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Stupid Pilot Tricks

I’ve been flying turbine aircraft for more than a decade now (jeez, time flies!), and with few exceptions, those with whom I’ve shared the cockpit have operated in the consistently safe and professional manner one would expect from an aviator who makes their living flying airplanes.

You’d think this would go without saying, but unfortunately corporate and charter pilots don’t always have the resources or limitations you’d find at a major airline. As the Bedford G-IV accident illustrates, this is especially true of private (Part 91) flight departments. Some of them are run as professionally as any Part 121 airline, while others… well, let’s just say they leave something to be desired when it comes to standards, training, and safety culture.

But every now and then you come across something so egregious that you almost can’t believe what you’re seeing. For example, take a look at this sequence of photographs, which were sent to me by a friend. This Hawker was departing from the recent NBAA convention in Las Vegas, the one place you’d expect a business aviation pilot to be on his or her best behavior.

This first frame looks like a normal takeoff.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting. The main gear are still on the runway but the nose gear retraction sequence has already started.

The nose gear is halfway retracted by the time the main landing gear leaves the runway.

Main gear retraction begins the instant lift off occurs. You can see the main gear doors are already opening.

The nose wheel is almost stowed, and the mains are folding inward. How much indication of a positive rate of climb does the crew have at this point?

Gear is mostly retracted and altitude is perhaps a couple of feet above ground. At least the flaps are still down.

Spoke too soon! Flaps are retracted and a steep turn initiated abeam the NBAA static display. Looks to be little more than a wingspan above the dirt.

The coup de grâce, a banked turn of perhaps 80 degrees over the area north of the field, which is now primarily residential housing.

I don’t fly Hawkers, but ran it by some friends who do. None of us could think of any scenario where raising the landing gear handle prior to takeoff would be acceptable practice. There’s nothing to be gained from doing it. At that point the only thing preventing the gear from folding up are a couple of squat switches. They’re not exactly the most robust and durable components on an aircraft, and they live in a dirty, windy, vibration-prone environment. To say this pilot was taking a gamble would be charitable.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with some mitigating circumstance to explain this. Is it possible the gear handle could have been raised inadvertently? Or that a malfunction in the system could have caused it to begin retracting without the handle being raised? Sometimes people do unexplainable things without realizing it. It reminds me of the Virgin Galactic accident, where one of the pilots unlocked the feathering mechanism at too high a speed and it caused the entire spacecraft to break apart. As the old saying goes, “I know people do crazy things, because I’ve seen me do ‘em.”

Unfortunately, the last two photos put to bed any such thoughts. The Hawker is well into a turn at what appears to be not much more than a wingspan worth of altitude. That means the pilot started the turn as soon as he or she thought the wingtip wouldn’t drag in the dirt. And then there’s the very steep turn in the last photo, which an eyewitness – an experienced aviator in his own right – estimated at about 80 degrees of bank. That’s a clear 91.303 violation. The law defines aerobatics as “an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight”. The definition is necessarily vague because of the differing performance of various aircraft. A 45 degree pitch angle may be normal Vx climb for my Pitts, but it would be abnormal for a transport category jet aircraft like the Hawker.

If that’s not enough, check out the supremely early flap retraction. Industry standard is 400 feet minimum before any configuration change.

Summary: The pilot was showing off. Which is incredibly stupid, because the airport was populated with professional aviators, many of whom are getting tired of seeing this sort of thing. A number of them are involved with flight safety initiatives and have undoubtedly read more than their share of incident and accident reports caused by just this sort of behavior.

Is it possible to fly into or out of the industry’s largest convention without understanding that a hundred cameras are trained on every arrival and departure? Perhaps they WANTED to be recorded; if so, they got their wish. The entire thing was probably recorded on the FDR, CVR, and ATC radar. Certainly, it was captured on film, probably on video somewhere too, and last but not least by the eyes of everyone who saw it.

Is it really worth sacrificing life and livelihood on a stunt like this? For some people, apparently the answer is yes. What’s most irritating is that these stupid pilot tricks give everyone in my line of work a black eye when most of us do not deserve it. So it’s up to those of us in the industry to say loud and clear that pilots who engage in these hairbrained stunts are not cool. They’re being unprofessional, unnecessarily risky, and demonstrating the exact opposite of “the right stuff.”

Ron Rapp is a Southern California-based charter pilot, aerobatic CFI, and aircraft owner whose 9,000+ hours have encompassed everything from homebuilts to business jets. He’s written mile-long messages in the air as a Skytyper, crop-dusted with ex-military King Airs, flown across oceans in a Gulfstream IV, and tumbled through the air in his Pitts S-2B. Visit Ron’s website.

