Airshow Crashes: An Outsider View

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Why do we organize and watch airshows? Ostensibly, because we like to watch airplanes fly, but also to promote aviation to people who don't know much about it in the hopes that some may become pilots. But what happens when an airshow audience witnesses a bad crash? Are they indelibly scarred? Does aviation suffer a net loss? Or do they, like us, try to tune out the tragedy and move on?

So we thought it would be a good idea to ask. Twenty-year-old Chloe Barkdoll, attending her first airshow at Martinsburg, West Virginia last weekend, witnessed the fatal crash of a T-28 Trojan aerobatic team aircraft. Here are her observations:

I went to the Martinsburg Air Show with my Dad last Saturday not really knowing what to expect. I had heard about the stunt flying from my Dad, but I didn't know there would be airplanes to see on the ground, too. That was a nice surprise.

There were hundreds of people looking at the antique and military airplanes. Seeing so many military personnel made me realize how many people and their families sacrifice for our country. You don't think about that much until you actually see them in person. As the airshow began, I was thinking about how nauseating it would feel to be in an airplane doing tricks like that. As a non-aviation person, I knew that the pilots were very skilled and the announcer said that many of them had been flying for several decades.

A big part of the show was the group of aircraft called the Trojan Horses. As they started their final demonstration for the day, flying directly towards one another, my heart skipped a beat as I imagined what would happen if they misjudged or made a mistake. Evidently, one did.

The next thing I knew, I was watching one of the airplanes head straight for the ground. I knew what was going to happen before it happened. Your eye sees something that maybe your mind cannot accept. It was the worst feeling. He didn't have enough altitude to pull the airplane back up and when he hit the ground, there was an enormous fireball. My heart went into my throat. I had just witnessed something that I never thought I would see in my life: An airplane crash that was obviously fatal.

After watching ambulances dispatch, knowing the fireball I just witnessed would leave no survivor, we decided to head towards the exit. The effect on the crowd was noticeable. We passed people crying, hugging, praying, hypothesizing--just trying to deal with what they had just seen. Being a non-aviation person, my first thoughts were to wonder if the pilot flying that airplane had a sense that things could go this way. People who don't fly airplanes probably don't understand or accept risks in the same way as people who do fly. The sense of risk isn't the same.It made me angry that someone would do something so dangerous for fun, knowing how many things could go wrong. But maybe that's what separates pilots from non-pilots.

Airshows like this are supposed to promote aviation and cast it in a good light. But for me personally, I had to keep thoughts such as, "I'm never going to get on an airplane again" from seizing me because I knew they would be toxic. Maybe pilots do this too, but I had to tell myself repeatedly that this was a maneuver gone wrong. It doesn't happen everyday. Commercial airliners with passengers don't perform like that.

It has only been a few days since the accident and I am still affected by the sight of it. It has changed my perspective on death, on accidents, and dealing with tragedy. I am realizing that military families and communities experience this more than I have, some on a daily basis, and yet they continue to serve. That takes strength and is admirable.

Before the crash, I had no interest in becoming a pilot and seeing this certainly doesn't make me want to sign up to learn. Would I go to an airshow again or take my children to one? I don't know. It's fun to see airplanes up close and watch them do maneuvers, but when an accident like that happens and a wide variety of people experience the horror of it, they're left on their own to deal with it. Some people can probably shrug it off, others are more deeply affected.

I'm thankful to have supportive family and friends at home, but I know not everyone does. I can appreciate pilots for their high level of skill which can't be easy to acquire. I can see how they must enjoy stunt flying, but now I wonder if the risks sometimes outweigh the benefits. It is obvious that risk is always involved, but I know few in that crowd were ready to be confronted with accepting such a tragedy witnessed firsthand.

I know I wasn't.

Comments (47)

All I can say is you can be killed, rather horrifically mind you, any number of ways on any given day. We don't like to think about them, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. In "Dust to Glory" (2004?) one of the racer's wives relates how her husband could be killed driving to a regular day job too.

That's the trick here. You're never "safe", but pilots (moreso than many drivers I've met) try to minimize those risks. Either by training or good, old fashioned, decision making they seek to judge and limit the variables. The performers knew that the show COULD be dangerous to them. They trained, judged the weather, and evaluated their airplanes to minimize that risk. The FAA has rules they use to minimize risks. Still, you can't eliminate ALL risk.

Nobody is really ready for tragedy. Still, we get in our cars everyday, start the engine, and hop on the road to work.

