Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NTSB holding hearing on experimental safety

The National Transportation Safety Board is holding a hearing today on experimental aircraft. I'll post the archived video here later for future generations, but they've just reached the point where NTSB chair Deborah Hersman is talking about the number of hours it takes to build an experimental airplane.

"There's this other market we looked at ... used EAB aircraft," she said, wondering if the motivation of the buy is different than the motivation of the builder.

The "expert" testifying -- I don't have his name handy -- didn't have an answer although he guessed people who buy used experimentals are more "cost oriented."

"If they're spending this much time building, they're probably not able to spend that much time flying," Hersman noted, referring to the builders. "Are they flying regularly?"

"That was certainly a comment we got in the builder community, that here you had people who had people heavily invested in building the airplane and they likely had not been flying as much and a lot of the guidance that they offer with respect to transition training ... and there's guidance in the FAA material -- invest as much in your currency as your aircraft."

"Are they doing that?" Hersman asked.

"We didn't ask that directly," he responded.

There's a tendency among the pilot community to hate any talk like this -- government and all -- but this is an entirely appropriate topic, one that far too many people in experimental aviation have ignored. I don't think the government is going to mandate better -- or any transition training -- but insurance companies are already doing it. In my case, they won't provide flight insurance unless there's five hours of transition training.

In today's hearing, it was pointed out that the Van's airplanes are the predominant model, and that the majority of the accidents are takeoffs and landings, mostly because pilots were surprised by the pitch of the aircraft (the Lancair was cited here).

So this week I started transition training and I've rarely flown better. I also know that I need more than five hours. I spent 1.8 hours in Tom Berge's RV-7A yesterday morning, and another 1.5 hours last evening, mostly on takeoffs and landings. I can be better than I am, and we haven't really done much stall practice and we haven't done engine-out work yet.

There's a tendency to count the number of hours and subtract by 5, but, really, doesn't it make sense to invest $70,000 in an airplane project, not to mention 11 years of building time, and start cutting corners here?

Of course not, but let's face it: we do. Experimentals crash mostly for one reason -- pilot skill. I can't think of a better investment I'm making in my airplane project this week -- not engine, not avionics, not nice stuff inside -- than the money I'm putting between my ears.

(update) Here are the recommendations to the FAA. If history is any guide, the FAA will put them in a drawer somewhere:

Revise 14 Code of Federal Regulations 21.193, Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G, and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to define aircraft fuel system functional test procedures, and require applicants for an airworthiness certificate for a powered experimental, operating amateur-built aircraft to conduct that test and submit a report of the results for Federal Aviation Administration acceptance.

Revise 14 Code of Federal Regulations 21.193 and related guidance or regulation, as necessary, to require applicants for an airworthiness certificate for experimental, operating amateur-built aircraft to submit for Federal Aviation Administration acceptance a flight test plan that will (1) ensure the aircraft has been adequately tested and has been determined to be safe to fly within the aircraft's flight envelope, and (2) produce flight test data to develop an accurate and complete aircraft flight manual and to establish emergency procedures and make a copy of this flight test plan part of the aircraft's certification file.
Identify and apply incentives to encourage owners, builders, and pilots of experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete flight test training, such as that available in the Experimental Aircraft Association's Test Flying and Developing Pilot Operating Handbook, prior to conducting flight tests of experimental amateur-built aircraft.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G, and related guidance and regulations, as necessary, to clarify those circumstances in which a second qualified pilot could be authorized to assist in the performance of flight tests when specified in the flight test plan and Phase I operating limitations.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to require the review and acceptance of the completed test plan documents and aircraft flight manual (or its equivalent) that documents the aircraft's performance data and operating envelope, and that establishes emergency procedures, prior to the issuance of Phase II operating limitations.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular 90-89A, Amateur-Built Aircraft and Ultralight Flight Testing Handbook, to include guidance for the use of recorded flight data for the purposes of flight testing and maintaining continued airworthiness of experimental aircraft.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G and related guidance, as necessary, to include provisions for the use of electronic data recordings from electronic flight displays, engine instruments, or other recording devices in support of Phase I flight testing of experimental amateur-built aircraft to document the aircraft performance data and operating envelope and develop an accurate and complete aircraft flight manual.

Develop and publish an advisory circular, or similar guidance, for the issuance of a Letter of Deviation Authority to conduct flight instruction in an experimental aircraft, to include sample documentation and exemplar training materials.

Complete planned action to create a coalition of kit manufacturers, type clubs, and pilot and owner groups and (1) develop transition training resources and (2) identify and apply incentives to encourage both builders of experimental amateur built aircraft and purchasers of used experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete the training that is developed.

Revise 14 Code of Federal Regulations 47.31 and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to require the review and acceptance of aircraft operating limitations and supporting documentation as a condition of registration or re-registration of an experimental amateur-built aircraft.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G, and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to include provisions for modifying the operating limitations of aircraft previously certificated as experimental, operating amateur–built, such as returning the aircraft to Phase I flight testing, as necessary, to address identified safety concerns or to correct deficiencies in the aircraft flight manual or equivalent documents.

Revise the Civil Aircraft Registry database to include a means of identifying aircraft manufacturer, make, model, and series-such as the aircraft make, model, and series classification developed by the CAST/ICAO Common Taxonomy Team-that unambiguously identifies the aircraft kit or plans design as well as the builder of the aircraft.

To the Experimental Aircraft Association:

Identify and apply incentives to encourage owners, builders, and pilots of experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete training, such as that available in the Experimental Aircraft Association's Test Flying and Developing Pilot Operating Handbook, prior to conducting flight tests of experimental amateur-built aircraft.

Work with your membership, aircraft kit manufacturers, and avionics manufacturers to develop standards for the recording of data in electronic flight displays, engine instruments, or other recording devices to be used in support of flight tests or continued airworthiness of experimental amateur-built aircraft.

Create and publish a repository of voluntarily provided information regarding holders of Letters of Deviation Authority to conduct flight instruction in experimental aircraft.

Complete planned action to create a coalition of kit manufacturers, type clubs, and pilot and owner groups and (1) develop transition training resources and (2) identify and apply incentives to encourage both builders of experimental amateur-built aircraft and purchasers of used experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete the training that is developed.

2 comments:

  1. I found the discussion of fuel system testing to be interesting. Did you do anything special to test the fuel system on your RV project? Any special equipment required?

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  2. Just a couple of thoughts -

    I was pleasantly surprised by the apparent knowledge the board members seemed to have and the relevant insights it led to.

    I'm not one of the heavy hitter transition trainers, but I always try to make sure that people about to launch in a RV know that, well flown, the airplane is capable of making you think you're better than you are.

    Dan

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