By S. Clayton Moore
The people of Spectrum Aeronautical LLC and Rocky Mountain Composites, Inc. are mourning their losses. The companies are struggling in the wake of the July 25 crash of the sole prototype of the Spectrum 33 business jet. While the loss of the $3.65 million experimental aircraft is devastating, even worse is the loss of Glenn Maben, director of flight operations for California-based Spectrum, and Nathan Forrest, vice director of flight operations.
The nine-person aircraft crashed at Spanish Fork-Springville Airport in Spanish Fork, Utah, just as the plane was lifting off from Runway 30. Witnesses reported that the plane entered a right roll and immediately pin-wheeled when the right wing hit the ground.
Larry Ashton, chairman of Rocky Mountain Composites, praised the response of emergency personnel, airport authorities and the local community.
“The emergency services’ response was unbelievably rapid—from the police, fire, medical services and sheriff’s office, to the airport personnel with whom we work on a daily basis,” Ashton recalled. “It’s comforting to know that such immediate action was taken in our behalf.”
It appears that the accident was a result of misconnected wiring in the aircraft’s linkage controls. The preliminary accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board indicated that the ailerons were linked to the pilot’s control stick “in a manner that reversed the roll control.such that the left roll input from the stick would have deflected the ailerons to produce right roll of the airplane, and right roll input.would have deflected the ailerons to produce left roll of the airplane.”
Prior to the accident, the aircraft had most recently flown on June 30, 2006, but had been undergoing extensive maintenance, including removal of the main landing gear. Removal of the gear required disconnection of a portion of the linkage control systems.
Spectrum Aeronautical is waiting on the NTSB’s final accident report, as well as conducting its own investigation, but the company’s leadership commented on their personal losses in early August.
“It’s a terrible blow, and all of us are tremendously saddened by the loss of these two talented and dedicated men,” said founder Linden Blue. “Glenn and Nathan brought extraordinary expertise and professionalism to the program and will be deeply missed.”
Craig Simpson, president of Utah-based Rocky Mountain Composites, which assembled the airframe for the light business jet, said, “Every member of our team feels the impact of this event, and all of our hearts go out to the families of the flight crew.”
Despite the devastating loss, Spectrum and Rocky Mountain Composites will continue the development of the Spectrum 33 aircraft.
“We remain firmly committed to the full development of the Model 33, and expect the aircraft to move forward into aviation history,” Blue said. “Glenn and Nathan will always be remembered as pioneers in this effort.”
Glenn Maben was no stranger to the world of experimental aircraft, and his aviation career had been extraordinary.
Maben was born in Stamford, N.Y., in July 1953, and grew up around airplanes, learning to fly on his father’s grass strip. He was well-educated in aerospace development. He earned his B.A. in aerospace engineering from State University of New York at Buffalo in 1984, and a master’s in mechanical engineering from California State University at Fresno in 1997.
But he was already flying well before that. He started his formal flight training in 1971. He began his career at Grumman Aircraft Systems as a flight test engineer before moving on to Voyager Aircraft in Mojave, Calif., as a mechanic, flight test engineer and chase pilot. He later became a NASA/Dryden contract engineer, involved in designing composite structures for test aircraft.
Where does a composites expert go for fun? To Burt Rutan, naturally. In 1987, Maben joined Scaled Composites as a project engineer, flight test engineer and chase pilot.
“He was basically an engineer who became a pilot and then started working in development with Burt Rutan,” said corporate pilot Steve Martin, who flew with Maben during their work together at Adam Aircraft. “He was a great pilot—one of the best I ever worked with. He was intelligent and very knowledgeable about aerodynamics and the various aspects of aircraft.”
Glenn Maben also liked to take young pilots under his wing. In 1996, he became a research associate/test pilot and visiting lecturer for the Department of Aviation Sciences at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
“He would take pilots in and teach them what they needed to know,” Martin said. “I think he really enjoyed that aspect of his work.”
That same year, he joined RAM Aircraft in Waco as chief engineer and test pilot. He worked on the development and certification flight testing of modified engines for twin-engine Cessnas.
Perhaps his most dramatic career move was becoming chief test pilot and director of flight test operations for Adam Aircraft in 2002. There, with Martin, he performed the initial, developmental and certification flight testing for Adam’s A500 centerline twin and A700 AdamJet.
“We were basically the first test pilots at Adam Aircraft,” Martin said. “Glenn was such an asset to that company.”
Maben, survived by his wife Taunchy and three daughters, had only recently taken a position with Rocky Mountain Composites, in order to flight test the Spectrum 33.
Where Maben had experience, his young partner in the Spectrum’s flight testing had intelligence, enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn. Nathan Forrest, 25, had followed Maben from Adam Aircraft to Rocky Mountain Composites in May of this year.
“Nathan was one of the finest young men I have ever met,” said Jack Pelton, CEO of Cessna. “The entire aviation industry has lost a part of our future. He was something special.”
Forrest was a 1999 graduate of Olathe North High School in Kansas. He graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University in 2003.
Scott Miller, chairman of aerospace engineering at Wichita State University, said the young pilot was one of the sharpest pilots he had taught.
“He had a good mix,” said Miller, who had originally recommended Forrest for his job as a test pilot at Adam Aircraft. “He was pretty excited about the Spectrum 33.”
During college, Forrest was a freelance flight instructor, using aircraft on loan from Sabris Corp., a Wichita flight school.
“You could tell by his skills, enthusiasm and his interest that he was destined for an aviation career of quality,” said Dave Dewhirst, owner of Sabris, who called Forrest’s short career of flying experimental aircraft remarkable.
“They don’t let just anybody fly those,” he said.
It was an enthusiasm that he shared with Maben, his partner and mentor. Former colleague Joe Bishop, who worked with both men at Adam Aircraft, recalled Maben’s love of his craft and his family.
“I think he just loved flying,” Bishop said. “He had been in it a long time. It was his life.”
Steve Martin also recalled Maben’s happiness with a job well done and a supportive team.
“He was a good people person and a very family-oriented man,” Martin said. “He never had anything bad to say about anybody and everybody liked him. I will always remember him with a big smile on his face.”
A memorial fund has been established for Glenn Maben at the Air Academy Credit Union. To make a memorial gift, please send a check made out to the Maben Family Memorial Fund to Ed Huber, 24961 Kolstad Loop, Elbert, CO 80106. A Nathan Bedford Forrest Memorial Fund for aviation-related endeavors has also been established. Contributions may be made in care of Penwell-Gabel Funeral home, 14275 Blackbob Road, Olathe, KS 66063 or with Operation Wildlife, 23375 Guthrie, Linwood, KS 66052.