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Home : News : News
NEWS | Oct. 13, 2011

Regulations make air shows safe and fun for crowd and pilots

By Alex Salinas 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs

As the upcoming air show on Randolph Air Force Base approaches, committee members are taking no chances when it comes to crowd safety.

A mechanical error and subsequent plane crash at the Reno National Championship Air Races Sept. 16 killed 11 people, including the pilot, and left many spectators injured. As a result of this tragedy, air show experts nationwide are taking extra steps to highlight spectator safety and stress the difference between hosting an air show versus an air race.

The difference between air races and air shows is vast, the primary separating factor being how the events are regulated compared to their counterpart.

The Federal Aviation Administration implemented safety rules in the early 1950s for air shows, and because of this, there has not been a single spectator fatality in an air show in 60 years.

Lt. Col. Mike Claborn, 435th Fighter Training Squadron assistant director of operations and the 2011 Randolph Air Force Base Airshow Director, commented on the nature of air show regulations.

"The rules have evolved over the years to promote and ensure spectator safety," Claborn said.

Claborn explained some major safety regulations followed in air shows, stating air show pilots are mandated to remain a minimum of 500 feet away from the spectators if they are flying a smaller airplane. If the plane is larger, they are required to fly farther from the crowd, with jets and other high-powered planes being at least 1,500 feet away.

Claborn said another significant safety measure enforced is pilots cannot direct their energy and performance toward the crowd. Rather, they must project their maneuvers parallel to where the crowd is, as to not directly face them in case of an accident.

These parallel-to-crowd safety measures displayed in air shows do not occur in air races due to the specific flight patterns used in race courses.

J. Mac McClellan, Experimental Aircraft Association director of publications, released a statement on EEA's website citing the danger to crowd safety at air races.

"An air race requires airplanes to circle a course just as cars do when racing on a track," McClellan said. "That means at least one turn - typically turning to fly down the home stretch - requires a racing airplane to fly toward the spectators as it turns."

During a home stretch at an air race, momentum can carry debris from potential crashes directly into the crowd, as experienced at Reno. This is not the case with air shows.

"The FAA has inspectors at every air show," Claborn said. "They check for pilots' credentials and aircraft maintenance. The International Council of Air Shows also does checks once a year. Their governance is very substantial."

Air shows follow specific weather requirements as well. Aircraft cannot fly into clouds and get lost out of sight by spectators, Claborn said.

Air show pilots are also required to perform within an "aerobatic box" - an invisible cube of space in the air - where they are allowed to do rolls and other tricks, to promote distance safety.

The aforementioned regulations will be implemented during the 2011 Randolph AFB Airshow, Oct. 29-30.

"Attendees can rest assured that we are taking all precautions to make spectator safety a top priority," Claborn said. "It's going to be a fun, family-oriented event with some
spectacular aircraft on display and in the air."

"We have aircraft from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, as well as modern planes," he said. "Regardless of the era, we have something for all history buffs."
He also said the only flyable B-29 in the world, "Fifi," will be on display at Randolph.

The event is free and open to the public, and the gates open at 9 a.m. both days, and aerial performances run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit the air show website at or call 652-7469 for more information.