back to article Airline pilot sacked for 777 Top Gun stunt

A senior pilot with Cathay Pacific Airways has been sacked for an "unauthorised low-level flypast" of a new Boeing 777-300ER in Seattle last month, Flight International reports. Ian Wilkinson had just taken delivery of the aircraft on 30 January and, after take-off from Everett Airport en route to Hong Kong with about 50 to 60 …


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  1. John Macintyre


    "But why he chose to do it with the chairman on board is anyone's guess."


  2. Anonymous Coward

    Yeeee Haaaaaa!!!!!

    Either a very brave man or very stupid considering these planes have a tendency to shut down the engines......

    Heathrow anyone ?

    Mines the one with the self inflating life vest.... in case of a water landing

  3. Tom Mason
    Thumb Down


    Where was the victory roll?

  4. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    The quality of management

    The pilot's deserved a bonus, if only for exposing the chairman and the management as a bunch of spineless cowards.

    I think if the pilot knew what their reaction would be he would have treated them to a slow roll as well.

  5. Charles Calthrop

    that's a negative ghostrider

    The video shop I used to goto in Clifton filed Top Gun under Gay interest. But there's no way it's a gay film. No way. They're just jealous.

    On the other hand, Tom Cruise has an iPhone....

  6. SmokeyMcPotHead

    You missed the bit...

    ...where he looped the loop, performed a barrel roll then went straight into a vertical climb.

    Bet you wouldn't have been able to see out of the windows for the vomit or brown stuff!

  7. Tim Spence


    Bit harsh on the Ray Middleton, the co-pilot, being suspended for 6 months despite:

    a) not having a lot of choice in the matter

    b) not knowing it wasn't authorised

    c) not able to stop it even if he wanted to - "oi, no, I'll take them controls thank you very much, oi, give em here, <struggle> <crash>"

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Shame it wasn't

    Flying inverted over an A380 whilst giving the other pilot the bird.

    Paris, cos she'd think that was a good idea...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    see it here...

    not the best quality avi but you can see how low it was

  10. matt

    More serious

    More serious questions should be asked about the quality of the youtube video...

    Is it just a really bad video or pictures stuck together? Either way its shocking

  11. Jon


    @ Matt

    "This video was made from single frames taken with a DSLR"

  12. Tim Russell

    @ Tim Spence

    Only suspended from training duties, he can still fly.

    Personally I think top job, wish I had done it, just as John Macintyre said; Quality with a capital Q, font +2 and underlined :)

  13. Andy G

    I wonder if . .

    . . he was also told

    " Son; Your ego is writing cheques your body cant cash "

    /coat - the leather one with the sheepskin collar and patches please

  14. Io McKinnon
    IT Angle


    From the youtube comment: "This video was made from single frames taken with a DSLR."

    So, yeah, it was pictures stuck together.

  15. Chris C

    re: The quality of management

    So you think what this guy did was justified? You think the management firing him was too harsh? Let's not forget that if he lost control or if the engines shut down, the plane would have crashed in one second (the downward pull of gravity is 9.8m/s/s). In other words, he needlessly and senselessly exposed the airlines to millions or billions of dollars/pounds in liability if anything went wrong (not to mention the millions on a lost plane). Let's not also forget that even though the plane didn't crash, those passengers can still file multi-million dollar/pound lawsuits for various reasons such as emotional distress. So no, I don't think the management overreacted at all. They did exactly what they should have. This guy was just an idiot trying to inflate his ego and show the world how big his dick is.

  16. Chris Sutton
    Thumb Down


    agreed. Its more like stop-motion-capture animation. i'm guessing it was in burst mode or something.

  17. Ru
    Dead Vulture

    @Chris C

    You may consider that the plane would not have crashed instantly, given that it has wings and forward velocity. Learning about lift is left as an exercise to the reader.

    Also, if he had clearance from the tower to do what he did, this implies that what he was doing does not seem to be quite so terminally stupid. I'd like to think that people in air traffic control have some inkling of safety, and would be likely to err on the side of caution.

    But yes, doing it without his employer's consent is a bloody stupid thing to do, and being fired is not exactly surprising.


