I’ll start by saying I’ve done many stupid things as pilot-in-command during 30 years of general aviation flying, some I can chalk up to inexperience or youth, some I can’t.
So it is with an open mind (and heavy heart) that I read the US National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on an accident that occurred on a Sunday afternoon on a private plantation near Tallahassee.
According to a preliminary report issued by the NTSB yesterday, the pilot of a PA-18-150 Super Cub, N2424A, took off from the private Ayavalla Airstrip on 1 February and flew low over a jeep and dirt bike motorcycle that were driving along with the plane at the strip, a ritual the pilot and others had apparently performed “many times” in the past.
“He would then depart in the same direction and fly low over them,” the investigator said of an interview with the incident pilot, Paul “Mac” Langston, as he described the game. Langston, a fixture in the southern Florida aviation community, started the state’s first emergency medical services company in the 1980s and later began a successful fixed base operator and services company called Flightline.
On 1 February, something went terribly awry with the trick.
The jeep and the motorcycle headed west down the strip first. No briefing between the drivers and pilot had taken place. N2424A – an aircraft Langston’s employees gave him on the 20th anniversary of Flightline, its tail number the same as that on Langston’s father’s Super Cub years ago – then departed.
Langston told authorities that at the time of the collision he was airborne and flying at 75mph with one passenger on board. He estimated the speed of the jeep to be 35-40mph. He said there were no pre-impact problems with the airplane or its flight controls.
“After becoming airborne he remained close to the runway and passed the right side of the jeep,” investigators write. “He felt a bump and knew he had impacted the jeep. He also noted that the left wing navigation light was hanging down. He performed a 180-degree turn and landed uneventfully to the east.
FAA officials would later find damage to the leading edge of the Piper’s left wing and buckling of the wing near its root. Pieces of wing fabric were also found in the jeep.
Regardless of how the FAA and NTSB investigations play out, Langston has already paid what I’d consider the ultimate price.
The jeep, which carried his wife, Carmen, and friend Dennis Boyle, crashed into trees after the wing hit. Both were killed.