Posted by: Jesse Derks | September 25, 2011 8:18 AM    Report this comment

Hi Chloe,
Thank you for your poignant and articulate explanation of your airshow and accident experience. Your voice is pure. You're not criticizing, defending, or promoting. It is a single valuable voice of reason from a person germane to a pro-con debate.
Thank you,
Frank Robinson

Posted by: FRANK ROBINSON | September 26, 2011 6:07 AM    Report this comment

I am deeply saddened by the accidents in the US. We have had some here in australia as well.
I am a CPL and have been flying for many years.
I think that it is time that we really returned to what air shows are or should be about and that is showing what airplanes can do. That does not mean flying so close to the ground that the slightest mistake can result in death and injury to pilot and spectators. There is no reason why a 2,000 ft AGL base cannot be imposed on all display aircraft. I firmly believe that every accident of the type that we have seen at Reno, Martinsburg and other places does untold, enormous and incalculable damage to GA everywhere. It is so unnecessary. I think that the airshows of today have become a playground for a select group of people who think that they are invinsible and that the airshows are for their benefit and not for the benefit of the viewing public.
These needless crashes could be stopped immediately if the programs on offer were modified to display the aircraft and not try to make a hero or a "dare devil" out of the pilot and to ensure that there is a 2,000ft buffer between base of manouvre and the ground.
Best wishes
Tony Taggart

Posted by: Tony Taggart | September 26, 2011 7:02 AM    Report this comment

Chloe: Thanks for taking the time to write this, you make some very good points that those of us in the aviation community need to hear.

Posted by: Adam Hunt | September 26, 2011 7:26 AM    Report this comment

Chloe, don't let the sight and memory of one of the relatively few aviation accidents spoil your thoughts. A person could lose their life in nearly everything they do in their daily lives. Many examples of that could be given. What separates aviation is that it is terriby unforgiving. It's unfortunate that YOUR first experience involved seeing an accident and loss of life.

When you experience any death up front and personal, as you did, it leaves an indelible mark on your psyche. As you replay it in your mind, you can choose either to learn from it or to allow it to negatively impact you. Hopefully, in time, you will go the positive route. The pilot lost his life doing what he loved most, no doubt ... flying. It's tough for a non-aviator to understand the intoxication that flying brings. When pilots are up in an airplane, the imperfect world becomes a perfect patchwork of beauty. In order to fly, they must master so very many physical and mental tasks and the joy of knowing they can is -- likewise -- intoxicating. The pilot was sharing that love of aviation with you and all the other spectators. You may never choose to become a pilot or even attend another airshow but that doesn't mean you can't appreciate aviation and all that it beings to this world in its many forms. Your words seem to indicate that your eyes were 'opened' when you attended the airshow. Great! That's what it's all about. Don't let the graphic nature of a tragic accident change that.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | September 26, 2011 7:40 AM    Report this comment

"Martinsburg and other places does untold, enormous and incalculable damage to GA everywhere."

The planes at airshows are NOT general Aviation and should not be linked to GA. People go to airshows to see the unusual, not people flying GA planes at twice GA pattern altitude.

Also I'd hardly call an airshow a "playground". Pilots work very hard and for little (if any) money. None think of themselves as "invincible"; quite the opposite.

Opinion without knowledge is prejudice.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 26, 2011 7:44 AM    Report this comment

Chloe I would like to offer my condolences for your experience and honestly I can say that I know how you feel....I was in the audience when Tom Jones was a horrible day and a horrible loss to aviation but here's the thing u are absolutely right there are huge differences in the ways that fliers and non fliers think behave judge and live on a day to day basis...I know from having time in the pilots chair and from talking at length with aviation icons like Tom Jones and Sean tucker that if u kept us out of the air and more importantly from doing the things that we are driven to do up there it would affect us like it would affect u if u were to be locked in a room with no window or sound....and as far as the 2000 ft minimum its impossible to see what's going on at that altitude and I think the saftey margin of the thunderbirds and blue angels can teach us at reno now needs to be talked about with great caution.....reno is an event that is attended at ones own risk completely...there is absolutely no way to view that race live and be completely safe....not at those speeds....they are going fast enough that if u can see them they can potentially crash in ur lap if the dice roll that way like they did this year....the crash of galloping ghost represents a great tragedy but it came after fifty or more years of playing the same gamble....this wasn't a lack of caution we have simply become the victims of statistical certianty

Posted by: russell hayes | September 26, 2011 8:21 AM    Report this comment

I too hate the idea of going to an airshow with my family and witnessing something go horribly wrong as it did in this instance. I have witnessed such an event, and it is emotionally devastating. I believe that in America we are free to do what we wish, and take risks, if that is what you desire to do. Of course, that liberty stops when you put others at risk. The terrible loss of life at Reno comes to mind, even given the extreme odds against such an event happening where it did. Still, it happened. Changes must be made, hopefully in a way that allows the event to continue.
Over all, though, I think we must be on guard against an attitude taking root in our country today that wants to limit adverse outcomes at all costs. The idea of a "Nanny" culture will also take away some of our precious freedom. We must be intelligent about managing risk, while still encouraging personal liberty.

