The crash of a BD-5 on Saturday 25 July, that resulted in the death of its experienced pilot, Howard Cox, may have resulted from an onboard fire.

Cox, who was planning an appearance in his BD-5 at the Foynes Air Show in Limerick on Sunday 26th, kept the aircraft, the only one that was currently flying in Europe, at Waterford Aero Club in Killowen, although he lived in Devon. He had displayed the home-built single-seater at a number of Irish airshows over the years, including the Shannon Air Display the weekend before.

Gerry Humphreys, Director of the Foynes Air Show, who was flying behind Cox just before the accident happened, told The Irish Times: “As I left [the airfield] the guy in the tower said he was coming back with a fire. I moved out of the way and, as I looked ahead, I could see what appeared to be the impact.”

He paid tribute to the pilot saying: “He was a good guy, very unassuming, an underestimated talent in aviation and engineering circle.”

Cox’s friend and fellow aviator, Geoff Jones says: “Howard was a very skilled pilot and had total faith in the Bede BD-5 he built and flew – in Ireland because the UK authorities would not approve the design.”

The BD-5 came to the attention of the general public when a version with a jet engine featured in the opening sequences of the James Bond film Octopussy, but it had mixed reviews in aviation circles. The CAA refused the BD-5 a Permit to Fly, which Cox, who was passionate about the aircraft, appealed in 2000. However, the appeal was turned down stating: “The accident record of the BD-5 is at the heart of this case. The position of the officials of the CAAZ/SRG is that… the record is so bad that a permit to fly ought not to be granted…

“Out of a maximum total of aircraft which have flown of 300, there have been 81 reported incidents and accidents which have caused 22 fatalities and 15 serious injuries. The officials’ view was this this is a quite exceptionally bad accident rate…

“Mr Cox explained that his BD-5 had 46 points of change from the original BD-5 design, many of which were minor, but at least two of which, namely the wings and the engine to be fitted together with its installation, were significant… [his aircraft had a 110hp twin-rotor rotary engine].

“On the basis of our findings, our decision therefore is to uphold and confirm the refusal by CAA officials of the applications of a permit to fly made by each of the appellants in this case.”

Pilot’s flight tester, Bob Grimstead, tested the BD-5 for the magazine in June 2007 and enjoyed the experience. He says: “The BD-5 I flew had the longest-span wings, with the most drooped Riblett aerofoil, and was powered by the most reliable engine installation, that of the Nissan MA09ERT, but without its turbocharger and intercooler, and reducing supercharger boost from fifteen to eight psi to increase reliability.

“The final paragraph of my air test article sums up my impressions: ‘I can only say that, despite initial misgivings, I was mightily impressed with this little aeroplane, which is better sorted, with superior control and stabilities than most production machines, peerless visibility, and matchless performance and economy.’

“Its one significant failing is that it pitches up after engine failure. If you don’t catch the pitch-up within two seconds (the FAA’s assumed fit, professional pilot’s reaction time) you can’t prevent it stalling. Depending on span and aerofoil, stall recovery takes around 500 feet. After that it’s fine, if you’re still above ground.

“Considering the lack of protecting structure ahead of its pilot, I did later calculate the BD-5’s impact energy to be more than five times that of a glider of similar weight and cockpit structure, merely on the basis of its higher stalling speed. Because of that I didn’t buy one, although I had really wanted to after flying it.”

Following the accident the holding of the Foynes Air Display was in question, but it went ahead at the request of Howard Cox’s family. The pre-display briefing was an emotional one and there was a minute’s silence held at the beginning of the show. The organiser’s dedicated the day’s display to Cox.

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