The Stunt Pilot and I

Posted on 01 August 2017 by Charlie Marais

Yes, you heard me right; I want to talk about the stunt pilots. Not the ones you find in the movies, rather the ones performing at air shows and air events throughout the year. The guys and girls that perform abnormal flight manoeuvres. Maybe the abnormal is not quite there, but then it is difficult to describe it as advanced flying as that has its own meaning.

I love an air show. That is where you get to see the latest aircraft pilots want to show off on the ground, some bring new aircraft and events to show off in the air and some pilots show for the first time.

Control of who may fly is very strict. You need to go through quite a few loops before you will be cleared for show flying and believe me, the system works and with proper air safety managers and ramp professionals, the chances of a mishap has diminished considerably. No, not disappeared, just very good risk control.

Not everyone has a crew room. We call our crew room a club or a pub, but when aviators gather, we should talk about the crew room. That is where we socialise and get the stories from the ever present ''there I was'' grey heads.

That is when we start talking about the Harvard formation dam skid operation. The day Scully Levine and his formation boys skidded on the Hartebeespoort Dam to show that they can.

Very spectacular and the flying speaks of high skills levels from all the guys. I mean, formation flying is one thing, to skid on water another, but to combine it is a stunt!

For this reason I would like to talk about stunt flying. Many have criticized this stunt. Many say that this is not what the younger generation must see as they will foolishly follow this and hence poor decision making and poor airmanship is advocated.

On the contrary, when you think about the planning hours that was put in to perform this stunt, if you consider the clearances that were obtained, if we consider the safety precautions that were taken and you consider the band of highly professional pilots, stunt pilots every weekend, that banded together to perform this spectacular stunt, it reeks of professionalism. Yes I am of the opinion that this was not a rouge group of naughty pilots that banded together to pull off a stunt that had a good chance of failure. They planned, trained and went about this in a legal way.

I state clearly that I see this stunt as a stunt that was well performed by a well-trained team of stunt pilots. They were doing what they were trained to do. It took years and many flying hours, very disciplined flying hours in very dangerous circumstances to get to this level of excellence.

We as pilots, no matter if we are in the beginning of our particular careers and weather we are in the senior stages of our career, MUST only do that which we are trained to do. Yes, only what you are trained to do.

If you are a trained stunt pilot, then you will have the opportunity to perform those stunts. If you are a trained Instrument rated pilot with an aircraft that is equipped for instrument flying, you may perform instrument flying. If you have been trained to fly helicopters in the mountains or to catch or dart wild animals, you may do so. I can carry on with the list, but I am sure you get the point.

If you are not trained to do something, then you have no right to do it. Scud running is just another weak excuse to try and say that you are actually not under IFR conditions, but actually also not in VFR conditions. To cheat the definitions to suit yourself is cheating yourself.

You want to brag about the things you are not trained to do and then think I should honour you? You are an asshole. You do not like the language, well I do not care as your clearly disrespectful to yourself behaviour gives me the right to also be disrespectful towards you. And when you die we will all be careful not to say anything to cause hurt. Well, the only reason we are quiet when you die is not out of respect to you, no it is out of respect to the people you left behind for whom you clearly had little respect. They love you and for ever will. They will forgive you and not talk about your arrogance, but the void will be for ever.

Strong words. I know, but what do you want me to say? Consider this; we pick up on average of five or six aircraft per year that just did not clear the ridge, how many then just cleared the ridge? Everyone I ask say that we probably only pick up 10%. If this is true then we have a much bigger problem with discipline in our flying fraternity then we thought.

You cannot blame a lack of skills if you come short in something you were not trained to do. If you are trained to do something and then you come short there may be a case for poor training.

To come short and say that you were not properly trained as you did not have the knowledge is absurd. If you were trained and you then come short due to a lack of knowledge, there is a case to be made.

Your way of behaviour is your decision what and how to do things. If you were not trained and you had no knowledge then you had no right to do it. If you do, your attitude sucks. When you have the knowledge of what you may not do and you do it, it is a transgression and according to the Just Culture protocols, you are guilty and MUST be punished. A bad attitude is a direct indication of bad discipline. The word ''sorry'' has no relevance after you knowingly and willingly acted against the SOP's. A sorry never brings the speeding fine down, you settle your transgression by paying. Sometimes we pay with our lives. The sad thing is even tough we did not intend, we take others with us. Driving 160 in a 60 zone is probably more about the danger you put the others in than the danger you put yourself in. You have the right to put yourself into danger, but it is criminal to willingly do so with innocent others. This must be punished. But when you are gone only those left behind is punished. Is this not ironic?

I pledge to conduct myself within the bounds of my knowledge and skills. I pledge to seek proper training in any aspect before I act in such aspect. I pledge to never expose innocent others to situation of my doing things I have not been trained to do. The respect I have for myself is evident through my careful following of SOP,s. The respect I have for others is evident in my conduct within my field of expertise. My respect for the creation is evident how I interface with the environment of weather conditions. My respect for the Creator is evident through the total sum of my other respects shown.

It may be easy to have an opinion when you are around and when you have no accountability. When you are gone, you lost your opinion and accountability has no relevance, except when your loved ones do not have the pleasure of the fruits of your labour. Some legal guy managed to sue your estate to a tragic pulp.

Come on guys and girls, we need to do what is right. We are well taught and therefore we know. If you know that you were not taught well and as such are flying on borrowed time, do something. But to shy away because you are scared of hard work or admitting your skills shortage is only your own ego-protecting mechanism. The one who knows and takes steps to correct the shortcomings is a hero. Professionals know this; fools, well fools are just that.

Flight Safety is not a topic, it is an action, an attitude and intended to neutralise the cause, thus getting rid of the effect.