51 Comments

  1. He probably wished he had afterburners.

  2. Can this be given as evidence to the FAA? We need to get rid of such showboaters!

  3. Where is the aircraft’s N-number? If these are legitimate photos from a public airport, then the aircraft id should be visible. Did the author remove them? If so, why?

    • Obviously photoshopped out to protect the guilty. You can barely see it in the last photo. The author was trying to make a larger point about stupid pilot tricks, not specifically end one pilot’s career. Although that may happen anyway.

      • It was done at the photographer’s request. People worry about liability a lot these days — and understandably so. See the preceding post by Mike Busch.

        • Doesn’t this whole thread prove his point?!? That you do anything “out of the ordinary” and you’ll be in trouble – not a liability suit in this case, but an FAA enforcement.

          • Mike Busch’s Point, you mean? I’m not sure the two are comparable. One is a mechanic acting in good faith, the other is a pilot intentionally doing something which could easily lead to serious aircraft damage just for fun.

        • You are absolutely correct, Ron. As a professional photographer I can tell you liability is getting out of hand. I also agree with you wholeheartedly on this issue. A 28,000 pound flying machine loaded with jet fuel is not a toy. I find this appalling . . . and I’m not even a pilot!

          Oh, and I do a lot of photography in an automatic bracketing mode to capture images with different exposures. When shooting motion, this creates a situation where the image is different in each frame. I got a few really nice photos of the Blue Angels this year at Oshkosh as a result.

  4. HandsOffOurFreedoms

    November 3, 2017 at 11:23 am

    The very definition of careless and reckless operation. Moron.

  5. Doesn’t anyone wonder why this photographer just happened to be in the right place and time to be taking pictures of an unremarkable 16 year old Hawker (using continuous or burst shooting mode) taking off from Henderson when there were many more interesting aircraft there?? Can anyone say “intentional” operation contrary to 91.303 with a residual charge of 91.13??

    • The photographer is a respected airman and was an attendee at the NBAA convention. As you may know, NBAA is a place where many aircraft spotters and aviation photographers camp out to take pictures. Cameras are all over the place at NBAA. He is not associated with the Hawker, the crew, or the operator.

      • We are on the same side here Ron. My comment revealed my own ignorance. I didn’t realize *all* great photographers shoot in burst mode these days. (and then delete the ones they don’t want) Moving forward, evidently, no formal complaint has been submitted regarding this takeoff, which does not discourage such behavior in the future.

        • Apparently even the iPhone has a burst mode. Found out about that by mistake one day when I took what I thought was a single photo and it put about 50 pictures into my camera roll. Boy did I turn that off fast!

          Are we sure no formal complaint has been submitted? The tower certainly would have seen it, and with NBAA going on I’d imagine there might have been at least a few FAA types in the vicinity. There’s an old saying about the wheels of justice grinding slowly. 🙂

          • One may have been submitted, but LAS FSDO is not aware of any. As I was told, in these times of limited resources, a formal complaint is required before an EIR (enforcement investigative report) is opened. A complaint can be a witness statement, the photog’s statement, or ATC (they really don’t care, so no pilot deviation (PD) was submitted). FAA requires evidence to present to the attorneys at Western Pacific region (Aviation Blvd and Marine, near Manhattan Beach)

          • Joseph F Foster

            November 7, 2017 at 2:47 pm

            Even my Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge (Android) has a good camera with a burst mode.

  6. This was a typical hot dog jet jockey stunt I seen at Chu Li, Vietnam. The pilots thought it was cool to have the landing gear snap up as soon as the weight was off the tires until a couple had the gear collapse when they hit a bump on the metal runway. The squadron commander put a stop to that practice quickly afterwards.

  7. Paul S Fauquier

    November 4, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Was this followed up by authorities? & a License Suspension Issued?
    If not…Should have been. This kind of unprofessional attitude is not acceptable anywhere in Aviation!

    • yes it is acceptable, in aeroshows, sport flight , also experimental flights, i thing a military can do it also , uhmm aircraft testing .. .. they are all included in ” aviation “

  8. I think this picture sequence alone, is not enough for a violation of regulations. The pilot can claim a maximum performance takeoff, even if done incorrectly.

    • I’m not sure that would pass muster as a high performance takeoff. It bears no resemblance to any such HP procedure that I’m aware of.

