NTSB Identification: NYC08FA292
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, August 11, 2008 in Stafford, VA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/11/2010
Aircraft: Steven A. Jones Lancair IV P, registration: N731SJ
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The airplane was equipped with a dual battery system. After takeoff the pilot turned on the standby battery switch to charge the standby battery. He smelled smoke which became “very heavy and thick.” After landing, he opened the door and the smoke evacuated. He observed "billowing clouds of black and gray acrid smoke," toward the rear of the airplane. After opening the baggage compartment door, and removing the compartment floor, the pilot discharged a fire extinguisher into the area of the standby battery. He observed a flame, and discharged the fire extinguisher again. He then observed a red glow in the battery box. During construction of the airplane, the pilot had coated the inside of the battery box with room temperature vulcanizing (RTV) silicone. Examination revealed, remnants of a charred wood block (a combustible organic material), and the RTV silicone which had charred, melted, and adhered to the top of the standby battery and its partially melted vent caps. Holes with charring along the upper edge of one side of the battery case were evident where the battery outgassed since its vents caps were blocked. Lead acid batteries must be protected from overcharging and sources of ignition, as hydrogen gas can explode when ignited. Sulfuric acid in contact with combustible and/or organic materials can cause fire or explosion. The airplane’s voltage regulators were mounted in the engine compartment. Their cases were metal, they were rectangular in shape, and a plastic terminal strip protruded from a slot in the case on one side. The regulators were not potted, the internal circuit board was not conformally coated, and no weather seal existed between the plastic terminal strip and the case. Water staining and evidence of arcing were present on the inside of the standby regulator. The manufacturer recommended the regulators be installed in a location that would protect them from heat, vibration, and water on the pilot side of the firewall, or inside the cabin. The pilot was aware of the recommendation, but thought that the heat in the airplane would be worse in the cockpit than in the engine compartment. He also believed the regulators were "sealed in Bakelite," and it would provide "ease of access" to mount them on the firewall.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot's decision to install voltage regulators in the engine compartment where they were susceptible to water intrusion, which resulted in a malfunction of the standby electrical system's voltage regulator and a subsequent in-flight fire.

Full narrative available

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