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On April 23, 2002, at 1510 central daylight time, a Cessna 172RG, N5388R, operated by Thunder Air Charter, Inc., was destroyed during an initial climb from runway 16 at the Washington Memorial Airport (MO6), Marthasville, Missouri. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The 14 CFR Part 91 instructional flight was not operating on a flight plan. The private pilot was fatally injured, and the certified flight instructor (CFI) received serious injuries. The flight originated from the Spirit of St. Louis Airport, Saint Louis, Missouri, at 1346.
The CFI stated, "...[the private pilot] intecepted and tracked the 090 radial to the FTZ VOR. While tracking the radial, she performed slow flight and other manuevers under the hood. She then flew the VOR 16 approach to MO6. After the approach, she perfromed a go-around, and remained in the Runway 16 traffic pattern. She then perfomed 3 short-field takeoffs and landings. She then performed 4 soft-field touch-and-goes. The final soft-field landing was performed well, and she continued with the soft-field takeoff. The landing gear handle was down, and the flaps were 10 degrees. The plane was in ground effect and [the pilot] was waiting for the plane to accelerate through Vy (84 KIAS) to commence climb-out. As the plane was approaching Vy, the nose unexpectedly pitched down, and the prop of the plane hit the runway. [The pilot] reacted to the nose-down pitching movement, and pulled back on the yoke to counteract it; the nose pitched up; and as she said "What do I do?" she relinquished the controls to me. My reaction to the emergency was to immediately pull the power back, select "gear up" (I moved the gear selector switch to the 'up' position), and pitch the nose down from what had become a nose-high attitude. I don't recall retracting flaps to 0 degrees, but may have done so to reduce drag. By the time I had the controls and had initiated the above actions, my judgement was that an off-field landing was imminent, that the plane could not be landed on the remaining runway, and I decided to perform the landing in a field to the left of the runway. There were trees directly off the departure end of Runway 16, so I knew I had to manuever the plane slightly to the left. All of this occured within a matter of seconds, while I was attempting to assume control an aircraft which was vibrating badly and difficult to control under the circumstances. I was unable to control the plane, and it turned over and went nose first into the ground."
A witness stated, "I was sitting at the end of the hanger (south side) when I heard and engine cough being an experience pilot I look at the aircraft and saw the aircraft making a sharp turn to the left, at which time the aircraft stalled and nosed straight into the ground."
A second witness stated, "Traving south on 47 seen plane going south just off runway flying plane stalled dove left crashing and flipping over [sic]."
A third witness stated, "Just left end of runway traveling south on 47 watched plane take off. Stall while turning sharply to the left then nose dived to the ground..."
A fourth witness stated, "While cleaning my aircraft in hanger no. 7 I heard an aircraft apply power. (Several aircraft had been practicing landing throughout the day) I noticed the aircraft remained level, about 3-4 feet above the runway for a longer period of time than I thought to be normal. The landing gear started the retraction cycle, the aircraft descended slightly and the landing gear struck the runway. The propeller then struck the runway. The aircraft continued and appeared to climb. I lost sight of the aircraft until I walked out of the hanger. When I regained sight of the aircraft it appeared to be headed east at about 50 feet. Shortly thereafter the aircraft rolled to the left and descended striking the ground in a near vertical attitude about 1,000 ft southeast of the end runway 16."
The pilot, age 22, held a private pilot certificate with a single engine land rating issued on December 21, 2001. According to logbook entries, the pilot accumulated a total flight time of 202.4 hours, all of which was in single engine aircraft. The entries also show that 8.1 hours were accumulated in complex airplanes, and 3.3 hours were in high performance airplanes. The remainder of the total flight time was in Cessna 172 airplanes. The pilot received a checkout in the accident airplane by the CFI on April 10, 2002, after receiving 6.7 hours of dual flight instruction from the CFI. According to the pilot's Aircraft Check Out questionnaire, 6 hours of training relating to the airplane's systems were provided.
The pilot was issued a second class medical certificate on October 4, 2001, with "no restrictions" listed in the limitations block of the medical certificate.
The CFI, age 28, began employment with Thunder Aviation as an instructor on February 15, 2001. He held a commercial pilot certificate with single engine land, multi engine land, and instrument airplane ratings. His CFI ratings included single engine and instrument airplane ratings. He received a company standardization flight on October 15, 2001, in a Cessna 172M. He received a company checkout in a Cessna 172RG on March 2, 2001, and subsequently received a standardization flight in the accident airplane by the company's chief flight instructor on March 15, 2002. He was given an excellent rating in "takeoff, climb, cruise".
The CFI was issued a first class medical certificate on January 28, 2002, with "none" listed in the limitations block of the medical certificate.
