Author Background

Douglas Boyd, PhD, is a professor at the University of Texas. He is an active commercial pilot in single- and multiengine aircraft, IFR-certified, and type rated in a Citation 500. His current projects/interests focus on the causes of general aviation accidents.

Peter Dittmer, EdD, is an associate professor at Eastern New Mexico University. He is a certified airline transport pilot and Gold Seal flight instructor who has accrued 8,000 hours of flight instruction over 27 years. He has received the prestigious National Association of Flight Instructors Master Flight Instructor award on three separate occasions. His research interests include aviation safety, human factors, and flight training.


Flight training accidents constitute 14% of general aviation accidents. Herein we determined the rates, injury severity, and phase of flight for primary student solo accidents/incidents (mishaps) in Cessna 172 aircraft.

Mishaps over the period spanning 1994–2013 were identified from the NTSB database. Student population data were from the FAA. Statistics employed proportion tests, Poisson distribution, and Mann-Whitney tests.

Across the study period, 598 mishaps were identified. While the mishap rate increased nearly two-fold between 1994/1997 and 2002/ 2005, a 35% decline was evident thereafter. Nevertheless, no statistical difference in mishap rates was evident between the initial and current periods. Over 90% of mishaps resulted in no or minor injuries. However, 97% of involved aircraft incurred substantial damage and no incidents were reported. While the percentage of takeoff accidents climbed two-fold, landing accidents accounted for .70% of all mishaps and remained unchanged over the 20 years. Over one-third of landing accidents were related to excess speed. Landing speed computation for a solo flight with an average weight trainee indicated an 11 knot lower V-ref than that for a Cessna 172S at maximum weight. No statistical difference was evident between the two genders for most phases of operation, although females were overrepresented for excess speed landing accidents.

Landing accidents, one-third of which relate to excess speed, continue to challenge primary students. The importance of landing speed control, in the context of reduced aircraft weight, should receive additional emphasis in flight instruction.