Sbach 342 prototype crash - RC Groups
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Apr 13, 2011, 04:25 PM
jbourke's Avatar

Sbach 342 prototype crash

I wasn't sure how much to share about this but word started getting out shortly after the incident, including at least one photo that circulated a bit (after which Jim G pretty well goaded me into talking about it for the RCG Podcast) so I suppose a blog entry is in order.

My associate Doug and I were trying to get the airplane to Lakeland, Florida for the Sun 'n Fun fly-in. Bad weather made that difficult. We ended up getting stuck in a little airport in Alabama (happily holed up with a couple of nice folks from Rans Aircraft, including Randy Schlitter, the owner) for a day and a half. By Thursday I had seen enough of the hotel and felt pretty sure Sun 'n Fun was a lost cause due to the tornadic winds that swept through and destroyed many aircraft. I made the decision to leave Doug with the airplane and go to the Toledo show.

I planned to stay at the Toledo show Saturday and then fly down to Lakeland and make the return trip to Oregon with Doug, but after seeing that Sun 'n Fun was basically a rain out and eventually realizing how tired I was I decided to take an airliner home.

Unfortunately during the return flight from Florida something happened that jammed the elevator controls on the Sbach. Doug was too low to bail out, flying at about 9,000 feet over 7,500 foot terrain, and he couldn't let go of the stick without the plane pitching forward. Unable to climb or maintain level flight he was forced to descend to the nearest airport, using elevator trim and throttle to control the aircraft. He managed to get the aircraft to Springerville, where he did an exceptional job of the arrival. The aircraft bounced and skipped a bit on the landing and eventually left the runway where it ground looped.

Doug walked away from the wreckage. I'm sure his 7 children and lovely wife, Dana, are grateful for all the time Doug spent practicing "stuck control" scenarios. I need to put more time into that sort of practice, I've decided.

There is no doubt that the strength of the Sbach's airframe played a significant role in Doug's survival.

So we have a damaged airplane but a living pilot, and at the end of the day that's all that matters. The aircraft was trucked up to me here in Corvallis where it will be disassembled. The insurance company is working with me to assess the damage, after which I'll learn whether or not the aircraft is totalled. If we repair the aircraft then it seems likely we'll have it ready in time for the AirVenture show in Oshkosh this summer.

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Apr 13, 2011, 04:36 PM
Tell Doug that was a nice job staying cool in such a tense situation!
Apr 13, 2011, 04:41 PM
9r9r's Avatar
what a story...glad he is ok
Apr 13, 2011, 04:44 PM
Aerodynamically challenged
3Deranged's Avatar
Glad everyone's safe and sound. Hope you're able get the Sbach sorted out soon. I'm sure some luggage compartment mods will be in order. Too bad Sun 'n Fun weather was horrible most of the event. I work @ my LHS in O-town and we got a lot of pilots who came to the store because they were bored with the wind and the rain. Lot of damage to planes, shelters and several injuries. Fortunately none were serious. Always a good day when you get to go home in one piece!

Apr 13, 2011, 05:06 PM
iumop ap!sdn w,I
G.P.'s Avatar
Wow, great save...glad to hear that luck was on your side!

I had two high school friends die due to unsecured luggage breaking through the luggage wall and rolling into the tail of their small aircraft...don't take anything for granted or cut any corners when playing with full scale.
Last edited by G.P.; Apr 13, 2011 at 05:22 PM.
Apr 13, 2011, 05:22 PM
Time for me to Fly...
Mr. Wiz's Avatar
Originally Posted by jbourke
The insurance company is working with me to assess the damage, after which I'll learn whether or not the aircraft is totalled. If we repair the aircraft then it seems likely we'll have it ready in time for the AirVenture show in Oshkosh this summer.

Shoot... A little CA here and there and it'll be as good as new.
Obviously, I'm just kidding. I'm glad nobody was hurt and I hope it didn't suffer too much damage. That's a beautiful plane you have there, Jim. Good luck with the damage assessment.

Apr 13, 2011, 05:27 PM
Slow Flyer
Bombay's Avatar
Sorry to hear that happened...from an aircraft personal safety...aspect.
Good recovery.

