Monday, April 16, 2018

SZD-48 Jantar Standard 2, N456RM: Fatal accident occurred April 14, 2018 near La Belle Municipal Airport (X14), Hendry County, Florida

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Miramar, Florida

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board

Location: LaBelle, FL
Accident Number: ERA18FA128
Date & Time: 04/14/2018, 1540 EDT
Registration: N456RM
Aircraft: S.Z.D. SZD 48 JANTAR STD 2
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On April 14, 2018, about 1540 eastern daylight time, an SZD-48 Jantar Standard 2 glider, N456RM, was substantially damaged when it entered a descent and collided with the ground during the initial climb from La Belle Municipal Airport (X14), La Belle, Florida. The private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the private pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local flight.

According to witnesses that assisted the pilot in assembling the glider prior to the flight, they stated the assembly was normal. After affixing the wings to the fuselage, the pilot prepared for launch. The glider was attached to the tow rope of the tow airplane and positioned on the runway.

According to the tow pilot, he had towed the pilot's glider for the past five years and spoke highly of the pilot's abilities. He said that he and the glider pilot were in radio communication prior to takeoff. The tow pilot said the pilot requested a "left break" after takeoff, which was precautionary, in the event the tow rope broke on climb out. The tow pilot was not concerned with this request since the winds were aligned with the active runway. The pilot also requested to be towed up to "3,000 ft above the field before release" and the tow pilot acknowledged. During the climb out, about 200 ft above ground level (agl), the tow pilot noticed that the tow rope had a lot of slack, which did not seem normal. He also said that the glider was "moving around a lot more than he was accustomed too." The tow pilot started a shallow turn to the right to keep the airplane upwind and to "take up the slack in the tow rope." After this maneuver the glider did not reduce the slack out of the line, which effected the glider's airspeed. At 400 ft agl the glider encountered a thermal and began to climb rapidly while lifting the tail of the tow airplane. The tow pilot was about to release the glider when it released from the tow rope. The tow pilot continued in straight level flight to avoid the glider, and when he was far enough away to look back he noticed that the glider was about 200 ft below the tow airplane in a spin. The glider continued in a spin until it collided with the ground.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the glider pilot held an air transport pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single and multi-engine land, glider, and instrument airplane. He reported a total flight experience of 25,000 hours including 71 hours during the last 6 months, on his FAA third-class medical certificate application, dated May 18, 2017. A review of the pilot's logbook record revealed that it was his third glider logbook. The logbook revealed that the pilot had carried over 399.1 hours of total flight time in gliders. Further review showed that the pilot had accumulated a total of 42.4 hours in the accident glider.

According to FAA records, the glider was manufactured in 1981 as a one-seat standard class high-performance glider. It was made of glass-fiber reinforced epoxy resin.

At 1535, the recorded weather at Immokalee Regional Airport (IMM), Immokalee, Florida, about 18 nautical miles north of the accident site, included wind from 160° at 11 knots, 10 statute miles visibility and clear skies. The temperature was 34° C, the dew point was 14° C, and the altimeter setting was 29.98 inches of mercury.

Examination of the accident site revealed that the glider came to rest in a cow pasture about 1/2 mile southeast of the airport. The glider was orientated on a 030° magnetic heading, with the debris field extending from the initial impact crater out to 75 ft. All flight control surfaces were accounted for at the accident site.

Examination of the fuselage revealed the cockpit hull was fragmented aft of the wing attachment assembly, and all flight controls and pushrods were exposed. The aileron pushrods were traced back to the quick locks aft of the wing spars. Both quick locks were intact and did not show signs of damage. The airbrake control was traced to the airbrake assembly in the fuselage, and when manipulated, it rotated the airbrake tubes within the fuselage. The elevator pushrod was traced back to the empennage and when moved revealed continuity. The empennage was broken away from the fuselage and impact damaged. The pushrods for the elevator and rudder were impact damaged.

