Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Did Air Force Thunderbirds endanger residents by flying over homes instead of over water?

by Larry Geller

I love to watch precision flying as much as the next guy. I've always wanted to fly, even a small plane.

The Air Force Thunderbirds did their thing last week over the restricted area off Waikiki, but of course they didn't stay just in that small area.

Several of us were standing on King Street watching the planes fly low from East to West over the ridge line, including the Manoa Valley and the nearby hills. It looked from street level as though they were lower than the tops of the hills—about mid-way.

What we talked about though, was what if one of those jets, loaded with jet fuel, ran into a problem, and crashed into a densely populated area at 550 mph?

It's not very likely, of course, but why could they not have made a right turn and returned over the water instead of a left turn to fly back over the ridgeline? After all, the air show was an optional thing, there was no necessity that those planes fly over those houses.

So I emailed the FAA and was referred to the local office. I called and learned that the jets are allowed to fly over homes as long as they do it 500 feet or higher.

Those are noisy machines. Being 500 feet from one is no pleasure. But again, why could they not return over the water?

There is supposed to be an air show over Kaneohe, I don't know the details. Should residents be exposed to noise and risk there also?

I was told that historically the number of accidents has been low at these air shows, the last one was in Idaho. I Googled that one:

An Air Force F-16C plowing into the ground before 85-thousand stunned spectators. The pilot maneuvered the jet into a dive and steered toward the crowd. Then seemed to suffer engine failure when he pilot tried to pull up, witnesses said.

Here is a video of the Idaho crash. It's pretty horrible to watch, and thank goodness it was not near a populated area:


Looking beyond air shows, F-16 jets have their share of accidents. You don't want them flying over your home if they don't need to. We're not at war here, this was just an entertainment.

The dailies went gaga over the show and aside from mentioning the shock and awe among humans, dogs and elephants, so far I haven't seen any questions about the risks or why the planes didn't return over the water.

I know that the FAA worked with the Air Force to ensure that the air show would be conducted within the rules, and that's a good thing, but maybe we need one more rule.

If any readers have thoughts on this or any suggestions, please let me know. Meantime, I'm going to see if our congresspeople might weigh in on this (I'm not holding my breath, though).


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