Crashes: then and now

Carnage in the beginning…

In a recent post I bemoaned the fact that the fatal accident rate for private flying had gone up to 1.40 per 100,000 hours after remaining level in the 1.20 range for almost 20 years. Guess what it was when Air Facts started in 1938? Would you believe 16.6, or, a fatal accident about every 6,000 hours. In another place I saw it as high as 30.0. At the time, the airline rate was 2.0. The trash media would have a field day if it were that today.

It is interesting that the airline rate in 1938 was a bit worse than private flying is today. At that time the airlines were flying mostly no-tech DC-3s which had about the same performance as high-performance singles and light twins. They flew in most all weather, probably more than they fly in today, and did so over a lot of really rough terrain at night as well as day. The only advantage they had was a crew of two but in those days the co-pilot, as he was called, was usually told to shut up and not touch anything.

DC-3 crash
While airline accidents are incredibly rare these days, in the era of DC-3s they were shockingly common.

A reader commented that in the previous post I hadn’t given credit for all the improvement in private aviation safety prior to the last 20 years. Well, I just did. Another reader emailed that the current lethargy in general aviation has little to do with cost and the other familiar whipping boys but it has a lot to do with the public perception of danger in private flying.

Air Facts was all about safety from the start and it has always tended that subject. How did we evolve from that bloody 16.6 or worse in 1938 to the 1.2-1.4 range where it has been for the last 20 years?

It was slow going and has more to do with pilots than technology.

The accident rate has always varied pretty widely among airplane types. I have always thought that was true because different airplanes attract different pilots.

After World War Two the majority of the pilot population was either ex-military or trained under the GI-Bill. Where in 1938 there had been only about 9,000 “sportsman” pilots, as they were called then, the number moved quickly into the hundreds of thousands after the war.

Pilots of that day weren’t much interested in safety. It was a fatalistic group that had been to war and back and part of the romance of flying came from risking your life. Safety features in airplanes, or in cars, were far in the future and the public was not clamoring for such. “Cheated death again” was a pretty standard post-flight remark.

The Civil Aeronautics Board (forerunner of the NTSB in this regard) and Beechcraft both did a study of accidents in 1952. It gave a good picture of what was going on with the pilot population while flying airplanes built after the war. The overall private aviation fatal accident rate per 100,000 hours was at about 4.8 in 1952.

Think of these numbers in relation to the current 1.2-1.4 rate. The CAB and Beech numbers were pretty close and these are the CAB numbers.

Beech Bonanza
The V-tail Bonanza had a bad reputation, but it was average to above average in its safety record.

The original Bonanza 35 had a fatal accident rate of 4.9 where the A, B and C35 had a rate of 2.5. Why were the newer airplanes better? I think it was because pilots were becoming more accustomed to what a bad idea it was to lose control of such an aerodynamically clean airplane.

I have flown all models of the V-tail Bonanza and can see no other reason why the newer ones had a better record. It was simply a matter of better pilots or at least pilots who were more aware of the characteristics of the airplane. Even though the Bonanza was frequently referred to as a V-tail doctor killer, the 35 was average and the newer ones above average.

The Model 18 twin Beech had the best record in 1952 at .90. It was usually flown by professional pilots who were simply about five times better than average at the art of flying.

The Cessna 170 and 170A came in at 4.8, or right at average. Today’s version of that airplane, the Skyhawk, always has one of the best records, substantially better than average, so why wasn’t that true in 1952? The only answer I can think of relates to the fact that the airplanes were largely owner flown then and were widely used for travel and, when the weather was marginal, for scud-running. Today, the Skyhawk is flown a lot for instructional purposes where the safety record is excellent, and by more sedate pilots for private flying.

Two-place airplanes were a large part of the fleet and the airplane that was designed to be safer (because it was stall-resistant and spin proof and had no rudder pedals to fool with), the Ercoupe, had the worst record at 10.4 fatal accidents per 100,000 hours. Shades of 1938. The Cessna 120/140 had the best two-place record at 3.0 and all the rest fell somewhere in between. The Taylorcraft was definitely on the high side at 8.7. I have instructed in both 140s and T-crafts and it is a mystery to me why the T-craft would have a record almost three times as bad as the 140.

