A word of caution or being a kill joy?




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




7 Replies to “A word of caution or being a kill joy?”

  1. I’m very sorry to hear of the lose if your friend. Please keep spreading the word of being as safe as possible! I’m very sure you’ve saved lives you’ll never know about. Words can sometimes be hard and hurt egos but not nearly as harsh or hard as a high speed impact with the ground. Thank you very much for what you’re doing.

  2. sorry for loss of your friend.

    Thank you for all you do for the aviation world, I hope to finally fly & to do so with Corvair power at some point.

    As for safety, stay true to yourself & beliefs, people will be hard headed, and think they know it all, nothing we can do but stand back & watch & hope for the best.

    I have lost well over 100 people I knew to motorcycle wrecks, some I remember vividly, them being stupid or messing with stuff they had no experience and shouldn’t, like brake failure trying to adapt home made brake system to look cooler, he swerved into oncoming traffic instead of rear ending stopped traffic, I was a few minutes behind him. sad sad day. but in the motorcycle & biker world I have nearly seen or heard it all. in Aviation world I listen close & have no intention of doing anything half assed, or short cuts, & while I survived my stupid youth, I take my life & safety very seriously, as I want to enjoy life as long as God allows.

  3. WW,
    I enjoy your comments but it got me thinking. What about sharing homebuilt aerolanes? Pat Green use to let me take his Pietenpol just about anytime I wanted. In return I let friends fly my Volksplane VP1. Is this about the same senerio as the first flights as buying a used homebuilt aeroplane? Now I knew Pat’s Pietenpol inside and out because I helped him in small ways to build his Piet. I saw the Piet being built from the beginning and flew with him after it was finished. He basically checked me out before he let me fly her solo or with a passenger. Now on the other hand I let friends fly my VP-1 without a dual check out. (Was a single seat) but I knew their experience in flying open cockpit/Taildraggers. I also let friends fly my 1941 Aeronca and 1946 Taylorcraft. But guess that is a little different since at one time it was approved by the CAA/FAA. Now I know of one accident in a modified Pietenpol that the owner let an aviator fly her without a checkout. NEVER again after the rebuild the owner said Lol.
    Another owner of a modified single seat Taylor Let a so called experienced aviator fly his homebuilt and just about lost her on landing. I guess there are so many variables in flying someone’s aeroplane or letting some others fly theirs that we need some guide lines. Like the old saying
    ” flying in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an ever greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

  4. Sorry to hear of the loss of your neighbor and friend. Sometimes I find it difficult to understand why these things happen, and how or why the pilot ended up in the bad situation. We lost a friend and member of our soaring club about 2 weeks ago, very experienced and proficient but it seems like it might have been a stall/spin from low altitude. About 2 years ago we lost another friend flying a vintage aircraft (a plane my daughter used to take me flying in), he even had an instructor in the back with him as he was doing transition training – again to what seems like a stall/spin.

    Like you wrote, when I examine the details of each incident, the conditions, the situation, etc, “each loss offered some wisdom, if you were willing to learn.”

  5. Sorry for your loss William. Just keep doing what your doing.
    Eddie Rickenbacker once told his son that was about to go to the flight academy: An airplane is like a Rattlesnake, take your eyes off it for too long and it will bite you with sometimes fatal results”.
    No matter if it’s a Piper J3 Cub or a Jet. NEVER BECOME COMPLACENT and never take anything for granted.


  6. My condolences William, to you and the whole community. As for your words of caution, I for one sincerely appreciate them!

    Peace, Chuck (GN1 builder)

  7. To answer your initial question, you gave him good words of caution. I read the exchange with the recent new owner. I hope he has had time to reflect on how he will prepare for flying his new plane and that he does it correctly. People can have a tendency to react in defensive manners when a conversation takes a turn they weren’t expecting.
    You stated that the first flights of second-owner planes are the highest risk in general aviation. I recall two fatal crashes locally at LaPorte Municipal just within the last few years that fall into that category. One was a Kitfox, the other a Kolb Mark III. Each had 2 fatalities. One comment you made years ago about the referees of the rules of physics, chemistry and gravity being completely unbiased has always stuck with me. Thank you.

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