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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Unhappy

Not good enough

Too many serious responses and not enough top gun/tom cruise/scientology/nut job quips. Standards are certainly dropping at vulture central

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Boffin

Re: for the record

Back when I was in college ( 70-80's) there was a report of a fully loaded 747 doing a complete roll. The Auto pilot malfunctioned and by the time the pilot caught it he decided to complete the roll. They didn't even spill a drink. Any Boeing historians able to add details.

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Coat

@Not good enough

Sorry about the rather plane responses so far. I'll try wheely hard to elevator the humour, in order to cure what ailerons you. This tail of an unauthorised fly-by is rudder amazing. The pilot was unfairly throttled by management, I know the type, they enjoy-sticking it to people.

Was that a... Top Pun?

Mine's the plane coat at the back of the stall, to the lift of the hat with the lowered flaps... okay okay I'm going.

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Coat

Dry Cleaning

I'd hate to see their Senior Managements dry cleaning bill after that trouser scaring stunt.

Mine's the one with all the stains!

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Tower permission makes no comment on wisdom of pilot's intent

Posters misunderstand the role of the tower. The tower's permission is only for factors they control -- so they could be fit into traffic, the runway was clear and fire staff were on duty. Also, being home of Boeing flight test, this tower would have heard stranger requests than this.

The pilot was a complete burke. This isn't a maneuver done with 50 people on board. The co-pilot got off lightly, he's in the chair precisely to thwart lead pilot stupidity or infirmity. The light penalties do make me wonder if some manager suggested the idea, but a pilot has the power of Captain for the purpose of telling that manager "no".

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Go

Merely 28 to 30 ft above runway?

This "incident" seems rather tame by airshow standards. I have seen low runway passes firsthand, but none compare to these:

http://www.airliners.net/photo/Russia---Air/Sukhoi-Su-27P/1177235/L/

http://www.airliners.net/photo/Russia---Air/Sukhoi-Su-27UB/1025605/L/

Life begins below one meter.

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Thumb Down

@ Jon

I don't think it's a good idea to bundle gliders in the same category as engines.

They fly pretty differently.

The pilot had permission from the control tower to do the fly-by, and he was also monitored during the stunt.

I'd venture to say he, and the traffic controllers, made sure the plane had enough velocity to make it back up or to land in case of problems.

And, i don't know exactly how gliders handle themselves - but i never piloted any aircraft yet that would fall as a brick if you would take out the engines during normal flight. If you were too low, and going too slow, then maybe, yes.

Otherwise, you can land almost anything when the engines go boo-boo.

(Fighter jets may be an exception - different aerodynamics).

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Coat

@John Minhinnick

"(I stalled my glider on from 5', and that was unpleasant enough)"

I might leaving myself open to sounding very stupid, but how do you stall a glider exactly? I was under the impression Gliders had no engines, hence the name "Glider" as opposed to "Machine propelled by engine = Plane".

Anyway, I'm dissappointed he didn't just "hit the brakes and let fly right past...oldest trick in the book"

Sounds more like Goose, than Maverick.

Mines the leather bomber jacket, with the aviators hanging in the pocket and a copy of "You've lost that loving feeling" tucked inside.

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Anonymous Coward

In reply to...

"I don't think it's a good idea to bundle gliders in the same category as engines.

They fly pretty differently."

and

"I might leaving myself open to sounding very stupid, but how do you stall a glider exactly? I was under the impression Gliders had no engines, hence the name "Glider" as opposed to "Machine propelled by engine = Plane".

He means the wing stalled, not the engine stalled. I'm a glider pilot as well, and I've done similar things in the past... A glider works exactly the same way as a plane, it just can't regain height using an engine. The aerodynamics involved are identical, they still count as 'planes', engine or not. They fly exactly the same way.

However, it is still not right to say the plane would drop, because that assumes you would stall the wing as soon as the engine stopped. He clearly had bagloads of energy there, and was nowhere near stalling it in. So it still wouldn't just drop at 9.8m/s/s. And just so you are aware, even after all that, a wing doesn't just stop working when it stalls - it is just not providing enough lift to counteract the weight. You can get different 'degrees' of stalling, you have to be in a very very deep stall to just plummet.

Try it next time you are flying John - just ease the stick back until you stall the glider, you will find it doesn't plummet to the ground in a matter of 4-5 seconds (as an object that is plummeting would from about 1,500ft - at a guess), just mushes around a lot for a few seconds and you will only lose about 100ft.