Anecdotally, a jeweler who based a Taylorcraft at the airport where I worked in 1952 would fly his airplane in and out of some farm fields that were more suitable for helicopters. We were all convinced he would come to grief. He didn’t but an Ercoupe owner at the same airport did.

Why was the Ercoupe so bad? It could only be charged to human nature. Pilots thought the airplanes were “safe” where in truth Ercoupes were every bit as dangerous as any other airplane. Maybe they resisted stalls and wouldn’t spin but if flown too slowly they would develop a high sink rate, especially if there was even a little wind shear, and they could and did hit the gr

Ercoupe in flight
The Ercoupe should have been safe, with tricycle gear and “spin proof” design. It wasn’t.

ound hard and nose down. There was a special certificate for two-control airplanes that required less training. That was a sad and tragic mistake.

The next time I sorted out accident rates by type was in the late 1970s. That was at the peak of the best-ever private aviation boom, when all the World War Two folks were in their peak earning years.

By this time the fatal accident rate was down to 2.02. Did the fact that it was twice as favorable as in 1952 have anything to do with the booming sales? Nobody will ever know, but by this time the average age of pilots had reached a much more mature number and pilots might have started giving more thought to safety. By the late 1970s, more attention was being paid to crashworthiness and shoulder belts had come to new general aviation airplanes.

Against that 2.2 rate, how did some of the airplanes of the day stack up? An NTSB study pegged the Bellanca as the worst, at 5.68. The best was the Piper Navajo at 1.13.

Something that had been pointed out in Air Facts years before was verified in this NTSB study: when high performance singles other than the Bellanca were compared with similar light twins, Bonanzas v. Barons for example, the rates were similar and most fell just above the 2.2 that was average for the time.

A lot of thought was given to that Bellanca record because there was no valid reason for it to be so high. It could have been an aberration caused by a relatively small fleet size and inaccurate estimate of hours flown. Also, when the safety record was calculated in other ways the Bellanca came out much closer to the other retractables.

The fixed-gear singles all came in under the average 2.2 number with the Cessna 150 best at 1.34, the 172 at 1.47 and the Cherokee at 1.97.

The stall/spin is a leading killer on these simple airplanes. The Cherokee has the tamest stall characteristics of the bunch, especially when the older 150/172 airplanes are considered, yet it had a worse record. What was the story there?

Fuel selector
That “Both” setting may have improved safety compared to low wing designs.

One semi-explanation was/is the fuel system. In a Cherokee you select between wing tanks. Both Cessnas can or do draw from both tanks at once and no fuel system management is required. And, you guessed right, the Cherokees had a bunch a fuel system mismanagement accidents where the Cessnas had none. Other than that, the conclusion might be that more docile stall characteristics don’t mean that an airplane will have a lower accident rate.

The most recent time that I delved into this was in the early 2000s, when the fatal accident rate had settled down to the 1.2 per 100,000 hours rate. Much of the following is from research I did for the book “The Next Hour.”

Against the average, higher performance airplanes again did not fare as well as lower performance airplanes. The worst record was in the Cessna P210 at 2.33 followed by the Piper Malibu/Mirage at 2.04. Make it a simpler retractable, without pressurization, and the Saratoga, 210 and Mooneys were all close to the average. The Bonanza A36 was a little high at 1.81. The Cirrus is not a retractable but has similar performance and the SR20/22 was slightly above average at 1.52.

The Cessna 172 was best at .56, the 182 next at .74 and the Piper Archer below average at 1.06.

More aggressive pilots fly more aggressive airplanes and this is clearly illustrated in the Cirrus record of that time. The SR22 is clearly the more aggressive of the two Cirrus airplanes and it appeared to have a four-times greater involvement than the SR20 in fatal accidents.

The economy took a humongous hit right after those numbers were developed and the price of 100LL went through the roof. Flying activity went way down. Most of the airplanes in the fleet have gotten a lot of years older, too, and older airplanes tend to fly less. Thus any current calculation of hours flown by type would have to be taken with so many grains of salt that it would not be worth much.

Cirrus fatals
Cirrus fatal accidents are down… big.

It is my opinion that nothing has changed much since that last calculation. I think the Cirrus is likely doing better, maybe even substantially better, because of educational programs that include more aggressive use of the airframe parachute.

