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      FAA issues safety warning for homemade planes

      An Experimental Lancair IV-P airplane lies beached on Hilton Head Island, S.C. / AP photo

      JOAN LOWY, Associated Press Writer

      WASHINGTON (AP) " High-performance homemade planes like the one that killed a beach jogger last week in South Carolina are prone to stall, especially when going slower while waiting to land, and have been involved in a disproportionately large number of fatal accidents, federal officials warned Thursday.

      The Federal Aviation Administration said in a safety advisory to pilots that the Lancair, which is built from kits, and others like it have design characteristics that allow the planes to fly much faster than most small planes. However, the agency says, those characteristics can also "expose pilots to additional risk during slowspeed operations while close to the ground and with little time to recover from an unintentional stall."

      The agency also cautioned that since the planes are built by amateurs each one "may have unique flight handling characteristics."

      An FAA analysis found that the planes have experienced fatal accident rates substantially higher than other small, personal use planes, including other types of planes made from kits, the advisory said.

      Lancair kits are made by Lancair International Inc. of Redmond, Ore.

      Joseph Bartels, owner of Lancair, said the planes won't stall if they are constructed and operated according to the company's specifications and FAA regulations. The problem, he said, is that pilots sometimes fly the planes at speeds slower than they are designed to fly.

      Pilots should know a plane's speed limits since that information is provided, Bartels said.

      The company's Web sites says it has sold 1,870 plane kits in 34 countries. The planes include both turbine and piston engine models, some capable of speeds up to 370 mph. A typical small plane is capable of speeds about 150 mph.

      Pharmaceutical salesman Robert Gary Jones, 38, was listening to music while jogging on a Hilton Head Island beach when he was struck and killed by a Lancair. The plane took off from Orlando, Fla., and was en route to Virginia when it started leaking oil. The pilot was trying to land on the beach when the craft struck Jones. The pilot and a passenger walked away from the accident.

      Eighty-two people in the U.S. were killed in 2008 in accidents involving planes built from kits, according the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's safety foundation. Kit-built planes accounted for 18 percent of noncommercial plane accidents that year even though they logged less than 5 percent of the flight time, the foundation said.

      The accident rate for kit aircraft, including amateur-built helicopters, is more than seven times higher than for other noncommercial aircraft, the foundation said.

      Dick Knapinski, a spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association, disagreed with the foundation's calculations, saying there were fewer home-built aircraft accidents than portrayed.


      Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.