On November 22, 1995, at 1149 eastern standard time (est), a Sonerai II, N36AL, owned and piloted by an instrument rated private pilot, was destroyed during a collision with the ground shortly after takeoff. The pilot sustained fatal injuries. The personal 14 CFR Part 91 flight was not operating on a flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight departed Willow Run Airport, Belleville, Michigan, at 1149 est. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
This was the maiden flight for the experimental Sonerai II LTS. The pilot had been constructing the airplane for the previous 12-13 years. According to eyewitness statements, the airplane appeared to be doing fine as it taxied along the runway, but as it broke ground, it was immediately obvious that the pilot had lost control of the airplane. On liftoff, the airplane pitched up followed by a series of oscillations, up and down dips at approximately 200 to 300 feet above ground. The airplane performed an 180 degree turn to the left, followed by a nosedive into a spin and impacted a wooded area .5 miles south of the airport. The witnesses said it appeared to be a weight and balance problem.
The builder/pilot modified the airframe approximately 12 inches longer to accommodate a Continental O-200-A accessory section (the engine weighted 200.5 pounds w/o starter/prop), with an additional tail weight of 4.5 pounds added after completing the weight and balance. The pilot/builder airframe record's indicate that he calculated various weight and balance extremes that indicated all should be within the CG flight envelope. The pilot/builder used ordinary household weight scales to calculate his weight and balance data. The airplane's empty weight was 212 pounds in excess of the kit plan's specifications.
In a phone conversation with the kit manufacturer, the manufacturer stated that the kit was designed for a modified VW engine (approximately 125 lbs), mounted flush to the firewall. In this configuration, the airplane was still nose heavy and needed approximately 13 to 14 lbs of weight added to the tail section to keep the Center of Gravity (CG) envelope within 8 to 16 inches aft of the wing's leading edge. The kit manufacturer addressed concerns about the weight of the Continental engine (O- 200-A) and of the larger horsepower output.
The pilot/builder's scales were tested on April 6, 1996. The scales involved were all manufactured by the same company, however, the models varied in style and weight limits. All the scales were tested up to 325 pounds and the following discrepancies were noted during the test; the nose scale had an error of +2 pounds with a weight limit to 300 pounds. The left main scale had an error of +11 pounds with a weight limit to 325 pounds. The right main scale had an error of +13 pounds with a weight limit to 330 pounds.
A weight and balance was attempted by the IIC on January 10, 1996. The wreckage was propped up with the appropriate parts located in their respective fuselage stations on the airplane. A nose wheel scale and main wheel scales were placed at the pilot/builder's fuselage station. The nose scale read 200 pounds plus or minus 10 pounds for scale error; however, due to the condition of the empennage, the main scales could not be read with any accuracy due to the wreckage position. The IIC used the builder's/pilot main landing gear weight for the calculations of the weight and balance. The CG position was calculated by the IIC using the pilot's solo configuration which equaled 7.4 inches aft of datum.
Post mortem examination of the pilot found no pre-existent pathological conditions which would have contributed to the accident. The autopsy was conducted at the Wayne County Medical Center, Detroit, Michigan, on November 23, 1995.
Toxicological examination of post-accident specimens from the pilot detected Atenolol in the blood and urine. Atenolol is used for the treatment of hypertension. In addition, 91.2 (ug/ml, ug/g) of salicylate was detected in the urine. According to the 1993 edition of the Physicians' Desk Reference, Salicylate is any salt of Salicylic Acid, which is used in making aspirin, as a preservative and flavoring agent, and also in external treatment of certain skin conditions. According to a doctor at FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the reported amounts of the drugs would not have had an effect on the pilot's performance during the flight.