This May 2008 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: Thorp T-18. Injuries: 1 Fatal. Location: Kent, Wash. Aircraft damage: Destroyed.
What reportedly happened: The ATP-rated pilot, 69, held a variety of certificates including CFI, aviation maintenance technician-powerplant, flight engineer, and aircraft dispatcher certificates. He reported approximately 8,400 hours of flight time on his last medical, issued in 2008.
The pilot had recently installed an overhauled carburetor and new air inlet on the airplane. Because the airplane had not been flown for about nine months, the pilot drained all of the old fuel and refueled it. Witnesses reported that he performed an extensive engine run up that lasted 10 to 15 minutes, and with satisfactory results, he decided to take the airplane around the traffic pattern. A witness based at the airport said that during the initial takeoff, the engine sound was smooth. As it continued, the witness heard the engine running rough. When the airplane flew past the witness about 300 feet above the runway, the witness saw two puffs of white smoke. The airplane appeared to have adequate airspeed and it was still climbing, although the engine was cutting out. The engine then cut out completely and the plane continued straight ahead for about 1 second. The airplane entered a slow turn to the right, and when it had turned approximately 160°, the right wing stalled and the airplane rolled into a spin. The airplane went out of view of the witness in a nose-down attitude of approximately 70°. A friend of the pilot who was based at the airport said that when departing to the north as the pilot had done, there are limited options available for emergency landings. The fuel valve was found in the closed, or “off”, position. Based on the length of the engine run up, the fuel selector was undoubtedly positioned correctly at takeoff and was most likely moved to the closed position by the pilot when he determined that a forced landing was inevitable.
Post-accident examination of the wreckage did not disclose any pre-impact mechanical anomalies. Due to damage sustained to the carburetor, no functional testing could be performed.
Probable cause: The loss of engine power for undetermined reasons. Contributing to the accident were the lack of a suitable landing area and the pilot’s failure to maintain an adequate airspeed while maneuvering in response to the loss of engine power.
For more information: NTSB.gov