Whenever the overall private aviation accident rate is mentioned there was always a chorus of “yes, but” comments. A primary one is about the fact that accidents in experimental airplanes count here and the record there is worse. We are still all members of the same community and experimental airplanes and pilots are an integral and important part of that community. They are simply part of what we do so they count.

The NTSB has in the past shown rates for various fleets of airplanes. In that early-2000s period I was just talking about they showed fatal accident rates per 100,000 hours as follows: experimental 4.65, single-engine piston 1.50, piston twin 1.95, turboprop .69 and jet .24. Most experimental airplanes are single-engine piston types so those numbers could be used to suggest that singles are a lot safer than twins.

With the accident rate all but stagnant for the least twenty years, and with more high-tech innovation during that period than any other in our history, I can only conclude that there is no safety advantage to all those wonderful gadgets and gizmos. I always had the latest and greatest in my airplane and I loved having them. I never deluded myself into thinking they reduced my personal risk except in one area, collision avoidance. Having traffic information on the panel was, to me, pretty wonderful. Maybe my thinking on that is skewed by the fact that the only accident I had in 57 years of pilot-in-command flying was a midair collision.

If anything stands out as a growing problem today, it is piston engine failures, and my thoughts on this are anecdotal. I look at the press reports of airplane accidents every day and the number of airplanes damaged or destroyed in forced landings is almost mind-boggling. Where the old airframes are doing okay, the old engines might be giving up the ghost too frequently. This is something that needs to be watched closely, to see if there is a disturbing trend here.

If I could pick one factor that I think resulted in many years of improvement and now almost 20 years of no further improvement, it would be the nature of pilots. We became steadily more risk-averse over the years and then that got as good as it was going to get and no other factor had a measurable influence on safety

In the end, there’s only one question that really counts: “How safe is my flying?” Those of us who work in private aviation safety might not be able to do anything to further improve the overall accident rate but we might be able to help individuals come up with the best possible answer to that important question. So we will keep trying.

21 Comments

  • while I agree with most of the above, I do have a problem with the experimental “factor”. It is one thing to include a VAN or lanceair in the accident statistics, but the guy who bolted a tractor engine and took off only to crash 30 seconds later should be omitted… if nothing else, at least give him his own category.

  • Richard, I’ve been reading your writing for, oh, 35 years or so, and can’t remember disagreeing with much of it. In this instance, I strongly agree with your statement about the stubborn GA fatality rate and “the nature of pilots.” In support of that belief, I adduce the following:

    In a single issue of Aero Network News (24 Sept 2015), there are three summaries of fatal GA crashes causing nine deaths. In brief,

    1. Kitbuilt Van’s RV-10 flown in night VFR by the builder/owner, kills five (in a four-seat aircraft). The “pilot” had somehow gotten a 3rd class medical certificate and builder maintenance certificate for the RV-10, yet had no airman certificate of any kind. No logs have been found and there is no evidence, I gather, of any flight training.

    2. Beechcraft Premier 1 (bizjet) crashed on attempted return to airport for apparent cabin heat issue, low level maneuvering at night, kills two. No comments given about his qualifications, but autopsy revealed an illegal cocaine-like drug and some marijuana in the pilot’s body.

    3. Cessna 310 light twin, flown day VFR from Flagstaff toward Amarillo, by two pilots qualified only for single-engine land and having no instrument ratings, hit a mountain in Colorado at 11,500 ft, presumably in clouds. They filed no flight plan and were not availing themselves of Flight Following.

    Analysis of all fatal GA crashes would probably reveal dozens of similar examples of pilot failure every year.

    I ponder cases such as these and wonder how these events could have been prevented by any regulatory strategy that would not utterly strangle GA. We all know airmen who know it all, or are always in a rush, or have inappropriate confidence in their abilities, or whose attitude about risk is always, “It’ll be okay.” As has been discussed in these pages before, there are some folks who just can’t, or won’t, be taught. And many of them will crash. My greatest sorrow is for the trusting persons who fly with them and are injured or killed.

    • One thing I find disturbing, just from lurking on various pilot forums around the web, is the number of pilots who like these Experimental category airplanes just because it enables them to legally circumvent some FARS that apply to certificated aircraft.

