Risky Flyovers?

Passengers and airport staff leave Glasgow airport in Scotland, June 30, 2007, after a jeep on fire drove Saturday into a terminal building at Glasgow Airport, Scotland Dodds/AFP/Getty

It was supposed to be a straight and level flyover at a Navy football game, but the F-18 had to make a hard right turn to avoid a small plane near the stadium.

There were 28,000 people below and, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin, one of them said he could feel the heat of the afterburners as the pilot went to full throttle.

A subsequent investigation faulted the pilot for even attempting the flyover with a small plane in the area and said "trying to please a crowd has potential for tremendous conflict."

To Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the thrill of a flyover is not worth the risk of a disaster.

"When you take aircraft and fly them over a crowd, in many cases of tens of thousands of people in a stadium, it's on its face a dangerous activity."

And it doesn't just happen at football games.

According to FAA figures, there were 142 reports last year of military pilots violating civilian flight regulations.

Last November two Air Force F-16s, flying at 450 mph, strayed into controlled air space near Florida's Sarasota airport. The weather was clear, but the F-16s never realized they were about to cross paths with a small Cessna.

One of the F-16 pilots can be heard saying "Mayday. Mayday. We have an F-16 down. We have a light aircraft that may also have gone down. I'm not sure."

The pilot of the F-16 bailed out and is still flying for the Air Force. The pilot of the Cessna was killed.

Even the Air Force's best pilots, the Thunderbirds acrobatic team, can create havoc in civilian air space.

"These guys are all over the place. . . I need some Thunderbirds to talk to me," said an air traffic controller.

The Thunderbirds weren't putting on a show. Eight of them had just taken off from Andrews Air Force Base on a routine flight back home.

"They were disoriented. They were not following or being responsive to air traffic control clearances," said air traffic controller John Hall.

The air traffic control tapes record a hair-raising half hour as various Thunderbirds wandered into prohibited air space over the vice president's residence and into the landing pattern at Dulles airport where an airliner was on final approach.

"One aircraft was at 3,000 feet, passed directly south of Dulles into their arrival route and continued to fly westbound nearly running into a mountain," recalled Hall.

The FAA said the Thunderbirds had "exceeded air speed limitations, failed to establish pilot communications and conflicted with other aircraft."

But the FAA does not have any authority over military pilots and in both the Thunderbird fiasco and the Florida midair collision, the Air Force shifted the blame to civilian air controllers for not handling the situation better.

"I think the military many times is publicly too defensive in their approach to incidents and accidents," offered Hall.

And when an FAA inspector called to complain that a fyover was way too low and had "basically trashed the regulations," as a later memo put it, the Marine on the other end of the line accused him of being vindictive against pilots who were patriots.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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