McSpadden, legendary pilot, crashes


A well-known leader in aviation died in a plane crash on Oct. 1 near the Lake Placid Airport in New York: Richard McSpadden, 63, was senior Vice President for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and was a highly regarded air safety expert.

Reports say that he was in the right seat of a Cessna 177RG Cardinal. In the left seat was former New England Patriots tight end Russ Francis, also a pilot. The plane had lifted off when an emergency caused the men to turn it around and return to the airport. But the plane crashed into some trees on the way back. Both men survived the crash initially but died shortly afterwards, according to reports from those on the ground.

McSpadden was no stranger to Alaska and the flying community of the Last Frontier. He visited the state frequently and was a panelist for the 2019 NTSB summit on safety in Alaska. This year, he gave a presentation at the the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s 2023 Great Alaska Aviation Gathering in the Mat-Su Valley, during which he talked about how the mind works under duress.

According to his biography on AOPA’s website, he was a native of Panama City, Florida, and started flying as a teenager, eventually logging over 5,000 hours flying a variety of civilian and military aircraft. McSpadden was a commercial pilot, CFII, MEI with SES, MES ratings and a 525S (Citation Jet Single Pilot) type rating. He taught his son to fly, instructed his daughter to solo in their Piper Super Cub, previously owned a 1950 Navion that was in his family for almost 40 years, and recently owned a 1993 Piper Super Cub.

McSpadden earned a degree in economics from the University of Georgia, and a master of public administration from Troy University. He was a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Air War College.

Prior to joining AOPA, McSpadden had a successful career in the information technology industry, leading large, geographically dispersed operations providing business-critical IT services. McSpadden also served in the Air Force for 20 years, including the prestigious role of commander and flight leader of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team where he led over 100 flight demonstrations, flying the lead aircraft, AOPA wrote.


  1. Another attempted turn-around after lifting off, where elevation drop happens so quickly the plane rarely gets back safely on the tarmac. The reason most of these pilots attempt a turn-around after power failure is because they don’t want to ruin their beautiful aircraft. The retractable-gear Cardinal is a very nice aircraft. But not being alive is the price they pay for trying to save the plane. Better to land straight ahead and ruon the aircraft, but walk away. RIP

  2. Every air emergency is different, but I was taught
    in flight school well over 50 years ago not to return
    to the airport after take off in an emergency, although
    I did see a Cessna 182 return to the airport with a
    dead engine, he missed the airport fence by about
    a foot or so and made it back OK.

    • BN,
      That 182 you mentioned had enough altitude to negotiate the return without power. There are no CV recorders on small private aircraft, but I can only imagine what two highly season pilots were saying on the attempted return of the 177RG. I’m sure they were fighting each other for control of the aircraft, right to the end.

  3. Rule at Wien was below 500 feet straight ahead . No turns below 500 and I would add no power reductions below 500 feet . When the Chief pilot of the bush implemented this rule , they quit wrecking planes instantaneously. The numbers did not lie . May these two fine passionate aviators Rest In Peace !

  4. I’ll bet NTSB? will find the pilot didn’t do a complete walk-around. I’ll coin a new cause for reason to crash—Pilot ARROGANCE. Don’t need to fly by the Book. Arrogance will keep you Aloft.

  5. Making a 180 degree turn in a 177 Cessna Cardinal when during climb out the engine quits at 500’ above ground and then lining up with the runway in the opposite would be impossible. Doing it in a Super Cub might be a different story with a skilled pilot.
    It’s shocking how fast a plane like the 177 without power loses altitude and when making a turn the decent rate becomes even greater. The result is generally a stall where the plane ends up hitting the ground nose first. A pretty sure way of getting killed.
    I was always trained that when the engine quits shortly after lift off and less than 700 ft above the ground to pick the best place on the ground generally in front of me and fly the plane all the way into the crash while under control. And in one case it actually happened. It was expensive. But I was able to do something that most who try to stretch their glide and end up stalling and nosing in can’t do: pay for the repairs to the plane.

  6. What happened with the Chechen billionaire biting the dust? Guess Alaska isn’t a great place to ski…

    • Dan: I never said Wien had any 177 RG’s. My point was simply that there is a time to make the turn back to the runway and a time to take your medicine. I am
      Pretty sure that there was no plane operated by Wien that suffered an engine failure on takeoff at 500 AGL while climbing and successfully made the turn back to the runway. And I am also sure that none of the single engine planes you have experience with ( Beavers, Cessna 206’s ) could have successfully made the turn back before impacting the ground.
      What planes were you referring to under Wien’s policy?

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