When Safety Cultures Stumble

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I have a love-hate relationship with the notion that we analyze and report on aviation accidents as a means of preventing more from happening. It’s apparently not working very well because the accident rate is more or less static and pilots keep digging smoking craters for the same reasons, most of which are related to bad judgment. What we don’t do much of is reporting on clearly questionable judgments that could have been accidents, but weren’t because the tiny little slice of risk margin was enough. Just. Raising these as a point in the risk matrix is sometimes swatted away as just the safety weenies again spoiling all the fun.

Exhibit A this week is this video, which appeared on news broadcasts about three weeks ago. It was an Army helicopter flyover of Nissan Stadium in Nashville prior to an NFL game. Given the altitude, it was more like a fly through since the fans in the upper stands were at eye-level or a little above the lowest helicopter. The reporting on the incident made it to the upper reaches of the Army command structure. I asked former Army helo unit commander Jim Viola, who now oversees Helicopter Association International, if the display was viewed as a problem. A definite yes to that, on several levels, he said. No one he talked to liked it nor did they want to discuss it publicly. No one star or three star or however high this got likes a phone call with the question, “Did you see this?” Nor does a professional piloting community like being viewed as hot dogging it, the sideways winks and nods notwithstanding.

While helicopters have more liberal altitude guidelines than fixed-wing airplanes, they don’t get a blank check. Helicopters can legally operate below fixed-wing altitude limits, but with this provision … ”If the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface.” This is where it gets hinky. When would a low pass like this become too low? Another 10 feet lower? Another 50? Reverse that and ask this: Would it be safer for the fans if the flyover happened at 500 feet? My answer is yes, it would, while still delivering on the flyover mission.

Viola’s command experience is in special operations helo work, which involves even more risk than mainstream military helicopter operations. Like professional aviators of all stripes, Army pilots are mission oriented sometimes to a fault and Viola says more than once he had to forcefully say no, not doing that because the risk isn’t worth the gain. And yes, this sometimes applies to combat operations, too.

In this interesting post, several military helicopter pilots said the flyover wasn’t as risky as it looked. Probably that’s true, but it’s also true that it’s not as safe—derisked as the MBAs might say—as it could have been with 500 feet (or more) between the aircraft and the spectators. I suspect the national command-level review of this incident that’s underway will raise that issue.

Like everyone in aviation, the military struggles with the definition of safety culture. The more I try to define it, the more confused I get. But as I understand it, a safety culture is an organizational philosophy that, among other things, teaches and encourages people to recognize when risky decisions are scraping the guard rails and to steadfastly take another course. It sometimes means saying no when everyone else is voting an enthusiastic yes.

The Army will have to decide if this flyover came out of a safety culture that’s working as it should. Viola tells me the Army accident rate could stand improvement so I’d be surprised if the decision tree that led to this is a signpost on the road to fewer wrecks.

For civilians, the value is to look at the flyover and ask yourself if your safety culture would do the same. I have to admit it’s marginal for me. It’s not exactly a wild-eyed crazy stunt for skilled, trained pilots. But I’d feel compelled to tilt the balance away from the momentary thrill and toward more airspace for the unsuspecting fans.

So yes, God help me, I may be turning into a safety weenie.

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56 COMMENTS

  1. Paul, at the risk of actuating members of the cancel culture, we need more weenies. Insurance already costs too much, and I don’t see how videos like this–if it had involved general aviation–would entice more underwriters to the market.

  2. What’s magic about 500 ft? That won’t eliminate the risk, but it would pretty much dull the PR impact (the reward). At that height, it would have been pretty ho-hum.
    But of course no one wants to say that, publicly.
    If you really want to eliminate the risk, just don’t do any flyovers, or perhaps even keep those birds on the ground for ALL “non-essential missions”. That’s where your decision-tree signpost may soon be pointing…

    • When you’re approaching a wall of people, planning to clear the top by 50′ or so, and the motor ingests a slug of water from the tank, your bailout is what?

      From 500′ or even 200′, you can think about turning toward the parking lot, or even positioning for the infield in case the power doesn’t come back up. Or, it may simply buy time to get the power re-stabilized.

      The Army operates low all the time, of course, and in lots of situations where ingesting water could be almost instantly fatal, so they have procedures to prevent it and it’s not very likely. But, they don’t usually have quite so many lives at risk.