Was that the position of the elevator during the flight?
Apr 13, 2011, 05:29 PM
High Altitude Specialist
snivilous's Avatar
Wow. that's intense.
Apr 13, 2011, 05:42 PM
Registered User
Thank god all are well. may be you could get one built out of epp so the repairs would be cheaper. also the bounce factor would be higher. j/k

god what a story.
Apr 13, 2011, 05:58 PM
Registered User
Daren's Avatar
Originally Posted by jbourke
I don't like to imagine how things would have gone if the baggage tray had failed when Doug and I were "scud running" to try to get to the event. We spent quite a bit of time flying under 1,000 foot ceilings with only a few miles visibility, at altitudes not much more than 500 feet.

Doug walked away from the wreckage. I'm sure his 7 children and lovely wife, Dana, are grateful for all the time Doug spent practicing "stuck control" scenarios. I need to put more time into that sort of practice, I've decided.

Thanks for sharing this and I'm glad no one was killed. As you've probably seen through your 20/20 hindsight, "get-there-itis" is never a good choice. Was it Rod Machido who coined the phrase, "I would rather be down here wishing I was up there, than up there wishing I was down here?"

Please don't take this the wrong way, but the phrase, "More money than good sense" seem equally appropriate. I hope the insurance company comes through for you.


p.s. Please don't ban me for my opinion.
Apr 13, 2011, 06:49 PM
Crazy Cessna Owner
Robbie d's Avatar
Looks in pretty good shape considering. Our laws here state that any prop strike requires a complete engine inspection, but with one in that shape it's a given. If it is totalled, Strip all the parts out you can use and stick the plane on a pole somewhere. At the local light plane airport there is a small shopping centre in the corner with a twin engine plane on a pole.
Apr 13, 2011, 06:51 PM
Registered User
TyeeFlyer's Avatar
Jim, sorry about the tough luck. I was considering offering my condolences earlier, but figured that you had probably gotten tired of telling the story.

Chris Mcvey offered me a hug when I ripped the counter balance off of my 50cc model. I bet he would be willing to extend the offer to you.

Apr 13, 2011, 06:53 PM
Pushing the Limits of FFF
wirbech's Avatar
Glad to hear that he is safe, Sorry to see such a beautiful plane as that damaged.

Apr 13, 2011, 06:58 PM
"Where are the shovels?"
wise guy's Avatar
Dear Jim,

As I'm sure you are too, I'm grateful your buddy Doug survived.

A loss of elevator is perhaps in every pilots top 5 worst things to go wrong - right next to over stress from wind sheer, or accidentally flying over New York on nuclear judgement day. Flying with only trim is no easy ask. Frankly I'm very surprised (and impressed) Mr. Doug was able to pull this off. I have tried to fly with trim only many times on different planes... my long standing conclusion was if I ever had to resort to that, I would most likely move to plan B, such as deploying a ballistic parachute, bailing the plane, or reciting the Lord's Prayer .

I sincerely hope your friends at Sbach take more care in engineering critical components like the elevator on this new breed of plane. As you've probably heard a thousand times from other pilots after this incident, your elevator is simply something you cannot loose. I know it's easy to say the engineers should of caught this before hand after the fact, however much like installing electrical lines in Apollo 13's O2 tanks, I think the reasons for excuses (for lack of a better word) are few. Like you said, if this were in low visibility, during a competition and/or the trim failed, - most likely - any pilots in the plane would be gone. Even 172's have redundant elevator controls (the 172 elevator is the only redundant control surface on that plane). Any other control function of the plane may be lost, including ailerons, gear and even the engine. Consider your friend very lucky that the elevator trim worked; even flying a very tame Avanti or other civil turbo/jet, using throttle and flaps (the logical alternative to a failed elevator) would be next to impossible to land... I can only imagine what it would be in your nimble 342!

Anyways, thanks for the post, and the effort you put into your blog. I enjoy reading it. Be grateful for the 21st Century strong airframe, and hope that your insurance company follows through without hiking rates!
Apr 13, 2011, 07:11 PM
I think I go fly
pyrobus's Avatar

Planes dont crash, they auger in, or buy the farm...

Glad to hear everyone is ok.

I had a similar event in a j-3 cub years ago, as I was comming out of a loop the seat sling failed leaving me sitting on the elevator push tube.

I also remember a l-39 that the fwd compartment opened on take off ejecting the contents wich promptly entered the engine and caused it to stall. Unfortunately the pilot "bought the farm"

Really glad everyones ok, looks like a simple repair, and dont forget the placard on the luggage compartment when your done.

Blue skies and tailwinds,


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