The FAA has issued an Information for Operators (InFO) safety advisory for owners of amateur-built experimental Lancairs and other homebuilts “possessing high wing loading and stall speeds in excess of 61 knots.”
According to the InFO, released March 9, an FAA analysis of fatal accidents for airplanes operating under an experimental airworthiness certificate, such as the Lancair, has revealed “a large and disproportionate number of fatal accidents for their fleet size.”
The advisory comes in the aftermath of an accident earlier this month when a jogger on a Hilton Head Island beach in South Carolina was hit and killed by a Lancair. The pilot, who was having engine trouble, was trying to land on the beach when the plane hit the jogger, who was wearing headphones and listening to music. The pilot and his passenger walked away from the accident.
“Though the FAA has seen a recent downward trend, these aircraft types have experienced fatal accident rates substantially higher than for-personal-use general aviation and the overall fatal accident rate for all amateur-built experimental aircraft,” the advisory states. “The FAA believes that this is mainly due to the pilot’s lack of awareness of the slow-flight and stall characteristics of these type of high performance aircraft. Also, the nature of amateur-built aircraft means that each amateur-built aircraft may have unique flight handling characteristics.”
The advisory notes that over the past few years a number of fatal accidents occurred in these types of aircraft. A majority of the fatal accidents occurred due to inadvertent stall/spins while at slower airspeeds in home airport traffic patterns.
“Each individual amateur-built experimental aircraft possessing high wing loading and stall speeds in excess of 61 knots can have unique handling, stability, and stall characteristics,” FAA officials continue. “These design characteristics, while allowing for higher operational speeds, can expose pilots to additional risk during slow-speed operations while close to the ground and with little time to recover from an unintentional stall. Understanding these differences is critical for safe operation of such aircraft.”
The FAA recommends that pilots operating a Lancair:
- Review and thoroughly understand all available information regarding the slow-flight and stall characteristics of their own Lancair prior to attempting to duplicate these maneuvers. In addition, obtain specialized training from a Lancair recommended flight instructor who has had adequate training in the Lancair model or other similar high-performance airplanes to experience slow flight handling characteristics, stall recognition, and stall recovery techniques;
- Install an angle-of-attack (AOA) indicator and/or a stall warning indicator to provide warning of an impending stall. Owners that already have an AOA and/or a stall warning indicator installed should have the calibration validated to assure proper operation. Amateur built experimental aircraft can possess flight characteristics, including stall speeds, which can vary from airplane to airplane. (Note: indicated airspeeds can be as much as 10-20% off if the pitot tube is not in the proper location, or if not properly calibrated and verified);
- Should have their aircraft evaluated by a mechanic with sufficient builders and maintenance experience to verify proper rigging, wing alignment, and weight and balance. Lancair airplane builders should use the services of experienced and qualified construction evaluators who are familiar with the Lancair and/or other similar aircraft construction, rigging, flight, and handling characteristics;
- Owners might wish to have their aircraft evaluated by a qualified test pilot to determine the aircraf’ts handling characteristics prior to adding any suggested aerodynamic improvement and where appropriate, have items such as leading edge wing cuffs and/or strakes installed and then tested, by a qualified test pilot to verify improvements to the aircraft’s handling characteristics and or reduction in stall speed before permanent attachment.
For more information: 202-267-8212 or FAA.gov