Dave Rathbun, a longtime Cirrus Aircraft engineer who played a critical part in the design of the company’s piston-single-engine SR-series planes and its SF-series single-engine jets, was killed in a plane crash in Duluth, Minnesota, late last week. Rathbun, who was flying a privately owned SR22, was the only occupant, and no one on the ground was injured or killed. The FAA is investigating the crash.
The SR22, a 2016 model, had just taken off from Duluth (KDLH) just a few minutes earlier and weas heading to a nearby Superior, Wisconsin, airport, just across the Duluth River. As Rathbun neared the boundary, he was given permission by Duluth tower to change frequencies to the Superior frequency. Rathbun responded in the affirmative. It was the last known communication. In fact, the ATC audio surrounding the crash is unremarkable. Rathbun, who had thousands of hours in Cirrus airplanes, never issued an emergency call or reported any kinds of problem with the plane. The weather at the time of the crash was good with scattered clouds high above and at least 10 miles of flight visibility.
The plane, which had been at 3,000 feet after its departure from Duluth, had begun a descent when something went terribly wrong. According to flight trackers, the Cirrus was descending at more than 130 knots and around 1,850 fpm. It made contact on the frozen Duluth River, inverted, partially broke though the ice and caught on fire.
Another pilot reported the crash to ATC, and first responders were quickly on scene, but there was nothing they could do.
Rathbun’s impact on Cirrus Aircraft’s success was immense. As an engineering designer, he made critical contributions to every airplane program in the company’s history, starting with the revolutionary SR20 and continuing to present day, with the SF50 Cirrus Vision Jet, a single-engine jet that won the prestigious Collier Trophy in 2018.
After authorities released the pilot’s identity, Cirrus issued a public statement. Dave Rathbun’s, “…passing is a profound loss for the Cirrus family. His presence and character will be missed, but his legacy will be indelible. A key contributor throughout his 26 years at Cirrus Aircraft, Dave played a crucial role in the early design and certification of the SR20. Following similar work on the SR22 and SR22T, Dave was instrumental in the development and successful entry into service of the SF50 Vision Jet.