Posted by: BILL MCCLURE | September 26, 2011 8:24 AM    Report this comment

I understand your feelings, Chloe. I was present when an F86 crashed at Jeffco in 1997--the only time I've ever seen a fatal accident although I've attended many airshows both before and after. It left an indelible memory.

As an experienced pilot, I admire the skill of airshow performers. I understand the effort to develop that skill while minimizing the risks involved. For the few minutes they perform, it takes many hours of training and practice, at great expense of time and money. The rewards, much like doing community theater, are in the pleasure that one gives to others. On those few occasions where airshow performers are paid, the pay doesn't begin to compensate for the expense of preparation.

Does the rare airshow accident damage general aviation? I doubt it. Rational people know that airshow performances are not run-of-the-mill general aviation. Does it discourage people from wanting to learn to fly? Probably does discourage some--witnessing someone dying is very discouraging, for certain. Will it stop me from flying? No. The risks I take are not the same as the risks the performers take. Participation in life is risky. To take no risks at all would make life non-existent, and it is both impossible and undesirable.

Your memory of seeing the tragedy will not go away soon, perhaps never. Should it make you avoid any event in which people may be hurt or killed? I hope not. Your life will be pretty bland if that is your choice. But it is your choice, no one else's.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | September 26, 2011 9:09 AM    Report this comment


I am a member of the Civil Air Patrol, some of whom witnessed the terrible accident at Martinsburg. All I can say is that a pilot, and a member of the community, my heart goes out to the family of the performer that died.

I hope your view of the other events that day did not get tarnished by this freak accident. Airshows allow us pilots to display what we love to do to those that know nothing about aviation...please come back to an airshow soon and allow us to introduce you again to the majic of flight.

Posted by: R. Doe | September 26, 2011 9:25 AM    Report this comment

Chloe, I was touched by your comments. As a long time pilot, I have seen way too many airshow performers lose their lives. Most of those were very good pilots. We lost a friend and fine person at a small airshow while he was flying formation with a group of RV pilots. I think the performers have pushed the envelope way too far.

Posted by: DAVE PAULUS | September 26, 2011 10:08 AM    Report this comment

Chloe - As was said earlier, your comments are sincere and appropriate. Like everyone, I am saddened by any loss of a performing pilot and aircraft. But, I don't believe we should change anything. Airshow performers are licensed or certified for the kind of flying that they do. The better performers are allowed to fly their performance essentially to ground level. They are as professional in their performances as they possibly can be and the regulations protect the audience but ensuring that the aircraft "energy" is never directed at the audience. The Reno Air Race is a different animal, however.

We all hate to see a pilot injured or killed in an accident. But every pilot that performs at an airshow recognizes the risk and performs knowing that they must be perfect and precise and they do it knowing what possibility faces them if they don't. But they do it because that is their passion and their profession. Yes, occasionally an accident claims a life, but the airshow pilots will continue to perform because that is what they do and (luckily) the audience enjoys seeing aircraft perform.

Having seen a number of fatal automobile accidents, I continue to drive. I will continue to enjoy airshows and respect the skills and professionalism of our airshow performers because that is what they do.

Posted by: Joe Shelton | September 26, 2011 11:23 AM    Report this comment

I am trying to think of another sport or activity in which the performer performs potentially fatal activities very near to the edge, with little margin of error. Air shows and motorcycle jumping are about all I can come up with, although some circus acts would also qualify. There may be others, but I can't think of them. I think we need to recognize that air show routines (and air racing) are different from almost every other publicly viewed performance. I'm not sure they're good for aviation's image--Evel Knievel wasn't exactly a poster boy for mainstream motorcyclists, either. That's not to say we should stop doing them, but we should recognize they have potential for bad repercussions. Perhaps the highest risk routines should be rethought. Stuff like flying under a ribbon upside down--well, it's cool, but it's kinda stupid, I don't care how good you are.

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | September 26, 2011 11:59 AM    Report this comment

I appreciated Chloe's letter. And it does make us pause to think about our fallibleness. But time has its way of calming the rough seas. Life will continue again as it has before. Human nature does not change. As long as we have airplanes we'll have stunt flying.

Posted by: Dave Sandidge | September 26, 2011 12:49 PM    Report this comment

I've been in the FBO business for over 40 years. I don't watch airshows--contrary to popular opinion, I believe they send exactly the WRONG message, and actually HURT our industry.

We spend 364 days a year telling people that flying is FUN, UNIQUE, SAFE, and will provide the ability to expand your horizons. On the ONE DAY a year that the public visits the airport--often with children in hand, what do they see? An airplane, flying inverted 10 feet off the ground, trailing smoke. Is it any wonder Mom turns to the kids and says "YOU'RE NOT GOING TO DO THAT!

We hear the announcer describing the "Million and a half dollar Warbird"--is it any wonder that people view aviation as a "rich man's sport"?