  3. What’s wrong with low flying guillotines. All the eVTOL dreamers are expecting to do low flying urban flights by the thousands everyday. I guess it’s all right to do helicopter crowd control because you never see a safety article about that. Search YouTube for: “helicopters used to disperse protesters”.

    I would think street debris flying through a crowd of people would possibly be a safety hazard?

  4. Great post. It’s also worthy to listen to AOPAs recent podcast about military helo mission gone wrong. Episode 39 David Bradley. While it occurred decades ago just shows how the military seems to still struggle with this issue of safety.

    • And after watching the video: risk v reward not compelling as far as I’m concerned. There is always the parallel universe of if one of those helos crashed. I can’t imagine the anyone disagreeing with this assessment

        • That’s a bit off from what I mean from risk reward. 100% probability that the helos would crash means that no one would even consider the exercise. But say if there is. A 0.01% chance or a 5% chance, then what? What is that percent chance that we’d be fine with gaining the subjective benefit of low flight for effect? My point is that it’s silly, because to your point the benefit is subjective. Therefore if you want a flyover, then do it like the other hundreds of flyovers performed around the world and add the margin of safety in mitigating wind, flight path etc.

        • You don’t have to do any computations, just apply the one simple rule we all learned–or should have learned–during basic flight training: when possible, always have an out. The pilots flying this formation left no margin for error. That may be acceptable when it’s just their @$$es on the line, but it’s irresponsible in the extreme when it involves people on the ground who do not understand the risks, and who even if they did were not given a choice about being involved.

  5. Did the helicopter(s)? fly down the center of the field at that altitude (about equal to the highest deck?) Hard to tell from the photo.

    Agreed–this is “too close to call.” There is no need to be that low–same effect if a couple of hundred feet higher. With a multi-engine helicopter at light weight and in translational lift, maintaining altitude shouldn’t be a problem.

    Aerobatic performances at airshows are “unneccessarily low” for effect–but they aren’t directed toward the crowd line (though a fiery crash COULD conceivably injure or kill bystanders.

    Skydivers regularly parachute into stadiums–an errant wind or misjudgement COULD conceivably kill or injure spectators in the stands.

    In every “public display” with crowds involved, there is usually an ops-spec and special conditions issued. Has anyone looked at what the conditions for the low altitude flyover specify? I’d be surprised if this low altitude was approved. If it WAS approved, then someone needs to own up to approving it. If it was NOT as approved, the crew has some ‘splanin’ to do!

    • It was evidently approved at the local base level by someone of sufficient rank to be immune from consequences. This is one reason no one wants to talk about it. Not that punishment is warranted, in my view, just a review of how the decision was made and perhaps some agreement along stan/eval lines for stadium flyovers.

      I have good optics into the skydiving operations and know they’re pretty strict about observing limits related to wind. It’s a challenging thing to do, although not really too risky for spectators. There have been a few incidents. I wanted to discuss this, too, but DoD nixed it.

      • As a group, We’ll never agree on whether this was a “safe” operation until we know what the “rules of engagement” were—minimum altitudes, emergency escape or landing procedures—wind limits etc. What may be “safe” on a good day, with calm winds, a light load, and a designated emergency egress from the area may not be safe if any of these are missing.

        I think that most of us that have been around aviation for more than a few years are aware that a “go/no go” or “modified hard deck” is appropriate as an alternative if stated limits can’t be met. Without knowing what those limits are—who are we to judge? I, for one, won’t comment until all the facts are known. If a Commanding Officer approved this operation the way it was flown, he should explain why. If the flight crew disobeyed the orders for the mission, there are usually consequences.

        As a former skydiver, I’ve taken myself off demos if it didn’t seem right—in most cases, everything worked out for those that did do the demo. In one case, I still had a round reserve, and it was into a congested area. In another, the demo was into a high school football field—not a stadium, but no good alternate landing sites. Two of the skydivers ended up scattering the marching band—hardly good publicity for the school—the skydivers—or aviation. When the football coach was asked by the media for a comment, he laconically said “I guess those skydivers wanted to show how good they were—and I guess they DID!

        ALL FOR SAFE DEMOS—but “ALL the “attaboys” are cancelled by one “aw_ _ _ _!”

      • Paul,
        The army must have changed. It used to be that rank didn’t get you immunity. It was the things that could get you rank that got you immunity. It’s not as nuanced as one might think. I worked with one and two stars who weren’t very immune. I know a recent retiree who I’m pretty sure was given his star because they needed someone particularly competent and disposable.

