back to article US airline pilot pops a cap in cockpit

A US airline pilot has the dubious honour of being the first person to fire a weapon issued under a federal programme designed to thwart 9/11-style hijackings after his piece accidentally went off in the cockpit during an internal flight on Saturday. According to the LA Times, the incident occurred aboard US Airways Flight …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Mile High?

    After being an active member of the Mile High club; he perhaps thought that a fast descent would produce a more invigorating response?

  2. Matthew

    AD's and Cockpit Damage

    Accidental discharges are a fact of firearm handling, hence the adage that there's "no such thing as an unloaded weapon" - I'm not hugely suprised that this sort of thing would happen eventually. What I'm curious about is how this .40 caliber round didn't tear a nice hole in the pressurised skin of the aircraft?

    Are they doing anything special with these weapons to minimise this, subsonic rounds, for example?

  3. Matt


    Seems sufficient proof that the risks of someone carrying a gun on a plane outweigh any possible anti-hijacking effect :-)

  4. Ian Rogers


    "At a minimum, 130,000 flights a month are protected by armed pilots."

    It's true! There's been no more 9/11 style hijacks since the guns were put on board!

    But then I wear my "lucky underpants" for the same reason - never been on a hijacked plane while I was wearing my underpants, No Siree Bob...

  5. Solomon Grundy
    Black Helicopters

    Armed Flight Deck

    "After 9/11, we became convinced an armed flight deck was the ultimate deterrent to stopping a hijacking plan. From a terrorist standpoint, the hardest thing to do is take control of the cockpit. That's why the deterrent value of this program is just staggering."

    No, the ultimate deterrent to hijacking a plane is armed passengers.

  6. Rick Berry


    Well apparently he did not pierce the cabin. Otherwise, as we all know from the James Bond films, he would have been sucked out like Goldfinger...

  7. John Macintyre

    This was truly an anomaly.

    indeed, great statement from a great person, clearly. 9/11 was an anomaly, the towers had never been hit by several planes before in their 31/29 years of existence...

    Always a great plan to arm someone who's got enough on their plate, what with keeping a planeload of people in the air. By the way, here's a gun in case you get bored...

  8. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Armed Flight Deck

    But what is the ideal deterrent to stopping a hijacking plan? I think the possibility of getting killed might deter me from stopping one.

    Bloody double negatives. And these people make the decisions that affect the possibility of our deathiness.

  9. Sarev


    Ride 'em cowboy...

  10. Tom


    "No, the ultimate deterrent to hijacking a plane is armed passengers"

    That sounds like a great way to destroy a plane by mistake if you ask me.

    The best way to prevent hijacking is to not have a door between the cabin and the cockpit. The pilots could board the plane through a different door entirely.

    Unfortunately, it'd be more expensive to retrofit planes, so instead they put guns on them and make them more dangerous than they were in the first place.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    "the deterrent value of this program is just staggering"

    Sure is. It has certainly deterred me from flying with those fuckers.

  12. Jonathan

    This pilot = ejected from the mile high club

    Because his girlfriend complained about his early accidental discharge.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    We all said it would happen

    How long until a plane crashes from the instrument damage of a similar incident?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Love Gun

    "some pilots carry guns that are loaded and ready to go" - perhaps the pilot was showing off his lethal weapon to one of the stewardesses, and it went off prematurely. Perhaps.

  15. Anonymous Coward


    "Are they doing anything special with these weapons to minimise this, subsonic rounds, for example?"

    I should hope so. For the safety of the non-terrorists in the cabin, I'd want them to be using as low a muzzle velocity as possible. The last thing you want is one bullet taking out the bad guy and passing through to knock off some poor innocent by-sitter.

    That's the reason that SWAT, special forces, etc. favour H&K MP5 sub-machine guns.

    Mine's the coat with the kevlar lining and the copy of "Guns and Ammo" in the pocket.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    voice recorder

    I hope they release a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder for the time this happened. I don't mind the names being anonymised, but it should make for an interesting read.

    Is there any way to force the release of this information?

  17. Edward Rose


    An American,

    A Gun,

    Trained to use it.

    Apparently not competent with it (although I may be wrong).

    How is this news?

  18. Ross

    Old statistic

    I seem to recall a statistic about people carrying weapons to protect themselves being more likely to be injured/killed than those that don't.

