Aircraft: Piper Cherokee Arrow. Injuries: None. Location: Everett, Wash. Aircraft damage: Substantial.
What reportedly happened: The private pilot, who had logged 269 hours, including 90 in a Piper Cherokee Arrow, had recently failed the practical flight test for his commercial pilot certificate and was flying with a CFI to re-qualify for another practical test.
The two flew a dual flight in the Arrow, and, later that same day, the pilot conducted a solo flight in the Arrow.
The next day, the flight instructor and the pilot conducted another dual flight in the Arrow. During the departure they noticed that the landing gear retraction time was unduly long.
They continued to the local practice area and conducted some airwork, and then the pilot performed a landing at another airport. Both the pilot and the flight instructor described that landing as “hard,” however, the CFI reported that he had experienced harder landings in that and other airplanes.
After landing, the pilots taxied the airplane back for another takeoff. During the climb-out, the landing gear could not be retracted. They returned to the airport with the landing gear extended where the pilot conducted an uneventful landing.
The post-flight examination revealed that the wing structure near the attach point for the left main landing gear was substantially damaged. Review of the airplane maintenance records revealed that the airplane satisfactorily passed a 50-hour inspection just prior to the dual and solo flights.
Review of the airplane flight log revealed that no one other than the flight instructor and the pilot flew the airplane between the inspection and the discovery of the damage. Investigators determined that based on the initial gear retraction anomaly and the flight instructor’s categorization of the subsequent hard landing, it is likely that that landing was not the event that caused the damage.
Instead, the damage, which had to have occurred after the 50-hour maintenance inspection, likely happened the day before the damage discovery, and the hard landing during the dual flight was the event that caused the visible external manifestation of the preexisting internal wing structural damage.
The fact that the same pilot who made the hard landing flew the airplane solo the day before allows for the possibility that he initiated the damage sequence during the solo flight and either did not know it or did not report it.
The pilot, a resident of Japan, returned to Japan shortly after the accident and the NTSB’s attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
Probable cause: A hard landing likely made by the private pilot on a solo flight that preceded the dual instructional flight during which the wing damage became obvious.
NTSB Identification: WPR12LA377
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.