Odd’s Velocity broke up in flight while possibly flying in IMC while not being an instrument rated pilot.  This is the only in-flight structural failure that I’m aware of.

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by James Jorgensen

Varieze N388DT

These are the facts as I see them, about my father’s accident in his Velocity XLRG, N190J on 08/07/04 near Belvidere, Kansas. I am sharing this with the group to avoid unnecessary speculation, and because I feel there is educational value in accidents. There had better be:

He received a weather briefing prior to departing Dodge City around 10:00 a.m. Local ceilings at the time of departure were 900 ft. with a visibility of 5 miles in mist. Ceilings 60 miles out along his intended route were 3400 ft. Tops were not reported in his briefing, but they were later estimated at 6-9000 ft. He was spotted on radar squawking 1200, in a level climb through 4000′, then initiating a climbing turn which transitioned to a descending turn as he reached 6000 ft. Radar coverage in the area is spotty below 4000′, so the final moments of his descent are unclear.

Witnesses indicated that the aircraft emerged from the overcast in a spiral with the engine ‘surging’ (the right wing departed before the aircraft became visible, so the ‘surging’ was probably due to doppler effect from spinning). After a few turns, there was a puff of ‘white smoke’ and/or an explosion, and the left wing departed the aircraft.

The wreckage indicates a failure of the center section spar in bending/torsion roughly 1 ft. inboard from the ends (the outboard portions of the center section spar were found still bolted to the wings, and the wings were both intact with control surfaces present and functioning). Duane Swing inspected the wings and expressed some concern about the appearance of the region connecting the torsional lay-ups of the strake to the center section spar. Regardless of whether this particular lay-up was perfect, it appears that the failure was due to a significant overload. The fire/explosion/puff of white smoke was likely due to fuel being dumped out of the right strake when the right wing came off, spraying up and across the engine (the cowling came off with the right wing and showed no indication of burning) and left wing as the remaining aircraft was spinning. Eventually the fuel found an ignition source on the engine and was set off, enveloping the left wing in flame and superficially scorching it, though it was never ?on fire?. It departed the aircraft shortly after ignition.

A roughly 1 foot right outboard section of the canard departed the aircraft at some point, but I am not currently sure if it happened upon impact with the ground, or in the air. In retrospect I should have inspected it more closely, but didn’t. While the fuselage was completely burned, enough fiberglass remained to indicate that the inboard portion of the canard remained attached.

I am striving to obtain more circumstantial weather data, radar data of the flight, a recording of the weather briefing he received that morning, and any radio transmissions he may have made in flight (unlikely). The NTSB will be putting out their report in 6-12 months.

My preliminary/tentative conclusions: VFR into IMC leading to spatial disorientation and maneuvering stressing the airframe beyond limits.

Possible alternative scenarios: Wind shear or severe turbulence? Incapacitation due to ? Oxygen tank leak/explosion (it was never found)? To my knowledge his remains were too burned and mangled to allow for a useful autopsy.

A few words about Dad:

He was not instrument rated, but seemed cavalier about minimums and VFR on top. He had enough IFR procedural knowledge to get by and he had flown hard IFR plenty of times with a friend (in a different aircraft), but not recently (as far as I know). In a conversation with my mother the night before, he told her he had flown at 17,000′ on oxygen and encountered significant turbulence, to the point of bumping his head several times. He had apparently found ‘a hole’ over Dodge City allowing him to descend and land. I used to yell at him when he called to announce some (clearly illegal, but more importantly, idiotic) ‘feat’ he had gotten away with, but the response was always “I know, I know” or “it worked out fine”.

He was also VERY tense and high-strung, prone to severe claustrophobia when stuck in a dark space (running wires in my sister’s attic) or attempting SCUBA for the first time. I met with him the week before the accident. He had considered flying commercially from Gold Beach, OR to Melbourne, FLA. I never knew what his decision was until I heard the news.

James Jorgensen


In a later e-mail to a member of the Canard Aviators group, James wrote:

Fred, I don’t want to single you out, but this seems to not be registering with some people so let me spell it out, because it didn’t register with my dad either, and he’s DEAD either directly or indirectly because of it.

I got my facts about his flight directly from the NTSB; pilots present at his point of departure; NOAA; officers responding to the scene; Duane Swing (President of Velocity); from personally looking at the wreckage with bones still in it; my mother; my 36 years’ worth of acquaintance with the victim.

I understand, he could have been hit by a meteorite, been abducted by aliens, had a bird strike, had an equipment failure, had a heart attack. But ask yourself the question: What is a VFR-rated pilot doing, deliberately taking off in 900 foot ceilings and climbing into solid overcast conditions without knowing how thick the layer is? Look up “Maneuvering Speed”. Look up spatial disorientation. Understand that ANY aircraft will come apart if subjected to excessive loads.

I suspect that with all the neat navigational gizmos out there, there is a risk of treating the IFR rating as redundant, because, heck, it’s just a bureaucratic requirement, right?… another way for ?government? to look down our pants and make a buck. Well, get that piece of lore out of your head and read through the practical test standards and all the other material associated with the rating and consider that the information is based on knowledge derived from generations of dead pilots. It’s a Darwinian process, not a bureaucratic one.

I don?t consider myself an authority on much of anything, but I have enough experience to know that VFR on top by choice or bad planning (i.e. avoidable VFR on top) is reckless? heck, even criminal. It means that you have placed yourself, possibly your passengers and people on the ground, in a position where you?re depending on luck, not skill, to land safely. As a student pilot I believe (it was 12 years ago) I was shown a movie called ?3 minutes to live?, about VFR into IMC. It really made an impression on me. I also experienced vertigo once as a student pilot on a VFR day by simply looking at the charts too long and having the plane bank 30 degrees without sensing it. The sense of instant panic resulting from the horizon not being where my body thought it was, was an invaluable lesson.

I have tremendous respect for people who consistently fly IFR and maintain the rating. It requires skill, practice, discipline, perfect equipment and being in top shape. To kid yourself that an autopilot coupled to a GPS is enough to ?wing it? is delusional. One normally minor equipment glitch can quickly lead to distraction and disaster in IMC, whereas in VFR conditions it would be a mere annoyance.

The ?what if? scenario really has only one answer: DON?T!!!!! Plan around it. Renting a car short of your destination is not a sign of failure. Turning back is not a sign of failure. Dying because you couldn?t stand the inconvenience of not completing a flight is really pathetic. While I have your attention, take a minute to think about the balance sheet of outcomes: a phone call to say you?ll be hours? days? a week late vs. people who depend on you suffering to some degree for the rest of their lives.

I’ll stop my part of the discussion here. The NTSB has already investigated: Their determination is VFR into IMC, though the investigator hasn’t typed it up yet… the workload is high, he said.

Posted By: Brett Ferrell
Saturday August 7th, 2004 at 2:26 PM

Categories: Accidents
Tags: 2004 Belvidere Fatal Jorgensen KS N190J RG Structural Failure Velocity XL

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