Good News, Really

What is the barbarian fascination with airplanes?

Bill Gertz reports that terrorists have smuggled Russian SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles into the US. So now they want to shoot us down. Lovely.


The SA-7 is the Soviet/Russian version of the Stinger. It’s portable and shoulder launched — and therefore not much threat to a civilian jet.

The range of the thing is only three miles, but — and this is the first key — it’s only good to an altitude of about 13,500 feet. In other words, a terrorist is going to have to hit a plane either immediately after take-off or immediately before landing. And it’s certainly easier for us to secure the area around our airports than it is to secure every last air route.

The second key is the size of the warhead — or lack thereof. Man-portable rockets have a very small warhead. They’re good at shooting down helicopters, which have only one rotary wing to keep them aloft, or small fighters, which are little more than unstable flying fuel tanks. Shrapnel goes in, fuel goes out, fire ensues, plane goes down.

But it’s not that simple to take down a 737.

Civilian planes not only fly more slowly, they also fly with more stability. An F-16 can turn on a dime, mostly because its airframe is inherently unstable. Think Newton and you’ll understand why. A Boeing civilian jet steers like a house; it even takes forever and a day just to change altitude. Its design is inherently stable, so it takes more effort to move the thing.


So, let’s pretend an SA-7 hits on of a 747’s four engines. There’s a small fire, fuel loss, and a loss of power. But wait, the plane is only at 8,000 feet, and even with a missing engine, that’s not going to change any time soon. The pilot will, in all probability, still have plenty of time to turn the beast around and get it landed.

Now, perhaps several terrorists with several missiles could all take aim at a single aircraft. They sure could, and the results would probably be quite deadly. But now there’s a large, well-planned, and organized conspiracy. And those are a lot easier to detect than a single man with a missile in the back of his Town & Country.

If this is the sort of desperation plan the barbarians are reduced to, then we’re already winning.


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