Watch this

April 9, 2011 by Tim McAdams

Two helicopter pilots were flying together and talking over an air-to-air frequency. One of the pilots observed the other (operating as Sky 6) start a descent, which he estimated at a 15 degrees nose-down. The pilot then observed Sky 6’s nose pitch up to about 70 degrees. The helicopter yawed to the left, held there and appeared to be sliding backwards. The nose started to pitch down and the tail boom separated. The helicopter descended and collided with the terrain. Sky 6’s final transmission was “watch this.”  

Two helicopter pilots for different local television stations told the NTSB the Sky 6 pilot’s flying was overly aggressive and showy. One cameraman told investigators that two days before the accident he was standing in the main editing area at the TV station when the cameraman involved in the accident stated he would be flying with the pilot. According to this cameraman, the other was concerned about flying with that pilot because he was an overly aggressive pilot. Many pilots and instructors at the airport where Sky 6 was based commented on the pilot’s continuous and extremely ostentatious maneuvering. One instructor stated in an interview that the scuttlebutt around the airport was that the pilot had rolled or inverted Sky 6. 

FAA records indicated that the pilot had been found guilty and convicted in federal district court in northern Florida of conspiracy to import and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 220 lb. (100 kg.) of marijuana involving the use of an aircraft, and he was sentenced to federal prison in Atlanta. All previous airman certificates held by the pilot at the time of the conviction were revoked. Prior to the accident, he had received his certificates back.  

I was in a college class of about 30 people waiting for the instructor to show up. He arrived about 15 min. late, apologized, and proceeded to tell us about the nightmare drivers that caused his delay. A discussion ensued, with just about everyone in the class adding their experience with bad drivers. The general agreement was that most people are bad drivers. Now I was thinking, based on that, “More than half the people in this class are bad drivers. Yet not one person admitted being the type of driver everyone was complaining about. It was clear to me that people are quick to point out bad behavior in others, but not themselves.  

All this makes me wonder at what point is it appropriate for passengers, management or peers who observe dangerous behavior to intervene?

  • nj

    wow now this is what we don’t need in the helicopter industry…What company would hire a pilot that was found guilty and convicted of conspiracy to import and conspiracy to possess more than 220 lbs of marijuana???!

  • Rodrop

    I agree with your observation that we all complain about bad drivers and sometimes even not so great pilots…but none of us recognize our faults/flaws in the same areas. Nice article.

  • Hugh

    I’ve got 4200 helicopter hours, am a CFII HELO with 22 years in the USMC with 100 combat sorties under my belt and can’t find a job and a news company, presumably, a large one, hires a convict? Someone please tell me how that happened.

  • Mark

    “Watch this”. Famous last words. As far as hot dogging goes,
    I know of FFA designated examiners who do this sort of thing.
    Maybe our system needs overhauling!

  • Ehud Gavron

    The NTSB has revised their database query format. This link gets the PDF to the factual report:

    If you read the quotes from the interviewed people, it is clear that this was the end of a pattern of taking the aircraft to (and eventually past) its limits.

    To respond directly to Tim’s question,
    PASSENGERS: They have no role in determining what is safe or appropriate. They can only say what they are individually comfortable, and vote with their pocketbooks as to never fly with that guy again or complain to his management.

    PEERS: Absolutely have a responsibility to at least talk to the guy and say “Hey, you’re endangering yourself and pax. Sure, it’s fun, I’d love to do it to… be more careful.” If he doesn’t respond well, complain to his management.

    MANAGEMENT: Obviously have a responsibility to talk to the guy as well. Clearly (based on the NTSB report) they were happy that his flying style got him lower and quicker to the news than the other guys.

    ULTIMATELY the PIC is the final decision maker. Here was a guy who was willing to ‘do what it takes’ and perhaps more to make his company happy, get the best shots for his camera crew, and be first on the scene. This is where training “Tell the customer no if it’s not safe” and real world “Gotta keep the job and make the customer happy” meet.

    I’m sorry for the loss of life and another helicopter.


  • Avi Weiss

    To answer the question directly as well: Any time it is observed, and even more so if it is observed repeatedly.

    The Sky 6 story has circulated for years and has served as an all-too-appropriate cautionary tale of how repetitive egregious flying behavior will likely come to grief, and the implied question of “why didn’t someone from the local aviation community do something?”

    Ehud’s list above is a nicely categorized listing of the multiple possible intervention sources, and the appropriate actions they can take, especially in the “management” and “peers” area. As a last resort, if those who are empowered and entitled to speak directly to the pilot and or their management are reluctant to do so, a call to the ASO at the local FSDO might be in order if the situation calls for it, as it certainly did in the Sky 6 situation.

    Without sounding too “Pollyanna” about it, we are a small community, and we live under great scrutiny and safety should be everyone’s primary responsibility. Sometimes that means raising awareness when others practices step over the line.

