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On July 28, 2001, about 1220 eastern daylight time, a homebuilt Barnett J4B gyroplane, N3919C, was destroyed when it struck the ground at Titusville Airport, Titusville, Pennsylvania. The non-certificated pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the local flight. No flight plan had been filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.
Prior to the accident flight, the pilot made a flight around the airport. According to witnesses, at the completion of the flight he reported that the gyroplane felt nose heavy. He then took off again, and departed the area. After about 1 hour, the gyroplane returned to the airport. Witnesses reported the pilot made a steep descent and leveled off about 100 to 150 feet above the ground, at a reduced power setting, parallel to the runway, heading south. The nose of the gyroplane dropped, and the power was heard to increase, after which, the gyroplane resumed level flight. As the gyroplane neared the departure end of the runway, the pilot initiated a steep right turn. During the turn, the nose dropped, and the gyroplane impacted the ground in a nose low attitude.
The pilot's logbook was not recovered. A check of FAA records revealed the pilot was issued a student pilot certificate and third class FAA airman medical certificate on September 22, 1998, and they had subsequently expired. There was no record that the pilot had ever filled out an FAA airman application, and his total flight experience was not determined. According to the pilot's son, the pilot had not previously flown this gyroplane, but did have some experience in an ultralight gyroplane, which he owned for a few years. Another witness reported that he thought the pilot had 25-30 hours of fixed wing time, in addition to an unknown amount of flight experience in ultralights, including a ultralight gyroplane. The pilot was estimated to have in excess of 100 hours total flight experience.
The maintenance logbooks were not recovered. There was no information on total time, or last inspection. There was no record that the pilot who purchased the gyroplane had registered it with the FAA. There was no record that the FAA had issued the required operations specifications for the use of the gyroplane to the current owner.
The gyroplane had a single seat. It was equipped with a Lycoming O-290 engine. It was also equipped with a 15 gallon fuel tank, with a V-shaped bottom, and it was located near the center of gravity. The main rotor was two bladed, with a teetering head.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
According to an inspector from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the debris trail was on a heading of about 210 degrees magnetic. It was 25 feet wide and 200 feet long, located on the west side of runway 18, about 3,000 feet from the approach end, and about 200 feet from the edge of the runway. Two ground impact scars were visible. One was inline with the debris trail and was about 2 1/2 feet wide and 6 feet long. Another ground scar was located about 10 feet to the right. It was in an arcing curve and the earth had been sliced. This curved slice was about 8 feet long.
Both main rotor blades were bent down, with one blade bent down further. The blade with the greater bend had impact damage on the leading edge, which was twisted, leading edge down. The other blade was bent rearward, and was opened up along the trailing edge near the attach point to the main rotor mast. On propeller blade was fragmented and the other blade had leading edge impact damage. The structure, including the cockpit had been crushed vertically, and was deformed. The aerodynamic fairings around the cockpit seat were found between the initial impact and where the gyrocopter came to rest.
Another person reported an area of dead vegetation, similar to fuel being sprayed upon grass was found after a few days. The area measured about 50 feet long and 15 feet wide, with a stronger concentration on right side, when looking in the direction of travel.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
On July 29, 2001, an autopsy was performed on the pilot by a Forensic Pathologists for Venango County, Pennsylvania.
Toxicological testing was conducted by the FAA Toxicology Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The drug citlaopram was detected in the liver and kidney, with the amount not quantified. According to Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc, the manufacturer of the drug, the drug was used, "for the treatment of depression." In addition, the medical examiner reported that the pilot was diabetic.
The pilot had bought the gyroplane from out of state, and trucked it back to his residence where he re-assembled it. It was bought without seeing it fly, or flying in it. A witness had told the pilot he should hang it to check for the proper position of the mast plate prior to flight. When asked prior to departing on the accident flight if he had performed the check, even though he had previously reported the gyroplane flew nose heavy, the pilot reported that he had not performed the hang test
According to FAA-H-8083-21 Rotorcraft Flying Handbook,; Chapter 19 Rotorcraft Flight Manual:
"The proper weight and balance of a gyroplane without a flight manual is normally determined by conducting a hang test of the aircraft. This is achieved by removing the rotor blades and suspending the aircraft by its teeter bolt, free from contact with the ground. A measurement is then taken either at the keel or the rotor mast to determine how many degrees from level the gyroplane hangs. This number must be within the range specified by the manufacturer...."
According to the designer of the gyroplane, the gyroplane should hang between 7.5 and 9.5 degrees nose down. The designer further reported that by flying the gyroplane in a nose heavy configuration, the pilot would be required to hold aft cyclic control to maintain a level attitude, and this would result in a reduced flare capability at touchdown, or touchdown in a nose low attitude. He also reported that when the gyroplane was slowed, whether by maneuvering or a power reduction/power loss, the tendency of the gyroplane was to assume a nose down attitude.