Airshows don't present aviation in a very good light--and they don't represent General Aviation at all. Instead of fun and utility, people are exposed to a freak show--a clown show--a circus. Air shows have no more in common with general aviation than Indianopolis races have to do with auto racing. (cont)

Posted by: jim hanson | September 26, 2011 1:00 PM    Report this comment

What do we do instead. If you are going to have an airport event (and you SHOULD), show people using their airplanes for FUN. Show people using their airplanes to make their own life better--for business or for pleasure.

Instead of a 45 minute airshow, have an announcer on the podium CONTINUALLY--someone that can comment about each airplane taking off and landing. It is both INFORMATIVE and EDUCATIONAL. Telling the audience that the MOONEY just taking off does 180 mph+ and gets nearly 20 mpg is informative--as is the fact that the Cessna 172 is one of the most-produced airplanes ever built. A knowledgeable announcer can fill all day long on airplanes, learning to fly, and ride promotion.

Offer rides. BESIDES showplanes, park a representative selection of airplanes next to the crowd line. "These are airplanes you can build yourself." These are aiplanes you can buy for under $20,000." (or $40,000, or $60,000) The most overheard comment at this type of display? "THAT'S LESS THAN THE COST OF MY PICKUP!"

FLY a number of airplanes based on your field--antiques, vintage, light sport, homebuilt, representative airplanes.


Posted by: jim hanson | September 26, 2011 1:15 PM    Report this comment

A word about flight breakfasts at these events. They help with the festivities, and satisfy the need for food. The BAD thing is that they take up space, and they take up PEOPLE. Often, every knowledgeable person on the airport is flipping pancakes instead of handling airplanes and doing promotions. Don't lose sight of WHY you are doing the promotion--consider either simply doing food stands, or subletting the pancake operation to a charity.

Have a "concierge"--an Information booth. People there can direct people to places to learn to fly--or youth exhibits, or sport aviation, or career opportunities, or answer general questions.

Include a number of inside exhibits--aviation colleges, type clubs, etc. They not only add to the festivities, they are insurance in the event you are rained out.

These kinds of promotions are MUCH BETTER for the industry, AND for the local community. Risk is down, and they can be done without a big budget.

Posted by: jim hanson | September 26, 2011 1:15 PM    Report this comment

...know few in that crowd were ready to be confronted with accepting such a tragedy witnessed firsthand.
I know I wasn't.>

Some were more ready than others, I'm sure. Experience is our greatest teacher, and if you choose to use your experiences in life for learning discrimination and gaining wisdom, you'll have garnered the most from these difficult events that you witness first hand. Whether you fly or not, become a soldier, or ER doctor is secondary to what you can learn from these hard realities. Thank you for your honest and revealing blog, Chloe.

But we have to stop questioning as pilots and bloggers our reasons for our passion for flight! This is a slipperly slope to keep putting our attention on reactions from a few to sensational aviation crashes. It's opening up a window for unnecessary scrutiny from the generally unaware non-flying public, and it needs to stop. We should only be giving the public our steadfast resolution to the freedom and spirit of flying in ALL its forms through education information and assure their safety to all resonable limits. They may lack perspective and objectivity, but we must show them that as pilots we don't.

Posted by: David Miller | September 26, 2011 1:37 PM    Report this comment

Jim Hanson, you yourself are doing a disservice to aviation with that statement. Millions and millions of folks have been entertained and thrilled at air shows with not ONE spectator fatality since the early 50's. Sounds like a disgruntled wannabe performer to me.

Posted by: Jerry Morris | September 26, 2011 1:43 PM    Report this comment

Wow! Where to begin?

First, condolences to Chloe. I served in the US Navy on an aircraft carrier, an air station, and as Helicopter Control Officer on a fleet oiler. The danger's always there. All you can do is to perform each task by the book and hope everyone else does, too.

Second, condolences to the pilot's family, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and anyone else I've missed.

Third, why do some people go to airshows? The same reason these same people go to car races. They want to see an accident. A minority of us go to see the technology of the machines and/or the skills of the pilots and drivers, we are most definitely the minority.

Fourth, what Jesse Derks says above reminds me of a particular quote. I don't know who to attribute it to, but I remember it well; "Anything you do can get you killed, and that includes doing nothing."

Finally, Chloe, keep an eye out for the PTSD monster. It'll take several months to manifest itself; but manifest itself it most certainly will. The only question will be its intensity.

Posted by: J. S. Janisch | September 26, 2011 1:44 PM    Report this comment

Jim Hanson- Marry me?:-)

Posted by: Patty Haley | September 26, 2011 1:49 PM    Report this comment

Jim Hanson- Marry me?:-)

Posted by: Patty Haley | September 26, 2011 1:49 PM    Report this comment

Airshow performers spend many hours perfecting their craft prior to being approved for low level flying. They all know the risks and do all that they can to mitigage those risks. I've been flying for 40+ years now and have attended countless airshows. And I have witnessed 3 fatal crashes. While tragic, none of them has made me question whether or not I wanted to continue to fly. They do, however, make me re-double my efforts to insure every flight is completed safely.