    Million-pound lawsuits for 'emotional distress' are another sort of criminal stupidity. But there's a lot less that can be done about that.

  18. M. Burns Silver badge

    Hey, all of you idiots posting so far:

    He had the tower's permission. THAT alone means he was in fill compliance with all government regulations. Furthermore, the incident was not at "Everett Airport" (which is a tiny regional airport with only a 5000 foot runway), it was at Paine Field in Everett, (, which is THE test flight airport that Boeing uses. The Paine Field is home to the Boeing manufacturing plant for 747, 767, 777, and 787 aircraft. If anyone is qualified to give permission for this maneuver and evaluate whether it is safe, it is this airport as this maneuver is done there very often as part of the Boeing test flight regime.

  19. JamesH

    @Chris C

    If the engines shut down it would take longer than 1s to crash. Remember, you still have wings.....even if you have nothing pushing you along. If the airliner was stationary, then 1s would be about right.

    And to be honest, pilots fly airliners this close to the ground all the time (taking off and landing..), so he not very likely to lose control - after all, he's done it quite a few times before.

    As to engines shutting down - it really doesn't matter when they shut down - whether you are 30feet or 30kfeet - it's still going to be messy. To be honest, at the height he was, you are more likely to survive than it was was from higher (ref. recent Heathrow crash).

    That said, he was a bit silly! But hey, at £250k a year (that $500k) he probably has a few quid saved up for lean periods. And at least he's famous now!!


  20. Geoff Mackenzie

    @Chris C

    9.8m/s/s; where do you get that figure from? Bear in mind even without the engines, it would glide, not drop like a brick. And the passengers weren't ordinary airline passengers as far as I can see.

    I'm guessing a very experienced pilot was pretty confident he wasn't going to plant the plane, and bear in mind he did seek permission (and get it) from the tower, who have a reason to care, just not the management.

    I other words he followed the rules, just not the company rulebook. If what he did was reckless the folks in the tower need asked a few questions for authorising it too.

  21. H2Nick

    @Yeeee Haaaaaa!!!!!

    I saw Jack Dee taking about aircraft lifejackets.

    His view was :

    "If the f@cker can't fly, what makes you think it's gonna float!"

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up




  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    intentionally left blank

    My initial thought was "what a dick", but having read that he is their head 777 pilot and had tower permission and is appealing etc. etc. I wonder if there is rather more to this story than meets the eye?

  24. Evil Graham

    Just in case...

    ... any airline pilots are thinking about doing that with me on board, they'd better make sure they do crash the fucking thing good and proper.

    Because if they don't, and we both survive, I'm coming looking for the bastard. In fact I'll be *so* miffed, I might even come back as a zombie.

    "Boring" and "uneventful" - that's what I'm looking for in an airliner, thanks.

  25. tardigrade
    Thumb Up

    Brilliantly Irresponsible.

    Totally irresponsible, unnecessary, dangerous, immature and reprehensible. In other words brilliant! Well done that man.

    Proof that their is a difference between man and machine still. We have an unexplainable streak of unpredictable risk taking, devil may care mentality still within us that is part of the reason that the species has survived so far.

    @Chris C

    He's a Pilot, he flies big impressive planes and probably has a string of beauties in every major city in the world. He probably couldn't care less how big his dick is.

    Top draw!

  26. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    @Chris C re: The quality of management

    That surely looked like a comment from the management :-)

    Let's face it - they just got scared to death and besides got embarassed, lost face - so had to find a scapegoat and the pilot looked like an ideal one.

    And that taking into account that as the senior employees of the airline they should have the most confidence in their planes and their pilots! If they don't have that confidence who else would?

  27. Hrishikesh

    Cathay Pacific has a fly-by POLICY ?

    "... issued a notice to all cockpit crew reminding them of the company’s policy for conducting fly-bys."

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    I was expecting "wheels up" to mean the plane was upside down :o(

    Oh well, nice one anyway. @Chris "What if" C. What if your monitor suddenly exploded and a shard of glass pierced your brain? Better shut down that PC quick!

  29. David Harper


    "And to be honest, pilots fly airliners this close to the ground all the time (taking off and landing..)"

    Yes, but they usually have the wheels *down*.

