One of the great things about aviation is that people are drawn together by this unique avocation as if they were members of a fraternity or sorority.
Acquaintances morph into lasting friendships where you really get to know each other well, including flying habits. You often find yourselves on joint adventures, taking to the air, either in the same or separate aircraft.
Sometimes it’s for pleasure and, at other times, it’s to be helpful. On numerous occasions, I’ve met up with a friend based elsewhere after a bit of preflight telephoning and in-air communicating, direct or by listening for his tail number, voice and location on ATC frequencies.
Return flights from airports with restaurants we had patronized or those convenient to beaches might sometimes involve some loose formation flying with us maintaining radio contact for conversation and to help ensure separation. Unfortunately, not all “buddy flights” go smoothly, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sometimes has to become involved.
A Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee and a Piper PA-24-250 Comanche collided in mid-air and crashed while flying over New Hampton, N.Y. The pilots of each plane, who were the only occupants, were killed.
The collision took place in VFR conditions. Both airplanes had taken off from Orange County Airport (MGJ), Montgomery, N.Y., and were headed for Sussex Airport (FWN), Sussex, N.J. The Cherokee was operating as a ferry flight and the PA-24 was operating as a personal flight.
The Cherokee had been involved in an incident at MGJ about seven months previously. According to NTSB documents, after finishing fueling at the self-service pump, the airplane’s owner began taxiing out for takeoff when the propeller struck a taxiway light. There was a sudden engine stoppage, and the propeller was gouged.
The airplane was taken to a shop that recommended a complete engine overhaul. The owner didn’t want to do that. While the airplane sat at MGJ, its annual expired. The owner wanted to have it moved back to FWN for maintenance, and arranged for someone else to apply to the FAA for a ferry permit on his behalf. A mechanic from FWN arranged for a friend who owned the Comanche to fly him to MGJ to pick up the Cherokee. A close friend of both the mechanic and the pilot saw them eating lunch and drinking iced tea before they departed for FWN in the Comanche.
The mechanic, who also held an Inspection Authorization, had reported 5,840 hours of total flight experience on his most recent application for a third-class medical certificate. The Comanche owner had reported 1,450 total hours on his third-class medical application.
The ferry permit required that a mechanic find the Cherokee to be airworthy for the trip to FWN. After sufficient preflight preparation, the mechanic boarded the Cherokee and his friend got back into the Comanche. Both airplanes departed from runway 3 at MGJ. The PA-28 took off first, followed by the PA-24 about a minute later.
Two witnesses near the accident site observed the airplanes flying in the same southwestern direction, when they clipped each other. The Cherokee immediately went into a right spiraling dive. The Comanche entered an angled dive.
The wreckage was located about 11 miles southwest of MGJ. Both airplanes were impacted in wooded, uneven terrain. The PA-24 was located about 600 feet southwest of the PA-28.
Examination of both engines and their respective propellers revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the PA-24 pilot’s failure to maintain adequate clearance from the PA-28, resulting in an in-flight collision. Contributing to the accident was the PA-24 pilot’s decision to overtake the PA-28.
Two float-equipped PA-18 SuperCub airplanes collided about three miles west of Dillingham, Alaska. Only the pilot was on board each airplane. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The pilots were friends, and they both had departed from Shannons Pond Seaplane Base.
They were en route to a lake about 13 miles southeast of Dillingham where they planned to load the planes with cargo belonging to one of the pilots and take it to Dillingham.
After the collision, one pilot received serious injuries and the other received minor injuries. The pilot with minor injuries told investigators that during his preflight inspection, he found the master switch on and the battery was dead. He said he hand-propped the airplane and taxied on the lake to warm up the engine.
The pilot said when he applied power for takeoff, his friend in the other PA-18 was to his left and behind him. He said he wasn’t able to use the airplane’s radio because the dead battery and the alternator were not operating.
He said his intent was to climb straight out to the south from the lake and then turn east toward their destination. He said as the airplane climbed, he saw an object flash by and heard a loud noise. He said he lost control of the airplane, and it crashed on shore.
The pilot of the second airplane said he listened for his friend on the radio, but heard nothing and believed he was still warming up his engine.
He said he believed that he was the first to take off. He said when he heard a loud bang and thought something had broken, causing a loss of control. The second pilot said he didn’t realize there had been a collision until he got out and saw the wreckage on the ground.
A witness told the NTSB’s investigator that he heard two airplanes power up, and he looked outside to watch since it was unusual for two airplanes to take off at the same time. He said the airplanes were on the same side of the lake, but in different areas.
He said one plane, later identified as carrying the pilot who was seriously injured, appeared to be in a slight left bank. He said about 50-70 feet above the water, it appeared to come up underneath the right wing of the other plane.
The seriously injured pilot had 5,929 total flight hours. The other pilot had 1,250 total flight hours.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of both pilots to see and avoid each other during the initial climb. Contributing to the accident was the inability of one pilot to use his airplane’s radio for advisories.
The private pilots of an experimental amateur-built RV-8 and an experimental Nanchang China CJ-6A were friends and neighbors. Their airplanes collided in mid-air shortly after takeoff from Pryor Field (DCU), Decatur, Ala.
The pilot of the RV-8 was killed and the pilot of the CJ-6A had minor injuries. The weather was VFR. They were flying to Big River Airpark (5AL5), Muscle Shoals, Ala. The RV-8 had departed first, and the CJ-6A followed about five minutes later. RV-8 aircraft are sold as kits for homebuilders, and the CJ-6A was designed and built in China as a military trainer.
Witnesses reported that there had been an open house at DCU that the pilots had attended, and they were flying back to their home airport. The RV-8 took off first, performed aerobatics over the runway and in the traffic pattern, then climbed and orbited the airport.
After the CJ-6A departed, it remained in the traffic pattern for a low pass over the runway. During the low pass, the RV-8 joined in formation with the CJ-6A. The RV-8 began to overtake the CJ-6A, and the pilot of the RV-8 announced his relative position over the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF).
The pilot of the CJ-6A began a climbing right turn and the RV-8 overtook it from left to right. The left wing of the RV-8 partially separated when it was hit by the right wing of the CJ-6A. The RV-8 went out of control and crashed on a grass area at a local community college. The CJ-6A landed at DCU.
The CJ-6A pilot told investigators he and the other pilot discussed flying home together, but the other pilot decided to fly home separately, and departed first. As the pilot of the CJ-6A prepared to depart, a photographer asked him to make some low passes over the runway for pictures.
The CJ-6A took off and remained in the traffic pattern at about 1,000 feet. The CJ-6A pilot radioed the RV-8 pilot who said he saw the CJ-6A. As the CJ-6A turned from base leg to final leg, the pilot of the RV-8 radioed that he was at the CJ-6A’s 6 o’clock position, then the 4 o’clock position.
The CJ-6A then began a pass over the runway, descending to approximately 200 feet above ground level (AGL). The collision took place after the pass, as the CJ-6A began to climb.
A pilot witness was listening to the CTAF frequency. She reported hearing position reports from the RV-8 and a partial transmission, “Form fly, okay?” which may have been the RV-8 pilot asking to fly in formation with the CJ-6A pilot.
The pilot of the RV-8 reported 769 hours on his last application for a third- class medical. The CJ-6A pilot reported 3,600 hours on his last application for a second-class medical.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the RV-8 pilot’s failure to maintain adequate clearance from the CJ-6A while they were maneuvering.
Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board. To subscribe, write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, N.Y. 10602-0831.