ICAS Safety Creed: Is It Suicide?


The airshow industry has been fortunate to have an enviable record of spectator safety in North America.  As a 30-year member of this industry, I am proud of that record and my limited contributions to it.  Although I continually push for increased showmanship and entertainment value of airshow presentations, I have never advocated anything that would endanger our spectators. 


In Augusta of 1990, I produced a technical report entitled “AIRCRAFT DEBRIS TRAJECTORY ANALYSIS,” sub-titled, “A Report on the Ballistic Trajectory Characteristics and Relative Scatter Patterns of In-flight Airframe Separations Debris Specific to The Airshow Environment.”


This tome addressed the issue of “Y-axis” maneuvers that directed kinetic energy at the spectator areas. Its Summary Conclusion: “It is not possible to rely on the FAA Handbook Formula to provide a safe separation distance and prevent possible injury to airshow spectators.”


For the next 10 years, along with a limited number of other airshow professionals like Bobby Bishop, I actively campaigned to have maneuvers that directed energy at the crowd be outlawed from airshows.  I made enemies over this issue but was gratified at the maturity of the civilian airshow community when such maneuvers were removed from the civilian repartee.


In my humble opinion, the lasting legacy of Ed Robinson’s tenure as National Airshow Coordinator is this change in airshow policy. 


The North American military is in the process of removing these maneuvers from their routines.  Not fast enough for this writer, but progress is being made and, while I hope we never find out by actual incident, lives will be saved.


As I said above, I did make a few enemies within the airshow community by advocating the “Y-axis” maneuver prohibition.  Some myopic performers honestly felt they “needed” these maneuvers to present their act.  I did not.


Our industry organization has a long established Safety Creed.  In that creed, there is a passage about not “standing idly by if others violate” the principals of the Safety Creed.


It is indicative of the juvenile behavior by some within our industry to realize that, for them, “standing idly by” is expected.


Last year, I stood up twice to speak out on what I though were safety issues.  The industry safety committee handled the first in a very professional manner.  The second blew–up in my face.


An active duty fighter pilot conducted a series of departure maneuvers that I felt were far outside the DoD guidelines.   The maneuvers certainly were impressive, high-speed passes and hard pulls conducted at minimum altitude on the 500-foot show.


But when it appeared the pilot rolled past 90 degrees and pulled the nose through the horizon on his transition from downwind to final, I became concerned by his exuberance.  As the pilot pulled g’s to level out on runway heading at low altitude, a quick mental calculation of the jets trajectory placed an impact point, if any of a hundred things should go wrong, that would to roll debris and a fireball right over my position and into the spectator area.


One of the strongest recollections of any combat veteran is the smell of burning human flesh - I could smell that odor as I watched this Hot Dog roll-in on me.  I must have been the only one smart or dumb enough to be scared, everyone else seemed to be mesmerized by the awesome power of that warplane. 


After the show, I expressed my concern and discomfort to the FAA monitor, “outside the waiver” I was told.  I then asked for the pilots name and home squadron, I just wanted to ask him a question – I was stonewalled for weeks by the show’s management. 


I found out two weeks later that the service had addressed the issue, without need of my input. 


Incident closed?  Yes, completely; I have been informed that I will not be invited back to announce this year.  Is there a connection, I think there is.  I told Jane, before I first spoke up, that my complaint could cost us the show.  It did.


As in the fairy tail “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” many performers have related their fear to express concern over what they perceive as an unsafe situation at an event.  This fear is well founded.  This industry is much too willing to take retribution upon anyone refusing to “stand idly by” as “adverse safety circumstances at one event bring irrevocable consequences to the entire industry” occur. 


So yes, standing up for the Safety Creed is suicide, economic suicide.  That is a sad commentary on our industry, but short-term economic suicide is better then the other much longer-term type.


Oh, the question I wanted to ask the fighter jock?  “Would you fly that “demo” with the safety pins in the ejection seat?  Would you fly that demo with the same options you were giving us, on the ground, if something had gone wrong?”  I would have like to have heard the answer.