    Plus I'm not entirely convinced of the value of introducing a loaded gun into an environment that didn't previously have one.

    As for the 9/11 argument - you honestly think that someone who is taking steps to get themselves killed is going to be put off by a gun? Really?

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Ultimate Deterrent

    To be honest, the best way to prevent terrorists getting access to the cockpit is to put the cockpit behind a locked door - like the rest of the world do. Guns on planes are bad. Full stop. With so many people packed into a thin tube that is designed to transport things, not withstand a gun-fight, guns are the last thing you want in the air. It is interesting that on British military flights where guns are being carried, personnel are required to unload and make safe any weapon. Only during landing at a hot landing zone where incoming fire is expected are personnel allowed to load weapons.

  20. Charlie


    "No, the ultimate deterrent to hijacking a plane is armed passengers."

    Lol, you nearly had me going then ;)

  21. Andy S

    for some reason

    I'm reminded of that video of a cop shooting himself in the leg whilst giving a gun safety lesson in a school.

    It would have been a slightly different story if this accidental discharge had been into the passenger compartment and hit a passenger. It's fairly amazing that people weren't injured by the panic that must have been caused by the sound of a gunshot on a plane.

    I'd be the first in the queue for compensation caused by the distress of believing the plane i was on was being hijacked :)

  22. Steve


    I'm pretty sure that the possibility of deathiness is 100% for all of us, no matter what we do. Maybe you meant our demisability?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Sarah Bee

    "But what is the ideal deterrent to stopping a hijacking plan? "

    You cannot deter people ready to die anyway.

    Want guaranteed safe flights ?

    Everyone gets sedated before going on the plane !

  24. Edwin

    @Matthew, Sara

    Mythbusters had a go at blowing a hole in a plane by shooting it. I think the Goldfinger imagery is pretty busted - all you end up with is a rubber jungle and a bullet-sized hole in the plane.

    And Sara - there is no ideal deterrent. If someone *really* wants to hijack a plane, they will. All we can do is make it harder. Arming the pilots isn't a good plan - it just increases the chance of accidents. Making a separate door for the crew (as suggested above) isn't a good plan either - what if there's a cockpit fire or something and they need more bodies to help put it out?

    It's an endless balancing of cost vs. benefit. But I think the cost is currently too high.

  25. Dave

    Cockpit Doors

    Given that there is now a very tough door between pilots and the passenger cabin, and in the event of trouble the pilots' job is to get the aircraft on the ground, having a gun in the cockpit is of limited use. Having one loaded and ready to fire is even less use, given that they'd have adequate warning of someone breaching the cockpit door to be able to load a gun.

    As for making holes, a single bullet through the fuselage is unlikely to be a serious issue (but might be noisy and would require a descent to safer altitude). Through a windscreen might be more serious, given that the hole is big enough for a man to be sucked out if it shattered (BA5390 being an example of this). What is more dangerous is if the bullet damaged electrical cables and caused a short-circuit and fire.

  26. Brad

    Comments from the Captain, You Bewty!

    Professional Pilots Rumour and News forum.

    A forum frequented by a lot of pilots have some interesting things to say in regards to this story,

    Damn scary if you ask me, any weapon can just as easily be turned upon its owner.

  27. /\/\j17

    Perhaps he shot the dog?

    After all these days there is a flight crew of two - the pilot and his dog. The computer flies the aircraft, the pilot is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to bite the pilot if he tries to touch anything.

  28. Ian Michael Gumby

    While you can joke...

    First, the reason the bullet didn't pierce the skin of the aircraft was that they have "newer" bullets that don't have deep penetration but still have decent stopping capabilities on human targets. They were developed to reduce over penetration. You could also have subsonic rounds too. From a .40 pistol, a subsonic round would still have enough force to put a person down.

    But that doesn't excuse the pilot for having one round in the chamber. Not sure which weapon the pilot had but with proper training you can easily work the slide and be in a position to shoot without having the risk of an accidental discharge.

    Don't get me wrong. If you're knowingly going in to a situation, you want to keep a round in the chamber and remember whether the safety is set. But a pilot isn't and there's the re-enforced door that would delay any terrorist getting in to the cabin.

