Social Media’s ‘Bottle Cap Challenge’ a Dangerous Game

CFI tries to figure out the allure of intentionally adding FOD to a runway for the purpose of hitting it.

One of the outgrowths of video-enhanced social media are the number of “challenges” that are shared on them. For the unfamiliar, these challenges often involve a physical activity, like having a bucket of ice dumped over your head, having six of your closest friends hit golf balls at you, riding a skateboard down a flight of stairs at a public library, etc. The non-social media general public often hears about these challenges when the person performing the challenge is injured or worse.

For example, a few years ago, health officials were warning consumers not to eat detergent pods when the Tide Pod Challenge became a thing—the challenge involved people who ate the whole bowl of stupid on a given day and were inspired to swallow a packet of poisonous detergent as a means of gaining attention on social media.

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Recently, I learned about the Bottle Cap Challenge for pilots. The challenge involves 2-liter bottles of soda. The bottles, with their caps loosened, are lined up along the runway parallel with the centerline. The objective of the challenge is for the pilot to take off from the runway and use the airplane’s tires to knock the caps off the bottles without knocking the bottles over.

Let that sink in. Pilots are intentionally placing these bottles, this foreign object debris—also known as FOD—on the runway in their path and then intentionally hitting this FOD. Have you ever been struck by a bottle filled with liquid? They are heavy. They can do damage.

I am not sure if I should clutch my pearls, weep for humanity, or both.

I watched a few of these clips. They have to be slowed down because the action scene—a tire taking the cap off—happens in a blink of an eye. Some pilots are successful. Most of the time the bottles are knocked over. I watched the videos several times, wondering if the allure of this activity would come to me in an epiphany.

It did not.

I get the concept that it’s a skill to just take the cap off, but to do so you’re deliberately hitting a bottle of liquid, a potentially heavy bottle, that could damage the aircraft or even a person standing nearby with the camera. Why would anyone risk damage to an aircraft and potentially themselves or someone else for a few seconds of social media exposure? Who is that starved for attention? (Switches to academy-just-this-side-of-maternal voice here: You are a pilot. You do NOT need to PROVE ANYTHING.)

I am not sure if I should clutch my pearls, weep for humanity, or both.

Is there an aviation-appropriate skill the challenge develops? Please tell me there is. I rendered the Private Pilot and Commercial Pilot Airman Certification Standards dog-eared as I thumbed the pages, looking for a practical application for knocking the caps off of soda bottles.

I did not find one.

I am all about pilot’s developing, honing, and polishing their skills. The airman certification standards is one great big book of challenges, in this respect. This is why I understand and support short takeoff and landing (STOL) practice, and power-off approach practice.

Best-angle climbs and spot landings help a pilot to develop short field takeoff and landing skills. Power-off 180 degree landings hone a pilot’s energy management skills. 

I personally love spot landingsespecially when I am flying with another pilot and we play “hit that spot or you owe me a soda.” The pilot flying asks, “Where do you want it?” and the pilot observing names the spot. Sometimes, the pilot flying is successful. Sometimes not.

After the flight, we always have a sodaremoving the bottle caps with our hands.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FLYING Media.

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