On July 22, 1997, about 1545 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172E, N3553S, was substantially damaged during a forced landing after takeoff from the Fitchburg Municipal Airport (FIT), Fitchburg, Massachusetts. The certificated private pilot was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the flight destined for the Sterling Airport (3B3), Sterling, Massachusetts. The personal flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

In a telephone interview, the pilot reported that he performed a preflight inspection on the airplane earlier that day and observed that the fuel tanks were half empty. He then departed FIT, and conducted an uneventful round trip flight to the Minute Man Airfield (6B6), Stow, Massachusetts, about 10 miles southeast of FIT. The pilot then intended to depart FIT destined for 3B3, about 8 miles to the southwest; however, during the initial climb after takeoff from runway 32, " an altitude of approximately 75 feet, the engine stopped suddenly," and he performed a forced landing to the remaining runway.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Inspector, the airplane impacted the departure runway on a heading 90 degrees to the runway, in a left bank, nose low attitude. The airplane came to rest 200 feet off the left side of the runway, left wing low.

Examination of the wreckage by an FAA Inspector revealed 7 gallons of uncontaminated fuel, similar to automotive gasoline, in the left fuel tank. No fuel remained in the right tank. The fuel selector valve was found in the "both" position. The left fuel cap was found open, and the pilot stated he could not remember whether or not he secured it properly during his preflight inspection. Additionally, an engine run-up was performed using the fuel which was drained from the airplane. The engine performed satisfactorily and there were no discrepancies noted.

Review of the airplane refueling records revealed the airplane was last refueled on November 23, 1996, with 28.2 gallons of automotive gasoline.

According to an FAA Inspector, the airplane was ferried from 6B6, to FIT, for an annual inspection which was performed on July 18, 1997. The ferry flight, as reported by the pilot, was about 3/10ths of an hour. The airplane's tachometer had accumulated 1.38 hours since the annual inspection.

According to the Pilot Operating Handbook, the airplane's total fuel capacity was 39 gallons, of which, 36 were usable. Additionally, the cruise and range performed chart indicated, fuel consumption in cruise flight at 75% power at 2,500 feet was 8.5 gallons per hour.

The temperature and dewpoint were reported as 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and 46 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.

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