Date of Award

12-2007

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Aviation Systems

Major Professor

U. P. Solies

Committee Members

Stephen Corda, Richard Ranaudo

Abstract

Homebuilt aircraft have a high accident rate during the flight test period, particularly during their first and second flights. For the 2002-2004 period, over 1.0% of homebuilt aircraft were involved in an accident on their first flight, and 3.3% were involved in accidents in the first 40 hours of operation. Untrained, low time in aircraft type amateur flight test participants, unorthodox flight test procedures, and lack of clear guidance as to who should and how to conduct safe and effective flight test lead to unsafe conditions and the accident statistics support this hypothesis. In the accidents analyzed, lack of experience was specifically cited by the NTSB as a causal factor in 15.6% of the accidents. Poor decision-making was also a common thread, with 15.6% involving faulty decision-making by the pilot-builder. Shappell and Wiegmann’s Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS) is applied to interpret the statistics and the model is applied to the current state of homebuilt flight test in comparison to professional flight test. Detailed comparison is made between amateur and professional flight test practices and case studies are provided to support the analysis. The author proposes that ideally, flight test is left to trained professionals. The training, experience, and support structure of professional testers and their organizations can effectively mitigate the lack of time in type and training characteristic of the typical homebuilt flight tester. Accepting that this is not always practical in the homebuilt flight test world, it is recommended that professional practices be applied to amateur flight testing. Furthermore, it is suggested that the guidance available to amateur flight testers be improved and that regulations require that the homebuilder meet with an FAA-designated engineering representative regarding the conduct of flight test.

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