Plane maker: 'We've never had a structural failure'

Plane maker: 'We've never had a structural failure'

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The crash of a two-seater experimental airplane this week in the Willamette Valley has shocked people who build their own aircraft from kits or plans.

They consider the plane designed by an Aurora company, Van's Aircraft, one of the most popular experimental aircraft in the U.S., saying it's fast, versatile, fuel-efficient and relatively easy to build and fly.

"The performance is great in terms of being able to go both reasonably slow and reasonably fast and to land and take off reasonably short," said Skip Lawson, former president of the Experimental Aircraft Association chapter in Eugene. "They're also known as being over-engineered — they're very strong airplanes."

Witnesses reported that the plane, known by its model number, RV-6, lost a wing when it plowed into a field south of Scio on Monday afternoon, said Linn County Undersheriff Bruce Riley.

The plane's owner, Timothy Dean Carter, 46, of Portland, and his passenger, Jeff Earl "Tebo" Kropf, 45, of Halsey, died.

"I've never heard of a wing coming off an RV aircraft," Dick Knapinski, spokesman for the Wisconsin-based Experimental Aircraft Association, told The Oregonian.

Carter's plane had passed its air worthiness test and was registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, records show. Carter purchased it fairly recently, perhaps in the past year or two, said his oldest daughter, Valerie Tillia. It's not clear whom Carter bought the plane from.

"The nice thing about experimental aircraft is you can modify and change them pretty much at will," said Bob Duncan, a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association chapter in Hillsboro. "But if you buy an airplane from someone else, you need to do the due diligence."

Gus Funnell of Van's Aircraft said the crashed plane appeared to be highly modified and built from plans with custom components, not from a company kit, citing differences in fuselage, cowling and canopy. He said the motor was not the one the plane was designed for.

"We've never had a structural failure in an RV-6," he toldthe Albany Democrat-Herald. "This plane is an RV-6 in name only."

It's easier to use a kit, but people can save money getting their own raw materials, and builders get the satisfaction of creating something themselves, he said.

There are about 33,000 homebuilt planes registered under the Federal Aviation Administration's experimental category. Van's designs account for about 20 percent of the amateur market, with the RV-6 its most popular model. About 6,000 plans and kits for the plane were sold until 2001, when the next model came out.

The accident rate for amateur-built aircraft is up to three times higher than for lightweight manufactured planes, said Loren Groff, safety analyst for the National Transportation Safety Board. The fatality rate is four times higher.

The agency said 86 people have died in RV-6s in the past two decades. Carter and Kropf were the first this year.
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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press