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Sat, Sep 21, 2013

The Long Sad, Tragic Story Is Over: David Riggs' Remains ID'ed

Wayward Pilot, With Multiple Convictions, Confirmed As Dead

Opinion, Analysis and Observation by ANN CEO/Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell

After years of holding our breath and dreading the beating the aviation world was taking over the crimes and mis-deeds of one of the most dreadful aviators in the world, we can sadly confirm that the potential for future damage and death is finally over.

The remains of David G Riggs, a multiply convicted felon, con-man and errant pilot were pulled from a Chinese lake by a dive and recovery team and identified as the illicit airman.

Riggs had an extraordinary history of crime, cons, frauds and just plain foolish behavior... both in and out of aviation. At least one major airshow personality called him one of the 'most embarassing and dangerous pilots in the nation, and probably the world.'

David Riggs described himself as a world champion pilot and aviation entrepreneur. While little evidence was available to back up those claims, quite a lot of other data was soon found to indicate that Riggs's claims deserved and required additional scrutiny. As it turns out, Riggs was best known for his FAA violations, criminal arrest and eventual conviction for a stunt in Southern California in which he buzzed the Santa Monica Pier at VERY low level via L-39, scared the hell out of a lot of people (based on our examination of a number of the 911 calls) and executed a sudden aggressive pull-up and low-level aerobatics just as a collision with the pier appeared imminent. The incident was quite widely reported in general and aviation media and created a considerable number of negative stories about his actions that ultimately reflected very poorly on the aviation community. The stunt, which occurred in November 2008, was allegedly an effort to generate "buzz" for another one of his movie scams.

This was not Riggs' first dangerous activity in pursuit of movie glory. His actions also had a bearing on the 2006 crash of N39DF, an L-39 known as 'Wild Child.' That aircraft went down, killing two experienced pilots, while Riggs was allegedly acting as the Director of the alleged aviation-themed movie they were flying for. Riggs' last actions commanded the L-39, reported by the NTSB to be operating at 5500' MSL over hilly terrain, to "Give me a sharp snap roll to the right and pull down out of frame..." Seconds later, N39DF impacted the terrain below at 3100' MSL.

In the more public 2008 pier incident, Riggs was charged with flying too low over the Santa Monica pier at over 250 knots in a Czech-built Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros as  well as performing low-level aerobatics over a populated area. A second pilot, Skip Holm, was also part of the formation, and a third airplane was towing a banner promoting the movie. Riggs claimed that there was no danger because the aircraft was well maintained and flown by a skilled pilot. He also contended that some witnesses were unclear on whether it was he or Holm who was flying the plane which performed the maneuvers.

The FAA almost immediately revoked Riggs' pilot certificate, but on March 17th of 2009, an Administrative Law Judge modified that revocation order to a 210 day suspension, and it was eventually reinstated.

Riggs was also criminally charged and eventually sentenced by a California Superior Court to 60 days in jail (for which he only served a few hours due to local jail over-crowding), 36 months probation, and a $900 fine in connection with the incident. He was also ordered to perform 60 days community service cleaning up Santa Monica Beach (which was never completed). It was hardly the only legal/criminal altercation for Riggs -- who has a long history, documented in a number of press reports and government docs, of his legal altercations... including numerous criminal charges, significant prison time and a long string of mis-deeds that are detailed in several published documents about his criminal exploits that stretch back several decades.

According to the testimony given during an NTSB Hearing before an NTSB Law Judge, Riggs, "...conceded having a history in which he had convictions of a misdemeanor, stealing by deceit, and as he indicated, also had done prison time for wire fraud, bank fraud, which of course taken into consideration on credibility of the witnesses."

The Ultimate Air Racing Championships was another of Riggs' fraudulent scams. FAA Spokesperson, Ian Gregor, then confirmed that the UARC request for approval of an aggressive multi-plane, multi-obstacle, air racing platform could not be proven to be safe enough to meet the FAA's required standards. "First and foremost, we need to insure a safe event... we put eight inspectors on this, very experienced people, and we have been unable to approve their plan for a scheduled  race in Camarillo, California. We have worked hard on this program and given it our best effort... but safety has to come first."

Just over two years ago, again touting himself as one of the best pilots in the world, Riggs had announced a partnership with Frederico Lapenda to produce a series of air race events known as the Ultimate Air Race Championships. From the start, the UARC program presented a number of self-imposed obstacles that created instant suspicion and concern. An early press release claimed that the event already had FAA approval and that the races would be conducted by seven of the best pilots in the world...

None of that was found to be true... and that is but a few of the issues that arose, week after week, as UARC attempted to convince the FAA to approve an exceedingly aggressive air race program that would have as many as 7 aircraft, not all of them with the same capabilities, on a Red Bull style course, with a number of those aircraft expected to attempt to pass each other to get through a number of 'gates' in close proximity to one another in the process. It seemed like a pretty risky proposition... and even more so as the facts behind the UARC organization continued to be made known.

