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On July 10, 2005, at 1052 eastern daylight time, a homebuilt Rutan Long EZ, N78LC, and a homebuilt Van's RV-8, N899RM, were substantially damaged during a midair collision and subsequent impact with the Delaware Bay, near Lewes, Delaware. The certificated commercial pilot flying the Long EZ, and the certificated private pilot flying the RV-8 were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for either flight, which were both conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
The accident airplanes were part of a group of six airplanes who were practicing a formation flight routine for an upcoming airshow. According to the pilots in the formation, they had just completed a "six ship opposing" maneuver in which the airplanes flew towards each other in two groups of three airplanes. The groups were assembled with a lead airplane in front, and two additional airplanes aligned behind and to each side of the lead (in a "triangle" formation). After the airplanes passed each other, with approximately 50 feet of vertical separation, the next maneuver required the lead airplane of the group passing left to right (the accident RV-8), to climb and join the other group of three airplanes. The other two airplanes of the group passing left to right (the accident Long EZ and an additional RV-8) were to break off and fly a separate formation.
All of the formation pilots reported that the "six ship opposing" maneuver was performed without any abnormality. According to one of the formation pilots, within seconds after the pass he heard an unusual radio transmission that he described as an "ahrrgh" followed briefly by a report of a "mid-air" from the pilot flying above the formation, in the "spotting" position. The remaining pilots then observed the RV-8 and Long EZ impact the water.
The pilot of the Long EZ held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical certificate was issued on February 4, 2003, at which time he reported 685 total hours of flight experience.
The pilot of the RV-8 held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. His most recent FAA third-class medical was issued on September 11, 2002, at which time he reported 600 total hours of flight experience.
Examination of the aircraft logbooks revealed the most recent conditional inspection was performed on the Long EZ aircraft on March 31, 2005. The most recent conditional inspection was performed on the RV-8 aircraft on December 30, 2004. No abnormalities were noted during either inspection.
The weather reported at the Sussex County Airport (GED), Georgetown, Delaware, about 13 miles to the southwest included variable wind at 5 knots, 10 miles visibility, clear skies, temperature 29 degrees Celsius, dew point 15 degrees Celsius, and altimeter setting of 30.13 inches of Mercury.
The Long EZ wreckage was located shortly after the accident in approximately 4 feet of water near the shore of Cape Henlopen State Park. The composite structured airplane was transported to a local facility and examined on July 11, 2005.
The left wing remained attached to the fuselage spar at its rear attachment point. The left winglet was separated, and the left inboard and outboard ailerons remained attached to the wing. The left fuel tank was breached.
Flight control continuity was confirmed from the left aileron to the cockpit area. Flight control cables were observed in the area of the right wing. The cable ends displayed "broomstraw" edges.
The fuselage area consisted of wires, cables and a section of the instrument panel. The throttle column was also located in the fuselage area. The throttle and mixture controls were in the full forward position.
The right wing spar remained attached to the fuselage; however, the leading edge and trailing edge wing skin sections were separated from the spar.
The engine remained attached to the empennage section, and the propeller remained attached to the engine. The propeller blades displayed nicks and gouges along the blade edges.
The canard was separated from the fuselage. The left elevator remained attached to the canard, and the right elevator was separated in half at a 45-degree angle. The inboard section of the right elevator remained attached to the canard at its inboard attachment, and the outboard section was recovered separately.
Rescue divers from the Delaware State Police and Delaware River and Bay Authority located the RV-8 wreckage on July 12, 2005. The airplane was in approximately 21 feet of water in the Delaware Bay, near the shore of Cape Henlopen State Park. The airplane was recovered from the water and examined on July 13, 2005.
The left wing was separated from the spar, but remained attached to the fuselage section by wires and cables. The left aileron remained attached to the wing at its outboard attachment point. The left flap remained attached at the outboard and middle attachment points.
An approximate two-foot long section of the fuselage skin remained attached to the wing and displayed upward compression from the underside. The cockpit area consisted of wires and cables and a section of the instrument panel. The airspeed indicator was observed in the section of instrument panel, and the indicator read 175 knots.
The right wing was not located.
The rear empennage remained attached to the fuselage section by cables and wires. The left and right side horizontal stabilizers, the vertical stabilizer, and the rudder remained attached to the empennage spar. The empennage section remained relatively intact.
Flight control continuity was confirmed from the left side flight controls (push/pull rods) to the cockpit area; however, the right side flight controls, or associated push/pull rods, were not located. Rudder cables were observed in the cockpit area, and attached to the rudder. The separated cable ends were "broomstrawed."
The engine remained attached to the firewall and the propeller remained attached to the engine. Examination of both propeller blades revealed S-bending and chordwise scratching.
The forward section of cowling came to rest on the beach of Cape Henlopen State Park and was recovered immediately after the accident.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The State of Delaware, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, performed autopsies on both pilots.
The FAA Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, conducted toxicological testing on both pilots.
Several witnesses were videotaping the formation flight prior to the accident. The videotapes and a digital photograph were examined by the Safety Board's Vehicle Recorder Laboratory. The examination revealed that the Long EZ airplane was out of position in the moments prior to the collision. The digital photograph showed the Long EZ above the RV-8 (lead airplane) approximately 3 seconds prior to the collision. Additionally, the shadows of the smoke trails from the two airplanes seen on the surface of the water indicate that the Long EZ was converging on the RV-8 laterally. The timing in the video recording indicates this lateral convergence began at least 4 seconds prior to the collision.
The wreckage of both airplanes was released on July 29, 2005.