  30. Graham Bartlett

    Wheels up/down

    David's reply is about the shape of it. Nothing wrong with a low-level flypast - feeling how the plane responds in ground effect is potentially very useful info, for example. But if you've got a bunch of other people onboard whose safety is your concern, then having your wheels down when you do it would be a good move. If you want/need to do it without the wheels down, better make sure you're the only one at risk, and make sure your airline has approved a flight with some risk to the aircraft.

    There is some risk. Downbursts have taken out many planes on landing, and will continue to do so. Undercarriage probably won't save the plane if that happens, but at least it'll absorb some of the energy and maybe make the result less painful for passengers.

    No, it won't fall out of the sky in 1s - Chris C clearly doesn't have a clue. However if it did lose engines at that height, it's questionable whether the undercarriage would be down and locked in time to catch you.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Its only a faithful reproduction of "Pot Gnu" (spelt for dyslexic pilots),...

    if Scientology and spilt coffee are involved.

    "negative ghost rider, the pattern is full!

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    lemme guess,...

    he's now flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog-sh1t out of Hong Kong?

  33. C

    What a way to retire

    He was in his mid-50's according to the article. He probably doesn't give a flying f@ck!

    I imagine he's got plenty saved for retirement, and is only 'considering an appeal'...

    Now if that was at a commercial airport he'd be in all kinds of trouble, as it was at the manufacturing facility its probably pretty safe.

  34. Not That Andrew

    There are some problems with your comment: A title is required.

    I thoink it is quite obvious he had verbal permission from the Chairman, who was on board, to do this. In fact he was probably asked to do this. Cathay Pacific just got embarrased when it got onto YouTube and decided to blame him. His only mistake was to not get it in writing.

  35. Russell Webb

    Below the hard deck

    He is below the hard deck. Switching to guns

  36. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Re: Wheels up/down

    "But if you've got a bunch of other people onboard whose safety is your concern, then having your wheels down when you do it would be a good move."

    I would disagree - wheels down would make any sense only in case of slow speed/maximum angle of attack flypast. If one engine would fail you will have no option but to set the aircraft down.

    In other type of flybys your airplane will fly faster than safe single engine speed and if one engine fails the pilot will go around, in which case you would want your aircraft as clean as possible - so no gear down.

  37. Steve Todd

    Two words

    Energy management. Speed = height. If you fly low at just above stall speed and the engines fail then landing is your only option. If you are flying faster than that then you can climb using the energy of the speed or wait for it to bleed away (the former is drilled into all PPL students).

    Anyone who has ever tried to land a low winged Piper at too high a speed can tell you that the combination of speed and ground effect leaves you floating allong the length of the runway wondering if you're ever going to land. Getting the gear down in the (highly unlikely) event of both engines failing shouldn't have been a problem.

    As for management on board the aircraft, providing the captain was complying with company rules then they had no place in the chain of command. From a political point of view he might have informed them, but the safe operation of the aircraft was his sole responsibility.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Learn some aerodynamics

    "considering these planes have a tendency to shut down the engines......"

    You mean, it happened once, out of thousands of flights?

    Safety wise, I don't think there was anything dangerous about what he did. He will have been going a lot faster with a lot of energy, which would enable him to pull up and gain height should anything have gone wrong. And the chances of the engines failing at that exact point are minimal. You would be worse off if the engines failed somewhere over the sea (far more likely) than at that point.

    I think the company are right to be upset, but sacking him is a bit harsh. What he did was legal, probably quite safe (to echo everyone else - the plane would not just fall out the sky if the engine failed), and just a bit of fun on a test flight. Hell, they barrel rolled the 757 on its test flight at about 500ft...

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Bah, correction to my previous comment. It was a 707 they barrel rolled, not a 757...

  40. Gavin

    @Anonymous Poster

    > he's now flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog-sh1t out of Hong Kong?

    not anymore, thats what he did for a living until Cathay Pacific sacked him :P

  41. Nic
    Thumb Up

    Gutsiest move I ever saw Mav...

    Hey Slider... you stink

  42. Gordon
    Thumb Up


    I reckon he maybe got a bit pissed-off with being patronised by the management, bossed about, given conflicting ordered and made to log everything for marketting statistics and had generally had enough of his job anyway.