The 1980 Cessna 172RG, serial number 172RG60059, was registered to Thunder Aviation Acquisitions Inc., on April 16, 1998, and was used as a rental and flight instructional aircraft by Thunder Air Charter Inc. The airplane was equipped with a two-bladed constant speed metal propeller and retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane was last inspected by the operator during a 100-hour inspection on March 15, 2002, at a aircraft total time of 5,506.1 hours. The airplane was powered by a Lycoming O-360-F1A6, serial number L-32214-36A, engine rated at 180 horsepower at 2,700 rpm. The engine accumulated 836.8 hours since a factory overhaul.
According to the Cessna 172RG Information Manual, the lower indicated airspeed limit of a Cessna 172RG's normal operating range ("green arc") at a maximum weight and most forward center of gravity with trailing edge flaps retracted is 50 knots.
The maximum certificated takeoff weight for the Cessna 172RG is 2,650 lbs. The aircraft empty weight was 1,437.45 pounds. According to the pilots' medical certificates, the pilot's weight was 221 pounds. The CFI's weight was 185 pounds. The Cessna 172RG has a total useable fuel capacity of 62 gallons. The airplane was "topped off" prior to the flight.
The Information Manual also describes the landing gear warning system as consisting of a throttle actuated switch which is electrically connected to a dual warning unit. The warning unit is connected to the airplane speaker. When the throttle is retarded below approximately 12 inches of manifold pressure at low altitude (master switch on), the throttle linkage will actuate a switch which is electrically connected to the gear warning portion of the dual warning unit.
The Information Manual describes landing gear operation by stating, "To retract or extend the landing gear, pull out on the gear lever and move it to the desired position. After the lever is positioned, the power pack will create pressure in the system and actuate the landing gear to the selected position. During a normal cycle, the gear retracts fully or extends and locks, limit switches close (GEAR DOWN cycle only), and the indicator light comes on (amber for up and green for down) indicating completion of the cycle. After indicator light illumination, during a GEAR DOWN cycle, the power pack will continue to run until the fluid pressure reaches 1500 PSI, opens the pressure switch, and turns the power pack off. Whenever fluid pressure in the system drops below 1000 PSI, the pressure switch will close and start power pack operation, except when the nose gear safety (squat) switch is open."
The SUS automated surface observing system, located 075 degrees and 17 nautical miles from MO6, recorded, at 1454, winds from 160 degrees at 6 knots, 10 statue mile visibility, clear sky conditions, temperature of 23 degrees Celsius, dew point of 9 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches of mercury.
MO6 is an uncontrolled airport with a field elevation of 487 feet above mean sea level. The airport is served by runway 16-34 (3,281 feet by 50 feet, asphalt).
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane was inverted in an agricultural field on a tail to nose magnetic heading of approximately 160 degrees. The airplane was approximately 1,200 feet on a magnetic heading of 146 degrees from the last of a series of curvilinear gouges/scrapes in the surface of runway 16.
There were pieces of windshield lying between the nose of the airplane and in a one foot deep hole, which was approximately six feet in front of the airplane. The airplane's nose section was bent upwards approximately 50 degrees relative to the longitudinal axis of the airplane. The firewall was deformed upwards, the top of which was crushed inwards approximately 18 inches. The airplane's wings and stabilizers remained attached to the airframe along with their respective control surfaces. A four foot outboard section of the left wing tip was crushed aft 16-18 inches. The right wing was twisted downwards and did not exhibit crushing relative to the left wing. The tail section was bent upwards near fuselage station 108 (near the aft end of cabin) and did not exhibit lateral bending.
Inspection of runway 16 revealed a series of black scalloped markings approximately 2,430 feet down and to the left of the runway centerline. Approximately 59 feet 2 3/4 inches down the runway from the beginning of the scalloped markings, one of three 8 inch long gouges was noted. A second gouge was 60 feet 4 3/4 inches down from the beginning of the scalloped marking with a third at 61 feet 6 3/4 inches. The third gouge was followed by a series of 16 scrapes with the following relative locations: 63 feet 11/8 inches, 64 feet 5 1/2 inches, 65 feet 10 3/4 inches, 67 feet 4 3/4 inches, 68 feet 10 3/4 inches, 70 feet 4 3/4 inches ,71 feet 10 1/2 inches, 73 feet 5 inches, 75 feet, 76 feet 7 1/2 inches, 78 feet 4 1/2 inches, 81 feet 1 1/4 inches, 81 feet 11 inches, 83 feet 10 inches, 85 feet 8 1/4 inches, and 87 feet 6 inches.
The propeller was attached to the engine and exhibited rearward bending with chordwise gouging of both propeller blade tips. Several of the propeller’s retaining rings were hanging from one of the propeller blades. Two propeller retaining rings were found down the runway.