      Another issue, is the constant discussion of how to use unapproved portable GPS devices, to file and fly IFR direct, and not get caught doing it.

      • I’m no longer active as a pilot, but when I was, I frequently requested “Fly heading 090 until receiving Memphis and then direct” type of clearances. As long as Memphis Center (or Atlanta, Fort Worth, etc.) had radar contact with me, they were usually willing to grant me the clearances. That was a legal clearance 35 or 40 years ago, and I assume it still is.

        …now there was that time (late 1970s) when I was riding in the jump seat of a Delta DC-9 (I was an Air Traffic Controller back then), and within a few minutes (3?) after we took off from Atlanta sometime around midnight, and the tower had switched us to departure, and departure had switched us to center, we got a clearance for “present position direct Tulsa.” The captain said “Roger,” and then I leaned forward from the jump seat and asked the captain, in my best young and wet-behind-the-ears manner, just exactly how he expected to pull off flying direct to Tulsa. This was long before GPS, and the DC-9 didn’t have VLF Omega, Loran, Doppler, Inertial, or even a sextant and star chart. I wasn’t a center controller — I was still working at a VFR tower — but I was very interested in how en route flying was done.

        The captain gave me an “are you an idiot” look, and then, flicking his wrist and fingers towards the windshield, said, “Tulsa is that-a-way.” So into the night we flew, going “that-a-way.” A hundred or more miles out from Tulsa we picked up the VOR, made a slight course correction, and landed at TUL without incident. We were in radar contact the whole way. I assume the pilot thought that a center controller would tell him if it didn’t look like he’d hit Oklahoma, that he was drifting towards Texas or Kansas. I have no idea what the center controllers were thinking, they just handed us off among themselves as we flew from sector to sector.

        I rechecked the books after we landed. Yep, it really wasn’t legal back then to accept a clearance you couldn’t actually fly, but nobody seemed to care about “that-a-way” flying.

        …so that leads me to unapproved GPS devices. When I as a pilot would legally ask for a “fly heading until receiving…” clearance, I was coming up with the heading just as I would as an approach controller when I’d assign a heading to a pilot: it was a SWAG.

        But with an unapproved GPS device, a pilot should at least be able to take out the “G” (guess) part of SWAG.

        I don’t know. Maybe center controllers no longer issue “fly heading until receiving…” clearances. At a Fort Worth Center “Operation Raincheck” visitation two or three years ago, though, a controller told me that he issued them all the time.

  • I respect Dick’s opinions on private aviation safety a great deal, while I also differ with Dick on several points:

    1) The reported 1.4 rate by NTSB is bogus – the NTSB cannot possibly have compiled accurate flying hours information for 2014 only months after the year ended, which is why the Nall Report always waits a full year to report accident rates. The 2015 Nall report DID say that there was no significant reduction in flight activity between 2013 and 2014 as Dick believes occurred. There’s certainly no evidence to suggest that private aviation activity fell off a cliff in 2014 as compared to 2013 … the economy was OK if not great, and we are many years removed now from the “great recession” of 2008-2009.

    2) All accident rate calculations are at least somewhat bogus because there is no effective means of tracking pilot hours. The only mechanism available to directly track reported flight hours is on medical certificate applications, which only track total hours logged and hours in the previous six months for the third class which most private pilots have. Those who fly LSAs don’t get medicals, and if the 3rd class goes away soon as most of us hope, even that measure will go away. There are indirect means of measuring flight hours, such as volumes of avgas sold, but that is a very imprecise tool.

    3) Combining experimental accident stats with certified aircraft stats really muddies the water and obscures the real reasons for accidents. As we all know the inherent risk in flight with non-certified aircraft is much higher than for certified aircraft, for a variety of reasons such as untested aircraft configurations that lead to stall-spin accidents, and more frequent engine/airframe failures. It is not a minor detail that THE ENTIRE INCREASE IN GA FATALITIES IN 2014 WAS ACCOUNTED FOR BY A VERY LARGE INCREASE IN EXPERIMENTAL FATALITIES.

