In the last issue of Ops Bull, we talked about professionalism and, specifically, how increased professionalism will produce improved safety as an unavoidable consequence. In the next several issues of Ops Bull, we’ll discuss air show performer professionalism in a bit more detail, beginning with a brief discussion on why every air show performer should have a low show sequence that he/she can fly if and when circumstances require it.
It turns out that it does, in fact, sometimes rain in southern California…and central New Hampshire and south central Georgia and southwest Ontario. And, when the ceilings come down, the air show will generally still go on. As the air boss, regulatory officials, and show management struggle to decide whether or not to continue the show, ICAS hopes that they will always err on the side of safety. But in locations throughout North America, there will come a time on a couple of dozen weekends each year when a show official will turn to the pilots and ask, “Are you good to go with 3,000 foot ceilings and five miles of visibility?” This is completely predictable. We don’t know which shows will be impacted, but we know for an absolute certainty that it will happen at a certain number of shows each year.
Every air show pilot in North America should recognize the likelihood that they will someday be asked to fly in less-than-ideal conditions and be prepared to do the right thing. That may mean standing down and there is no shame in that. It may mean going with Plan B, the low show…the sequence specifically designed to be flown under poor weather conditions with minimal vertical components, fewer aerobatics and safety margins developed with an understanding that the maneuvers will likely be flown during imperfect circumstances…a show that has been thoughtfully designed and practiced many weeks or months before the ceilings unexpectedly descend.
Too often, though, performers in our business have gone with Plan C…an ad-libbed low show that has not been deliberately designed, practiced or even thought about until the morning of the show. This is dangerous and has been the cause of several accidents, incidents and close calls during the last several years.
There are pilots out there who will say, “Well, I won’t fly if the ceilings are below x thousand feet.” And perhaps that is true. But history tells us that the emotion of the moment will overcome that fair-weather resolution. When the veteran pilots in the room are asked if they can fly with low ceilings and they all say yes because they have arrived at the show site with a low show option in their air show performer tool box, experience tells us that the pilot without that low show in his tool box will also say yes, worried about looking bad in front of his peers.
At its root, this is a question of professionalism. An air show pilot who commits to fly at an air show without the ability to fly a pre-planned and previously practiced low show if the need arises is an amateur…and a dangerous amateur at that. If that includes you, we encourage you to stand down immediately and commit yourself to developing and practicing a low show before you perform in your next show. That process may not be easy; veteran performers indicate that a good, safe low show may take months or even years to develop.
And if you are an event organizer or air boss responsible for vetting performers for a show, make sure that you ask the low show question. A performer without one should not be invited to perform at your event.
(Note: Contributing factors to the air show accident in Davenport, Iowa last weekend are still under investigation. This Ops Bull item was written some time ago and is not intended to suggest that weather played a part in the accident involving Glenn Smith and the Hopper Flight Team.)