View Full Version : GA pilot buzzes Santa Monica Pier in a jet

8th Nov 2009, 12:54
Video (http://www.latimes.com/videobeta/watch/?watch=410bd0e4-afa6-4cab-a045-b43903e33c5f&cat=empty&src=front)

Racing at speeds of up to 350 mph, the Soviet-made military jet made several low-altitude passes at the Santa Monica Pier, seemingly keying on the popular Ferris wheel as frightened onlookers scattered, some screaming.

Emergency calls poured in to police as the aircraft flew about 50 feet off the ground, then spiraled skyward in a series of tight rolls, smoke trailing from its tail as if it were an aerobatic plane. The lifeguard in Tower 26 said the jet passed so close that she felt a wall of heat.

For a few minutes on that November day a year ago, it seemed the pier was under attack.

Instead, officials learned, the startling aerial display was a stunt arranged by a local pilot, convicted felon and production company executive to promote an unfinished movie about a maverick squadron of Americans and Russians on a secret mission to Iran.

The pilot, David G. Riggs, lost his license and faces a misdemeanor criminal case in Santa Monica. A court hearing to set his trial date has been scheduled for Monday. Riggs declined to comment. His attorney said he did nothing wrong.

But Riggs' escapade has focused attention on a little-known aspect of aviation: the use of high-performance military jets by civilian pilots and the hazards they can pose to people in the air and on the ground.

The incident has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to take a harder look at hundreds of experimental exhibition aircraft in its Western Pacific region: California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii. There are about 5,600 planes with that designation in the United States, including aircraft like Riggs' 1973 Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros, one of the most popular Soviet bloc trainers during the Cold War.

Because they are not built on FAA-certified assembly lines, such experimental exhibition planes are restricted by the government to air shows, flight demonstrations or training flights over sparsely populated areas. The planes cannot carry passengers for hire unless the FAA approves.

Another type of Soviet trainer, an Aero Vodochody L-29 Delfin, crashed while flying in Tehachapi's Independence Day celebration this year, killing two pilots and narrowly missing a neighborhood.

According to the FAA, Riggs, 47, obtained his private pilot's license in 1984. Besides the FAA enforcement action and Santa Monica case, court documents show that he served time in Hong Kong for passport fraud. In Missouri, he was convicted several times on theft and fraud charges, including a federal prosecution that resulted in a three-year prison term for wire fraud, bank fraud and passport fraud.

Riggs also has been the target of civil lawsuits, including a pending fraud and breach of contract case filed against him in Los Angeles by 31 people who say they invested about $2.8 million in his production company, Afterburner Films.

According to FAA and National Transportation Safety Board records, Riggs and a second pilot, Skip Holm, left Van Nuys Airport on Nov. 6, each flying an L-39. Holm was in a Canadian-registered plane that Riggs had leased, FAA officials say.

The plan was to do four passes of the Santa Monica coast at a safe altitude as a third small plane flew nearby, towing a promotional banner for the movie "Kerosene Cowboys."

FAA and NTSB documents show that Riggs flew away from the other two planes and made low passes at the pier and along the beach before Holm told him over the radio to "knock it off." Riggs concluded the flight by pulling into a steep climb just before he would have hit the pier, videotapes show.

After Riggs lost his pilot's license, Terry White, a prosecutor in the Santa Monica city attorney's office, filed a criminal complaint in May, invoking a rarely used section of the state public utilities code that prohibits the unsafe operation of an airplane. "Videos show he came very close to the pier," White said. "This was a very serious and dangerous act."

If convicted, Riggs could be fined $1,000 and get up to a year in jail.

Should the case go to trial, his attorney, John Duran, said he would assert that Holm is to blame. "The stunt involved two airplanes," Duran said. "My client was in the secondary plane. He was just following the pattern of Mr. Holm. They are going to have a hard time proving this case."

Holm is a Vietnam War veteran who won three Distinguished Flying Crosses and flew more than 350 combat missions as a U.S. Air Force pilot. He left the service as a lieutenant colonel in 1992 and has worked in civilian aviation since.

He described Duran's strategy as an "insane defense." Riggs, he said, "was out to sell a movie. He wanted to get publicity."

In January, the FAA revoked Riggs' pilot's license. He appealed to the NTSB, which concurred with the FAA in March and ordered the revocation of Riggs' license, noting his "flagrant disregard for the rules."

Linky (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-flyby8-2009nov08,0,7365252.story)


8th Nov 2009, 17:27
Should the case go to trial, his attorney, John Duran, said he would assert that Holm is to blame. "The stunt involved two airplanes," Duran said. "My client was in the secondary plane. He was just following the pattern of Mr. Holm. They are going to have a hard time proving this case."

