Yesterday, at the Thunder over Solano Airshow, a 77-year-old pilot was killed during the finale of his performance. Flying a Boeing Stearman biplane, Eddie Andreini intended to invert, then pass low over the runway, and cut a ribbon held across the runway by standing personnel. News reports indicate he had aborted two attempts and then, on the fatal third attempt, he impacted the ground while inverted.
Mr. Andreini was an accomplished pilot based in Half Moon Bay, CA. He had thirty years of air show performance experience. According to Colonel David Mott, with the 60th Operations Group at Travis Air Force Base, winds were 10 to 15 knots, gusty at times. Tens of thousands stood in the sun and watched the tragedy unfold. Many were shocked and silenced; some became upset later in what was perceived to be a very slow rescue response. For example, one citizen with a digital camera took shots indicating two-and-a-half minutes passed before the first fire extinguisher arrived, and five-minutes total passed before actual rescue crews arrived.
Airshow fatalities are becoming far too regular. Last year, it happened at the airshow in Dayton, OH. In fact, it was the same scenario. An inverted biplane, but with a pilot and a harnessed wing-walker. Both died in a fiery crash. That airshow crash was a déjà vu moment for me. It reminded me of the fatality I saw in 1997, while working at a control tower near Denver. And, it crystallized in my small mind: I do not like airshows.
Aviation as a Measure of Humanity’s Progress
When you look at the engineering and the speed and the power, Aviation is potentially a true high mark for human achievement. A point of pride. To think we dreamt this up, created it, developed it, and refined it into a system that has so much potential to serve so many people. To make the world a better place for our grandchildren. And, yet, we continue to scar this incredible accomplishment — and reaffirm our collective stupidity — by misusing aircraft to entertain the crowds with feats such as low-altitude inverted flight. When tragedy then happens, thousands are exposed to how badly aviation can fail. Why has this not changed?
The very agency with the unquestioned authority to stop this is the FAA. Airshows have a rigorous permit process, wherein the maneuvers are clearly defined by the applicant, then signed-off by FAA officials. If a pilot flies inverted to cut a ribbon at ground level, that maneuver was approved by FAA. But here’s where it gets to be disturbing. This agency will chase a hobbyist with a 3-pound drone and slap him with a quasi-legal action, and threaten the same against thousands of other RC hobbyists. Communities are paralyzed to address noise complaints, or have no choice but to reject building plans, because cities and counties all routinely defer to this agency to call all the shots. FAA Whistleblowers — and their families — see their life and liberty arbitrarily destroyed because this agency will not tolerate those within who question authority or who speak up about waste, fraud and abuse. This agency expends an extraordinary stock of resources to hide controller errors, block the release of safety information, obstruct Congress’ FOIA laws, delay responsive and responsible actions, hound its Whistleblowers, and otherwise impede citizen participation.
If ANYTHING happens in U.S. aviation, the vast majority of us wants (and needs) to believe that FAA is on top of it, and no system failures can or will repeat. Even in the latest example, at Thunder over Solano, all the news stories refer to FAA and other safety agencies, as if they deserve great respect. And, yet, this agency continues to fail: FAA only has to say ‘No’, to put a stop to fatal, too-low-to-be-inverted airshow flying. Why has this not changed?