Posted by: Paul Forehand | September 26, 2011 1:53 PM    Report this comment


I'm the announcer at the Camarillo Airshow...and I do what you asked. I have also discovered that providing information, which leads to a career path has provided quite a few student starts, etc., as was verified by the local flight school.

I also discuss taxation revenues, versus fuel burn, with the audience and get into noise issues and how propeller and turbine design are a remedy to many issues.

As boring as it sounds...I get good feedback on this type of information. I also discuss the business aspect of GA, and how business aircraft are do business, how, and why, corporations have them, and what is a seat mile.

Another very interesting point was a recent survey in which people liked display aircraft more than the show itself as they got to look, listen and feel.

Another thing I do...I mention that aerobatic performances, and soforth are not normal GA activities and compare, like auto racing compares to daily driving.

Before somebody says something about Jim Hanson...Don't! His points are very valid, and I've seen, by doing much of what he's saying, work!

We need to find the balance betwwen a propmotional event, versus a show, as they often are not one in the same...which is not always a bad thing...but acknowledge the differences.

Thanks Jim!!!

Posted by: Greg Andrews | September 26, 2011 1:59 PM    Report this comment

Chloe, As an x-USAF Instructor pilot and still a FAA flight instructor, I was rather disappointed at your deeply negative but thoughtful discusion on what your thought and observed in this tragic accident. Yes, these Acrobatic air displays, ( They are Not Stunt shows), can be and are dangerous, but practiced and done by very experienced aircrews. Occasionally something may go wrong, could be from the airplane to the Pilot, or outside factors. It does not mean the whole display was dangerous and/or faulty, or shoud be discontinued. I am sure you do not turn off dirving anywhere, yet we needlessly kill over 40,000 people,too many of them young drivers, on our highways every year, not to mention the thousands that are maimed forever. These tragic and horrendous auto accidents happen every day, yet we have grown accusomed to this tragic death toll. Why wouldn't that turn you and other off from diving forever..?? Yes, there is danger in almost everything we do that involves some risk ; driving, flying, or many other things we do on a daily basis. The risks are ours to take if we so chose, whether it also may be regular airline flights or motorcycle driving. There is no real " safe Haven" in our everyday lives, whatever sport or profession you may chose, be the best you can at it. Let others do the same with their choices also. Try not to dwell on the negative aspect of it and enjoy the skill and professionalism of all who preform such displays for our enjoyment.

Posted by: Peter Karalus | September 26, 2011 2:11 PM    Report this comment

Jerry Morris says "Jim Hanson, you yourself are doing a disservice to aviation with that statement. Millions and millions of folks have been entertained and thrilled at air shows with not ONE spectator fatality since the early 50's. Sounds like a disgruntled wannabe performer to me."

On the contrary--I've never aspired to be a performer. I do basic aerobatics for fun. I loved to watch Bob Hoover--THAT'S AIRMANSHIP!

As to your point about safety of flight for spectators--note that I NEVER MENTIONED THAT--the point is NOT about spectator safety, it is about the image we try to portray to the general public.

We should be portraying LESS of a "thrill show" and MORE of a way to show how most people can get involved. There is obviously a demand for air expo's--but the average person can't identify with violent aerobatics and "drunk acts." If we SHOW them how to be involved--a good announcer--static displays--answer their questions--show what aircraft are available in various price ranges--have a central place where they can have their questions answered--show ALL aspects of aviation (gliders, homebuilts, LSA, rotorcraft, balloons, skydiving) there is bound to be an area of interest in there for almost anybody. THAT'S good for the industry!

How do I know? I've been doing just that for 40 years.

Posted by: jim hanson | September 26, 2011 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Patty Haley--"Marry me?"

Sorry Patty--I've had the same wife for 38 years.

She has a sign in the bedroom--"When I married Mr. Right, I didn't know his middle name was Always!" :>)

When we were first married, the old Norwegian couple that lived near us asked her "Did Your Man leef you?"

She lamented, "no, he lives at the airport." She learned to recognize reality. You have to love someone like that!

Posted by: jim hanson | September 26, 2011 4:09 PM    Report this comment

I've been at 2 separate airshows where there were fatalities crashes -- one of which was a fatality where a venom jet went into a flat-spin and crashed into some hills. The other was in Mountain Home, Idaho where the Air Force Thunderbird pilot ejected. In addition, I've known 3 people that have died in airplane crashes (one in the Reno Air Races, one herding cattle with his airplane, and one flying an ultralight). The fact is, this doesn't make me like GA -- or airshows - any less. However, with 3 small children, I've seen enough over the years that I think I'll put off flying myself until they're in college. In other words, I'll mitigate my own perceived risk in some way, but I don't have any problems with anyone else exercising their love of flying - whether it be at airshows or just flying for the love of flying on a personal or business basis.