  6. Paul:

    Thanks for addressing this. A big part of our duties as competent airmen (persons) is risk management. If you’re getting paid to fly by non-aviators, their overriding concern is safety. If a pilot cares to put his life at risk, so be it. However, killing non-aviators due to thrill-seeking is very bad form. Additionally, it will bring on more rules by the regulatory agencies.

  7. Those guys weren’t flying R-22’s with low mass rotor systems connected to piston engines and they weren’t hovering, either. I watched the video which looked like they were about at the top of the stadium but coming in at a place without high seats and exiting on the opposite side in a similar setup at a slow cruise power setting … meaning they had some energy left to point the things IF necessary. As some of the military commenters in the second link said, I’m certain they pre-briefed everything and had places to aim for if something went wrong. That a few people who don’t know much about this sort of flying got hysterical doesn’t mean diddly to me. I’d be willing to bet that few people here haven’t either flown SO low they could grab a burger off of a grill or so fast and low that if an observer blinked, they’d have missed the fun.

    All’s well that ends well. They didn’t fly under a bridge with their ADS-B turned off for gosh sake !!

    • Now that I think about it some more, the gal who was skinny dipping in her pool near Big Bear lake in SoCal loved the UH-1N we were in that made a sudden halt in translational flight so we could all hang out the sides and get a better peeky-poo. She even smiled and waved up to us. Just some harmless fun. We didn’t forget her and I’m certain she still smiles about it, too 🙂

      • I had a similar experience. I was riding side saddle (open door facing out) of a NG Huey. We were low enough that the cat tails were eye level. Suddenly we climbed and steeply banked to my side of the aircraft. And there was this nice cruise, with a shapely lady sun-bathing, au naturel. Like you experience, she smiled and waved at us. I smiled and waved back.

      • Paul B.: Our ‘safety culture” is just fine. It’s the random noise (like this ‘interuoted transnational flight’ that won’t go away until we have automaton pilots (AKA Artificial Intelligence) flying all aircraft. How do we prevent Martha wannabe behavior, buzzing, etc? We ground you (Paul B.), me, and every other HUMAN! pilot on this thread. Face it. Unless we have really severe penalties for every! successful safety violation (again exemplified by Martha) we won’t move that needle you obscess about in your blog post. Even then we can’t get to zero. Did you notice the near massacre at Embry-Riddle that received several column inches before your ‘Oh, My God!!’ appeal for SAFETY now and always? I am very interested in safety, and obviously you are too. I assume you are also interested in human psychology and thought processes. If we’re completely honest we have only one way to achieve zero stupid aviation accidents: ground all aircraft. Didja notice the news in the last couple of days about the latest major software bug that affects darn near all servers in the world? Maybe (think 737 Max), just maybe, AI isn’t the safety holy grail either.

  8. The question to ask is, “Deep down, what are your feelings about doing this admittedly thrilling stunt and practice?”…and then, in a manner like a warrior preparing for battle, close your eyes, focus on your breath, become aware of your body and notice the small sensations you are having, answer honestly. My hunch is that most of the time, the answer will be something like, “Because it makes me feel strong, powerful, maybe even invincible, and I like showing off my strength to an audience.”
    Do I like that feeling??? You betcha! Who wouldn’t?
    Only after you have done that (Oooh Yahhh) can you then look at the real risks of your proposed behavior.
    No one is a “weenie” for looking at all of the objective and subjective data prior to acting. Looking at all of the data is what improves the odds of winning. And I’d rather be a winner than an injured person or corpse or have to live with the knowledge that my actions injured and/or killed others.

  9. I don’t know about these particular helicopters but I’m aware an engine failure in the twin-engine BK117 is a non-event. They wouldn’t be losing any height in that case. And I doubt that slowly cruising over a building by ~100ft is giving these pilots any kind of thrill or adrenaline.

    The only risk I can think of here is wire strike, which they presumably prepared for in advance.

    The reaction reminds me a bit of the 747 that had an engine failure out of LAX and elected to continue on to London while they sorted out the problem, as outlined in Deakin’s article: https://www.avweb.com/features/pelicans-perch-82-the-dreaded-three-engine-747/

  10. There is a portion of the pilot population that is immune to any safety messages. IMHO, the window to move the safety needle is in the first few hundred hours. I firmly believe that good pilot decision making is a teachable skill, but it has to be inculcated early, otherwise the bad habits will become solidified.

