Monday, June 24, 2013

Air Shows Should Be Stopped!

I'm growing tired of reading about fatal crashes at air shows. There was yet another one on Saturday in Dayton, Ohio, where officials say a pilot and wing walker died in a fiery crash at the Vectren Dayton Air Show. A disturbing video posted on the Dayton Daily News website shows the wing walker hanging upside down from a wing as the plane tilts, then slams into the ground and explodes as spectators, including many children, scream in horror. Thankfully, no spectators were hurt. But this crash is just another in an endless parade of horrific incidents at these wildly popular events. Begging the question: when is enough really enough? I say air shows should be stopped, once and for all. 

I may seem like an unlikely person to be calling for an end to air shows. I've been covering the military for 25 years, and I’m a bit of a military airplane nut. I have been since I was a kid who loved movies such as “Twelve O’Clock High" and “The Blue Max.” I love to check out the latest fight jets as well as the vintage aircraft dating back to World War I. 

But I no longer believe air shows are a good idea. The tragedy in Ohio was horrific. And there have been so many others, including another near tragedy just yesterday when John Klatt was forced to land his MX Aircraft MXS after he experienced an engine failure at the Quad City Air Show at the Davenport Municipal Airport in Davenport, Iowa. Klatt was very lucky to walk away in one piece.

The worst air show disaster in recent memory happened a year and 1/2 ago when, according to NBC News, a North American P-51D Mustang flown by James K. "Jimmy" Leeward crashed into spectators at the Reno Air Races in Reno, Nevada, killing the pilot and 10 people on the ground, and injuring 69 others including small children. 

In San Diego, my hometown, the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar Air Show is a hugely popular event each year. I live on the southern edge of the Marine base and can hear the action - and even see some of it - from my office window. It’s exhilarating to say the least. Sometimes the airplanes are so close it feels like they’re landing on our roof. 

The Miramar folks insist their air show has a spotless safety record. But that is not true. Disaster was narrowly averted three years ago when a Marine C-130 cargo plane that was part of the air show dropped a 75-foot refueling hose and its receiving arm on a home in Carmel Mountain. No one was injured, and the house didn’t burn down, but the hose did cause about $10,000 damage, and surrounding residents were traumatized.

What perhaps fewer folks remember is that at the 2004 air show here, stunt pilot Sean DeRosier was tragically killed when his “Cabo Wabo SkyRocker” failed to pull out of a dive.

We hear jet noise from Miramar almost every night, and sometimes it’s deafening, but we don’t complain because we love the military in this household. But living this close to a military air  field can be hazardous A few years ago, a San Diego man lost his entire family – his wife, two young daughters and mother-in-law – when an F/18 crashed into their home as the jet approached Miramar. 

Why increase the risk with unnecessary air shows? Granted, they  are an effective recruiting tool for the military, they have a positive impact on local economies, they’re an exciting and educational show for the whole family, and they certainly make you proud to be an American and proud that we have such a strong and capable military, especially in this volatile post-9/11 world. But these aircraft are built to make us safer, not put us in more danger.

I recognize that both sides of this debate have merit. But ultimately this argument comes down to risk vs. reward, and in my opinion the risk is far greater than the reward.

As I’ve said before, putting these aircraft on display as if they’re part of some Vaudeville act is like putting a killer whale in a fish tank then acting surprised when someone is harmed trying to teach the whale to look cute and jump through a hoop in front of thousands of screaming admirers.

Sorry to put a damper on what are very popular events for aviation lovers. But let's enjoy these remarkable high-performance machines from a safer distance and respect and support the brilliant and brave men and women who build and fly them.


  1. The issue of air shows is a complicated one. Pride of country and patriotism are tied together along with the American belief in the pursuit of happiness. I feel the inherent dangers to participants -- both pilots and spectators -- are secondary considerations.

    Just as some go to Nascar races to see the crashes, the potential for death and disaster are aaudience draw like a moth to the flame.

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