Low-level aerobatics kill two

This May 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: Yak-52. Injuries: 2 Fatal. Location: Jensen Beach, Fla. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.

What reportedly happened: After takeoff from a nearby airport, the 442-hour pilot commenced a series of aerobatic maneuvers at low altitude along a beach.

A review of photographs provided to the NTSB by the local sheriff’s office and the FAA revealed that the before the accident the airplane had been flying with the landing gear in the down position. Review of the Yak 52 Pilots Operating Handbook, however, specified that after takeoff the pilot should “Retract the landing gear and climb away at 90 knots” and to “Check for gear up indication” before beginning aerobatics.

Witnesses observed the airplane flying along the beach about 100 yards offshore in a northerly direction, descending from approximately 300 feet to approximately 50 feet above the water. It then entered a very abrupt and steep turn to the northeast, heading straight up while continuing to turn until it rolled out on a westerly heading toward a cluster of condominiums that lined the beach. The airplane once again made a sharp turn to the right, then pitched up sharply until it was upside down. It then pitched down, hitting the water nose first.

Both the FAA and the International Aerobatic Club consider the minimum altitude for aerobatic maneuvers to be 1,500 feet AGL. The pilot was well below this altitude when he began the maneuvers.

Investigators determined that the extended landing gear would have affected the airplane’s performance and would have made it slower to respond to the pilot’s inputs. This, in combination with his decision to commence the aerobatic maneuvers at low altitude, resulted in his inability to recover before hitting the water.

Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to perform an aerobatic maneuver at a low altitude, which resulted in insufficient clearance from the water to conduct a recovery. Contributing to the accident was the airplane’s extended landing gear, which resulted in a degradation of the airplane’s performance.

For more information: NTSB.gov. NTSB Identification: ERA10LA266



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