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FAA Focuses Eye on the Sky over Yellville for Turkey Drop Pilots

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The Federal Aviation Administration has made it quite clear that their agents are going to be keeping a sharp eye focused on the sky for “unknown” aircraft during this year’s controversial Turkey Drop event. And yes, to our readers who are unfamiliar with the 65-year-old Ozarks tradition, the Turkey Drop is exactly what it sounds like.

Beginning today, the Turkey Drop is just one part of a annual turkey-themed festival that takes place in Yellville, a small Ozarks mountain town in Northern Arkansas. Turkeys, who typically only fly for short distances, are pushed out of low-flying aircraft and fall approximately 1,000 feet to the ground as part of the event. The fixed-wing aircraft are said to be travelling at speeds around 70MPH when the live turkeys are dropped out to fend for themselves.

The FAA has been proactively and publicly warning that there will be dire consequences for any pilot who drops turkeys over the North Arkansas town this year. Any pilot who the FAA discovers to have participated in dropping a turkey from an aircraft is likely to lose their pilot’s license and/or face other severe penalties.

The agency has tried to crack down on pilots who participate in the Turkey Drop in past years as well, but Yellville residents’ lips are shut as to who is actually flying the planes. Supposedly, all that is known is that someone continues to fly overhead and drop the turkeys from unidentified fixed-wing aircraft. This year, the FAA is dispatching a dedicated team of investigators to watch for planes flying in the area.

Supporters of the Yellville Turkey Drop believe that it doesn’t harm the turkeys. A common claim is that turkeys float – again, harmlessly – to the ground after being dropped from aircraft.

Travis Doshier, President of the Yellville Chamber of Commerce, told the Associated Press that the turkeys “just spread those big old wings they’ve got and glide.” Doshier also said that the turkey drop, which used to be an officially-sanctioned toss from the top of the town courthouse, is now conducted by private citizens with their own aircraft who “keep themselves pretty well secluded.”

FAA Spokesman Lynn Lunsford told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he has seen video of at least one turkey dropped from an aircraft falling straight down and bouncing off the roof of a building. (This or a similar event can be seen in the video embedded below, as well as the audio of at least one other bird colliding with what sounds like a metallic surface).

He said “Everbody says, ‘We have no idea who it is,’ but everybody knows who it is.”

Yellville has reportedly omitted references to the Turkey Drop from its festival material, but the well-known event continues to happen each year regardless. According to the Daily Express, local officials have claimed that mysterious aircraft “turn up” over the festival dropping live turkeys four or five times each day.

Expectedly, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has condemned the event as animal cruelty, as well as a clear violation of an Arkansas law aimed at persons who knowingly subject animals to cruel mistreatment. They have offered a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone directly involved in the drop, and have suggested that people politely urge Yellville officials to end the event.

Today will be the 65th anniversary of the Turkey Trot festival, which began in 1946. The turkey drop stopped for a few years in the late 80s/early 90s after bad press, but resumed once attention shifted.

In the Ozarks, the ethics of the Yellville turkey drop is a divisive issue, with some nearby residents firmly calling it a harmless tradition. However, it enjoys a dubious, even infamous reputation in some other nearby Ozarks towns. One former Bolivar, Missouri resident denounced the turkey drop as “troubling and embarrassing to all of us who call the Ozarks home.”

The county sheriff told the Gazette that some turkeys get hurt when they’re dropped out of the low-flying aircraft, “but that’s going to happen with anything. It depends what they fly into.”

What do you think about the event? Should official action be taken against pilots who participate? Even if you don’t care about the turkeys themselves, what about the safety of the event? We at Air Ambulance Weekly want to know your opinions.

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