The airline transport pilot, 64, who had logged more than 24,000 hours, volunteered to deliver the Pipistrel Alpha trainer from an airport in Indiana to a maintenance facility. He made the arrangements for the flight, including preflight planning.
A commercial pilot, 22, who had logged 388 hours, chose to ride along to gain flight experience and familiarity with the plane.
At the time of the accident, the ATP did not possess a valid medical certificate, as his last application had been denied. The commercial pilot did not know this at the time of the accident. Although the ATP was acting in the capacity of the pilot-in-command, because his medical certificate had been denied, he was not qualified to serve in this role.
After stopping to refuel, the airplane took off on the last leg of the cross-country flight that night. The airplane was not equipped or certified for night flight. The commercial pilot reported that, about 10 minutes from their destination, the fuel gauge was reading “close to empty.”
About five minutes later, the engine lost power, at which time the ATP took control of the airplane.
The pilots attempted to deploy the ballistic parachute just before the forced landing, however, due to the low altitude, it did not fully deploy. The airplane came down hard near Pampa, Texas, and the high surface winds dragged the airplane across rough and uneven terrain before it became entangled in a barbed wire fence. The ATP was killed, and the commercial pilot seriously injured. No fuel was found in the fuel pump or tank.
Investigators determined that the fuel capacity information in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) provided to the pilots and on the placard created by the ATP, which was based on the POH, was inaccurate. Although the manufacturer reported that it provided the correct POH to the owner when the airplane was delivered, the owner had the incorrect POH, and the investigation determined that several other owners of this airplane model had received the wrong POH upon delivery of their aircraft.
The POH indicated that the airplane had 15 gallons total fuel capacity and 14.5 gallons usable fuel capacity. However, the accident airplane’s actual total fuel capacity was 13.2 gallons and the usable fuel capacity was 12.7 gallons. The calculated fuel requirement for the accident leg of the flight would have been at least 13.2 gallons of fuel, so the engine stopped producing power due to fuel exhaustion.
Even if the fuel capacity information had been accurate, visual flight rules night flights require a 45-minute fuel reserve, and that would not have been met on the accident leg. The ATP did not properly calculate the flight’s fuel requirements. Further, he failed to adequately monitor the in-flight fuel consumption and recognize that the airplane was low on fuel.
In addition, the plane was not equipped to fly at night nor was it approved for night flight, yet the pilot planned the flight legs so that the airplane would be flying at night.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident as the loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion as a result of the manufacturer providing the incorrect Pilot’s Operating Handbook to the owner, which prevented the pilot from accurately calculating the fuel requirements before the flight. Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s inadequate preflight planning and poor decision-making.
NTSB Identification: CEN13FA338
This June 2015 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.