A TBM Avenger from the Valiant Air Command performing at the Cocoa Beach Air Show in Florida put on a show for some people on the beach on Saturday when the pilot set it down in the surf for a textbook ditching. Audio in the accompanying video features the staccato notes of a dying radial engine as the big single-engine attack aircraft settles softly into the chop in front of astonished beachgoers. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to land in the water,” said one of several cellphone videographers who caught the landing. The pilot was uninjured and the aircraft does not appear to be seriously damaged.

The plane was part of the warbird lineup at the show, which also featured the Thunderbirds, F-35 and various other acts. The show continued Saturday and Sunday. The Valiant Air Command is based in nearby Titusville and has about 50 aircraft. The Avenger came out of an 18-year restoration in late 2020 and its first flight was last Jan. 11. It was delivered to the Navy in 1945  was used for firefighting in California and Georgia before being acquired by the Valiant Air Command in 2002.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. THIS is the conundrum with flying these rare and valuable aircraft. Do you “put it in a museum and charge a dollar and a quarter just to see ‘um?” OR, do you fly ’em so a larger number of people can see ’em for free and some pilot can prance around like a god? I don’t have an answer to that question but I DO think about this each and every time I climb into my own airplane to defy the gravity gods. And, I have refused to fly or get qualified in rare airplanes because I could never forgive myself if it was me acting as PIC when it went down and I was still breathing.

    Glad the pilot is good and maybe the airplane will live on? If one of these airplanes can sleep for 50+ years at the bottom of Lake Michigan after falling off the USS Sable or the USS Wolverine, it’s likely this one will, too ??

    • Now that I think about it, what was PB’s recommendation as to what to do under these circumstances? I can’t remember.

      • I hear ya Larry. The 2017 Duxford Bf109 landing crash was so embarrassing, for example. The more you learn about that one, the more you cringe.

        Anybody know how to handle short-term saltwater immersion for this Avenger? Just hose it off, or is this a total disassembly project?

        (I’m familiar with what sea spray can do to aluminum over time. I saw an Aztec with imminent structural failure from corrosion at a reef-side tie-down at HNL. All exposed aluminum had to be replaced.)

    • Lupo Rattazzi seems to think he could have done a better job of ditching the aircraft because he “saw the video” and so he knows he could have piloted a heavy metal war bird with a nearly dead engine based on what he ‘saw’ …..I seriously doubt if he could have done a better job than the pilot did as he set that machine down without harming a single person on a crowded beach. The pilot did an outstanding job and should be congratulated for his efforts. Mr. Rattazzi seems to have a mouthful of sour grapes!

  2. How timely! Ya think the pilot will record this experience in the current Poll: Have You Had an Engine Failure?

  3. Looks to me like those swimmers got lucky that the TBM had enough energy to pop up over them before finally going into the drink. High-risk choice ditching into a crowded beach, glad everyone came out of it safely this time.

  4. Excellent ditching! Not sure how much maneuvering space/energy the pilot has as to the choice of location(s). It irritates me to see folk initiating filming with cellphones before initiating any action to help …

  5. Absolutely reckless ditching in between swimmers. Why didn’t he do it half a mile out? He could have easily have killed somebody. Was he trying to make the plane easy to recover or he didn’t know how to swim?

    • Reason he did not “do it” a half mile out is he did not have enough altitude to stretch his glide a half mile. People are forgetting that the videos are all side views. He had the ability to see where everyone was and avoid them. If he had not made it to the water, his other option would have been to land onshore and hit people, cars, buildings and trees causing a lot of damage. He made good choices and carried them out well.

  6. Watched this video again: this guy absolutely needs the FAA to revoke his license. He actually flared above a swimmer’s head. What a way to save your plane and your rear end

    • And remarkably, if I saw it correctly, the swimmer was a surfer and after the Avenger gave him/her a haircut, promptly got up on the surfboard, caught a wave and surfed in toward the beach. I really don’t know what to think about that.

    • Stop being hysterical.

