On August 25, 2002, at 2109 central daylight time, an amateur-built Kitfox Series 5, N743JT, piloted by a commercial pilot, was substantially damaged during a forced landing following a loss of engine power. The airplane was on descent into the Poplar Grove Airport (C77), Poplar Grove, Illinois, its intended destination, when the accident occurred. The airplane clipped a set of power lines on approach and landed on Route 20, 6 miles southeast of the airport, near Garden Prairie, Illinois. The flight departed Pellston Regional Airport (PLN), Pellston, Michigan, at approximately 1830 eastern daylight time. The flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91 and was not on a flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The pilot sustained minor injuries.

The pilot reported that routing for the flight was along the east and south shores of Lake Michigan, to a point approximately 10 miles west of Lansing (IGQ), direct to C77. As he passed Benton Harbor, he noted that his "fuel site gauges indicated 1/2 tank in right wing and just under 1/2 tank in left" wing. The pilot noted that, based on this, he calculated about 11 gallons of fuel remaining. "And I assumed that to be sufficient to continue on to C77 without the need to stop," the pilot stated. He reported that the aircraft was "topped off" with 22 gallons of fuel prior to departure from PLN.

The pilot noted in his statement, that he began a slow descent approximately 20 NM from C77, in preparation to enter the traffic pattern. According to the pilot: "With 7 NM showing on the GPS, ... and while passing 2,000 [feet] MSL the engine stopped." He reported that he attempted a restart, "but soon felt the controls get mushy," and decided to focus his attention on a setting up for a forced landing. He stated that he noticed streetlights heading toward the west and turned to line up with them. He sequenced the aircraft between two cars on the roadway and added flaps to prepare for landing. At this time, a car, traveling in the opposite direction, came into view. The pilot stated: "I banked right and input left rudder to hold longitudinal course, however the aircraft slipped right and the wing seemed to catch shrubs or tall grass" and spun the aircraft to the right. "I impacted the ground, bounced once, and came to rest."

According to the pilot, the previous flight from C77 to PLN required 3.6 hours and 22 gallons of fuel, which corresponded to a fuel burn on 6.1 gallons per hour (gph). The accident flight was 3.8 hours.

A post accident inspection failed to find any abnormalitites with the fuel system tubing and fittings. The 3/4-gallon header tank was found intact and contained fuel. The engine was run briefly and no anomolies were noted.

Based on information supplied by Skystar Aircraft Corporation, the manufacturer of the aircraft kit, and confirmed by the pilot, the accident aircraft was equipped with a 13 gallon fuel tank in each wing. A 3/4 gallon header tank was also installed. A low fuel warning system was available, but was not installed in the accident aircraft. The aircraft kit had a January 1995 production date. Fuel tanks with that production date had approximately 2-1/2 gallons of unusable fuel in a descent, according to Skystar.

Skystar Service Letter #45, dated September 21, 1995, advised builders that, as of September 1st, the outlet port of the fuel tanks had been relocated "to reduce the amount of unusable fuel in all flight attitudes." The letter goes on to state: "The previous wing tank designs had the fuel outlet fitting at the rear of the tank, creating the potential for fuel starvation during long, steep, high-speed descents with the tanks low on fuel. During such a descent, fuel tends to run forward, away from the tank outlet, and during those periods fuel will be provided by the engine from the supply in the header tank."

The letter recommended that each builder establish the amount of unusable fuel by positioning the aircraft in a 5 degree nose down, wings level attitude, with the tanks completely drained of fuel. Measured amounts of fuel are to be added until a fuel flow is noted into the header tank. This level should be noted by a red mark on the fuel quantity sight gauges, as a reminder to the pilot of this limitation, according to the service letter. The letter also noted that a retrofit kit was available which would increase the usable fuel in each tank by approximately 2-1/2 gallons. In absence of that, the letter advised: "Fly the descent in steps, leveling out every few minutes for a minute or so to replenish the fuel supply in the header tank."

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