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Sep-18-2011 05:15printcommentsVideo

Are We Done With Air Shows Yet?

Flashback to a year ago when a tragic crash claimed spectators in Reno. Organizer tells NPR new safety implemented will "make the news media happy".

Reno Air Show crash by Reuters
Photo by Brian Brunetti / REUTERS courtesy: LA Times Blog

(SALEM, Ore.) - Could the fatal crash of veteran pilot Jimmy Leeward in a fiery Reno, Nevada air show race accident that claimed nine lives and injured 60 be a turning point?

Jimmy Leeward 2010 Photo: CBS News

It seems possible that the clock may now be ticking on this military-oriented rich man's sport; one that combines big crowd thrills with even bigger crowd danger and risk, generally with a military twist.

It's not just a gut feeling. A brief scan of the history of documented air show crashes on Wikipedia, which admittedly is an incomplete list, shows a staggering leap in recent years in air show-related crashes and fatalities and injuries on both a world scale and nationally.

I expand on this greatly later in the article and the statistics are alarming, very alarming, as they demonstrate an escalation of air show fatalities on a level consistent with U.S. and western-fueled war efforts overseas.

It was only weeks ago, on 22 August 2011, that ABC's Barbara Pinto filed a report about how in one weekend, there were three fatal air show tragedies; one in England and two in the U.S. One of the deaths was a 'Wing Walker'. (see: Wing Walker's Fall From Plane Caught on Tape; Three Separate Air Show - ABC News).

The history is great, the stories that these planes generated in past wars is fascinating, but maybe we should concentrate how very obvious the real cost is, in many regards.

It might be time to read the writing on the wall. I don't mean a ban on air shows, nothing crazy, but sense and responsibility should tell organizers that the risk may be far more than necessary in some cases.

In this kind of show, a front row seat may be the last thing you want, however air show planes sometimes go into neighborhoods too, no matter how much pilots of out-of-control aircraft would like to pull a Great Santini, they sometimes fall right on top of homes, even here in Oregon as we learned in recent years.

Logic vs. Cost

In the 1920's the demand for early air show 'thrills' drove pilots to actually fly their planes into barns. That was the culmination of the excitement of 'Barnstormer' period and their sometimes fatalistic, sometimes fatal flights.

I believe there is an analogy to the Vietnam War helicopter pilots of today. The First World War generated a lot of aviators and many tried to carry on their dangerous lifestyles with paid careers as exhibition pilots. Vietnam era pilots often ended up flying medical helicopters in the U.S. and they are always known for their skill, as the early pilots would have also been.

I want to stress that I like airplanes as much as the next guy, more I imagine than most. But these airshows see aircraft that are close to 70-years old, that were not necessarily safe to fly when they were brand new, blasting past large crowds of people at intense speeds for the 'ooh' and 'ah' and at some point, this point, it seems like too much. As we learned this weekend in Reno, sometimes they literally just break up in flight.

The air show attendees became like those gathered around the edges of the worst turns in a European road race - sometimes they pay the ultimate price for their enthusiasm too.

There are so many horrific air show crashes now (most featured on YouTube) that I can just walk through them visually. Let's go a step farther though and examine some of the well known and maybe not so well-known.

2006 Hillsboro Air Show Crash in Oregon

In July 2006, Salem-News.com carried a story about a fatal air show crash in nearby Hillsboro, Oregon, at their annual air show.

A 1959 British Hawker Hunter participating in the 2006 Oregon International Air Show crashed into a residential neighborhood near the Hillsboro Airport, setting at least two homes on fire just after 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

The pilot, Robert E. Guilford, was a lifetime aviation enthusiast who enjoyed flying vintage fighter jets at air shows, was a lawyer from California. In the crash, three different homes were hit, one even took a direct hit in the middle. The air show was immediately canceled and the streets in that section of Hillsboro were in gridlock.

A witness, Josh Boer, told a Portland television station that a house "literally exploded" when the plane hit and sent out a fire bomb that lit two other homes on fire. The plane crashed near NE 60th Ave and Harvest Street.

One witness, a pilot said it appeared to him that it was a stall and spin accident. Witnesses also said it appeared that the pilot was trying desperately to crash land the plane in nearby fields

Fairchild B-52 Crash

The terrible Air Force bomber crash that happened in 1994 involving the massive Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is one ingrained in the collective American imagination. When that plane crashed people gasped, if you don't know, this plane makes a B-17 four engine bomber from WWII look small.

