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On February 27, 1997, at 1945 central standard time, a Keating Quickie II experimental homebuilt airplane, N89WL, was destroyed during a forced landing following a loss of engine power near Houston, Texas. The non-instrument rated private pilot, sole occupant of the airplane, was fatally injured. The airplane was owned and operated by a private individual under Title 14 CFR Part 91. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal night cross country flight for which a flight plan was not filed. The flight originated from the La Porte Airport, near La Porte, Texas, at approximately 1935 with an intended destination of San Angelo, Texas.
The pilot purchased the airplane from a private owner in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on January 3, 1997. During the pilot's check out in the tricycle gear airplane, it inadvertently became airborne while he was practicing taxiing and landed in a nose low attitude damaging the propeller and the nose landing gear assembly. After the necessary repairs were completed, the pilot returned to Baton Rouge on February 23, 1997, took possession of the airplane, and flew it to the La Porte Airport where he had rented a hangar.
On the afternoon of the accident, the pilot made several calls to obtain a weather forecast for his planned 299 nautical mile flight to his home in San Angelo, Texas. The forecast for the next day (Friday), and most of the weekend was for prevailing instrument meteorological conditions. The pilot had the airplane topped off with 16 gallons of 100LL fuel, executed touch and go landings for about 30 minutes, then made a full stop landing and taxied back to the FBO. The pilot discussed his plans with an FBO employee, finally deciding not to go to San Angelo that day stating that "his airplane was not equipped with instrument and cockpit lights for night flight."
According to approach control records, after departing the La Porte Airport at 1935, the pilot contacted approach control and requested VFR radar advisories en route to San Angelo at a planned altitude of 4,500 feet MSL. The pilot reported that he was unable to reach his planned cruise altitude due to weather, so he leveled off at 3,500 feet.
While en route, the pilot left the assigned approach control frequency and switched to 121.5 (emergency frequency) and made two transmissions, both stating that the airplane had experienced a loss of engine power. The transmissions were received by most ATC facilities in the Houston area; however, the pilot kept his microphone switch depressed between transmissions, preventing his radio receiver from receiving any transmissions. According to the FAA inspector, at the time of the first call, the airplane was between the West Houston Airport and the Andrau Airpark.
The non-instrument rated private pilot obtained his private pilot certificate on April 20, 1989. He had accumulated a total of 125 hours of flight time, of which 8 were in the accident airplane. The pilot held a current FAA Third Class medical certificate with no waivers or limitations.
As part of an insurance requirement, the pilot was required to obtain 5 hours of familiarization flight time with the previous owner of the airplane. According to the previous owner, he only obtained half of the required training. See enclosed copies of the pilot's logbooks.
The previous owner of the airplane reported that the Quickie II is considered a "high performance" home built airplane. He stated that after the first flight with the new owner of the airplane he concluded that the airplane "was way over the pilot's head" as he "lacked the experience, patience and maturity necessary to handle such an airplane." He further stated that he tried to cancel the transaction and buy the airplane back from the new owner. The new owner declined stating that "he could handle the airplane with a little practice."
The previous owner also reported to the investigator-in-charge (IIC) that he found himself constantly reminding the new owner to monitor the transfer of the fuel from the main to the header tank, as this was a critical function.
The canard wing, composite (carbon graphite, fiberglass, and foam) two-place airplane was built by Joseph Keating of Fort Devens, MA, on December 31, 1984, from plans provided by Quickie Aircraft. An FAA experimental certificate of airworthiness was issued on November 15, 1988. The airplane had accumulated a total of 81.5 flight hours at the time of the accident.
According to the aircraft records, the airplane had been through 4 previous owners prior to the sale of the airplane to the pilot on January 3, 1997. The airplane was originally registered as N84JK, and the registration was changed to the present N89WL on April 30, 1986. On March 29, 1986, the airplane was converted from the tailwheel configuration, to a tricycle gear configuration (Tri-Q). An AT-504 transponder, with altitude encoding capabilities, was installed on November 27, 1996. A copy of the airframe and engine logbooks is enclosed with this report.
The airplane was equipped with navigation lights and an anti collision strobe light; however, the airplane was not equipped with instrument or cockpit lights. Two small flashlights were found at the accident site; however, the position of the function switches on the flashlights could not be determined due to impact damage.
