Responsibility rides on the shoulders of Larry Garner when airplanes traveling up to 200 mph take to the skies this weekend performing loops, flips and nosedives at the 19th annual Boshears Skyfest at Daniel Field.
Garner, the show’s air boss, will communicate safety guidelines, flight patterns and timing for tricks with pilots as they steer from their cockpits. He will constantly scan the ground and the air for potential problems, in which case he could immediately notify pilots to change their actions.
A plane crashed last month at an air race in Reno, Nev., but Boshears’ organizers and pilots said safety guidelines set by the Federal Aviation Administration will continue to keep the show safe. The Reno plane traveling about 400 mph in circles slammed into a spectator area and killed 11 people. In the Augusta show, planes can’t exceed 200 mph and must stay in a defined area.
“Everything is covered. I have emergency procedures,” said Garner, who has been air boss for eight years. “I’m automatically going to go into A, B, C and handle that.”
Aerobatic pilot Gary Ward said he takes note of accidents such as the Reno crash but said recent events haven’t changed the way he will fly today. Like all other performers at Boshears, Ward received FAA approval to be in the show and will attend safety briefings and a paperwork check.
“It’s up to the pilot to inspect their own airplane,” Ward said.
Boshears will continue to be safe for spectators, he said.
Only one crash has occurred at Daniel Field during the show’s history, according to Steven Gay, the president of Augusta Aviation Inc., and accident databases from the National Transportation Safety Board. An ultralight aircraft weighing between 150 and 255 pounds crashed to the ground, injuring the pilot Oct. 17, 2004.
NTSB reports since 1982 show that during the airport’s operation outside of the air show, three accidents have killed five people, including the Aug. 4, 2000, crash that took the life of state Sen. Tom Allgood Sr., his wife, Thelma, and pilot Stephen Patterson. The plane, which was overloaded, hit a brick wall across the street from Daniel Field shortly after taking off.
Daniel Field follows stringent guidelines because it’s considered a downtown municipal airport. Guidelines set by the FAA years ago are continually studied and refined, but there’s no reason to make adjustments after the Reno crash, Gay said.
“Every precaution is taken to ensure not only safety of spectators but also … of participants. No one wants to see an airplane crash or run off the end of the runway,” he said.
Planes perform tricks only in a confined area known as the air box, although they will fly over spectators, bordering roads and houses during takeoff, landing and between tricks. The air box has a 5,000-foot ceiling, 400-foot floor and runs 4,000 feet long, about the length of the airport’s runway. A buffer of about 25 feet separates spectators from the air box, Garner said.
Charles Bates, the chief flight instructor for Augusta Aviation,, didn’t think twice about flying after the Reno crash. Bates, like Gay and Ward, said the danger of plane crashes doesn’t differ from the risk people take driving a car.
“The potential is there for things to happen if someone were to lose an engine at the wrong time,” Bates said.