More and more of the team's claims were revealed to be false and/or misleading. Early reports from UARC stated that famed aerobatic pilot and industry legend, Corkey Fornof, had been named as a member of the Board of Advisors (and was still posted as such on the web site well after we proved it false) but in a June 2nd, 2011, conversation with ANN, Fornof confirmed that he has refused involvement, not once, but twice, due to heavy schedule commitments and his own concerns about the fledgling program.

More errors were found and the program, despite heavy advertising, extraordinary hype (much of it false) and a fair amount of fraud, finally died off before it could endanger anyone and with some very tame and heavily restricted flights at a Camarillo airshow that met none of the lofty promises originally made by UARC.

Riggs's exploits continued to embarrass the aviation world time and time again... while the web blog, 'Aviation Criminal', researched and published by Kristy Graham has been tenacious, well-detailed, and instrumental in making sure that as many people as possible knew about the legitimate hazards posed by a man with an extraordinarily dangerous history of endangering others... physically and financially. Riggs has threatened and harassed Graham (and others) a number of times... but because of the manner in which Graham lives her life, his threats have had minimal effect -- although the situation got so out of control that Riggs had a convoluted law suit filed against Graham, out of state, as a desperate attempt to shut her up.

Riggs also involved himself in other criminal harassment of his detractors -- calling in false complaints about other airmen and threatening a number of other critics (including ANN staffers) with physical harm and even their deaths. Riggs has also been implicated in a number of aircraft theft/fraud incidents and even one associated with a hot-air balloon. A list of contractual disputes and business frauds numbers into the dozens and may, if properly totaled, exceed a hundred.

In May of 2012, an on-going Riggs endeavor to sell rides in experimental jet warbirds claimed the lives of two people. Riggs openly advertised commercial rides in the L-39 via a number of corporate entities, and a well-known adventure travel company, "Incredible Adventures," featured Riggs on its site and falsely promoted him as an expert pilot while offering rides-for-hire in his aircraft. Advertised as a "Hollywood Top Gun" adventure, Incredible Adventures appeared to be selling the rides as a film-making adventure in which a person who purchases the $3000-$5000 L-39 jet packages would be able to feature themselves in their own "movie." Incredible Adventures promoted the rides by hyping, "You're not just the star of this short film. You share screenwriting credits. Each flight is designed to match your taste for adrenaline. Each script prepared to meet your expectations. You determine what maneuvers you'd like to perform and whether you'll make low passes through the canyons or fly low over the ocean."

Conversation with Incredible Adventures Boss, Jane Reifert in 2011, found her to be quite defensive and evasive about the program and short on details as to the flights' legality. Claiming that IA had a put together a special program with the FAA, she claimed the flights were legal, that the details were the secret "intellectual property" of Incredible Adventures, and that she saw no problem working with a pilot like Riggs, despite his history of violations, criminal behavior and the convoluted but well-documented history of dangerous and illicit behaviors. Further; she told ANN's Jim Campbell that many of the reports of Riggs' criminal past were nothing more than bad press and the result of stories "people made up" to hurt Riggs. Thereafter; Reifert tried to change the tone of the conversation to accuse other people in the commercial space travel industry of all manner of unsavory activities, while asserting that Incredible Adventures was a paragon, in comparison.

In the May 18th accident, a two-ship flight of L-39s attempted a take-off from the Boulder City, NV, Airport. One ship was flown by Doug Gillis, an accomplished L-39 pilot with his own history of FAA troubles... the other by David Riggs. Both had passengers on board. The L-39 went down shortly after takeoff with the loss of Douglas E. Gilliss, 65, of Solana Beach, a USAF Vet, and his passenger, Richard A. Winslow, 65, of Palm Desert, CA. According to the NTSB Prelim, "A group of eight people had paid for a flight package. The flight was to be 45 minutes long, and at the end of the flight each passenger would be provided a film of their flight. The majority of the group was interviewed, and they stated that they were driven by bus from their hotel to BVU. Once they arrived at BVU, they made their way into BFE FBO (fixed based operator) and were told by someone at BFE that the two airplanes were en route from VNY. While they waited for the airplanes to arrive, the group discussed the order in which they would fly since only one passenger could occupy one seat in each airplane. After the airplanes arrived, the group reported seeing two people exit each airplane. The group talked to the pilots and took pictures of themselves with the airplanes. They moved inside BFE to a conference room where they received a briefing of what to expect. Members of the group indicated that there would be four flights; two flights would occur before lunch, the airplanes would be refueled, and then they would have the final two flights. The passengers did not observe any mechanical problems during the first two flights. The accident flight occurred on the third flight of the day after the lunch break."

