Testing Safety

    One of the best ways to fill my role as an EAA Flight Advisor is to provide a forum where we can learn from
    each other's experiences. This page is dedicated to sharing information. Please email your questions or
    experiences to share with others. Once a month we will post them and hopefully all learn something along the

    This page is hard to write this time for a great man died in
    this lesson. As a working test pilot, I probably spend more
    time wearing a flight helmet than most GA pilots. I've even
    turned down some Lancair IV tests (flutter dive tests)
    because the door won't open in flight (making exit

    During the final stages of Lars Giertz preparation, I had some contact and was even an alternate test pilot
    if the high speed taxi tests revealed any unusual findings. One thing I discovered when I sat in the plane is it
    would take some mods for me to fit at all, let alone with a helmet. I don't really know if this contributed to Lars
    not wearing a helmet but I'd like to reprint the newspaper report and let you draw your own conclusion.

    9:20 PM 6/8/1997

    Aviator killed in crash is remembered for his love of speed
    Copyright 1997 Houston Chronicle

    Above his computer, Lars Giertz posted a sign that summed up the abiding passion in his life. "Fast, Faster,
    Fastest," it said.A man in love with speed, Giertz wanted to design and build the fastest experimental plane of
    its kind in the world.

    He wanted it so bad it may have killed him. He died June 1 after the plane crashed at a Brazoria County

    When he is eulogized today at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston,the Sugar Land resident likely
    will be remembered for many things -- how he came to the United States in the early 1950s from Sweden to
    attend SMU on an engineering scholarship; how he quit school to join the U.S. Army as a shortcut to
    American citizenship; how he was so rabidly pro-American, he refused to allow his children to be taught

    More than anything, though, his quest for speed was a central theme in his life.As a young man, he raced
    club cars against Carroll Shelby and Dan Gurney, men who later earned fame as race car drivers. Then, in
    the late 1970s, he received his pilot's license, and his fascination with airborne speed began.

    During the last two years, Giertz's attention became focused on a futuristic-looking experimental plane he
    had spent more than 5,000 hours building. He christened it with a name that seemed to come from the pages
    of science fiction -- the Vmax PROBE. Giertz declared it to be "an outrageous new aircraft," and it impressed
    everyone who saw it, from commercial airline pilots to NASA engineers.

    "It looks like a toy in a picture, but it was way ahead of its time,"Dave Mudge, a pilot for U.S. Airways, said of
    the aircraft. "He had something really special." Mudge and others were convinced the aircraft would smash a
    dozen aviation speed records for experimental aircraft in its weight class.

    Built of lightweight carbon fiber, the
    aircraft was only 14 feet long. With a
    push propeller located at the rear of
    the plane to enhance speed, the
    aircraft's wing design had been
    generated from NASA to reduce the
    amount of drag the air exerted as the
    plane flew.In layman's terms, there was
    virtually nothing on the aircraft in the
    form of wrinkles, joints or rivet heads to
    slow it down.

    "His whole airplane was built perfect," said Mudge, 37, who lives outside Charlotte, N.C. "He was on his way
    to building a machine the world would take notice of." Giertz, who had worked as a television producer in
    Dallas and later started his own film production company in Houston before launching his own airplane-
    building business in 1987, believed the Vmax PROBE could fly more than 300 mph, well beyond the 213 mph
    world record for planes in the 300kilogram weight class. The consultants who worked with him agreed, but
    not everyone shared Giertz's enthusiasm.Jim Szabo, an out-of-work computer technician who volunteered to
    help with sanding work on the plane after meeting Giertz through the Internet,said Giertz was so obsessed
    with the experimental aircraft that he reminded him of a "mad scientist."

    "He had an ego twice as big as his hangar," said Szabo, 52, who left the project after three days. "I didn't
    care for the work environment."Giertz's family says Szabo never really knew the man he's criticizing,but they
    concede the family patriarch was intensely competitive. By example, they recall his decision in 1974 to break
    the world endurance record for radio-controlled model airplane flying -- a milestone held at the time by a
    Japanese man. So pro-American that it bothered him a foreigner held the record, he resolved to set a new
    mark, and did so by flying a radio-controlled aircraft for 14* straight hours. To do so, he had to redesign the
    model airplane, said his sons Tom, 35,and Riley, 38."To him, the fun part was designing it and building it,"
    said Tom, who worked with his father in the family aviation business.

    The love of improving the design of something apparently ran in the family. Giertz's great-grandfather, whom
    he was named after, was Lars Magnus Ericsson, the so-called "Alexander Graham Bell of Europe," who
    designed the modern telephone handset and began the Ericsson telecommunications company that thrives
    today. Giertz's 92-year-old father, Bo, was well known in his own right, too,as a retired archbishop of the
    state-sponsored Lutheran Church in Sweden,where he became a public figure because of his conservative

    Despite setbacks, which included trashing the first experimental airplane he designed and built, the bishop's
    son seemed poised to make his own mark on the world as the Vmax PROBE began to take shape this year.
    Before the plane was flown, Giertz unveiled it at a February barbecue he staged for 150 people, including
    some NASA engineers.In April, he hauled it to Lakeland, Fla., to show it off at a gathering of experimental
    airplane buffs, where it was the biggest hit of the Sun 'NFun airshow. The plane also had garnered some
    media attention with an article in Sport Aviation, a magazine for members of the Experimental Aircraft

    Giertz did not toil in anonymity. While building the plane, he kept thousands of aviation enthusiasts apprised
    of his progress through a web page he maintained on the Internet atwww.hal-pc.org/~giertz/.His Internet
    journal elicited messages from a worldwide audience, and he filed regular dispatches on his progress. In his
    May 31 dispatch, Giertz announced all was ready."I have therefore decided to attempt the first test flight for
    tomorrow around 8 a.m. at the airport," he wrote. "I will report the results when I return home on Sunday p.m."

    For the test flight, he had taken the plane to the Brazoria County
    Airport because its north-south runway lessened the chances of
    crosswinds posing problems. Before taking off, Giertz had
    requested that the airport's only Emergency worker on duty
    that morning be on standby, recalled interim AirportManager,
    Sharon Craig. Choosing not to wear a helmet, Giertz crammed
    his 6-foot-4 frame into the tiny airplane and the Vmax PROBE
    took off without a hitch.

    "That thing is FAST!" a pilot in a chase plane radioed to the ground. After five minutes, though, Giertz
    reported the engine temperature was starting to climb, so he decided to land. His approach was fine, but
    about 1,000 feet down the runway, as Giertz was holding the aircraft about five feet off the ground, the plane
    suddenly dropped.The left wing tip struck the ground and the aircraft rolled and landed upside down.

    Giertz, pulled from the plane by his son Tom, died six hours later at a Galveston hospital from head injuries.
    He was 63.The plane, though inverted on the runway, did not catch fire and remained intact, surprising the
    Federal Aviation Administration investigator who arrived at the scene.As word of the crash spread, e-mail
    messages of condolence began pouring in from hundreds of people who had tracked the progress of the
    Vmax PROBE project on the Internet. "Australia, Austria, Germany," said Giertz'sson Tom. "His web page had
    been getting about 80 hits a day from people allover the world."

    The younger Giertz assured everyone that his father had accomplished his goals even though his test flight
    had ended in tragedy. "My father's dream was to build and design the world's lowest drag man-carrying
    aircraft. That was truly his dream and he did live that,"he said.

    In closing, during prototype testing you need every advantage you can get. Weather, flight gear, emergency
    equipment are the few things you can control, so use them to your best advantage.