.

Maintenance and servicing the firearm would pose a significant financial burden to the airline. With personal carry safety, security and training for deadly force will be maximized and there will be no significant cost to the airline. Personal concealed carry also eliminates the need for expensive aircraft modifications and training of non-flight deck personnel.

When to carry:

A participating pilot is considered on-duty from the time he/she leaves home for the purpose of beginning a work cycle and is off-duty upon returning home at the completion of their duty period. This is irrespective of any local or state laws concerning the use, ownership or carry of firearms. For security of the firearm and crewmember participating pilots are considered on-duty while on an overnight, or traveling while on-duty.

Security screening:

Pilots approved to carry a firearm while on duty should have an ID separate from the airline ID approved by the airline and the FAA. Until “Universal Access” is implemented all flight crews should be required to enter secured airport areas through non-public areas. This will prevent potential terrorists from identifying crewmembers that may or may not be armed.


Pilots would be trained to law enforcement standards by private civilian firearm training academies using a curriculum submitted by the airline and approved by the FAA. Initial and recurrent training costs would be borne by the individual pilots. There is one prominent firearm-training academy that has offered to provide this training free of charge to airline pilots.

Recurrent training:

This would be accomplished annually. Proficiency and marksmanship would be monitored and certified by any licensed and certified firearms instructor or law enforcement academy. Federal, state or community law enforcement facilities will be made available for this purpose. The airlines will also administer a written test annually during pilot recurrent training. The armed pilot identification will be reissued by the airline upon completion of the required recurrent training.

Use of deadly force:

Deadly force will be limited to the protection of the flight deck only, or the defense of the life of a crewmember. In no case will an armed pilot ever leave the flight deck to intervene in a cabin disturbance.

If deadly force has been used during an attempted breech of the flight deck door by the use of force, the captain of the flight will declare an emergency with air traffic control and land at the nearest suitable airport. Local law enforcement and the FBI will be notified and the aircraft will be treated as a crime scene.

Less-than-lethal weapons:

Stun guns and Air Tasers have a place in the control of unruly or abusive individuals. However, in an in flight situation where control of the flight deck is the goal of a terrorist the use of deadly force is the only suitable option available and must be made by the persons ultimately responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft.

An Air Taser or stun gun is a contact weapon and is prone to malfunctions in cold climates and may only be used one time. This is not an acceptable risk when there could be more than one terrorist. Many law enforcement agencies issue stun guns to their officers. But the use of these weapons is not encouraged when the situation demands the use of deadly force. I doubt that stun guns or any other less-than-lethal weapon would have prevented the hijackings of September 11, 2001.

Restraining devices:

Simple plastic restraints used by law enforcement would be suitable for carry on board aircraft. Since these restraints tend to deteriorate over time and temperature extremes, they would need to be replaced on a regular basis. These restraints should be available in sets of ten (10) to ensure an adequate supply in case of breakage and in the case of multiple attackers.

Law enforcement type handcuffs are too expensive and present a storage and security problem on board aircraft. Pilots may even carry the plastic restraints in their flight bags.

Please sign and date your letter. The comment period ends on February 14, 2002

Permission to distribute freely given

Dennis Jackson, A318, A319, A320 AirBus Captain, Chief Advisor for Armed Females of America, NRA Firearms Instructor and freelance writer

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