Examination of the left wing revealed the leading edge of the wing exhibited crush damage. The wing remained intact throughout the span of the wing. The aileron control tube was manipulated, and continuity was established to the aileron. The attachment fitting on the aileron control tube that was connected to the quick lock in the fuselage was impact damaged. The left wing was partially attached to the fuselage, displaced forward and impact damaged at the wing root. The wing was equipped with an airbrake system. Examination of the airbrake revealed that it was in the extended position. When the airbrake control tube was rotated, the airbrake retracted.

Examination of the right wing revealed the outboard section of the wing was fragmented and the aileron was broken away from the attachment points. The aileron control tube was manipulated, and continuity was established to the aileron attachment fitting. The attachment fitting that connected to the quick lock in the fuselage was impact damaged. The right wing was partially attached to the fuselage and impact damaged at the wing root. Examination of the airbrake revealed that it was in the stowed position. The airbrake control tube was rotated and the airbrake deployed. The control tube was broken at the gear fitting at the wing root. The control tube was removed and retained for further examination at the NTSB Materials laboratory.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: S.Z.D.
Registration: N456RM
Model/Series: SZD 48 JANTAR STD 2 1
Aircraft Category: Glider
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: IMM, 37 ft msl
Observation Time: 1535 EDT
Distance from Accident Site: 18 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 34°C / 14°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 11 knots, 160°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.98 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: LaBelle, FL (X14)
Destination: LaBelle, FL (X14)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude:  26.727778, -81.420556

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

Tom Irlbeck, a lifelong lover of aviation, died in a glider crash Saturday, April 14. He logged more than 30,000 hours flying. He was an avid outdoorsman with two sons, five grandchildren and married to Katy Irlbeck for 48 years.

Tom Irlbeck taught his oldest son Jon how to fly when he was 14. Jon Irlbeck, 48, will continue his dad's flying legacy as a commercial airline pilot.

Tom Irlbeck, who split his later years between Wisconsin and Florida, built this RV-8, a single-engine, low-wing plane. He then painted it in Navy colors and flew it frequently.

Tom Irlbeck, who became a Cape Coral winter resident in 2003, was an original 'Top Gun' instructor and flew almost 200 combat missions in Vietnam.

Thomas “Tom” Irlbeck, an original “Top Gun” instructor who often saw the world from a higher place, lived and died doing his lifelong passion of flying.

A winter Cape Coral resident since 2003, Tom Irlbeck, 74, flew often, and he flew almost everywhere and in almost every type of airplane.

He flew almost 200 missions for the U.S. Navy in the F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber jet during the Vietnam War, stationed on the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier.

He flew up the ranks after the war, becoming one of the 18 original instructors at the Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program in Miramar, California. It became known as “Top Gun” and was portrayed in the 1986 Tom Cruise movie.

Irlbeck flew for several commercial airlines, including Northwest Airlines as an A320 jet airliner captain. He later built his own airplane, an RV-8, a single-engine, low-wing plane. It had 20,000 rivets in it. He flew that, too.

He flew often with his oldest son, Jon, in a Cessna 180. They would land on various ice lakes in Minnesota, carrying a portable ice fishing tent for their winter adventures.

In November, he became the first to fly a friend’s custom-built plane, reminiscent of a 1930s-era WACO biplane, one of the first models of its kind.

Irlbeck's family and friends expressed shock over his death April 14 in a glider crash. Irlbeck's glider, the SZD-48 Jantar Standard 2, crashed at 3:30 p.m. that Saturday near Helms Road and Forrey Drive in LaBelle. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. Friends and family are convinced the cause could not have been pilot error.

“Everybody was stunned, because he was such a precise flier,” said Katy Irlbeck, Tom’s wife of 48 years.

