The Marines have been performing urban warfare exercises here in Indianapolis for a few days now, and aside from the inevitable protests, they have come off smoothly. This afternoon I was able to witness some of them directly.
A helicopter gunship much like this one did a number of "touch and go" landings in Ellenberger Park, 100 yards from my house. Between the landings a number of aerobatics were performed; some obviously attack maneuvers, like tight turns and dives at treetop level, some defensive, such as a zoom climb that began at treetop and went up like a gray comet. The heavy thumping sound of the rotor blades spoke of vast power barely controlled, but the aerial maneuvers were a graceful dance that belied their purpose. It was beautiful to watch.
It was also completely irresponsible.
This wasn't an air show, where all aerobatics- by law- are performed along the flightline or over empty fields beyond, so that should an accident occur, there is only ground to fall on. These maneuvers were being performed above homes full of families. They weren't being performed at thousands of feet; sometimes not even hundreds of feet- when I said "treetop", I was speaking of tens of feet altitude. Should something have happened, it would not have been a choice of whether a house would be hit, but which one.
I'm not being Chicken Little here- accidents do occur. Even the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds have had their accidents, and helicopters are by their very nature the least reliable of all flying machines. Don't tell us here in Indianapolis, where in 1987 an A-7 D Corsair crashed through the lobby of a Ramada Inn, that it can't happen.
Yes, I know that statistically the odds of an incident were very low, but it was a risk that need not have been taken at all. The ground troops need a live city to practice urban warfare in, but helicopter units do not. There are abandoned neighborhoods, and in this economy, a lot of abandoned industrial parks they could have used- if, for some reason, they couldn't have used mockups. Nothing happened this time, but only because they had a good dice roll. I hope policies are changed before they come up snake eyes.