The B-52's, however trivialized by the 80's new wave band that adopted the name, were the terror of the skies over Vietnam for years, dropping thousands of tons of deadly bombs on the Vietnamese countryside, villages, cities, towns and military installations. Immense just starts to describe this military airplane.

In that event the pilot, "Bud" Holland, who was accompanied by three crew members, flew the aircraft beyond its operational limits and lost control, stalling the plane, at which point it simply fell to the ground sideways, on its wing, and exploded in a fiery, deadly explosion.

An investigation of the crash laid heavy blame on the pilot, concluding according to Wikipedia, that "...the chain of events leading to the crash was primarily attributable to three factors: Holland's personality and behavior, USAF leaders' delayed reactions to earlier incidents involving Holland, and the sequence of events during the aircraft's final flight."

The 1994 Fairchild Air Force Base B-52 crash occurred at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, United States on 24 June 24 1994.

El Toro FA-18 Crash

Another extremely memorable crash happened 24 April 1988 at a base where I was personally assigned for the better part of three years; Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in California. The air show crash happened when an F/A-18 Hornet pilot was seemingly pressured by the air show staff to move quickly, and he executed a complicated move without enough altitude.

Marine Corps Colonel Jerry Cadick was performing a maneuver called a 'Cuban 8' and entered the move without sufficient altitude to complete the last part of the figure.

This happened in front of 300,000 spectators. Wikipedia explains that the aircraft was in a nose-high attitude, but still carrying too much energy toward the ground when it impacted at more than 300 mph.

"Col. Cadick was subjected to extremely high G forces that resulted in his face making contact with the control stick and sustaining serious injury. He broke his arm, elbow and ribs, exploded a vertebra and collapsed a lung. Col. Cadick survived and retired from the Marine Corps. The F/A-18 remained largely intact but was beyond repair."

The plane quite amazingly, needed just a couple of feet more than it had, and the jet discharges touched the ground and the slammed down violently and began skidding along the ground at an extremely high rate of speed.

MiG-29 Collision at Fairford International Air Tattoo

A famous MiG-29 air show mid-air collision that stands as a testimony to ejection seats, happened during a 1993 RIAT Airshow, when two Russian MIG-29 fighters collided. Incredibly, both pilots walked away. It happened 24 July 1993 when the pair of aircraft took off in close formation to commence their flight display at the RAF Fairford International Air Tattoo.

The display was going smoothly until the final maneuver consisting of simultaneous loops. The flight leader, pulling up first, initiated a normal loop. The second pilot executed a tighter loop after the first pilot began his maneuver, and somehow the two pilots lost visual contact with each other after the second pilot entered the clouds.

According to the description on the YouTube video posted by YouTube user Tsobanian, shortly after commencing his break, the left wing of the Leader impacted the fuselage of Number 2. Both aircraft became uncontrollable.

One aircraft impacted to the North-East of the airfield, 700m (2,300ft) away from the crowd line, while the other one crashed on the perimeter fence. Remarkably, only one person on the ground received minor injuries. A Belgian C-130, an Italian G-222 and a French Alpha Jet were slightly damaged. The two Mig-29 pilots, Sergey Tresvyatskiy and Alexander Beschastnov, ejected successfully and landed uninjured.

Worst Crashes Ever - Thunderbirds Training at Indian Springs

The Diamond Crash, on 17 January 1982, was the worst operational accident in the history of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Team involving show aircraft. The crash claimed the lives of four pilots flying Northrop T-38 Talon jets who crashed during operational training, at Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nevada, which is now Creech Air Force Base.

They were training for an upcoming air show at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. The four T-38As comprising the basic diamond formation, hit the desert floor almost simultaneously, as the pilots practiced a four-plane line abreast loop, climbing in side-by-side formation several thousand feet, pulling over in a slow, backward loop, and descending at more than 400 mph. The planes were meant to level off at about 100 feet; Instead, the formation struck the ground at high speed.

The four pilots died instantly: Major Norm Lowry, III of Radford, Virginia; Captain Willie Mays of Ripley, Tennessee; Captain Joseph "Pete" Peterson of Tuskegee, Alabama; and Captain Mark E. Melancon of Dallas, Texas.

