Last week at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Nascar team owner Jack Roush crashed him Beechcraft Premier business jet. Roush and his passenger survived. She was released from the hospital, while he apparently underwent facial surgery as a result of his injuries. The airplane appears totaled.
What happened is still anyone’s guess, although a few key scenarios remain likely. The accident happened over the runway while Roush was on approach. There’s speculation he tried to go around, got slow, and stalled into the runway. There’s also talk of the fact that there was a slow airplane on the runway ahead of him and he was trying to keep the jet slow to maintain spacing.
Landing at Oshkosh during the show is unlike landing anywhere else. Traditional spacing rules are thrown out the window in favor of multiple airplanes landing on different spots on the same runway almost at the same time. So you can image the stress of trying to slow down for an airplane on the runway with thousands of other airplanes and spectators around you, while the controller is telling you to land on a specific spot.
It’s important to note that Roush’s Premier is an incredibly fast single-pilot, swept-wing jet that is completely different than a training aircraft. But to me, that’s part of the point of the back story.
If you’ve ever wondered why you spend countless hours doing stalls, steep turns, landings, and go arounds, accidents such as the one Roush had is the reason. Forgive the metaphor, but flight training is not unlike playing little league. The basic skills are taught and developed, and then you move up through the ranks, maybe some day even playing professional baseball. But without the basic skills, you’ll never get to the majors. Roush had played little league just like we all do. But his accident indicates a failure to perform to the basic standard.
When you practice stalls, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re not just practicing how to recover from the maneuver–you’re also learning to identify when a stall is imminent. Clearly Roush should have known that from the days of his private pilot training.
What if he was trying to go around? You know how your instructor tells you to add full power? Roush’s accident is a perfect illustration of why. If you pull up the nose to stop the descent and add only a little bit of power, you will stall. There’s no two ways around it. That’s why you give it the gas and get out of there. There seems to be some evidence that Roush didn’t do that.
All of this might not seem important now, but as soon as you start to fly a more complex, faster airplane you’ll see small mistakes start to amplify. Cessnas and Pipers can almost be considered poor training aircraft because they are too forgiving. That makes them robust and able to withstand abuse, but it also means we’re able to land hard without consequence, drift on crosswinds without damage, and often perform other maneuvers without even knowing our skills are poor.
If you take the baseball anology again, consider that in little league a hitch in your swing doesn’t mean anything when the ball is coming to the plate at only about 30 miles per hour. But at 100 miles per hour that hitch means you’ll never get a hit. Similarly, if you don’t recognize an impending stall in a Cessna, you won’t lose a ton of altitude. But on a swept-wing jet, you may total the airplane or worse.
It’s why a good instructor won’t let you slide on this vital skills, and it’s why we practice them so much. Remember that if you want to play in the big leagues you need to develop the right skills and techniques early in your flying.