The loss of a Cessna Sky Catcher last week reminded me just how much we take for granted in the development of a new aircraft and how much risk there is in the exploration of the flight envelope. Early reports indicate that the prototype entered an unrecoverable spin as the test pilot was putting the aircraft through a full spin series.
Things did not go well in the stall under full power with crossed controls. This is not a good place for a normal pilot to be! Witnesses reported hearing a loud pop and seeing sparks that has been attributed to the firing of the BRS parachute system. The chute apparently malfunctioned and the test pilot bailed out. Talk about Murphy’s Law!
In the September issue of AOPA Pilot I had written about the importance of staying well within the edges of the flight envelope. Didn’t know that we’d have such a graphic demonstration so soon. Here’s a perfect example of what happens at or beyond the edges. It’s a tribute to Cessna’s experience in flight test that despite everything going awry, the pilot walked away.
There is both art and science to building a completely new aircraft. The record of manufactured Light Sport Aircraft has been good but as new airframes from a variety of manufacturers, foreign and domestic, enter the market it’s critical to the survival of this segment of the industry, and the pilots who fly them, that they be structurally and aerodynamically sound. And regardless of what machine you fly, going near the edges of the envelope is poking the bear.