      I don’t know anybody who can swim half a mile in the open ocean. And he didn’t hit anybody.

    • LUPO , YOU ARE LOOPY!! ABSOLUTELY EXCELLENT AND PERFECT DITCHING. Have you ever had an engine failure? Are you a pilot? Are you a warbird pilot? This guy should get an Air Medal. He did not come close to any swimmer and chose the water vice the beach where he would have killed many folks. Keep your comments to yourself.

    • You should watch it again and pay close attention. Observe his shadow as he came in, he did not pass directly over anyone as far as I could see. Absolutely perfect ditching, he flared at exactly the right time, very good job!

  7. And by the way, the engine was clearly still producing power so he had plenty energy and room to ditch on a parallel track but at least 500 yards out.

  8. ‘Keep your comments to yourself.’
    After commenting yourself in a comment section. Maybe I shouldn’t comment on that.
    But I will comment that it would behoove you to re-watch the video, as Cameron said, two swimmers nearly got hit. Glad they didn’t.

  9. He ahould have lined up further out. Swimmers are VERY hard to see and they can’t get out of the way easily or quickly, so it is the pilot’s responsibility to avoid them if possible. The fact that people were easily visible on the beach should have been a clue there were swimmers in the water.

  10. My money is on he was hoping to make the sand, but when he couldn’t find a spot sidestepped to the water. I agree he could have taken it out just a bit more and not overfly all those heads.

    • This is my suspicion as well.

      I’d have hoped for a beach landing but if not possible put it out in the waves.

      He would not have to swim far. With so many spectators a boat or a jet ski would have been out there in minutes.

      Better to increase the risk to yourself than kill some innocent swimmers.

  11. Pilots routinely land on runways that are 50′ wide and often “on the numbers.” I received my Private license in a float plane so I have landed on water a lot. I’ll give the pilot the benefit of the doubt that he/she selected a suitable landing spot with minimal risk and landed on that spot.

      • I was thinking the same thing!

        She will now be frightened by events taking place hundreds of yards outside of the true danger range.

        Ergo will never be able to drive a car without having a meltdown…

  12. Boy, this is a tough crowd. Maybe we should just whip the pilot now and poor lemon juice on him. Of the 10,000 posts that are on the internet, I haven’t seen him flare over swimmers heads, next to them maybe. Remember, he had the advantage of looking straight ahead toward the swimmers, not sitting at home watching a side view on a computer screen. He did a great job, the TBM is a tough one and if it wasn’t for the salt water this would be a quick turnaround.

    • All you have to do to see him flare over a guy’s head is watch the video carefully. That much it takes

    • Like most aircraft of similar design from that era, the view straight ahead for landing / take-off is actually very poor.

  13. Insofar as all of the video is looking across the landing path, there is little to no depth information in them. We have no way to know whether the pilot landed recklessly close to swimmers, or if they were well out of his path. His splashdown run was pretty short and appeared to be fully under control, so I’m inclined to give him the benefit of all the copious doubt expressed here.

    If there were a helmet-cam video of the landing, all the keyboard critics might have some evidence to present.

  14. Actually just watched it another couple times.

    I think he was well past the swimmers, off shore. It looked like he may have been closer due the camera perspective.

    I think he did fine.

    • I mean, are we watching the same video?This guy basically buzzed a bunch of swimmers and there is no way you can judge the exact point where you are going to touchdown in those conditions. The aircraft could have easily swerved into the swimmers you can see to the left of the aircraft nose.
      Absolutely and totally reckless

  15. Lupo has never had to put a heavy complex aircraft down with an engine failure as is obvious by his statements. I have and believe me you have split seconds to make life taking decisions. The NTSB will be taking this incident apart frame by frame from every bodies cell phones etc. the angle the video is taken from makes the craft appear closer to the swimmers than it actually is and even with that it is not even that close. You need to get some compassion or maybe some counseling.

