Safest, idiot proof, small aircraft??

What is the safest flying craft? One which is about idiot proof and if the pilot screws up, it can come down easily?

No enclosed aircraft or those big gliders.

I’d love to hang-glide, but, having this real aversion to pain, I’m afraid to do so because I’ve seen those things crash. Even when equipped with the new rocket parachute.

I’ve seen these paragliders, where you are pulled aloft and those where you wear a gas powered fan to propel yourself along.

I’ve seen these ‘gyro-copters’, small things, with a small motor and propeller attached to a wheeled body on top of which is a free turning helicopter blade that provides lift and helps in steering. I thought those were idiot proof, until I saw one crash on landing.

Then I’ve seen the hang glider with a small motor attached, a pipe, wheeled body that you lift up and run with to get aloft, then sit comfortably in, with the small motor propelling you along and you gracefully come in later for a landing.

Now, in a movie, I saw this absolutely cool little aircraft, wide bodied, designed for two, squat, with an overhead wing, huge window in the cockpit, and two tiny engines slanted up about 45 degrees on the leading edge of the wing. Each engine was a little bigger than a small lawnmower motor and sounded like a really pissed off hornet when started up. It did not fly fast or high, but it flew and was light enough for one man to drag around.

In the movie, it crashed in a tree, and was going so slow, it did not break apart, but, that was a movie, you know.

I think the name of the movie was ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy, part two.’

I just wondered if there is a small craft that isn’t going to get you killed or seriously broken up, if you loose control of it. I had thought that if you lost control of a hang glider, that if you released the bar, it would fall and kind of ‘swoop’ down, leveling itself out, but, as I found out, they can kind of drop like a stone.

There was a tow-behind gyro-copter that flew attached to a car or boat and if something happened and it came loose, if you released the control, it would come down fairly easily, using the still spinning blades as an air brake. Plus, if you screwed up while flying it, if you released the control stick, it would right itself and you could regain control. You kind of had to work to crash that thing.

The paraglider, powered, seemed safest because if the power failed, you parachuted down, but it was a real pain for one person to get aloft with. It took two helpers.

If you’re that worried about it, maybe you should stay on the ground…there isn’t an aircraft made that can’t kill you if you screw up…except the ones they sell at the hobby shop next to the paint and glue.

So why are you so worried?

While it doesn’t meet the parameters you specify, Flying magazine calls the Cessna 172 the safest aircraft flying. This is based on the model’s 50-year history, the number of aircraft built, the number of crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in fatal injuries, the number of mechanical failures, how it’s used, and other criteria that I don’t recall.

I want to get one thing out of the way: If you’re asking, “What aircraft will save your bacon if you screw the pooch?” then you may as well ask the same thing about automobiles. You’re never going to be completely safe. The best you can do is choose a “safe” design and operate the aircraft to the best of your ability. Face it: Some aircraft crash. But very very few do. Maybe you should try a hot-air balloon?

Of the things you list, I think paragliders are about the safest. You said that they seem to be a pain for one person to get aloft with. Well, if you want safety, then you’ll have to give something else up. Flying is a compromise.

Gyrocopters’ big safety advantage over a helicopter is that you are in autorotation from the time you lift off. If the engine quits, you autorotate down. In a helicopter you must initiate autorotation yourself. For this “safety”, you lose the ability of vertical take-offs and landings (VTOL).

As for the “absolutely cool little aircraft” you saw, I don’t know what it is. It’s been many years since I saw The Gods Must be Crazy II. Since it was in theatres, in fact. But as you say, it crashed into a tree. Nothing is foolproof.

The “tow-behind autogyro” is a gyroglider. It works the same as a gyrocopter except that it doesn’t have an engine. They’re not as idiot-proof as you think. As a helicopter pilot (and BTW, gyrocopters require a different license), I can tell you that you literally have to be “on the stick”.

