On February 17, 1998, at 1734 hours Pacific standard time, an Air Tractor AT-301, N3656C, lost power during the takeoff initial climb and collided with the ground during an attempted return to the runway at the Wasco, California, airport. The aircraft sustained substantial damage and the commercial pilot, the sole occupant, was not injured. The local area aerial application flight was originating at the time of the accident. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed.

The pilot reported that at rotation from runway 30, he heard a loud bang followed by a strong engine vibration. He initiated a left turn in an attempt to return to the runway and saw a puff of smoke and a flash of flame emitting from the engine. The engine then quit completely. The pilot reported that the aircraft impacted the ground before he was able to return to the runway. The landing gear separated from the aircraft, the aircraft nosed over, and came to rest inverted.

A Federal Aviation Administration inspector from the Fresno, California, Flight Standards District Office, conducted an on-site examination of the aircraft. He reported that the number two cylinder was cracked between the aft spark plug porthole to the forward spark plug porthole. The engine had approximately 559 hours since the last major overhaul.

The aircraft owner/operator reported that a cracked cylinder was typical on the R1340 series engines, usually due to the pilot overboosting the engine on takeoff. He stated that the pilot had cracked a cylinder on the accident aircraft on five previous occasions, as well as on other aircraft. The owner stated that normally they would just replace the cylinder. He further reported that he rigorously trains all his pilots in emergency procedures.

The pilot of the aircraft did not respond to the Safety Board's requests for the pilot/operator report. The pilot no longer works for the owner.

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