The public affairs office at nearby Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, said at the time that contrary to speculation that the flight leader might have misjudged his altitude or speed, the other three pilots repeating the error, it was concluded by the Air Force that the crash was due to a jammed stabilizer on the lead jet.

Either way, the other pilots, in accordance with their training, did not break formation and essentially followed their leader into the ground, the wreckage spread across a 1-square-mile area of the desert 60 miles north of Las Vegas on Range 65, which is now referred to as "The Gathering of Eagles Range".

Reno - a Tipping Point?

September 16 - 2011 Reno Air Races crash - Pilot Jimmy Leeward lost control of his plane and crashed into spectators at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show, killing at least nine people, including the pilot. More than 60 people were injured, at least 15 of them critically.

MSNBC described the crash that took place during an air race involving other vintage World War II P-51 Mustangs by noting that: "several spectators were killed on impact as the 1940s-model plane appeared to lose a piece of its tail before slamming like a missile into a crowded tarmac."

The photos of the plane in its final moments show that a piece of the left rear elevator seems to be missing from the plane. If that is the case, it would have greatly reduced the moving surface the plane used to climb or dive.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says their investigation is focusing on the tail section of the P-51 Mustang flown by Mr. Leeward, because of the photos and videos showed the possibility that part of the tail surface became detached before it crashed.

The NTSB says the crater at the crash site is 3 feet deep and 6 to 8 feet wide. Debris is reportedly scattered over more than an acre.

Police say 69 people were treated at hospitals and 31 of them were admitted.

The Mustang may be the best remembered plane of WWII, it is certainly among them. The aircraft was perfected by the British after they were provided by the U.S. government, and after changing the engine, the P-51 became one of the war's ultimate hot rods with excellent maneuverability, performance, top speed and range.

T-28 Air Show Crash Also This Week

What happened in Reno is a severe tragedy, but it was not the only fatal military plane crash at an air show in the US this week. The pilot of an airplane was killed in a fiery crash Saturday afternoon in West Virgina, while performing for a crowd of several thousand, in the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge airshow at the Eastern Regional Airport.

Investigators from the NTSB are expected to arrive in Martinsburg Sunday to begin probing the cause of the crash which happened Saturday afternoon at approximately 2:30 p.m. during the air show at the base of the West Virginia Air Guard’s 167th Airlift Wing.

West Virginia Adjutant General James Hoyer talked to reporters at a press conference Saturday. He said, "The aircraft was piloted by a single civilian pilot who died in the crash". He added that, "No one on the ground was injured and no other aircraft were involved."

The plane's tail number indicates that its registered owner is Jack Mangan of Cornelius, N.C. Mr. Mangan is also listed on the Trojan Horsemen's Website as a member of the T-28 Warbird Aerobatic Formation Demo Team, though there are no clear indications at this point that he was piloting the airplane.

Hoyer said, "We were fortunate that the safety measures put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration ensured the safety of those on the ground." It is unfortunate that similar rules did not prevent injuries to the air show spectators in Reno. An eyewitness stated that he watched the plane wobble after completing a maneuver and fly straight into the ground.

A Conclusion

There are only a small number of entertainment-based events that are extremely dangerous for attending crowds. On rare occasions a race car has left the track and injured fans in the U.S. but the dynamics are at least designed to prevent it. When a plane has a problem the results are potentially devastating, if a crash occurs anywhere near human beings.

It is undeniable that the aviation tricks performed at air shows are hard on planes, particularly aircraft that are old and vulnerable to unpredictable weaknesses. There is nothing a pilot can do when his airplane simply falls apart in flight, and that is what appears to have happened in Reno on 16 September 2011.

When planes aren't falling apart or malfunctioning to dramatic ends like the Thunderbirds crash, another terrible scenario comes into play. When pilots perform at air shows, they are there to impress - and 'death-defying feats' have always been the center of air shows, and everyone should admit that.

While I make reference to barnstormers of the 1920's in this article, it is clear that none of those planes that were lost are included on the Wikipedia list. Also, I use the term 'crashes' loosely as many of these events are not so quickly explained, I include a link to the Wikipedia list where the incidents are explained in more detail.