I am a big advocate of people learning to fly. I’ve often posted my opinion on these boards that people should learn to fly if they are so inclined. But one thing you will have to overcome is the fear of crashing. Once you do that, you can enjoy the benifits of many aircraft. As I said, very few aircraft crash; and of those few crashes, most are survivable. The “safest” aircraft can be said to be the one that has the safest pilot at the controls. This means the pilot who has the proper training, currency, and above all attitude. Put in the words of one of my favourite quotes, “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

If you want a safe, reliable and useful aircraft, look at the Cessna 172. It seats four, goes 130 miles an hour, has never had an in-flight break-up, has a great view of the country you’re flying over, has built-in umbrellas (high wings) to keep you dry when boarding or exiting when it’s raining, and is an overall great aircraft. It’s not sexy or fast, but I’d buy one if I didn’t have my heart set on my own helicopter.

There have been model-airplane fatalities. Electrocutions when controlline planes meet power lines. R/Cs hitting folks at over 100MPH. Kidney failure from snorting the glue.

Funny; IIRC, a couple months back they were talking about how DANGEROUS they were and how much better off you’d be spending twice as much money on a Beechcraft.

dropzone: Sadly, I have a bad habit of tossing out magazines after I have read them; otherwise I could tell you which issue it was in. I believe it was six to 12 months ago. The cover of the issue had a Cessna 172 and the caption “The World’s Safest Airplane”. Flying had a series that investigated the safety of a single model of airplane every month. The Cessna 172 was the first in the series, and they did indeed call it the safest. Subsequent issues covered the Cessna 182, the Cessna 210 (I think), the Beechcraft Bonanza and the Mooney.

Perhaps another Flying Doper recalls the issue I’m thinking of?

I take a dim view of any aircraft or car that purports to “take the thinking” out of flying or driving. Nothing is foolproof, but the odds can be made significantly better by getting good training. So rather than trying to find something foolproof, I would suggest you attempt to simply not fly like a fool.

However, to answer your question, maybe powered parachutes are something you should look into. I have no experience with one, but have read a few articles. It’s basically a parachute with a motor. Engine quits - you descend to the ground.

There’s a guy at my airport who has one, but he won’t fly it away from the airport boundary. Maybe he doesn’t think it’s safe…

The Cessna 172 has the best safety statistics of any light aircraft, in terms of number of fatalities per 100,000 hours.

I used to subscribe to “Aviation Consumer”, and their aircraft reviews always focused heavily on safety, with full statistics.

The thing about the 172 is that it is very forgiving of errors. It doesn’t stall or spin easily, when it does either it recovers quickly with minimal altitude loss. If you land too fast, you’ll typically just float a tiny bit and come down nicely. Land too slow, and you’ll thump onto the ground but in one piece.

It’s also a fairly slow airplane, which means you have lots of time to react to situations, and it’s really, really easy to fly.

And as Johnny said, there’s never been an in-flight breakup of a 172.

The Bensen Gyrocopters have a poor safety record.

But don’t listen to me, I bought a Grumman AA1, which was statistically one of the most dangerous certified airplanes flying, and I loved every minute I owned it.

Powered parachutes can be launched by just the pilot, with no helpers. I rode in one last weekend at a local fly-in. The pilot did have a helper lay the chute out, but he could have done it himself, IMO.

Grok, the reason the guy at your airport doesn’t go far with it is they have a top speed of maybe 30 MPH. Except for the view, motorcycle might be more practical if you’re looking for fun transportation.

Johnny, I won a raffle at that fly-in for a helicopter ride. Tell me quick, what do I do to not sound like a total dweeb to the pilot? What do I bring besides a camera? I have no idea what kind of craft it is - enclosed, open doors, big, small, nothing.

The “hang glider with an engine” that you saw is called an ultralight. I love ultralights, have flown them, and am currently saving to buy my own. They are probably not the safest aircraft to own, but you can equip them (or a Cessna 172, for that matter) with a ballistic recovery chute. Essentially it a rocket-fired parachute mounted on the aircraft that will lower you to the ground. (or possibly into a tree, lake, or pack of ravenous wolves.)

