Safety Publications/Articles

Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Fly-in confusion

Arriving at a busy fly-in can sometimes be a harrowing experience. On April 18, 2004, a Glasair III crashed while landing at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida. The commercial pilot and his passenger suffered minor injuries, and the airplane was damaged substantially.

The night before the trip, the pilot downloaded the notice to airmen that describes the arrival and departure procedures for Sun 'n Fun. While approaching Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, the pilot tuned in ATIS, which indicated landings were being performed on Runway 9. The pilot could not recall whether the left or right designator was included.

After switching to the approach frequency, the pilot heard the controller advise a "white low-wing" airplane twice to turn base. The pilot "surmised" that the controller was not referring to his airplane since "he could not slow down to landing speed on a short base to final from his position." The pilot continued on his downwind leg, turned base, and then final for Runway 9R. After aligning with Runway 9R, the pilot noticed show airplanes departing from Runway 9R.

When the Glasair III was about 200 feet msl and descending, the controller radioed, "White low-wing do not land on Runway 9R, sidestep over to the skinny runway to the left." The "skinny runway" is a taxiway that is used as Runway 9L during Sun 'n Fun. The pilot added power to arrest his descent rate, but the airplane's angle of attack increased to a point where he could not see in front of him. He was able to maneuver to the left, but landed to the right side of the runway, straddling a row of taxiway lights. The nosewheel struck a taxiway light and separated from the aircraft.

The Sun 'n Fun notam clearly stated, "DO NOT land on the main, wide, Runway 9/27 unless specifically instructed by the Control Tower."

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's failure to maintain airspeed and establish a climb during an attempted go-around, which resulted in a stall/mush and subsequent impact with terrain. At the time of the accident, the pilot had accumulated 1,200 hours and had flown into Sun 'n Fun the previous year.

Although the pilot had downloaded the notam before his departure, he apparently didn't read it carefully before arriving at Lakeland. When attending events like Sun 'n Fun, it's important that pilots read and understand the arrival and departure procedures, since they vary greatly from the norm. If you don't understand something, ask. If you are still confused, go around, depart the pattern and try to figure things out, or land at another airport nearby.

Planning on attending AOPA's Annual Fly-In and Open House on June 2? Visit ASF's Now Featuring: Fly-In Safety Web page for great tips and information on getting there safely.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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