Don’t Leave Home Without Batman/A Screw Loose Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Aside from a sticky payload hatch door, the Advanced Aero Vehicle Team’s new airplane proved a very stable platform last week. Saturday’s follow-up flight was to test the mid-flight payload drop and conditions couldn’t have been better.

BatmanSUN_6530blogProof of concept comes from repeatability; if, under the same conditions repeated tests give you identical results you have a winning design. Change one of the variables and anything can happen.

Saturday’s critical change? They didn’t include Batman (left), the grumpy field marshal who oversaw last week’s successful flight. Had the little fella been there his nose might have caught something amiss, but we’ll never know.

The green beauty took off without a hitch and flew magnificently, but just before turning toward the required payload drop things turned bad. Real bad. The plane suddenly plunged to the ground despite pilot Kelly OConnor’s frantic efforts to save it.

Very little remained of the craft once it power-dove to the ground. Balsa, carbon fiber and monocote shreds everywhere. And only six days before their tech inspection by Ft. Worth-based Lockheed experts.

Post-crash analysis suggests a bolt holding a servo mechanism came loose, robbing the pilot of any control whatsoever. Lesson learned? Double and triple check everything.

How to salvage a year’s efforts just a week before competition? Sweep up the mess, recycle the expensive parts, and unpack Plan B, an identical plane. The Flying Miners learned years ago that it’s a whole lot easier to build two planes at the same time than rebuild one overnight in the Budget Motel.

On the other hand, when you are down to one aircraft take plenty of repair parts. There’s a reason they award the “Best Crash” trophy at this event.

Stay tuned. 72 hours from now we’ll start posting other teams’ efforts to keep from crashing. Some efforts will be successful, some/many less so, at the Society or Automotive Engineers Aero Design Competition southwest of Ft Worth. About 30 miles north NASCAR will be hosting its own crash-a-thon, but we doubt any of those vehicles will end up in a lake. Could happen with the airplanes.