Nevada Wing
Main Content

Air Show Safety

Air Show Safety

Maj. Dan Hoppy, CAP, Director of Safety, CAWG &
Maj. Kenneth Lucia, CAP, Asst. Dir. of Safety, Pacific Region

For most of us in Civil Air Patrol, it doesn't matter how old we are-whether eight or eighty-when we hear of an airshow, we intend to be there! If not a CAP-attended event, then we will show up with our chairs, hats, money for souvenirs, and what not! It could be a local fly-in for pancakes, some acrobatic pistons, older warbirds, or even one of the top aerial performers like the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels teams: our eyes light up and we just got to go!

For those of us that love to blend CAP with airshows, we get the best of both worlds! There is the added magic of seeing "Christmas morning" through the eyes of amazed cadet youth. They want to be pilots. They want to fly jets for the Air Force. A whole world of imagination juices are buzzing though their minds and they just got to be there and be part of it too!

But there are real dangers from working around airplanes and airports. You may remember the Italian demonstration team that collided at the Ramstein airshow in 1988, where the aircraft exploded into the crowd of spectators. Then there was the P-51 racer at the Reno Air Races in 2011. CAP cadets attended both of those events! Add to this a number of less catastrophic mishaps at other events: air-shows are not without risk. Fortunately, most events go off without a hitch. But I'd like to focus here on more common hazards to be encountered by CAP volunteers at public airshows (and also at other CAP-attended events) that can be mitigated with a little planning.

First, consider how cadets will travel to the event? Will mom and dad drop them off at the show? Will they meet someplace and all hop on a van? If a vehicle is used, there's the responsibility for cadet protection and compliance with the three-person rule. Spotters must be used when backing vans. Were the vans inspected and in good working order? Does the driver have a CAP license? Does the parent or guardian know when to return so that a tardy driver does not place the cadets at risk and inconvenience the CAP chaperons?

Do you have positive control over who is in attendance? Have you established a sign-in/sign out location so we can account for everyone if a situation arises? Is everyone's permission slips and emergency contact information on file with the administrative and logistics liaison?

Have you reminded the cadets (and senior members) to bring sunscreen? Extra water? Appropriate headgear and sunglasses? Do cadets know that wearing new boots or shoes to and airshow may result in blisters? Did you bring moleskin along with you for those who do get blisters?

What are your plans to provide food, water, and sanitary facilities? Will there be clean water and toilet paper available?

Is there a medical aid station nearby? Does everyone know where it is? Where is the nearest urgent care center and hospital, and have you located the multiple treatment centers that might be need in the event of mass casualties? If someone is injured, what is your plan to deal with the emergency, file a mishap report, and inform parents and the CAP reporting chain? Who will gather the information for the safety update in eServices? Do you have a safety officer present and a medical officer available? Do any of the cadets have allergies or special medical needs (e.g., Epi-pen, insulin, key medications, etc.). Do attendees have any special nutritional or dietary needs? Do the key staff and teammates know how to assist in the serious cases?

How will you communicate with your senior members and staff onsite and with parents, drivers, and CAP officialdom offsite? Does the area have adequate cell coverage? Does everyone who may need to communicate have a cellphone? If so, have you arranged for them to share phone numbers? Do they have radios? How are you accounting for the radios to prevent loss? Have you assured that the radios are charged, and do you have extra batteries?

Do all attendees have maps (if the area is very large and unfamiliar) or have good situational awareness? What happens if you lose contact with someone? Is there a return-to-base provision at a central location at the top or bottom of the hour if contact is lost, and are all cadets aware of it? Have you set up a buddy system for cadets who must leave a group (e.g., for a visit to the restrooms or for an assignment)? Have you assigned cadet and senior supervisors in charge of small teams or flights -- this also gives new cadets a chance to learn accountability? What are the cadet and senior leaders' checklist items if they seem to be missing someone?

Remember, cadets will be gazing at parked aircraft, and they will forget to hydrate, to eat, and to listen to your instructions; the best solution is to emphasize teamwork so that safety principles will be reinforced buy their peers. You will also need to ensure assignment rotation and rest periods.

Have you checked the weather forecast? Hot weather has its own challenges; so does cold weather. Will it be raining? Will you need ponchos, or jackets and gloves? Which uniform is best suited for the weather? What is the terrain? Rocks, sand, asphalt, grass, etc., all have related concerns.

If food is to be served, have you established sanitation and food handling rules? Are there hot surfaces, sharp objects, propane tanks, and other hazards where attendees need to exercise care?

Have you prepared and operational risk management (ORM) worksheet to analyze these risks? Have you delivered an activity safety briefing before the event? Are there any cadets or senior members from another city, state, or another unit planning to attend? Are they familiar with hazards that are well known to your locals?

During the post-event wrap-up, please remember to schedule an after-action analysis, such as a "hot-wash" debriefing, to identify and document lessons learned for the next event. Mistakes will happen, but there is no need to repeat them: and don't forget to capture factors that ensured your success.

Your goal is to ensure all of our cadets and senior members are safe, that events are fun memorable, that we serve our communities and develop our membership, and that we inspire others to join CAP and bond over our mutual love for aviation.

Remember, we are proud of you and all you do for CAPO and for your communities. You are indeed a special breed-- that chooses to volunteer and serve. We need you, and we need you safe, and healthy. Now, get out there and have safe fun!

© 2024 Civil Air Patrol. All rights reserved.