By Ric Reynolds
In an effort to enhance safety for amateur-built aircraft builders, EAA Founder Paul Poberezny hosted a forum Tuesday providing information and recommendations for builders and their test-flight programs. Joining Paul were some of the more well-respected test pilots around: Charlie Precourt and Robert "Hoot" Gibson—both astronauts, test pilots, and homebuilders—along with fellow builder Terry Lutz, Airbus test pilot of the A380.
All are members of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP), including the EAA founder. Lutz noted that with all his experience in hundreds of types, SETP made him an honorary fellow years ago.
The highest incidences of fatal accidents for amateur-builts are in first flights of the aircraft or for pilots flying an unfamiliar aircraft for the first time, according to the NTSB. For that reason it is crucial for builders to build a sound test plan using the "build-up" approach to build risk assessment and mitigate exposure to accidents.
As Precourt explained, it's also important to collect data so that you can create a POH—pilot's operating handbook.
Forum attendees listened intently as the three all-star test pilots provided anecdotes from their building and testing experiences. Precourt, who served in the Air Force and flew F-15s, built a VariEze. Gibson, a naval aviator who flew F-4s and F-14s, rebuilt a Cassutt racer. Both flew in space, including a mission to the Russian Mir space station.
Lutz also flew F-4s in the Air Force, was in the F-16 development program, and built an RV-8.
The steady, deliberate build-up in a flight-test program allows a builder-pilot to fly well within the heart of the aircraft's envelope to mitigate exposure to risk. The flight plan should progress slowly but surely.
For example, Lutz stressed, "There's no reason to stall the airplane. Why fly on the other side of that curve? It's unneeded risk."
Other tips stated during the forum:
- Fly another airplane like the one you built before first flight to become familiar with flight characteristics.
- Use the EAA Technical Counselor and Flight Advisor programs
- Don't take risks you don't need to take.
Paul and the three test pilots will hold another "Test-Flying Your Homebuilt" session at the EAA Welcome Center at 10 a.m. Thursday.