Poor performance, short flight

Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: 1 Minor. Location: Buena Vista, Colo. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The airplane lifted off at a little over 60 knots and was initially sluggish to climb, so the pilot lowered the nose to gain more speed in ground effect.

The airplane accelerated to about 70 knots and started to gain some altitude, so the pilot continued the departure. Shortly after clearing the end of the runway, the engine lost power and began to descend.

The pilot saw trees and houses ahead and realized that the airplane did not have sufficient altitude to clear them, so he decided to land in a field with deep grass just north of the airport. Upon landing the nose landing gear collapsed.

After the accident, the pilot reported that he believed that he may not have leaned the engine enough during run-up, resulting in less than 100% available power to climb. He also reported that the spark plugs may have been fouled due to the mixture setting, resulting in the loss of available power immediately after takeoff.

The plane was loaded to within 65 pounds of its maximum gross weight and with a calculated density altitude of 10,400 feet, the anticipated climb rate of 300 feet per minute required full power as outlined in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook. The pilot noted that, if there were not deep grass in the landing field, he could have landed the airplane without incident.

Probable cause: The airplane’s diminished climb performance due to the pilot not leaning the engine mixture enough prior to takeoff in high density altitude conditions and at nearly maximum gross takeoff weight.

NTSB Identification: CEN11CA678

This September 2011 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it isintended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.



  1. Mike says

    So this becomes a discussion/debate on medicals?

    Seems the FAA, like most government agencies, is determined to hang onto all the power they can over us minions no matter what the facts or statistics are. It’s a matter of kingdom building and job security to them as much as anything else.

    The reality is, and has been, many pilots are essentially ‘self-certifying’ anyway…. as in they don’t disclose medical issues to the FAA that may result in the costly hassles of the dreaded Special Issuance.

    • Tom says

      Good job. On the news tonight – airline captain dies of heart attack. You know he had a “current” medical. The medical certificate didn’t do ANYTHING to stop this sudden incapacitation. The “emperor” has no clothes and everybody is going around thinking that he’s dressed. This is a hoax perpetrated against us by a medical profession run a foul of all reason because they can get away with the idea that they are saving the public from falling airplanes. The public is so gulible. Of course they are going to believe that a physical examination is a “good thing” and it will “save” them from a dead pilot. Too bad – it doesn’t work and you and I know it.

  2. Curious George says

    This accident illustrates similar issues as with the Stinson at Bruce Meadows in June of 2012. In that case high DA – about 9,400 feet – the pilot’s eronious perception that “the engine didn’t need leaned”, a short (5,000 foot) gravel and grass runway, and near gross weight conspired with rising terrain and surrounding obstacles to quickly end the flight. The Bruce Meadows Stinson was also piloted by an older pilot who failed to recognize and correctly respond to cues that the aircraft would not perform as needed. While I’d really like to enjoy the absence of a medical, perhaps detecting cognitive issues during the biannual visit to an AME might make a useful purpose for that required exercise. Craig Fuller’s statement about 18 months ago in his monthly President’s message published in AOPA Pilot is a good summary of the problem. In essence the former AOPA President said “If a pilot is healthy enough to drive, then he’s healthy enough to fly…” Of course, that is unadulterated BS. A quick look at the NTSB accident db and associated dockets shows how far off the mark this statement, and others like it made to push the motor-flyer concept distort the issue. The public perception of GA is not particularly favorable. Well publicised accidents like this one, the Stinson at Bruce Meadows, or the one of the old dude in the mid west about five years ago who cart wheeled a C206 loaded with paying customers at a fly-in do little to encourage either the FAA or Congress to look favorably on loosening medical requirements.

    • Joseph says

      The pilots you refer to had current medicals; it just goes to show that the medial isn’t providing much benefit. Sure one could argue that without the requirement there would be more people in this situation though the numbers in the LSA world don’t substantiate that. To your point shouldn’t the biannual flight review catch cognitive issues? I think most pilots and people in general would choose to hang up their wings when they were no longer fit to fly out of self preservation, or at least choose to have a copilot. I think a biannual physical with your doctor without disclosing any medial information to the FAA should be considered as part of the self certification process. All the medical really does is convince people to cover up medical issues if fear of the FAA instead of addressing it.

      To your point of accident perception if the media covered every car accident like they do an airplane accident people wouldn’t crank their cars again. BTW I did a little research a few months ago though the numbers were hard to find and I had to fill in some blanks it appears that personal water craft (boats, jetski, etc) have a higher fatality rate than GA. I would really like to see an official number if anyone has that information.

    • Tom says

      What everyone seems to conveniently overlook is that the issue is NOT “medical” no matter how the medical profession wants you to believe that it is.

      “Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), Oklahoma City, OK from 1975-82, and other related literature to estimate the probability of incapacitation in general aviation. Data for the years studied indicate that approximately 3 accidents per 1,000 (15 per 1,000 fatal accidents) are known to result from the incapacitation of the pilot.”

      First of all, it is likely that many of those “suddenly incapacitated” accidents were NOT preventable by anything that an AME could have done about it. For example, a first massive heart attack or stroke in a pilot that has never had any prior problems.

      Secondly, this is a FREEDOM issue. The Feds are simply playing upon perceived FEARS of the public as they very simplistically are only perceptively protecting their reputation by alleging that they are “protecting” the people from falling airplanes due to suddenly incapacitated pilots. All of that is hog wash. It’s just a way of justifying MORE GOVERNMENT that takes away our freedoms.

      Thirdly, so what if there is some risk. There are risks for everything. Life is a risk. The Feds shouldn’t be allowed to get away with protecting us from all risks. So what if it’s 3 per 1000 accidents? They can’t reasonably get it to ZERO no matter what they do and thereby lies the unreasonableness of the medical certificate. SELF is the only control necessary for known deficiencies and the unknown deficiencies aren’t going to be known by either the pilot or the medical profession either.

      • Tom says

        P.S. Please note that when you subtract 3 from 1000 you get 997 accidents that DIDN”T happen because of “sudden incapacitation”. Isn’t it VERY obvious that there are VERY MUCH MORE OTHER REASONS for accidents than the less than 1% caused by a medical deficiency.

  3. says

    “the pilot reported, loaded to within 65 pounds of its maximum gross, calculated density altitude of 10,400 feet,anticipated climb rate of 300 feet per minute, required full power as outlined in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, gain more speed in ground effect,” The pilot also stated that he “may not have leaned the engine enough during run-up”, after that a successful off airport landing was made ahead of the aircraft with out trying to turn back to the airport. This sounds like someone with training or experience that simply got caught working right on the edge of the performance envelope, that is called an ACCIDENT. Perhaps the less trained pilot that did not think themselves as good at interpreting charts and determining performance levels would have thought, “I’m heavy,it’s hot, we’re high, I’m going to wait for evening or morning when it’s cool and then get out of here”. The higher trained people are, the closer to the edge they try to operate, it’s human nature, sometimes accidents just happen, this pilot did okay and kept everyone alive, he just got caught that’s all.

  4. Vaughn S. Price says

    Mooney hits it right on the nail head. I always gave new private pilots a reduced power take off to get it in their head how density altitude effects their climb rate

  5. Mooney 9242V says

    Glad there was no injury. Same question as always, which activity would have improved GA safety, the third class medical certificate or an hour of flight instruction to include high density altitude airports? Will the FAA ever learn?

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