WHAT WENT WRONG
BETTER PILOT I
When Smoke Causes a Fire
BY J. MAC MCCLELLAN
Knowing an airplane’s flying characteristics
AN OPERATING CONTROL TOWER provides many benefits to pilots.
Controllers, of course, separate airplanes on the runway and direct
taxiing airplanes to avoid conflicts. The controllers also provide
you with IFR clearances, or handoffs for radar advisories. The people in the tower also can pass along pilot reports warning of us of
wind shear on final that other pilots experienced, or to be alert for
poor braking conditions or other runway hazards.
And tower controllers also keep an eye on airplanes departing
and arriving and are in the best position to issue a timely warning if
they see something wrong that the pilot may not be aware of. And
that’s what an attentive tower controller did when he saw smoke
trailing a Lancair IV-P just as the landing gear was retracting after
takeoff. The controller radioed the Lancair pilot telling him of the
smoke, but nobody from the Lancair responded.
Almost immediately after the controller warned the Lancair of
the trailing smoke, witnesses saw the super high performance
homebuilt pull up into an abrupt climbing left turn, perhaps initiating a return to the runway. As the Lancair nosed up and banked,
the witnesses also reported that the wings rocked back and forth.
The airplane then went into a near vertical descent crashing into
an orange grove. The airplane exploded on impact, and witnesses
reported there was a huge fireball. All three people in the Lancair
were killed instantly.
Based on witness reports of the flight path and behavior of
the Lancair, the NTSB reached the obvious finding that the
“pilot’s failure to maintain an adequate airspeed during climb-out resulting in an aerodynamic stall/spin” was the probable
cause of the accident.
The composite airframe of the Lancair was destroyed on
impact, and the post-crash fire made analysis of the wreckage
by the NTSB almost impossible. The Board did determine that
all control surfaces were accounted for at the accident site, but
control system continuity could not