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Coat

Unfair dismissal case, Nice retirement pension.

"According to reports, an airline insider said: "We heard afterwards he [the pilot] was asked to do a fly-by of the factory and decided to give them a flight they would never forget.""

This is the contention, who asked him to do the fly-by. If he was under the impression that this was a request because the Chairman was on board, and had tower permission, he was in the right. Not a dangerous stunt at all and a skilled Pilot has absolutely no problem with a low level flypast. At the speed he was going he would have had enough energy to climb in the event of a problem, and no doubt being a highly competent Captain had another airfield in mind for an emergency landing. Had he had the wheels down to do a slower fly-by, there would have been more danger, as it would possible have been too fast to land at that height, maybe run out of runway and not enough energy to climb.

It was not Gung-ho at all as he was doing what he was asked to do, in a safe manner, which he did. Sounds like a massive pay-off for unfair dismissal to me.

And to AC who said:

"I might leaving myself open to sounding very stupid, but how do you stall a glider exactly? I was under the impression Gliders had no engines, hence the name "Glider" as opposed to "Machine propelled by engine = Plane"."

A stall is about the flow of air around a wing stalling and not producing lift and has nothing to do with stalling an engine, so yes, I guess you have left yourself open to sounding stupid ;-)

Mine's the leather flying jacket with scarf and goggles please.

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Coat

@Dave Cheetham

Hence the AC post.

Unfortunately, we don't all have enough time and money to become aviation experts. ;-)

Mine the one with a slice of humble pie in the pocket

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Pirate

Famous barrel roll

When I was a Boeing minion I was told that when they were showing the prototype 747 to customer bosses, they had their chief test pilot fly it past a few times, and on impulse he barrel-rolled it.

At that time Boeing was on the brink of bankruptcy and the joke in Seattle was "Last person leaving Seattle please switch off the lights". The Boeing bosses pretty near shat themselves but they couldn't admit the stunt wasn't part of their plan and they couldn't even sack the pilot.

IME stories like that, where there's a tinge of natural justice, are usually wrong.

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Jay
Coat

In the famous words of an aging Rabbit...

Do a barrel roll!

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Coat

Re: Cathay Pacific has a fly-by POLICY ?

Since major airlines are often paid to do chartered fly-byes at air shows, etc., yes, they DO have fly-by policies, specifying safety procedures, etc.

The most famous fly-by (that wasn't quite a complete fly-by) was that of the A320 at Habsheim in 1998, flown by Michel Asseline. I studied that accident in great detail at the time. Air France did have such a policy. One thing that it required was that the pilots visit the airfield before the show and inspect it on foot for likely hazards. Due to pressure of other work, Asseline and his co-pilot did not do that, otherwise they might have been aware that a slow fly-by lower than the height of the trees at the end of the runway would have been inadvisable.

Q: What's the difference between an A320 and hedge-trimmer?

A: About 100 knots!

(Give me my coat before I come out with any more A320 jokes!)

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Boffin

A quick round of aerodynamics

(Getting slightly off-topic here)

All fixed-wing aircraft (gliders, powered planes) obtain lift by moving air over their wings. Power aircraft do this using thrust from an engine to move fowards. Gliders do this by converting their potential energy (height) into kinetic energy (speed forwards). In a glider, you are always descending through the air, and the trick is to find air that is going up faster than you're going down.

If a pilot talks of a stall, they mean a wing stall, otherwise they would say "compressor stall" for a turbine engine, and piston engines never stall because they are never heavily loaded at very low RPM (except for prop strikes. Ha.) They would however stop due to other problems, and those are lumped into "engine failures" or something else. Other stalls are elevator and rudder stalls. These are much more rare.

Christopher Emerson is right to say there are different kinds of wing stalls, and I was simplifying in my original post. I have plenty of times practised stalling, of the "mush" variety where you waft through the air, stick fully back, nose still high and losing a lot of height, and also the fully developed stall, where the nose drops as the wings no longer support the aircraft at all, you end up looking straight down at the ground which is rushing up to meet you fast. Ironically, when the nose drops in a full stall, the correct action is to push the nose even further down to get the wings flying again.