However, the pattern based on their statistics goes something like this:

  • Between 1910 and 1970, there were 45 recorded air show crashes.
  • Over the next ten years, by 1980, 14 incidents brought the number to 59.
  • There were 20 crashes between 1980 - 1990 bringing the total to 79.
  • By 2000, 29 more incidents drove the number to 108.
  • Over the next ten year period, from 2000 to 2010, the number jumped from 108 to 153.
  • In the year 2011, there have already been nine incidents, and the year isn't over.

I'm not a statistician or mathematician, but I think the numbers speak for themselves. The efforts to keep people excited about military aviation have escalated greatly during the current, grueling wars of the Middle east that only seem to grow in number like the number of airshow crashes and fatalities.

I'm sure many will not agree, but in a nation with a dwindling economy and wars overseas blowing human beings to pieces, it seems a little obscene to celebrate the military airplane these days to the extent that they are crashing into crowds of people.

Most people aren't happy to simply watch an airplane fly by, they want to see them spinning maneuvers, loops, flying upside down... whatever. Pilots push the limits because of the crowd, and for the personal recognition, and to give people their money's worth, but perhaps the bar is too high.

Airplane museums are tremendously popular attractions, they earn money and keep planes in one piece (for the most part) and allow the aircraft a chance to be of far more educational value in terms of communicating aviation history, that they are flying by at hundreds of miles per hour.

Break out a video camera around a bunch of skateboarders at a ramp or pool and watch their level of daring and sometimes foolishness, surge beyond reason. This is the same thing that happens at air shows. Bravado gets to be an expensive commodity and we are writing checks that this nation can't cash.

Sources and References:

List of airshow accidents and incidents - Wikipedia

1994 Fairchild Air Force Base B-52 crash - Wikipedia

Jet Pilot Who Died in Hillsboro was One of The Best - Tim King Salem-News.com

NTSB To Arrive Sunday to Begin Crash Investigation Chris Lawrence - MetroNews

Tragedy: Plane crashes at airshow, pilot killed John McVey - The Journal


Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Silver Spoke Award by the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (2011), Excellence in Journalism Award by the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs (2010), Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), First-place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Tim was a member of the National Press Photographer's Association for several years and is a current member of the Orange County Press Club.

Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. As News Editor, Tim among other things, is responsible for publishing the original content of 82 Salem-News.com writers. He reminds viewers that emails are easily missed and urges those trying to reach him, to please send a second email if the first goes unanswered. You can write to Tim at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com



Comments Leave a comment on this story.

All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied.

SortingHat June 2, 2016 1:35 pm (Pacific time)

Our hospital and many others are overloaded with people having coughing and sickness that can't be explained for the past several years since the spraying began. We will have more elderly die under our toxic spraying all in the name of *solar radiation management* BS garbage which is not going to do what they say it does.

Ian March 24, 2015 12:28 pm (Pacific time)

Seriously? More people died this morning straining to take a dump than all the people killed at airshows in the last decade, but we never see anything about how toilets should come to an end. Maybe a serious journalist should investigate this

ben June 20, 2012 12:17 pm (Pacific time)

i think this is hilarious but anyone who makes a career off taking pics or filming planes and goes to airshows to make money and then bashes it when hes not there i think thats really messed up. especially when it comes to military performers because they not doing it for fun they are doing it because they are representing the military heritage since theyve had planes and showing the world what their buddies who are in combat are doing because they arent able to come and let their families see what they do.

Nate March 24, 2012 3:03 pm (Pacific time)

I love airshows. It amazes me how a human being can take such great powerful machines and make them fly. I look up to many pilots. Most are full of life, are smart, and skilled. All the pilots I have met all are teaching the importants of safety. Pilots can be great role models. I love older airplanes and airshows help me get the chance to see them fly.

The Col. March 22, 2012 12:38 am (Pacific time)


 Tim King: Are you seriously doing this? You are arguing with Frank Luke's biographer about this?   What shocks me is that you are truly mistaken and unable to withdraw: Rickenbacker "was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover. " Any and all sources will tell you the same thing.  Luke received it first man.

You sir are very wrong as I stated the date's are from the Official CMOH Soceity website which states that then 1st Lt Edward Rickenbacker was award for action on Sept 25 1918, 2ndLt Frank Luke Jr was award the MOH for action on Sept 29 1918. This Luke citation Rank and Organization: Second Lieutenant, 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group. Place and Date: Near Murvaux, France, September 29, 1918. After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by 8 German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames 3 German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing 6 and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest. And now Rickenbackers, For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy near Billy, France, 25 September 1918. While on a voluntary patrol over the lines, 1st Lt. Rickenbacker attacked 7 enemy planes (5 type Fokker, protecting two type Halberstadt). Disregarding the odds against him, he dived on them and shot down one of the Fokkers out of control. He then attacked one of the Halberstadts and sent it down also.