    If we can’t address the actual causes of experimental fatalities because, as Dick says, “We are still all members of the same community and experimental airplanes and pilots are an integral and important part of that community”, then the talk about improving aviation safety is pointless. To be of value the desire to reduce accident rates must be accompanied by understanding of the actual causes and reasons, followed by actions to address those causes and reasons. Simply shrugging our shoulders and saying, “we’re all the same” when it’s clear that we’re not, then we’ll never make progress.

    4) Another important reason to pay particular attention to experimental aircraft safety apart from certified aircraft safety is that, as the certified fleet ages, more and more of our fleet is being replaced by new experimentals, which are far cheaper to build, buy and maintain than are new certified aircraft. Improving experimental aircraft safety is going to become more and more important as the years and decades pass.

    • Duane I agree 100%.

      Experimental are not held to the same standards as certified planes and as such they should not be thrown in the mix as if they are any other plane.
      I have absolutely nothing against my fellow Exp owners, I respect their choices, however I am sure they know that they are taking on more risk.

      As an owner of a certified airplane, I spend significantly more money on maintenance, parts, and avionics, then an experimental owner. All of that, in the eyes of the FAA, is do to safety… the reason that seat belt costs $1,000 is because it needs to go thru extensive testing to make sure it is SAFE(!), so in return I only ask that you show me numbers that represent people like me, who spend more money on safety.

      I would love to see that accidents report again, this time with the experimentals taken out. I have a feeling the numbers will be significantly lower.

      Liad

  • As one involved in the maintenance end of the business, I can believe that there is an increasing trend in mechanical failure related accidents. I also believe that it will be a problem more difficult to solve as there are many factors at play.

    Maybe Richard is once again on the leading edge of a correction trend. He retired his P210 when it was at the end of its economical life. More of us should consider that action; the old airplanes are becoming a liability.

    • Stephen,

      As I pointed out above, the entire increase in aviation fatalities in 2014 as compared to 2013 – both of which, by the way, are the two lowest fatality totals in the entire recorded history of US aviation since WWII (to put them in perspective) was entirely due to an even larger increase in experimental aircraft fatalities.

      So there is no actual proven statistical or even causal relationship between aging aircraft and accidents or fatalities, especially given that on average, experimental aircraft tend to be much younger than certified aircraft, since their cost, both used and new, is far below similarly capable new certified aircraft.

      If you think about it for even a moment – aging aircraft engines perform well as long as they are reasonably maintained and operated as legally required for certified aircraft. Of course, that is one of the rubs of the experimental world, since the builder is the mechanic of record and there are no effective performance standards for unlicensed mechanics, or for flight testing any modifications that the builder may make to the engine, the fuel system (a poorly designed fuel system mod was what helped kill John Denver nearly 20 years ago), or the airframe.

      And of course, we all know that 75% of all non-commercial light aircraft accidents are due to pilot error anyway, and it’s been that way at least since the 1950s when the “modern” aircraft we know today came into being. Even quite a few engine failures are themselves the results of pilot errors (such as running out of fuel, or using the wrong fuel, or not operating the engine correctly) or errors by maintenance personnel.

  • Consider this while you are picking on experimentals: Is the NTSB’s 1.95 rate for piston twins a result of all those accidents in experimental twins with tractor engines?

    • Dick – nobody is “picking on experimentals”. The data are the data. The entire increase in fatalities from 2013 to 2014 (the two lowest fatal accident totals in history) was entirely due to a very large increase in experimental fatals in 2014.

      We must deal with reality, and not be concerned with picking sides in some sort of artificial argument. There is no credible argument against the fact that the safety record for experimentals is much worse than that of certified aircraft. The reasons why are fairly obvious (I alluded to a couple of them in my comment above). The means of reducing those accidents are less obvious, but are certainly deserving of discussion in a publication devoted to improving private aviation safety.

      There is zero benefit to bewailing a non-existent increase in fatal accidents for certified aircraft, while ignoring the gorilla in the room that we have a relatively large and apparently growing (for at least one year, anyway) problem with experimental safety.

      As for your reference to the safety record of twins, the reasons for the higher-than-average fatal accident record for twins as compared to single engines are fairly obvious too. Twins are used almost entirely for cross-country travel, not flights around the pea patch or in the pattern. Thus they are exposed to weather flying in ways that mostly-recreational aircraft are not. Also, and quite logically, a twin engine aircraft has twice the probability of an engine failure in flight than does a single engine aircraft. And, when a light twin loses an engine, subsequent loss of control is an all-too frequent outcome because, as you have pointed out many times yourself, Dick, too many light twin pilots aren’t proficient in engine-out procedures.

