Friday, May 27, 2011

"Opfer müssen gebracht werden!"

The news was bad...as bad as it could be. And yet, not unexpected. We all knew what was likely and we all made a concerted effort to ignore the odds and to hope. And for those that believed, to pray. But deep, deep inside we weren't kidding ourselves. Nonetheless, Kyle Franklin's post on his Facebook page last evening was gut wrenching.

Most of you are aware of the accident in mid-March, when Kyle and Amanda Franklin - two of the very best airshow performers - were seriously injured in the crash of their Waco biplane after an engine failure. Kyle's injuries were serious; Amanda's were horrific. She suffered burn injuries of the most serious kind involving most of her skin area. Anyone who knows anything about burn injuries recognized immediately that the prognosis was not good. But she and her loved ones and her care-givers fought against the probable ending for 75 days.

The entire aviation community rallied to Amanda's support. But this time, no miracles will be forthcoming. The effects of her burns have overwhelmed the defenses of her young, fit body and the skills and determination of the best medical specialists in the world at Brook Army Medical Center's Burn Center.

Kyle has told us that he and Amanda's family have asked her care-givers to cease their heroic efforts to prolong her life. With this inconceivably difficult decision on his part, her way West is now open. Soon she'll be gone, joining the other aviators that have followed the trail blazed by Otto Lilienthal so long ago. His last words: "Opfer müssen gebracht werden!" "Sacrifices must be made."

But why? Why must these sacrifices be made? What god, behind what altar, thirsts after the blood and flesh of these splendid young people? Look, if you will, at this list of airshow incidents beginning in 1910 and ending with Kyle and Amanda's accident. It's a horrible butcher's bill.

I've been to my share of airshows. I've watched Sean Tucker and Mike Goulian do things with airplanes that I'd have thought impossible. I've watched the aerial demonstration teams light up the sky with the splendor of their performances. But I think I'm done. The game isn't worth the candle.

If a pilot wants to take a fully aerobatic airplane out to the practice area and "wring it out," more power to her. If this is what you're reaching for, may you find it:

"Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air."
But I'll no longer accept the Roman circuses. Enough of "The show must go on!" Just as aviation outgrew the time of the Barnstormers, perhaps we've outgrown the high-risk airshow exhibition. It's not my place to say it shouldn't be allowed...but it is my prerogative to say that I won't watch anymore.

UPDATE: A little after 10 PM CDT on Friday 27 May, 2011, Amanda Franklin passed away. She was surrounded by those who loved her and in the thoughts of aviators everywhere.


Dave Starr said...

Cogent thoughts indeed, Frank. I lost an aviation friend or two a couple years ago when I publicly agreed on an anti-air show post by another blogger ... hope I don't have the same result here ... but the nonsense has to end.

The Show Must Go ON? indeed, Why?

Eck! said...

Sad as it is, we are pilots and we believe it's something good to promote.

Air shows with the thrill acts are part of that. They are dangerous. They work to minimize danger, but airplanes are mechanical and pilots are human.

I will watch. No I don't watch for the bad, I watch because those flying wish to share what they do, the good. I can't make the danger go away, I cannot make them stop nor would I. I can recognize that what they do is a choice with full knowledge and the courage to do what I dare not try.

To those that do this safe flight.


Dave Starr said...

Sorry, Eckl, but I am one of those "we" who are pilots. Have been one for more than 40 years now.

The fact that one _can_ do something, voluntarily, and inherently dangerous with an airplane does not mean it is in any way _necessary_ to do so.

One can play Russian Roulette and come out ahead "most" of the time as well, but it's foolhardy and hardly necessary for the advancement of aviation. IMO.