    • It is highly unlikely his engine failure occurred a few feet above the water while flying near stall speed along the beach. Split seconds? Hardly. Pre-planned ditching location? Possibly. High-risk to innocents? Certainly.

    • No ,luckily I have not but that does not inhibit me from commenting on someone’s airmanship. By the way, you can clearly hear from the sound of the engine that it was not at all “ dead” which means that when he elected to ditch he had quite a few options other than doing it just a couple of yards from the beach.

  16. Cool down everybody. He/she obviously was not aiming for the beach because the gear was retracted. Most probably, hopefully, contingencies were considered for the airshow including the possibility of ditching. Furthermore, the perspective of the video gives the illusion he/she was close to the bathers but in reality it might not be the case. Remember parallax?
    We must not forget that we can watch and judge in slowmotion, but the pilot had to make quick decisions that turned out well. I am willing to bet he/she will be as much interested in the debrief as we all are…

  17. Mr. Larry S. is right. The real issue here isn’t the incompetence (or recklessness) of the individual pilot,
    but the shows themselves, which were a travesty even before the pandemic, and are wholly inexcusable
    now. With apologies to Waldo Pepper, barnstorming is a thing of the past. So are “Wild West” shows–
    which were travesties of themselves. If you want to watch airplanes fly, visit airport observatories as
    soon they reopen, or find a convenient (and safe) spot nearby one from which to gaze at takeoffs and
    landings to your heart’s content. Let old aircraft age gracefully in retirement, without subjecting them
    to undue strain. Air shows are tasteless, tawdry and utterly gratuitous. They are also dangerous and
    (except for Oshkosh, which is more of an annual aviation convention) poorly planned and executed, as
    are many state fairs, carnivals, sporting events, and other mass spectacles that encourage voyeurism.
    Comparisons with the Roman Empire are all too obvious. So is the best remedy, at least for a society
    that either claims or hopes to be civilized.

  18. I just spent three days pulling this plane out of the water. I’m not going to analyze internet videos, all I can say is that no one involved any any part of this investigation felt that the pilot put the swimmers at risk. He’s a very experienced and competent pilot who made deliberate decisions to preserve life. The failure occurred at ~ 200 feet with limited energy. There aren’t many options. It was an awesome feat of airmanship. Hats off.

    • Of course there was another option: ditch 500 yards farther out. Definitely possible since the engine was still producing some power. No feat of airmanship when you endanger other lives to save an aircraft and your rear end.

      • The engine wasn’t producing any power. What you were hearing was after fire. Also, there is a point where your energy is too low to maneuver, he was there. So lets consider: From a diversion into Patrick Airforce base, to then to choose to avoid a potential mass casualty event on A1A (packed with airshow traffic) or landing on the busy beach, then to manage to coax the aircraft back off shore, into ground effect, stabilize and then make a controlled ditching in an unoccupied section of water… Go ahead Bob Hoover, do better.

        • What the hell is “ after fire”noise?
          I mean , did you hear the roar of the engine? Did that sound to you as a dead engine ,windmilling prop etc etc?

  19. In the first portion of the video, I can plainly see the shadow of the plane as it descends. At no time did the shadow get close to any swimmer. Swimmers were less that half of the distance from the shore to the plane’s shadow. The propeller was “wind milling” not producing any thrust but acting as a drag device (engine was dead). Have any of you “experts” ever flown a plane or even had a vision check? Even with out the shadow, the plane was obviously much further out than any swimmer. The pilot did make an excellent ditching by any standard.

    • Only no one getting hurt allows for your snarky comment. I am a pilot and I wear glasses, too. If you run the video on .25 speed, and look closely behind the plane after the splashdown, I submit the surfer on the forming wave was actually on the port side of the Avenger when it passed him/her.
      Either way, as a former life guard for years it was common to whistle in swimmers no one could see without binoculars, which we always used. And someone out treading for a wave to surf could easily have been missed.

      Good people can disagree, whether we are all ‘experts’ or not. As I have said, I’m glad it was an injury free event, despite many people in harms way.