Homebuilt’s first flight ends before it begins

These September 2003 Accident Reports are provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, they are intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Kitfox Lite Squared.

Location: Homedale, Idaho.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The aircraft had received its temporary experimental airworthiness certificate on the morning of the accident, and this was to be its first flight. The pilot had no experience in the make or model of the aircraft. When the temporary certificate was issued, the FAA inspector told the pilot not to take off on runway 31 until the required 40 hours had been flown off the aircraft since that would take the airplane over the town of Homedale, a congested area. The pilot made the decision to take off on runway 13, although there was a left quartering tailwind of about 10 knots, gusting to around 15 knots. Although the pilot was aware he was taking off with a tailwind, he did not want to wait until the wind died down or shifted. Just after liftoff near the end of the runway, a gust of wind elevated the left wing so severely the tip of the right wing scraped the runway surface. During the pilot’s attempt to recover control of the aircraft, it mushed into the runway surface with sufficient force to result in substantial damage. During the investigation, it was determined that the pilot had never before flown this make and model aircraft.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate compensation for winds and his failure to maintain airspeed above stalling speed just as the aircraft was becoming airborne during the takeoff roll. Factors included a gusty quartering tailwind, and the pilot’s preflight decision to take off in the downwind direction, and the pilot’s total lack of experience in this make and model aircraft.

Aircraft: Lancair 360.

Location: Vancouver, Wash.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: During the initial climb out from a grass runway, the pilot noticed a puff of smoke coming from the front of the aircraft. Speculating that he had an engine fire, he decided to return to the field for a precautionary landing. He made a 180° turn toward the airport and reduced power. As he neared the field, he pushed the throttle forward to arrest the rate of descent, but the engine would not respond. Unable to glide to the runway, he set up for landing on a road. He successfully flew over the top of a car and touched down on the pavement, but was unable to stop before colliding with the rear of a garbage truck. The aircraft caught fire. Because of the fire the engine and associated wiring and hoses were too badly damaged to determine the source of the reported smoke and loss of power. Several witnesses told investigators that they saw smoke trailing from the airplane during the short flight.

Probable cause: Loss of engine power for undetermined reasons during the initial climb. Collision with a vehicle during landing was a factor.

Aircraft: Piper Cherokee Six.

Location: Factoryville, Penn.

Injuries: 2 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The instrument rated pilot was cleared by air traffic control to execute the published VOR instrument approach at the destination airport. Witnesses noted the weather was foggy with forward visibility ranging from zero to 100 feet. One witness told investigators he heard the airplane fly over the airport with a low engine rpm, followed by an increase in rpm and then there was the sound of trees breaking. The airplane crashed 100 yards northwest of the runway. The published inbound course for the VOR approach was 309°, and the minimum descent altitude was 1,860 feet msl. The published weather minimums included a 600-foot ceiling and one-mile visibility. A handheld GPS receiver was found in the wreckage. Information downloaded from the receiver revealed that the entire flight was recorded. According to the recording, the last minute of the recording revealed that the airplane was headed 299°, then initiated a turn to a heading of 017° as it flew over the runway. The aircraft had descended from an altitude of 2,000 feet to 1,268 feet msl before the data ended. Two instrument approach plates, one Jeppesen, the other NOS for the VOR or GPS-A instrument approach, were found in the wreckage. On the backside of the Jeppesen approach plate was an airport diagram of the airport. A review of the diagram revealed the trees located along the northwestern boundary of the airport were at an elevation of 1,287 feet. The published airport elevation was 1,209 feet msl.

Probable cause: The pilot’s improper in-flight decision to descend below the published minimum descent altitude while executing a non-precision approach in instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in collision with trees.

Aircraft: Ercoupe 415-C.

Location: Rome, Ga.

Injuries: 2 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: Witnesses on the ground heard the airplane’s engine sputtering but said it appeared to be in a controlled, turning descent before disappearing from view. The witnesses assumed the pilot was attempting to land in a field. The airplane was found inverted in a hilly pasture about three feet from a fresh ground crater that contained fragments from the wooden propeller. There was no evidence of airframe, flight control or engine malfunction. However, examination of the fuel pump revealed some white corrosion coating on the inside of the pump and screen, and some corrosion was found on the inside of the domed pump top cover. Water was found in the fuel.

Probable cause: A loss of engine power due to fuel system contamination.

Aircraft: Cessna 140.

Location: Edwardsburg, Mich.

Injuries: 1 Fatal.

Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: Witnesses said the airplane was flying low over a lake on a clear day. As the airplane banked to the right, its right wing tip struck a power transmission line that spanned the lake. The aircraft entered a spin, then hit the water.

Probable cause: The pilot not maintaining altitude/clearance from the power line during his low level cruise.

Aircraft: Cessna 210.

Location: San Antonio, Texas.

Injuries: None.

Aircraft damage: Minor.

What reportedly happened: The 3,806-hour pilot was on approach for landing. He was cautioned to keep his speed up because there was a cargo jet following him. There was also a cargo jet landing ahead of him. The pilot told investigators he was concentrating on keeping his speed up and noting where the aircraft he was following touched down so that he could land beyond it. As a result, he did not follow the prelanding checklist and forgot to lower the landing gear. The Cessna landed with the landing gear retracted. The airplane slid to a stop, then caught fire.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to comply with the checklist resulting in a wheels up landing. Contributing to the accident was self-induced pressure to maintain speed and land beyond the touch down point of the other aircraft.

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