Wow. I think Mr. Duran (a) Isn't a very good lawyer (b) hasn't seen the video and (c) is insanely optimistic.

8th Nov 2009, 18:29
Is this real? I don't see it on the major news networks... maybe I've spent too much time looking at fabricated footage, but some of these sequences don't look right at all.

8th Nov 2009, 21:07
I'm not sure. Santa Monica is pretty close to LA class B (just north of lax) and if it is real, it looks like he is close to busting the airspace. Not only that, he is performing aerobatics within X miles of a federal airway (V107 goes over santa monica) and so would be busted on that too.

8th Nov 2009, 23:18
I don't know how good a source of information this link is, but I Googled the incident and found this...it's quite detailed if it is fake.


Let me know if this all turns out to be nonsense so I can feel suitably daft for having believed it in the first place.

9th Nov 2009, 09:21
Looks like fun!

Runaway Gun
9th Nov 2009, 09:25
It was for real. No fakes.

9th Nov 2009, 23:40
you may remember this


10th Nov 2009, 06:09
The cold hard reality is that Skip Holm's aerial skills are what you are seeing in that video. Skip is a great airman but lacks a great deal of common sense. The second ship in the formation was flown by Rigsg - a Pirvate Pilot - who took the hit for Skip. Why would he do that? Skip Holm rolled on his wingman thats why. Skip had been violated three times before and figured it was the only way to save his ticket.

"Never lose sight of your wingman" -- Especially if you intend to rat him out to the Feds.

Shame on you Skip -- but great flying!

10th Nov 2009, 08:42
Wouldn't it be a felony to lie in a circumstance like that though?

10th Nov 2009, 17:29
@<hidden> FlysafeLA, I can't imagine Rigg would just be sitting back and letting Holm destroy his life in aviation....

I severely doubt Holm was flying the thing.

10th Nov 2009, 18:33
How can they charge him locally, i thought that federal law trumps state law? I mean sure the FAA can take his ticket but since the airspace is federal i dont understand how the state can do anything.

10th Nov 2009, 20:24
When I think of that video of a Russian pilot flying an aerobatic aircraft inverted under a small hump back bridge with crowds chearing a few feet away.

When i see our British rally with cars travelling at 140 mph along forest roads inches from crowds of people!

Then I see this! criminal charges bla bla bla. Theres no fun anymore :ugh:


10th Nov 2009, 21:22
^^^ I agree. This kind of thing looks fun.

I suppose you have to bear in mind anyone could be flying though, and if the jet had careered into the pier it wouldn't do much for the face of GA.

Regardless some day I hope to be going low and fast.

While you're around (since you're very experienced) where would I find the rules governing minimum altitudes and maximum speeds ? Can you get permission to operate outside these regulations in certain areas?

Runaway Gun
10th Nov 2009, 21:30
Flysafela, that's a pretty damning and unproven allegation towards Skip Holm.

I've worked with Skip, and I consider him to exercise as much common sense and airmanship, as he has in pure flying skills (ie better than 95% of pilots I know). He's the kind of pilot that doesn't have to prove his superior skills - and doesn't.

11th Nov 2009, 01:47

I know that and my comments were a bit ???? but it did make me think how things used to be and what a liability society we have become.

I can remember as a child going with my Dad to a motor race. There were no barriers only cars sliding inches away. We got as much of an adrenaline kick as did the drivers!

Now you watch a race from 1/2 mile away. Life is a risk but somehow we loose the essence and the colour with our self protectionist attitudes

Whereas the folks on Santa Monica Pier that day did not choose to have this guy doing what he did inside of KSMO class D

I dont suppose the class of airspace would have any relevance to a crashing aircraft.


11th Nov 2009, 04:59
You are right its a strong accusation against Skip Holm. But I was personally in Russian on a movie set with him, Rigs and 4 other pilots when the news of the revocation came in from the FAA back home. All of us heard Skip admit that he rolled on Rigs because - and I quote "you can produce movies but I have to make a living flying and this is my fourth violation and probably my last". Bottom line Skip hung his wingman out to dry to save himself. If you doubt the fact Skip is dangerous, check out this Youtube Video

YouTube - Jet vs. car in Kill Speed Movie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im794K1nnuc)

Easily 275 knots within 10 feet of people on the ground and then a pull into the vertical over some houses in the background.

I admire his talents but after this nonesense, I would never fly with Skip again.

SEO by vBSEO 3.6.1