Posted by: LEE POUNDS | September 27, 2011 1:13 AM    Report this comment

Chloe, I too witnessed a fatal air show crash. It was 1994, at an open house held at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. It involved a T-33, once the primary jet training aircraft of the U.S. Air Force. Like you, I was horrified. I expected I wouldn't be able to go to sleep at night without having a bad dream. But guess what? My dreams were no worse than before. I was reminded of a song by the late Peggy Lee, in which she asks over and over again: Is that all there is?

I believe that if pilots are to perform dangerous stunts close to the ground, they should use current production aircraft (i.e. Pitts Specials, or the Walter Extra-designed aerobatic monoplanes like what Patty Wagstaff has flown) instead of irreplaceable historic aircraft. And as I wrote before on another Avweb thread, I strongly believe aircraft must be flown such that their kinetic energy at any given moment is NEVER pointed towards crowds of people.

Is aviation risky? Yes, but then so is riding motorcycles. Even horse-riding presents risks, since unlike airplanes or motorcycles, horses literally have a mind of their own.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | September 27, 2011 9:23 AM    Report this comment

Nuts!How come the really good ones are always taken Jim? ;-)

Posted by: Patty Haley | September 28, 2011 1:45 AM    Report this comment

With the exception of David Chuljian I think that every scribe on this subject has missed the point. Unnecessary risk taking at airshows damages the image of GA - end of story. All those accidents are preventable with an adequate minimum base of 2000Ft.

Posted by: Tony Taggart | September 28, 2011 3:23 AM    Report this comment

You're right Tony. This isn't about making the general public understand risk taking by showing them a crash, but putting the best foot forward by having an entertaining airshow and an engaging ground display. An edgy airshow that resulsti in a crash is probably a lose-lose.

What to do? It's up to the performers themselves and the organizers to understand the practical limits and to build in larger margins into these acts, especially the ones that aren't necessarily full-time professionals and have neither the time nor resources to train and maintain airplane at a high level.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 28, 2011 5:13 AM    Report this comment

Thanks Paul, Spot on.

Posted by: Tony Taggart | September 28, 2011 6:33 AM    Report this comment

Good for you Chloe Barkdoll. Many people are turned off by accidents. It does not matter what the mode is. Accidents and the risks driving these accidents are all subject to risk management. Nothing will ever be zero risk. I personally have been peripherally involved in three major accidents at airshows:
1977: Fairey Firefly crashed
1989 Canadian Forces Snowbirds mid-air collision and
1995 Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR.2P stalled during a low altitude turn
A more direct relationship to:
1973 witnessed a Voodoo explode while travelling vertically at the Abbotsford airshow and in
2006, a friend of mine, Scott Manning was killed in his BD-5J
I own an airplane and do some sports aerobatics. As horrifying as each accident has been, I have not been put off by accidents of others or myself for that matter.
Riding horses is also a very dangerous. I understand that there is a horsemanship wisdom that goes something like this “When you fall off that horse, get right back on!”

Posted by: Christopher Basham | September 28, 2011 7:13 AM    Report this comment

Well said Paul, regarding what to do.

There are a number of comments suggesting that airshows are not part of General Aviation. Just because airshow flying is not the norm, it should not be cast aside. Non-military airshow pilots are GA pilots. GA regulation applies to them as well as an additional layer of scrutiny and regulation. Other areas of GA are unconventional and have elevated risk. Should back-country flying, skydive operations, spray planes, aerobatics, vintage airplanes, fire fighting, heavy lift helicopters, and wildlife flights be shunned as well? What makes GA great is the base it provides from which to do all sorts of specialized aerial activities.

The air show industry was quick to distance itself from air racing immediately after the Reno accident. Now ordinary GA is rumbling about its differences from airshows. A lot of things need to be evaluated and some things need to change. One of the first is for "ordinary" aviation to cease throwing those who are different under the bus.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | September 28, 2011 9:45 AM    Report this comment

Great thought provoking comments by all, particularly the matrimonial thread. 8~} The most popular spectator sport in the U.S. is auto racing (beats football!!) where highly modified racing machines are purposely dressed up to look like the car Mom drives to the grocery store. These vehicles are then operated to limits that ensure some thrilling crashes. Only a few drivers and spectators are killed. Why? It sells tickets and advertising. There is a big public demand for the thrills. Air racing is just a continuation of that public propensity with some WWII flavor thrown in. It is a choice we are free to make. Perhaps a more passive & fun public activity is attendance at E.A.A. shows where the message is "Just about anybody {and their family} can build a real flying vehicle in their workshop, with their fun money in most cases." WWII flavor is still provided, but in different forms. We are not going to stop people from attending auto or plane races, but in recent years, more new amateur built airplanes are registered every year than new certified Piper's, Cessna's, Mooney's etc. E.A.A. must be doing something right. The real gift that we all get is living in a mostly free country where we have the right to make these choices.

