||September 04, 2006 |
By David Angier
Florida Freedom News
PANAMA CITY Earle Martin didn't like his plane being referred
to as a Widowmaker. Martin has been flying the Mitsubishi
17 years, the same kind of aircraft that crashed Friday, killing
Panama City pilot Hardy Buddy Head.
The MU-2 is a very safe airplane, Martin said.
Twin-engine airplanes like the MU-2 are sometimes referred to as
Widowmakers because inexperience pilots can be fatally unprepared
for the aircraft's performance abilities. But the Federal Aviation
Administration will soon implement a mandatory training program for
MU-2 pilots, said Scott Sobel, a Mitsubishi company spokesman.
Martin and Sobel flew to Panama City on Saturday together and
Sobel said there have been three MU-2 crashes in the last few
months. Two people were killed in August near Ormond Beach when
their MU-2 crashed.
Despite that, he said, the plane is considered one of the safest of
its kind, but its use as a cargo hauler contributes to the number of
crashes seen in the last few years. Sobel said cargo pilots have a
tendency to fly when they're tired at night or in bad weather.
Sobel said Head was an experienced pilot who had ample experience
with the MU-2. Head's family said he used to train pilots in MU-2s
for Mitsubishi and was very familiar with the aircraft.
Alexus Purdy, one of Head's daughters, said Saturday that her family
is convinced the crash was not her father's fault. None of us
believe it is, she said.
Sobel didn't offer any information about Head's crash, saying the
agencies investigating the incident would be responsible for that.
But Sobel did say that the FAA was planning to implement a training
program for MU-2 pilots.
We've seen overseas, when these training programs go into effect,
the accident rates plummet, he said.
Martin said he goes through a refresher course once a year, despite
the hours he puts in at the wheel of a MU-2. Flight simulators will
be used in the training, which is important because many of the
problems pilots have with the aircraft are with its speed.
The MU-2 is a high-performance plane with twin propeller-driven
engines. Sobel said because of its ability to haul cargo it's
sometimes treated like a truck.
It should be treated like the pet Porsche, he said.
Martin said things happen faster in the MU-2. Pilots, he said, have
to learn to think ahead of the aircraft and be comfortable with its
speed and climbing ability.
Because of its high-performance, Martin said, it's critical that
things be done properly.
Pilots who are unfamiliar with the aircraft can get into trouble
quickly. Martin said that's why the mandatory training program,
which was brought about by pressure from the manufacturer, is so
Head's plane crashed Friday morning five miles southeast of DeFuniak
Springs in Walton County. Head was returning to the Panama City-Bay
County International Airport from Tulsa, Okla., in a loaner plane he
was using while his regular MU-2 was in for service.
Witnesses said the plane appeared to spiral down into a wooded area.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board were investigating.
According to statistics compiled by Robert E. Breiling and
Associates, there were 473 MU-2s in use worldwide in 2005. Between
2001-2005, there were 24 accidents, 14 with fatalities, involving
the MU-2. That ranked the aircraft in the middle of the pack for
planes of its kind.
Friday's crash was the second involving a Mitsubishi MU-2 in Florida
in a week. A Michigan couple died Aug. 26 when their MU-2 crashed
about five miles northwest of Ormond Beach. Weather could have been
a factor in that crash since heavy rain was reported over most of
the county at the time, officials said.
Federal officials are investigating whether Friday's crash was
weather-related. Witnesses said it was raining at the time of the