A glider pilot has updated a popular YouTube video on his channel with a cautionary tale of how a little flattery can turn into a seven-month certificate suspension and thousands of dollars in legal fees. Bruno Vassel was showing off his ASW27 high-performance glider on the ramp at an air and car show at Spanish Fork Airport in Utah last August when one of the organizers asked him if he’d like to show the crowd what the soaring plane could do. “Why not? What could I do in the ASW27 that would be interesting and wouldn’t likely kill me?” he mused in his original post of the cockpit video from what became his impromptu airshow performance.

After a series of loops and low passes from a 3,000 foot tow, while keeping out of the way of a sightseeing helicopter operating from the field, Vassel was pretty pleased with himself and the reaction from the crowd. “What a random and interesting experience!” He was also proud of the fact that the video gathered 200,000 views in four days but he didn’t know the FAA was among those clicks. Vassel has no training or credentials for airshow performances and the agency takes a pretty dim view of those who flout those regulations. The end result was seven months on the ground looking up. “I was told I was very lucky to not lose my license over this,” he wrote in the epilogue to his video, which now has 650,000 views. “I hope this will help other pilots to not have to go through what I have over the last 10 months.”

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.


    • Airshow acts are supposed to be well-practiced, well-briefed and judged to make sure that they do not endanger anyone else. Without knowing the specifics of course, this impromptu act may well have strayed away from the regular display line, may well have ended up in a conflict with other traffic. The basics of the story is of course that this pilot was not authorised to do what he did.

      • It’s a glider doing a few loops, not a modified antique 2000hp warbird doing low level aerobatics just second away from people. The world has now officially lost its ability to reason.

        • Get hit by a glider at 100 knots or a warbird at 300 knots. You are dead either way. Laws are enacted to protect people from those like you who believe they are the sole determinant of what is safe and what is unsafe. As a pilot, do you think it is up to you to decide what FARs to obey? Are you above the law? The world has not lost its ability to reason. People like you have lost your respect for the rule of law and regard for others.

          • He was not even doing aerobatics near the field, just a series of low passes. Law says that is normal flying in an airport environment.

        • Art you need a a refresher on FAR 91.303:

          “A normal category aircraft is certified for the following “non-acrobatic” operation: Stalls, lazy eights, chandelles, and steep turns, in which the angle of bank is not more than 60°.”

          “No person may operate an aircraft in aerobatic flight:
          -Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement;”

          So Art, there you go straight from the FAA in two descriptions: what defines a non-aerobatic maneuver, and what defines one of the ground violations (over a settlement). If you have a problem with the FAA’s ruling, you should have them tell you directly why they did it. Ignoring FAA rules can get both those in the air and those on the ground killed, and they are there for a reason. If you don’t understand that, I hope you are not an active pilot.

  1. OK the pilot is definitely at fault,but the show organisers should be taken to task as well for encouraging him to break the law and carry out unsafe (un-authorised, un-briefed) flight!

  2. Seems like both an open-air assemblage of persons and inside the lateral boundaries of an airport. 91.303 would require a waiver?

    • Looking at sectional there’s no controlled surface area at Spanish fork so lateral boundary may not apply but it’s definitely also within 4nm of V134 centerline

    • Greg, the only thing he did at pattern altitude or near people were a few low passes over the runway. Heck, I do that all the time at my airport. His only sin was calling that NORMAL flying as aerobatics once on frequency….

      • Arthur, as stated elsewhere the loops are not permitted at that location at any altitude per 91.303 as they are not necessary for normal flight. Hence aerobatic.

        And low passes at non-towered fields are also verboten. Here’s a nice piece by Bruce Landsberg a few years back linking to a John Yodice article discussing the same. Do people ignore this frequently? Sure. Doesn’t make it legal. And putting it on youTube just makes FAA enforcement easier.

        • Other than bing within 4 miles of the airway, he did not break any rules. IF there was any low level traffic on a VOR airway in VFR, only then would there be any issue with safety. Again, there was no danger, close call, or safety concern with anyone present. A 7 month suspension not called for.

        • I’m sure many pilots have done a precautionary low pass to clear wildlife from the runway. My bowing to an FAA Inspectors opinion and not doing that low pass caused me to hit a deer with my RV-6 some years ago. I will not always do the low pass to inspect the landing zone when landing late in the day or early in the AM.

  3. He did loops which are unusual attitude and verboten in controlled airspace without a waiver. The low passes are legal.

    I agree he did not put anyone at undue risk and in a perfect world he should have been thanked for the fun and pat on the back with a smile.

    This however is a nanny state and he did break the regulations so I can see that he was justly reprimanded based on those facts. He could have lost his ticket so this could have been worse than it was.

    • Low passes are not always legal. Minimum altitudes still apply unless you are performing normal takeoff and landing maneuvers, or you are otherwise authorized. We will have to disagree as to what would be allowed in our respective perfect worlds.

      • Exactly. VFR is staying 500 feet from any person, structure/object, or place if not in a landing or takeoff phase. That low runway flyby broke that rule too as he was NOT landing but instead doing a high speed pass which had nothing to do with a landing maneuver under normal glider ops.

        • BS. When you are “cleared for the option” the runway is 100% yours to land, land 3 times, t&g, or low pass. Same here where uncontrolled. YOU ARE NOT BOUND BY LAW to land when in a landing phase. Period.

  4. What could go wrong here? I glider pilot with unknown credentials, no planning, no definition of where the aerobatic box was supposed to be, multiple low passes over an industrial park, shopping centers, occasional over the crowd. Parachute?…maybe, maybe not, the pilot saying several times he is doing an aerobatic routine, and a helicopter flying somewhere near all this. The only thing missing was the phrase…”hold my beer”. He is lucky he only got sanctioned for seven months. But like so many immortalized on YouTube by willingly breaking the rules of safety…he went viral. And that is an ego aphrodisiac.

    • Exactly Jim! The Kathryn’s Report website is full of these FAA rule ignoring yahoos who wind up getting themselves, and sometimes others, killed. And had something gone wrong and he spiraled into an occupied building or the road killing occupants (along with himself), it would have yet been another black eye on General Aviation which is constantly under attack as it is by some so-called activist groups calling it “unnecessary.”

  5. As a glider CFI and instrument rated power guy I see lots of good comments here. But I would like to say that I know Bruno well enough to know that he wore a parachute (most glider pilots do) and was doing nothing many high-performance glider pilots would consider extreme in the least. 60 degree banks, +/- 30 degrees pitch, flight at critically low airspeed or those near redline and flying within 200′ of other aircraft are all NORMAL glider ops and something pilots train for. From both the video and Bruno’s explanation, he endangered no one but certainly did break at least one FAR and he’s accepting responsibility for that. If you listen to his calm description of what he is doing and how he communicated with the helicopter, you might realize that this is no adrenaline “Hold My Beer” moment for Bruno. Consider also that Bruno’s well done videos have made thousands think about aviation.

    • Bingo. Looks like what he would normally do in a high performance glider. I see that all the time at rural uncontrolled airports around here. Saying “put on a show” is just flying like he normally would for fun!

    • Having taken a few glider lessons, I do know that steep banks and flying near both the upper and lower speed limits are normal. But I didn’t realize performing loops in a glider was a “normal” maneuver.