Here's a story that didn't get posted from a while ago. One day at a busy US airport we had landed and were waiting for clearance to cross a runway on our way to parking. We're heading for the FBO for fuel and food.
Another aircraft on frequency is on another taxiway, but requesting clearance to the same FBO. Its callsign is not an "N-number" -- a string of numbers with maybe a letter or two at the end -- like most American call signs. It's Justice One. That's not an airline designation that I recognize, and airline flight numbers are usually at least two digits. Maybe it's military. That kind of fits the pattern. They're typically things like "Snake One" or "Liberty Six." There's a whole list of them here. Military aircraft are also often recognizable by the voice of a teenager having way too much fun going really fast. "Or maybe it's a prison ship," I said, mostly joking. Con Air has a great final scene but it's not exactly realism in cinema.
And then we saw it pull onto the ramp. A military aircraft would have had camouflage paint and military markings. A Department of Justice transport for members of the Supreme Court or the like would be a sleek little bizjet. This white-tailed Boeing was the aviation equivalent of the plain brown wrapper. It is a prison ship. Any doubts about that were resolved by the reception committee. It didn't include a red carpet.
Before they cracked open the airplane, the ramp filled up with vans and buses and police cars that disgorged uniformed men with automatic weapons. We found it incongruous to see armed guards escorting prison transport on the same ramp with the limos and the VIP jets and us. It also seemed strange to have such a large airplane dedicated to prison transport. In Canada I know that escorted prisoners may be moved on regular airline flights, and I've seen dedicated prison transport flights in Navajos and Pilatuses, but nothing bigger than that. I'd heard that the US had the largest prison population in the world, but this drove me to look up numbers. Wikipedia says the US has over two million people in jail. For comparison, this CBC article says there was an average of 35,110 adults in jail on any given day in Canada in 2005-2006. So assuming those numbers are correct, while you could move 0.1% of Canada's prison population in a single DHC8-100, you would need three Airbus A380s to carry the same percentage of the US prison population. That's a lot of bad guys.
One of my co-workers told me he actually saw a group of prisoners chained together on the highway, picking up litter like in an old prison movie.
As fascinating as my brush with this arm of the law was, Hamish's run in with a DoJ prisoner transport aircraft was a lot more literal. After reading his account of coming close to being run over by a convict-filled MD-80 I was teasing him with the ensuing scene if they was an accident and they had to evacuate the airliner. It would have been like The Fugitive but without Harrison Ford or Tommy Lee Jones. Except, I acknowledged after a moment, that an MD-80 wouldn't take much damage from hitting a Cessna 172 on the ground. Hamish picked up the story ...
"What was that noise?"
"I dunno... probably just the new embedded hold short lights. Oh look, there's that weirdo Piaggio parked next to Execjet again! Now where the hell did that 172 in the runup area go?"