And then there are high-speed stalls (tight turns pulling g), incipient spins and full spins (only ONE wing is stalled), and stalls due to wind shear (turning steeply low to the ground). Rudder stalls if you are outside your C of G load limits (flat spins etc) and I have no idea how to recover from an elevator stall!

I also suspect that because a 777 is tuned for high-speed flight (cruise at mach 0.84 iirc) it would develop its low-speed stall fairly quickly. Can anyone see if the 777 has its flaps down? I'm meeting a couple of Lufthansa pilots (one Airbus, one Boeing, both glider) for dinner tomorrow night, I'll see what they say.

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A Grand Exit would Be...

if the captain, had lifted his @ss, upon hearing he was fired and grabbed his flight bag and retired to FIRST CLASS.

Think about how Gen Patton would have said these words...

<Adventure of Becoming an Airline Pilot>

George Flavell

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FLY BY WITH 777

Are you out your mind ??? The movie TOP GUN IS OVER .... If you like to live in danger do not play with others peoples life . YOU MUST LOOSE YOUR LICENSE FOR LIFE...

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COOL

Hope some other airline hires the chap

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Safe as *WHAT*?

Quote: "These days you could probably program a 777 to fly 10 feet off the ground at 500mph and feel safe as houses."

What sort of house would THAT be? One built of semtex bricks with a rice-paper roof waterproofed by kerosene jelly topped by a lightning conductor and located on the side of an active volcano on a major tectonic fault line?

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Anonymous Coward

Hang on...

If a plane stalls, yes, it will begin to fall. However, there is significant air resistance to slow its descent. It won't just drop out of the sky like a stone. OTOH, it *would* drop fast enough to ruin your whole day.

Quote: "These days you could probably program a 777 to fly 10 feet off the ground at 500mph and feel safe as houses."

Speak for yourself. I wouldn't feel "safe as houses" unless I had been carefully loaded with mind-numbing substances to the point of becoming comatose. There are fluctuations of air density, drafts, shear winds, downdrafts, and all manner of other turbulence that would make such an action incredibly foolhardy. That's assuming there isn't some inconveniently placed structure that happens to be taller than ten feet, which often happens.

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jim

Excellent

I hope it scared the Management shitless.

If they can't handle a lowpass then they shouldn't be part of an airline.

Get out and be a Manager for Spud-U-Like instead.

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It's Concorde

It's spelled Concorde because it's a French plane.

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Alert

ROFL

Sounds to me that the hold thing is getting blown out of the water like the rest of county does already, so what did it hurt anybody no, scared the chairman alittle bit I'm sure and the only thing here that is being hurt is SOMEONES PRIDE and then they won't admitt that to everybody else in this world and the pilot will be fully of blame, see I think boeing is riding alot on these planes to save the companies ass, so of speak, cause really they are new planes and instead of aluminium its uses far more Carbonfiber making it safer and lightweight and much more efficent to fly. Now someone there tailfeathers ruffled for sure here and now that the world knows what he did, he will burn for sure... Let him off the hook its not like he lied to the people and then went to war., or said thats someone else did it and crashed a plane into the pentagon or a building..

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Leave your own comment BUT

if we dont accept it your burn. then dont bothering asking people for there opinoin if your going ton process it either way.. cause really thats lamm.

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re: You missed the bit...

He was not flying a Tu so forget it.

That is not a joke. Anyone who has had a trip on one of the part of the fleet which Eastern Europe and Russia sold to China in the early 90-es and bought back around 97-98 during the big Eastern European recession can tell you that. The great feeling of getting on a plane that is parked outside of the terminal propped with pieces of wood and only missing a sticker "police aware". This all with nobody knowing how many hours does it _really_ have on the aiframe and when it was maintained.

And this all becoming irrelevant once the glorious roar of 3 old turbofans hit the "emergency mode" in the beginning of the Heathrow runway with the plane going nearly straight up from 1/3 of it. Tu's could comply with EU noise regulations only by gaining enough altitude before going over residential neighborhoods so this takeoff technique was the only way they were allowed to fly.

I will not even mention stunts like applying reverse thrust while still in the air and smacking it on the runway VTL style: http://www.airliners.net/photo/Balkan-Holidays-Air/Tupolev-Tu-154M/1163595/M/

It is a pity we cannot see this birds any more. Compared to the Tu, the 777 looks like a pregnant guppy. By the way, the Catway pilot deserves extra cudos for taking such a pregnant guppy for a flyby like this.

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