Military Jet Buzzing Santa Monica Pier

13 Nov 09 4 Comments

Last November, two high-performance military jets departed Van Nuys airport in California as a formation flight to gather footage for a film in production called Kerosene Cowboys. The plan was for the jets to do four passes off of the coast of the Santa Monica pier, west of a banner tow aircraft towing a banner for the film. The first passes went as planned and then one of the pilots broke away and flew low over the beach area for multiple passes in excess of 250 knots (two of the passes were below 500 feet) and then pulled into a steep climb just before the pier.

Buzzing of Santa Monica Pier leads to questions about aviation safety —

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.

David Riggs and Skip Holmes were the pilots of the military jets. The pilot in question of the lead aircraft that broke away was identified as David Riggs.

A video of the event:

The jet pilot has had his private pilot certificate revoked.


The pilot in question was cited for a number of violations of the Federal Aviation Regulations including the following:
a. Section 91.117(a) [flying at an indicated airspeed of more than 250 knots below 10,000 feet];
b. Section 91.117(c) [flying at an indicated airspeed in excess of 200 knots while operating below Class B airspace];
c. Section 91.119(a) [operating at an altitude where an emergency landing cannot be effected without undue hazard
to persons or property];
d. Section 91.119(b) [operating over a congested area below 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet];
e. Section 91.119(c) [operating at an altitude of below 500 feet over an other than congested
f. Section 91.303(c) [performing aerobatics in Class B, Class C, Class D or Class E Airspace];
g. Section 93.303(d) [conducting aerobatics within 4 nautical 3 miles of the centerline of a
Federal airway];
h. Section 91.303(e) [conducting aerobatics at an altitude of below 1,500 feet above the
surface]; and i. Section 91.13(a) [operating an aircraft so as to endanger the life or property of another].

The pilot stated that he was doing the flybys to promote his new movie; there was a meeting including “film market buyers and producers” at the Loew’s Beach Hotel overlooking the pier. Dave Riggs is the CEO of Afterburner Films, Inc.

You can read the full details on a PDF by National Transportation Safety Board (may be slow to load).

And that would seem to be the end of that. Although according to the LA Times article:

FAA officials also say they are still keeping an eye on Riggs. In August, they sent him a warning letter stating that the agency would not honor a Canadian pilot’s license he obtained in June, several months after his U.S. license was revoked.

Here is a photograph of the plane (taken by Chris Kennedy and featured on

If you think it looks vaguely familiar, that might be because you’ve recently watched the viral YouTube video about a frightening Close Call with Terrain:

Is it the same plane in the video?

The markings match but I don’t know how common that colour scheme is for L-39s and there’s no chance of seeing the registration number. I’ve been looking for more information on the terrain incident but not seen anything other than the details on YouTube so far.

If you enjoy this blog, consider buying my ebook: You Fly Like a Woman for under a dollar at Amazon.

Category: Miscellaneous,


  • What a fool.

    The LA Times article is a smear job, insinuating that civilian ownership of ex-military aircraft is the problem. Prohibiting us from owning ex-military planes would amounts to punishing all law-abiding pilots for the crime of one man.

  • It does seem like an incredibly stupid stunt, doesn’t it.

    I thought the LA Times article was remarkably sane, considering that there’s a strong contingent who would like to see the local airfields shut down. But I agree, the whole situation is going to be making life a lot harder for people who own military aircraft, which clearly isn’t the major issue in this incident.

  • It’s sad that there are a few pilots flying that don’t realize how much their actions scare the public and increase the probability of regulations or other actions that restrict the freedom of other pilots to fly in a rationale a way.

Post a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.