The loss of Micron CEO, Steve Appleton, last week drew considerable media scrutiny and perhaps in the minds of some, reinforced the idea that general aviation is unacceptably dangerous. The early information is that shortly after takeoff Appleton advised the tower he needed to return. It was reported that this was his second unsuccessful takeoff that morning. It was also reported that this was a turboprop version which is the latest kit from Lancair.
Two thoughts for your consideration:
1) The Lancair IV-P is one of the most beautiful and fastest piston aircraft ever conceived. The piston version cruises at 286 knots and has a wing loading of somewhere between 36 and 32 lbs/ sq. ft depending on equipment. The Turbine Lancair claims 300 knots – no wing loading information is provided. By comparison the Piper Mirage, the only certificated pressurized piston single in production, has a cruise speed of 213 knots and a wing loading of about 23 lbs/ sq. ft. The Mirage is a six seater compared to IV-Ps 4 seats. Stall speeds are listed at 59 knots for the Piper and about 65 knots for the IV-P. They operate in similar environments on similar missions but the safety record is quite different.
According to the FAA, the IV and IV-P have significantly higher fatal accident involvement due to loss of control than other comparable amateur-built aircraft. That is to be expected given the numbers cited above and should come as no surprise. Does this make Lancairs bad aircraft? Not in my view. But before flying one pilots must understand the nature of the animal they’re dealing with. The MU-2 Turboprop comes to mind. It had a pretty dismal safety record until the FAA, after some serious review, decided that pilots needed special training to fly it. The safety record improved significantly. In fairness, there are very few turbine Lancairs flying so it may be premature to lump them in with other models.
Is it time to think about something like this for the Lancair? The Lancair Owners and Builders Organization or LOBO has long offered a special transition course for new owners. They claim that pilots who have taken their courses have a significantly better record than those who just try to wing it. This seems to make more sense than some of the other solutions that may be proposed after this accident. However, remember that this is an EXPERIMENTAL aircraft with different rules and higher risks.
2) Steve Appleton was not your run-of-the-mill pilot. He had considerable experience in flying high performance aircraft. He was involved in other high risk sports and had survived an aircraft accident several years ago. Risk taker? Yes. Unaware of those risks? Probably not. There are already calls for boards to look at whether CEOs and other executives should be allowed to fly GA. Where does that line get drawn? There is a fine line between reckless and managed risk. The nuances are endless. It would be most unfortunate if this accident turned into a widespread mandate from company risk managers to limit executive and staff flying.
Appleton himself acknowledged that high risk was part of who he was and that it contributed to the success of Micron, his company. How much risk one takes on should be a matter of individual choice so long as other people understand and have the option to get off. As we all know, pilots are unique people and many of them are significantly more successful in business and in life than those who choose to hunker down.
I never met Steve Appleton but suspect we’d have gotten along very well.
The Blog is traveling extensively for the next two weeks and will resume after that.
The image of the Lancair previously on this post has been deleted.