On May 23, 2001, at 1900 hours Pacific daylight time, a Robinson R22B, N2352G, was substantially damaged when it rolled over during liftoff at the French Valley Airport, Murietta, California. The student pilot, who was the sole occupant, was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the student's first solo flight. The helicopter was operated by USA Academy of Aviation, and was rented by the student for instructional purposes under 14 CFR Part 91. The helicopter was departing French Valley for hover practice at the airport. No flight plan was filed.

The instructor had just completed 30 minutes of hover practice with the student. The student landed the helicopter and the instructor deplaned to allow the student to execute his first solo flight. As the instructor watched, the student began to liftoff and immediately rolled to the right and crashed. According to the instructor, the helicopter never left the ground.

The student had logged approximately 27 hours of dual instruction in the R22 prior to the accident. The accident flight was the first time the student had flown this particular R22. According to the flight training records provided by the instructor, the student's first recorded flight lesson was on January 25, 2001. The student and instructor had lifted off about 30 minutes prior to the accident, and had flown down runway 18 to the south helicopter pad at the French Valley airport. The instructor stated that he had done many pickups and set downs with the student just prior to the accident. He emphasized the differences in flight characteristics that the student would experience when the instructor was not in the helicopter. He explained that he had covered dynamic rollover situations in ground school sessions, including a Robinson factory training videotape on the subject. The instructor normally occupied the left seat of the helicopter during dual lessons. At the time of the accident, the student was occupying the right seat, and the left seat was empty. The solo flight was conducted on an asphalt helicopter landing pad designed specifically for helicopter operations.

Inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Riverside Flight Standards District Office inspected the helicopter. Control continuity was established for the collective, cyclic, and tail rotor mechanisms. According to the inspector, the helicopter was "definitely airworthy." The helicopter had been given an annual inspection on April 5, 2001, and had only flown 12.4 hours since the annual was completed. There was no evidence of mechanical failure or damage prior to the accident. The FAA inspectors noted that the helipad on which the accident occurred was clean, smooth, and free of any obstructions.

According to the flight instructor's certificate, issued February 29, 2000, the instructor weighed 185 pounds. The student pilot weighed 233 pounds according to his student pilot certificate dated May 15, 2001. The instructor stated that they had originally departed with 19.2 gallons, or full tanks, which was 115.2 pounds of fuel. With the student pilot, instructor, and fuel, the helicopter weighed 1,388 pounds on the initial takeoff prior to the accident. According to Robinson Helicopter Company, the maximum gross weight for the R22 Beta was 1,370 pounds. After 30 minutes of hover practice, the helicopter had consumed 30 pounds of fuel. When the instructor deplaned, and the student attempted his first solo liftoff, the helicopter was 215 pounds lighter.

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