Two Army National Guard helicopter pilots have been grounded after they used a Lakota painted with medical markings to disperse crowds near the White House last Monday. The U.S. Army is investigating their actions and the grounding is normal practice. The aircraft flew as low as 100 feet above protesters in a maneuver designed to use rotor wash to disperse those below. On Saturday, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had ordered the National Guard to provide a “persistent presence” to disperse the crowds gathered to protest the police-involved killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. Whether the rotor wash technique is part of that role isn’t clear.

The maneuver and misleading markings on the helicopter were widely criticized but the pilots had the support of their commander in chief. “The problem is not the very talented, low-flying helicopter pilots wanting to save our city, the problem is the arsonists, looters, criminals, and anarchists, wanting to destroy it (and our Country)!” President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday.

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. “Here … take these helicopters and go ‘do something’ to disperse the crowds (harming our monuments).” Now then … you’re grounded after you do. Wonderful … simply wonderful. I could NOT serve a career in today’s PC military or guard.

    • Very true retired in ’98 and am so glad I never had to put up with some of the things these commanders are now going through. Total respect for those now serving and what actions they must take.

    • This crowd was not “harming our monuments” nor is this is not a “PC” problem. This is a problem of command disregarding the constitution.

      • Then who the heck defaced the Lincoln Memorial, the WWII memorial, et al ??

        Unless they “man up” and wear a uniform so you can tell the bad boys from the good boys, you can’t tell ’em apart.

    • Larry and Ed – IMHO the real question we should ALL take time to ask ourselves at this time is – is protecting these monuments we’ve constructed more important than ensuring that we all have equal treatment under the law? If you look at the numerous studies that have been done on this subject, minorities in this country absolutely do not. They have endured this for generation after generation, and watching that man of color being choked to death by the police was simply the last straw for them.

      • False argument.
        It’s not a question of protecting monuments versus equal treatment.

        In fact, how does vandalizing ANY property enhance the likelihood of equality of treatment under the law? Seriously. It engenders only contempt for the miscreants.

        • Not a false argument at all. The first comment specifically called out that action as to what actions the protesters were conducting. My point is that it appears that many are too quick to dismiss protests if they are anything but completely peaceful. But from these protesters points of view they are thinking, why should we respect something like a monument, or private property, when something as fundamental to a US citizen as being protected by local law enforcement, has been historically denied them. Their experience has been absolutely different than yours or mine. One where generation after generation has had to endure a constant threat of violence and even murder at the hands of law enforcement.

          • “…why should we respect something like a monument, or private property, when something as fundamental to a US citizen as being protected by local law enforcement, has been historically denied them…

            Because that’s what civilized people do. They obey the law, and they DO respect the lives and the property of others. Those who do not, are something other than civilized.

      • What if the only helicopters available on short notice had a red cross on ’em. OR … what if they WANTED the jerks to know they were unarmed helicopters? Normally, medevacs are UNARMED people. WTH did I spend 21 years in the USAF for … THIS? OH! In order to know that you’d have to have a brain that works.

        Crowd control means ANY means to — um — control the crowd. I don’t recall that helicopter firing on anyone OR harming anyone. WAKE UP PEOPLE !!

  2. Granted, it’s a twin engine helicopter and could have taken an engine out and flown off into the night but a catastrophic tail rotor failure would have been problematic at that height AGL and the people.

    I dispersed crowds in Vietnam with a Cobra helicopter but was never tasked to do that here in the USA. Later in the Army Guard flying the Chinook and also Huey, our missions often involved lifesaving flights and not with a red cross painted on our aircraft. My how times have changed!

  3. My recollection of the oath I took as a military officer did not mention terrorizing my fellow citizens expressing their 1st amendment right to protest their government. For those committing criminal acts the police are the appropriate solution.

      • YARS – civilian police are the proper tools for this situation. Active duty military are not. The former are trained for policing the civilian population. The latter are trained to kill on the battlefield.

        • When civil authorities tell local police to “stand down” in the face of civil insurrection; to tolerate looting, arson, and vandalism; then the grownups in the room have other means of restoring order.

          Don’t want the military on your streets? Then DO YOUR JOB; maintain order. Do NOT suggest the “de-funding” or “abolishing” the police is a rational solution. Yet, that’s exactly what our radical Left “leaders” are openly advocating. It’s literally INSANE.

          • Exactly, Yars. Everyone poo-pooing non-harmful use of military helicopters to disperse a crowd when the police were DIRECTED to stand down and not doing their jobs would be humming a far different tune if one of their family members had been harmed or worse. Or, when their house was burning down and the fire department wouldn’t respond. If the police won’t do their job … then just who will? The military is the force of last resort. After that … it’s ANARCHY!

