EAA Flight Advisor

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 way.

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 impossible).

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 airport.

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 Swedish.

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 VmaxPROBE. 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 VmaxPROBE could fly more than 300 mph, well beyond the 213 mph world record for planes in the 300 kilogram 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 views.

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 VmaxPROBE 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 'N Fun airshow. The plane also had garnered some media attention with an article in Sport Aviation, a magazine for members of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

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 at www.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 Airport Manager, Sharon Craig. Choosing not to wear a helmet, Giertz crammed his 6-foot-4 frame into thetiny airplane and the VmaxPROBE 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 VmaxPROBE project on the Internet. "Australia, Austria, Germany," said Giertz's son Tom. "His web page had been getting about 80 hits a day from people all over 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.

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