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A380 Test Pilot Addresses Amateur-Built Safety

By Terry Lutz

Terry Lutz
Terry Lutz

August 19, 2010It was hard to miss the Airbus A380 last year at AirVenture. EAA member Terry Lutz was one of the pilots that brought the aircraft to Oshkosh. Lutz has been an experimental test pilot with Airbus since 2006 and the awe and wonder of the A380 overshadows many of the technical aspects Lutz and his fellow test pilots deal with every day. Lutz built his own RV-8 and he told the AirVenture 2010 Technical Counselors and Flight Advisors breakfast meeting in Oshkosh that electric powered aircraft are the future of sport aviation.

With what I can see on the flight line here at AirVenture, and from what I read in the aviation press, we are on the edge of a new horizon in aviation, the advent of the electric powered airplane. Make no mistake - electric power will become the future of sport aviation, in much the same way that Burt Rutan pioneered composite structures and canard configurations when he developed the Vari-Eze. Just imagine the possibilities. Airplanes like Barnaby Wainfain’s Facet Plane can more easily be put in the tail pusher configuration, taking full advantage of the facet plane’s aerodynamic concepts. Ed Lesher’s Teal wouldn’t need the Dodge flexidyne coupling to avoid the stress on the drive shaft from the pulse of each cylinder firing.
Electric power will provide flight that is cleaner and quieter than anything short of sailplanes. I recently watched video of a small radio controlled airplane with multiple ducted fans. It’s performance and ability to fly away and return to exactly the same position with GPS technology was stunning. Electric power will enable similar designs to carry humans. I can imagine an Avatar-styled VTOL machine with 4 or 6 carbon fiber ducted fans that could achieve similar performance. Multiple engines will provide redundancy for propulsion and flight control. Someday the world of sport aviation will look back at traditional helicopter design and say, “What where we thinking?!”

The advent of true electric powered flight will create many new challenges for Technical Counselors and Flight Advisors. Standard practices will have to be developed for installation of batteries, routing of power cables, and control of the electrical energy. For the first time, the same energy used for propulsion will be also be used to power flight instruments, exterior lighting, and if necessary cockpit heating. These requirements compete for the power source and will directly affect aircraft range. Technical Counselors will need to become knowledgeable on how to separate and manage electrical power to maintain the energy required for flight. Safety with regards to fire and electrical shock hazard will need to be considered. And what about operations in a wet environment? Can electrical propulsion systems be designed and installed to avoid water intrusion? These questions and more represent a significant challenge for Technical Counselors in the future.

The EAA Designee program was created in 1965 and the name was changed to EAA Technical Counselor when the FAA began using the term “Designee”. The Flight Advisor program began in 1994, with the goal of improving the overall safety record of newly completed or restored aircraft in the early phases of flight. Overall, the emphasis was on being sure that the airplane was ready for inspection prior to first flight, and that for the first flight itself, the pilot was prepared with the necessary skills to handle the demands of flying and at the same time deal with a large set of failure possibilities.
I recently completed the condition inspection on my amateur built RV-8, and decided to have the engine inspected by a mechanic at a local maintenance facility. When I removed the cowl, the first thing he said was: “That’s what we like to see”. It was not an endorsement of my abilities, but an endorsement of the many hours Technical Counselor Roy Thelen spent with me as we prepared the engine for flight. Roy made the difference. Left to my own resources, ‘TLAR, or “that looks about right”‘ would have been the rule, but certainly not the safest approach to preparing the engine for first flight. For my airplane, the proof of the Technical Counselor concept has been that very few changes have been required since I first began flying the airplane in 2006.Overall, the Technical Counselor and Flight Advisor programs have made a significant difference in the quality of amateur built aircraft and have noticeably reduced accidents in the first 40 hours of flight. EAA member Ron Wanttaja reports that during the period 1998-2007, 6% of total amateur built accidents occurred on first flight, which is a .75% probability of having an accident. This is about the same as the annual overall accident rate, and just what we want to see. However, the probability of having an accident during Phase I testing is about 3 times greater than the overall probability. So while progress has been made, more work needs to be done.

When I was in the Air Force in the 1980s, the accident rate for fighter aircraft was just over 5 Class A accidents per 100,000 flight hours. Better training, newer aircraft, and additional emphasis on safety, reduced the accident rate to under 3 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. Third generation fighters like the F-16, with fly-by-wire flight controls and angle of attack limiting, had a profound effect on reducing loss of control accidents.
When I joined Northwest Airlines in 1989 and began doing volunteer air safety work, the commercial accident rate was beginning to decline, largely because of effective strategies to eliminate accidents by cause factor. You may recall the December 1974 accident near Front Royal, Virginia, where the crew of a B727 descended early on a VOR approach and hit the side of a hill. It was the accident that began development of the Ground Proximity Warning System. You may also recall the mid-air collision over Cerritos, CA where an MD-80 collided with a light airplane. That was the accident that spawned development of TCAS, the Traffic Collision Avoidance System. But these changes were not enough. In the middle 1990s, it was predicted that with traffic growth as projected just 10 years into the future, worldwide there would be a hull loss accident every 2 weeks. It was unthinkable prospect. As a result, in 1997 the Commercial Aviation Safety Team was formed, with the goal of reducing accidents by 80% in 10 years. Interim FAA Administrator Mr. Robert Sturgell announced last year that as a result of the efforts of the people and organizations involved in CAST, commercial accidents have declined 57%. CAST identified 65 safety enhancements, defined as adoption of a procedure, improved training, or installation of equipment that will eliminate the cause of an accident. For this unprecedented effort, in 1999 the CAST team was awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy. The CAST team joins names that are giants in aerospace history: Neil Armstrong, Scott Crossfield, Kelly Johnson, and Burt Rutan, just to name a few. The importance of preventing accidents has been written in gold on the Collier Trophy.