            There’s a helluva big difference between peacefully marching against what – admittedly — was a horrible event in MN and using bricks, Molotov cocktails, crowbars, and unlawful force. Bullies have to be stomped by any means … period. And that includes at least one of the four police officers in the MN incident. Anyone who can’t see that has a very serious ‘short’ in their headsets.

          • That sounds like martial law to me. And using the military to maintain local law and order doesn’t end well.

          • The loons will change their tune when it’s THEIR houses being looted or burned or worse and the police don’t respond, Yars. It’s easy to have such opinions as long as it doesn’t impinge on YOUR paradigm. THEN … a military helicopter hovering overhead will seem like an angel sent from heaven.

    • Responding to Seagull M: You took this oath … “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).”

      ‘Domestic enemies’ were seen on the streets of DC without being properly controlled by the Police. If the President DIRECTED use of the military … seems to me that it fits the above oath. You shoulda learned right away that even if you are given a false order, unless it involves (irreversible) lethal force, you do it FIRST and challenge it later.

      Maybe you were only a 2nd Lieutenant ??

  4. “the Pentagon had ordered the National Guard to provide a “persistent presence” to disperse the crowds”. Is our military discipline so changed that when the Pentagon orders the National Guard to aid in providing “persistent presence”, two Guard pilots gets wind of this order, walks out on the line, picks out the ride of their choice…and “cowboy” perform a rotor-wash dispersal technique…without any direction from superiors in between? No way! These pilots were ordered to do a specific job, in specific helos, at a specific location, for a specific time, performing specific maneuvers, for a specific purpose. But the news reporting suggests, it will take an investigation on these two “cowboys” as if they are as rogue as the Minneapolis cop who knee-choked Floyd to death.

    In addition, I saw plenty of blue lights flashing at the intersection shown, with a crowd that was far from out-of-control, spending more time taking cell phone videos of the helos than protesting.

    To me, this is is a demonstration of purposeful manipulation of information designed to continually fan the flames of emotionalism to keep the country in a state of constant unrest, debate, and divided. As a result, we have now another “investigation” to “uncover” the details of who ordered what, when, and how as if we have a military that is inept trying to do what an equally inept portrayed police force cannot do.

    I have no sympathy for anyone, military or police who exhibits, demonstrates, and sanctions any unnecessary, therefore excessive force that harms the suspect. The suspect is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Neither do I sanction racial profiling. But I also do not sanction news reporting that seems to have lost it’s ability and desire to report the facts.

    I realize that Avweb is simply showing an aviation related video in addition to quoting the original news story. We are all digesting what we have seen via the video, coming to some conclusions and opinions based on the original NY Times story combined with all of the information we have been exposed to in our respective homes. For me, this is another classic demonstration of purposeful manipulation of event reporting designed specifically to keep us divided.

    I am sick of this constant political barrage on every venue including aviation or health-wise. I cannot fix this. My opinion matters little. I don’t like feeling helpless, but I do. And I am not alone. I have performed in the military, and while far from perfect, it is not entirely staffed by a bunch of lawless buffoons either. And as an older citizen, I am not a lawless buffoon, I still have my senses, and resent the onslaught on what’s left of my common sense.

    I appreciate that Avweb shared this as I have tried to stay away from mainstream media for all of the above reasons. It is a an aviation newsworthy story. I still love all things aviation, even if main-stream media attempts to make two military pilots look like independent aerial cowboys. But it is a stark reminder of this ongoing battle for our collective minds.

  5. When I turned about 15 1/2 my father had a talk with me. He started off by telling me that if I ever got pulled over and ran my smart mouth he would let me rot in jail for the weekend instead of bailing me out. Then he told me some (not all) cops are just plain jerks, but it didn’t make any difference, I would be the one screwed regardless if the cop was a jerk or not.
    If more fathers taught their children to never give a police officer an excuse to be a jerk, there would be a lot less violence, regardless of the color of all parties involved.
    And by the way we could make a lot more progress by never ever again electing any prosecuting attorney or politician that is running on a tough on crime platform. That poor older gentlemen that got pushed to the ground would be facing assault charges for poking his phone at the second police officer where I live, and there isn’t a drop of hyperbole in that statement.

  6. I wonder what the majority of comments above would have been had that helicopter crashed into the crowd? Medical helicopters are known to have accidents when faced with equally confined and dark “out of ground hover” situations. I hope the Guard is not used that way in the future. In my units I can’t imagine a commander approving this activity but that’s four decades ago. Vietnam vets already had strikes against them and this would not have helped.

    • I wonder what would happen if an Airbus 380 fell out of the sky on short final to LAX ??

      The Sky is falling … run … the Sky is falling !!

  7. Hey guys, have you seen the picture at the beginning of the article? It is pitch dark and there was a 7PM curfew. Peaceful protests happened all over the country during daylight, and rioting after dark. By definition, organized and legal peaceful protests were no longer occurring. It was time to send these non-compliant individuals toward home. We all saw what happened on a previous night without an enforced curfew.