One Pilot’s Stupidity Makes Us All Look Bad

Helicopter pilots: choose your landing zones wisely, please.

As a helicopter pilot, one of the questions I get asked most often is: “Can you land anywhere?”

In most cases, the person asking the question is referring to the legality of landing anywhere — not the ability to land anywhere. Helicopters have the ability to land almost anywhere, but not every landing zone is legal. I address this in quite a bit of detail in a post titled “Finding a Legal Landing Zone” that I wrote back in 2009. The facts still apply.

Unfortunately, not everyone considers the legality — or even the safety — of a landing zone before setting down on it. This brief news piece linked to by Vertical Magazine’s Twitter account is a good example. The gist of the piece:

A Monticello man has been charged by Nassau County Police with landing a helicopter in a grassy area full of pedestrians near the Nassau Coliseum minutes before midnight on Saturday night.

Nassau Coliseum, in case you don’t know, is an indoor arena where the NY Islanders play hockey and concerts are held. I saw quite a few concerts there in my college days. And hockey games.

On the night in question, there were about 100 drunk kids, aged 14 to 18, wandering around the building when the idiot pilot — honestly, what else can I call him? — came in for a landing in his Bell 407. He had to abort one landing before succeeding on a second attempt. At least 20 pedestrians were walking in the area.

I don’t think I need to tell you how stupid this stunt was. Drunk kids in the landing zone? All it takes is for one of them to walk into the tail rotor to turn a fun night of teenage drinking (yes, I’m being sarcastic) into death and mental trauma. Even if the kids weren’t drunk — and the pilot may not have thought they were — they’re still pedestrians in a landing zone. You don’t have to be drunk to walk into a tail rotor, as evidenced here and here.

And it’s not just the tail rotor that’s dangerous. Although visibility around a helicopter is good, it isn’t 360°. The pilot could have struck a pedestrian on the way down — or even landed on one.

Sure — nothing happened in this case. But the cops came, arrested the pilot, and seized his helicopter. And I think he deserves everything he gets.

You see, irresponsible pilots who pull dangerous stunts like this make all helicopter pilots look bad. People connect his action to the group he’s a part of. Hence, all helicopter pilots are reckless individuals who would land among a crowd of drunk teenagers.

We know better. But does the public? Does the local government?

A few years back, the city of Scottsdale, AZ instituted a town ordinance prohibiting the landing of a helicopter anywhere except at an airport or approved helipad. Why? Because an idiot pilot decided it would be fun to land in a culdesac of his subdivision. Neighbors didn’t think it was such a good idea and complained. It went to the city council and they “fixed” the problem by making it illegal.

(Wickenburg has a similar ordinance, although a pilot can get permission, on a case-by-case basis, by talking to the police chief before landing. And the police chief can deny the request.)

My point: think before you land off-airport. Think about the consequences of your actions. Think about the safety of the people on the ground. Think about the potential for complaints.

And don’t be stupid.

6 thoughts on “One Pilot’s Stupidity Makes Us All Look Bad

  1. Quite a few years back, I remember reading about a pilot in a Bell 47 landing in or next to a McDonalds parking lot and picked up a couple of burgers. He was gone before the law arrived. Lucky. Stupid but lucky he didn’t get caught. His name would have lived in infamy among helicopter pilots. Bell Helicopter instituted a “Fly Neighborly” policy in cooperation with HAA (now HAI) back in the 70s as a result of an abundance of complaints against helicopter operations. Manufacturers have made advancements in noise reduction but there’s more room for improvement. Helicopters ARE noisy and if you are not involved with them, can be downright irritating and annoying. Pilots, lets not make matters worse, or we could be looking for another job.

    • There was a big brouhaha in Arizona a few years back when a police helicopter made a donut run. I don’t remember all the details, but it was a public relations debacle.

      I admit that I’ve landed my helicopter at a handful of restaurants over the years. In each case — Wild Horse Cafe in Peoria, Wayside Inn near Alamo Lake, and Kofa Cafe in Vicksburg Junction — the restaurant was in a remote place, the landing zone was not near the parking lot, and there were few (if any) people on the ground to observe the landing or departure. I would no longer do this at Wild Horse — I think it’s too close to the city now. In the case of Wayside, it’s a 40 mile drive down a dirt road through empty desert to get there; I simply can’t imagine making that drive. And I’m not alone: until they graded the dirt strip adjacent to the property, some airplane pilots would land their planes on the road out front. But this is a far call from landing at a concert venue full of people walking around.

      I think a motivation among some pilots is simply to show off. They land at/near crowded places to draw attention to themselves, to say, “Look how cool I am. I have a helicopter.” It’s sort of a stupid “watch this” moment. A pilot who thinks like that deserves to get in trouble with the law.

    • Maria, first and foremost, you claiming to be a freelance writer should know that you dont judge or comment on a situation before you have all your information. I am refering to the blog you wrote about the helicopter pilot that landed at the Nassau Coliseum. Did you do any research on this matter, obviously not. If you did you would have found that the LZ was not only a a secured site but that the landings were permitted weeks prior to the event and there were NO people on the LZ at the time of the landing. Also you state that the first attempt was a go around because there were 4 people walking passed the LZ not on it and the pilot did not want to overfly them, very good judgement call i would say. I would say that you made a bad judgement call when you called the pilot an idiot before you had any smidgen of a clue as to what actually took place that day. May I suggest that you do your homework before you call people out and catorgorize them as bad pilots. Shame on you!!!

    • I based my conclusions on the news report and police action — which is what the public sees. THAT was the point of my blog post — that pilots like that make us all look bad in the eyes of the public. I’m certain that the pilot would NOT have been arrested if the LZ had been approved, vacant, and truly safe. The pilot is indeed an idiot — I stand by my original evaluation of the situation. Only an idiot would have gotten his sorry ass arrested for pulling a stunt like that.

      Was it you? Or a friend? I don’t think anyone else would disagree with what I’ve said here.

  2. So I guess you are saying that the police never make mistakes and that the press always prints factual data, I am thinking you are the idiot for not doing your own investigating into a story. If you are going to put information out there and comment on a situation than you should know the facts. Were you there, did you see what took place? I don’t think so. You know nothing about the situation so you should not form an opinion, certainly not a negative one. Your journalistic abilities are no more than that of a 5th grader.

    • No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that what appeared in the media and on police reports is what the public sees and knows about the situation. THIS is what they’re basing their judgement on. Whether the pilot is at fault doesn’t really matter when it comes to the perception of the public. The public likely sees what I see — that a pilot did something dangerous. This is what makes the rest of us look bad.

What do you think?