Be Careful with Your Balls

Ping pong balls, that is. (Geez what did you think I was talking about?) Recently a pilot dumped 3,000 ping pong balls on an interstate near Blackfoot, Idaho. The ping pong balls were intended to be redeemed for prizes as part of a community festival. Instead, the pilot dropped the ping pong balls early and they landed on a highway. According to several online sources, the pilot “didn’t understand ping pong balls lose speed quickly and drop straight down.” Apparently no criminal charges were filed against the pilot.

I see. No charges. Yes that’s good. Maybe I’m overthinking this (yes definitely) but does anyone else think the fact the pilot dropped the balls early is really not the problem here? Wasn’t this whole concept flawed from the beginning?

I seem to remember a regulation that prohibits low flight over assemblies of people. Does 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft ring a bell? (Hint: 91.119) I wonder how high a pilot would fly to dump 3,000 balls over a crowd of people?

But wait folks! That’s not all! How about 91.15 which prohibits dropping objects from an aircraft? Granted, there’s an exception to 91.15 if reasonable precautions have been taken to avoid injury to persons or damage to property, but have you ever been caught outside in a hail storm? Hail doesn’t have to be very big to smart a bit if it hits your noggin. I’m no physicist but kinetic energy … it’s a doozy. Earlier this year Myth Busters tested a myth that a ping pong ball moving at a high enough speed could cause lethal injury. The myth proved false but they did determine a ping pong ball can cause serious injury.

I’m sure I’m overthinking the regulatory implications of dropping a load of 3,000 ping pong balls over a crowd of people but the absurdity of this story made me go “Hmmm…” Do other events feature ping-pong-ball-to-human dodgeball with the promise of candy and maybe a $100 gift card? It’s a strange world we live in.

(Clearly this is a light-hearted summertime post. I’ll be back with something more useful – hopefully – in a week or two.)

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