    Personally the yellow stripe down my back gets bigger every year but I can certainly look back at some in flight “decisions” that I made in my younger days that I would not do today. However they were a product of the “giver” culture that was pretty endemic 30 years ago. I do think that that we are having conversations around risk that simply would never have happened in the “good old days”.

  11. The premise of the article is that the safety culture stumbled. Based on what? Were you in the briefing and preperations for the event? Were you aware of the safety margins of the vehicles? Did you inspect the training and experience levels of the operators?
    Aviation is rife with those with little/no experience getting their 15 minutes of fame with uninformed and unprofessional evaluations of events that “seem” to be “risky” but turn a blind eye to the events that generate risk.
    As a military aviator and commercial I can assure you the safety culture is alive and strong in the DoD. Risk cubes, extensive planning, constant training, high levels of maintenance, data collection, review boards, standard operating procedures, limitations, and infinite, ad nauseam contingency planning. As a former Demo pilot I can unequivocally say that the briefing and planning and approval process for a flight at an airshow or sporting event is substantial and extensive.
    Those that have critical vitriol for this event should take a look at the articles for the incident where a seasoned instructor flew under a bridge to “cross it off her bucket list”. The commentors say things like “take pride in still being a kid at heart.”, or she was targeted because of her criticism of the FAA. Or, the article where an instructor sat on the departure end of the runway to intentionally create a go-around for arriving commercial traffic. Very little/no criticism. Do you think that the professional military aviators in these helicopters would have done either of those “stunts”?
    I would humbly submit that the safety culture problem is with the unequal application of the safety culture. Commercial and military aviation is the safest it has ever been and the numbers are trending towards ZERO. That happens because professional aviators are using tools proven to reduce risk and increase safety margins. I would further submit that the application of the safety culture is not being applied to General Aviation with the same intensity and professionalism as Commercial and Military aviation. If you want to see risk being unnecessarily injected into aviation, look at the 5G issues being realized and run that through a risk cube. Or, wring your hands and say that military helicopters flying low makes you worried.

  12. It’s OK to be a safety weenie… that is a personal choice and it belongs to you alone. Life is a (hopefully) measured risk, regardless of the activity. What risk was taken in arriving at the stadium? What risk is taken in leaving for home? If the spectators had been told to expect a very low-level (stadium top!) military flyover during the national anthem, would anyone have chosen to stay home?

    I am of two minds here… and no, I don’t think I am schizophrenic (although my other mind might not agree…). Yes, there are stupid pilots who do stupid things and we ALL pay for the consequences. There are also measured and calculated risks that make life worth living. And sometimes we are spectators at an event and just being a spectator puts us at a risk level far above the ‘watching TV in my armchair’ level. The Indy 500 still has a full capacity crowd next to the track.

    Of course, I’m an old fart who used to hang upside down from the ‘monkey bars’ (is that a politically incorrect phrase now? Don’t know, don’t care) over an asphalt playground. We learned to hang on and enjoy the experience. Are we going to bubble wrap everyone? Are we going to forbid others to enjoy rock climbing or sky-diving or low-level aerobatics at a show simply because we judge those activities to be too risky?

    No answers from me. I adhere to rules and my far stricter personal minimums. I don’t engage in activities that I deem too risky… no cave diving for me. If that makes me a safety weenie, then so be it. I won’t dictate to anyone else what activities I think are too risky. I may think it, but if you want to free solo like Alex Honnold, that is your business.

    I will say that had I been at the stadium that day and under the flight path, it would have been a thrill. Would I have chosen to fly an aircraft in such a manner? No.

    I will also say that this event is an opportunity to discuss and think about safety and your own personal minimums in ALL aspects of life.

  13. Analyzing and reporting aviation accidents is a very effective and useful tool in preventing more accidents, when pilots use the information and – yes – wisdom contained. But like any tool it’s not 100% effective, and some pilots will still perform stupid pilot tricks, fail to manage risk, respond inappropriately to surprises, get caught in weather, etc. even though most if not all of these not-so-amazingly similar circumstances have appeared in analyses and reports over the years. So maybe analysis and reporting, as a single tool in the box, is working as well as it’s gonna work. Personally I think that’s a good enough reason to continue doing it.

