3TV examines safety of homebuilt aircraft

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- 3TV first met Joe Goetz in January after he made an emergency landing in a Mesa neighborhood.  His homemade helicopter ended up just feet from a home, but no one was hurt. 
Months later, Goetz’s helicopter pad sits empty, but fortunately the pilot of more than four decades escaped harm.

“This is the one wire that broke,” Goetz pointed out. 

He built the one-seater himself with special safety features which helped pad his crash.
“You gotta figure worst case in any scenario,” he said. “In this case, I got to test the devices. If I got to build another one, it would be very similar.
“Experimental Amateur Built” aircraft represents a growing population of aircraft with an estimated 33,000 registered nationwide.
While they still account for a small percentage of general aviation aircraft, the National Transportation Safety Board says they account for a disproportionate number of accidents, and an even more disproportionate share of deadly accidents.
Nationwide FAA numbers from 2012 show 263 deadly general aviation crashes, 73 of them involving experimental aircraft, which translates to nearly 30 percent.  Of the experimental aircraft involved, 68.5 percent of them were amateur built.
The NTSB says engine failure and loss of control in flight are the most common issues by a large margin.
“Most of these are tried and true designs that have already been built with thousands of successfully flying examples,” said Jim Moss, the Vice President of the Phoenix Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Moss says the safety checklist required of all pilots flying experimental planes is impressive, starting with a rigorous inspection.
Once the aircraft passes the inspection, pilots are required to fly their first 25 to 40 hours in a remote, designated area.  Even after receiving a certificate from the FAA, inspections reoccur each year.
While many amateur built aircrafts come from kits, Moss showed us one built from scratch by his late friend and veteran pilot Wally Chapin. 

About 30 years of sweat equity, knowledge and care went into the PJ-260.  The rare biplane even won an award for outstanding workmanship.

Moss showed 3TV the safety features and checklists that go into each flight.

Each experimental amateur aircraft requires a “passenger warning,” but Moss stands by the safety of the aircraft.

“I think this is better built than my Cessna,” he said of the PJ-260.

Moss said his organization considers safety a top priority and offers technical and flight instructors to help amateurs build their aircraft.

“There’s certainly a tremendous amount of effort being put into those things,” said Goetz of experimental aircraft.

He knows firsthand that effort is for good reason.

“There’s no such thing as being too careful,” said Goetz.