A fatal accident involving a Pacific Aerospace CT-4 Airtrainer of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's (RNZAF) Red Checkers aerobatic display team in January 2010 happened because its pilot used an "unstable technique", a New Zealand court of inquiry report has concluded.
Published on 18 October, the accident investigation determined that Sqn Ldr Nick Cree was killed after his aircraft lost altitude during an incorrectly flown manoeuvre, while the team was rehearsing a display near Ohakea air base.
The slow-speed "fishtail pass" involves a pilot moving the tail of the aircraft left and right while keeping the wings level. On the day of the accident the Airtrainer suffered a sudden loss of lift and rolled rapidly to the left, with its pilot having insufficient altitude to recover.
Noting that the technique had been developed without sufficient guidance, the report said: "Sqn Ldr Cree developed and used an unstable and dangerous technique to fly the fishtail pass [and] accepted frequent minor departures from controlled flight without reporting them to, or discussing them with, flying supervisors, experienced flying instructors or other team members."
The report criticised the air force for having no formal published standard operating procedures for the Red Checkers, and said a draft document "did not provide sufficient guidance on the appropriate techniques to be used in flying the fishtail pass".
© Peter Clark
The Red Checkers display team has resumed its activities with improved supervision
The RNZAF has accepted and acted on all recommendations made by the court of inquiry, with its recently-established 488 Wing now responsible for supervising all Ohakea-based flying operations, including flying displays and practices.
"The Red Checkers are flying again, and we have improved our processes to help ensure safe formation aerobatic and display flying," the service said.