Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy……
April 21, 2013 Leave a comment
Since we are working the risk management topic, let’s take a look at a different story; in the last one we examined ‘when bad things happen to good people.’ In this one we can get a look at a different corner of the outcome matrix, namely ‘when bad things happen to bad people.’
Without this story, people new to aviation might falsely conclude that accidents disproportionately happen to good people. Just to emphasize my point that Physics, Gravity and Chemistry don’t play favorites, here we have an example that they are just as willing to eliminate bad people. These impartial referees are indifferent to most character traits with one exception: Judgement, which they always respect. If you develop and exercise Judgement, the three referees with be the most reliable friends anyone ever had. They have never ‘turned’ on anyone, ever. In every case, it is the operator who changed and stopped respecting them. At that point they just remorselessly went about their business.
At the center of this story is one of the least likeable humans I ever met. Let me start by saying that I am an optimist by nature and something of a romantic about aviation. I truly believe in the essential message of The Great Waldo Pepper, that aviation is a brotherhood that spans many differences. Here is an exception. The man’s name was Ray Blondin. For many months he posed as a regular Corvair builder. At the start, he knew nothing about engines, and little about planes. He was a lawyer. He bought almost every part we sold, and asked many questions. Getting his plane done was just his first goal. He was going to use every thing we knew to form a LLC and make cheap copies of everything thing we had developed. I know this to be true because the week after he was done he launched a company with a big website named Ventureray LLC, incorporated in his home state of DE, and it said directly on his webpage that had been the goal all along.
Blondin was a sociopath, and let me assure you that one didn’t need a medical licence to make a conclusive diagnosis. Our attorney, who is a Zenith 750 builder who lives in CT, sent Blondin a cease and desist letter, based on the fact that I had Blondin signature on our product rights agreement. Blondin immediately called the Delaware State police and said he was being physically stalked by my attorney, a very serious charge. My attorney happened to be in Manhattan Federal Court at the moment Blondin claimed he was in Dover DE, 200 miles away. The Delaware State police told my attorney not to be concerned, as Blondin had made this same type of call dozens of times before. It would later turn out that both he and his wife, who was also in the plane with Blondin, were lawyers who had made their livelyhood by suing most of the people and organizations they came across.
I would like to say that I have a very loyal fan club who wouldn’t but cheap copies of our parts, and I would be mostly right. But truth be told, a number of people were attracted to saving $50 on a motor mount, even if it meant not knowing who welded it or what it was made of. Blondin also had a lot of support on discussion groups on the net, chiefly among vocal people whose feelings I had perviously hurt by taking the position that their three-week school on changing oil at Jiffy Lube didn’t make them an A&P. Blondin wrote his whole website in third person and spoke of great engineering developments he had done and teams of technicians he had. In reality is was just him and some borrowed space in a hangar. He had tried to have all the copies farmed out, as he could make nothing himself.
A day or two before Blondin’s accident, a got a letter from a guy who was disgusted by the internet response of some people. The guy wasn’t very subtile, and the last line said that he wanted to live in just country, a place where “scum like Blondin would be publicly executed.” As it turns out, this is just what happened, and Blondin handled the task all on his own.
In short, he took off into a 10 mph headwind, and still needed 2,500′ of runway to get airborne. That is five or eight times the distance it should have taken. Here is poor judgement at work: that take off roll was more than one minute long, and if he pulled the throttle back at any time, he would have lived. He never gained much altitude, apparently stalled crashed and burned. His wife, beside him died also. The longer report is below, but keep in mind that nearly everything Blondin said was a lie, so I don’t think he really had 250 hours nor do I think the plane flew 100 hours either. I spoke with people at the airport later, and no one wanted to back those claims. The local paper painted a picture of both Blondin and his wife as great humanitarians. Public records indicated that Blondin has actually sued the organization the paper had credited him with supporting.
By starting his LLC, Blondin cut himself off from reasonable assistance. Even if he didn’t go that route, nearly everything we later found out about him indicated that he had no judgement. His website kept going for one and a half years after Blondin was dead. It reminded me of the ghost radio signals being sent by the window shade in the doomsday film On The Beach. About once a month, some new guy would crop up on an internet discussion group, raving about the great products available on a website called VentureRayLLC.com, and saying he had just placed an order with their Paypal system.
