Aerobatic airplane malfunctions

This April 2010 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.

Aircraft: Rocket F1. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Borrego Springs, Calif. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: The pilot, age 58, held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane ratings. He was practicing aerobatics in preparation for a local aerobatic competition.

At the time of the accident, he had a total flight time of 1,268.7 hours, of which 10.2 were within the preceding 30 days of the accident. A witness on the ground was watching the pilot’s practice sessions and monitoring his radio communications. According to the witness, the pilot flew into the designated aerobatic box and performed an aerobatic sequence twice. The pilot completed a spin, exited the box, then requested to repeat a maneuver.

He reentered the aerobatic box at an altitude between 2,700 and 3,000 feet AGL. The airplane was in a 30° to 35° nose-down descent when the pilot transmitted that the airplane was out of control because he did not have back stick. A few seconds later, the witness heard another transmission telling the pilot to use the airplane’s trim to recover from the dive. The pilot responded “there is no trim.” The airplane crashed nose-first into the ground.

The post-accident examination revealed that the elevator flight control system had numerous breaks consistent with structural overload. The front and rear control sticks were found separated from their control columns. Examination of the front control stick revealed that it was fractured in overstress due to cantilever bending just above the control column fitting, the fracture initiated at a 0.22-inch diameter hole drilled into the front wall of the stick tube. The upper portion of the front control stick was not located.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inability to maintain control due to the in-flight failure and separation of the pilot’s flight control stick. The reason for the flight control stick failure could not be determined.

For more information: NTSB Identification: WPR10LA195


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