UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: And we can roll again. One, quarter roll, opposite roll. One.
MILES O’BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot of people think I’m loopy. Maybe so, but from where I’m sitting now, that’s a compliment.
(on camera): A piece of cake, huh?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A piece of cake.
O’BRIEN (voice over): I’m flying in formation over New York with air show pilot John Klatt, a man who cheats death for a living. Or so it may seem.
JOHN KLATT, AEROBATIC PILOT: We build trust, we work, we practice. What looks like is reckless and unpracticed is practiced every day.
O’BRIEN: In the past month, Klatt and the rest of the air show community got a couple of tragic reminders of how narrow their margin for error really is. A Blue Angels pilot dead after a crash in South Carolina. And a Canadian Snowbirds performer killed a few weeks later practicing in Montana.
SEAN TUCKER, AEROBATIC PILOT: This is not basket weaving 101. We can’t afford to have a bad day. This is serious business. O’BRIEN: Sean Tucker has been performing at air shows for 30 years. The closest call he had came in practice last year when his controls broke.
TUCKER: I was able to get it up to a safe altitude, get it away from — and put anybody in danger. And I had to leave my baby, which is an airplane I love very, very much.
O’BRIEN: Sean lived to smile and tell the tale, thanks to the parachute every aerobatic pilot…
(on camera): There we go.
(voice over): … and passenger must wear — snuggly, as I discovered.
But what about the safety of the millions of spectators? We’ve all seen the horrifying images. Five years ago in Ukraine, a Russian fighter cartwheeled into a crowd, killing more than 80. And in Germany in 1988, a midair collision by the Italian air force demonstration team killed more than 70 spectators.
JOHN CUDAHY, INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF AIR SHOWS: The regulations and the safety program that we have here in the United States is by far the most aggressive in the whole world.
O’BRIEN: John Cudahy heads the International Council of Air Shows. He says in the U.S., the planes and the crowd are kept much farther apart.
CUDAHY: We also make sure that when the pilots are flying aerobatic maneuvers, they’re not directed at the crowd.
O’BRIEN (on camera): As a matter of fact, air shows in North America have an amazing safety record. The last time a spectator was killed as a result of an air show crash in the U.S. or Canada was 1952.
(voice over): Still, every year on average, two or three air show pilots lose their lives, giving it their all in the air, risky business indeed.
(on camera): Your wife would tell you, couldn’t you have chosen being a banker or something?
UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: No, she knows it’s in my blood.
O’BRIEN (voice over): The show must go on. Enjoy the thrill knowing they are the ones taking the risk.
(on camera): It’s a beautiful day.
(voice over): Miles O’Brien, CNN, New York.