Loose tail possible cause of glider crash
Improper assembly of a glider elevator in its rudder, despite a “fail-safe” design of the connection, may have been the cause of Sunday’s fatal crash at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Pilot Clem Bowman of Clermont, Fla., died instantly when his Genesis 2 sailplane plunged about 100 feet to the ground shortly after a 1:15 p.m. take-off, airport officials said Sunday.
The elevator, or horizontal stabilizer, fell off the sail plane, causing it to dive, according to Rick Walters, chairman of the Minden-Tahoe Airport Advisory committee. Bowman was the sole occupant of the glider.
The Internet website for the Soaring Society of American listed Bowman as one of the nation’s top competitive glider pilots. He was the 1997 World Soaring Champion and was to represent the United States in Bayreuth, Germany, at the World Gliding Championships in July.
A statement about Bowman’s death from soaring society president Larry Sanderson was to be posted to the Internet’s soaring news group Monday but was not available at press time.
However, a news group posting by Bill Bartell, a fellow team member, said the horizontal tail came off Bowman’s glider as the slack in the tow rope became tight, which would have been when the tow plane began pulling the Genesis for takeoff.
“The take-off proceeded with many radio attempts to get Clem to release,” Bartell’s posting said. “The Genesis 2 reached an altitude of 100 feet before the glider became unstable and rolled inverted.”
Bill Stowers, a glider and powered craft pilot from Minden, described the connection mechanism for the Genesis’s stabilizer as a very common design. Gliders are frequently disassembled so they can be towed in specially designed trailers.
“This is essentially the system used for all glider attachments,” Stowers said Monday. “If everything is seated, it’s fail-safe.”
He said the elevator on the Genesis sits on top of its vertical rudder. Two large-diameter steel pins on the rudder are the attachment points and have a spring-loaded steel retaining pin that runs vertically through them.
Holes in the stabilizer slide over the large pins, but the spring-loaded retainer must be pulled up to allow the stabilizer to fully engage the pins , he said. Once the stabilizer is pushed home, the spring pushes the retainer into place, locking the stabilizer onto the rudder, he said.
“Apparently this gentleman slid the elevator forward onto the pins, but didn’t complete the rigging by lifting the safety pin, then pushing it forward,” Stowers said.
Stowers said Bowman was very familiar with his own sailplane and likely had assembled it and disassembled it more than a hundred times. Pilots of power aircraft and sailplanes all have checklists and safety procedures they use to be certain their crafts are safe before flights, he said.
“But sometimes they get inadvertently distracted for a moment and forget they have not completed a movement in the assembly process,” he said.
Describing Bowman as a top quality pilot, Walters said the victim was a doctor in his 50’s with two children. He said Bowman’s wife, Mary, returned to Clermont shortly after the accident.
A representative of the Federal Aviation Administration came to the airport immediately after the accident, airport manager Jim Braswell said, to conduct the initial investigation on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Braswell said any further information about the accident cannot be provided by local authorities, once the federal agencies are involved. Stowers said the investigator spoke to a number of eyewitnesses.
Bowman was among about 45 pilots gathered at the airport practicing for the 1999 Standard Class Nationals soaring competition, a 10-day event set to begin today.
The contest organizers had contracted with a number of pilots to tow the gliders for the event and its practices, Stowers said.
Marty Gundlach, office manager of the Soar Minden commercial glider service, said neither that business nor competitor High Country Soaring have ever had a fatal accident. Walter said, “It’s been more than 10 years since we’ve lost a pilot in competition.”
The National Transportation Safety board lists a fatal glider accident on April 11, 1997, that originated at the Minden-Tahoe
Airport. A glider pilot on his first flight in the particular glider design was towed to 8,000 and released – it was the last contact with the craft. The wrecked glider was found the next morning in the hills 8 miles east of the airport.
The accident is listed only as “facts” with no preliminary or final cause assigned for the crash.
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