Clues: Recreational Aviation Investigator at the crash site of Friday’s ultralight crash near Tatham.
Clues: Recreational Aviation Investigator at the crash site of Friday’s ultralight crash near Tatham.

Death of pilots sparks inquiry

THE tragic deaths of two men in last Friday’s ultralight crash has sparked a full inquiry into the cause and local police are calling on any witnesses to the incident to come forward.

But pilots who regularly fly the type of ultralight that crashed in a paddock at Tatham have defended the aircraft, saying they are tougher than certified aerobatic aircraft.

Local flying instructor Neville Biencke said he regularly instructed in factory-built Max Air Drifters and said they were rated to take plus six to minus four gravities.

Mr Biencke said one Drifter was tested at eight Gs, the same force applied to jet fighter pilots doing manoeuvres, and there was no measurable distortion on the ultralight’s airframe.

Technical advisor with the Hughes Group at Ballina, Nick Hughes, said the number of ‘rag and tube’ aircraft like the Drifter still flying after several decades was impressive.

“You look after the aircraft and it will look after you,” he said. “But it’s up to the pilot to keep up the maintenance.”

Recreational Aviation Australia president Eugene Reid defended the substantial growth of ‘affordable aviation’.

In the beginning pilots involved in the ultralight movement needed no licence, and could build a plane from scratch to their own design or from a kit.

The only restrictions prevented them flying higher than 250 feet and crossing highways. In addition the craft had to weigh less than 150kg.

Trouble was, such a low ceiling meant there was no room for error while flying. The weight limit resulted in pilots skimping on safety gear to stay within the legal limit.

Today, recreational aircraft registered under the RA Aus rules must comply with CASA visual flight regulations, so pilots must be more highly trained. Weight limits have increased to 600kg to include a greater range of aircraft, and height ceilings now prohibit anyone flying below 500 feet.

In the case of Friday’s ultralight crash, in which the aircraft hit nose-first at high speed, Mr Reid said the outcome would have been the same regardless of what type of aircraft was involved.



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