Hang glider pilot Dan Buchanan, a wheelchair-bound aviator with more than 3,000 logged hours, was killed during a weekend airshow crash at Idaho’s Mountain Home Air Force Base on June 2. The 62-year-old licensed pyrotechnician from Dayton, Nevada, combined pilotage, music, and fire for dazzling daylight and night airshow performances.
The aerobatic specialist was flying a two-ship daytime routine when the glider plummeted to the ground, according to multiple eyewitnesses. They estimated Buchanan was 40 to 50 feet above the airfield when he encountered trouble.
A 1981 aviation accident left Buchanan with a spinal cord injury, but that didn’t stop him from attaining additional aviation credentials. After the accident, the former flat-track motorcycle competitor earned his private pilot and commercial pilot certificates and learned how to fly a sailplane in the thermals above the California desert. An earlier AOPA article explained that many people watching his airshows were unaware that Buchanan was a paraplegic “until his wheelchair is delivered to the landing field via police car or helicopter.”
The audio-visual low-altitude maneuvers—including dramatic night airshows—were highlights at EAA AirVenture and the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo. The International Council of Air Shows awarded Buchanan its prestigious Art Scholl Award in 2011 for showmanship; his routine included perfectly timed turns choreographed to music while sparks from his North Wing sail showered the evening sky.
“It’s very tragic,” said pilot Fred Worthy, who was at the Idaho event. The act included a mock battle pitting the hang glider against an airplane that pretends to confront the smaller craft with close passes and staged banter between the pilots. “He was doing high angles of attack and pretending to have communication challenges” when tragedy struck, Worthy said. Buchanan appeared to parallel the ground without much airspeed “and then he pitched down” in a nose-down attitude, Worthy observed.
The Idaho Statesman in Boise reported that the 366th Fighter Wing based at Mountain Home Air Force Base dedicated the remainder of the airshow “in honor of our dear friend Dan Buchanan, and all the support he has provided for our air shows.” The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds tweeted their condolences as well.
Airshow pilot Kyle Franklin of Franklin’s Flying Circus wrote on social media that the May 4 to 6 Central Texas Airshow allowed the two aerobatic specialists to finally perform together in the same act. He remembered Buchanan as “a gentleman, a showman, an inspiration to all, and an all-around great friend.”
Mountain Home airshow performers gathered at a nearby sports bar several hours after the fatality to remember Buchanan’s perseverance and accolades. Worthy said it was “dignified and at the same time poignant.” The leader of a group of Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots noted professional aerobatics were “a passion we all share and at the same time it’s a risky business. We wish him well on his next journey and he will truly be missed.”