The flight instructor was demonstrating a takeoff to the student pilot in the tailwheel-equipped Bellanca 7GCBC. During the takeoff from the airport in Midlothian, Texas, the instructor was flying the airplane and was seated in the rear seat, with the student pilot observing and following along on the flight controls in the front seat.
The instructor stated that, as the airplane lifted off the runway, he could not move the control stick. The airplane continued to climb in an increasingly nose-high pitch attitude, and the instructor said his efforts to apply forward pressure on the control stick had “no effect.”
The airplane subsequently experienced an aerodynamic stall and hit the ground. The student died in the crash, while the instructor was injured.
Examination of the airframe and engine revealed no preimpact anomalies that would have precluded normal operation, and examination of the flight controls found no evidence of interference.
While the flight instructor expected the student pilot to follow along on the control stick, it could not be determined if the student interfered with the movement of the controls. With the instructor unable to move the elevator control and reduce the nose-high pitch attitude of the airplane, the airplane exceeded its critical angle of attack and experienced an aerodynamic stall.
Probable cause: The flight instructor’s inability to move the control stick after takeoff for undetermined reasons, which resulted in an exceedance of the airplane’s critical angle of attack and inadvertent aerodynamic stall. The reason for the inability to move the control stick could not be determined.
NTSB Identification: CEN16FA145
This April 2016 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.
Harry Fenton says
My take on this: The Pilot in Command failed to establish that he had full command of the aircraft controls before initiating the takeoff. I am familiar with the young man killed in this accident and I have had a hard time with the talk that it was the fault of the student pilot. The person with the skills to fly the airplane did not establish that he was Pilot in Command and that he had control of the aircraft. It is unclear if the student clearly understood that he should not exert force on the controls. He was told to “follow along” but what exactly does that mean to a student pilot with zero experience in flying airplanes? In my opinion, the Pilot in Command failed in his responsibility to establish and confirm that he was in control of the aircraft at moment prior to when the takeoff was initiated. Had that been done, this accident would not have happened.
Richard K Phillips says
If a student pilot is pulling back hard on the stick, it really doesn’t matter whether the instructor has told him that he’s the PIC and the student should just follow. A scared or panicking person doesn’t act rationally.
Ed Watson says
Not sure I read the scenario correctly, but if it was a takeoff 60° banks should not be in the picture. As an IP in the USAF I would bet for “stage fright”. The student got scared and grabbed the stick a and hung on for dear life. Once the IP realized what was happening it was too late.
I have seen similar scenarios with tailwheel planes. The tandem aircraft offer challenges for crew communication let alone a potential LOC problem. Personally I have pulled a zippo lighter from the tail post area and also a V shaped ink pen that had jammed the elevator system of a 7KCAB. Remarkable no one got hurt and no one claimed to have lost either item.
Do a sound preflight and bounce the fabric in the tail area before and after each flight.
I’ve seen security camera footage of the accident. The whole thing happened so fast – maybe 10 seconds from liftoff to crash. I cannot conceive of how an instructor could have responded (appropriately) in that amount of time without knowing in advance what was happening.
Warren Webb Jr says
That and the full report which I subsequently checked paint a different picture than “the airplane continued to climb”. I would agree with the other remarks about the student. Apparently there were no problems with the student’s first flight that was with another instructor, but it’s not mentioned whether there was any discussion about it. Otherwise preflight discussion can cover how the instructor will communicate, actions expected by the student, maybe no hands on the controls until cruise.
Wilbur, for the sake of a constructive argument I must say you pretty much lost me with your first sentence, “In a steep turn, pulling back on the stick does not cause one to stall.” While that may be true, I don’t think that applies here, because it certainly gets you closer.
– The article said nothing about a, “steep turn” so for the time being let’s assume they are flying straight as would be expected during a lift off-climb out scenario.
– At lift off the instructor immediately realizes he has a problem and almost certainly doesn’t have an abundance of airspeed in the bank to work with, so to speak, so let’s just say that things are going to happen pretty fast. In my mind, HE HAS SECONDS, at best.
– Unless I missed something in flight training, initiating a “steep turn” at this point, with the yoke/stick stuck in your gut, will absolutely exascerbate the problem. Doing so would increase the stall speed, and since he’s close already, would probably cause an instantaneous stall.
– Folks, help us all out here, if I’m looking at this wrong please say so. Do you agree or disagree.
Warren Webb Jr says
Actually I think Wylbur is correct. In a steep turn the nose is pulled along a horizontal line by the elevator rather than vertical. I’ve used the steep turn to demonstrate how the stall warning horn will activate at a much higher indicated airspeed (in the 60’s) as speed is reduced while holding altitude – it takes a ton of back pressure just to get the stall warning horn to activate. It could give the pilot some extra time to troubleshoot.
Wylbur Wrong says
Exactly my point Warren.
You don’t roll into a 90 degree bank, you go for 5 degrees, and keep adding as your airspeed allows until you are stable in the turn.
Given the low power of the aircraft in this case, you are probably going to go down wing low and hit the ground and cartwheel. That situation one might survive. But without this, it is stall, and flip inverted nose down… Most people don’t survive that one. The CFI was lucky, his student wasn’t. But look at the crush length to the CFI. That is probably why the CFI lived and the student didn’t.
I can’t remember who taught me this method of handling this problem — but we discussed it in training (complex hi-perf) because a few airline types have crashed this way when they ended up with their CG beyond the aft end of the envelope (nose gear retracts toward the tail, the CG shifts toward the tail!!).
I’m thinking a solid rap to the back of the student’s head to get him to release the stick would have been more productive. That’s a scary thing in a tandem seat plane when the passenger/student locks onto the controls close to the ground. Teaching students tailwheel, they often times react incorrectly or far too slowly, and overpowering them on the controls can be challenging.
ol' Bob T says
I agree with JS here’s why: way back in the 50’s, I remember a conversation with a flt instructor, building time to get hired by EAL. He was instructing a “really big” guy from the front seat of a J-3 Cub. Things had been going routinely, when suddenly, at a couple hundred ft on final, the aircraft abruptly started a steep pitch up. The instructor grabbed the stick, but it wouldn’t move. He turned around and looked at the student; his eyes wide open and showing the ‘thousand yard stare’. The instructor hit the guy in the face with everything he had, pressure on the stick was released, but by this time the Cub had gone to slightly inverted, so the instructor just completed the loop, and that was as close to the aforementioned disaster as one could imagine. I’m just sayin’…
Warren Webb Jr says
Probably should be added to all training curricula incl the LOC recovery initiative.
Thanks guys. WIlbur, I think I might grab me an instructor, get some altitude underneath us and try on your technique for size. I must confess, at face value it seems counterintuitive to me. Better to have made these decisions beforehand than in the heat of the moment. Familiarity breeds confidence and efficiency, and if things ever get squirrelly I want to give myself every opportunity for survival.
If you pull back on the stick at low speeds you will increase load factor and thus raise stall speed and indeed stall.
Also, if you pull back on the stick cross controlled you will enter a spin.
Wylbur Wrong says
In a steep turn, pulling back on the stick does not cause one to stall. So before the speed decays to that level, one should start a turn and slowly increase the bank — stall speed increases as you bank. But when one enters this turn under these conditions, one’s airspeed should start to stabilize and then increase — because one has changed the vectors, the plane is not in a “maximum” climb. You don’t have a lot of time to deal with this.
This isn’t going to end well if you can’t get control of the elevator/stabilator. But at least one can avoid the nose first slam into the ground which is a deadly sudden stop.