Please noted the date Rickenbacker 25th Luke the 29th unless your say the CMOH Society has it wrong.

The Col. March 21, 2012 8:58 pm (Pacific time)

Hey Tim you might want to recheck your fact but Frank Luke Jr wasn't the first person to receive MOH that would be Private Jacob Parrott.The first to receive the MOH in WWI was Lt Edouard V. M. Izac for action of May 21 1918 and the first person in the Air Service as it was called at the time was 1st Lt Edward V. Rickenbacker for action on Sept 25th 1918 four days before Luke would receive his.

 NO MR. Col., Second-Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr. of Phoenix, Arizona, as I said, was "the WWI Ace, first to receive the Medal of Honor"  Luke was awarded the MOH posthumously.   Rickenbacker was greatly inspired by Frank Luke and Eddie Rickenbacker was the top Ace of the First World War, that honor did not go to Luke. No US aviator was awarded that medal before Luke, I have stood at his grave at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon and the white cross is whiter than others and the letters are gold embossed, because he won the medal of honor and you are insulting an important hero's legacy.

The first airman to earn a Medal of Honor was Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, "the Arizona Balloon Buster". This was during WWI. - check it on Wikianswers or any other source in the world: Who was the first airman to win the medal of honor?

 If you truly care about the story, visit: Book Review: Terror of the Autumn Skies Examines Life of WWI Pilot Frank Luke (VIDEO)Video Book Review by Tim King Salem-News.com

and.. Memories of France on the Anniversary of Armistice or Rememberance Day - Tim King Salem-News.com. 

A real colonel would stand corrected.  You are more than 1000%  out of your league mister, don't misread important basic knowledge like the MOH and Luke and think you can just jerk statements from anywhere and have them stand.  Luke is one of the most important pilots in all of WWI.  He was the father of 'Dawn and Dusk Balloon Strafing' and he was damned good, but he had to put up with a lot of  asshole officers,, hmmm.  You see he was not even qualified to be an officer, technically, he was too young and had forged his papers to get in.  Luke was also a tremendously advanced humanitarian in many respects.

Anyway, he became friends with several notable French pilots and learned that by using the right number of incendiary rounds with the French guns attached to his SPAD, he could start them leaking and then light them up.  The German balloons were hydrogen-filled and they burned brightly and let the doughboys know another observation post from the Germans was going down in flames.  I've interviewed people all over the world about this story, you are trying too hard; too hasty in trying to prove something you can not prove.  

I suggest next time you might want to do a tad more research of your facts. Oh as for all the things you have done great but you still haven't answer my question what FAA Ticket and Low Level Waivers do you have. And FYI Mr. Vlado Lenoch is the real expert in this discussion you might want to google his name.

Tim King: Well I'm glad I had a cordial conversation with him over it, I could tell by the way he approached the subject via email that he was genuine and tactful.  Maybe I will write a story about safety and give all of these points a fair shake, but not because you're citing false data about my hero Frank Luke Jr.. I clearly stated by the way that I am not a pilot, I'm a journalist.    

Mark March 21, 2012 8:34 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. King I'm quite certain I'm more than qualified to respond to your article and quite frankly I have given your article more attention than it deserves. Your qualifications to write about aviation seem to be in direct conflict with your supposed enthusiasm for aviation. I would think with your resume you would find it more constructive and rewarding to write a piece in support of the airshow community who, I may add, would be appreciative of your efforts. Simply put, your article serves no purpose other than to feed fuel to an already confused general public concerning airshow safety. May I suggest you write an article on just how much effort is being made to ensure airshows worldwide are a safe and enjoyable experience. And with that I respectfully rest my case. Sincerely, Mark M

Mark March 21, 2012 5:56 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. King I fear you are bordering on the edge of "yellow journalism" here. It is alarmingly apparent that you have spent too little time on your research and too much time on your conclusions towards this subject. What you obviously fail to see is that by your lack of understanding and knowledge on this subject, you are doing nothing but widening the rift between the 'informed' and the 'uninformed'. I would think and hope that a person in your position would reward your readers with a far more complete, comprehensive and intelligently written piece. It is apparent by your article the lack of respect and journalistic professionalism towards not only the airshow community but the many, many fine folks who spend a lifetime implementing and practicing aviation safety. I would kindly suggest you take some time to visit an airshow pilot and ground personnel safety briefing before your next attempt at a 'professionally' written article concerning anything to do with airshows or aviation in general.
Mark M.

