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Thu, Aug 28, 2003

Lancair Columbia 400 Prototype Lost to Spin 'Chute Release Failure

Test Pilot Bails Out, Unharmed

Lancair Test Pilot Len Fox parachuted to safety Wednesday morning, August 27th, after the failure of a test recovery system made the prototype Lancair Columbia 400 he was testing 'unlandable.' The aircraft, a relatively new bird (N166PD) in the test program, crashed in a field near Millican (OR), a rural community east of The Lancair Company’s Bend (OR), headquarters. Fox is a certified FAA designated engineering representative and test pilot under contract to The Lancair Company for development testing of the Columbia 400.

The accident occurred at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, during flight-testing, to evaluate several small adjustments to the prototype’s elevator and rudder control surfaces. During the flight, involving a series of successful spin recoveries, Fox intentionally forced the aircraft into a further spin and then attempted to recover it from that spin. When his attempts to recover failed, Fox deployed a spin 'chute (a small parachute that is attached to the tailcone of the development aircraft for the sole purpose of causing the aircraft to recover from a spin in this type of test situation). The spin 'chute worked as designed and Fox recovered the aircraft from the spin. However, for reasons yet unknown, Fox was unable to then jettison the 'chute and the aircraft was rendered unflyable, due to the excessive drag produced by the spin 'chute.

The test series reportedly started at 14,000 feet. The spin 'chute aided recovery was initiated at 10,000, and, following the failed attempt to jettison it, Fox left the aircraft at 3000 feet, suffering only minor injuries. FAA personnel were in the area already and were on the scene fairly quickly.

The aircraft impacted in a field where it caught fire and burned. There were no injuries on the ground and the fire was extinguished with no damage to the field.

"When testing a new aircraft, it is put into extreme situations to evaluate how it will behave," said Lancair's President, Bing Lantis, shortly after the problem. "It is essential for people to realize that the accident today was the result of a malfunction of an auxiliary safety system, installed only on test aircraft, during extreme flight conditions."

The aircraft cannot be safely landed with the spin 'chute still attached and deployed. The spin 'chute operates by slowing the aircraft’s spin to the point where the pilot can recover the aircraft. It is designed to be released by the pilot once the aircraft is recovered by pulling a handle in the cockpit that causes an attachment hook to release, much like a glider or sailplane is released after being towed to altitude. Should this mechanism fail, there is also a backup system designed to cut the cable that holds the spin 'chute to the aircraft. For reasons not yet known, both the primary and back up systems failed. These failures resulted in the spin 'chute's remaining attached to the aircraft.

"The accident is very unfortunate, but the important thing is that Len was unharmed," Lantis said. "We will begin investigating the cause of the accident immediately and won’t be undertaking any similar flight testing until we’re certain that the cause has been identified and corrected."

Founded in 1995, The Lancair Company has already certified two aircraft models, the Columbia 300 and Columbia 350. The Columbia 400 is a turbocharged evolution of these aircraft. The flight testing Lancair was conducting when the accident occurred is a necessary part of the FAA certification program for the Columbia 400.

**   Report created 8/28/2003   Record 1  **
  Regis#: 166PD        Make/Model: LC40      Description: LC-41-550FG LANCAIR
  Date: 08/27/2003     Time: 1743
  Event Type: Accident   Highest Injury: None     Mid Air: N    Missing: N
  Damage: Destroyed
  City: MILLICAN   State: OR   Country: US
INJURY DATA      Total Fatal:   0
                 # Crew:  1     Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   
                 # Pass:   0     Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   
                 # Grnd:         Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   
  Activity: Pleasure      Phase: Maneuver      Operation: General Aviation
  Departed: UNK                         Dep Date:    Dep. Time:
  Destination: UNK                      Flt Plan: UNK          Wx Briefing: U
  Last Radio Cont: UNK
  Last Clearance: UNK
  FAA FSDO: PORTLAND, OR  (NM09)                  Entry date: 08/28/2003



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