Report Says Pilot Who Fell From Experimental Plane Was Flying It For The First Time

  • Friday, April 5, 2013

An initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board says a 77-year-old Chattanooga pilot who fell to his death from an experimental plane was flying it for the first time.

The report also says that David Richardson was initially strapped into the "amateur-built" Zodiac 601XL, but he got out after there was trouble with the battery and he apparently did not get his seat belt secured the second time.

It says the canopy was initially secured, but it was raised to call for assistance with the battery. It also apparently did not get completely latched the second time in the incident that began at the Collegedale Airport last Friday.

The report says a flight instructor, who had sucessfully flown the small plane twice, noticed during the flight that the canopy was not completely secure and that it gradually was coming open. When it became completely detached, the plane went into a tailspin and the pilot was ejected from about 2,500 feet.

The flight instructor was able to grab the controls and get the plane safely landed back at the Collegedale Airport.

It says they were headed back for the Collegedale Airport when the malfunction occurred.

The body of the pilot was later found in Bradley County.

Here is the report: 

On March 29, 2013, about 1530 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Zodiac 601XL, N999NA, operated by a private individual, sustained minor damage during an in-flight upset near Collegedale Municipal Airport (FGU), Collegedale, Tennessee. The flight instructor was not injured and the private pilot was fatally injured. The instructional flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the local flight that departed FGU about 1510.

According to the flight instructor's written statement, the private pilot purchased the airplane about 3 weeks before the accident and was not familiar with it. The flight instructor agreed to provide instruction in the airplane and first wanted familiarize himself with it. The flight instructor flew the airplane solo uneventfully on two occasions, for a total of approximately 2 hours, with the second flight ending just before the accident flight began. After his second solo flight, the flight instructor shut down the engine and reviewed the airplane's characteristics with the private pilot. They then returned to the airplane, took their time entering the cockpit, fastened their seatbelts and secured the canopy; however, they were unable to start the engine.

The private pilot subsequently unlatched and raised the canopy to call for assistance from ground personnel. A ground person provided a charger for the airplane's battery. As he started to attach the charger, the private pilot unbuckled his seatbelt to assist; however, the ground person stated that the private pilot did not need to get out of the airplane as he did not require any help. The private pilot then put his seatbelt back on, more hastily than the first time, and appeared to fasten it again. The flight instructor thought he heard a "click," but could not see the private pilot's seatbelt with the center console between them. The pilots lowered the canopy and latched it a second time for the planned 20-minute flight.

About 5 minutes into the flight, the flight instructor heard a wind noise from behind their heads, which he did not hear on previous flights and thought that perhaps the canopy did not have a perfect seal to the fuselage. As the flight progressed, the canopy seemed like it may have separated a little more. By that time, the flight was headed back to the airport. The canopy then pulled up enough on the latches that the flight instructor could see daylight through the openings between the canopy and fuselage. The flight instructor attempted to pull the canopy down, but it instead opened completely and the airplane entered a negative g dive. He was not sure if the change in airflow or a control input by the private pilot caused the dive. The private pilot lifted out of his seat and ejected out of the cockpit. The flight instructor was able to grab the control stick, arrest the dive, and land back at FGU uneventfully. Emergency responders later recovered the private pilot in a wooded area.

Examination of the airplane by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed minor damage to the fuselage. Initial examination of the canopy and the private pilot's seatbelt did not reveal any failures. The inspector was able to secure and release both the canopy and seatbelt without difficulty.

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