Aerial Demonstrations and Dynamic Maneuvering
The airshow industry is constantly evolving as are the regulations and policies that inform and regulate airshow performers. On October 10, 2019, the FAA promulgated FAA Order N8900.526, Policy Updates for Issuing Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for An Aviation Event (the “Order”). The Order put into place a new concept called “dynamic maneuvering.” The rules on dynamic maneuvering came in the wake of an aerial collision of a formation team several years ago. In this article, we will explore dynamic maneuvering, what it is and what it is not and how it will affect airshow performers.
A SHORT HISTORY LESSON
In approximately 2010, the author wrote an aerial script entitled The Battle of Midway. The Battle of Midway reenacted the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, and culminated in the aerial engagement between Japanese and American airplanes at the Battle of Midway. This aerial performance included an ensemble cast consisting of a Kate, a Zero, two North American SNJs, a B-25, a TBM Avenger, and an SBD Dauntless dive bomber. In today’s terminology, the maneuvers enacted during The Battle of Midway airshow reenactment are “dynamic maneuvering” within the ambit of the new FAA Order. The Battle of Midway featured head on passes between Japanese and American aircraft, the separation of the Japanese aircraft so that American aircraft could get on their tails and shoot them down and then rejoin the Japanese aircraft and American aircraft after the aerial engagement. Today, the head on passes alone would constitute dynamic maneuvering.
In the 2017 and 2018 airshow season, the Commemorative Air Force offered to the public an airshow performance entitled Prowlers of the Pacific. The author flew a Kate replica torpedo bomber in that performance along with an F4U Corsair, an SBD Dauntless dive bomber, and a Helldiver. During the course of the performance, the Corsair and Kate would be flying a racetrack in one direction while the Dauntless and Helldiver were flying a racetrack in the opposite direction. This gave the effect of the Kate and Corsair flying head on passes in the direction of the Helldiver and Dauntless with lateral separation. Again, in today’s terminology, that would be considered dynamic maneuvering.
AEROBATICS IN THE REGULATIONS IS NOT THE SAME AS AEROBATICS IN AIRSHOW PERFORMANCES
We all learned as pilots the definition of aerobatic flight in FAR §91.303:
For purposes of this section, aerobatic flight means an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight.
We also learned that FAR §91.307 requires the occupants of an aircraft to wear parachutes if the bank angle is 60° and the pitch angle is 30° relative to the horizon. These parameters defining aerobatic flight do not apply in airshow performances.
Under Paragraph 3-143B of the FAA Order, aerobatic flight is defined as a pitch attitude of more than 60° and a bank angle of greater than 75° relative to the horizon. Because the definition of aerobatic flight in the FAA Order differs markedly from the definition of aerobatic flight in the regulations, airshow promoters and producers are requested to seek a waiver stating that §91.303 does not apply during the airshow performances. Arguably, this is because Section 91.303 is more-vague and less descriptive than the definitions appearing in the Order. Further, Section 91.307 is far more restrictive than the FAA Order in defining aerobatics.
DYNAMIC MANEUVERING AND PARTICIPANT ELIGIBILITY
Paragraph 3-146 of the Order defines participant eligibility and requires, when appropriate, aerobatic competency documentation commonly called a Statement of Aerobatic Competency or SAC Card. A SAC Card is FAA Form 8710-7 issued by an Aerobatic Competency Evaluator (“ACE”) designated by the FAA or the equivalent Transport Category Form 26-03-07. The Inspector in Charge (“IIC”) of the airshow will apply these definitions of dynamic maneuvering either in solo flight or in formation flight:
In solo flight, dynamic maneuvering includes abrupt maneuvering, crossing maneuvers, and opposing maneuvers. The pitch and bank limitations are when the pitch attitude of the aircraft is less than or equal to 60° above or below the horizon and/or the bank angle is less than or equal to 90° in reference to the horizon.
In a formation flight, dynamic maneuvering includes formation separation, formation configuration/position changes, rejoins, crossing maneuvers, and opposing maneuvers. The pitch and bank limitations are when the pitch attitude of the aircraft is less than or equal to 60 degrees above or below the horizon and/or the bank angle is less than or equal to 75 degrees in reference to the horizon.