    Yes, I own guns, but I'm "captain safety" when it comes to firearms. ;-)

  29. Geoff Spick

    I'm amazed...

    that there hasn't yet been an incident where some mutterings from a nervous yankee passenger were passed on to the cockpit and the pilot came out packing, toting or possibly even slinging his pistols at some vaguely foreign-looking, yet harmless, passenger who had the misfortune to pray, sniff, tie his shoelace or eat his muffin in a vaguely threatening manner.

    Coat with the parachute built-in please. Just like James Bond's stunt double whenever he has to hang outside of an aircraft.

  30. Paul


    But really, I don't see the great danger in giving pilots guns. They already have control of an airplane with hundreds of passengers -- if they're responsible enough for that, giving them a gun really isn't a big deal. And no, contrary to what movies portray, shooting a hole in the side of the plane is not going to cause major structural damage and destroy the plane. At most, it will leave a little hole and they'll have to use the oxygen.

    The fact that the TSA was against the plan to allow pilots to be armed also makes me think it was a good idea.

  31. Luiz Abdala

    What about pilots with military background?

    As far I am concerned, when civilian airline companies were created some 50 years ago, most north-american pilots were flying for the USAF before flying for them, and they HAD to carry a .45 pistol with them, just in case they crashed over enemy territory (USSR, Korea, whatever, back then?) I don´t know if this is true, but it sounds correct.

    Does anybody have any idea of the average times these weapons were accidentally fired in the military? It should make clear if civilian pilots with no military background are more prone to accidentally fire a weapon during flight, in opposition to those pilots who fly routinely sitting on top of several thousand pounds of explosives on military aircraft.

    A chance in 130,000 seems pretty safe to me. Apparently, the passengers are more likely to die in a car crash going to the airport than any accidental discharge inside a plane. Again, I don´t really know how dangerous driving is, but it sounds correct, hehehe...

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As for the piercing the aircraft skin and being sucked out...

    You do realise that in this case the plane was descending to land, in which case it depends on your flight level on whether your cabin is pressurised or not. The higher you go, the more the differential between outside and inside, so if you're descending, the 'sucking out' would not be an issue the closer you get to flight level 80.

  33. Robin Traylor

    AD? No. It's an ND.

    There is no such thing as an 'accidental discharge, it's a negligent discharge. This isn't an accident, it's an act of negligence.

    If he'd followed the four rules of firearms then this would never have happened.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    This is so stupid

    Did they not train to become pilots? So you giving potentials a gun! Who are thinking up these ideas? Now all they need to do is get a job on a airline.

  35. Andrew Moore

    I have an Anti-Tiger Stick if Bob Hesselbein would like to buy it.

    After all, since my Anti-Tiger Stick was brought into service, neither I or the people around me have been attacked by tigers. My estimate would be at least over a million people have been protected by my Anti-Tiger Stick. That's why the deterrent value of this Stick is just staggering.

  36. Charles Hammond

    Oops I Shot the Plane

    Add to the list of proposed safety Items:

    Do not load a round until you are ready to kill someone.

    I thought Glock Handguns were suppose to be safer than normal handguns. This just proves that you can not fix stupid.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Guns and Aircraft... could we be loking at a new magazine (sic) title? ;)

    "most north-american pilots were flying for the USAF before flying for them, and they HAD to carry a .45 pistol with them, just in case they crashed over enemy territory (USSR, Korea, whatever, back then?) I don´t know if this is true, but it sounds correct."

    Yep, same as these days, and for most Air Forces, as it happens.

    Interestingly, and as far as I know, not one of those had an ND (Negligent Discharge)... well, at least not publicly acknowledges, anyhow ;)

    "If he'd followed the four rules of firearms then this would never have happened."

    I'd say you're bang on ;)

    "I thought Glock Handguns were suppose to be safer than normal handguns."

    Nope. Just easier to fire. The safety aspect comes in when you drop the damn thing; there's a firing pin safety and a trigger safety, both mechanical. The idea is that unless the trigger is squeezed, the pistol won't fire. This is why some people say the Glock can safely be carried loaded and made ready (magazine in, and one up the spout, so to speak).

    Personally, I'd say that's bull.