  14. I don’t know anything about this model helicopter. It appears to be two-engine. If so, can it maintain the planned altitude over the stadium in the event of an engine failure? If not can it safely descend (clearing the stadium to a planned emergency landing site.

    I live adjacent to Camp Pendleton, so I see low flying Marine rotorcraft all the time, but they are usually flying over the beach or just offshore. Perhaps 20 years ago one of them made an emergency landing just on-shore into an open spot, but very close to people, a busy street, and occupied structures. I called the base and spoke to a Marine captain who was a helicopter supervisor. When he understood that I was a pilot and not looking for blood, he confided that particular model was a “flying emergency.” He already knew about the emergency landing. He said it was a sudden low oil pressure light and vibration. They had no choice but to put it down. The helicopter in the stadium photo appears to be very similar, if not the same model I saw do the emergency landing 20 years ago.

    • The Blackhawk and Chinook are multi-engine helicopters.

      However the rotor system of the Blackhawk and crucial shafting of both are not duplicated.

      The Blackhawk depends on the shaft to its tail rotor, the Chinook to the shaft from engines in rear to the front rotor.

      (I gather that the latest version of the Chinook has improvements to its shaft.)

    • All four helicopters were twin engine.

      All of them can fly on one engine, at least in cruise, but maybe not in a hover depending on load. For an event like this, there are probably 3 crew (pilot, co-pilot, crew chief) onboard with fuel.

      For the H-60 (Blackhawk), useful load is about 10,000 pounds. Max internal fuel is 360 gallons. So there were around 3,000 pounds load, or 7,000 pounds below max takeoff. The CH-47 (Chinook) has a useful load of 25,000 pounds, with 1,034 gallons of fuel. So fully fueled, about 17,000 pounds below max takeoff weight. The AH-64 (Apache) is about 3400 below gross with 2 crew and full fuel. And the AH-64 has much higher performance at gross weight than the others due to its attach mission.

      So all were likely very light compared to maximum load. So more than capable of flying on one engine.

  15. There comes a point in dissecting accidents (mishaps in Navy terms) when all the effort that can be mustered has been expended and all the preventative preaching has been preached. At that point, human beings will continue to be human beings and that’s your baseline. There will never be a zero accident/mishap environment.

    • Most safely professionals use the term mishaps. The term accident implies that there was nothing that could be done to prevent them from occurring.

      ac·ci·dent

      noun
      1. an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.
      2. an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.

  16. Hi, Paul:

    Welcome to the “spoil sport” club. The bad news is that we keep doing the same things that lead to accidents. The good news is that we keep doing the same things that lead to accidents–so by learning from accident history we at least have the opportunity to address real-world accident causes to prevent recurrences.

    This points to one of the challenges of aviation safety: We use air shows, aerobatics and media portrayals of aviation stunts as our primary recruiting tool for new pilots who do not already have some access to aviation (through a family member, etc.). Then we must constantly tell those pilots, “You know those things we showed you about how flying is so cool and fun? Don’t do them.”

    Keep providing the great insights, Paul.

  17. The accident rate isn’t getting better because we’re not hardwired for anything like “safety culture.” It has to be imposed, reinforced, and procedures etched into our unwilling brains. Kind of like IFR flight. Toss out the hardwired sensations and heed thy instruments.
    But we fight it tooth and nail.
    We pilots watch a zero-zero departure climb into the clag and think (I use that word unwillingly) “If he did it I can, too.” We tend to dismiss the fine details like equipment, experience, and besides, the airplane is right out of annual so it’s never going to be in better condition (hah), right? The thrill we get climbing through the layer and breaking out on top (we can see that, feel, it, taste it) drowns out the little Safety Culture nag who doesn’t have a lick of the right stuff, anyway. We (mostly) get away with it. Which only reinforces the circuits that put us (and unwilling folks in the back seat and on the ground) in harm’s way.
    Unintended consequences are not our strengths. I know this first hand. Once – a very long time ago in a safety culture far, far away- I did a (much higher) pass over a packed football stadium at Princeton University in an orange and black airplane (Princeton’s colors). They were playing Penn. I could hear the roar of the crowd over the throttled-back IO520 as I sailed over the stadium, goalpost to goalpost. The crowd saw me. They were cheering. All the little nerve cells that respond to reward were glowing. I didn’t have the energy for a barrel roll but I did briefly think (wrong word) about it.
    Later that day I learned my stadium pass coincided with Penn’s winning touchdown.

