Hydraulic systemsto blame?

2009-11-16 00:00

PRETORIA — The English Electric Lightning’s hydraulic systems are the “lifeblood” of the plane, which influence just about every single function of the craft.

This is how experienced pilots speculated on websites yesterday, regarding what could possibly have led to the accident in which test pilot Dave Stock — who had about 15 900 flight hours on his record — was killed.

On Saturday the canopy didn’t detach and the ejection seat failed to activate, as they should have, in that order.

“The only way you can really be sure whether an ejection seat is in working condition is to test it,” wrote one.

Unfortunately there are very few experts in the private sector who can perform such testing and maintenance.

“The only other way is during an emergency — like on Saturday. Unfortunately if it doesn’t work it’s too late.”

Apparently the crashed plane experienced some trouble on Friday shortly after it landed, but this was not considered anything serious.

Another plane from the Thunder City fleet, which belongs to Mike Beachy Head, owner of the largest private collection of ex-military jets, did not take off at all on Saturday.

This plane, the Buccaneer, was also supposed to participate in the air show.

Brian Emmenis, the air show commentator, said the fact that the Buccaneer’s performance was cancelled should be seen as an indication of Beachy Head’s approach to flight safety, which he called meticulous.

Before this accident, the Thunder City fleet had accumulated thousands of accident-free flight hours. Their only other accident was in 1995, when two airline pilots crashed into the ground while performing acrobatics in a Canberra plane.

Pilots say the maintenance of the rocket that activates the ejector seat is of critical importance as the propulsion substances have a limited life.

Ironically, a lucky draw was to be held on Saturday afternoon — for the chance to join the pilot for a flight in the Lightning.

The accident took place before the lucky draw.

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