      None of that is to say that light twins are deserving of being “picked on”. It is only important that light twin pilots understand the different risks they are accepting by flying a light twin. They are great machines in the hands of competent pilots who can confidently handle an engine out on takeoff, and provide certain other safety advantages in flying over long stretches of inhospitable terrain or open water.

      There’s no “bad guys” or “bad airplanes” in aviation. Each aircraft type has its own faults and foibles that have to be accounted for. Lumping them all in together as if every pilot is experiencing exactly the same risk profile is not a useful exercise if the intent is to actually improve flying safety.

  • I certainly don’t dissect the NTSB reports the way Mr. Collins does, but as far as experimentals are concerned, it seems you can pick any given day and see the type aircraft column filled with some guy’s name and an obscure aircraft designation you’ve never heard of. There appears to be an inordinate number of these things involved in accidents.

    • Could part of the problem with Expermentals be that while they are building their aircraft they are not getting any stick time???

  • Wow, I didn’t expect the response to Richard’s op-ed to end up focused on “Experimental” aircraft (in this case, the specific category of Experimental Amateur-Built or EAB). Some comments suggest that the writers have little direct contact with the homebuilt world. I’ve been affiliated with the EAA for many years, working with 3 EAA chapters and attending many of the annual conventions in Oshkosh. Most EAB aircraft are today built from excellent kits of established designs; some outstanding examples include products from Van’s Aircraft and RANS. These aircraft are only “experimental” in a regulatory sense. Most modern EAB aircraft are excellent designs and well-built (and well-maintained) by their owners. Again to Richard’s point, pilot error is the cause of most EAB crashes just as for certificated aircraft. Some EAB crashes may reflect the years spent building the aircraft and not building flight experience, but it would be a mistake to condemn EABs or their builders as a class.

    • Hunter – Why so defensive? There is not a single word of “condemnation of experimental aircraft” by me or anyone else commenting in this thread. Nope – we are just stating the facts of the matter. Experimental aircraft have a much worse safety record than do certified aircraft. You cannot deny it. Fix what needs fixing.

  • There are two issues with pinning the problem on the experimental crowd. 1. Most experimentals are of significantly higher performance than certified aircraft. 2. Up until recently it was difficult to get transition training in experimentals. That is a recipe for problems. It is my understanding that the FAA has relaxed its position somewhat and now transition training is easier to obtain. Time will tell if that’s a solution however I fail to see how more training will hurt things.

  • Richard:

    We need to remember that initially a huge number of Ercoupes in the middle/late 1940s were sold

    off the floor of department stores. (that was my introduction) and Ercoupe students were

    often soloed in as little as 5 hours !

    That, in itself, may probably be the principal reason for its very high accident rate…….then ?

    Since about 2000 Coupes still fly, I feel it will be very revealing to go back say 40 years, to 1975,

    and actually see how the Ercoupe has done since then…. Thanks for your interest, dick bicknell

  • Richard:

    We need to remember that initially a huge number of Ercoupes in the middle/late 1940s were sold

    off the floor of department stores. (that was my introduction) and Ercoupe students were

    often soloed in as little as 5 hours !

    That, in itself, may probably be the principal reason for its very high accident rate…….then ?

    Since about 2000 Coupes still fly, I feel it will be very revealing to go back say 40 years, to 1975,

    and actually see how the Ercoupe has done since then…. Thanks for your interest, dick bicknell

