Magana Cathcart & McCarthy

Pilot Dies in Homemade Plane Crash at Big Bear

Homemade Airplane

A plane crash last week at Big Bear Lake resulted in the death of the aircraft’s pilot, who was also the sole person aboard. According to the Preliminary Report filed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the aircraft was about ten minutes into a planned flight from Big Bear to Mesa, Arizona when it crashed. According to witnesses, the plane was flying at about 200 feet above ground level, which was below the level of the surrounding terrain, when it banked left to almost 90 degrees, entered into a nosedive and impacted the ground.

The aircraft was a Sonex Tri-gear two-seater. Sonex is an airplane kit manufacturer, and the plane was homemade – built from a kit. Homemade aircraft are classified by the FAA as experimental amateur-built aircraft, or E-AB for short.

Are homemade airplanes safe?

In 2012, the NTSB conducted a Safety Study of E-AB aircraft. Statistically, E-AB planes made up 10% of the general aviation fleet in the U.S. in 2011 yet accounted for 15% of all general aviation accidents and 21 percent of all fatal accidents that year. The study concluded with a dozen safety recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the agency which regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the country. The study also made four recommendations to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), a member organization of E-AB owners, pilots, manufacturers and repairers.

Recommendations to the FAA included expanding the documentation requirements for the initial airworthiness certification of a homemade plane, verifying the completion of Phase I flight testing, improving pilots’ access to training, and encouraging the use of standardized data recording devices during flight testing.

Recommendations to the EAA included providing incentives for owners, builders and pilots to complete flight test training; working with their membership, kit makers and avionics manufacturers to develop standards for data recording; and creating and publishing a repository of information on holders of Letters of Deviation Authority (LODA). Normally, E-AB owners can only fly their aircraft for their own personal use, but LODA holders are authorized to operate their planes for hire for the limited purpose of training new owners in the flight of their craft. EAA currently has a section of its website providing information on LODA holders.

There are about 33,000 amateur-built aircraft in the country’s general aviation fleet today, and that number is growing as the popularity of E-AB planes continues to increase.

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