    What better way to leave than to do so by scaring the living shit out of your tormentors and protagonists by casually showing them how proficient you are at what you do?

  43. Michael Hoenig

    For the Record...

    A small bit of Boeing history, folks:

  44. Edmund Cramp Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Cathay Pacific just got their undies in a wad.

    All Cathay Pacific have done is turn some good publicity into bad.

    I used to watch them doing this as a kid with the Concord (before it got an "e") at the airfield outside Oxford ... basic touch and go except in this case he wasn't planning to touch so he didn't put the wheels down. It's a lot harder to put a plane that size into the ground than you might think.

    I've done this with the wheels down in Atlanta when the plane landing before us didn't get of the runway fast enough, and years before that in Charlotte when the pilot decided that he REALLY didn't like the weather coming in at the end of the runway (the round, funnel sort of weather)... did a half roll that time too.

    If you don't trust the pilot then don't get on the plane - if you get on the plane then quit complaining.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    @Charles Calthrop

    I think you'll find that video shop in that end of Clifton only had the one section.

    Mine's the Motorbike cop's leather jacket and matching tight trousers, boots and helmet...

  46. Jon Minhinnick
    Black Helicopters

    @ those who @'d Chris C

    Chris is sort of right... if the plane stalled (and although a quick google didn't find it for me, it would just need to drop its airspeed below say 100 kt) then the plane WILL fall, and whatever forward speed it had at the time would just describe the shape of the parabola. The vertical descent is still entirely due to gravity.

    When a wing stalls, it *stops* flying. If that happens, you need to hope you've got enough altitude to recover, and I don't know of anything that will do this at 30'.

    @ Ru: Learning how a wing loses lift is an exercise left to the poster.

    @ Geoff: 9.81 m/s/s is also known as g, the acceleration due to gravity on the Earth's surface. A stalled plane does, in fact, drop *exactly* like a brick.

    Been there, done that, filled in the CAA accident report. (I stalled my glider on from 5', and that was unpleasant enough)

    A pilot of that calibre would of course be careful to keep enough speed on for a climb out as well as the flyby. Go and watch a gliding competition where a pilot will fly their sailplane in from the last turnpoint, 50 km away at Vne (Velocity never exceed), dump their water ballast and fly through the finish line at 30' and 120 kt, then haul back on the stick, climb back to 1000', join the downwind circuit for a normal landing. Magic.

    Helicopter icon because stalling those things is the stuff of nightmares.

  47. David
    Thumb Down

    Soft Flyby!

    This was for kids (incl. chairman)

    Have a look to the real stuff!

  48. Andy Bright

    LMAO or something

    28-30 ft? Fuck me that's low. That's less than a slight nudge and you're plowing the runway low.

    So fucking yeah, nice one. If I was a cowboy pilot with huge fucking balls, and no sense of reality I'd do it too. Especially if I had the boss on board.

    But was there really a risk of re-decorating the runway with burning 777 accents, and fashionable human body parts? Depends how he did it.

    Even 25 years ago you could program a plane to follow the terrain at whatever height you desired. Unfortunate plane-meeting-ground incidents were extremely rare, even in Iraq. Shit you could almost point-and-click a Tornado onto the runway.

    These days you could probably program a 777 to fly 10 feet off the ground at 500mph and feel safe as houses. So I reckon that unless he was actually doing this on "manual", he probably didn't put any lives in any sort of danger whatsoever - hence the tower's permission for him to go ahead.

    On the other hand if he was flying under his own steam, that was fucking stupid.

  49. Morely Dotes

    Cathay Pacific:

    The company to avoid; the management has demonstrated that they have no confidence in their aircraft, nor their pilots.

    Which is unsurprising, considering who the management are, and who makes the aircraft and trains the pilots. I'd be a bit uneasy about flying in a Chinese aircraft with a Chinese-national pilot, who was probably trained by the Red Army. A little paranoia (especially when it's the Official State Religion) goes a long way.

  50. James Pickett
    IT Angle


    Keeping the landing gear up makes for a much smoother forced forced landing, and they don't then punch holes in the wings. How often does a pilot have to ask the passengers' permission to do things, anyway? I should love to have been on board...


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