“He was kind of larger than life,” said Doug Weiler, a longtime friend and fellow pilot in Irlbech’s northern home in Wisconsin. “He had quite a reputation up in this area. He did a lot of rides. He did a fair amount of flight instructing in this area for people building the RV plane like we did. I think at one point in time, he tested almost 40 different airplanes of different types for different people.”

Katy and Tom Irlbeck met when they both served in the Navy.

“He loved teaching the kids," she said. "He was very kind, very nice and very intense. He knew right from wrong. He knew the way he wanted things done. He didn’t back down at all.”

Katy Irlbeck said he pushed his fighter pilot students, “the best of the best,” to get even more out of them.

“He didn’t give them any leeway,” she said. “He had a good time with them.”

When the movie “Top Gun” came out in 1986, it gave Irlbeck's children a different glimpse of the man they called Dad. By then, he was flying commercially.

“I didn’t even understand that he did that until the movie came out,” said Jon Irlbeck, Tom’s oldest son, 48, and a commercial pilot for 24 years. His dad taught him to fly when he was 14. His first flying memory with his father included his brother, Kevin. They were 7 and 4 at the time. Jon sat in the front and Kevin in the back of the plane.

“He was doing these over-the-hill maneuvers,” Jon Irlbeck said. “My brother’s in the backseat, three years younger than me. You get a little weightless in your seat. You kind of float against your seat belt a little bit. Like astronaut training.

“I was a little bit nervous, and my brother thought it was the greatest thing in the whole wide world. And I ended up becoming a pilot, and he ended up losing interest.

“I think he was probably hoping that one of us would want to be a pilot, but he made it very clear that we had to want to do it ourselves. I think it was just the spirit of adventure in your life. Do you want to spend it in an office? Or do you want to be out and about and experiencing it through the air and being a part of the atmosphere. It just seemed normal to me from my earliest years.”

Bill Bresnan, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 66 in Fort Myers, spent 10 years building a 1930s-era biplane, one he named after his granddaughter, Lillian Rose. Tom Irlbech logged 33.7 hours between October and January becoming the first to test-fly it for his friend.

“He worked out all the bugs and things,” Bresnan said. “I was heavily honored. He was willing to risk his life on my plane. I was just honored that he would trust my craftsmanship. It goes back to the roots of aviation. Knowing that this was the end of life, he got to experience the earliest days of aviation.

“That was the 50th test flight he’s done. My plane was the 18th different type of plane that he’s flown. I learned so much from him already. I was hoping to learn so much more from him. He spent more time in the air than on the ground. He had like 30,000 hours of flying time. That’s unheard of.”

Added up, the time amounts to 3.4 continuous years of flying.

Kevin Irlbeck, 45, veered away from the pilot career path. He is a medical device representative in Minnesota. He flew to be with his mom, family and friends so he could attend the celebration of his dad’s life at 5 p.m. Saturday at the EAA Building at Page Field in Fort Myers.

“He was just a passionate outdoorsman,” Kevin Irlbeck said. “Fishing, hunting, biking, boating.”

The Irlbeck family had an airstrip and a hangar within sight of their backyard in Somerset, Wisconsin, where they lived from 1970-2015. Tom and Katy Irlbeck had been spending their recent summers in Bayport, Minnesota, but he still had a hangar in Osceola, Wisconsin, from where he flew his glider.

The Irlbeck's Cape Coral winter home has a canal and a boat behind the backyard. Tom Irlbeck organized neighborhood bike rides throughout Cape Coral when he wasn’t flying or boating. But his eyes often were looking upward.

Whenever Bresnan and Irlbeck drove to the Punta Gorda Airport together, Bresnan said he often noticed Irlbeck looking out the window at birds navigating through air patterns and the surrounding clouds.

“If there’s any reincarnation, he’s going to ask to come back as an eagle or something,” Bresnan said. “He just loved being in the air.”

Donations in Tom Irlbeck’s name can be made to the EAA Chapter 66 Hangar Fund, P.O. Box 60204, Fort Myers, Florida, 33906.

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