A word of caution or being a kill joy?

Builders;

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The sign above, is pictured Thursday night at our airport in Florida.  It is normally stored on my back porch, hopefully never to be used. It’s only purpose is to keep unethical TV reporters in search of ratings, out of our neighborhood after an accident.  On Thursday afternoon, one of our neighbors went for a short flight in his RV-4, and never returned. Our little community only has 119 people here, the man was known and liked, friend to both myself and the Weseman’s.  This was the second fatal accident this year. The circumstances are unknown, and not important. He was a highly skilled guy, flying a good plane, and we will not see him in this life again.

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2020 will make my 31st season in aviation. Plenty of people have been around longer, but I most have them have spent their seasons in far more benign parts of aviation. Experimentals, antiques and aerobatics and other riskier parts of general aviation are arguably more dangerous than flying in the military.

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Salesmen in our industry understand that any discussion of accidents and risk management makes people who might dabble in homebuilding nervous. Conversely, I’m not a salesman, and I’ve long said that homebuilding is the wrong place to dabble. If you are interested in devoting your attention and ambitions in homebuilding, then I have some perspectives and experience to share with you, to give you understanding and tools to effectively minimize and manage your risks.

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This approach is not always welcome. A week ago, a new second owner of an experimental openly said on a discussion group that he couldn’t wait to get his plane because he wanted to take his kids flying in it. If that attitude doesn’t unsettle you, maybe you don’t know this fact: The first flights of the second owner of an experimental are statistically proven by the FAA to be the highest risk events in general aviation, several times more likely to result in a fatality than even the original flights of the aircraft. This is solely because of the second owner, and his rush to use the plane without transition training, often without a Pilot’s Operating Handbook, and without studying issues like Weight and Balance, loading and systems configuration specific to that particular plane.  These issues are not new, read 20 year old NTSB reports on John Denver’s accident, the circumstances never change.

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When I suggested to the new second owner that he might look into training, a POH and alerted him that his plane might have a very limited useful load, his public response was to openly say he had flown the plane over gross, had done his flight training over gross weight, and he thought it was “No big deal”. He directly said he just wanted to ‘spread some joy’ and took my comments as being a know it all.

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His reaction isn’t unusual today; twenty years ago, the majority of people were willing to listen to experience, today, people, particularly second owners, are very quick to take offense to nearly any comment that doesn’t validate and endorse their conception of how things work, often based on the ‘its no big deal’ perspective.  This summer I pointed out a Pietenpol with a structural issue about to be flown. The owners response was to demand I remove from my website, a picture he himself had put on the internet. He took no action of the items I referenced, and 45 days later the plane crashed on rotation on its first flight, and was completely destroyed. By an absolute miracle, the pilot survived. He later told an observer that he might have listened to me, but I wasn’t nice enough to him in my comments. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you believe him.

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TO BE ABSOLUTELY CLEAR: This story is not making a comment in any way about my neighbor’s accident. The point is only that I have known and been fairly close friends with more than two dozen men and women killed in light planes.  They were good people, and the real tragedy is that more than half of accidents were easily preventable.  Each loss offered some wisdom, if you were willing to learn. I share the  stories like these: Risk Management reference page with people willing to gain some understanding to improve their own risk management. On the other hand, it can all be dismissed as me just being a kill joy.

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