Build it and They Will Crash?

This whole idea of building your own bird  has intrigued me.  I’m a member of the EAA and the project our local chapter had begun was restoring a Stinson, as opposed to a kit plane. I think it’s great for those with perseverance and a hangar, making flying more affordable (affordable being a loose definition here). I’m in favor of anything that increases the pilot population. Apparently, amateur builts can also decrease the pilot population:

Kit-built planes accounted for 18 percent of noncommercial plane accidents (in 2008) even though they logged less than 5 percent of the flight time.. The accident rate for kit aircraft, including amateur-built helicopters, is more than seven times higher than for other noncommercial aircraft.

The Lancair leads the pack in this area and was called out in this FAA safety advisory that was just released. Not because it’s a bad design. It’s just a really fast plane with high stall speeds and high wing loading. Without the appropriate experience and training, you can get in big trouble.  On a related matter, the Mitsubishi MU-2 had a horrendous safety record for years. This eventually led to strict,  specific, recurrent training requirements imposed by the FAA. The result: an almost spotless record over the past four years.

The recently released 2009 Nall Report is pretty hard on experimental/ amateur built aviation.  Accidents are out of proportion to the total number of airplanes built and hours flown.  Experimental and amateur built aircraft had an accident rate almost 5 times higher than certificated aircraft and a fatal rate of 7 times higher per hour flown.

The amateur builts have accident rates involving mechanical problems and unexplained losses of engine power that are about double that of certificated airplanes. This makes me much happier with a Lycoming up front in the factory builts. “Experimental”  aircraft should not involve experiments with powerplants. More mentoring and oversight are needed. If you’re interested, the AOPA has the 2009 Nall Report here.

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