To put the numbers in perspective, the commercial accident rate has declined from .285/100,000 flying hours to .139/100,000 flying hours in 10 years. In contrast, the general aviation accident rate during the same period has varied slightly from 6.81 in 1998 to 6.47 in 2007 and during that period it has never been below 6.0. Now do the math: the GA accident rate is 3 times greater than the rate for military fighters, and 40 times greater than the commercial accident rate. Compared to the success of the military and commercial aviation to reduce accidents, the current GA accident rate is completely unacceptable. While we can discuss the impact an amateur built accident has on the overall GA accident rate, the message to everyone should be obvious: we are not doing enough to reduce accidents in the amateur built community.
One of the pilots I provided guidance to as a Flight Advisor experienced an engine failure on his second flight in the airplane. Fortunately, we had flown together and discussed in some detail the emergency landing sites near the airport. He was able to glide to a safe landing on a trap shooting range. While he was both really lucky and mentally prepared, what’s important is to know the cause of the engine failure and prevent another from happening. In that particular case, it was an automotive engine application. There was an overspeed sensor in the electronics of the automobile design that detected an overspeed and shut down the engine. My point is that it is no longer enough for Flight Advisors to simply prepare pilots for first flight in their amateur built aircraft. It is no longer enough for Technical Counselors to inspect an airplane and deem it ready for the FAA required inspection. The bar MUST be raised. Organized and wide-ranging follow-up work must be accomplished, at least to the end of the Phase I test period. The lessons learned must be compiled and communicated. And yet we must go further. I challenge EAA, the Flight Advisors and Technical Counselors here today, and everyone involved in building, flying, and supporting amateur built aircraft to do the difficult work to reduce the accident rate attributed to amateur built aircraft by 50% in the next 10 years.

Major cause factors need to be indentified and effective strategies developed to eliminate those cause factors, using the same spirit that leads us to innovation in amateur built design.
For example, if stall/spin were identified as a major cause factor, then as Flight Advisors and Technical Counselors we could insist that each new airplane be equipped with a fully operational audible and visual stall warning system. We can put angle of attack limiting systems in FBW airplanes, but a good warning may be needed in amateur-built aircraft. There is enough talent right here at AirVenture to develop a low-cost stall warning system that could be adapted to any amateur built airplane. It could be plans built, or a kit that could be adapted to any configuration.

During WWII, my father’s pilot training class began with 66 students. When the class graduated from the Primary, then Basic, and finally the Advanced Flight Training program 6 months later, only 28 were left. Twenty-five washed out during training. The remaining 13 students were killed in accidents. In war, the enemy doesn’t care if losses occur in combat or in training. But in the world of sport aviation, we shed tears with every loss. Look how far we have come in 75 years: from building Pietenpol Air Campers to GlasAirs and RVs. Now it’s time to put the energy we use to create airplanes into an effort toward preserving life. By doing so, we will take a huge step toward preserving our sport aviation way of life.

Terry Lutz is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Aero Engineering), the University of Dayton (Masters in Aero Engineering) and the USAFTestPilotSchool. He served 15 years in the USAF, flying the F-4, A-10, and various flight test aircraft. He flew the F-4, F-16, and KC-135 for the New York Air National Guard, and was research pilot for Calspan Corporation flying a variable stability, fly-by-wire Lear 24. In 1989 he joined Northwest Airlines, where he flew the DC-9, B-727, and A-320.

He has owned the same Luscombe 8A for the last 40 years, and in 2006 completed an RV-8 after 9 years in construction.

As an evaluation pilot for the Air Line Pilots Association, he flew all the new ‘fly-by-wire designs at both Airbus, Boeing, and Embraer, and is the only pilot to have flown counter-terrorist maneuvers in both Airbus and Boeing aircraft.

Since October 2006, he has been an Experimental Test Pilot at Airbus in Toulouse, France. He flies all models of the Airbus family, including the 400M, and was responsible for bringing the A380 to AirVenture in 2009.

Terry has completed first flights and envelope expansion on 5 amateur-built aircraft and has flown more than 14,400 hours in 146 different aircraft.

Lutz’s remarks to the AirVenture 2010’Technical Counselors and Flight Advisors Breakfast are reprinted with his permission.

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