Inside an AOPA photo shoot

April 8, 2010 by Alyssa J. Miller

We might be divided into Team Orville and Team Wilbur for the Road and Runway Rally, but Ian Twombly and I paired up this week to fly the Remos for a photo shoot to promote the event.

We flew from AOPA headquarters in Frederick to nearby Hagerstown, Md. where the air traffic controller had agreed to let us do low passes and drive the Smart car on the runway for a photo shoot.

After flying in, we parted ways. Ian stayed in the Remos and I hopped in the Smart car so that AOPA photographer Chris Rose could video and photograph a high-speed taxi in the Remos, a low pass over the Smart car, and the Smart car’s handling characteristics.

We’ll give you a peek at the video in ePilot this week, but for now, take a look out our prize shot from the photo shoot!

Road + Runway Rally photo shoot

Road + Runway Rally photo shoot

Guest blogger Alyssa J. Miller, a commercial- and instrument-rated pilot, is one-half of Team Orville in the upcoming Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally.–Jill W. Tallman

18 Responses to “Inside an AOPA photo shoot”

  1. Ramsey Says:

    Hope you enjoy the Smart Car … a very “Smart” car …. I have one and love it … and a P28R200 …
    Good trip

  2. Claire K. Says:

    Awesome! Hope it was as fun as it looked! The weather doesn’t look too shabby either!

  3. Denny Says:

    I understand that the air traffic controller gave permission for the low pass, and I understand that he gave permission for the Smart car to drive down the runway; both of those things are within his purview. However, the controller doesn’t have the authority to waive 91.119, in particular the part that says, “…the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.”

    So, was the Remos always at least 500′ from the Smart Car (and just looks closer to the photo perspective)? If not, then I hope the local FSDO signed off on a “Certificate of Waiver or Authorization” for the photo shoot.

    If they didn’t, I’d suggest the pilot of the Remos file a NASA form immediately– although it may not do much good, since the violation would probably be determined to be intentional.

  4. Tom Porterfield Says:

    Well, Denny,
    The regs also state that those distances are null and void during takeoff and landing operations. There are a lot of houses, people, vessels, vehicles, and structures that are closer than 500 feet to some runways. Especially in some congested areas, where suburbia has met airport, and on a hot summer day it is impossible for some aircraft to be 500 ft above the houses at the end of the runway, where there are people, vehicles, vessels, and of course structures.

    Great shot of the Remos over the smart car. I hope it was within 15 or 20 feet as the picture suggests.


  5. Roland D. Says:

    Interesting comment that Denny makes. It might even be considered congested area around an airport so that means the distance has to be 1000′ above the highest obstacle within 2000′ horizontally.

    However, it could be argued that the first sentence of 91.119 “Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:” could apply in this case. Isn’t the airplane in the process of taking off or landing when conducting a low pass?

  6. Bill T Says:

    Awe, Denny…

    Like taxiing aircraft holding at the active before crossing when othe aircraft are landing or taking off, the tractor mowing the grass along the runway or the maintenance truck crossing the runway, I think “all bets are off” when flying down the runway making a low pass, taking off or landing. Certainly someone (air traffic controller?) has the authority to make those calls.

    It’s an awesome shot worthy of publication to promote a great idea. Thanks Jill, Ian and photo team!


  7. Denny Says:

    Taking off or landing, yes. Low passes, no– if the intent is to make a low pass, then, by definition, there is no intent to land and the exception does not apply. That’s not my interpretation, that’s policy within the FAA (where I worked for 25 years. Someone DOES have the authority to make those calls, and they have, in multiple cases– but it’s not the air traffic controller, it’s the FSDO inspector.

    In my present vocation as an air show air boss, I deal with this sort of thing all the time. On one show, I had a P51 Mustang arriving on the day before the show, he asked the controllers for a couple of passes and they were approved. He made two, perfectly safe, passes about 100 feet above the runway– but well within 500′ of airplanes on the taxiways near the runway.

    When confronted by the FSDO inspector who was on site preparing for the next day’s air show, the pilot claimed “as necessary for takeoff or landing”, and the IIC replied, “Oh, you were planning to land at 300 knots with flaps and gear up?” The pilot then countered with, “I had a problem with the gear and had to go-around.” That didn’t fly either, It went downhill from there, and the pliot ended up not only not flying my show, he ended up taking a suspension and a 709 ride.

    I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that’s the way it is. If I were the pilot involved in this Remos flight, I’d make sure the video never sees the light of day– if there are any shots that make the “perspective” argument moot, and the wrong FSDO inspector sees it, bad things may happen.

  8. Denny Says:

    One more thing– the controller could get in hot water over this, as well. According to the 7110.65, he’s supposed to have a clear runway for low approaches, with the following exception:


    A low approach with an altitude restriction of not less than 500 feet above the airport may be authorized except over an aircraft in takeoff position or a departure aircraft. Do not clear aircraft for restricted altitude low approaches over personnel unless airport authorities have advised these personnel that the approaches will be conducted. Advise the approaching aircraft of the location of applicable ground traffic, personnel, or equipment.”

