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Northwest Airlines, Amelia Earhart, and 'balloon boy'

The connection is whimsical. But flying is serious business, especially when passengers are aboard. And why did those Northwest pilots wander so far past Minneapolis?

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The Minneapolis skyline rises through the rain as an arriving Northwest Airlines jet taxis at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Friday. Investigators are looking into a Northwest flight bound for Minneapolis from San Diego which over flew the airport by 150 miles.

Jim Mone/AP

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Flying is in the air these days. (Sorry!)

Aviation authorities are investigating how two Northwest Airlines pilots could have overshot their destination by 150 miles before returning to land in Minneapolis Wednesday night. There’s a new biopic out about pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart. And the mom of “balloon boy” -- the youngster who, as it turned out, did not get whisked into the sky by a contraption his dad had built -- now admits that it was all a hoax aimed at winning the family’s own reality TV show.

As a one-time aviator (ex-Navy tailhooker), I’m drawn to flying news and stories. Some of my squadron mates became airline pilots after we got back from Vietnam. My parents flew an open-cockpit biplane out of Wisconsin farm fields back in the 1930s, and my father once met Amelia Earhart. A few years back, I helped a guy fly his small, single-engine Cessna from southern Africa to central Alaska, a unique two-month adventure to be sure.

The connections here are whimsical, brought to earth by the seriousness of staying aloft due to a combination of technology (the basic physics have never changed), thorough training, and sometimes a bit of luck. Serious business, especially when passengers are involved.

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