    Military personnel in aircraft may carry their personal weapons loaded, but never, until the final moments up to disembarking, made ready. There's an excellent reason for this: A round costing a quid or less can down an aircraft costing many millions of quid, normally in a spectacularly messy manner; this is obviously something to avoid ;)

    ok, I'll get me coat ;)

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    We don't need any Terrorists now,after so much over-reaction to the terrorism there has been the Terrorists can just sit back and watch as we take down our own planes

    P.S - I've had a good idea to reduce the threat of a repeat of 9/11, if all planes are fitted with a small amount of explosives and a big red button to detonate it with then the pilot could detonate it if it looked like someone wanted to fly the plane into a building.

    My calculations show that this would make air travel at least 38% safer

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Wait for the investigation

    Not that there will be a big announcement in the news, since we all know that unless it is sensational it will barely hit the radar as news worthy. We don't really know enough details about this story to come to any reasonable conclusions.

    On the topic of weapons safety, one never really assumes a weapon is safe. Even with the safety on you treat a weapon like it's ready to to be used. Even with the clip dropped and the slide racked, barrel checked, hammer decocked, etc... as long as a gun still has the general properties of a gun you treat it very carefully.

    Regardless, accidents will happen. Unless you are trying to loose weight keep the knee jerking action to a minimum please.

    BTW: For all the anti-American posters out there, why don't you go ban some fire extinguishers somewhere.

  40. Mad Hacker
    Thumb Up

    Turns out it's no big deal to shoot a gun inside a plane

    According to some new reports the bullet did exit the side of the aircraft but no (measurable) loss of pressure occurred.

    So it turns out planes are tougher than we thought, and there is no real harm in shooting a gun inside a plane.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    @Sarah and Steve

    Steve said:

    "I'm pretty sure that the possibility of deathiness is 100% for all of us, no matter what we do. Maybe you meant our demisability?"

    Steve, thanks for your pedantification but I think she meant that our deathiness would be imminentified in this case.

  42. Andy

    A couple of comments

    Not from me but from people on the PPRUNE link that Brad posted. Some of you may not have time to plough through a billion pages of comments but a couple amused me...

    First from Fergus Kavanagh responding to the news that the gun has to be locked away when the cockpit door is open:

    "Run this by me again?

    You have to lock the gun away when you open the door to go for a slash.?

    So, when the door is open, the time of max vulnerability, you have the gun

    locked away, but when the door is locked, and there is little threat, you

    can take it out and .......

    Nah, that cant be right.....

    But it probably is."

    And second from 'Two's In' who ably voices the fears of passengers and crew alike:

    "It's easy to laugh this time when it was only a handgun - next time it could be more than 3 Fluid ounces of hand lotion."

    Hear hear.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    daft, innit

    We all have to go though extra security that was put in place to stop terrorists getting weapons onboard, and at the same time the US authorities are delivering them directly into the cockpit. What next, semtex pre-loaded in the hold just in case the flight attendant with the part-time bomb-disposal training needs to carry out a controlled explosion on somebody's smouldering laptop battery?

  44. Neil

    Accidental Discharge?

    Surely not?

    It's true. And don't call me Shirley.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Most pilots

    ... are already gun-trained as the majority still come from ex-military backgrounds.

    The pilot in question should be suspended and a full investigation is the only way to go with the whole issue of guns on planes being called seriously into question.

  46. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Re: AD's and Cockpit Damage

    Its true that "there is no such thing as an unloaded weapon", but that's all the more reason to emphasize safety in the handling and storage of weapons.

    I'd like to read the accident report for details on what sort of holster the pilot was using (some are crap and you are just asking for a gun to fall out or the trigger to get hung up).

    As to the hole in the aircraft's skin, it very well may have made one. But aircraft skins are designed to prevent this kind of damage from propagating to the point where it becomes a depressurization hazard, and the cabin pressurization system should have no problem keeping up with a couple of 40 cal holes.

    Now for my rant:

    Law enforcement (both local and federal) are some of the crappiest shots and sloppy gun handlers I've ever seen. That the pilots 'certified' to carry firearms have been through one of their training programs is no comfort to me. From time to time, the cops, border patrol and FBI take over our local pistol range for periodic training and certification. Although they exclude members of the public, it is possible to watch the activity on the range's web-cam. These people can't shoot straight. It appears that they learn how to do so by watching TV. In fact, a friend of mine pointed out that some of what appear to be undercover cops (the scraggly looking ones) shoot gang style (holding the gun sideways). Looks cool, but you can't aim worth sh*t.

