AVmail: January 16, 2012
Letter of the Week: Air Show and Air Race Safety
Regarding the NTSB hearings on air show and air race safety: As an occasional air show performer during the summer months, I feel that I can say with confidence that every reasonable precaution is taken to ensure crowd safety. The regulations are thorough to the point of being onerous, and air show performers are uniformly diligent and professional in their approach to safety.
Are new rules required? Absolutely not! I expect that there is more government oversight involved with me flying a loop in public than is required for a doctor to remove an appendix. My point is that professionals can be trusted to regulate themselves to some extent.
It is regrettable that air shows and air races have been linked in this way. They are very different, and they operate with different standards, especially in the consideration of spectator safety. Perhaps the air race operators should study how the International Council of Air Shows fosters safety.
Air shows need to be safer, but the one choice you gave that mentioned safety tied it to technology, and technology isn't the issue. Air show technology hasn't changed much since Betty Skelton was flying. You got your stick, your rudder, and your throttle. No fly-by-wire, no "glass."
Today's air shows are too macho/dangerous. Simply put, pilots fly too low and give themselves no margin for error.
Here's my proposal: Train pilots to the same level, make the low-altitude wavier just as hard to get, and lift the actual show 100 or 200 feet higher. Spectators in the back rows can see it better, and recoveries from flubbed maneuvers can occur. That much altitude might even have us discussing ballistic parachutes. (Okay, that is new technology).
The time has come to put the warbirds in museums. They are too costly to run, dangerous to handle, and they aren't making them anymore.
What is needed are new classes of purpose-built formula aircraft which could possibly go as fast but not risk precious vintage pieces. State-of-the-art safety systems can be designed, as in unlimited boat racing, which could protect pilots and/or spectators. It's time.
Many of us who fly out of Reno/Stead (4SD) Airport have known for years that the course was an accident looking for a place to happen. The turn to the finish pylon always had a point at which the aircraft were heading directly towards the crowd in the grandstands. Any miscalculation or mechanical failure at these speeds would lead to the results we witnessed with Galloping Ghost.
I'm curious what sort of exchange happened on the phone afterwards between the Southwest pilot and the tower controller. The tower guy's response (or more appropriately, lack of response) on the radio to what could have been an enormous tragedy is amazing. How long does it take to say, "I'm sorry -- I screwed up"?
Made in the USA?
In response to Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture being upset with the Air Force choosing an out-of-country manufacturer to build the light air support aircraft, I understand that. The United States Air Force should use a United States manufacturer to build its aircraft.
Boisture is concerned about the jobs at stake, but before he makes too much noise, someone needs to ask him how much of the AT-6B is built in Mexico. That's right, a lot of subassemblies, wiring harnesses, and such are built in Mexico. Hawker Beech owns a manufacturing facility in Mexico. Guess how many jobs have been lost due to that decision? There are also other problems in the company.
I hope the AT-6B is awarded to Hawker Beech. It needs to be in [the] USA, but it all needs to be built in [the] USA. I lost my job at Hawker Beech a while back due to the items mentioned above.
We've identified the writer of this letter but agreed to withhold his name.