Pilot ignores poor aircraft performance

Aircraft: Ercoupe 415-C Injuries: 1 Serious, 1 Minor. Location: Mulberry, Fla. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot did not have a valid medical certificate, which was required for the flight. He filled the airplane’s fuel tanks and flew about 45 minutes to another airport. He did not refuel.

The pilot agreed to fly a passenger, who was a student pilot, to another airport.

The passenger said he was not shown how to fasten and unfasten the seatbelt, and that the pilot did not perform a weight and balance calculation, preflight inspection or an engine run-up prior to takeoff.

The pilot taxied on to the grass runway, applied the brakes, and applied full power. He reported that the airplane accelerated, but not as fast as he thought it should have. He said that about the point when he was considering aborting the takeoff, the airplane became airborne.

It climbed to 400 feet, cleared powerlines, then began descending. The pilot maneuvered the airplane toward a clearing. The right wing hit trees and the plane hit the ground and caught fire.

The pilot exited the airplane. The passenger had difficulty unlatching his restraint because he was not familiar with it and was burned by the fire.

Based on all available data from the pilot, maintenance records, and airplane documents located in the wreckage, the airplane was near or at its maximum gross weight at the time of engine start.

Post-accident inspection of the right magneto revealed extensive heat damage, which precluded operational testing, therefore, no determination could be made as to whether there was pre-impact failure or malfunction of the right magneto.

Investigators determined that the poor acceleration during takeoff was most likely due to being near or at its maximum gross weight and operating from a grass runway.

Probable cause: The pilot’s failure to abort the takeoff after recognizing the airplane’s poor performance during the takeoff roll. Contributing to the passenger’s injuries was the pilot’s failure to provide a briefing on the use of the lap-belt, which delayed the passenger’s exit from the wreckage.

NTSB Identification: ERA12LA077

This November 2011 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.


  1. Richard says

    I found this info. So, it doesn’t matter what type of certificate or ratings you might have, it all depends on whether you have a medical. It doesn’t make much sense to me, but whatever our rulers say, we have to live by.

  2. RudyH says

    AND…when an AME does find a condition in an aviator that warrants a grounding or waiver, etc. it will always be for good cause, ESPECIALLY if a given condition has the propensity to adversely affect an aviator’s SAFE flight capabilities….what we’re talking about here gents is safe flight ops….again and over again..WE ARE NOT DOCS…we DON’T call it!!

  3. unclelar says

    What in the world does not having a current medical have to do with the accident? Why would you preflight after previously flying that day? Why would you do a weight and balance just because you had a passenger on board? Why are you including these in the narrative unless you are trying to make a point that they contributed something to the accident? Are you hard up for filling space or what? I would hate for a prospective pilot to read something silly like this.

    • Mike says

      Hmmmm, sounds like Sleep Apnea!
      Betting that pilot had a 17″ neck which caused him not to show the passenger how to unfasten the seat belt.

      (tongue firmly implanted in cheek)

  4. John says

    No valid medical, at or near gross weight!!! The passenger was a student pilot. Had he ever been in a car? I often ride in other peoples cars and perhaps I am a genius but I have always been able to fasten and remove the seatbelts. I have a 2 seat bird and I know the legal weight it can handle. I look at the passenger candidate, figure how fat he/she is (without asking) and determine the Weight, balance is not a factor as the passenger will sit in the empty seat. The pilot had filled the tanks and flown 45 minutes so he had to have about 18 gallons left. I have flown Ercoupes, love them, gets off a little quicker than a C140-150. I suspect the pilot saw the wires and prematurely raised the nose, bled off the airspeed then started to descend having the accident before the little Continental could do its job. Em….sure wish that guy had had a medical so all this would not have happened.

    • Richard says

      I agree, John. The passenger must have never flown or driven a car if he couldn’t figure out how to unfasten a seat belt. The Ercoupe 415C does not require a medical to fly, but like another poster said, if he had a medical revoked, that would preclude him flying without one. Maybe he fell asleep from lack of sleep caused by his over 17″ neck size making him having sleep apnea.

  5. Joe says

    The Scarecoup is not such a great airplane to begin with. No loss there. The pilot probably was used to hard surface runways so he was out of his element. The student pilot threw the pilot under the bus…..I hope when he grows up that always does a weight and balance before every flight. I didn’t think it took a rocket scientist to unfasten a seat belt….but I guess it does. So remember to do a runup everytime the wheels hit the earth, always do a pre-flight too. And NEVER attempt a take-off without doing a weight and balance followed by full instructions on how to unfasten a seat belt. BTW, my 6 year old figured it out on her own.

  6. Greg says

    If you want the FAA to mandate two hours of flight instruction per year, they need to find a way to pay for it. There are already too many barriers to piloting imposed by them.

    • Richard says

      I agree, Greg. They keep clamping down on us more and more. For instance, the biennial flight review that you couldn’t fail. Now they have added a bunch of requirements for an oral exsam by the instructor and now many flight instructors won’t sign off on the flight review if they feel you need more dual or they will sign it off as unsatisfactory which means you have to have another one. It has now grown into being a checkride by many instructors instead of merely a review which you can’t fail. Whatever the FAA proposes is sure to become a burden on the users of aviation. Congress needs to clean house at that bureacracy, get rid of their multitude of lawyers and start over in my opinion which isn’t going to count for anything. :)

  7. Mooney says

    If the pilot had a current medical, would the accident have occurred? The answer unfortuantely is, yes. Now, supposed we had an FAA interested in reducing accidents, what if 2 hours of actual flight instruction had been available as an alternative to a no value added medical, would the accident have occurred? One never knows, but my money is on the two hours of annual flight instruction, at least it has a chance, the medical has no chance of preventing the accident. It is important that the flight training be real, not more study of FAA airspace and procedures.

