Air Show Breakdown? Who Ya Gonna Call?
By Jennifer Caron, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Copy Editor
When you least expect or want it to happen, no matter how careful, caring, or cautious you are with your aircraft, Murphy’s Law can rear its ugly head — things can break, and things can get damaged.
You know what to do on home turf with your favorite tools at the ready and your trusty mechanic just a phone call away. But “who ya gonna call” when you’re far from home and enjoying what was, until the unexpected happened, a fun and otherwise uneventful air show? You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last, which is why you’ll find a staff of volunteers at many larger air shows, like EAA AirVenture and Sun ‘n Fun, that are ready to assist.
Call the show’s main line, and you’ll get directions to onsite aircraft assistance and repair. There you’ll find volunteers, many who are certified aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs), stocked with tools and tech advice that you can borrow to DIY your repairs. Wing walkers are available when taxiing, or you can catch a lift to a shop for the parts you need. There’s also help with ferry permits if you’re facing more daunting issues. Keep in mind that any parts you use or repairs you make are your responsibility for airworthiness.
For remedies at smaller events and fly-ins, you may have to rely on the kindness (or tools kits) of strangers, and chances are you’re pretty much on your own, so come prepared for any eventuality.
Stuff Happens, Be Prepared
Don’t let your anticipation to get there distract you from a “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” mentality. Here’s a brief list of “what if” items you should include in your aircraft.
🛠️ Repair Kit: avionics maintenance tools, hand tools, spark plugs, multi-tool or knife, safety wire/pliers, tire inflator, jacks, spare fuel filler cap, duct and electrical tape, work gloves, cleaners and rags, spare oil and funnel, and flashlights with extra batteries.
🛩️ Tie Down and Survival Gear: wheel chocks, tiedowns, covers, tow bar, first aid supplies, and rope.
🔋 Backup Power Supply: charging cords, backup batteries, and power adapters.
After you land, it’s tempting to tie down and tear out to enjoy the show. However, performing a thorough post-flight inspection is a much wiser choice. A walk around your aircraft goes a long way to help spot any obvious damage, deflating tires, unexplained fluids (or that fresh layer of windshield bugs) that you can and should address now instead of at the last minute when you’re ready to take off at the end of the show.
Like a Good Neighbor
It goes without saying, but make sure your aircraft insurance policy is current. You’ll want to have a safety net in place with the multiple aircraft, pilots with varying skills, and not-so-plane-savvy pedestrians you’ll find at an air show. Also, consider the potential of flip overs from strong summer winds, damage from neighboring planes improperly secured, taxi/ground mishaps, and overly curious spectators who can’t resist getting up close and personal with your aircraft. Steps you can take: lock your controls, immobilize your ailerons, and cordon off certain parts of your aircraft to deter unwanted looky-loos.
Photograph and report any personal injuries or physical damage, no matter how slight, even if there is no visible evidence. Coordinate with government officials (e.g., FAA, NTSB) depending on the severity.
In many cases, aircraft owners are responsible for any environmental issues created by their aircraft on air show grounds. That includes surplus or leaking fuel and oil spills. Don’t dump fuel or oil on the ground, use fuel pans and proper disposal methods, and immediately report any spills to air show staff.
Also, consider where your prop wash will end up. Check the ground around and behind the propeller to keep from blowing debris and prop wash on people, tents, or airplanes nearby.
Jennifer Caron is FAA Safety Briefing’s copy editor and quality assurance lead. She is a certified technical writer-editor in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service.