  18. Military aviation is different, and it has to be. My buddy lost his career, his health, and nearly his life, because a part flew off of a UH1 in his formation, hit his bird, and caused immediate control loss at 500 feet. We lost an infantryman to a main rotor strike because the landing zone on a night exercise was sloped just enough his helmet was struck. These were in peace time.

    I easily have enough time flying in risky situations in Hueys and Blackhawks to have gotten a rating if I’d been in the front seats. It’s a dangerous job, and the things that you avoid as unsafe are just different.

    That being said. We have infected the military with enough lawyers that they might start doing corporate takeovers as training for warfare. Where were all the lawyers? You’d think that one would have been tasked with reviewing the request and setting some parameters.

  19. ‘Culture’ gets subtly watered down, especially on organizations that are full of politics and PR.

    Judgement calls are made, for example:
    – the ace pilot who demoed the original B737 model at an airshow by touching on one mainwheel then the other decided not to do it any more because he might have difficulty if an engine coughed. Good engine maintenance but …
    – in evaluating turnback to an airport using an adjacent valley he decided to reject that as an operational option because there was not enough room for error in IMC.

    An example of lack of discipline were the factory demonstration pilots of a different brand who did not stick to ‘flying the numbers’ and following the takeoff procedure at that airport, simulating engine failure at V1. They panicked at the sight of a mountain looming in the windshield and got stick shaker. (Airline’s Director of Flight Operations riding the jump seat corrected them. The procedure was to carry on to V2 then turn a modest amount.)

    OTOH, observers on the ground were downgrading the airplane because it climbed slowly in that demonstration. The airline had invited several employees on the jaunt, offloaded them for the engine-out demo. Few had any notion of what a twinjet with engine out would look like, they’d only seen 737s and DC9s climbing strongly with both engines thrusting. I informed them.

  20. The airline kept using its twin turboprops for that airport, did not buy the demoed twinjet though it did not offer much over the B737.

    Lower cost as smaller I suppose but much less belly capacity, operation had little-luggage/freight shuttles but they were flown as part of long itineraries.

    (Whereas the eastern US shuttles had trains as alternatives – and probably used 727s, and one out of Winterpeg north to a city that had rail/road connections did use the smaller twinjet on those and 737s to more distant places.

  21. Jeez, I thought I was going to see a crash the way you pumped up this safety violation. I saw four helicopters flying straight and level, did I miss something. Where were the aerobatics you promised? This made you nervous Paul? How are you allow to fly airplanes with those panic attacks. Is it hard to lecture us about safety when you practically stall a cub on final? Metaphorically, watch your airspeed Bertorelli. Safety weenie, yes definitely, but we’ll make an exception because that’s part of your job and I generally like your work. What I see here is an increasing number of people who want to complain about flying and this stuff always has to potential to ruin it for the rest of us. The FAA should do less to protect us from ourselves and more to protect flying, but that’s not what you’re about, are you.

  22. It was certainly less safe than flying, say, a taildragger Cessna under a high bridge near Cincinnati.
    But in terms of operational safety, meh. Nothing to see here. But I’d certainly not have them do it again.

  23. If thinking hard about the risk v reward before doing something “sporty” makes me a safety weenie…..well then you had better flash up the BBQ as I have a box of my finest deli dogs ready to get roasted !

  24. An AvWeb competitor ran an interesting article today about medicals and truthfulness. https[colon slant slant]www[point]flyingmag[point]com[slant]the-tragic-day-a-pilot-was-literally-flying-blind[slant][?]utm[underscore]campaign[=]Newsletter… etc. The pilot didn’t fly much, he hadn’t had a BFR or FAA medical for years. The medical was problematic since he’d never admitted a life long disqualifying condition that resulted in unexpected episodes of intermittent blindness in one or both eyes. He really liked flying, so …

    The NTSB aviation data base contains several reports of pilots like him who failed to be truthful on their medicals, or who flew anyhow either with a long lapsed medical or who never had a medical of any kind. The NTSB database includes heart attacks, strokes, blind (or nearly blind) pilots, flu, and more. It even has a few pilots who launched with a known (to them and family) Alzheimers diagnosis. Unfortunately, mechanics are also human We just don’t have as many post accident medical reports for the people who maintain aircraft.