    IOW, 500 feet is his minimum, too.

    All this is moot if they had a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization, of course– I just hope they did.

  9. Ernie Says:

    And we wonder why relationships with our regulators can be adversarial… Great shot. The AOPA has a great legal plan if necessary.

  10. Tom Paur Says:

    And we actually pay hordes & hordes of these people to “serve” us like this. Slow down a little & they’ll serve you twice.

  11. Terry Welles Says:

    I”ll bet Denny voted for obama. Go fly and drive, be safe and have fun

  12. TBD Says:

    I certainly do not understand why the P-51 pilot was grounded and then disciplined. According to Denny he was provided a clearance by ATC. Are pilots really expected to know the details of who in the FAA has precisely what authority? We are not entitled to rely on an ATC clearance? I would like Denny to provide the docket number of the case or some other proof because I am finding it very difficult to believe. If he is right we may just as well all give up flying unless we are willing to research the regs ourselves for every possible contingency where we might get a clearance from ATC that they don’t have authority to give.

  13. Robert Says:

    Denny makes a very good point. If a couple of ramp monkeys tried this they’d be in very hot water. Anyone that has had dealings with FAA knows that they take all the regs very seriously (no matter how trivial they seem). After all that’s one of their main purposes for existence. This is just the kind of hair splitting that gets them excited.

  14. Controller Says:

    Leave the controller out of this. I have great reason to believe, having been there many times, that this was taken at FDK airport. No tower, no controllers. Also, strict interpretation would make every approach to a low approach, including those in an FAA checkride, illegal.

  15. Denny Says:

    Listen, I’m just a guy with a bit of experience in this type of thing, and I’ve seen a lot of crap roll downhill over the years– and I’d like to see the pilot of the Remos avoid being run over by any of it. No need to take my word on this– call any FSDO, ask them what they think about the legality of flying a low approach over the top of an occupied vehicle as it drives down the runway.

    The FAR’s say what they do, and there’s plenty of case law that shows there’s no exception for low approaches. FSDO inspectors have been known to rigidly enforce these regs, especially in cases where they have irrefutable proof of a violation– like photos and video. Does that mean they’ll file a violation here? Not necessarily, it’s up to the individual inspector, and perhaps AOPA’s relationship with the local FSDO is such that this will easily slip under their radar.

    But when details of a violation are posted in public forums, including the information that the shoot took place at “… nearby Hagerstown, Md. where the air traffic controller had agreed to let us do low passes and drive the Smart car on the runway…”, red flags start flying. Some moron ATC supervisor gets wind of that, he starts pulling tapes to see if his controller bears any culpability. If that happens, remember what I said about crap rolling downhill– and the pilot of the Remos may want to put on a helmet.

    I don’t know why some folks feel he need to shoot the messenger, but that doesn’t change the fact that evidence of the violation– such as photos or video.

    Those that doubt this could escalate into a problem, feel free to ignore my advicePlease, don’t take my word for it– call your local FSDO, ask them. My only point in mentioning it is to give the pilot of the Remos a heads-up that there may be ramifications to posting the video of the shoot. If there was no Certificate of Waiver in place for this shoot, get one now– all it takes it filling out some paperwork and a short discussion with a FSDO IIC. a form. photo we’ve already seen, and a video could seal the deal. Certificates of Waiver or Authorization are easy to get, so maybe he had one; if not, get one now, you wouldn’t even have to shoot the photos again, just claim that he hadn’t though about. I’ve been doing this a long time, ,te to the docket number of the case I mentioned or any other– the pilots that found themselves in these sorts of legal entanglements were happy to out it behind with them, and Iembarrassed enough at the time, I’m certainly not going to drag them through the whole ugly mess again. But for those that doubt, there’s a simple answer– call your local FSDO, pose the situation to them as a hypothetical, ask if you’d be breaking any FAR’s.

    I have no idea why some of you seem to want to shoot the messenger on this, I guess that’s just the nature of the internet. But the fact is that pilots do routinely

    But, please, don’t be

  16. Denny Says:

    Hmm, wish there was an edit option here– the last half of the post above was meant to be edited out!

    Oh, well, the gist is there: as senseless as it may seem, without a waiver, it IS illegal, and sometimes the feds don’t take it lightly. Y’all be careful, I’m outta here.

  17. Robert Says:

    a “low approach only” flight procedure is technically a preapproved aborted landing with a missed approach procedure tacked on. Nothing like what was done on the photo shoot where the intention was to overfly a car on the runway at a low altitude. In regard to knowing the specific regulations, the answer is yes, as PIC you are expected (and required by regulation) to know all regulations and flight conditions affecting your flight. It should be noted that the FAA is not really a democratic institution governed by modern laws of jurisprudence. It’s a government regulatory agency that both makes it’s own rules and interperates them.

  18. KD Says:

    pilots….thanks for the awesome shot AOPA.

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