On September 7, 2000, at 1500 Eastern Daylight Time, a Piper PA-28-180, N15275, was substantially damaged shortly after take-off from a private airstrip in Headwaters, Virginia. The certificated commercial pilot and pilot rated passenger/owner were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

In a written statement, the pilot said:

"On September 7, 2000, [passenger] and I made the decision to take [the passenger's] Cherokee 180 flying from Shenandoah Regional airport in Virginia. With this in mind, we proceeded to take the aircraft flying, after doing the normal run-up for that aircraft, we took off from Shenandoah and remained in the traffic pattern. The time was about 12:30 PM. While we were in the traffic pattern, we practiced short soft field take-offs and landings. After determining that the aircraft was capable of performing into [passenger's] strip of 1,600 feet we departed the traffic pattern to the west towards [passenger's] airport at 1:30 PM.'

"We proceeded to make a low pass over the airport to get a lay of the land. We then circled back around to make a landing, which we did without incident. After we landed we taxied to the opposite end of the runway and proceeded to make a short field take-off.'

"I applied full power, pulled the yoke to the full aft position and started to roll down the runway. We came off the ground at 1,200 feet at this point the aircraft began to climb. However, the airspeed was not sufficient enough to maintain lift. As soon as I realized this, I began to make a circle in a field just off the runway, however the airspeed did not come up and the aircraft sank into the ground, ripping off the landing gear and striking the prop."

In a telephone interview, the pilot said this was the first time he had operated into or out of the airstrip. Prior to take-off, he set the flaps to 25 degrees, started the take-off roll, and rotated at 64 knots. He began a gradual climb, but did not gain airspeed. At a height between 50-75 feet, he began a shallow turn to the left to gain airspeed. However, the airspeed was not sufficient enough to maintain lift, and the aircraft landed in a hayfield adjacent to the airstrip.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector interviewed the passenger. According to the inspector's record of conversation:

"The aircraft's engine was producing full power on the take-off roll, and [I] was not aware of any mechanical problems that occurred to the aircraft...The stall warning light flickered shortly after passing over the departure end of the runway. The pilot executed a left turn and apparently stalled the aircraft and impacted the terrain in a farmer's hayfield."

In a telephone interview, the passenger stated the purpose of the flight was to let the pilot practice short/soft field take-offs and landings.

According to the passenger, he owned the private grass strip. He did not keep his airplane at the airstrip, and had never flown the airplane into or out of the airstrip before. He kept the airplane at SHD, and prior to landing at his airstrip, the pilot performed about 10-12 short/soft field take-offs and landings at SHD. Based on the cool weather and no-wind conditions, they decided to take-off and land at his private airstrip. He stated that he and the pilot calculated performance data and estimated that it would take 1,200 feet to take-off on the 1,600-foot long grass strip.

The passenger stated that the airstrip was aligned northeast and southwest, and they departed to the southwest. There are no immediate obstacles at the end of the southwest runway, and the departure end of the runway dipped down where a fence and some brush were located. He stated that the fence and brush were not visible during take off from that runway. However, located about 1,500 feet beyond the departure end of the runway, the terrain rises. The passenger said, "it could be very deceiving" because from the take-off end of the runway, the hill appeared closer than it actually was. The passenger also felt that it might have been an optical illusion to the pilot.

The passenger reported that the pilot had flown well the entire day. The take-off from the airstrip was normal, and the aircraft departed the runway at the 1,200 foot point. However, as the airplane departed the ground, the pilot "pulled the aircraft up too much", and the "nose got too high." About 75-100 feet above ground, the pilot banked the airplane to the left about 20-25 degrees, and it started to turn.

At this point, the passenger yelled to the pilot, "No, don't turn!" At an altitude about 75-100 feet above the ground, the airplane stalled and collided with terrain in a flat attitude.

The passenger did not recall looking at the airspeed indicator and did not know what airspeeds were obtained throughout the accident sequence.

Additionally, the passenger stated, "they should have walked the strip prior to taking off, so they could see that little hill".

An FAA inspector performed an on-scene examination on September 7, 2000. According to the inspector, continuity of the flight control system was established from the cockpit to the control surfaces, and continuity of the engine controls was established from the cockpit to the engine. The left and right fuel tanks were half full of fuel.

All three landing gear struts were torn away from the airplane, there were holes in the left and right wing skins, and the left and right flaps were bent and buckled. Additionally, the propeller blades were bent, the stabilator was buckled on the left leading edge, and the fuselage skin and firewall were bent and buckled.

The pilot stated that the airplane was about 400 pounds under gross weight, and the temperature was 69 degrees. He also stated that he did not calculate take-off performance data prior to the flight.

Interpolation of the Piper PA-28-180 Take-off Performance chart revealed that at a gross weight of 2,450 pounds, the airplane required about 900 feet of ground roll for take-off from a paved, level, and dry runway with zero wind. The aircraft required about 2,000 feet of take-off distance to clear a 50-foot high obstacle.

The pilot reported a total of 2,100 flight hours, of which 150 hours were in make and model.

Weather at Shenandoah Regional Airport, Shenandoah, Virginia, at 1522, was reported as winds calm, temperature 74 degrees F, and dew point 57 degrees F. The density altitude was 2,215 feet.

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