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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Showboating: a hazardous attitude

Buzzing, showboating, showing off. Whatever we call it, when a pilot exhibits bad judgment and flies recklessly, the public perception of general aviation takes a hit; more important, people routinely get hurt or die as a result of the behavior.

On December 20, 2003, the pilot of a Mooney M20E and his passenger were killed when the airplane crashed into the ice on Hanscom Lake near Webster, Wisconsin.

On the day of the accident, the pilot's son drove the pilot and his passenger to Voyager Village Airstrip, where he watched his father preflight and start the Mooney. The son returned to the family's cabin on the lake and saw the Mooney fly over the cabin in the direction of the lake at 200 to 300 feet agl. Other witnesses saw the airplane fly between 60 and 100 feet above the lake, then it "went straight up into the air about 200 feet, made a hairpin turn, and came straight down, hitting the ice nose first." The cockpit broke through the ice on impact and was submerged. Rescuers were not able to save the pilot or passenger.

The pilot was described as a risk-taker and an aggressive pilot who "put the airplane in situations where there really was no out." The pilot's son said that it was not uncommon for the pilot to perform "crop duster turns," which he described as a steep 70-degree-angle climb followed by a turn. The pilot would try to maintain at least 80 mph during the maneuver. The pilot had been flying for 14 years and performing this maneuver for about 10 years. He held a single-engine land private pilot certificate with an instrument rating. He had logged about 1,300 hours total time and had completed a flight review eight months before the accident.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's decision to conduct a low-altitude flight maneuver without sufficient altitude to maintain clearance from terrain.

In 2005, one-third of all fatal pilot-related accidents were a result of maneuvering flight. Because maneuvering flight has a broad definition, some of these accidents occurred during legitimate activities such as turns in the traffic pattern, but others are the result of pilots exercising poor judgment. This pilot and his passenger died as a result of his trying to exceed his personal capabilities and those of his aircraft. To learn more about the hazards associated with maneuvering flight and how to avoid them, read the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Maneuvering Flight--Hazardous to Your Health Safety Advisor.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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