The report also stated that, "Mach 1 Aviation and Incredible Adventures operated the flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91." According to a number of people associated or directly involved with the FAA, they have no knowledge of how these operations could have been legally conducted under part 91... and no one recalled any waivers or other permissions that would have allowed for same. Further; at least two former FAA staffers claim direct knowledge of previous illegal operations involving Riggs, and both indicated that they had expended serious effort to get the FAA to look aggressively at Riggs' operations and stop them, "...in the name of aviation safety."

It was this accident that would eventually result in a bizarre series of FAA/NTSB legal operations in which Riggs was ultimately found in violation of enough of the FARs to get his tickets pulled... again... and in which Riggs wound up threatening witnesses against him with civil suits if they testified (and effort that the FAA labeled as 'witness tampering'). The threats went nowhere, the judge admonished Riggs and his lawyer and the threats, thankfully, did not materialize into actual litigation when Riggs lost. These latest threats were not surprising, by the way, as Riggs had previously threatened an FAA Inspector with a 50 Million dollar law suit if he pursued actions against him, as well... and, again, none of those threats materialized, either.

About this time, Riggs started to aggressively amp up his threats against ANN... eventually taking credit for helping Cirrus Aircraft harass this company while also naming a character from the NW with a previous history of harassment against Campbell and his former spouse, Vicki, as a partner in his efforts and that of Cirrus Aircraft.

Last year, ANN wrote a number of articles about an extensive series of frauds in Riggs and other parties attempted to sell warbird combat/adventure rides, showing pictures of Extra 300s and SF260s in various web publicity sites, while utilizing various "Daily Deal' sites to hawk the programs. Thousands of rides were allegedly sold and only a few were actually conducted -- using Amateur-Built Experimental aircraft in direct violation of the FARs and conducting operations that placed his customers in great peril. Despite appeals by ANN and Aviation Criminal to the Daily Deal sites, the FAA, and other aviation organizations (as well as numerous LEOs), the activities went on for a number of months until the media attention ANN and AC created began to be more and more noticeable and the illegal operations ground to a halt. 

The ads used false addresses, airplane info/pix, and intellectual property belonging to other legitimate air combat operations acting under the authority and knowledge of the FAA -- and were riddled with hype, error and the promise of amazing adventures. And they were all a fraud.

In recent months, a number of parties alerted ANN and Aviation Criminal's Kristy Graham of Riggs' intent to operate another airshow operation in China... despite the fact that his tickets were pulled and he had no legal wherewithal to fly anywhere. Warnings to the Chinese, the airshow promoters, and others involved came to naught... and David Riggs reportedly climbed into a Lancair 320 in China, dragged along an innocent 18 year old female translater... and against the reported advice of airshow organizers, took off into rainy conditions -- to show off. The stunt was to involve his flying low enough over a body of water to "ski" his mains along the surface of the lake... but in a final act of stupidity, Riggs's bravado exceeded his limited skills and he killed himself and an innocent passenger at the same time... creating another tragedy for a Chinese family with the loss of the young lady and yet another black eye for the aviation world in one last desperate act of aerial insanity.

A selfish, misguided, dishonest man, Aero-Crook David Riggs last act on Earth was yet another fraud... suggesting he had skills he did not, using a license that was revoked and conducting operations under the guise of being a famous Hollywood Pilot and Stunt man... a total fabrication of fact... and one last tragedy for the GA world to try to live down as the collective alphabet associations, the FAA, and even several Chinese officials (who knew who they were dealing with) looked the other way... with deadly result.

Only ANN, Aviation Criminal and the International Council of AirShows took steps to try and head off the overt potential of harm to others by the actions of this miscreant... while the rest of the industry, at best, shook their heads and refused to speak up. The result is that David Riggs got one more victim before committing his final crime... and it all could have been preventing had enough of the aviation community spoken up.

What a shame...

But think of this... its a matter of time before the next David Riggs shows up... and over the years, ANN and its predecessors has worked tirelessly and at great risk to expose dangers and hazards to the aviation public... each time we start out with the basic story, take some flak for doing a "negative" story, get more flak from the ANN-haters and others who oppose our interests (sometimes for no better reason than competition or jealousy), and after a lot of damage is done, we get proven right... EVERY time -- not just once or twice... but dozens of times... EVERY DAMNED TIME.

The next Riggs will show up sooner or later... but this time, when we raise the alarm, will the industry stand idly by and ignore our warnings... God help us... we hope not. After all, how many times do we have to be right, and how much damage has to be done before this industry wakes up and realizes that its survival is at stake... and that we're losing the battle?

We shall see.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.justice.gov, www.aviationcriminal.com

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