SkyStar Aircraft Averts Disaster

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Runaway Cessna Wrecks Kitfox Hangar

Perhaps giving added meaning to the phrase flying shrapnel, SkyStar Aircraft personnel had to run for their lives while working in the company's final assembly and show plane hangar to avoid the devastation caused by the spinning propeller of a runaway Cessna 182 (middle, in photo) in a ground accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Wednesday, May 9, 2001 was a normal (and busy) day at SkyStar Aircraft in Caldwell, Idaho, according to the manufacturer of single-seat Kitfox Lite Part 103 ultralights*, 2-seat Kitfox Lite Squared ultralight trainers**and the Kitfox line of light sport aircraft.*** Six SkyStar employees were working in the hangar used for final assembly and packaging. The hangar also housed the manufacturer's show planes, in preparation for the 2001 airshow and fly-in season.

At 3 p.m. the character of the day changed radically. "A Cessna 182 had just been pulled from its hangar, located about 75 yards from the Kitfox plant, to start a newly installed engine," SkyStar reports. "The 182's engine roared to life at full power and the aircraft accelerated rapidly toward the SkyStar final assembly/show plane hangar." Unable to shut down the engine or stop the runaway airplane, the occupant and the 182 crashed under the partially open SkyStar hangar door. The general aviation aircraft then "chewed" its way to the back of the hangar, destroying SkyStar's demonstration planes (which were "also used for engineering research," the company notes), severely damaging two customer airplanes under construction, and destroying or damaging tooling and general hangar contents.

The six SkyStar employees ran for their lives, and successfully avoided the 182's churning propeller and debris (giving real meaning to the phrase, flying shrapnel). The propeller eventually broke off. According to SkyStar, one badly shaken employee later quipped, "They are right. How fast you can run depends on what's chasing you."

"I think humor is a way of dealing with trauma," observes SkyStar Aircraft president Ed Downs, "but the reality of the loss is stunning. We are [near] the beginning of the airshow season and our show planes are gone. We have our work cut out for us."

Fortunately, there were no injuries in the Skystar hangar incident. "It was a miracle no one was injured or killed," Downs states. Assessing the destruction in SkyStar's final assembly and show plane hangar, he summed it up this way: "The Kitfox has been on some pretty wild rides over the last 17 years, but this takes the prize."

The company quickly rebounded from the near-disaster. "In less than 24 hours, SkyStar was back in full production, both for new aircraft and parts," Downs reports. "We have secured exciting and beautiful demonstration airplanes from our builder base. And we have already begun to build new demonstration airplanes here at the factory, and we are rearranging our aggressive demonstration schedule. Insurance and legal issues are being dealt with in a productive manner. All in all, we are in great shape." According to Downs, the Kitfox company "is making lemonade out of [the lemons from] this very sour experience."

-Report filed by SkyStar Aircraft Corp.

  *For a flight evaluation of the Kitfox Lite Part 103 ultralight, see "Pilot's Report: Part 103 Kitfox Lite - SkyStar Does Lite Right," July '99 Ultralight Flying! magazine
**See "SkyStar's Kitfox Lite2 Ultralight Trainer Takes to the Skies," April '01 UF! magazine
***For a personal report on SkyStar Aircraft and their line of Kitfox ultralights and light sport aircraft, see Jack McCornack's "Skywriter: Checking Out the 'Foxes," November '00 UF! magazine

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