Flying in the Video Age

Bringing an HD camera aboard an airplane can be great for entertainment and education, but there's also a dark side that the lens can magnify.

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We've all noticed it: In the last year or so there has been an exponential increase in the number of pilot-shot videos on YouTube thanks to the popularity of portable HD cameras from companies like GoPro, JVC and Pure Digital Technologies, maker of the Flip. Some pilots are even using suction-cup mounts to affix their cameras to the fuselage for spectacular views that must be making the certification folks at the FAA cringe.

An unintended byproduct in the video-is-everywhere age is that we're seeing more crashes being filmed from inside the cockpit. There was that suddenly famous video shot a couple of weeks ago by a passenger in a Stinson 108-3. It shows the pilot struggling to take off from an Idaho airport with a density altitude of well over 9,000 feet but never making it more than about 70 feet above trees before crashing into them.

Another video that has just surfaced shows a pilot attempting to land at a private grass strip before hitting power lines that appear to be way too close to the runway.

Videos like these can be incredibly instructive to aviators everywhere, serving as stark reminders of how a bad decision can quickly ruin a pilot's day.

On the other hand, these videos can also create a hive-mind-fueled rush to judgment, in which self-appointed experts watch a video once and proclaim they know the cause of a particular mishap. Others jump into the online conversation with their own opinions and before you know it, the Internet’s version of a public accident report is all but written, even if it turns out to be totally wrong.

What’s obvious is that the increased use of video cameras aboard light airplanes will inevitably lead to a rise in the number of accident videos surfacing online, and all the good and bad that comes with it.

For you pilots out there who are starting to fly regularly with cameras, here’s some practical advice I hope you heed, and not all of it having to do with safety:

• When you upload in-flight video to the Web, please resist the urge to overlay the opening theme music from Top Gun; unless you're flying a Navy fighter off the deck of a carrier, in which case that music is mandatory.

• It’s okay to speed up your video so that we viewers don’t have to suffer through your entire, 45-minute sightseeing flight over your hometown – but it is NEVER okay to do this during the landing. That’s our payoff for clicking on your video in the first place.

• If you bust a regulation with the camera rolling, do yourself a favor and hit the delete button. You don’t want to deal with the ramifications, and the rest of the aviation community doesn’t need your dumb mistake going viral.

• If somebody on the ground shoots video of you busting a regulation, pray they didn’t get your tail number.

• And last but certainly not least, never think of the camera in the airplane as an excuse or reason to show off. For what seems like forever, pilots have been killing themselves by buzzing their girlfriends' houses, performing aerobatics without proper training and other bone-headed moves that usually begin with the words "Watch this" and rarely end well. If we’re not careful, the camera’s lens will only magnify this phenomenon. Let’s all make it a point to fly as safely and sanely as possible, whether the camera is rolling or not.