Col. Robert F. Overmyer Dies in Test Flight for Cirrus

Col. Robert F. Overmyer, a former space shuttle commander with 8,000 hours of flight experience died Friday, 22 March 1996, when the experimental aircraft he was testing crashed near Duluth.

Overmyer, an ace U.S. Marine pilot who flew two flawless NASA space shuttle missions, died around 12:30 p.m. when the airplane crashed into a snowy wooded area about six miles north of Duluth International Airport. The plane stalled and went into a spin, said one of Overmyer's daughters, Carolyn. Overmyer was wearing a parachute and tried to bail out.

"I guess he had the door open, but he couldn't get out. He was in full pilot gear," Carolyn Overmyer said. "He was obviously trying to escape."

She said she was given that information by the Duluth aviation firm that contracted with Overmyer for test pilot services, Cirrus Design Corp. An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board was en route to the crash site Friday afternoon to help determine an official cause.

Overmyer was the only person aboard the five-seat plane. The Cirrus VK-30 did not explode or burn, but appeared to crash nose-first into the ground.

Under normal conditions, the VK-30 is able to glide without engine power. But test flights, which can involve sharp turns and other extreme maneuvers, don't qualify as normal conditions.

"I'm sure he had meticulously done his job, and the plane just didn't cooperate," said Carolyn Overmyer, who often flew with her father. "He loved to fly, and he loved being a test pilot. He loved pushing the envelope," she said. "But he didn't take any unnecessary risks."

Col. Overmyer and his wife, Katherine (Kit), have three children: daughters Carolyn, 29, of Clear Lake Shores, Texas; Patricia, 27, of Woodlands, Texas; and Robert, 25, of Manhattan Beach, Ca.

Overmyer had been working for Cirrus on a contractual basis since November 1995, testing the SR-20.

Cirrus stopped selling the VK-30 in 1993, but the company continued to monitor the plane's performance and stayed in touch with all owners. Recently, the company decided there was a potential problem with some of the materials in the VK-30's wings and the company decided to move toward replacing them.

The VK-30 in which Col. Overmyer died had never flown before Tuesday, 19 March 1996. The kit plane was owned by Cirrus, but had never been completely assembled until recently, and it had the newer model of wings for the test flights. Another VK-30 crashed in Illinois a couple of years ago, killing two people.

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