The Victor Dustup


There are times in aviation when we should celebrate the stunning skill of our brethren pilots-Sully-on-Hudson is a good example. In other cases, we are correct to draw attention to instances involving bad judgment and or lack of skill and sometimes, we oughta just sweep everything under the rug. The Victor bomber “accidental takeoff” appearing elsewhere on the homepage is one of those. (Unfortunately, when it hit YouTube, the rug got pulled.)The comments I’ve seen on this are predictably polar. “This one went wrong,” sniffed one YouTuber. “There was no intention to fly and we don’t need no retarded American twat making out it was anything other than an accident.” Said another, “As a pilot of heavy jet aircraft, the takeoff was deliberate. He had to take positive action to rotate the aircraft. He could have just aborted the takeoff by pulling back on the throttles and applying brakes…much less effort.”My own view of it was that it was unintentional. I’d like to believe that no rational person would deliberately attempt to fly an airplane not known to be airworthy and suitable only for what might best be called dynamic static display. I think the pilot deserves all but unlimited benefit of doubt. Where things get a little weird for me is granting hero status to the pilot who (a) kept the thing from turning into a flaming ball and (b) diverted it from the crowd. As far as the crowd goes, it was probably never in danger. The crew had the good sense to never have the airplane pointed in a dangerous direction.But the flaming ball part relates to the entire notion of pilot in command. The for-public-consumption version is that the co-pilot stoked the throttles and thus caused the airborne interlude. But I think pilots of all ilks understand that the guy in the left seat is in charge and responsible for what happens on his watch. If the co-pilot needed a backhand, it should have been administered well before rotation speed. If he wasn’t known to be qualified to handle the throttles, he shouldn’t have been allowed to. This is another way of saying that this incident wasn’t a bolt-from-the-blue accident but an emergency of the crew’s own making. (Nothing new or original about such things, I hasten to add.)My sense of the regulatory environment in the UK and Europe is that it’s rather more intrusive than here in the U.S. So I’m not quite sure what the CAA will do with this, if anything. The British Aviation Heritage maintains the Victor to a state where it can start-up and do taxi bys and that’s a good thing. It sure beats having airplanes stuck corroding away in static displays. I hope they’re able to continue with that tradition, but it’s also fair to say they’ll want to-and will be asked to–take steps to avoid this happening again. Like maybe staying 30 knots under Vr. And at this juncture, it doesn’t matter if the takeoff was intentional or not.Meanwhile, for anyone involved in these sorts of things at airshows, the positive takeaway is to think through procedures before an accident of your own making takes a star turn on YouTube. Like it or not, everyone has a camera these days and once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s not going back in. The best we can hope for is to make something useful out of the mess.