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The First of a Breed

Near California City, California

April 3rd, 1980

The Brainchild of Genius...

An independent design by Bill Lear in 1976, who had resigned as Chairman of Lear Jet seven years previously, the CL-600 was originally dubbed the '''LearStar 600'''. But Lear sold exclusive rights to produce and develop the design to Canadair, who renamed it the '''CL-600 Challenger'''.

While similar in general configuration to many of Lear's previous designs, several changes were made that distinguished the new aircraft from the Learjet’s, including a widened fuselage that allowed a 'walk-about cabin', a feature not shared by any other business aircraft of the time.

Ship of the Line...

The first Canadair Limited CL-600 built, serial number 1001 and registered as C-GCGR-X, began assembly in September of 1977, and proceeded to make its first flight a year later, on November 8th, 1978, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Powered by two Avco Lycoming ALF-502L turbofan engines, each with 7,500 foot-pounds of thrust, the “Challenger”, as it would later be known, had a top speed of 478 knots and a range of nearly 3,500 miles.

On the morning of April 3, 1980, C-GCGR-X, took on a test flight from Mojave Airport in California. The routine test flight was slated to evaluate the craft's reactions to stalls in various configurations.

According to statements from the surviving co-pilot and flight test engineer, the flight crew was troubleshooting a noise associated with stalls conducted during previous flight test activities. A non-scheduled stall was conducted after the scheduled testing and the plane's angle of attack, the difference between the plane's flight path and its wing's chord line, increased past the maximum allowance of 34 degrees.

All is Lost...

The flight crew lost control of the Challenger. Following the recovery procedures set in place, they were unable to regain control, going so far as to, in a last ditch effort, deploy the plane's emergency spin recovery parachute. Control was temporarily regained, but now the deployed chute fouled the flight characteristics. Unable to release the chute, with with the plane's starboard engine failing, the flight crew was forced to bail out of the doomed aircraft.

The plane impacted the desert floor near the village of Cantil at 9:10 in the morning. Unfortunately, the pilot, Eric Norman Ronaasen, was killed when his chute failed to deploy, and the copilot, Dave Gollings, received minor injuries. The flight test engineer, Bill Scott, was not injured

Months after the crash, a Canadair flight engineer examined computer information that had been available before the crash and discovered the banging was caused by an engine problem.

The NTSB, after its investigation, concluded the probable cause of the accident was a problem with the angle-of-attack indicator binding, due to a failure in the seals of the hydraulic system. It also concluded that four separate systems failures had caused the crash - three of which had plagued the twin-engined jet in earlier tests.

One of these failures, that of the plane's right engine, had occurred 11 times in the previous seven months.

The CL-600 design was certified for flight by both Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Administration in 1980, albeit with both handing over some restrictions to pilots including a limited maximum take-off weight. A large program to reduce the aircraft's weight was then implemented to improve the aircraft's range.

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This page last updated Wednesday, July 01, 2015

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