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Sat, Dec. 18, 2004

MU-2's maker calls for added training

After four fatal crashes of Mitsubishi MU-2 aircraft this year, including one near Centennial Airport nine days ago, the manufacturer is worried that some pilots may be inadequately trained to fly the high-performance plane.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America recommends that pilots of its planes get specialized training in flight simulators so they can test emergency conditions and procedures in a safe environment, said Ralph Sorrells, deputy general manager of the company's aircraft product support division.

In the wake of this year's series of accidents, Sorrells said his company is "deeply concerned, and we're in the process of trying to get the word out" about the best training practices for MU-2 aviators.

Mitsubishi is holding pilot-training seminars throughout the country and encouraging federal officials to upgrade training standards.

Because of the weight of their aircraft, MU-2 pilots do not need special certification required for crews on heavier planes, including jets.

But more demanding training is required for those piloting Mitsubishi aircraft, experts said, because the planes are significantly different in design and performance from lighter twin-engine piston planes that many pilots fly before moving up to the turboprop.

Mitsubishi is working with the Federal Aviation Administration on a possible national upgrade of training for pilots who fly more sophisticated twin-engine turboprops such as the MU-2, Sorrells said.

"An FAA-endorsed program would help," he said.

Since 1968 there have been 181 accidents involving MU-2 aircraft, including 74 that involved fatalities, according to a review of National Transportation Safety Board records. At least 238 people have died in MU-2 crashes.

Mitsubishi stopped making the planes in the mid-1980s; there are about 420 of them left.

A spate of accidents in the 1970s saddled MU-2 aircraft with a reputation as a dangerous plane, leading some pilots to shy away from flying them.

The planes will carry that reputation "for the rest of their life," said Todd McCredie, treasurer of the Piper-McCredie Insurance Agency in Flint, Mich., a national leader in insuring MU-2 series planes.

"Safety on this airplane is strictly in the training," said McCredie, 35.

MU-2 planes are a workhorse of the twin-turboprop sector of corporate aviation, with many used now for hauling canceled checks and other freight items for banks and other businesses.

The plane that crashed near Centennial Airport on Dec. 10 was operated by Flight Line Inc. and was hauling checks for Vectra Bank.

The crash killed pilots Paul Krysiak and James Presba. Krysiak, 28, of Aurora was the pilot-in-command of the MU-2B-60 and had accumulated at least 325 total hours flying Mitsubishi planes. Krysiak had 3,000 total hours on his record.

Presba, 25, of Lone Tree was in the cockpit as a pilot-observer and was not being trained to fly the plane, said Aaron Sauer, the NTSB's lead investigator on the accident.

Neither Sauer nor Mitsubishi's Sorrells would say whether Krysiak had undergone flight-simulator training or any other advanced instruction in MU-2 aircraft, but industry observers say some freight- hauling companies often do not spend the money on such advanced training.

Critics and even many strong supporters of MU-2 aircraft agree the planes have unique aerodynamic and handling qualities that require an extra level of pilot proficiency.

Losing power in an engine shortly after takeoff, which apparently happened to the plane that crashed near Centennial Airport, presents unusual challenges to any MU-2 pilot because of the aircraft's special aerodynamic characteristics, said John "Rusty" Allman, a Texas lawyer whose firm has represented the heirs of those killed in crashes of Mitsubishi aircraft.

The high MU-2 accident rate led government officials to perform a certification review of Mitsubishi aircraft about 20 years ago, according to a history of the planes published by Howell Enterprises.

"The FAA found that the MU-2 does comply with the regulations," according to Howell. "Nothing was found in flight testing, accident analysis or examination of systems and structure that was outside the rules or would lead to accidents."

Barbara Hudson of the Denver Post research library contributed to this report.

To read this article as published by the Salt Lake Tribune Click Here


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