The flight control cables were traced from rudder, elevator, and ailerons to the cockpit. The elevator trim jackscrew extension was 1.2 inches, which equates to approximately zero degrees of trim. The landing gear handle was in the up position and the landing gear was in the retracted position. The trailing edge flaps were in the retracted position.
Fuel was reported draining from the fuel tanks by first respondents following the accident. A liquid consistent with 100 low lead (100 LL) aviation fuel was present in the gascolator. The gascolator's filter screen exhibited no noted obstructions. A liquid consistent with 100LL was also noted in the engine driven fuel pump.
Paperwork found in the airplane wreckage indicated that the "Hobbs out" was "53.2". The Hobbs indication at the accident site was 2,654.6, and the tachometer indicated 5,571.1.
During recovery of the aircraft wreckage, the landing light illuminated and an intermittent tone was noted. The landing gear circuit breaker was in.
The top spark plugs were removed from the engine. Air was expelled from each top cylinder when the crankshaft flange was rotated by hand. Engine continuity was confirmed.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL
An autopsy of the private pilot was conducted by the Warren County Corner on April 24, 2002.
FAA toxicological test results of the private pilot were negative for all substances tested.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The Advanced Pilot's Flight Manual states,"... Airplane aerodynamic drag is composed of two parts; induced Drag (the Drag caused by Lift being created) and parasite Drag (form Drag, skin friction, and interference Drag). Drag acts rearward and parallel to the flight path." An example of interference drag is then provided and discussed as, "A good example of increased interference Drag is during gear retraction or extension. The acute angles between the landing gear and wing or fuselage can raise the Drag considerably, and this can be a problem during a lift-off in close-to-stall conditions."
According to the Cessna 172RG Information Manual, landing gear retraction is described in the Normal Procedures section of the manual. It states the following, "Landing gear retraction normally is started after reaching the point over the runway where a wheels-down, forced landing on that runway would become impractical. Since the landing gear swings downward approximately two feet as it starts the retraction cycle, damage can result by retracting it before obtaining at least that much ground clearance.
Before retracting the landing gear, the brakes should be applied momentarily to stop wheel rotation. Centrifugal force caused by the rapidly-spinning wheel expands the diameter of the tire..."
The Cessna 172RG Information Manual lists the airplane's takeoff procedures as follows:
1. Wing Flaps - - 0 degrees.
2. Carburetor Heat - - COLD.
3. Power - - FULL THROTTLE and 2700 RPM.
4. Elevator Control - - LIFT NOSE WHEEL at 55 KIAS.
5. Climb Speed - - 70-80 KIAS.
6. Brakes - - APPLY momentarily when airborne.
7. Landing Gear - - RETRACT in climb out.
1. Wing Flaps - - 0 degrees.
2. Carburetor Heat - - COLD.
3. Brakes - - APPLY.
4. Power - - FULL THROTTLE and 2700 RPM.
5. Brakes - - RELEASE.
6. Elevator Control - - MAINTAIN SLIGHTLY TAIL-LOW ATTITUDE.
7. Climb Speed - - 63 KIAS until all obstacles are cleared.
8. Landing Gear - - RETRACT after obstacles are cleared.
A spiral bound notebook was found in the private pilot's flight bag and contained notes regarding 5388R. The notes contain a rectangular diagram with a number "26" and writing from right to left on top of the diagram as follows:
"25 25 cowl open Vy 84 gear Vr 55"
Further down the page there is writing:
"T.O = Airspeed Alive, Vr 55, gear, Vy 84, 25/25"
A 3 inch by 5 inch paper was also found in the flight bag with a rectangular diagram with 72VC (N72VC is a Cessna 182R operated by Thunder Aviation) and the following writing:
Vy gear up Vr
The flight school's takeoff checklist for the Cessna 172 RG was as follows:
Carb Heat - Off
Mixture - Rich
Flaps - As required
Throttle - Full Open
Gauges - Green
Airspeed - Alive
Vr - 55
Vy - 84 (70-80)
Brakes - Apply momentarily
Landing Gear - Retract
Short Field Takeoff
Carb Heat - Off
Mixture - Rich
Flaps - Up
Brakes - Apply
Power - Full Throttle
Gauges - Green
Brakes - Release
Airspeed - Alive
A pilot, who had received flight instruction from the CFI in a Cessna 182RG, stated that the CFI would like to see the gear up 'as soon as we were out of usable runway'. The pilot stated that he pointed out to the CFI that the "appropriate procedure is to retract the gear after establishing climb-out speed (Vx or Vy as appropriate) and achieving a positive rate of climb and having no more usable runway. I also pointed out to him that due to the large amount of transition drag on retractable gear Cessnas, retracting the gear too soon could induce a departure stall." The pilot also stated that he discussed his concerns with the manager of the flight school.
The FAA, Cessna Aircraft Company and Textron Lycoming were parties to the investigation.
The wreckage was released to the operator's insurance adjuster.