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Thu, Mar 19, 2009

Second Cessna SkyCatcher Downed During Testing

Ballistic 'Chute Deployed, Pilot Safe

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 03.19.09 1710 EDT: Cessna spokesman Doug Oliver has confirmed to ANN that a BRS parachute deployment was used today to recover the sole-remaining flying Cessna SkyCatcher after an as-yet undefined flight test criteria resulted in an "irrecoverable" flight condition.

While the parachute deployment went well, and the landing impact was said to be "normal," some additional damage occured as the chute was caught by the wind and dragged the aircraft for an unknown distance.

A chase plane was in the air with N162CE during the test program and both the FAA and NTSB are already involved in the investigation.

Though the pilot has yet to be identified, Oliver confirmed this pilot is not the same person who bailed out the first flying prototype last year.

Original Report

1700 EDT: A production-spec Cessna 162 SkyCatcher crashed north of El Dorado, KS Thursday morning, while on a test flight as part of the planemaker's effort to self-certify the light-sport aircraft for its anticipated entry into the US market later this year.

Cessna spokesman Bob Stangarone told The Wichita Eagle the pilot and sole occupant onboard was able to walk away from the wreckage (accident aircraft shown above and below) following deployment of the aircraft's ballistic parachute system. He was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure and released.

The accident occurred while the SkyCatcher was undergoing a test regime that was to include spin testing, though Stangarone wasn't certain whether the incident was the result of a spin gone awry.

"We really don't know that for a fact yet," Stangarone said, adding spin testing was "the last big thing we had" before releasing the SkyCatcher to the market.

The crash is the second loss of a SkyCatcher prototype in the aircraft's testing program. As ANN reported, the first, non-conforming prototype went down in September 2008 while undergoing spin testing. In that case, the plane's ballistic parachute failed to deploy, though the pilot was able to safely bail out of the aircraft and deploy his personal emergency parachute.

The production-conforming prototype aircraft that crashed Thursday was equipped with a redesigned vertical stabilizer that came as a direct result of the September accident. Cessna asserted that wind tunnel testing with the larger, more upright vertical stab showed the SkyCatcher to be free of any unrecoverable spin characteristics.

It is not yet known what impact this latest accident will have on the SkyCatcher development program, though Stangarone said the planemaker will obviously need to reconsider the planned delivery schedule.

FMI: www.cessna.com

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