    So, how does ANY safety culture address these highly personal decisions by individuals to fly personal aircraft? We can’t prevent people who lose their driving privileges from driving… even with huge expenditures in police, courts, and prisons. Paul, do you, Tom, or any in the FAA think the legalistic and authoritarian approach is likely to succeed in aviation when by many measures it has failed in other transportation modes?

    If we’re talking about commercial operations or low level flights over or near crowds of people then by all means the FAA and advocates of and for safety at all costs really get it right by pushing for zero tolerance. As we move from that pinnacle of safety to flights for pleasure and personal flying under EAB, sport pilot or part 103 rules ‘safety’ we need to rethink the one size, one standard, take no prisoners zero tolerance safety objective. Basically, we need to accept that if we have human operated (piloted) and maintained aircraft we have to expect and accept that both non-fatal and fatal accidents are part of the deal.

    • Teach people to evaluate who is the pilot before they get on board.

      Some people do that with airlines, for example:
      – avoid airlines with poor records
      – documented drop in traffic of several percent after accident to large US airline
      But that’s not many people.

      After the 737 crash in Cranbrook BC a pair of aging ladies diverted to the bus depot after seeing an airplane being worked on in front of the terminal. 12 hours on the bus over winter roads through mountains.
      After a 737 burned on a taxiway in Calgary AB after an engine burst, airline and airport people could not find all of the 120 pax who had evacuated the airplane. Finally found some of them in in line for the next shuttle flight, they flew it regularly so had confidence in the airline.

    • IMO regulation leads to complacency in customers/friends so they do not scrutinize as much.

      As for culture overall and low flying, Cathy Pacific disciplined the captain who made a low pass over PAE runway after taking off on delivery flight from Boeing Everett plant. Airline didn’t think the maneuver was necessarily bad, but expected crews to get a second opinion (in my words) before doing something unusual when not necessary.

  25. I kind of gave this a hmmm… was it safe? Are any ‘fly overs’ safe?
    The people that go to these games know there is going to be a fly over, are they accepting the risk?
    When I go to air shows the Blue Angels and the Thunder Birds do a sneak fly over the crowd at low altitude… is that safe?
    I have flown helicopters that low, likely much lower as required by the helicopter route, that required flight below 200ft. Was that ‘safe’… maybe not according to many people here.
    They low level flight was approved by the FAA, as no restrictions were given. Doubt they will do anything. The Army may slap the hand of the lead pilot, as he was the one setting the formation altitude. But should they? He did exactly what they wanted, college level people saw how cool it is flying helicopters, exactly what they wanted.

  26. GOOD GRIEF!!!
    I can’t believe what I just read, and some of the comment written. Four multi engine helicopters flown by proficient, professional crews at light weight, slow cruise speed, flying straight and level, in loose formation is considered dangerous.

    Good lord what kind of world do we live in??

    Ernie
    Master Army Aviator Ret.

  27. I think the commenters here missed the point.

    It’s not what risk level the pilots were ok with, it’s what risk level the stadium spectators were willing to accept, and that’s zero – they didn’t sign up for any risk of a helicopter falling on them while watching a game.

  28. Entry and exit of the stadium boundary took about 5 seconds per aircraft. If these aircraft are incapable of remaining airborne for a full 5 seconds, ground them.

    “ It’s apparently not working very well because the accident rate is more or less static”

    A static accident rate is not a good thing? Are you expecting zero? That can be easily accomplished. Stop flying.

  29. People going to airshows know there will be airplanes flying close to them. They come anyway. However, doesn’t it occur to you to wonder why airshows have an airboss and strict rules about how close to the crowd they can fly? Didn’t we learn at Ramstein ’88 a horrible lesson about why flying aircraft towards people is a Bad Thing?

    Ballgames are not airshows, so the standards should be higher. The people at ballgames didn’t sign up for an airshow. As such, they are *entitled* to the same “innocent bystander” protections that perscribe a minimum 500′ distance from any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure in the FARs. It’s not rocket science – anybody can see the value in this. It’s why we have regs.

    Our military people work hard and certainly deserve a chance to “show their stuff.” It’s not being a killjoy to insist on a REAL eval, preflight. And next time, let’s have the mechanics, knowing what they know about that most recent inspection, making input on what *they* consider a safe altitude for their bird!

    Let’s see some responsibility from the folks in charge, and let’s see some action to recognize that this was not a good thing.