What happened

On 17 March 2013, the owner-pilot of an amateur-built scale-replica Spitfire aircraft (VH-VSF) was participating in an air display at Parafield Airport, South Australia. The pilot performed a number of airborne passes above the runways in various directions and completed the display with a slow speed pass at 400 ft with the landing gear and some wing flap extended.

Towards the end of this pass the pilot radioed the tower to coordinate a landing and accepted runway 21 Left with an 11 kt crosswind. By now the pilot had turned right and the Spitfire was near the extended runway centreline and 1 km from the runway threshold at a slow speed. A left turn was then observed and, soon after, a wing dropped and the aircraft entered a steep descent. The aircraft crashed in a factory car park, fatally injuring the pilot and substantially damaging the aircraft.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB found that while coordinating a landing clearance with air traffic control and flying a low level circuit with a close downwind and base in turbulent conditions, the pilot inadvertently allowed the airspeed to decay. In the subsequent turn (downwind) to adjust the circuit the aircraft aerodynamically stalled, descended steeply, and impacted the ground.
The aircraft was prone to aerodynamically stall with little or no aerodynamic precursors and it was not fitted with a stall warning device, increasing the risk of inadvertent stall.

Safety message

Flying in an air display is different to normal operations and places additional demands on a pilot. Pilots who participate in air displays should consider the demands involved and to the extent possible ensure that the complete sequence, including landing, is planned and rehearsed.

Although amateur-built aircraft operated in the experimental category are not required to be fitted with a stall warning device (preferably with aural output), owner-pilots should consider the benefits of such devices as a last line of defence against stalling.