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“Pilot Error”

S2 E3

Production 41206
Original Airdate: September 27, 1974
Senator Hill tries to pull out of a steep dive
Produced by
Lionel E. Siegel and Joe L. Cramer
Written by
Edward J. Lakso
Directed by
Jerry Jameson
Guest Cast
Guest Star(s)
Pat Hingle as Ed Hill
Alfred Ryder as Joe Lannon
Suzanne Zenor as Airman Jill Denby
Stephen Nathan as Greg Hill
Chet Douglas as Reporter
Hank Stohl as A.F. Maj. Phillips
Dennis McCarthy as A.F. Doctor
Hank Brandt as Master Sgt. Cole
Broadcast Order
Season 2
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"The Pioneers" "The Pal-Mir Escort"


Senator--and USAF Reserves general officer--Ed Hill, who secured the secret funds that paid for Steve's bionics, is under suspicion of pilot error in a recent aircraft accident. Steve Austin is called to testify before the board of inquiry, and in his status as an Air Force colonel, because of his role as a test pilot for the type of aircraft that crashed, and both Hill and Oscar Goldman attempt unsuccessfully to prejudice his testimony prior to leaving San Diego.

When the transport arrangements made by Washington are delayed, Senator Hill decides to take his own small plane to Luke Air Force Base, and invites Col. Austin to fly as co-pilot. But Hill suffers a lapse of awareness during the flight. The passengers awake from a nap to find themselves off course in a storm and without a working radio transmitter. An engine leak sprays hot oil into Steve's face, and he is blinded. They make an emergency landing in a remote desert location.

While stranded, Hill's advisor, Joe Lannon, schemes to assassinate Steve, convinced that once they are rescued, Steve's testimony will bury Hill. Meanwhile, Steve works with Hill to repair the plane. Steve, Lannon, and Hill's son, Greg, clear a runway and they take off. Once airborne, Hill again lapses into a waking trance, and Steve must fly literally blind, using his fingers on the dials, Greg Hill's eyes, and an air-traffic controller named Denby.

Once back in civilization, it turns out that Senator Hill has a brain tumor. The senator retires from office, accepts full responsibility for the crash, and turns in his military wings. An eye doctor treats Steve's normal eye, but as for the other, he says that "that's a little out of my line." Oscar and Steve reassure him they have a specialist.


Pilot Error was adapted by Jay Barbree; one of only a few fiction books written by the author, who often collaborated with Six Million Dollar Man creator Martin Caidin on non-fiction works.



Oscar: Hi. What a coincidence.
Steve: Oscar, with you, nothing is a coincidence. What are you doing here in San Diego?
Oscar: Getting a suntan; what about you?

Oscar: Say, you're looking pretty spiffy in those dress blues there, pal.

Oscar: I owe Senator Edward Hill, and so do you.
Steve: How?
Oscar: Two years ago, I needed six million dollars for a very special project. He ran that money through the senate appropriations committee with no questions asked because he respected my need for secrecy. To this day, he doesn't know where that money went.

Oscar: Steve, just tell them about the simulator. The accident could have happened that way, they'll believe that.
Steve: I can't, Oscar. I don't believe it.
Oscar: I'm afraid that's not good enough.
Steve: Well, it'll have to be because I'm not going to lie about it.
Oscar: You don't have to lie. Listen, I'm tired of asking you - I'm telling you!
Steve: Is that like an order, Oscar?
Oscar: You can take it any way you like.

Hill: God knows where we are, but we're alive. (to Steve) Well, you all right?
Steve: Oh, everything is peachy, Senator, just peachy. Except I got this little problem.
Hill: What's that?
Steve: I can't see.

Hill: How did you do that?
Steve: Well Senator, two years ago you got Oscar Goldman six million dollars for a secret project. I was that project.

Lannon: We ought to be figuring out a way to leave him here.
Hill: Joe...
Lannon: Well, it would be a solution. Easy to explain; we could say he died in the crash.
Hill: Are you out of your mind?

A.F. Doctor: I'm sorry I couldn't help you with that left eye, but it's a little out of my line.

Hill: There are men who wouldn't shake my hand.
Steve: Well, if that's true, General, they're men who don't know you.

Hill: Best thing I ever did was get Oscar that six million.
Steve: General, the best thing you ever did was raise a son.


  • This episode is unique amongst the season 2 installments in having the shorter, season 1-style intro sequence, albeit with a unique musical flourish at the end and the familiar bass-drum melody line throughout.
  • Oliver Nelson recycles himself here, with a bit from his score to Columbo's "Greenhouse Jungle" used for the happy moment when Steve realizes who Jill is and runs after her.
  • This is one of the few times in the series where Steve Austin wears a four-in-hand necktie, other than as part of his Air Force uniform. Lee Majors had a well-publicized hatred of four-in-hand neckties, and he refused to wear one unless absolutely necessary.
    Lee dislikes neckties
  • Years earlier, Majors and Hingle had shared screen-time in the 1969 feature, "The Ballad of Andy Crocker."
  • The airplane in this episode is a Ryan Navion, which was developed in the years following World War Two and (through various companies) was still in limited production when the TV series was being made.
  • Oscar's love of convertibles is introduced here as he gives Steve a lift in a light blue Mercury Cougar.


  • After the plane makes its emergency landing, the propeller appears undamaged. But a later shot shows it is bent in two places - and Steve must fix it.
  • The severe weather that caused the emergency landing is nowhere to be seen in the sky during the rest of the episode.
  • During the flying sequences, the edge of the rear projection screen creeps into the shot.
  • After the emergency landing, Steve asks Senator Hill if there's any sign of air rescue, Hill says no. But a plane can be seen flying off in the distance. DVD clarity may be responsible for revealing the plane. Also, it appears so close to the top edge of the frame, it may have been obscured altogether on old TV models.
  • The IFF transponder code for loss of communication is actually 7600, not 7700. 7700 means "general emergency". Also the ident/SPI button can not be used to send Morse code, as transmits the ident pulse for 15 to 30 seconds. This is at least 4 revolutions of an air search radar, to provide enough time for the radar to sweep around and interrogate the transponder a few times. The code 1200 is used by general aviation aircraft flying under visual flight rules and not under constant positive ground control.

Bionics Revealed[]

  • Steve bends the propellers in front of General Hill, his son and his political advisor. He also tells them he was part of Oscar's six million dollar project.


During the final sequence of the episode the health and welfare of the principal characters is resolved. Steve's natural sight is restored. Senator Hill is diagnosed with a brain tumor and resigns from public service. Steve even meets Air Traffic Controller Denby and gives her a thankful hug. However, nothing is said about Joe Lannon's snake bite. Perhaps we are left to assume that the scheming politician who tried to kill Steve was instead killed through a bit of poetic justice.