Tim King: Fairly insulting review of my article, I fail to see it, you are reduced to mere accusations of my supposed, lack of understanding 'journalistic professionalism' and that is crap.  I spent many years researching the story of Frank Luke Jr., the WWI Ace, first to receive the Medal of Honor; I interviewed the descendants of the people who were there when he was shot down.  How?  By traveling to Murvaux, France on my own dime a few years ago for that specific purpose. Sadly, none of the groups I approached to help get the documentary off the ground were interested, and that told me a lot about this wonderful community you represent.  In fact I ended up collaborating with Blaine Pardoe, and providing my research on Luke to him for his recent book: 'Terror of the Autumn Skies:The Story of Frank Luke, America's Rogue Ace of World War I' I've flown in the F-16 with the USAF, I produced a PBS documentary about the sole survivor of a B-17 crash in 1943; I've interviewed Tuskegee Airmen and I was the first U.S. reporter to ever cover a Luftwaffe MiG-29 visit to the U.S.  I've flown in a Lear wing-to-wing with a MiG-17 performing maneuvers, I've flown all over Afghanistan as a reporter in CH-47's, Blackhawks, C-130's' and in Iraq I caught a ride in General Petraeus' 'white bird' - I flew with Blackwater in a twin-engine Huey, and I flew with the Marines in the CH-46 and the new V-23 Osprey.  The list goes on; I've photographed historic abandoned MiG's and SU's all over Afghanistan and Iraq.  So don't try to portray me as less than I am, I have done too much and I can't accept that.  I have covered aviation as a reporter since 1990.  Oh, and as a young Marine at MCAS El Toro, year after year we would be there for  the arrival of the Blue Angels, we would watch all of the practice leading up to the annual El Toro Air Show. I think I'm qualified to write about aviation.

Vlado Lenoch March 21, 2012 2:39 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. King: Your thesis is incorrect. You often quote 'rich hobbyists', yet none of your facts support any connection to 'rich'. Actually, most of your examples are of active duty military aircraft. You have no evidence of any of these pilots (including the military) as being 'rich'. I believe your comment is trying to evoke a mainstream nerve ala Rosie O'Donnell. There is no connection in your article to support this. Yours, Vlado Lenoch

Fritz March 21, 2012 11:06 am (Pacific time)

Of course "they kill children indiscriminately"...would you rather they killed children exclusively? Airplanes kill people. So what? Everything that moves kills people once in a while. More Americans die on our highways every year than died during the entire Vietnam War. The automobile is no more necessary than the airplane...human civilization existed for centuries without either of them. (In fact, before the car was invented, the horse was just as likely to kill you) That monitor you are glaring at right now is full of heavy metals that will, inevitably, find their way back into the environment and, in all likelihood, kill somebody. Slowly. Indiscriminately. Death is indiscriminate and inevitable. The only choice we have is how to live. I choose to go to airshows. You don't have to go. I'm happy to honor your choice to sit at home safe and sound. Why won't you permit me the same dignity?

Tim King: So you believe your pursuit of fun is worth placing innocent people at risk, what is the surprise?  It is all a bunch of rich hobbyists in the first place, and don't compare wars and transportation with shows that have all the quality of a circus act, I can't do that.  

Fritz the Fox March 21, 2012 11:05 am (Pacific time)

Of course "they kill children indiscriminately"...would you rather they killed children exclusively? Airplanes kill people. So what? Everything that moves kills people once in a while. More Americans die on our highways every year than died during the entire Vietnam War. The automobile is no more necessary than the airplane...human civilization existed for centuries without either of them. (In fact, before the car was invented, the horse was just as likely to kill you) That monitor you are glaring at right now is full of heavy metals that will, inevitably, find their way back into the environment and, in all likelihood, kill somebody. Slowly. Indiscriminately. Death is indiscriminate and inevitable. The only choice we have is how to live. I choose to go to airshows. You don't have to go. I'm happy to honor your choice to sit at home safe and sound. Why won't you permit me the same dignity?

