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Wed, Sep 24, 2008

Prototype SkyCatcher's Loss Complicated By BRS Deployment Failure

Airframe Chute's Failure Forces Real-Live Bail-Out...

ANN has learned some surprising details surrounding the recent loss of a non-conforming flying prototype of the Cessna SkyCatcher LSA during exclusive conversations with personnel from Cessna Aircraft and BRS Parachutes.

Cessna's prototype Model 162 SkyCatcher light sport aircraft (specifically shown above and below) crashed Thursday afternoon near Douglass, KS on what was described as a routine test flight, but a Cessna spokesperson now describes as an extensive evaluation of the aircraft's spin matrix... this particular test being devoted to "Full-Power, cross-controlled spins."

The prototype aircraft, N162XP, was one of three flight test vehicles that Cessna has been evaluating, though this aircraft was not a fully conforming airframe. The accident plane had over 150 flight hours. This airframe first flew in March of this year. The company showed the production-spec SkyCatcher at Oshkosh in July. The spokesperson said the aircraft's structure survived the impact largely intact, with the wing and empennage still attached to the fuselage, and that the emergency centered on issues of aircraft control and not structures.

The test pilot bailed out of the aircraft at a fairly high altitude and survived the incident with minor injuries.

Cessna has been pretty open and up-front with the matter, at least to the extent of what is known just a few days after the incident. So far, Cessna and BRS have both confirmed that the pilot entered into some mode of irrecoverable flight condition in the spin tests and attempted to fire the rocket-deployed BRS emergency airframe parachute system. This corresponds to the "pops" and "sparks" reported by some witnesses. However; the BRS "failed to deploy as intended," according to a BRS staffer, and the pilot was left with no other choice but to egress the aircraft. No reason has been given for the alleged failure of the BRS parachute system but BRS confirms that they have personnel on sight to participate in the investigation.

The pilot safely extricated himself and successfully deployed a Free Flight Preserve 1 canopy (thought to be part of a Para-Phernalia parachute system... the leading user of that canopy design), and landing about a quarter-mile from where the SkyCatcher impacted. While the airframe hit the ground largely intact, Cessna confirms that the aircraft is "totaled."

Cessna has undertaken an aggressive flight test program with the SkyCatcher and their spokesperson confirms that the test program "meets or exceeds" the specs laid out by ASTM for LSA Certification. The first conforming test vehicle (P1) will take the place of this aircraft in the test program and resume the examinations fairly soon.

It's still too soon to say whether Thursday's crash will affect Cessna's planned production schedule for the 162, which currently calls for the plane to enter production in 2009, but Cessna staff remain optimistic that the remaining test program can be conducted and the aircraft certified so that the SkyCatcher can be offered on a schedule close to that originally scheduled.

ANN will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

FMI: www.cessna.com, www.brsparachutes.com

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