POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 1, 2011
Gary Kubota's article about ultralight aircraft — "trikes" — and their safety leaves readers with a false impression ("Ultralights fly through loophole," Star-Advertiser, May 21). While "technically" much of the article is correct, it effectively misinforms readers.
I am an instrument-rated private pilot, with 10 years and 1,000-plus hours experience.
Friends have flown trikes across the English Channel, on game drives in Africa, in the U.S., in Thailand, in remote parts of the Philippines over a 20-year period. They have never had an accident.
Why? Because they fly safely and maintain their trikes correctly.
Your May 28 editorial, additionally, draws an incorrect conclusion that there is a need for more regulation for trikes. We constantly see driving fatalities caused by individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol. We can't legislate good behavior. The trike accidents occurred because of bad behavior, not regulatory failure.
Here are three issues that need to be understood or clarified:
» Trikes are just as safe as any other FAA-certified aircraft. If they were not, they would not be certified in the first place.
The article leads readers to believe that the Light Sport Repairmen (LSRM) who maintain a light sport aircraft are not certified by the FAA to do so, when in fact they are. The LSRM certificate requires fewer hours to obtain because the aircraft they maintain are much simpler than jumbo jets.
» The accident flights should have been conducted as training flights and not just tours with an emphasis on adrenalin rush.
Paradise Air, owned by Tom and Denise Sanders, has operated trike training flights out of Dillingham for almost 10 years with no accidents. Denise is one of the instructors and is also the LSRM-certified mechanic who maintains their aircraft.
Among Tom's many credits is aerial photography for three James Bond movies and being the official photographer for two parachute jumps with President George H.W. Bush. You don't get those opportunities unless you are a top-level, safe pilot.
I took an introductory flight with Tom last year, as I had always wanted to fly trikes. Tom fully briefed me on what we would be doing before we even got into the aircraft and treated me as if I had never flown an aircraft before (as he should). Once airborne, he gave me time to settle in, then showed me how to do gentle ascents, descents and turns. It was a wonderful, totally professional experience.
Tom did not buzz cliffs or make steep turns, or dive toward the ocean and pull up abruptly — but that is apparently what the instructors in the fatal accidents did.
Learning the excitement of operating a trike in a 60-minute lesson does not give the instructor a lot of time to teach. Enjoying the scenery is part of learning. The fact that the lesson is enjoyable does not mean it is just a tour. If, after their first lesson in Hawaii when they are on vacation, folks are turned on to flying, they go home to complete their training
» All the accident pilots were flying their aircraft in what appear to be an unsafe, and probably illegal, manner when they crashed. They each seemed to be maneuvering in a way that stressed their aircraft beyond what they were designed and certified to withstand. One trike was apparently loaded above the allowable gross weight.
Whether or not maintenance, or lack of it, contributed is speculation, but if the aircraft had been flown conservatively, the accidents most likely would not have happened. Motorcycles are safe on roads, but if the driver speeds into a 30 mph turn at 90 mph, there will be a crash and probably a fatality. That is similar to what apparently happened in the three crashes.
It is sad that three pilots died, but even sadder that three students who trusted their instructors also died because of the way the instructors apparently flew.