I don’t know, RalfCoder. What kind of thing are you likely to say that would make you sound like a dweeb? I think one question that gets asked a lot is, “What happens if the engine quits?” It might be refreshing for the pilot not to have to answer that one (again). You might ask for an autorotation demonstration. Practicing autos is fun. Like a rollercoaster, or one of those “freefall” rides. Depending on the situation, s/he might not do it. But ifs/he does, don’t scream. :wink:

If it’s only you and the pilot going up for the ride, then you’ll probably fly a Robinson R-22. (It’s the blue and silver one on my page) Or it could be a Schweizer, which is the white one. Either way, ask if you can have the doors off. The view is better, and it’s less cramped (expecially in an R-22).

OK, here’s my two cents:

For the nervous dude in the OP - I’d say go with the Cessna 172. They’re easy to fly, have a good safety record, and are forgiving of pilot error (up to a point). I will mention, however, that there is not a ballistic recovery system available for the C172 - only the C150. They haven’t managed to engineer one for the heavier C172.
If the engine quits (a common fear) the C172 glides much farther than the non-flyer would imagine, leaving you time to find a spot to put it in safely.

If you’re a shorty like me, you might like the Cessna 150 or 152 - but if you’re over 5’6" try the C172.

I’d stay away from rotorcraft if you’re that concerned about getting into an “idiot-proof” vehicle. Mind you, I have nothing against rotorcraft, I ride 'em when I get the chance. Johnny LA correct me if I’m wrong on this, but while a rotor in the right hands is as safe as anything else in aviation, a rotor in the wrong hands is Bad News.

Those powered parachutes (sit down and backpack models) look nice and safe, but they are extremely limited in the weather they can handle, particularly crosswinds. Yeah, more difficult to kill yourself in one than in some other aircraft but it can be done and has been done. If you have the self-discipline to fly only within their limits then, yeah, that might be the way to go. But you’ll spend lots of days on the ground waiting for the winds to die down.

Ultralights are… problematic. If you dealing with folks who know what they’re doing they’re alright. If not, they can be extremely hazardous. Can you tell the difference? I’ve been flying since 1995 and started in ultralights, and frankly there a lots of times I’m not sure if the guy in front of my really knows his stuff or just talks a good line.

So, like I said - if you’re looking for easy to fly, forgiving of mistakes (within limits), and a good safety record go with the Cessna 172. There are other single-engine 4-seat trainers available as well, so if you can’t find a C172 maybe a Piper Warrior/Cherokee type, they’re reasonably idiot-proof, too.

Well, the same can be said of any aircraft. As I mentioned in another thread, fixed-wing pilots can get into trouble when they transition to helicopters. If a fixed-wing pilot finds himself in a nose-high attitude, the natural reaction is to push the nose over. If you do this in a rotorcraft with a semi-articulated (i.e., two-blade) rotor system, the resulting reduction in gees “unloads” the rotor disc and mast bumping can occur. Mast bumping can result in the seperation of the rotor system from the aircraft or can cause a rotor blade to strike the tail boom.

Low rotor RPM is another thing to look out for. If an airplane’s wing stalls, you just recover. If a helicopter’s rotors get below the lower limit, “blowback” can occur resulting in a tail boom chop. This is the part in the R-22 POH that actually uses the word “doomed”.

In the event of an engine failure, both airplanes and helicopters require some finnesse regarding energy management. Both require that the pilot exchange altitude for airspeed or rotor RPM, and ideally the pilot works it out so that the energy runs out at the exact same time as the altitude. If an airplane is carrying too much energy on touchdown, it will be going faster than it needs to which could be problematic in an off-airport landing. This is why, except if I were over a big flat area – a dry lakebed sounds good – I would rather have a power failure in a helicopter. An airplane needs a bit of a runway to use up the remaining airspeed, which could be 50 or 60 mph. A helicopter needs a much smaller space, and the speed at touchdown is much lower – about 10 mph. If there is a good enough headwind the pilot can “zero out” the landing. That is, he touches down with zero forward movement.

On the other hand, you don’t have much choice of landing spots (you do always have a spot in sight, right?) in a helicopter. Helicopters typically fly around at 500 feet and have a relatively poor glide ratio. This is balanced out by not needing a runway. A Cessna 172 flys at thousands of feet and has – what? – a 10:1 glide ratio? That leaves the pilot more time to choose between his pre-selected emergency landing sites. But this is balanced out by the need for some run-out room.

