NTSB Identification: ERA13FA017
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, October 11, 2012 in Chuckey, TN
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/24/2014
Aircraft: ARION LIGHTNING, registration: N290AL
Injuries: 1 Serious,1 Minor.

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 experimental amateur-built airplane accelerated normally during the takeoff roll for the Phase 1 test flight before pitching up sharply and beginning a slow climb to about 50 to 60 feet above the ground. The wings rocked back and forth as it drifted off the left side of the runway. Witnesses reported that the airplane appeared out of control and off center. The airplane was heading toward trees and a residence when the pilot-rated passenger, who was on board to record information during the test flight, took control of the airplane, lowered the nose, and turned away from obstructions; however, the nose abruptly dropped and the airplane struck the ground. Postaccident examination of the airplane did not reveal any preimpact malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation. The flaps were found in the fully extended position and, given reports of the airplane’s behavior after the takeoff, were likely fully extended during takeoff and at the time of impact. The owner/builder reported that the normal takeoff procedure called for a 10-degree flap setting and that the airplane did not have a pretakeoff checklist, which would be developed during the flight testing. An estimated weight and balance calculation for the accident flight placed the airplane about 30 pounds over its published maximum gross weight and about a 1/2 inch from its aft center of gravity limit; however, the maximum gross weight is about 75 pounds below the general specifications listed by the kit manufacturer. The owner and pilot-rated passenger stated that they did not discuss or perform weight and balance calculations before the accident flight.
The airplane had been operated for about 15 hours since new and since its most recent condition inspection, which was performed about 1 month before the accident. The pilot’s total flight experience in make and model consisted of about 3 hours with a flight instructor and about 4 hours of solo flight experience. Given the lack of a pretakeoff checklist and the pilot’s minimal flight experience in the airplane make and model, it is likely that he began the takeoff with flaps fully extended, which combined with the airplane’s high gross weight and near-limit aft center of gravity, resulted in the loss of airplane control.

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

The pilot’s inadequate preflight planning, which resulted in an attempted takeoff at a high gross weight, near the limit of its aft center of gravity, and with the airplane incorrectly configured with fully extended flaps. Contributing to the accident was the lack of a pretakeoff checklist and the pilot’s lack of total flight experience in make and model.

Full narrative available

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