Do Home-Built Airplanes Come With Barf Bags?

This is a follow-up to a previous post in this logbook.

Ken Herman’s column in this morning’s AAS responds to reactions from myself and others (probably all pilots) to an earlier column about a fatal airplane crash. Upon reading it this morning, once again I had to address what I believe to be a key misconception that continues to plague his position as expressed in the column. I sent him an email, the text of which follows:

“I enjoyed reading your column this morning and appreciate the follow-up on a topic that likely means far more to some of your readers than others, especially when we pilots are in the minority. But as I’m sure you expected, some of us might have more to say.

“Again, with respect, you can quote FAA accident statistics for an entire column and fail to address what I still maintain is a faulty core implication. Experimental airplanes as a category do not have a higher accident rate than certificated airplanes when sorted with mechanical failure as the primary cause. That’s the salient statistic, not the ones you quoted.

“In any aircraft accident sequence, a chain of events always leads to the final outcome. And in the vast majority of cases, eliminating any one of the ‘links’ could demonstrably have prevented the accident. In point of fact, mechanical failure as a primary cause is relatively rare, and experimental airplanes do not exhibit a higher tendency to crash for this reason. To suggest otherwise as you have done is incorrect.

“And it might surprise you to know that in about 85 percent of aircraft accidents, the primary or contributing cause is pilot error, which obviously has nothing to do will how well the airplane was constructed. I’ve been a pilot professionally and personally for almost a half-century, and I can tell you stories of pilots doing things that remind me of the saying, ‘He was dumber than a stump.’

“The ‘Single Ship’ logbook on my website contains posts that discuss how pilot error can rear its ugly head and result in tragedy. This is not for a second to suggest that Chuck Miller was at fault. We don’t know, and may never know, but it’s up to the NTSB to make that determination.

“Another factor missing in your position is that of aircraft use. For example, very few certificated airplanes are aerobatic, while the vast majority of experimentals are. It goes without saying that this is a more hazardous activity than flying from point A to point B. Once again, the quality of aircraft construction has nothing to do with it.”

Ken politely declined my invitation to fly with me. For the record, I would not have made him sick.

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