  • Fred Longhi

    Why did the FAA reinstate his pilot’s certificate?? When will we get serious about drug violations??!! Doesn’t that conviction say something about his Decision Making Skills??

  • Jerry

    two points: 1. There will always be people like this who exceed safe limits and try to hot dog with no regard for the safety of others and 2. I’ve done a lot of traveling in other countries and I would disagree with the comment 1 out of 2 people are bad drivers in this country. My experience is just the opposite, I would say that number is much less, less than 10%. Regarding bad pilots, I’ve seen video of a pilot over banking a B52 at low altitude and killing himself and all the crew, a Mohawk pilot doing aerobatics in front of his son close to the ground and killing himself, a pilot in a small biplane doing excessive aerobatics and ripping fabric from the plane. These people have no regard for the safety of others and are a menace to society.

  • Rick

    I got the points that (I assume) the author was trying to make in this short article but am left wondering if this piece was seen by an editor or at least one other set of eyes? The writing seems well beneath the level of quality one has come to expect from AOPA publications. This one could have been saved by an editor!

  • No One

    So quick to rush to judgment. Does anyone say “He was a great pilot- He just screwed it that day”? Those people don’t get interviewed. If a well-known airshow pilot plows into the runway and gets hurt, how many people say “Why didn’t somebody do something?” If the subject pilot had over 30 years of flying experience and in excess of 20,000 hours, would Pollyanna types still be saying he was an accident waiting to happen? Probably.The hypocrisy makes me puke.

    Can the -600 be rolled? Yes. Should it be flown aggressively when the passenger specifically stated to the pilot that it was not acceptable? NO!!! And THAT is what should be judged here. Not the scuttle-butt BS from the hangar’s porch monkeys.

    For those who shout “Call the FAA!”- It makes a great sound-bite, but the realities are much more complex. There some mighty fine folks at the FAA, but there are also some who give the branch a bad name. Let the FAA come after you, and then you will think differently, especially after paying thousands of dollars to lawyers to prove you were right. Why did the FAA re-instate the subject pilot’s certs? Because the FAA’s rulebook says that’s how it is done. How many on this board are rehabilitation experts?

    Judge not lest you be judged.

  • Alan D. Resnicke

    Having flown a variety of USAF helicopters, I’m both aghast and ashamed at the Sky 6 situation. However, “there but for the grace of God go I.” I recall once in my 2400 hrs. saying “watch this” as I had an HH-53 full of ROTC cadets in the back and wanted to give them a good show. Over a calm lake far from base I whipped the -53 into a low-level, tight 360 over the water… the g-load bringing several cadets to their knees in the cabin and leaving an impressive rooster tail on the water. But for luck (I was still developing my skill) the blades stayed out of the water and nobody got hurt. Another crew tried this years later and stuck a blade in the water. Of course, the rest of the helicopter followed.

    I scared myself straight that day and didn’t need anyone to tell me my judgement was askew. Sky 6 apparently didn’t self-correct – and apparently nobody stepped in to do so manually. “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” – Jim Horning. How true!

  • Brian

    No One Says makes some good points. Looks to me like management and peers may have dropped the ball. Don’t blame the FAA (or the FFA, for that matter); this was a situation begging for a solution from our industry. We were found lacking. Similar situations are described on

  • http://none YABEWarren Smith

    I think the bottom line in this accident was FUI [flying under the influence.] I am on OLD pilot [87] and have seen nearly everything. The fact that literally tons of dope come into this country on a regular basis tells me what’s wrong with our country today! [There’s a lot of folks using it in EVERY walk of life] -The SKY 6 pilot was a known user and that should have ended his flying career, period!

  • Cubby Bear

    On the statement of “1 out of 2 drivers are BAD drivers”.
    This is true when you consider every minute of their driving life. At one time or another, each of us can and are bad drivers. But to include a few minutes of being a “bad driver” in the course of ones life is just using statistics to prove your point. And as the saying goes, “There are lies, d*mn lies and statistics.” As NO ONE SAYS mentioned above, “judge not lest you be judged”.

    As for myself, I intend on being an OLD pilot. I have read to many stories about BOLD pilots.

  • Mick

    Company’s do not do the proper background checks. In fact, the company relies on the intent to do the background checks, so applicants will most likely submit truethful information. An example is: A retail store displaying “dummy” camras, advertising video servailance to reduce the likelyhood of a theft attempt and although there may be a few camras actually recording, the consumer wouldn’t know which one is active and which one is a “dummy”.

  • Phil

    A couple of years ago a pilot at my home field was violating just about every FAA rule he could. This behavior had to stop but I was reluctant to call in the FAA. I went to the airport manager first and he took care of the problem, knowing that if he didn’t the FAA would!

  • Steve

    You do realize this occurred 11 years ago?