Posted by: Allen Fink | September 28, 2011 11:33 AM    Report this comment

'With the exception of David Chuljian I think that every scribe on this subject has missed the point.'

You, of course, mean your point. I agree with Paul's solution of what to do, the responsibility is on the performers but still allows the public to choose whether to accept the performers' calculated risk by attending or not.

Stating 'unnecessary risk taking' begs a definition, tho, and here starts the slide. Noise 'nimby' homeowners at a local airport were successful in closing down a fledgling flight school here awhile back, all based on 'unnecessary' noise from the airplanes. In Mr. Taggert's first post he incorrectly cited air show pilots as daredevils on their personal playground having 'needless crashes'. This particular scribe accepts none of your assessment of air shows and the performer's calculated risk. The sacrifice, money, time, and personal risk these fliers take is astounding to me for such little monetary return. Mr. Taggert's criticism of them is ill-informed and biased.

What will we say when the next crash happens, despite the new practical limits and larger margins enacted from this one? And then the next one? The answer to this question will determine where we really stand on this issue as pilots and supporters of GA and air race/show performers. Let the public speak through their participation or not, we don't need to hand-wring at all about them.

Posted by: David Miller | September 28, 2011 1:38 PM    Report this comment

Obviously I have failed to make my point so that Mr Miller can comprehend it. (Paul Bertorelli had no difficulty). I have never said don't have these activities. I'm a flyer and I personally love them. THAT IS NOT THE POINT. The point is what effect it has on the wider community when tragedy strikes. The fact is that the public perceive air show aerobatic pilots as dare devils and make a link which may not and usually isn't realistic. I happen to think that these very same,very skilful people actually damage the GA brand with every smash and tragic encounter, not because they set out to but because they do if things go wrong. If we can demonstrate the qualities of an aeroplane and the skill of the pilot, without having to fly 10 ft off the ground or without having to dive to 200 ft above the ground before we pull up then why not do that? All the crashes that we see (with the exception of mid air passing collisions)are as a result of being way too close to the ground to enable a safe recovery. So, Mr Miller, there will not be the accidents that we have now if we increase the safety margins. But by doing so we lose NOTHING of the show and spectacle. Oh and by the way Mr Miller, attention to detail is important. My name is spelt Taggart not TaggErt!

Posted by: Tony Taggart | September 28, 2011 5:18 PM    Report this comment

Apologies for the misspelling of your name. Didn't mean anything but to show my lame innatentiveness to detail.

Sometimes I am a bit dense, so I re-read your POINT. Still disagree on your many POINTS, or what I call unsubstantiated assumptions and generalizations about the public perception of air show performers, and how rare, tragic accidents affect them. Some, sure, like the guest blogger here, might never recover.

But it's all good, especially with Paul in your corner. :)

Posted by: David Miller | September 28, 2011 6:36 PM    Report this comment

Chloe, What you experienced was a basic human reaction, none of us want to see another person loose their life. If we're honest with ourselves, and cut through all the "spin," flying can be inherently dangerous. However, so can racing cars, riding jet ski's, riding horses, motorcycles, skateboards, and trying to drive across town in rush hour traffic. Any loss of life is tragic, but that doesn't mean the activity itself is bad. Before you dedide that airshows are something to avoid, wait and see what the actual cause of the accident was. It could have been a mechanical failure, bad timing by the pilot, or something that diverted his attention that none of us are aware of yet. When you get up tomorrow and hear on the morning news that 4 people were killed in a 10 car pile up on the interstate your not going to refuse to drive your car to work. Your probably going to think "you know that shouldn't have happened." That's the same kind of logic you need to use when thinking about flying. It shouldn't have happened, so how do we make it so that it doesn't happen again. You happened to be at a point in time where an aircraft crashed and the pilot was killed. What would you do if you had been at that point where those 4 people were killed on the interstate? I'll offer the followint.. "It isn't where you look, it's what you see".......Take care.......

Posted by: Jon Aldridge | September 28, 2011 11:24 PM    Report this comment

Ryan--"One of the first is for "ordinary" aviation to cease throwing those who are different under the bus."

If the activities in the airshow business (and it IS a business) damage the rest of general aviation, why SHOULDN'T they "distance" themselves from it?

Why would we allow the airshow business to stereotype General Aviation?

We often ask "Why don't the majority of Muslims distance themselves from the radicals?"

We would and should be angry if people catagorized ALL blacks and Latinos for the actions of a few.

If the general public thinks of general aviation at all, it is what they saw at the airshow--and that's hardly representative.

Nobody is saying to STOP airshows--only that we can do a much better job of showcasing what general aviation IS.

Allen and Tony have it exactly right--do an "EAA-type" airshow, and eliminate the low-level thrill show. We host regional aerobatic competitions at my airport, the public is treated to a FREE "airshow" of REAL precision flying--and it is good for student starts.

