Doing It Wrong

The December issue of Flying features an article by Peter Garrison about a Piper Arrow that disintegrated during a cross country flight. The airplane came to earth widely scattered in a number of pieces. The outer panels of both wings separated. The roof of the cabin had been ripped off forcing the flight instructor and student to descend from 10,000 feet in an open tub with stumps for wings. Interviews with other instructors at the school revealed that the pilot, a CFI, had a propensity for startling passengers with unannounced spins; barrel rolls; snap rolls. The plane used was capable of 3.8Gs with maneuvering speed of 116 kias but the last radar contact indicated 134 kias. The instructor apparently performed these maneuvers to impress and amaze students. No doubt both were amazed when the airplane disassembled on their final and fatal snap roll which is a particularly violent maneuver.

My commercial instructor was cut of the same cloth as the accident pilot. He was a very good airman. However, during the training flight he would put the plane through spins, rolls and even a hammerhead without advance notice of what to expect. The Skylane was not really up to the challenge and if something went wrong there were no options. The FAR’s stipulate that parachutes be used and emergency egress (doors / canopy that can be jettisoned) must be available in planes certificated for aerobatics and clearly he was in violation. I think he was bored with teaching and always wanted to have a little fun along with wowing the students.  However, he began driving students away. They were paying to learn and he actually terrified some of them. Garrison says there is a double standard in some pilots that mistake flying skill- the ability to control the plane, with good airmanship- not flaunting the FAA regulations or the laws of physics.  So choose your instructors wisely.

I decided to find another CFI and in the intervening years,  my original instructor hasn’t appeared in the NTSB accident reports. At least not yet.


4 responses to “Doing It Wrong

  1. Not only spins and rolls but diving at soybean fields at high speed with only a few feet between the aircraft and the terrain. It certainly impressed me at the time! Scared me too since I was wondering if the wings would fall off. In retrospect, I should have notified the flight school as it would have curtailed the behaviour and helped them hold onto their students.

    • He would engage in this activity no matter what license or rating the student was pursuing. Low time flyers were subjected to reckless stunts at low altitudes and decided to head to other airports or even quit flying. It’s tough enough to grow the pilot ranks without that sort of thing.

  2. Yes, it’s one thing for idiot students (like I was) to endanger themselves out solo, quite another for the instructor to do it for them. (I did learn a lot about STOL landings and other aspects of low-level flying in initial T-41 (C172) USAF pilot tng where our ins. were civilian contract types. Mine was an ex-Crop Duster. 🙂 )

    • The venerable T-41 is still in use IIRC. It was supplanted by the British T-3A Firefly in 1993 but they scrapped the whole fleet in 2006 after a series of class “A” mishaps.
      A $32M mistake with an additional $10M in band aids. Errors like that would have crippled most private companies.

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