      • How about “Anything after V1 will be dealt with in the air, and we’ll make left traffic back to the runway”

  9. And you wonder why student starts are down…
    It’s this sort of uniformed hand ringing that drives people away!
    You don’t know who the pilot was! Was he a former pilot with the Thunderbirds? (I remember the first time I saw them in the sixties… rotate, bring up the gear, and have it stowed before you got out of ground effect) Maybe she was that first woman with the Blue Angels. Maybe Patty was sneaking out…
    I wasn’t in the cockpit, I don’t know what was planned, what was briefed, passengers on board (I hope not!!!), or whether the pilot was qualified to do this sort of maneuver.
    You say this wasn’t a “normal” maneuver, is NBAA a “normal” event? If I remember correctly it’s called a “show”.
    Remember Bob Hoover? How he made a living showing business aircraft performing outside of “normal” parameters?
    As for safety… As a CFI, I am now supposed to start my flight instruction telling people all the different ways they can die. Maybe just give lessons to the truly masochistic?
    Or how about the JFK controller who brought their kid into work and let them talk on the radio!!! Oh, the horrors!!! You could hear the panic in the pilot’s voices!!!
    Or the Cathay Pacific Captain fired for making a low pass after picking up a new airplane? Why would anybody want to be a pilot?
    I suppose everybody should be driving bright orange Prius’s no more than thirty miles an hour to be “as safe as possible”. (Part of the reason we’re never going back to the moon, or even out of LEO
    Was this outside of MY comfort zone? YES!!! Would I do it? HELL NO!!! But I wasn’t the PIC… I know nothing other than what’s here. I’m amazed at the Safety Nazi Busybody Association making such a big deal about this. Is it possible it’s an idiot? Yup, but not likely.

    • You’re absolutely correct, I do not know who the pilot was. And it doesn’t really matter. If he/she was a former Thunderbird, or even was Bob Hoover himself (were he still with us), I’d still consider it a serious lapse in judgment.

      NBAA’s event is not titled as a show or airshow. It’s called the “NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition”. Aircraft are exhibited statically, but it is not an AIRshow and the Hawker was not a part of any professional demonstration I’m aware of.

      I’m sure you’ll disagree with me, but aerial demonstration teams like the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds specifically train for their shows and do so on a full time basis. They accept a much higher risk profile than is appropriate for a transport category business jet. That’s why they’ve had so many accidents over the years, and why they are not allowed to perform on top of a crowd or direct the energy of the aircraft toward the show line. They take careful precautions and handle every show in a professional manner. Just because you were once a Thunderbird doesn’t mean you have the right to fly like that in any aircraft you want. Do Nascar drivers get to operate at 200 mph on city streets? Of course not.

      Bob Hoover is another poor analogy. He didn’t just hop into the Shrike or Mustang and start doing random maneuvers. Even after decades of unique flight experience during both war and peacetime, everything he did was carefully planned, choreographed and practiced first. He would not have encouraged anyone to try those things in a business aircraft just because it looks fun.

      If I had seen this from a private pilot operating a 2,800 lb retractable piston single, I would have found it distasteful but not necessarily worth a post. But this is a 28,000 lb (gross) swept wing jet and probably operated by a professional with an ATP who ought to know better.

      • I’m sorry that you missed my point. In NOT knowing who the pilot was, you don’t know IF he/she trained, if he/she briefed, you don’t know if they were prepped or not.
        If you came to an airport and didn’t know who Bob Hoover was and saw him practicing you’d be up in arms at the abuse of the aircraft. You’d go and write indignant posts about all his lapses in judgement, abuse of the aircraft, there’s no airshow, etc, etc. Not knowing what was going on!
        If you had said in your post that this crew was FOUND to be hotdogging, then, yes throw the book at them. But you don’t, so why are you assuming guilt on a crew that you don’t know, in a situation that you don’t know.
        What the whole gist of your post is to force liticaphobia on everybody else, because it didn’t meet your view of safety and rush to judgement on those you don’t know, or why they were doing it.

        • Shanghai Badger

          November 7, 2017 at 9:44 am

          Looks like you missed the point, not the author. Time and place wasn’t appropriate for this — practice or not. Perception becomes reality, and a lot of the general public finds it easier to fear GenAv than to understand it. Stunts like the one described in the article do very little to help the perception.

    • That is not the same aircraft. It just has the same paint scheme. There are many Hawkers with that scheme.

      • Agreed, shame on you for potentially marring someone’s reputation without proof. The antenna configuration on the top of the two craft are different.

      • Crazy question. The still photos in your article show no Registration number on the aircraft. Was it photo shopped out of the pics ?

      • Ron, I read all the feedback but have an unusual response to your work. go after something a little more challenging, this is like using a step ladder to make a basket. try and figure out what happened to MH370 , I have the only theory that can work.

  10. I know people who could make my next takeoff (and I bet yours!) look just like this one with a combination of lens, shooting angle, filters and digital manipulation. I can’t imagine it being used as evidence in enforcement action let alone a court of law.