  • One of the deadliest air craft in a crash is a Cessna 206, here’s why, I had a 2001 turbo stationair, after reading about a accident east of kalispell mt where three people were killed one seriously burned and another with injuries, one of the survivors stated she was behind the copilot seat but got the pilots door, this didn’t make sense as she was sitting by a door, here’s the facts if the flaps are down even one notch you can’t open the door forward on the right side to exit the 3rd ,4th and the 5th and 6th seats this also traps any passangers in the fifth or sixth seats, my 206 had intrigated headrest on the third and forth seats making it impossible to climb over,also back to the front, I’m 6’4″ when in the pilots seat in flying position I can’t get out unless I move seat all the way back, in this accident the pilot left his seat forward and opened the door so the passanger in the back could get out, he burned to death as did the person in the co pilots seat and the person in the 5 or 6 seat position also burned to death, last summer another 206 crashed at schaffers meadows on take off in the bob Marshall wilderness and crashed into the trees, all the passangers were trapped in the plane soaked in gas, it took several hours to get them out with the danger of the plane bursting into flames, they were very lucky. I contacted Cessna about this problem and suggested release pins on the door hinges so you could get out in a emergency I was promptly told it was certified as a utility type aircraft and I asked then why the hell did you put six seats in it, I sold my station air and advise anyone hauling family or planning on fly ins for hunting or fishing to think twice before they get in a 206.

  • The reason for the higher crash rate in the original 1947 Beech 35 Bonanza was, at least in significant measure, inflight disintegration due to faulty design — specifically: inadequate metal webbing joining the wings in the underside of the fuselage; and inadequate thickness of the wing skins. Bonanza designer Ralph Harmon learned from his mistake, and subsequent models were strengthened.

    (However, a design defect in the V-tail of the C-model, and subsequent models, induced flutter, resulting in another source of inflight disintegrations — which Beech denied passionately (and successfully) for decades. Eventually, under pressure from aviation media (but NOT Richard Collins), the FAA investigated, and issued AD’s that mandated radical new speed limits on most Bonanzas, until completion of a structural/aerodynamic mod. (The later, straight-tail, Bonanzas had very good safety records)

    The original, all-wood Mooney M20 also had, reportedly, a horrific inflight breakup rate, as well, reportedly making it the most dangerous of all light planes at the time. Subsequent models were redesigned with metal (ironically, not by Al Mooney, but by the architect of the M20’s arch-rival, Bonanza-designer Harmon), and the rest of the M20 series eventually acquired a good track record.

    The original M20 and Beech 35 models, and numerous other planes since, reflect a warning common in the computer industry: “Never buy Version 1.0 of anything.”

  • Unfortunately, the faulty early models of Bonanza and Mooney plane don’t show up clearly in the
    “safety studies” done, because of sloppy statistical summarizing. In one major NTSB/FAA study, for instance, ALL Bonanzas — V-tail and straight tail — are summarized together, rather than separating the very safe straight tail models (33 & 36 series) from very grisly-record V-tails (35 series).

    Likewise, the same study lumps all M20 models together; since nearly all M20s are all-metal later models, the “good” safety rating of the overall series conceals the deadly record of the original M20s.

    Another major safety, on twins, summarizes all Twin Comanches together: PA-30 (with its high crash rate) and PA-39 (the C/R model, with contra-rotating props that eliminate the “critical engine” in engine-out situations that have caused so many Twin Comanche crashes in the original PA-30 model. In fact, my own cursory analysis of the accident data, measured against the comparative populations of PA-30 and PA-39, shows the original model has about TRIPLE the fatality rate of the later model. Presumably this explains Piper’s extension of the C/R concept to its other twins.) Yet the sloppy official government study on twin accidents just lumps all Twin Comanches together.

    This lazy lack of careful nuance in safety studies has, no doubt, contributed to many naïve assumptions about numerous GA aircraft, and their safety — with fatal consequences.

  • Sources for the some of studies I described above:

    NTSB Aviation Special Studies (AAS) Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Hunt Library
    http://huntlibrary.erau.edu/collections/aerospace-and-aviation-reports/ntsb/aviation-special-studies

    which includes these:

    Single Engine, Fixed Wing General Aviation Accidents 1972-1976
    NTSB/AAS-79-01
    http://libraryonline.erau.edu/online-full-text/ntsb/aviation-special-studies/AAS79-01.pdf

    Special Study – General Aviation Stall/Spin Accidents 1967-1969
    NTSB-AAS-72-8 – Sept. 13, 1972
    http://libraryonline.erau.edu/online-full-text/ntsb/aviation-special-studies/AAS72-08.pdf

    Light Twin-Engine Aircraft Accidents Following Engine Failures 1972-1976
    NTSB-AAS-79-2 – Dec.13, 1979
    http://libraryonline.erau.edu/online-full-text/ntsb/aviation-special-studies/AAS79-02.pdf

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