"Why don't

Posted by: jim hanson | September 30, 2011 8:44 AM    Report this comment

Thank you David, apology excepted. It's ok that you disagree with my points. That's what good discussion is all about. My so called "unsubstantiated assumptions and generalizations about the public perception of air show performers", is taken from personal experience and dialogue with people here in Australia. I dislike the responses but I have to live with them because they are facts. It is astonishing to me that so many people that I know would no sooner get into a C 210 as fly to the moon - because "they are just too dangerous" yet will happily get into a car and drive around super busy and dangerous roads without a 2nd thought. Jim Hanson is absolutely correct in what he says.
If it is found that there was a mechanical failure, is it not a support of my PIONT that if there was (say) 2000 ft between the point of failure and the ground then there is a strong possibility that the accident could have been turned into a tough landing without any injury? That's the POINT that I am trying hard to make. If we have a buffer then we have time to rectify and the industry does not get the bad and damaging publicity. I firmly believe that motor racing is different - people go to motor racing EXPECTING to witness smashes - indeed some "HOPING" to see one or more. Those people then get into their cars and drive home. Unperturbed and cocooned to the dangers.

Posted by: Tony Taggart | October 1, 2011 1:20 AM    Report this comment

I started flying at age 17 in a Cessna 150. I am too old now to fly for FAR 121 Air Carriers, but I still fly at every opportunity.

I have known one of my students who lost his life in an Aero Commander that was defective in a way that could not be known until flight.

I also know of other friends and colleagues of mine who got killed driving to the airport. The loss of a friend in an aircraft is more memorable because it should not have happened.

Airshows or no airshows, the fact of the matter is that watching those aircraft go through their unusual paces is quite a thrill. We know it is not "normal" for any operation other than what we are seeing at the moment. That makes any accident no less tragic, but it is the price we pay for such displays. Performers try to minimize the risks, but there are still risks.

Have we become so risk-adverse as a society that anything but straight and level could be outlawed?

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | October 1, 2011 10:20 PM    Report this comment

"Have we become so risk-adverse as a society that anything but straight and level could be outlawed?"

I think this misses the point. This is not really about pilot-oriented risk assessment and acceptance. It's about a sales job. Returning to the original question, why do we do airshows?

The least important reason is to amuse pilots. The larger purpose is show off GA, burnish its image and maybe attract people to it. You might say airshows don't do that, well, fine. What does?

So divorce it from the kneejerk fear of regulation and nanny state risk aversion and distill it to just good salesmanship, which is what it is, in the end. A horrible crash might not damage the industry much, but it sure doesn't help it, either.

So the point is for airshow organizers to vet the performers, know what they plan to do and dial it back if necessary. I can't remember the last airshow crash at AirVenture, but these are top of the line professionals who train constantly. Reviewing this years crash record, that hasn't always been the case.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 3, 2011 7:10 AM    Report this comment

I understand Paul's point about the impact on GA e.t.c., but that doesn't mean we can't simply improve safety at airshows. 2000 ft. minimum altitude is a bit silly insn't it? You can go to any airport and see planes flying around at 1000ft. or 800ft., some of them actually land!! By Tony's definition the U.S. is one giant, free, and continuous airshow. I do agree that tempting the tarmac as they do, that some reason needs to prevail. Maneuvers that specifically require a "pull up" at ground level ought to be rethought. We don't want people to think aviation is about being a "daredevil". Many non-aviators attend airshows only because of the expectation of thrills. Many pilots of varying background attend as well. We DO owe it to all people interested in aviation to show professionalism above all else. In that vein, the "vetting" of airshow acts needs much improvement. There are too many pilots out there performing who simply should NOT be performing; and way too many airshow crashes. I also, saw the F-86 crash at Jeffco, CO in 1997. Disturbing it is. Even for this pilot. So let's stop letting every wealthy person with a warbird from doing his second or third experience of slow rolling at 50ft. above the runway, from destroying beautiful planes and peoples' perceptions (if not their well being).

Posted by: eric hanson | October 12, 2011 6:30 AM    Report this comment

Paul and Eric have it absolutely right.
In any case, are we trying to get people to use GA to fly from A to B for business or with friends and family and/or for an air tour holiday or are we trying to get every person who comes through the gate into an aerobatic aircraft? I think the former.Touring Australia by air is a FANTASTIC way to do it because in 14 days, a well constructed tour will take you what would take 40 days by car or coach and then most perspective would be lost anyway. So that's the market that we should be targeting and one does not do that by hair-raising aerobatics to 50ft.
Best wishes

Posted by: Tony Taggart | October 13, 2011 2:56 AM    Report this comment

Life always ends with death.

Posted by: ROBERT ZIEGLER | June 27, 2013 1:46 AM    Report this comment

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