  • CFII2B

    Are you saying there were bad drivers 11yrs. ago?

    The obvious fact here is bad drivers shouldn’t be allowed to be bad pilots.
    Bad habits tend to perpetuate when rectification is negated.
    Risk assessment is a fundamental function of safe appropriate piloting.
    Unfortunately some will assume their skill level has increased from the (watch this scenario/ I’m good) risky decision techniques they were told to avoid during their initial training.

    We know the IMSAFE mnemonic and should evaluate ourselves as decisive competent pilots prior.
    When a drug induced /altered mind is noncompliant (yes Alcohol included) risk assessment becomes negligible and trying to impress others of how good we are is crucial.

    I think maybe the next tech advancement should have a TCAS that denotes “BAD Pilot, -1000ft 3 O clock and getting closer”

    If you’re going to be a bad driver please let me know what roads you’re traveling
    If you’re going to be a bad pilot, please tell where you are flying so I can be sure to avoid that area.

  • Get Real

    Police ourselves? When is the last time YOU said anything to anybody about something/behavior you disapproved of? If your lucky, you get a hateful look. If you are less than lucky, you will lose a friend forever or get punched in the nose! As a CFI since 1982, I have been constantly amazed at what the general aviation community, the AOPA, and the FAA expects me to act on during my exercise of my flight privilege. Firstly, I don’t get one red cent from even noticing all of the bad behavior. Why am I supposed to be the goodwill flying ambassador? Secondly, I have attended Wings Weekends where I, the CFI who is donating his time to anyone who requests it, spoke to an FAA rep, who I assume is paid to be there, about obseerved and obvious right of way violations in the traffic pattern. (the FAA rep was standing in the doorway of the hangar with a perfect view of the pattern)
    This paid rep barely raised an eyebrow to say, “yeah, that happens a lot at these things.” So . . . watch me stick my neck out to prevent what? The POSSIBLE accident that MAY kill someone. My advice to fellow instructors, and all aviators is: if you have something helpful and constructive to contribute, then do so. If not MYOB!!!

  • Ehud Gavron

    @Get-Real. I’m a low time pilot (3 years). As a newbie, I’m self-critical of _ALL_ the things I do wrong. I’m also dispassionate about it. When I read your note what I read is passion and anger. I also read “MYOB!!!” in the same light.

    When I do my preflight, I check _everything_ even if I was the last pilot to fly it, and even if I personally know it has not moved from where I set it down. If there is a discrepancy, I _ALWAYS_ report it. The same goes for when Tower says stupid things, or when another pilot does stupid things, or when there is a POTENTIAL for SOMEONE at SOME FUTURE TIME to think there was an issue.

    The “book” line:
    As my head CFI Laura told me “There’s no penalty for filing a report. There is a penalty for failing to file one.”

    My take:
    If your friend is flying hot dog, talk to him. If you’re going to lose a friend because he won’t listen or hates what you say, despite it seeming Mrs. Garrett advice… he’s not your friend. AFTER talking to him in person, if he keeps doing it, NTSB or FAA. After that, hope he kills nobody but himself, and mourn the loss of one more rotorcraft because YOU did what you could.

    I’ll mind my own business. You mind your own business. We’ll all get along.

    Not to make it personal, but just to cover the “MYOB!!!” part of the message…

    If you ever threaten the safety of my life, my friends’ lives, or the safety of the industry in general, you’ve made it MY business, and you can be sure I’ll mind it.


    Tucson AZ

  • Alex Kovnat

    Here’s one way to discourage dangerous “watch this” flying stunts:

    Equip all aircraft flown on behalf of someone else, i.e. all news helicopters, all medical flight (“lifeguard”) helicopters, all commercial fixed wing aircraft, all business jets, etc., with flight recorders. If any pilot subjects an aircraft to more g’s at any given airspeed than its authorized flight envelope allows, send the aircraft to a repair shop for inspection and maintenance and then send the bill for inspection and repairs, to the pilot for him or her to pay.

    One wonders if some pilots don’t realize that if one overstresses an aircraft, just because it didn’t crash doesn’t mean you have gotten away with anything. Jack Dempsey, the well known heavyweight champ, once wrote that in boxing, when someone is killed in the ring, it was the fights before the fatal fight that did the damage. The fatal flight merely capped off an already-bad situation with the poor guy’s brain. I see an analogy with aircraft. If an aircraft is repeatedly overstressed, like the pressurization-related fatigue problem with the 1952-1954 era British Comets, you are likely to have a failure. One wonders how many fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft have come to grief because of pilots who are fond of “watch this” high-g stunts.

  • vintage watches

    Heya i am for any principal occasion below. I discovered that panel i to seek out It helpful & them helped me to away significantly. I am hoping to offer anything back plus assist some others such as you reduced the problem.