The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the actions of the pilot who disrupted Oregon State University’s graduation ceremony on Saturday by circling Reser Stadium in a small plane towing a “Go Ducks!” banner.
Agency spokesman Allen Kenitzer declined to discuss any details of the probe, saying only that “the FAA is aware of this incident, and we are looking into it.”
While backers of the rival University of Oregon may have gotten a chuckle out of the stunt, fans of the OSU Beavers — especially the 25,000 or so new graduates and well-wishers attending the commencement exercises — were not amused.
The incident came in the midst of the keynote address by Ann Kiessling, a 1971 OSU grad who went on to become a leading biomedical researcher. Kiessling paused as the flyover sent a ripple of dismay through the crowd, then quickly recovered her poise, responding with a hearty “Go Beavs!” before resuming her talk while the plane continued to circle overhead.
“I think people were genuinely insulted, and actually embarrassed for people who support and root for the University of Oregon,” said OSU Vice President Steve Clark, a spokesman for the university.
“It wasn’t even the banner; it was flying over the stadium for five to seven minutes while people were celebrating and enjoying graduation,” Clark added. “It’s just unfortunate.”
The single-engine plane towing the banner did not appear to have any obvious markings, but it was quickly identified as belonging to Cascade Aero Banner, an Albany-based aerial advertising company owned by Pete Brawn.
An OSU alumnus himself, Brawn is a former Marine fighter pilot from Albany who left the service and started Cascade Aero after suffering severe injuries in a 2011 training accident that forced him to ditch his plane off the California coast.
He declined to be interviewed for this story, and so far he has not identified the person who hired him to fly the pro-Ducks banner over OSU’s graduation ceremony.
But his company’s Facebook page has been bombarded with comments — mostly negative, many openly hostile and some downright unprintable.
On Tuesday, however, Brawn posted a lengthy apology on the site, saying he showed bad judgment in accepting the job.
“We knew that the ‘Go Ducks !’ message would be controversial,” he wrote, “but we never imagined the depth of the offense our error in judgment has caused.”
That night he posted an addendum, announcing he would donate his $500 fee from “Saturday’s regrettable banner job” to Kiessling’s nonprofit scientific institute, the Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation.
Oregon State also received an apology from University of Oregon President Michael Gottfredson, who called to express his regrets for the incident, Clark said.
As for Brawn, Clark said OSU has no plans to pursue any sort of legal action against him.
“We’re frustrated,” Clark acknowledged, “but we realize you can’t legislate tasteful behavior.”
Meanwhile, the FAA investigation continues.
It doesn’t appear that Brawn violated any laws by circling the stadium. According to Corvallis Municipal Airport manager Dan Mason, stadium officials can ask the agency to issue airspace restrictions for specific events, something that’s a matter of course for Beaver football games but apparently wasn’t done in this case.
“As far as I know, no notice was put out about graduation,” Mason said. “Otherwise, (pilots) can fly down to 1,000 feet over the city.”
It’s possible, however, that Brawn might have committed a breach of FAA regulations by covering up or failing to display the aircraft identification number on his plane. The agency’s rules stipulate that all aircraft must clearly display a unique ID number, although that section does not specify the penalties for violations.