  47. trackSuit

    Not so long ago we had this...

    (a diverted flight due to a co-pilot in a state of considerable mental distress)

    And this,,30000-1258649,00.html

    (a pilot led off the plane in handcuffs - excessive alcohol consumption)

    Tempting fate?

  48. NozeDive

    I don't know who this 'Will' fellow is, but he must be tired of being fired at all the time.

    I really don't think that a bullet penetrating aircraft skin (or window, more likely) would spell instant doom for a flight. Even when Aloha Airlines Flight 243 suffered explosive decompression, there was only one fatality. And that's only because the woman was standing next to the section of the aircraft that suffered the catastrophic failure. And keep in mind, it was a very large section of the aircraft that had been weakened, over time, prior to the failure.

    However, I *do* hope that a low muzzle velocity is utilized on these weapons. With so many bystanders in such close quarters, there is a large risk of ricochet.

    Mine's the one with the wings sewn on.


  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bit off topic but...

    While flying Heathrow to Male 4 years ago our flight had to make an unscheduled landing in Bahrain to take on a new co-pilot - as the existing co-pilot had broken his nose...bizarre!

    Never did find out what the hell had happened there!

  50. Charles Manning

    A round in the chamber is often fine

    Being a H&K it is most likely double action which would make a round up the spout fine.

    The only thing in the gun world more silly than the Amercians wanting everyone to be carrying are the Poms - with no handgun culture to speak of - being armchair cowboys.

  51. Anonymous Coward

    Cabin Pressure

    For those of you saying that it couldn't have peirced the hull, it actually could have! if you actually read the story you would see that this happened while landing, more than likley the pressure outside was the same as the inside..

  52. Slaine

    eer' Sarah luv - it's "un-longevity" yer worried aboot

    or possibly.. "retro-futuristically arch-temporariness de-interactiviticationment"

    "authorized to be in possession of the weapon and he completed the appropriate training" ... mmm - maybe a little more training would be prudent? or maybe a little more care in issuing "authority"? maybe just a one-off (the wrist) perhaps?

    "9/11 was an anomaly, the towers had never been hit by several planes before in their 31/29 years of existence"... very true - a valid 100% safety record, right up to the very end... talking of "anomalies", another very interesting anomalous event occurred that day, in that a building managed to fall in a perfectly vertically majestic vector after being hit horizontally with an unknown mass of aircraft and aviation fuel. That is an anomaly, and to make things even more interesting, it happened twice in the same day... who'd have thought eh? Mind you, not many people really understand basic mathematics and rudimentary physics these days.

    Now then, what could I do with 3 fluid ounces of handcream? mmmmm.

  53. Paul

    Accidents *do* happen, that's the problem

    But when firearms are involved, sometimes people die. There are safety procedures for handling firearms, if they were being followed this should *not* have happened.

    What I don't get is, why do they need the thing loaded and ready to fire anyway? There's a locked, reinforced door between them and whatever badness wants to get at them! Surely that would buy enough time to fetch the gun, fetch the ammo, load the gun, get it ready, and use it if necessary? By which time the armed air marshal(s) and a couple of hundred highly-motivated passengers who reckon it's safer to "have a go" than let themselves be flown into a building have most likely dealt with the problem, and the perps are in cuffs, bleeding out through a bullet hole, or beaten to a bloody pulp. Or possibly all three.

    Knowing the flight crew might be packing heat really doesn't make me feel any safer. It probably works for people who are naive enough to think that banning 3.1oz of water makes them safer too, though.

  54. Jacob Lipman

    Bullet Types

    Come now, American authorities can be fairly thick sometimes, but do give them some credit. They did think of the whole explosive decompression thing before authorizing pilots to carry handguns.

    Air marshals and pilots undoubtedly carry rounds loaded with ceramic bullets. They'll do a fine job punching a hole in human flesh, and if they strike a rigid structure, like a metallic air frame, they'll shatter, resulting in minimal damage. The same sorts of rounds are sold for home defense in urban settings; ceramic bullets have been designed which will penetrate human beings, but not drywall.

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