Fixed wing fliers fake frenzy foiled – Rod Vaughan update

A year ago, New Zealand TV journalist Rob Vaughan had just taken an ambulance ride away from the scene of a forced landing that he nearly pulled off.

The Aeroprakt A-22LS ZK-LFD he was flying nosed over at low speed in a soft field having shed its windscreen 1600 feet above, the cause of his hasty return to mother earth.

Considering Mr Vaughan’s low hour tally, just 350 at the time of the incident he did very well.

Mr Vaughan was taking his visiting son for a flip taking off from North Islands Thames Aerodrome.

Having been patched up Rod immediately jumped to the, it was a drone explanation.

The Mail Online from the UK ran with this headline:-

Pilot and his son miraculously survive after a DRONE collides with their plane at 2,000ft and causes them to crash into a field

Hauraki Aeroclub chief flying instructor, Cliff McChesney weighed in and to his mind,

“The most probable explanation is that it was a drone,” noting that club members had checked the aircraft and there was no sign of feathers or any other suggestion a bird had impacted the windscreen.

“Something has hit it and that something is pretty heavy, the windscreen is 4mm to 5mm thick and it has imploded,”

The story was picked up worldwide with news outlets damning drone drivers from South to North. The excitement was generated because this was potentially teh first time a drone had taken down a manned aircraft.

A quick Google search using the term Rod Vaughan and drone brings up 657,000 results.

In mid-April 2018 I received information that the aircraft operator prior to the incident was looking to replace the windscreen on ZK-LFD.

I reached out to the operator to ask about this but received no response.

I also emailed the NZ CAA and on the 2nd of May 2018 received this response from Phillipa Lagan

“The Civil Aviation Authority is not aware of a pre-existing defect or a replacement part being on order. In the interests of safety, if you have any details pertinent to the investigation, these would be welcomed.”

What I thought at the time of the incident

Last Friday 29th March 2019, the NZ CAA released Safety Investigation Brief Occurrence 18/1472

On 29 March 2018, the pilot and passenger departed Thames Aerodrome for a scenic flight to the east coast. Having been flying for approximately 40 minutes, heading back to Thames Aerodrome, the pilot flew the aircraft over the open mine to the north of the town of Waihi.

While both occupants were viewing the open mine at approximately 1600 feet above mean sea level, and at a speed of 80 knots, the windscreen failed catastrophically. The sudden inflow of air caused both cabin doors to come open and aerodynamic control became compromised. The pilot elected to make a forced landing onto open ground to the south of the town. While a successful approach was made to the chosen farm paddock, following touch down the aircraft bounced and was inverted, injuring the occupants.

Emergency services attended and provided assistance. When interviewed regarding the incident the pilot reported a possible collision with a drone. Examination of the aircraft and searches of the area of the mine have found no evidence of a drone.

During the examination of the aircraft, it was found that there was discolouration of the plastic polymer windscreen in the form of yellowing from the original clear.

Subsequent laboratory examination of recovered chards and sections from the windscreen identified evidence of Ultra Violet (UV) degradation to the upper areas of the exterior surface. UV degradation can affect the polymer bonding properties which can result in sudden failures.

Due to the high UV levels in New Zealand that can adversely degrade plastic polymers, it is recommended that aircraft are stored in a suitable building or a material cover is placed over the windows. Thorough pre-flight inspections could identify the emergence of discolouration or other defects of the aircraft transparencies. The use of cleaning materials should also be carried out in accordance with the manufacturer’s requirements. Any defects noted should be discussed with a suitably qualified maintenance provider.

No drone then.

Two things stood out in the report to me, firstly the visible evidence of a defect in the windscreen that must surely speak to maintenance and inspection procedures at the airfield of departure.

Mr Vaughan as the pilot in command is of course ultimately responsible for accepting the aircraft in the condition it was offered.

The second thing that stood out was how Mr Vaughans flying hours were reported.

Total fixed wing 350 approx.

With this aircraft type N/K

In last 7 days N/K

In last 90 days N/K

In last 12 months N/K

So, I am left wondering how Mr Vaughan could have approximately 350 hours and no idea of his total time on type and hours flown in the last 12 months.

Might his logbook be a little lacking?

Part 61 of the New Zealand Civil Aviation Regulations, Pilots Licences and Ratings states that :-

61.29 Pilot logbooks – general requirements (a) A student pilot and the holder of a pilot licence issued in accordance with this Part must maintain an accurate and up-to-date logbook.

So surely Mr Vaughan’s flying hours should be spot on and known?

The rush to cry wolf, or in this case drone, no doubt appealed to a TV journalist who was all too willing to hold court on safety matters.

I doubt very much that the worldwide RPAS industry is going to receive an apology from Mr Vaughan.

The damage has been done and doubts seeded about drone safety in the general publics mind.

General Aviation is becoming a hindrance to the progress of technology. I firmly believe it’s time to re think the rights and privileges given to those drilling holes in the sky for fun.

We should be having the conversation about what General Aviation should be permitted to do.

RPAS outnumber GA at least 10 to 1 now, and that is probably very conservative. I also believe the money being made by sUAS is probably greater than or at least equal to what it is by GA.

It’s time the RPAS world came together and fought every false claim effectively.


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