Critical Understanding #7, The Most Qualified Pilot, ALONE.

Builders;

Four years ago, I was invited to a small, private, industry think tank at Oshkosh. Most home builders would know the names of 20 out of the 25 people in the room for the four hour meeting. The topic was the FAA proposal that might allow the owner of a new homebuilt to fly along with the test pilot on the first flights of his plane. 22 of the 25 people in the room thought this was a bad idea. Jeremy Monnett and myself went further to characterize the proposal as “F#@king retarded”

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One of the three people for it, was the guy who founded the most successful kit plane company in history. He gave a 30 minute lecture that boiled down to these points: Builders are going to do it anyway; It is a pride thing, the guy wants to tell all his friends he was in on the first flight; and a second guy in the plane could ‘help’ the pilot. I have a lot of respect for what the speaker accomplished in his career, but I cut that respect in half in that 30 minutes. In my book, the system need never condone anything just because people would do it, anyone who factors in pride on anything to do with something as serious as test flights is an idiot, and there is no single engine sport aircraft that requires a crew of two, and if it did, they would have to be both well versed in professional training called CRM (Cockpit Resource Management).

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You think 22-3, this would never pass, but guess what, influence counts for more than votes, so today, it is now possible to apply to the FAA to have two people in your plane for the first flight. I have great respect for the FAA, but this decision is the worst one they have made in my 28 years in homebuilding. Before anyone writes in to tell me that “If it wasn’t safe, the FAA wouldn’t allow it” stop, and answer me this: The FAA allows airlines to serve alcohol to people sitting in the exit rows of airliners, so please tell me how they are “Always about safety”.

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It is perfectly OK and right to have pride in the plane you created, but when it comes to operation, and particularly the test flying, put all that emotional stuff away, it is time for cold, ego free thinking and logic. The golden rule of this is the most qualified person available flies the test hours, ALONE.

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The most qualified pilot available should be the only person in the plane for the first 40 hours of phase one testing. There is no Corvair powered plane that needs a second crewman, and phase one is about testing the aircraft, not flight training nor familiarization.

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From my 2009 flight ops manual:

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NEVER fly a plane you have not been checked out in, even if this means going to the other side of the country and paying for lessons. (expensive, but cheaper than crashing) If you want to get checked out for less, have someone fly off the 40 hours on your plane, and then have a CFI check you out in your own plane. If the plane is a single seater, ask the DESIGNER what is an equivalent 2 seat plane.

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NEVER have two people in the plane, even if the FAA approves it

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If no one will fly your airplane when it is done, ask yourself if this is a reflection of your work or attitude toward safety. If you have a good perspective, and a well built plane that has a good engine/airframe combination, there will be skilled people willing to fly it.

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This is nothing new. My 2009 flight ops manual clearly states this, and I preached it long before I wrote the manual. Dan Weseman has a slight modification on there where he states “If you wish to do your own test flights, them get the training to become fully qualified to do so” Both he and I are absolutely in lock step that there should NEVER be two people in a Corvair powered plane for any of the phase one flight testing. If anyone chooses to do this, even if the FAA grants them special permission to do so, it makes no difference, In my perspective, 2 people in a plane for any minute of a flight test is a GROSS PILOT ERROR, and is not a logically defensible position. People can disagree with that, but they own the consequences for the results, not me, and if any official from the FAA or NTSB or a lawyer taking a deposition asks me, I am going to tell the truth, that it was a stupid thing I warned people not to do.

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Above, Paul’s 3,000cc Corvair, cowling open for a pre flight inspection. The engine has required absolutely zero adjustments in it’s first hours of flying, which included several full sets of aerobatic maneuvers. Top cowl is held on by 1/4 turn Camlocs, it comes off in less than 60 seconds. Notice how traditional baffling allows complete visual inspection of the engine. Carefully inspecting the complete engine after every test flight is what people who want to die of old age, at home, in bed do.  Others are fee to look through the oil fill door and call it good. Take your pick.

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Above, Paul Salter’s 3,000 cc Panther taxing out for it’s 8th test flight. This is the 10th flying Panther. At the controls is Bob Wooley, who built the second flying Panther. Bob has flown 5 of the 10 flying Panthers, has about 150 hours in the type, and has several thousand hours in high performance home builts, and had a long career in the USAF flying F-101s and F-4s. Dan Weseman did the first flights on Paul’s plane, and Bob is picking up the next rounds. Dan and Bob are the best qualified pilots for the flight tests to evaluate the plane.

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Paul is a good pilot, with several hundred hours time, much of it with outstanding instructors. A lot of his time is in Beech T-34s, a complex aircraft. But he hasn’t flown during the time he was building, nor does he yet have a tailwheel sign off. The panther is a very easy tailwheel to fly, but that isn’t a viable reason to ignore the common sense requirement to have the rating and the refresher training before flying it.

Paul is an aviation professional, an aerospace engineer working for the US Navy. He does this for a living, and the US Government, department of the Navy. He has worked his way to GS-12 rating, paying about $80K/year, because the US Navy agrees that he exercises good judgement.

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When some idiot at your EAA chapter meeting says any variation onWell that guy owns it so he should test fly it no matter what, it’s a pride thing” look at him and understand no professional aviation organization would pay that guy $10 for his opinion because he is an idiot. Contrast how Paul’s decision to have the tests done by the most qualified pilots available reflects the fact that his opinion on aviation matters is worth $100K a year. It is a free world, and anyone can follow either example, but 28 years in homebuilding has conclusively shown me that listening to $10 idiots is a short cut to the cemetery.

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Note Book Section:

Make line 7.1 in your Hand Book a entry that reads the full name and address of the person who will do the test flight on the plane. This needs to include their total hours, and time in type, their last medical, their most recent flight, and the N-Number of the plane they did type training in, and the dates of this training.  

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Make line 7.2 in your Hand Book an entry of that pilots signature, and a statement that they have read and comprehended every word in you POH for the plane, all of these articles, and the flight ops manual, and the airframe POH provided by the airframe manufacturer, and the flight wil;l be done in accordance with these limitations.

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-ww.

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About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

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