This Aviation Star deserved “COMPLIANCE” FAA action

celebrity pilots
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Highly regarded Martha Lunken did stupid thing and admits it

FAA revokes her licenses 

Other Celebrities have received COMPLIANCE DISPOSITION

most notably Harrison Ford


It may surprise you that there are as many celebrities who are licensed pilots, but it probably does not surprise you to hear that they may receive special treatment from the FAA when their flying is not 100% compliant with the FARs. The rational is that a these highly visible aviators’ choice of aviation as an avocation, serve to promote flying!!!

The most visible example of the FAA giving leeway to a star pilot is HARRISON FORD:

Harrison Ford’s Accident At Santa Monica Is Example Of How Safe The Airport Is And Of How Skilled The Pilot Is

Ford's crash at Santa Monica

Ford’s Role In John Wayne Incident Should Not Be Overblown

John Wayne incident


Why The FAA Did Not Penalize Harrison Ford

Ford's Aviation Credentials









The FAA does not explain the rationale of its actions; so, one must assume that Ford’s long record of support of aviation justified no sanction and he is a STAR. It may have been justified under the FAA’s compliance(vs. Enforcement sanction) policy.

Ford's Star in Hollywood

One of the Celebrities in the cover “gallery” is Martha Lunken. No she does not have the same Q Factor as others pictured, but in terms of true benefits to aviation safety, below, she is more deserving for FAA “compliancetreatment than Ford:






air facts logo

For no apparent reason, Martha fell in love with airplanes at age nine and she learned to fly an Ercoupe in the early 1960s while attending college in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Armed with a degree in English Literature, she became a flight instructor and operated a flying school at Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport for seven years. She married Ebby Lunken, for whose family the airport was named.

After a divorce and far too much time instructing, Martha reluctantly accepted a job in 1980 as an Aviation Safety Inspector with FAA’s Flight Standards Division at DuPage Airport in Chicago. Eight years later she made her way back home via the Indianapolis FSDO and ran the FAA’s safety program in southern Ohio … when she wasn’t on suspension.

She has an ATP, airplane single and multi-engine land and sea, and a commercial hot air balloon rating. She’s type rated in the Lockheed 18, DC-3 and SA-227 aircraft. Martha owns a 1956 Cessna 180, half of a J-3 Cub and has 12,000+ hours flight time.

Ms. Lunken’s sanction does not equitable in comparison with Harrison Ford.  Compliance (suspension, training, counseling, air communityMartha in a DC 3 service?) would be a more equitable result.










April 22, 2021By David Tulis

hypothetical picture of the Cessna flying under the bridge

The FAA has revoked author and Flying magazine Contributing Editor Martha Lunken’s pilot certificates because she flew under a bridge in Ohio in 2020.







Martha Lunken and her 1956 Cessna 180. Photo courtesy of Martha Lunken.

Lunken told AOPA on April 21 that “the FAA deserved to discipline me—and severely” for flying under the 239-foot-tall Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, which carries Interstate 71 over the Little Miami River in southwestern Ohio and has main spans of 440 feet.

Murrow Bridge

The outspoken 98-pound aviator who has delivered hundreds of checkrides to pilots of Douglas DC–3s, Lockheed Model 18 Lodestars, and Fairchild Swearingen Metroliners said the enforcement action hit her hard. She disagreed with the administration’s action that revoked all of her pilot certificates, including her airline transport pilot certificate. The certificate revocation letter contained a phrase that said Lunken could not be trusted to conform with aviation regulations, and it mandated that she reapply for flying privileges as a student, which she plans to do.

Lunken, who flies from a public airport that bears her last name, said that she was “out boring holes in the sky in my [Cessna] 180 and made a couple of landings” at the Lumberton grass strip northeast of Cincinnati in March 2020. She was on her way home to Cincinnati Municipal Airport/Lunken Field when “I looked over my shoulder and saw the bridge and I said out loud, ‘God, before I get too old, I have to fly under that bridge one time.’

Lunken Airport

Lunken said that “it provided no danger to anyone, but of course I knew it was illegal. But I did it anyway.”

A six-year, $88 million construction project recently shored up the heavily traveled interstate bridge.

AOPA Legal Services Plan attorney Ian Arendt recently wrote about FAR 91.119, the regulation that mandates pilots maintain a safe distance from any person, place, or structure, in “congested” or “uncongested areas.”

“She wouldn’t be the first person I’ve talked to that had the thought to fly under a bridge,” Arendt said.

Arndt AOPA legal services

In a congested area, pilots must fly “1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft” other than when taking off or landing. In an “other than congested area” the clearances are less, but Arendt reminded pilots that FAA regulations say an aircraft may not be operated at less than 500 feet above the surface; and that “over ‘open water’ or a ’sparsely populated area,’ an aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet from any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.” Moreover, he reiterated that pilots must “always maintain a sufficient altitude to avoid undue hazard to persons or property on the surface in the event of an emergency landing.”

The FAA describes careless or reckless operation in FAR 91.13. If a pilot is doing something potentially hazardous like flying under an active bridge, the FAA may allege that you are endangering people driving on the bridge, or people under the bridge doing recreational activities. The FAA also may allege you are in danger of damaging the bridge itself,Arendt said. Potential endangerment of persons or property is sufficient to invoke a certificate action.”

The area under the bridge attracts the public to hiking and biking trails, and the river and nearby streams are popular fishing locations. Lunken said she is familiar with the area because she participates in outdoor activities there.

Martha inside her planeMartha Lunken in her 1956 Cessna 180. Photo courtesy of Martha Lunken.

The Cessna 180’s transponder intermittently stopped squawking a code to Cincinnati approach during the flight, and Lunken, a longtime FAA safety official, said she believes that landings earlier in the day at the Lumberton grass strip may have shaken her transponder loose. An Ohio Department of Transportation surveillance camera on the bridge captured an image of Lunken’s aircraft flying under it. Lunken didn’t think much else about it until the FAA contacted her weeks later.

By then she was in touch with an aviation lawyer but didn’t hear anything further “whatsoever” for many months. “I know that after about six months that’s sort of a drop-dead date from the FAA regarding suspensions,” she said. “Every day, I’d look in the mailbox and think, ‘Is it here?’ In March [2021], a year and a week after the event, there’s a big box on my porch with radar tracks,” other evidence, and “an FAA letter with an emergency revocation of all my pilot certificates” inside.

“As soon as Martha knew about it, she let us know,” said Flying magazine Editor-in-Chief Julie Boatman. “She’s been up front with us about it since day one.” The magazine posted a note on its Facebook site that acknowledged Lunken made a “mistake in judgment” and will “be working towards the return of her flying status in the future.”

“It makes you feel like you’re nothing,” Lunken said. “I can’t describe to you the hole inside me. It’s my life.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot

AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-winning AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.



For another interesting perspective about Ms. Lunken’s bridge flying:

Fear, Loathing And ADS-B

Paul Bertorelli

April 25, 2021

Cessna 180 J


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