STUDENT PILOT’S FIRST SOLO RESULTS IN FATAL ACCIDENT AFTER LOSS OF POWER

Young Daniel Perelman was by all accounts an aviation enthusiast realizing his dream of becoming a pilot.

He was on his first solo, a landmark event in any young pilot’s life, when he reported engine trouble and crashed suffering life taking injuries. This is a sad day for the Perelman family.

The Cessna 152 he was flying has been around for decades. I trained in its predecessor the Cessna 150.

It has three flaws that no doubt contributed to this crash and the injuries suffered.

The first is that the design of the Cessna fuel tanks does not allow the complete removal of water and other sediments from the fuel. It is possible for a pilot to do a thorough pre-flight, draining the fuel tanks from the small drains at the bottom and never remove all the water because the drains are above the lowest point in the tank.

The second is that the engine is carbureted which means that even if the engine holds together after the hard use a trainer gets, fuel starvation or over enrichment can occur due to the lack of precision of the fuel delivery system. Carburetors work a little like a toilet water fill system. They have a float that shuts the replenishment of fuel when it gets too high in the bowl and allows the fuel to refill the bowl as necessary when the fuel is used. Often the needle valve gets stuck which is the Achilles heel of the system and will shut the engine down by either starving it of fuel or making the mixture so rich that the engine won’t run or loses power.

Carburetors also suffer from carburetor ice which forms inside the carburetor as the fuel expands in the air with which it is mixed. The temperature drops and ice can form if it is humid. This model engine is usually immune from carburetor ice due to the location of the carburetor especially on takeoff but the Cessna 152 does have a carburetor heat handle so it is not impossible.

The third flaw in this aircraft is its complete lack of crashworthiness. It is an unfriendly environment in case of accident. No airbags, no soft energy absorbing materials, inadequate seat belts and harnesses and many switches and knobs that are dangerous in the event of an impact because the fuselage does not attenuate impact it instantly contracts in size and then expands called spring back. The lack of structural rigidity enhances injuries.

Most trainers are fairly Spartan to keep the cost down but while not a perfect solution, selecting a more modern trainer with some built in safety features like fuel injection, crashworthy interior and a ballistic recovery system can lessen the risks that are always inherent in a single piston engine design.

The loss of any young life is an unspeakable tragedy. May this young man’s memory be a blessing.

Arthur Alan Wolk

May 31st, 2022

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