Tim King: I know you guys enjoy what you do, I know people enjoy the shows, I also know that parents drag their kids to these shows and I think what you do is highly irresponsible.  You want to impress people, many of whom wish to live vicariously through your thrills and spills.  I do see an analogy with the circus though and people who are there to see the guy fall from the trapeze.  How about that crash at El Toro that I reference; a Marine colonel's life totally devastated and how much was that bill to the taxpayers?  Roughly $30 million or so?  Yeah, I think it is a pretty sad.  Also, what really bugs me, is the pathetic notion that the rate of air shows surges during time of war.  What is the plane really for anyway?  Isn't it for transportation?  What does this do with transportation? Nothing. Therefore stop comparing your high-dollar thrills to people driving cars down the road to get to work or whatever.  And for God's sake don't compare your thrill seeking to the actions of my friends who fought in the Vietnam War, that is disrespectful.

Ther Col March 20, 2012 9:06 pm (Pacific time)

Sorry Tim but your not getting it the otehr 51 incedent at RENO was 10+ years ago and beccause of that incedet mind you I ddin't say crash because the plane and pilot got down safetly we learn allot about G-Lock something you and your reader have no idea about I'm guessing. Using aircraft unavoidably dangerous using your word Tim you really have no idea do you may I ask do you own a FAA Ticket how many hours have you been flying do you perform if so what do you have for a ticket. If you answer that you don't have a FAA ticket or FAA Low Level Waver then you really have no right to be discussion something that you are far from an expert from. Oh and just to let you know the #1 event for folks to attend in the USA and Canada are Airshows. And since you have decide to throw out all of these nice numbers and all I wouldlike to point out more folks were killedlast year in Worldwide Airline Accident than all the airshow accident you have post.

racefan March 20, 2012 11:25 am (Pacific time)

AH JEEZ thanks so much for protecting me from myself. I am sure gald someone like you knows whats best for the masses who are obviously a lot less intelligent than you...boy do we need your logic! I was wondering if you would mind coming over and shaving me every morning so I don't nick myself!

Richard Mallory Allnutt March 20, 2012 12:09 pm (Pacific time)

Sir, Your article seems nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to the events at Reno this past year. Most of the incidents you are reporting on involved accident/injury/death only to the aircrew involved, and not to any bistanders. Yes, there have been a few sensational instances where non-participants have been injured/killed, but is it necessary to sterilize all of our activities such that nothing we do can ever harm us or those around us? Come on now... that would be pathetic, and I don't see how you could argue otherwise. We all must take responsibility for our actions, even if that is nothing more than going to watch an air show. We chose to be there, and we accepted the potential risks. I think you will find that more people are drowned in boating accidents in an average day than are killed/injured at airshows in an entire year. Are we to stop allowing people out on the water, in case they get hurt, or hurt someone else? Also, your quote above about fast moving aircraft being seen by many only as "killing children indiscriminately" is utter hyperboly. This could apply to a war zone, perhaps, but they don't hold air shows in war zones. Many, many millions of people enjoy watching aircraft fly all around the world. It is not just a passion, but an obsession for some. Just because you don't enjoy them doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't. You also seem to suggest that all/most air shows are about celebrating militaristic prowess. I can assure you that this is anything but true, having been to many shows where not a single combat aircraft (vintage or current) was in attendance.

The Col March 20, 2012 7:23 am (Pacific time)

First off Tim it wasn't a fool hardy mistake unless you have had the chance to read the final NTSB report which the last time I checked is far from done. Second what happen at RENO has happen before to another P-51 mechanical things break shall I list you all the private aircraft accidents in the same time period. When it comes to flying Airshow are the safest of all avaition yes even better then Airlines but you have decide to make yourself some sort of Airshow Expert which by the way you researched and wrote this article your not even close.

Tim King: Well you make my point better than I could Col., even if you remove human error from the mix, you are still talking about something dangerous toward crowds because of the inherent nature of these planes to just popping rivets and letting go.  In other words, using these planes in air shows is unavoidably dangerous.  In fact I am a little shocked that someone responsible for lives in the air, would be so argumentative over a simple fact: air shows have killed an awful lot of people over the years who didn't deserve to die.  You're spinning tires here Col., I'm afraid I have raised many good points here and you do not convince me to see it differently.  Again, I am not against airplanes, I just think we need to take a hard, close look at this.   