Under Paragraph 3-146, if the performers intend to engage in dynamic maneuvering, then they must present the FAA Inspector in Charge with a Statement of Aerobatic Competency with a dynamic maneuvering endorsement and show evidence of a practice performance within 45 days prior to the airshow event. In accordance with this new Order, the performance must have been in a practice setting. The performers cannot re-obtain their currency by flying a dynamic maneuvering routine during a “practice day” at the airshow. Fortunately, airshow performances like Prowlers of the Pacific are grandfathered and will not be required to demonstrate participation in 30 practice sessions before going to an Aerobatic Competency Evaluator.
However, even grandfathered airshow performances involving dynamic maneuvering will have to go before an Aerobatic Competency Evaluator and be evaluated.
THE SIX POSSIBLE CATEGORIES OF AIRSHOW PERFORMANCE
Table 3-6 of the new FAA Order makes it clear that there are now six possible categories of performances at airshows. They are as follows:
- Standard Maneuvering Solo requires no credentials and the aircraft may be flown at a pitch angle equal to or less than 60° and a bank angle equal to or less than 75° and at an altitude of 100 feet above ground level at an airspeed of up to 300 knots.
- The Dynamic Maneuvering Solo requires a Statement of Aerobatic Competency with a Dynamic Maneuvering Solo endorsement, and authorizes the performer to fly a pitch angle equal to or less than 60° and a bank angle equal to or less than 90° and to operate 100 feet above ground level, and with a SAC-DMS II card there are no limitations on airspeed other than not to go supersonic.
- Aerobatic Maneuvering Solo requires a SAC card with an aerobatic solo endorsement, and authorizes the performer to operate at a pitch angle of greater than 60° and a bank angle of greater than 75°. If the airshow performer has a SAC-AS Level I Card, there are no limitation on his altitude. There is no limitation on the airspeed other than not to go supersonic.
- A Standard Maneuvering Formation Card will authorize the performer to fly a pitch angle equal to or less than 45° and a bank angle equal to or less than 60° and to operate no lower than 250 feet above ground level and at an airspeed no greater than 250 knots indicated airspeed.
A Dynamic Maneuvering Formation card which is a SAC card with a DMF endorsement will authorize the performer to operate at a pitch angle equal to or less than 60° and a bank angle equal to or less than 75° and with a SAC DMF Level II card to operate at an altitude no lower than 250 feet above ground level and with no limitation on the airspeed other than not to go supersonic.
An Aerobatic Maneuvering Formation card which is a SAC card with an AF endorsement will authorize the performer to operate at a pitch angle of greater than 60° and a bank angle of greater than 75° and with a SAC – AF Level I card, at an altitude no lower than 250 feet above ground level, and with no limitations on the airspeed provided the aircraft does not go supersonic.
With a promulgation of the six categories of performers authorized to operate at airshows and the limitations that go with those operations, there will be no more head on passes as were featured in the Battle of Midway or in Prowlers of the Pacific unless the airshow performers are credentialed with the proper SAC cards, Statements of Aerobatic Competency. The performers will have to demonstrate that they successfully accomplished an evaluation by an ACE examiner. They will have to demonstrate that they have accomplished the performance of this particular airshow act within 45 days of the airshow appearance. Accordingly, one can anticipate in the warbird community that the flyby performances will be relatively tame. Since formation flight is considered to be the operation of an aircraft within 500 feet of another aircraft, unless all of the airshow performers possess Dynamic Maneuvering Formation cards, they will be restricted to standard maneuvering with a pitch angle equal to or less than 60° and a bank angle equal to or less than 75° and operations no lower than 100 feet above ground level, at airspeeds no greater than 300 knots indicated airspeed. The concern one has is that if an Inspector in Charge believes a pilot has exceeded the standard maneuvering limitations, the Inspector in Charge may argue that the pilot engaged in dynamic maneuvering without the appropriate credentials.
The Battle of Midway was an expensive performance and so was the Prowlers of the Pacific. It is unlikely that warbird operators will have the resources to practice an aerial performance every 45 days to demonstrate currency for purposes of appearing at an airshow. In other words, the days of dogfights at airshows may effectively be over, unless the performers possess the financial resources to comply with the requirements of the new FAA Order.