Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Amateur-Built Safety

The NTSB wants more done to improve amateur-built aircraft safety

Velocity RG
The Velocity RG is a four-seat, composite, single-engine aircraft in a canard configuration. On September 25, 2011, one of them was substantially damaged when it crashed after taking off from Sanford-Lee County Airport (TTA), Sanford, N.C. The private pilot was killed. Visual meteorological conditions existed.

At the time of the accident, a flight instructor and student pilot were doing touch-and-goes at TTA. While on downwind, the instructor heard the accident pilot announce he was taxiing to the runway, and soon after, heard the accident pilot announce the takeoff roll. The student reported that the accident airplane did not rotate for takeoff until it reached the 2,000-foot marker on the runway. He thought this was unusual, as his single-engine Cessna was normally off the ground in half that distance.

While on base, the student noticed the accident airplane at a very low altitude, in a continuous descending left turn. He said the airplane then disappeared from view, and a fireball appeared from the woods. The instructor contacted air traffic control on an emergency frequency and advised them of the accident and its location.

FAA records showed that the airplane's airworthiness certificate was issued in 1996. According to airplane and maintenance records, the airplane had accrued 143.8 total aircraft hours as of May 2011. The most recent annual inspection was completed March 1, 2008, at 131.8 total aircraft hours.

Over the approximate 15-year maintenance history of the airplane, the engine was disassembled three times, but none of the work qualified as an overhaul. The manufacturer recommended that engines that haven't reached the recommended limit for operational hours be overhauled in the 12th year.

According to fueling records at TTA, the airplane was last fueled on March 21, 2010, with 43 gallons of 100LL aviation gasoline. The airport manager stated that he was "reasonably certain" that the airplane had not flown since that date. In an interview, the airport manager said that the pilot/owner would come out to the airport, tinker with the airplane, start the engine, and taxi the airplane, but that the airplane had not flown "for years." According to the airport manager, the pilot/owner had mentioned on more than one occasion that he was trying to "get his medical back." However, the review of his records revealed that the pilot's medical certificate was still valid at the time of the accident.

In May 2011, the pilot/owner asked the aircraft maintenance facility at TTA to draft a list of discrepancies on the airplane that required correction in order to return the airplane to an airworthy condition for possible sale. Among the discrepancies was a frozen turbocharger waste gate. Investigators determined that the waste gate was stuck at approximately two-thirds of its travel. They could not determine how much of a loss of horsepower would be produced at the position in which it was found.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's intentional flight with known mechanical deficiencies, which resulted in a partial loss of engine power and subsequent collision with trees and terrain shortly after takeoff. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's lack of recent experience.

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