One of the things we all have to do when fight testing an airplane is to fly it across the entire CG range – from full forward to full aft. In the case of a side-by-side two-seater, this generally isn’t too hard, because the CG range is actually fairly short. With a large four-seater (plus baggage), it can take a little more creativity to safely hold enough weight to get to the aft limit. By safely, I mean that we need to have the weight distributed in a structurally sound area, and SECURED so that, in the event of a mishap, it doesn’t break loose and become a missile aimed at the pilot’s head! Continue reading "Ballast Box"
No airplane is perfect right out of the box--that is, really, why we test them isn't it? Of course, there are lots of kits with many examples flying, so the designs are pretty mature--but when it comes to the rarer birds, or popular models that a builder has customized, there are certainly things that Phase 1 will tell us that we need to tweak a bit. Continue reading "Tweaks"
It is easy to get wrapped up in the flying aspect of flight testing when taking an airplane through phase 1. We preflight, then launch into sawtooth climbs, stall series, and determine Vx and Vy. But it's important to keep an overall eye on the mechanical aspects of the airframe as well. This is what I found when I climbed up on the wing of our Tundra this morning to add some fuel - a whole bunch of missing PK screws that hold the fuel tank cover plate in place on the left side. Continue reading "Flight Test Note... Check the Screws"
KITPLANES magazine met with Mark Giron of FAA headquarters on the opening day of Sun 'n Fun to discuss progress on the concept of giving builders the option of having two pilots on board during Phase One testing of new Experimental aircraft. The proposal is in response to NTSB recommendations attempting to lower the accident rate in Experimental aircraft, and points at the problem of inexperienced pilot builders doing their own testing while solo because current Operating Limitations for Experimental aircraft only allow required crew members to be onboard during initial flight testing—and most light Experimental aircraft can be flown by a single pilot.
Unfortunately, statistics show that most accidents in Phase One occur in the first eight hours of an aircraft's life, and a significant portion of those are due to loss of control, with the second major cause being powerplant failures. Inexperienced pilots that get behind the airplane or don't handle engine or fuel system problems properly can come to grief very quickly. Because many builders insist on being in the airplane they built on its maiden flights, they are caught between the rules and a hard place—and many wish they could have an experienced pilot onboard. Although the least risky option is to let an experienced pilot fly the airplane solo on its first flights, many reject this option, and get into situations beyond their skill level.
The National Transportation Safety Board released findings this week indicating that pilot errors during Phase I flight testing and pilot transition into homebuilts are a prominent cause of accidents and incidents. According to the agency, the NTSB undertook this study because of the popularity of E-AB [Experimental/Amateur-Built] aircraft, concerns over their safety record, and the absence of a contemporary and definitive analysis of E-AB aircraft safety. The study employed several different methods and data collection procedures to carefully examine this segment of U.S. civil aviation. This comprehensive approach resulted in a detailed characterization of the current E-AB aircraft fleet, pilot population, and associated accidents.