When I first started in 1989 I had a lot of dreams about things I would do to play a positive role in the greater story of homebuilding. Today, through time and hard work, many of these things have come to pass. But I will honestly say that I had no idea that things like Blondin lay in my path. I have many other stories much like this one. If I ever come across as short-tempered, consider that you don’t know all of things that went into providing what we have today. The next time someone asks you “why are there not more products for working people in aviation?”, guide them to this story and point out that the more affordable the product is, the simpler it is, and the easier to copy it is. (My prop hub is a much easier target that a moulded composite fuselage) I still believe that the vast majority of homebuilders are good people, but Blondin proved something that plenty of entrepreneurs bypassing the affordable product market know: That many working class people who should have high loyalty to people working to help them, actually don’t, their primary loyalty is to save a dollar, even if it is bad judgement.-ww
Very important Note: Blondin is the rare case where a vermin from our industry harmed himself, not his builders. This is not usually the case. I know far more stories from our industry where the casualties are all customers and builders. Stay far away from people like this, very few of these stories end in this way.
Above, Blondin’s plane at Dover DE. Get a good look at the terrain and ask yourself why an off runway landing there would be difficult.
From our website in 2007:
“Ray Blondin of Delaware is the ninth pilot to fly a Corvair powered 601. Ray took to the air recently in his primer clad HDS, pictured above. Ray kept a steady pace going in recent months to see his project through to completion. He picked up a number of Installation Components from us, but built his own unique installation. Ray’s aircraft utilizes our Motor Mount, specified 66″ Warp Drive prop, Prop Hub, and Distributor. He chose to make his own cowling.”
|Accident date||November 4, 2007|
|Aircraft type||Blondin 601HDS|
On November 4, 2007, at 1011 eastern standard time, an amateur-built Blondin 601HDS, N27S, was destroyed when it collided with terrain after takeoff from runway 34 at Chorman Airport (D74), Farmington, Delaware. The certificated private pilot/owner and the passenger were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.
In written statements, several witnesses described the accident flight, and their statements were consistent throughout. They stated that the engine sound during the takeoff roll and initial climb was “normal,” “strong,” and continuous with no interruption. The takeoff roll was “much longer than usual” and the airplane used about two thirds of the 3,588 feet of paved runway.
The witnesses described a very shallow climb after the airplane lifted from runway 34. The airplane drifted right of the runway centerline, and flew around the east side of a grove of trees off the departure end. The airplane then banked to its left “in an apparent attempt to return to the airport,” turned to the west, then disappeared from view behind the trees.
The airplane then reappeared above the trees in a steep left bank. According to one witness, “[The airplane] popped up in a very steep left bank (both wings were vertical like a knife edge).” The airplane then disappeared from view, the sounds of impact were heard, and a large smoke plume appeared.
The airplane was examined at the scene by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aviation safety inspectors, and all major components were accounted for at the scene. The airplane was consumed by a postcrash fire. Therefore, control continuity could not be established; and neither could any information be gathered from the cockpit.
Examination of the propeller revealed one propeller blade separated from the hub, and the other delaminated during impact.
According to FAA records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. He was issued a third-class medical certificate in March 2007, and he reported 250 hours of flight experience at that time.
The airplane was manufactured by the pilot/owner, was issued an airworthiness certificate in February 2007, and had accrued approximately 100 total aircraft hours since that date. The estimate was based on reports from witnesses who were familiar with the airplane and the pilot/owner. A member of the pilot’s family reported to the FAA that he would conduct a search of the pilot’s home for airplane and pilot records, but no records were ever produced.
Examination of satellite images revealed that the airport and the grove of trees were surrounded by flat, open, cultivated fields.
At 0954, the weather reported at Georgetown Airport (GED), Georgetown, Delaware, about 10 miles southeast, included clear skies with 10 miles visibility. The winds were from 310 degrees at 9 knots. The temperature was 13 degrees Celsius, and the dew point was 4 degrees Celsius.