I'm writing a story about a pilot in the Austrian air force, who uses his Eurofighter jet to prevent illegal immigrants from going over the border by flying over them at a low altitude. As far as I know this creates noise and could scare the people off (prevent them from illegally entering Austria). Most of the time, the effects of this are non-lethal. There are controversial views on whether or not such maneuvers cause permanent damage to the ears.

What legal consequences would this pilot face, if he

  1. used a military aircraft (without weapons) in the way discussed above
  2. without asking permission of his superiors

Let's assume he didn't fly over the border, so there is no international conflict and there are no casualties among the people he flew over. After the act he returns to his airport and the aircraft is not damaged.

Would such person get imprisoned? If yes, what can he be charged with?

  • One wonders how effective this could be. Even if they're incapacitated by the noise, won't they just resume their journey after he passes? Perhaps he could be prosecuted for wasting government resources.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 17:14
  • Do you think Air Force (any Air Force) pilots are told "Johan, plane 25A is ready to go. Get in it and take a ride wherever you want, however (attitude, speed, etc.) you want. Have fun." Planes are sent with predetermined flight plans, and usually have rules against flying too low to prevent disturbing people. They do not just handle aircrafts for whatever the pilot feels like doing that day. Such a pilot would end in court-martial for disobeying the flight path, reckless endangement (flying too low is not without risk) and probably violating several flight rules, even if no damage was done.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 17:58
  • @phoog I understand that such measure isn't 100 % effective. It's realistic enough for a fiction story with an irrational protagonist.
    – user11042
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 18:45
  • @SJuan76 What is a reasonable punishment such person can expect in a jurisdiction you are familiar with? An estimate of the costs is about 90 000 dollars (if we assume that he was in the air for 3 hours and one hour of jet fighter costs around 30 000 dollars).
    – user11042
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 18:49
  • Hm. I understood "story" in the journalistic sense rather than fiction. Thanks for clarifying.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 18:53

1 Answer 1


Military officers who violate laws in their official capacity are typically subject only to military discipline. Which in western countries is, AFAIK, far more demanding and punitive than any non-military criminal or civil law.

I am only passingly familiar with U.S. martial courts, but enough so to know that the punishment for what you describe would be very fact- and circumstance-specific. It could be as little as a verbal reprimand to as much as a dishonorable discharge and military imprisonment.

You appear to be ignorant of details that would weigh heavily on such a disciplinary hearing. For example, supersonic flight outside of cleared airspace is a very serious offense. Violating orders is a much bigger deal than exercising bad judgement. So while dipping a little outside of an approved flight envelope might be problematic, making low-altitude supersonic passes while a superior is screaming over the radio would be a vastly different matter.

  • AFAIK a military air traffic controller is a superior officer to a military pilot irrespective of rank
    – Dale M
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 20:40
  • 1
    @DaleM: Yes, disobeying ATC instructions without a very compelling reason can be a serious flying offense, in or out of the military. But that doesn't give a controller any "rank." (In the case of a military pilot it just means that someone else in the pilot's chain of command gets to be the one to formally discipline him. In the case of a civilian pilot it means that if the ATC is suitably annoyed the pilot will probably hear from civilian authorities.)
    – feetwet
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 20:54

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