Upcoming Lectures Explore the Role of Aviation in Current Events

Press Release

Tuesday, September 5, 2017 - 10:00am

Media Inquiries

Alison Mitchell, 202-633-2376, mitchellac@si.edu
Amy Stamm, 202-633-2392, stamma@si.edu

Public Inquiries


GE Aviation Lecture Series Topics Include 9/11 and the News Media

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum launches its Fall 2017 GE Aviation Lecture Series Sept. 7 with reflections from father and daughter John Penney and Heather “Lucky” Penney on their experiences on 9/11. The series will conclude Nov. 2 with a conversation with broadcast journalist Miles O’Brien on aviation journalism, both historically and in modern times. Both lectures are free to the public, but tickets are required. The lectures, which begin at 8 p.m., will take place at the museum in Washington, D.C., and will be available via webcast.

The Sept. 7 lecture, “9/11 Perspectives,” will feature Heather “Lucky” Penney, an F-16 pilot and current director of Air Force Aviation Training Systems at Lockheed Martin. On Sept. 11, 2001, then-Lt. Penney received orders to ram her F-16 into United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth plane hijacked. The heroic actions of Flight 93’s passengers, who brought down the airliner before it reached Washington, meant Penney did not have to fly into the tail end of the plane, although she was determined that day to complete her mission, regardless of the costs.

She will be joined on stage by her father John Penney, a retired Air Force colonel who was a United Airlines captain in September 2001. While he was not flying on 9/11, he will share his unique perspective, as both a commercial pilot and a fighter pilot, on the grounding of all commercial air traffic that day and his daughter’s chosen path. The lecture will be moderated by Christopher U. Browne, deputy director at the museum. Browne was the airport manager at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on 9/11. This panel will offer perspectives on how the aviation industry experienced and responded to the events of that day from three aviation leaders: a fighter pilot, a commercial pilot and an airport director.

Career broadcast news journalist Miles O’Brien will give the Nov. 2 lecture, “News Takes Flight: The Untold Story of Aviation and the Media.” O’Brien worked for CNN for 17 years as a space and aviation correspondent and continues to cover aerospace news as an independent journalist. A private pilot with more than 2,500 hours of flight time, O’Brien is uniquely able to cover the technical aspects of aviation and translate that knowledge to the public.

O’Brien will discuss the media’s response to the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., which was often subject to erroneous media reports due to unnamed sources and the Wrights’ own penchant for secrecy. He will also explore how the news media treats aviation and responds to aviation events, reflecting on his 25-year career reporting on stories such as the 2014 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

The GE Aviation Lecture Series at the National Air and Space Museum is made possible by GE Aviation. For more information about the two lectures, and to request free tickets, the public can visit https://airandspace.si.edu/event-series/ge-aviation-lecture.

The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free, but there is a $15 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

Note: Summer hours for the National Mall building are 10 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. and are in effect until Sept. 9, unless otherwise noted. Check the museum’s website for the most up-to-date times.

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  • Miles O'Brien

    Portrait of broadcast journalist Miles O'Brien.

  • John and Heather Penney sitting in the cockpit of a yellow plane.

    John Penney and his daughter Heather Penney aboard their Piper Cub.