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How Low Can You Go?How Low Can You Go?


Over 30% of all buzzing accidents are fatal, in part because maneuvering at low altitude limits the number of 'outs' a pilot has available. This week's case in point, from just one year ago, tells the story of the pilot of a Beech 23 and his two passengers who were killed when their airplane stalled at a low altitude and impacted trees.

After the May 19, 2002 accident, a friend of the pilot told investigators that he'd waved his arms while the pilot performed a "fly around" over his house. After two circles, the pilot "waggled" the wings, then banked quickly to the left, rolled out, and approached the house again. The airplane started losing altitude, and the pilot raised the nose about ten degrees. After clearing his house by about 30 feet, the friend said the aircraft struck a tree and came to rest in the front yard.

Another witness captured part of the flight on video. Shortly before impact, the sound of the engine being revved at a high power setting could be heard.

The pilot held a private certificate, and had logged approximately 400 hours.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's improper decision to perform low passes, and his failure to maintain airspeed, a classic description of a subset of maneuvering flight known as "buzzing".

ASI's 2002 Nall Report found that maneuvering was one of the top causes of accidents for all aircraft categories. In the last five years, fatal maneuvering accidents have increased from 19.7 percent of all accidents to 22.1 percent in 2001.

FAR Part 91.119 states:

"Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

(b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure."

This fall, ASF will premier a new seminar, "Watch This", with new information on the issue of low level maneuvering flight.

For more information, you can also read Bruce Landsberg's article, " Most Dangerous Game", from the November 1996 issue of AOPA Pilot magazine.

This accident report as well as others can be found in ASF's Online Database.

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