On September 19, 2004, about 1648 eastern daylight time, N57015, a Ryan ST3KR, was substantially damaged during a forced landing near Bealeton, Virginia, after a total loss of engine power. The certificated airline transport pilot received serious injuries. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that originated from the Flying Circus Aerodrome (3VA3), Warrenton, Virginia, destined for the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport (W66), Warrenton, Virginia. No flight plan was filed, and the flight was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to the pilot, he arrived at the airport about 1300, and preflighted the airplane, noting that there was approximately 12 gallons of fuel onboard. He then departed Warrenton, and proceeded to a local "flying circus," which was about 5 minutes away. Once over the circus, he did a few aerobatic maneuvers, and landed. The pilot flew in the opening and closing ceremonies, and estimated that the airplane had flown approximately 50 minutes before departing on the accident flight.

The pilot started the engine, noted that he had approximately 5 gallons of fuel remaining, and then departed with the fuel selector set to "RESERVE." Once airborne and passing approximately 200 to 300 feet, the engine suddenly lost power. The pilot initially tried to execute a 180 degree turn, but quickly realized he had insufficient altitude for the maneuver. He then identified a golf course and maneuvered to land, trying to avoid as many people as possible. The airplane touched down, encountered a pond, and nosed over. With the airplane upside down in the water, the pilot was trapped and unable to breathe. Several golfers were able to lift the airplane high enough to extract the pilot, and move him to safety.

According to a written statement provided by the pilot, examination of the wreckage revealed that the fuel lines to the fuel selector were reversed. The proper installation would allow the engine to draw all useable fuel minus 3 gallons with the fuel selector set to "MAIN. With the selector set to "RESERVE," 3 gallons would become available. With the fuel lines reversed, the engine would be starved for fuel with 3 gallons remaining, and the selector set to "RESERVE."

According to the pilot, he purchased the airplane in 1986, and then sent it to Wisconsin to be rebuilt. He got the airplane back in 2000, and since then flew it 100 to 150 hours without a problem. The accident flight was the first time the pilot ever operated the airplane with less than 5 gallons of fuel onboard.

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