When you’re flying a plane, there are a ton of things to worry about. Like airspeed, altitude, heading, fuel load and consumption rate, and keeping the plane from falling out of the sky. But the one thing that pilots don’t generally worry about is getting shot while flying at 1,200 feet above the ground.
Let me set the scene. Its nearly midnight, as a pilot and his (student pilot) girlfriend (girl above — Bill Murray was not involved) are circling the city of Jacksonville, Florida. They’re planning on watching the fireworks from the air, a romantic (and expensive) way to spend a memorable new years. But then, suddenly, disaster.
Well we’re doing a wide two mile circle at 1,200′ around downtown where they have a huge fireworks display on the river. I’m flying slow with 10 degrees of flaps out at about 65mph and waiting for midnight when I heard a loud POP and the feeling of being hit by shattered material. I flinch as I throw my head down between the seats and look up at Alpha, who is OK but wide-eyed. I’ve had a Rosen visor break on me once so that’s what immediately came to mind. I scanned the windshield from right to left, checked the visors, and then looked at my window. There was a bullet hole about four inches in front of my shoulder! As I’m telling Alpha that we were just shot at, I got that sick feeling of warm blood running down my neck, lots of it.
The man is okay and managed to land the plane safely, but required medical attention before the night was out. A gash along his scalp is the worst of the damage, but a few inches to either side and things would have taken a most decidedly terrifying turn for the worse.
I can imagine it now. You’re still learning to fly, you’re up at night where the visibility is low, and suddenly your instructor / boyfriend dies. Now you have to land the plane yourself without any help or else you both die. It has been done before, a husband and wife were flying a small plane not too long ago when the husband died of a heart attack mid-flight, but still not the way I would want to ring in the new year.
The current speculation is that the round was fired unaimed into the air by someone on the ground celebrating the new year.
Moral of the story: NEVER fire your gun in the air. You already knew that, but the point bears repeating.