    • Tom says

      I have read several articles recently about pilots in-flight heart attacks on commercial flights. Even a six-month medical with an EKG fails to predict catastrophic illnesses. I’d be interested to see what the exams do find sometimes. How often does a medical find a surprise?

      So what good is a biannual physical for part 91 operators? The only value that I can see is that it does force us to address issues like high blood pressure and such, if we want to keep flying. I don’t see that as a safety of flight item though, just a general health thing.

      • Richard says

        Tom, on our airline, we had a pilot who had just had an ekg and died of a heart attack walking out of the doctor’s office. Its all a bunch of BULL!!!!!

        • Doctor Pilot says

          A normal EKG does not preclude a heart attack and I question its value as a screening test. Remember that passenger/pilot who landed a King Air in Florida when his pilot had a cardiac arrest mid flight? If we are going to limit every person with diabetes from flying (for fear of altered mental status from hypoglycemia), then why in the world are we comfortable at the same time with those same millions of people behind the wheel? I suspect there is little or no clinical evidence to support much of this. I won’t even go into the hypocracy of Light Sport!

    • Greg W says

      The question of a medical is in relation to the operators willingness to follow the rules. A medical was not required in this aircraft as it meets the sport pilot rules. The pilot was flying as a sport pilot there by not requiring a medical. The problem with the medical is that the pilot last had a special issuance that he did not fulfill the requirements of, it was then revoked. Once a medical is revoked the “drivers license” medical route is not valid. that the pilot would knowingly violate the rules regarding the medical speaks to the attitude towards all regulations and operating standards in the eyes of the FAA. If the care had been taken by the pilot to assure the validity of the medical certification, by whatever means, would he also have checked weight more closely, the field conditions, the passenger briefing? That is how the medical matters and these are what will be the focus of the civil suit that likely was the end result of this unfortunate chain of events.

      • Sarah A says

        The medical situation is almost a Catch-22. If you take the test and fail you are locked out of Sprot Pilot. If you do not take the test then Sport Pilot is allowed. So if the medical is doubtful why risk being locked out of Sport Pilot. I would imagine the pilot was as disgusted with this hypocracy as I am and did what would have been completely legal if he had never stepped into that AME’s office. I would love to try for a special issuaance 3rd class so I can have my Night/IFR privlidges reinstated but the potential for loss of all flying privlidges is to much to of a risk. Contempt for a rule that oozes with hypocracy and burocratic BS is hardly a negative when assessing this accident.

        • Greg W says

          I agree with the catch-22 about the S.P. medical requirements. I was simply trying to point out that the NTSB report sated that the pilot had a special issuance medical but had it revoked rather than it having expired. We must all work the “grey area” of these rules while trying to get some semblance of fairness and logic back into the rules. Like you said if you have a doubt don’t try for the med. cert., plausible deniability is gone once the aeromedical branch says “no”.

        • Richard says

          Sarah, If you have at least a private license and an instrument rating, there is nothing that I know of that would stop you from flying an aircraft that meets Light Sport Rules, that is, 1320 lbs. max gross and 126 knots. The restriction against night and IFR pertains to a pilot that has a Light Sport Certificate, not a pilot with a Private certificate or better who is flying an aircraft that meets LSA Rules if that aircraft is equipped for night and instrument flight. I may be wrong, but if if I am, someone please show me the regulation that states that Sarah can’t fly night or instrument, because I’m having trouble finding it. :)

          • says

            I think you missed the detail, that Sahra does not have a current Medical, and would need a special insuance to get one. She is forced to give up night and IFR rather than chance loosing LS pilot priviliges as well.

          • Richard says

            I guess I wasn’t real clear, Jerry. I was trying to tell Sarah that she can still fly night and/or instrument in a type certificated aircraft that is a standard airplane but meets the weight & speed limit for Light Sport without a physical providing that aircraft is equipped to do so. I know there aren’t many that would meet the requirement for instrument flight, but there are several that she could fly night in and would not need a physical to do so. The only way she couldn’t is if she actually only has a Sport Pilot Certificate. I don’t know if any of the aircraft built under the Light Sport Rules would be legal to use by someone with a private certificate or better, with an instrument rating for flight at night or in instrument conditions. I haven’t been able to find anything on it one way or the other.

          • Sarah A says

            I am not sure that your statement is correct. Since I would be flying under the priviliges of a Sport Pilot essentially then I would be bpund by its limits. That is not unlike an ATP rated pilot who only has a 3rd class medical having to follow the limitations of a Private Pilot. If I am wrong I would love to know the specific rule that allows this.

        • Mike says

          Amen to what Sarah said. Not to mention the cost in dollars, which is often high, of the tests, etc. to get a Special Issuance…. tests/requirements that are often overkill. Flying is expensive enough for the average person, and SI’s just make it more so without really and truly making the person safer.

          • Richard says

            I agree, Mike. For instance, we had a pilot at our airportr who had the beginnings of prostate cancer. It was easily treated with medication and radiation and he is completely free of it. Then, he goes and takes a physical. The FAA required test after test and letter after letter from several different doctors and finally after a little over 3 months, he received his physical, with theb requirement that at the en d of the first year(9 months after receiving it), he has to send some updated stuff from the doctors. My point is, how many people do you know who have died suddenly from prostate cancer? Its all overkill with t hese government bureaucracies.

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