But for a general answer to your comment: Airplanes, especially the Cessna 172 series, are very stable. Helicopters are inherently unstable. This makes them very nimble (especially the R-22) but they’re not as forgiving as a fixed-wing aircraft.

I don’t have a C172 POH handy, but the glide ratio I use as a rule of thumb is 7:1 when considering potential landing sites. It’s that old gap between theory and reality. In theory, a really fantastic pilot can eke out XXX but in reality I don’t have 20,000 hours or decades of experience so I assume that I’m not going to get 100% every time.

We don’t have dry lakebeds out here, but we do have a load of farmfields, which will certainly do in a pinch. Landing on a field with vegetation will bleed off a lot of the excess energy of a fixed wing. As I discovered last August during my first forced landing, not only is a dire emergency a strong incentive to perform at your very best, but 6 inches of hay stubble can shorten the roll out by a very significant amount.

I do fly fixed wings at under 1000 AGL, but only over areas that would afford a place to park if I needed one. Over cities, the more height the better because I really don’t want to try landing on someone’s driveway. The only real exception to this rule is flying over the city of Chicago and under O’Hare’s Class B, which can really squeeze down your choices, but I seldom do that. Too much traffic anyhow.

Anyhow, Container20 seems very concerned about having to land in a hurry. I guess I would say to him that a big chunk of learning to fly is learning to avoid bad situations in the first place so you won’t need to use the forgiving quality of your aircraft or its emergency capabilies.

Well, I planned to ask him some basic history about himself - where/when he learned to fly a helicopter, how many hours he has in this type, what are the weather or other limitations when he decides to fly or drive, can I watch when he does the pre-flight and will he tell me what he’s doing while he’s doing it, will he explain the controls to me, etc. After that it’ll probably be whatever comes into my head. I didn’t think about flying w/o the doors, but I’ll ask if it looks like they’re removeable. I haven’t actually talked to the pilot yet; we’ve played a little bit of phone tag so far. The autorotation demonstration sounds like fun. I’ll ask about it, too.

Last question of this hijack - should I ask him for a chance at the controls? I’d love to just try to hold a hover or straight level flight. Yah, I probably will - the worst that can happen is he’ll say no.

Then my roommate wasn’t in a 172 when the wing came off at about 8000’. IIRC, it was a (rental) Cessna of some sort. I’d ask him or his father, except I’d have to use a Ouija board. :frowning:

Maybe it was the 182 that Flying didn’t like. That’d be more directly comparable to the Bonanza, anyway. I’d go to the library and look it up except it’s 10:15PM on a national holiday and I’m a wanted man in most of the local libraries. (Some of them are starting to take charge cards for fines, though…)

Used to work at a place by a small airport. We used to have planes making bad, as in “a good landing is one you can walk away from,” landings in our parking lot now and then. One involving a 150 made it to the front page of the Chicago Tribune–Pops and Junior will require a supernatural communication system, too–and (here’s the gross part) it was transported to the aeroboneyard at the end of the block and stayed there in the same position for years, looking to everybody who drove by just like it did in the Trib. Extra glad I’m not in that family.

As a personal aside by a nonflyer who knows better than to think he has “the right stuff” (although any chimp can be taught to fly if he stays within his envelope and my father’s instructor was about my size and HE managed to wedge himself into a Cherokee), it sounds like the OP is not really ready to take the stick.

RalfCoder: He may let you try straight and level flight. Word of advice: Helicopters are very sensitive on the controls. You don’t horse 'em around like you do a Cessna. The helicopter didn’t show up for one of my lessons – it crashed, no injuries – so I rented a Cessna instead. Even after only a couple of lessons in the R-22, the Cessna seemed to handle like a pig. So if he lets you try straight and level, small inputs only. I doubt he’ll let you try hovering. There’s too much going on. Hover training requires using one control while the instructor uses the others until you’ve “mastered” its use, then you add another control.