FAA had disciplined pilots flying tourists before Boulder City crash

Both pilots who were flying passengers out of Boulder City Airport before a fatal crash had had their FAA certificates revoked previously, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman confirmed Wednesday.

One pilot and his passenger were killed when a Czech-built trainer jet crashed in the desert May 18.

“The FAA is very actively investigating this accident and the circumstances behind the aircraft operations,” said Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA’s Pacific Division. But he said he couldn’t comment on the ongoing investigation.

“FAA regulations prohibit charging for rides on experimental aircraft such as L39s except, under certain circumstances, if the purpose of the operation is flight instruction,” Gregor wrote, responding to an email query from the Review-Journal.

A source close to the fatal crash investigation said the FAA was trying to determine whether David Glen Riggs, the Southern California pilot whose L-39 Albatros didn’t crash, was illegally selling rides to the public on the trainer jet. Authorities have said Riggs was piloting his Cold War-era, Soviet-Bloc trainer jet next to the one that crashed.

Riggs’ civilian airmen certificates were revoked for a year after he buzzed the Santa Monica, Calif., pier in 2008, Gregor said.

Attempts to reach Riggs by telephone were unsuccessful Wednesday. Two numbers listed for his previous addresses in Santa Monica and Universal City, Calif., had been disconnected.

Gregor said the pilot who was killed in the Boulder City crash, Douglas Edward Gilliss, also had his pilot certificate revoked after a fatal crash on July 4, 2009, of an Aero Vodochody L-29 in Tehachapi, Calif., for falsifying a check ride of a pilot involved in that crash.

On May 18, Gilliss, 65, of Solano Beach, Calif., and passenger Richard A. Winslow, 65, of Palm Desert, Calif., were killed after the two-seat L-39 jet piloted by Gilliss crashed in the desert about a half mile west of Boulder City’s airport after losing power shortly after takeoff, witnesses said.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released last week said Winslow was part of a group of eight who were taking 45-minute flight tours from Boulder City.

The report said passengers were boarding two planes that came from Van Nuys, Calif. Each jet could hold only one passenger. The group of passengers would be provided films of their flights, the report said.

FAA records show Gilliss’ airline transport pilot certificate was revoked for a year under an emergency order on Sept. 28, 2009.

“You signed a Flight Review Endorsement sticker indicating David Zweigle had completed a flight review in an Aero-Vodochody model L-29 aircraft on July 4, 2009. Your entry was fraudulent or intentionally false since, at no time on or about July 4, 2009, had you given David Zweigle a flight review in an L-29,” the order stated against Gilliss, a Vietnam War veteran and former Air Force captain.

Zweigle, 42, who was airport director for Tehachapi, Calif., was killed along with Robert Chamberlain, 63, a former Air Force test pilot, when their L-29 suddenly flew up and to the left of a formation of planes flying in Tehachapi’s Independence Day parade in 2009. The jet crashed between houses in the community of Golden Hills.

Gregor said a second count against Gilliss in the FAA’s emergency order to revoke his certificates was later dismissed: for taking a passenger on a flight below 1,000 feet above ground level over a congested area of Tehachapi.

FAA records show that at the time of the Boulder City crash, Gilliss held airline transport pilot, flight instructor and ground instructor certificates that had been issued on Feb. 28, 2011. He was rated as an airline transport pilot and authorized to fly experimental L-29 and L-39 aircraft.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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