What was he thinking? – Part II

February 9, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

Given the size and diversity of the GA pilot population, I guess we should expect to see some really dumb decisions periodically. An incident that occurred a few months ago near Las Vegas got me thinking about how little some people think.

A Piper Cherokee buzzed a car on a country road, but the pilot misjudged the altitude and hit the roof of the car. The left main gear broke out the car’s front and rear windows before separating from the aircraft. The driver, who suffered non-life threatening injuries and was known to the pilot, had to be cut out of the vehicle.

The aircraft subsequently landed in a field where the pilot likely had some “‘splaining” to do with local law enforcement and ultimately to the FAA. Everyone knows that FAR 91.119 requires aircraft to be at least 500 feet away from a person, place, or thing in uncongested area, but apparently his depth perception was a mite off.

The Air Safety Institute produced a couple of Pilot Safety Announcements (PSAs) to address just such a situation but I guess this pilot didn’t get to see them. These antics are expensive, dangerous, and don’t exactly endear us to the public, many of whom would be quite happy to see GA grounded.

If you know a fellow pilot who’s a few bricks short of a full load on making these types of decisions, PLEASE send him the links. A few more sobering thoughts: Aside from the obvious one of death and dismemberment, aircraft insurance will either be exceedingly expensive or impossible to get after this. Anyone with professional flight aspirations can fuggedaboutit. There are too many qualified candidates with good judgment available.

As for the Cherokee pilot, what excuse do you think might work to get him off the hook, other than “It seemed like a good idea at the time?”

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Philip

    He wasn’t…

  • Greg

    Really, flip responses aside, what mental gymnastics occurs that could possibly give the offender the impression that this stunt would have a positive outcome? Fascinating!

  • John

    Nothing should work. Yank his ticket permanently. Period. That isn’t just stupid, it is criminally stupid. Any idiot can be taught to fly an airplane, and this one proves it.

  • Nate

    I know what was on his mind…”watch this”.

  • http://www.outbackpatrol.com.au Les Nixon

    Extended Insanity

  • jimmy

    As a former pipeline/ air-show/ and cable line pilot, I can see that this individual was out to show his buddy the art of a skill he did not possess, and I am sure that this individual is regretting a decision made without thinking of safety to others as well as himself. I see a 609 ride, and some training in the future for this pilot.

  • John Townsley

    Any chance you could post a link to the police report, FAA report, photos of the car/aircraft? This is useful material for hangar flying, and for formal safety sessions.

    This candidate for the Darwin Award was smiled upon by fate. Too bad the aircraft likely wound up in the salvage yard. It’s hard to argue with previous posts that the pilot would best serve aviation as a great “FORMER” pilot.

  • http://www.aopa.org/asf Bruce Landsberg


    We’ll take a look for photos but these things have a way of not getting into the publicly available files. As for the safety sessions/seminars feel free to use the PSAs ASI has posted.

  • Sam Ferguson

    IMHO people do things (such as flying) because they have a love and passion for it, or because they seek recognition, appreciation, and/or respect for it. Again, IMHO these “thrill-seekers”, which come in all shape in sizes, and different professions, are less than professional highly insecure individuals that are a menace to themselves and those around them. I highly suggest the individual get counseling/therapy else he/she just find another way to self destruct.

  • Gerard

    I had to look up what IMHO was….. Anyway IMHO, any pilot who demonstrates such reckless disregard needs to be grounded permanently, no exceptions. I also counter that if you know someone like this, forgo suggesting ASF videos and just report them. There is already way too much pressure on GA.

  • J. R. Bridges II

    First, pilots like this should have their ticket revoked permanently.
    Second I have seen student pilots who have demostrated this type of behavoir during training and still get a sign off for a check ride. Even the biggest IDIOT in the world is not going to demonstrate this type of behavior to a examinor or Designated examinor. The only way to stop the issuance of a certificate to some who shows this personality to begin with is for CFI’s to refuse to give them a sign off for the check ride to begin with. Admittedly you wont stop all from getting through but you will stop some.
    Third, pilots who get exposed to this type of pilot shoud make a report to the FAA. Dont worry about losing a friend, just think about the lives you may be saving.

  • N Lynn Thoma

    Aw rats, now I have to look up IMHO…
    An excuse that might work?
    Ah yes, here it is…”There was a huge tumor pressing on my brain. Here are the X-rays, cat-scans and other medical reports.”
    Otherwise, I agree with John.

  • Jfeet

    Ground him for life and he should count himself very, very fortunate.

  • Bendrix Bailey

    HI Bruce,

    Nice message. Sadly, the pilots who need the advice don’t subscribe to the sources of wise counsel. They don’t listen to other pilots either.

    Years ago I tried being a voice of safety on the COPA board and got reamed for it. Specifically, I recall one long exchange of posts regarding buzzing a lake (with a Cirrus) at high speed with no possible way to land safely. It was an ugly series of posts. There have been other issues along the same vein such as flying IFR without a clearance because “with TCAS you don’t need ATC to keep you separated” and other such unwise and rogue flight practices.

    I gave up. I don’t post anymore and I don’t counsel anymore. I take pictures and make recordings when it happens within sight and I email those to the FAA. Enforcement to get these jokers out of the sky is the only solution. I hate to lose pilots, but in this case, that is a misplaced sentiment. Sort of like lamenting the loss of citizens who rob banks.

    Have a great day,


  • http://none Jeff Sponberg

    This was reckless behavior beyond comprehension. What possess a pilot to even consider doing something that dangerous? I would really like to know!