Voice of Reason March 19, 2012 10:26 pm (Pacific time)

I have to agree with the overall point made here, it is a bitter pill and the very notion affects my financial bottom line, but really, what are we doing insulting a journalist and denying the risk to people that airshows bring?

The Col. March 19, 2012 9:01 pm (Pacific time)

Sir you have no idea what your talking about take it from someone who has been part of the airshow scene for over 35 years. The amount of safety that goes into putting on an airshow would make you re-check your numbers. I like the fact that you use Wikki as your source like they are the best out there. But since you have decide to use number shall I put up how many folks were killed Salem Or. that were killed in car accidents in the same time period maybe we should bann and stop driving cars.

Editor: No offense Colonel, I didn't realize large numbers of people gather to watch cars and then get taken out by a single foolhardy mistake,  is that what happens? 

NotSo March 19, 2012 8:54 pm (Pacific time)

The author of this drivel is more proof that Marines have the lowest collective IQ of all the military branches. BTW- The elder Bin Laden did NOT die while flying at an airshow. he fly his ultralight into powerlines during takeoff while visiting the Bush family in Texas to discuss biz dealings...odd you can no longer find the acciedent report on the NTSB website , isn't it? Maybe they have another former Marine maning the site...

Tim King: golly gee Sarge... I dunno, I'm just a dumb Marine right?  That's pretty funny, since the Marines, next to the Air Force, has the highest entrance standards, but then facts get in the way of arguments like yours don't they? 

av8n_exprt September 29, 2011 9:33 am (Pacific time)

"Reno and Martinsburg = 54 air show crashes since 2000 - more than twice the number of the previous decade" is a headline meant to capture the attention of the audience and, statistically speaking, means absolutely nothing. If the flying hours from the previous decade are comparative to the flying hours during and after the year 2000, you might be on to something. I understand you're a writer, and your job is to attain readership; however, base your written word on accurate facts rather than an eye-catching headline.

Also, comparing the Reno races with the many hundreds of air show's held around the country each year is akin to comparing I-95 with Daytona. The only similarity is the fact there are automobiles used in each aspect. All aviation events like air shows and air races are HIGHLY regulated by the FAA in the interest of safety. It's said that aviation regulations are written in blood; and that's about as accurate as it gets! It's sad to say, but potential safety issues are hard to spot unless there's been an incident or accident.

Let me know if you have any issues with what I've said, and I'll be MORE than happy to provide my credentials.

Tim King: I don't want to get into a numbers-based argument, I respect pilots and love airplanes, but the air show notion is just excessive, and it makes light of what fast moving airplanes really mean in the world to most people, they kill children indiscriminately  

Fay Wenger September 23, 2011 2:19 pm (Pacific time)

If you don't have aviation in your blood you won't get it. Our history is shown in great fashion with these aircraft. If you don't like aviation stay away from our airshows/air races. Keep 'em flying!

Anna O'Leary September 21, 2011 3:53 pm (Pacific time)

It should be noted too that Sheikh Salem Bin Laden,head of the famil, died at an air show in Texas while flying an ultra-light. Had he lived his youngr brother would have taken direction from him.....but his death robbed the world of the hand that could steer Osama. His death in Texas was strange, but we are assured it was ''an accident.'

Editor: Anna, that is super interesting, thank you!

pete September 19, 2011 8:33 am (Pacific time)

better stop motor car racing and motore racing oh and what about drag racing also someone hurt on a mountain bike as well better stop that

Tim King: That's not the point.

Susan September 19, 2011 8:43 am (Pacific time)

Think of the millions of taxpayer dollars, and thousands of gallons of fuel saved if military aircraft like the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels were disbanded. They are non-essential, anyway!

Vic September 19, 2011 6:29 am (Pacific time)

Great article ! Airshows have become in my opinion, just another part of the militarization of America. I love old planes tho...!

chuck September 19, 2011 4:04 am (Pacific time)

tim it appears the air show is the perfect way to eliminate the rich and militaristic supporters you are against. why not let matters take care of themselves? many will likely decide on their own not to go any more. it is a personal decision that i will make for myself. you or anyone else will not make it for me!

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