Cirrus SR20 demonstrator kills test pilot in prison crash

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Dave Higdon/DULUTH

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration investigators are examining the aileron control system as a possible cause of the crash on 23 March of the first production SR20 that killed Cirrus Design's chief test pilot. The aircraft left the assembly line on 20 March and was into its sixth hour of airtime on its second day of test flights.

The aircraft, destined to serve as the first of two factory demonstrators, was not fitted with the Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System certified on the SR20, according to the company.

The CAPS is a whole-aircraft parachute recovery system developed by Ballistic Recovery Systems (BRS). Cirrus had not received delivery of the first production units from BRS when flight tests of the first production SR20 began on March 22.

Scott Anderson, Cirrus' director of flight operations as well as chief test pilot, was flying an experimental test flight to assess changes to the aileron controls the company planned to use in production. Anderson was 8km (4nm) out of Duluth International Airport at the start of the flight when he radioed the tower controller that he was returning because of a problem. At 3km out, Anderson declared an emergency.

Less than 400m from the runway the aircraft crashed into the exercise yard of a federal prison. Anderson died in hospital.

Anderson, 33, flew the majority of the experimental test flights in the SR20 prototypes, including the ground-breaking series of seven in-flight test deployments of the CAPS parachute that earned Cirrus and BRS the world's first approval for a whole-aircraft recovery system as standard equipment.

"The crash will have no impact on production and delivery schedules we will deliver our first aircraft this spring," says the company.

Demand has been strong. In the five months since winning its type certification in October 1998, SR20 orders ballooned by more than 100 to over 260. The company was looking forward to the end of a long period of weak finances after negotiating a reported $15 million line of credit with three banks.

The most immediate impact on Cirrus is the loss of a demonstrator that was to attend air shows in the UK and Germany.