Tailwind takeoff leads to accident

Aircraft: Piper Pawnee. Injuries: None. Location: Harvey, N.D. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: Prior to taking off on the aerial application flight, the pilot loaded applicant and fuel which, as reported by the pilot, put the airplane slightly over its maximum gross weight.

In addition, he checked the automated report for the nearest airplane weather facility, which reported wind from the north at four knots. He departed the 2,600-foot turf and asphalt runway with a tailwind.

The airplane climbed to about 3 feet, then settled back to the runway. With a quarter of the runway remaining, the pilot continued the takeoff, increased flaps, and verified that the throttle and propeller controls were full forward.

He again rotated the airplane and was able to climb about 4 feet when the plane again settled back to the ground. The pilot then dumped the application load and tried to maintain control of the airplane.

The airplane continued a short distance to the opposite river bank, hit terrain, and slid on its belly.

The pilot reported that during the preflight checks the airplane had adequate oil and the fuel was sumped of any water. In addition, the pilot reported normal engine instrumentation prior to the takeoff roll.

Probable cause: The pilot’s decision to take off with the airplane over its maximum gross weight on a turf runway and with a tailwind, and his subsequent failure to maintain airplane control.

NTSB Identification: CEN12CA542

This August 2012 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. At least they won’t have to worry about insects at the south end of the runway for awhile. Think about it…………………….

  2. Ok, the over weight condition plus the grass runway are not good decisions relative to aircraft performance, but I have a big question about the wind. Why check another facility for winds when you are on the ground here? He could not tell which way the winds were from at the place he was departing? Even without a wind indicator, you should be able to use other methods to tell wind direction. I say this knowing full well that even 3 knots on your tail could be somewhat of a factor in how the aircraft performs when taking all factors in consideration (even though most of the time we think of this light of a wind as basically calm).

    • Just to speculate as well, perhaps the call to automated weather was for an altimeter setting (if the field elevation was unknown) or the winds closer to where the job was? It is possible that the winds at the ground were calm, many duster strips are tucked in close to tree lines and quite sheltered at the ground level. Regardless, to agree with you when operating “heavy”,( near,at/perhaps over), gross weight every thing has a big impact on performance. Operating from unimproved strips I have had to learn what is better , take off into the wind up hill?, tail wind down hill?, how hot is it? , how much grade or wind?, sometimes the answer is just wait for better odds. Waiting is not easy when the customer or your boss wants the job done. The outside pressure could have played a part as well, in the overload and decision to try the take off.

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