  11. Tenant Yourself

    November 7, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    I would assume the aircraft has an interlock to prevent the retraction of the gear while the WoW sensor is activated, right? Wouldn’t s/he have been in ground effect at that point making the maneuver less risky? While I agree that better judgement could have been brought to bear, isn’t it the sheer joy of flying that makes you all so passionate in your responses? Perhaps a less severe assessment could be equally valid and instead of demanding a suspension of this pilot’s license, a modicum of understanding that the same love of flying that compels you to condemn this person’s behaviour may in fact be the very love that prompted them to act in a less-than-agreeable manner. I’m curious, of those who were physically present for this takeoff, how many of you, in the moment, noticed what is being addressed in this article and, at the time without the current group-speak, felt as stringently as you do now.

    • Any decent pilot watching an aircraft retract flaps and start a turn at 50AGL would have a problem with this. You don’t maneuver that low and you certainly don’t change the configuration of your aircraft, whether gear retraction or flap retraction, that low. And, as mentioned before, squat switches malfunction and if the gear handle is pulled while the mains are still down and the squat switch was dysfunctional, the aircraft would have collapsed on the retracting gear and hit ground. No pilot with any sense of good judgement would find any of this okay. Period. And, most importantly, it is highly unlikely that this jet was taking off from NBAA empty. Which means there were passengers. And this pilot is putting those lives at risk.

  12. Impossible to estimate bank rate from a picture without any ground reference. But I agree that it is the wrong type of aircraft to show your “airmanship skills”. An Extra 300 would be more appropriate.

  13. The pilot isn’t the first one to showboat at the end of an aviation gathering. Attend any fly-in, whether or not there was an airshow included, and there almost always will be one or two (or sometimes a lot more than that) who have to play like reincarnated Roscoe Turners. In a perfect world, they’d be observed by the FAA, and an appropriate investigation would happen. If the evidence supported it, then an appropriate punishment would follow. Then maybe the word would get around, and there’d be fewer such improper displays. But don’t hold your breath.

  14. Remind me never to fly with dcscfi.

    • I don’t think he was saying he actually believes that philosophy. Just that the pilot could use that phrase as justification for a HP takeoff. That’s why he put it in quotes–simulating what the pilot might say.

  15. Where’s the “N” number? Whose plane is it?

  16. Please share his/hers N-number. We would all enjoying finding out who owns and operates the aircraft!

  17. So…. no one reported this stunt to FAA? Certainly no lack of ID or witnesses.
    If all we do is wag our heads to each other WE deserve the black eye that crap like this gives us.
    Doesn’t matter who is flying, or what is being flown.
    Ive seen stupid displayed in 150s to B52s, and we all know about fatal crashes that have resulted from that unchecked stupidity, and more often than not, more than just the pilot pay for the error.
    Stupid stunts, disregard for weather, obviously overloaded airplanes, etc, the stupid playbook is full of examples, all should be challenged. We ARE our fellow pilots keepers, are we not?
    The MYOB attitude that has been so prevalent needs to go away.
    Dangerous pilots need to be challenged and retrained, or grounded.
    A well timed word MAY interrupt the accidentally stupid moment, and certainly will help to assuage our guilt for NOT speaking up, if an accident results in spite of the well intentioned warning.

  18. A few years ago i was privileged to have dinner with Gen. Chuck Yeager. I limited the aviation questions to avoid being a pest, but I did ask: “What in your experience is the most common cause of accidents?” His answer: “Showing off!”

  19. Curtis Tricarico

    November 8, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    The tangent of 80 degrees is 5.67, so my math says the plane was pulling about 5.76 g’s. Does that feel about right? Seems a little high.

    • You assume it’s maintaining departure angle or altitude It’s not. It’s flying a ballistic arc. Aircraft to not explode as g goes to infinity when bank approaches 90 degrees… you just have to make sure you have altitude to sacrifice.

  20. Ron the wisdom is there are no OLD BOLD Pilot’s. Unfortunately, we have many excellent pilot showmen who have led the way demonstrating the performance of their machines. Bob Hoover sticks out in my mind along with Tex Johnson. Boeing regularily shows off the performance of their products with what looks like death defying stunts: near vertical climbs etc. and so does Lockheed. These demonstrations are always at the limits of their machines. Occasionally, they fail and there are many examples such as the farnborough buffalo and the Nimrod crash at the Toronto Air Show. The most dangerous thing a pilot can say is: “Now Watch This.”

  21. Scott Patterson

    January 8, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    I presume the plane left without incident so the pilot kept it within it’s envelope. I can only guess what this thread would have said “back in the day” when the first maniac sailed the Atlantic when we knew the world was flat 🙂
    PS; why was the photographer so focused on this particular plane?

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