The fuel system on the airplane consist of a 15 gallon main fuel tank located under the pilot's seat, and a 5 gallon header tank located just aft of the firewall above the pilot's and passenger's legs. The engine is gravity fed from the header tank, with a fuel shutoff valve controlling the flow. An electric fuel pump transfers fuel from the main fuel tank to the header tank. The excess fuel is continuously recirculated to the main fuel tank through an overflow tube in the header tank. Each fuel tank is provided with a sight gauge to measure fuel quantity. While some operators of the airplane operated the airplane with the fuel pump on at all times, others choose to intermittently turn the pump on and off to maintain the header tank above the half full mark.
The closest weather reporting station to the accident site was the Houston Intercontinental Airport. The probability of carburetor icing was considered during the investigation. A surface temperature of 14 degrees Centigrade with a dew point of 9 degrees Centigrade was reported near the time of the accident. After converting to Fahrenheit and correcting for the 3,500 foot en route altitude, using the standard lapse rate, the IIC arrived at a temperature of 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit and a dew point of 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Plotting the aforementioned values on the enclosed carburetor icing probability chart, revealed that the flight was being conducted in the "serious icing at cruise power" range at the time of the accident. The carburetor heat, which was found to be operational at the site, was found in the "cold" position.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane impacted on the embankment of the western shore of a small man-made lake in a residential area approximately 16 nautical miles southwest of the Houston Intercontinental Airport. After impacting the ground, the airplane slid for approximately 60 feet, with small portions of the wreckage going through a residential fence and impacting the patio and balcony area of a two story brick residence located at 5506 Pillar Park Circle. The residents of the house were not home at the time of the accident, and there were no reported injuries to anyone on the ground. Overall damage to the residence was considered minor.
Imprints corresponding to the nose and main landing gears were found at the initial point of impact on a measured magnetic heading of 285 degrees. A shallow crater was found beyond the imprints of the landing gear. Portions of the lower engine cowling, carburetor air intake, and engine related components were found in the crater.
The leading edges of the main (aft) wings sustained minimal damage and the two ailerons on the inboard portion of the wings were undamaged. The empennage, including the vertical fin and rudder, separated from the fuselage just aft of the main wings and sustained minor damage. The right wing of the high light canard (forward wing) was found separated at the wing root.
According to the FAA inspector, who responded to the accident site on the night of the accident, the in-line fuel filter (Fram model G12) was examined and "found to hold only a few drops." The left aft corner of the unbaffled fiberglass 5-gallon header tank was torn and no fuel was found in the undamaged right side of the tank. The header tank came to rest leaning approximately 25 degrees to its right side. The 15-gallon main tank was fully compromised. The grass and shrubs within a 35 foot "pie shape" area forward of the ruptured main fuel cell "browned" within 24 hours after the accident. The two position fuel selector switch was found locked in the "off" position. The electric fuel pump switch was found in the "on" position.
The engine was found it its upright position and remained attached to the engine mounts. The mixture, and carburetor heat cables remained attached to the carburetor; however the carburetor was found partially separated from the engine. No fuel was found in either the carburetor or the fuel lines. The throttle cable was found separated from the carburetor at the point were the cable was swedged.
The 2-bladed wooden propeller hub remained attached to the propeller flange. The propeller blades were found in 4 sections. Both propeller tips were found, neither one displayed any gouging or scratches consistent with rotational damage.
Flight control continuity was established to all flight controls. The speed brake, located in the belly of the airplane aft of the engine firewall was found separated from the airframe, and its position at the time of the impact could not be determined.
The VHF receiver/transmitter was found set on 121.5, while the ATC transponder was found on code 7707. The assigned trasnponder code was not known.
Examination of the airplane at the accident site by the IIC and the FAA inspector did not disclose evidence of any mechanical problems that would have prevented normal operations.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy and toxicological tests were requested and performed. The autopsy was conducted by Marilyn G. Murr, M.D., of the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office in Houston, Texas, on February 28, 1997. Toxicological tests were negative.
TEST AND RESEARCH
An engine examination and teardown was conducted at Fletcher Aviation Inc., at Houston Hobby Airport on March 12, 1997, under the supervision of the IIC. No anomalies were found with the engine or its accessories that would have prevented normal operation. See enclosed report from the engine manufacturer for details of the examination.
The electric fuel pump assembly, the separated portion of the throttle cable, and the fuel selector were hand-carried by the IIC to the engine manufacturer's facility in Mobile, Alabama, on March 26, 1997, for further examination. The fuel pump, associated wiring, function switch, and hand pump were tested and found to be operational. The throttle cable was examined by a metallurgist and found to have separated during the impact sequence. The fuel selector, which was found in the "off" position, was found to be operational after it was disassembled.
The wreckage was released to the owner's representative upon completion of the investigation.