Cirrus Aircraft Engineer Killed in Accident

The death of David Rathbun, the chief engineer for the Cirrus SF50 jet program, is “a profound loss for the Cirrus family,” the company said.

Rathbun was killed when the Cirrus SR22, similar to the aircraft shown here, that he was flying went down in West Duluth, Minnesota on February 24. [Courtesy: Cirrus Aviation]

Chief engineer for the Cirrus SF50 jet program, David Rathbun, died February 24 when his Cirrus SR22 went down in the St. Louis River near Grassy Point in West Duluth, Minnesota.

According to reports, the accident occurred around 4 p.m., shortly after Rathbun took off from the Duluth International Airport (KDLH). Preliminary data from shows the 2016 SR22 registered as N929DR reached a speed of 181 knots and an altitude of 2,975 feet. The last known contact was made at just over 1,000 feet and showed the aircraft at 128 knots. Weather at the time of the accident was reported as VFR. 

Rathbun was the sole occupant on board.

Eyewitness accounts say it appeared the aircraft had skidded across the ice before becoming partially submerged. Multiple agencies responded to the scene.

Cirrus released a statement Monday afternoon stating the company is in close contact with Rathbun’s family, and their thoughts and prayers are with them at this time.

“His passing is a profound loss for the Cirrus family. His presence and character will be missed, but his legacy will be indelible," Cirrus said in the statement. "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.”

Since joining Cirrus in 1996, Rathbun held a number of positions with the aircraft manufacturer, including engineering flight test pilot. He held a master’s degree in engineering from Louisiana Tech.

In a social media post, David’s brother, Daniel Rathbun, called him a “brilliant” engineer and credited him for being instrumental in the design of the Cirrus single-engine jet that recently won the coveted Robert J. Collier Trophy bestowed each year by the National Aeronautic Association. “David was indeed a gifted mover and shaker in the aviation world and will be horribly missed,” Daniel said.

The FAA and NTSB are currently investigating the accident. Preliminary reports typically take around two weeks, while final NTSB reports could take more than a year to identify the cause. Cirrus says it is fully engaged in supporting all authorities but will not comment on the accident details or speculate about the cause in respect to those involved.

The accident comes just two days after an FAA airworthiness directive was released affecting thousands of U.S. aircraft concerning safety with Continental engines. However, based on its serial number, the aircraft involved in Rathbun’s accident was not impacted by the AD.

Earlier this month, prior to the FAA’s AD, Cirrus temporarily grounded aircraft manufactured in the last two years because of suspected issues with engines manufactured by Continental.  

“Cirrus Aircraft continues to operate without restriction all its SR20s, as well as SR22s and SR22Ts manufactured before June 1, 2021, or after February 7, 2023,” noted the company in a February 9 statement.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia WalshContributor
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

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