The pilot of an Aero Commander 100 did a particularly nice job of setting his faltering aircraft down on Highway 74 near Sandlin Bridge, North Carolina, on July 3. The aircraft, one of just 150 singles with the Mooney-like forward canted tail built in the late 1960s, reportedly had engine problems and five lanes of asphalt was below. A wing-mounted camera captured the story the uninjured pilot, Vincent Fraser, and his passenger will tell for the rest of their lives.

After committing to the highway landing, a curve in the road looms within the touchdown area and a set of power lines complicates the calculation. The pilot elects to duck under the wires, which gives him some extra speed. The pilot still manages to touch down in the center left turn lane while in a right turn but strays briefly into the oncoming lanes. The driver of an approaching pickup plays a part in the successful outcome by getting out of the way as the pilot hits the brakes to squeal the tires and slow down. Under control and out of danger, the pilot spots a turnoff and clears the highway with no damage and minimal disruption. The plane was fixed and took off from the highway a couple of days later.

Fraser talked about the incident with NBC News and said the aircraft wasn’t climbing the way it should to clear the mountains on his route to Florida. The aircraft and everyone involved is fine but something has changed for Fraser. The former Marine said it caused him to reevaluate his flying and he may hang up his headset. “It pulled something out of my heart,” he said.”That passion kind of left.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Curious–I’ve never seen a remote-mounted camera with sound–why would anyone do that?

    Likely not a permanent installation–“just happened to happen during a trial flight?”

    Engine continues to run on the ground until shut down.

    It would be interesting to see what the cause of the “loss of power” was.

  2. I have no idea what happened. However, assuming it was not a stunt as suggested above, I maintain that giving up flying due to a single mechanical issue is silly. Why not take steps to mitigate risk, as there are many one can take when operating a single engine airplane. Climbing to cruise altitude over the departure airport is one good method, choose a route and altitude with airports and safety in mind. Chose a plane with sufficient climb power and at least 6 cylinders. That last one is often ignored, but keep in mind a six loses far less percentage of power when a cylinder is lost than a 4 does. In fact, a Lycoming 4 may not run at all with a single clogged injector. Good luck troubleshooting that one in time…

    • Actually, it’s not really all that silly for one event to cause someone to lose their interest in flying. In fact, it probably happens a lot more than some of us might realize. I know at least two pilots who gave up flying because of a single event (that ended with a safe outcome), and there’s nothing another person can do if they are shaken up enough by it to lose confidence in themselves. In any case, it’s certainly better than the pilots who have close calls and *don’t* learn from it and then go and get themselves (and possibly others) killed.

  3. Automatically thinking that any “event” is a publicity stunt proves there is too much doubt in the world. Just because the engine was still running when he landed doesn’t mean it was producing enough power to climb or even maintain altitude. Let’s hear the whole story before before jumping to conclusions and calling him names!

    • The fact that the event caused him to apparently give up flying would seem to suggest that it was not a stunt.

      One of the things I do on flight reviews or during emergency training is simulate a partial loss of power. A complete power loss is “easy” in that the decision to land in the first available landing spot is made for you. But a partial power loss now means you have to decide if you continue on to find a better spot (possibly an airport) and risk the engine cutting out completely over less hospitable terrain, or set down now in the first available spot that you know for sure you can make. And landing with even partial power is easier than a complete engine-out landing.

      So assuming there was nothing intentional about this, and that it wasn’t just a case of fuel exhaustion as a result of poor preflight or flight planning, I can’t fault this particular pilot for landing where he did.

  4. It was probably just the Aero Commander 100 that caused him to quit flying. My family briefly owned one and was a bad combination of cruise prop and laminar flow wing that has very high drag at low speed, not to mention a lot of adverse yaw. I had the prop re-pitched to give a better climb and that helped some, but “not climbing properly” was just a way of life for that dog. Any loss of power would be a very bad thing.

    • Huh. That’s good to know. I’ve always heard nothing but good about Aero Commanders. The pilot might have thought he had an engine problem, but it was really the bad mix of cruise prop and laminar flow that made him think he had so much drag that he had an engine problem.

      • The airplane really had nothing to do with the Ted Smith Aero Commander designs. It was designed by a small company called Volaire in Pennsylvania who only built a few before Rockwell bought the design and renamed it the Aero Commander 100.

      • It was definitely engine problems, at least according to one of the news videos. The pilot stated that he restarted the engine several times, and the reporter said that a mechanic repaired it at no charge (but she gave no indication of what the problem was).

    • Hadn’t considered that–the FBO I worked for had one of the first Volaire/Commander 100s. It LOOKED like an aglomeration of airplane parts–a 172-like cabin, a Mooney tail, a 150 hp engine, hand brake like a Tri-Pacer–and the infamous laminar-flow wing.

      The flight instructors warned that the back seat should be removed–our airplane had a useful load of only 800+ pounds–the airplane was a runway-eater–even in relatively cool Minnesota. The FBO decided to prove the instructors wrong, and filled the seats (but restricted the fuel). The airplane BARELY got off the 3800′ runway, and it took several miles before it climbed enough to make the turn to return to the airport. All aboard were shaken–including the owner–a very experienced military instructor and aerobatic pilot. He immediately took it off the flight line, and sold it.

      The listed service ceiling is only 11,000 feet on a standard day.The video mentions “climbing to 7000′ over mountains”–on a July day in the south–if true, it was approaching its service ceiling.. It also mentions “the propeller stopped 3 times”–yet it was operating on touchdown. In the NBC interview, he contradicts himself, admitting “it just wasn’t climbing the way it should have to clear the mountains.” Having flown one, IF I were to guess, I believe that with 2 aboard and full fuel and trying to climb to 7000′ on a hot day, the airplane just ran out of steam. To make it even worse–the attempt at a laminar flow wing meant that if you got it slow, the drag was so high that there was no way to regain speed without sacrificing altitude–even at full power.

      The reports don’t mention how much training or time in type the pilot had–would be interesting to know. Though the aircraft kind of LOOKS like a 172–it is NOT.

      One would think that there would be an NTSB report on this eventually–instead of “news” reports.

      STILL wondering about the go-Pro camera installation–WITH SOUND.